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Thursday, May 9, 2019

The Failures of Your Favorite Authors

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If you're filled with self-doubt and have faced with crushing defeats in your writing, take heart: it happens to the best of us.  ♦ 
As writers, we can all relate to failure. Failure is a fact of life, no matter what field you find yourself in; it just so happens us writers enjoy the throes of failure more often than others. We toil and pour our soul into crafting and refining our art for months, even years, to often no avail. But, this is no reason to fret. Whether it be personal or professional, failure also found its way into the lives of some of the most successful and influential writers in history. Yet they prevailed. So, let us not be discouraged in what has been; rather, let us focus on what could be in exploring some of the failures of your favorite authors.
    I’ll begin by allowing you to guess the first writer: a beloved American icon who, after World War I, became deeply depressed and began writing in the league of the “Lost Generation” in bohemian Paris. A Nobel Prize found itself in his trophy case in 1954, only for the author to suffer two plane crashes the same year. Seven years later, after a long bout of paranoia and as many as fifteen sessions of electroshock therapy, he was found dead with his favorite shotgun in hand. He left an estate in Key West filled with his famous polydactyl cats.
    Ernest Hemingway had his lumps handed to him his entire life, which was marked by tragedy and unluck. An Austrian mortar shell nearly killed him during his time as a Red Cross paramedic in World War I. Regarding the incident, he claims he survived the explosion with “237 bits of shrapnel, an aluminum kneecap, and two Italian decorations.”
    His largest writing failure was during a meeting in Switzerland. His wife was packing to visit him and, wanting to surprise him, brought all of his writing projects. That would normally be a sweet gesture, but her faux pas was bringing everything. Absolutely everything. She brought all the carbons, every paper copy, literally his whole body of work. And of course, that suitcase got lost. This was in 1923, and Hemingway didn’t want to write for years after. Finally, in an attempt to compose a new body of work, he wrote quickly and in a “lean” fashion, providing him with his famous, skeletal style. That crushing loss of his work would eventually land him the Nobel Prize for Literature thirty years later.
    Dr. Seuss almost didn’t make it into the mainstream due to his struggles, either. You probably haven’t heard of And To Think I Saw It On Mulberry Street, as it’s not nearly a Green Eggs and Ham. He got the idea while stuck on a boat while returning from Europe—the boat’s engine was apparently loud and repetitive lending him a rhythm for his writing. Dr. Seuss went to twenty-seven different publishers and twenty-seven publishers turned his book down. He lost hope until one day he was walking home in New York City and bumped into a friend from Dartmouth who then worked for a publishing house that specialized in children’s books. That friend got him published and the book became critically acclaimed, inspiring him to write as a career.
   Many if not most famed authors have been turned down numerous times by publishers. For example, Stephen King’s Carrie was rejected by thirty publishers. When it was finally accepted by Doubleday, King received the news by telegram, since they'd had their home phone cut off in order to save money. The telegram read: “CONGRATULATIONS. CARRIE OFFICIALLY A DOUBLEDAY BOOK. IS $2500 ADVANCE OKAY? THE FUTURE LIES AHEAD.”
   Likewise, J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and The Sorcerer’s Stone was rejected twelve times. Rowling finally caught a break when an editor at Bloomsbury Publishing read it to her eight-year-old daughter, who loved it. Today there are more than 500 million Harry Potter books in print worldwide, and Rowling's share of the books alone has been estimated at over a billion dollars.
   One of Rowling’s inspirations, J. R. R. Tolkien, struggled with self-doubt about The Lord of the Rings. The world was in the throes of World War II as Tolkien, then a famed professor at Oxford University, worked on the book. Bombings occurred daily and Tolkien worried about the future of his novel. He had written an entire language and history for his setting and began to face doubts about if his novel would be read. He also worried about the complexity of his story: would he be able to finish the novel with no holes? Would the story’s world and narrative be appreciated? We all face doubts like these, especially when we’ve invested years, even decades, of our lives to projects. Yet he persevered and sold one of the most loved and well-known novels in history.
    We even have records of Charles Darwin stressing about the legitimacy of his work. In an 1861 letter to his friend Charles Lyell, Darwin summed up his mood this way: “I am very poorly today and very stupid and hate everybody and everything.” Further, he was considered merely average in school and dropped out to become a parson. He would later publish On the Origin of Species and become one of the most influential intellectuals of all time, though upon publication the New York Times reviewed his text unfavorably, saying, “Shall we frankly declare that, after the most deliberate consideration of Mr. Darwin’s arguments, we remain unconvinced?”
    Mary Shelley’s first novel Frankenstein was published in 1818 to public acclaim, though mixed reviews. But following Frankenstein, Shelley would write six more novels, none of them matching the first's success. After her husband Percy Bysshe Shelley's death in 1822, her writing had to support her and their young son, which put even more stress on her work. While writing one of her more forgotten novels, The Last Man, Shelley wrote in her journal, “Amidst all the depressing circumstances that weigh on me, none sinks deeper than the failure of my intellectual powers; nothing I write pleases me.”
    Nearly dying countless times, losing your entire body of work, self-doubt, mental illness, rejection from publishers. None of these prevented some of the greatest works of all time from being written. What all of these artists had in common was perseverance. They were determined in themselves and wrote even when it seemed hopeless. Take what you will from any of this; whether you think exceptional people get exceptions or not, there is an undeniable trend that you cannot succeed without determination.
  • About the Author
    Antonio Vazquez Lim is a Political Science and Philosophy double major enrolled at Miami University as a first-year student and is interested in pursuing a JD/Ph.D. after undergrad. He’s a proud West Virginian who enjoys creative and philosophical writing, powerlifting, and caring for his tortoises in his spare time.
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    The Evolving Narrative of LARP

