Rebooting Electronic Literature, Volume 2: Documenting Pre-Web Born Digital Media

Essay on Deena Larsen's "Samplers"

Structure = Meaning in Deena Larsen's Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts
by Dene Grigar, PhD

“The pattern dreamed about the whole, and the whole dreamed about the pattern.” –Deena Larsen, “Notes about Samplers

Deena Larsen's Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts was made with Storyspace 1.2C and requires 5.5 MB of space. The idea for an anthology of numerous small hypertexts stitched together was sparked in 1993 when Larsen and Kathryn Cramer talked together at the ACM Hypertext 1993 conference in Seattle, WA. A year later Larsen sent an early version of Samplers to Eastgate Systems, Inc. [1] and in 1995 presented it at ACM Hypertext 95. [2] That same year “Century Cross,” one of the nine hypertexts planned for Samplers, was published in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext Volume 2, Number 2, Winter 1995. Larsen continued to work on Samplers in 1996 and finally saw it released in 1997 on 3.5-inch on floppy disk, first for Macintosh and, then, for PC. Later that same year the CD-ROM version compatible on both platforms was also released. [3] Larsen reports that she produced the work on her Macintosh computer and did not see the PC version until years later ("Interview"). Unlike the PC version, the Macintosh version provided for certain functionality that Larsen liked: The Return key made multiple links possible as default paths, for example; other features relating to content and the interface also made this version robust. [4]  Thus, the Macintosh version is, according to the artist, the authorized one. Samplers is the second major work by Larsen and follows four years after the success of her opus, Marble Springs (1993). Larsen presented and exhibited the work after its publication, most notably at Hypertext '95 and “hyper_text: Explorations in electronic literature presented in collaboration with the Electronic Literature Organization,” on Friday, February 27, 2004 at the UCLA Hammer Museum where she shared the stage with Geniwate ("Hammer Museum Calendar").

Quilts as Patterns for Structure 
Samplers references the concept of the sampler quilt––that is, a quilt whose patches do not repeat the same pattern but, instead, offers unique quilt blocks throughout as a way that demonstrates the mastery of the quilter’s craft. Like a quilter of cloth, master storyteller Larsen draws upon established quilt blocks for her sampling of stories. “Firewheel,” "Devil's Claws," "Mystic Knot," "Crossed Ends," "Century Cross," for example, are all named for conventional quilt blocks. [5] Recognizing Larsen’s design, therefore, provides readers with an understanding about what to expect with Samplers: Each quilt block of the sampler image found on the interface, when clicked, launches a unique work of short fiction with a unique structure. [6] As she states:

Quilts are much more than pieced setup. The stitching itself holds a quilt together and lays down a pattern over the pieces. Samplers uses links to quilt the work. Click on the open book in the toolbar to see all of the links from a node. Then read the names of the links in sequence to unravel the pattern. (Larsen, “Short Description”)

In her interview for her Live Stream Traversal for Samplers, Larsen reiterates her view that “structure = meaning” (“Interview”). The importance of structure for providing meaning is further emphasized in comments Larsen made in various early writings. In her essay “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine: An Introduction” included in the manual for the work, Larsen connects the way the software made her vision of structuring Samplers possible, saying that she viewed "Storyspace boxes as quilting pieces and links as stitches.” Later in the essay she goes on to say that

"Keeping my questions firmly basted to the texts, I pieced the patterns of nodes together, quilting them with double ands triple layers to produced three-dimensional texts. When I finished, I found that the white king paradox had proliferated into nine very different, inextricable creations. The pattern dreamed about the whole, and the whole dreamed about the pattern."

This idea of experimenting with the dimensionality of hypertext shows up also in Larsen's essay, "The Trickster, or, How I Learned to Love the Bomb: Reading 'Century Cross,'" that appears in the manual included with "Century Cross" released before Samplers. Here she states that she "wanted to experiment with ways in which hypertext can bend a fundamentally linear structure to create a three dimensional sculpture of story, pattern, and structure" (15). In fact, she says that "the whole point of these samplers was to explore how the lines of reading could be stretched, bent, and shaped to fit a nonlinear design" (16). In her planning notebook for Samplers Larsen reveals her interest in keeping the ideas she conveys intact. She scribbles, “When you piece your own story together, stitch it tight against . . . others who force their own visions into yours.” [7]

To Begin
To begin the work, readers can hold down the Tinker Bell keys (OPT + CMD on the Macintosh; ALT + CTL on the PC) on the image of the sampler quilt on the main interface and evoke a series of nine images, one for each of the quilt blocks. From there readers can start with any of the hypertexts. The one they encounter at the top left-hand side is entitled "Mystic Knot." 

"Mystic Knot"
In the quilting tradition, knotting is a way to bind heavy fabric. This idea is played out in the hypertext, “Mystic Knot,” a fantastical tale of a traffic barrier in San Francisco’s Golden Gate Park who imagines himself a god. Awakened by the sounds of “[h]ums, clanging, and clicks of the cable cars” (“Awakening”), he (the character is referred to as male) “slowly began to feel out his true form”––that is, a “mass . . . deep brown rose granite flecked with silverfish mica, pale quartz, and dark feldspar” with a base that “crushed comfortably into the pale concrete sidewalk below him.” Though he finds himself in a very noisy site of the city, he believes that he is “destined to command” (“Willing”). But soon he comes to understand the limits to his powers and, so, he forms his “True Command” (“Proving”). He calls out to the world around him, “Take me to a quiet and green place where I may think” (“Commanding”). Time passes, and with the eventual renovation of the street, his wish to leave the hustle and bustle comes true: He is uprooted and driven in the back of a pickup truck to the “dump” (“Answering”). When no room is found there, the driver–– having had many stout beers––tosses the traffic barrier “behind the Japanese tea garden,” a very quiet location in Golden Gate Park (“Placing”). This change in circumstances results in the traffic barrier believing that his "True Command" has come true. Soon, this location becomes a popular place to dump other stones, and over time the traffic barrier viewed these newcomers as “his congregation.” He begins to preach “the way of solid repetition” to them (“Presiding”). Unmoved, however, to the traffic barrier's words, the stones and rest of his congregation remain silent. Later a tagger shows up and paints “his red spiral signature” on the traffic barrier (“Marking”). This indignity prompts the traffic barrier to “[s]leep . . . [w]ake no more . . . [c]ommand no more” and “release his soul into sleep” (“Sleeping). 

"Crossed Ends"
“Crossed Ends,” whose sampler pattern is presented as a colorful patchwork of cloth sewn together to resemble an X,  tells the story of Charles Goodwine's retirement party on May 13, 1994. Readers can start the story at one of two places: “Where it ends” and “Where it starts.” Two other choices, “Give up now” and “or try to understand” take readers out of the story or to the directions, respectively.

In "Where it starts" readers are introduced to Goodwine's retirement party via a memo announcing the event and reminding everyone that Charles had spent the entirety of the past 41 years and four months working at the Denver Division of Engineering and Research for the Bureau of Water and Power. Readers also learn he earned one commendation––the Special Art Award––in 1977, and that his interests include “sailing and fishing” (“Retirement”). From this lexia readers can take one of four different paths, one for each of the four members of the Goodwine family attending the party. Each member’s path consists of seven lexias that reveal the family member's perspective of the family dynamics and response to Charles’ surprise announcement made at the party. 

