online magazine for short, good writing

Month: March, 2013

The Eldritch Creation: A monthly article on cult films and great literature

by Treehouse Editors

Volume 2: The Science of Sleep and Some Things That Meant the World to Me

by Caleb Andrew Ward

In Michel Gondry’s 2006 film The Science of Sleep, Stéphane’s (Gael Garcia Bernal) transition is seamless from his father’s apartment to the dream world he has created using cardboard and imagination. Stéphane’s line between reality and the dream world becomes increasingly blurred as his innocent obsession with his new neighbor Stéphanie (Charlotte Gainsbourg) reaches a climax. He sleepwalks, creates new worlds, and ignores common social boundaries.

02 Some Things That Meant the World to MeJoshua Mohr’s debut novel Some Things That Meant the World to Me (2009) was met with much praise. Mohr’s background in the seedy underbelly of San Francisco’s Mission District gave him great insight into the world where his whimsical novel is set. Mohr’s work has proved to be a pace where filth and grime are celebrated as characteristics that make people more realistic rather than shining them up and putting them on a pedestal. They are met with trepidation and a chance to be who they really are. Teaching creative writing at a halfway house in San Fran, Mohr is able to see how the gritty world the city tries to hide its seething with beauty and pulchritude. Much of his fiction takes place in the Mission District.

Rhonda, a 30-year-old man suffering from depersonalization, wanders San Francisco’s mission district (a common theme in Joshua Mohr’s books) with a broken arm and at night joins his younger self inside a dumpster behind a Mexican food place to travel to his past. The deeper Rhonda goes into his past the more he wants others to believe he has actually found a link between the present and his past. As Stéphane and Rhonda journey deeper into their dormant imaginations they lose their grasp on reality. Stéphane’s relationship with Stéphanie is more real in his dreams than in physical existence and Rhonda at times disregards his relationship with his neighbor Old Lady Rhonda in order to pursue his reconciliation with his mother’s old boyfriend Letch.

02 The Science of Sleep

Rhonda and Stéphane couldn’t be more different in their personalities. Rhonda is a 30-year-old smoker who gets into fights to save hookers and drinks more than he does speak while Stéphane is a quiet man-child, who builds models, imagines he has his own TV show called “Stéphane TV,” and rarely gets drunk. But while the two are different they are also similar. Where these two reach their catharsis is during the interactions with their female auxiliaries. Old Lady Rhonda is in an abusive domestic situation. She is in a constant daily struggle to fight off her husband and keep him from knowing of the mother-son relationship between herself and Rhonda. Stéphanie could see herself falling in love with Stéphane, but his disconnection between reality and the dream world he has created causes for a negative discourse in their relationship. Rhonda and Stéphane have become too intrinsic and have shut themselves off from the others around them who deeply care for them.

So, who gives a shit? We are the watchers and observers, but also the participants. In films and books like these we immerse ourselves in them eventually walking away feeling jilted or disoriented. The dream-like consciousness achieved in both The Science of Sleep and Some Things That Meant the World to Me creates an experience rather than an entertainment. Gaspar Noé says of film, “Very frequently what a life boils down to is a single, very traumatizing experience.” The experiences both characters luxuriate in are comparative and hellish.

Though The Science of Sleep is a more ambiguous ending than Some Things That Meant the World to Me (we end with a close up of sleeping Stéphane dreaming of a better ending with Stéphanie as his love) the two are close in tone. Stéphane and Rhonda are confused wanderers attempting to navigate the parts of their mind yet untilled. The mind is a dangerous place to plunge too deep and these two protagonists show that. They are vessels for audiences and readers to use for character study. If they can thrust themselves so far into their minds and achieve a sense of purpose then can the same go for us?

This Week in Words – Mar 30

by Treehouse Editors

compiled by Rachel Bondurant

For The Millions, Emily St. John Mandel considers this age of social media and early 20th century writers who might have fared well with a Twitter account.

Goodreads is coming to your Kindle.

I don’t give poetry nearly as much love and attention that it deserves here. To make up for that, have at this list of first poems by famous authors.

In Electric Lit’s Recommended Reading, Etgar Keret writes a story for his buddy Todd… for all our buddies “Todd.”

And for those celebrating this weekend, don’t think I forgot about you. Chas Gillespie and McSweeney’s bring you fine holiday fun.

Degrees of Separation: PANK

by Treehouse Editors

Looking back, we have a lot of contributors in common with [PANK], which might be a good sign that you should read their work.

Cristin O’Keefe Aptowicz wrote our briefest piece ever, the witty poem Said the Fly…. PANK published My Tiny God and several other poems of hers.

Matt Bell wrote a review of Jesus’ Son for us, and PANK reviewed two of Matt Bell’s books, How They Were Found and Cataclysm Baby. He was also in their print issue 4.

We published Andrew Brininstool’s three-part story, Reader Response Theory, and you can read his piece Wild Honey at PANK’s website.

