CD-ROM Auteur Theresa Duncan

Compared to CD-ROM auteur Theresa Duncan, indie film hyphenates such as Spike Lee and Edward Burns look like underachieving layabouts. On her latest title, Smarty, the New York-based, 27-year-old Duncan served as the writer, producer, and sound person, and she's handling the disk's marketing and distribution too.

Along with art director Jeremy Blake and programmer Wells Packard, Duncan created Smarty - an interactive storybook for kids - for a relatively modest $130,000. (Most children's CD-ROM titles take upwards of $500,000 to complete these days.) When no distributor opted to pick the disk up, even though Duncan's first title Chop Suey had received widespread praise, Duncan was left to sell Smarty herself.

"I called magazines and sent my homely press kits to journalists," says Duncan. "We got some good reviews, and then word began to circulate on Internet bulletin boards." In only two weeks, the initial run of 4000 copies sold out - all through telephone sales. A second press run is selling almost as fast; at $34.95 per disk, the project is already comfortably in the black.

"My profit margin blows Disney and Living Books away," laughs Duncan, whose sly, dreamy work offers a much-needed alternative to the generic cuteness that informs so many children's CD-ROM titles. "As soon as the bloated corporations that ruined this market disappear for good, I believe CD-ROMs are in for a renaissance. I love how they can bring the cadence of speech and the sounds of words back to storytelling, making it less of a solitary enterprise. When I imagine someone experiencing my story by hearing it - like the Iliad or the Odyssey - it makes me very happy."

Duncan's already at work on a third title called Tinderbox Tales; it's about a young boy obsessed with fire. Once again, she's writing and producing, but despite her success with Smarty, she hopes to get a distributor for Tinderbox. "I enjoy New York night life too much to keep working this much," she sighs. "Right now it's just a distant rumor."

-- G. Beato

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