Larsen uses the four paths to provide readers a hint about the way to interpret the perspectives of the four characters. They read:

Path 1: “Every story has” goes to “Charles 1”
Path 2: “at least four sides:” goes to “Patty 1”
Path 3: “what you see as truth” goes to Diane 1
Path 4: “and what they see.” Goes to Cherry 1

In "Patterns of Hypertext," Mark Bernstein calls the "commentary . . . between writing spaces," like this Larsen employs, "institial counterpoints." Hers, he claims, "can be read as an interstitial poem" (23).

Choosing path 1, readers learn about Charles’ dissatisfaction over his life choices and his desire to regain a sense of adventure after his retirement by selling the house and spending a year on a boat. Working over four decades at the company and toiling for a “lowly GS-9 salary,” Charles is not ready to retire and had, in fact, hoped to “ma[ke] supervisor.” He took the early “buy-out” for fear he would be “laid off.” The party venue––“a pink room”––was a “bit too fussy” for Charles, but he was glad to see that a “good chardonnay” on “the wine list” (Charles 1). Charles wonders about spending his year on the boat with Patty, his wife who “never had been the sociable type” and herself never rose to the “right places” in her job (Charles 2). Patty, readers learn from Charles, did not go back to work “after the kids had gone.” He wonders if “maybe they could have had enough money for a real cruise” if she had. He reminds himself that Patty “would not have been much good at anything” (“Charles 3”). Following the speech, Charles makes his “big announcement,” one he did not have “much of a chance to talk . . . over with Patty” who “never said anything in the past and probably wouldn’t start now.” In his speech he thanks the man who “had forced retirement on him” and Patty, even though “everyone knew [she] was a mouse who had nothing at all to do with anything” (“Charles 4”). Then, calling his wife to the front of the room, he hands her the “keys to [their] new home” and announces they are soon to “cruise the Gulf Coast.” Patty’s reaction interrupts Charles: She “screeche[s] into tears, claw[s] her way past him, and head[s] out of the banquet hall for the ladies room” (“Charles 5”). Charles' response to her distress is to simply stand in place because he did not think anything “he did would get her out” of the bathroom (“Charles 6”). When she doesn't emerge, Charles thinks about the “extra square footage he would get by leaving Patty behind” and wonders if “one of his buddies [would] be willing to go with him.” Ignoring her “sobs,” he heads to the lobby bar (“Charles 7”).

Patty’s side of the story provides a different perspective and helps to explain why she was driven to tears at Charles' announcement. Readers learn that Patty helped to plan the retirement party and was the one who had “chosen the pink room.” Charles had told everyone that he wanted a “nautical” theme, which Patty viewed as “silly” considering “Denver’s high, dry climate.” She was reminded, though, of his interest in boats, including the “sailing monstrosity that blocked their garage most of the year” (“Patty 1”). Readers learn that Patty knows Charles does not think much of her opinions. During the toast, for example, she tells him that he was the “best structural or design or whatever engineer,” a comment he ignores. With Charles and Patty at the party is their daughter Diane and her child Jennifer, who had been kept away from Patty because of an accident involving a “burn” (“Patty 2”). From Patty, readers also get a better sense of the company’s poor treatment of the retirees and Charles’ lack of communication with his wife over his retirement plans. Instead of a “gold watch or buffalo statue,” Charles is given a “paper watch,” a “sailing cap, and a “ship in the bottle,” which Patty views as “gag gifts.” She thinks about the two of them after his retirement “settlin[g] down and relax[ing] together” (“Patty 3”). Admitting that she had “never been strong enough,” Patty reveals that she may have been responsible for Charles' lack of upward mobility because it “was an effort for her to meet those wives.” She takes comfort, however, over the fact that unlike her daughter who pursued a career, Patty had been a good mother and wife, having “cookies waiting for the children when they came home, a martini waiting for Charles” (“Patty 4”). Looking forward to living out their lives in their “pretty house with the rose garden she’s worked on forever” and “seeing her grandchildren,” Patty is shocked by Charles' announcement, and she flees out of the room (“Patty 5”). The pink ladies room reminds Patty of her own bathroom, where Charles never ventured and where she often fled to cry. Diane, who often provided Patty comfort, shows up “on cue” (“Patty 6”). Patty begs Diane to allow her to see the child but is rebuffed by her daughter. Diane abandons Patty, leaving her alone “wait[ing]” (“Patty 7”).

Diane's story continues to fill out the narrative. The woman has taken off work in order to attend the retirement party but spends her time at the front table during the festivities plotting her escape and planning the errands she must run. Readers learn that Diane is not fond of either parent (“Diane 1”). Her father often “stay[ed] late at the office” in order to curry favor with his bosses who had ignored his frequent requests for promotion. She also laments how she “drudged” for her parents “mow[ing] the lawn” and “d[oing] the housework,” a narrative that runs counter to Patty’s memory of devoting her time to the kids (“Diane 2”) but is born out in the next lexia where Diane recounts taking care of her younger sibling, Cherry, through her many personal crises. Readers also learn that her mother could not cope with Charles’ late nights, his buying the sailboat, and not “pay[ing] the bills.” Patty’s response to Diane’s help that “[a] woman’s work is never done" does little to mollify her daughter (“Diane 3). Readers learn that Diane is planning to enjoy early retirement after socking away money from her profitable job at Martin Marietta. That she had taken the job in Denver was more about its lucrative salary than about living in the “same state as her parents” (“Diane 4”). Charles’ announcement is welcomed by Diane since it would mean that her mother, who had “asked practically weekly to see the kids” and had been negligent when watching them, would be gone. Patty’s “anguished scream” brings Diane out of her reverie (“Diane 5”). Realizing that her father had more than likely surprised her mother with his plans, Diane allows herself a few moments “to comfort her mother." She heads to the bathroom wondering about how much of her life is actually her “own” (“Diane 6”). Once in the bathroom, Patty “clutch[es] at Diane’s arm” and begs to live with her daughter, promising not even to “say a word about [her] working.” Diane leaves promptly at 12:52 as she had planned to take care of her family’s errands (“Diane 7”).

The last side of the story belongs to Cherry, the younger daughter of the family. Cherry is indeed as troubled as hinted at in Diane’s story. She does not like “government types” that ruin the environment and thinks her sister is a “goody-two-shoes” and “fussbucket” who keeps Cherry from enjoying life. She sees the retirement party as a good chance to eat and drink for free (“Cherry 1”). Readers learn that Cherry, who had developed a “honey-innocence practice” with her father, is now planning to ask him for a large loan of $20K (“Cherry 2”). Cherry’s disdain centers on her mother’s ignorance of the world, and especially of her family’s dynamics. Cherry had an abortion at the age of 12 that Diane suggested as a way of helping out the girl. The event caused Cherry to lose the ability to have her own children, a predicament that Diane told Cherry to “be happy” about (“Cherry 3”). Cherry reveals that her real name is Charlene and that she ran away from home to Haight Ashbury when she was 13 (“Cherry 4”). She greets Charles’ announcement to live on a boat positively and begins to imagine leaving her awful waitress job and joining them in this adventure. Her mother’s cry awakens her to her mother's rejection of this lifestyle (“Cherry 5”). While everyone files out of the room and her father stares out the window, Cherry heads to the “pay phone” (“Cherry 6”). Listening to her mother’s cries in the rest room next to the phone, Cherry tells the person on the other end of the line that she “couldn’t hit [her father] up for [the money] and makes plans to meet the person at the restaurant (“Cherry 7”).