Roxane Gay, who wrote one of our most popular stories, Girl/Box, happens to be one of PANK’s editors.

They published Vaiju Joshi’s piece Ten Things I Do Not Tell Anyone About My Child, and you can read her story Clean Slates here at Treehouse.

PANK published five poems by Laura Kochman, who also has a few prose poems here.

JJ Lynne wrote some poetry and a brief encounter for Treehouse, and you can find her somewhere in PANK’s archives under her birth name. Mysterious, right? If you guess which creative work is hers, you win one virtual cookie.

Ravi Mangla has two stories over there: Ethics and Summit. We published his story A Good Meal.

Kyle Minor wrote a list for our 5 Things You Should Read series, and PANK has published several of his pieces, such as The Reason Why People Will Always Be Enthralled By Plainspoken High-Stakes Domestic Realism. The title alone should make you curious.

Delaney Nolan, whose stories You Live Alone In a Small House and Lessons in American History were published here, also appears in their issue 8.

PANK published Robert Anthony Siegel’s story What the American Public Wants, and he wrote a review for our Jesus’ Son mixtape week.

College graduate seeking a job. Anything that doesn’t involve cleaning toilets.

by Treehouse Editors

a brief encounter by Megan Fowler

The Daily Grind:                                                                                   

  • I make coffee. I hear gossip. I help homeless people make telephone calls.  
  • I keep up with current events in Small Town Friendly North Carolina. Last week’s headliner was “Cow falls into neighborhood swimming pool.” (He was rescued safe and soundly by the way).

Costume Shop:

  • Sales associate. I helped drag queens find the tallest and most glittery stilettos. I heard the song “Monster Mash” at least one million times.

Kid’s Film Workshop:                                                   

  • I helped a bunch of spoiled kids pick costumes, wigs, and props for a music video, but mostly just yelled at them when they climbed on refrigerators, couches, etc. so their parents wouldn’t sue us. I decided I would never work with kids again when one of them informed me that “no one uses the word cool anymore.”

Tour Guide:

  • We led tourists through film sets. We pretended to know everything about the TV show One Tree Hill. When inquired on specifics about seasons and episodes we would strategically change the subject and reply with an anecdote about James Lafferty’s favorite waffles or the steamy Chad Michael Murray shower scene that in reality was just the guy standing in a kiddie pool being sprayed with cold hose-water (always a crowd pleaser). Movie Magic.


  • Film studio/warehouse. We accidentally broke a few really expensive lights, but sometimes we fixed things too. Only a few people were almost electrocuted. Sometimes we turned cartwheels outside, rode golf carts, and fed geese in the mud puddle behind the office. Mostly we just made the Darth Vader voice into fans and avoided the blistering summer heat. We watched carpenters build doubles of houses in the back lot so the writers/directors/cinematographers could watch them burn to the ground. 

Lit Mag Spotlight: PANK

by Treehouse Editors

Our free Literary Loot Contest for Unusual Prose is accepting entries right now, with a sweet prize supplied by a collaboration of literary magazines, journals, and indie presses:
A Strange Object   •   Barrelhouse   •   Booth   •   Carolina Quarterly   •   Dzanc Books   •   Ecotone   •   Gigantic   •   Gulf Coast   •   Mud Luscious Press   •   PANK Magazine   •   REAL: Regarding Arts and Letters

Founded in the mid aughts, PANK is one of the most visually pleasing and narratively interesting places out there. (They’re also offering a one-year subscription and a t-shirt for the winner of our contest.) Earlier this week, founding editor M. Bartley Seigel talked to our poetry editor, M.G. Hammond, about literary risks, literary invasions, and blowing open the careerist literary scene.

Q: The PANK “About” page states that you publish “the brightest and most promising writers for the most adventurous readers.” How would you define an adventurous reader?

A: When you read a lot of lit mags, you’ll seldom find mistakes, but you’ll likewise seldom find either surprise or awe. In any issue of PANK you may never know what you’re going to get. Much of it may even miss the mark. We’re human. We take chances. We make mistakes. But in every issue there’s something that’ll blow the back of your head off, too. Many can’t promise that thing. We’re searching for that thing, not the safe bet, and we want readers who are in it for the ride and the chance, who are willing to endure for the sake of adventure and discovery.

Q: The PANK collective takes advantage of most mediums for distributing its literary content—you publish an online and a print journal, facilitate a blog, publish books, and do a live reading series around the country. What are some of the difficulties in organizing so many circulations, and how do you feel each medium is unique as far as its reach and audience?

A: Some writing is right for print and wrong online. Other things work well on a tablet or phone. Other things work well on stage, but not on the page. Performance is a different experience than reading than is listening to an audio recording. Different audiences come to different writing at different times and in different ways. We’re just trying to take advantage of the fullest spectrum we are able to as writers, editors, publishers, and literary provocateurs. Likewise, the challenges and responsibilities shift. We’re all shape shifters and opportunists at PANK. It’s good fun.

