The Question & Letters to Humanity

“Write a letter to someone dead, alive, or otherwise. It can be someone from the past, the present, even the future. Sometimes, it helps to start with a question.”

First, do the writing prompt above. Think about it and take seriously. And when you are done, read the rest of this article. It will make sense. To feel the power of these ideas, you should spend the time and write the letter. (I will wait.)

A long time ago, I was inspired by Tim O’Brien’s letter to his infant son. A Letter to My Son is a beautiful letter to his son about life with and without him. When I read this letter to a class, I always choke up because it just hits me harder every year I get older. 

From this emotional letter, I began a project called Letter to Humanity, a writing prompt that asked writers and students to write letters to people who would never read them. The writer could send it to people who have died, moved away, have disconnected, or simply just want know the contents of the letter. This proved a powerful tool to reaching writers who were waiting for a place in their lives to say something personal and meaningful. In some cases, it was so powerful, I often felt like it was out of control. People cried, people shouted, people wrote to an emotional place that was literally breath taking. Simple, but powerful when handed to people interested in releasing emotional stories or ideas.

I’ve done this exercise with more than one two hundred writers, and the results have been impressive. For some, writing the letter is easy, but reading it is terrifying. For the sake of completely understanding this, I would recommend writers try this and see what comes from it. And of course, I would love to read your letters and see what came about (ronsamulwriter@gmail.com). But I also want you to see a few samples if you are doing this on your own. Sharing is important. 

This letter was from a graduate student sharing her work in a workshop: 

 


Dear Deanna,

I think about it more often than I want to, and maybe that’s my penance.  I find my mind drifting back to that day, that morning when, in all my bitch-tastic preteen glory, I accused you of stealing my mail and then slammed the door in your face.

You were what, nine?  Maybe ten?  You had only come to give me a letter that landed in your mailbox by mistake.  How could I have done that to you?  Where did I learn that I could treat people like that?  I think about that day because it scares me to know that I have that brand of cruelty in me.  I don’t want to be that person.  But maybe I am, and I hate that.

I remember this day because I know that you remember it too.  I had no idea how much I hurt you until you told me a few years later.  And now that knowledge haunts me. – Lisa Nichols


Writing a letter like this is more than just a discovery, it is something more.

Recently, I had been pushing on the “it helps to start with a question.” I asked all students to ask a question when they started this prompt. It changes the context when you ask the receiver to recall something, to become part of the conversation. There are a lot of reasons to ask questions, but it brings about a different context for writing a letter. Why did you tell me? Do you remember? Do you think of this as much as I do? It brings the urgency and the moment closer to the surface. 

In June, things shifted again. I was reading an article about titled How ‘One True Question’ Will Clarify Your Life’s Purpose by Marjorie Hass. In this article, she mentions “When we look inward to discover our own question, we are looking for a core dissatisfaction that animates our thinking and that drives us intellectually, emotionally, and spiritually.” And it started to make sense. When I ask these questions in this letter exercise, I am asking them to cut deep and quickly into something big. That is why the letter reading is fully of emotions and energy (positive and negative). 

This was important and I was impressed. But she went on to explain something so clear, that my vision of this whole experience, something I did as a writer’s warm-up – is really heavy and significant lifting. She says: 

“Badiou describes the intensity of an individual’s question as a “wound” or a “thorn” in her very experience of existence. There is likely a truth here for many of us. The ordinary traumas — of loss, grief, anger, and desire that are inherent in human development — leave each of us with our own idiom of yearning. And many among us live through traumas of a more significant and destabilizing kind. But the negative language of “wound” isn’t enough. Whatever its origin, the gap or opening that our question reveals is also an invitation, a wellspring for creative imagination, and a promise of infinite possibility and beauty.”

And perhaps in its small contribution, this work, this idea of writing a letter into the abyss, not intended for reading, but for writing – is an opening. It is that moment, sitting in your subconscious waiting for a door, waiting for an invitation to arrive into reality.  Not only was this a significant moment in the evolution of my ideas, but it made perfect sense. This is not the warm-up, this was the main event. This was what we should be thinking about. 

