Monday, August 3, 2020

Writing Lessons from the Sunshine State


What Lauren Groff's haunting story collection teaches us about thematic unity and formal innovation.  ♦
Florida by Lauren Groff is a collection of stories in which each piece acts as part of a greater whole, featuring different characters and different timelines that all intersect to create one single representation of Florida as both a state and a state of mind. Groff depicts the state as terrifying yet beautiful, a feeling that stretches throughout, and while tropical storms, snakes, and crocodiles are always a threat, the main characters in her stories somehow find beauty within the chaos. Groff uses the same character in different stories throughout the collection to provide continuity between pieces and stretch the topics of motherhood and marriage, but even when Groff explores characters besides the mother, all lend well to the overall feeling of Florida as a place where being content is not an option, such as the two sisters who are abandoned on an island in “Dogs Go Wolf” or the homeless girl running away from life in “Above and Below.” Groff employs various narrative structures that help keep the content fresh and exciting, making these stories as unpredictable as the Floridian weather, and I found myself being swept around in a gust of literary wind that left me as entertained as I was unsettled.

In fact, maybe the most important thing aspiring writers can learn from Groff is her use of varying story structures. When you think of a short story, you may imagine a beginning, middle and end, and while Groff does use a straightforward, linear form in some of these pieces, she employs other structures to great effect; in “Snake Stories," for example, Groff uses an unconventional, crot-based structure to tell about a woman in Florida struggling to be happy with her husband and two kids. In this context, a “crot” is a part of a whole, like an entire collection of smaller stories sharing space inside a single story. Each one is short, rarely over a paragraph long, and somehow related to snakes, whether this is literally, or related to someone’s deceptive actions, or the narrator recognizing someone’s snake-like tendencies. The piece begins with the narrator relaying the story of Adam and Eve and the snake that fools them into committing the original sin, and it then transitions into the narrator describing her son’s school projects about snakes and his fascination with them:

I can’t get away from them, snakes. Even my kindergartner has been strangely transfixed by them all year. Every project he brings home: snakes.

The pet project: i thnk a kobra wud be a bad pet becus it wud bit me, picture of him being eaten by a cobra. The poetry project: snakes eat mise thy slithr slithr slithr thy jump otof tres thy hissssssssssssssssss, picture of a snake jumping out of a tree and onto a screaming him. Or so I assume: my child is in a minimalist period, his art all wobbly sticks and circles.

Why, of all beautiful creatures on this planet of ours, do you keep writing about snakes? I ask him.

i lik them and thy lik me, he tells me.

As the piece continues, the narrator describes seeing her husband, a man “overrun by angels” but who “struggles with things that appeal,” gravitate toward another woman at parties. “Snake Stories” is about temptation, deception, and recognizing the snakes in the grass, meaning that there is evil and potential danger lurking around everyone.

Most of the stories in Florida are between fifteen and thirty pages long, typically somewhere in the middle of that spread, and all but one take place in Florida. The only story to break both of those normalities is “Yport,” the final story in Groff’s collection. Coming in at fifty pages and taking place in France, this is the perfect way to end the book and drive home the ideas presented throughout. Having spent the previous two-hundred-plus pages in the sunshine state, you might expect that the recurring mother with two kids going to France would be a beautiful, exciting, and stress-free escape . . . but it is nothing like that. Groff seems to be saying you can take the woman out of Florida, but you cannot take Florida out of the woman. Her husband has stayed back home, so she is bound to Florida through him; her melancholy and drinking problem both came with her from Florida to France; and the surreal visions that other characters had in previous stories are present as well. Groff removing her character from the titular state but having the character struggle with the same issues shows that Florida is a state of mind, something that the characters cannot escape, even when they pick up and go elsewhere. The longer page length of the finale and switch up in structure from all the previous stories, along with the changed setting, is a great way to end the collection and solidify the ideas presented throughout.

The stories in Florida are atmospheric and sometimes surreal, and the various narrative structures create a collection that might seem (at first glance) to be here, there, and everywhere, but all of this works together wonderfully to convey and explore a cohesive thematic idea.

  • About the Author
    Ben Woodson is a rising senior at Miami University of Ohio, where he majors in Interactive Media Studies and minors in Creative Writing. One of his aspirations is to write a screenplay. In his spare time, Ben enjoys biking and hiking. He works in a deli but on the side resells vintage clothes. He is very interested in fashion and wants to start a sustainable clothing business one day. After graduation, he plans to work and gain experience in content marketing and branding to one day apply those skills to his very own business.

    Tuesday, May 26, 2020

    Queer Comics for Your Pride-Reading Joy


    Have your local events been canceled or postponed this year due to COVID-19? Celebrate Pride Month by picking up one of these queer comics!  ♦ 
    I’m what is known as a “seasonal reader” — love stories are for February, spooky stories are for October, and queer stories are for June. As a bisexual woman, LGBTQ+ narratives have always been my favorites to read. However, one of the problems with the queer stories currently on the market is the overwhelming focus on two white gay men. What is supposed to be an inclusive body of work is instead very one-sided. Where are the lesbians? The nonbinary folks? People of color? When pride month is supposed to be about all queer people, it can feel exclusionary when most of your reading choices are for only one letter of the LGBTQ alphabet. On top of this, much of the queer literature that's out there seems to tend towards the tragic. And while these stories are important, during a month that’s meant to be about being proud of who you are, personally, I don’t want to read about homophobia, unaccepting parents, violence, depression, etc. There’s a time and a place for the Brokeback Mountains of literature, to me at least, it’s not in June.

    Enter: the graphic novel.

    While there are some great diverse releases in traditional prose fiction, graphic novels are telling stories through the whole spectrum of LGBTQ+ experiences, especially in the past few years. From a nonbinary Chinese werewolf to a cross-dressing prince, there’s really something for everyone. Many of the releases I’ve read in recent years have been mostly lighthearted, gentle, fun, and oh-so queer.

    With that in mind, here are some of my favorite diverse and lighthearted queer graphic novels I’ve read recently:

    The Prince and The Dressmaker by Jen Wang
    I’m going to have a problem not reviewing every single graphic novel as just “adorable.” (But it is really adorable!) Prince Sebastian has a secret: every night he puts on a gorgeous dress and becomes Lady Crystallia, an icon in the Paris fashion world. He has help of course, from his brilliant dressmaker and now best friend Frances, who dreams of becoming a well-known dress designer. But if Lady Crystallia remains a secret, so does Frances. With uniquely beautiful illustrations and a story that reads like a fairy tale, this one you’ll definitely want to pick up!

    Bingo Love by Tee Franklin
    While this one errs more on the side of bittersweet rather than a completely feel-good read, it’s an amazing story and will leave you with a smile on your face. Bingo Love tells the story of two African-American women, Hazel and Mari, who meet at a bingo parlor in the 1960s as two teenagers. They quickly become friends and soon fall in love. But circumstances and unaccepting families tear them apart, only for them to find their way back to each other in a bingo parlor 50 years later, ready to make up for lost time. The graphic novel format really works for this because what could have been a tragic story about all the time that Hazel and Mari lost, the focus is primarily on the time that Hazel and Mari do have together.

    Mooncakes by Suzanne Walker; illustrated by Wendy Xu
    If The Prince and the Dressmaker was adorable, then Mooncakes is tooth-rotting fluff. Nova is an expert in witchcraft, working at her grandmother’s supernatural bookshop. One day while exploring a mystery for the store, she runs into her childhood crush Tam, who is now a werewolf and is battling some dark enemies. Together, Nova and Tam rekindle their feelings for each other, try to stop their demon foes, and make a little magic. When I saw this, it immediately reminded me of the Studio Ghibli film Kiki’s Delivery Service, and Mooncakes is just as magical. It is also incredibly inclusive, as both characters are Chinese, Tam is non-binary, and Nova is hard of hearing. Publishing has certainly come a long way in terms of supporting queer and diverse stories. There is always progress to be made, and supporting the stories that are out there can create a significant impact in the long run.