Thus, the four characters find themselves literally at "crossed ends" with one another with no solution to their family’s lack of understanding and communication. In fact, one of the paths readers can take upon starting the story is called “Where it ends.” This path goes to an advertisement that reads:


A new family for a good, slightly used mother. A touch forgetful, but not yet senile. Good cook and housekeeper. Good with children (as along as she is supervised). Needs a large, stable family who will welcome her daily visits. Eats little. Not a bother to anyone. Free to a good home. CALL 492-1411 ANYTIME.

Though the four character’s presented very different perspectives of their family, this ad could have been written and posted by any of them.

"Seed Voices"
The third work, "Seed Voices," features an image of two seeds resembling pinwheels with the one in the forefront is slightly larger than the one behind it. The phrase with the image reads, “A false seed leads in” (“Seed Voices). Clicking on the image, readers encounter the same image with the phrase, “to Reality and other paths” (“Conversation”). Larsen had originally called this hypertext, “Conversations,” but changed the title to “Seedy Voices” before settling on “Seed Voices,” because she thought “Conversation” resembled the hypertext, “Conventions,” also included in this anthology, too closely. [5] It would have been an ironic name for the work since the bulk of the conversation that takes place doesn’t occur between the two people but rather to themselves. Only at the end do they come together, but even this interaction is not a dialogue; rather it is only a recognition that the relationship has ended.

Clicking Enter takes readers to four paths. They include:

Path 1: “Get closer to reality” goes to “Conversation”
Path 2: “Or look another way” goes to “Voices in the Seed”
Path 3: “Find out how” goes to “Directions”
Path 4: “Or just shut this up” goes to a null space

As these paths show, the story focuses on versions of reality with the promise that one can get “closer” to it and at the same view it “another way.”  Once again, Larsen uses the feature that Storyspace offers––that is, naming the paths––to imbue meaning into the story.

There are two main ways to read the story; both involve following and reading the lexia found in “Voices in the Seed.” Readers get to it directly via the second path or in a roundabout way via the first. The interface for “Voices in the Seed” features a series of seven seed images, mentioned above. The first way has readers clicking on the larger part of each image and discovering the inner dialogue of the protagonist, a pregnant woman who is peeling an avocado, attending carefully to its seed, and not responding to the comments the angry man makes to her. Clicking on the smaller part of each image finds the abusive comments the angry man makes to the woman. In both cases, they are one-way conversations going nowhere. In this reading, however, the story unfolds with a clear demarcation between characters, what they say, and do.

The second way to read this hypertext has readers following the story from “Voices in the Seed” by the hitting return key. This strategy provides ambiguity in that readers do not easily glean who the speakers are or what their relationship is. The first lexia readers are taken to, for example, is “Patience,” where the narrator is “peeling” the avocado. The voice of a man “continues somewhere,” the narrator recounts, “over there” as if disconnected from it and him. As the narrator works on the fruit and thinks about the “orange scratches on the naked part,” the man continues to talk. The narrator connects his voice to the green of the avocado (“Cracks”). The introduction of the color “lilac” and “flesh gone bruised” hints to physical violence (“Coloring”). She puts much care into the avocado seed she nurtures in the “sake cup” (“Pouring”). Still the man talks, and the narrator “nods as if  . . . listening” (“Lifting”). In the lexia "Too Late" the story’s perspective and tone shifts from an inner dialogue to one character's angry outburst at the other: “Look, it isn’t like I don’t care about this. I do, It’s just where do you get off not saying anything about it until now?” This suggests that the central conflict may that one of the characters is pregnant and it is too late to do anything about it. The argument continues in the next lexia with the pregnant woman finally responding to the man, “Why the hell should it matter to you anyway?” (author’s emphasis, “All it is”). The trembling of the pregnant woman causes the man to remind her that he has “never harmed one hair on [her] head” (“for god’s sake”). If readers have not yet accessed the lexias referring to the colors of bruises the woman thinks about as she tends the avocado, the man's statement may ring false. Even so, though he may not have ever physically harmed the woman, he does, however, verbally abuse her, calling her “an underhanded little sneak thief who never does anything!” before berating her for not keeping the house clean (“maybe it’s just”). When one of them decides to leave in order to stay at “Barbara’s” where “[a]t least it is clean,” it is difficult to know who is speaking (“ok dammit, I’m gone”). The ambiguity is cleared up when the man calls the woman “a lame excuse for a mother” and reminds her that the “rent’s paid up” and she can get further help from “some Catholic charity” (“call someone then”). His final comment to the woman is “you didn’t think this thing was going to last forever, did you?” (author’s emphasis, “look here”).

“Voices of the Seed” can also be reached by following the first path, “Conversation.”  This strategy, however, offers a more convoluted route to the story that sees readers go back to the screen, “Conversation,” hitting the return key to get to “Voices in the Seed” where they encounter the seven images of the pinwheel and the words “Seed Voices.” 

Hypertext scholar Susana Tosca suggests that the two characters are daughter and father. [8] However, the fact that the man leaves the pregnant woman to stay with another woman and reminds her that their own liaison was always temporary for him suggests it is also likely that the conversation may be between a woman and a man who have been lovers. In any case, the woman’s devotion to the avocado reflects her acceptance of the growing seed found within her own body, a devotion to the seed voice within her that the man’s anger and suggested violence cannot kill.

"Century Cross"
Mentioned at the beginning of this essay, “Century Cross” was recognized early on as one of the best of Larsen’s hypertexts from Samplers and, so, was published in The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext Volume 2, Number 2 Winter 1995 two years before Samplers was released. This reputation has continued to the present time. [9] Interestingly, Larsen claims that "Century Cross" was the "hardest one for [her] to work with" because the pattern's history is so rich and well-used through time that it "pick[s] up meanings and connotations as [it] traverse[s] history and never let any of them go." She credits the "egotistical Coyote of the Southwest lore" for helping to guide her in her study (15-16, Larsen, "The Trickster").

This hypertext is placed first on the second line of the three lines of nine quilt blocks and takes the form of a swastika, an ancient design common in some Native American art, most notably Navajo. The opening screen reads, “Centuries lie.” Clicking on it takes readers to a second screen featuring the same patch with the words, “when they need to,” positioned below it. Thus, the focus of this hypertext is the way ideas may change over time. The 35 image maps are found on this patch lead to a story that draws on Native American myths. 

