Books and Videogames: A Marriage of Two Mediums

By: Autumn Magro

I love videogames more than books – sometimes. It’s not easy to admit that books are not my one bountiful passion in life (because how romantic is that?), and it’s taken me even longer to rationalize the two together.

Unlike books, there is a negative connotation with video games. There is a good possibility that a certain type of person comes to mind when you think of this medium: orange Dorito-fingered teenagers with potty mouths perhaps. I get it. The buzzwords are endless: unintelligent, mindless, frivolous – the list goes on. Perhaps this is why I hid my late-night gaming sessions from everyone except close relatives and my boyfriend for years.

But this past December, I stumbled across a blog while sitting on a bullet train on its way to Zurich: “Video Games: Developing a New Narrative.” The fact that the word found its way onto a literary website was in itself astounding to me, since typically these two worlds steer clear of one another. Instead of a scathing review of games’ gross lack of content and taste, I was pleased to find the author of the piece defending their credibility with one pointed question: “Must a video game be on par with such literature as Dickens’s Great Expectations or Tolstoy’s War and Peace to receive recognition [as an art form]”? The answer: Certainly not.

The primary argument presented for video games as an art form is that it is a dynamic medium for storytelling. Furthermore, it allows you to “do things with narrative that no other medium has done before” and that is be in control over the unfolding of events. Naturally, all humans look for some modicum of control over their lives, but there is a delicate balance. Too much control leads to hubris. Too little control leads to manipulation.

For me, this is a balance that I’ve begun to internalize by examining my use of video games and books in my own life. Recently, I’ve let Dostoevsky rule over my time and pick apart my notions of judgment and justice to the wee hours of twilight. I spent spring break playing an interactive story by Telltale games called “Life is Strange,” which got me thinking about the weight of my choices on others and how life can truly be strange sometimes. And that’s okay.

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“Life is Strange”

Furthermore, it is video games that have taught me a little bit like what it feels like to be a writer, a passion I have wrestled and wrangled with over the years.  I take great care in choosing paths for character in games, which is not unlike what a writer does for those in their books. I feel for them. I revel when I can lead the detective to the missing girl in “Heavy Rain,” or cry when I have Joel lie to Ellie in the final scene of “The Last of Us.” These things matter to me in the same way that they do in my own stories.

Above all, I’ve gleaned what I believe I already knew: I am a lover of all kinds of stories. I like to be told stories as much as I like to tell them to others. The parallel of these two inherent desires is one that books and video games have bred into me over years. They have crossed the delicate and sometimes hostile line between mediums and have found a happy middle in their ability to offer me their stories.

And now, when someone says to me “I don’t read,” instead of drawing that line in the sand between readers and non-readers, I offer them my PS4 copy of Metro 2034 (which also may happen to be based on a book of the same title), and let the story do the rest.

Oh My Pod! Podcasts to Keep You Entertained Over Spring Break

By: Mairead Loschi

Podcast microphone

(Creative Commons/ Flickr)

Spring Break is finally here and it couldn’t have come sooner. You’re probably off to an exotic location or maybe even your bed (both options sound pretty amazing right now). Midterms are over and this is your chance to relax and get away from all of that reading and studying. On those long flights to Puerto Rico or the hours whiling away in your room (ignoring the dishes and laundry your parents have started to nag you about) I am sure that you will be craving entertainment. Sure, you could binge-watch something on Netflix. However, I would like to offer you a better option… listen to that podcast you’ve been thinking about for so long.

No matter what mood you’re in or what you hope to get out of your relaxing spring break, let my podcast suggestions be your newest form of escapism for this week of leisure.

1. The Podcast(s) for Your Inner Crime Detective

At this point if you haven’t listened to Serial I have only one thing to say to you: just do it! Seriously, do it now. Don’t continue reading this article until you’ve finished it. Okay, you’re back. At this point you’re probably full to the brim with theories and even more questions than you have answers for. In that case, I would suggest that you move from Serial to Stranglers, a new podcast from Earwolf. Strangles investigates the Boston Strangler murders that occurred during the 1960’s. If you can get past the strained Boston accents and old-timey sound of some of the voice actors, I promise that you’re in for a real treat. I enjoyed it because of the New England elements of the story, the mystery and theories I developed along the way (more than one killer?), and the larger social dialogue it fosters about the general populist’s fascination with serial killers and violence against women.