    If you find you’ve got some time to kill between your (online) Pride events this year, consider picking up one of these graphic novels! These are just a few examples of the many outstanding queer graphic novels out there. Enjoy these, and then keep an eye out for more diverse releases in 2020 . . . this is a list that can always use more representation across every letter of the LGBTQ+ community.

  • About the Author
    Sabrina Ludwig is a senior Psychology student at Miami University. For the first three years she was on the path to premed, until she took a comic book class for fun and realized that medical school just wasn’t for her. After graduation, she is looking to pursue a career in publishing or editing. In her free time, you can find Sabrina hoarding books she’ll never finish, re-watching Marvel movies, and making various kinds of avocado toast.

    Tuesday, April 28, 2020

    Find Me: Time, Love, and New Beginnings


    Find Me is an unexpected sequel that deals with taking a chance—or even a second chance—to ask, "What if?"
    As someone who loved Andre Aciman’s Call Me By Your Name and its movie adaption, I greatly anticipated Find Me’s release in October. Even before I read Find Me, the general opinion was that the book was disappointing, but like any good reader I refused to form my opinion until I had experienced the novel in its entirety. (My devotion to CMBYN was also a contributing factor.) When I cracked open Find Me for the first time, I was a bit confused. Who is this person talking? What year is it? What does any of this have to do with Call Me By Your Name? For readers coming back to the continuation of their beloved story, they might be surprised by the new voice that greets them.

    Find Me’s predecessor, 2007's Call Me By Your Name, is a romance set in Italy during the summer of 1983. Over the summer, 17-year-old Elio Perlman falls in love with Oliver, a doctoral student from the US finishing his dissertation with the guidance of Elio's father Samuel, a classics professor. For the six weeks that they are together, the young men keep their romance a secret, in intimate moments calling each other by the other’s name as if to erase the line where one of them begins and the other ends. At the end of their time together, as Oliver leaves to return to the US, he reveals that he is engaged, and the pair is forced to build their lives without one another, destined never to be together again.

    Or so we thought.

    Enter Find Me, and cue the spoiler alert.

    Whereas CMBYN was narrated by 17-year-old Elio, Find Me begins with a different voice that we learn is Elio’s father, Samuel Perlman. Wow, wasn’t expecting that. CMBYN was an intimate story that contained explicit details of the acts of love between the story’s youth. Suddenly we’re hearing the voice of the father of the teenager who spent the last book making love to another man. The expectation was to hear from a young voice with something to learn, but we’re met with a seasoned voice who in reality is still learning from life. Don’t get too disappointed; we still get to hear from a young voice. The book is split between three perspectives, Samuel, Elio, AND Oliver.

    Find Me starts ten years after the events of the first novel with Samuel, now divorced, on a train to Rome to visit Elio, who has become a classical pianist. En route, he meets Miranda, a twentysomething woman, and the two connect through their similar experiences of being unable to love their past partners deeply. Samuel can’t hide his attraction to Miranda, an attraction that is not unrequited. The pair throw out their plans and spontaneously decide to spend the day in Rome together, and later to spend a night together in bed. The two seem to be on a euphoric high that actually works out for them in the end. They traipse about the city, throwing around the ideas of getting tattoos and having a baby, never wanting their bodies to be the same, with Miranda saying, “I can’t go back to my life. And I don’t want you to go back to yours, Sami.”

    Flash forward five years. We’re back to Elio’s perspective: he is now living in Paris as a concert pianist. He finds himself falling in love with another older man, Michel, and they spend a few weeks together. But being with Michel brings up memories of Oliver and feelings that never quite went away. He knows he can never love anyone the same, saying, “Some shadows never go away.”

    In another five years the perspective switches to Oliver, who is finishing his tenure at the university job that took him away from Elio. Drunk at his going away party, he looks at all the people there to wish him farewell and feels alone. Then someone starts playing the piano and Oliver’s thoughts fly to Elio, whom he never forgot, as if he is in the music asking Oliver to find him.

    Samuel Perlman’s monologue at the end of CMBYN was one of the most beautifully written conversations and one of the most revered parts of the book’s movie adaptation. And it might be why Samuel opens the show for us in Find Me. Because CMBYN focused almost solely on Elio and Oliver, readers did not get to know the classics professor in depth; we learn more about Samuel in his monologue than in the entire book. Find Me gives us some insight on how he became so wise. In 1983, Samuel said, “We rip out so much of ourselves to be cured of things faster than we should that we go bankrupt by the age of 30 and have less to offer each time we start with someone new. But to feel nothing as to not feel anything? What a waste!” Samuel lost hope for himself but was trying to give some to his son. In Find Me there is the feeling that Samuel gets to live out his life as if he were talking to himself from decades past.

    The perfect ending to the 1983 love story we wanted was a mirage that we got a glimpse of at the end of the book. After waiting 246 pages until Elio and Oliver are reunited, we are left wanting more. We could be angry, or we could listen to what Aciman writes: “Fate doesn’t respect what we believe is the end . . . Which is why I think all lives are condemned to remain unfinished.” Aciman’s painting-like prose leaves one dazed as if waking from a daydream, and I mean that in the best way possible. There are parts where characters feel distant and parts when their dialogue is so frank that it punches you in the face. Miranda is blunt and expressive because she knows what she wants. Oliver is far away, because he is not the same Oliver that we knew. The novel has no chapters, so the act of reading feels addictive. The best parts of Aciman’s work are the monologue-type speeches that pop up in characters’ conversations. These idealistic patterns of speech that have seemed to die out in the 21st century.

    There are some parts of the story that I’m not sure I can buy into. After the night they meet, Samuel tells Miranda that “my entire life . . . was leading up to you.” My question for him is: How can you discredit your entire life for a girl you met over one weekend? But a quote from earlier in the novel explains the plotline perfectly: “So you could say that we’ve overwritten and lived each other’s memories.” Though it’s an unexpected journey, it is a journey nonetheless and an ideal end that came from a wayward plotline.

    The back cover of the book poses a question to its readers: Does love ever die? Of course it does. Just look at the relationship between Samuel and Elio’s mother, or Samuel’s past lover. But I guess that’s a question only the characters can answer. Samuel found someone new to love, and Elio and Oliver were reunited, so there’s a good chance they’d disagree with me.

    I was not disappointed by Find Me because we, as people, don’t get to decide how someone else lives their life. Not everyone gets the chance to live out a romantic "what if?" This is a story about love, which is sometimes sparked through spontaneity and sometimes reaches through decades to find people once more.

  • About the Author
    Mady Wilson is a second year Literature and Professional Writing double major and Social Justice Studies minor. She hopes to someday work in the editing department of a publishing house working directly with literature, or be an advocate for diverse forms of writing from minority writers. At Miami University she is involved in Alpha Kappa Delta, the International Honor Society of Sociology, and is a Writing Consultant at Howe Writing Center. In her free time she loves to paint, draw, and practice calligraphy.

    From Screen to Sound: The Art of Comic-to-Audio Adaptation


    Adapting a book into an audiobook is a fairly straightforward process. But what about an audio comic?  ♦ 
    "Thank you for listening to Adventures in Odyssey!” host Chris Anthony says as she ends the latest episode of the audio drama, and then the CD stops. Seven-year-old me takes the disc out and eagerly replaces it with the next in the series. I grew up with audio dramas like this one: I would play in my room for hours listening to stories interwoven with voices, music, and sound. As I got older, I admired the talent that went into making these stories and decided to make some for myself. However, I wanted an extra challenge: converting image into sound. It’s easy enough to make an audio drama from a written script that can be read aloud. Could I also adapt the images in a comic to an audio drama? How would I stay faithful to both the comic’s text and images?

