Since Dan Sinker’s identity as the creator of the widely followed, prolifically profane satirical Twitter account @MayorEmanuel was revealed, a book deal seemed inevitable. The F***ing Epic Twitter Quest of @MayorEmanuel hits shelves Sept. 13 and not only complies and condenses the original Tweets, but also annotates it to explain the myriad references to Chicago politics and history. Before a free reading at the Museum Of Contemporary Art on the day of the book’s release, Sinker spoke to The A.V. Club about the process of writing @MayorEmanuel, uneducated electorates, and the versatility of his favorite curse word.
AVC: That sounds pretty surreal.
The A.V. Club: It seems fitting to start this off by asking you how many cups of coffee you’ve had today.
Dan Sinker: On average I’m a two-cup person, but occasionally will accidentally become a three-cup person, and then will have to wean back down to be a two-cup person. Although, now that I think of it, I think the last few weeks I’ve become a three-cup person.
DS: I just started a new job, and I no longer have a commute. So I am able to drink a lot more coffee, because I can make it myself. And then make it again.
AVC: In the Atlantic piece that outed you, the reporter writes, “When you try to turn [@MayorEmanuel’s] adventures into traditional short stories or poems, they lose the crucial element of time.” With this in mind, why did you decide to turn the feed into a book?
DS: The experience of reading the feed as it unfolded in real time is impossible to capture. But the story, and the beats of the story, and what’s kind of hilarious and fantastical about the story, is possible to be captured [in a book]. And I think the key element on that was not to simply dump the feed onto paper and call it a day, but to actually pretty extensively annotate the feed, because a lot of the story actually unfolds reactively. A lot of the story is him reacting to something that’s happened external from the feed—he’d only give information in the live tweet that he sent out. And so, when it was originally written, the idea was that if you were following it, you’d go do a Google search, or you’re going to a Twitter search, and then you’d know what he was talking about. But that’s not very easy with a book. So the annotations began to take a hold as a life of their own, as the context to that real-time, reactive thing, as well as being able to go into background detail about all of the many things that are mentioned throughout the feed.
AVC: The book functions as a primer on Chicago politics and Chicago culture. Why did you decide to go that direction?
DS: The idea of annotating the feed was pretty early on in the discussion about what this thing would be. But, as I began to write the annotations, I realized just how much it’s writing a second story, right? What it’s really writing is the story of the campaign in a non-fictionalized way, which was totally surprising to me. So then you start to have these three tracks: You have this fictionalized story, you have a shadow history of the campaign, and you also have this kind of mini-encyclopedia of Chicago. And that was really entertaining to write. Writing the annotations was quite interesting, because you’re operating from a source that was completely time-stamped. It was actually really easy to go back and find the reference material that he was talking about, including things like the date, because that’s on the time stamp in the Tweet. You could actually capture what was said, and why, then, he was saying what he was saying. It was just a lot of fun to write. On any given day, when you get to write a paragraph on Jim’s Original Polish Sausage, and Carol Marin, and the Jesse White Tumblers, then that’s a pretty good day in my book.
It was. There was nothing about that week that wasn’t surreal. [Laughs.]AVC: Do you feel like you took away anything from that week, other than, “Holy shit, our media is nuts”?
[Laughs.] That was one I didn’t need reinforcement on, but it was definitely reinforced. Beyond that, it was just overwhelming in the literal sense of the word. Not just because of the surreality of having TV people on my front lawn, but just the unbelievable outpouring of support, and admiration, and love for this crazy little world I had built. That was unreal. It was thousands of tweets in minutes, and an e-mail inbox that filled up immediately. I got an e-mail from the mom of a friend from grade school. That kind of thing was so overwhelming and so incredibly awesome. It made the things that were difficult about that week far less difficult.AVC: What was difficult?
Just being hurled into a media frenzy. I had taught in a journalism school for three years, and before that, I ran my own punk-rock magazine for 13 years. My experience with journalism is very, very different than what I was born into that day. That was strange and overwhelming and odd. That stuff was hard. And being up constantly and not seeing my family was difficult, because I like my family a lot. That stuff was hard. It was far outweighed by the incredibleness of it all.AVC: What’s the Knight-Mozilla news partnership you’re now heading up?
It’s a partnership between the Knight foundation and the Mozilla foundation, to do work and advocacy and outreach and building on a news-technology slate. It is awesome. I’ve being doing this job for three weeks, and every day is like, “Oh my God, I’m doing this job.” Because when I was teaching, I was most excited about—and when I was writing @MayorEmanuel, I was most excited about—what I’m excited about is how technology transforms storytelling. And now I get to be a centerpoint in that discussion. It’s phenomenal.AVC: What’s your favorite curse word?
[Laughs]. Huh. I don’t know if I’ve ever really ranked them. I’m not sure. I am probably most fond of the various permutations of the word “fuck,” because it’s so disparate. It can be so many different things in a way that “shit” can’t. Which is unfortunate, because “shit” is all right. But I think that… what are those multi-tools called? Leathermans? It’s like the Leatherman of cursing. You can do anything with it.AVC: The one I most liked in the book, that I think you coined, is “twatwaffle.”
[Laughs.] Early on in the feed, I was much more interested in odd and bizarre combinations of profanities and non-profane words. As the story progressed, that became far less a thing I was concerned with. The profanity becomes very utilitarian by the end. Creatively, it filled its end, I guess.