Time to Write a Novel

By Edo Steinberg

This semester Whitney Eklof, Dustin Ritchea and an undergraduate are cooking up something novel. As part of an independent study with Susan Kelly, the two graduate students will each write a 150-page novel, the undergrad will write a comic book, and Susan herself will write a script. All four will critique each other’s work on a weekly basis.

“I talked to Susan, as my advisor, about courses I should take this semester,” Whitney says. “We got on the topic of writing, because I had been in her scriptwriting class previously and she had seen some of my work. She asked if I had been doing any writing. I said I hadn’t done any in a while, but I’d like to. Susan being Susan, she got excited and said ‘take an independent study with me and just write.’”

“I got an email from Susan asking me if I want to join,” says Dustin. “I just jumped on board. I didn’t have to get it approved, because Whitney had done all the legwork. I owe her one.”

“When I was an undergraduate here, I minored in creative writing,” says Whitney. “I was in a lot of classes in the English department, but it was all short stories. With a novel, the big difference is the planning, making sure you have enough content. Before, I would just sit and write, without planning ahead.”

One approach is to start with an outline of the plot. Another is to outline details about characters. “For me, it’s been helpful so far,” Whitney says. “Even simple things, like going through my main characters – what do they like or dislike. I have a character who dislikes the smell of roses. It’s just a little quirky trait he has. Thinking about those little individual things gives you more things to play with when you’re writing.”

Dustin also has a degree in creative writing, as well as scriptwriting. “Writing novels is different. I like it a little bit better. With a novel, I can go anywhere and do anything, and if something fails, I can go back and fix it. When I’m writing a play or for media, I’m always thinking about the final product. I’m always thinking about what it’ll look like when it’s done. I’m not writing this particular page, I’m writing the entire finished vision.”

Dustin's illustration of his novel's setting.

Dustin’s illustration of his novel’s setting.

Dustin came to the class with a story in mind. Whitney didn’t. “That was the challenge at first,” Whitney says. “Coming up with something I was interested in enough to dedicate an entire semester to.”

As mentioned above, not only will the students’ work be critiqued, so will Susan’s. This won’t be the first time that Whitney will be voicing her opinions about Susan’s scripts. “Between the time I graduated as an undergraduate and coming here as a graduate student, Susan sent me some work and I critiqued it for her. Last semester she also sent me a screenplay that she and Robby Benson are working on.”

“That will be an interesting experience,” Dustin says about criticizing Susan’s work. “I did it in high school with a teacher, but I was brash and arrogant. This time will be different,” he laughs.

Off to London

by Teresa Lynch

Although many members of the department will be travelling to London, England this summer to attend ICA, several graduate students – Senia Borden, Dan Levy, Gabe Persons, and Garrett Poortinga, to be specific – will be travelling there for a different reason. After a quick stopover in Iceland, the four will be meeting up with Susan Kelly to take her specially designed production course. Last summer, Susan took only undergraduates for her course abroad, but this year, the opportunity was offered to graduate students, as well.

The Tower Bridge in London. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

The Tower Bridge in London. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Susan says the theme of the class is twofold. “One [portion] is to show that there are other ways of storytelling than the American way. The American way is purely driven by the bottom line. The British system is driven by a cultural mission. New voices are funded by the citizenry who actually pay a licensing fee – a tax – to fund new voices and make stories specifically about British culture. They actually have a mission statement about what their media should aim for. You’ll never find that in America.” The other portion of the class will focus on storytelling in film and story analysis. Susan has also lined up guest speakers for the class including a BAFTA recipient and an employee of the BBC. The group will also tour sets from the Harry Potter films, James Bond, The King’s Speech, the BBC Sherlock series, and Sherlock Holmes.

While they’re in London, the group will all be residing in Nido, a student housing complex in the Spitalfields neighborhood.  Class will take place in facilities provided by the International Education of Students. Susan has also planned to hold class in the early afternoon so students can enjoy the walk from Nido to the IES if they choose. “It’s a beautiful walk, an amazing walk…it’s through the Bloomsbury neighborhood – the same neighborhood that housed the modernist literary movement.”

