Author Archives: awetherington

Crisp Days and Blue Skies: An Interview with Christine Lasek

christine lasekChristine Lasek’s “Precious Blood” is, on one level, a short story about a grandfather purchasing a pickup truck in which a man committed suicide. But the story, which appeared in the 2014 issue of the Sierra Nevada Review, is also about memory, war, loss and the bonds of family.

Lasek’s debut collection, Love Letters to Michigan, will be published in April 2016 by ELJ Publications. She holds an MFA in fiction from the University of South Florida, where she served as the managing editor of Saw Palm: Florida Literature and Art. She currently teaches creative and technical writing as a visiting instructor at USF and serves as the assistant to the creative writing program director.

Lasek is originally from Troy, Michigan, and graduated from the University of Michigan—Ann Arbor in 2003. Prior to pursuing a degree in creative writing, she worked as a web editor and public relations official for companies in and around Detroit.

Lasek’s fiction and nonfiction have been published in Coal City Review, Tampa Review Online, and VIA: Voices in Italian Americana, among others.


Brandon Dudley: What was the initial spark for “Precious Blood”?

Christine Lasek: That’s an easy one.  A friend and I were discussing Joan Wickersham’s The Suicide Index, a book I was reading as part of a Craft of Nonfiction class.  In the middle of the conversation, my friend said, “You know, my grandfather once bought a truck some dude killed himself in.  He got it cheap because he had to clean it out himself.”  What WHAT?!  And the seed of the story was planted.

BD: Wow. I often wonder about parts of stories, whether they’re based in reality or not, if they’re something that the author really experienced. I can safely say that part of your story was not on my radar, though.

Is that a common way that stories start for you? Is the seed usually some real life event that you just run with? Or is it more often something else, like an image or a specific line of the story that comes to you first?

CL: It depends on the piece.  Sometimes it’s an image, sometimes more.  For me, though, it always has to do with people—how they interact, how they hurt or love each other, how we make sense of it.  I find myself most inspired when I have the chance to meet new people—while I’m getting to know them, my brain is busy creating their back story. Characters in my work often come from that.

BD: I’m curious about the non-linear structure of your piece. Why do you think that was the best way to tell this particular story?

CL: I didn’t start out with that intention.  This story started out as Eric’s story—his section (the first) was in first person, while the other sections were written in third. I wanted to give the reader his thoughts/impressions, then show what led up to the exchange between Eric and his mother in the first section.

But when the piece went through workshop, my classmates felt the story would be better told if all sections were written in third person, in order to illustrate the differences between the three characters. Once I rewrote the first part, I agreed–that change made the piece stronger. So that’s how it came to be in its current form.

BD: I’ve played around with stories that have used a mix of first and third person before, and so far they’ve never quite worked either. What do you think a story needs to make that work, to make that point of view switch necessary?

CL: With POV (and really any style decision you make in a piece), the style element needs to further the theme of the story.  As a fiction writer, when I put pen to paper, it’s more than just telling an interesting story.  I am trying to tell the reader SOMETHING–about what makes us human, about how we relate to each other.  This “something” is the story’s theme.  All of the choices I make in a story need to further that theme, that reason for why the story exists.  When it comes to jumping POVs, the jumps not only have to further the “something,” but their benefits to the story have to outweigh the potential drawbacks (namely, confusing the reader and/or stunting the reader’s ability to form a meaningful connection with a character over time).

BD: How do you think teaching has affected your writing?

CL: This is a giant question.  Let’s just say, as a teacher, I give good advice on writing, and then when I revise my own work, I find that I don’t always follow my own good advice. But the more I teach, the less this happens. Thank you, students.

BD: I saw you have a collection coming out in the spring. Could you tell me a little about that?

CL: My collection is called Love Letters to Michigan and all of the stories take place in my home state.  I didn’t set out to write a series of Michigan-set stories, but when I moved to Florida for my MFA, crisp fall days and blue, blue skies started pervading my work.

The collection is due out in April by ELJ Publications and I couldn’t be more ecstatic!

BD: Besides the location, are there any themes that link the stories in the collection? Are there any themes in general that you feel like you come back to frequently in your work?

CL: The stories in my collection are only linked by place.  The main characters are all ages, both male and female.

But two subjects that I explore again and again in my work include family relationships and “stuff”–the stuff that we own and what it says about us.  I also write a lot of characters who are (or have) single mothers, but I’m not sure why that subject comes up again and again.

BD: Who do you consider influences on your work?

CL: My writing hero is Alice Munro.  The way she creates character, her use of setting, of dialogue–a whole world in a short story, and not just once, but over and over again.  I want my stories to feel like that.  The first collection of hers I read was Something I’ve Been Meaning to Tell You, and I have been hooked ever since.

BD: Where do you see your writing going next? What’s your next writing project?

CL: I am up to my neck in editing the book, but doing revisions always makes me itchy to start something new.  Right now, it looks like the next project will be a second collection of short stories.


B DudleyBrandon Dudley is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where he is assistant fiction editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. His fiction has been a finalist in the Slice Literary Writers Conference Bridging the Gap Competition and a Million Writers Award nominee. He has had interviews and criticism published in storySouth and Fiction Advocate. He lives in Maine with his wife and two sons.


An Artist In Translation: An Interview with Derek Updegraff

Derek Updegraff photoDerek Updegraff’s short story, “Thursday Morning at A. R. Valentien,” was published in the 2015 edition of the Sierra Nevada Review. The story follows Greg, a middle-aged busboy frustrated with his life, who has a fraught and enlightening experience while waiting on country superstar Reba McEntire.

In addition to the Sierra Nevada Review, Derek Updegraff’s short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Bayou Magazine, Rosebud, Chiron Review, Posit, and other journals. His poems and translations have appeared in Natural Bridge, The Lyric, The Classical Outlook, Saint Katherine Review, Metamorphoses, and elsewhere, and his articles on Old English language and literature have appeared in Oral Tradition and Texas Studies in Literature and Language. He is the author of three chapbooks of poetry, and in the spring of 2016 his novelette Into the Ends of the World will be published by Blue Cubicle Press in the Overtime single-story chapbook series.      

He holds BA and MFA degrees from Cal State Long Beach and MA and PhD degrees from the University of Missouri. He is currently an Assistant Professor of English at California Baptist University and lives in Riverside with his wife and two daughters.


Brandon Dudley: To start off, I wondered if you could talk a little bit about what inspired your story. Does the spark of a story tend to start with ideas, themes, images, or is it something else entirely?

Derek Updegraff: Well, with this story the thing that triggered it was the setting. I worked at the restaurant in this story as a busboy when I was in my mid-twenties. I had an MFA, and I was newly married, and I was doing the adjunct circuit, teaching mostly at San Diego Mesa College but also at UC San Diego, but adjuncts rarely get summer classes, and so I would take on odd jobs in the summers, one summer at Barnes and Noble, one summer at the restaurant in this story, and so on, until I went to grad school again to break the cycle. So I knew the atmosphere of this setting well, the dining area of the restaurant as well as the inner-workings of the kitchen and the hotel it is connected to, and I always knew it was a great setting for a story, but I didn’t know what the story would be or when I would write it. As it turned out, I waited almost ten years until I dipped into the memory of that space. The characters came next, but the space led the whole thing into existence. And the second question you ask is a good one. Do we as writers begin a story with an idea, a theme, an image, and so on, and for different stories we might have different types of starting places, but as I look back on my other short stories, I would have to say that I tend to begin with the concrete rather than the abstract. I don’t worry over theme much, especially at the early drafting stages, and I usually start a story because of some tangible, sensory detail, whether it is a setting I’m intrigued by, a bit of dialogue I overheard that plays over in my mind and calls for expansion, or any image or experience that sticks with me and wants to be explored more fully in a story, even if its particular use is not yet clear to me.