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    Love reading stories that transport you to a different world? LARP provides you with an interactive experience where you can create and star in your own fictional narrative.  ♦ 
    "Bam-Bam!” a burly voice rang through the woods. It was odd how my body responded as though it was my real name. I turned to find a tall man stomping in my direction. I could tell by the stickman painted on his face that he was a part of my tribe. Although I didn’t know who he was, he sure knew me.
       By participating in live action role play, or LARP, players can enter into another world’s narrative by assuming the role of a character that could exist there. The players and the game masters work together to create a story within their respective games. Being very similar to improv, the stories that are created for and through these games tend to evolve greatly over time, sometimes even during gameplay.
       In this case, it was my first large-scale game, with roughly fifty players present. I went to this game with a relatively new friend in the middle of winter and was going to be there all weekend. The game I chose to play was Dystopia Rising, a full-immersion, post-apocalyptic game in which I would be in character for almost the entire time I was there. (Of course, the game stopped for a few hours for sleep, and gameplay was off limits in the restrooms.)
       Despite having done online role-play for years, I was completely out of my comfort zone. The one advantage I had was that my character was supposed to be antisocial, which made it a lot easier for me to role-play through my own anxieties. In reality, most of it was a lot easier than I’d led myself to believe it would be. Although I spent the entire weekend surrounded by mostly strangers, I never once felt like I didn’t belong. Everyone welcomed me with open arms and helped me learn the ropes. I thought I wouldn’t enjoy myself if I didn’t have a few close friends play with me, but I had a blast walking through the snow by myself and meeting new people.
       The most enjoyable part of the game was being an NPC, or a non-player character. In Dystopia Rising, each player has to work a shift as an NPC before “graduating” to a full character with a personal plot of one’s own. Sometimes being an NPC involves some level of role-play within another player’s personal plot. Sometimes it would merely be taking on combat roles, a facet of LARP that isn’t a part of every game. Doing the NPC shift, I saw more of the behind-the-scenes work that goes into these larger games, including a glimpse into the world of the game’s writers.
       Because there are a multitude of different types of games, Game Masters (the people crafting these stories, also known as storytellers) have to come up with various ways to tackle their narratives. Some will begin planning their next story immediately after completing a game while others will roll with the punches and think on their feet during gameplay, or some combination of the two styles. No matter the direction they take when creating their stories, storytellers can experience a change in plans as early as the first minute into a LARP game.
       Maria Cambone, who has been LARPing for 10 years and writing for LARPs periodically throughout, explains that your plans for a game narrative can easily be completely derailed. For example, if you plan a game for fifty people and, upon getting to the game, realize that only half that number shows up—and most of them are from out of town—you would recognize the narrative needs you had originally anticipated are now different. Occasionally, the storyteller may want to talk with new players prior to gameplay to see what they are hoping to get out of the game. Sometimes the players know, and other times they figure it out together during the game.
    Photo credit: Dystopia Rising Colorado
       Naturally, being a writer, I am deeply interested in this aspect of LARP, even trying my hand at creating LARP narratives a few times in some of my classes. But these narratives are harder to craft than they might appear. As James Mateika, a LARPer of 11 years, says, “The hardest part is recognizing if the players are frustrated or still having fun.” And I found this to be the case when writing my own: what I thought would be fun on paper didn’t always translate in person, especially in the early stages of designing a game. Other obstacles also arose, such as players being hard to read and things not always going the way you anticipated, much like Mateika experienced in one of his games that involved fighting with foam weapons known as boffers.
      “In one game we completely missed that we were in the wrong area and killed what was supposed to be the end boss of a weekend-long game,” Mateika says. Since this occurred within the first few hours, the storytellers found that they needed to revisit the drawing board, and fast. Other times, players can think of things in ways the storyteller hadn’t considered, going in a completely different direction than initially intended.
       Having role-played many times prior to trying Dystopia Rising, I already noticed how easy it was for me to assume the roles of my characters in stories I was working on. I have learned that this comes in handy when writing dialogue and creating well thought-out characters. Noticing these benefits to LARPing, I started to wonder more about storytelling in LARP games and how it could affect my writing in forms other than LARP writing.
       This led me to understand that my involvement in role-play could actually have something to do with why I struggle to come up with a structured story. Though there are many things that can be learned from a LARP game’s narrative, Cambone believes that it’s not a skill that easily translates to other mediums. You can learn skills that will help greatly when building a good setting, or even help in understanding how different characters can realistically interact with one another. However, when it comes to creating plot, it’s rather difficult to master if you focus all your creative energy on LARPing. I’ve noticed that if I spend a lot of time role-playing and go to write immediately afterwards, I struggle to create without another person’s energy to feed off of. However, as Cambone has expressed, the more you work on maintaining your craft, the easier it will be for you to create narratives on your own. It’s an activity that forces you to think on your feet and put yourself in another pair of shoes . . . and it also allows you to encounter a roller coaster of emotions, make new friends, and experience things that you otherwise wouldn’t.
       Cambone puts it best when she says, “LARP is an experience I live.” While you can watch a movie with another person or share your thoughts about a book with others, the story remains something that you both were told. With LARP, the story is an interactive experience with another human being, something that you’ve both lived through together. You, as your character, could feel one way towards another player’s character while feeling completely different outside of the game. While LARP isn’t an activity for everyone, it allows anyone to create their own unique experience. LARP is its own kind of medium in which the list of authors is endless and the price of entry can be as low as finding a group of friends.
  • About the Author
    Rebecca Helton is a fifth-year at Miami University majoring in Interactive Media Studies with a focus on game design and minoring in Creative Writing. Rebecca is hoping to combine her two areas of study to prepare for her future as a graduate student working toward a career in Student Affairs.
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    Thursday, May 2, 2019

    Theater of the Mind: How Audio Drama Made a Comeback

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    Listened to any good plays lately? With the resurgence of audio drama, both the classics and some brand-new favorites are just a click away.  ♦ 
    Back in the 1960s the poet W. H. Auden declared that, because of television, “radio drama is probably a dying art,” which he felt was a real loss of an art form: “A dramatic medium in which almost all the effect depends upon the spoken word offers unique opportunities to poets,” Auden said, “and it will be a matter for regret if they are deprived of it.”
       Luckily for us, entertainment has crossed into the digital age via phone, tablet, laptop, desktop, and smart speakers, and this has allowed the former “radio drama” a new chance to continue through the beloved Amazon service Audible and podcast apps such as the Old Time Radio Player or TuneIn's Audio Drama Internet Radio. These apps and others have created space for innovation and creativity to prosper in this once-dying genre and have become a reader's—or in this case, listener's—best friend, racking in nearly a trillion dollar profit last year. I remember when Audible was the hot new thing, but I’ve been a fan of audiobooks, and especially audio drama, since my middle school years, when my local libraries added audiobooks on CD and MP3 electronic resources to their collections (I also learned why adults disliked waiting lists). Back then, Shakespeare was enemy number one as my professors loved to assign his works. Reading in a dialect older than my five times my predicted lifespan with fluctuating characters isn’t the easiest to understand—nor reading the text on the page and then trying to imagine what this voice sounds like, or how that scene played out in the midst of chaos, and so on—and I found that the audio format was my best defense.
       My love of literature has propelled me since to become an avid reader, and I'm generally not too picky about the format I choose, utilizing literary outlets and formats accordingly. If I have downtime, I like a physical experience where I can hold my book, flip the pages, bend the corners and come back later. If I’m traveling long distances and don’t want to chance leaving my book somewhere, reading on my phone is the way to go. If I’m on the go and attention isn’t required, or I’m exercising or hiking, I choose audiobooks. But there are still times when I prefer the audio drama in particular, and where its best features are still as important to me as back in my Shakespeare days.
       As an English major, I sometimes struggle to get through the sheer volume of readings in my classes just like any other student. And when classic drama is part of the syllabus—whether Fences, The Crucible, The Importance of Being Earnest, and on and on—audio drama is the format that brings the text to life for me, able to immerse the listener in the world of the play beyond trying to conjure a visual for oneself: there are skilled actors performing the parts, special effects to help you imagine action and setting, audio production (sometimes including music) to create mood, and a sense of liveliness. When trying to be all parts in my head, as I’m sure many can relate, it’s easy to lose the identities of the characters, or misunderstand the stage direction, or to disrupt the flow of the piece, and I must reread to make sure I don’t miss anything. Audio formats are helpful for staying on track, comprehending what’s in the words and maintaining the distinction between the characters. It brings a much closer experience to how the text was supposed to be encountered than merely reading the words on the page, particularly for those students who prefer auditory to visual learning, though a student can still incorporate the best of both: you can listen to the play first and then read the play, or you can listen to the audio play as you read it. Either way offers a much more immersive experience than reading alone, and believe me, your GPA will thank you.
       Today more than ever, access to literature from hundreds of years ago up to the newest releases is at your fingertips, for anyone’s price range and any way you like to enjoy it. Classic works by Oscar Wilde, Shakespeare, Edgar Allan Poe, and so many others can be listened to through Audible, of course, whose current trial offer is thirty days free including one audiobook and two Audible originals (after the trial, you get one audiobook and two Audible originals for $14.99 a month). But if you can’t afford this low rate, your local public library is the next best thing, where you can access streaming audio works for free through such apps as Hoopla and Overdrive.
  • About the Author
    Jaimoneé Madison is a senior Linguistics major at Miami University with minors in Spanish and Creative Writing. She recently had her first piece accepted for publication in the upcoming edition of MU's Mosaic magazine. What Jaimoneé loves most about writing is that there's always something to propel her writing or bring her deeper into this world; at any moment she's able to take something and create from it. She had the honor of meeting the one and only African American female award-winning children's writer Sharon Draper, who gave her what she considers one of the best pieces of advice she's ever received: Write true to yourself and to your cause.
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    The One Thing to Bind Them All