What’s next? Write a letter and send them my way. I just like to read them. I may not really know you, but I will see something profound, and something meaningful. It could release you, it could save you, it could just change things – just sit down and write. 

Please send me one of your letters, I would love to read them. I have no intention of publishing, just fascinated with the ideas.

ronsamulwriter@gmail.com

Prologues and Prefaces – Let’s Consider Paratexts

Gerard Genette 

Building a novel, a writer would begin building scenes that interconnect. You create characters and conflict and your drive these elements to something that is powerful and meaningful. So, it feels strange to suggest that writers want to say something or create something outside of the narrative, before we even start reading the novel.


Prologues seem to off set the beginning of a narrative. How many prologues have really been first chapters and things that need to be woven into the narrative? In the book Paratext: Thresholds of interpretation by Gerard Genette, he explains, “The term prologue, which in ancient drama designates everything that, in the play itself, precedes the entrance of the chorus, must not mislead us: its function is not to make a presentation, but still less to comment, but to provide an exposition in the dramatic sense of the work, the most often in the form of a character’s monologue.” He explains the history and purpose of the prologue in terms of the shape and style of the “paratext” elements. And the fact that he discusses this so much as a paratext (text outside the principle text) suggests that he sees these prologues and prefaces as something hard to handle. 


The most important point that he makes is once we make an impression upon a reader, or we create a signpost, we are imposing upon the reader to see the story one way. An example is an introduction from Borges, which “is offered somewhat as the key to a riddle… it is Borges revealing, in the prologue of Artifices, that “‘Funes, the Memorious’ … is a long metaphor for insomnia.” Impossible after that to read the story without having the authorial interpretation hang over your reading, compelling you to take a position, positive or negative, in relation to it.” (224) Are we positioning the reader? Are we blatantly telling the reader that this will be purpose and point without allowing the reader to form their own interpretation of the text? This is an unfair position to put a reader into before reading a book.

Explaining or bringing out the meaning or vision of the story in a kind of preface or prologue has other issues. When I am sitting in a reading the writer (before reading) has this long preamble about the story, I feel like I am hearing about something of a patch or a fix that isn’t clear in the writing. I don’t mind if they pick a chapter in the middle and have to explain what happened before. But to have a writer create a caveat to the story: warning, you will need to have some stipulations and conditions placed on you so this will go better for you. That doesn’t work in a reading and I think the preface or the prologue can fall into caveats. “The main disadvantage of a preface is that it constitutes an unbalanced and even shaky situation of communication: its author is offering the reader an advance commentary on a text the reader has not yet become familiar with.”(237). Sometimes, new writers are simply telling us that the novel will be about this theme or about this idea. This undermines the purpose of the novel, to building something that reader must connect from beginning to end. 

It feels like some of the modern versions of prologues and prefaces are based in a sense that readers can’t possibly understand this amazing world that I’ve thought up, so I need to tell you some interesting things. Again, lazy writing. If a novel is an immersion into something new — why are you telling me something that you can’t show me in the novel. Many people will say, because it came in the novel before. If your novel speaks to previous novels — do the work and weave that information into the stories. 

Part of the fascination with prologues and prefaces might come around the idea of film making, and visual storytelling. How many times have we started a show or film and they show something — a scene, a weapon, the wreckage and then run the titles, only to go back in time and tell us how we got there. Common film technique and speaks to the way stories are told. But it is still an element of the story. When prologues and prefaces get confusing, it is because they are outside the narrative or forcing ideas on us before we even get into the story. Assuming a reader is paying for your book, has the ability to read critically, and wants to immerse into a novel — then why force them to see it your way before the story starts?

In some cases, (nonfiction, short story collections, anthologies, and translations), there may be a specific need to an introduction, prologue, or preface in terms of the design and collection of what is in the book. Some writers create a preface as a response to printing or publishing the book after a long period of time. Or perhaps it is a slightly different version and some discussion around that is important. I will leave introductions out of this conversation because most of the introductions to books I’ve read a written by scholars as reference to the book. I typically leave the introduction until I finish the book and then go back and read the scholarly context of the introduction. There are exceptions and if you read (please do) the experimental novel House Of Leaves and don’t read the introduction you will never figure out what is happening. Some of the content might be historical context, translation notes, or other para-text information. I am referring to focused story elements sitting outside the novel. 


