“What’s the point of writing if you’re just talking to yourself? If you’re a real writer, you should be writing to make a difference for other people. I write more consciously about interventions—interrupting for the sake of making people think—of historical, aesthetic, and political significance.” – Rei Magosai, Assistant Professor of English
What was the biggest mistake you made when first trying to get published?
It’s not a mistake to get rejected.
What is the most important thing you have learned?
You can’t win if you don’t play. Paying attention to when you’re submitting and getting into regular habits for submission are really important. Eventually you need to take the risk.
What should you be looking at in your field (conferences, festivals, journals)—forms of publication or exposure?
Look at copies of the journal and their particular aesthetic no matter what field they are in and submit your work more widely. Think to yourself, “Where do I want to see my work?” not only with publications, but also with grants and fellowships.
Most important things you need to know to get published?
http://www.shewrites.com/ has a lot of good information.
In creative writing, summer workshops (such as the Iowa Summer Writing Festival) and other academic activities help to hone skills, make connections, and create opportunities. Be persistent—sometimes you don’t hear back for months.
What publications are they fond of in their field—recommend certain publications?
There are several undergraduate journals so you are competing with only other undergraduates:
The Allegheny Review
The Susquehanna Review
The North Central Review
Elephant Tree (Chapman)
Fifth Wednesday Journal: allows you to be a guest editor/reader for a journal. This is good for young readers because you can see what people are writing today and learn more about the submission process.
Worst possible way to get published?
Creative writers need to think seriously about self-publishing. Young writers who self-publish because they are rejected during the editorial process are making a mistake. The editorial process can be a good thing. When you post a poem online you can’t publish it elsewhere because there is no value.
What is your inspiration for writing/creating—how do you balance your life with your work?
I started writing when I was little and I felt as if I was good at it early on. Once you figure out that you’re good at it you like it more, spend more time doing it, get better at it. I really like language. So much of our culture and relationships involve our language.
I have been busier and have had to cut back on housework, but when making the decision between a pristine kitchen and an hour of writing, writing is more worth it.
It is fine to write for yourself and share your work with whom you want. But I want someone else to read my work and to connect with the idea, image or voice of what I’m trying to convey in a poem or an essay. I think art is one of the most basic human activities—it’s how we understand each other and ourselves. Publication allows for that community and conversation.
It’s really cool to know that a stranger has read your work. It’s still about the writing, which is the most important thing, but there is a benefit when you’re thinking, “I’m writing and someday I want to publish.” It makes you hold yourself to a different standard. You push yourself harder at some point if you know other people might read this. And if you’ve already done the work, then why not?
If you’re in creative writing, you have to get used to rejection. Workshops help students understand how to take criticism so that rejection isn’t equated with devastation. There’s so much good work out there that is still good work.
What was the biggest mistake you made when first trying to get published?
Being too general in my research topic (e.g. covering too much at once). The more specific I got in my scholarly work, the better publishing outcomes I received.
What is the most important thing you have learned?
I can still answer all my research questions, but one project at a time. Not only did this give me a more productive tempo to discover and follow new leads, but I developed a stronger body of work.
What should students be looking at in your field (conferences, festivals, journals, exhibitions, magazines, etc.) as forms of publication and exposure?
Being relevant to other areas but your own. The conversation is repetitive if you only speak/present/publish to your own discipline.
What are the most important things a student needs to know to get published?
Have people review your basics (grammar, spelling, works cited, etc.). You cannot revise these mistakes once it has been published. Work on projects you are passionate about.
What publications are you fond of in your field—do you recommend any specific ones?
Information Design Journal, Print, Communication Arts, Visible Language, Baseline.
What is your inspiration for writing/creating in your field—how do you balance your life with your work?
I choose scholarly work that I am passionate about. My topics are ones I developed at age 9 and haven’t stopped thinking about. The balance comes with prioritizing and a partner that has kept me grounded.
Alison Hoffman-Han, Adjunct Professor of Film and Media Arts
What was the biggest mistake you ever made when first trying to get published?
As an undergraduate, I really tried to use that time to focus on researching, reading, and honing my writing and critical abilities. I am grateful there wasn’t any sort of pressure to be publishing when I was an undergrad.
I didn’t start publishing until I was in graduate school, so I guess the question doesn’t really apply to when I was an undergraduate. I would say that a reading process informs my writing process, since I’m an academic scholar who studies film history and film theory. There is so much research involved, whether it’s archival research, or theoretical research engaging with other theoreticians and film historians. When I was an undergraduate, and especially in graduate school, I always felt as though I was engaging in a dialogue with other writers. I think that when one is an undergraduate, ideally, it’s a time of discovery—a place to find the writers you just absolutely love, and to really study their writing, not just for its content but also to focus on their style, because even academic writing can have such a beauty to it. Those are the writers who I like the most—people like Linda Williams, Richard Dyer, Rebecca Solnit, Bell Hooks, Giuliana Bruno, and Laura Marks. These are people I discovered when I was an undergraduate, so it was really important for me to look closely at their work, to see what they were doing rhetorically (and even just in the mechanics), and to use that as inspiration and as a discursive model.