BD: Your main character has this very moving scene in the restaurant with, of all people, Reba McEntire. Why did you choose Reba?

DU: I don’t remember if I was a few paragraphs into the story or a few pages in, but at some early point in the drafting process, I realized that the busboy character—Greg—needed to be middle-aged and not in his early or mid-twenties, and I knew that the minor conflict of his feeling demeaned by his job could carry the story only so far. So I started thinking about situations that I could drop Greg in that would bring about the crisis, and I think I always knew that an encounter with a customer was inevitable. And as I was mulling over possible scenes, it occurred to me that this was not just any environment. This was a restaurant attached to a pretty impressive hotel in an exclusive area of San Diego, and in the time I worked there I saw a handful of celebrities dining even though I never served them or talked to them. And the staff would tell stories of the different celebrities who had frequented the place. Tiger Woods was a regular because the hotel is right there at the golf course. At any rate, I figured out that Greg needed to have an interaction with a celebrity, and I made a list of names of the people I had seen there for myself and the people I had heard were once there, and then I added a few inventions of my own. The person who stood out on that list was Reba. Perhaps because she was one of the individuals I really saw in the place but never talked to. But more than that she seemed like the perfect choice. She’s not an obvious choice. Hers is a subtle but consistent fame. Not over the top. And she seems to me to be the kind of person who really would have responded to Greg in a sweet manner. I have no idea what she’s like in person, but she seems like she’d be sweet, doesn’t she? So I thought about the list for a day or two. I wrote this story during a semester when I was teaching a lot, and there were often days between the drafting. And after she emerged as the front runner, I returned to the writing knowing that Greg would meet her. Then she helped characterize Greg, helped fill out his backstory. He needed to have his adolescent fantasies. She needed to be someone he respected and admired but has not thought about in many years. She was able to fill that need. She was a gift, really.

BD: One of my favorite aspects of the scene with Reba was the way you increased the tempo of your sentences. The increased rhythm helped created this palpable sense of desperation and urgency within the encounter. It felt very poetic, really, and so it wasn’t a surprise to then find out that you are also a poet. I wondered if you could comment on the two forms and how they influence your writing? How does poetry influence your fiction and vice versa?

DU: I’m glad you appreciated those sentences. That long paragraph before the final break at the end is probably my favorite section in the piece. I wrote the sentences quickly in the first draft, and I’m usually a fairly slow writer, and then I went back and added, deleted, and changed things only as clarity and sharpness dictated, not wanting to undo the original impulse. The rhythm was a product of me genuinely sympathizing with Greg there in that moment, when his body is frozen and his mind is racing, certainly a more subjective moment than the evenness of much of the third-person-limited blanketing the story. And I’m glad you called it poetic. I was certainly aiming for quick continuation—I think often times the word “and” is the best word we have as writers—but the rhythm created by the language, by the relatively even distribution of stresses or strong sounds amid unstressed lighter sounds, does have something to do with my background in poetry writing. For me, sound is an important aspect of every mode of writing. It doesn’t matter if I’m writing a poem or a short story. If I’m not reading aloud in the middle of composing, I am certainly always reading aloud once a draft exists. Over and over. Even prose paragraphs. I read them aloud multiple times to make sure everything sounds right. The importance of sound was impressed on me when I was an undergraduate studying with Gerald Locklin in Long Beach. He taught form and meter even though he mostly moved away from them after his early writing, but he made his students write villanelles and sonnets and other forms, just as he had been made to, and he helped me hear iambic and trochaic rhythms, and anapestic and dactylic rhythms, rather than just seeing them through scansion and lifeless notation. I stayed at Long Beach for my MFA in fiction, and during that time my writing world centered on learning the craft of the short story, but I continued to study poetry with Gerry in those years, formally and informally, and then when I was at Missouri I was once again surrounded with tremendous writers who helped me in various ways, but I was also immersing myself in linguistics and early medieval literature courses, two areas which had been of tangential interest to me as an undergrad and MFA student. We can’t be experts in everything, every genre or time period, but we do need to read a lot and have a general sense of all that’s come before as well as what’s being written today, and then we need to delve into some of those spots, and where exactly we’re jumping in is going to influence our understanding of craft and help shape our individual styles. For me, the study of language became important, as did the history of meters and developments of sounds in English. And not just sounds but internal structures. In that scene with Reba, there is at least one moment of chiasmus, as well as other types of parallelism. The chiasmus I’m thinking about is: “and while he was staring at Reba, and while Reba was staring at him.” And in the moment when I was first drafting that lengthy paragraph, I don’t remember actively thinking, Hey, that’s neat; there’s chiasmus. But I do remember finding it as I reread what I’d written, and I was delighted to see it there, and to hear it there. So certainly that awareness of and appreciation of sound and structural conventions in poetry and in language generally has had an influence on my prose. And as far as fiction having an influence on my poetry, I think that’s there too. I remember being in a poetry workshop in Scott Cairns’s office with a handful of other grad students, and we were all just getting to know each other’s work. And after about the second or third round of workshopping, someone commented on my poems often having a clear narrative focus. And that’s true though I don’t think I knew I was relying on it so heavily. The poems I like the best have crisp, concrete details in them and avoid abstractions, and often times they tell a story, whether directly or implicitly. In my own poems I frequently employ dialogue and write in the third person. I don’t do it all the time now, but occasionally my poems are simply very short stories in verse.

BD: I’ve seen that you also translate work from Old English, Middle English and Latin. What sparked your interest in that field, and how has working in translation affected your own work?

