Author Archives: awetherington

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…]


Unwinding a Difficult Topic


Neal Shusterman
Simon & Schuster

Review by Chelsea Archer

As anyone who has ever read Neal Shusterman will tell you, his books don’t shy away from difficult topics. He broaches these topics by creating fantastical worlds that blend elements of realism. Speculative fiction relies on realism to draw the reader in and make them believe in the absurd happenings of the story. Shusterman’s novels are moral plays, on par with Stephen King’s Misery, Michael Crichton’s Jurassic Park, and Frank Herbert’s Dune.

As the author of over 30 novels, Neal Shusterman knows how to create a burning interest within the first few pages. Like most other YA novels, his characters are often under the age of 20, the parents are no longer in the picture (for a variety of reasons) and they undergo a quest of some sort that changes them at a fundamental level, but unlike most other YA novels, he likes to open his tales with immediate shock and hardship. In Shusterman’s Skinjacker trilogy for instance, readers are taken to children’s limbo where newly dead or dying souls must come to grips with the end of their short lives. The opening page introduces the reader to the heroine as she is killed, instantly drawing us in. Life and death make up a large part of his novels, something that many of us struggle to understand and come to terms with. This serves not only to compel YA readers to consider this heavier topic, but also to bridge the gap between YA and an adult audience.

Just as in past novels, Neal Shusterman’s Unwind creates a fantastic world with our own issues hidden just below the surface. In the United States, sometime in the near future, a second civil war takes place over abortion. The resulting compromise calls for unwanted children between the ages of 13 and 18 to be “unwound” – have their body parts harvested for later use. Since all parts of their body will be reused and live on, technically, the government considers them to still be alive.

Here the reader meets Connor, Risa, and Lev, our three heroes leading us through the narrative. All three are set to be unwound and all three feel differently about their impending dissolution. This is what gives the novel such depth. We are provided with each possible viewpoint into the act of unwinding, allowing us to form our own conclusion. We see one child fighting for his life, one welcoming the end, and another following a religious path.

However, it’s not until Shusterman takes us into the mind of a character being unwound that we can truly appreciate this novel’s depth.

“I’m alone. And I’m crying. And no one is coming to the crib. And the nightlight has burned out. And I’m mad. I’m so mad. Left frontal lobe. I…I…I don’t feel so good. Left occipital lobe. I… don’t remember where…Left parietal lobe. I…I…I can’t remember my name,but…but…Right temporal…but I’m still here. Right frontal. I’m still here… Right occipital. I’m still…Right parietal. I’m…Cerebellum. I’m…Thalamus. I…Hypothalamus. I…Hippocampus…Medulla……………..” (Shusterman 226).

In this passage we see this child’s mind deteriorate as sections of her brain is harvested. Shusterman doesn’t just show the body being taken apart, (which is disturbing by itself) he physically places us into the perfect position to watch as the very essence of a human being is destroyed.

Throughout the novel, Shusterman alludes to questions of the human soul – What is the human soul? If our body is separated but still alive in others, is our soul gone? Did it get transferred? Are we dead or alive? He gives us everything we need to form our own conclusion. But whatever conclusion you may reach, the remainder of the novel is given new power, because we now know the fate that awaits our heroes if they fail – complete and utter dissolution of body and mind.

YA fiction is underrated in the adult community, but it should be given a chance, because by having fewer expectations than a literary novel, YA novels are able to take more risks, thus providing the reader with a new experience. Although not as popular as The Hunger Games or Harry Potter, Unwind is the perfect novel for those who wish question their beliefs, better understand a topic of great controversy, and wonder how the human mind adapts to new perspectives. Read this book.


What to do When You’re a Genre Writer

Highlight: Horror

Miller_bred2by Crystal Miller


Being a genre writer can produce hurdles in your publishing prowess. I could produce an endless list of agents, sites and magazines that state, “no genre pieces, please.” Insert deep sigh. At least they said “please,” right? It’s enough to drive any sane writer right over a cliff. However, despite the troubles that seem to be ever mounting for writers, there is some relief if we roll up our sleeves and do a little digging – okay, a lot of digging.


Accepting Your Genre-Specific Persecutions

Horror writers often get a bad rep just for carrying the title associated with their genre. We may write other things, but horror just happens to be our sweet spot – the dark spot where we shine. Another pesky little thing: we are also not science fiction or fantasy writers – not that there is anything wrong with that. However, that is apparently the group to which we have been assigned. It is hard to find a press, electronic or otherwise, that does not lump these three genres together. Perhaps during the early genre-assigning-days all three topics were much less common and the speculative nature was enough of a commonality. So what to do when you are lumped into a category that is limited and you’re only a fraction of that? Like those who struggled before us, (picture a budding Stephen King here) you make the best of it and if you really, really, really want it, you will go out there and make it happen.

