Week of Writing Panel Coverage

June 29, 2010 — Monday, May 17, 2010 marked the start of the Week of Writing (WoW) at Drexel, an annual event that features reading marathons, open mics, a book fair and numerous panel discussions where students can learn more about different styles of writing. Three ASK staff writers covered the following panels:

Flash Fiction
by Christe Thomspon

One of the first events, the flash fiction panel, had a great turn-out. Panelists included David Aichenbaum, a student at Tufts University and a flash fiction author who has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, decomP magazine and other publications; Randall Brown, director of the MFA in Writing and Graduate English Literature programs at Rosemont College and an award-winning author whose recent work has been featured in Evansville Review, Cream City Review and Quick Fiction; and Jake Freivald, editor of Flash Fiction Online and a regular blogger at The panel was moderated by Dr. Miriam Kotzin, an associate professor of English at Drexel, where she teaches courses on creative writing and literature. She is also co-director of the Certificate Program in Writing and Publishing.

WoW Panel

As students waited for the event to begin in Mandell Lobby, many of them weren’t exactly sure what to expect. Freshman architecture major, Brennan Haydon admitted “I had to come for a class, but I am kind of curious to see what this is about.” Other students expressed similar sentiments, but were quick to add that they were actually pretty interested in learning more from the discussion and panelists. With four minutes until the official start of the event, Kotzin jumped in, asking the panelists to explain how they got started writing and what attracted them to flash fiction.

Aichenbaum spoke of the small world he likes to create in his work. He explained that one of the features that thrills him the most is the ability to “hone in on a tiny world I can get a hang of and understand.”

“It’s like building a fort,” he said, “I control it.”

Freivald added that this style of writing is so invigorating because it is “undefined territory,” while Brown made the connection between flash fiction and his job as a software marketing executive. Brown explained that the same goals of compression and word choice are also critical to his career, which makes flash fiction a good exercise for the skills he uses every day at work.

Kotzin then went on to ask questions about the kind of online workshops each used and the features they look for when editing a piece. It was obvious that all of the panelists knew their stuff, and each was able to offer a different perspective on this interesting literary format.

One of the most enlightening discussions of the afternoon centered on the lessons the panelists have garnered from their work with flash fiction. They began by explaining that flash is an entity all its own and must be considered as such, and then went on to stress the importance of knowing one’s audience. They noted that this can give a writer the upper hand when sending pieces to a publisher, and can also help them gain popularity and recognition as a writer.

The panelists also discussed character development, and the way it differs in flash fiction compared with regular fiction. Each gave insight into different methods students could use to develop their characters, including leaving some detail to the reader’s imagination, using metaphors, and using only one descriptive word to serve as the essence of a character.

The silent concentration of the audience members, paired with their positive remarks and interested questions, made it clear that WoW had started off with the right event. The panelists did a spectacular job of generating interest in the subject of flash fiction, as well as in relating it to careers relevant to the students. As freshman business accounting and finance major Ravinderjat Singh concluded, “It did a good job at teaching us how to write our essays for class.”

If the goal of the panelists was to merely educate students, they certainly surpassed their own expectations. When asked if she was going to start writing flash fiction, freshman materials engineering major Aditi Ramadurgakar said “I don’t know if I can, but I definitely want to try.”

On its first day, with only two events completed, the Week of Writing had already stirred the literary genius in students across the university.

Christe Thompson is a sophomore majoring in communications with a concentration in public relations. She is very active on campus and works with both Drexel’s radio station, WKDU, and television program, DUTV. Christe is also the Vice President of Operations for Drexel’s new student run initiative, The Drexelist, which is an online newspaper blog. Originally from the suburbs outside of Philadelphia, Christe enjoys the many opportunities that can be found in the city. In her spare time she takes pleasure in mentoring students from West Philly and reading Janet Evanovich novels.

