Presentation: Deena Larsen

41st Annual UND Writers Conference:
"Mind the Gap: Print, New Media, Art"
March 23, 2010

© 2010 Deena Larsen and the University of North Dakota

[Video of this presentation is also available.]

[Please note, unless otherwise specified, poetry is presented with published line breaks:
for proper spacing and formatting, please consult printed source.]

Crystal Alberts: ...And, we hope that you will join us for the other events scheduled for today. At 6pm in the lecture bowl, we'll be screening Memento, and at 8pm, at the Chester Fritz Auditorium, will be a conversation with presidential lecturer Art Speigleman. So, hope to see you at those events. A couple of other little announcements, if you could turn your cell phones off, I'd appreciate it. And, if you have, or want, to take pictures please do so within the first few minutes so that the people on stage aren't blinded by flashes. We are also raffling off an 8GB iPod as part of our donations and fundraising campaign. That's $5 a ticket out there at the front table. So I suppose the fewer of you that buy, the better chance you have, but go out there and get one. And, of course, as is customary, a few thank you's, in particular. the Red River Valley Writing Project, the Office of the President, the College of Arts and Sciences, and the North Dakota Humanities Council for their continued support. And now Dr. Heidi Czerwiec.

Heidi Czerwiec: What is the avant-garde? What does it look like, read like, behave like? If we can define it, is it no longer avant-garde; those artists having moved on to the next thing? These are questions I ask of my graduate students as we reach the end of the semester of studying poetic theory and form. When I read, link through, interact with, pieces of Deena Larsen's work, such as Firefly and Disappearing Rain, these are the questions I find myself trying to answer. And I find I don't have an easy answer. I don't have an easy anything. Meanings of lines slip away from me as they are replaced with other linked lines. I get lost in the threads of narrative. I get distracted from the text by dancing visuals. In short, I find myself alternately fascinated and annoyed, uncomfortable and yet having fun. It's the sense of fun that I ultimately trust. Too often the so-called avant-garde takes itself way to seriously, affecting a "more clever than thou" attitude. No one could accuse Deena Larsen, or her work, of this. Here's how she puts it herself in an online introduction to her work, "Official advice: Do not stray any further into the realms of the incredible possibilities offered by combining sound, images, motion, navigation, and structure into a symbiociation of meaning. Do not imagine telling a story from more than one character's viewpoint, showing paths between nodes that continue a theme, and weaving many connections of meaning. Ok, you have been duly warned. Now for the fun stuff." Please join me in welcoming Deena Larsen.


Deena Larsen: Ok, and now for the fun stuff!

[Problem with microphone]

Am I okay now, with the mike? Yup? Okay, great.

Basically, in this hour, I'm going to transform your lives. Because, in one hour, you guys are going to learn how to read electronic literature. It can be done. It will be done. This will be a fast ride. Hold on, because what electronic literature does is gives us an entire new dimension, an infinity of dimensions of meaning. And now we can play, with words, texts, imagery, navigation, sounds, secrets, a whole plethora of incredible tools.

Now, you're going to hear a lot of new terms in this confusing new media just like you probably did back in Gutenberg's time, because we're not quite sure what's going on yet. We've had hypertext, which is nodes and links. We've had electronic media; we've have e-literature; we've had new media. It doesn't matter what it's called! My definition, and this is controversial, is: electronic literature is literature that requires some element, additional to text, that's integral to the meaning. And let me give you an idea. My first work Marble Springs, I did in the late 80s, and I did it for my Master's thesis at the University of Colorado. And they didn't accept it, because it didn't have one-inch margins. It can't have one-inch margins damn it! It's not text! It's got links! If you do a one-inch margin, how are you going to follow the link between Rachel and Pastor Horner, and know that that was Pastor Horner's kid? I mean, how's that gonna work? You just can't do this to me. Don't worry, I did graduate, it was a lot of pain. But, yeah, you know that's the whole point here is that you just can't do this any other way. There is no simple way to say this.

That said, I'm going to teach you the reading techniques to learn to read hypertext, to learn to read electronic literature. And, I want to do a couple of housekeeping things first. Some of you are here because you are required to be and others aren't, but there is a worksheet going around that has a lot of resources. It also has the questions that are going to be answered in this lecture. What are links? What's sound? So you guys can go through that and follow along. Also, I really like the idea of the purple questions because it will make it easier. So, we've got Laura back here who's got purple index cards and pens, so if you guys have a question, get her attention. Write it out. She'll come up here and let me know what the questions are. Cuz again, we've a lot of stuff to cover real fast and I, quite honestly, am going to choose which questions I'm going to answer. And we can talk in the back, we can talk after the lecture, and we'll go through this.