2. The Podcast to Enjoy from Your Bed

In Your Dreams is a hilarious podcast that will captivate all those mystified by the unconscious or haunted by their dreams. Now is your chance to analyze all those crazy nightmares that always seem to pop-up around midterm season. In this new podcast from Earwolf, comedians Chris Gethard and Gary Richardson dive into dreams that have been submitted by their listeners. They provide absurdist analysis, coin new phrases along the way (reality-mare anyone?), and ultimately make you question your own psyche. I’ll freely admit that I’ve gotten inspiration for stories from the strange dreams that have been shared on this podcast. The only downside to this series is the shameless plugs for In Your Dream’s sponsor: Casper mattress. However, the occasional annoying commercial is well worth it for the belly laughs that you’re sure to have. I love that this podcast popularizes dream analysis and introduced me to so many great comedians along the way. It’s definitely worth checking out.

3. The Podcast for When You Don’t Want to Watch the Bourne Trilogy on Its 700th Rerun

Let me tell you about one of my favorite podcasts. Yup, I said it. It’s an amazing series and I will stand by that comment. The name of the podcast is Homecoming from Gimlet media. It’s a radio drama that is so beautifully layered that it creates a completely immersive listening experience. Above all things, this podcast excels at characterization. It has taught me how to write dialogue more effectively than any other medium. This podcast demonstrates that what is unsaid can create both mystery and be more impactful than that which is explained. A few things I LOVE about this podcast are: 1) the voice talent features actors such as Catherine Keener, Oscar Isaac, and David Schwimmer, 2) the psychological thriller and military elements, and 3) the “behind the scenes look” for each episode includes the books that inspired each podcast. I would classify Homecoming as a must listen. I’ll admit that if you listen to this podcast and nothing else on this list, I’ll be content.

4. The Podcast for When You Need a Bedtime Story

I found Myths and Legends last summer when I was looking for someone willing to read me a bedtime story (and yes I am a 21 year old quasi-adult—what’s it to ya?). The host, Jason Weiser, has an undeniably soothing voice and is as talented at research as Beowulf is at being a bad-ass epic hero. Weiser can weave a tale like an English major (maybe because he was one). His podcast covers everything from folklore and mythology to fairytales. Things I dislike about this podcast: nothing except having to wait a week for the next episode to be posted. Things I love about this podcast: both the incredulous sarcasm (see The Little Mermaid episode) and the nerdy jokes.

5. The Podcast for Laughing with Your Squad

If you love girl power, abbreviations, and laughing until you cry then you’re sure to enjoy 2 Dope Queens with comedians Phoebe Robinson and Jessica Williams. The tone of the podcast is so seamlessly candid that it’s as if you’re talking with your best friend about each episode’s topic: social issues, angry uber drivers, boyfriend drama, and strong women. Each podcast features three guest comedians who share their own hilarious and relatable stories. I’ll admit that I’ve been inspired to write a few poems from the human stories shared on this series. 2 Dope Queens has also encouraged me to incorporate more comedy into my fiction pieces. The thing that I like most about this podcast is how diverse the voices, stories, bodies, and experiences are while still resonating with the listener. I always feel happier and more empowered after I listen to this series.

6. The Podcast for Fangirling Over Your English Professors

If you want to bask in the creative talent of your fellow students and achieve a more thorough understanding of your favorite professors, I would definitely recommend that you check out Professors Are People Too. UConn’s Ali Oshinskie uses her podcast to interview both her peers and professors, allowing her audience the chance to really get to know the person standing in the front of their lecture hall. Episodes feature Gina Barreca, Cathy Schlund-Vials, and LRR’s fearless faculty advisor Sean Frederick Forbes (O Captain! My Captain!). A must listen for any UConn student!

7. The Podcast for Your Love of All Things LRR Related

The Long River Review has its own companion podcast. The intro episode will be out next week. Listen in for a sneak peek into the making of the Long River Review, hear readings from poets and authors, and LRR staff interviews. Listen to it! Shameless self-plugs for days!

Embarrassing First Lines

By: Sydney Lauro

A few years ago, my mom found an old composition notebook of mine from when I was a wee tike. In it, there was one entry that struck her. It said something like: “Meghan (my sister) says if I try hard one day I might write good.” Even little me knew that I wanted to be a novelist. The phases of me wanting to be a pediatrician, an architect, a buyer / business lady wouldn’t last. What parent wouldn’t be proud of their kid throwing away money and stability for books and an inevitable prescription for glasses?

