Some of what I took away from the CASE Editors Forum 2012 in Atlanta:
Just did not seem like an Editors Forum without Jeff Lott and Tina Hay. Though Lott’s absence did mean I got more sleep.
The ever natty Shawn Presley’s opening presentation on getting some humor into our magazines introduced a phrase I did not expect ever to hear at an Editors Forum— “vagina cookies.” If you weren’t there, please don’t ask me to explain, but I will add that he was talking about actual baked goods. Presley, editor of the estimable Kenyon College Alumni Bulletin that has copped two of the last three Sibley awards, damn their eyes, argued persuasively that most of our periodicals need more wit, which works especially well in the front of the book. Kenyon mines Twitter feeds, campus events, the student newspaper, student parties, student interns, and bulletin boards for weird, quirky, funny, sometimes mildly raunchy bits that can enliven a page and remind readers that their undergraduate years were, among other things, great fun. Unless they attended Chicago or Johns Hopkins.
Editorial cartoonist Mike Luckovich, when he wasn’t drawing caricatures of Newt Gingrich or a nationally renowned blogger who shall remain nameless, said that by putting off everything until deadline panic forces an idea, he’s more creative. Don’t know about you, but I’m going to try that one with my boss.
Brown Medicine did a brilliant thing when it had to write the dreaded “we’ve got a new building on campus” story. It announced the new facility by producing a photo essay—portraits of the men and women who built the building. Boy, was that smart.
Tracy Mueller, managing editor at OPEN from the University of Texas’ business school, tossed out a great story idea from her magazine: students who are also parents. Could be especially good if you’re writing about undergraduates in that situation.
From the keynote: Sarah Vowell has one of the strangest deliveries in all of broadcasting/author appearances. From now on, anytime I read anything by her, I will hear her voice. (This also applies to David Sedaris.)
When it comes to a conference presentation, Tom French is a real pro. In his talk, sort of a highlight reel followed by some advice, he emphasized that the engine of any story is “what happened next?” He spoke of the “pleasure of unfolding” in a good story, and the necessity to zoom in: The more macro the topic, the greater the need bring your writing down to the micro. Another great piece of advice: As a writer, follow those who are never followed.
I came out of his session with an idea: Write about a single moment. A single moment in the lab. A single moment in a performance. A single moment before a crucial shot in a game. You are not to steal this idea. It’s mine. Mine.
Was not that impressed with Atlanta until a) I ate the fried chicken and corn pudding at Wisteria and b) went to the “From Picasso to Warhol” show at the High Museum. Lot of good pictures in a spectacular space.
Minneapolis next year? Really? I’d be very happy if the conference alternated between San Francisco and New Orleans, but maybe it’s just me.