Now the things I'm going to talk about for reading techniques are links, images, sounds, and secrets. And what I've got, I've done this lecture a lot, and what I've found with links is that it's really difficult to let people know what's going on because you've got so much else. It's kind of like, "Ok, explain the foreshadowing and the grammatical correctness in Moby Dick's three page long sentence, in two minutes." Sure. Not going to happen. So, for this lecture, I have created a hypertext, electronic literature piece that we're going to go through. Before we do that, let me talk about links in general. Basically, what you've got to think about is links as doors. So you have an originating piece of text, picture, something over here; and by the way, that something is what we call a node. And it could be a page, could be a book, could be a sentence, could be a word, could be a picture, could be a movie, could be something over here with content; we're calling that a node. We have a link from that node. Then we have a destination node over here that it's going to. So you think about it just like you do a door in a house. You've got a room. You've got a door. You go through that door, you get to the other side. Well, you guys ever been in a hardware store? There's a hundred different kinds of doors to choose from. And where are going to put that door? And if you follow that door are you going to go into the closet? Are you going to out on the street? Are you going to go to the kitchen? Where are you going to go? So there's a lot of things other than just the door itself to think about. In electronic literature, there's a lot of things other than, this is a link: it goes to the next place, to think about. We were just talking and what do you do with a link? What does it mean? Well it just means that I'm going to go to the next place. Yes. In the same way a door means I walk through it to go to the next room. There's a lot more involved.

And with that, I have five wonderful UND students, and I'm going to get them to read the piece. This is basically an inaugural of the piece called Link Spot Link. Which is supposed to represent, you know, See Spot Run, Run Spot Run. So if you will read your pieces. Come on up. Step up, read your piece, step back.

[All students are reading the words or images from cardstock boards]

Nick Gowan: What is Love?

Mary Stromme: What is my fate?

Kaylee Nesdahl: I have a photo of Cecilia Condit. [Holding photo]

Meg Brown: We cannot escape the sounds of war.

Jessica Short: A sunlit road wanders through ancient trees.

Deena Larsen: Ok. As a piece, this doesn't hang together very well. It's pretty obvious. There's not a lot here. So, ya know, you're reading this along and you're going, "Hmm, ok, fine." The key here is going to be in the links. And, I could do a lot with this. I can read this in a lot of different ways simply by linking an origin node to a destination node. Now in a book, you go, page one, page two, page three; and it's pretty arbitrary, it's pretty chronological. In electronic literature, we've stepped away from that; we've created our own navigational structures; and we can link anything we want to anything we want. So suppose here, what happens if we link love with peace?

Nick Gowan: What is love?

Jessica Short: A sunlit road wanders through ancient trees.

[Nick and Jessica link hands]

Deena Larsen: They're linked! Ok! What does this link mean? The answer to what is love could be a sunlit road wanders through ancient trees. This could mean that love is peaceful; it's happy; it's also rooted in time, because we have ancient here. So we can think about a long term, a forever love. And we can see this growing old together, you know, what a nice peaceful image. Ok, suppose we keep this same text, love, and we link it to war.

Nick Gowan: What is love?

Meg Brown: We cannot escape the sounds of war.

[Nick and Meg link hands]

Deena Larsen: All of a sudden, we've got the same origin text here, right? Should mean the same thing! It doesn't. It means something completely different now. Now, we get divorce. We get bitterness. We get unhappiness. You can just imagine the story going on behind the lines here and actually in the link, because we've linked war to love. And you can see that it's just because we have this link that we get these kinds of connections. So suppose now we've seen how the origin text influences what comes behind it, the destination text. Let's see how the destination text comes back and links to the origin. So if we say here, peace. Fate links with war, right,...ok peace links with war. We can do that to. Little bit different, go for it.

Jessica Short: A sunlit road wanders through ancient trees.

Meg Brown: We cannot escape the sounds of war.

[Jessica and Meg link hands]

Deena Larsen: Ok, so in our previous reading, we had what is love and it's linking to war, so we've got this idea, we've got this connotation of divorce; we've got a connotation of a personal relationship. Now, we've got a dichotomy. We can have a contradictory type of relationship. And you can figure out what the timing is, is the ancient trees before we can't escape the war? Is it after? What's happened to these trees? So you get all sorts of avenues of potential thought just from the link. So now what happens if we link war with fate? So come on up fate.

Meg Brown: We cannot escape the sounds of war.

Mary Stromme: What is my fate?

[Meg and Mary link hands]

Deena Larsen: What we've got here is an answer/question. We've got the question influencing the origin. So we've got the destination text again coming back and coloring the origin. So once we've gone on to a place you can see things differently as you go through the piece. And, suppose though, we keep the, "What's my fate?" and we link it with love.

Mary Stromme: What is my fate?

Nick Gowan: What is love?

[Mary and Nick link hands]

Deena Larsen: So all of a sudden, we can get into questions of narrator. Who is asking, "What is my fate?" Here, because the answer is love, it could be a young girl with a tarot deck. It could be someone just dreaming what is love. But if we keep What is my fate?, and we change the answer to war.

