Reviews and Press

Review in Ottawa XPress December 9, 2010

Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine: All Stories True brings terrific tales back into the light

Based in Halifax, Invisible Publishing is a small press “committed to working with writers who might not ordinarily be published and distributed commercially… to produce entertaining, affordable, print-based art.” Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine: All Stories True certainly qualifies in all three of those categories.

Now residing in Montreal, but born and raised in Ottawa, Miller put out his first zine in 1996 when he was still a teenager, and this book, as Miller writes, is “both a collection of short stories and an archival document of the 13 years I have published my zine Ghost Pine [originally Otaku], where these stories first appeared.” The discussions, digressions, stories, book, tape and record reviews culled from the zine and compiled here detail Miller’s coming of age as a young punk rocker growing up in suburban Ottawa.

Residents of the city will find themselves nodding along in recognition as Miller recounts and reviews decidedly local activities including “Lucky Ron at Chateau Lafayette”: “The second set began at that beery hour when you knew you should probably be getting home but the crowded path to the door and the cold wind scraping the streets outside made you think better of it.”

In “The Annual Great Glebe Garage Sale Report 1998,” Miller expertly describes the event as only an already-jaded or soon-to-be-jaded 19-year-old could: “Admittedly, the Glebe is probably the worst neighborhood in the world to hold a garage sale, considering it’s populated by yuppies, snobby rich kids ambassadors and aging hipsters – all the people that don’t understand the delicate symbiotic relationship between the garage saler and the bargain fiend.”

As Miller’s world expands, so too do his adventures, and soon we find him smoking up in Calgary (“Hashish in Calgary”), sleeping in a tent atop a house in San Francisco (“On the Rooftops of San Francisco”), and biking alone late at night through the streets of Montreal (“The Secret Saints of Montreal”). The book concludes with an interview with Miller and a short, but welcome, illustrated history of Ghost Pine, the zine, including reproductions of the first 11 covers.

Pithy and charming, Miller’s voice is an engaging one, and reading this you’ll feel as though you’re with a friend, and that the two of you are out together, taking note of all to see. “Anything could find its way into one of my pocket-sized zines,” writes Miller, “so long as it fit Ghost Pine‘s motto: All Stories True.”

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Interview (with Erick Lyle) on Toward Freedom

Permanent Autonomous Zone: A Conversation with Zine Writers Erick Lyle and Jeff Miller by Matt Dineen

What if our lives were filled with moments of liberation from the everyday? Is it possible to carve out spaces that challenge the dominant logic of the market, where we can pursue meaningful work and actualize our dreams? This most daunting task must begin with conversations between co-conspirators.

At the end of this past summer, I had the pleasure of sharing such a conversation with two writers who were on a tour together with their recently-published books. Erick Lyle and Jeff Miller both come out of the underground zine community and had just released anthologies of their past work, Lyle’s SCAM and Miller’s Ghost Pine. The morning after their reading at the Wooden Shoe anarchist bookstore in Philadelphia, I escaped my stifling wage job—still on the clock—to interview them in a park in West Philly.

Matt Dineen: Do you guys want to start by talking about the tour you’re on? You did an event here in Philly last night. You’re heading to Baltimore next. Can you talk about the idea behind the tour and also your books that have come out recently?

Jeff Miller: Originally, the tour was my idea. I’ve been doing a lot of promotional events for the book in Canada and I kind of wanted to break out a little bit. I also feel like there’s not enough cross-border, cross-pollination of zines. Erick came up to Canada in 2008 and we did a couple shows and that went really well. I just thought it would be nice to meet some people in the States, try to sell some books, tell some stories, and travel around a little bit.

Erick Lyle: Yeah, it’s neighborly to get together like this—fostering international camaraderie. Jeff’s anthology came out pretty much the same time as mine. We’ve been pen pals for almost 10 years, so the timing was pretty good. I probably wouldn’t have gone on this trip, honestly, but since Jeff was gonna do it—it just seemed like a good idea. Like, “Oh that would be fun to team up on this.” And the timing was great because I have the SCAM anthology out now as well.

I think what’s cool about this tour is that we’ve read with a lot of different folks, and it’s been all over the map. Like in New York we read with Cristy Road and Mike Taylor who have made zines for years, but also with this guy Colin who does a blog about how he’s gonna eat pizza in every pizzeria in New York City. Or with this woman Eleanor Whitney who writes about art and design, and also food. We are reading with China Martins tonight who has done a zine for years about being a mom.

So I think what pulls it all together, what it all has in common, is that it is the underground press; it is indie press. And we’re reading in indie stores, and that this is about supporting underground and independent alternatives. That it’s a vital thing to do, and that there is a community that exists outside of the mainstream that’s trying to continue this tradition of independent stores. So like last night, we read here in Philly at the Wooden Shoe which is a place that’s been carrying my zine for like 20 years. They’ve got a great new space. It’s better than ever, so it’s nice to see that. Just trying to be a part of that all the time is really important to me. We’re going to Red Emma’s in Baltimore which is a worker-owned place. So that’s pretty cool.

And it’s interesting because Jeff works at a bookstore in Canada. I have worked at a bookstore before, and I’ve seen the corporate tour where the author comes and there’s 2 people. And our shows have been pretty packed, I would say. There is a vitality in the independent scene. It is a real deal. So it’s cool to see that. We’ve put a lot of work into this over the years and work’s coming back to us too. We’re enriching it together.

JM: I feel like one of the best things about being independent is that you’re resourceful enough and economic enough to get around and there’s a community of people that will help you get around and come out and support. And yeah, it feels really good to know that more people came out last night at the Wooden Shoe than come out when we do an event at the kind of corporate bookstore where I work in Canada. There, some best-selling author will read and there’s like 3 people, 4 people. So, like Erick was saying, it is a real demonstration of independent community, and not necessarily just a zine community. I think we’re really blessed to have a lot of overlap with music communities and activist scenes. People love to come out and hear stories. Our lives are so under-represented by current media and current literature that when independent voices come along, people respond strongly and it’s really amazing.

MD:Well Jeff, you mentioned that you’ll be going back to Montreal to work at this bookstore. I was wondering if you could both talk about life after this tour in terms of how you’re supporting yourselves while continuing to create your art and everything?

EL: Well, I recently moved to New York City—I guess it’s been about a year—and, theoretically, it’s the most expensive city in the entire country. Although I moved from San Francisco and I feel that San Francisco is even more expensive in a certain way. So, it’s a hustle. But I don’t know, for me, it’s a lot of tried and true methods; like I steal all my groceries. New York is full of plentiful, dumpstered food. I was just talking about this with a friend at this cafe here. He was like, “Yeah man, last time I was in New York I dumpstered a bike and a bag of weed.” [ Laughs] People are so rich they’re like, “I got a bike at home. I’m just gonna throw this one away. I don’t feel like riding it today.” [Laughs]

So there’s plenty of excess, and that’s what we’ve been living off all these years. There’s plenty of copy scams to get the zines printed. We go on tour and sell the zines. So that’s a profit. But I don’t know. It’s the same old thing: scraping by, selling writing here and there. The stuff that’s in this new issue of SCAM was originally freelance journalism that was printed in a newspaper and I wanted to re-present it to the punk scene. It was in the San Francisco Bay Guardian so I knew people weren’t gonna know about it. The usual SCAM readers weren’t gonna see that so I wanted to get it out to the bigger punk scene.