To read the hypertext, readers can work through each of the image maps or follow hyperlinks and paths presented on the lexias. Occasionally readers will encounter lexias with no links to another lexia. In those cases, readers can begin again by choosing a different image map. Clicking on the top left one, for example, takes readers to “Coyote,” a story about a coyote, “a dandy” who, admiring the fashions he sees around him, creates a “waistcoat” from “tall prairie grasses” and “trousers” from “cottonwood bark.” There is one hyperlink on this lexia that reads: “came into the land.” Clicking on it takes readers to “Storyteller 14,” a lexia about the way “battles . . . change the world.” The word, “change,” is underlined and takes readers to a dialogue box with the choice of two paths to follow. Path 1, “the time to leave,” takes readers to the lexia “Coyote 14;” Path 2, “the time you can’t,” goes to “Navajo Creation 1.” Following the link to the first one reads, “And that is how it happened that Coyote tricked himself into carrying the Nothing Pouch on the tip of his nose forever.” Following “forever” takes readers back to Storyteller 14 where they can, this time, choose Path 2, “Navajo Creation 2.”

This lexia retells a Navajo origin myth, taken in part from Raymond Friday Locke’s The Book of the Navajo, about the Insect People and their exile from the First World by the gods. They are soon taken in by the Swallow People who live in the Second World, but due to the “Insect People” [making] too free with the wife of the Swallow People,” they are turned out and “forced to fly into the sky.” The hyperlink on this screen is simply the note “[3]”.

Clicking on another image map of the main interface can take readers to a contemporary story, told in 1st person point of view, about the strange occurrences taking place in an office suite. The lexia, “Storyteller 3,” has a woman seeing and hearing “a picture on the other side of the  . . . room . . . fall[ing] down” right in front of her. Clicking on the hypertext, “saw no one,” takes readers to a dialogue box with two paths. Path 1, “the east, the far edge,” takes readers to “Storyteller 5,” while Part 2, “now shows only,” goes to “Coyote 2.” Path 1 continues the story about the haunted office space. Pictures continue to “crash onto floors by themselves” and “footsteps started circling around [the narrator’s]desk.” The hyperlink found on that lexia, “I didn’t see,” goes to another dialogue box with two paths. Part 1, “more thin coffee,” goes to “Swastika Report;” Path 2, “I stirred my cup,” to “Coyote 14.” 

Readers can decide not to follow the hyperlinks on the lexias and return instead to the main interface, thus starting the hypertext anew. Clicking on the image map for “Hopi Warning,” readers find the legend recounted from Alice Marriot and Carol K. Rachlin’s The Hopi Warning, of the “Grandmother Spider” who lives by the “spring” in the “Third Mesa.” Those who encounter her having undergone the “kachina initiation” can pass after “lay[ing] down his stick of firewood” for her. Those who have not been initiated, including “non-Hopi” people, will fall under her spell and “follow her into her house, under the rock, into the womb of our mother, the Earth.” Clicking on the forward arrow at the bottom of the screen takes readers back to the main interface again where they can continue to select lexias to read. 

A lexia can take readers back to the haunted office building where the narrator tries bargaining with the spirit to leave her alone so that she can work over the weekend in the office (“Storyteller 9”). The two storylines converge with the Coyote appearing as the disaffected spirit in the woman’s office suite. “You can see me?,” the Coyote asks the woman. “Aren’t I fine?,” he remarks to her. She learns that the “Nothing Pouch” he carries contains “the Nothing [that] would gobble up Everything outside” leaving “Nothing . . . left” (“Storyteller 11”). The woman and Coyote make a deal: “[She] would see what stories [she] could tell of him, and he would keep the Nothing Pouch closed tight” (“Storyteller 12”). Crossed in this hypertext then is not only time––the titular “Century––but also space and the beliefs systems that can be bridged if one opens themselves to risk and differences.

"Firewheel," the second hypertext of the second line of the hypertext, tells the story of a young American teaching English in a small village in Japan who comes into contact with its mythic and spirit world. The title is based on the quilt block by the same name and features a bright red circular pattern with 12 flames, each representing a lexia of the story. A thirteenth lexia, entitled “Bonfire,” is situated in the middle of the circle. The structure's metaphor––telling a tale around a campfire––suggests a story filled with magic and mystery. It was the hypertext among the nine included in Samplers that garnered the attention of publisher Mark Bernstein and elicited a positive response about publishing the anthology [10]

The story can be read with three different ways: reading the lexias sequentially, clockwise; reading them sequentially, counterclockwise; and reading them non-sequentially following hyperlinks. All offer a different experience with the text yet present the same concept––that is, the merging of the two worlds the narrator experiences, the everyday life in the village and the mythic and spiritual existence that permeates the local culture. 

Because storytellers are encircled by their audience when telling their stories, starting any reading of "Firewheel" may be best begun with “Bonfire,” the lexia mentioned previously found in the middle of the circle. In this lexia readers learn that “[t]hey or their ancestors dance here since the beginning. They laugh, clasp hands and give their bodies up to their fox god.” While readers do not yet know whom “[t]hey” is, readers are introduced to the general notion of ritual and myth with reference to dancing and the god.

Reading sequentially clockwise from this lexia, readers may wish to start with the topmost flame, “Watching,” where they encounter  this ominous statement: “They are the ones who watch me.” No other information is relayed that helps to flesh out who “they” is, why they are “watching” the narrator, or even who the narrator is. Moving next to “Travelling Home,” the story shifts to a description of where the narrator lives: “[p]ast the rice paddies, behind the small graveyard, across the tiny bridge over a deep ravine no one but the old man enters.” “Warming myself” introduces the antagonist and the conflict. Coming home one evening, the narrator––whose gender is never identified––decides to “warm” themself at the “fox shrine.” The “old man” they have seen every day in the village is now “hovering over the fire” at the shrine. He speaks one word to the narrator, “Kitsune.” This is the word for firefox––the witch animal also known as the red panda––and “motion[s] to [the narrator] to sit down.” In the lexia, “The old man,” readers learn that he gives the narrator “a bowl of mulled rice wine from the fire . . . [s]prinkled” with “cinnamon from an American tin” to drink. In “Proofs” the old man hands the narrator photos of the shrine “dotted with a thin wraith of yellow-orange” fire, evidence of the spirits found there. These may be the very spirits the narrator encounters in the next lexia, “Firefox,” when they see the fox and stone gods in the shrine fire. In the next lexia, “In the morning,” the narrator awakens mysteriously in their own bed. Readers learn in “Stairs” that the narrator lives on a hilltop that the local population believe is haunted. In “The old man,” listed a second time in this hypertext, the narrator runs into the old man in the village and, despite what had previously transpired between them, the two “do not speak.” The story shifts in “Joining” to the narrator telling readers that “I join them. The laughter turns on edge. The fire sputters to itself, hiding their whispers.” Once again, having just left the shrine, the narrator leaves open the possibility that “them” refers to the gods. The next lexia, “Daily Lives,” recounts the relationship the narrator has with the people in the village. “[S]hopkeepers . . . laugh at [her] attempt at their language,” and “Midori . .  bring[s] hot spiced soup when [the narrator] is ill.” However, there are the villagers the narrator “teach[es] English to . . . who listen and chant politely. Too politely to know who they are.” “They” in this lexia may be referring to both the villagers and the gods referred to earlier. Returning to “Watchers,” readers are reminded that “[t]hey are the ones who watch me.” The narrator recognizes that the two worlds, the human and spirit, cohabit the same space.

