There’s nothing more obnoxious than that writing teacher who loves to talk about their own work in class. It smacks of something desperate, but in the creative writing for new media course I teach at the University of Iowa I confess I do share some of my work with my students, shamelessly. Yes: I’m that guy. My intention is never to show off the bells and whistles of my new media thesis (though I confess I do derive some joy from showing them the possibilities of the form. Look, kids, music! Text effects! Interaction!) but rather to investigate intimately, critically, and honestly, the still-nascent craft issues that one runs into when diving into the deep end of new media writing for the first time, an experience I attest can quickly become overwhelming.

It’s useful to approach the production of my first online project, IN SEARCH OF: A SANDBOX NOVEL together with my students first – speaking as a traditional writer with no coding skills and very little new media know-how – in order to give them a crash course in the problems that may arise in their own work very soon. I’m able to articulate precisely the kind of things that most traditional writers need never concern themselves with, for with new media not only are you dealing with the traditional trappings of storytelling (dialogue, setting, scene, point of view, etc.), there is an entirely new galaxy of problems: visual, kinetic, and aural components to consider.

So, consider this your crash course. If you’d like to play along, visit Click on the ‘first time reading’ link at the top. Take some time to explore, or don’t. When you’re done, come back here. All the myriad problems on the checklist will soon make sense, and in the end either you’ll be won over by the potential of new media lit, supremely frustrated, or just plain unimpressed. In any case, here are some problems you may or may not encounter when it comes to new media writing. (Here are the problems I definitely encountered while writing IN SEARCH OF.) Continue reading

CAREFULLY CURATED CATASTROPHES (a hypothetical pitch), by Matthew Burnside

Dear Publisher,

This pitch, if you even want to call it that, started out as (& being about) many different things.

In the end, I decided it couldn’t be (about) one thing without being (about) everything.


What the hell even is a story if not the simple saga of someone trying?


If I wanted to impress you, here are the things I would tell you about myself: I recently graduated from the Iowa Writers’ Workshop and currently teach creative writing for new media there. I was recipient of a Truman Capote Fellowship. I am author of five chapbooks, one of them interactive, two of them for charity. My stories, poems, and articles have appeared or are forthcoming in Best American Experimental Writing 2015, The Iowa Review, The Los Angeles Review, DIAGRAM, Ninth Letter, Passages North, PANK, Hobart, kill author, Pear Noir!, Gargoyle, NAP, OmniVerse, and more. I am co-founder of an experimental literary magazine called Cloud Rodeo, managing editor of Mixed Fruit, and have been a reader for PANK, The Iowa Review, and NPR’s 3 Minute Fiction. In addition, I write a monthly column for Ploughshares on storytelling and intersections between new media and literature and serve as interviews editor for BOAAT press.

The manuscript that I’m submitting, Bestiary and Other Tales of Monsters, was recently finalist in a few contests, including The Lit Pub’s Prose Contest, the Santa Fe Writers’ Market Literary Awards, and the Willow Springs Editions Spokane Prize in Short Fiction.


If I wanted to be honest with you, here are the things I would tell you about myself: At 32, I’ve applied to 32 academic jobs & received 0 interview requests. (The future’s so bright I’ve gotta wear one of those miner helmets with an industrial flashlight on it.) I only got into the Iowa Writers’ Workshop after 50 other programs cordially disinvited me to attend their programs over a period of 3 years. The manuscript I’m sending you has been rejected over 25 times now. In workshop sometimes at Iowa, my head would hurt because I didn’t understand what the fuck anyone was talking about. I would say something like, “I like the fact that this story has a pony in it. It’s very axiomatic I think,” and hope no one would ask me if I even knew what the word axiomatic meant. Continue reading

[REVIEW] Infinity’s Jukebox by Matthew Burnside



Passenger Side Books

32 pages, $4


 Review by Corey Pentoney


Matthew Burnside’s newest collection of short stories is, in a word, a trip.  A trip into the tentatively constructed heart of a boy who’s trying to understand his father, a trip into the remnants of what love means to a man who lost his wife, a trip to the very heart of literature.  The beautiful thing is that you’re not alone on your journey.  You have the jukebox to guide you.  It wasn’t until I finished the last story, “Literary Short Story: A Mad Lib,” that I began to understand the purpose of the inward-spiraling epigraph and the nickel that is glued in the center.  “To replay human existence—fine.  But to replay it in the way a drunk replays a corny tune pushing coins over and over into the jukebox?” he writes.  Almost every story in this collection felt strangely familiar to me, but with an odd and often beautifully compelling twist.

For example, the first story, “Passengers,” quickly calls to mind the drug-fueled rambling adventures of Hunter S. Thompson, but just when you begin to say “I’ve heard this all before,” Burnside hits you over the head with an iron skillet to remind you that you haven’t, to take a closer look.  Sometimes he achieves this with sentences as blunt instruments, the proverbial punches at the end of the story to make you rethink what you just read. Sometimes, and I believe more successfully, he brought me around with a stunning turn of phrase or detail that left me spinning like a coin on the countertop. My favorite story in the collection, “On the Benefits of a Lego Heart…,” achieves this by offering a unique glance into a familiar landscape: the heart of the abandoned child. This phrase at the end: “the way anything good could only ever be bought with equal but opposite suffering,” forced me to pause and re-evaluate the entire story. “Revival” does much the same for a man who has lost his wife, and is looking to escape his pain with a woman with “tarantula eyelashes” and a “tomahawk gaze.” Continue reading