Mary Stromme: What is my fate?

Meg Brown: We cannot escape the sounds of war.

[Mary and Meg link hands]

Deena Larsen: All of a sudden, we get a different narrator for that origin text. So now, the origin text, the narrator could be a Mulla in Iraq, it could be someone looking out for his people. So the "my" becomes different, the "fate" becomes different, simply because we have a different destination text. And now we've gotten, we've had a lot of fun with the text itself. Let's add images. So, come on up picture. You two go back. Ok, so we've got a picture. If we had that much fun with just words, the pictures allow so much more interpretation. So, what happens if we link picture with love.

Kaylee Nesdahl: [Holds photo of Cecilia Condit]

Deena Larsen: So we go from the picture...

Nick Gowan: What is love?

[Kaylee and Nick link hands]

Deena Larsen: What happened to this picture? Any ideas from the audience? Ok. For me I think that now we've got a question in the picture's mind. We've got a women saying what is love? What has my life been? What has this been throughout my life? And maybe we're looking at it, and she's happy, she's smiling through this. But, if we link the picture to war.

Meg Brown: We cannot escape the sounds of war.

[Kaylee and Meg link hands]

Deena Larsen: The sounds of war are going to color our image of the picture. Is that now really a smile? Is that a grimace? Was this picture taken before the war? After the war? So we have a lot of different connections that we can make with this picture and with war. Or, what if we link the picture. What if we link peace to the picture. So if we come from the picture. I'm sorry, the origin text is going to be peace and the destination text is going to be the picture.

Jessica Short: A sunlit road wanders through ancient trees.

[Jessica and Kaylee link hands]

Deena Larsen: All of a sudden, we've got an instantiation of the picture. "A sunlit road wonders through ancient trees." Who's doing the wondering? Where are the trees? What's the context? And all of the sudden we've channeled what we're thinking into the picture. So that's pretty much what I want to go through with the links and pictures. Thank you audience. Thank you. Thank you my...

[Applause. Students exit stage.]

That is my reading of Link Spot Link. Ok, so I just wanted to very quickly show you, how linking different texts together, linking different nodes together, can create meaning on both sides, from the origin and the destination. And I hope that showed how that works. Now, I want to show you, I want to continue on those pictures, because pictures in electronic literature can be read also to have meaning, to show what's going on in a piece. And we're gonna go through quite a few pieces rather quickly. If I can remember how not to mute this. Ok!

And get to my regular piece here. Cause we're gonna go through Study in Shades first. Because pictures can change meaning as well, they can change the origin meaning; they can change the destination meaning; they can see what's going on in the text. And if you take away the pictures you take away some of the meaning in the piece. In this piece, this piece is Rob Kendall's Study in Shades and I want to show you very quickly how this piece allows the images to structure the piece.

[ . Accessed on Monday, October 11, 2010]

We were talking earlier about Betty Page and structure. And it really is, these images give the structure and navigation to the piece. So, for example, we've got two images; we've got a man and a woman; and we can see that they are in black and white. So, basically electronic literature borrows on most of the conventions that comics have, that newspapers have, and one of the conventions here is this is a picture of the speaker of the text underneath. And this is a picture of the speaker of this text underneath. And as Cecelia was explaining earlier we're gonna go through these real fast; this is the quick tour of the city. I want you guys to come back and look at these pieces in depth and in detail. But I'm really showing you just the technique. So we're not gonna go through everything very carefully, but you've got the sheets of paper so you have the URL's for this. And if you don't, just google Rob Kendall, Study in Shades. But here watch what happens. If we click on the man. It says:

Take this face
of this woman sitting across from him.


he should know her.


but his thoughts are bare


The harder he looks, the more
he sees just the nicely executed
of delicate cheekbone,
brown eye,


He looks past her.
The bone-white walls inscribed
by sunlight,


Nothing to block
his alarmingly clear view
down to the clean,
unmeditated white.

So as we go through, the man speaking, the woman disappears. And it's that disappearance which is poignant, which is showing how far away the woman in his life is going from him, and what he can no longer see. If we go through the woman's point:

Every week I go to see him.


He rarely
recognizes me now.


I try to make out what's
the heavy deletions,
the almost impenetrable
of bewildered old man


I look at him
as if hoping
to see the edge of the
flip up like a cloth

So, as the woman talks, the man also disappears, but he's disappearing into a block of black. He can no, his personality can no longer be distinguished. His faces are being blurred. And it's, I contend, it's the images in this piece that create this. So, on your own, go back through this piece, and cover up the images and read the text and then read it back through with these images. And you can see how they're interacting and what they are doing.

So images in texts in electronic literature are a real part of the work, just like links are a part of the work. They are important to the pieces.

Now, sound does something very similar. We were talking about that in the panel as well. We were going, "Ok, it's real easy to click through these things." How do you get a reader to stop, and think, and pace yourself through the piece? And I'm going to show you Rob Kendall's, Faith.

