zine housekeeping

i did an interview with things you say distro for the new “featured zine” element erin has added to the website. the featured zine this month is “love letters to monsters” #2. i’m out of copies for good, but things you say & maybe a few other distros still have it. erin is also doing a sale right now–check it out! i am copying & pasting the text of the interview below because i am pretty into a lot of what i said.

a few people have left comments about getting the new “love letters to monsters” #3/”alabama grrrl” #9 split zine too. i have been holding back on publicizing because i sold or gave away or traded my first batch of copies at the portland zine symposium, & ailecia & i have yet to get ourselves to the copy shop to make more. i wanted to re-write my introduction, & then we were going to make copies on sunday, but…life intervened. we have tentative plans to take care of it tomorrow. but if you want to make sure you’re among the first to get a copy, you can paypal $3 to me at learningtoleaveapapertrail@hotmail, or send $3 cash to the address at the end of the interview. i will also consider trades. e-mail or leave a comment to set something up. distros are also welcome to pick up some copies. the wholesale price is $1.50 each, which includes postage (though if you want to kick down some extra, i won’t say no). these prices are good for anywhere in the world. i prefer distro payment upfront. consignment has done me wrong too many times.

in other “order stuff from me” news, i am selling off my near-complete collection of “sassy” magazines on ebay. i struggled with this decision, because i love them, but…they’ve just been sitting on shelves/in a box for over a year now, & my finances are looking dire after my whirlwind philly/portland summer travels. so i’m listing them one by one, five per week, on ebay. the starting bid is $5 per issue. my user name there is “ciaramiaow,” if you want to check it out. yes, i have the kurt & courtney issue, but i’ll probably save it until the end & go out with a bang. it tends to fetch a far higher price than any of the others.

i haven’t been writing here much–sorry. i am saving up my creative energy for a new writing project…& i haven’t had a lot of creative energy lately anyway. less than a week after coming home from portland, a crew of lawrence kids loaded up in ailecia’s car & drove to columbia, missouri for a show/hang-out. we played an epic game of loaded questions & didn’t get back to lawrence until 4am. the night before, we went to a party & danced until the cops showed up. two days later, we hit karaoke night, where jared & i showed off our synchronized dance moves during our “total eclipse of the heart” duet. a few days after that, i attended a fancy history department dinner party out in the country with jared. we ate lamb & yes–it was a sheep farm. a huge storm blew through & knocked out the power, but kansas history professors who live on country sheep farms don’t mess around. they had a back-up generator so we could hang out comfortably, drinking wine & discussing authors until the biblical rains tapered off. then it was just a matter of dodging downed trees on the drive back into town.

plus, the new cycle of “america’s next top model” started & i am loving it. tyra somehow convinced italian “vogue” to feature the winner in a six-page spread, along with the cover of “beauty in action” (“vogue” italia’s internal beauty supplement–it is not the cover of “vogue,” so don’t get too excited). i suspect andre leon talley was being laughed out of his salon & called in a few favors within the reputable editorial fashion world. so now tyra is making a huge fuss about how reputations are on the line & “top model” needs to turn out a serious high fashion model this cycle. to that end, she has gathered together some of the most busted girls i’ve ever laid eyes on. we always knew that “editorial” was a euphemism for “should consider living under a bridge,” but they’re really not playing with this group. i am hoping that liz takes it all. she’s edgy, she’s gorgeous, & she’s a mama!

so, you know, i’ve been busy watching & thinking about that. & “project runway”. how much do i love valerie’s hair & her adorable extra-from-“laverne & shirley” wardrobe? her designs aren’t wowing me, but she’s just precious. i also love everything about mondo, from his hair to his glasses to his fake mustaches to his design ideas. but based on the photos of the big “project runway” show at fashion week, i think my money’s on andy to take it all. he made these gorgeous metal hair pieces that knocked my socks off.

okay, interview:

How did you become involved with zines?
When I was in junior high, my parents had a lot of friends who were involved with the Midwestern underground rock music scene. They were really into reading local music zines & finding out about new bands, indie labels, etc. They noticed that I was interested in writing, & they gave me copies of those zines. I found the amateur, homegrown aspect appealing & accessible, but being a 12-year-old, I obviously didn’t think I could make a zine. I mean, I wasn’t allowed to go to shows by myself yet, I didn’t have a lot of money to spend on records, etc, & I didn’t realize that zines extended beyond music coverage.