In addition to class and working with the 15 undergraduate students, the graduate students are hoping to make the most of their time professionally. Garrett has already been in touch with department alum Lora Speers. “I’ve been talking to [Lora] through email about actually producing a short form on one of her [underground hip-hop] connections,” said Garrett. “I’m hoping to go to some shows, film some interviews, and cut it together to align with the course.”

The London Eye. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

The London Eye. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Gabe and Susan are the only members of the group who have been to London, but it’s safe to say that every member of the group is very excited to be hopping the pond. Listening to Susan tell it, London is a city of incredible depth, heaviness, and beauty. She said one of the things she is most looking forward to, “the light in London in the spring is spectacular. It’s clear and the buildings are made out of limestone…some of it’s gold, some of it’s buttery, and some of it’s rose…and when the sun hits [the buildings], if you have any aesthetic bone in your body, you have to stop in your tracks and just be bathed in northern  light. In London you will get scudding clouds, huge cumulus clouds that are white with some dark grey underbellies with this beautiful light that slants through and casts shadows that make designs on the ground and you are bathed in the light.” And getting to see her students experience London is an experience of pure joy for Susan. “I get to experience that, to watch students take it all in. Sometimes I have to remember this is my job.”

Susan’s Girl Sophie

by Teresa Lynch

Susan Kelly had a wonderfully busy summer.  The moment she was done teaching her summer session here in the Telecom department, she hopped on a plane and flew to London.  The next day she started teaching a three-week scriptwriting class, which she has been coordinating as a study abroad opportunity for the past year and a half.  When that ended, she allowed herself a brief – though greatly enjoyed –  four-day vacation that consisted of sleeping, swimming, and walking through old town in Nice, France.  But, her trip through Europe was far from over.  She rented a car and drove four hours along the Ligurian coast to the place where she spent the most biggest portion of her summer in Europe; a picturesque town in Italy named Camaiore.  It certainly wasn’t all play as she worked on a scriptwriting class in which she had enrolled, but you might expect that it was a difficult task considering her locale.

A view of the hills and the sea from near Camaoire. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Nestled in the foothills of the Alps and less than two miles from the sea, Susan found herself residing in a Tuscan paradise and enjoying local wines, cuisine, and friends.  The story, literally, that brought her to rent the downstairs portion of a home that belongs to an artist named Maja and set out on a quest to learn about marble, started last winter.

Around Christmas-time last year, on the road to a holiday destination with her husband and son, Susan sat scribbling notes in the back seat of their car.  Like Athena from Zeus’ head, a character had just jumped from her mind.  Now, nine months later, the character Susan fondly refers to as “her Sophie” has become the protagonist for her script Carrara; the script that inspired the grant-funded, research trip to Italy.  The trip was required to investigate several things mostly unfamiliar to her.  First, the marble quarries of Carrara, the birthplace of Michelangelo’s stone, had to be explored.  Next, she had to get to know the people who live and work there so that she could accurately represent her character and the thriving culture within which she lived.  And, finally, she needed to understand the anarchist political atmosphere that plays a pivotal role in the conflict detailed in the script.  Without revealing the overarching storyline, Susan’s story “revolves around the central theme of metamorphosis” – a metaphor played out in the changing of the stone and in the changing of Sophia.

While in Italy, Susan discovered that certain portions of her original storyline could not work and accurately represent the culture of the area she had chosen as her setting.  Consequently, she took on a reworking of the script that entailed leaning on the knowledge of those she met while in Italy.

A marble quarry in the Apuan Alps above Pietrasanta. Photo courtesy of Susan Kelly.