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    Ever wonder about how a book is bound? This step-by-step guide will give you all the tools you'll need to bind your own. ♦ 
    It’s the first century BCE in modern-day India. In a dim, candle-lit room, a religious man is hunched over a pile of dried palm leaves split down the middle and covered in rubbed ink. He numbers the leaves, binds them in the middle with twine, and covers each end with hard, decorated wood. He holds his creation up to the flickering light and marvels at his work. The scribe is the world’s first known bookbinder, or bibliopegist. At that moment, he surely has no idea of the significance of his achievement.
       Walk into any modern bookstore, and you are met with a rather uniform selection of books. At first glance, they all seem to be bound with the same heavy paperboard called binder’s board, used in hardcover books. Upon closer inspection, a few books also seem to be bound in cloth, soft paper, or leather. These materials make up the four most ubiquitous forms of book bindings, but they have not always been the staples of the bookbinding industry.
       Since the advent of automation and assembly-line production, the variety of materials used to bind books has steadily dwindled. There, at one time, existed many different materials and methods to bind books. About fifteen methods to bind books proliferated throughout early recorded history, from Coptic binding, calf binding, and girdle binding, to cased cloth binding, limp vellum binding, and Ethiopian binding. The most successful technique, case binding, is commonly used today without heavy machinery. Case binding involves covering paper in a hard container, resulting in what’s more colloquially known as a hardcover book. It’s a fun, simple process that many people around the world use to renovate or decorate their favorite literature.
       I started binding books when I was in high school as a past time. There were lots of interesting books that I owned that were all plagued by inexplicably boring covers. In an effort to make the books I loved more interesting, I unknowingly delved into a hobby that would consume my attention to this day.
       In an effort to spread my love of bookbinding, I have written a step-by-step guide on how to bind books. The initial materials required are as follows: the book you wish to rebind (or generic paper), standard folios, a stapler (preferably a long-arm stapler), PVA glue (i.e. Elmer’s glue or similar), a hole punch, a butter knife, and knitting fabric.

    Step 1: Stacking

    Make sure that all of the pages are organized on landscape-oriented paper with two columns of text.
    Stack the source material’s pages into four neat piles in chronological order. Four piles is the minimum number that the paper should be divided into, as later on, we will be placing these four piles into slots in a standard accordion folio. Exceeding four piles may be necessary for more dense volumes, which will, in turn, increase the number of folios used.


    Step 2: Folding

    Divide the papers in half, hamburger-style. Remember to keep all the pages facing the same direction! Even the most experienced binders sometimes finish a book, only to realize that Chapter 17 is upside down. Depending on the texture you want your book to have, a more or less precise fold should be used. Many binders enjoy messy folds. Having the pages of your book be slightly different lengths adds a great sense of antiquity, especially within fictitious books that strive for excitement and believability.
    Unfold the paper and turn it over onto its back, so the blank side faces upwards.



    Step 3: Stapling

    One of the most exciting and fantastic pieces of equipment used by any serious bookbinder is the long-arm stapler. This baby can connect twenty to fifty pages at once, adding legitimacy to any binder whose craft might be lacking in other areas. Using a long-arm stapler it is not necessary, and normal staplers can get the job done. However, a long-arm stapler completes tasks faster and is an excellent conversation piece. This type of stapler can be purchased either online or within office supply stores.


    Place the upturned pages about two inches or so from the edge of the stapler and press firmly downwards on the stapler until all the pages have been joined together.
    Next, turn over the pages, and use a small ball peen hammer, or the side of a butter knife, to blunt and fold over the ends of the staples. This is extremely important, as failure to do so could cause flesh wounds and potentially tear the inside of the cover of the book upon completion. Make sure that you have stapled the pages together at no fewer than two separate places, but no more than three, as over-stapling adds unnecessary weight, and the binding glue does not stick easily to the metal staples.


    Step 4: Gluing

    Now for the most important part of binding: creating the very heart of each book. There are many different ways to bind books, including using twine, leather, leaves, and human skin (rare and not recommended), but for the sake of this tutorial, glue and fabric will be our binding agents.


    Procure as many normal three-ridged folios as necessary. The three ridges create four valleys that the stacks of paper will fit into.
    Cut a thin piece of fabric so that it is about the same length as the page height and roughly four to five times the width of all of the folios put together.
    Hold them together tightly, and all lined up. Imprecision here does not lead to antiquity, excitement, or believability in the final product.
    Place clips along the page edges opposite the binding to keep folios together. Use clothespins, or if your book is very thick, bulldog clips work fantastically.
    When all of the papers are aligned properly with the folios, apply white liquid glue. Amazingly, in this specialized and niche activity, normal Elmer’s glue is the easiest option. If you are feeling jazzy, a glue gun also works.
    Before it has a chance to dry, flip over the binding and glue the fabric to the other side. At this point, from left to right, spine to page edge, it should be as follows: cloth, folio, paper.


    Step 5: Covering

    Place the folio on your desired book cover. You could use an old book with a fancy cover on it that you like or a newer version of the same piece of literature. Have fun with it. There is nothing better than opening what appears to be an NRSV Bible and realizing that it is actually a cocktail cookbook. If you are using a pre-made cover (like the binding of another book), you can skip over to Step 7: “Edging.”
    For this tutorial, we will use a plain piece of corrugated cardboard, which adds a fun squishiness to the cover. Line up the cardboard’s edges so they are parallel with the folio’s edges. The tradition is to add about a quarter inch border on the non-spine edges. If the intention is for more of a Shawshank Redemption chisel-hidden-in-Bible vibe, consider other lengths that give it more thematic realism.


    Step 6: Spining

    Stack your book sandwich—cardboard, folio, cardboard—and press them together, measuring thickness.
    Cut the spine out of the same cardboard material so that it matches the thickness of the covers and paper together and that it is the same height as the book covers.



    Step 7: Edging

    Finally, you are ready to put all of the pieces together. Flip over your cardboard so that the side you want inside of the book facing upwards and place the fabric on it.
    Apply glue along the top edges of the cardboard and fold the fabric over so that it covers the edges of the cardboard. At this point, you should have your fabric covering the book, with the front and back covers laid out with the spine between them. Try not to keep space between the covers and the spine. Any space would weaken the book’s binding.


    Step 8: Binding

    Now, with your cover ready, place glue on the fabric along the spine of the folio and press firmly down onto the spine of the cover. Continue to press and hold the spine firmly.
    It is important to close the book and give it time to rest. The paper is often wrinkled from the glue, so it is best to use a low heat iron a few days later to smooth out any bumps in the paper.
    Return back the next day and behold your beautifully home-bound book! That’s it! You’re done!



  • About the Author
    John Christopher Buchheit was born in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and raised in Dayton, Ohio. Throughout his life, he has been very interested in bibliopegy. The strange anthropodermic bibliopegy (i.e. binding books in human skin) is what caught his attention and imagination, but in the end, it has been the more mundane materials and his love of science that have kept him as an interested and avid bibliopegist. He graduates from Miami University in May 2019 with a BA in Biology with a Pre-Medical co-major, a minor in Spanish, and a focus in European Culture. It is not quite clear what the future holds for him, but he knows that his loving friends and family will be there to support him every step of the way.
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    Tuesday, April 30, 2019

    Toxic Men in Media: Criticism or Glorification?