A lot of these music zines & magazines had pen pal listings in the back, & I started writing to people. One of my new correspondents was a girl even younger than me, who wrote her very own personal riot grrrl zine. We knew about riot grrrl from coverage in “Sassy” magazine (this was like 1993-ish), but again, it hadn’t occurred to me that I could make a riot grrrl zine at such a young age. Most zinesters “Sassy” covered were college-aged. Reading a personal riot grrrl zine by an 11-year-old made me realize that a zine could be whatever you wanted to write, that there weren’t rules about being an adult or including show listings or record reviews. So I started writing my own riot grrrl-inspired personal zine…& let’s never speak of that zine again, because it was DREADFUL.

Besides Love Letters to Monsters, what other zines or projects have you created?

There was the afore-mentioned riot grrrl zine that I wrote as a teenager. That lasted for four issues, eventually growing to over 80 half-sized pages thanks to the traditions of publishing exhaustive zine reviews & ads for other zines.

I started a ladies-only project-publicizing comp called “Cherry Cherry Red” (the first issue had a different name we shan’t speak of) that lasted for maybe four issues. Girls made full-sized pages describing the various zines, comps, record labels, zine distros, etc, that they were involved with, to spread the word to other girls. This was in the late 90s. When the internet became more prevalent, this project seemed a lot less necessary.

I edited the first zinesters list comp zine. The zinesters list was an early yahoogroup chat thing started by one of my old teenage riot grrrl pen pals. For the first few years, it was mostly all former riot grrrls I’d traded with in the mid-90s, & we all navigated the transition into adulthood & the evolution of our zines together. We did a comp in 1998 or 1999 on craft-making. This e-mail list is still around, but it has been taken over by awful dude-bro zinesters who make sexist jokes & think feminists are “PC thugs”. I unsubscribed years ago. I guess you could say it was kind of a pre-cursor to the horror that is the We Make Zines messageboard.

In 1999, I organized the first Bowling Green Zine Conference (now the Allied Media Conference). It was a completely free event (for tablers & attendees) with about thirty workshops, mainly attended by former riot grrrl zinesters & peace punk kids. I worked at the bowling alley on the BGSU campus at the time, & used my keys to let everyone in for midnight bowling, which has since become a tradition of the event.

I started “A Renegade’s Handbook to Love & Sabotage” in early 2000, & it ran for five issues. It’s probably the most well-known & popular zine I have written. I still get e-mails & letters about it, & the last issue came out in 2002.

In 2003, during a dry spell for writing my own zines, I launched Learning to Leave a Paper Trail zine distro, which specialized in politically-tinged personal zines. The catalogue eventually expanded to about 150 zines & I was doing around $2000 worth of business a month. I closed it down in early 2010 to make more time for writing projects.

In 2006, I wrote a one-off personal zine called “You Live for the Fight When That’s All That You’ve Got,” & in 2007, I did a residency at the Roberts Street Social Center in Halifax, Nova Scotia, where I started my zine/punk/anarchist-themed logic puzzle zine, “Up the Logic Punks!”. I’ve made two issues of that so far. Later that summer, I started a new personal zine series called “Love Letters to Monsters,” & just published the third issue in August 2010. It’s a split with my next-door neighbor, who has also been making feminist personal zines off & on for fifteen years.

Aside from zine stuff, I started to Boston Skillshare conference, which has happened every year since 2002. I was a member of the organizing collective for six years. I also started the Radical Art Girl feminist art collective in Portland in 2000, joined Radical Cheerleading squads in Portland & Boston, was involved in a d.i.y. reproductive health collective for several years in Boston, curated an anarcha-feminist book club for about a year, & volunteered with both the Papercut Zine Library & the Lucy Parsons Center (anarchist infoshop in Boston).