Moving through the hypertext sequentially counterclockwise offers a different experience. While "Bonfire" and "Watchers" lead to the same mystery found in the clockwise reading about to whom "they" refers, in this reading the next lexia is "Daily Lives," which also begins with "they," refers to villagers." Positioned, now, as the second lexia in the circle as opposed to eleventh as in the previous reading eliminates the ambiguity. In fact, the spirit world is not alluded to again until “Stairs” when readers learn about the haunted hill on which the narrator lives. When readers arrive at the next lexia, “In the morning,” they are introduced to the mysterious circumstances surrounding the narrator waking up in bed not knowing how they got there. Readers only meet the “fox god” again in a lexia also named “Watching” positioned opposite of the first “Watching” found at the top of the circle. The next lexia, “Firefox,” opens with “We stared into the fire.” At this juncture, readers do not know to whom “We” refers. In the previous reading they are led to interpret it as the old man, but here it can be also viewed as the fox god itself. The old man, whom readers learned in the previous reading had initiated the narrator into the spirit world, shows up in this reading later in “Proofs” and “The old man.” Thus, the mystery unfolds later in the second reading than it does in the first. The overlapping worlds of life in the village and the world of spirits occurs gradually so that when readers return to “Watching,” they are more aware of the dual world the narrator now lives and who may be “watch[ing]” them.

The third reading would begin once again with “Bonfire,” where there are 11 words hyperlinked in red. Clicking on the second “they,” in the lexia takes readers to "Watching," the lexia that reveals that the narrator is being “watch[ed].” Clicking on “They” in this lexia takes readers to “Proofs.” This is the lexia where the old man shares the photos of the shrine with the narrator. Readers have the choice of following two hyperlinks: “wraith” and “nothing.” Clicking on the first of these, readers learn that the narrator’s home among the rice paddies, graveyard, and shrine. There are four hyperlinks found on this lexia: “no one,” “pass,” “shrine,” and “fire.” Clicking on “shrine” takes readers to “Bonfire,” the center lexia. This hypertext shifts to 3rd person point of view and tells of “ancestors” who “dance here since the beginning” for the “fox god” and in front of the “stone god.” The hyperlink, “here,” leads to “In the morning,” the lexia where the narrator has “returned home” unsure how they got there. Clicking on “rise slowly,” takes readers to “Firefox,” the lexia where the narrator experiences the spirit world. Clicking on the hyperlink, “firefox,” takes readers to “Joining” where the narrator recounts an evening where “laughter turns on edge” and “[t]he fire sputters to itself, hiding their whispers.” Thus, the fragmentation of the story helps to muddle the two worlds, making them indistinguishable from one another.

Stepping back, readers may notice that a sequential reading of the work reveals the connection between the two worlds at different times––clockwise provides ambiguity about the worlds in which the narrator resides and sustains the mystery of them over the course of the story; and counterclockwise builds toward a slow revelation of the spirit world's existence. However, the third reading––nonsequentially via the hyperlinks––merges the two worlds so that they become almost indistinguishable. 

One final comment about this hypertext: Readers may be compelled to attach meaning to the use of colors applied to the lexias in the story.  Green is used for both lexias entitled “Watching” and “The old man;” pink is used for “Daily Lives, Travelling home,” “In the morning,” and “Firefox;” blue for “Joining, Warming myself,” “Stairs,” and “Proofs;” and red for “Bonfire.” There seems to be, however, no correlation between color and content save perhaps “Bonfire,” the center lexia that describes flames used in the ritual celebrating the gods.

In quilting, a pattern where elements appear to be connected by being locked together is one that is "interlocked." This idea forms the basis for Larsen’s sixth hypertext of Samplers where the main character is trapped in a cycle of sexual abuse. In "Patterns of Hypertext" Bernstein identifies this specific pattern as the "counterpoint"––that is, a pattern where "two voices alternate, interleaving themes or welding theme and response." This approach, he says, "gives a clear sense of structure, a resonance of call and response reminiscent at once of liturgy and of casual dialogue" (22). Larsen's specific use of it as "two interlocked Cycles" was: 

"inspired by a classic quilt pattern, represent self-reinforcing traumas of past and present. Concurrently, links between cycles create a “quilted” counterpoint that represents the interplay of memory and action; the counterpoint, like quilt stitching, distorts the cycles while holding them in place." (Bernstein 23)

The original title for the work, "locked images," captures the notion of the two cycles of violence in which the main character is locked. [11] 

"Interlocked's" opening screen reads: “False memories always.” Clicking on it takes readers to the rest of the sentence: “Turn into reality.” This statement serves as a warning to a story whose memories and reality involve the nightmare of incest. The first lexia, “Becomes,” wastes no time introducing the “sordid” scenario: 

Your room has no door. You try to pull the blankets over you, but you know that they, too, will be tossed aside . . . . You twist under the flood of memories he has told you are not real. Your arms tie themselves to the bedpost and you weave the wait for paid into your soul. (“Becomes”)

Clicking on the link, “he has told,” takes readers to an untitled lexia that reads: “He doesn’t know why it happened that way.” This lexia suggests that the man has not only been gaslighting the child but also feigns ignorance about the reality of his sickness. “Why” takes readers to the lexia, “Resolved,” a lexia whose words are all expressed in red and recounts the time the man “grabbed into [her] wrists” and told her that “[t]he easiest way to keep something is to touch it.” The text associated with him are italicized as a way of distinguishing his voice. One of three hyperlinks, “I am doomed,” takes readers to a lexia whose words are all expressed in blue: “What I need to know.” This lexia suggests the sexualization of the child: “The fire seeps under the rug, knowing every part of my back. His hands follow.” The second hyperlink returns to “Resolved.” "Under the rug" goes to the lexia, “Terror,” where the man tells the child: “Just lie quietly and wait for me.” “Just lie quietly” takes readers to the lexia “what i feel,” a lexia that is completely empty of text, emphasizing perhaps to readers the way he indeed makes her feel like nothing. Clicking anywhere on it goes back to “Terror,” where readers can follow the second hyperlink to the lexia, “Waiting.” While the use of the narrator’s 2nd person point of view, “your” and “you,” in the lexia “Becomes” may have seemed a coping mechanism the child uses to shift the experience away from herself as a way of disassociating from the trauma, we later learn that she may also be simply repeating the man’s words to her. Thus, the gaslighting the man does has worked on the child because in this lexia, expressed in blue, she says that “[t]he pain is nothing,” I tell myself. Only your imagination.” This hyperlink goes to “the images,” whose words are expressed in red: “The soft hot leather of the cat-of-nine-tails he promised not to use and did anyway.” At this juncture readers may wonder about who “he” is. Is the narrator still the child we met earlier or is it now an adult who has never been able to move away from the childhood trauma? Later, in the lexia, “After,” readers encounter the narrator when she is older and living in San Francisco. She is starting a relationship with someone who seems frustrated with her reticence for intimacy: “It’s high time you learned . . . . You’re twenty-five and you still haven’t. . . .” The hyperlink, however, reminds readers that she did indeed learn a lot: “I learned everything from my father” (“Lessons”); “learned everything” returns readers to “After.” “[D]id anyway” goes to the lexia, “Just,” expressed in red where readers see the italicized words of the man, “Just hold still. Relax into me for once. Don’t be so tight.” This second hyperlink takes readers to “your soul” where they encounter the words in red: “You will never be anything more than what he wanted.” “He wanted” goes to the lexia, “and open it,” that reads in very large red letters: Your room has no door.” There are no hyperlinks associated with this lexia, and everywhere readers click takes them back to the opening lexia, "Interlocked," that reads, “False memories always.” As Susanna Tosca points out, "This is a story of incest from the past locking up the present" (Hipertula).