    To begin, I chose a simple, slice-of-life comic I’ve been reading for years: Humor Me by Marvin. Humor Me focuses on a no-nonsense girl trying to get through school while also taking care of her younger brother. Meanwhile, a young model mistakes the girl for an obsessed fanboy and tries to get her kicked out of the school. The comic’s dialogue, story, and visuals seemed simple enough at a glance but gave me a lot to consider as I adapted them for audio.

    The first step was to write a script. I needed to include the characters’ lines, sound effects, and descriptions for places and actions that were drawn but not mentioned in the comic’s text. I knew a narrator would be necessary at times but preferred to “show” action through sound effects. To do this, I reviewed each scene and identified what was important for the listener to know. For example, in one scene, the main character walks from inside of a store to the outside street. I needed to portray movement from indoors to outdoors without overwhelming the listener with different sounds. To signal the setting change, I faded the store sounds out and inserted the sound of a door opening. Because of sound cues like these, a single chapter of this comic turned into roughly 15 pages of script with 11 characters.

    Next, I needed to cast my characters. I recruited my amazing group of friends to help me out with this project. Some were actors, and some were not. As a result, I had to be a good vocal director and accurately explain what performance I wanted from them. This was by far my favorite part of the process: I loved helping people who had no acting experience learn how to use only their voice to act.

    Once I had all my lines, I went through the script and made a list of sound effects I needed to find. For this project in particular, I was lucky enough to find the necessary sounds on royalty-free websites. For past projects, however, I have pulled out my blue Yeti mic and recorded sounds myself. Some examples include walking in my bathtub in heels to imitate a woman walking downstairs and splashing a pot of water into a sink lined with towels to imitate water spilling onto a shirt. Though I didn’t have to create my own sound effects for this project, I still needed to be creative with how I searched for audio tracks. For example, I couldn’t find a sound that imitated a hug, so I settled on an audio track called “body falling on floor.”

    Once I had all of the sounds and music I needed, I started to piece everything together in the editing program, Adobe Audition. The editing process took several hours, and each track had to be laid out as a separate Wav file. This means I was managing between 20 to 30 sound files at the same time. The most time-consuming part of this process was timing the sound effects correctly in relation to the other tracks. If a sound is even half-a-second too early or late, it is very noticeable. This is especially true for dialogue. To make the dialogue sound as natural as possible, I spent a lot of time moving lines back and forth within the editing program until they synced up just right. Another time-consuming task was adding effects to the sound effects. While it may seem redundant, this task is absolutely essential. For the walking and running effects, I changed their pitches and speeds to distinguish the different characters’ walking patterns. I also manipulated the dialogue's frequency to represent when characters were talking on the phone.

    This entire process required a lot of work, but I loved every second of it. Starting off, I was a little worried that my audio choices would not properly represent the comic. As I continued, however, I realized that I understood the heart of the story being told. My choices were unconsciously portraying my view of the comic and its story. If you’d like to try creating your own audio drama, give yourself a lot of time! Audio editing takes more of it than you’d think. It’s a lot of listening, re-editing, and tweaking the tiniest details. However, once it’s done, you will definitely be satisfied.

  • About the Author
    Gina Moravec is a current senior at Miami University with a Professional Writing major, a Media & Culture co-major, and a Theater minor. Gina has been making audio-based projects since she was 16. You can find her current work on the Internal Comms Pro, the Podcast as the Associate Producer as well as The Successfully Funded Podcast as the Executive Producer. When she’s not working on projects, she likes to take walks around her college campus or the woods in her backyard.

    The Phenomenon of Instagram Comics


    From our screens to our bookshelves, these social media influencers are contributing to a new type of comic with the click of a button.
    A couple months ago, my boyfriend and I were lying in bed scrolling through our Instagrams. Out of the blue, my boyfriend laughs and turns his phone for me to see. He shows me a comic posted by the account @Catanacomics. I remember reading that comic (pictured above on the left), then turning to him with a big smile on my face. I laugh and say “Oh my God, that’s so true!” From then on, we started direct messaging each other comics made by the same artist. Once I discovered these comics, they’ve completely fulfilled my desire to read comic books without me having to actually go to a store and buy any.

    Catana Comics has been on Instagram since 2016 and was created by Catana Chetwynd and her boyfriend, John. The comics are meant for young couples and tell stories about what it’s like to be in a relationship. They take moments from their everyday lives and make it into a cute, relatable comic. Because their comics are so relatable, they have gained millions of followers on Instagram throughout the years. They have 2.9 million as of right now.

    According to the Catana Comics website, they weren’t expecting for the comics to get any fame and attention. “The comics were never intended to be published online, but thanks to John, they were! I was prepared to be embarrassed and torn apart (the internet is a scary place, you know), but to my surprise, the comics took off.” Their website also states that Chetwynd’s boyfriend, John, inspired her to start publishing the comics online.

    Not only are they successful on Instagram, but they also have best-selling books, calendars, and merchandise, all based on their comics. Their merch includes books, calendars, large print outs, and apparel. They sell their products on multiple internet platforms and several products have almost all positive reviews. “My boyfriend and I have been following Catana Comics on Instagram since we first started dating, so we had to have this calendar when it came out! We actually both got them for our anniversary! Great quality. Easy to use. Sturdy. And oh so cute!” said one Amazon customer who purchased the “Little Moments of Love” calendar. Catana Comics sells their stuff on Amazon and on their website, so if you're interested I encourage you to check out their merch.

    But what if couples' comics aren’t your cup of tea?

    There are several other Instagram accounts that have similar comics and several followers. Some of these accounts include @Nathanwpylestrangeplanet, Nathan Pyle, creator of the comics and account, has illustrated several short and simple comics as well. He is the artist for the “Strange Planet” webcomic series, which has over 5 million Instagram followers. These comics feature blue, alien-like creatures, who live a human lifestyle. However, the dialogue they use is rather odd and isn’t how most people talk. For example, the dialogue in the above picture on the right reads, “How does your face malfunction?” It might take readers a bit to understand why the alien speaks like that, but it can quickly be translated to why are you sad.

    So, why are these comics so relatable?

    First of all, they know exactly who they’re reaching out to. If you look up any review of their products or scroll through their comments on Instagram, you will most likely see nothing but adoring fans who are tagging their friends, family, or significant others.

    For Catana Comics, they make comics based off their own experiences as a couple. Each comic tells a different story and they’re all easy to understand. As soon as someone reads them, they immediately get the point. These comics are simple in their writing, illustrating, and meaning, which makes them so loveable.

    Unlike the Catana Comics, the Strange Planet Comics take longer to understand due to the dialogue. However, the reader only has to read a few comics to understand what they’re about. They’re relatable to almost everyone who reads them because they represent everyday human activities. The aliens are modeling human behavior, which makes it hilarious that the humans are replaced with aliens. Although they might take time to understand, these comics are still very popular because they have comedy, loveable characters, and relatability.

    The comic and cartoon industry has changed drastically since social media became popular. Instagram comics have allowed creators to have the freedom to create, edit, and publish content whenever they want. Instagram also helps influencers use and combine elements of distribution. This makes it easier to sell their merch and make a profit. Instagram’s platform has allowed these creators, along with several others, to share their work and make a profit.

  • About the Author
    Katie Byrum is currently a junior Professional Writing major at Miami University. She is from Potomac, Maryland, and loves to read, write, and ride her horse, Jackson. After she graduates, her dream job is to become a writer and editor for a magazine company that specifically deals with horses.