Maja, the woman in whose home she stayed and with whom she formed a sisterly bond, proved to be an invaluable resource as she was a professional marble sculptor with contacts in local art circles as well as the quarries.  Susan joined a local book club where she was able to meet a woman with a history astonishingly parallel to her Sophie’s.  She also had the opportunity to observe other sculptors at their craft.  One of the memories she shared with me was particularly magnificent.  The tools that the artists use are power tools that run on intense blasts of air.  As you can probably imagine, the amount of stone dust created by such tools is considerable.  It powdered every surface in range, including, or course, the sculptors themselves.  When the artists took break for lunch, they removed the heads of the tools and “showered themselves with the air.”  In the midday sun of the outdoor studio, the powder thrown into the air generated a brilliant visual display.  Magical is the word Susan used to describe it.

L: A marble mountain above Colonnata. R: A house in Pietrasanta. Photos courtesy of Susan Kelly.

When she returned to Boston, her son, husband, and dog were waiting for her at the airport.  They took a family trip up to Isle au Haut off the coast of Maine before driving back to Bloomington.  The Adirondacks did seem to pale a bit in comparison, but she was happily returned to her family and home and she had accomplished much more than she had imagined.  Not only she had gathered the information needed to complete the story, she had made friends with people who continue to be invaluable sounding boards for her.  As it stands, Susan is back in Bloomington, teaching and writing away.  She never got the chance to carve while in Italy, but it just so happens that she has a friend here in town who has procured a piece of marble for her.  A piece from Italy no less.  This fall, in addition to finishing Carrara, she’s going to learn to carve the stone; to find out, like her Sophie, “what’s in the marble.”

A Top Paper, Mark and the Janissary Collective, the Third Dimension, and the Market for Eyeballs

This week’s edition brings an array of happenings from all ends of the department:   conference honors for Travis Ross,  Wednesday meetings of  the Janissary Collective in Mark Deuze’s office,  Chris Eller’s 3D project “An Ancient Pond,” and the brown bag featuring Ted Castronova’s quest for the elusive eyeballs of video game players.

Travis Ross has a Top 5 Paper at Meaningful Play 2010

Doctoral student Travis Ross has received recognition with a Top 5 paper at the upcoming 2010 Meaningful Play conference.

PhD student Travis Ross and co-author Jim Cummings received top paper recognition for the upcoming Meaningful Play 2010 Conference. Photo Credit: Travis Ross

The paper, entitled “Optimizing the Psychological Benefits of Choice: Information Transparency & Heuristic Use in Game Environments,” was co-authored by Travis and IU Telecom grad alum Jim Cummings. Jim, who completed his MA here, is currently pursuing his doctoral studies at Stanford University’s Department of Communication.

Travis and Jim will present the paper at the conference, which will be held October 21-23 at Michigan State University. With regard to the top paper honor, Travis says, “I’m really excited. I knew our paper had some potential, but I thought it would lead to an empirical study, not an award.” The paper, along with the other 4 top papers, will be compiled into a special issue of the International Journal of Gaming and Computer-Mediated Simulations on meaningful play.

Perhaps the most rewarding aspect of writing this paper, according to Travis, is the opportunity to work with Jim, a former classmate. “Although writing the paper was time consuming, I really enjoyed it,” he says. “Jim is a great co-author, and it isn’t everyday that you get to produce academic work with someone you also consider a close friend.”

Mark Deuze and the Janissary Collective

If you happen to walk by Professor Mark Deuze’s office on Wednesdays around lunch time, you might notice a small group of students and faculty inside.  It is a constant flow with people popping in for minutes or hours at a time, crowded on the couch or sitting on the floor.  What they talk about varies from week to week, but it often revolves around works in progress, current research ideas, and life in general.  The meetings often include some variations of caffeine and sweets and the discussions range from popular culture to philosophy.

Mark explains that the group began last year, with just Laura Speers and Peter Blank coming to his office to chat.  Eventually it grew to the size it is today, with a core group of around 10 people, coming from several different departments on campus.  In addition to both graduate and undergraduate students from Telecom, the group includes students from Learning Sciences, Journalism, Informatics, and Communication and Culture. Professors Mary Gray (CMCL) and Hans Ibold (Journalism) also drop by regularly.