DU: Well, there are a lot of things I could say about all of that, but I’ll try not to carry on for too long. My dad is a classicist and has taught Latin and Greek at the same private high school for over forty years. He had planned on becoming a professor. He went to Oberlin and Stanford and then in his mid-twenties took a job at a high school that he thought would be a temporary job, something that might last for a few years before he moved on to something better. But he fell in love with the place and has stayed there for his whole career, and I was able to attend the school on scholarship as a teacher’s son. I started taking Latin in seventh grade, and I just hated it. I stuck with Latin throughout high school and had my dad as my A.P. teacher, but in those years I was not an ideal student. At some point in high school I remember getting into writing, though it was a lesser interest than what it would become for me in college, but I didn’t yet have an interest in studying languages. I’ve always loved and admired my dad, but Latin was his thing, and as a teenage boy I didn’t want my dad’s thing to be my thing. As I was growing up, people would always ask me if I was going to be a teacher like my dad. And the answer was always “no” when I was a kid, and here I am now, a teacher who loves teaching, a teacher who has also been teaching since his mid-twenties. And the truth is that I did grow to love literature in my adolescent years, even though I writhed a bit within the institutional structure that is school. And so as I began to take writing and the study of literature seriously in my late teens and early twenties as an undergrad, and then as an MFA student, and eventually as a PhD student in my late twenties, I found myself choosing to take courses in classical and medieval Latin, and I was reading Catullus and Horace and Ovid and others again, in the Latin, and loving it and thinking to myself, How could I have not loved this stuff earlier. What was wrong with me? And I probably realized that to be a writer meant to understand language, and then what had been boring to me before—declensions and conjugations and structural principles—became really fascinating stuff because it gave me insights into what language really is. I don’t think people can really understand their own native language until they have studied at least one or two others in depth. In the fourth grade I became fluent in Spanish because my family lived outside of Madrid for a year, and that’s another story for another time, but I forgot all of my Spanish within a year or two of being back in the States from lack of use, and I don’t have many memories of learning or studying Spanish. I just learned it as kids so easily do. But as an adult I really came to know English well because I was studying other languages, because I was learning Old English and Middle English, and some Old Norse and German, though the latter was for reading comprehension only. As of today, I can’t speak a second living language, and I’m a little embarrassed by that since I was bilingual at one point in elementary school, but I do love working with dead languages, especially Old English. I had my first course in Old English as an MFA student, and I took it because I needed to get to sixty units and I remembered liking Beowulf well enough in translation as an undergrad. Not to go on and on, but I was instantly hooked, by the language, the seemingly loose but actually complex meter, the subject matter, everything. Many of my favorite poems are in Old English. And there are great prose pieces too. Saints’ lives. Homilies. Really beautiful, interesting works. I ended up writing my dissertation on some of the works by the monk and homilist Aelfric of Eynsham. And one of my in-process book projects is a series of translations of his saints’ lives, though that book is moving along very slowly at the moment due to time constraints. But there’s a real need for updated translations. There are plenty of Old English texts that have not been translated into present-day English or are available only in outdated translations. Many of Aelfric’s saints’ lives, for example, have not appeared in translation since the 1800s. I have a new translation and edition of his Life of St. George coming out in a journal this fall, and as time permits I’ll keep chipping away at producing more. And to get to the second part of your question, I would say that for me all the modes I write in influence each other, as I said earlier with fiction and poetry, and I consider translation to be its own mode too, as Walter Benjamin claimed it to be, because often what happens when we translate is the pushing through of our own ideas, emotions, experiences, and so on, even though they are navigated through, or maybe sprung from, the work of someone else. But we do get into a gray area here, and some people like the safer word “adaptation” when a new work seems to have emerged from the old one, but I still prefer “translation” in those looser cases because a translation is always a new work—it’s never the same work—but there are certainly a lot of ways to handle the source text, so the translator’s intention then remains a valid thing to keep in mind. For me, when I translate Aelfric, I like to think there is more Aelfric in there than Updegraff because I want to pass along Aelfric to others, even though they’re also getting a bit of me, of my diction, and so on, since language is always idiomatic, but then in some of my translations of Catullus, for example, people get more Updegraff than Catullus, and that’s because the love interest in his poem becomes the love interest in my real life, and his places and situations are turned into my places and situations, and I don’t worry about such things then as the difference between the speaker and the poet because that distinction isn’t important in all lyrics and is a relatively recent obsession within the history of lyric poetry, so what we had—for me—was Catullus the poet and then what we get is Updegraff the poet as standing in or leaping from the moment first expressed by Catullus. The final thing I have to say about working in translation has to do with reading for craft, which is something all serious writers have learned to do and is something I try to teach my creative writing students. Although there is always some overlap, I teach works differently in a creative writing classroom than I do in a literature classroom, and I ask my creative writing students to learn to read as writers do. Well, the translator reads with the same slowness and structural appreciation as the writer should. Most writers read other writers with an eye toward craft and the functioning parts of the whole, and we listen with an ear toward craft, and while we’re attending to the pieces, we set meaning on the shelf—that illusive and debatable thing—at least in the beginning. The best literature professors and critics read this way too, of course, but many readers focus on information and content, or their own pleasure, and while those things have their importance, the translator is forced to contend with craft in a very intimate way, and the serious writer also learns to do this at some point in his or her career.

BD: It sounds like your father was a major influence on your writing life. Who else would you consider influences?

DU: Yeah, he was and still is. And I mentioned Gerald Locklin and Scott Cairns earlier, and really all the writers I had my fiction and poetry workshops with, folks like Aliki Barnstone, Rafael Zepeda, Stephen Cooper, Suzanne Greenberg, and Charles Harper Webb. I would read all their books and learn from them as writers and teachers, and of course often their influential people would become my influential people, as it happened with John Fante, whom I might not have ever read if it weren’t for Steve Cooper and all he has done through the years to promote Fante’s work. Raymond Carver and Tobias Wolff might be the writers who have most shaped my fiction. Many other names come to mind, like Aimee Bender and George Saunders, but I think Carver and Wolff have taught me more about the short story than anyone else. And there are many other poets that come to mind as well, like Richard Wilbur, Wendell Berry, Alicia Stallings—who goes by A. E. Stallings—Stanley Kunitz, Philip Levine, and Heather McHugh. And even some of the more artful critics like Roland Barthes, who blended the academic and the creative in ways more people should do.

BD: I saw in your profile on Poets & Writers that you just launched a BFA program at California Baptist University. I wondered if you could talk about how your years studying writing, the good parts and the bad, have shaped this new program?

DU: That’s a good question. Thinking first about teaching, I can say that much of what I do in my courses is modeled after what my own professors did in their courses. There is a common workshop structure that, as far as I have experienced and could tell from talking to friends in other programs, is the norm for creative writing classes, but within that common workshop structure each professor has idiosyncrasies, some of which I liked as a student and some of which I didn’t. At one of the institutions I attended, a guest poet was brought in whom I was excited to have. Well, within the first day or two, she or he had us writing things in class, there on the spot, and then required us to read aloud what we had just written for an impromptu discussion of the newly created work. And that terrified me, and it upset me, because even though I had been in a number of workshops and knew that bringing in writing and reading it aloud was part of the deal, I had never been required to read something I just pieced together. As a student, I always looked forward to my workshop days. I loved reading my work aloud and getting feedback, but I wanted to read only the material that I had worked over long enough and thought ready for the workshop environment. So, I actually got up out of my seat and walked out of the class before my turn came around to read. And I dropped the class that day, and I felt bad that the guest poet probably thought I was a rude person for leaving, but really I just acted quickly out of panic because I had never before been told to read something aloud on the spot like that. Now as a professor, I do often have my students complete writing exercises in class at the beginning of the semester before we have gotten into full workshop mode, but I would never require my students to read aloud what they just jotted down in class. I tell them my story about the displeasure I felt in that bad experience—or almost-bad-experience since I left without reading—and then I ask for volunteers to read aloud their in-process works, only volunteers in the early days, while reminding them that they will all be reading aloud their more polished versions in the coming weeks of workshopping. So that story comes to mind, but really the bulk of my years studying writing has been positive, very positive, because I thought highly of my creative writing and literature professors and had some great peers whose feedback I always looked forward to receiving in workshop. So, pedagogically speaking, I think to a large degree we are all shaped by the programs we come out of. But to answer the main part of your question concerning program development, I think it was helpful that I studied in more than one genre at both the undergraduate and graduate levels. For me at least. So I wasn’t designing with an eye toward the needs of the fiction writer or the needs of the poet exclusively, as I might have been likely to do if I was one or the other. But instead, after identifying the core number of tiered workshops that would be required in a given genre, I looked at the existing courses in my department and across the campus and tried to gather elective units that would be helpful supplements to the fiction writer or to the poet or to both and then create some pieces that were missing. And some of my colleagues assisted with this and brainstormed with me. The result is, as it seems to me, a good mix of asking students to take courses in a couple of genres—whether fiction, poetry, nonfiction, screenwriting, or a topical subgenre—but then to settle on one specifically to pursue more at the upper level and to center on for a final project, all while taking literature courses and other courses in the nonliterary arts that might inform the student’s chosen genre. And I think one thing we did well was to give our students a good amount of freedom within the major’s gathering of non-writing courses. I can think back to one of my degrees in particular and remember that there were some curiously narrow requirements that have since been loosened up. So I think that is a strength of this new program, that students get an appropriate mix of range and specialization in their creative writing courses, and quite a bit of freedom too with the time periods and genres they study in their literature courses.

