Colorado native Deena Larsen has been a central voice in the writing and understanding of new media literature.
Her seminal hypertext, Marble Springs, about the lives of women in a Colorado mining town, was published by Eastgate Systems in 1993. Her work has also been published by the Iowa Review Web; Drunken Boat; Cauldron and Net; Riding the Meridian; Poems that Go; The Blue Moon Review; New River. and The Electronic Literature Collection. Her current work is the Rose Project which in her words "ascribes meaning to letters, adding nuances to language."
For many years, Deena Larsen hosted forums and workshops for the eliterature community. She currently hosts the website Fundamentals : Rhetorical Devices for Electronic Literature, and her archives, The Deena Larsen Collection, are housed at the Maryland Institute for Technology in the Humanities at the University of Maryland.
Authoring Software encourages writers to document different approaches to choices and to the utilization of authoring systems and platforms. In her statement about Marble Springs 3.0, Deena Larsen presents a glimpse into the process she utilized to migrate the narrative framework for the hyperfictional Gold rush town, Marble Springs -- from HyperCard to the 2011- Wikidot version, Marble Springs 3.0.
The first poem, "Quilts", in Marble Springs added characters who demanded that their stories be told. So I then wrote "Scraps" to show Sadie, and so on and so on. And there was no logical end point," Larsen explains. "So my vision of Marble Springs grew to an open-ended, never ending place-- a one-to-one map of reality as people came and went in the town. I wanted a place where readers could make their own marks on the town. In HyperCard, this was an ungainly, expensive programming nightmare that barely hinted at what a wiki could do automatically. Now, the Marble Springs wiki is a collaborative space where readers can easily join in. You can follow scandals on the Forbidden list, wander the maps and graveyards, and then add your own insights into this tightly intertwingled little Colorado gold rush town."
Deena Larsen: Marble Springs Emerging from the Ashes of Dead Programs
W hen I first started Marble Springs two decades ago, I envisioned a place where people could explore the town, meet the characters, and draw their own conclusions. In the late 1980s, when Apple computers had graphics instead of eery green glowing letters on a dark screen, I wrote and programmed Marble Springs in HyperCard, the first successful graphics and linking program. (Storyspace did do great things then, but did not provide as much programming capability)
The year Eastgate published Marble Springs 1.0 was the year HyperCard access began to diminish. And thus, Marble Springs languished for a long time, eventually available only on vintage Macs with System 9 or less. Leighton Christiansen then did his MA thesis on archiving and uncovering buried works, (The Pres/urrection of Deena Larsen's "Marble Springs, Second Edition", Graduate College of the University of Illinois at Urbana Champaign, 2012) and I was able to use his diligent archaeological dig to uncover Marble Springs and port it to a wiki. Marble Springs 3.0 is now up for everyone. You can view it at http://www.marblesprings.wikidot.com/
In Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0, each character is associated with a "character connections" card, primarily based on family ties. These connections are graphically spaced with a series of patterned lines tying characters to each other and to major institutions.
Readers could move buttons or draw new lines, but this was difficult to do and did require some knowledge of HyperCard. Readers could create new buttons for new characters and determine where to place these new buttons. This was a bit simpler than manipulating buttons or graphics.
Each line type portrayed a type of connection, but I deliberately did not include a "legend" to explain which line meant what type of connection. Rather, I tried to create an ambience of connections, a visual atmosphere where these connections could be "grokked" on a visual level and understood intuitively rather than to be categorized and laid out. Remember, this was before the web, and in those days, we saw absolutely nothing wrong with mystery meat -- in fact, we thought we were entering an Age of Aquarius where vision would overtake language and we could be able to communicate complex ideas in a series of simple patterns. This did not pan out well.
Social media networks today identify subsets. Other taxonomies include specifying friends or work or relationship status. Social networks such as Facebook stress family or friend relationships and others such as LinkedIn focus on professional relationships. (and may subdivide these into companies or colleagues) Thus, we have begun to categorize relationships in far different ways than those depicted in Marble Springs 3.0. So, I recreated every link on every character connections card to conform to a category. I renamed the character connection cards to "communities" to better reflect these social networks.
To play off of most social network and web 2.0 sites, I created an icon for each type of category. I wanted to keep the quilting theme, so I used quilt patterns that the women of Marble Springs would have immediately recognized. These quilt patterns are not explained in the work, thus harking back to the unexplained visual qualities of the lines in Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0.