Recently, several  students from the Wednesday meetings collaborated to write a chapter for the upcoming Routledge Handbook of Participatory Cultures under the pseudonym The Janissary Collective (evoking the spirit of Ottoman warriors against theories, paradigms, and methods that dampen free thinking). This chapter focuses on developing a definition of participatory culture and situating the individual in it. The group is also collaborating on future writing projects, including an essay on authority and digital media in the British fashion magazine Under The Influence, and a chapter in a forthcoming NYU Press anthology on social media and dissent.

Last week’s meeting covered a wide range of topics, including: concepts of online identity, the idea that being delusional can lead to happiness (according to Woody Allen), and notions of what makes a culture unique.  Participants of last week’s meeting included: Siyabonga Africa, Mark Bell, Peter Blank, Watson Brown, Lindsay Ems, Mary Gray, Hans Ibold, Mike Lang, Nicky Lewis, Jenna McWilliams, Nina Metha, Brian Steward, Mary Gray and Daphna Yeshua-Katz.

See a clip of the discussion on the possibility that we all exist in our own Truman Shows and how the concept of delusion may hold an answer:

3D at IU Telecom

“An Ancient Pond,” a stereoscopic 3D short film project by MS student Chris Eller, wrapped up its filming over the weekend. The project’s shooting finished on Sunday with cast and crew recording final scenes in the IU Arboretum and in Telecom’s own Studio 5. “It’s a film about power, assassination, revenge, and innocence,” says Chris, who is filming “An Ancient Pond” as part of his final project, which will eventually include two other shorts in 3D. “This is the first project that Telecom has really been involved in. This has been in pre-production for three months.”

In addition to shooting his own work, Chris is also helping Professor Susan Kelly teach T452: 3D Storytelling. The course,

Chris Eller edits 3D video footage for "An Ancient Pond."

a pioneering one in the country, immerses 12 students in semester-long advanced 3D production work. The students were selected on the basis of an application process, and the high demand led to the addition of another course in the spring.  Chris is hoping to develop a course design for future 3D production classes through a special T540 project this semester.

Chris says that producing 3D film is really interesting because it presents unique challenges. “There’s the added complexity of the 3D camera rig. The two cameras have to work together,” he says. From a production standpoint, Chris says he’s gaining a new awareness for the techniques involved in capturing the magic of 3D. “You have to be much more conscious of how you frame. You have to reconceptualize everything, but then there’s a new sense of realism,” he says.

The finished product of “An Ancient Pond” will be viewed in the soon-to-be completed IU Cinema, which will be 3D-ready when its renovations are finished. Chris is also helping IU Cinema gather 3D content through both grad and undergrad projects. The IU Cinema’s grand opening gala will be in January.

Grad student Chris Eller makes adjustments to the stereoscopic 3D camera.

For the future, Chris has several other 3D projects planned. On the agenda for upcoming months are a thriller/comedy involving zombies and a documentary on the art of bookbinding.

In addition to talking with us this week, Chris was interviewed for a pair of 3D-themed stories in the Indiana Daily Student for the Weekender section. You can view one of the stories through the IDS website here:


Brown Bag

Professor Ted Castronova was featured in the T600 Brown Bag Presentation this past Friday:



Much has been written about the Attention Economy, yet there are not many conceptual tools for thinking about it in terms of Communications.  How does a game designer know how many monsters to put into a Facebook game?  Adding monsters costs money, yet more monsters – to a point – are needed to capture the eyeballs she needs to make a profit.  What is this market for eyeballs??  In this talk I start with a model of limited cognitive resources and end with a model of supply and demand for attention.  In other words, I walk the long, arduous, dangerous, difficult road from Annie to David.  I’ll need help on the way, so come with me!

Take a look at some of Ted’s presentation here:


Nicky Lewis: Mark and the Janissary Collective and the Market for Eyeballs

Katie Birge: Travis Ross has Top Paper and 3D at IU Telecom