But it’s the same old scam, basically. Making it happen in any way. I just live in such a way that my priority is time, more than money. And that’s always been what SCAM magazine is about to me: the idea that you’re taking your life back, to devote it to the things that you want to do. That’s its own kind of work but it feels meaningful to me. I basically just spend all my time writing and doing things as much as I can for the creative stuff I want to do. And I’m always broke because of it, but I feel pretty good about it.

Oh also, the government of Canada pays me to not write zines. [ Laughs]

JM: I don’t understand. [ Laughs] Yeah, as far as money goes, it’s always been a struggle. But I feel like when you start monetizing the things that you care about, that’s when everything goes wrong, basically. If I were to say, “I’m gonna put, like, 50 hours into this zine and after I scam the copies I better make 10 dollars an hour.” If that’s your goal then you’re kind of doomed from the start. It’s just not gonna work out for you. So, I don’t know. It’s like Erick was saying, just living cheap and trying to keep as much time free as possible. I have a bunch of friends who are writers in Montreal and some of them have tried to find jobs where they can make enough money so that in the summer they have time to write or whatever. But I’ve always felt like that’s sort of a bad idea. The key, really, is to find a way to live on nothing. It gives you endurance as a writer if you’re scraping by somehow.

But yeah, in the 13 years of doing Ghost Pine it hasn’t been too much of a struggle. When you decide you want to do something you just have to fuckin’ do it and make it happen, despite all the obstacles that get thrown in your path. And maybe now it’s a lot easier just because I know the ins and outs of it through trial and error. And I’m more confident in myself, knowing that I can do it, pull it off and get better. So my advice would be just to accept being poor, strive on, and make whatever you need to make.

MD:Well maybe we can look toward the future a little bit. Last night, Erick, you were talking about looking back at your past and the way you would’ve reacted to a certain situation 20 years ago versus 5 years ago, versus today. Could you both connect your, kind of, personal evolution and relate it to where you see yourself in, say, 5 years and continuing your work?

EL: Well yeah, one cool thing about this trip is that I have this zine that’s brand new writing from Miami which mostly represents work I did as a reporter covering some political subjects down there and trying to bring my voice to that. But I also have this anthology that’s got 15 year old writing from Miami. So, for me, that’s what I thought would be fun to present on this tour—kind of a snapshot of this person, of my trajectory. You know, here’s somebody who lived in abandoned buildings and ate out of the trash and then is able to take that knowledge and sensibility to a new location. So, I’m gonna continue to make zines and I’m working on another book, continue to write books. I would like to pursue more freelance work, but I haven’t really put my attention to it too much.

My basic goal with my writing is to continue to represent what I feel is left out of the current mainstream dialogue. So I’m gonna take that at any opportunity I have, whether it’s making another issue of SCAM or whether it’s my next book, or any sort of freelance assignment I can get. I’m just trying to continue on.

So like in this SCAM anthology, I’m talking about squatting in Miami and then the zine that just came out is writing about a group of squatters that are operating now in Miami. I have experience living in abandoned buildings so I was like, “Yeah, I want to go talk to these folks and get their story out.” Just trying to have a continuity, for sure. The next thing I have is a book that’s coming out on Soft Skull [Press] next year that’s about San Francisco lost art and utopian movements. That’s gonna be in the Spring of next year. And there’s an art show related to that that I’m doing in San Francisco. So in the Spring I’m gonna be back in SF doing a lot of stuff, just trying to bring some cool radical history to light and present a new alternative for the future.

JM: I think, it’s like Erick was saying, one of the cool things about doing a zine for a long time is that you get these snapshots of, kind of, your consciousness at various ages. And the distance between one story and the other, it’s really interesting to sort of chart your evolution in thinking and aesthetics, and all that. Definitely when you put so much of your life into your zine, and so much hard work, you kind of come out the other end 13 years later, 19 years later, with a definite confidence and an acceptance of the fact that you can work in different media. Like when I was a kid, I would never consider writing an article for a newspaper, or even a book seemed kind of a betrayal of the ethic of the zine community which was so vital. I would always be at the library looking for books. Like, “Where’s the book about 15 year old disaffected kids in suburban Canada who are into post-hardcore and who go to shows downtown?” And it was like, “Oh…”

EL: You gotta write it yourself!

JM: Yeah. You gotta write it yourself! So yeah, I’m currently working on a novel that’s sort of autobiographical, but also takes liberties with certain elements of my life. It’s nice to have the freedom to sort of move things around and not be so slavishly trying to create reality on page, you know, to have some poetic license. But when I was putting the [ Ghost Pine anthology] book together I was like, “Okay, this is it man. This is it. The whole zine is over now. Whatever! I’m gonna move on.” And then being on tour, I did all these events in Canada through the network of radical communities there, and now I’m reconnecting with old friends and new people in underground art scenes and activist scenes here, I’ve totally got all this energy to make a new zine.

I definitely want to keep a foot in the zine world and then another foot trying to figure out something outside of it especially now that mainstream publishing is falling apart, falling to pieces. Generally, I’m always gonna do a zine and now I’m gonna start doing other stuff too. One isn’t more important than the other. They both feed off the same energy and sort of buttress each other. If I get this novel published, someone that gets into that maybe will get into zines; or maybe they won’t. And that’s fine.

EL: Yeah. Like for instance, I did this story that was in the paper and then I published it as a zine. If you publish twice, you’re reaching entirely different audiences that both might be really large. And for me, the point is not to change what I’m doing to get to a different audience, but to do what I’m doing stubbornly enough in all these different areas to bring people into what I’m trying to do. Like, “Hey, check this out.” I think you can build that up in the way that you’re talking about, for sure.

JM: Well, in a way, for you, it definitely seems like there is some overlap between the readers of the SF Bay Guardian and SCAM, but there are large segments of both the punk and newspaper-reading communities that don’t cross over. So, to do it in both is a real service to the kind of journalistic message you’re trying to get across.

EL: But also books and zines as well, because there’s a lot of folks that don’t take a zine seriously and then there’s a lot of punk kids that kind of can’t afford a book. They’re like, “15 bucks?! Shit man.” So far my books have been available in places that they can be stolen from—like you can go steal it from Borders, so I don’t feel too bad about it. Obviously, I don’t want you to do that at Wooden Shoe. You know, I think that 15 bucks is a cheap price for a book, based on the realities of the publishing business. But I also understand that 2 bucks is more where you’re at when you’re a punk rocker sometimes. And I feel that too. So I think that’s important.

MD:Wrapping things up, I’m wondering if either of you have advice for other cultural producers  that are feeling the weight of capitalism and are going back and forth about the work they want to do and focusing more on just surviving? For example, people who would like to be doing zines fulltime but are finding themselves in a fulltime job that takes away their time and ability to be dedicated to their art. What is your advice for people who are dealing with that right now?