Agents and publishers who looks at thousands of proposals and samples don’t tend to like this preamble. And many readers would say, just make this the first chapter. Are these elements inside or outside the narrative? Are they unnecessary fixes or tools that just make writing easier? What if we all wrote prologues and then when we finished the book, took them out, like a metronome for a musician. We don’t hear the tick-tock of time keeping because it is inherent in the music, but it might have been there to help start the shape and vision of the music.

Lastly, I am not a hater of these elements, but I feel like they should be discussed in terms of outside or inside the narrative and how we should be trusting readers, trusting good storytelling, and trusting people to understand the dynamic vision you have. Question those things we set up to get started and maybe we can just turn them off like metronome now that we clearly know and hear the music.


Genette, Gerard, and Jane E. Lewin. “Paratexts: Thresholds of interpretation (literature, culture, theory).” Cambridge: Univ. Pr (1997).

Note: This is a fascinating book about things that surround the main body of the books. I have referred to this book a lot. 

When Things Disappear: Books On Memory and Loss

I’ve noticed an emerging theme. In the last six months I have read books that deal with the disappearance of things. In some cases, the lost things are things we never thought we could lose. In other cases, it is the act of losing that is so devastating. These books have been fascinating and terrifying all at once. Here is a look at some of these books and why this type of idea is emerging in literature. 

The oldest book in the group is a very innovative and probably the most upbeat book titled Ella Minnow Pea, by Mark Dunn (2002), the deals with the disappearance of language. In the book is described as “a girl living happily on the fictional island of Nollop off the coast of South Carolina. Nollop was the named after Nevin Nollop, the author of the immortal phrase containing all the letters in the alphabet, ‘The quick brown fox jumped over the lazy dog.’  Now Ella finds herself acting to save her friends, family, and fellow citizens from the encroaching totalitarianism of the island’s Council, which has banned the use of certain letters of the alphabet as they fall from a memorial statue of Nevin Nollop. As the letters progressively drop from the statue they also disappear from the novel. The result is both a hilarious and moving story of one girl’s fight for freedom of expression, as well as a linguistic tour de force sure to delight word lovers everywhere.” This book not only shows the absurdity of how we define rules and social construcut, but it also physically oppresses the reader. Each letter that is dropped from the language, gets dropped from the prose, making it harder and harder to understand. Until it becomes absurd, it feels complicated and oppressive. This brilliant short read feels like a silly parable, but the implications of the novel are deep and meaningful in terms of who makes the rules, who follows them, and the absurdity of principle over common sense. 

Avid readers tend to read a lot of books and many of them are the same. If you read genre murder/mystery novels then you come to expect some of the same common techniques and elements in these books. Novels and stories that stick out to me are the novels that innovate. They aren’t experimental, but they do something I’ve never seen before in a novel or in the genre. Sometimes, that is just a small element of the story. Sometimes, it is the whole book. The Book of M by Peng Shepherd (2018) is a novel that innovates in many different ways. Not only does this book innovate in terms of plot and conflict, it also uses language in innovative ways to close the gap between the unthinkable and the possible. In Alison Walkers review of the book, she describes it as this: “What if your shadow inexplicably held memories? And what if, one day, shadows began to disappear? One day in a busy Indian market a man’s shadow disappears, and with it his memories begin to unravel. Soon, the affliction spreads across the world, as more and more people slowly lose their memories—and with them their ability to reason. We see this catastrophe unfold through the eyes of Ory and his girlfriend, Max, who have gone into hiding in an abandoned hotel. When Max loses her shadow and disappears into the forest, Ory pursues her and heads south, hoping to find Max before she forgets him.” The ideas and language in the novel are so innnovative and compelling that the novel seems like the only place that this idea can happen. While this book has been optioned to the screen (or television), it will be very difficult to handle the range of loss and vision without the narrative and language in the novel. The book is always better, but in this case, the best parts of the novel can never be captured by visuals on the screen. That being said, the loss here is fascinating, overwhelming, and catastrophic. As a result, everything is at stake and the book is filled with the tension of complete calamity, personally, universally, across all realms of thought and feeling. This book is innovative and so exciting to read. And the sense of loss is complete in its effect on the reader. 

