Arts Desk

Chilean Sea Blobs in D.C.: What the Hell?

Local author Theodore Carter took to the streets at 4:30 a.m. Thursday to plop glittery Chilean sea blobs at three intersections in Northwest D.C. and Maryland: 16th Street and North Portal Drive NW, Connecticut and Nebraska avenues NW, and Fenton Street and Philadelphia Avenue in Silver Spring. The “invasion” was part publicity stunt, part public art project based on Carter’s collection of short stories The Life Story of a Chilean Sea Blob and Other Matters of Importance.

But what is a Chilean sea blob?

“In 2003, a massive animal washed up on a beach in Chile and no one really knew what it was,” says Carter, a second-grade teacher who lives in Takoma Park. “There was lots of speculation that it was a new species, it might be some great undiscovered sea monster. It wasn’t, it just was a rotting whale." The title story in his collection, he says, "is about the anticipation of something wonderful becoming something mundane. I think a lot of the stories have to do with the fantastic or the anticipation of the fantastic and our fascination with it.”

The sea blob invasion toys with that. “I like the idea of creating something absurd and hopefully fun,” Carter sad. “But also, I think having them under the traffic cameras, which could be viewed as somewhat ominous and big brotherish, is a fun twist.” Blob fans and curious onlookers could watch the reaction to blobs via a live stream on Trafficland.com. Some passersby, happening upon the glitter-glued invaders, did double-takes.

He crafted them with the assistance of his 7-year-old son. “He’s been a blob enthusiast,” Carter says of his son. “I think it’s kind of fun for me to see him watch me try and promote this and get excited about it. He’s been wearing the T-shirt to school.” Carter also made a special princess blob T-shirt with his daughter in mind. He knew the 3-year-old would never "wear the more sinister-looking" blob.

The whole thing was, basically, a publicity stunt on a budget. It worked: On the day of the “invasion,” visits to his website rose 33 percent, and 78 percent of visitors were new, according to Carter’s publisher, Erin McKnight of Queen's Ferry Press. “I think the challenge [faced by] anyone who’s with a small press," she says, " is how to bring attention to your book outside of friends and family and people who know you through your Facebook page.”

Carter may have some luck: Mark Laframboise, the chief buyer at Politics & Prose, has agreed to stock a few at the popular book store. "We're going to stock the book because we just learned about it, apparently the same day that they did their promotional creativity," he says. "We told them we would carry it so they could guide people who live in Washington who want to read it. We have a few on order."

The author is also working on his first novel, which is inspired by the disappearance of Edward Much's "The Scream." "I read in the paper this painting was stolen, and it just got in my head this question of why would somebody steal it when you obviously can’t resell it," Carter said. "The details were never given and I’m unsatisfied with that, so I made up my own version."

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