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    Can character critiques be effective when audiences aren't getting the message?.  ♦ 
    The original hero is a good guy. He is a clean-cut, handsome leader who knows the difference between right and wrong and faces no internal qualms about fighting for what is indisputably right. He stands for morality, he sees no gray areas, and he does not succumb to temptation. This hero became a predictable messiah figure that viewers soon grew bored with, and thus, the anti-hero has risen to popularity over the last twenty years.
        However, the anti-hero is moving from a flawed hero to an irredeemable man who does the bare minimum to occasionally to make us believe that maybe he does care about something, or someone. This type of protagonist began to receive backlash for representing moral depravity and violence against women, but instead of making better characters, creators have moved in the direction of putting forth these male protagonists under the guise of “criticism” of this precise behavior. After many years of watching toxic male protagonists on my screen who are supposedly meant to be self-criticisms, a question must be raised. Does the viewing experience even allow for these characters to function properly? More often than not, it seems that audiences are missing the point of these characters, and are simply enjoying the spectacle of watching horrible men sleep with beautiful women and commit gratuitous acts of manipulation and violence.
        The issue here is that authorial intent has almost no bearing on how the viewer interprets what is put before them. Creators may have every intention of portraying that a man is despicable and not to be idolized, but the viewer may never come to this conclusion. This dissonance between the creator and the viewer is expertly articulated in the fifth season of Bojack Horseman. Bojack Horseman is an animated show that features an alcoholic, drug-addicted, emotionally manipulative, Hollywood has-been. He spends the show ruining his own life as well as hurting anyone and everyone who cares about him. Just when the audience begins to sympathize with Bojack, he almost has sex with his friend’s seventeen-year-old daughter, or chokes his girlfriend and co-star in a drug-induced haze. In the fifth season, the character Diane realizes that the television show she is working on, which stars Bojack, centers around a man who has committed horrible crimes, and could be viewers like that character feel exonerated rather than condemned, which was not her intent. As far as I’m concerned, in doing this Bojack Horseman is one of few shows that stars a morally abhorrent male protagonist and explicitly reminds its audience of that fact. The point being that although the character has done good things, he has also done things that are inexcusable, and as viewers we should not overlook either aspect of his character.
        Another animated character that has entered the mainstream in the last several years is Rick Sanchez, one of the two protagonists of the television series Rick and Morty. Rick Sanchez is a genius scientist and inventor who takes his grandson, Morty, on inter-dimensional adventures. Rick is also a raging alcoholic who abandoned his wife and daughter and consistently uses others, in most cases his family, only as a means to his own selfish ends. Rick has almost no moral compass, and he uses his intelligence to avoid and excuse any responsibility he has to treat another human being with bare minimum respect. And yet, while there is a consensus among viewers that Rick is not a good person, it seems most viewers hold Rick to the same standards that he holds himself to: that he does not have to be a good person, because he’s too powerful and intelligent to be tied down by such an insignificant responsibility. This is an attitude that is particularly unsavory when we see it translated to men in real life—men who believe they are intrinsically superior to others, and therefore, do not need to treat others with basic respect. Furthermore, Rick is consistently excused for his amoral and apathetic behavior when, once every several episodes, he reluctantly reveals through small, backhanded moments of selflessness that he does care for his grandson. Somehow, the audience takes the scraps of Rick’s emotional reveals and uses these moments to reconcile the countless times he has traumatized and endangered his grandson.
        Even before watching The Wolf of Wall Street, the consumer knows that Jordan Belfort’s debauchery catches up to him and causes him to crash and burn. We know that Belfort spent 22 months in prison and lost the glamorous empire he built. We know that we should not want to be like him. But while watching the movie we root for him. We are jealous of his lifestyle and his prowess. He is portrayed as untouchable—as godlike. By the time I entered college I knew countless eighteen-year-old boys who aspired to be Jordan Belfort, the drug addicted, domestic abuser, billionaire fraud. In the final shot of the film, after Belfort has served his quick and cushy time in prison, he is still selling. The camera pans to an audience that avidly watches Jordan Belfort in all his glory, aspiring to achieve what he has. This shot could be interpreted as director Martin Scorsese subtly placing some of the blame on us—the audience, the consumer, and the society that not only allows for Belfort’s debauchery, but also idolizes and strives for it. This final shot supposes that Scorsese expected The Wolf of Wall Street to be misinterpreted.
        Even films such as 500 Days of Summer face misinterpretation despite the film rather explicitly showing us that the protagonist, Tom Hansen, was not the victim in his failed relationship, but perhaps that he never took his partner’s desires into consideration. It is clear early on that Tom is never going to regard Summer, his love interest, as a dimensional person, and as the film is shown from his point of view, she never does gain dimension. Summer is merely the girl he has decided is “the one,” and when she does not reciprocate that feeling, Tom becomes persistent, vindictive, and victimizing. This film has faced quite a bit of misinterpretation since its release in 2009. Many viewers have perceived Tom the way he perceives himself in the film: as the victim. The actor who depicted Tom, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, has even commented on this public response to the movie saying: “I would encourage anyone who has a crush on my character to watch it again and examine how selfish he is.” Why do so many viewers miss the true message: that Tom’s idealism of a girl who does not want a relationship is narcissistic and harmful? Why do we want to side with Tom? Because he is the protagonist, and as viewers and readers we have an inherent tendency to root for the protagonist. This tendency is not unlike to the tendency of humans to see ourselves as the hero rather than recognize our own wrongdoings.
        These narratives may operate under the guise of self-criticism, but the effect often falls flat in part due to the viewer experience. As soon as we are presented with a protagonist we will step into his or her shoes, and we will begin to excuse the things they do and sympathize with them. We will believe that these terrible actions aren’t his fault, because Bojack's mother was cruel, or because we would also be tempted by greed and corruption like Jordan, or because every once in while we see evidence that Rick does care about his grandson. As soon as we begin to identify with a character, the element of criticism falls away because the viewer gives this character sympathy, and effectively, exoneration. Can we really call this self-criticism at all if the consumer misses the point?
  • About the Author
    Allie Quinn is an undergraduate student at Miami University in the Creative Writing program.
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    Friday, April 26, 2019

    The Heart of the Law: An Interview with Edward Neveril

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    One a professional writer and the other a lawyer, a son and father bond over a shared appreciation of words and language.  ♦ 
    At first glance, it might not've seemed to writer Sean Neveril that his and his father's chosen career paths had much in common. Sean is a senior studying Professional Writing at Miami University of Ohio with interests in technical writing, while his father, Ed Neveril, is a mergers-and-acquisitions lawyer who currently works for Boeing. But while taking a class his senior year on the broad range of career paths within the fields of writing and editing, Sean began to see just how much of his father's work depends upon writing and communication . . . and, in fact, just how much the two share in terms of professional writing.
     "Lawyers are forced to master the English language," the younger Neveril says, "as using it effectively is a fundamental part of the work that they do." That work can include writing opinions which are subsequently published in United States Courts records databases; writing and reviewing contracts; managing groups of lawyers whose filings have to meet critical editorial and format standards; and much more. It was a light-bulb moment for Neveril, not only in realizing how fundamentally language is at the heart of the legal profession but also in seeing just how closely his and his father's work was related, after all.
       In the following interview, which took place by phone and over multiple email exchanges, the two discuss the importance of critical thinking and precision of language in both business and the legal profession and discover how much their disciplines have in common. This transcript contains both word-for-word exchanges as well as summarized sections


    So, I don’t really know what a Chief Counsel of Mergers & Acquisitions does. I know you’re a lawyer, but can you explain what you do, or at least the key aspects of what you do?


    “Mergers & acquisitions” is the term we use in business to describe generally the function of buying and selling businesses or companies, and in some cases, and recently, for me, many cases, creating new ones where we [Boeing] come together with another company to create a new company that we call a joint venture. I’m the lead lawyer at Boeing for that function. My team structures the deal, negotiates the deal and documents the deal. Most of the time, you’ll hear the term “M&A” as a shorthand for mergers & acquisitions.


    What do you mean by structures the deal? I understand the negotiating and documenting, but how would you go about structuring something like that?


