From the category archives:

Interviews

Interview: Corey Vilhauer

by Brian Gilham on April 11, 2007

At the end of last year, I put out a call to my fellow 9rulers, asking for anyone and everyone to step forward and be interviewed. Corey Vilhauer, author of Black Marks on Wood Pulp, answered that call. And answered it with vigour. Vilhauer took some time out of his busy schedule to sit down and talk about his blog, his favourite sports team, the future of blogging, and much more.

BG: Your blog is a self-proclaimed place “for people who like to peer inside a stranger’s head.” Is your writing a purely personal venture? What fuels your blogging?

CV: For me, Black Marks on Wood Pulp is a personal journal. I believe that everyone should have a place to spill out their randomness - to really be able to formulate their thoughts, whether it be in a notebook or by using a tape recorder or online. It just so happens that my journal is available to everyone, with limits.

I’ve tried to steer away from mundane “here’s what I did today” posts. I try to at least have some specific subjects – some themes, I guess. But my blogging is really just fueled by my desire to write.

BG: You tend to cover a lot of ground in your posts, discussing a Modest Mouse concert one moment and writing a book review the next. With so many blogs focusing on one or two core topics, it can be refreshing to read an author who isn’t afraid to jump around a little bit. How do you decide what to write about? Is it a natural process or something much more thought-out?

CV: It’s really as random as it seems. As I mentioned, I write this for myself - if other people like it, then all the better. So, for the most part, I write about what’s on my mind. During basketball season, I’ll throw out some thoughts on the Indiana Pacers or our local NBA D-League Sioux Falls Skyforce. If I find something interesting on the Internet, I’ll write about it. If something personal is going on that I have some deeper, more constructed thoughts about, I’ll write about that.

It’s actually quite liberating. I can go off on a weird tangent, or create personal top-100 lists that have nothing to do with books or basketball, and I can get away from it. Someone who writes solely about one subject might not be able to justify going off base.

BG: Do you feel writing about a variety of topics has helped your readership grow, or hindered it? Do stats and readership levels matter at all?

CV: It has definitely hurt, without a doubt. I find myself being, to use an old cliché, a “Jack of All Trades, Master of None.” I’ve been categorized primarily as a book blog - but only about 25% of my posts focus on reading or books.

In order to build readership, bloggers need to really hone in on one subject. But because readership is secondary to BMOWP being my own personal sandbox, I’m able to be free. Not that I wouldn’t love to have millions of hits per day and a dedicated fan base - it’s just not how the site was designed. And it doesn’t bother me, really.

Though sometimes I still find myself screaming out into the blogosphere, seeing if anyone’s actually reading.

BG: You own season-tickets for the Sioux Falls Skyforce and write about the team regularly. What inspired you to cover them, particularly in such detail? You’ve stated your goal of covering every Skyforce home game. What sort of challenges has that goal presented?

CV: Well, this is the first year that the Skyforce has been an NBA D-League team - a minor league outpost for the Pistons and Timberwolves. And this is also the first time that my wife and I have had season tickets (at the bargain basement price of $64 for 25 games - the D-League is cheap, by the way). So I thought it would be fun to chronicle the season as a way to really focus on the team.

No one else in town is even touching the idea of blogging about the Skyforce, aside from our local paper - The Argus Leader - and even they don’t do a very good job covering the team. So there was a niche to fill.

Of course, I’m not sure how relevant it ended up being. I did get one comment form someone that went by the name of simply “Skyforce.” They told me to get a life - that I was writing a blog about a D-League franchise. I thought that was hilarious. First of all, my blog’s about more than just the team – it’s not a Sioux Falls Skyforce Blog. It’s not Black Marks on Skyforce. And secondly, how did that reflect on the commenter? I mean, they were READING a blog about a D-League franchise! They must have even less of a life than I do!

BG: Your sidebar contains a list of “Authors/Books I Need To Read”. What motivated you to keep such a list online? How long do you think it will be before you conquer the entire list?

CV: My goal is three years. I found from reading other book blogs that there were so many authors I had heard of but hadn’t read. I went to school to be a teacher before finally settling in the writing field, and so I missed out on a lot of college level literature - the time when they teach you about Steinbeck’s themes and the importance of John Updike and on and on. So I figured I’d better catch up.

I have the type of personality that always wants to have complete knowledge on a subject. I was the type of kid that wanted every single baseball card from a specific year, or every single release from my favorite musicians. And this is just an extension of that - I can’t see myself convincingly writing about and discussing books if I’ve never even read some of the most influential authors - as if having no knowledge of Kafka or Dostoyevsky or Updike makes me ill equipped to pass judgment or have strong opinions.