    Thursday, April 23, 2020

    Book Influencers in the Wild


    Take a behind-the-scenes look at the lives of social media's most bookish content creators.  ♦ 
    For years, celebrity book clubs like Oprah’s Book Club have swayed readers’ interests and writers’ popularity with their recommendations. Since the rise of social media, however, there’s been a surge in virtual discussion about books. Now, many everyday booklovers have become “book influencers” themselves: content creators whose digital presence impacts their followers’ reading habits. These hardworking, ordinary people review everything from graphic novels and audiobooks to new fiction and classics. In addition to their own careers, they manage professional accounts brimming with polished flat lay images, quality videos, thought-provoking posts, and podcast episodes.

    But what goes into crafting this content for readers? What do book influencers’ lives look like behind-the-scenes? As a budding influencer myself, the thought of filming selfie videos, setting up flawless photos, and reading enough to post makes my head spin! Fortunately, I had the pleasure of interviewing several book influencers about their work and how they approach their role online. It’s astonishing to see what they are able to accomplish with their passion for books driving their actions.

    Phoebe Wright and Ashley Chandler run not only the joint podcast Read It or List It but also their own book accounts that differ in style and content. The pair met and connected through #bookstagram, balancing each other out— Ashley being the technical side and Phoebe being the creative. Another influencer, Kat Botell, runs her literary blog, Rustic Pages, on her own. “My life currently consists of taking and editing both photos for Instagram and videos for YouTube. I recently got back on top of blogging,” she shared.

    The Read It or List It podcast duo, Phoebe and Ashley, did not set out to be book influencers. “I had no idea book influencing was a ‘thing’ to be honest. I started my blog and Instagram account as a creative outlet... it was a passion project that then took on a life of its own,” says Phoebe. Kat over at Rustic Pages started hers as a ‘hobby account’ initially, and it grew from there as she tried out blogging.

    The three agree that book influencers must create authentic relationships with their audiences. As they plan, Phoebe and Ashley keep a dedicated planner for their blog and Instagram account. Phoebe says, “I lay out my content for the month and always leave room for a little flexibility in order to maintain an authentic relationship with my audience.” Personally, I prefer to engage with accounts that feel like friends more than a corporate company. When influencers reflect on a book with anecdotes from their own lives, it doesn't feel like they are actively selling me a product. Instead, their honesty and personal connection to the work’s themes builds my trust in them and the book they are posting about.

    With all of this preparation and creating content about books, when do these influencers have time to read what they are writing about? Ashley emphasizes, “I can’t talk about books if I don’t read them! But posting and engaging is a lot of work, which I did not realize until I saw the difference in my growth when I let my audience into my life a bit more.” Kat is a night reader and consumes page after page before going to bed. She states, “I also LOVE read-a-thons and co-host one every first Friday of the month on my Instagram.” Read-a-thons engage followers in a set period of time (usually 24 hours or a week) of dedicated reading compared to normal. Kat admits that engaging with over 32,000 followers on Instagram is time-consuming but finds the work incredibly rewarding. Keeping up with comments is valuable and builds a relationship of trust between herself and her followers.

    While the rewards of providing such content are encouraging, there can also be times of challenge. Reading provides most of the content but balancing it with keeping the accounts active can become burdensome. Additionally, seeing little return on time invested can be upsetting. “Balance and creative burnout are definitely the challenges. It’s also really hard not to play the comparison game. I struggle with it more than I’d like to admit, but I put so much work into what I do that it can make me feel inadequate some days,” says Ashley. Remembering why you started is always a good rule of thumb. Kat agreed, saying, “And as with any other niche, to not compare yourself to others. Everyone grows at their own pace!”

    Regardless of the amount of time and energy it requires, influencing readers has its rewards. Phoebe from Read It or List It says her interactions with authors and followers fill her with joy. She adds, “… it’s just really, really cool that people trust my opinion. It’s very rewarding to discuss books with my audience who loved a story as much as I did but only picked it up because I recommended it!” Kat has also become friends with many people through her channels. The community that is built through these platforms allows readers and followers to feel a part of something larger.

    As a book becomes popular across these social media platforms, how do we know that book influencers are assisting with its success? Some blogs and websites have affiliate links that let publishers know how a buyer gets to their site. Kat frequently gets messages from followers that they have purchased the books she has posted about. If she is encouraging others to read more, Phoebe argues, then her opinion and voice are valuable.

    Almost anyone can become a book influencer. Keeping the book community engaged as a creator or participant grows the love of reading and supports talented authors. Book influencers also learn strategic marketing skills that can be encouraged by publishers or sought after by book enthusiasts on their own. With new books being published every Tuesday and tons of backlists and classics to be reviewed with fresh perspectives, there is plenty of bookish content to share. So, the next time you see a bookworm staging a bookish photo or filming a tour of their favorite bookstore or library, give them a shout-out. They’re selflessly spreading and maintaining the love of books.

  • About the Author
    Courtney Wallace is a marketing and communications professional in higher education. With degrees in Art History and Interactive Media Studies, she has implemented creative solutions to media, communications, and websites along with managing her own book blog. She resides in Cincinnati, Ohio, and enjoys literary travel, running, and playing volleyball.

    The Murderinos Are Afoot


    Staying sexy and not getting murdered have never been easier, nor more fun.  ♦ 
    There's nothing quite as thrilling as falling in love with a book within a genre you've never explored before. The realization that suddenly there is an entire plethora of new books to read is a truly empowering feeling, as many have recently discovered for themselves through the popularization of true crime. Titles such as Michelle McNamara’s I’ll Be Gone in The Dark: One Woman's Obsessive Search for the Golden State Killer and The Midnight Assassin: Panic, Scandal, and the Hunt for America's First Serial Killer by Skip Hollandsworth have even found success that transcends the traditional expectations of the genre—highlighted as New York Times Bestsellers, praised by critics, devoured by readers. So, what caused this sudden interest in true crime?

    I would argue that the current success of true crime literature was influenced by an unlikely source: the hugely addictive and intriguing realm of podcasts.

    Growing in popularity because of its personality-driven content, relatability, and flexibility, podcasts feature devotees fervently discussing their favorite topics, ranging from politics to Dungeon & Dragons, and with the sheer number and variety of shows in existence, it's no surprise that there's a large number in the true crime genre. While some are dedicated to covering a single narrative, such as NPR’s wildly successful first season of Serial, others are more episodic and take on multiple cases, such as the podcasts Jensen & Holes: The Murder Squad, Crime Junkie, and My Favorite Murder. These podcasts opened the door to discussing true crime as a useful tool for analyzing human behavior, informing audiences about red flags, encouraging people to stand up for both themselves and others, and providing a community to explore similar interests. One podcast in particular truly helped with destroying the stigmas and barriers around true crime as a salacious genre of interest only to budding investigators or incipient serial killers, bringing true crime fully into the mainstream, and that podcast is My Favorite Murder.

    My Favorite Murder began in 2016 with two hosts, Karen Kilgariff and Georgia Hardstark, who bonded over their love of true crime. Sharing a level of vulnerability with their audience, the pair discuss personal stories and listener testimonials, encouraging an open dialogue between themselves and their fans. As their podcast continued to grow, they created resources such as Facebook groups to connect listeners who dubbed themselves “Murderinos.” Whether discussing hometown murders, invented self-insert stories, or tips on finding red flags, My Favorite Murder connected people from different backgrounds around a common interest, growing a community that was confident in the idea that it is entirely reasonable to love true crime and helping Murderinos not only befriend each other but like-minded individuals outside of the fandom.

    As the community grew, there was a significant amount of fans who connected around their deep love of literature, and these bibliophiles began to form book clubs surrounding the genres of mystery and true crime. Discussing in online forums and libraries, these book clubs read novels and nonfiction highlighted on My Favorite Murder episodes such as If You Really Loved Me by Ann Rule and No Stone Unturned by Steve Jackson. I personally lead one of these book clubs on Chase the Darkness With Me: How One True Crime Writer Started Solving Murders by Billy Jensen. The book was a whirlwind for many of us as we tried to uncover the Golden State Killer and the Bear Brook Murderer, and the experience brought me closer to both the fandom and the genre, creating some new friendships with others who shared my passions and interest.