In an effort to stand out amongst your peers (sci-fi and fantasy writers included) you need to pay particular attention to how your writing fits into any possible environment. What does this mean? Like any other writer, not every venue fits or even wants to read your work. Therefore, in an effort not to waste anyone’s time, an editor’s or your own, do your homework. Read, read, read! If you have not read the magazine, do not submit to it. If you have not read anything produced by them, you cannot possibly know what they like.


Where to Turn


Literary magazines often shun us, agents deny us, and the stigma of being a “genre writer” in and of itself haunts us. There is a light at the end of the treacherously winding tunnel though if you are determined enough to trudge there and there are resources that do include us if we peer into the crevices. Yay! One of the first things to do is find a database that suits you. I am particularly fond of The Review Review ( It is an invaluable resource – despite the fact that you have to manually comb through their many, many listings alphabetically – they are a supplier of presses of every kind. There will be fruits of your labors though and you will find a few fitting outlets for your work.

From The Review Review, I have found websites like these:

These particular outlets may not work for every horror writer, but they do show that there is hope out there. You may also found that reading the bios of like-minded writers in aforementioned journals will lead you to other resources that you may not have otherwise discovered.


Play to Their Preferences


Don’t forget that editors are people – and people have preferences. Some preferences are easy to spot during your homework/research phase but others can be more elusive. Some sites will even tell you upfront what they do not like: i.e. political references, sexual situations, strong religious undertones, etc. When in doubt, ask around. Your peers may have gleaned some insight from something that you glossed over. During a recent inquiry, Laura Roberts (the Editor and founder of the aforementioned Black Heart Magazine) revealed that she is turned off by “buckets of blood” horror. Her “personal taste runs more towards the thriller or suspense end of things, which…have elements of horror stories to them, but are more psychological than physical in their violence.” This is an imperative piece of information when submitting to this magazine or any journal looking for horror. Not a big deal, just submit something where you have turned down the gore and voila! Your chances of being picked up have dramatically increased. Bottom line: Be cognizant of what you are submitting and to whom it is going.



In any effect – this path to horror publication is riddled with hills and potholes that are not likely to let up any time soon; that is okay though. Do not be daunted. This is the path of your passion and once your current resources are spent or you simply crave more variety, you can dive back into the dark depths to discover more. Luckily, the Internet proves a source of ever-evolving resources at your fingertips. Again, remember and admire the determination of those who prospered before the advantage of the web but with a little effort and a ton of determination, we genre writers will not be excluded, will not be forgotten. Keeping that in mind, keep digging and above all, write on!


Miller headshot


Crystal Miller currently lives in Tampa, FL with her family. She is a voracious reader and before entering Sierra Nevada’s MFA program, she earned her Bachelor of Arts at SUNY Empire State College with a dual major in Literature and Creative Writing. Crystal is currently working on her first novel, which will be the first in a series regarding female serial killers.

Rejection Coping Mechanism



By Chris Muravez

Rejection. You would think I’d be used to this by now. I’ve been turned down for jobs, by women, by men (well, that happened once, but that’s a different story and a rather confusing period in my life), and by publishers. But it’s that last one that always stings, especially since I’ve made the choice a few years ago to dedicate my life to my art. Being turned away by my favorite publishers always hurts more than not getting that interview, that second date, that kiss good night.

This last summer I spent a rather damaging amount of time putting together a short collection of poems. My first chapbook. My first real attempt to enter the published literary world. I say a damaging amount of time because by the end of it all my friends and family were seriously concerned for my sanity. But what good is sanity when I get to spend my days writing and creating? Sure, I spend my time “working” at a “job” or maintaining a living environment that might actually be livable. Then again, I wouldn’t be able to produce 18 pages of poetry that is rejected by everyone; which, in turn, means that I also wouldn’t have the experience to tell you these things. But let’s not get on the problem of causation here, there were more important things at work.