The downside to this was that because I was so obsessed with these great writers and senior scholars in the field, I always felt, and still to a certain extent feel, disappointed in my own writing. It’s ridiculous to hold yourself to that sort of standard. Even as a junior scholar at this point in my career, I’m still really growing as a researcher, a writer, and a scholar, so while I have these models, and I relish reading that work, it’s probably not the most productive thing to compare the work and the publishing I’m doing to these particular scholars. It’s great to be doing that, but it can and sometimes does lead to disappointment and lack of satisfaction in one’s own work. Also, generally speaking, I’d warn against being fearful of putting your ideas out there. One of the things that I didn’t like about graduate school, even though I loved it overall, is that you have this academic posturing going on—it takes place personally and with other graduate students especially in the seminar room and at conferences. There’s a lot of competition and intimidation there, so I while I love those spaces, and they are such a productive place to be learning, forging new kinds of ideas, thinking, and taking risks, they can also instigate a certain amount of fear and self-consciousness. So I would recommend just accepting that, and then trying to let go of it: to unburden yourself of writing the perfect essay, or the perfect novel, or the perfect short story. It’s never going to be perfect, there’s always going to be this dissatisfaction, so accepting that and moving forward nonetheless. Even writers that I really admire, like Vivian Sobchack, say the same thing—she’s this huge academic superstar in Film Studies, but I remember when she shared with students—in a public, conference-style forum no less—that she’s never fully satisfied with her work. But that shouldn’t keep you from publishing.
What is the worst possible way to try to get published?
I think the worst possible way to try to get published, at least in critical studies and Film Studies (and even for creative writers), is to self-publish through a “no name” press that is seeking to profit from you. There are certain “presses” out there that are, in face, non-presses or fake presses, where you pay them to publish your work, and they can sell it on Amazon or whatever. But it’s not legitimate. It’s better, even if you keep getting rejected, just to hold off, revise, make some changes, and resubmit something to a legitimate press later on.
What should students be looking at in your field in terms of conferences, festivals, journals and other forms of publication and exposure?
When I was an undergraduate, I participated in some conferences and research competitions specifically designed for undergraduate research. I won one of these research competitions through the CSU system, and that was great because they published this piece on the paper I had written and interviewed me, so that was something I could put in my Curriculum Vitae, which is an academic resume. I didn’t start actively publishing until my third year of graduate school.
I think that undergraduate forums, like undergraduate conferences held at different universities, are definitely the place to try your hand at the academic performance of giving a conference paper. Also, I started writing for www.popmatters.com my first year of graduate school, when I was fresh out of undergrad. If you’re a really motivated undergraduate student, this is a place that you should explore—you’re writing reviews, but they’re a more academic type of review, more intellectually rigorous. There are cultural reviews of movies, television shows, music, and video games. You have to submit a portfolio of your work to the editor of the website, but it’s a prestigious website that’s well respected and recognized, so I think it’s a great place to begin. Also, student journals, and undergraduate literary journals are great places to start publishing. I know at Cal State Long Beach there’s one called Genre. That’s always a venue for undergraduates to submit their work.
I think as an undergraduate it’s even a good idea to start blogging—maybe you could start a film club with fellow students in your class and get some kind of blog going doing critical responses to films and readings. I like the idea of viewing your undergraduate experience as one of exploration—a time of discovery, and not the time where one should feel pressured into publishing. Student newspapers or cultural forums are also options. A great place to consider beginning professional research, and also maybe to begin to publish, is by working at a research center on campus. When I was a grad student, I worked at the Chicano Studies Research Center at UCLA. I was a graduate research assistant for the director, so I actually published a few pieces on Latinos and television representation from 2004-2006. Every year I was putting out a research report, and that was a great opportunity, but that opportunity came because I was being mentored by the director of the center. He was really excited about this research and encouraged it, so I was quite lucky in that regard.
I also know some students at Cal State Long Beach who started their own zine—it’s called JAGed, it stands for Justice and Gender Education. I’m very impressed by their work—they’re consistently writing really great articles, doing research, and also creative work. That’s a possibility, too.
What is your inspiration for publishing and writing in your field and how do you balance your time?
I really recommend reading publications like Film Quarterly, Screen, and Camera Obscura for inspiration.
I always have projects in the works, so I’m constantly responding to calls for papers, either in film studies journals or for anthologies. There is a really good website called www.h-net.org. It’s a list serve that you can subscribe to, and then you start getting all these calls for papers for conferences, books, and journals. I usually always have at least two things I’m continually working on, either a journal or book article, or a conference paper. I’m researching on my off days when I’m not teaching, trying to read and brainstorm. It’s the time during my breaks when I really focus on my writing, and during that time, I try to be as disciplined as possible.
Cal State Long Beach has this thing called the Scholarly Writing Institute, and this has been massively helpful for me. They have it during the winter and then during the summer; it’s forty faculty members who arrive in the morning into this big space with a bunch of long tables, chairs, and power strips. You arrive at 8 AM, you have your coffee and pastries, and then you have to sit down and just write. Everyone in the room has already done their research; they’re just in the process of writing or revising. Then after several hours you take a break for lunch and then you go back to work and write until 5 PM. This is a four-day process. What is so great about it is that it’s so focused, and there is this collective energy in the room. You can’t leave, so there can be no real distractions. You really get so much done. In each of those Scholarly Writing Institutes, I have been able to produce an entire book chapter or journal article. They will also have editors on hand who will look at your work and provide feedback. I would encourage students to make a student version of this, as long as you stay disciplined and structured.
