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Backing Up the Info Dump Truck by Jim Ryan

Today’s special guest is Jim Ryan, a caffeine-loving podcaster and writer who can be found at his official website Jim – Yes, THAT Jim and via Twitter, Facebook and MySpace. (Yes, MySpace is still around. It’s hard to believe, I know.) Also, please feel free to check out Jim’s two podcasts, The Great Debate and The Everyworld News Podcast.

Now, onto Jim’s thoughts on providing readers with too much information at once. (Yes, the old saying is true. Sometimes less is more.)

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I have a confession to make.  I’m addicted to world-building.

Whenever I write something that takes place in a fictional world, I like to spell out details about that world to the Nth degree.  My material leans in the direction of science fiction and fantasy, so more often than not I find myself creating races and societies and – depending on the setting – sorting out rules for how magic works or how advanced technology works.

Why bother with all that?  Because my OCD-riddled brain likes to sort out every last piece of information and put it in its proper place.

The problem is that once I’ve got the details written up, I often feel a compulsion to share them with my readers.  From what I understand this can be a malady that strikes many writers.  It’s only natural, of course.  After working for hours on the complete history of every major spacefaring race in a given galaxy, the desire to share the pride I have in such a massive creation is a perfectly normal one.

Normal, but sadly, not helpful.

I may feel as though providing pages and pages of information on the mating habits of the rock people of Quar is the right and just thing to do, but deep down I know that producing a story the approximate length of the Great Wall of China might not be the best strategy.  Not if I want to retain any of my readers, anyway.

So, how do I avoid including info-dumps in my fiction?

I’ve tried having clueless minor characters standing by to ask, “What’s going on?” so the clever protagonist can tell them.  But that only really seems to work for me up to a point, after which it can start getting ridiculous.  Sometimes there’s a fine line between having a main character who’s a genius and having one who’s basically a tape recorder.

(For those of you who may be a bit younger, we used to have these things called “tape recorders.” Google them some time if you’d like to get an insight into how the ancient folk of the late 20th century lived.)

What I’ve found works better is to seed the information in appropriate passages a bit at a time – just hinting at the greater depth of background instead of throwing it all out there.  I try only to include the bits of information that are relevant to the story. So, for example, instead of getting into the specifics of how the Quarren race reproduces, I can instead have the Quarren ambassador mention that he’s recently carved out a son.

The key here is letting the readers fill in the missing bits with their imagination.  I haven’t explained HOW the ambassador had a son, but I’ve 1) communicated what I need to (that the ambassador has a family, which helps explain his motivations) and 2) hopefully made the reader curious about the Quarren race.  The readers can’t help but try to picture what I’m talking about, but because the picture is incomplete there’s now a mystery to which they’ll want to learn the answer.

Stringing folks along by revealing only tiny bits of the world you’ve created can be a bit cruel, perhaps, but ultimately they’ll love you for it. Because a world that looks like it’s got a lot of potential is way cooler than one that’s finished.

So consider hoarding all of those excruciating details and letting them out a bit at a time. That way, when they ask for more, you’ll have a ready supply.

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If you’d like to guest blog on my site, please feel free to contact me at nicole@nicoleireland.com. I look forward to hearing from you.

Part 2 of the Two-Part Interview with Destination Truth Fan Ambassador Amanda

If you stopped by my site yesterday you most likely saw the first part of the interview I did with Destination Truth Fan Ambassador Amanda. Below is the second half.

Before we get to the second part, though, I’d like send out a personal thanks to Amanda for her fantastic work last night during the DT Live interview with Josh Gates, Ryder and Brad Kuhlman. Originally I was going to ask Josh a question, but time was dwindling down pretty fast, and I knew there were other people who had questions, as well. As a result, I decided not to ask my question because I really wanted Josh to say hi to my 9-year-old daughter who is as big of a fan as I am, if not more. Granted, she was a bit shy and didn’t say much, but if the three of them could have seen her face, it would have been very clear how much it meant to her.

As a mom, we love to see our children happy and smiling. When I saw the look on my daughter’s face, I choked up because I could tell she was nervous but also EXTREMELY excited. For a kid her age, talking to someone they idolize that much, is a big deal. And I truly believe she won’t forget that conversation anytime soon, if ever. And I’m glad Josh, Ryder and Brad were so sweet to her. So not only am I saying “thank you, Amanda”, I’m also sending out thanks to Josh, Ryder and Brad. Thank you guys!

And I do want to apologize for sounding like a complete boob on the phone last night. I was nervous all day yesterday. I did practice asking my question, but things changed and what I practiced was no longer relevant by the time I got on the phone. As a result, I felt extremely embarrassed afterwards. But, as Amanda says in this portion of the interview “At least I did it.”

Now, on with the show.

Q: If you could go on an investigation with Josh and the rest of the DT crew, where would you like to go?

A: I’d say any of them, except where they go on cases in extreme cold, but honestly, any of them. It’s been talked about, bringing me on the show before, but unfortunately there is a lot of red tape involved in getting anyone on their show, especially a fan who is not affiliated and working for Syfy or NBC/Universal. Someday, though, I hope.

A list of places I’d like to go, internationally in particular since I’ve never been outside the USA – Australia, New Zealand, Tokyo (Japan), London (England), Dublin (Ireland), Toronto or Vancouver (Canada), South America, & China.

Q: Other than Josh, who’s your favorite Destination Truth member, past or present?