The last book on our tour of things lost, is The Memory Police by Yoko Ogawa (2019). This book not only considers the loss of things to our memory, but it also implies that there is a task-force that enforces that loss. While all these books could fall in and out of dystopian literature, this one feels the most oppressive. The book is explained here: “On an unnamed island off an unnamed coast, objects are disappearing: first hats, then ribbons, birds, roses – until things become much more serious. Most of the island’s inhabitants are oblivious to these changes, while those few imbued with the power to recall the lost objects live in fear of the draconian Memory Police, who are committed to ensuring that what has disappeared remains forgotten. When a young woman who is struggling to maintain her career as a novelist discovered that her editor is in danger from the Memory Police, she concocts a plan to hide him beneath her floorboards. As fear and loss close in around them, they cling to her writing as the last way of preserving the past.” This book feels like the dystopian classics, but also has a pointed and ironic sense of our contemporary times of authoritarian vision of oppression in a interconnected vision of being seen through the eyes of the technology and systems. 

Over the course discovering these novels, I found a vision for dystopian novels and ideas. The layers of self-reflected irony is often an element that adds meaning and empathy in a novel. It is clear that classic dystopian novels have meaning because they are close to the surface of our vision of society, relationships, government, and power. Orwell’s 1984 is still a stunning vision. And we often feel like we are moving closer to it rather than moving away. There is also The Handmaid’s Tale by Atwood (now a television series), which envisions the darkest places in a society ruled by pain, suffering, and authority. Yet in these three novel, there is a sense that loss isn’t about moving through things that you can’t have, but the existential precipice around the idea that you may never know you had them to begin with. And that power, that fear of forgetting, or letting something go because it doesn’t mean anything any more is where the fear and anxiety derive. 

Is the world shaping these ideas through our vision of the world? Authoritarianism, war, refugees, and environmental disasters have shaped the last fifteen years. And with it has come a different way of seeing the world. But I also think technology has eroded the way we interact in the world. I think technology and the vision of the world is better. But, it also feels like technology is also scrubbing our brains from the act of deep thinking and retaining long term memories. That is not to say people don’t do these things, but we are pushed and shoved along the information highway and we are moved along from one devastating idea or construct to the next. We all know the exhaustion of just being overwhelmed by what is happening. That is also taking a toll on how we see the world. And perhaps these novels are a result of that idea. 

These novels represent some amazing innovation in writing. This article is meant to highlight these fascinating book around theme of memory and loss. But as a writer and someone who is constantly looking for innovation in novels, these book matter. In the end, these visions of what is possible should strike a chord. In terms of writing, we should be looking for the social messages that are woven in these novels. Writing novels are fascinating because they are complex and each element within the book has to connect with another. That being said, without context or memory, we couldn’t read novels. We couldn’t remember how parts connect (or who committed the crime), and these novels remind us through the innovation of memory, there is the unfathomable idea that we could, unknowingly, let it all slip away. 


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What Are We Waiting For?

I don’t have enough time in a day, but I always find myself in new groups, searching for new ideas and new ways to see things. I am a writer who finds form and function to be such a fascinating way to think about art and creativity. I like how things are made around stories, how innovation can change the way we see things. Sometimes, that means looking at thing that are experimental. Sometimes, that means trying something that doesn’t make sense – to try to find out if it makes sense at all. 

This week, I’ve asked myself this question a few times: what are we waiting for? What is the ideal group of writers? What is the best digital writing space? Is there one? What is the best way to operate? What are the standards and are the standards working? 