Do you have any zines/projects planned for the future?
I just published “Love Letters to Monsters” #3, but I’m already gathering ideas & material for “Love Letters to Monsters” #4, which I am currently conceiving as something of a scrapbook-style zine. I am also thinking of putting it out on a seasonal basis (four times a year) now that the distro is closed & I have more time for writing.

I also have enough new logic puzzles written to release “Up the Logic Punks!” #3. It’s just a matter of sitting down & hammering out the layout.

I live in Lawrence, Kansas now, & have been kicking around the idea with some ladies here or launching a Lawrence ladies craft group. We would collaborate on an Etsy page together & sell embroideries, artwork, buttons, zines, whatever we end up making—perhaps in conjunction with a weekly ladies/gender minorities crafternoon/feminist potluck. This is still in the embryonic stages.

I have also been toying with the idea or organizing a series of feminist-related workshops & discussions at a local community center in town. Our local punk scene was recently torn asunder due to some pretty egregious misogyny, & I am trying to look at it as a transformative moment from which a powerful & positive new anarcha-feminist community can grow. So the workshops (& maybe a book club?) would be part of that.

I’m also working on a novel, I cook a lot, I’m hoping to take up knitting this winter, I read a lot (& write book reviews), & I’m trying to pull together a chubby girls’ yoga/water aerobics club.

Describe the process you go through to create a zine.
It has changed & shifted over the years, but at this point, I guess it’s pretty basic. I write about whatever I want to write about—things that interest me, or things that I think need to be addressed in zine form. When I am writing for a zine, I write FOR the zine. I generally don’t cull zine content from other sources (ie, my journal, blogs, etc). I typically let the writing sit for at least a week, & then I edit it really carefully—for content, for passive voice, for potential to be misinterpreted, for interest, for grammar & spelling. Once I’m reasonably happy with it, I get out my typewriter & start typing. I’m just not crazy about the idea of a computer layout for my zines, though I do acknowledge that using the typewriter makes the process more labor-intensive. As I type out my content, I try to come up with ideas for images & graphics. Sometimes I draw stuff, sometimes I use found images. For “Love Letters to Monsters” #3, I cut pertinent images out of an old French textbook left over from college 12 years ago.

If I pursue the scrapbook zine idea for future issues of “Love Letters to Monsters,” I suspect this system to change a little. I hope it will become a little more casual.

If you could create a split zine with anyone, alive or dead, famous or not, who would it be? What would the zine be called?
I have already done a couple of splits. The last issue of “A Renegade’s Hanbook” was a split with my husband (at the time). Each zine retained its own name (his was called “Make Waves”), but they were presented together in an envelope, & the split was called “Bone Dancers”. In 2007, I released the first issues of “Up the Logic Punks!” & “Love Letters to Monsters” as a split—a split with myself. & the most recent “Love Letters to Monsters” was a split with my neighbor & friend Ailecia.

I loved doing the split with Ailecia (even though she almost didn’t make our deadline, which caused me unending anxiety) because our friendship is predicated on sitting on her porch, having awesome talks about zines, feminism, punk rock, friendships, mental health, et al. So making the split was kind of like condensing those talks into a printed form that I could hand out to other people. We didn’t read each other’s sides before we published, but the content was surprisingly complementary, while still being unique.

My friend Jessika Rae (who is best known for her zine “Do Not File Under Manifesto”) have been talking about writing a split together for years. My favorite zine of all time is “Doris,” & sometimes I think it would be amazing to do a split with the woman who writes it (her name is Cindy), but if we’re being frank, I’m not sure our writing style would complement each other. Maybe it’s better to just enjoy it from afar.

A lot of zinesters sort of drift out of the scene for a while, and then come back. Has this happened to you? Why do you think this happens?
I didn’t write a zine between 2002 & 2006, which is a pretty big gap. But I was running a zine distro for that entire time, so I was definitely still involved & active in the zine community, as a reader & supporter.

My friend Ailecia wrote her first zine in nine years last month.

