Thursday, November 14, 2019

Addendum to a previous post: A Happy Ending

So, in my next-to-last post, I related the rather mind-boggling incident of a young-ish academic who, submitting a review to me, had plagiarized my own review on that same book. Well, I'm happy to report that this situation will apparently have a happy ending. After a few sternly worded e-mails, it looks like the reviewer in question will work diligently to produce a new, better review. I won't know for sure until it's actually submitted, but I'm hopeful.

As I mentioned in my earlier post, this was a teachable moment-- that's always my gut reaction in these kinds of cases, whether I'm dealing with undergraduate freshmen or more advanced academics. Sure, it astounded me that a doctoral student could believe I wouldn't notice the plagiarism. But everyone has to learn sometime, and one's first foray into professional academic discourse can be intimating. And while I'm more than willing to use my meager institutional authority strategically to employ guilt, shame, and chagrin as motivations, you shouldn't ever forget that academia is essentially a cooperative enterprise. Peer review, for example, might oftentimes feel brutal, but both the reviewer and the author ultimately want the same thing: a strong, published article.

What I find despicable, though, are those allegedly "old-school" academics who believe that academic life is fundamentally agonistic. I had one of those on my dissertation committee -- the only Tolkienist in the department, but I refused to invite him on my committee until a last-minute dropout forced my hand. In a way, it was nice that he hopped on board so late in the process -- and, initially, I felt the appropriate gratitude. Still, his commentary on my dissertation was so nasty, loathing anything beyond this guy's narrow and obsolete views on literary criticism, that my feeling of gratitude quickly dried up. What if, instead of a mid-30s white male confident in my own abilities and skills, I had been a more insecure or fragile graduate school? I've had friends leave grad school entirely because of such people, and there's actually a heavily gendered component to such abuse.***

Anyway, as I said, looks like this particular reviewer will pull through. I'm glad of that.

***At Ohio State, there were two sections of Intro to Critical theory that all incoming graduate students had to take. I had the good fortune to take my class with Dr. David Herman, one of the nicest people I've ever encountered , but the other section was led by a professor who clearly relished bullying students. On the first day of class, I later learned, he put examples of grad student writing on the board and then -- in front of everyone -- proceeded to mock the sentences he considered incompetent.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

Fafnir -- an up and coming journal!

I'm ridiculously happy that I've managed to latch onto Fafnir: Nordic Journal of Science Fiction and Fantasy Research. Last July, after a fair bit of legwork, I managed to get us enrolled in the Directory of Open Access Journals, a nice piece of street cred that will raise our profile and grant greater exposure to our articles. Now, we're busy in the process of earning our DOAJ Seal of Approval for following best practice in open access publishing.

There's a lot of steps involved in this, but one of them is liberalizing our copyright so that authors, not Fafnir, retain it without restrictions. Esko just sent our the information e-mail out to our editorial board, and it just strikes me as immensely cool that I'm involved in something that requires e-mails to an editorial board.

Monday, November 11, 2019

All the Things I Never Expected as a Reviews Editor

When I first became reviews editor for Fafnir, there were a number of things I never anticipated. Late reviews, for one thing -- we give people three months for their review, but I still have to chase up over half of our volunteers, which is a colossal waste of my time, as well as simply being unprofessional. Also surprising are all the reviews -- a majority of them, in fact -- that require moderate to heavy revision. Maybe that shouldn't shock me, but it does. And then, of course, there was the case of the experienced Big Name academic who sent us a review both incompetent and unpublishable, and got huffy when politely asked for a re-write.**

The weirdest case, though, is what happened to me yesterday -- I was sent a review that clearly plagiarized a previously published review.

The catch? The review they were plagiarizing was my own.

Not even joking. The reviewer was smart enough to have written all the words themselves (typos included). But the ideas, specific analysis and evaluation, and even the structure of entire paragraphs were lifted directly from my own review.

Clearly, this is a case of a very youthful academic still lacking the self-confidence to put their own ideas out there. So, a teachable moment. Man oh man, though. Even with being nervous with one's first foray into academic discourse, how can any advanced doctoral student not know better?

And now they've written me back, denying that they "looked at any other reviews," which I respect less than if they had simply admitted the plagiarism. Still, they're promising to "immediately re-write" the review.

** In fact, when I first read what this person submitted, I thought it was a revenge review -- you know, Academic X getting back at Academic Y for something that happened years ago. Now I'm more inclined to suspect the reviewer simply had a chip on their shoulder about the subject matter, which involved religion and science fiction.

Tuesday, November 5, 2019

A New Teaching Opportunity (almost!)

One of our professors is sadly unable to finish out the semester, so the last 5 weeks of his senior-level course in "Travel Fiction / Travel Narrative" was advertised through out departmental listserv. I jumped at the chance -- it would have been a fantastic new line on the c.v., plus doesn't it just sound fun?