The Marriage icon is a double wedding ring quilt. These quilts were often given as wedding presents, and the interlocked rings represent the interlocking of the couple into a family. (See Bishop, R., The Romance of Double Wedding Ring Quilts, NY: E.P. Dutton, 1989.)
Note that not all the characters in Marble Springs who are married show up under the married category. This may be because they are emphasized in the family, or that the marriage was not a good one. Divorce was practically unheard of during this time, so marriage could be in name only. This quilt pattern was created after the Civil War.
While these connections are not emphasized at all in Marble Springs 2.0's Cole Community, I brought them out in the text of Marble Springs 3.0 to clarify who was married to whom.
The family icon is a variation of a log cabin quilt pattern. Log cabin quilts signify hearth, home, love. Log cabin quilt patterns are simply strips of fabric placed in a square that goes outwards. By varying the length and color of these strips, many patterns can be created. There is a legend that a log cabin quilt could hold symbols for directions to shelter or a safehouse in the underground railway.
This icon is a more obvious heart within a heart, thus emphasizing the loving nature of families. Note that not all families in Marble Springs share that loving nature. Family can mean quite a few different things in Marble Springs. In Marble Springs 2.0, marriage and family were often, but not always connected with a shell pattern. This mostly indicated a loving nature, and those who were connected with other patterns were probably not a loving family. For example, no one in the Cole community is linked in love, whereas the Jenson community has a double link of love. I did not emphasize the love with its own category, as there are too many different types of love in Marble Springs, and I felt that these should be handled via other categories.
The hatred icon is a crossed quilt pattern. While this pattern does not have a historical meaning, the visual X portrays hatred and stopping. I did search for a quilt pattern that incorporated hatred in its traditional meanings, and I was rather relieved when I did not run across one.
In the Cole Community in Marble Springs 2.0, this hatred was shown through the crossed lines emanating from the Ladies' Aid society. I deliberately did not repeat these subtle accusations in the text connections of Marble Springs 3.0.
This friends icon is based on a pattern that is sometimes called circle of friends and was popular as a quilt given to someone about to embark westward. The pattern shows a flower within each square, representing each friend. Friendship quilts came in many patterns and were extremely popular. Each woman would provide one block, and a quilting bee would be held to piece the blocks together and to provide the quilting overlay of stitches that created another pattern on top of the blocks.
In the Cole community, I did not emphasize friend relationships in Marble Springs 2.0, but I added them in Marble Springs 3.0.
The business icon is based on a tumbling blocks pattern. As women were mostly excluded from the realms of business, there are not a lot of patterns that signify work or business. However, this quilt visually evokes the fundamental blocks of any business. There is a legend that this pattern meant "Get ready to escape" in the underground railway. (See Feedom Vernon)
Note that in Marble Springs, business can mean anything from a paid work relationship to business partners to trade. It can also mean institutional relationships, such as being in jail and being aided by the Ladies Aid (Sue Langley) or saving money for years for a train ticket back east. (Martha Stokes)
In Marble Springs 3.0, I clarified who was related to whom via business by showing the institution first and listing the characters most associated with that business relationship beneath that. Again, I emphasize the women's aspect, for example, while Herbert Jenkins Smith may have been the titular head of the Post Office, I usually linked to Susannah Smith, who actually ran the Post Office.
The complicated icon is reserved for any complex relationship. It is based on the Drunkard's Path, which is pieced by taking parts from one scrap and adding them to the other scrap. (also called "Robbing Peter to Pay Paul") The suffragette movement adopted a blue on white Drunkard's Path pattern for raffling quilts. As many of the relationships in this category are complicated by either alcohol or temperance or politics, this becomes even more significant. There is a legend that this pattern meant "take a zigzag route" in the underground railway.
This category can include relationships that would normally be pegged in other categories such as family or hatred. But it can include relationships for which there are no words. As the Cole community in Marble Springs 3.0 grew so complex, I added subheaders to this category.
The icon for secrets tearing at the soul is a variation on a flying geese pattern. As the geese circle in and surround the inner square, we have a visual representation of conflict and siege. There is a legend that the flying geese was a signal to go north in the spring, or a compass on the underground railway. The lack of direction for the "geese" or triangles in this particular variation shows then a lack of forward motion---or a stagnant stewing of secrets.
