Tagged: north carolina

Yeah, we’ve been there

ca736e_55ac5f31fe134871aef36c6e06839055Neil Caudle has been central to a pair of excellent university research magazines over the years, Endeavors from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, and Glimpse from Clemson. He has retired from that sort of thing, mostly to write fiction, apparently. But he also has a blog as part of his personal website, and a recent post describes a situation he found himself in as editor at Glimpse.

It was just a geeky science story, but a vice president was telling me not to write it. He was not my boss, but my sources reported to him and wouldn’t utter a peep without his say-so. The topic was toxic, he said.

I sat in his office and gaped at him, dumbfounded. Only in some alternate universe would the topic of wind turbines and power grids be toxic.

Patiently, the VP explained to me the alternate universe of South Carolina politics. According to doctrine in that realm, decent Americans pledge allegiance to fossil fuels and nukes. Only weirdo liberals truck with solar and wind.

So Clemson University could build and operate, in North Charleston, a fabulous new facility for testing wind turbines and simulating their use on the grid. And we could bank some big grants and contracts from the U.S. Department of Energy and companies such as General Electric to do the work. We just couldn’t write about it.

Caudle bided his time, the VP left, and the shrewd editor brought the story back, tuned up to dodge legislative wrath.

Insurgents afoot in an alternate universe rely on stealth. To save my boss a world of hurt, I would have to think like a native. And in South Carolina, the natives take pride in their history.

So I dug up some history. Three centuries ago, windmills designed by Dutch engineers powered the saws that cut the lumber that built a city called Charleston. The windmills also drained swamps and ground corn. So wind energy was nothing new. It was heritage, deeply rooted as indigo or rice. I had my lead.


You can find the story that ran here.

By the way, lest there be any question about Caudle’s motive, he has titled his blog An insurgence of words, with a subtitle: “In which we attempt to puncture the culture of spin.” Man after my own heart. And my first suggestion as a presenter at next year’s Editors Forum.

Eight questions for Mark W. Derewicz

endeavorsMark W. Derewicz scribbles fine work for Endeavors, the research magazine out of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. UNC killed the print edition some time ago, a decision that was derided here, but the magazine still has digital life. UMagazinology remains proudly printcentric, but would be foolish to ignore the purely digital, which we might all be before I retire. So a pixel-stained wretch responds to the UMag questionnaire.

How long have you been a writer?

Professionally? Let’s see. Aside from a hiatus here and there, 18 years. Geez. It’s really been that long? I began as a reporter at a small weekly newspaper, The Free Press, in Quakertown Pennsylvania.

Of all the things you have to do to produce a story in the magazine, what do you enjoy the most?

Constructing a unique story arc. When I’m allowed to let the word count climb past 2,000—or heaven forbid, 4,000—I really enjoy crafting a story in a way that others might not have pursued. I don’t always do a great job. I might not be as creative as I could be. But I enjoy that the most. That, and getting lost in a conversation with a source.

What has proven to be your biggest challenge?

Grammar and bureaucrats and procrastination. And grammar.

For interviews, notepad or recorder? For writing, legal pad, typewriter, or computer?

I use a digital recorder, but I do take a few notes. For me, recording the interview allows the conversation to be as genuine and free flowing as possible. Sometimes I don’t even need the recording. But I like to know I have it, especially after interviewing scientists. For writing, I use a computer.

What do you wish you were better at?

Oh just about everything. If I had to pick one I guess it would be sentence construction. I didn’t go to school to become a writer; I often feel less than confident. Frankly, without guidance from former Endeavors editor Neil Caudle and current editor Jason Smith, I’d still be extremely limited as a writer as opposed to merely limited. Yet, I haven’t gone the extra mile to learn how to construct more complex, intriguing sentences and paragraphs. (I’m sure my copy editor would’ve preferred a different answer, but what can I say other than copy editing is for copy editors.)

What story are you proudest to have written?

Because I have problems with Islamophobia, fundamentalists, and snarky atheists, I think I’m proudest of “People of the Book,” a story I wrote based on the research of UNC’s Carl Ernst. His book, How to Read the Qur’an, includes a section about the construction of some Qur’anic chapters—how various verses within a chapter frame a central idea. A lot of the time the central theme happens to be the establishment of unity within a community of people who have disparate beliefs. Pretty fascinating stuff. Of all the stories I wrote, this will be the one I drag out of the closet to show my kids and grandkids.

Who among writers have been your exemplars?

