Article by Marcia Darnell
Local Publishing – February 1995 – Colorado Central Magazine
Let’s say a few dedicated people in your community decide to band together to do good. They join forces in a volunteer project aimed at promoting art and culture in the area. Sounds great so far. No payroll, no government, only altruistic motives.
What could go wrong?
Chaos: the Crestone Literary Review, was born of such lofty goals in late 1992. David Nicholas, founder and owner of the publication, gathered friends and neighbors into an editorial advisory board to publish and promote writers in the San Luis Valley. (Nicholas also owns MediaChaos Publishing, a separate company which handles books.)
In the beginning, Chaos was to be a quarterly publication. Literary submissions were sent to Nicholas, the editor, who scanned them into his computer (sans names) and distributed copies to the editorial board members, who read each piece and rated it on a scale of one to five. The pieces garnering the highest ratings went into the review, which Nicholas laid out and printed.
The original editorial board consisted of Nicholas, Christina Nealson, Larry Edwards, Lynn Lunde (who relocated), Harriet Johns, Paula Brooks, Margot Williams, and Richard Johnston, all of Crestone.
But now that board is in disarray, with only David Nicholas and Margot Williams remaining. Edwards resigned in January of 1993. And since then, the others have resigned, many because of disputes with Nicholas.
Today, accusations and allegations abound.
Some board members blame Nicholas for the literary review’s difficulties. They cite problems with Nicholas not answering calls, sending unapproved correspondence on behalf of the board, neglecting correspondence, not returning manuscripts, and disregarding members’ ratings of submissions.
Others believe the problems were personal.
“Perhaps the biggest problem that the magazine had,” Williams said, “was allowing board members to submit material for publication. I said right off the bat that while I wag on the board I would never submit anything for publication because I considered it a conflict of interest. A lot of the things that subsequently happened came from people feeling slighted or injured,” she said.
“I think as in any small town, sometimes there are personal issues between people,” said Williams, “and as in other small towns, unfortunately, the parties did not resolve the issues between themselves, but went all over town talking about the other person. I think that’s basically what happened here.”
Johnston agrees. “It was entirely personal animosities — which may be justified — from origins other than the magazine. I’ve probably worked closer with David Nicholas than anyone else,” he continued, “and I’ve seen nothing in my experiences that justified [what has happened].”
Another point of contention was that Nicholas began reaching out to other artistic communities, like Telluride, Taos and Santa Fé, when the original intent was to focus on the San Luis Valley.
“Chaos was supposed to promote regional writers and encourage young people to write,” Johns said. “Later, that was not the emphasis. It took away from what the magazine could contribute to the valley.”
“We should have sat down and made a formal vision statement,” Williams said. “When you start something on a casual, social level, you don’t foresee what might occur down the road, and you have nothing to refer to.”
But Nicholas contends that “Visions change.”
WHATEVER THE REASONS, the problems mounted and discontent grew among the board members, until several of them decided that their problems needed to be brought out into the open.
The big showdown came last Oct. 16, with a meeting of the editorial board. But several members of the board met before that day, without Nicholas, to decide how to approach him.
Views of those meetings vary wildly.
Williams said the conference before the board meeting had the air of a “witch hunt.”
Johnston, who did not attend the October 16 pre-meeting conference, said many of the issues raised, “in my opinion, had nothing to do with the magazine.”
Nicholas termed the meeting “an attack.”
Williams contends that concerns were aired, but says “some were legitimate, and some I felt were ready quite fabricated.” The legitimate complaints, she said, involved “minor” issues such as correspondence not being forwarded regularly.
“We mentioned specific complaints,” Johns said. “David was in denial that there were any problems.” She described the atmosphere as “tense. There wasn’t any screaming or pounding on tables. Problems were presented, but it was like throwing a pebble in a hole. There was no response.”
“I walked out of the meeting thinking everything had been aired,” Nealson said, “but nothing was resolved because David wouldn’t cop to anything. He thought everything he did was justified.”
Brooks agreed. “None of the issues were resolved.” She resigned soon after that meeting.
Nealson and Johns also decided to resign from the board.
Johnston said he resigned because he “got overloaded. I had more than I could handle and do a good job.” But he said he hopes to help with the publication in the future.
Now, however, that future is the subject of further debate. Nealson believes there is none. “The collapse of Chaos was the inevitable result of a fairly long line of abuses by its founder,” said Nealson. “I consider it a very sad loss to the valley.”
Williams, on the other hand, has faith in the future of the magazine. “I think there will be a restructuring of the board, but it will continue.”
In spite of their problems, however, there is one thing that everyone on the editorial board agreed on, and that’s the quality of the magazine. The consensus among the original board members is that they did good work and aren’t sorry they got involved.
“For a bunch of people who were basically volunteers,” Williams said, “the quality of the product was nothing short of a miracle.”
“I’m very proud of Chaos,” Nicholas said. “I’m very proud of what we’ve achieved.”
But while the board struggled with personal and work-related problems, for readers the major problem with Chaos has been its production schedule. As it was conceived in late 1992, Chaos was a quarterly publication, available by subscription. But to date only four issues have been printed, and issue number four came out last summer.
The future of the Crestone Literary Review remains to be seen, but Chaos was granted non-profit status by the Internal Revenue Service in December, and Nicholas says he will form a new board.
Johnston noted that when he left, Chaos had enough material for another issue, and, according to Williams, the next meeting of the editorial board is tentatively set for March. Nicholas said the next issue will be produced in February.
SO WHAT’S THE MORAL for your own group of cultural crusaders?
Well, in the long run, work is work, whether it’s for profit or for love. And therefore, before getting involved, volunteers should realize that their altruistic motives and dedication will undoubtedly lead them into tedious meetings, inevitable bickering, and numerous thankless, repetitive tasks. Most volunteers do feel the benefits exceed the travails, however.
On the other hand, like many of the projects being taken on by volunteer committees today, the establishment of Chaos called for a technically demanding, long-term venture. Such ventures, be they publications, theaters, or art guilds, frequently end up understaffed and behind schedule — with just a few devotees putting in a lot of time.
Thus, crusaders who are not sure they want to embark on a course that might prove as challenging as a trek to the Holy Lands, might do well to consider simpler undertakings, one-time projects, or volunteering their time toward well-established organizations and charities.
Marcia Darnell recently quit her day job as a copy editor for a newspaper in Alamosa.