Now that we are more or less done with the significant unofficial project of the weekend, it’s back to work around the official blog and it’s time to wrap up some lingering textbook work and to get ready for the quickly approaching school year. My son starts third grade tomorrow; my wife starts various new faculty orientations on Wednesday; I have a department “retreat” on Thursday; I’m sure there are various meetings I haven’t remembered that I should attend next week; and classes beging at EMU on September 7.
One of the things on my mind this morning is (once again) podcasting since I’m planning on using at least a version of it for my online class this term. When I brought this up with a few of my English professor colleagues at a party earlier this summer, there was some confusion about my desire to podcast. “Can’t students just read what you write?” these colleagues asked.
Well, I think that this article, “A Novel Approach to Podcasting” in The Book Standard web site, kind of answers that question. To quote from the opening paragraph:
Scott Sigler first published his science-fiction novel EarthCore in 2001 with iPublish, an AOL/Time Warner imprint. When a promotional ebook version came out first, it hit No. 1 on Barnes & Nobleâ€™s website, and as plans to release the print version were going full steam ahead, Time Warner decided to scrap the whole imprint. After making sure he held the rights to the book, Sigler started looking for another way to get it an audience. In March, the author began podcasting a serialized version of his novel, which has now been downloaded more than 10,000 times. â€œWhen podcasting rolled around, I thought it would be a great way to release a novel,â€� he says. â€œI did a lot of research on it. There are 23 million Americans with an MP3 player, and the most popular form of radio is talk radio. So I thought, â€˜This is just going to be huge.â€™ â€�
In other words: Duh! Books on tape!
This article also mentions a site called Podiobooks, which is aiming to hosts podcasts for books. There’s not much there yet– according to the Book Standard article, they have five titles: four science fiction and one business writing– but you can imagine the potential.
Well, at least the worst sentence of the year according to The Bulwer-Lytton Fiction Contest, where the goal is to write the worst possible opening sentence to an imaginary novel. Here’s this year’s winner by Dan McKay of Fargo, North Dakota:
As he stared at her ample bosom, he daydreamed of the dual Stromberg carburetors in his vintage Triumph Spitfire, highly functional yet pleasingly formed, perched prominently on top of the intake manifold, aching for experienced hands, the small knurled caps of the oil dampeners begging to be inspected and adjusted as described in chapter seven of the shop manual.
Yeah, that’s pretty bad….
Check out the site for more humorously bad writing.
Finally, it was time for the grand event itself, “The Writing Show.” Here’s how it went:
The event was held in downtown Richmond at the Creative Change Center, which describes itself as “a community space and an organization of collaborators promoting creative, innovative and entrepreneurial endeavors in the region.” It’s a cool and funky loft space in an old warehouse, but one where some group spent a lot of money making it cool and funky. My guess is it’s used on a day-to-day basis as a “spill-over” space by the advertising agencies on the second and first floors.
Anyway, it was set up pretty much like Dennis promised: there were some couches and chairs with microphones up front, and Dennis sat stage left (as is the tradition on most talk shows), the other two guests (Jeff Lodge and Doug Childers) and I sat stage right. Dennis asked us questions, we answered and chatted. There was an audience of about 20, which I thought was reasonably good (how many conference presentations and/or readings have you been to with much smaller crowds?), though it’s apparently small for this thing. Past events have had much bigger crowds, 80 or so people. Of course, the timing of this event, late July, probably meant a lot of people were out of town, and, in my experience, the internet and its related geeky factors often make writerly-types and English majors seek cover pretty quickly.
The intention of the format was for us to talk amongst ourselves for the first hour or so and then take questions from the audience, but the crowd jumped in pretty early with questions and comments of their own. People on the panel did a few “show and tell” things as they came up (I showed folks Stuart Moulthrop’s web site when a question came up about using to web to do things other than as a publishing vehicle for more or less “traditional” print writing, Doug showed the web site he did for a writer in Richmond, Jeff showed some links, including the electronic journal he helps edit, Blackbird), but mostly, it was, well, like a talk show.
Personally, I thought the format worked pretty well, and I’m thinking about
ripping it off borrowing from the concept. I think it might be kind of an interesting teaching tool (groups of students put on a talk show about some kind of writing concept for other writers), or it might just be kind of cool to try to replicate the concept in the Ypsi-Arbor area.
The only thing that marred the event a bit was at the very end. Dennis was cleaning things up and I was milling around, talking to him, talking to a few straggling audience folks. All of a sudden, Dennis and a woman named Colleen (who, it turns out, is the director of James River Writers and the only person who is actually paid to do any of this stuff), start having this confrontational, ah, discussion. Colleen didn’t think the event went all that well. She said she wanted to see more people taking notes (actually, a lot of people were taking notes), she didn’t think people were all that engaged (though the fact people were interrupting sort of suggested to me they were), and she didn’t think we were really delivering the right “product” (which begs the question “just what exactly were you expecting?”).
It was a kind annoying/marketing wonk way to end the evening. I’ll let those folks sort out their own internal political issues, but I guess what annoys me about the whole thing is the way she treated me. Or rather, didn’t treat me. Sure, I did come in and do this because I wanted to make a road trip to Richmond, to see Dennis, to participate in a unique kind of presentation, etc. And I’m not exactly a “superstar” or the sorts that can draw people just with my name. But that doesn’t give this Colleen person the right to more or less just ignore me (I don’t think she ever said “thank you” or much of anything else to me), and I thought it was bizarrely unprofessional to have that “discussion” right there. It’d be too bad if a good idea like “The Writing Show” was sunk because of petty politics and “creative differences” and micromanagement.
Anyway, even with all that, it was cool and fun. Now I gotta hit the road.
