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Mythmoot Presentation: "Transformative Works as a Means to Develop Critical Perspectives ..."

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"About as much fun as a bag of weasels"...when I first saw this Irish adage, it made me think of the life of a writer: sometimes perilous, sometimes painful, certainly interesting. My paper journal has always been called "The Bag of Weasels." This is the Bag of Weasels' online home.

Mythmoot Presentation: "Transformative Works as a Means to Develop Critical Perspectives ..."

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I had to let the video upload on YouTube run overnight because of my current Internet situation but--at last!--the video of my presentation on Saturday at Mythmoot is finally ready. The full title (which is too long to fit in the title field) is "Transformative Works as a Means to Develop Critical Perspectives in the Tolkien Fan Community." The paper covers the history of Tolkien fan fiction, the development of online communities, and the use of Tolkien fan fiction as a means for writers to not only learn more about the texts but to become more analytical and critical readers. This is probably not news for anyone here, but keep in mind that I was presenting to a general (and not necessarily fanfic-friendly) audience at a fantasy studies conference.

The handout for the presentation can be found here. An audio-only version of the presentation can be found here.

Thoughts and reactions are most welcome, of course! :)

This post was originally posted on Dreamwidth and, using my Felagundish Elf magic, crossposted to LiveJournal. You can comment here or there!

  • I'm running tight on time now, so I'll listen to more than the first five minutes within the next 24 hours. However, after listening to what I have thus far, I have a few observations that I hope may help you when you are next called upon to present a similar paper.

    I seem to remember your telling us that this would be a presentation to an audience who would more than likely not be Tolkien savy, but would be attending to hear how transformative literature and fanfiction writers can approach and build from the original textual basis. If that is indeed the case and I remember correctly, although I know you only had 20 minutes and had a great deal of information to present within that timeframe, I recommend you cut things down even more and slow down your presentation if you have the opportunity to offer it again at a different venue. Within the short time I listened, your audience was introduced to a number of terms and words that may have been completely unfamiliar to them and may have caused them to pause listening while they attempted to recall if/when they had ever heard those words before. Terms such as Silmarillion, Nerdanel, and even Tolkien for some, might have had this effect.

    It's incredibly difficult to achieve a balance, (especially in such a limited presentation time), to both introduce a new topic and reference terms, and mention characters which some will be familiar with but others may have never heard of. I haven't looked at your accompanying handout yet, and perhaps you define some of the Tolkien-specific terminology within its pages, but if not, just speaking a little slower could help your audience keep up.

    I'm really looking forward to hearing the entire presentation later. I think you did a wonderful analytical job if the preliminary text I read earlier remained the basis for the final copy. I loved the survey and the fact that so many people responded to it, giving you a nice database from which to draw conclusions. I know I'm going to get some benefit from listening to your final oration.

    Having done quite a lot of public speaking and presentations, I can say conclusively that slowing down is one of the most difficult aspects of group speeches. But I also can say without hesitation that it is one technique that can pay off with major dividends because a greater proportion of the audience will understand what you say and will follow you down the path of your research to your conclusions.

    Thank you for sharing this with all of us, and I hope that my comments will be taken in the spirit of an outstretched helpful hand that I intend, not an unwarranted or unwelcome criticism.

    - Erulisse (one L)
    • That actually is me talking slow. I'm like an unholy mashup of Miriel Serinde and Feanor: I talk fast and loud! :D (Well, I have a very projecting voice, which--in a woman--gets interpreted as "loud." You won't piss me off by telling me I talk too fast--I do know that, and it is something I am working on--but I do get quite irate when people tell me quiet down. ;)

      I don't know where you read that Mythmoot attendees would not be literate in Tolkien? It started as a Tolkien studies conference. This is the first year that they've really branched out to include texts from speculative fiction more broadly. (Last year, there was a single paper track that was essentially "non-Tolkien." This year, there were several.) Still, most of the conference focused on Tolkien, so a high level of familiarity with his works can be assumed.
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  • Awesome! I'm off next to check out your handout! You did a really good job, especially since you were stuck with a 20 minute time limit. I wish you'd had more time--I know you had a lot more cool stuff to share.

