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Literary magazine Opium gets appy

December 8, 2009 |  8:25 am

Opium QuickFix Commercial #1: Damascus Gate from Opium Magazine on Vimeo.

Calling Opium a literary magazine is true, but not entirely. It's the lit mag Dorothy Parker might read if she were alive, the "Saturday Night Live" in a field of Charlie Roses. It's the place that has hosted its Literary Death Match series in cities across the country to try to bring new life -- or at least a bit of blood -- to readings.

Today, Opium magazine launches a custom iPhone app with a twisted story by Jack Handey of "Saturday Night Live" fame. Editor Todd Zuniga took a break from his worldwide promotional travels to answer my questions.

Jacket Copy: What can you do with an app that you can't do with a website or e-mail list?

Todd Zuniga: In our focus-testing, we discovered that jiggling, shaking or violently striking our laptop and desktop computers didn't select random stories from Opium's archives. Instead, we had to do all the exhausting work of looking at our screens and clicking on links. It knocked us out! The QuickFix app alleviates all that fatigue. You just press once to load the app, are introduced to an exclusive story (along with our signature estimated reading time), then do some light wrist-jiggling to get a fantastic story from our archives. Delightfully fun, and perfect for reading while driving.

JC: Is the Opium app addictive?

TZ: In a word: absolutely. Opium publishes fantastic, bite-sized gems every day (next week we'll showcase 250-Word Bookmark Contest finalists -- an estimated reading time no longer than one minute and 20 seconds). So there'll always be something new to discover, along with the curated stories that lead things off. Also of note: According to the must-be-true source of Wikipedia, between 150,000 and 200,000 opiate addicts lived in the United States in the late 19th century. This app, if used properly, will triple that number.

JC: Jack Handey! Wasn't he portrayed by Steve Martin and Sen. Franken? Who'll you have next?

Weirdly, Jack Handey is a real person! Which we weren't quite sure of when we approached him. He lives in New Mexico, and remains absolutely hilarious. As for next, there's a litany of content, ranging from McArthur Genius Grant recipients to cartoonists to some of the most arresting work Opium's ever published. We'll shy from specifics, but at worst, you'll curl into a ball struck by the wonderfulness of it all. At best, you'll cheer loudly in the general direction of your iPhone.

JC: Does the jiggle technology really work? All I see is Jack Handey.

It does! Jiggling isn't quite an art, yet, but we're making it one. If a slight, calm turn of the wrist isn't delivering a new story, hold your iPhone tight and shake like mad. That'll bring you a new piece to read in seconds.

JC: What do you think Jack Handey's fear of hobos has to say about the human condition during these difficult economic times?

: I think Jack Handey is the comedic Nostradamus of our time. Or of any time, really. His "Deep Thoughts" have slathered the message all over our brain's walls: Hobos are to be feared. And if the economy doesn't upturn soon, we're all going to be hobos. The message being, obviously: We're all going to run screaming from one another in about nine months. If that doesn't happen, buy all the IBM you can get your hands on.

-- Carolyn Kellogg