"Caught Out"
Entering the hypertext, "Caught Out," readers encounter an image of a quilt block and the words, "Once you break this . . . you have to piece it together." Clicking on the image takes readers to a second lexis, "Caught it," that completes the sentence: "or pay for it yourself." Because "or" is presented as a different shade of blue than the other words, it may assumed that it is a hyperlink. Clicking on it indeed moves readers quickly into a chaotic scene of "[c]lerks  . . . running from everywhere" and "the air scream[ing]" at the narrator. The reference to a "hologram" suggests a story rooted in science fiction or fantasy ("Under a rock"). Choosing among the first of three hyperlinks, readers encounter three paths: 

Path 1: “Birds eat crumbs.” goes to the lexia, “backroom”
Path 2: “Cars sweep over stones.” goes to the lexia, “*”
Path 3: “And something will eat” goes to no lexia; it is null

Selecting the second path leads to the question, “What’s the matter with this kid, anyway?” Following “What’s” takes readers to yet another series of paths:

Path 1: “$$$$$$$$$$$$$” goes to the lexia, “backroom”
Path 2: “Sometimes I just drop” goes to the lexia, “Thin air”
Path 3: “all the pieces until” goes to the lexia, “Under a rock”
Path 4: “I can’t find them anymore” goes to the lexia, “Their way”

As with the hypertexts contained within Samplers, the names of the paths read together present a narrative within the larger narrative. The words of these four paths taken together suggests a sense of loss.

Choosing the fourth path, readers are taken to a lexia provides more information about the chaotic scene encountered earlier: an unaccompanied child has broken items in the store, and now the store personnel are taking steps to find the parent, bring in social services to take over the well-being of the child, whom the manager views as “severely disturbed,” and file an insurance claim in order to “recover some of the damages” caused by the child. There are no hyperlinks found in this lexia, and no arrow can be found on the navigation bar. It has been suggested that “the story structure locks [readers] in or out.” [12] One strategy for continuing the story is to navigate the work via the various other views––Map, Chart, Outline, Tree––all of which lay bare the possible lexias to visit. 

Selecting the Map view, for example, readers can visit “Inside the rods” and follow the narrator as they walk into the shop and “look at the dark space inside this silver box with the top open.” They “find a stepstool so [they] can see under the light. . . . Until suddenly there they are.” Jumping over to “Missing,” readers find the narrator commenting that “[t]he only thing missing was the sound” and learn “kittens” whose “fur was all perfect, combed out with each little hair” has been discovered in the box. The narrator continue to explain, “You could even see the bulges where their breath was supposed to be . . . . I reached in to pull them out by the paws.” “Maybe” helps to flesh out the story of the strange kittens and the disturbed child: The narrator recounts that “[m]aybe I didn’t kill the kittens when I tried to pull them out of that empty box. . . . Maybe if they put me in there instead, I will crown out the kittens. That would kill us for sure.” “Can’t get out” also helps to connect the dots: The child finds the kittens “stuck in this silver box thing. The box was empty . . . [b]ut they were there anyway. . . . They have their paws up to me, begging.” The hologram readers encountered earlier starts to shed light on the phenomenon the child describes. In the lexia, “nothing here,” the child figures out the kittens really do not exist but instead is similar to “just air and light and stuff––the same way with people on tv.” In “come back” the narrator knows that her antics will bring the “cops and the judge” into the situation, particularly since the authorities will be not able to “find [the narrator’s] parents. They imagine the punishment for letting the kittens out will be for the narrator to be put into “one of those silver boxes and be nothing but air,” but they vow not to be caught and become “a tv picture stuck in anything” (“Well if”). “Thin air” takes readers to the moment when the narrator confesses that they “turned too quickly” and broke the box “into little silver bits . . . all over the floor,” causing the kittens to be “gone.” Captured by the store staff, the child is placed “in the back room while [the staff] went out to look for [their] mamma.” Because the child will not tell where the mother is, readers learn the narrator believes that they will be held “for a long time.” More afraid of “a bunch of big boys” than the police, the narrator tries to imagine what it would be like in the box, “trapped forever in that other space,” and asks, “What did happen to those damn kittens” (“But what if”). In the lexia, “For Real,” the narrator states with much assurance, “I know they’ll never come.” With their imagination running wild, the narrator wonders if “some of them went and called the newspapers and the mayor and everyone like that. What if they were making advertisements and specials and everything” (“What if”).

Reading the story via the Map view nets readers a peek into the mind of an independent and highly imaginative child making sense of the world around them, from vowing to fight the store staff to explaining the phenomenon of a hologram. Readers never learn where the parents are or what ultimately happens to the child, but the resiliency and confidence the child exhibits reflect their ability to get passed this problem and others that will come.

"Conventions" is a story about two friends, Leah and Claire, a young Jewish woman and a nun, respectively, who though have taken different paths in their lives, maintain their friendship over years through secret letters and an eventual reunion. In a story about a nun, the title––rendered on the interface as "Convent     ions"––puns on the notion of the convent, the place where Claire has lived her life, but it also signifies the traditions placed upon all of our lives and that we follow sometimes without question. The work was originally titled "Sailing Ships," [13] reminiscent of the idea of two ships passing in the night, which certainly captures the challenge the women face in staying in touch.

The first lexia that greets readers signals the source material for the plot: Rita Kiefer’s book, Unveiling. [14] The introduction reads: “Fadings and fates and flowers and female, all of the F words. Little ferris wheel friend, what did you know of fate . . . .”  

To enter the story, readers can click on any of the 12 hyperlinks found in the introduction. “Fate,” for example, goes to two paths:

Path 1: “betrayed, that/” goes to the lexia, “Naming Leah 1”
Path 2: “Blurred./” goes to the lexia, “Naming Claire 1”

Following the first of these takes readers to the lexia that explains how Leah received her name. Told in 2nd person point of view, Leah learns from her mother that the name had originally belonged to four other relatives, three of which had disappeared: Her aunt who may or may not have survived the “camps,” her great aunt who ran away with a “seaman,” and a “wanderer whom no one speaks of.” Only her grandmother’s grandmother whose recipe for “challah” that everyone still uses remained. Clicking on the hyperlink, “an old custom,” takes readers to the second path. It seems that Claire also was named by someone else, Mother Superior, who chose “Mary Therese” to replace Claire's birth name. Clicking on “Mother Superior,” readers learn that the ceremony that completes Claire’s entry into the convent and see her “wed Christ” is the next day. Distraught over the pressure she feels from her family about becoming a nun, she ventures to the “pond” and contemplates why she must “sweat and sacrifice to meditate constantly on the Lord?”