Well, my mom was thrilled. She had read every crappy novel I ever wrote, and she was still like, “Go, Sydney! Live your dream!”

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(Creative Commons/ Flickr)

And I believe that she was right to do so. I’ve come a long, long way. It’s a history I’m both mortified and thrilled to share. So, here goes:

It all began a long time ago with a fantasy novel I wrote and re-wrote a few times before finishing. It’s called Sarma. The first line was: “The rain soaked my auburn hair, and the tiny droplets of water destroyed my fabulous silk robes.” Yikes. A little melodramatic, and not very original or interesting. But hey, at least I didn’t write a character exactly like me. Auburn hair and fab silk robes? That ain’t me.

When I was 13, I was still a little stuck. In a book labeled “Love Story 2009,” we get: “The raindrops were like bullets ricocheting off the mansions rooftop.” Rain again? This was also back when I was thinking, “wow love stories are the way to go.”

The same year I decided to write something called To the Stars With Difficulty (who knows why that title) and I diverged from the rain trope, electing to go with: “My name is Cadence, Cadence Morgan Foxwood.” While I admit that’s a great name, it’s no call to read. There’s nothing at stake. What’s to separate Cadence Foxwood from Alex Chase? Carmody Evans? She might as well be Jane Doe. Jane Doe might even be more interesting.

’09 must have been a big year for me because I also started a project called Dreamweaver. “The Suburban street flashed by outside the car window, and I ducked down, out of sight, from the children playing foolish games like street hockey and tag.” Oh those hooligans! Playing street hockey? And tag? The nerve! I think it’s obvious that teenage me had some angst and wasn’t the most social creature (I mean, I wrote the greater part of three books that year).

The next year brought even more angst. The Shoes of Jennifer Satchet began a little like “Junior year is not something worth looking forward to.” Poor young Sydney. She was only a freshman and already dreading junior year. I still couldn’t separate my emotions from my writing and couldn’t put myself in the mind of other people.

And there’s a whole era of these self-obsessed, cliché, trite, boring, bored, depressed, self-loathing novels. There’s With Yet Stronger Reason, which I’m pretty sure is about this time-traveller dude who is miserable and depressed until he meets this chick Misty. Boring.

BOOK – MUSIC is about two musicians at a highly competitive school being depressed together. And somehow learning the Japanese language is involved.

WALKING BOOK is something about how King Aldrous the Mighty (yeah, that’s right) was an asshole and these people became outcasts in society.

But then there’s a breakthrough. I never titled this one, but it’s called “humanoids, dystopia novel,” and I started it in 2011 when I was 16.

“I remember my father telling me we had all but won.” That’s not half bad. So they lost? Lost what? Why did your dad tell you that? What’s the story? It evokes some curiosity, it has nothing to do with my little teenage life, it doesn’t involve rain or being depressed, and I had finally written a strong main character who wasn’t sad all the time. But more importantly, I found my aesthetic: social commentary. ‘Humanoids, dystopia novel’ is about different species of human emerging over time and how they are discriminated and hunted by the regular humans. So yeah, still a little angsty, but it was a direct commentary on things I was seeing in the world. Things I wanted to create a conversation about. Break. Through.

I took a hiatus for a little bit, but I came back strong with the next book. This project turned into a trilogy. And I actually finished every single one.

The Garden of Eden: The prologue begins “The Earth is, or was, or was meant to be, paradise.” (Ooh what does that mean?) And chapter one starts with some anonymous narrator asking, “Can I show you something?”

The Earth King: “It was said that the valley below the escarpment was something truly beautiful.”

The Man and His Star: “Men would later say that there was a first cause to the universe.”

Getting better, right?

I’m now writing my thesis, which is a novel. Its prologue starts, “His fingers snapped, crisply popping, though it felt more like metal kernels of popcorn exploding through the joints in his hand.” I admit this was not the original first line because even that was bad. In fact, chapter one became chapter two, and then I still decided to add a prologue to bury the original first sentence. It goes to show that writing is this constantly evolving process that’s never really finished or perfect.

I’m already writing ahead, trying to figure out what my next book will be, because what looking back at these crappy first lines tells me is that I’m growing exponentially. I’m growing so fast that I can’t even finish a book before outgrowing the beginning.