Who knows why this happens? Everyone probably has their own reasons. For me, I was going through a pretty rough patch. My dad had died unexpectedly, my mental health was pretty fragile, I was becoming interested in writing that didn’t seem appropriate for the zine medium (ie, fiction—sorry, I just really hate reading fiction in zines!), & the idea of making a zine seemed like more work & less privacy than I could handle for a little while. More recently, I closed down my zine distro & told people I was “retired” from zines, I guess because I’m in my 30s now & sometimes I wonder if my boring drama-free life in Kansas would really appeal to any zine readers. Sometimes I feel like I am too old &/or too boring for zines. Many zinesters seem to write zines as a form of self-expression, & a way to connect with other folks going through similar life experiences. A LOT of zinesters admit that writing zines is “therapeutic”. I think that’s something I related to when I was like 17, but it doesn’t resonate with me anymore, & so that begs the question—why should I make a zine? If it’s just because I like to write…well, still. Why make a zine, instead of keeping a journal or writing for more mainstream publications?

This is a question I struggle with all the time. I still like to read zines, & sometimes the casual format of zine writing appeals to my lazy side. I don’t have to be completely professional & waste valuable creative time writing query letters & paging through “Writer’s Market”. I can just make something. The visual component also appeals to me, because I like to draw & put images together. So maybe this is why I haven’t abandoned zines yet. I also draw inspiration from zinesters that are still going strong, even though they’re older than me. Like I said, “Doris” is my favorite zine, & Cindy is ten years older than me. If she can still publish a zine on a regular basis that appeals to so many different people of various ages & genders & political perspectives…maybe I can too.

Who or what is your zine-related inspiration? What makes you want to write?
I have always been a writer, & I have always wanted to be published—in the context of being able to hold something that I wrote. When I was two years old, I used to write down little stories & put pictures out of magazines to illustrate them & help my mom bind them together with yarn, so I had a “book” I had written. When I was in elementary school, I regularly banged out manuscripts of young adult serial novels on my mom’s manual typewriter & sent them to publishing houses. So when I discovered zines in junior high, it was just the right match for my predilections.

I still make zines because I really enjoy the feeling of holding something all bound & “published” (ie, photocopied) that I wrote. I like to give my zines to people & be able to say, “This is my writing.” I become motivated to write now when something is happening that I feel I have some semi-unique insight into, like a fucked up political situation that is stirring my passions, or an intense personal experience I want to relate to people. I have also gotten into trying to write down funny things that happen, because at the end of the day, mostly I just like to laugh & goof off, which has not historically come through in my zines.

I am also really interested in the idea of creating a personal mythology. I love reading zines that seem to evoke an image of the author & the perhaps mundane details of her life—but those small details are the icing on the cake to me. I love to imagine how people dress, how much they fuss over their hair, what they eat for breakfast, how they decorate their rooms. So I like to write & make zines because it’s a chance to slowly cobble together a mythology for myself, which then helps me make sense of the trajectory & narrative of my own life. I use that personal writing to better understand where & who I am, so I can decide where I want to go & who I want to be. If that makes sense.

Any final comments/thoughts?
Feel free to write to me:
Ciara Xyerra
1126 Tennessee St. #5
Lawrence KS 66044
or learningtoleavepapertrail@hotmail.com

Support smaller distros, especially distros run by ladies, queers, people of color, & disabled folks! Write to zinesters & don’t be shy. Even the most intimate of zine readers will still be pleased to know what you thought of her work. Take time with your writing & craft it carefully, because it’s going to be kicking around in a zine library or digital archive for God knows how long. Consider enlisting a friend as an editor. But make sure to strike a balance between craft & fun—don’t let your zine-making become a chore. Expand your expectations of yourself & expose yourself to ideas, people, & experiences that are new & different. Your writing can only be improved by going beyond what is familiar & ordinary to you.

Published by Ciara

Ciara Xyerra wrote zines for the better part of two decades. She has a brilliant & adorable preschooler named Ramona & sews as much as she possibly can. She lives in Lawrence, Kansas with her boyfriend. She enjoys catching up on "The New Yorker", meatball subs, keeping it cranky, intersectional post-third wave feminism, dinosaurs, & monsters. If you have nothing nice to say, she recommends that you come sit here by her, so you can say not-nice things together.

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