JM: I would say, generally, to anyone who wants to do something to just…

EL: Go for it.

JM: Yeah, just go for it. It’s a cliché for sure, but…It happens to me and I think it happens to everyone, when you want to write about something and you’re like, “I just gotta read these 5 other books about it, and I’ll finally be ready to start.” But just being like, “I know enough. I don’t need to read another book. I can just start today and just write some stuff.” Just starting is huge. You just gotta start. And then momentum builds from that.

And I don’t know, make some sacrifices. You don’t need cable, you know. [ Laughs] It’s tough, especially people with kids, but I don’t know. It’s been done. You just gotta toughen up and just go for it. And no one’s gonna care forever and then at some point people will start caring if you put enough work into it. Just keep your expectations low and keep your work ethic bangin’. Just keep hustling and victories will come.

EL: Yeah, I don’t know what to say to that, honestly. I mean, there’s not a lot of support out there. But we’re lucky, in this case, because I feel like we’re tapping into this independent community which gives me a lot of hope. There’s people out there who have been paying attention for years and that’s rad. But the soul-crushing loneliness that being a dedicated writer can bring to you? It’s rough man. It can be a hard road for people who really dive into it. But any classic novel that’s been on the shelf for 200 years, the dude who wrote it lived in worse conditions than you probably. You know what I mean? People were working all day in some fucked up situation and then going home and working all night. If you got it in you and you want to get it out, you have to find a way to do it—by any means.

JM: And it will become its own reward. I found that starting out my ambitions were huge, it was gonna be the hugest zine or whatever. Over the years all the work just became a joy in itself. You kind of come out the other end and you’re like, “Even if no one ever sees this, this is still one of the number one joys of my life, to be producing this writing.” And to be constantly challenging yourself everyday to get better and better—that becomes the mission, in this weird way. Then once you’re in that zone, all the external stuff like publication and going on tour with your pen pals all sort of falls into place. Once you develop the real love of putting one word in a place and then taking it out of that place and putting another word in, and then putting another word in, and then taking that out—it’s this incredible, weird bondage to the word, to language. But in this other way it makes you super free.

EL: Like nothing else matters.

JM: Yeah, nothing else matters. The more you put into it, the freer you become in this weird way. The more you’re a slave the more you’re free. I don’t know.

EL: My advice would be, if you start thinking about publishing then you’re just gonna quit. [Laughs] Because you’re surrounded by the evidence that bookstores are closing, no one buys books. In fact, the book itself might just become a computer, all that shit. If you’re just thinking about that, you’re just gonna jump off the bridge. If you want to write, you gotta write.

For me, I think, “Well, what do I want the world to look like? What are my ideas? What am I trying to make happen?” And writing is a utopian space where I can represent those ideas. I have also been an activist and done as much as I could to physically make these free spaces happen in the world. And that’s different from writing, but writing is also a place where you’re keeping alive that idea, potentially in a dormant, almost virus-like way. It could outlast you. You just have to be thinking like that: “This is adding up to something that I believe in.” If you don’t believe in it, you can’t do it. So you’re writing for the future, for some imagined audience that might not even exist.

JM: It’s a permanent autonomous zone.

EL: [ Dramatically] Yes, Matt, it’s what we call a PAZ, or a permanent autonomous zone. [Laughs]

I like that. Thank you.

JM: Thanks Matt.

EL: Thanks Matt.

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Reviews on Bookgaga and Advent Book Blog

Are there names we hold sacred in the CanLit canon, that must always stand alone? With all genuine and due respect, would it be profane to, say, utter anyone’s name in the same breath as the name of Alice Munro … especially if that writer has “punk” and “zine” in his literary curriculum vitae? If it is, what follows is a profane review …

Ghost Pine: All Stories True offers up “all stories true” from the life of author Jeff Miller, covering 13 years from the 1990s to almost the present. The stories are compiled from the best of his long-running zine of the same name. The stories capture Miller’s youth in suburban Ottawa in the late 1990s, to his largely economy class travels across Canada and North America, to his current home in Montreal.

Miller’s bleak or just bland urban and suburban settings are gritty and seemingly hard-edged at first, but as the stories progress (and sometimes that progress is charted over mere words, sentences, perhaps a paragraph), most are redeemed by consideration, keen observation, kindness and often inexplicable optimism. What in the world could that possibly have in common with Alice Munro’s oeuvre, where rural and small town settings often belie heartbreak, malice and even menace under a picture postcard, pastoral surface? Both are subversive, in their way, for so clearly undermining what the carefully crafted surfaces – semi-rural southwestern Ontario in Munro’s case, downtown or suburban Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton et al in Miller’s case – would seem to depict. Both imbue their settings and characters with quiet, almost mundane solidity, but, *because* they’re quiet, modest and mundane, are therefore profoundly authentic situations and people with which we can relate.

Miller’s bike couriers, security guards, struggling musicians and artists, mildly and sheepishly disaffected high school students, not to mention the person and persona of Miller himself (because all of his stories are true, remember) might seem depressed, unmotivated, ready to wreak havoc or to just give up. But they all keep going in one fashion or another and they all strive to learn and expand their horizons beyond their immediate circumstances and experiences, best illustrated by the centrepiece set of stories and fragments about “The Social Justice Club”, where a loosely assembled group of misfits strives to find a cause or purpose beyond their day-to-day high school routines. Just as it is charmingly surprising to see these teenagers struggling to understand the issues associated with East Timor or Burma, or the value of becoming a vegetarian, it is almost startling and simultaneously heartwarming to observe a young person ungrudgingly helping his wheelchair-bound grandfather to the bathroom, and then listening not only patiently but with fresh appreciation to an oft-told reminiscence.

“I laughed, not with the childish glee I did the first time I heard the story many years before. But today it was actually kind of funny.

My grandfather wiped a tear of joy from his eye.”

The all true Ghost Pine stories have the intimacy of a handwritten, manually cut and pasted, collated and assembled publication – as they should. That homemade aesthetic does not, however, suggest that there is any compromise in sophistication in the storytelling. That’s again where I think the Alice Munro comparison is sound. Miller’s Ghost Pine stories have the same finely honed care and craft as Munro’s plainspoken words of bottomless depth and possibility. Both speak simply and resonantly of familiar people, locales and experiences, even though they are widely divergent on the surface.

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Jeff Miller is the punk/zine Alice Munro — I mean it. Both Miller and Munro are subversive, in their way, for so clearly undermining what the carefully crafted surfaces — semi-rural southwestern Ontario in Munro’s case, downtown or suburban Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Winnipeg, Edmonton et al in Miller’s case — would seem to depict. Both imbue their settings and characters (Miller’s include bike couriers, security guards, struggling musicians and artists, mildly and sheepishly disaffected high school students) with quiet, almost mundane solidity, but, *because* they’re quiet, modest and mundane, are therefore profoundly authentic situations and people with which we can relate.