BD: Could you tell us a little bit about what you’re writing now? Where can we expect to see you next?

DU: I’m working mostly on fiction right now. It’s hard sometimes wanting to work in fiction, poetry, and translation since at different times I feel pulled in multiple directions, or if I’m in a period when I’m focusing on one mode, I feel as though I’m neglecting the others. And I like to think I’m a scholar too, and writing academic articles certainly takes a lot of time. Well, all writing takes time, doesn’t it? But at this moment I am in fiction mode more than the others. And for me—at least in this period of my life—that means working on short stories rather than a novel. As far as forthcoming publications go, I do have fiction, poetry, translation, and academic writing slated to appear in various places toward the end of 2015 and throughout 2016. My next short story being published is called “Story at Midnight,” and that is scheduled to appear in issue 60 of Rosebud, which is a nationally distributed magazine people can pick up in Barnes and Noble and other bookstores. The last I heard, issue 60 was scheduled to be on the shelves in late November or sometime in December. So, if interested, people can go buy it then and read that story. And I recently sent off a collection of short stories to a few places. I titled it Chrysalis & Other Stories and sent the manuscript off, and then shortly after that I changed my mind and sent off a slightly differently arranged manuscript titled The Butcher’s Tale & Other Stories. They’re essentially the same collection. The “Thursday Morning” story is in there. I wish I could answer right now by saying that so-and-so press will have that book out in 2016 or 2017, but maybe it will be 2026 or 2027. That’s the way it goes sometimes, and I try not to worry about time too much, for acceptances or for my own life. One of the best interviews I’ve ever read was with Tobias Wolff in Jay Woodruff’s A Piece of Work. At some point in the interview Wolff is talking about craft and time and how time is on the side of the writer, and he says that in most cases writers produce their best works with some life seasoning. That’s a paraphrase, but I know for certain he uses the word “seasoning” because that word, “seasoning,” stood out to me. I first read that interview in my twenties. It was helpful to me then, and it’s helpful to me now that I’m in my thirties, and I suspect it will be helpful to me in my forties, and fifties, and so on, because as long as I’m still around and able to write, I want to get better and keep producing my best stuff. I think it’s important to like your own writing. All of us writers need to like our own writing. We need to feel proud of the things we’ve written, be glad that they exist, but then we need to look ahead and strive to create better things than we’ve done before. That’s my goal anyway. So I hope that collection of stories gets picked up by a press soon, but either way I’m on to the next thing, which today is another story I’ve recently started, but I can’t say what it’s about because I don’t like to talk about pieces while they’re in-progress.

B Dudley

Brandon Dudley is a fiction candidate in the MFA program at Sierra Nevada College, where he is assistant fiction editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. His fiction has been a finalist in the Slice Literary Writers Conference Bridging the Gap Competition and a Million Writers Award nominee. He has had interviews and criticism published in storySouth and Fiction Advocate. He lives in Maine with his wife and two sons.

Fifth Annual High School Writing Contest Winners Selected

Contact: June Saraceno
jsaraceno [at] sierranevada [dot] edu


(Incline Village, Nevada) Sierra Nevada College’s English Program has announced the winners of the 5th annual High School Writing Contest, a national competition which honors high school juniors and seniors in three categories: creative nonfiction, fiction and poetry.

The winners receive a cash prize, an invitation to the awards ceremony on Jan. 9, a scholarship offer from Sierra Nevada College, a private, non-profit four-year university in Incline Village, Nevada, and possible publication in the Sierra Nevada Review.

Bryce Bullins, managing editor for the Sierra Nevada Review said, “Selecting just a few winners from such a large pool was an especially difficult process considering the caliber of work these young writers submitted.”

Creative writing professors and Sierra Nevada Review staff evaluated a record number of submissions. Chosen from over 525 entries, the winning submissions came from students across the United States, including Maryland, Colorado, Florida, Arizona, and New Jersey.

“I am inspired and energized after reading these diverse and passionate stories. The future of the written word is clearly in good hands,” said Gayle Brandeis, the college’s Distinguished Writer in Residence and an award-winning novelist.

In creative nonfiction, first place went to Lindsay Emi, Westlake Village, California, for “Latin Class in Seven (VII) Parts.” Second place went to Darla Macel Anne Canales, Erie, Colorado, for “Oven.” Third place went to Gabriel Braunstein, Arlington, Massachusetts, for “Family on the Commuter Rail.” The nonfiction Local’s Prize went to Isabella Stenvall, San Luis Obispo, California, for “Wars with Numbers.”

Finalists in creative nonfiction were Emily Zhang, for “Family History,” Oriana Tang for “Sister,” Aletheia Wang for “Scar,” Jack Priessman for “A Merciless Deed,” and Annie Harmon for “Reflected.”

In fiction, first place went to Emily Zhang, Boyds, Maryland, for “Midwestern Myth.” Second place went to Lucy Silbaugh, Wyncote, Pennsylvania, for “Burrowing.” Third place went to Laura Ingram, Disputanta, Virginia, for “Absolute Value.” The fiction Local’s Prize went to Erin Stoodley, Ventura, California, for “Ghosts.”

Finalists in fiction were Lindsay Emi for “For My Daughter,” Jessica Li for “Ellen and Su-Ji,” Tatiana Saleh for “Laundry,” Madison Hoffman for “Genderfuck,” and Oriana Tang for “Lara.”

In poetry, first place went to Oriana Tang, Livingston, New Jersey, for “Bildungsroman.” Second place went to Catherine Valdez, Miami, Florida, for “Mami.” Third place went to Ruohan Miao, Chandler, Arizona, for “Dust Bowl.” The poetry Local’s Prize went to Ava Goga, Reno, Nevada, for “Notes on Repression.”

Finalists in poetry were Emily Zhang for “Transitory,” Katia Kozachok for “Primordial Roar,” Allie Spensley for “Palo Verde,” Emma Symmonds for “Purging,” and Jessica Prescott for “Daughter of Zeus, Lover of Mine.”

Winners in each category received $500 for first place, $250 for second and $100 for third. The Local’s Prize honored student writers from Nevada and California with a $100 prize. These students are also eligible for a $20,000 scholarship to attend Sierra Nevada College.

The winning students have been invited to read their work in an awards ceremony on Friday, Jan. 9, 2015 at Sierra Nevada College alongside highly acclaimed writers Suzanne Roberts and Alan Heathcock. They will be reading at 7 p.m. Friday in Sierra Nevada College’s Prim Library as part of the college’s low residency MFA creative writing program.

The Sierra Nevada Review’s annual issue publishes poetry, fiction, and nonfiction by emerging and nationally recognized authors. All High School Writing Contest winners will be considered for publication in the 2015 issue, which releases in May.

The 6th annual High School Writing Contest runs Sept. 1-Nov. 1, 2015. Guidelines can be found at

Announcing the 2014-2015 Sierra Nevada Review Editors

Welcome to our new student editors:

Rebecca Victoria Ramirez Ramirezholds a BA in English, graduating Cum Laude, from California State University, Stanislaus. She is currently pursing her MFA in Creative Writing at Sierra Nevada College. She is a writer of both poetry and non-fiction, with poetry from her youth being published in her city’s anthologies. She resides with her four children and partner in Northern California.




Bryce Bullins Bryce2is a first year graduate student focusing on poetry but has worked previously on the Sierra Nevada Review as an undergraduate student. He received his BA in English with a minor in Music from Sierra Nevada College in 2014. Bryce currently lives in Pahrump, NV. 