[ , Accessed on Monday, October 11, 2010]

Get through this. Well actually, I think should have it up, sorry. I do have it up. I do have it up. Everybody gets mad at me for having too many window's up, I don't know why. Ok. We had it up. Ok, fine, we'll go. Ok, I've got it up too many times. We'll just start from here. Can you all see that and hear it? I'm not starting you from the beginning. We're not going to go through the piece all the way. But listen, as the words move, the sound moves.

Into the black, all-but-bottomless chasm beyond the brink,
around the edge of theory
Watch theory go down to Off the Rocker and listen.
The transcript of the deeper worlds one true word. And we Leap

I'm not going to take you through this piece. Now just to sum up, I'm being rude. I'm taking you halfway through a murder mystery. So I want to guys to go back through this piece.

Just to sum up. Faith.

And read this piece with the music and without the music. And Rob's given you a choice, because he wants you to see what happens when you pace it through with music and when you don't pace it through with music. And note too, as you go through this piece, that each of the concepts has it's own sounds. So he's using strings to promote certain things; he's using oboes to promote other things. So listen to what he's doing with the sounds in this piece. So in electronic literature, you want to hear what's going on and think about it in terms of time and pacing, because this is the only way we can keep you from flipping the pages, is to keep you on track with the sound. And it shows the evolution of the text. The sound can create a crescendo just like a symphony can, and you can create the sound and the text together to have this type of meaning.

And I'm going to pull all this together in my work, called I'm Simply Saying. Ok. There it is. Ok. And the first thing I want to show you in I'm Simply Saying, again I wrote I'm Simply Saying as a creative response to people who are coming up to me and going "Why don't you just print it out! We don't understand what's going on! Couldn't you such say this simply! Why are you being so complex! We don't get it!" Ok. Fine. Here's my answer to that.

Words change meaning
Develop out of tongues
We can't find connections
We don't understand the story
It would be much simpler if your
thoughts would just stay in the lines!
Why does everything you know
in stitches ?

[, Accessed on Wednesday, October 11, 2010]

The first thing I want to go through is what we went through with links. So here, in this piece, every one of the emphasized words link to another node. And on this piece the nodes happen to be on the same screen. But, here what would have happened if a visual emphasis were on different words. So suppose that I had only linked say "change" and "everything" and "end.' Then you would read it

Words change meaning
Develop out of tongues
We can't find connections
We don't understand the story
It would be much simpler if your
thoughts would just stay in the lines!
Why does everything you know
in stitches ?

And you would have a completely different reading just on this level. So again, like I was talking about with the doorways. The door itself, the décor of the door, adds emphasis. You've got more of a visual emphasis on a wall that has a door than just a plain wall. You've got more of a visual emphasis; you've got more of a sound emphasis, when you're talking about links. So as you're reading these things, ask yourself why did the author emphasize this part? What's important about this? Why is this the doorway? What's going on? And a part of this, you'll see why. I'm gonna do "connections'


And you can see how the movement of the piece. Just like in Rob Kendall's Faith is progressing the piece. And by the way, Rob and I developed ours around the same time; and we didn't talk to each other; and we came up at a conference and went, "Yeah that's why it's working that way." So it really does help to provide that emphasis. And now all of a sudden, we can't find anything! So again, it's not only the presence of words, it's the absence of words. It's not only the presence of images, like we saw in Rob Kendall's A Study of Shades, it's the absence. So you want to think about presence, absence, what comes off the stage, what leaves the stage.

Develop out of tongues
Out of range
Our of view
Off tangents

Here, the words are becoming different. They are changing in different ways. They become a spiral and you can still see them, but they're off the screen, they're on a slant. Also, with the language and with the sound, we can create mood. So we've had some thunder mood here, let's go into something kind of nice and fun.

Common tongues

Okay, be nice and play.

Common tongues

This part of the piece, this node, has a different sound. It's wider; its brighter; it's going to give you more of an idea of fun. Rather than the out of tangents, off tangents, you're going off the edge with the thunder sound. You're having fun, strumming the guitar on this sound. But, of course, no story is complete unless it's simple:

So, this is the simple part of the story.

You stand here and watch while
The story boils down to its
Writer meets secret.
Writer loves secret.
Secret leaves writer for
the hero with the fast
red Lamborghini

Reader uses secret's bones
to dig a predetermined grave.

Note, there are two things. One is that the language changed while you were reading it. You can't do that on screen; this is why I love this media, because it lies to you. What you see isn't always what you see. Now this is gonna drive the English teachers absolutely crazy, and I'm sorry about that, but that is how life is going to be from now on. Because nobody is going to read the same thing twice, nobody's going to read it the same way twice. You're going to have a classroom of people who have read the work, and who actually haven't read the same work. I'm going to digress for a moment.