So one day I just sat down with a list of suggestions and a book of modern authors and put together an “Essentials” list. And I sprinkle them into my regular reading. It’s kind of silly – of course I can write and read and understand literature without being familiar with certain authors – but it’s just how I do things. And I figure if I can read one a month, I’ll have it done in roughly three years.

BG: You have been writing at Black Marks on Wood Pulp since February 20, 2005. Two years later, what have you learned from blogging? Where do you see the medium headed?

CV: Like many, I see a great future in the field. There’s something very exciting about seeing thousands of people writing what they want and getting it out into the open. I don’t quite see it as a viable news source, simply because people don’t trust blogs like they trust the major news sites.

Instead, I see blogging more like a proliferation of online magazines. There are hundreds of blogs dedicated to hundreds of individual subjects, and those people are the experts at what they do. You’ve got technology blogs and political blogs and blogs about cats and blogs about television shows. If there’s a subject, there’s a blog about it.

The scary thing about this is that I don’t want to see blogs become so overbearing and integrated that true paper-bound writing is left by the wayside. One thing I’m frightened about is how fewer and fewer people read the newspaper, or buy books, or read magazines – it’s all online now. I’d hate for it to all go away.

As far as what I’ve learned, I’ve picked up an ability to see everything as thought worthy. I’ve gained a lot of confidence in my writing abilities. And I’ve learned that anything you write can touch someone, somewhere.

BG: What inspired you to call your blog Black Marks on Wood Pulp? I took it as an obvious book reference, but I’m intrigued about its origins.

CV: I’ll answer that in a roundabout way.

Black Marks on Wood Pulp started for two reasons.

One, I’ve always been an exhibitionist when it comes to my life. I have no problems posting my personal thoughts in the open. I’m not much of a conversationalist, but I can get my thoughts across pretty well by writing. So that’s how I do it.

With that thought, I figured blogging would be a fun adventure - a new, cool thing to do, an easy way to journal and get my name known in whatever circles it could be known in.

Two, I did it to hone my writing skills. I chanced that if I wrote every day, even a little, I’d learn more than by not doing anything at all. As I said - I went to school to be a teacher, and at the time I was a call center manager. I used the blog to self-publish my own thoughts. I started my “What I’ve Been Reading” column and it was picked up by a local magazine. I used my blog to get my current job as an advertising copywriter. I proved to the company that I could write and that I could do it constantly, and I was hired with absolutely no professional experience.

The name of the blog comes from that idea. I was searching around for a name and I came across a quote from Ursula K. Le Guin: “The unread story is not a story; it is little black marks on wood pulp. The reader, reading it, makes it live: a live thing, a story.”

In other words, unless your words are published - unless someone sees them and reads them and experiences your thoughts - those words are nothing but marks on a page.

Thanks Corey!

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Interview: Ben Gray on Religion and the Media

by Brian Gilham on January 17, 2007

Between writing on his personal blog, Open Switch, recording the latest edition of his podcast, Ask a Minister, and writing for Blog Ministry, Ben Gray has slowly become one of the blog scene’s premier religious writers. Majoring in Family Ministries at Toccoa Falls College and currently serving as a youth minister at a small church in Atlanta, 28-year-old Gray is well-positioned to offer a youthful, modern perspective on issues of religion and spirituality. He took some time out of his packed schedule recently to sit down and answer a couple of questions regarding religion, the media, and what each can do to better understand the other.

BG: The media is often accused of poorly representing religious and spiritual stories in the news. What’s your view? Are journalists generally doing a good job, or are we missing the mark completely?

BG: I would say that yes, journalists are generally doing a good job, even a very good job, in representing religious/spiritual stories in the news. But it’s hard to accurately represent a belief you don’t buy into. I know first-hand that it’s very hard to accurately represent something that you don’t believe in. I run into this with ministry all the time. For instance, I don’t believe that the earth is 6,000 years old, I think it’s more like billions and billions of years old. However, a lot of Christian curriculum we use in church teaches a young-earth theory. I also realize that many Christian parents don’t agree with me on the age of the earth. So what am I supposed to do when I teach their 6 year-olds about creation? Do I teach them what I think or do I try and give an unbiased representation of Scripture? In the end I decide to just teach the Bible and leave my own view out of it. I teach neither old-earth or young-earth theory.

I think many of those in the media are in a similar situation. Generally speaking, many journalists want to report the news in as unbiased a way as possible. But it’s hard to do that without letting their personal views and opinions get in the way. Honestly, I think the media does a better job at being unbiased than I could be. I try to put myself in their shoes, wondering what I would do if I had to report on a religion I didn’t believe in like Islam or Judaism. Would I be unbiased or w