And I had the qualifications for it, too, with a doctorate in contemporary British and American literature. Only catch was that I don't formally know much about travel narrative or Latinx and minority literatures (this professor's emphasis). I told our Undergraduate Director that, of course. . . . and they ended up going with someone else.

Oh well. Would have been awesome, though.

Thursday, October 24, 2019

One Less Item on My Academic Bucket List

Exciting news: my article on Glen Cook, history, and picaresque epic fantasy has just been formally accepted for publication in The Journal of the Fantastic in the Arts, and it'll appear in about a year or so.

This acceptance means a lot. Not that I don't feel like a real academic, but it's always important to get these affirmations, especially in a profession like ours where the major markers of success -- passing prelims, the dissertation defense, publishing articles -- arrive so few and far between. With this recent acceptance, my work now appears in 3 of the 4 most respected journals relevant to SF and fantasy: JFA, Extrapolation, and Tolkien Studies. The fourth journal, of course, is Science Fiction Studies, but since I don't really do SF criticism, I might simply have to adore that journal from afar.

It's also really nice to publish something on Glen Cook, who for years has been the writer most personally addicting for me. And this will also be the first peer-reviewed article on Cook, which is awesome.

The story of this particular article, now titled "History and Precarity: Glen Cook and the Rise of Picaresque Epic Fantasy," may be mildly interesting. Back in 2015 or 2016, I submitted an article to JFA on Cook's The Instrumentalities of the Night. The two peer reviewers, who both recommended revise and resubmit, were overly kind in their evaluations, as I realized in retrospect -- when I re-read the article several months later in Fall 2017, intending to perform the revisions, the amateurishness of the piece actually embarrassed me. I dropped the article, read more widely in fantasy literature, and didn't return to the manuscript until January 2019, when I was much better equipped academically to write something intelligent. This second round of peer review took about 6 or 7 months, but I'm pleased with the article's final form, and of course ecstatic about appearing in JFA.

Tuesday, October 22, 2019

The Upcoming Novelization of Peter Jackson's THE FELLOWSHIP OF THE RING

So, I've been doing some background research on Peter S. Beagle for an encyclopedia article, and I found the following gem of a story while browsing through this interview:
Aaron [interviewer]: I’ve actually seen this so I know that this is true—when the original Lord of the Rings movie came out, The Fellowship of the Ring, the Peter Jackson version…somebody, one of the publishing houses, commissioned a writer to do the novelization of the movie.

Peter [S. Beagle]: I heard that story!

Aaron: And got seven chapters in before somebody said, “You do know it’s a book, right?!” And I’ve read those seven chapters, and they’re terrible…!

Connor [Cochran, PSB's business manageer: I have not heard that story! That’s wonderful. That’s absolutely wonderful.
 That's the main Tolkien-related bit; the whole long interview is here. It's actually a pretty fascinating account of the financial side of contemporary book publishing and licensing. Beagle, apparently, despite his fame, had been in dire straights financially before meeting Connor Cochran in 2001, who had enough savvy to really begin advocating forcefully for Beagle's various rights.

The story, alas, has a sad ending. Just a year after this interview, which happened during 2014, Beagle would sue Cochran for $52 million dollars for fraud and various other things. After a four-year legal battle, Beagle was eventually awarded $332,500 in damages just a few months ago for fraud, defamation, financial elder abuse through constructive fraud, and breach of fiduciary duty.

In any event, now I really want to read those 7 chapters of the Peter Jackson novelization.

Saturday, October 19, 2019

Just Got Reviewer Two'd

Just had an article returned back to me with a classic case of academic schizophrenia. You know what I mean -- one reviewer plays Good Cop, the other plays Bad Cop. One loves me, the other loves me not, etc.

In this particular case, the first reviewer thought highly of the article. Although they had some recommendations for improvement, as a good reviewer should, the phrases "groundbreaking" and "well-written" nonetheless did make an appearance. Reviewer 2? Alas, not so much. They opened their commentary with, and I quote, "I dislike this essay on a number of fronts." And, 500 words later, that was still the nicest comment they had to give.

The whole experience leaves me somewhat bemused, I must say. Don't get me wrong -- in the past I've received reviews, incompetent or negative or both, that really have angered or irritated me. This one, not so much.

Part of that, simply, is Reviewer 1 being -- clearly! -- a brilliant and percipient scholar of keen critical acumen. Another part is how hard Reviewer 2 tries, almost ludicrously, to justify their knee-jerk antipathy to the article. Their entire commentary is over-compensation -- basically, "This article is suffused with problematic issues and has no redeeming qualities whatsoever (and certainly none that I'm willing to admit)."

Also, while some of reviewer 2's objections were entirely reasonable, for which I'm grateful, others were a tad strange -- such as dinging me for using Jamie Williamson's The Evolution of Modern Fantasy approvingly, which I happen to think a very good book. C'est la vie.

Incidentally, the editor was cool about everything, suggesting that I shop the article around elsewhere, which struck me as a good idea.