Following the link, “My mother,” takes readers to two paths:

Path 1: “aunt Leah’s challah,” goes to the lexia, “Naming Claire 1”
Path 2: “her family said.” goes to the lexia, “Dear Leah, 9/75”

The second path is a letter from Claire to Leah that further explains the pressure Claire feels about becoming a nun. Her mother especially pushes her to enter the convent early “[f]or the Glory of God,” but also because there is no room for her in their modest home. Readers also learn that Leah had once attended the convent school and had left. In fact, it is where the two became lifelong friends. One of the hyperlinks found on this lexia, “Need to be purified,” goes to “Naming Claire 1,” a lexia where readers learn Claire’s disdain for the birth name her parents “chose for [her].” It “shaped . . . expectations,” instilling in her “the power of humility,” and “giv[ing] [her] a saint to follow, a feast day to remember.” She continues, “They did not ask you if you wanted this.” “Your own name.”

Other letters between the two friends can be found in this hypertext. In fact, much of the stories recounted about the two women are told via letters. “Dear Leah 4/77” relays Claire’s frustration with convent life. She is not allowed to speak to anyone except for Sister Annuncia, her “novice mistress,” whom she does not like. “Dear Leah 12/80” tells of Claire’s loneliness for Leah, who comes to represent freedom and adventure. She writes to Leah, “By now you have been, I think to China, Japan, India, Thailand. You write travelogues with your husband. You dance nights I a darkened bar, kicking your legs high like you always said you would do.”

The story thus follows the two women through their friendship, as difficult as it has been to stay connected because of the convention required of the nuns to cloister themselves from the outside world. “Dear Claire, 9/81” reveals that, though Claire is not allowed to see Leah when the friend visits the convent, the two women concoct a plan to share letters by “[w]rapping” [them] in [a] plastic bookcover” and leaving them in a tree. Leah tells Claire in the letter that she completed a college degree in English and was thinking about teaching abroad in Japan. In the letter “Dear Claire, 5/82,” readers learn that Leah’s life is not one of exciting adventures but rather danger. Two months earlier while living in Japan she was raped, and instead of the man being picked up for assault, she was (“Dear Claire, 3/82). She admits that she had “[come] to see [Claire] again” and had asked Sister Annuncia if she could stay at the convent so that she “could be safe.” The nun however rejects Leah's request simply saying, “We will pray for you, my child.” In “Dear Claire, 10/83” Leah recounts her life to Claire: She is working as a waitress not far from the “cloister” where Claire lives and is being pushed by her mother “to use [her] degree, find a husband, and settle down.” She also reveals that unlike the other “strong” Leahs in her family, she is “weak.” In the last letter, “Dear Claire 5/85,” Leah asks Claire if she is still “strong enough to pray.” 

They finally reunite in the story. The four lexias recounting this moment fast forward readers five years past their last letter. Leah shows up at the convent to attend the 20th class reunion hoping to catch of glimpse of Claire, but she does not see her friend walking around the cloister (“reunion 1”). So, Leah heads to the cemetery to wait for Claire. Her friend, who has always been afraid of the place, shows up (“reunion 2”). The two women “clasped hands." Readers are told that Claire’s is “dry and musty, like clothes put up on a high shelf for too many years." Leah tells her friend that she was glad Claire remained safe at the convent, that “nothing had ever happened to [her].” Claire, whose “sighs sounded like the grass rustling in the shy wind” admits that “nothing ever happened to [her]” there at the convent and that she “never [found] joy in contemplation.” Leah recounts her own tribulations: She has been working in a bookstore and “still living at home” (“reunion 3”). Their reunion continues with Claire expressing dismay over Leah’s life. She had hoped her letters would have instilled some lessons in her friend that would help her follow a different path. Claire then “slipped away . . . even her shadow had disappeared.” When Leah looks down at the graves before her, she spots one for Claire who had died on March 10, 1990. 

"Devil’s Claws”
The opening lexia of "Devil's Claws" shows the quilt block of the same name with the words, “Whereas the party of the first being of sound mind does hereby bequeath, bestow and provide until the party of the second part, being perhaps also of mind and stout body these his only true worldly possessions and protectors for the sole benefit of the party of the second part  . . . .”

The story centers on the legacy of two clay masks left to Dora, the daughter of a dying man, whose family, the “Carnovs,” had migrated to America before the American Revolution. The letter the man leaves Dora provides advice for how to avoid the family curse the masks carry: She “must swear to be a sober hard worker and to faithfully tend the family estate.” He then lays down the “traditional curse: “If your lands do not prosper, may the masks devour all those around you" (“The letter”). The hypertext, like the quilt block design, has two main sections. They are delineated in the story as "Mother" and "Masks," both of which contain six lexias. The lexias associated with “Mother” are written in prose and recount the havoc the masks cause from the point of view of Dora's mother. Those associated with "Masks" are written as lines of poetry from the perspective of Dora, who is writing after the events from the mental hospital.

Readers learn of the havoc the masks create from the lexias associated with "Mother." From the beginning it is revealed that Dora's mother holds little hope for the “flighty little creature” since “the masks were far too much for [Dora] to handle.” Strict with the girl, the mother also “took [Dora] off [the family’s] insurance. Whether it is a self-fulfilling prophecy or outrageous expectations placed on the girl by her parents, Dora indeed is not successful with the masks. Houses are damaged (“Mother 3”); cars are “eaten at one gulp” and entire cases of expensive champagne “demolished” (“Mother 4”), and "nine" people die. The hope is for Dora to be able to pled “not guilty by reason of insanity (“Mother 6”).

The six lexias associated with "Masks" has Dora explaining rom her hospital bed the havoc the masks have caused her (“Mask 1”). Her explanation calls into question the excuse that the masks were behind the troubles. She admits that:

“I contended in court
that the cheerleading squad
shouldn’t have screamed that way
and why weren’t they at a
football game or something
instead of sipping cokes with Max?” (“Masks 5”).

Thus Dora shows a lack of compassion for and sorrow about the deeds. The lexia, “Aftermath,” relates Dora fate in court: The judge does not believe that the cursed masks to be the cause of the trouble and he cannot let Dora off without penalty. Finding her criminally insane, he sends her to the mental hospital. She tells her mother when the woman brings Dora “candy and home-baked cookies” that the “masks seem particularly fond of chocolate chips.” The final lexia, “Assurances,” has Dora reporting that the masks have returned to her “peacefully” and “insist on staying over [her] bed in the hospital even though the “nurses throw them out once and a while.” 

Reading the hypertext non-sequentially weaves the two stories together. Clicking on “Mother 1,” readers find that the hyperlink, “I took her off my insurance,” takes them to “Mask 4,” where Dora reports the events surrounding the destruction of the cars and champagne. The hyperlink, “masks would stop,” returns readers to “Mother 1,” where they can choose the second hyperlink, “And yet that didn’t help much.” This link takes readers to “Masks 2,” where Dora talks about the masks' eating frenzy “behind the fish shops” and the “flower shop.” Thus, this reading juxtaposes the mother’s angry reports, expressed in bold-faced typeface, of her daughter’s lack of responsible action with the masks against Dora’s calm poetic commentary, expressed in regular typeface. Taken together, the lend humor to the story and balances the mother’s version with the daughter’s. Both are telling truth as they know it.

