A few years ago, Laurel Walsh was dining with friend Sam Roloff and grousing about a Web site that had published one of her short stories along with a piece she found insultingly misogynistic.
"I was furious that my work would appear on the same page as virulently anti-female material," says Walsh, who holds an MFA from Hamline University. "So Sam asked a simple question, 'Why don't you start your own magazine?'"
Although Walsh didn't own an Internet-compatible computer at the time and claims she was "barely able to master email," she and Roloff -- who luckily had just opened a web design firm -- began to brainstorm ideas for an e-zine celebrating artists and writers from around the world.
The result was Double Dare Press (www.doubledare.com), a Web site loaded with provocative art, fiction, reviews and poetry. The site receives an average of 2,600 hits a day, with two-thirds of the visitors from outside North America.
Recently, Double Dare was awarded "Best of the Web" for writers in the London Telegraph, and 60,000 readers logged on in a single day. "I thought that our counter had broken," says Walsh.
Accessible content and non-mainstream art by emerging and unknown artists is of utmost importance. "I am allergic to art-snobbery and hate the fact that most magazines would rather publish terrible work from a known writer than great stuff from someone who is not," she says. "Our goal has been to be as inclusive as is humanly possible."
Double Dare has published talents from India to Romania, and features numerous regular contributors, including Suzanne Nielsen, a writer and teacher who pens the column "Cool Dead People," Sean McKenna, a movie reviewer who rates his film with piles of steaming dookie, and New Zealand DJ Dane Franklin who bangs out the music beat.
"These three have spent the last three years writing columns for no cash, making deadlines with no reward. I am so damn blessed to have them," says Walsh.
Walsh, who currently resides in St. Paul with her husband and two young children, lived in Milwaukee for five years and still visits regularly. "I used to tell people that I could not write if I was not in Milwaukee," she says. "It's a city that celebrates art and the effort to create. Other cities pale in comparison. Screw New York, you want to saturate yourself in creative energy, move to Milwaukee."
Here's more from OMC's interview with the witty Ms. Walsh:
OMC: How often does the content change on the site?
LW: We aim for monthly but due to unforeseen circumstances -- the month that I gave birth for example -- we have missed deadlines.
OMC: Will there ever be a hard copy version of DDP?
LW: In a perfect world, I envision a "Best of Double Dare" in all its glossy glory, but I really think that the Internet provides a beautiful opportunity for us to touch so many individuals. If you like what you see, you can browse back through the archives and look at every single painter that has presented their work in our virtual gallery. If you like a poet, the site is set up so that you can type in their name and see every piece that they ever presented. No hard copy version will give you that depth, that full, lucid interaction. I like us up and out there and not recycled and exhausted. The web is so alive with possibility.
OMC: What did you do after you left Milwaukee?
LW: I left Milwaukee the first time to move to London. I was nineteen. The next time I left, I went on a European tour with a bunch of my Milwaukee friends (Pete Hoeffle, Pauline Werkmeister, Jenna Perrin, Holly Monka, Kira Dahlk). I ended up living and teaching in Prague for two years. I met my husband there.
OMC: Ever get back to Milwaukee?
LW: I was just there last month and my jaw dropped to see how fancy Brady Street has become. The city keeps reinventing itself. La Fuente is like Chi-Chi's on steroids. I remember when you'd have another patron's rear-end resting on your shoulder while you enjoyed your chimichanga.
OMC: What Web publications inspired you to created DDP?
LW: I was an idiot when I set out. I had no clue what it meant to publish a magazine. I did not appreciate Salon and the rest until I was trying to present a monthly forum that mattered, now all online magazines impress the hell out of me.
OMC: What kind of writing do you do?
LW: Fiction mainly. I love to write memoir and poetry but my gift and my main sense of peace come from creating fiction.
OMC: How did you come up with the name "Double Dare?"
LW: I was looking for a name that suggested that we were not resuscitating tired material or that we had an agenda. When I was little, the double dare almost always involved confessed French kissing, licking the Tabasco cap or running naked through the backyard. Acts of extreme bravery and that is how I like my art, on the edge of what people are willing to do or admit or perform.
OMC: Is maintaining the site a full-time job? What else do you do for money?
LW: I am a stay-at-home mother of two who, up until three months ago, was a community college writing instructor in Seattle. We moved back to the Midwest and there are not a lot of teaching jobs here in St. Paul. The Web site is completely nonprofit and we refuse to take any advertising. I honestly would rather die than make Double Dare into a cash cow. Instead, I clean houses, conduct writing workshops and am blessed with an employed husband who makes ends meet.
OMC: How do you balance motherhood with work?
LW: I always said that I would never have children. (If you had meet the men I dated, you would have encouraged my stance.) Then, I met my husband, Steve, who is from New Zealand. He is my whole heart and having kids seemed logical. Our son was born while I was completing my Masters in Fine Arts program. My husband was nearly a single parent while I struggled to complete the degree, tutor and wait tables to pay tuition. Parenting is an art that I don't think one ever masters. Right now, I am staying at home with both kids and I feel blessed to have the opportunity to really soak them up. Being a parent is the best thing I have ever done in my life. I thought that I loved writing until I met my offspring. I love being a mother beyond description.
OMC: Anything else?
LW: Thanks to Sam whose patience and kindness and knowledge has let this all happen in the first place. It is not enough to have a dream. You need someone to believe it too and then to have them dare you to make it happen.
Check out Double Dare Press for yourself: www.doubledarepress.com
Molly Snyder started writing and publishing her work at the age 10, when her community newspaper printed her poem, "The Unicorn.” Since then, she's expanded beyond the subject of mythical creatures and written in many different mediums but, nearest and dearest to her heart, thousands of articles for OnMilwaukee.
Molly is a regular contributor to FOX6 News and numerous radio stations as well as the co-host of "Dandelions: A Podcast For Women.” She's received five Milwaukee Press Club Awards, served as the Pfister Narrator and is the Wisconsin State Fair’s Celebrity Cream Puff Eating Champion of 2019.