Shari Kuchenbecker, Assistant Professor of Psychology
There are three basic steps to publishing: Do a little bit of research (first with the agents), secondarily find the right publishing company (with the help of the agent, since publishing companies have a known history on content they are interested in), then just tell your story.
There is a book called the Writer’s Market, and they publish it every single year, and it includes agents, and it also includes their specializations. I looked at what they recommended to do – and that’s what I did. The number one thing was really picking the agents I sent it to. Make sure to look at their specialties. Agents change. Keep up to date on who is interested in what market. What’s important is finding those agents and publishers that will be interested. Go with the biggest names in agents and publishers that you can.
Ask yourself how your book is unique. You don’t want to write one more book that there are dozens of, and you can do this by blending your unique experience into the material. A very simple concept is necessary. Anticipate where the markets are going. Try to anticipate two or three years ahead. The challenge was translating research-speak into an engaging story that was high quality, research-based information.
When you go to the popular press, they do have editors that know how to help academicians speak and write in a way that the public can understand. Once the editor hears your passion, and engages in your creative process of framing it for the popular press, then you’re on your way. To clean it up, to prune the tree, to create an elegant sort of simple beauty — that’s what a good editor does, and that’s a real gift. Usually, editors pick the projects they want. If you’ve got an editor who really loves what you’re doing, that whole process becomes dynamic.
When submitting your idea to a publisher, send in the titles of the chapters, behind that a resume of what you’ve done, and behind that why your particular book is needed. Random House in particular likes the academic. They have published Zimbardo. The bigger your advance, the better, but I was happy with any advance. Popular press promises a really nice return. They will give you a deadline of when it’s going to be published, and then a pre-publication period of time – had nine months to finish the other thirteen chapters and the research study. There’s a point in the time where they pick the cover and they do no research – the cover makes a huge difference. They wanted me to cut this portion out – maybe it was too controversial. Random House ultimately said okay, you’re right, even if it won’t be distributed by certain organizations. They just want a quality book that teaches quality information. Empathize with the publishers who screen volumes to find things that are engaging at this point in history. Don’t feel entitled. Just because you have a great idea and a great book doesn’t mean you’re going to get published. If you want to get published, look at what you’ve got that has a unique juncture. Organizations won’t necessarily endorse a book, but the individuals will, and that’s what you need.
Dr. Kuchenbecker’s book, Raising Winners, is available in the Honors Commons for checkout. You can also see her website at raisingwinners.com.
The worst possible way to publish is to talk a great game and never write. We all know those people that want to be writers but don’t read, don’t write, don’t keep a notebook.
In general, the publishing model has changed so much. New avenues are opening every day. The internet has allowed writers for the first time in history to be able to quantify readership. Look at tracking numbers on a website, x amount of unique hits on a monthly/annual basis, translates to x amount of sales. That’s incredibly liberating and fascinating and exciting because in some sense it takes the power away from the publishers. So many people feel like they’re on the outside in. Editors and marketing are still needed, but authors have the ability to reach unique, niche readerships in a way they never had before. With those things in mind, the key is just to use the tools at hand, and it’s difficult because it puts a lot of pressure on what it means to be a 21st century writers because we no longer just write and then send it off to a publisher. Everything from Kindle to Twitter to Facebook gives prolific writers the ability to build a fan base. Stakes are higher, but rewards higher than ever. It’s up to writers to balance that, and it’s not easy. I am learning everyday, making mistakes everyday, failing in small ways everyday, but growing and learning. It’s something we need to learn how to do. Either that, or shell out money to a PR firm to market it for you. If there are tools at hand, why not use them?
Things are in a pretty intense period of transition. Publishers are going for new, new, new or guaranteed commodities. But self-published writers are going to the top of the bestsellers list. One of the best ideas is to learn more about Cory Doctorow. He has a website called Craphound, and what he does is so incredibly instructive. He talks about rights, how they work. He wrote a book called With a Little Help From my Friends, and what he’s done. He actually releases financial reports, shows how it works, shows how he’s making money from it. He’s really at the cutting edge right now and it’s worth being familiar with what he does and what he’s doing.
Publishers are useful for a lot of reasons. Primarily because they offer a stamp of approval, people are more likely to pick it up because it’s been screened and edited. It’s worth the paper it’s printed on. That metaphor is dying. Digital sales have surpassed paper sales. What are the new models? Self-publishing isn’t the way forward for everyone. Groups, artistic collectives, groups of writers who perhaps similar genres getting together, helping each other edit their books, which will provide that stamp for readers. I wonder if that’s the future. They use their skills to make each other successful. It seems to me that that is definitely something that can work. No one can create their perfect book in a vacuum. We need people to disagree with us in order to write the best work we can. All that’s needed is the stamp.
The delivery model is gone. Kindle has the Whispernet. The writer is closer to the reader than ever before. Potentially there’s already a model built in. Maybe the universities are doing something similar, doing workshops, helping each other edit, providing constructive criticisms, using this in a more professional way can form publishing houses. There are folks doing different things – website, writing, etc. It would potentially be extremely successful, but would require great deal of trust and loyalty. We’ve been bred for some time to be independent thinkers, but who knows? The power of the group, the power of the collective, and what that can accomplish, opposed to now. I’m interested in where we’re going and what’s going to happen. Now that we don’t have to pay for paper and binding and covers. Now it’s really just the content, taking the time to really sit and type something out.