    Do you mind if I link this? I think a lot of people will be interested.
  • lmao!

    Finally, the one thing you can't do with this? Make money off of it or anything you make with it. That's the "NonCommercial" part. Not that I have a fancy legal team behind me, but I am buddies with a few sons of Fëanor, and we all know how they get when they feel possessive over something. Did you read this far? Thank you! Email me with your favorite character, and I'll write at least a drabble for you about
    him or her. Thanks for your interest in my work. See you in Middle-earth.]

    OMG Dawn, my screen, my poor screen *is off to get a towel to clean it*
  • THank you for sharing the handout- fascinating. Will watch later.
    • You're very welcome! :) And I've only just scratched the surface of the data. I expect there will be many more interesting things to discover as I continue to work with it more.
  • I read the handout first, including the legalese, which made me laugh. Does this mean I get a drabble now? :P

    I really enjoyed your talk!
  • I have to leave for a doctors appointment. The handout looks great. I will review better. The video is hard to understand on my wonky laptop. I will have to try on the desk top. Or maybe the sound quality is better on the audio-only version. (Laura tells me all of the time that I am going deaf!)

    Thanks for crediting me. I did not do much. I do hope some of these would-be Tolkien scholars look at our website! I still find only a few I read who know more about the texts than my best buddies at the SWG do.

    Edited at 2015-01-12 06:27 pm (UTC)
    • The MP3 version isn't going to be any better if the video isn't coming through clearly because it's just the audio layer from the video. Did you try headphones? That's my go-to solution when my crappy laptop speakers are being especially crappy.

      You had some of the most helpful comments, so don't sell yourself short! ;) I didn't offer much of a chance for detailed feedback on account of posting the draft so late and therefore not even offering to send a Word version for more detailed comments. But you pointed out what wasn't clear, what needed defining ... that can be the most helpful thing to me, as I've been living with this stuff for weeks/months now. Of course, it all makes perfect sense to me! :D

      I still find only a few I read who know more about the texts than my best buddies at the SWG do.

      Like I said on last night's post, I don't think it's a coincidence that, during the Mythmoot trivia for the past two years, the SWG members' teams have never placed lower than second. ;) mithluin and I were on the winning team last year; the three of us got split up this year, but my team came in first and mithluin and anuhealani's team came in second! :D
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  • Congrats on the awesome presentation! It's a pity you had to limit yourself to 20 minutes. Do you have any plans as to what to do, how to use the data from your survey? I don't think I can imagine the possibilities.

    Edited at 2015-01-12 06:30 pm (UTC)
    • Thank you! :) I could have gone on for an hour or more. I never have trouble talking, that's for sure, especially in front of a group. (I needed a glass of wine to handle the one-on-one stuff. But I can prattle on to a crowd for as long as they'll listen!)

      I will finish my MA this fall. I then want to start working on publishing some of what I've been working in the past few years, including my fandom research. I would also love to continue giving talks/presenting papers on this stuff, if places are willing to have me. ;) And perhaps most importantly, as I continue to work through the data, I want to share it publicly with the fandom, kind of like Centrum Lumina has done with the AO3 Census, as well as on Fanlore, when applicable. I've had ideas about Tolkien fandom for a while now that I now have the data to support, so that's pretty exciting. :)
  • ooh, I know what I'm watching tonight when I get home!!

  • Bravo! Fandom has been an underground, often maligned endeavor. About the only time fandom gets coverage in the outside world is in a titillating, oh gasp! they're writing these characters having sex! kinda context. It's nice to see a scholarly presentation with a positive spin. :-D I immensely admire the fact that you did this. Fantastic that you got so many responses to your survey and I appreciated your analysis. I enjoyed watching your full presentation and really enjoyed your handout with the very creative use of color, organization, and calligraphy. It would never have occurred to me to do that and it made the presentation of your data much more engaging. As for the presentation, I find that reading out a paper, especially with time constraints, does tend to make one speak too fast. Being a fast-talker myself, I've had to learn over the years to slow down, enunciate much more than I normally would, and pause periodically -- take a beat -- to allow the audience to absorb what I'm saying, particularly if I've just said something intended to be amusing. If the audience laughs, that's often the only feedback one gets. It's tough to do. Were there any questions after your presentation? I was keen to hear them if so, just wanting to know how people reacted.