A few years after Marble Springs was out, I took an online course on electronic literature, and I really didn't want to be known as Deena Larsen taking this class, so I signed up under an assumed name. And my work's coming along; I've got a lot of work. Great, I'm not going to study. I know my stuff. Come on. It's not a big deal. So the professor gave pop quizzes on all of these electronic literature pieces. I did my pop quiz. And I failed. And the professor said, "Well, you know, you obviously didn't understand the author's intentions." I said, "You know I just wrote that thing three years ago. It wasn't that long ago. Surely I knew what I was doing at the time." But he had a point. And it was that you can read things in so many different ways. And people will come up to me and say, "Well in Ferris Wheels, surely you meant that they committed suicide." Committed suicide, hadn't thought of that. Ok yeah sure! And again in poetry, one of the best pieces of advice I ever heard was, you can interpret it as long as you can support it. So you can interpret this stuff in a multitude of different ways, that's why it's so cool. As you saw with the links, there's so many different ways we can make connections. There's so many different ways we can create these texts. It's the same thing with this type of interpretation. As long as you've got something backing it up, you've got words; you've got a picture, go for it. That's probably in the text. Because there are so many permutations, there's so many possibilities you can have here.

And also with that I want to talk about secrets for a moment. Because I'm not authorized to tell about anyone else's secrets, you know, I know them, but if I told you what was going on in Stuart Moulthrop's Pax or in Stuart's Under Language, he'd probably have to kill me. So you know I don't want to do that. Besides, its fun. So I can only tell you about the secrets here, and I will tell you that electronic literature writers usually have secrets. I have one in, I have at least one secret node in every one of my works, except for one and that was because I was being lazy and there was a deadline. I would have had one in there had it not been for that. The reason why secrets are so important is because once you find them, they change the meaning of the piece. And we were talking earlier in the panel about, well you just skim through stuff. Sure, you can just skim through this stuff not a problem. But, if you take the time to read it, to wonder what's going on, to say, "Hey, why does that connect with this? What's underneath here? Hmm, what happens if I do this?" and you play with it, you'll find out a lot more things. And I'm not saying you have to play with everything. Just find the ones you like and spend the times with those. So the secrets in this one are actually pretty easy. They are in the four corners of the work.

The secret
does not lie
in the Bluebeard's closet,
but flies free

What else is sacred save life and death?

Again watch that motion watch what happens to the words.

Code. Symbol. Code. Intent. Symbol.

Now remember, we want to stay in the lines. But often, we simply can't stay in the lines.

[Continued reading from I'm Simply Saying.]

Secrets lie in
in lily cool faces
in rose warm blood
in orchid dry bruises
punctured by
realities of
fast cars
and faster modems

You really cannot stay in the lines in these kinds of works. You have to go beyond the page; you have to see what's out there. Play with languages. Play with emotion. Play with what's going on and find your own interpretations. One thing I want to say about this piece, if you'll notice, all four of the corners had the same sound, so another thing that sound can do is create a sense of identity. You can create, here's my chapter because this is what is sounds like, here's this other part of it, because that's what it sounds like. And writers do that quite a bit.

I wanted to make sure that I left a half an hour because I wanted to address your questions and see if there were any. We haven't gotten any? Okay, that's fine, I'm still gonna bore ya! But then I thought, I have others I want to go through, but I wanted to stop at that point and make sure we were all ok on links and sounds and images. We're good. Ok.

I want to show you placement. And I want to go through Rainbow Factory with you. Because another important part of electronic literature is where things are on the screen. Now in a book it's gonna be pretty clear. You've got your book. It's gonna be page one. It's gonna be page two. It's gonna be in the middle of the text. It's gonna be someplace there. In electronic literature, we get to draw the map! We get to tell you where you're going to find the texts. In my works, I use this as structure, and I show the structure of the work, and I show where it's going to be. But for such a simple lecture, Peter Howard's Rainbow Factory is one of the simplest examples of placement.

[, Accessed on Thursday, October 21st, 2010]

Because here, if you can see we have a factory, and if you want to know what's going on, you show the upper window and it shows:

A different aspect of what we do here at The Rainbow Factory

And isn't this cool, and if you really want the dirt and the gossip you go to the lower windows. Ok. So all of a sudden, you know what you're going to get just from where it's placed. Lets go ahead and enter the factory and I'll show you a couple of things. This is just a simple animation.

Do you hear it? A little bit, let me turn up the sound because this is kind of important to hear. Oh, I remember. Can you hear it? Now it's muted. Oh, well, how nice of you. Let me, crank it up there a bit. There we go. Don't want to [inaudible]. Because it's going to get pretty [inaudible].

This is just an animation. Why is this literature? Oh thank you. Let me explain. What happens in the lower windows? Well, we get the same thing, except that we're gonna get...I did click the lower window didn't I? I thought I clicked the lower window. One moment, we're gonna get that.