This enterprise of mine wasn’t completely devoid of coherent thought, however. I did a lot of research into chapbook calls and contests (see the post on Duotrope). Some of my favorite journals, Burnside Review, Arcadia Magazine, and Rattle, all had contests that I could enter. I also felt confident enough to give them all a shot, and the biggest motivator for me was the work itself. That creative process that produces a light at the end of a tunnel you didn’t even know you were in. That constricting tunnel of everyday life in a totalizing environment of confusion and consumerism. The work itself is an escape, a rage, a release.  That is why many of write in the first place, isn’t it? But once you’re done (or done enough, I fall under the “a poem is never really finished” camp) it isn’t enough. It has to be understood by others too. That is how we connect after all. That’s why we write. We want to the world to know we are here, we are human, and to listen to us (or read us). So, with a determined drive, I voraciously created.

Once my work was sent out, I had a serious sense of accomplishment. That hardest part at this point was to not dwell on the possibilities that the future of my endeavors held. But this is hard when I have my Submittable page bookmarked on my computer, always sitting there tempting me to check its status.

Then I got my first rejection, from Burnside Review, and I felt a slight pin prick in my chest. Granted Burnside was not my big hopeful for publication, I still felt that twinge of sorrow that rejection brings. And I know better. We all know better than to get our aspirations to a point that when it falls through we regress into depression. But knowing and doing are two different things here. I could go on about what rejection is to writers. I could sit here and throw phrases about perseverance and patience at you. After all, rejection (at least in this context) is part of a writer’s life. But I did learn something.

When I saw who won the contest, Ed Skoog, I realized that I was going up against some heavy hitters. People who are established, but have most likely gone through similar torturous experiences. This is when I learned that rejection doesn’t necessarily take patience or perseverance, but practice. I learned that as I develop my skills as a writer, rejection is one of them, and quite possibly the most important. Becoming disciplined at rejection, or at least dealing with it, I don’t want to project an air of mediocrity here, is an often overlooked foundation of writing and trying to get published. Sure, I could fall back into my usual attitude of “Fuck the system” and become a rogue writer, but that requires more discontent than I care to deal with. So, practice. I still have a few more submissions out there, and if they turn me down too, I’m prepared for it (but I might just lose my shit if Arcadia rejects me).

On Writing: Tobias Wolff

By Laurie Macfee

On September 6th, Tobias Wolff touched down on the campus of SNC for a brief but profound visit.  His book School Days, about a boy’s evolution into a writer, is the all-school read of 2013. What a gift for emerging writers to hear a writer talk about his process and journey towards craft.  In case you missed it, here are some highlights.

He built on the theme that a “love of reading leads to a love of writing,” and told the standing-room-only crowd about his earliest influences.  Wolff wished they were as profound as Susan Sontag’s love of Kierkegaard, but admitted his own started with a love of Albert Terhune, who wrote books about collie dogs, such as The Lad.  He read all 50 books in the series at the public library, noting that it is “superficial pleasures that make readers of us.”  Which, I must admit, made me feel better about my own early Nancy Drew/Agatha Christie obsess-athon.

The librarian saw his interest and introduced him to London’s Call of the Wild and White Fang, after which he found his way to Hemingway, O. Henry and Fitzgerald. Wolff began writing stories during a time when, “books seemed to arrive from another world.”  His writing style was an imitation of his favorite authors, but he also copied stories by typing them verbatim, the way a musician might play Coltrane to learn jazz or an artist might learn to paint by copying a Monet. Being a visual artist myself, I never made that connection with writing – that you have to copy someone’s strokes before you begin to understand your own hand.  He said that writers must, “free yourself through imitation – everyone has to pass thru that stage.”

Hemingway especially was a strong early influence, changing Wolff’s understanding of what a writer does. “What always gets me is the intimacy of it….  tenderness, fragility, the breakability of a person.  To begin to discover these things is to begin to call yourself to account, and it is this that starts to make you into a writer.” Another influential writer was Tolstoy.  Speaking about the short story Master and Man, he noted that the “moral inventory Tolstoy took of himself is what allowed the story to come into being; to find what is true or embarrassing links us to other people in a dramatic form.” I connected this to a question that runs constantly through my head: what did I risk on the page? My goalpost seems to move with alarming frequency.

While autobiographical elements influenced Wolff’s writing of School Days, he drove home the differences between fiction and memoir, saying, “Writers must know what they are writing before they set out.  When you put dye in the water, it is no longer clear. From the outset, this had to be a work of fiction.”  He noted that writing fiction draws on everything, while memoir must in essence be true, all of it, even if edited to “discern a shape in the life you are writing about.” It made me question where poetry landed on fiction/memoir scale – the blurring of the lines allowed, how even something “truthful” was shaded.

