As promised, we will begin profiling graduates of our creative writing program this week, and our first subject is a working poet, a columnist on gardening for a local weekly and an avid blogger. Since our interview, and when I first wrote up his profile, he has further developed both his web site and his blog. Fully immersed in the use of new media, he has also recently collaborated on an e-book entitled Spring, in which his poems are paired with striking photographs of blooming flowers and landscaped gardens. I wrote what follows around a year ago, when the interview was fresh in my mind.
The subject writes a gardening column for a weekly newspaper located in west central Pennsylvania with a circulation of around 9,000. (The subject initially said about 2,000 readers, then upped the number to five. My figure again comes from the Mondo Times site.) Its primary readership comes from a town of around 7,800 in southern Mercer County and from the Slippery Rock area of northern Butler County. He has also published articles for a large urban daily and on a possible “commercial kitchen incubator” for Mercer County. “It’s like a big huge kitchen where a farmer or local gardener would come in, use the facility at a fee, and produce, make their product, and they would also get expertise, gain knowledge from that facility.” This article, which also appeared in the weekly, reflected his interest in the “green movement” and “buy fresh, buy local.” The subject also mentioned that he maintains a blog, which I have visited. The blog is attractively formatted, with photos as well as writing. It seeks to persuade and clearly has an audience (15 replies to one entry and 14 to another), although some are apparently acquaintances of the writer. The last entry obtained posed the question of whether the blogger should bring in additional revenue through the posting of ads. Almost all of the respondents encouraged him to do so.
The gardening column is generally written in first person, as the writer appears regularly in the paper. The audience, he believes, is primarily middle-aged or older (“the ‘cotton top’ crowd”), whereas the potential readers for articles on the incubator could be younger. Consequently, he seeks to avoid writing anything that might appear “ageist.” The subject also assumes that readers of the urban daily are more educated, “with small gardening spaces. You have to write differently in that respect also. Not that they are any more or less educated about gardening in general.” One of the more interesting exchanges about style focused on maintaining a balance between explaining gardening in a generally accessible way and not appearing to talk down to readers. “I’ve been told by certain editors at papers that you need to keep in mind the level of a sixth-grader. …I think it is an old cliché and it should be tossed out because I give my readers more credit than that.”
Regarding process, the subject composes at a desktop computer using Word, but will also do Internet research as he is composing. “I’ll make two windows and minimize both windows to match so I can write right there as I’m seeing … the ideas as they’re coming to mind.” At the same time, he will often draw ideas from casual conversations and catalogs that arrive by post. When writing he will use Internet Explorer but also Mozilla Firefox, blogs, and hard-copy reference works like an encyclopedia of garden plants produced by the American Horticultural Society. The subject takes his own photographs for the gardening column and crops them using Adobe Creative Suite 2, crediting the Digital Imaging course for helping him out with that aspect of his work.
Going back to school (at 46), the subject asserted, has not really influenced the way he now writes but he suggests it turned him into a writer. “I call myself a writer, whether it’s freelance, whether it’s a garden writer, or whether it’s just a writer, but it’s still … coming back to Slippery Rock University, and taking the degree that I took influenced my decision to write …” Writing poetry or doing fiction-writing exercises may not be directly reflected in his current writing, but those activities are of help now in the generation of material and in the development of his “voice.” In terms of curricular recommendations, the subject wanted us to emphasize “that everybody’s a writer these days,” so it is important to distinguish one’s self through graduate education. We should have more web-based interactive writing, like blogs. In addition, and particularly because of so much writing being done for the Web, we should do more with imaging. Discussing his submissions, the subject remarked that “it’s just tough finding people that want content, gardening content. They’ll send me something back and ask, ‘Can you provide pictures with it?’”
What the subject primarily draws from his undergraduate research activities is application of MLA style. Since that time he has been busy discovering the best professional web sites for garden writers, such as those maintained by various land grant universities. He has also learned to phone potential sources after discovering their contact numbers. The interview ended with discussion of the necessity of helping students learn evaluation of web-sites.