All of a sudden, just in those images, you got an image, we see how fast the rainbow makes, how fast the factory makes those rainbows and we see what happens when there's a problem. But the problem is associated with a human sound; the rainbows are associated with a thud. So all of a sudden, you've got interpretation. Are humans the problem? Are all humans disfigured and should be just taken up, you know? Do any of us meet the grade? Is it just babies? Is it the way they make the sound? What's going on? All of a sudden, you've got room for interpretation. And I'll show you another one on here. Ok.

Please select the fault that most closely resembles the fault that you are experiencing.

Now remember we are in the upper windows so we are being official here. You could just tell us:

I'm having color palette and redraw problems.

I receive the error message: "Display problems. This rainbow cannot continue."

I receive the error message: "Rainbow requires a newer version of the rainbow.dll."

Ok. Well I'll tell you about that

Thank you very much for telling me about that fault

However, if you really want to know what's going on.

We don't know why rainbows sometimes stop playing.

Garbled and corrupted rainbows are usual.

Now go away and leave us alone.

What's fun about this is you just see the connections. You see the interactions just by the placement in the windows. So in any electronic literature piece that you are looking at, look at the structure. Look at where it's placed, and say, "Why is it placed there?" Because I'll guarantee you, it's there for a reason.

I do have a question: "How long does it take for you, or a person who knows how to do these things, to create a poem like I was just saying? Is it fun? Is it frustrating? Is it both?"

Ooo, I know who wrote that. Yeah, ok, you're right. I know I'm trying to convert you guys to electronic literature, and it's a lot of fun and it's worth it, it's worth it, it's worth it! I've been saying this for twenty years, it's worth it! It takes a long time. When I was healthy, Firefly, which I'll go through in a minute,took me six months, and it's a simple little piece. I'm simply saying it took me about five months to do, and it's a simple little piece. It shouldn't take that long. One, is I have a full time job, because you know you can't support yourself on this stuff, so it's on the weekends. But the other reason is, there's an awful lot of fiddly bits. My wife and I are writing a new piece, and not only are we finding there's an awful lot of fiddly bits in just a real simple HTML piece, but getting everything to fit together takes a long time because you actually do have to sit there and think about these things.

My novel, Disappearing Rain, has a hundred and forty-four page-nodes to it. Some are small and some are very large. And I finally had to put the thing on my wall to get the connections right. And I had every one of those hundred and forty-four pages on my wall, in my apartment, and then I had embroidery thread that linked from one to the other. And then unfortunately, I wrote a second part of it. So I had to use the other wall. So the only way you could get from the living room to the bathroom was underneath the string. And I lived that way for about three years. We don't recommend that. But it is fun. It is a lot of work, because you do have to get these things to work together. And it is frustrating. What's really frustrating is mostly the tech, because if you guys have ever worked with this stuff, you get problems as you can see.

And the specified rainbow cannot be played.

Let me show you Fire-I want to show you Firefly if I can. Ok, can't show you Firefly.Ok, I will show you Carving.

[, Accessed Friday, October 22, 2010]

And the other frustrating things about this, is sometimes it's up and sometimes it isn't. Carving shouldn't have taken me that long. It took be about three months to do this simple piece that we are about to see. And I also want to show you how this works with sound.

[Sound from Carving makes parts of Larsen's speech inaudible]

do they inhabit 10,000 possible worlds

And and watch the image in the background.

We waited as the sun
blew in our faces.
We did not know where
to run.

We saw the stone resting
in his dry palms.
We were afraid.

A baby cried in the hot, still air.

Do you care who is
telling you this now?

Or why we feared
what we faced?

The moment is poised, frozen.

The time of this stone
transcends your history.

And we can sculpt again because all a sudden we are through the piece.

[Sound from Carving makes parts of Larsen's speech inaudible]

What I wanted to show you in this that you can change the pace of reading. So somebody can go through this thing really fast, and your done. Was a 15 second reading, 5 second reading. Or you can...every time you move your mouse you can get different piece of text. The...back here is you get what...all this different placement. So I wanted to talk about placement. Now here we get the story of David. And we get it from the audience's point of view. Over here, we get Michelangelo. Others who ...ok fine. I saw the size..... and it's placement doesn't change, but it's going to take us a long time to figure out where things are, and what's going on. And then up here on the left,

How many David's are caught in your stone?

So actually David is talking about the stones. And how many of the possibilities are there? And did you chisel out the one perfection from the many? So there's a lot of things going on there. Again, in this piece, you can see how the images work. If I didn't have that background image, you wouldn't know what I was talking about. In fact, unless you know that happens to be the face of David from Michelangelo's statue, you still might not know what I'm talking about. If I didn't have the placement, you might not know. If I didn't have the sound, you wouldn't have the pacing. To [inaudible word] from your selves. Ok, that's interesting.