    We work with business leaders and specialists like tax experts to decide, for example, what we’re buying and how we’re buying it. For example, let’s say the head of our military aircraft division has identified a company that’s really good at making landing gear that she’d like to buy. We help her figure out whether we should buy the whole company or only a part of it. If only a part of it, what part. And once we know what we want to buy, we need to figure out the best way of doing it. Do we buy the assets out of the company or do we buy the company’s stock. An example, but you get the point.


    That’s not the kind of lawyer you see on TV all the time. I mean, the first thing that comes to my mind when I think of a lawyer is one of the characters from My Cousin Vinny.


    Litigators. We call trial lawyers litigators. My Cousin Vinny is actually pretty accurate as far as movie depictions of trials go. The subject matter of the trial is pure comedy of course, but the process in terms of how the lawyers conduct themselves . . . like when and how they ask questions as opposed to making the typical grandiose speeches we always see the lawyers making at trials. I just love the prosecutor in that movie.


    How did you decide you wanted to be a mergers & acquisitions lawyer instead of a litigator? Did being a litigator not appeal to you?


    I started off as a litigator. Law school is very slanted toward litigation. Maybe that’s because they teach you the law by having you read and analyze cases, which are the legal opinions written by judges to resolve disputes.


    Why did you leave litigation?


    The answer to that question is probably a bit too much for this interview, but it didn’t have anything to do with writing. Mostly, I liked the volitional aspect of negotiation more than the compulsory nature of litigation. People involved in litigation are mostly unhappy. They always feel like they’ve been forced into it. M&A is a process more about finding a way to make everyone happy, or at least happy enough.


    Did you become a lawyer because of a love of writing?


    Not at all. I hated writing growing up. It was my least favorite subject. I was a pure math and science guy. I was lousy at writing. Never knew what to say. I’d read sometimes what my friends would write and be amazed at how much they had to say that was interesting. I had nothing.


    If you were so bad at writing, why would you decide to become a lawyer? Isn’t writing a big part of being a lawyer?


    Absolutely. But legal writing came more naturally to me. In law school, we were taught how to write for litigation, which is all about persuasion through logic, and logic is the foundation of math and science. You’d get a set of facts and some laws or rules. Then you’d get some cases that showed how different judges over time applied those laws to facts that were in some ways similar to, and in some ways different from, your set of facts. The memos we’d write had to apply the law to the facts and argue why it was more logical and persuasive to focus on certain similarities or differences than others. You’d write the memo one way, and then your professor would make you turn around and write the memo coming out the other way. You had to be able to see both sides of it. Maybe that’s what pushed me to find the content for my writing. To defend your position, you had to identify and analyze every angle. A miss was an opportunity for the other side to exploit your position. Critical thinking opened up a whole new world for me as a writer.


    You always get on me about not being precise enough in my writing. Did you also learn that in law school?


    For sure. Law school professors would jump all over you for misuse of words. Accurately communicating your message is critical in legal writing. And it goes beyond your message. Word choice is at the heart of law. I remember my very first day of class at law school when my contracts professor wrote on the chalkboard the simple phrase “No Vehicles Allowed in the Park.” He baited all of us new students into agreeing openly that this was a very clear law. Then he started asking whether it prohibited bicycles, or skateboards, or matchbox cars, or even a painting of a car. I was totally hooked. Completely fascinated. I started thinking about every word I used or read or heard. And I’ve been doing it ever since.


    How do you apply your legal writing skills in mergers & acquisitions, or how does your acquired attention to word choice influence your current work?


    In a lot of ways. M&A deals are memorialized in written contracts. Writing and negotiating contracts for the massive and complex transactions that we do requires absolute mastery of the English language. Both sides come to the negotiation with a team of well-seasoned lawyers completely focused on using words to get their clients an advantage. The placement of a comma can completely change the meaning of a sentence. You have to be on your toes.


    Would you say that your work as an M&A lawyer is similar to a copyeditor?


    I’m not sure I know everything a copyeditor does, but I’d say yes to your question insofar as good copyeditors carefully review written work to ensure proper usage of the English language. Of course, it may depend a bit on what kind of writing the copyeditor is editing. I could see there being a big difference in how he approaches the editing of a medical text book versus a fictional murder mystery. It seems a little harder to say what’s exactly right or wrong in the latter case.


    Do you think taking more English classes in college would better prepare you for being a lawyer?


    I’m not sure. One of my colleagues said just the other day that she thought the most important thing you could do in college was to become well-educated in a broad sense. To learn how to be a critical thinker. To develop a thirst for learning. She didn’t think it was right to look at college like it was trade school. That resonated with me. How about you? Now that you’ve had a taste what it’s like to work at a business, how do you see your English classes helping you?


    I believe my experience—my training in professional writing courses—has allowed me to more effectively communicate with others in a business environment, to form a voice that I believe represents me in the way that I would like to be presented. And from my experience as an engineering intern at an electrical construction company in Chicago, I gained insight into how a business functions, how effective communication is the most critical function of a proper business.
      I wouldn’t say I disagree with what your colleague had to say about a college education, but I do believe that college English classes, especially the ones that I’ve taken through Miami, have taught me valuable information that will greatly influence my professional career.


    Good points. Being a lawyer, I have to ask you about the legal writing class you took last year. I think you said you liked it a lot, but I don’t remember asking you why. Am I remembering this correctly? If so, what did you like about it so much?


    Like you said earlier, legal writing has a lot to do with applying rules and other proceedings to a current issue. I would have to say that my favorite part of a legal writing class is the process of being a detective, in a sense. There was a sense of gratification I felt whenever I was able to build a case, either to prosecute or to defend someone. I was able to understand how one uses language in a legal setting to cause immediate change as well as, in some cases, influence legislation. Is this not similar to something that you have either felt in your past, or even still feel?


    Sure. I think most everyone likes to feel that he or she is making a difference in the world, whether that’s in the community or the workplace.
      Lawyers do that primarily through language.
  • About the Author
    Sean Neveril is a senior Professional Writing major at Miami University. He is interested in more technical writing and applying his skillets to many different career paths. Sean's ideal day would consist of waking up early, driving into the Rocky Mountains, and fly fishing until dusk. Living in Chicago, Sean believes this will remain a dream until later in life.
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    Thursday, April 25, 2019

    Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship: The Wisdom of the Quotidian