It’s important to look at this hilarious progression of first-sentences. It’s important to remember how bad you were once but that hard work pays off. Great writers don’t become that way overnight.

Make It A Big Deal: An Interview with Matvei Yankelevich

Matvei Yankelevich is the Co-Founder and Co-Executive Director of Ugly Duckling Presse, which he started in the late 1990’s with a group of friends. He designs and edits books for UDP, curates the Eastern European Poets Series (since 2002), and co-edits 6×6 magazine (since 2000). He shares duties as UDP’s Co-Executive Director with Anna Moschovakis. His most recent publication of poetry is Some Worlds for Dr. Vogt (Black Square). His writing has appeared in A Perimeter, ActionYes, BOMB MagazineBoston ReviewThe Brooklyn RailFence, and others. His translations of Daniil Kharms were collected in Today I Wrote Nothing: The Selected Writings of Daniil Kharms, and his translations have appeared in The New Yorker and other places. His co-translation of Alexander Vvedensky’s An Invitation for Me to Think (NYRB) with Eugene Ostashevsky received the National Translation Award in 2014.

Matvei Yankelevich

Matvei Yankelevich reading his poetry in the Co-op Bookstore in Storrs Center at the University of Connecticut (Photo/Asiya Haouchine)

Carleton Whaley: So, a simple—well, I guess it’s a simple question, but it might not end up being one—Why did you start Ugly Duckling Presse?

Matvei Yankelevich: That’s a very good question. Sometimes I wonder the same thing. You know, I don’t know why. I was doing the zine, traveling with it, doing it in different places, collaborating with people, just doing this very small 8 or 16-page thing. I started to think about what kind of writing I liked, how it was hard to find, and what it felt like to present work to other people that they didn’t know about. New work, old work, whatever. I did a book of my own poems when I was in college, and put this Ugly Duckling Presse thing on it, and I didn’t know what it would be. I thought it would just be my own little Xerox thing. But then when I met friends in New York, you know: poets, a theater director, artists; we were all making little one of a kind books for each other, or collaborating on little things that weren’t really meant to be published. On the one hand they were fun, but we were talking a lot about what would it be like to produce more than one copy, or more than ten copies. And the form of the chapbook, which was then not much of a word that people knew, seemed the most accessible and the easiest to produce, so we were sometimes making little chapbook runs and just producing them for each other, and just putting Ugly Duckling Presse on them, even though we didn’t really have a publishing house then. And when we started getting serious about what kind of organization we could become, the name stuck. So when I first started doing something under this name, there was no vision at all. It was just sort of happenstance that it became something. It was mostly the accidental connection I had with other people. But why is a really good question, because I don’t think it was clear to us why, except that we wanted to put work out into the world that wasn’t getting attention. When we started the magazine there were people that I corresponded with that sent me stuff for the zine, and just by accident the zine got sent to other people that did zines, would get listed somewhere, sent back to me. So I would get stuff in the mail that said, “Hey, I heard you do this zine, do you want to publish these poems?” And then again, when we started 6×6 in 2000, I contacted some of those people, so there was some continuity there. Something about publishing work, making literature public, it was really energizing to all of us. To me in particular. I don’t know how to precisely explain that feeling, but I’m sure some of you guys probably have that bug, that “We’re gonna make this happen” bug. You feel like you’re doing something bigger than yourself, you’re participating in the world in a way that is meaningful, and you’re also in some ways drawing the outlines of how you think one should engage with the world.  For Ugly Duckling it was like we wanted to do things in a way that was different from the way literature was presented. We wanted to make it accessible. Which meant cheap, partly, but which also meant not daunting, because we were dealing with a lot of contemporary, experimental poetry, so we wanted people to say “I’ll pick this up, it’s five bucks.” You know, like, “I’ll take a chance.” The first issues were two dollars each, so we were actually running at a loss.  There was a lot of hand labor involved, especially early on with collating and all that, which we don’t for these [6×6], because we do the interiors where we get our books bound. But before we used to have to collate by hand, and before we had a big cutter we’d have to cut these ten at a time, and that’s a lot when you’re doing a thousand. There was something about that engagement, too: putting all this free labor into something that, in the end, was not profitable. Something about the absurdity of that was exciting, in that it suggests the kind of model or thinking around literature that didn’t put monetary value around it. It underscored the fat that literature wasn’t very well-funded here, and it’s also something that most people don’t engage with seriously, especially difficult or contemporary work, and especially poetry. Ask anyone on the street and they’ll say, “I love poetry,” but they’re not necessarily engaged with it in the same way that they are with the movies or with TV. It’s no longer a popular literature, and it’s probably ok to not be sad about it. But at the same time, we wanted it to be accessible, especially to younger people. We thought it would be good to have events for younger people where there was music and poetry, where poetry can remain complicated and experimental and contemporary, and doesn’t have to exist in a cloistered space, its own ivory tower or something. So that the experience of poetry can be like the experience of music: listening to a band that’s somewhat experimental is similar to listening to a poet. We wanted young people to be able to afford these things, so we had some chapbooks that were sold for 25 cents. They were really cool looking too. So yeah, I still have no idea. For me the real excitement around writing is sharing writing that you’re excited about with other people. That’s more interesting to me than just sitting alone at home and going “I love this book.” I want to be out and sharing that with other people. More recently, I think the why changes a lot over time. More and more, I think about—when I started the Eastern European Poets Series I really thought, how do people in the US think about what Eastern European poetry is? Why are the names always sort of the same? Wasn’t there other stuff going on? So I wanted to highlight people who weren’t big prize-winners, who weren’t up for the Nobel or anything. I wanted to bring a sense of the plurality of Eastern European poetry to the American reader. That worked to some degree, actually. A lot of it had to do with remapping history, showing that history wasn’t so black and white, or so uncomplicated. We’re doing a lot of Latin American poets right now, and a lot of Uruguayan poets that have never been published in English.