Q: Speaking of the reading series, tell us about Invasions. How do you choose what cities you visit, and what excites you most about these events?

A: Our staff and contributors are all over the map and our editors travel a lot. If I’m in the twin cities, etc., on other business or to give a reading or something, I’ll organize an invasion. I love the chance to hear a writer perform their own work, hear it in their own voice, and connect real people to writing I’ve spent so much time with. And because PANK is so kind of placeless, it gives us a real opportunity to connect with our readers.

Q: As an editor, what do you think is the most important aspect of the collective nature of PANK, and what is beneficial about being so versatile regarding distribution?

A: In a word, diversity. Individually, we’re pretty good. But together, in our difference, we’re unstoppable. It’s unhinged chaos most days, but that’s where the magic is born. We’re mobile. We’re flexible. We’re open to change. We adapt and we evolve. These are our strengths. We see opportunity where others bitch about want. In terms of distribution, it simply allows us to capture the largest audience for the least amount of expenditure.

Q: Why do you feel it is important to be publishing work that is relatively experimental and unusual, and what role do you think that plays in today’s larger literary atmosphere?

A: There are a lot of literary magazines, but not a lot of differences between them. Many, if not most, publish the same kinds of safe stories and poems from the same kinds of careerist writers fretting over their MFA credentials, tenure packages, Pushcart nominations, and applications to Bread Loaf. That’s great, I guess, but as that niche is already so nicely filled, we may as well do something else, something others can’t or won’t. We’re loosely affiliated institutionally, aren’t tied to an English or MFA program, and we’re mostly reader funded. In other words, we have a lot of freedom to take chances on writers and writing that others can’t or won’t. The value to the literary atmosphere? Maybe, in our own small way, we can encourage the literary community to stop talking only to itself, stop taking itself so damn seriously, get it moving again, maybe even get it to dance a little. Dance, monkeys, dance!

visit PANK’s website

5 Way of Getting Your Poems Noticed by an Editor

by a contributor

from Tim Suermondt, author of Fearing for the Astronauts:

  1. Have at least one poem in your packet that’s about poetry and/or the writing of poems. I know, they say they hate it, but they’re not being entirely truthful: what self-respecting editor doesn’t agree with James Dickey, who said: “Poetry is the greatest goddamn thing in the Universe.” Well, you get the point. Flaunt “poetry” a little—it will do you and the editor, and your readers, good.
  2. Before you send in a poem about your grandmother or an angel, make them as sexy as you can. I realize it’s hard to do with a grandmother, but you’re a poet after all. Angels are much easier: look at them flying around in skimpy dress, sitting provocatively on a cloud. They’d love your erotic attention.
  3. Include a poem dealing with a historical figure—it will give you some gravitas and show that you’re not just interested in writing about yourself to the exclusion of just about anything else. Robert Lowell, Socrates, Abraham Lincoln are good ones to choose. Hitler and the like not so good. Your historical figure can still be living, but avoid Lindsay Lohan. Maybe try the Pope instead.
  4. One of your poems should complain about how horrible the world is, and one of your poems should celebrate how wonderful the world is. Remember Adam Zagajewski’s claim that every line of a poem holds both tragedy and joy.
  5. Since, unlike Richard Wilbur, I’ve had poems rejected (unbelievable as it sounds), ignoring all of this is fine. But it won’t get you in any better with the editors. Trust me.

Fearing for the Astronauts

by a contributor

Tim Suermondt

One of them landed on the roof,
rolled over a couple of times
and fell into a clump of bushes

reputed to be attractive to every kind
of butterfly. I grabbed at his suit
and helped him up, even helped

unstick his visor and take off
his helmet. “I have a feeling this
isn’t Mars.” “You’re close,” I said—

“It’s Brooklyn.” I suggested he stay
awhile, get his bearings (no pun
intended). I even offered to take him

to dinner and let him spend the night
on the couch. He said he had to return
immediately to his ship and knew

the way, “I go North, or maybe South.”
We walked through the kitchen, past
the unwashed dishes and the noodle boxes,

walked through the living room, past
the bookshelf containing the fat bio
of Werner von Braun and ‘What Do You

Really Mean When You Say Ethics?’
We walked out the door and said goodbye
at the front gate. He tucked his helmet

under his arm, like it was a football,
and did head North only to turn around
and go South. He paid no attention

to the man on the stoop who said, “I love
your costume”—he had a mission to finish.
Later, I cleaned those dishes—with purpose.

Tim Suermondt has published two full-length books of poems: Trying to Help the Elephant Man Dance (The Backwaters Press, 2007) and Just Beautiful (New York Quarterly Books, 2010). He lives in Brooklyn with his wife, the poet Pui Ying Wong.

See Tim’s list of 5 Things You Should Read in our ongoing contributors’ series.