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    You might not think a 220-year-old novel wherein seemingly "nothing remarkable happens" could be relevant to a modern college-aged readership. You'd be wrong.  ♦ 
    Have you ever awoken from a deep sleep, as though you were coming into existence from a state of non-being? You do not know where you are—maybe in your childhood home or in a cabin at camp—perhaps you do not even know who you are for the moment.
      This state of affairs—the perplexity of being confronted with existence itself while being equipped only with bewilderment—corresponds to a great degree with the confusion that many young people, especially students in college or young adults, encounter with respect to their futures. Many of us stare into the abyss of questions: what am I doing, where am I going, and why?
       And yet this abyss of questions, daunting though it may be, contains within it the potential for an interpretation of reality: the potential for meaning. Just as an author weaves an overarching narrative from seemingly disconnected events, developments, and characters, so too can we realize a narrative in our own lives, which at times may be blissfully light, catatonically onerous, or maybe just plain boring. This task of realizing the significance of each passing moment is fraught with difficulty: it requires also registering each moment in relation to the whole of everything else that has been experienced.
       In the bildungsroman, we see reflected this endeavor to understand and to interpret what we experience in its most quintessential form. We observe the development of a youthful protagonist into maturity, during which he ascribes certain meanings to his experience and seeks to understand his place in the world. It is an essentially universal quest, a process in which we all participate, and the stronghold from which we sally forward to ascribe meaning to other phenomena.
       No doubt, this process continues throughout the course of life, even after young adulthood. But it’s in that transition between childhood and maturity that the burden of this seeking carries the most gravitas. The bildungsroman therefore takes the weighty task of representing this hesitating, hopeful leap into experience and maturity.
     Despite grappling with the evidently important subjects of individual maturation and development, the start of the genre of the bildungsroman, Goethe’s masterpiece, might not fit so well with contemporary notions of what is important or entertaining.
       In fact, Goethe’s Wilhelm Meister’s Apprenticeship might appear, after a perfunctory reading, not obviously engaged with salient existential questions, but instead, rambling, bumbling, and—worst of all—trivial. However, a more thorough, assiduous reading might contrarily confer a sense of wonder at its seemingly boundless wisdom and relevance.
       Wilhelm, the protagonist, is bombarded with an endless succession of quotidian experiences; he converses, traverses, rehearses, splurges, curses, utters poetic verses, and, as is characteristic of youth, his friend group disperses. Just as we encounter countless banal experiences in day-to-day life, so does Wilhelm. Throughout hundreds of pages, the reader of Goethe’s masterpiece is asked to settle for occurrences that are deceptively commonplace and seemingly meaningless; one moment Wilhelm is dithering about in an idyll town by a serenely flowing river, splurging away his wealth capriciously and getting drunk in high-spirits, the next he is traveling with a troupe engaging in petty banter, and later he makes the acquaintanceship of nobility, regaling his noble and idealistic ideas in high-flown discourse.
       Wilhelm is the prototype of the youth who enters the wide-world naïve and idealistic, meeting the vicissitudes of reality with a grandiosity of vision. He is met with disappointment and disillusionment, but he journeys doggedly and courageously forward through chaos.
       Much as is the case in our lives, Wilhelm must balance his passions and inclinations with the pressures of his family. For Wilhelm, his desire to be an actor is countervailed by the influence of a highly practical father who wants him to become a businessman. The supposedly pointless experiences Wilhelm undergoes along with his desires and inner constitution conspire fatefully. While the end may not be in view to Wilhelm, it is certainly there—its realization however requires Wilhelm’s conscientious, active, and faithful participation.
      Perhaps the best parts of Goethe’s work are the jewels of wisdom scattered about the quotidian rough. Consider Goethe’s reflection on the interaction between poetic, idealistic Wilhelm and his close friend, the ever-pragmatic Werner: “ . . . one could have said that their desire to discover each other through their conversations was only increased by the impossibility of making themselves mutually understood . . . [They were] never able to understand why the one could not reduce the other to his way of thinking.”
       Or consider Goethe’s poetic rendering of Wilhelm’s sorry state after his being reminded of his alienation from the comforts of women: “He could not perceive clearly that there was an irresistible yearning which nature had imposed on him as a law of his being, and that this was being stimulated, but only half satisfied, and ultimately frustrated by circumstance.”
       Or—my personal favorite—consider Wilhelm’s reflection after a night of carousing (something that many college-aged people can relate to) and reading literature (perhaps not so relatable): “Next morning he opened his eyes and gloomily surveyed the mess and destruction of the previous evening, he felt thoroughly depressed at the sad results which a stimulating, spirited, and well-intentioned work of literature had produced.”
       The very act of reading Wilhelm’s development, and his continuous struggle to resolve the meaning of the concatenation of experiences he undergoes, is edifying: it is a call for reflection on the course of one’s own development. This reflection may be tiresome and laborious to the modern reader, but the end result is realization as profound as that of waking up from seeming nothingness. An attentive reading of Goethe’s magnum opus is rewarding in the same way that the conscientious engagement with life that it conveys is, but one must keep in mind that both are only rewarding by virtue of their arduousness.
       And especially for readers that are on the verge of an unknown future, particularly young adults, Goethe will reward with the wisdom of the poet: he will show, through the particular story of one youth first published in 1795, a universal experience that is relevant to all those who are developing as individuals and seek to understand their purpose. Nevertheless, the reader is left with the task that only he or she can do sufficiently: namely, the task of reflecting on and interpreting his or her own story.
       As Goethe says, “The rude man is content if he sees but something going on; the man of more refinement must be made to feel; the man entirely refined, desires to reflect.”
  • About the Author
    Elijah Donohue is a junior with majors in Philosophy and Professional Writing at Miami University. During his free time, he likes to read literature and philosophy. He particularly enjoys reading German Idealism, especially Schopenhauer, as well as Eastern philosophy. He’s a befuddled and sometimes melancholy figure who can be found bedraggled and brooding or blathering aimlessly.
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    Thursday, April 18, 2019

    The Feminine Between: Fanfiction as a Gendered Space

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    Fanfiction is not only a proponent for creative culture, but could also be the outlet that young women need.  ♦ 
    The rise of the internet as an entertainment platform has enabled content creators of all kinds to profit from their works in ways that were unprecedented only a few decades ago. For example, the rise of streaming services, such as Netflix and Hulu, has catapulted our favorite TV shows and movies from a commercial-heavy DVR to the zero-commercial, zero-hassle bliss of binge-watching on almost any screen. As more of this type of easy-access content appears, fans of this content will multiply. But, inevitably, those fans will reach a point when they can simply binge no more. And where does one go to consume his or her favorite content when the canon runs out?
       The fandom, of course.
      Where else, besides within a fandom, could you find fanart of your favorite characters from The Walking Dead opening a bakery together? Where else could you engage in lengthy discourse about what exactly happened in Season 4, Episode 1 of Supernatural? Where else could you read a 300,000-word story entirely based on that one scene that would have been so much better if it had gone just a little bit differently? Fandoms are where you go when you don’t want the content to end, or you wish it ended differently, or you think you could’ve done it better yourself. Therefore, the people who are attracted most to fandoms are those who feel as if their voices are not represented within modern media: namely, young women.
       Within online fandom spaces, young women can find an escape from a reality in which their voices are not valued. Indeed, many creators within fandoms rejoice in the fact that their audience is limited to other women who have common interests to theirs. According to Beth Weeks, a fanfiction author with an online following more than 25,000 strong, this is part of the appeal: “I’m not interested in men reading my work or men’s perspective of my work. I’m always writing for my 16-year-old self.” Writing in this milieu has since helped her within more professional contexts. “I can say that one of the strengths I had when I came to the MFA was that I was acutely aware of writing for an audience.”
       That being said, the limits of a fandom’s audience can also be detrimental to an aspiring author because of one key factor: “Fanfic is so much of a community thing. We’re writing to contribute to a greater lexicon, and the whole purpose of it is to showcase our genre. Original work is kind of in a vacuum. You inevitably derive your work from other people, but you can’t admit that,” confessed Weeks. And, indeed, one of the most challenging facets of being in an MFA program for Weeks was “Writing what I wanted to write, not what other people wanted to read.”
       Furthermore, writing within a fandom can be challenging for reasons one might not expect. While the audience and community are one of the best parts about the genre, they can also be incredibly overwhelming. According to Weeks, “The place of a fanfic writer is a completely unique circumstance. The place of a popular fanfic writer is the strangest place to be, because we’re not allowed to talk about our popularity, we’re not allowed to acknowledge any kind of fame, and we’re not allowed to complain about it.” This is because, according to fandom logic, receiving attention and acclaim from an overwhelming audience is better than not receiving any at all. However, this is not a struggle felt by authors of original texts.
       Weeks elaborated on this point, “If you’re a popular author of an original text, you don’t have to reply to your Amazon reviews. You don’t have to keep an open Ask Box, you don’t have to reply to your Twitter mentions. But fanfic authors have to constantly engage. In some cases, fanfic authors have larger followings than original authors, and, in many cases, they do. And yet, we are tasked with the unpaid labor of constant engagement because we are reader-writers of the same lexicon. And so, we have to engage as fans of a greater text, even though we’re in this between space of also being creators, but we have to do all of the work of being a consumer in addition to a creator.”
      And yet it is within that “between space” that aspiring female authors are able to dramatically influence culture at a micro-level that can become macro. One example of this occurred when Supernatural paid tribute to its fans with its 200th episode entitled “Fan Fiction.” Filmed in the form of a musical and performed by a young female cast, the television show celebrated the fanbase that insured its popularity. On a more individual level, writing fanfiction is what put best-selling authors E.L. James and Anna Todd on the map. However, while there still are inherent issues with catering to a large audience without a PR team to support and guide an aspiring author, by contributing to fandom content, a young woman can feel empowered and learn skills that can positively impact her future writing. Regardless of how this space is interpreted in the public eye, fandoms represent massive online platforms in which young women have the power to reshape mainstream content into any form they desire.
      And even though in today’s culture fanfiction is still not taken nearly as seriously as canonical writing, the canon can only go so far. But the fandom? Well, that goes on forever.
  • About the Author
    Mary Seaman is a Creative Writing and History double major who has been a fanfiction connoisseur since 2012. She is currently attending Miami University as a third-year senior.
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    Sexes, Hexes, and the Rise of Witchcraft in Popular Media

