Tao Lin Wins His Own Contest and Refuses to Refund the Entry Fee Money to the Other Contestants
People are pissed down in Brooklyn.

Author Tao Lin's "Muumuu House" publishing company has been accused of embezzling the prize money for its recent short story contest after allowing the editor of Muumuu House (Lin) to win the contest (and the other contestants' entry fee money) when Lin entered the contest with a short story submitted in his girlfriend's name.

The contest, run by Muumuu House poet and blogger Brandon Scott Gorrell, cost seven dollars to enter and the rules were that Gorrell would choose the story he liked best. Gorrell chose a story called "Seven-Day Carribean Cruise," by Sarah Schneider, a story that was revealed to actually be written by Lin soon after being announced. Michael Hemmingson (who runs the "Hemmingson Review of Contemporary Literature" blog) brought this fact to light after Schneider had already received her congratulations.

After some initial prevarication, such as commenting on his own story and calling it "sweet," Lin admitted that he entered the contest under false pretenses, but offered no formal apology.

Baffled, confused, and feeling cheated, many contestants complained about the unfairness of Gorrell's choice, and Lin issued the following eight reasons for his actions:

"1. i knew that if brandon chose a story by 'tao lin' to win there would be a massive shitstorm; i knew that brandon knew that, and that it would cause him to feel indecision and worry if i submitted and he liked my story the most

2. i knew that if 'tao lin' won the contest a medium-large or large percentage of people would assume some kind of 'scam' had occurred, even if one had not occurred, due to brandon following his guidelines

3. if sarah won the contest it would be more interested, 'fun,' and 'exciting' for both me and sarah (and everyone else, i feel), to 'see what happens' and 'what people say' and 'what people say about the story,' etc.

4. if sarah won the contest it would promote her blog, damphotos.tumblr,com, and the rest of her internet presence; if i won the contest the effect on my internet presence would be minimal, except that many people would automatically assume or believe that brandon and i had 'scammed' people (despite brandon working ~20 to ~40 hours to 'earn' $90)

5. i wanted to win the $100-$200 i thought i could win from the contest (i currently have ~$1300 in my checking account), and i thought that to have someone else submit would allow brandon to more easily follow his guidelines, which was to pick the story he liked the most as the winner, and if he did that i would have a slightly better chance at winning, i felt, because my 'tao lin' name would not interfere in any way (ways stated in reasons above)

6. sarah and i would 'bond' more if she won the contest

7. the internet would seem funnier and 'happier' to me if sarah won the contest, in ways that would cause life to seem 'more amusing'

8. it would be interesting for me to read brandon's essay on a story i had written that he didn't know i had written"

These are all fine, interesting, selfish reasons, but they have not been satisfying to people seeking an apology or explanation.

Could the same person seeking to avoid the "shitstorm" he foresaw if he were to win his own contest not foresee the "shitstorm" that would occur if he won his own contest by entering under his girlfriend's name, damaging her reputation as a person who (a) can't win on her own merits and (b) is willing to serve as a puppet for her famous boyfriend?

Has Lin been writing anything else for her? Perhaps other creative or academic work?

Questions like these will haunt anyone caught employing a ghostwriter. Even James Patterson occasionally gives attribution and pays for the work that he solicits.

Why did NOT entering this contest occur to Lin? Or coming clean as soon as his story was chosen as the victor, instead of making his friend Gorrell appear to be a complicit dupe with very limited artistic judgment, calling into question the entire editorial agenda at Muumuu House and making them look more like some kind of charismatic cult than people actually interested in new voices and new points of view?

Gorrell defends his decision to let Sarah keep her title and the prize money here in a video:

state of the blogosphere 2009 from lydia davis on Vimeo.

While in this video Gorrell appears to be faking extreme mental illness, such severe emotional and mental handicaps are generally only considered mitigating factors in a criminal trial, and there are plenty of people in prison with similar pathologies.

The most benign thing that can be said about this contest is that a bunch of people got in over their heads by trying to be cute and clever and accidentally screwed a bunch of people over.

Hell, we've all been there.

If this is the case, however, Muumuu House should apologize and seek to repair lost goodwill by choosing a different winner, refunding the money, or turning over judgment of this contest to someone more qualified.

It's possible, however, that this was a deliberate ploy to defraud gullible Muumuu House fans, and if Gorrell, Lin, and others at Muumuu House maintain their current line about this contest, they will have a difficult time getting people to trust them in the future.

Would you give your rights to a publishing house that finds nothing wrong with defrauding its own fans?

"I think that this contest was kind of the equivalent to that nasty uncle who says 'Hey, gimme that quarter, I'll show you a magic trick' and then he chuckles and slaps you on the back of the head and says 'Now you know!' And you don't get your quarter back," said "Elisa," a contributor to the blog "Memorandoms."

I think this contest was slightly more misguided. Your evil uncle does not also want you to buy his next book and he would think you were a goddamn fool if you gave him another quarter.

Full disclosure: I did not enter this contest and I have never read anything by Tao Lin, including this short story. I tried to read the first paragraph and gave up.