Ideally, workshops in universities can provide a template and connect like minds. There’s respect there. Creative writing programs may become incubation chambers for these new publishing models. When that kind of power is used to deliver fiction, non-fiction whatever that’s going to really start changing the world in a really good way. Look at what’s come before. We might look back at the seven percent royalties as the dark ages. It’s time, because the days of the publisher owning 93 percent of your work are dead. It’s the power of numbers. Overtime, as they started doing team activities, they started doing projects together, and now they’re a bit of a brand in their own right. Use the power of the folks that are there. For too long, writers have been isolated, and it’s really time to reach out, forge bonds, and create something meaningful using the group theory as opposed to the individual theory. It’s going to take one group to really hit big and next thing you know, there will be copycats. That’s any industry. The Pixar model has totally changed a lot of the movie industry because it’s successful and because people are happy. I want to be happy, too. I want to feel like I’m helping at the same time. More positivity is needed. Workshops are a possibility to build bridges, to form lifelong partnerships, not an ego game. Workshops with tons of honesty and tons of criticism are good, but always with end goal of how do we make this better? I’ve seen it work. I want them to think about creating their own work, creating their own company, now’s the time, a period of great uncertainty, terrible profits, publishing companies folding; now’s the time to take risks and forge new things.
I’m not my writing. My writing is words, and it’s always the best I can do in a given moment. A year later, two years later I’m going to look back and say could’ve done this better. Get rid of perfectionism, move forward, keep looking up. Not being perfectionist is the most liberating thing in the world. It let me go on to be published.
Emotionally, I had to learn to love myself and trust myself. For too long, I let people who hated everything I wrote run my life and my way of thinking. I definitely wish I knew that sooner. To learn to tune people out better and to learn to trust myself more. That’s something that can only come from experience. Those two things are pretty darn important.
Professor Don Guy, head of the Technical Theatre Department
Interview with Professor Guy
What do you do in the professional world?
In the professional world, I’m a lighting designer first and foremost, and I also will occasionally serve as a technical director. I also serve as a lighting director, but primarily lighting designer.
How did you get into this field?
I fell in love with lighting watching rock and roll concerts, being a part of theatre and whatnot. I started working with different rock and roll tours and doing summer festivals, and doing lots of community theatre, professional theatre, it just went from there.
What do you like best about what you do?
What I like most about the field I’m in currently, lighting, that’s what I’ve chosen as my life’s path, I enjoy the fact that I’m able to work on lots of shows, I’m able to work on multiple shows at once. Last year alone, I did over 52 projects outside of school. I always feel that it’s not so much the projects, it’s the people, so working on more projects gives me the opportunity to work with more people, to cast a larger net for networking and I just love working on shows, I love being in what we call technical rehearsals, which is where the metal meets the meat, it’s where you get to test your mettle, where you’re down to the clock putting a show on and I like that, I feel like a thrive under that sort of pressure situation, I always have, so the more shows the better. I get the adrenaline rush every time I do it.
Do you have something that you’d consider to be the biggest mistake you’ve made?
I don’t really feel like I’ve made too many mistakes. Looking back on it, there are things I could have tried to learn more about. Seeing where the lighting industry is going, I probably would have at an younger age started looking more into projections and medias servers and things of that nature. And I learn that as I go, but I see where lighting is really moving into the realm of video and if I knew then what I know now I would have pressed in that area a little more.
What is one of the most important things that you’ve learned?
The most important thing about this business, first and foremost, is meeting your deadlines and being honest, working hard everyday, never giving up. That tenacity is hard to teach, you’re born with it, and it’s something you have. My parents did a really good job of instilling that in me. May father is very much a driven man, my siblings are driven, we’re all driven people, we’re driven in whatever we decided to do in life, and no one else in my family’s a lighting designer for sure, but I’m very driven at what I do. I love it, I usually wake up and I’m thinking about it. If I’m reading anything, it’s typically about lighting, about the industry. I’m always trying to improve. I think that what I like about it so much is that technology changes so rapidly that you can never master it, so it’s one of those thing where you can be a lifelong student and I enjoy academia, that’s why I teach, I enjoy students, but I myself enjoy being a student. By the time you learn one new light and what it can do, the next light’s out and it’s a whole new set of opportunities for you to learn and that why I like lighting so much. It’s because it’s so driven by technology, and I never get enough of it. I love reading, I love studying, I love what goes into making it happen and how all of these different systems work and integrate together and I love being a part of that in the industry. I feel like I’m always on the cutting edge.
What would you suggest for someone interested in getting into your field?
If you’re serious about being in this field, you have to think about it as more than being just an artist, and I stress that a lot in my classes. You really should take classes in computer science. You should take as many computer and networking classes as you can. All the systems that we have speak together. You should also take engineering courses, if they’re available to you. Math is going to be something that you rely heavily on as well. So, when you talk about being a left-brain vs. right brain, I think being a lighting designer is being an artist that deals with technology. You’re able to use both sides of your brain as opposed to some art which may not use as much mathematical computation. This art requires a lot of it and a lot of computer skills. Everything’s going more and more to computers, and so the more you know, the more it empowers your art because if you don’t know what a piece of machinery can do, if you don’t know it’s full capabilities, then you’re only going to be able to utilize it to whatever you know. So if you know everything there is to know about that piece of equipment, that instrument we call it, then you can get the most out of it and I think that’s where a lot of lighting designers fall short because they don’t give themselves the opportunity to stay current, so they’re always a little bit behind the eight. Continuing education is a must. You’re only as good as your last show, you’re only as good as what you did a week ago, so you have to really stay current. You have to really want it, you have to love it because the information isn’t just going to present itself to you, and clouds aren’t going to part and it’s going to fall on the ground in front of you. You have to seek it, you have to seek knowledge all the time and it’s not easy, you have to find time in your schedule trying to make a living to get that training. It’s a never-ending battle, but it’s one that I love to face.