Wolff chose the three writers that visited the school in the novel (Ernest Hemingway, Robert Frost and Ayn Rand) because, “they were all legendary personas that self-consciously created themselves in the public eye.”  He found it “permissible to be able to put dialog in their mouths because they used themselves in this way.”  I loved how he had to negotiate this authority to be able act on his creative impulse.  That he told us about it.

In answer to a reader wishing there was more in the ending about certain characters, Wolff gave a reply that was a wonderful summation of a writer’s role: “since no two people read a book the same way, I want to engage the imagination in such a way that I could begin the arc of a story and then trust the reader – so when I step out of the way, you can finish the circle without me. I want to politely introduce you all, then walk away.”

When asked why there was such a span of time between an event occurring and when Wolff wrote about it (perhaps 25 yrs), he said it “needed time to sit and season, so I can see the form of the experience – the shape.  To see what was important and what was not.  Things have to settle for me…. so I won’t be self-defensive, or self-protective.” This notion has come up two times since Wolff spoke, most recently for a writer in my poetry group: how you can’t write about the thing until one day, you can.  I told her what Wolff had said and it helped her as much as it did me – a certain recognition of a shared trait.

Wolff spoke about process, how he wished he could call up good stories on command – how that was not possible for him. “The spark of a story is a gift. It is given, it isn’t determined by you. All it takes is one or two years for it not to be given to see the truth of this.” And he never talks about a story until he has finished in its entirety. “The idea can be talked away.  It’s a mystery to be respected.”  I’d always thought that the possibility of a piece was like a held breath and sharing it pre-maturely allowed a bit to escape. What a relief this isn’t a solitary assumption.

Boarding schools are an often maligned subject, but Wolff wanted to “honor the rigor, the close friendships, generosity and truth seeking, the love of literature” he found at his school, a place where in writing, “the attempt was honored.” He also recounted how the first person that told him he should be a writer was another student – the weight that voice carried. It led him to want to create a novel “about vocation, how someone wants to become something – that crisis of identity.  To reconcile present conditions with a history.” The fact that Wolff painted an arc that mimicked his own, addressed the breakability of a person very like his own person, called himself into account – that is what made for such a generous read.

At the end of his lecture, he read one of my favorite dog-eared portions of the book, which begins with the protagonist relating a “shadow on my faith in the school.”  Wolff said that, as amazing as his experience was at his own school, he couldn’t ignore the class divisions. From the book: “Much as I wanted to believe in its egalitarian vision of itself, I never dared put it to the test.  Other boys must have felt the same intimations.  Maybe that was why so many of them wanted to become writers. Maybe it seemed to them, as it did to me, that to be a writer was to escape blood and class.”  The passage goes on to speak about the power of a writer, ending, “And why would Caesar fear Ovid, except for knowing that neither his divinity nor all his legions could protect him from a good line of poetry.”

I so want to believe that is true.  Thanks Mr. Wolff, for holding it out as a possibility.



Sincere thanks to June Saraceno for engineering this opportunity for readers and writers, and to Tobias Wolff for his generosity, eloquence, and wit – he was a storyteller in every sense. 



Laurie Macfee_headshotLaurie Macfee is working on her MFA Creative Writing (poetry) at SNC. She is currently the Redfield Fellow in Book Arts at the Black Rock Press at University of Nevada, Reno, and poetry editor of the Sierra Nevada Review. Before focusing on writing, she was Director of the Sheppard Gallery, Curator of Education at the Nevada Museum of Art, Co-Founder of Youth ArtWorks, part-time instructor at UNR and full-time art teacher at Reno High. She has a BA Liberal Studies and BFA Photography from San Jose State University, and did MFA studies in Visual Art at University of South Florida.




The Low Cost and High Benefit of Using Duotrope

Duotrope, as of January 1st, 2013, is now a subscription based service. Why, you ask? Duotrope has this to say:

 “For over seven years, Duotrope has tried to make ends meet by asking those who use the website or subscribe to our newsletter to contribute a small amount. Unfortunately, only about 10% of those who have used our services have ever contributed, and we haven’t met any of our monthly goals since 2007. Quite simply, we can no longer afford to run Duotrope this way.”

So, in essence, because of the stinginess (or at least perceived stinginess) of the Duotrope community, their hand was forced.