True to their mandate, Invisible Publishing has brought to light another gem, not unlike Anna Quon’s Migration Songs (which I notice has also been recommended on the Advent Book Blog this season).

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Review in This Magazine November/December 2010

If you’ve spent any time in a punk scene across Canada over the past decade, it’s likely you’ve come across a copy of Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine. Like many Canadian zines, it circulated from province to province, passed hand to hand, turning up at all-ages shows and independent bookstores along the way.

This collection contains the gold mined from thousands of photocopied, pocket-sized pages. Ghost Pine: All Stories True is part atlas of adolescence, part ode to the cities that Miller has called home for years or days in the last decade.

Miller captures the small revelations of everyday life, from the smells of a midnight bike ride through Montreal to trips home to Nepean, Ontario, filled with the ghosts of Christmases and friends past. Love, heartbreak, bad jobs, good meals, and music all make their marks on the personal histories in this collection.

Whether you still hold dear the smell of photocopier toner in the internet age, or this is your first exposure to the zine, the stories of Ghost Pine stick long after the last page us turned.

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Review in Montreal Review of Books Fall/Winter 2010

This collection of “true” accounts – many of which were originally published in the author’s long-running zine, also titled Ghost Pine – exemplifies the particular contemporary Canadiana created by middle-class, suburban, alienated, nomadic, politically engaged youth. Several of Jeff Miller’s stories are written from the perspective of an urbane twentysomething looking back, gently, humorously, upon his younger self. Others are travelogues depicting places both local (favourite haunts and neighbourhoods in Montreal, the author’s adopted city, and in Ottawa, his hometown) and not (hitchhiking and bus trips across the country or into the States). A few of the more mature stories deal with ageing relatives and the struggle to maintain one’s identity in an indifferent world.

Anyone to whom suburbs “became the symbol of everything wrong in the world,” who belonged to a high school “Social Justice Club,” or who marches when “evil politicians come to town” will relate to and chuckle at these slices of youthful life. While the narrator’s sincere and wry style makes Miller’s first short story collection enjoyable, the pieces can sometimes be directionless and self-indulgent, as when, in a story about a sojourn in Chicago, the reader is treated to almost every observation along the way. 

The flaws of a developing writer, however, are easily outweighed in this book by signs of a more consequential voice. Sometimes the writing in Ghost Pine is stunning, making one wish that the settings for such gems were a little stronger. For example, after a pedestrian account of an on-again, off-again love affair between two young travellers, Miller writes: “The problem with falling in love with a traveller is easy to figure out. They keep moving, even after they’ve sworn you their heart. You become another town with a funny name they can say they’ve been to or a city they’re anxious to leave ….”

At other times, things come together in a way that shows promise for Miller’s future work. In “Who’s the Ghost,” Miller uses the metaphor of invisibility to describe the struggle of those idealists who “made a choice when we were younger that we sometimes regret now, with our empty bank accounts and our rotting teeth ….” Noting that “the more you care about something the less tangible it becomes …. Doubt and depression are common among ghosts,” Miller concludes with a strangely uplifting and apt image: “to all the regular people going about their day we just appear to be a layer of fog creeping across the city streets. A completely silent cloud rubbing itself against the sides of mirrored financial towers.”

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Radio Interview on CBC Ottawa (91.5 FM) All in a Day November 4, 2010

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Intrerview (with Dave Roche) by Chris Landry in the Toronto Zine Library Resource Zine Fall 2010

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Review in Razorcake

Ghost Pine (and its previous incarnation, Otaku) is most likely—considering its near fifteen year history—one of the longest running “personal” zines still kicking around. What Cometbus is to Berkeley and the EastBay, Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine is to Sainte Catherine and Canada as a whole. And where most zines are considered long in the tooth if they make it past three or four issues, and even fewer manage to actually be consistently good, the fact that Miller has published for so long is laudable. But while zines like Cometbus are often championed for a kind of over-the-top bombast and punk excess, Ghost Pine works in the opposite way—quietly but convincingly, laying down small, true stories that put forth as much comfort as they do conviction. I’m glad Miller has found publishers willing to put this book out; the zine’s a good one, and the quiet, resolute strength of the writing translates well to book form.

Still, it’s interesting: Aesthetically, zine anthologies have always run into problems when faced with the dilemma of being published in book format. While I’m certainly no expert on Ghost Pine, I remember Otaku as being a scrappy, cut-and-paste affair with typewritten paragraphs, stark black and white graphics and (if I remember right) a quarter-sized format. Stuff like this doesn’t really matter to anyone but zine nerds, but I find the decision to ditch Ghost Pine’s cut and paste aesthetic for a more readable, text-only format an interesting one. Ditching the graphics and the well-worn typewriter aesthetic may have been a difficult decision.

Ultimately, though, it’s for the best—with no visual accompaniment to the collection, we’re looking at nothing but pages upon pages of short autobiographical blasts from Miller. Just page after page of these short, short stories—including ones published in other zines—with no discernable order, chronologically or otherwise. As someone who cut his teeth during the same era of punk as Miller did, on the same records and the same scene, reading about his take on all things hardcore and DIY was fascinating and the definite high point of the book. His calm reflections on suburban life, musings on small Canadian towns and frozen, snow-blasted wanderings down midnight streets carried with them a certain flair that was familiar—this is a personal zine, after all—but also brought with them Miller’s particular voice.

Point is, the guy can write, and he can write well. Whether he’s describing minute details about a winter night in some far-flung, wind-shocked suburb, or the vendors surrounding a crowded subway platform, or even if he’s broadly reminiscing about the ever-changing and fractious nature of the cities and places he loves, Miller repeatedly does what zine writers are supposed to do: he brings us into his world. He takes us where he’s been and where he’s going. He does it cleanly and elegantly and with just the right amount of wistfulness; his sentimentality never becomes cloying. Above all, it’s his elegance that carries him through—ultimately, nothing much happens in the collection, but Miller writes with such respect and love about all of his subjects (wheelchair-bound grandfathers, road-weary friends, gay cookbook-schlepping bosses, entire cities) that it doesn’t matter. The guy writes with care. Less about ideas and more about the personal grace with which we can walk through the world, the Ghost Pine anthology works best as a dedication to the small moments in a life. As the book showcases, it’s often these small moments stacked on top of each other that shape us just as much, and possibly more so, than the huge, calamitous ones. Well done.

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Review in Maximumrocknroll October 2010

“I walked around town and wondered what it was all about. I watched the people on the street and wondered why I couldn’t run into any of those brilliant, good looking peace punks whose records I’d listened to, zines I’d read and photos I’d seen over the years.”

How well do the tiny, photocopied pages of personal zines translate into book form? Depends on the zine of course. “We’re doomed by the fact that our art is all process; people who read the zine seldom see the cogs.” Jeff Miller’s writing in Otaku and then Ghost Pine over the past thirteen years stands out amidst the scribbling crowd. His stories have insight, humanity, courage and fierce, absurd, pride – all the traits I associate with the more memorable punk zines. Romanticized sure, but what’s a story without dreams and struggle, revelry and despair? “We are now writers and artists, editors and musicians whose skills are indispensable to our communities. We are taking risks to bring out art to the fore of our lives. Romantic? Yeah but we can’t deny our four a.m. delusions without ripping up our best intentions.”