    In my opinion, podcasts like My Favorite Murder have helped legitimize the genre, making true crime less about horror and focusing much more on awareness. As an aspiring author, I often used writing as an excuse for my knowledge of and interest in true crime, rationalizing any internalized anxiety I might have felt toward the genre as a "necessary evil" for research purposes. However, listening to My Favorite Murder allowed me to recognize my interest as a beneficial passion that I can share with others. I feel as though I am not alone anymore as I agree with Karen and Georgia’s comments, laugh with them over their silly ideas, and make friends in the community.

    I, along with many others, am truly proud to be a Murderino.

  • About the Author
    Jessica Rosepen was born and raised in Ohio. She is currently a senior at Miami University, where she studies American Studies. After graduation, she will continue on to University of Kentucky to attend their Library & Information Science master’s program. In her free time, Jessica enjoys reading, writing fiction, and exploring history’s forgotten and abandoned places.

    Tuesday, April 21, 2020

    Dungeons and Discord


    Crafting characters, stories, and entire worlds while trying to stop the barbarian from attacking the gnome priest . . . how Dungeons & Dragons makes you a better writer.  ♦ 
    Dungeons & Dragons (D&D) is a tabletop game that has withstood the test of time. It has also helped me create and craft a story I hope to eventually turn into a series, centered around high fantasy elements such as mythological creatures and fantastical landscapes. The genre alone carries a near-limitless potential, but it also allows for far too many opportunities to get stumped. How should I describe this town? Who should I make as the leader of this group? What kinds of abilities does this massive, Cthulhu-looking, eldritch-abomination of a teddy bear have, and how can I make them work? What significance does all of this even have to the world I created? A few sessions of D&D can provide answers to these questions and more.

    How much effort goes into making a vivid little map of a fictional world? A good example of a well-built location would be Hogwarts from the Harry Potter series. Simply hearing the name of that wizard school brings to mind images of shifting stairs, living portraits, and medieval-styled dungeons full of desks and bubbling cauldrons. It’s a location that sticks with you and such a thing can be very hard to make. However, how does one who has probably never written a full-length story reach that kind of skill? Simple, through trial and error, and copious amounts of improvisation. To put things into perspective, a single D&D session will regularly force me to build multiple locations in the heat of the moment, and it’s all due to the unpredictability of my players.

    Let me tell you, creating an entire dungeon for players to explore without prior planning can be a serious workout for any storyteller, especially if it needs to keep them engaged for a couple of hours. I had to imagine an entire winding labyrinth of caves, ancient holding cells, statues engraved with jagged eldritch runes, and a variety of other methods to provide lore for the dungeon. Books were scattered about, tattered and worn with age, some cursed to punish any curious adventurers. Ghosts, which some players could interact with using spells or items, would regale them with tales of torture or grand designs long forgotten. Then, when all was said and done, I had to create a massive room where the party faced down the final enemy. All of this was done as the players explored and fought.

    As I grew used to making locations, I found another area I needed a whole lot of work in: crafting characters. Making a character from scratch can be difficult because people are complex creatures. We all think in so many different ways, and it’s hard to see things from different perspectives. This is where D&D helped me out, because I was encouraged to become someone else, someone with a different personality and mindset. I played a suave rogue, a valiant paladin, and a creepy warlock, but those felt too stale and too limiting after a couple of sessions. Then, I got to thinking, “How else can I play this kind of character?” From there, things got fun, and my ability to make a person, not just a character, began to grow.

    I started small by adopting some characteristics of different character templates. It made other players laugh at how unusual or conflicting my characters would be to their class’s expectations. I made my paladin a little more suave and teasing, while I tried to slip some valiance into the warlock. Then, I went deeper, playing a darker and more conniving paladin hiding behind a gentleman’s facade, while the warlock became a self-sacrificing gentleman that was far quieter and almost shy. From there, it became a game to see how complex, crazy, or unusual I could make my characters. It was this experience that led to me looking up a couple of other cultures and accents, all in the pursuit of a new character to play, and ultimately new characters to fit into my stories.

    So, with a location built and a character crafted, all I needed to do was construct the world. I needed to create entire peoples and cultures to give life to my story. I used a variety of real-life cultures as a basis for my own. Some people were even mixtures of them or none of them. It became fun to see how I could make cities work, how I could build a hierarchy in a community, or even how they would respond to a character or player’s actions. So many aspects needed to be considered, including things like the economy and social conflicts. I started to feel like my work was becoming real with every new people I created, and every connection I built between them.

    Every single D&D session was, and still is, a learning experience for me. There’s always some slight character detail or a new location that needed to be explored. Unfortunately, like with all things, there are limitations to the benefit of sticking to just D&D. It’s hard to naturally work in sci-fi elements, and there are some scenarios you just can’t effectively play out, even as a DM.

    For the more specific scenarios in which I want to test a series of predetermined events, I use Discord. Discord is a fun little system that works like Skype, but it is better because it lets me play out different kinds of scenarios with my friends. We make servers in which we put individual text channels to post responses to one another. I would describe actions and dialogue from a character or characters I control, and they do the same. It becomes a back and forth between us that slowly unfurls into a full-blown story.

    Oftentimes, since a lot of my friends don’t live nearby, we use Discord to either play D&D or try out other things. The D&D sessions become more heavily focused on role-playing instead of combat, and we get to extend the kinds of scenarios we play since it’s all online. I even bring them into some role-plays in other settings like a sprawling space station, or a present-day city like Cleveland or New York City. We do anything from testing out how two kinds of character would interact at a bar, or how they might lead a crew on a mile-long spaceship. The limits of the kinds of stories we can play out and the characters we use disappear, since like with books the images are all left to imagination and how well-written they are.

    So, to all aspiring writers and storytellers, I suggest that you pick up a couple of D&D handbooks, download Discord, and get playing. I’ll look forward to seeing what new stories and characters will grace the writing community after your own adventures.

  • About the Author
    Chris Marcellino is a Biomedical Engineering student at Miami University with a minor in Creative Writing. He first took on writing as a hobby in sixth grade and has been a member of two creative writing clubs; one in high school, which he started, and one at Miami. His writing is primarily fantasy-based with some sci-fi elements thrown in. He has used his past personal projects to help him run and participate in several Dungeons and Dragons campaigns. It is his hope that honing his writing skills will not only help him complete his novel but as he enters the workforce as a Biomedical Engineer.

    Generation E-reader


    Traditional print versus iPads shows what kids nowadays are missing. But what will the future hold?  ♦ 
    In today’s digital age—as a viral video from a few years back illustrated—many children see a paper book or a printed magazine as just a broken iPad. If they can’t type or swipe, they see it as old and outdated. As the newest generation’s lives become more and more digitalized from an ever-earlier age, will there still be room for old fashioned books and the companies which produce and sell them? 

    It was 2007 when Amazon launched its first e-reader called the Kindle. It was small, sleek, powerful, and with its E-ink technology, the image appeared to resemble a book. This was the first popular e-reader and was soon followed by others, though with the Kindle holding market dominance. The Kindle held hundreds of books with many books costing as low as 99 cents. When compared to traditional books, the Kindle did most everything better in a more compact and portable package. Many thought e-readers would surpass the sale of traditional books years ago, but traditional books have held their ground as baby boomers, Gen X, and Gen Z have lost the sense of excitement around e-books and have returned to the familiarity of traditional books. Publishers have also invested a great deal of effort to create gorgeous and intricate book covers and design, luring customers back to traditional books according to a recent report. All of this would seem to bode well for the traditional print reading experience as we've known it . . . but the introduction of e-books in school curricula across the nation may change that.