Back to the writing group. I joined this group that functions through Discord, a cross-platform for gamers. And it becomes the central hub for people to post and respond to work. This is not a commentary on the group, but on the amorphous way that people connect. It is clearly designed by young people and using a gaming platform. A lot of the work is a variety of fantasy, horror, and other speculative fiction, but it is fascinating to see how the group interacts using #hashtags and emojis. How they work and how they function is a fascinating glimpse into the future of community, connection, and online writing space. In fact, a lot of the writing is on cloud based platforms, and this spaces directs writers and commentators to the pages that are scattered around the cyber world.  It begs the question — is this what we want? Is this what we are waiting for? 

This same week, I’ve been thinking about Brian Clements and his Every Atom: Reflections on Walt Whitman at 200. This project reaches out to “200 poets, writers, artists, critics, scholars, songwriters, leaders, journalists, public figures, and citizens. Each of the respondents will select a word, a line, a passage from that opening section of the 1855 Leaves of Grass that later, Whitman would entitle “Song of Myself,” and each will offer a brief annotation.” This project is not only a visionary use of poetry, literary review, and creativity – but it is also a new vision of poetic creativity and connection. When someone read an entry on Facebook mentioned that this should be a book that is collected, Clements mentioned that it already is a collection accumulating and shaping the vision of this American poetry bringing into the digital consciousness of the poets and visionary of contemporary poetry. It is clear that this innovative and visionary project captures some of the complexities that makes America a constant revision. “If ‘The United States themselves are essentially the greatest poem,” as Whitman asserts early in his Preface to the 1855 Leaves of Grass, then the greatest poem is both a dirty mess and a surviving promise for the possibility of renewal, justice, and reconciliation. Contributors are vast and have a stunning effect of accumulation over the course of this fascinating project. 

The last writing community that I’ve been working on for some time is Yapnet.org, a community that is closed, but very much an open space for creativity and vision. It is hailed as “a unique space, a vibrant hive of responsiveness that operates on the theory of reciprocity and empathy — to get feedback, give feedback; if you get feedback, say thanks. It is a private space, meaning that only members who are logged on can see your work. We believe that this privacy releases you from worry about your digital reputation or identity.” This is a place where we find visual, musical, poetic, and creative storytellers bring about vibrant, rich vision of art. But it can be more playful as members launch quick writing prompts, jump-in style projects, and elaborate and creative connections between creative visions and digital environments. Many of the members are visionary creatives from other digital connective places. And it is here that people are welcome to come and join to continue the vision. Joining is easy, and with your membership comes the vision reciprocity. When I joined, I felt like I was privileged to be among innovative creative people. But now, it needs to expand and grow. It more mass and more connectivity. Not because it is failing, but because it needs to keep rolling as people weave in and out of the community. It is not clear where the edges are in this community, but there is always room for more. Check it out and join if you have the time and will to give what you create. 

What are we waiting for as creative people? What are we looking for that is better than what here and what is happening? Connecting with creativity is still about creating connection with amazing poets, writers, artists, and visionaries. But while I am still bitter that G+ failed – writing and creating in this digital world can be inspiring, motivating, and connective. Jump in and see what innovations are already waiting for you in the creative and connective world. What are we waiting for?


What Is A Writing Journal?

New Writing for the Hollihock Writer’s Conference 
“Your writing journal is a record of your thought process through time. It will evolve as the months and years pass, and it will become a powerful tool. Not only can you think and process your ability on the page, you can also see the history and the arc of ideas as they develop. It can be very powerful to see where you’ve been and realize where you are all at once.” – Read More Click Here 

https://www.hollihock.org/single-post/2019/07/19/What-is-a-Writers-Journal

"Suppose We See It Like This…."

One of the most useful tools in writing is constantly writing to the muse. I’ve always been one to write a journal — strictly on the concepts of the writing and what is moving around in my head. And while that sometimes distracts the writing process, it is important to map out some of the flow to capture it and make it useful later. Snapshots of the mind can help shape and form longer projects and ideas. 