The other fun and frustrating thing is that I've never had one of these go well. There's always some sort of tech problem no matter what, and Crystal has been incredibly wonderful. The tech problems are on my side of it because this should work and it doesn't. I do want to show you while I'm here, I will go ahead and show you Fun da mentals, because we can talk about these reading techniques. And basically what I've done for today I hope and what I'm trying to do today is to show you how these techniques work in a very few pieces. This is sort of like saying, "Here's one example of foreshadowing. Here's one example of litotes. Now you know everything about English," well, not really. You at least know how to read them. You at least know what you are looking at when you see it. And if, am I still on the net? I hope so, okay. All fine, we'll go this way.

This is my website, On this website, you can see webshelves, and I'll go there for a moment. Basically what I've got here is how long it's going to take to read a work. Warning: This is like saying you can read The Wasteland in 15 minutes so watch what you've got there. But I wanted to show you Fun da mentals.

[, Accessed Saturday, October 23, 2010]

This Fun da mentals talks about all of the techniques and all of the reading techniques that I've given you today. And it gives you a look at, for example, links; how they convey meaning, what they do. And all of these links, you can click on to see how they work in these particular texts. And then for you writers, there's an exercise. For you teachers, there's an exercise you can give your students about what links to what. And then there's experiments on your own. We're actually going to do this particular experiment tomorrow at 2:30, tomorrow? At 2, someplace, in the river Room. And in one hour, I'm going to teach you guys how to write a hypertext, how to write an electronic literature piece and we're gonna write one. On top of that I've got sounds, images, contradiction, a lot of things that I didn't talk about today. These are also some techniques of reading, techniques of writing, and how to do it. Are there any other questions, thoughts, what you guys have found out about this stuff? Oh dear, did I lose you guys? I hope not.

[Inaudible question asked from the audience]

Deena Larsen: That's a good question. Can a voice synthesizer read this stuff? How have we worked with handicap folks? Some of them yes, and I can give you a list of the ones that will. Most of the ones that will are simply HTML, and part of the problem right now has been it's been in its infancy. And I'm guilty as well. A lot of this stuff, we don't have the right tools for. What we are trying to do is really to carve David's Michelangelo using an awl and a chair. It's really tough right now because we don't have the tools that we need to create this stuff. We're getting better, but you're better off looking at the word link ones, and there's a lot of stuff in flash. A lot of people now are putting things in so that the voice reads it as well, so that you can do that. So I hate to do this to you, but wait a few years. And unfortunately, I would like to talk about that, now that I've got the stage. Yeah, somebody had said, what's frustrating about it? The frustrating thing about this media is that it's new. We are really in the incunabula. We are in that period where tools go away. I spent five years writing Marble Springs and none of you have ever heard of HyperCard. I know that. That's what it was in. The year that Marble Springs got published was the last year that HyperCard was sold in 1993. And you can now read Marble Springs only if you have a Macintosh computer with an OS 9 or less. Yeah, I actually got the rights back to that, so if anyone wants to help me recreate it in something modern, let me know. Please, if you know of anybody let me know. Because I would love to do that but I don't have the time. Stuart and I were talking the other day and we were saying, "Yeah half of our stuff doesn't work, but we have the choice of doing something new, or doing something later."

Ok, I'll take the question.

So how do we figure this out? What do we do? It's a problem, but it's still worthwhile because there's no other way to do this! There's no other way to say this stuff! Finally, finally, we can put these things together, and yes after 20 years of total heartbreak I'm hear say it's still worth it! And we will get with you!

[Reading question from audience member]

"Why are they so called secrets, if they are so easy to find with the mouse?"

That's the reason why they are so easy to find with the mouse is because, I wrote the piece, I know where they are. If you don't know where they are, I guarantee you, you won't find them. It was funny. Rich Higgason is a good friend of mine, who's a critic, and he and I were talking, and he didn't like my work Intruder. And I know I'm talking about a lot of different works, but I've got too many of them. So anyway, he was saying, "Deena, Intruder is just so easy," and if I've got a moment to get there I'll show it to you. He was like, "this is just so easy. Why did you do this work? It's just so stupid." And it is a pretty simple piece of work. Let me find Intruder here. Let's see if it's on the web. If anybody's, ah, there we go. Ok

[, Accessed Sunday, October 24th, 2010]

And he said, "this is easy. This is so simple. It's just a hummingbird and all you do is come over here, you click disturb, you crash in, and everything was still. And you just click on these things and you can't even read this text because it's going too fast." We do a lot of things with text that's hard to read and you have to go through it again.

Why are you here?

"And all you are doing is reading these stupid little texts. Well, that's just stupid. It's just too easy, why did you write this? This is bologna."

"Well, did you click on the hummingbird?"

"I spent two months on this piece! What do you mean? Why would I click on the hummingbird?"

"You click on the hummingbird, and you see other stuff."