CW:  Yeah, I actually grabbed the copy of Sor Juana’s Enigmas last night from the pile of UDP books.

MY: Even though that particular Sor Juana work is well-known, we did that book because we wanted to pair it with a chapbook of this contemporary poet who’s kind of based on Sor Juana, or in dialogue with her, in kind of a fun way. So apart from a couple of things where the name is familiar, we’ve done a lot of stuff where the author or poet hasn’t been translated before. We’re trying to reimagine “What is Latin American poetry to us in the states?” It’s an important question. Is it just Octavio Paz, or Sor Juana? What is it and what kind of expressions have we overlooked?

CW: So, that was not a simple question then.

(laughs)

CW: So, can you think of some of the first hurdles you had to go over in starting—well, I guess the zine itself, since you mentioned you started that in college.

MY: There weren’t many hurdles for the zine. It’s sort of a very small version of what happens later, when you start to look for funding from the NEA. Like, we just needed to become a student club and get access to the photocopier. That was pretty much it, so once we did we had a couple hundred dollars, and we printed the magazine and did the whole student club thing. There was hardly any question of funding. So in a way there were many fewer hurdles doing a zine, and when I was traveling around, working in New York, I would just use the office photocopier. The only thing needed was time to do the collages, and hang out with a friend to go through the different submissions. So not many hurdles. It was a game, it was kinda fun. And UDP still has its fun moments, for sure, but the zine was definitely its own thing. Sometimes I would distribute it by hiding it in other journals, or the Village Voice, the college newspaper, the newspaper boxes on the street. You know where you can get a free newspaper? I would just stick them in, and they would just go out into the world. Someone would get it by surprise, and that surprise was always interesting. What happens when you find something like that? What is this doing in my Village Voice? And my college newspaper, what does it mean? I always thought that element of surprise, of mystery, was an important part of the experience of art, because it would take people out of their daily experience. To me it was interesting that you could do that in print, because it worked in multiples. Each book wasn’t a precious work of art, you could give it away, or tie it to a tree and see who found it. But the hurdles certainly happen quickly when you start to produce a thousand copies instead of a hundred. Then you’re like, “How do we distribute this?” So there was a lot of talking to bookstores, and silly little receipts written out by hand, figuring out how to consign different books in bookstores, talking to distributors and getting them to take you seriously. We had to get the Council of the Arts to take us seriously, like “We’re gonna do this Eastern European Poets Series, but all we have to show you right now is this flimsy little magazine.” But somehow, we managed to convince them and other people that we were serious. And it’s still a struggle to convince people, even last night, that guy who asked the question like, “These are just pamphlets, aren’t they cheap to produce?” and I’m just like, “You don’t actually understand anything about what it takes to edit and produce a book of poetry.” It was probably because that guy had not encountered these kind of books before, because they’re not in most bookstores, they’re not in the college bookstores, because those are usually a Barnes and Noble subsidiary, even though people teach our books, so they’ll sometimes be there, but it’s not something that people necessarily know. A small press book, and the history of small press books, isn’t everybody’s bread and butter. So it’s not surprising that that attitude exists out there. And it’s very hard to get people to understand that on one hand there’s letterpress on this cover, but that doesn’t mean we’re a boutique publisher. We actually have distribution, our books are all over North America, and some in Central and South America, Europe and Japan, they’re everywhere, but only in niche spaces where you have to look. It’s not going to be at the biggest book store in Buenos Aires. It’ll be at the little poetry book shop. So, the hurdles have to do with that way that people think that if it’s not Penguin or Random House, what is it? Can books look like this? We’ve always tried to play with that, to push those boundaries, to push against people’s expectations. If the content is going to be different, or announce itself somehow as being different from your mass-market book, then the look of it should tell you something about that difference. We like the idea that people will touch this, that it’s not about the screen, it’s not purely about information, it’s about experience.