From my writing journal, I’ve been able to ask questions (existential and practical)  about writing, thoughts, and visions of long-term projects (typically novels).  This ability to speak on the page is a meandering that I find indispensable. It is a conversation with the writing, and it is there that I’ve established my personal ethics and values in writing and thinking. My journal isn’t a treaty on thought – but a vault of my own creation. I use it to remember books, write reviews, try out poetry, and even explore my own dreams. But it is always with the value that it connects to another part of my thinking. That is why my journal exists and that is how I prefer to use it. I can always write in my journal. There is no writer’s block because it is merely snapshots not meant for anything more than building ideas. 

When I was reading I Heard Voices in my Head by Helen Vender in the New York Review Of Books (2/23/17), I was slapped in the face with a reminder of why process thinking is important to me. She explains, 

“In truth, what a meditative poem contributes to the history of consciousness is a reenactment in real time of the volatile inner life of a human being. Such a poem [refering to The Preludes by Wordsworth] does not present itself as plot or character portrayal or argument, but rather (in I. A. Richard’s theory) as a hypothesis: “Suppose we see it like this.” The poet’s proposed hypothesis change “minute by minute,” and include waverings, self-contradictions, repudiations, aspirations, and doubts; they are not offered as a philosophical system.” 

This awoke something in me. As I mentioned above, I don’t write in my journal to create a treaty of thought – it really isn’t that formal, but to record the visions I see now, to compare them to the visions in the future. Keeping this record is both validating and useful as it grows outside of your mind, freeing this space for other connections. It helps that I can also keyword search it on the computer if I need to find something from the past.   

The complexity of self-rumination is a gift unto itself and that journal has been fascinating to me in that I can release these ideas. If I come back to specific ideas – then perhaps they need to find a place in a story or become part of a character. That being said, Wordsworth’s relationship with Coleridge was also something that has always been connective. Coleridge was one of the masters of documenting his creative vitality in his journal, letting small fragments and parts eventually turn into his famous poetry. It is this awesome creative power that inspires me to see the worth in this idea that Wordsworth (in The Preludes). Seeing Wordsworth as someone who is considering the very nature of who he is through query and poetry, it is very connective to the ideas that Coleridge put fourth. In fact, one of the most influential quotes that changed my understanding of literature was the inscription at the beginning of The Rhime of the Ancient Mariner by a philosopher named Thomas Burnet. It reads: 

“I readily believe that there are more invisible than visible Natures in the universe. But who will explain for us the family of all those beings, and the ranks and the relations and distinguishing features and functions of each? What do they do? What places do they inhabit? The human mind has always sought the knowledge of these things, but never attained it. Meanwhile I do not deny that it is helpful sometimes to contemplate in the mind, as on a tablet, the image of a greater and better world, lest the intellect, habituated to the pretty things of daily life, narrow itself and sinly wholly into trivial thoughts. But at the same time we must be watchful for the truth and keep a sense of proportion, so that we may distinguish the certain from the uncertain, day from night.” Adapted from Coleridge from Thomas Burnet, Archaelogiae Philosohicae (1692).*

This becomes the vision of the writer, thinker, and the creative mind. Your job is to see the unseeable. And then admit that to paper at all costs. While that may seem heroic – perhaps that is exactly what it should be, a call to define truth as something more than just what you know as fact – but something we desire, something we hope for, something that only fiction and prose can create. We don’t need fact to create truth. We need a vision of “a greater and better world” even at the cost of losing some of our current world. It is sacrifice, it is purposeful, and it is the life of a creative thinker. Poets, prose writers and even visual artists should understand this important connection, even if it is unattainable — it is still vastly and completely worth the writing down the ideas and words that will change you. It will shine light on the darkness. And we can ask that question, “suppose we see it like this” with thrilling and beautiful hope that someone will be willing to “see it like this,” and will carry it forward.  


*Abrams, M. H. The Norton Anthology of English Literature. New York, NY: Norton, 1993

Writing and the Act of Immersion

Find my new article about the immersive act of writing at Harvesting Creativity.