Where would you suggest students look for exposure and entrance into the design field?
To be a designer, you really need to go to a graduate school, first and foremost. As a designer, most designers have some sort of graduate training — they have their master’s degree. With that, you’re very strategic in the school you choose to go to because the school you choose will technically be your network. It’s the group of people you will be associated with possibly your entire career. So choosing a graduate school that has a lot of their alumni working in the field, the professors are working in the field, it’s very, very important, because it’s an industry where it’s very important who you know, I’m not going to lie to you. Then you go to the school and then you do well while you’re there. You work hard. Then what you’ve done is you’ve developed yourself a network and those are the directors that are going to be calling you to design for them, those are other designers that you are going to be assisting possible or working with, and that’s really the key. Now depending on what field you want to be in, your road to becoming a professional may be a little different, but you have to look at being an assistant first. You start as an assistant or someone who’s working with a designer and you sort of serve as an apprentice if you will, and you work your way up. That’s how you do it. I assisted many, many, many designers, and then one thing leads to another and you start getting your own designs and then you find your way. But you have to break into the business and typically it’s done by assisting designers and then you work your way up until you get the chops and you join the union or whatever it is you might do, but it’s difficult. It’s going to take someone who’s willing to put in the time, to be quite honest with you, but if your heart is in it and it’s what you want to do, then you’re going to pay your dues. We all have to pay dues, that’s the thing behind it. Knowing that, make sure you get the right education, make sure you meet the right people, and then make sure you’re willing to put in the time that it takes to crest that hill so you can become a designer yourself. It’s not easy, but once you do get to the point where you can sustain yourself, it’s quite rewarding.
Are there any other important things that a student should know?
The entertainment business is a very collaborative art form. One thing that’s not easily taught in a classroom is interpersonal skills, how to work with others, how to collaborate, things like that. There’s certain things you can set up as a sort of laboratory component to a classroom, but at the end of the day, that “real world experience” is something that needs to be experienced, it’s something that really can’t be taught in a textbook. You try to get that experience because that is going to be the key. Most people want to work with people that meet deadlines and that are good people and they’ll take that over talent any day, especially someone who’s talented and lazy or a loafer or they don’t get along with people, things of that nature because when you’re working in a collaborative setting, synergy is everything. It’s how you work and how you relate to others. It’s very hard sometimes for people to realize that their idea may not be the best one, that what you want to have happen is not happening today. It’s learning to have that give and take, because some days you get your way all day long and there are some days where it is just not happening. It’s that give and take, that collaboration. It’s giving as much as you’re taking and not being gluttonous about it. It’s a fine line, and it’s very hard to learn in a classroom setting. That’s one thing that I really think students should try to master quickly, working well with others and just being a good person. You mean what you say, you say what you mean, and if you say you’re going to do something by a certain time, you’re early. You get it done early, and I can’t stress that enough because that still means a lot in the business world, for sure, and there are no excuses. You don’t make excuses for anything because time is money and there aren’t any excuses for that. You have to get the job done.
Do you have any closing thoughts or comments you’d like to share?
Let’s see, it’s a big open field, what I do. I encourage students who are interested in it to think about the possibilities that are out there. It’s a vast industry, not just the lighting design for theatre, but you have architecture, themed entertainment, casinos, there’s so many areas where you see light on a regular basis. Many of my friends that were designers, are still designers, become manufacturing representatives and they’ll sell lighting equipment and they work in factories and the R and D equipment and they’re always putting lights out there in the hands of consumers. It’s a very vast field. A lot of times at the university level, we don’t have the time to get into that, they kind of think ‘Oh, we’re going to put on a play.’ But there’s so much more to light than just theatre. I that’s what I encourage my students to, whether you’re lighting the Empire State building, or you’re lighting a play, or you’re shining one spot light on a singer in a jazz club, there’s so many possibilities and if you sort of broaden your breadth of work and you start looking at what’s available to light, I think the industry as far as being a lighting designer, it’s a very deep, deep pool, a very deep field for you to get into because it never stops. One of my teachers was the most prolific designer of theme parks in the world and I always thought that was a very exciting thing. So I’ve worked in the theme park world, I’ve worked in concerts, I’ve done theatre, opera, dance, architecture, restaurants, high end retail, it just goes on and on and on, anywhere I can plug a light in and point it at something, I think I’ve done in my life. I owe it all to my education, number one, and I owe it all to me being very inquisitive and wanting to obtain as much knowledge as I can obtain, and not being afraid to step outside my comfort zone, to be trained in a theatrical or a concert world and to think that I can go and light a high end retail. It’s no different, it’s still putting on a show, it’s still putting light where you need to put it, and it’s still making things look good. So if you’re not afraid to step outside your comfort zone, the possibilities for employment are endless in this field for sure. It’s very rewarding.