In Marble Springs 3.0, there was only one type of secret relationship. However, I realized that there could be secrets that destroyed as well as created, and that it was better to elucidate the type of secret being kept.
The icons for secrets growing in the soul is a variation on the basket of plenty pattern. It can be visually read as triangles raining in on the basket, filling it, or lifting out, filling the world.
In Marble Springs 3.0, these secrets could be held by one person and not another. (And, indeed, one character in the secret relationship may not even know there IS a secret relationship.)
The icon for outside the wall is the one icon I deliberately blurred to show the edges. This is a Monkey Wrench pattern and is sometimes known as a Puss-in-the-corner or Broken Plate or Sherman's March. There is a legend that this pattern meant "gather tools" for a journey in the underground railway. It would have been the first quilt shown for an escape. Visually, however, it shows triangles "looking in" but not touching the inner square, emphasizing the outside looking in nature of these relationships.
In Marble Springs 2.0, these relationships were usually indicated by an icon far away from the main action and not connected with any line. A great paper would be to analyze why the graveyard is outside the wall in many communities, but a secret or even a friend or hatred in others. I created a one-to-one link for several reasons. Linking these in HyperCard was infinitely easier if there was a one-to-one correlation. Anything else would have meant more massive programming, and I had already filled the buffer of the software with more important tweaks, such as links and being able to create new characters.
I had thought about allowing a character to be a member of more than one community in Marble Springs 3.0. But then the questions arose: What communities do the characters think they belong to? How would Marble Springs function if characters did not have a "home base"? The more I thought about it, the more I liked the philosophical function of the basic navigational premise of each character having one and only one "home base" -- regardless of whether that base was one of happiness (e.g., the Harmons) or hatred. (e.g., the Heollstars) It would be interesting to analyze several of the characters in Marble Springs to determine whether or not they would "agree" to being labeled within their particular community. (would Mariah Horner want to be in Sue Langley's community or in the Horner community?)
Rob Elliot, a great programmer, provided a new community directory, so that you can look up any community and see what characters belong to that community. This brings the community nature of Marble Springs 3.0 even more into the foreground of the work.
I decided to show which community a character belonged to on the character's page. (in Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0, this is represented by a single, unnamed icon) Again, I needed to move away from the mystery meat we loved before the web made everything explicit. So I also added a "community" for every character, save for those who needed to remain untracked. (as discussed in the next section) Thus, rather than a single, unnamed skeleton key, Marble Springs 3.0 provides a golden, named key. The icon has a more complex head than body of the key, indicating the complex interweavings of connections. In Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0, many characters were linked directly to the main map as their "character connection" card. As more and more of the work was made explicit, I felt that this would be an unbearable inconsistency. Thus, every character in Marble Springs 3.0 links to a separate character connection page -- or to the untracked community page.
In Marble Springs, the actual character story is just the tip of the iceberg. To understand these characters, you need to read about how they react in various situations. Thus, to flesh out characters, I also added quite a few institutional connections. Some of these, such as the Marble Springs Bank, Crystal River, Settler's Creek, church choir, had already been mentioned in Marble Springs 2.0. However, I wanted to bring these connections out into the open and to allow readers to experience characters through more and more facets. Some of these, such as the Marble Springs Cafe and Charity Relief, I added as new institutions mentioned in new poems or in new histories of the institutional connections.
Note that institutions also have the same categories as the communities. This is a function of programming. (it is much easier to have a single template for all connections) It is also a function of the way social media works in Marble Springs. For, indeed, institutions can be a victim or perpetrator of hate, can have friends, etc. So, the more I thought about it, the better I liked treating institutions as a community.
As part of the programming in Marble Springs 3.0, every character was required to be in a community. However, there are several characters who, by their very nature, can not belong to a community. (Jedediah Grasslands is the undertaker who comes only to bury and envy the denizens of Marble Springs; the Washerwoman comes to beg and to be reviled; and no one knows anything really about the Mulatto with Green Eyes) So I created an untracked community page, which describes the philosophy of the different categories.
Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0 treat the three maps (of the valley, town, and graveyard) as connections. However, this would not work within these templates for connections in Marble Springs 3.0. Thus, I eschewed any templates for the maps, opting instead for a generic "content". Again, Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0 relied solely on visual cues. The reader could glean content and meaning from which plot in the graveyard was bigger or smaller, which was where, and who was buried "outside the walls" or in the segregated and walled off Potter's field. However, given the current textual expectations of the web, I needed to make these more explicit. Thus, I added a short sentence about the icon I chose and the people living there. For example, rather than just showing the little house on Carlton Avenue for the Coles, I said:
This of course, added to the need for more institutional cards, such as Fool's Rise and the livery. (Note that I had to add the livery to the map, as I had forgotten to do so in Marble Springs 2.0)
I created Marble Springs 3.0 in Port Elizabeth, South Africa. (I went from 11/22/11 to 1/12/12 for my health and to work on Marble Springs.) While I was there, I toured townships of unbelievable segregation and poverty. This gave me the strength and insights I needed to flesh out Marble Springs' own history of segregation and to really dive into the wheres and whys of Hope Town.
New Category Navigation
When I had written Marble Springs 1.0, we thought that just being able to poke around and click on links would hold a reader's attention. That notion was destroyed by the five second world of YouTube and Reddit and other quick fixes. So I had to create more hooks. Also, I realized that just having the name and title of the story meant nothing to the reader. So I wanted to foreshadow what the reader would find in each character. I created several layers of categories for a more complete navigational experience:
The forbidden index. These are topics that would not have been discussed in a Victorian household. Rather, everyone would simply understand these things by osmosis somehow. I thus teased out what the reader would find for adultery, death, children, crime, etc.
Tags. I took advantage of the wiki language to create a series of tags that would also show the subject matters of interest to the denizens of Marble Springs. Several readers (including my wife) complained that Marble Springs was far too dark. So I tagged the pages which do show joy with the tag "happiness". (As Anne Harmon says "And I have lived so much/ and laughed so long.") I could have used "joy" but "happiness" shows up much more in the tag cloud. I elucidated secrets with the secret tag, and listed out the untold stories this way as well.
Top menu. Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0 rely on icons (explained only on the help page) to steer readers through the help pages, a map, a directory of stories, or connections. This is a limited palette. So I expanded this to a top menu in Marble Springs 3.0, allowing readers to find humans through the forbidden list, a list of humans with stories, or a full list of humans. Allowing all of the maps makes it easier to navigate, but it does lose that focused navigation of going from the wide valley into the town and then into the narrower constraints of the graveyard. So, some meaning is lost. I put all of the help into the commentary, or a "meta" category. This meta category includes Chokecherry wine, which is the only real artifact of the town. Originally, I was going to put chokecherry wine into a "things" category, and if I get more things, that may yet happen.
I added a new analysis feature to showcase connections and to provide ideas for students to write papers on. Marble Springs can be read on several levels -- as a simple piece to enjoy, as a class project, or as an in depth analysis for a thesis. I wanted to provide an easier entry for students and teachers to show how electronic literature works and how it can be read. Elit has now been around for a mere two decades -- a blip in literary study and criticism and a lifetime in Internet terms. Yet we still grapple with how to tease out the meanings behind connections and navigation and imagery. So, I hope to help out with Nodalities.
I wanted to flesh out Marble Springs with several types of new characters. Again, I was able to really focus on the tragedies of American history by seeing the atrocities committed elsewhere in the name of Gold and Farming and Western expansion. Being an observer in South Africa helped me see how to write about the history in Colorado. Thus, I expanded the Paines, Vernons, and Pitkins to show various aspects of prejudice and domination in America.
I also wanted to focus on generations and families. Marble Springs 1.0 and 2.0 are pretty good at lateral relationships -- who influences whom for business, friends, gossip, etc. But how family traditions with their hopes and fears, dreams and nightmares handed down through generations was more elusive. So I concentrated on several families (the Millers, Vernons, and Pitkins) to show more of a generational handing down of secrets and obsessions.
I also wanted to show the other side of issues, and thus Jud Heollstar (Ears) becomes a counterpart for his wife (Eyes), showing how Alvina's bitterness evolved. But not everyone reacts to tragedy with bitterness, so I wanted to show a different point of view with the Cattering poems.
"...my vision of Marble Springs grew to an open-ended, never ending place-- a one-to-one map of reality as people came and went in the town. I wanted a place where readers could make their own marks on the town."
The Marble Springs wiki is available at Marble Springs 3.0.
For creators interested in using Wikidot, information/ documentation are available in the user-created The Wikidot Handbook
Writers and Artists
Silvia Stoyanova and Ben Johnston