CW: From your reading last night, you seemed like a jack-of-all-trades in the literary world. You do translation, you write poetry, you do critical work, you’re an editor, you teach—so basically, do you find that difficult to manage, or does it come naturally?

MY: It is difficult to manage, but it comes naturally to me to say yes to a lot of things. So I become over-obligated often, which is good and bad. At some point I’ll have to take a break, organize this mess that I’ve created for myself, and I don’t know when I’ll get to do that. It is kind of a mad life, but at the same time I’m really happy about it, in the sense that I get to follow all of these interests. I don’t like the idea of “I’m a novelist,” or “I’m a poet.” I don’t feel comfortable just staying in one place. But once you’re working in literature, I think it’s weird that—well, when you think about Kafka, or Dostoevsky who’s also writing very journalistic work as well as novels, and doing a lot of polemical work—literary production has never been that separated into disciplines. And I think that’s partly the university system. More and more in the US university system, instead of making things interdisciplinary, it’s about creating these separate disciplines. There are programs that are interdisciplinary, but they run into problems. It’s easier when you can define everything, when the university can say “this is that kind of thing.” Where I teach at Columbia for their MFA, and I understand their limited resources, if you’re a poet it’s very hard for you to get into a fiction workshop. And likewise if you’re a fiction writer it’s very hard to get into a poetry workshop, or nonfiction. So it’s like “Wait a minute, shouldn’t we as writers be familiar with all of these ways of working?” Some of my favorite novels are written by poets. The same goes for novelists who also have polemical work, or translation, which some of them have done either to supplement their income, because that is actually one of the ways that writers who may be doing work that’s not easily sellable can actually make somewhat of a living. In America it’s harder, but translating in other languages is a way to get published and get a job. My most visible publications are my translations, more so than my own work. And I don’t feel weird about that, because these were writers whom I admire, who were formative for me, who were historical. I know they already have a place in history, as writers, whereas my work, if people like it that’s great, but I’m not expecting it to be in history books or something. As far as criticism, it’s interesting to engage in all those different ways. I don’t really write book reviews anymore because I feel weird about it. I publish books, and I don’t want to review the books of other small presses. It just feels uncomfortable. I’ve been writing longer critical pieces about more general things in poetry, or sometimes about specific writers. Writing critical work is so hard, just trying to make everything clear, to clear you own head and clarify your writing so that you really believe in it. You’re no longer in the fictional world of poetry where you can write outrageous things and not really believe in it. All these different ways of interacting with the written word, with the literary world, seem so complementary to me, seem so tied up in one another that it would be hard for me to sort them out. Teaching, for me, is really great in that context. I get to talk to younger writers who are just starting, and I get a lot of energy from that. I feel really lucky, but it is a lot of juggling and a lot of different work all at the same time. Even the correspondence, which is luckily, or I guess not luckily, my email—it’s worse because it’s email and people can write back really fast. Correspondence is a really important part of the writer’s life, and of course the editing life. All of these things merge, and it’s hard for me to imagine just writing poetry.  Especially because it doesn’t pay.

CW: There is that. One last quick question—or not, I should stop saying that—anyway, do you have any advice for people looking to start their own zine or little magazine?

MY: Before I answer that, could you tell me a little bit more about that magazine you guys are doing?

CW: Oh. So, well, ours is—well, we’re on issue—well, here’s the most recent edition, actually.

MY: So a faculty member works with you guys, and this is kind of a longstanding journal, but the people who work on it change every year?