Critical Reception
Eastgate Systems, Inc. promoted the work as, “Nine richly imagined works make up this sampler quilt of hypertext. Stories of spirits returned to haunt the living, of memories that stubbornly refuse to fade, and of children far wiser than their parents.” Tosca at Hipertula says that it is a "surprising achievement in hypertext fiction....Deena Larsen shows a mastery of very different styles through the nine short fictions and a remarkable ability to build characters and atmospheres, but the best of Samplers is the deep understanding of how to structure fiction."  Leo Flores says in his essay published in Hyperrhiz 11, “Deena Larsen’s Metaphorical Interfaces,” that “[e]ach story in this collection is its own little hypertext pattern, its own design block, and each design block offers her a writing constraint (see figure 3). The map of just one of Larsen's stories show how much attention she dedicates to developing the structure of her hypertext works. An as you might imagine, reading the stories in Samplers will lead you to discover links between the stories that stitch the blocks into a coherent narrative sampler quilt.” Lori Emerson reminds us in her book, Reading Writing Interfaces, that Larsen “exploit[ed] a bug in Storyspace 1.2C that produces a screen requiring the reader to choose between two writing spaces after they hit Enter.” This allowed readers to both follow a default story line and “be forced to choose at key ventures” in the story (Larsen, qtd in Emerson). In her essay, "Honeycomb Patterns: Interweaving Texts, Bodies, Voices," Carolyn Guertin, classifies the work as feminist for the way it "privileg[es] subjectivity and mak[es] explicit its own ruptures." Tosca, returning to the work for her essay, "The Lyrical Quality of Links," says that:

“Samplers is also an example of the use of structures with an aesthetic end, as the patterns (that we can see with the Storyspace map) give clues about the meaning that each story explores. Another interesting feature of this hypertext is the poetic use of the “Links” dialogue box, as it contains path descriptions for each link that form poems on their own. This ‘independent’ lyrical quality of links (considered apart from the departure/arrival texts) could also be exploited in the kind of link-destination preview mechanism described in Zelleger et al.” 217-8

The work remains one of the only anthologies of hypertextual writing for the Storyspace environment and the one that explores most thoroughly the breath of opportunity that hypertext and the soft program Storyspace offer literary artists for structuring multi-linear narratives. For these reasons, Samplers can be considered one of the best works of the period and joins Marble Springs as one of the best Larsen has produced.


[1] The Deena Larsen Collection managed by the Electronic Literature Organization holds a letter that Larsen sent Eastgate Systems, Inc. on October 30, 1994 that verifies that she is submitting “nine short hypertext as part of the serial publication started with Marble Springs, published 11/15/94.” The title Samplers is not mentioned. It's worth noting that the idea grew out of Marble Springs and that Larsen cites the publication date of that work to be 1994.

[2] A photograph of objects representing the objects in Samplers contains on the backside in Larsen’s hand the caption, “Deena poster for HT 95 . . . the whole thing said structure forms navigation and meaning, showed Samplers for the 1st time.”

[3] A second letter that accompanied the one dated October 30, 1994, mentioned above, shows that Kathryn Cramer served as the first editor of Samplers. The letter dated May 29, 1997 from Diane Greco verifies that she had taken over the editorial work by the time Samplers was released. The list of changes Greco suggested to the work, amounting to three pages, shows the detailed approach and care she put into her position.

[4] The letter of October 30, 1994, alludes to an early version Larsen produced in Storyspace 1.3, a version of the program was lacking a “default text bug” that made it possible for readers “to choose where to go next,” which she wanted to see put back into the program.

[5] The essay, "Honeycomb Patterns: Interweaving Texts, Bodies, Voices" by Carolyn Guertin, identifies the quilt blocks found in Samplers, citing them as Mystic Knot, Crossed Ends, Seed Voices, Century Cross, Firewheel, Interlocked, Caught Out, Structures and Devil's Claws. Note that the essay lists an early title of the hypertext "Conversations" as "Structures." See

[6] Personal notes that Larsen provides shows a page divided into nine sections, each featuring a title, a description, and many times a hand-drawn image. This early planning document still identifies one of the hypertexts as “Conversations,” which she later changes to “Seed Voices.” A page of notebooks shows Seed Voices named “seedy voices.” As she says when she "workshopped Samplers at the Northern Colorado Writers Workshop (Ed Bryant and Connie Willis and others), they thought "Structures" was too boring and "Seedy Voices" too misleading. "Conventions" was originally called “July 7, or 7/7” (Personal email, 29 October 2019).

[7] This quote comes directly from Larsen’s notebook that she used for planning the work. The notebook resides in The Deena Larsen Collection held by the ELO.

[8] See Susana Tosca's insightful review of Samplers at Hipertula

[9] On October 20, 2019, Bernstein responding to Grigar’s Twitter about the Samplers’ structure, Bernstein stated, “But that’s the least interesting part of the structure! Century Cross much more interesting.”

[10] The letter dated June 28, 1994 from Bernstein to Larsen acknowledges Bernstein’s acceptance of “Firewheel,” one of the nine hypertexts. He gives her advice for adding guard fields and reminds her that there are only eight colors for Storyspace boxes.

[11] A folder of images in ELO's The Deena Larsen Collection Larsen produced for Samplers shows "locked images" as the title of this hypertext.  

[12] The folder of images in ELO's The Deena Larsen Collection Larsen produced for Samplers also shows "Sailing Ships" as the title of this hypertext.  

[13] Larsen made this comment during her interview for the Traversals.

[14] Larsen misspells the author’s name in the introduction to "Conventions," writing it “Keifer.” In her notes, however, it is spelled correctly.

Works Cited

Bernstein, Mark. "Letter to Deena Larsen." 28 June 1994. The Deena Larsen Collection. Electronic Literature Organization Archives.

---. "Patterns of Hypertext." Proceedings of the ninth ACM conference on Hypertext and hypermedia. Hypertext '98. ACM. 21-29. doc: 10.1145/276627.276630.

Greco, Diane. "Letter to Deena Larsen." 29 May 1997. The Deena Larsen Collection. Electronic Literature Organization Archives.

"hyper_text: Explorations in electronic literature presented in collaboration with the Electronic Literature Organization." Hammer Calendar. UCLA Hammer Museum Winter 2004. The Armand Hammer Museum of Art and Cultural Center. Los Angeles, CA. 9.

Larsen, Deena. "Letter to Mark Bernstein." 30 October 1994. The Deena Larsen Collection. Electronic Literature Organization Archives.

---. "A Stitch in Time Saves Nine: An Introduction." Samplers: Nine Vicious Little Hypertexts. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, Inc. 1997. 13-15.

---. "The Trickster, or, How I Learned to Love the Bomb: Reading 'Century Cross.'" The Eastgate Quarterly Review of Hypertext Volume 2, Number 2, Winter 1995. Watertown, MA: Eastgate Systems, Inc. 1995. 15-16.

Tosca, Susana. "Review of Deena Larsen's Samplers." Hipertula

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