    I smiled at your comments about how the footnotes to Tolkien fics are sometimes longer than the story itself -- I daresay that might only be true in the Tolkien fandom. Since I do read footnotes, being well-trained, I also got a laugh reading your comments there about attribution and "being buddies with a few sons of Fëanor."

    Would I really get a drabble if I asked? How about one about Finrod?

    I have more I could talk about with fandom and reasons for writing, but will save that for another time. Again congrats to you for an excellent paper! And thank you so much for sharing with us. The SWG, your B2MeM endeavors, the newsletter, all are ways you help create the community you talked about in your paper. It's why I stick around even though the desire to create fanfiction has faded. Cheers!

    Edited at 2015-01-12 07:18 pm (UTC)
    • Thank you! It probably says something that the first question I got about my topic, before I'd even presented (but when I told someone what I was going to be presenting on) was whether the SWG attempted to restrict erotica. I gave a very resolute, "Nope." I said it wasn't a huge part of the Silm fanfic community (compared to other fandoms), but we do allow it and have a genre tag for it. But it certainly speaks to the general perception of fanfic as "oh those perverts!!1!" and of the role of an archive that has garnered respect to be, in part, keeping out said "perverts." (I had to take out the line about the undersexed middle-aged cat ladies, unfortunately, which did address this stereotype.)

      I wrote over on the Heretic Loremaster: "What I didn’t want my talk to become ... was a 'let’s gawk at the weirdos,' harping on what newcomers to Tolkien fanfic tend to view as the more audacious genres, followed by a 'but we’re not all like that!' defense. Because, as anyone who reads here regularly or knows me knows, I believe that all stories have value." Everyone who has heard of fanfic has heard of that kind of stuff. The mainstream media does us more justice now, but it's still hard to find a mainstream piece that doesn't at least touch on it. I think it's past time to move beyond it.

      Speaking fast has always been an issue for me. It might be scary that I have improved muchly in this since my youth. o.O It's something I'm definitely still working on.

      Questions ... I was asked by our excellent moderator if people responded to fanfic with fanfic similarly to how people responded to memes with more memes (since one of the talks was about memes in HP fandom). That started a conversation about the connections between my talk, the video game presentation, and the meme presentation. I feel like we could have gone much further than that, but the hotel staff were starting to edge into the room and give us looks because we were already over time and they needed to set up the room for the banquet that night. Unfortunately, because we had a four-person panel, the Q&A time was less than in some of the other sessions (which mostly had three-person panels).

      Thank you again for your encouragement and help throughout this and your kind comments! It means so much! :)

      And one drabble about Finrod coming right up!
  • Finally have a chance to catch my breath today so I surreptitiously watched, or rather listened, to your entire presentation while addressing comments made on the last round of the clinical study report, which is now in document quality review (yet one more big beta! :^D).

    The handout is fantastic and quite effective! Graphics are for the most part good, but in the future, be careful about your color choices. There's a bright yellow that renders its text unreadable on a computer monitor, although it may be OK on paper. Nonetheless, be aware of color choices as they relate to readability.

    Others have been more delicate, so I'll be more direct: the first 1/3 of your talk was waaaaaay too fast, distractingly so, but then you got a grip and slowed down. Once you slowed down, your articulation and delivery were solid. Again, that's something to be aware of for future presentations. How many times did you practice?