CW: Usually, but sometimes we’ll have the same professor for a few years. Ellen has done it before.

MY: Yeah, and she has experience with Salt.

CW: Yeah, she worked on Salt Hill at Syracuse. And Penelope Pelizzon did it for the last few years, and Sean Forbes is going to be leading it next year. So now they’re getting more into a rotating schedule.

MY: But the students change every year?

CW: Sometimes you’ll have individual students who get in earlier in their college careers and are there for a few years. But most of the time they tend to prefer juniors and seniors.

MY: How long have you been doing it?

CW: This is my first time.

MY: And you’re a junior? Senior?

CW: Senior, yeah.

MY: So first and last time.

CW: Yeah, and it’s been a great experience. I’m the Nonfiction Editor.

MY: Excellent. And can you tell me how much in the journal is actually student work?

CW: We only accept student work, actually. We accept graduate and undergraduate, and there’s really no preference between the two.

MY: This is beautiful! It’s crazy looking—really odd. I love it. So what is your role in the magazine now?

CW: Well, I’m the Creative Nonfiction Editor. I had to lead a panel, and we reviewed all the nonfiction submissions and, as expected, we had the fewest. I think by the end we went through about forty different pieces.

MY: That’s significant, for nonfiction.

CW: Yeah—it was exciting, just kind of managing everyone’s tastes, trying to figure out what an essay is supposed to do. I’m really lucky in that in my first class with Ellen, we went over creative nonfiction, and I got a really great exposure to it there. I actually got published in the last issue, so it’s kind of surreal to be working with the same magazine now. I was thinking about this the other day, because I had to send out the acceptance letters along with some rejection ones.

MY: Cool. So you work with the Design Center, and that’s here at the college?

CW: Yeah. I think it’s led right now by Edvin Yager, he’s their faculty member, but they do a lot of really great work.

MY: So your question is more along the terms of actually starting…something.

CW: Yeah, like—anything, really. Myself, I’m interested in starting a zine this summer, but we’ve talked a lot in class about online magazines, which seem to be getting more prevalent.

MY: So in the class are you talking about doing something different from the LRR?

CW: No, the class hasn’t been talking about it, this is more a question for anyone, really. We’ve been looking at online things because Ellen’s trying to get us exposed to the whole world of little magazines, which is daunting. And I’m trying to figure out what I want to do in there, and I’m sure the more people start to learn about these things—well, they get that bug, like you were saying.