Greg Gonzalez Gonzalezis a Junior attending Sierra Nevada College as a Creative Writing major. He currently resides in Incline Village Nevada, but he is originally from Sacramento California. His focus is in fictional writing and has completed two novel manuscripts. One day he envisions himself not only writing books, but he wants to own two restaurants as well.




Tom Loeschner Loeschneris an aspiring writer and student at Sierra Nevada College. While Tom is an Incline Village, Nevada native, he has lived in both Washington and California. Tom enjoys writing creative non-fiction, climbing, fly fishing, and spending time with his wife, Andrea, and their dog, Munchichi.





Meredith Crosby Crosbyresides on the north shore of Lake Tahoe in California but calls South Carolina home. She is currently a senior at Sierra Nevada College in Incline Village, Nevada. She will graduate with a Bachelors in English and a minor in creative writing. An avid hiker and nature enthusiast, Meredith can be found most days wandering with her pitbull rescue mix, Prudence, in Tahoe’s pristine wilderness. She also has a contemporary dance background and is an aspiring yogi.


Courtney Berti Courtney Bertigraduated from Sierra Nevada College with her BFA in Creative Writing. She is currently pursuing an MFA in Creative Writing with an emphasis in fiction. She lives in South Lake Tahoe with her hairy boyfriend and her fuzzy dog who both have a tendency to resent her very hairless laptop.


2013 High School Writing Contest Winners Announced

After much deliberation by the Sierra Nevada Review faculty, undergraduate editors, and graduate editors, Sierra Nevada College is very happy to announce the winners of the fourth annual creative writing contest for high school students.

Over 325 students submitted work, most with entries in more than one category and submissions came from across the country. The readers were all impressed by the quality of writing from the finalists, and it was a difficult decision in each category.

The winners will be hosted for an awards ceremony on Friday, January 10 to congratulate and acquaint them with SNC. All students who submitted entries are invited to the Awards Ceremony. Winners will also receive a cash prize and be offered a scholarship to SNC.






First place = How to Mix Native Blood with Foreign Water: A Lab by Dalia Ahmed

Second place = Dream in Which the Moon is replaced by my grandfather’s lymphoma tumor by Talin Tahajian

Third place = Concavity of Checkmate by Hanel Baveja


Local’s winner = Mitosis by Stephanie Hsu, Fremont, CA




First place = Kindergarten by Alexa Derman

Second place = The 29 by Catrina Sun Tan

Third place = Moon Country by Nick Burns


Local winner = The Countdown by Sara Lagen (Monterey CA area)




First place = A Reality on a Friday Night by Jenny Jung

Second place = How to Be Holy by Allison Light

Third place = Camp by Tyler Randazzo


Death of a Dogfish = Local’s Prize Eloise Perrochet (Northridge, CA)



Journal Review: The Georgia Review

by Laurie Macfee


The Georgia Review
Summer 2013
Published quarterly by University of Georgia
143 pp. plus front and back matter
ISBN 0016-8386


The Georgia Review has been publishing a cross-section of poetry, fiction, essays, art, and reviews since 1947. Based at University of Georgia, the journal is internationally distributed and published quarterly. It is widely considered one of the finer literary publications in America. At 143 pgs, the Summer 2013 issue packs in eight poems, two fiction pieces, one essay, a painting folio, six book reviews, a note to readers, and most importantly, a special non-fiction feature, Judith Kitchen’s remarkable “Circus Train.”

In editor Stephen Corey’s front piece, To Our Readers, he notes, “During my 30 years with The Georgia Review, the journal has published just a few works that approximate the length of Judith Kitchen’s ‘The Circus Train.’” He queries whether perhaps we need to devise a new category for pieces such as this inventive and moving, “segmented but forcefully interwoven study of memory and mortality,” which is 55 pgs long. The last piece of this length was featured in 1985. For comparison, the environmental essay “Near and Distant Bears,” a treatise on climate change by Scott Russell Sanders, is a mere 12 pgs.  The two short fiction pieces, also environmental in nature, come in at 9 pages for David Griffith’s “Blight,” and 10 pgs for Jerry McGahan’s “The Deer Walking Upside Down.”

Why go on about the length of this work? Because what The Georgia Review has allowed with Kitchen’s breath taking, genre-bending reflection on her upcoming death from cancer, is the room to recreate a life. The back and forth segments mimic the waiting for letters (“wings of thought”) to arrive in the mail.  “Everything on hold while time crossed the country in its three-hour increments.” The generosity of space allows her to ruminate and build a case for her memories that lap like waves at the edges of our shore:


“…because the only snow is that of memory, and you will miss it acutely with a soft smile as you picture it spreading over the lawns, settling on fences until they carry their burden oh so lightly along their length, the celebration of cardinal or jay as they add their brief glint of color. Soft smile as you step out in boots to scoop up the past, letting it trickle over your face where you lick at its fake confection. Soft smile in perpetual summer twisting your heart where yes you miss snow you miss snow you miss snow.”


This lyric essay alone is reason to purchase the issue, as it will undoubtedly be anthologized for years to come, poetic language building the narrative in sections that fall in and out of focus. It is haunting, and unforgettable. In the end, Kitchen leaves us with this thought: “To conjure the circus train… it must have meant something as it moved across my horizon and vanished into the haze. It must have meant something, because it keeps trailing its scarf of smoke.”

There are only a spare eight poems in this issue.  In comparison, The Iowa Review featured 38 poems. I went to several back issues of The Georgia Review, to see if the length of Kitchen’s piece limited the poetry selection but the fall/spring/winter issues only feature 13/14/9 poems each. Seemingly, a breadth of poetry is not the focus (as a poet, it is something I look for). However, this issue begins with a piece by Al Maginnes, which is a mark in the win column. In “Music from Small Towns,” he writes about blue collar boys who, “play their version of a place/that didn’t have a name before it became a song.” Since he opens the journal, Maginnes sets the tone for the entire spread, a melancholy, somewhat wistful narrative on memory.  Since I had the great luck to hear him read at SNC last month, I could hear his voice in my ear as I read. Maginnes has such talent in capturing this world.

Other poems that stood out included Jack Ridl’s “Practicing Chinese Ink Drawing,” a lovely moment of re-awakening of an artist to the scene presented in front of him, “my brushstrokes/carry the feel/of listless/luck – languid/and precise….” And even more compelling, was Robert Wrigley’s “16 Down,” about the names for a part of a knife, “choil or ricsasso,” how the speaker fell in love with the words, with the fact that there were multiple ways to talk about the place where the haft disappeared into the handle.

It is refreshing that The Georgia Review includes a section dedicated to art. Paintings by Maine artist John Winship are featured on the covers, and in an 8-pg folio on glossy paper inside.  These 10 pieces represent a body of work, Presentiments, for which the managing editor wrote a 2-pg intro to help ground the reader. Based at least partially on Emily Dickinson’s poem of the same name, the work seems to rise out of the “domestically grassy, shady vision of past moments,” that Dickinson mined. The oil and acrylic pieces are Hopperesque in their narrative, single figures or couples caught in a shadowed landscape.

The book reviews included an interesting critique of two new books on film critic Pauline Kael; a review of three new books out in 2013 about the work of Sylvia Plath; a new book on the selected correspondence of Kenneth Patchen; a book of essays and cartoons by Tim Kreider; in a double cameo, a critique of the newest Al Maginnes book “Inventing Constellations;” and a wonderful review by Sian Griffiths of Eric Sasson’s unflinching portraits of gay men’s lives in “Margins of Tolerance.” 

Because I count, only two of the eight poets, two of the six book reviewers, and none of the regular essays, fiction, or art are by women in this issue.  So, for a body count of the 20 writers/artists listed in the table of contents, only five have a vagina. And of the eight books reviewed, only two were by women. One might imagine that 75% of the writers in the United States are men. But I digress – or do I?  The Georgia Review is a lion in the literary world, which is why these numbers are so problematic.