Compiled here are the select stories from Jeff’s zines and a nice sampling of contributions to other publications. Twelve sections (chapters?), an interview by Ciara Xyerra, and end pages of old covers and photos. “I wanted to remember the way we lived.” All the Jungian symbols of the personal zine landscape are here – Diners. Greyhounds. Evictions. Hitchhiking. Trains. Truckstops. Weather as a metaphor. Too much coffee. It’s a tightrope walk for sure – you can easily veer into some high school poetry-jam scene, but the earnestness of Jeff’s writing transcends. As though these common, raw experiences as young punks really will add up to a greater whole.

“Doubt and depression are common among ghosts, they’re the fallout of our youthful anger.” Sweeping, dramatic statements like the one above are common to zines. Stylistically, you can dislike the run-on sentences, the manic emotions What separates Ghost Pine though is not just the Canadian references (SuperEx & Carnival?), but also the self-awareness. This is demonstrated best in the reviews that he includes – X-Men 2, a mixtape, the Union of Uranus LP, Get in the Van. There’s almost a novella in the middle, “The Social Justice Club,” which disappears like breath in winter.

“Then Ian told me he doesn’t like reading reminiscences. I nodded. ‘I like hearing about what’s new. Sometimes when punk boys get together all we do is talk about the old days, but they weren’t even that fun! We went to punk shows, sat in the corner and were too shy to talk to anyone. We had to wait three years to meet the kids that sat next to us at shows.” Stories that took up a good chunk of the zine translate into just a few pages in a book. And while all the voices are Jeff’s, there’s an abruptness moving between the stories: different years, different locales, different moods. The same issue happens in poetry – you can’t just read through as though it were a single narrative. Jeff knows all this, hence the inscription from a David Berman poem that also states: “I needed time alone to unschool the rainbow dumbness in my heart if I was ever to gain possession over my own storyline.”

Much of the unique, inherent value of zines can be lost when the back issues are boiled down to a paperback. The cover here makes deft use of full-color, and the layout of the pieces reads well. I do miss the stark typography and blown out cut-n-paste of his zines. The trade off is understandable though for having this book goes further than any single issue. As Erick Lyle (and others) has recently demonstrated, you don’t have to stop doing your zine after the books start coming out. “I still dreamt of the end of the world but it sorta became a joke. Instead of being depressed I hated everything. But I could laugh it off too.” Simple, declarative statements in which their cumulative value really does reach for a possible future. So, Jeff, when’s the next book coming out? That’s what I’m looking forward to, friend.

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Article in NowHearThis.ca August 9, 2010

How far will your zine making take you?

DIY writing projects are super-fun, but do you ever wonder just how far they can take you in the real world? If you do, then you’d better take a look at Jeff Miller. He’s managed to take his zine-making skills to the top of some stores’ bestseller lists!

Jeff started making zines in his room back when he was still in high school in the mid-’90s. He was inspired by the personal nature of zines when he read other peoples’ work. He told the National Post, “The genre of zine writing really appeals to me; the idea of telling your life like a story, that you can communicate with other people. I found in reading other people’s zines I could really relate to their lives … so I thought maybe my own experiences could be of interest.”

Inspired, he created Ghost Pine, a series of zines telling his own true stories. This year, many of these stories were compiled in a book of the same name and published by Invisible Publishing.

As a result of his excellent work and personal touch, Ghost Pine: All Stories True has been selling like hot cakes wherever Jeff goes to promote it through readings. So much so, as the National Post points out, that it was the number two bestselling book at Collected Works in Ottawa a few weeks ago.

So remember, it doesn’t matter how young you are, or whether or not you think you’ll be professionally published… you CAN do it yourself and create a space for yourself in the literary world!

Get creating, everybody!

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Review in Broken Pencil Summer 2010

There are many ways to describe Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine, a collection containing 13 years of short pieces produced for Miller’s zine of the same name and a host of others. Before anything else, it should be described as a zine, informed by this aesthetic, engaging with the production process, profiling the lives of translucent grass roots artists defined only by their ability to create. It seems important that it be described as honest, never straying from its motto of “All Stories True.” The beauty that exists on street corners, coffee shops, highways and subways is continuously brought to life in Ghost Pine, oft ignored pockets gracefully illuminated. But content, process and intention aside, the one way this work might be described is through its narration. Many writers exist on the same plane as Miller, approach his everyday topics with similar zeal and passion. Few, if any, have the gift of his voice.

Reality is always the backdrop for Miller’s ideas. He dictates the occurances of his life in the tone of a well traveled observer, always at the centre of his work, the only way to tell an extremely true story. But he is rarely the main actor and never the subject. What is personally important to him becomes reflectively valuable in the eyes of the reader. A decade and a half of work may be condensed into a single volume, but Miller’s topics remain consistant throughout. His family, his relationship with his grandparents and the insight they provide into his own concepts of aging and time. His commuity, be it the punk culture he belongs to or the hordes of fellow letter writers and zine makers his shares his work with.  His cities, painted with detailed  strokes, like the difference between the smoking and non-smoking sections of an Ottawa Denny’s, or the notion that Montreal can only be understood from a bicycle. And his creation, his nights spent bent over photocopiers, his clear devotion to the process and the exhiliration it provides.

Importantly, what Miller is writing about is not himself. His life, his memories they compromise (sic.) only the frame of his work. His style is the same as any good story teller, drifting away from his words, allowing the reader to live every moment of the text themselves. His dialogue is never forced or idealized, his perspective never overbearing or insistent. He presents snapshots of his existence, unaltered in their simplicity but magnificently arranged. Ultimately, the truth of Ghost Pine‘s stories isn’t solely what makes them significant. They resonate not only because they happened, but because they continue to, on the streets we all walk, with the nights we throw away and the lives we struggle to lead.

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Profile in CanWest newspapers (including National Post,  Edmonton Journal and Ottawa Citizen, among others) Aug 7, 2010

Jeff Miller’s True Fiction

by Julie Fortier

A few weeks ago, the bestseller’s list at one of Ottawa best-loved independent bookstores, Collected Works, looked a little off.

1. The Girl Who Kicked the Hornet’s Nest, Stieg Larsson

2. Ghost Pine: All Stories True, Jeff Miller

3. The Girl Who Played With Fire, Stieg Larsson

4. The Girl with the Dragon Tattoo, Stieg Larsson

“Yeah I know, it’s kind of funny how it turned out,” Miller said from his current home of Montreal.

Even Miller’s publisher Robbie MacGregor at Invisible Publishing said he was “a little surprised” the collection of true, hilarious, and at times extremely touching stories Miller has been working on since he was 16 years old in a zine by the same name would be able to edge out the Swedish murder mystery powerhouse of Stieg Larsson.

Ghost Pine was also on the Montreal Gazette’s top ten bestseller’s list for three consecutive weeks in May and is on track to have a reprint by early fall, with more than 750 copies already sent to individual buyers and retailers.