    All throughout grade school, I and many others were exposed to traditional books on a daily basis. Trips to the school’s library helped me develop a love for reading and an appreciation for a printed book that has stuck with me throughout the years, and I still prefer a traditional book because of it. Fast forward to the present day, and a student attending my former grade school will not be reading paper books from the library; they will be reading from their iPads. Kids will no longer know the excitement of going to the school library with their class and sitting on plush cushions while the librarian reads them a story, or the eagerness of wanting to go pick out their books to check out for the week. The days of stocked library shelves with the latest releases are gone. Now, each student is required to have their own iPad, which they use for a variety of activities, reading being only one; for these children, their standard format of reading will be through an electronic device, with paper books possibly becoming a thing of the past.

    I spoke recently with the parent of two boys currently in the third grade at my former grade school. When I asked whether she agreed with her children growing up with only e-readers, her response was that while the school mandates the kids read on iPads, she buys traditional books for her children to read at home, as she believes her boys should be exposed to traditional books. She said most of the other parents maintain this practice, too. It makes sense why parents might go our of their way to keep print books around; many cognitive-development studies have been conducted on the use of e-readers versus traditional books by children. According to one such study, children were shown to be more engaged when reading a traditional book versus an e-book. The results showed children were more distracted when using an e-reader which led to less understanding of the material. This is a common trend of studies done on the differences in traditional versus e-books. In fact, a study conducted on college students showed similar results, with students having a greater understanding of the material when reading a traditional book versus an e-book. Holding these studies to be true, the benefits of traditional books show why they deserve longevity, even in the digital age.

    Still, it will be up to the parents and educators of the youngest generation to keep the tradition of print alive. It is that next generation who will be the next consumers and who'll determine whether print survives into future generations.

  • About the Author
    Evan Pomerance is a senior at Miami University with a major in Economics and a minor in Geography. He is originally from Louisville, KY, and following his graduation in May 2020 he will be moving to Chicago to work in commercial real estate.

    Chuck Wendig's Aftermath Trilogy Made Me a Better Reader — and a Better Writer


    The Aftermath trilogy isn’t just good for a fun Star Wars story; it also provides valuable lessons in accepting negative feedback from a galaxy far, far away.  ♦ 
    Not too long ago, in the galaxy we’ve all come to call home, Chuck Wendig wrote the Star Wars: Aftermath trilogy, cementing into the Star Wars canon new characters and new stories that would, as an avid reader and Star Wars fan, come to be some of my favorite books. The Aftermath trilogy takes place almost immediately after the events of Return of the Jedi, with the Empire attempting to regroup after the Battle of Endor and the Rebel Alliance working towards building a New Republic. The first novel, simply titled Star Wars: Aftermath, follows a mission to rescue the rebel pilot Wedge Antilles, who has been captured by Imperial forces converging at the planet Akiva.

    The five new characters in the Aftermath trilogy embarking on this rescue mission are Rebel pilot Norra Wexley, her tech-savvy son Temmin, Zabrak bounty hunter Jas, Imperial defector Sinjir, and Temmin’s droid, Bones. The Aftermath trilogy also brings in characters that Star Wars fans already know and love: Princess Leia, Han Solo, Chewbacca, Mon Mothma, and the aforementioned Wedge Antilles. As a reader, I loved watching the characters introduced in the Aftermath trilogy grow and change throughout the three books, and the plots always amazed me and kept me on the edge of my seat. However, as someone who was doing double-duty by reading the trilogy as an author and a reader, I had a few complaints.

    While the first book in the trilogy, Aftermath, is amazing, and I can definitely say I loved it, I found the way it was written to have more than a few flaws. The book is divided into four parts, with the chapters that make up each part punctuated at various points by short vignette chapters called interludes. Part 1 introduces the reader to the five new characters that the Aftermath trilogy follows and sets up the plot with the Empire converging on Akiva and Wedge being captured. However, the character introduction keeps going . . . and going . . . and going . . . and the characters don’t come together and start really advancing the plot until halfway through Part 2. As both a reader and a writer, I saw that as a serious problem. I noticed my interest in the book fading as I kept reading chapter after chapter of what each individual character was doing during their day, punctuated only by the occasional interlude where I got to read about what was happening on a random planet with random people and aliens. As a reader, I knew the characters had to meet at some point, and I got sick of it not happening. Once the characters finally met, however, the story really began to pick up, with chapter after chapter ending on cliffhangers that kept me reading. The characters began interacting and developing in ways that made me love them and want to keep reading to find out what happens next.

    When I finished the book I expressed my admiration for it, as well as my frustration about the slow start, to my dad. He mentioned that the author, Chuck Wendig, had received lots of negative criticism for the way the book was written. I remember being shocked to hear that. A famous author, who got to write books for Star Wars, getting negative criticism?! I couldn’t believe it. As an aspiring writer, I found the news a little scary. What happened when I published a book of my own and got negative feedback saying how much everyone hated it? What happened when I hadn’t even gotten to the publishing stage and people were reading over my shoulder saying how much they hated my writing? Questions like these plagued me as I waited for the second book in the trilogy to be released. When I finally got my hands on the second Aftermath book, Life Debt, I went into it unsure what to expect. Would I get another book that started off so slow that the story didn’t really begin until halfway through Part 2, or would Wendig have listened to the feedback from Aftermath and improved his writing? My question was answered when I began reading the book and only set it down twice during the day, staying up until three in the morning to finish it because I was so enthralled by the story.

    Star Wars: Aftermath: Life Debt became my favorite book immediately after that. The book made me laugh, it made me want to cry, made me more than once press the book to my skin as if I could absorb the emotions the characters were feeling through osmosis, emoting joy or rage or disgust at something that had happened. Chuck Wendig nearly went from one extreme to another with his slow start in Aftermath being traded for a book that really hits the ground running from Chapter 1 with Life Debt. But Wendig also struck the perfect balance by not throwing too much at the reader at once. He begins with a prologue that follows an unknown character, piquing the reader’s interest and preparing them for Chapter 1, and the action immediately gets to a gripping and thrilling start. I know as a reader I loved the book, but as a writer, I read the book and was blown away as I realized with each page that I was holding a great teaching tool in my hands.

    Life Debt is an amazing piece of writing. While it’s no Pride and Prejudice, I still feel authors can learn much from this book, because I know I certainly did; it's a perfect balance of action, romance, horror, and humor, like when a baker puts the ingredients in just right to make the perfect soufflé. Every time I found myself gushing with emotion, I took note of what the author had done to make me feel that way. How had he gotten the characters to interact just so, how did he throw in just the right piece of dialogue, how had he made the setting and the tension just right to make the reader feel something so strongly? And the question that was on my mind the entire way through the book: How the heck did Chuck Wendig get from Point A to Point B?

    I doubt I’ll ever truly know Mr. Wendig’s thought process that allowed him to create a piece of artwork like Life Debt after the shortcomings of Aftermath, but I do know that just in reading the two books he taught me a lot about how to be a good author. A good author takes criticism in stride and uses it to make their writing as amazing as possible, something Wendig did beautifully and something I struggle with as an author.

    I’m currently working on a novel that I try to share exclusively with my boyfriend, and he’s told me he doesn’t always like to give me feedback or criticism because “you get upset when I do.” That’s not the author I want to be. As authors, we need to be approachable and to remember that criticism is not an attack on us or our work, it’s a chance to learn and be better and to find things that will make our stories even better. My boyfriend gave a suggestion for my story that has already made it a million times better, and I know being calm, collected, and thankful for the criticism and feedback rather than hostile and defensive was better for the both of us.

