Brad King is a professor of journalism at Ball State University, where he runs the Digital Media Minor program, an interdisciplinary program that blends technology, storytelling and human-computer interaction elements together. He writes, creates podcasts and works in the weird space between digital, print and the real world. Recently he launched The Geeky Press - an experiment in indie publishing and collaboration. He is currently writing a book So Far Appalachia inspired by his family's history in Appalachia. Instead of quietly researching and writing on his own, he's sharing podcasts, blog posts and photo galleries about the process of writing his book. The story of writing the story becomes a story in itself.
Tell us a little about your book So Far Appalachia … where did the idea come from and how has it developed over time?
It's a little strange to explain So Far Appalachia to somebody outside the United States, and I fear that no matter how I try to explain this it won't fully capture the story. To understand the book, it's important to explain that Appalachia is a very large, very rural, and very poor part of America that runs along the East Coast of our country and covers a 13-state region.
The region's history is far more complex, though. For many, Appalachia is shorthand for stupid, backward, poor and white. For others, Appalachia represents the last remnants of a society built upon slavery and a rejection of the federal government. And still for others, it's the last piece of natural, rugged, and beautiful land and small communities.
In other words, Appalachia is the story of America. On the backdrop, I came to find that my family, the Bakers, had played an interesting and important role in settling Kentucky, which is considered Central Appalachia.
Their story took them from the Royal Court in England in the 1500s to the American colonies in the 1600s to the gun-making capital outside Philadelphia in the 1700s and into Appalachia in the 1800s. Their story, which is very well documented, gave me a window into our country's history that allowed me to think about the American story.
How are you trying to engage readers on your journey of writing this book, even before it is published?
I decided a while back that I wasn't going to publish through a traditional publisher. Ultimately, I was concerned that the marketing might force me to position this book in a way I wasn't comfortable doing or that the editorial judgment would require me to play up more stereotypical Appalachian stories. While I'm certainly not a well-known writer, I have been writing professionally for 20 years. I also worked at Wired magazine and various outlets throughout the years so I'm pretty well versed in emerging technologies.
Those two elements helped me put together my plan, which I refer to as "professionalized amateurism." My first step was launching the book's website, which is now folded into a writer's collective I've put together, The Geeky Press. (www.thegeekypress.com) Next, I started gathering the names of people who might be interested in my book, e.g. Twitter handles, Facebook groups, and contacted them about what I was doing. Then I launched a Kickstarter project to raise the $10,000 I'll need to hire an editor, designer, and copy editor.
Once the book was funded, I upped my engagement while I was writing. I have several Twitter lists dedicated to Appalachia, and twice a week I go through the feeds and talk with people. I've also invited people who are interested in the project to read the drafts, which I'm posting through Pressbooks. (http://sofar.pressbooks.com)
When the book is all designed, edited, and ready to go, I'll hire a small boutique public relations firm to help me get the word out.
Tell us a little more about non-linear and cross-media storytelling and how writers can go beyond the traditional book?
As a college professor, I run a small program called the Digital Media Minor in which I teach students how to conceptualize, create, and launch digital stories. (www.thedudeman.net) Since an audience uses those stories in a different way than a book, we have to get our students thinking about storytelling in more spatial terms so that we can evoke stories in our audience. Professor Henry Jenkins calls this idea, narrative architectures where people are given frameworks and they fill in the blanks. In that sense, I tell authors to avoid thinking about these types of stories because they are different than what you are doing.
However, there are amazing platforms like Creativist (https://www.creatavist.com/), which is run by my former Wired colleague Even Ratliff. Without having much technical knowledge, e.g. drag-and-drop, you can write a story, and then create an ancillary multimedia experience. You can create pop-ups, which are great to remind people about characters. You can embed maps, video and audio. What's great about this platform is that you can do that while making the words the center of the piece. At the end of the day, this is what I work with authors to understand. There are amazing options to build or write the stories you want.
Visit: www.thegeekypress.com or www.thedudeman.net
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