“We realize he’s no Stieg Larsson, but for a Canadian indie title – and especially a zine anthology – we think that’s pretty decent,” MacGregor said.

“Jeff Miller’s book, his stories, his style – they’re personal. He’s been carving out a space for himself and readers have been responding.”

In his collection, Miller recounts the time he moved to Japan to be with his morose girlfriend only to be dumped the day after arriving, the time he disappointed some “Ottawa Valley crack heads” who forced him to clean out his meagre bank account at an ATM in Ottawa’s financial district, the dishevelled tours across Canada as a band roadie and many other tales; some big, some small. Just as the title indicates, all the stories are in fact true, a style he said that is rooted in the do-it-yourself zine subculture.

“The genre of zine writing really appeals to me; the idea of telling your life like a story, that you can communicate with other people. I found in reading other people’s zines I could really relate to their lives … so I thought maybe my own experiences could be of interest,” Miller said.

He started writing in his parent’s Ottawa home while a student at Merivale High School in the mid-1990s, when the punk DIY approach to music, as well as publishing, was in full-swing.

“It was something I could do alone in my room, and at that time in my life I spent a lot of time in my room, like most teenagers do,” he said laughing.

Miller has held onto the low-tech approach to his work – there’s a photo of him gluing together an issue of Ghost Pine at the back of the book – photocopying issues, writing in libraries and keeping a PO box.

Miller said several of his zines are still in print and he estimates he has sold somewhere around 10,000 copies over the years. Most of his fans are in North America but he has sent copes to as far as Australia and Malaysia.

Stories are not in chronological order, and many take place in Montreal, which he has called home since 1999. He attended Concordia University as an English literature major and is going back for his master’s degree in the fall.

“I was worried if I did it chronologically, all of my worst stuff would be at the front and no one would make it to the back,” Miller said laughing.

In Montreal, the raw emotions he felt as a teenager morphed into more contemplative work – often between apartments, jobs, girlfriends, subway rides. But Miller maintained his laser-like observations and endless sympathy for his subjects.

“I’ve been really reassured that people identify with stories, even when I portray myself as a total jackass,” he said.

But besides raw talent, Miller has also been working extremely hard to get his work out. Last week, Postmedia News caught up with him just before he left for an eastern U.S. tour. Then he heads to the Maritimes for a series of dates.

He also launched the books with a series of readings in Ottawa, Kingston, Montreal and Toronto last spring and has done more readings in Southern Ontario this summer. He says the response to his readings have been “amazing.”

“If Ghost Pine’s been listed as a bestseller somewhere, then that’s somewhere Jeff’s been, somewhere he’s read his work and talked to readers,” MacGregor said. “Being listed as a bestseller is having something of an exponential effect – encouraging new readers to pick up the book – but it was that personal/social aspect that really got the ball rolling.”

Miller is also working on a novel, but he has no plans to stop writing his zine.

“Once you get started on it, it becomes a lifelong obsession … There’s this production-mode that becomes such a nice antidote to going crazy with editing. You get to take out some clip art and get out the glue stick and scissors, bike down to the coffee shop and figure it out.”

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Profile in the Halifax Chronicle Herald Aug 8, 2010

Canada’s zine scene

by Stephen Patrick Clare

Somewhere between books and blogs, there were zines.

For those unfamiliar with the term, Wikipedia.com defines zine (an abbreviation of the word fanzine, or magazine; pronounced “zeen”) as “a small circulation publication of original or appropriated texts and images. More broadly, the term encompasses any self-published work of minority interest usually reproduced via photocopier on a variety of coloured paper stock. Circulation must be 5,000 or less, although in practice the significant majority are produced in editions of less than 100, and profit is not the primary intent of publication.”

“Well, I’d certainly have to agree with that last bit,” said Jeff Miller, the 31 year-old creative force behind Ghost Pine, one of the country’s most popular and long-standing zines. “If I thought that I would get rich doing this I would have been fooling myself.”

Miller, who was born and raised in Ottawa and now lives in Montreal, says his interest in zines began as an adolescent.

“My great luck was to discover the world of punk rock and zines when I was a teenager,” he said via email. “Through reading zines I learned that it was okay to write, even if I wasn’t a genius. Writing became my way to contribute to the larger creative community of which I was, and continue to be, a part.”

His latest contribution to that community is a colourful and quirky collection of 13 years worth of his zine tales called Ghost Pine: All Stories True.

“I had been approached previously by Invisible Publishing and thought that a Ghost Pine anthology might be a good project to work on with them because I knew that they have a certain respect for underground culture, including zines,” he said.

The author admits that wrestling with his own work as a critic, rather than as a writer, was unusual.

“Going back through all my old zines — some of which I haven’t read for years — and choosing which stories to keep was a bit of a daunting process,” he said. “But overall I was happy to see that a lot of the writing had stood the test of time.”

Deciding on the order in which the stories should appear proved to be more challenging.

“I didn’t want to print the stories chronologically because the earliest stories were written when I was 16,” he said. “I felt that it was important to include some of those early stories, but I also thought it would be a disaster to put all the weakest writing at the beginning of the book. No one would make it to the end! So we came up with some themes and threads that have appeared through my writing over the years and organized the chapters along those lines.”

Miller launched Ghost Pine in Nova Scotia last week.

“My partner is from the Eastern Shore so we spend a month here every summer visiting with her family. I am always impressed with the number of cultural activities going on in Halifax. It definitely has one of the best indie arts scenes in Canada.”

He is equally awed by what he sees taking place elsewhere in the country.

“We continue to be blessed with a rich literary culture and several publishing houses that consistently publish excellent books, season after season.

“As far as the zine scene goes,” he said, “it is as vibrant as ever. In fact, it seems to me that there has been a real resurgence in zine production in the past couple of years. Annual zine fairs that take place across Canada are incredible showcases of independent creativity, writing and visual art.”

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Radio Interview on CBC Nova Scotia (90.5 FM) MainStreet August 4, 2010

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Recording of July 28, 2010 reading with Erick Lyle at Red Emma’s Bookstore (Baltimore, MD)

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Review in Montreal Gazette (reprinted in Ottawa Citizen) June 12, 2010

Mile End denizen Jeff Miller’s Ghost Pine: All Stories True gathers 14 years worth of short stories (accent on the short) from the author’s long-running zine of the same name. While it’s hard not to think that the ideal way to read these vignettes would be in the way they were first presented -one at a time, in a home-produced hit-and-run format -there’s an undeniable documentary value to having it all in one place. Here, in book form, is a history of a subculture. Besides, when Miller is really in stride, recounting his relationship with his grandfather or succumbing to the outsider romance of punk rock, his stories break out of their indie parameters and achieve a real poignancy.