Professor Andrew Erish, Film Studies Department, author of Col. William N. Selig, the Man Who Invented Hollywood
My biggest mistake trying to get published was to go after a publisher that was not necessarily suited to what I was doing. The top academic publisher of film books is University of California press, but they tend to focus on theory-based books, as opposed to straight histories, and it reflects what I think is a problem within film studies in general, in that theory is much more prominent than history.
For the last 25 years, and we’re getting closer to 30 years now, there’s been a tendency to rewrite history to suit your theory, rather than the other way around. Let’s get the history accurate, so if you want to start to theorize, at least you have an accurate foundation to build from to do that. They’ve been doing it the other way because theory has so overwhelmed film studies. Some of the theories that come out and the articles that stem from them are so ridiculous and don’t have any grounding in fact or truth or historical accuracy. I didn’t know that approaching University of California Press. California had my manuscript for a year, and on a Friday they said yes. On the following Monday they said, “no, we changed our mind.” I was really upset about that.
I got back up after about a day and started to pursue other publishers. Within a week or so, there was a cinema studies conference in Los Angeles, and went from publisher to publisher pitching my manuscript. The editor at University of Texas Press was there, heard my pitch, said all the right things in response, asked for a chapter, and I went home and brought my entire manuscript because I lived within walking distance from the place where it was held, and he was kind of impressed by that. When he arrived in Austin a couple of days later he called and said he read a couple of chapters on the plane and he wants to do the book. So it was a good fit in terms of a publisher who wants to do more of a straight film history or biography and prioritizes the accuracy of history over theory. They said to keep it as plain and simple and understandable as you can, and they advocate not letting academic jargon get in the way because so many of the terms used in academia have theoretical connotations that just tend to get in the way of telling accurate history. I became more confident in being able to tell the story.
What students should look for:
There’s an organization called the Society for Cinema and Media Studies and they are the principal film studies organization in America. By joining, you have access to a variety of resources, one being most of the major magazines that are looking for articles. They’ll put out a call for papers: “We’re going to be doing an issue on horror films in the 1930s,” so if a student has written a paper for class on that or they’re interested in that, they have an opportunity to send your paper in to get published. Same thing with conferences.
For students, this kind of thing looks real good on a resume, and it gives you instant credibility if you can get an article published in a major film journal.
Most important things to know to get published:
If you’ve never been published before, you need to have a finished article or manuscript. If they don’t know you, no one will look at a partial. But know your audience, and don’t waste your time. This can be very time consuming and very expensive to send around. Do your homework upfront about who to approach. Look at the length of articles. My manuscript for my book was three times larger than what the finished book ended up being. It was painful to cut as much as I did, but a friend said, “You know, you have enough material for magazine articles to last you the rest of your life.”
Make sure you know your subject better than anyone else. Read everything that’s already been written about your subject to make sure you’re not duplicating someone else. I do a lot of research at the Motion Picture Academy Library, and my friends that work up there have kind of a running joke that every day someone comes in wanting to write an article about Gone With The Wind or Casablanca, and there have already been thousands of articles and books written about those, what can you say that’s really new? There are so many other aspects of film that are so off the radar. If you can find one of those things and get up to speed and become the expert on that, you’ll be in good shape.
The one that I read with any frequency is Film History. The magazine that published my Hitchcock article when I was in college was Journal of Film and Video. The British Film Institute Magazine is Sight and Sound, and they’re really good.
It turns out that if you’re being published by an academic press there’s no money in it. I talked to agents, and there’s not enough in it for them to make money. I just got my first royalty check, and I’m too embarrassed to say how much the check was, and it covered the first six months of the publication. What that check does is it allows me to write off all the thousands and thousands that I spent in researching.
Something you wish you knew:
I think sometimes ignorance is bliss. If you make the commitment to yourself that you’re going to write a book, I certainly wasn’t sharp enough to realize how much work it was. Had I known ahead of time, I might not have done it. It’s an enormous commitment and it takes discipline I didn’t even know I was capable of. If you’re not willing to do your best, then don’t do it. So many people write books that don’t get published, write articles that don’t get published. I think that ones that do end up getting published because people put the effort in to do their very best. You just don’t see a lot of half-hearted attempts. You’ve got to be the best that you can be.
To anyone who’s reading this article: You must be interested in doing something like this, otherwise you wouldn’t be worth reading. So many people who are good don’t have the confidence to try something. You know, if you fall flat on your face, you get up and you do it again. If you find out that it’s not for you, isn’t it better to know that and to move on to something else than to have half finished books and articles all your life and to never really give it your full effort? Not just in the world of film, not just in the field of writing, but in virtually all walks of life so few people dedicate themselves to pursue whatever those ambitions are and are willing to do all the work. You can go through life kind of deluding yourself and never allow your ambitions to come to fruition. There aren’t enough people who do. You need to be a self starter.
Graphic novels and comics are oftentimes overlooked by the academic community. Why do you think this is? Is there a “right” way, or even a “wrong” way to approach them?
I think that the reason graphic novels and comic books are overlooked by the academic community is fairly obvious. There seems to be a general belief that the only graphic literature worth looking at is Maus or Persepolis. All other comics are viewed as children’s entertainment. It is easy for academics to dismiss graphic literature as being lesser when little to no effort is given to understand the genre. Comic books and graphic novels are a relatively new genre when compared to the novel and, often times, new genres are ignored. Since their pages are full of pictures, many academics do not consider them true literature.