The Craft of Stand Up
by Jacob Harte

Only standing room was available in the Mandell Lobby for the Week of Writing panel discussion, “The Craft of Standup,” on Wednesday, May 19. Aspiring comedians, writers and class clowns gathered to laugh and gain insider knowledge of the standup world.

Bruce Graham, former playwright and associate teaching professor for cinema and television at Drexel, moderated between the group of comedians, encouraging topics such as how and why they got started, their worst audience experience, their process for developing a routine, and the sources of their material. Graham also offered his own insights, which included a jocular story about how not to deal with unappreciative crowds.

David Terruso, co-founder/co-producer of Philly Sketchfest and member of the sketch comedy group Animosity Pierre, joked that his psychiatrist diagnosed his self-deprecating humor as a result of his fear of being made fun of by his father:

“I learned at a young age to cut myself down worst than anyone else could,” said Terruso. He added that one of the reasons he got into comedy was because of the opportunity it allowed him to get at his aggressions and heal his pain.

Luke Giordano, a Drexel alum and up-and-coming comedian in Philly, gave his perspective as a writer transitioning into the field of standup comedy. When asked why he made the move, Giordano replied, “Writing is rewarding, but with standup it is instant…I guess I do standup because I’m seeking attention and respect, I’m trying to prove I’m smarter than them [the audience]…[and] to hear people laugh at my jokes is satisfying.”

Carolyn Busa, 2009 semi-finalist in Helium Comedy Club’s “Philly’s Phunniest” contest and recent headliner for New Jersey’s first ever comedy cabaret, explained the troubles of being a woman comedian: “The worst thing about being a woman comedian is the judging stares I get from girls whose boyfriends are laughing too hard.”

With each comedian taking the opportunity to test new jokes out on the audience, the crowd continued to grow, pushing the event well beyond its allotted time. However, it was clear that the discussion wasn’t just about getting a laugh; it was about trying to get at the heart of comedy. Each panelist offered his or her unique perspective, providing an excess of inspiration for anyone wanting to break into the comedy scene.

The Evolution of the Writing Machine: How Technology Has Changed Writing
by Maia Livengood

The chief concern for most writing and publishing industry bound graduates is how technology has impacted their field, and how it will continue to do so in the future. The aim of Thursday’s Week of Writing (WoW) panel, “The Evolution of the Writing Machine: How Technology Has Changed Writing,” was to examine exactly that, for a full house of Drexel students and faculty.

Moderator Rebecca Ingalls introduced the panelists, who each brought a distinct background and perspective on the future of publishing.

Tenaya Darlington, author of Madame Deluxe, a National Poetry Series selection, and a novel, Maybe Baby, is a contributing editor to the collaborative online arts journal, Born Magazine, and a professor of creative writing at St. Joseph’s University. In Darlington’s experience, the introduction of Internet and computer writing programs, such as Scrivener, has been largely positive.

Said Darlington, “It helps you organize. I do online what I was doing all over my floors for years, and I actually look forward to using [Scrivener]. Even as someone who loves dust, typewriters and old books!”

Darlington also started an experimental blog, which focuses on artisan cheese. Madame Fromage has connected Darlington with fans and cheese makers on a personal level, with the online media opening up a two-way dialogue that was not previously possible. It has also generated a substantial amount of freelance work.

In fact, all of the panelists agreed that blogging is a great venue for writers to build a reputation. For many, blogs are serving as an interactive portfolio to send to potential employers, to find a niche audience in an area of personal interest, to find community, and to have a cheap (or free) means to publish.

Which begs the question: if more people are writing and publishing, will the quality of writing decrease overall?

Panelist Henry Singer certainly doesn’t think so. Having worked in publishing and communications for 17 years, Singer is the Senior Vice President and Managing Director of Publication Connexion (PCX), a scientific communications and publication planning company based in Newtown, Pa. PCX supports development of peer-reviewed scientific publications and communication tools for the pharmaceutical industry. He explained that, especially in the case of online medical resources, there is segmentation into credible scientific sources, news sources, and publically peer reviewed sources (such as Wikipedia). Although Wikipedia is a great starting point, there are few publishing standards and much of the data is incorrect. However, said Singer, there are online resources that are tightly controlled and can be trusted to provide accurate information. PubMed, for instance, is a collective body of peer reviewed medical journals; you can find every article ever published for over one thousand medical journals.