If I had to choose adjectives for The Georgia Review, they would be upstanding, elegant, and safe. Perhaps attempting to represent the best of literary tradition requires choosing more traditional work, taking care not to offend? Besides Judith Kitchen’s piece, none of the work pushes at the edges – this is not a journal intended to shake the status quo. It is lovely and palatable and known, like a Hopper painting. Which is not to say without quality. It has the imprimatur of arrival, a resume-maker if you are emerging. The writers in this issue seem to be established or at least mid-career. It is just too bad that artwork isn’t chosen that pushes as hard as Scott Russell Sanders does on the environment, or as Emily Dickinson pushed at the traditions of her day. Or that more women are seemingly not up to their standard, or part of the literary tradition they cover. Maybe I just picked up a depressingly testosterone-filled issue. It seems like such an old saw at this point, except that it obviously is not. But I would buy this issue for Judith Kitchen’s piece alone – it is worth the expenditure.

What to Do When You’re a Genre Writer, cont…

Highlight: Tracking and Etiquette

by Crystal Miller

Staying on Track

Once you have discovered the right places to submit, you must focus some energy on organizing all of that information. Keeping track of when, where, and what you have submitted can quickly get out of hand if you do not have a system in place. If you are computer savvy, (good for you!) an Excel spreadsheet can be your best friend. Excel does, however, require a certain amount of knowhow when setting up a new spreadsheet. For example, you can calculate an expected response date for your submissions by creating a formula that gives you the date that falls six months following your submission (or however long the expected response time may be for that journal). If you know how to create a spreadsheet, insert formulas and successfully format a customized template, that is great – but unfortunately not everyone is so technically inclined. If you fall toward the less inclined end of the spectrum (like I did), do not fret. You can take a class to learn Excel, ask a friend or check out the links posted below. In fact, if you open Excel on your computer, in the upper right hand corner of your screen there is a blue circle with a white question mark in it – clicking on it will take you to Microsoft’s help site where you can watch a number of tutorials. When I started using Excel, my spreadsheets were pretty primitive with Magazine titles, story titles and dates submitted. Over time, I became a little more comfortable with the program and added fees, re-submission schedules and rejections/acceptances. You may also utilize the icons that ascend, descend and/or alphabetize the columns. You’ll get the hang of it if you are willing to stick with it and have the desire to dedicate the time, and on the upside – once your formatting is finished you will have a customized tracking form that you can easily duplicate and/or expand to fit your growing needs.


However if, despite the customization and ease of access on your computer, you find all of that entirely too daunting there are other avenues to explore. Many sites have been established to help writers track submissions and stay organized.

Submission Managers:



Luminary Writer’s Database – – you can track submissions, find markets and chart your writing. Each aforementioned feature is thoroughly explained and optional so you can pick-and-choose features.

Excel – (you can learn, I promise) – This article on, titled “How to Use Excel – Excel Tutorials for Beginners,” is a straight forward, no frills approach to learning Excel.

– – “Computer Help: How to Use Excel” is an easy visual tool for learning Excel basics.



Duotrope – $5/month – Duotrope exists to help writers help themselves. This site offers a submissions tracker, data reports, a literary search engine and best of all they offer a “calendar of upcoming themes” to get you on an inspirational cycle.

Writer’s Market – $5.99/month – Writer’s Market offers subscribers extensive listings that include publishers, agents, magazines and contests along with organizational tools like personalized folders, electronic records and reference articles. One other thing that Writer’s Market does is show you a side-by-side comparison of how their listings differ from their competitors’.


Other Things to Consider

While staying on top of things and being organized is crucial to your personal success and sanity, there are a few other things that should be taken into consideration – like etiquette.

  • Do not submit more than once during a writing period unless the guidelines clearly state that that sort of thing is acceptable. (If nothing is said, it is not acceptable)
  • Wait at least six months between accepted submissions. It is important to stay on everyone’s good side and to show courtesy and consideration. Do not be an eager beaver and flood their inbox.
  • Address cover letters accordingly – it only takes a couple of minutes to look up who will be reading your piece. A little personalization can go a long way. Think of it as a résumé cover letter – it is very similar.


The writing world can be a fickle mistress. Always do your homework, proceed with caution and cling to your optimism. You will get rejection letters. They are part of the process. Keep them. File them away (or jam them onto a large nail above your desk for motivation like a very young Stephen King) and press on. Every successful writer has been rejected more times than they would like to think about. You will be rejected, too. Hang in there and above all, write on!

Book Review: Heath Course Pak

by Laurie Macfee

Counterpath Lin Cover

Heath Course Pak
Author: Tan Lin
ISBN: 978-1933996271
Publisher: Counterpath Press
Dec 15, 2011
2nd ed, revised

Were you to pick up Tan Lin’s seminal little book Heath at your local bookstore (and may I suggest that if you find it, you buy it immediately), you might take it at face value. It is a 3/8th inch thick soft back, with no page numbers. The cover features the title in red caps, HEATH COURSE PAK RFC. Layered behind that, in black text, is Tan Lin’s name followed by: “plagiarism/outsource, Ed. Rev., Notes Towards the Definition of Culture, Untilted Heath Ledger Project, a history of the search engine, disco OS annotated”.

A quick perusal between the covers will net you the following: it is a book, “set” in plain text (or a courier-esque simulation), a mash up of data sources from RSS (Rich Site Summary) feeds to blog posts, Google searches, retrieved photographs, handwritten notes, redacted text, sticky notes, an interview, annotated text, meta text on design of the book, etc. A disjointed amalgamation, it is written in multiple parts, the most obvious of which are Part 1 Samuel Pepys and Plagiarism, and Part 2 Outsource. But even on a cursory glance, the textual layering posits more “parts” to this book than the noted two.

On the surface, this book appears to be a collage about the actor Heath Ledger’s death in 2008 of an accidental overdose. At one point, Tan Lin even appropriates the minute-to-minute news feed and blog reporting Ledger’s death. There is an autographed fan photo of Ledger on the Broke Back film set, but also one of Jackie Chan in an ad selling Green Tea. As Alice said, “Curiouser and curiouser…”

At this point, two things might occur. First, a reader, aka a “user”, might thumb through the book blindly and try to make some sense of it: dip in and out of the text stream, turning the page when bored, jumping, subverting the authorial intent.  Or is that part of the authorial intent? It is at this point that the questions may begin: Does the author intend for the reader to make her own meaning, a personal grammar? In this way, is the book democratic, perhaps even Marxist, as we upset the power and production of authority? Is that part of Tan Lin’s aim with the sub-title “Notes on the Definition of Culture”: our relaxing attention spans, the temporal nature of information and language in the current zeitgeist? And what is the deal with Jackie Chan? Which leads to the second option: as the reader becomes confounded by the surface, she might return to where she started, and try to untangle the web that is merely the title, let alone subtitle, on the cover.


Grammar is the set of structural rules that governs the composition of clausesphrases, and words in any given natural language. – New American Dictionary

A cloud of philosophy can be condensed into a drop of grammar. –Ludwig Wittgenstein

One way of looking at Heath is as a game, a form of serious play, with the end user as sleuth. If it was digital book, written in hypertext, we could jump from node to node, accessing information. But when readers hold the paper book in sweating palms and are faced with a proliferation of language/data, the notion of interactivity changes. Luckily, from the moment we pick up the book, Tan Lin has set the conditions or grammar for reading it. He has designed the environment for us, if we choose to “interact”. To this end, the cover offers key ways we might begin to understand the text. Armed with my computer, I decided to parse it, to see where it led, in consideration of the contents.