I actually think that the separation of graphic literature and more traditional literature is the most important issue when approaching comics and graphic novels. The wrong way to approach graphic literature is to separate it from all other literature. The idea that it falls into a category all its own is inaccurate. Graphic literature should be assessed and analyzed the same exact way as other forms. All differences are purely superficial and when academia discovers this fact, graphic literature should be embraced.
What are the most common misconceptions your students have about comic books and graphic literature?
The biggest misconceptions students have about comic books and graphic literature is the belief that they are all the same. What I mean by this is many students think that all comics contain superheroes doing spectacular things in tight costumes while the words BANG! POW! THUD! accompany every movement. The reality is not remotely close to this misconception. Comic books and graphic literature are as varied as the people of the world. The idea of a standard is horribly wrong and there is a constant urge for students to generalize. I frequently receive work with phrases like “in most comics,” or “this is different from all other comics because…” These phrases come from the same students who have only read comic books for my class. They have absolutely no concept of what other comics exist in the world and are simply making assumptions.
When did you start reading comics? Was there a particular book or comic that helped you start seeing the genre in a more academic context? Or was the process more gradual?
I started reading comic books in the third grade when I was nine. My first full length comic book was an issue of X-Men. I have been an X-Men fan ever since. It was X-Men which made me begin to think about the stories contained within comics in a different way. There was no lightning bolt moment with me concerning the use of comic books in academia. I loved comics so much that I always attempted to tie all of my work to them. I suppose that means the process was gradual. Unfortunately for the premise of this question, I do not really remember a time when I didn’t analyze comics and use them in my academic work.
The required reading list for your class is extremely diverse. How do you go about the daunting task of choosing which graphic novels to assign as required reading?
The reading list is a big problem for me. I spend a lot of time re-reading some of my favorite works and ending up with a stack of books I need to cut down. It is fun, but it can also be frustrating at times. I could do an entire semester on superheroes without a second thought. When it comes down to making final selections, my basic approach is to make sure that there is variation in the style of the work being presented. As for books which haven’t made the cut, I have often wanted to assign From Hell by Alan Moore and Eddie Campbell but it’s simply too long. The other thing that I have wanted to do is assign an entire series to be read over the length of the semester, such as The Sandman by Neil Gaiman, Y: The Last Man by Brian K. Vaughn and Pia Guerra, or Garth Ennis and Steve Dillon’s Preacher. The problem with this is that the book list is already expensive and to require students to read a full length series on top of their regular reading is a bit too much.
Have you written about comic books and/or graphic novels in any other academic (journals, publications, academic papers) or non-academic (websites, blogs, etc.) contexts?
I have written about comic books and graphic novels as a professional off and on. For many years, I was a freelance journalist for Wizard Magazine. I also worked the past three San Diego Comic-Cons as a contributing writer for Comic Book Resources. One of my duties as a freelance writer for Quirk Books is to tackle comic book based blog posts. It is almost impossibility for me to avoid writing about comics.
How does the concept of entropy tie in to the study of graphic literature? (In what way[s] can the study of graphic literature push the study of literature as a whole in a different direction?)
The study of graphic literature is all about pushing the boundaries of preconceived concepts. The commonly held idea that literature simply consists of the written words is a misconception. Comic books and graphic novels are often not considered literature because a large part of the storytelling technique is picture based. At the same time, if academia determines literature to be made up of written words, then it must include comic books. The stories held within the pages of the comic books and graphic novels must be read and not just viewed to make sense. There is also a faction of our society which claims that to be deemed literature, a piece must be of incredible merit and quality. The question then is, how is merit determined? I have seen book stores where Dracula is in the literature section but The Shining is in the horror section. I find it hard to believe that there is such a great gulf between these two books as to title one literature and the other horror. In 2005, Time magazine released a list of the top 100 novels of the last century. On that list was Watchmen, the only comic book/graphic novel to be included. Does this distinction not define Watchmen as a piece of literature? According to book stores across the United States, it doesn’t, as it cannot be found in any literature section. The fact that Moby Dick is defined as literature while The Dark Knight Returns is defined as graphic literature is a perfect example of the issue being posed by the term “literature.” The study of comic books and graphic novels brings to light the issue of “literature” and forces the academic world to take this subgenre more seriously. The study of comic books and graphic novels punches small holes in the wall that academia has put up around literature. So many of the comics and graphic novels draw from “literature” that it is impossible to deny they are part of the same tradition. That is, of course, if you are a comic book fan. Comic fans know that The Starjammers fly around in the Pequod, that The Morlocks are mutants who live beneath New York City and that Beast can quote Shakespeare like no one else. The problem comes from academic resistance. The view of literature and comic books is a through a one-way mirror and only the comic fans see everything clearly.
Kevin O’Brien, Associate Professor of English and Director of Tabula Poetica
The theme of Sapere Aude for this semester’s issue is the concept of entropy. I was wondering how you might approach this idea from the perspective of literature studies.
Well, right now I’m teaching twentieth century British literature, and lots of the works have to do with what I would call destabilization—so there’s this sense of things coming apart or falling apart. You could say something like entropy in relationship.