Strange as this might sound: Michael Lewis, Jon Krakauer, and Elizabeth Gilbert. As a former employee of Baseball America magazine, I understand the arguments against the concept of moneyball, but I love the way Lewis tells his stories. He might write with too much certainty and hyperbole, but I still love it. Krakauer: man, I could read Into the Wild over and over again. His narrative style is gripping and his research, unparalleled. I envy him. As for Gilbert, I haven’t read Eat, Pray, Love. But her book, The Last American Man, is wonderful. She perfectly contextualized the life of Eustace Conway, and tells his story with an endearing and uncompromising truth.

If you weren’t a writer, what would your dream job be?

I had a fleeting notion, before I realized I was way too stupid, that I could be a pretty good history professor. Of course, if that would’ve come to pass I’m fairly certain I would’ve ignored my students and spent all my time writing books.

UMag inbox

It’s Inbox Monday, and there are several tasty items in the Blogateria. And yes, I am surprised and disappointed by my resorting to such a cheesy opening. We go to press in a couple of weeks and I’m feeling a bit cooked.

Denison Magazine continues its clever innovation of cover stories that play out in the first six pages of the magazine plus the back cover. The June ’12 issue presents “Power Struggles: Why Energy Policy is More Complicated Than You Think” as four true/false questions, starting on the inside front cover with “True/False: Fracking is Bad for Us.” The illustrations by Ward Sutton are tremendous. The above is my favorite, but it was hard to pick one. (Do yourself the favor of clicking on the image to open it big in a separate window.) Part of what I love about what Denison is doing here is it breaks free of the constrained thinking (that has been my thinking until recently) that the cover story has to be the longest or the heaviest or the  most important story in your feature well, or has to be a story in your feature well at all. Every time out, I look forward to what Maureen Harmon and crew have done with the latest issue. They have figured out something unique to our magazines, and I can’t stress enough how rare and difficult an accomplishment that represents.

Zebra fish are hot hot hot. The newest issues of Notre Dame Magazine and Pitt Med both have stories on zebra fish research. My mother kept zebra fish, in and among the guppies and angel fish and Siamese fighting fish. Little did I know she was conducting research on macular degeneration and Parkinson’s. Ma, I underestimated you.

I shy from giving praise to publications produced by Johns Hopkins University, lest anyone begin to think that was the secret purpose of UMagazinology. But I’m making an exception for the new issue of Johns Hopkins Engineering, which has this terrific lead by Jim Schnabel, from his cover story on the meeting of biology and robotics:

Listen to the night music of cockroaches. Clickety clickety clackety clackety . . . Listen to their tiny, spiny feet as they careen across the tiles in your kitchen. What do you hear? What can you learn? These hardy primordial creatures zip through cluttered spaces in utter darkness at human-equivalent speeds of up to 200 miles per hour. Yet you never hear them crashing headlong into things, even though the cockroach brain has only an infinitesimal fraction of the computing power of the average mammal’s. How do they manage this supendous feat with such meager neural resoures?


I’ve never been a fan of commencement stories, but North Carolina’s did bring forth a swell cover for Carolina Alumni Review:

I’ve been waiting for years to see someone publish a feature done by a comics artist, half hoping it would be my magazine, though I never pushed the right idea. Well, The University of Chicago Magazine, in its July-August issue, has done it, covering a conference titled “The Comics: Philosophy and Practice” in the only sensible way: As a four-page comic by alum Jessica Abel.

Finally, around here we’ve joked for years about the Johns Hopkins Magazine swimsuit issue. Now, damn them, the folks at Occidental have done it. Sort of.

That’s Occidental College’s president, Jonathan Veitch, who seems to have a robust sense of humor.

Good stuff

Worthy of mention from the stack of new magazines tottering on my desk:

Washington State Magazine puts out its 10th anniversary issue—how ya doin’, kid?—and editor Tim Steury delivers a pretty good mission statement:

At the core of our mission is our attempt to explore and report on the roles WSU and its researchers, scholars, and alumni play in society, how we examine, weave, and mend the social fabric. . . . Because of their periodicity magazines can seem fleeting. WSM emerges every three months, supplanting the subjects of its previous issue in favor of the new and pressing. But if we’re doing this right, that flight is momentary, adding steadily to the layers of our collective story.

Caltech’s Engineering & Science is looking sprightly these days. I love continuing the cover illustration inside on the table of contents, and the asteroid census. Click on the images for the full effect.

Douglas L. Smith edits, Jenny K. Somerville art directs.