    I thoroughly appreciated the content and the analytical approach to the subject. I especially liked the emphasis on how, for many authors of Tolkien fan fiction, research of the sources texts approaches a scholarly level. I'd like to think this made an impact on your audience. :^)

    I still haven't abandoned my notion of presenting my Henry Gee-esque bit on speciation of the Firstborn and mortal Men. There's no way I could have pulled it off for either this year's Mythmoot or the 3rd Conference on Middle-earth. Nonetheless, it could be a lot of fun to interweave current understanding of "gerontology" as Tolkien put it. I noticed, however, that there wasn't a lot of "science of Middle-earth" themed talks, except from the guy who is the hydrogeologist from California, who likely talked about harmonics - also wonder if there's a confluence with your previous paper there. So, I wonder how well something like that would be received.
    • Yay for breath-catching time and thank you for using it to listen to meeee! :D

      The yellow (I know exactly which graph you are talking about) was legible on the printout but definitely could have been clearer. Talking fast ... yes, this has always been an issue for me. (In presentations and conversations. Actually, I daresay conversations are worse ...) It remains something I'm working on. I recorded myself for my Ainulindale talk and didn't have a chance to do that this time. I practiced the same number of times as for "Tree of Tales," I think, but feedback on oneself is huge and I didn't have that this time.

      I'd like to think this made an impact on your audience. :^)

      I hope so! It certainly ended up the inadvertent theme of the conference, I think, or one of them, with a huge announcement from Professor Olsen (that I alluded to in my opening remarks) about developing an imaginary Silm TV series as a way to study the books. One of the big takeaways from that was that he'd come to realize the role that fanfic actually can play as a learning tool. Since my paper was that afternoon, it turned out to be the perfect lead-in. :)

      I noticed, however, that there wasn't a lot of "science of Middle-earth" themed talks

      There weren't, which is odd, since there seems to be a good share of Mythmoot attendees with advanced science degrees. You know I'm super-excited about your ideas in that area. There seems to be a fair number of Tolkien/fantasy studies conferences on the East Coast of late. If there's none later this year (which would surprise me), there is always Mythmoot 2017. ;)
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  • Congrats on your presentation! Although the data are interesting, my favorite parts were your personal experiences as a fanfic writer and archive founder. Between your presentation and Prof Olsen's remarks, it seems fanfic got some needed and well-deserved coverage at the conference.
    • Thank you, Huin! And I cut a lot of that too! D^: If I was addressing a more fannish audience, I probably would have included a lot more of that sort of thing. I felt like some of the data probably confirmed what a lot of us already knew. ;)
  • Finally able to listen to the presentation without husband's interruptions. Really very good, very interesting. The handout looks wonderful (including the legalese *smirks*).

    About your fast talking: yes, but no big deal following your ideas, especially for a group familiar with what you were talking about (nobody supposedly thinking "What did she day: my rose danced tango?").

    One question: is reading from a text the usual way to deliver these presentations? Here probably, the presenter would read the hard data but talk the rest. That slows down the pace and allows for contact and feedback from the audience (do they laugh at the jokes, smile, yawn?)
    • Thank you, Angelica! :) Most people just read the paper. A few people do more of a lecture-style presentation. Honestly, the latter would be my preference--I'm a teacher after all! and it's much more comfortable for me because I feed off my audience like a vampire mwahaha--but we were told we wouldn't have audio-visual capabilities, and I wasn't sure I could do that without my crutch ... I mean Powerpoint. :) Mostly because my PP slides guide me and keep me focused! And then I ended up in the one room with AV capabilities ... :^/
  • This was great! Very nicely done and very concise. The alterations you made from your initial draft (which I read too late, so didn't have a chance to offer input on) worked really well.

    I loved the connection between the personal and the scholarly aspect, too - I don't think the Mythmoot audience would be inclined to dismiss one of their own, but on a general level it feels like that approach makes it much less likely to consider those fic writers weirdo fans with no social life who are still living in their moms' basements (yours truly excepted, though for the record I don't live in a basement ;^)) than when a study like that is conducted by someone not involved in fandom themselves.

    So, very nice! I also hat a good laugh about the Share-Alike translation, though I already left my prompt on tumblr. Definitely going to use some of the stats from your handout for that ramble on female-centric/femslash fic I'm working on, I think they'll work nicely to bolster some of my own similar points. :)
    • Thank you, Elleth! I definitely think it helped to be an insider. In fact, I wanted my experience in the community to be viewed as a major reason why I was qualified to speak on it. And it really was funny how, post-presentation, suddenly everyone wanted to talk to me about fanfic! It almost felt a little like my presentation made it a safe topic (although Prof. Olsen's announcement also helped in that, I'm sure :).