Oddly, when I am scuba diving I think about writing. Long boat rides, open space, and the feeling of being insignificant on the vast ocean plays with the mind. Five or six miles out on the Block Island Sound, the ocean opens up. It is hard to see the shore, and with the typical New England fog, you may not see the shore for hours. Guys chat about their gear, exotic dive sites, and skills they have acquired. I listen and join in, but I think about writing. When we are gearing up to dive, we stop chatting and we get to diving. Gearing up for a dive includes settling into a mental process of checking and rechecking your gear and getting into the water. Click here to read the rest.

Historical Books Have Their Own Personalities

Those who are passionate about books know there is something intrinsic about reading, imagination, and living a kind of second life. In Historical Books and Their Personal Histories, appearing on the Poor Yorick: A Journal of Rediscovered Objects, I discuss how a reference book for a whaling ship is sent around the world and back again. This odd story and the history that these book contain aren’t in the printed matter, but in the covers, the wear, and the notes in the margins. It begs the question when a book shifts from being a book to being an artificial?

Graphic Storytelling… Connecting or Disconnecting

by Ron Samul

In 2013, the New York Times unveiled Tomato Can Blues by Mary Pilon and illustrated by Attila Futaki. This illustrated reportage brought out the best of an old publishing media (newspapers) and merged the new technology of web, journalism, and art to make an interactive piece that not only connects to readers, but also stylizes the time and the complexity of the story. In this emerging mainstream piece, Mary Pilon, the writer of the article discussed the significance of the project and how they struggled to make it work outside of the traditional world of long form journalism. Pilon explains,“Tomato Can Blues, was an exercise in figuring out how to keep readers hooked while still being factual. I think journalists can learn a lot from screenwriters and novelists about how to arc facts, which was a huge task here”. The shift in turning factual print news into creative visuals inspires an innovative method of story production – akin to the way we think about words and images on screens and in the functionally of web design. When big news media like the New York Times produces journalism that fits into the graphic medium high caliber illustrators and storytellers, readers can’t help but noticed that a visual shift is coming. But while the visual shift will create collaboration opportunities, it could add confusion for the reader. In some cases, it was hard to tell if Tomatoes Can Blues was in fact journalism or graphic novel. While there were hundreds of hours of work and interviewing involved, it was seamlessly enveloped into the production and therefore it felt like readers were experiencing a story that only fiction could create. Because multimedia storytelling such as Tomato Can Blues is only in its infancy, it is not just appropriate to be lacking the proper terminology, but also to have questions such as the one in a tweet by Marc Lacey, of The New York Times associate managing editor, who asked: ‘Graphic novel? Reported article?’”.

Tomato Can Blues read like fiction, looked like a graphic novel, and told a story that was complex and very real. Should the reader who looks at something like Tomatoes Can Blues have some kind of indicator to what they are getting into. The line between fact based reportage and fictional storytelling has blurred with the co-mingling of different narratological devices in fiction, nonfiction, reportage, and visual art. In The Art of Creative Nonfiction, Lee Gutkind explains that “the closer to the truth fiction is, the closer to what might be perceived as possible, the more it will impact upon the reading audience. And the more that writing affects readers, the more popular it will become. It is an unyielding circle. To touch and affect readers, fiction must ring true. Nonfiction, conversely, must not only ring true, it must be true” (9). Perhaps that is why this piece in the New York Times didn’t make sense. It was polished, it was produced, it had an element of illustration, and it even had an interface element that accented the images as the reader moved through the text. It read like fiction in a high end literary journal, with the teeth of a true crime story that is hard to get a handle on. The difference between journalism and fiction is often how true stories don’t have all the elements that fiction can provide, facts and real stories don’t have that underpinning of irony or morality, but in this case – it did feel like fiction (a story with a refined truth) and it brought about the question of where does this development go and how do we make an explicit agreement with the reader that what they are seeing and experiencing is fact and should be considered an extended piece of journalistic multimedia? Why do we need this agreement? And should the form and placement of the piece be enough to define its place in the media? The answers will come as terminology, connections, and collaborations define what exactly creators want from stories like this.