First, because Tan Lin chose to replicate the language of programming as the primary type on the cover and throughout the book, we are notified that we are entering into a world of the data stream. This font is shorthand for the constructed language of technology, where layers of information produce/hide/create/numb meaning. In addition, the title words fall apart on the page, as words do in plain text, creating a disjunction, a level of abstraction.

The first word of the title, HEATH, is our first hint that this is about Ledger (though without opening the book, it could be about the Scottish highlands). Upon realizing the connection with the actor, we might remember that his death was a cause celebre and, as the book notes, over 25,000 stories were produced. His death becomes a perfect catalyst to talk about the cultural simulacra of imagery and text, the way global obsessions light up RSS feeds. This very real tragedy became consumed, a spectacle of representation, a mediated cultural icon producing layers of meaning.  We could choose to tap into or ignore the proliferation. Included in the book is a photocopied prospectus of a paper written about the first edition of this book, which mentions actor network theory, or ANT.  ANT treats objects as part of social networks – mapping relations between materials and concepts.  Ledger’s death is almost a rebus, a pun, for ANT: an actor, whose death becomes the relational material for an entire network of responses, which become a theoretical poetry.

A COURSE pack is a set of materials arranged by a professor to be used in the classroom, including copied articles or portions of books. The packet is a multi-authored compilation, a low-tech aggregation. It is cleared under the Copyright Act of 1976 as fair use, in the educational context only. Tan Lin changes pack to PAK, another technological reference and play on language of software. PAK is a file extension (similar to doc or pdf), an abbreviation of “package”. By titling this book as a COURSE PAK, Tan Lin is signaling that it is a fair use aggregate of technological language. I sense the humor in this, as well as staking ground.

RFC is tech lingo for a “request for comments.” Is the author prodding us to interact, or merely toying with the Internet specifications and protocols for procedures and events?  If this is indeed a course pack, is Tan Lin telling us the readings are up for discussion?


Below Tan Lin’s name, we come to the first part of the subtitle, plagiarism/out source Ed. rev. In the text, Tan Lin complicates authorship by plagiarizing himself (lectures, notes, poetry) as well as outside sources, including Google’s Project Gutenberg. In Part 1, he begins with PG’s representation of Samuel Pepys diary.  Is Google’s offering of this primary source plagiarism or access? As an aside, the original diary was written in shorthand, a code, just as this book is written in a form of shorthand, requiring translation.

Tan Lin’s use of the word outsource denotes the contracting to a third party, such as news blogs, RSS feeds, etc. It may also point to the fact that part of the text was generated in an Asian Poetry Writing Workshop he led. It could even point to a political connotation of contracting public services to for-profit corporations. Regardless, this use of a multi-authored texts points to how we gather information, how language is shared contemporarily in digitized form. Because this is titled a course pack, Tan Lin plays with notions of appropriation, copyright, and censorship – major issues in the age of digital language. A portion of the text, as well as a sourced photo, links to the nature of derivative ecstasy. Finally, I find the Ed. rev. portion to be amusing – a tongue in cheek signifier that this compilation has in fact been edited, and revised.

The second part of the subtitle, Notes on the Definition of Culture, brings questions. Is an RSS feed a manifestation of collective intellectual achievement, a form of art?  Or is it more related to the scientific notion of a culture, an artificial medium that promotes or cultivates replication? At base, is culture a noun or a verb? With technology, is culture a metaphor for how we experience language: remixed, random access, temporal, aggregated, unauthored? How does this affect the audience? In the same way that a repeating sound pattern will lull the eye, does this language of inundation bring on a hypnotic state of mind, which we sometimes call boredom, or numbness, or brainwashing? What happens when we are bored by someone’s death? Is technology neutral or a benign instrument in the construction of culture, one that can be used well or badly, like a gun?

When reading Untilted Heath Ledger Project the brain automatically auto-corrects Untilted to Untitled. This might be a humorous reference by Tan Lin to how fast we type, or the fact that we expect the computer to correct us, or our brains to make sense of nonsense, while also defining the HEATH of the title.  However, if tilt means to unsteady, lean, slant, or cause to topple, then untilted means steady, rise, ascent, increase or agreement. Read with authorial intent, the wording walks both lines – humor and information.

Tan Lin gives us another clue with the subtitle, history of the search engine. It is a short history. From its inception in 1990 with Archie, to Google’s birth in 1996, to Bing in 2009, the ability to search word streams on the World Wide Web has been sculpted into an art form.  In the beginning, users had to enter exact wording, so if you wrote “untllted Heath Ledger Project” into a search engine, nothing might come up. By the time Google came on the scene, with autocorrect and its authorial relativity linked to the number of people visiting a site, questions of language ownership began to rise. Search engines have led us, in 23 years, to the advent of data mining, inexhaustible data horizons, real time information retrieval, open directories, rich source sites, indexing and architecture of information, retrieval index design, permanent storage and retrieval of natural language documents, web crawling, news feeds. Search engine’s revolutionary effects on culture cannot be underestimated: a constructed hyper-reality of hypertext, shared meanings, interconnected with no dominant axis of orientation.

The part of the subtitle that might cause the most initial difficulty is disco OS. What does a dance style have to do with an operating system? Using the ubiquitous search engine, I found two things that shed insight. First, disco is an app that allows you drag, drop and burn info onto discs, and then to instantly search thousands of files across discs.  Perhaps Tan Lin used disco to organize the information streams in the book? But then, I found an essay on the website Project Muse, penned by none other than Tan Lin in 2008, called Disco as Operating System. It linked the generic cultural dance phenomenon and its “mimicked forms of mass cultural production” to the digital age of programmed language we are mired in.  It is a brilliant essay that shed light on production of the book. These passages seem to presage the blanketing of Ledger’s death as noise across the blogosphere, and Tan Lin’s reaction.

Suddenly disco was everywhere, a product without clear origins, broadcast indiscriminately like Tennyson’s and Longfellow’s trance-inducing poems in the nineteenth century or home décor in the post-Bauhaus era….

Inverting Claude Shannon’s theory wherein increased information generates greater noise, disco would blur the distinction between signal and noise….The listener experiences disco desiringly, without listening and blindly, as a function of increasing uncertainty in the remix, where the listener is the output—that is, a programmed state of mindlessness…In this sense, disco exposes even as it camouflages desire as a programmable function.

And so the social world of language production and meaningful utterances is rendered obsolete and automated.

Such a programming language was once called literature (we have chosen to call it art history), though disco, of course, is not a literature at all; it merely simulates the effects of literature (as empty brand) with the uncanny precision of our era’s version of a lullaby: the remix. Disco is a programming language…

In our era, unlike in Shakespeare’s, all plagiarism is part of an operating system. …most writing is automated and invisible, an empty form of surface decoration where “writing” is the instantiation of a software code being transferred from one location to another in an act of self-plagiarization.

Disco provides impetus for new modes of being and nonbeing involved in the writing and in particular the nonwriting of poetry and art, where lyricism, subjectivity, and personal expressiveness might be reduced to blips in an ambient sound track, where historical markers (of cultural products) could be erased, and where nonreading, relaxation, and boredom could be the essential components of a text. Poetry—and here one means all forms of cultural production—should aspire not to the condition of the book but to the condition of variable moods…

Tan Lin plagiarized and annotated himself in writing disco OS into the subtitle, and created a primer for the production of this text. Which brings us to the final word, annotate. Tan Lin points to the fact that he is making comments – he is making a mark. An antonym of annotate is gloss – a translation or explanation of a word or phrase, but also a glitzy reminder or link to the stardom of Ledger. To annotate something is to pay attention – this book is a sustained, voluntary attention, or a continual returning, to its object.