      I just posted more data, and if there's something specific data-wise that you think might help, please do let me know. I actually love playing with data; it scratches a different part of my brain than what I do for the other 99% of my day.
  • Congrats -- thanks for spreading the word!

    And good job on squeezing so much into twenty minutes. I know that's not a trivial task...
    • Thank you! :)

      And omg no it wasn't. Doing these twenty-minute presentations has done more to make me a ruthless editor of my own work than a lifetime of writing for other purposes.
  • Oh, well done, Dawn! At last I tonight could find some uninterrupted time to watch the video. For what it's worth, I found you a little fast, but was able to follow you perfectly. Saying that, I'm a super-fast speaker even in English (consensus is unanimous on this) so perhaps I'm not too well placed to judge on ths point.

    The content was great. The presentation flowed very well, and was crammed with great facts on different aspects of the fandom despite having only 19 minutes to deliver it. The best? You presented an accurate summary of who we are and why we do what we do, backed up by figures. I don't know what the audience may have expected from a lecture on fanfic, but they must have been inmpressed at your thoroughness. You can't get more scholarly than that, despite your reservations about the survey only having been responded by the most active Tolkien fan-ficcers. Few surveys are perfect.

    Who knows, maybe they took away a different image of our fandom!

    The handout is lovely, with the quotes so spot on, in lovely calligraphy to go with the theme of writing. And yes, I read it until the end, so maybe I deserve a drabble? If I had to make any criticsism for future presentations is the garishness of multi-colour bar charts. Used to the more subdued hues found in corporate reports, I found I was paying more attention to the colours than to the data.

    Many congratulations! :o)
    • I mentioned up-thread that I am like an unholy mishmash of Miriel Serinde and Feanor: really fast and really loud! :D The first I'm working on and don't mind having pointed out to me because, in my head, I sound normal. (The second I do become irate about when people point it out and it ain't changing, ever. ;)

      You presented an accurate summary of who we are and why we do what we do, backed up by figures.

      Yay! This was pretty much exactly my purpose. I didn't want the presentation to feel like I was launching a defense of fan fiction, although in many ways I was. I did want someone who was familiar with fandom but not fanfic to get an idea of what we do and why.

      I don't know if I changed any minds--I get the feeling that the Mythgard people are pretty fanfic-friendly, for a group that tends toward the scholarly side of the fandom--but I do know that a lot of people suddenly wanted to talk about fanfic with me after my presentation! :) I took that as a good sign, like it had become a safe topic to discuss. I do think people are reluctant to talk about it; I've been emailing with a fellow Mythgardian who was surprised at my audacity in presenting on fanfic! But has been very eager to keep talking about it over email. ;)

      I'm laughing over the colored bars. That was one of the last graphics I made, and I remember thinking it didn't match the rest at all but, fuck it, I was tired and there were seven bars, so that was enough to fit a rainbow + brown. I still have the original PSD file, so I might go back and change it to match the rest and be less eye-searing, then overwrite the handout like it was like that all along. ;)
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  • Hey there! So excited to listen to the podcast and read your handout. So glad you presented this work and I'll give some feedback once I've enjoyed thoroughly immersing myself in how Tolkien fandom is now, versus how it was over a decade ago when I was analyzing our community! :D
    • Thanks so much for listening to my presentation! I'd love to hear your thoughts on then versus now if you wish to share them. :)
  • Hi!

    I was dying to see your presentation and today I finally had the 20 minutes. I think you did splendidly. Loved the handout - being a numbers kinda gal, it really appealed to me and I loved that your work with the questionnaire was much more detailed and visible, thus nicely complementing the presentation itself. And loved the CC licence!! lol

    Well done - I look forward to following your future research works.
    • :D Thank you so much! I'm glad you liked it! I didn't get to work in the JSR stats for this one, but I'm keeping everything handy and am already scoping out another possible conference in June ...

      I'm a numbers kind of gal myself, a statistician in a past life, so I can't resist my numbers and graphs. It killed me not having AV capability at this conference, so I hoped the handout would be a decent substitute.
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