MY: Yeah. Well, it was really helpful for me, when I started the zine, to think about how I would distribute it. It was sort of a funky zine—like a really wacky look, it was never the same and it was really messy, which I think was was exactly what it needed to be. So, giving it to people that I didn’t know, I kinda had to think “Oh, that person seems like they might not be offended if I give it to them.” You know, when handing it out to people, we made an event out of it. My friend who helped work on it would yell stuff, like “Get your free copy!” We’d make a bigger deal out of it than it was, and often I think that’s what makes history. People are always making a bigger deal out of things, like, “me and my friends are doing this thing” and as long as you’re really loud about it, it sounds like it’s important. And if you read someone talking about the Dada group, the people in it are always arguing about who started it first, or who thought of it first, all these avant-garde groups, and then you realize that they’re all just hyping themselves up. And in a sense, that’s what makes them important in history. They constantly publicized themselves as being important. It’s kind of silly, but it does work. In these different fields like teaching, I end up teaching some of our books. And they like it, it’s not like I’m pushing stuff that doesn’t have to do with the content of the course, it’s not like it has no bearing and I’m just like, “You’re assigned to read this UDP book.” So I think all the ways that I’m trying to get this work out into the world, that nexus, is really important. It’s similar to starting a zine, you need to talk about it to people, tell them you’re doing this new thing, ask them if they want to trade. When we started the zine, and later when we started 6×6, we started to trade a lot with other magazines. We’d say, “Hey, we’ll give you a subscription if you give us a subscription.” So we also got to see what was coming out in these other magazines. And then going to fairs and conventions, we’d do a lot of trading with other publishers, who might not have the money to buy your stuff. That’s a really great way to get things going. As far as starting something, Cid Corman, who ran a magazine from the sixties through the eighties, who was really important for American poetry, said something like “your magazine is only as good as its submissions.” So widening that, through correspondence, makes for a much greater pool of writers. And once you start corresponding with people, or trading with other magazines, you’re actually finding an aesthetic unity that shares some ideas. And you’re more likely to get submissions that you like that way, from people that you correspond with, or who are fans of those people, or who you might be trading things with. So yeah, I think when you’re starting a new thing, it’s really important to identify what it is, both visually and content wise, that you want people to know about it. In our case, we actually withheld things. These covers don’t say 6×6 on them, and we didn’t include contributor bios. And at first that seemed like a hurdle, you’re like “who are these people, why am I reading it,” but the real point is that it doesn’t matter who these people are, or why you’re reading it. We’re not coercing you into it. Maybe you looked at the work and you liked it, and that’s why you’re reading it. We’re not going to tell you who the contributors are, where they got an MFA or whatever, we’re not going to explain why they’re together in the journal. We’re not even going to tell you the name of the journal until you open the front cover. And I think, for us, that kind of engaged different ideas about how you could engage someone in a book. Because it has some kind of mystery, or this strange shape, or the strange binding, to us that felt like it was fun to do, just wacky, but more importantly it was a way to say “there’s something different here.” And the cheap price is a way for you to take a chance and not regret it. That posed, again, certain problems. We can’t distribute it through a normal distributor the way you could a perfect-bound magazine with a durable cover, a normal binding, a spine that tells you what the magazine is. Things like that are really important, actually, when you get into the commerce of it. So we had to think about the integrity of it, we had to ask, what is it that we want to do? Do we want to make a magazine that is very prestigious? Do we want a magazine that is very work-focused? Part of the reason we did this is so that each author would get more space. Six pages, instead of two or three, and that someone would get a sense of their work. Also this gives them visual space. A blank page before each section might seem like a waste of space, but each author felt really good about that, like “Whoa, that’s my section. I’m a writer, and that’s my space.” There’s also the idea that you could read the whole thing in a subway ride, it doesn’t take long. We were working against the intimidation factor of a big journal, where there’s a hundred names and you don’t know who to read. I found it that way, at least, especially in contemporary American poetry. I found it daunting, I couldn’t make heads or tails of a journal with hundreds of submissions. How do I read it? Do I go straight through, or pick people based on their bio? Anyway, all those minute decisions are really important. Some magazines start out right away and they get somebody famous to be on the cover. That’s one way to get readership. Think of ways to change the rhythm of how a magazine works, rather than just turning pages. How are they different form each other? Where does the art go, is it integrated or kept to its own sections? There are so many decisions to make, and they all seem to me to come back to what the mission of the work is. If one is to start something like a solo zine, there’s that question of whether you just want to do all the writing yourself. Some people do that and are really successful at it. When you think about the beginnings of the graphic novel, even, like the one, what’s her name, the funeral home? Fun Home?

CW: Allison Bechdel.

MY: Right. That kind of thing starts with a zine, often, with the artist writing and drawing about their personal life. And that’s a really interesting form, and sometimes people subscribe just because they’re interested in that one person’s views on things, critical or autobiographical. I’ve found that the easiest way, and one of the most productive, was just to ask people that I was friends with first, and just work with stuff from them, or someone I knew well enough that I could say “Hey, you’re interesting, write something for this journal, or send me a drawing,” or whatever. Just people I liked, and that way everyone was happy. I would give them copies, and nobody felt weird about it, because I didn’t have to reject anyone. We were just like “Oh, let’s cram this poem in somehow.” It started with just asking people to give us work, and then we tried to do something interesting with the way it was presented, so that they were kind of involved. They could tell people, “oh yeah, my poem was in this cool, kinda wacky thing, check it out.” They’d give it to people, and that proliferates. It’s hard to say what the first thing to do is, but it’s some combination of that kind of thinking around what the object is going to be, how it’s going to stand out, or if it needs to stand out. Sometimes the better decision is to not make it stand out. It depends on the kind of avenue you want to take, what kind of ethos you want to project to the reader, and then where are they going to encounter it. But asking people you know is a really nice way to get started, and then having events and bringing people in, and then people that those people know come to hear about the journal or zine, and then you meet the friends of friends, and those people are your readership, and once you publish them, then their friends are your readership, and then it just grows organically from there.

CW: So, a steady world domination.

MY: Until you’ve covered the whole world through this pyramid scheme.

Carleton Whaley is a senior English major at the University of Connecticut, and has the privilege of working with the Long River Review as Creative Nonfiction Editor