Wednesday, October 16, 2019

My first Online Course Module Completed!

So, last spring, I was given a development grant to convert my ENGL 160D course on Monsters, Ghosts, Aliens, and Others to an online version. I'd just begun teaching online the previous semester, so while I grasped the basics, teaching literature is still a vastly different kettle of fish from teaching composition.

Thankfully, I had my lesson plans from my face-to-face course, and some D2L content carried over. Anyway, I finished Monsters Online yesterday -- one whole day to spare, even, before classes begin on Thursday.

All told, my best guess-timation puts my total work on the course anywhere between 110 and 120 hours . . . or about $25 per hour, given the development grant was a flat $3k. All that work  came in about 13 or 14 days of effort (the last seven of them in one brutal yet continuous stretch), so I didn't miss out on too much "real" academic work, i.e. research and writing. 

Would I do another online course? Sure, if asked. But mad respect to those people who do this sort of thing on a regular basis. For me, I'm now actually glad to be returning to academic writing!

Academic Efficiency

"Academic efficiency" is my internal term for maximizing the use of one's time. Oftentimes, I think the people who succeed best in our world are those with a knack for self-organization, not to mention self-motivation. For a graduate student, this means juggling classes, both teaching and taking, thinking about your next step in the program, and dealing with graduate school's needless and seemingly mandated endemic poverty. For an early career academic, efficiency means constantly -- and I mean constantly -- thinking of new additions for one's C.V.

Since I've finished up my encyclopedia entry for The Literary Encyclopedia on Ursula K. Le Guin's The Dispossessed, I've been pondering "academic efficiency" once again.** The chain of events leading to this entry is pretty awesome and amazing, but think about this -- out of that one Paris conference on Le Guin, I've squeezed out the following publications:
  • 1 conference presentation (plus 5 days in Paris!)
  • 1 conference report
  • 1 book chapter
  • 1 encyclopedia entry.
Three more C.V. lines, in other words, than most people squeeze out of a conference. (Granted, the conference report and the encyclopedia entry count for little, academically, but still.) Contrast that with how grad students unfortunately tend to use conferences -- just a single line, and sometimes barely even that. A few years ago, I remember going to South Central MLA. An organizer told me about their attendance issues. Too many participants would show up, read their paper, and leave immediately without attending any other panels. In fact, another grad student of my acquaintance didn't even bother to show up to her own panel; tellingly, she never finished her program.

Much "academic efficiency," though, is just luck and keeping one's eyes open. For example, I only ever went to the Le Guin conference in Paris because, quite randomly, I had earlier been invited to a "New Voices in Tolkien Scholarship" panel for the IMC in Leeds, England; the organizer happened to remember me from Kalamazoo the previous year. Well, since -- again, quite randomly -- I had been planning a trip overseas with my partner, who's European, that was extraordinarily convenient.

Just a few days after accepting, I saw the announcement for the Le Guin conference, either on the SFRA or the IAFA listservs, can't remember which. By another amazing coincidence, this conference, set in Paris, was happening two weeks prior to the IMC Leeds conference. VoilĂ  -- luck and paying attention.

The rest is history. I did the conference report because I knew Fafnir publishes such things. The book chapter emerged because, although I had no real plans for converting my presentation into something useful, the Le Guin conference organizers were putting together a book, so no reason not to. Finally, the encyclopedia entry flowed quite naturally from my presentation research on The Dispossessed, and the opportunity itself emerged because I knew the relevant subeditor for The Literary Encyclopedia,*** who just happened to need an entry on that particular Le Guin book.

So, all told, four (4) additional lines on my CV, plus one awesome trip to Paris, for around 2 1/2 months of discontinuous research, writing, and revising. . . . and all because I was randomly invited to a difference conference in Leeds altogether.

 ** Of course, I never stop. And this post is coming a week late since I had to begin work immediately on my online monsters course. Thank goodness, that's done.
*** Dr. Dimitra Fimi, who actually is the same person who invited me to the IMC in Leeds. What a wonderfully lovely person.

Tuesday, October 1, 2019

2nd Summary of the Le Guin Conference

So, early last month, Fafnir published my conference report on the Legacies of Ursula K. Le  Guin, a 3-day conference in Paris, France at the Sorbonne over the summer. Incidentally, there's a book coming out of that conference, and I just submitted my revised presentation for that 2 days ago. Anyway, though, I was randomly trawling the interwebz, and I discovered another summary of that confererence!

It's written by David Creuze, a professor at the Université de Lille, whom I remember chatting with briefly right before the big shindig began. Whereas mine is mostly creative non-fiction (which is what we encourage for Fafnir**), though, David's is a more bare-bones descriptive summary of the various papers. Pretty fair summaries, too, I might add. And he summarizes all the presentations, too, whereas I skipped quite a few for space.


** And by "we," of course, I mean "I", since I seem to have been put in charge of the conference reports!