 

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Appreciation in SaidTheGramophone.com May 31, 2010

I didn’t read Ghost Pine, the zine Jeff Miller has maintained since the late 90s. That is, I’ve only ever read one issue – a small square pamphlet I picked up last year. But now I have read Ghost Pine: All Stories True, the beautiful book newly issued by Invisible Publishing. This anthology collects dozens and dozens of stories like the one above, short short short, arranged for skip and jump, that ratatat off the page. It is compulsive reading – these bittersweet morsels, disconnected from time. Bike rides, love affairs, road-trips, high-school triumphs. Like all the best personal writing, it is at once private and universal. I love that Miller has left in some of the earliest stuff: tales coloured by his youth, as clumsily honest as the things that dwell in this site’s archives. I love how he writes about Montreal, evangelizing as only an emigre can. (Like me, Miller moved from Ottawa at the beginning of the 21st century.) I love too how he writes about my hometown – painting a different city than the one I knew. I love his descriptions of the tiny victories and defeats that shape & make us, but that go unwritten, and I love the way names flit in and out of his life, the same way the names of my life have. I love the twists of Jeff’s dialogue, too; the way things end. — And so, again, I say: buy it, this fumbling and truthful folio.

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Radio Interview w/ Catherine McKenzie on CJAD (800 AM Montreal) Saturday in Montreal with Anne Lagace Dowson May 29, 2010

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Radio Interview on CFRU (93.3 FM Guelph) These Things People Make May 20, 2010

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Review in The Coast May 6, 2010

Before blogs there were zines. The two co-exist today. Blogs seem highly specific, newsy, opinionated. Zines reflect opinions, passions and zinesters build arguments, though they come across as less argumentative—more reflective, evocative of a longer-term universal condition. They are generalists and necessary ones at that. Jeff Miller is a great example. In 1996, at 16 and growing up in Ottawa, he started a zine called Otaku. It became Ghost Pine. Through these selections now collected in a book, the Montreal-based Miller slows that progression, or process, as some call it, of growing up to examine its transformative passages: the role and meaning of grandparents, the necessity of youthful anger, a sense of outrage, which precedes but never fully defers to reason, the thrill of travel (no matter how inconvenient), the idea of home (however provisional) and the complicated relationship to one’s hometown. Though we can’t re-inhabit the place or the version of ourselves that occupied that space, we can remember the moment, such as when Miller joins his brother for a matinee by country singer Lucky Ron at Chateau Lafayette House in Ottawa’s Byward Market. In bygone days, as a lad, this reviewer participated in many beery burlesques in that same establishment with his own brother and their friends. Its through such experiences and memories that the self is discovered.

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Radio Interview on CKUT (90.3 FM Montreal) The Hydra’s Lair May 3, 2010

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Interview in Torontoist April 13, 2010

This Ghost Pine Interview Is True

by Erin Balser

When Jeff Miller launched his Ghost Pine: All Stories True punk zine in 1996, he didn’t realize he was about to embark on a 13-year journey that would lead him from Ottawa to Montreal, from a punk scene to a vegan kitchen and some odd places in between. Jeff recorded those true-life experiences in Ghost Pine, and though the zine folded in 2009 it now lives in on in the best-of anthology, Ghost Pine: All Stories True (Invisible Publishing, April 2010). This Wednesday, Jeff will be talking about the history of the zine and the creation of his unique non-fiction as part of the TINARS reading series.

Jeff chatted with Books@Torontoist about the history of Ghost Pine, the process of taking it from zine to book and more.

Torontoist: Can you give us an overview of your book, Ghost Pine: All Stories True?

Jeff Miller: The book collects the best of my zine, Ghost Pine, which came out for thirteen years between 1996 and 2009. The broken is down into sections that deal with recurring themes time and time again within the zine. This book is collection of stories, and a coming of age. You can see my coming of age when you read through its pages. I thought it would be an interesting document of my progress as a writer and as a human, but also as a document for cultural change. During the time the zine was active there were a lot of changes in the world. I never really wrote a lot about what’s happening around me, I often focused on the smaller details of my life. But when I read it now, little details about how the world was a different place back then jumped out at me. I found this interesting and worthwhile exploring in a collection.

TO: How did you select which essays would be included in the book?

JM: I started by reading every issue since the first one, which came out when I was sixteen. Maybe the earlier issues weren’t as strong as some of my later work, but I pulled out some of the best stories from the earlier issues. Reading through each issue took time. A bunch of the stories had to be typed up by someone, as I used to write my zines by hand. By the end of this process, I had a manuscript that was a couple hundred pages long.

TO: What inspired you to start a zine, way back in 1996?

JM: Ghost Pine was inspired by the hardcore punk scene in Ottawa. When I was growing up, there was a vibrant music scene there. A bunch of great bands played every weekend. To me, it was amazing participant-based scene, it didn’t feel like there was an audience. Everyone was taking part in some way. I had this idea to keep the scene going, and in order to participate, I needed to do something. Since I was always writing, I thought a zine was the best way to contribute it. The zine evolved from there. It went from being a ranty thing to a selection of autobiographical stories with a beginning, middle, and end, without the same antagonism. The big shift occurred when the fourth issue came out in 1998. I started trying to observe the world, write about my experiences in a way that people could relate to.

TO: Why was the zine called Ghost Pine?

JM: Originally it was called Otaku, the Japanese word for nerd. At the time thought it as a nice metaphor. The punk scene was about collecting rare records and being on top of that kind of thing. I eventually got tired of that name and wanted to concentrate on the details of every day life. I wanted a name that would be welcoming, accessible, and reflect what the zine is about. I had this baseball cap since I was a kid, I didn’t know where it came from or anything about it, but it featured a picture of a ghost hiding under a pine tree. Under this image, it said “Ghost Pine.” I really liked this. It was a metaphor for what I wanted to do with the zine, when I explored the small details in life, details or moments that are rather mundane and meaningless, but when you expand upon them, they end up meaning so much in people’s lives.

TO: Why did you decide to end the zine in 2009?

JM: I found it more difficult to write about myself. I thought maybe I was less interesting now that I’ve grown up. I’m a bit shyer now. My life is more stable and change occurs differently when you’re older. Some of the things that I was going through didn’t really fit in stories in the same way. When I was younger, everything seemed to happen in story form. The timeline was different too. In a period of a month, events would happen that I perceived as life-changing. Now I find the changes happening in my life are more long-term things that can’t be summed up so succinctly. I’m still writing, though. I’m currently working in a novel and I’m about three years into it. I’m on the fourth draft. It’s going slowly, but I am committed to making it as good as possible and working through that, regardless of the timeline. If I do say so myself, it’s coming along nicely.

TO: Did you find the transition from non-fiction to fiction difficult?

JM: I went to school for English literature. It’s funny, when you read James Joyce, everything in it is taken to be a symbol for something else, or a metaphor. I felt that kind of pressure with every single word, it was almost crippling, like “now I’m going to write about this chair, but this chair symbolizes something else.” When I write about things that actually happened, I didn’t feel that pressure, that need to transform the story into a giant symbol or metaphor. As a writer, it was liberating. Now that I am writing fiction, I’m ready to take on that challenge. I find I take more care in the language itself and less about the plot, which is an interesting challenge and one I’m enjoying.

TO: How did the concept for the book design come about?