Once I was finished parsing the cover for clues, there remained one question: why a book? A book is a carrier, an information repository. Tan Lin did not choose a tablet, or scroll, or an electronic book, but specifically a codex to carry the language of the digital age. A codex is composed of many little books: leafs of paper, folded into signatures, bound on one end (the spine) between two covers, it appears as one coherent whole.  Tan Lin forced this treatise on multi-authoring/multi-languages into one single platform of exchange – data integration, reconciled representations. If language is a system, a social network, he placed his mash up of digital mayhem in one of the oldest analog information contexts in western civilization, the book. The codex offers compression and portability. We expect linearity, a beginning, middle and end, which Tan Lin subverted beautifully. He replicated the temporal experience of being on a computer (multiple tracks to read, linking non-cohesive fragments, electronic narratives) in an object that can sit on a shelf for a lifetime-one that can be accessed with no electrical components except human impulse.  In the midst of all the abstraction, there is an ounce of hope in that action.

Is this book poetry? Literature? Book arts?  Heath most definitely is an artist’s book, a meditation on our mediated reality in the early 21st century, how we experience the world, or a death.  In an interview in Rhizome, Tan Lin noted, “Human remembering has become impossible.” Hopefully, in explicating the grammar or philosophy of the cover, this blog post lends a small insight to the poetry of memory constructed inside. Paul Valery said a poem is “a prolonged hesitation between sound and sense.” In that way, I believe this project is a vast language poem based on a prolonged hesitation between signal and sense. Tan Lin created a rebus, or perhaps Wittgensteinian language game, with this project. He has woven portals into pages of meaning, and bound the fleeting. You could spend an hour, a day, or a month lost in this portable rabbit hole.

Journal Review: Area Sneaks

by Laurie Macfee

Area Sneaks
Published by Poetic Research Bureau
$15.00 per issue
Los Angeles, CA
ISBN 1939-4152

I just finished writing about The Georgia Review, one of the US’s “finer literary journals.” It is elegant and timeless. I wanted to take time to look at another part of the spectrum with a journal published in Los Angeles called Area Sneaks.  Two issues fell into my hands earlier this month, one from 2008 and the other from 2009. If The Georgia Review is a Merchant Ivory film, then Area Sneaks is an early David Lynch spectacular.

But perhaps that is not a fair comparison. The two journals have different reasons for being: one has published the best of literary tradition for almost 70 years, and was 5th in Pushcart Prize ratings for poetry last year, 6th in fiction.  The other is a cutting edge, pop-up, art-lit mag with completely different aims, as outlined on their website:

AREASNEAKS, a new print and online journal, seeks to touch the live wire where language and visual art meet…. Gertrude Stein’s Paris artist salon, Velemir Khlebnikov and Vladimir Tatlin’s constructive collaboration, Bernadette Mayer and Vito Acconci’s editorial partnership, Augusto de Campos’s concrete engagement with Brazilian modernism and Mike Kelley’s interest in systems of literary knowledge have each provided potential models of positive exchange between artists and writers. AREA SNEAKS hopes to maintain this dialogue by creating a fellowship of discourse within an open community of contemporary artists and writers.

Belatedly, I found out these are the only two issues produced. Which is entirely too bad, as it seems the editors Joseph Mosconi and Rita Gonzalez were stirring up a wicked and fearless brew.


Issue 1: 2008/187 pps.

In the first issue alone there is a 22 pg interview between visual artist Stephanie Taylor with Kathryn Andrews and Michael Ned Holt, which features her sound/photo/sculptural installations in Berlin, creating a narrative over time. There is a new, “Improvisational Score,” by Sawako Nakayasu, a stunning performance poetry piece. You will find the 16 pg “Tearoom Texts: Project,” by William E. Jones, that presents research and clandestine documentary footage shot by police, leading to a crack down on public homosexual sex in the 1960s. There is a 24 pg translated and layered poem, “The Cape of Good Hope,” by French poet Emmanuel Hocquard, written in 18 parts, as well as a prose poem in segments by experimental writer/artist K. Lorraine Graham, which stretches to 7 pages.

Area Sneaks isn’t afraid of length, or depth.  It is not afraid of grainy photographs of men having sex in a public bathroom in Mansfield, Ohio. It unabashedly embraces the concept of hybrid. It lives in a world where there aren’t as many rules, or perhaps the rules are made to be broken. The second issue includes visual poetry experiments, a visual poetry forum, news drawings, and an essay entitled, “From Man’s Wars and Wickedness: A Book of Proposed Remedies and Extreme Formulations for Curing Hostility, Rivalry, and Ill Will”.  Artists interview writers, writers talk with artists; writers use images, artists use words in their compositions, or they work together in collaboration and present image and text side by side. It is part art journal, part lit mag, and part wonderful.

This may be a “temporary” magazine project that may pop back up at another time, but it looks and feels weighty, and substantial. The matte text paper is of beautiful quality, the reproductions are clean, the covers have full-bleed artwork with no title, except on the spine.  The back covers feature a list of artists and authors, the title, and the issue number.

Speaking of lists, another thing Area Sneaks is not afraid of: women. In the first issue, seven women were represented out of 18 contributors, or 38%. But in the second issue, out of 29 contributors, 14 were women, or an increase to 48%. Contrast that to The Georgia Review’s paltry 25% representation of female writers in the pages of last summer’s issue.

Interestingly, Area Sneaks is also a participating partner of the Poetic Research Bureau (, or perhaps it is better to say that the PRB is a literary umbrella for projects such as Area Sneaks.  About the Bureau (from their website):

As a research bloc, the PRB attempts to cultivate composition, publication and distribution strategies that enlarge the public domain. It favors appropriations, impersonations, ‘compost’ poetries, belated conversations, unprintable jokes and doodles, ‘unoriginal’ literature, historical thefts and pastiche. The publication emphasis is on ephemeral works, short-run magazines and folios, short-lived reprints and excerpts in print-on-demand formats, and the occasional literary fetish objects of stupidly incomparable price and value.

Hidden in the center is the phrase “short-run magazines.” I hope they mean the print run of Area Sneaks is short, that each of these issues is a treasure to be hoarded, and not that that the magazine itself is short-run, or on the way out. Since the last issue was four years ago, that may be the case. [see postscript]


Issue 2: 2009/174 pps.

Creating these epic intersections of people and their passions – a community of discourse – must have been a herculean labor of love. It provides a model of what is possible between visual/written/spoken languages. Like all real relationships, or conversations, it is messy and occasionally unsuccessful. But it is in the reaching out, in the making of the bridge, that this journal succeeds wildly. Each of these two issues of Area Sneaks is itself a collaborative art piece. I hope Mosconi and Rodriguez have had a nice hiatus and can get back to it soon, with renewed vigor.

Area Sneaks makes more things possible. Area Sneaks is dead. Long live Area Sneaks.

[postscript: Area Sneaks lives! I wrote to the editor, Joseph Mosconi, to check on what short-run might mean. He got back to me to say they are working on new issues:

“we’re going to focus on less expensive zine-like editions, each with an artist and writer collaboration, interview or pairing, that we can publish on an ad-hoc basis as we receive the submissions. They can then be collected in a box set once the number of editions (10 or so) are complete, and that will complete the third issue. They will be printed and for sale but also appear as free downloadable PDFs. Look for the first ones in January.”

So after the New Year’s bubbly has worn off, check in with! Or better yet, find an artist to collaborate with and send in a submission…]