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    What was once a feared practice is now one of the largest rising obsessions in today's culture.  ♦ 
    Double, double, toil and trouble, fire burn and cauldron bubble…”
       These words are familiar to many in the millennial generation, having Shakespeare parroted back to them during their time spent in school. The ideas of witchcraft, magick, and peering beyond the veil have been following the millennial generation around for most of their lives. Popular books, movies, and television shows all include some aspect of witchcraft, and the magickal genre has only grown with the generation. Early childhood experiences from J. K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and Roald Dahl’s Witches to more mature shows like Sabrina the Teenage Witch and American Horror Story: Coven have only served to cultivate the consumer. Even recent movies like Suspiria and The Love Witch have helped pique the interest of watchers, turning Muggles ever-towards more witchy-themed endeavors.
       In the past few decades, themes of witchcraft have grown to permeate media, fashion, pop culture, and most definitely literature. But what does this mean for book culture? With the sudden rise of paganism and Wicca in the millennial generation, it means demand. Constant demand for more literature, more style, more stuff! In a way, witchcraft has become less of an eclectic practice and more of a stylized genre. Some may even argue that witchcraft is becoming a brand. Clothing stores, large makeup brands, and places frequented by alternatively-dressed kids are now selling easy start-up kits for spellcraft, alchemy, and other forms of popular witchery. The days of having to use secret websites or shipping items from out-of-state are over. No longer does the word “witch” refer to a girl wearing all black. Anyone can start on their magickal journey, as long as they have a spell book.
      The rise of witchcraft in media has led to the complete explosion of the modern spell book, (via physical copies, digital, or online resources), helping to grow the magickal generation. While paganism has been around since the dawn of time and the term “Wicca” was coined in the 1950’s, the acceptance of witchcraft did not truly take off until the 2010’s. Some of the most popular spell books have been published by the author Arin Murphy-Hiscock. She has been publishing magickal guides since the early 2000’s, but became a formally recognized top author in 2017 when her book, The Green Witch: Your Complete Guide to the Natural Magic of Herbs, Flowers, Essential Oils, and More, became both an Amazon and Barnes & Noble bestseller. Similar guides and other “how-to” spell books have also become an increasingly common part of the millennial athenaeum.
       Another large component for an increased demand in spell books is the stereotypical millennial mindset. Societal values such as feminism, acceptance, queer visibility, money issues, environmental concerns, self-care, racial equality, rebellion, and opposition to the status quo all drive the millennial need to find solutions outside of themselves. One event in particular that calls to the popularity of witchcraft in this current age is the prevalence of “social hexing.” For example, hexes, curses, and otherwise negative forms of magick are cautioned against in the Wiccan tradition in the form of The Wiccan Rede and The Three-Fold Law, also known as “The Law of Return.” The Wiccan Rede is summarized by most traditional practitioners as, “These Eight words the Rede fulfill: "An’ Ye Harm None, Do What Ye Will.” The Three-Fold Law states whatever energy a person puts out into the world, be it positive or negative, will be returned to that person three times. Magick, as according to traditional media, is meant to be used for good and the lessening of “bad.” For example, the foundations of the magickal laws were explored in the film called The Craft, as well as appearing in most traditional texts of paganism. However, the casual practitioners or “magickal trenders” don’t necessarily take these foundational forms of occultism/paganism/Wicca to heart, which could partially explain the implementation of these public hex events. Supporters of these movements believe that these events show support and visibility for people who feel like they have been marginalized by various sections of society.
       Described as Brooklyn’s “premiere occult bookshop and spiritual community space,” Catland Books is the supposed originator of the art of the “public” or “community hex” as a form of magickal activism. In June of 2017, Catland Books hosted a premier event to hex Donald Trump. After the immense popularity of the first event, Catland Books has hosted many more, hexing or binding politician Brett Kavanaugh and the entirety of the National Rifle Association (NRA). Each occurrence is marketed as a community event and is meant to bring people together and foster a sense of visibility and community for groups who feel as though they remain unheard.
       From socially taboo to comfortably mainstream, witchcraft has inundated the media in ways that have brought people together. With its continual popularity, it’s clear that magick isn’t going anywhere anytime soon. As long as these industries continue to capitalize on the human desire for escape, there will always be the need for the color black and for some form of commercially available magick.
  • About the Author
    Tess Bellamy is a senior Professional Writing major with a penchant for horror stories. She enjoys reading books in Spanish, Elvish, and Runic variants. She spends most of her time with her partner, Sebastian, and their pets, Pudgy (dog), Artemis (cat), Lady Emberine (spider), and Fyre (snake). She dreams of one day writing spooky cookbooks that anyone could enjoy.
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    Betwixt and Between: An Interview with Dr. Jeb Card

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    In a new book, a professor of anthropology takes on weird history and our cultural, conspiratorial fascination with it.  ♦ 
    Be honest: when you think of archaeology—more specifically, the search for lost civilizations, or the unveiling of hidden histories—you probably don’t think of an academic study first. More likely, you think of Indiana Jones raiding a temple for supernatural artifacts, or a History channel special on ancient aliens, or any number of YouTube channels you might’ve come across from pseudo-archaeologists who claim to unveil the “truth” about history “they” don’t want you to know. But why is it that archaeology, as a field of study, seems to particularly attract interest in the weird? And what does the attraction tell us not only about archaeology but about ourselves?
       These are the questions Dr. Jeb Card, an anthropology professor at Miami University of Ohio and self-described “weird-shit-ologist,” explores in his book Spooky Archaeology: Myth and the Science of the Past (University of New Mexico Press, 2018), which “guides the reader through haunted museums, mysterious hieroglyphic inscriptions, [and] fragments of a lost continent that never existed” while also examining the question of “how and why archaeology continues to mystify.” Dr. Card has taught at Miami University since 2011 and, before that, at Southern Illinois University at Carbondale and Tulane University, where he earned his PhD in anthropology in 2007. While being an effective instructor, scientist, and mentor for numerous students in research, Dr. Card has also succeeded as an author (his previous book, Lost City, Found Pyramid: Understanding Alternative Archaeologies and Pseudoscientific Practices, was published in 2016), has been both co-host and guest on numerous podcasts on weird archaeology, and has done extensive research and study of Central America and other areas.


    Who were some of your biggest inspirations while writing your book Spooky Archaeology?