Conventional wisdom might assert that this is a terrible decision and that the switch to premium based accounts would undoubtedly lower the traffic and use of Duotrope. I believe that this is false. For one, Duotrope’s subscription based service is a middling $5 a month, or $50 for a full year. For the services that Duotrope offers (more on that later), it is a veritable steal. I understand that I sound like a Duotrope spokesperson but I assure you I’m not getting a dime of your possible $5. From an affordability stance, $5 is less that what one pays for a soda and a candy bar anymore

Frankly, the $5 a month fee is worth it alone for Duotrope’s submission manager. Rather than having to keep a mental list or an Excel spreadsheet of all of your submissions and progress, Duotrope does this for you. Granted, it still requires manual input because one does not submit directly through Duotrope; to offset that, by reporting one’s submissions and acceptances/rejections, statistics are produced that give one an idea of how stringent or lenient a journal may be. For example, we may have all heard how selective Beloit Poetry Journal is, but at Duotrope, there are statistical averages: based on 1009 reports over the last 12 months, BPJ rejects 96.73% of all submissions. These numbers are not meant to dissuade an aspiring author, but rather give them notice of how selective a journal is, reinforcing the idea of submitting only one’s absolute best work.

Duotrope also features arguably the best search index for writers of any genre. Do you write erotic surreal horror stories? Duotrope can find a journal for you. General free verse poetry? Duotrope will help you to narrow down your results because you will receive over 800 hits. Duotrope currently boasts a database of 4,845 markets. Markets include print, electronic, and audio publications, 39 different countries of publication and payment scales from nothing to professional as well as royalties. A note on payments, however: “professional payment” varies between fiction and poetry. For poetry, a professional payment is considered anything from $50 and up whereas for fiction, 5 US cents and up (so a 3,000 word story could garner from $150 to thousands). There are other payment types in-between such as “token” and semi-pro. The best source of information on this would be 1) the journal in question’s Duotrope page or 2) Duotrope’s own glossary:

There are some downsides, of course. Some markets don’t update their postings very often so you will often have to check with the website for up to date information (though Duotrope itself lists this as a disclaimer on every market page). Navigation can be a cumbersome at times and even though the submission tracker is a great tool, if you submit multiple stories/poems in a single sitting, it can be a bit tedious to go through and manually enter information; the statistics gleaned from the tracker can also be a bit slanted at times simply because not everyone reports when they submit or even when they are accepted/rejected.  With these sparse qualms in mind though, the $5 a month asking price is more than suitable for Duotrope. The odds of you finding some of these markets based on Google or other internet searches is pretty low either from other markets padding the results with money or simply growing weary of dozens of pages without results. There’s really nothing to lose by subscribing to Duotrope. If you still go unpublished, the sheer amount of journals that are added to Duotrope monthly will doubtlessly keep your writing mind up to snuff. Who knows, maybe you’ll even publish a piece about not getting published. All thanks to Duotrope.

Bryce Bullins is a senior at Sierra Nevada College and currently an editor for the Sierra Nevada Review as well as Secretary of the Creative Writing 1185103_493500820740384_1027424062_nClub. He is majoring in English with a minor in music (classical voice). He has interests in philosophy (continental), sociopolitical systems, music, and abstraction. When not writing poetry or reviews, he is practicing voice or has his nose buried in a book (or e-book reader) or is polluting his ears with sonic vibrations.

One State, One Writer’s Group, 1600 Voices

By Chelsea Archer

As anyone who has ever moved knows, living in a new city with no friends or acquaintances can be daunting. Having lived my entire life in Reno, NV, suddenly picking up and moving to Oregon was both the most exciting and scary thing I’d ever done, of course that was before I got married. Being a writer, one of the first things I did was look for a local writing group that could get me feeling more connected to the community and pull me out of my anti-social bubble. In stepped the Willamette Writers group. With more than 1,600 members and four regional chapters, they instantly made me feel like I’d made the right choice moving to Oregon. I recently sat down with the Willamette Writers manager Bill Johnson, who was gracious enough to provide a few words of wisdom.

Chelsea: What got you personally interested in writing?

Bill: In high school, I had no interest in literature (I enjoyed reading James Bond novels and encyclopedias), but then I read a collection of best of year science fiction short stories. They were powerful stories that spoke about the world I lived in, in a way that literary fiction had never done for me.  They made me think. I started writing science fiction short stories.

Chelsea: How did Willamette Writers get started?

Bill: Willamette Writers was started in 1965 by a group of local writers. In the early days, they had dinner meetings with a speaker at a local restaurant.  It cost $10 to attend a one day conference. That was 1973. There was only one chapter in Portland, with a monthly newsletter. Membership was under 100.