The veracity of this article has been called into question by both Tao Lin and Brandon Gorrell instead of issuing an apology or addressing the claims.

Allow me to explain. I am a blunt person and I try to get to the heart of things without "feels" or "seems." This is how I avoid being a pathological liar while still spending most of my time writing fiction. I recommend it to anyone who has problems with the question "is anything real?"

Claim #1: "This was a contest run by Brandon Gorrell and not Muumuu House."

While technically true, Gorrell is an editor at Muumuu House and perhaps the only other person who works for this company besides Sarah Schneider (evidently an intern), and Tao Lin -- all of whom have profited from this competition. Additionally, in promoting this contest Gorrell issued the following proclamation on May 7th:

"*CONTEST UPDATE RE: MUUMUU HOUSE* ever wonder how to get published by muumuu house? if you win the contest, your chances of getting noticed by muumuu house increase! *CONTEST UPDATE RE: MUUMUU HOUSE*"

To solidify the "in-all-but-name" relationship between Gorrell and Muumuu House, first prize in this contest (in addition to the cash) was a lifetime subscription to Muumuu House.

Unless Muumuu House is purely reflexive with the identity "Tao Lin," the only other person that Muumuu House includes is "Brandon Scott Gorrell," and everybody knows this who entered this contest, which is why one contestant who does not feel cheated has stated that they consider the seven dollars they have lost to be a "donation to Muumuu House."

The "bait and switch" is the most common and dull form of confidence game.

Additionally, Gorrell claims that no one mentioned the possibility that his "guidelines" could be a problem, despite issuing this proclamation on May 11th:

"*important* i have received a question about this contest which i would like to address publicly. the question was "the contest isn't rigged, is it?'

the answer is "i am going to choose the winning story based on how much i 'enjoyed' reading it. whichever story produces the most 'enjoyment' will win. i feel unsure how you can rig this contest. you can rig slot machines. seems like you couldn't 'rig' something like this, 'provided' you believe my claim that the winning story will be chosen based on my level of 'enjoyment' while reading it"

What Gorrell should say is that despite concerns that the contest could be a nightmare, he decided not to alter the guidelines because he thought nothing bad would happen, and he is sorry that people are now angry or upset that the worst case scenario came true, and that he learned a valuable lesson about the moral flexibility of his friend and his publisher.

Claim #2: "Tao Lin has agreed to refund the money."

Tao Lin has agreed to refund the money to anyone who ASKS. This is not the way to refund money, which is why there are such things as class action lawsuits. Most people are too timid to ask for a refund in a situation such as this, or they want to be smarter than the con artist, and say that they "intended to lose the money all along, just to see what would happen."

Tao Lin will still PROFIT, unless every single person asks for a refund. What he should do instead is recoup Gorrell for his effort, and take a loss for his poor judgment.

Additionally, the money was just part of the prize. What will Lin do with a lifetime subscription to his own publishing company, or books from his friends that he already owns?

Claim #3: "Lin didn't submit under his girlfriend's name: he ALLOWED his girlfriend to submit so that SHE could win the prize."

From Lin's list of reasons for why he did what he did, possibly drafted before he could hone his explanation:

"5. i wanted to win the $100-$200 i thought i could win from the contest (i currently have ~$1300 in my checking account), and i thought that to have someone else submit would allow brandon to more easily follow his guidelines, which was to pick the story he liked the most as the winner, and if he did that i would have a slightly better chance at winning, i felt, because my 'tao lin' name would not interfere in any way (ways stated in reasons above)"

He wanted to win this contest for the money and prizes and knew that he would not win under his own name because Gorrell would not pick him in order to avoid the situation that has actually occurred, because he knew that even Gorrell would not stick to his own guidelines and would probably pass over an actual Tao Lin story so that he could appear ethical and fair.

I believe that Gorrell is an ethical and fair person. I admire him for sticking to his guns and defending his friend, his contest, and his guidelines. However, I think in this case, Lin should be equally admirable, come to his friend's rescue, and graciously refund the money or turn down the prize entirely and pass it to the runner-up.


I do regret my error in wording regarding the above matters. If I had known that the principals in question would respond by attacking my truthfulness, I would have made sure to be very goddamn specific about the problems at hand. Dr. Future has done this for me because I am very, very angry and don't want to say anything I would regret later.

While I was completely neutral on the subject of Tao Lin before, he has now accused me publicly of "creating unreality" and "saying whatever I want." I am not from the East Coast. I am not from the Midwest, nor California, Seattle, or the South. I am from Texas. I will try to forgive and forget, but it will be difficult for me, if not impossible.

This matter has not been settled properly or fairly, and I suspect this is because Muumuu House doesn't want to give the appearance of "satisfying their critics."

Don't worry. I will never be satisfied that this has been properly handled now, no matter what you do.

Posted by miracle on Tue, 26 May 2009 13:26:11 -0400 -- permanent link

The Gallery at LPR
158 Bleecker St., New York, NY
Tuesday, August 5th, 2014

All content c. 2008-2009 by the respective authors.

Site design c. 2009 by sweet sweet design