Annette and I said farewell to friend Mary and headed to Richmond, first for lunch at Joe’s Inn (the original, mind you) with Laura, Sarah, and “Writing Show” organizer and host Dennis Danvers. A fine time was had eating at Joe’s (Annette and I split a spaghetti ala Greek– ah, memories) and then wandering about in Cary Town (not to be confused with Ann Arbor’s Kerrytown).
As we were about to part ways, we were approached by a channel 12 news crew asking for an interview. Since Dennis was the only local, he was the interviewee. They were asking about the prospect of a new movie theater in dowtown Richmond, something Dennis certainly favors.
Okay, this doesn’t have much to do with “The Writing Show” or even using blogs for creative(ly) publishing writing with the Internet, but I thought folks might get a kick out of it nonetheless.
As I’ve mentioned before, I’m planning on using some podcast technology in my online class this coming fall. Though to be completely honest, I haven’t completely figured out what I’ll be doing with it. My original (current?) plan is to use podcasts to supplement the online class materials– not a “lecture” exactly, but sort of a weekly (or so) “show” about the class. But I was at a function last night, talking with a bunch of fellow English (although literature) professors about this, and they wondered why I didn’t just write it all up and post it for students to digest in that form. I suppose they have a point, but I think you could make the same argument about radio in general: why listen to the news on the radio (or watch it on TV, for that matter) when you could just read it? Hmmmm….
Anyway, I’ve been playing around with iTunes and podcasts lately, and I came across some podcasts that are kind of an interesting example how this stuff might be used in a writing class context. Check out the CSU Writing Project Summer Institute 2005 blog and podcast site to see what I mean. I’ll be honest: I don’t find it exactly compelling “must listen to” stuff. But I also don’t think I’m the audience for these blogs, either.
I tried to post this earlier, but the flaky wireless connection I have in this coffee shop crapped out on me, so I’m trying again. Not that I have anything too profound to post; in fact, that was kind of the point of the previous post, that I don’t have much to say right now. But here’s a few thoughts before I get back to work:
- Things seem to be kind of quiet to me on the blogs I read and various mailing lists, I guess because summer is (soon) upon us, and I also guess because of the upcoming Computers and Writing Conference, this year at Stanford. I decided quite a while ago that I could not afford to spend the time or money to make two trips to California this year, so I went to the CCCCs instead. In retrospect, because the CCCCs was cheaper than I thought it was going to be, I wish I was at C&W too. Oh well.
- Dr. B posted about something called Conversate that I’ll have to check out at some point. One of the problems I’m having right now is sort of exemplified by this potentially useful tool: how do I write about writing tools available on the internet for a textbook that isn’t liable to come out for at least two years?
- Mike has a funny post about an article in Inside Higher Education that you shouldn’t read. No, not Mike’s post– the article.
- I find this funny because I remember this to be the case way back when.
- I need to relocate to a coffee shop with a less flaky wireless connection; namely, Bombadill’s. The food and people watching are better in Ann Arbor, but the working conditions are actually better in Ypsi.
For the record, let me say at the outset that, despite the fact that I played golf today and I am temporarily a “single parent” while Annette is at a children’s literature conference in Canada, I actually did get to work on chapter 2 this evening. I now return you to the blog….
I came across two different blog postings today that spoke (at least in part) about the practice of blogging. The first was Collin in this oddly titled post, where he talks about writerly habits and how keeping a blog can figure into that in a positive way. Collin writes a lot of interesting stuff here, but one brief quote:
I don’t know that I’d go so far as to say that bloggers write better dissertations, but I do think that there’s a case to be made that weblogs can provide an opportunity for daily writing, an opportunity that will serve a blogger well when it comes to a larger project. Keeping a weblog may help students develop the kind of procedural knowledge that receives so little attention in the formal venues of academia.
Okay, fair enough. Then, over on Maud Newton’s blog (which isn’t all by Maud anymore but which covers a variety of issues of interest to “creative” writers/literati-types) there’s this post by Maud, “celebrating” the third year of her blog:
Frankly, the anniversary depresses me. Three years, and I still haven’t finished my goddamned novel. Worse than that: I abandoned the first one in late 2003 and started a second. Meanwhile, my OCD tendencies rage unabated. I’m still a slob. And I remain estranged from my parents.
The post kind of goes downhill from there.
Now, I think what we have here is the proverbial double-edged sword that is blogging. On the one hand, I completely agree with Collin. I find blogging to be an excellent invention/prewriting/thinking/note taking activity for me. But beyond that, I’ve found blogging to more or less be an end in itself. I mean, I’m not getting huge amounts of hits here, but I am pretty sure more people read my blog every month or so than have ever read my official “scholarship,” at least the print versions of my scholarship.
On the other hand, Newton has a point. I will be the first to admit/confess that posting to my blogs (this one or my unofficial one) is all too often a way of me avoiding something else I should be doing, things like grading student projects, reading, doing stuff around the house, and, of course, writing. It isn’t fair to say that I could be spending all of this blogging time doing “something more productive.” Still… uh… I could be doing something more productive.
Ultimately, I think that Collin is absolutely right when he offers the same advice that I give to students and anyone else who asks: when you’re working on some academic (or other) writing project, you should work on it every day, even if you can only work on it for a little bit. Of course, it’s a lot easier to give advice than to follow advice.
… the “clean out the gutters over the garage” item on your “to do” list looks more appealing than the “finish revising chapter two” item.
I don’t know if this means I’ll be doing less blogging this month (I mean, after all, I just posted this message to my blog), but I think I have to admit I’ve got a bit of a problem here.
Okay, I’m gonna face it. The gutters can wait.