Monday, October 8, 2012

Meth Monday No. 12: the Origin of Wanna Cook?, or How I Wound Up writing a Book About Breaking Bad

Good morning, Readers Mine, and welcome to another Meth Monday here at Solomon Mao's! This week I thought I might do something a little different and use this space to tell you how I ended up co-authoring a book on Breaking Bad. It's called Wanna Cook? The Unofficial Companion Guide to Breaking Bad and it's being published by ECW Press in the Spring of 2014. Or have I mentioned that already? Anyway, my co-author, K. Dale Koontz, already has an academic monograph to her credit, so this isn't her first time at the rodeo, but it is mine, and I thought one or two of you might be interested in how that came about.
Breaking Bad fan art by Ian Glaubinger
It all began when Dale started letting me tag along to the popular culture and Joss Whedon conferences she was regularly presenting papers at, and in the process introduced me to a group of incredibly smart, fun, funny, and accomplished scholars who were also into pop culture, Whedon, and TV scholarship. Up until this point I had no idea that I could combine some of the things I love and am passionate about with rigorous scholarship and actually do something I love as my work. This was a pretty exciting and important discovery.

For full disclosure, at the time all of this started I was 37 and had just gone back to college after finally getting some things figured out in my life (I am, Readers Mine, a slow learner at times), so while I was new to  the world of academia, I also had some miles on me, and during the previous 25 years or so I had almost always been writing. Bad poetry, stories that started but never finished, angry poetry, editorial essays, a self-indulgent ream of paper I called a novel, and even some pretty fair blank verse. The point of telling you all of that is to emphasize that, despite never really having done anything with it, I had been writing pretty constantly and consistently for much of my life, and I have always (and still do) read voraciously. In other words, I had accidentally created the basic structure of my own voice as a writer. That turns out to be important.

So, after going to a couple of Popular Culture/American Culture Associations (PCAS) in the South conferences, meeting people, and hearing some amazing papers, I had an idea that no one seemed to have looked at yet. I wrote a piece called "'We Just Declared War': Buffy as General" and presented it at the 4th Biennial Slayage Conference on the Whedonverses in 2010. Later, the full paper was published in Watcher Junior: the Undergraduate Journal of Whedon Studies, and I was over the moon. So I kept writing, kept presenting, and kept going to school. I like to think I've built a reputation for doing quality work on time, and have a speaking style that generally keeps my audience interested. I also can't emphasize enough the importance of sticking my hand out and asking for guidance and mentorship from the scholars and friends around me. Rhonda V. Wilcox encouraged me to publish my Buffy piece. David Lavery mentored me in television studies. David Kociemba at Watcher Junior gently guided me through the review and revision process of academic publishing. Oddly, they were all eager to help. All I had to do was ask. Who knew?

So, along the way, I met Nikki Stafford, another scary-smart scholar who is also the ultimate companion guide writer, an editor at ECW, a geek's geek, nerd's nerd, and more fun in 5'5" than should be legal. This was around the time of Breaking Bad's third season in 2011, and she was a fan like I was. She heard that I was presenting a paper on Lonnie Athens' theory of violentization in regards to emotional realism in Breaking Bad and asked me to send her a copy. I did, and never heard from her again. Until six months or so later at the 2011 PCAS Conference in New Orleans, when she blew me away and left me walking about 12" off the floor by practically gushing  about how much she liked my paper. She also seemed to really enjoy my presentation at that conference on Samuel Colt and Supernatural. After the conference, I struck up an e-mail correspondence with her. (Turns out we both like to write LONG chatty e-mails [and blog posts, apparently]). In one of her letters one day, she broadly hinted that I ought to write an episode guide on something. With everything going on school-and-life-wise (Dale and I married in 2010), I wasn't too sure about taking on a book project all by my lonesome, and Dale was every bit the Breaking Bad fan I was, her style was also adored by Nikki (and most everyone else who's ever met her), and Nikki was really excited about the prospect of both of us working on a guide, so Dale and I expanded our partnership into a whole new area, and it's worked out beautifully.

All of that sounds like happenstance and good luck and I'll be the very first to admit that Fortune has favored me, but there's also a good bit of hard work and discipline there (remember the "quality work on time" bit?) The scholars who helped me are not only kind people, but produce brilliant works of rigorous scholarship, expect nothing less from me, and also expect me to get better, so I can help mentor the folks who come after me. All of this is incredible fun, but it is also an incredible amount of work. Often it doesn't feel that way because of the whole passion-work combination thing, but it is. At the end of the day though, I get to do something I love, and to call myself a professional writer and scholar. And that ain't bad.

That's it for this week! Tune in next Monday when I promise to look at something beyond myself, and in the meantime, check me out of Facebook and Twitter for all the latest BrBa news that crosses my screen. Until then, be well.

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