It's easy if you know to click on the hummingbird. It's easy if know to click on the corners. I still haven't found most of the stuff in Pax. And there's a lot of stuff in Under Language I don't know about. But for Stuart, if Stuart's up here, and he will be on Friday, it's easy.

[Reading question from audience member]

"Has anyone written collaborative pieces with wiki?"

Yes, people are writing collaborative pieces. In fact, my Marble Springs was the first collaborative piece and people can edit it, and people can come in and edit it, and create new people. In Marble Springs, I talk about Colorado woman who lived in a small Colorado town, but I don't talk about everybody. And on the blank pieces of paper, I ask you to create that, and I ask you to write people, and people have done that. There's a lot of different works that are still being created that way. A lot of them are in trAce. And if you mean collaboratively do people work together? I work together with several people. Geniwate and I did Princess Murderers, and Geoffrey Gatza and I did E Electron, which is a love story based on the periodic table of elements as its structure. So you go through the periodic table of elements, you see two elements then you see three elements and four elements, and its kind of fun. But you can get all sorts of different structures. So yeah, people do write collaboratively, and I think I've got a list with them as well. What? Oh.

Audience Member: So the expectation then is that your viewers, participants will look for the secrets? They know your work enough so that they will actually search out these secrets? [inaudible] happy if they find them? Do worry about losing your message if they don't find them?

Deena Larsen: Good point, and this is how to write them. Again, I'm a big proponent, not everybody is, but I'm a big proponent of writing on many levels. So what I try to do is think about the reader. And I go, ok, I've got my 8 second reader. They come in; they see something; they spend the next 8 seconds to have fun. Fine, doesn't matter. I've got my half hour reader. They come in; they read more; they see more of the texts; they come away happy. I've got my Ph.D. readers. They come in; they find the hummingbird; and then it means something. The reason why Rich, by the way, was upset about this piece was he thought it didn't have the depth that I usually use, and he'd spent the last two months trying to find it. So it's like, you'd spend two months going through these words, thanks a lot. Ok, but yeah, I try to write for a bunch of different readers and I try to make them all happy. And they all come away with totally different expectations and totally different readings of the work and that's ok. It kind of, that's part of the fun!

Audience Member: As I sit and watch this, I see, I see a connection between the early games like Nintendo when that came out. I was terrible at it, but my kids would find those spots, where you could get extra points. So, was that an influence?

Deena Larsen: Very much so. Very much so, because hypertext became part of the culture during that time. And most DVD's have Easter eggs, so this is part of the new media ways of thinking, ways of reading. And if you ask your kids, you ask your ten-year olds, what's going on? They're going to be happy to click in their favorite DVD until they find those spots, and then they call their friends. Did you get this part here? Oh wow! And I want the same things to happen in literature, and I think it can. And most of the people do. And there is a, if you guys want the name of these things because you guys are going to write Ph.D.'s, the technical name for a secret in electronic literature is a "Jane Space." The reason is that Michael Joyce published Afternoon in 1987. And it's in Storyspace, which I'm not even going to go into. But, basically, somebody else went through it, cracked it, and Jane Yellowlees Douglas, said, "Hey wait a minute! There's this text out here that's not linked to anything and in fact unless you do all these arcane things, you're never going to find it!" And we all said ok, we're going to call those Jane Spaces. So we had these technical names. We have to have, most, there are four writers, Rob Kendall, Me, Jim Rosenberg, MaJe, Louis Brink, who are not in the academic world. So, there's not many of us. So, because these writers are in the academic world, they actually have to write electronic literature papers and academicize it, you know, I can sit here and talk about the hermeneutical, tautological complications of, you know, the links. But why bother, because I'm not going to get paid to do that. Some poor person in academia is going to get paid for that. And so we have a lot of technical terms that I did not get into. You can ask Stuart about those. Other questions. Pretty much wrapping up? Ok.

Audience Member: Has any one written a children's poem or story [inaudible]?

Deena Larsen: We have. There are quite a few of those as well, and I have a few of those on my website. Dandelion Time is one. And oddly enough, those got co-opted. There's now an entire genre, of, plethora, of these websites that have those kinds of things in them. So they're using the techniques. They're not using them to the extent that we do, but they are using the techniques, which is a lot of fun too. How am I doing on time? I don't have a minder. What time is it? Let's see here. Oh! I'm two minutes over. Are they going to kick us out? They can kick us out. You guys can come up here. I'll long do I have to keep the computer up? What? It's up to me! Ok, come on up. I'll show you guys stuff. Thank you very much you've been a very pleasant audience.

[Transcription by Katie Haarsager; Reviewed by Dr. Crystal Alberts, November 20, 2010]


Contact Information

Crystal Alberts

Associate Professor of English

Director, UND Writers Conference

276 Centennial Drive
110 Merrifield Hall, Stop 7209
Grand Forks, ND 58202