    I want to be like Chuck Wendig one day and write a novel that makes readers overflow with emotion. And if it takes a not-so-great book to get there, so be it. Chuck Wendig’s graceful recovery is something I strive to emulate as an author, and I think every author should, too. How many authors would still be writing rather than sitting in their bedrooms brooding over the failure that ruined their career, when it was actually a learning opportunity that could have led to greatness?

    The Aftermath trilogy was great in so many ways. All three books managed to reel me in and make me hungry for more. As a Star Wars fan, these novels are a great addition to your library and a fun way to learn about the hidden stories of the galaxy far, far away. As a reader, these are wonderful books that will keep you interested and engaged and make you fall in love with amazing, quirky characters. As a writer, this trilogy is an amazing teaching tool in pacing, accepting feedback and criticism, and using that to improve your writing. I’m so grateful I got to be a part of it and experience that journey, and I know for certain that the Force is with the Aftermath trilogy.

  • About the Author
    Isabela Liu is a sophomore Creative Writing major with a minor in Spanish studying at Miami University. She hopes to obtain a job in the writing field upon graduation. When she’s not in class or doing homework, she likes to read, write, or help care for her brothers at home.

    Thursday, April 16, 2020

    The Narrative Formula of Gourmet Makes


    (Photo credit: Bon Appétit)

    This show may not fill your stomach, but it will fill your soul.  ♦ 
    The internet has found a new person to lavish their love and adoration upon, and that person is Claire Saffitz. Saffitz is a contributing food editor to Bon Appétit and works in their test kitchen, the place where recipes are tried, tested, and made true. She also works as a video host for one of Bon Appétit’s most-watched series, Gourmet Makes. In this show, Saffitz is tasked with creating a gourmet version of a typically nostalgic snack and/or dessert food. This usually means simplifying the ingredients and almost always involves using kitchenware for unintended purposes, like using a salad spinner as a candy drum to coat M&M’s. The end result is not something the audience is expected to recreate, which inherently contradicts Bon Appétit’s purpose of sharing inventive recipes for home cooks, though this contradiction between the goal of the company and content of their popular YouTube channel actually says a lot about the evolution of YouTube as a form of media.

    As YouTube gained popularity as an entertainment source, YouTubers made structured and heavily edited videos, often with a “how to” focus. This gave rise to overhead filmed food videos, as made famous by Buzzfeed’s Tasty, where users could conceivably follow the videos as a tutorial for how to make a food item. As YouTube evolved, the previously popular challenges, tags, and “then vs. now” videos gave way to vlog-style videos. These videos contain less editing and typically follow someone throughout their daily life, with all their rambling and moments of imperfection left in instead of edited out. This evolution of style can be seen even within distinct YouTuber’s personal evolutions. Emma Chamberlain and Zoe Sugg, also known as Zoella, both started by making DIY and lookbook videos, but now create vlog content where their personalities come through more naturally and serve as the main intrigue factor of their videos. The genius of Gourmet Makes is that it combines both of these video styles: it contains some structure and editing but leaves in the moments where we see Saffitz’s personality through offhand conversations and (sometimes un)warranted complaints.

    The narrative structure of Gourmet Makes is what keeps audiences coming back to experience the seemingly futile exercise of creating a gourmet version of a heavily processed food. Gourmet Makes videos are divided into three sections, which mirror the classic three act plot structure. Part One is the exploration phase, where the audience is introduced to the food item that Saffitz will attempt to recreate in a gourmet fashion, which becomes the “conflict” of the episode. Much like a novel, we are introduced to our main characters (“Hi I’m Claire from the BA Test Kitchen!”) who happen to be real people with Instagram accounts that allow us to continue to interact with them outside the narrative, and unlike a novel, the story for these characters never really ends. Part One contains repeated elements that act similarly to genre prescriptions in that they are included in each episode of the show: Saffitz always says, “And now for my favorite part, reading the ingredients”; different BA Test Kitchen staff talk about the nostalgia of the food item; Saffitz carries all of the different flavors of the food item by herself to clear her workspace; and she goes to the computer to research how the food item is made. These elements have become traditions that the audience can expect from each episode of Gourmet Makes, creating stability and structure that is reassuring to audiences.

    Part Two is the trial and error phase where Saffitz tries different methods and ingredients for the gourmet version, tastes the result, and makes adjustments. In most episodes, Saffitz encounters a major stumbling block that forces her to almost completely start over, like failing to correctly temper chocolate to coat Snickers bars. She often complains about this obstacle, tries to give up, seeks comfort from her coworkers, reclaims her resolve, and begins again. Though Saffitz claims to not enjoy filming Gourmet Makes, because it seems pointless and she dislikes failure, she always finds a way forward. This major failure resembles the climax of a typical plot structure — it is the point where everything seems to go wrong. But, this is also the turning point of the video where Saffitz rises up and overcomes the obstacle, as we see in an exchange with Brad Leone, another food contributor of Bon Appétit and host of It’s Alive, in the "Snickers" episode:

    SAFFITZ: “I’m just gonna call it quits."

    LEONE: “No, that’s not the Claire we know!"

    SAFFITZ: “No, that’s not the show."

    In some ways, Saffitz is forced to overcome the obstacle for the sake of the video and enjoyment of the audience. Without this moment of near failure that turns into success, Gourmet Makes would not resemble a typical plot structure and would not be as satisfying and enjoyable to watch as it is.

    Part Three represents the falling action and resolution in which Safftiz successfully conquers whatever challenges she encountered in Part Two and runs through how one would replicate the process she went through to make the final product. It’s implied that the audience is not expected to follow this process, which reveals that Part Three serves not educational purposes, but narrative ones.

    Fans of the show often go so far as to post #IWDFCFTBATK (I would die for Claire Saffitz from the Bon Appétit Test Kitchen) on social media and ironically wonder why they enjoy watching her mess up. But it’s not that they enjoy watching Saffitz fail, they enjoy watching her rise to a challenge and overcome it. It’s cathartic, just like every other three act narrative, the audience experiences the plot right alongside the character. When they rise, we rise. Gourmet Makes is telling the same story that has been told from the beginning of time, they’re just doing it with food. It’s made even more satisfying because this plot isn’t manufactured or fiction; it happens naturally in each episode. YouTube content like Gourmet Makes is essentially the gourmet version of a fictional movie or literature plot, only it is more organic and less-processed, while still allowing the audience to feel filled.

  • About the Author
    Emma Naille is a sophomore at Miami University studying Creative Writing and Interactive Media Studies. She is from Granville, Ohio, and is passionate about storytelling, food, and the power of quiet. Emma is involved with UP Magazine and is a Young Life leader at Lakota East High School (go hawks!).

    When We All Fall Asleep, Where Do All the Large-Print Books Go?


    How publishing has gotten its large print offerings so wrong . . . and how we can all help fix it.  ♦ 
    If the grandmothers of the world are anything like mine, they live in a home filled absolutely to the bursting with books. Once they were a fine diverse mix, she being a schoolteacher, but as of late they’ve narrowed to fall mostly within the same categories—a retiree solving food-themed murder mysteries in Florida, perhaps, or the latest Rush Limbaugh book.

    I once devoured whole books in a single setting, spent my nights with my sheet propped up above my head with one hand, a book held open with another, and a flashlight stuffed into my mouth. I was someone who read in the back of classrooms during lessons and at the wall with a book open during recess. Unfortunately, I lost the majority of my vision in high school. I walk with a cane and now consume most of my textbooks and pleasure reading through a screen reader.

    I can’t read Braille (not well, in any case) and reading on a screen grows stale after 800 pages. As I’m sure many of the more passionate readers out there sympathize with, I still crave the feel, the appearance, the smell of a book; there’s something about turning the pages that no digital swipe can replace. Unfortunately, I also can’t read small type anymore; I’m dependent on screen readers or large-print texts. And even these, as it turns out, are hard to come by for a reader like me.