Something that really interests me in everyday life in terms of a sort of psychology— it seems to me that the opposite of entropy in some ways is will, and it think that will is a huge question in terms of student lives, like a sense of agency as opposed to a sense of being moved by things around you.
One of the things that I think about a lot is that most students now at universities are women, and women are—often there’s a sense that they don’t really have a voice, so the relationship between that and entropy could be interesting—like sort of gender and entropy. Things like marginalized voices—I’m just noticing it constantly. I was just rereading a story by Katherine Mansfield where she’s talking about two sisters whose father has just died, and they still feel this sense of an authority figure—they feel guilty like he’s going to be really mad when he finds out how they buried him—that’s like a kind of entropy—a force that’s still holding them down.
What advice would you give to undergraduates looking into publication?
I think it’s difficult as an undergraduate. As a graduate student there are all kinds of conferences that encourage grad student submissions, but I think as an undergraduate you’re kind of limited. I think that it’s a very good thing to do though, to go to a Sigma Tau Delta conference or any kind of conference that would be open to undergraduate participation. Where I really see it more is on the graduate level. To give an instance of the graduate level: I had a student in a graduate course who had a really good paper that I thought was on an unusual topic which hadn’t really been addressed. It was very basic—it was on Joyce’s Ulysses, but I felt like she was saying something that was amazing and that nobody had said, so I had her contact a fairly famous Joyce scholar to ascertain whether that woman knew whether anything had been done on her topic. She said no and so I encouraged her to find places to submit it. She has two different conferences that she’s considering submitting it to, so she can submit it to one which is a U.S. conference and there’s another one in Ireland. But that’s on a graduate level.
Is there a danger of foolhardiness in the submission process? Submitting to a non-academic source, for example?
I think there’s a very simple solution for that: I would encourage any student who is giving a paper to a conference to run it by professors. What a student may not realize is that professors do that—it’s absolutely a normal part of being in academia to solicit feedback. All of us have our own set of eyes and you need another pair of eyes sometimes to have someone say, “Oh did you consider this,” or, “Is this what you’re saying here? I’m not sure it comes across.” I think one of the most important things is that sort of feedback loop.
I know you have a book out, Saying Yes at Lightning: Threat and the Provisional Image in Post-Romantic Poetry—what’s your opinion on finding representation for your work? Is that how you went about it?
No—the opening chapter I submitted to a journal. I was hesitant to do it because I’m, you know, I’m not not one of those people who is strutting my stuff, but it wound up becoming the lead article for the journal, so I was really surprised—it was a major journal. They sent it to a couple scholars, that’s pretty traditional, and they gave me a little bit of feedback, and that’s basically it. Unfortunately, on the undergraduate level there’s just not a lot happening, even for a graduate student it’s a little bit challenging. The traditional route would normally be—if you have a dissertation then you have something that’s already very polished usually, so you could submit it to a journal. In lieu of that, if you have an essay, would be to try and give that at a conference and then when you’ve given it at a conference it gives it a certain kind of stature that makes it easier to then submit. But I don’t know of anybody in terms of essays that would go through an agent. Maybe in certain kinds of venues. It might be a brave new world—I’m really out of the loop so it’s possible there’s stuff I just don’t know of.
Dr. Justine K. Van Meter, Assistant Professor of English
Each of you in the Honors program is undoubtedly working through the process of figuring out what the future holds and what the Honors program, with its focus on interdisciplinarity, and what your chosen major(s) may offer in terms of future monetary or career gains. Each of you has, also undoubtedly, been asked the question: “What are you going to do with that?” The pressure to respond with a definitive answer is immense, even when it may as yet be unclear. For those of us in the Humanities, there is an all-too-familiar temptation to answer defensively or to shrug off the question with humor or indifference.
As I was working on my Master’s Degree in Humanities, as an example, I also often encountered people who wanted to know what I would do with “that.” The answer was never simple, even though I had a clear path in mind for myself (teaching at the university level). It became even more complicated when, while working on my Ph.D. in Comparative Literature, I was asked the same question and now that I have the degrees and the position within a university, I am – rather unbelievably – still asked this question, which is perhaps further proof of our culture’s misunderstanding or dismissal of the role of Humanities/Interdisciplinary Studies within our personal and collective lives.
My answer to this question now is perhaps even more complex, since the initial goals have been achieved and yet, within our academic system, there are continual expectations related to teaching and publication successes. It may seem that this would make it easier to respond, since I can now provide a list of things that I do each semester: I teach these specific courses; I am working on this or that writing/research project for publication by this specific date. But the fact that I feel I must justify what I “do” with “that” seems to constantly avoid the real answer to the question.
So, rather than the usual feeling of defensiveness and despondency I have experienced in the past, I will now answer: “Here is what I am going to do in just one day. I am going to explore. I am going to seek. I am going to live many lives and perspectives by reading and writing and discussing. I am going to connect to, and engage with, others’ ideas and voyage, however briefly, to different places and time periods. On just this one day, I am going to go to Nigeria and Ireland and Martinique and I will meet and converse with political activists and historians and theorists and artists and even ghosts and witches. I am going to do all of this with others, who agree and disagree – both quietly and loudly – and we are going to continually create and re-create a community so that eventually, the question need not be asked at all because the answer will be obvious that I – and we all – must do this. Best of all, I am going to do it all again tomorrow.” And then, I will simply ask the inquirer: “What are you going to do?”