JM: For the book cover, I wanted some design elements from the original zine. The font on the book cover is the font I always used in the zine. The format of two rectangles, one taller one and one smaller one, is a design element I wanted. Other than that, I just the designer take care of it. Yo Rodeo designed the cover and they’ve done a lot of amazing posters for bands on the East Coast, like Dog Day and North of America. I laid out the specific design elements I wanted and they did a great job.

TO: For your TINARS event, you’re talking about the zine, but also about memory and how that relates to it. Can you elaborate?

JM: I’m going to be presenting a history of the zine, but the presentation won’t just be an overview. While editing the book, I noticed several discrepancies between the ways I described things versus how they appeared in other forms of documentation. I’m going to explore the weird difference between what I wrote and the photograph I wrote about. Even though I maintained that all my stories were true and never tried to distort objects and facts for the sake of storytelling, the story asserts own control at a certain point. I received a bunch of reviews where they would say “I can’t tell if this is fictional or if this is a memoir or what.” I just thought that the way I wrote, which is a more traditional short story form, was tripping them up. So I added the motto “All Stories True.” There’s a scrapbook feature at the back of the book that highlights different eras of the zine. When curating this, I noticed a few slight errors when I was looking at the photos. It was definitely an interesting revelation, that despite my best abilities, distortions manage to filter into the stories. As a result, I’ll be discussing the differences between memory and documentation, sort of a fact-check of my own work.

TO: Are there any stories that are particularly memorable for you?

JM: While going through the process of making the book, there were several stories that stood out. My all time favorite one is “Non-competitive League,” about being in Grade 9 and having to take this mandatory gym class with other jocks. There were jocks in it and all these freaky weird kids who wore metal T-shirts. The story is about how we went from all meeting each other in gym class and the next year we all became punk rockers. Another one is “Drag It to Dinner,” about a vegan cook-book chef I worked for. It’s about his life and how he started writing cook books. I found this story to be really touching. Even in reading the first second, third issues, I was surprised. I was expecting to hate it and hate who I was as a teenager, but I came away from it feeling that it wasn’t so bad. It’s not great writing, but at least I was trying to be honest. And that honesty saved it from being terrible. There’s an honesty about the level of writing, too. I never at that time said I would have a great writer. I’m not ashamed.

Jeff Miller will be speaking at the Gladstone Hotel (1214 Queen St. West) on April 14th at 7:30 p.m. Tickets are $5 at the door or free with book purchase. The after-party will take place at The Beaver (1192 Queen St. West) from 9:30 p.m. onwards. Tickets to the after party are free.

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Interview in The Link April 13, 2o1o

It’s all True

by Christopher Olson

“When I was making the zine, I never let the impermanence of the medium change the way I wrote,” said Jeff Miller of the 15 years he spent writing his Ghost Pine zine. “I would always make sure that it was not just good enough, but as good as it possibly could be, which I think is one of the only ways to grow as a writer.”

Miller’s first book, Ghost Pine: All Stories True, is a collection of stories from the zine that shows just how much Miller has grown since its first issue in 1996. Compiling the book meant reading through everything in the Ghost Pine back catalogue, including many zines Miller hadn’t seen since their original release.

“In every story there’s a reference to something that at the time seemed so common, but reading it back later, somehow this offhand detail becomes an emblem of the time,” he said, referring to everything from street names, old friends or the everyday intrusions of popular culture. “It really places it in its time in a way that I never intended.”

Ghost Pine’s motto has always been “all stories true.” If an experience he shared with someone kept coming up in his mind, Miller said, then he knew it was worth writing about.

“A lot of the people who I wrote about in the zine weren’t writers, but were some of the best storytellers I knew,” said Miller. “If someone tells you a story, that story’s out in the world and I feel like if you’re going to use it, you have to do so in a way that’s respectful and not [exploitative].

“If I were only to write about my own experiences and my own stories, it would just feel so closed…My experience is such a strange braiding of various people’s stories.”

The zine was born out of an obsession with documenting the underground scene whenever and wherever he happened to be, according to Miller.

“One time I was in Tampa and this kid had a pirate radio station in his garage, and I just thought [that was] so amazing,” he recalled. “I really wanted to represent in my writing how hard people are working on these amazing projects and how there’s this strange underground network from coast-to-coast of just people doing weird stuff in every town.”

Ghost Pine is named after the logo on a baseball cap that Miller found while visiting relatives in Alberta. He wore the hat for the better part of a decade, not knowing what the name stood for or where it came from.

“I thought [that] was amazing,” said Miller, “that this whole time I had been taking my name from this strange liminal space.

“I guess in the end, that’s what the idea of the zine is, that you can write about anything. You can take this baseball cap and to everyone else it’s just this dirty thing, but to you it can encapsulate your entire life. In a weird way [the cap is] the manifesto of the zine.”

The launch of Ghost Pine: All Stories True will be held at Drawn + Quarterly (211 Bernard St. W.) on April 16 at 7 p.m. Admission is free.

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Interview in Montreal Mirror January 7, 2010

Zine Dream

by Vincent Tinguely

While writer Jeff Miller’s ongoing documentation of youth culture has begun to find its way into anthologies like The Art of Trespassing, his inspiration finds most of its outlet in DIY work, including the Otaku and Ghost Pine zine series, story posters, the indie writing workshop Soulgazers, and a reading series and zine distribution housed at the Dépanneur le Pick Up.

Miller’s birth as a writer happened in the heady ferment of Ottawa’s hardcore punk culture of the mid-’90s. “They just did shows in this one old TV repair shop,” says Miller. “It was a really funny little room, there was nothing on the walls. It was totally the opposite of a bar, it was this real Protestant stoicism. And at shows, people would go around through the crowd just selling their zine, ‘Zine for a dollar, zine for a dollar, zine for a dollar.’ So many of the books that I read were by dead authors, but to have a writer in your face selling you a zine was so immediate.”

Miller was inspired to start Otaku (later Ghost Pine) as a way to take part in the scene. “There was no audience, there were just producers in dialogue with each other,” Miller says. “You could do a zine or you could do a band or take pictures or put on a show. It didn’t really matter just as long as you were taking part. Being this kind of isolated suburban kid and suddenly having this small community of Ottawa writers, but also, eventually, a broader North American community of zine writers, that was a huge influence on me, because it got me out of my own head.”

This spring, Ghost Pine: All Stories True will document Miller’s 13 years of zine writing. It will be released by Invisible Publishing, an indie press that focuses on emerging Canadian talent. “It’s going to be divided into different subjects that I’ve written about, one part regular short story collection, but also somewhat of an archival document and an example of this great flowering of zine culture that occurred in the ’90s and zeroes.”

Despite fears about the viability of the entire paper-based print industry, Miller remains optimistic about the future of publishing. “I moderated a panel at Expozine about this sort of issue,” Miller explained. “Peggy Burns at Drawn & Quarterly said that, just in the same way that people still go to see movies on the big screen, even though they can sit at home and watch it on their tiny computers, book-making is going to move in that direction. There’ll have to be more of an aesthetic value in the actual design of the book.”




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