    My grandmother is who publishers market to when producing large-print books. These are often books ghost-written for some Fox News pundit, or cookbooks with thirty casseroles in them, or the latest in a series of murder mysteries named after various desserts. They certainly aren’t thinking of twenty-something college students interested in fantasy adventure books in the vein of Lord of the Rings, or shocking historical tales starring daring seamstresses-turned-spies escaping Nazi Germany with only their wits. Unfortunately, this leaves young low-vision and legally blind people isolated from the literature-loving community, since they can’t access the same titles currently sweeping YA circles and literary fiction cliques.

    As with most issues concerning disability, this is an intersectional issue. By producing a greater variety of books in large print, elderly people would have access to different materials, not just those dictated by the mass of their age group. People who suffer from dyslexia would also have an easier time reading the books their peers rave about. Anyone who suffers from migraines—even just the pain and strain that comes along with a long day’s work—would find it easier to read a large-print book.

    Likewise, on Amazon, most books available to customers in the large-print category (with the exception of a few big bestsellers like The Girl On The Train and Fifty Shades of Grey) are catered toward seniors. When checking the day’s bestsellers, I found that only two of the top fifteen books were also available in large print, and neither of these were books catered toward young adults.

    Publishers need to be more inclusive with their publications. Their actions to this point indicate they are focused solely on profits. The pressure needs to come not just from individual readers, though you have the power to advocate for these, but from those who have the ear of the publishers: the booksellers. Without the booksellers, they make no profit. Without readers, booksellers can’t scrape a living.

    I promise I’m not trying to villainize your favorite independent bookstore. They are likely barely affording to pay their employees, just scraping a profit. Large-scale corporate affairs are those who can make the change towards widespread large-print availability. Reach out on social media, contact higher-ups in booksellers like Barnes and Noble, Books and Co. Do the same for the Twitter accounts of Big Five publishers. Reach out to university presses and ask that they publish large-print versions of their materials.

    People with disabilities cannot make this monumental change alone. We need help from our neighbors, our peers, our professors and friends. It’s something which can only be achieved by a wave of people, all demanding the same thing from a greedy system which cares nothing for inclusion and thirsts for profits. And they won’t do anything without a widespread call for change from the general public.

    Open your favorite book right now and close your eyes. Take in the smell. Feel the pages beneath your fingertips. Read the first page, get lost in the words . . . there’s no screen reader or online book that can replicate that feeling. Shouldn’t everyone get to experience that for as long as they’re able?

  • About the Author
    Shelby Rice is currently a sophomore at Miami University, where she studies Creative Writing and AYA English Education, as well as pursuing an English Literature minor. She is treasurer for Oxford's chapter of YDSA and is editor-in-chief for a leftist magazine centered in that same town. Originally from Dayton, Ohio, she is biding her time until Starfleet is established; in the meantime, you can find her in any nearby library, worrying over whether or not the amulet she bought from Goodwill for three dollars is cursed.

    Tuesday, April 14, 2020

    Food Editors to YouTube Sensation: How Bon Appétit Changed Food Editing as We Know It


    (Photo credit: Bon Appétit)

    This classic food magazine found a new audience online and became a social media star in the process. See what Bon Appétit is cooking up next on YouTube.  ♦ 
    In 2012 Bon Appétit created its very own YouTube channel featuring a series of simple recipe tutorials. Fast forward to 2020 and Bon Appétit has managed to establish themselves among the ranks of popular YouTube content creators. What makes their rise to fame so unique is the way in which the company has managed to step outside of their traditional magazine format to promote not only their recipes, but the whole cast and crew of food editors working in the Bon Appétit test kitchen. Not only has Bon Appétit transformed themselves through their YouTube presence, but they have had an influence on the marketing of traditionally written content like magazines as a whole.

    When people hear the Bon Appétit name it is likely that they now associate the company with the series of fun videos that have been posted online, but this wasn’t always the case. The company got its start in the 1950s, a time when magazines were still enough to draw in a significant readership. While the company still offers a print subscription on their site, they seem to have realized that they wouldn’t be able to survive on their magazine alone in the growing digital age. As times have changed, so too has the format and content of Bon Appétit. In an effort to stay up to date and continue to draw in readers the company launched a YouTube channel to take their brand to the next level. The channel’s early videos were largely overhead how-tos and interview style recipe sharing that more or less blended into the thousands of other videos being posted at the time. While Bon Appétit’s early videos seemed to copy popular video trends, the company nevertheless continued to experiment in hopes that the videos they produced would be enough to gain the attention they were after.

    It wasn’t until Bon Appétit started to do their own thing and experiment with a series of different video styles that their YouTube channel really started to take off. Introducing more hands-on tutorials with fun and exciting plot lines along with the addition of a whole cast of food editors seemed to be the recipe for success that Bon Appétit had been looking for. It appears that while Bon Appétit had originally attempted to extend their magazine format online, the key to growth was to reinvent themselves and give viewers a sneak peak of what really goes on in the Bon Appétit test kitchen. Not only were people watching to learn how to cook, but suddenly Bon Appétit had tapped into a world of entertainment as well. The takeoff of their YouTube success can in a large part be attributed to the introduction of a few lucrative series on their channels. Some of their more popular series include Gourmet Makes hosted by Claire Saffitz and It's Alive hosted by Brad Leone. These particular series have established Bon Appétit as an entity outside of their physical magazine and as a result their audience has expanded tremendously.

    While Bon Bon Appétit’s success can largely be attributed to their YouTube series there is also something to be said for the other use of multimedia Bon Appétit has introduced alongside their YouTube channel. Starting as solely a print company they have slowly become more inclusive in their interactions with online and multimedia formats. Alongside their magazine and YouTube channel, the company owns and runs a fairly successful online website where users can go to find recipes from some of their most popular videos along with a whole host of online exclusive content. Bon Appétit’s website also features some of their newest videos alongside their written content for a truly multimodal experience. The company uses a number of successful social media accounts, including Instagram, which not only serves to highlight the recipes they are working on, but also helps the company establish themselves in the digital age while continuing to provide a crossover in content for their fans. This once again helps them stand out in the traditionally print industry. Outside of the company Instagram most of the editors have their own accounts where they not only share the latest recipes they’ve been working on, but also shed light into each editor’s personal life outside of the Bon Appétit test kitchen. This allows readers to get to know their favorite editors in a much more informal environment. Bon Appétit’s expansion into digital serves not only as a means of entertainment, but as a way for readers to feel as though they have joined a community through their subscription to the brand in all of its entities.

    While Bon Appétit seems to have found the winning formula for enduring the digital age, they are not alone in expanding what it means to be a food magazine in the modern era. Because of the relative success that the company has found in their online presence, other food magazines and publishing entities have begun to follow suit in an attempt to keep their companies alive. Magazines like Delish are taking cues from Bon Appétit and reinventing themselves with an online presence. This can all be boiled down to the way in which these companies are attempting to attract new readers.

    Not only has Bon Appétit established themselves as a well-known YouTube channel, they have also managed to find a new way to continue magazine subscription growth. First and foremost, Bon Appétit is a magazine. While their YouTube channel has had recognizable success, it all began because the company was looking for a way to increase their readership in a younger audience. This has helped them ensure that the Bon Appétit name is one that will live on in the increasingly tech savvy generations. The company's introduction came at a time when cooking didn’t need to reach a digital audience, but Bon Appétit’s YouTube presence and subsequent success proves that in order to continue spreading culinary knowledge they must do so in a contemporary and accessible form.

  • About the Author
    Natalie Citro is a senior at Miami University where she studies English Literature with a minor in Interactive Media Studies. Natalie also works in the university’s English department where she is a student assistant charged with creating a variety of posters for department events throughout the year.