It’s all true

Jeff Miller makes the jump from zine to paperback

Jeff Miller pored through an archive of zines dating back to 1996 for this collection. Photo by Meqo Sam Cecil.

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

This article originally appeared in Volume 30, Issue 30, published April 13, 2010.