Chelsea: What is the mission / goal of Willamette Writers?

Bill: To encourage and promote writers. We have chapters in Portland, Eugene, Medford, Salem, and Newport. The meetings are a place for writers to gather and share information, and the meetings also provide a place for authors and teachers to do presentations and workshops. We have a Herzog Writing Scholarship for high school seniors and college freshman and sophomores, and a Cynthia Whitcomb Scholarship for local teachers and students to attend our conference. Our Kay Snow contest is free for students in grades 1-12. We’ve had students and their families come to an awards banquet at our annual conference. We’ve even had some adult winners fly in from long distances to accept awards; people have told us winning a writing award was the highlight of their life. As more authors self-publish, we offer our members an opportunity to promote their work on our website, an email list, and our newsletter. We do a Books for Kids program that, via grants and donations, buys new books to donate to local organizations that serve children. We also collect gently used books to pass along. Our monthly newsletter is also a place where members can post news about publication or workshops.

Chelsea: What advice do you have for aspiring writers?

Bill: Mainly, don’t lock yourself into one style of writing. I started out writing science fiction short stories, wrote a few unpublished science fiction novels, then became a produced playwright, then a writer/director for video productions. Then I read manuscripts for literary agents and screenwriters in Hollywood, then became office manager of Willamette Writers. When a door opens, go through it. I ignored the people who told me I needed permission to open and go through doors.

Chelsea: What books inspire you?

Bill: When I was young, that collection of science fiction short stories had a huge impact on my life, and seeing a live performance of The Glass Menagerie on TV. It was mesmerizing. My young sisters were bawling as we watched. Kurt Vonnegut blew off the top of my head when I was in my early twenties. In terms of books, The Tin Drum astonished me. Most books, I have a sense of how an author wrote the book. The Tin Drum was beyond my understanding.

Chelsea: What cultural value do you see in writing, reading, storytelling, etc?

Bill: I see plays as the most primal form of storytelling. I see life itself as a story, and definitely things like politics as a form of storytelling. I’ve found in reading manuscripts that struggling writers often don’t understand the difference between writing for an audience and writing as a method to process their issues in life (emotionally numb authors write novels with emotionally numb main characters; authors who feel unacknowledged write novels with main characters who are acknowledged everywhere they go, while characters symbolic of the people the author feels in their personal lives who don’t offer the acknowledgement the author desires, often suffer violent deaths). In a larger sense, people can look back at the industrial revolution and marvel how people managed to survive going from living on farms for generations to crowded slums working in factories. A thousand years from now people will look back at the last twenty years and marvel how anyone survived going from an industrial to a digital society. Uplifting movies and sitcoms that help people relax and feel good about their TV friends are a part of how people survive in our society, for better or worse. The internet offers people a new form of feeling both connected and disconnected, but it’s the new world we live in. I’m not sure how this will play out in terms of storytelling, other than political campaigns and commercials being more sophisticated and compelling to a target audience.

Chelsea: What is the most important thing people don’t know about writing?

Bill: The difference between personal storytelling (stories written to transport the author or deal with the author’s issues in life) and telling a story to an audience, which requires a story, a plot, a main character who wants something, a point, etc.

Chelsea: Why do you think writers should join a group?

Bill: Writing can be a solitary profession, and for some writers personal contact with other authors is both affirming and inspiring. A few authors use networking to get where they want to go as an author (published, produced, etc). That said, some writers enjoy workshops, while others prefer to write intuitively and not explore their writing process. Writers should check out several groups to find the one that meets their needs.


Bill Johnson is author of A Story is a Promise & The Spirit of Storytelling, a writing workbook. He is a produced playwright, has done film work for hire, and read manuscripts for literary agents. He’s the office manager for Willamette Writers, a non-profit writing group based in Portland, Oregon, with over 1,600 members. He reviews popular stories to explore principles of storytelling at his website,

chelsea clarksonChelsea Archer was born and raised in Reno, NV. After earning a Bachelors degree in English with a minor in Medieval and Renaissance Studies from the University of Nevada – Reno, she moved to Eugene, OR, where the beautiful landscape quickly began inspiring her writing. She is currently earning her MFA in Creative Writing from Sierra Nevada College. She also works as a Firearm Inspector at Cabelas. When not working or writing she enjoys hiking, scuba diving, and horseback riding. She is currently writing the first in a trilogy of speculative fiction novels that takes place in the Oregon mountains.