    Spooky is about archaeology but is not a [textbook]; it is more of a history. From the academy, [professor of political science Michael Barkun] wrote a book called A Culture of Conspiracy, which is really a major light for me in how to approach what I sometimes call “weird-shit-ology.” He argues that rejected or stigmatized knowledge—once it is stigmatized—is kind of put in the same bin, trash bin, or gutter and is all mixed together, which makes sense if you look at everything from conspiracy theory to paranormal thought to radical political extremism [and] how they all overlap. Adrian Mayer, who is a historian who looks at the ancient world from sort of a scientific perspective, is also an influence. A weird one is actually Leonard Nimoy because of In Search Of…, which sort of inspired me as a kid, but I also critique things like it in the book.


    What were some of the challenges you faced along the way when writing a book in such a distinct genre?


    Everything I have ever done, academically speaking, has felt betwixt and between. I wanted to do Maya archaeology, and from the beginning I kind of screwed it up. You would think it would involve inscriptions and texts and whatnot, but the person who pokes around in the dirt is often not the person reading and interpreting these [ . . . ]. I gave up on this approach in grad school, so I then [did] historical archaeology in early Spanish colonial Central America.
       This stuff, in Spooky, is betwixt and between squared.
      There is no professorship of “weird-shit-ology.” It is important, and in the last three years people are beginning to understand . . . but there is still a lot of fumbling around, and that’s actually been one of the biggest fights I’ve been increasingly dealing with.
       I’ve been in this for a long time, and for much of that time when I talk about [why people believe in conspiracy and pseudoscience], the sometimes-literally-said, often-implied response from many of my colleagues would be, “Why are you studying that? That only happens to people in trailers in Arkansas.” There is a huge class element, and that is why it has been ignored. Then the last three years all these sociology, anthropology, and especially psychology papers have come out [but] these don’t really have anything to do with the field. However, because they are coming from other theoretical bases, they are more likely to get listened to. 


    You have appeared on several podcasts and have written a number of articles and scientific papers; do you prefer speaking in ways like a podcast or presentation to spread knowledge or do you prefer using your writing? Do you feel that one of these methods is superior for spreading knowledge?


    I am decent at performing, so I enjoy speaking. That doesn’t mean it’s necessarily the best way. There are multiple approaches, and I think there is a value to the big blast and some value to getting out there on social media and trying to get people to see things. I think this is the least important, though, because I don’t think that we can win that fight. If you are trying to make your voice heard where everyone else is doing the same but doesn’t care about citation or something being true six months from now, but you do, you are inherently handicapped. I think there is a limited value here.
       I think public speaking, including podcasts, very much [has] a value. I also think putting what we have out there on the record is really important. The absolute least useful thing you can do, and often is frankly negative, is getting into real-time fights or debates with people. It never goes well, because you are handicapping everything that scholarly work is good at: looking into hundreds of resources, doing the research, actually knowing the answers rather than having a small set of stock answers that you go back to because they work well on a crowd.
       I strongly disagree with arguing over Twitter or something like that because it isn’t for the audience which many people think; I care more about convincing people [ . . . ]. We need to tell our own stories, and sometimes that needs to be in long form or sometimes it needs to be in speaking. What we can’t do is react. We can’t sit back, think people will listen to us, and then be shocked and answer in reaction.


    What challenges did you face in the writing and publication processes of your book?


    The actual writing and publishing process went fairly easily. Copyediting was fine, and there were fights of course—whether to use Maya or Mayan, which I lost. It’s supposed to be Maya, but if you read my book it is not. The bigger problems have been that there are issues in print publishing, in no small part due to the Amazon effect and things like that. I published with an academic press tied to a state university system which has had its funding cut, [and] which is symptomatic of the larger funding cuts to the state university systems throughout the US. Spooky was available in hardcover for $75, which is a ridiculous price but by no means the most expensive book I’ve worked on. It is now available in paperback for $39.95, and I would rather it be $29, but I can live with $39. Part of that is because the press has lost state support, not because they are bad or good but because we have decided as a society not to do these kinds of things [ . . . ]. The people there are overworked and understaffed, which have been the largest problems.
       The reason I didn’t go the CreateSpace route is because this book was peer reviewed and people liked it; some of them even put their names on it, which I’ve never had before. The problem there was not peer review or creation, but that the publishing industry is being hammered.
       People have read and reviewed this book, and if there was a giant red flag, they would have pointed it out. Maybe that isn’t the future, but I am glad I went with an academic press and I am glad with my publishing choices.


    From a young age you have been exposed to history in numerous ways; have you always known what you wanted to do in life? Did you have any interest in writing when you were younger?


    I haven’t been back to Gettysburg since the late 1990s, but I did the math once and between 1976 and the mid ‘90s I figured out that I had spent approximately sixty days there, and my father had spent about 700 days there, but now it is probably closer to 1000. Archaeology had emerged on my radar in high school, but I always wanted to be a “scientist” of sorts. Writing seems to inherently be a part of that. I don’t know if I wanted to write for a larger audience, which wasn’t on my agenda for most of college. When I began to study the Celtic Milieu [the range of Celtic archaeologies and influence] as a topic of anthropological science, I probably began to want to spread my ideas to a larger audience. Writing a book like Spooky probably started around 2006 when I started blogging, which I did up until I got this job in 2011 [and] it began to enter my mind that if I already am writing this stuff in a blog, I might as well be putting it into an article or a book.
       That said, the history of Spooky is pretty important here. It emerges from two blog posts in October 2011; one was about what I am now calling the Paranormal Unified Field Theory—Alex Jones, the conspiracy theorist, made it clear to me that many of my thoughts and ideas [about fringe conspiracy and weird archaeology] cohered together; that post is a major part of what I’ve been up to. The other post was why is archaeology seen as spooky and haunted. There are several reasons which you can find in the book, like museums being seen as haunted and whatnot.
       I went to the 2012 American Anthropological Society meetings, and I decided since it was 2012 and the Maya calendar [doomsday prediction] and all that . . . what would be a better time to put in a paper like this in a professional setting? So I put in "Spooky Archaeology: Understanding the Past," which is a version of the blog post. An acquisitions editor told me he saw a book in this paper, but I didn’t jump on it right away. By the end of 2013, I had emailed him and he informed me that he was still interested.
       The book eventually becomes something else but starts off with some of the ideas in that paper that I end up building on.
       Scholarship requires looking at hundreds of objects and resources, not just a few blog posts. There is this hunger for content, but there has to be something backing it up, and many projects in the public face lack these. There is a temptation to work off the minimum you know and just wing the rest, and that way lies problems.
       I had a professor, Dan Heelin, who when [he] would do oral examinations he would say, “Jeb, are you sure about that?” when you would give answers, to politely say you are wrong. His whole point, however, was that you are going to be presenting your information in front of an audience and you damn well better know what you are talking about, because if you don’t people are going to catch you out. Know what you are talking about; don’t make things up.
       Over time, what being a writer meant became clearer to me. It is a lot of work, a lot of editing, and a lot of getting this right. If you realize that, you say “Yes please, yes I want to go to the library for six months and know all the things” and have 175,000 words that you then have to carve up to 110,000 and you judicially throw things out and rework it, and rework it, and rework it until my audience actually gets it and it’s not just in my head. I’m not just saying what I want on the page; I am actually communicating with the audience. Once you realize that is writing and you still want to do it, then you are writing. But that takes time to get to, and if you are constantly doing it on a deadline, it is hard. When I was finally starting to get things together in the last chapters of my dissertation, I knew I wanted to do it again. When people actually [said] things like “That’s good” and “I get what you’re going for,” that’s when I realized I wanted to write again.

  • About the Author
    Tom Becker is a senior Zoology major at Miami University. In his free time, he enjoys watching movies as well as the NBA, playing video games, and hiking and resting in his hammock with his two dogs Buddy and Zeus. Currently, he is reading the series A Song of Ice and Fire and hopes to read Dune next.
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