My current favorite deck, from The Big Book About the Big Whale” by Ruth Alden Doan, on the back page of Hollins (Jean Holzinger, editor):

A chapter on whales. A chapter on white. A short story dropped in the middle. And a plot line involving a crazy man chasing a gigantic, oddly hued mammal. Why bother?

Finally, yesterday I lauded Beth McNichol’s story “Family Matters” in Carolina Alumni Review, but said there did not appear to be a link to an online text. Well, try this. Be advised that something squirrelly happens if you’re using Safari as your browser. A very limited empirical test showed that Chrome works just fine, though.

UMag inbox

So, any bets on what snares the cover of the next issue of Kentucky Alumni? C’mon, chance a guess.

Carolina Alumni Review, in its March/April 2012 issue (Regina Oliver, editor), reports that dog handlers now bring therapy pooches to UNC’s library to provide a bit of solace to students cramming for final exams. Yes, the image of the spread is here because I wanted to run the adorable dog photo. Yes, that violates the babies-and-cute-animals-are-cheating rule. I’ll wait while you click to expand the image, show your office mates, get all doe eyed, then come back here . . . . . . . . . . OK, that’s enough. Now, credit to Oliver and writer Beth McNichol for the cover story “Family Matters” (no link at the moment), an honest exploration of legacy admits—children of alumni who want to attend North Carolina, are expected to attend North Carolina, but don’t always get into North Carolina, and perhaps should not always get into North Carolina. From an institutional standpoint this is dicey emotional and political ground, and McNichol does a good job with the story. Her opening provides a sample of her lively prose:

One week after we had our first daugher, who is now 7, my husband and I had a serious discussion about commitment.

“Look,” I told him, flush with 2005 pre-national championship game fervor and my fair share of postnatal hormones. “I know you didn’t go to Carolina, and I know that you’d rather watch MythBusters than a basketball game. But I am going to need your help with this.”

I pointed to the slumbering child in the bassinet, who wore a Tar Heel onesie.

“She has to love Carolina,” I said. “I’m going to do everything I can to instill this in her, but I would really appreciate it if you would, from time to time, help push my agenda. Talk it up a little. Get on board with some sporting events and the like. Tell her she’s going to school there one day. OK?”

McNichol delves into the numbers—the percentage of alumni offspring who gain admission versus the percentage of non-alumni kids—and the fact that whether you are a Tar Heel alum or not doesn’t alter the fact that if you live in the state, you pay the state taxes that support the school and expect a fair shake from admissions. She quotes extensively admissions people who seemed to be doing their best to honestly respond to her questions and articulate however much, truthfully, it matters that your parents have UNC degrees. She also discusses—and due credit to Carolina Alumni Review for putting this in the magazine—an example of appalling parent behavior when the son does not get in, and the aggrieved father, an alum, whose first three kids got into Chapel Hill but the fourth did not, on two tries. The story notes legacy students who question whether they got in on merit or because a parent was an alum, and quotes the parents of a rejected kid who wrestle with their respect for fair admissions and their understandable wish that, in the case of their own kid, their legacy status had landed her a spot. Finally, McNichol comes back to her own ambivalence.

Everyone has a life story. At some point, that story becomes an admissions tale, sifted like sand and rock for gold. No one, including me, wants her children to be labeled silver. Twenty years ago, it mattered who I was on my UNC application. A decade from now, should it matter who I am on my daughter’s?

Well, that’s the question, isn’t it?

In the same issue, Carolina Alumni Review devotes a feature to debate over the university’s 212-year-old honor code, in light of a football player recently accused of plagiarism. That makes for a damned strong issue of the magazine, I’d say.

Also in my mailbox was Oberlin Alumni Magazine‘s redo. (That’s the old on the left, new on the right; Jeff Hagan edits the magazine.) I think the new design looks great, and as an editor on a publication that is just receiving the first reviews of its own revamp, I loved this letter to the editor:

At the risk of not being politically correct—I hate the new look of our alumni magazine. In fact, I first threw it away, thinking it was some corporate investment brochure, until I saw the words “Class Notes” (my favorite part), as the pages fanned out falling into my recycling bin.

Alumni magazine editors everywhere will wryly note the unwitting irony in that letter.

Finally, under “things I didn’t know until I started receiving ’most every alumni magazine in the country”: Hobart College and William Smith College are close neighbors in upstate New York, so close they operate as a “coordinate college system” and publish a joint alumni magazine with the lovely title Pulteney Street Survey (Catherine Williams, editor). Now I know, and so do you.