“That’s a great thing,” said Singer. “In turn, it means that doctors and other medical professionals have access to an amount of information than was formerly incomprehensible.” He went on to say that “this exponential increase in the number of legitimate writing venues has most definitely increased the demand for good writers, and good writing.”

Singer does note, however, that using the Internet as a publishing venue is a double-edged sword. With the great many benefits, there is also the added pressure of immediacy. In the print world, he said, we assume that publications are metered, thoughtful and contained. The online venue, though, creates an environment in which writers and creators must constantly churn out content. It adds a pressure to expedite the process and with it comes a certain risk. In the case of the medical world, that’s a risk to patients.

“But,” panelist Jenny Spinner chimed in, “the Internet also makes it much easier to quickly edit and correct those mistakes and change content, if need be.” Spinner is an assistant professor of English at St. Joseph’s University, where she teaches writing and journalism. She has written for NPR, The Washington Post, Pedagogy, Writing on the Edge, and Fourth Genre. She has also co-authored the book Tell Them I Didn’t Cry: A Young Journalist’s Story of Joy, Loss, and Survival in Iraq.

Having recently published a creative piece titled “Brevity” with an online publication, Spinner related a personal anecdote regarding the need to remove content from her work quickly. The piece dealt with mental illness subject matter, and highlighted the experiences of one particular woman in a profile. The woman had given permission to use her real name, but upon seeing the piece linked to her in a Google Alert, she asked Spinner to remove the name. Because the piece was published online, Spinner was able to do so immediately.

“There are definitely issues like these that deal with new ethical questions, but we can also quickly fix things, as the Internet allows us to make changes instantly,” said Spinner.

Spinner also discussed how the Internet has impacted her writing process. She used to spend the early writing stages in the library researching a topic or writing stream of consciousness. Now her first step is to “Google” it.

Panelist Renee Janowicz could relate: “Working for a newspaper, we used to hunt down information about a victim from the morgue and work backwards. Now reporters first go to Google, Facebook, LinkedIn, and a variety of other social networks for information.”

Janowicz worked as a radio news reporter for two years before moving to print, writing and editing at a daily newspaper for 10 years. For the past six years, she has worked part-time as a freelance writer for newspapers, magazines and corporate publications.

In the interest of time, Ingalls proceeded to take questions from the audience. Several students and faculty members asked questions, and the discussion largely moved to the future of books.

“The dust hasn’t settled yet,” Spinner reflected. “Trained as a print journalist, I still want to hold a book or newspaper in my hands. But we have to start thinking about how we tell stories—is it better that they’re told visually? Audibly? Are words always the best? There are still a lot of issues that we get stuck on in regards to eBooks, such as royalties, but I think younger writers are excited about it.”

Singer interjected that we will also have to alter content as we transition from print to other media, more conducive to multitasking. “We may have to consider whether the audio book audience is driving or exercising while listening. We may have to consider whether the online news audience is reading from the tiny LCD screen on their Blackberry.”

The overall consensus was that the future of book and other print distribution is undoubtedly changing. As Singer stated, “Print is not a sustainable business model on a large scale. There are too many costs.” Most panelists seemed to agree that print would be moving to a boutique industry.

Spinner wrapped up the event by saying, “It’s not mastering these new technologies, although that is a new responsibility as a writer. It’s mastering your writing. That’s your credibility. That’s the ethos. Self-policing and good writing skills are still, and always will be, essential.”

Maia Livingood '12 is a Business Administration major with concentrations in Finance and Economics, as well as an English minor. Working for the College of Arts and Sciences, she has developed a strong interest in publication management and hopes to build upon the experience throughout her professional career.