The Stranger Tests Bounds of the Newspaper Format

Print 26,000-word story in place of regular columns and features.

From all outward appearances, the Aug. 17 issue of The Stranger was just a normal issue. Turn the page and start reading, however, and you learned that it was anything but that.

In true Stranger form, the folks from Seattle replaced their regular copy with a 26,000-word novella about the troubles of a woman who moves into a boarding house. “Bones in the Garden,” by Portland-author Monica Drake, dominated the 100+ page paper, filling the space below the regular section- and column-heads.

Stranger Editor Jennifer Vogel said she decided to run Drake’s story to test the bounds of the newspaper format. She wanted to try something that had never before been attempted by an alternative paper.

This isn’t the first time The Stranger has stepped over the edge. For instance, in honor of the Y2K scare, they published a completely hand-written issue this year on Jan. 6. But this is the farthest they’ve ever departed from the norm, Vogel said.

“Why not experiment? Why not try new things?” Vogel asked.

Drake said Vogel contacted her a few months ago and asked her to submit a novella-size piece for the experiment. After she turned in the first 50 pages, Vogel decided it was what she wanted. It took Drake — the books and calendar editor for the Stranger’s sister-paper, the Portland Mercury — three more weeks to complete “Bones.”

“It was something I’d been thinking about writing for a long time,” Drake said. “I had it in my head. I had it envisioned it in novel form.”

Although she’s a practicing journalist, Drake places more value in her fiction writing because it is “closer to her,” she said. Drake said she took a great leap of faith in letting a newspaper have control of that.

But after seeing the final product, she decided the concept was a “hilarious” success. She trusted the editors, Drake said, and they didn’t let her down.