A: Another “this is like picking your favorite child” question haha! I’d say my favorites list is Ryder, Rex, Gabe, Ali, Shawn, Sharra along with Ramy since they’re married, Brad & Jael. I know there’s a few others I’m forgetting, but honestly, Rex stands out to me most because he’s offered me personal advice, he’s been the most interactive with fans over the longest period of time and we hung out at Comic Con last year, so I know in person that he’s as nice a guy as he is on the show and online. I should add that I don’t have any least favorite cast members, but there are definitely some who I have tried to and never gotten a chance to talk to; some people do “DT” and enjoy it because it’s a job, but they’re not into it for the exposure aspect.

Q: Though I joke around about Josh and Destination Truth on Superficial Gallery, the truth is I have an enormous amount of respect for him and what he does. I admire how dedicated he is in his quest for the truth. I also admire his personality. He seems like such a genuine person, unlike many of the celebrities you see these day. It’s refreshing to see that he’s still down-to-earth. So I was wondering what are your favorite things about Josh? What do you admire about him?

A: What I like about Josh is that he has a vibrant personality, he’s passionate, he goes after what he wants, he’s obsessed with film like I am (especially movie quotes), and he also makes time for fans when he can. I have also been really surprised about his growing dedication to fan involvement since he and I started talking. To quote one of my favorite singers, when you’re in show business, you’re no longer doing it for yourself and if you are, you’re a selfish person. Josh always makes time for fans when he barely even has time to do laundry when he’s home at his apartment and that’s what it’s all about.

Q: Aside from DT and Josh, is there any other person you would love the opportunity to interview?

A: Well, one person I always wanted to interview and now I get to because of all of the press work I’ve done aside from “DT” promotion the past few years is film maker Morgan Spurlock (“Supersize Me”, “30 Days”). It’s a long story how we started talking, but I’m very excited to get to be interviewing him soon. Aside from him, I would love to interview Lady Gaga because, as my loyal followers know, I am a huge fan of hers and I would love to ask her the questions the main stream press won’t ask because they’re questions of the heart, not questions of controversy. I think she’s fascinating and a big reason I love her is how dedicated she is to her fan base, as well.

Q: Being in the position I’m in, I receive a lot of messages that are crazy and sometimes go quite a bit over the line. I was wondering if you have to deal with that sort of thing and how you deal with it? How do you handle the negativity and not let it get to you? Also, what has been your strangest fan encounter?

A: Honestly, I can’t give you great advice on how to deal with negativity. I’m a little infamous for not dealing well with it. I’ve had everything from simple naysayers to stalkers spreading around my personal info and I don’t think first before reacting to them. Even mentioning them probably titillates them, but it’s something that is part of my life now that I accept. They do this because this is how they spend their free time – they feel the need to criticize either because they’re jealous or they think they’re better than me so they feel the need to judge, but live and let live, I guess.

My biggest advice would be to get a good support system around you when this happens – people who understand that you do what you do not for these people, but for those who appreciate your work and because you’d feel empty without doing it. Those are the people who will be there to remind you of this when you get upset.

As far as the fan encounter question, I haven’t had any strange ones, but I’ve definitely had great ones. I’ve gained many friends, including a pen pal in San Diego (hi Brad!), my friend/coadmin in Japan named Aislynn, and Christiane who used to help me with the pages and has moved on to helping out Syfy’s “Fact or Faked” with what she learned from helping me run my fan pages. I’ve also spoken to wonderful people, including this gal Kellie – she’s very ill, so I helped to get her a personalized autograph from Josh and we both talk nearly everyday now. She even asked ME for an autograph, which is so crazy but special to me, so I sent her a letter.

Q: What do you see yourself doing in ten years? Do you see yourself still running the various fanpages? Do you have other goals that you would accomplish?

A: I would like to think I’d be running fan pages for one project or another, but honestly, what I love that I have picked up doing from this past summer is sharing fan stories. I hope that in the next few years, I will be able to make a living either off of social networking (like YouTube’s iJustine can), media, radio, film or journalism. I love finding and sharing stories of substance. I’m currently shooting an independent documentary and I would love to stay involved in that field, whether it’s through film or meaningful reality shows (“True Life” on MTV is a long running favorite of mine).

Q: As I mentioned in a message to you, I have a couple of friends who would like me to appear on their weekly podcast show called Podcaturday. I’ve held off doing so because I’m a rather awkward person when I’m being recorded. I’m always worried what people are going to think about me. I know I’m not the only one like that. I know you’ve mentioned you are, as well, so I was wondering what kind of advice you have for people like us who are a bit more on the awkward side? Do you tips for overcoming it?

A: I still get nervous, yeah. I think what helps me is that I’ve always been a vocal person, I currently have a job where I’m forced to talk to many different people throughout the day (some of whom aren’t very nice), and I grew up in a loud family. My advice is to not only feel like no one is watching/listening to you (which is easy when you’re by yourself and not facing your audience), but to remember to say to yourself “at least I did it!” It may sound silly, but if you’re considering going into podcasting or vlogging or whatever, start out by doing this stuff alone, whether it’s filming vlogs when no one else is home or hosting your first few BlogTalkRadio shows from inside of a closet until you feel comfortable to walk around the room you’re in.

I remember one time last year, I was sitting at home one weekend and I get a restricted call – it ended up being Josh! We had a nearly hour long conversation about a lot of things, but mostly about detractors and how he was even still learning to deal with some of the things people say, but in the end, they don’t matter. It meant a lot to me that he would do that and though I know the haters will never go away, there are more people who appreciate what I do for “DT”, as well as other projects, and they know that I’m only human. I know that without doing this fan work, I would never have gotten to do the things I’ve done, meet the people I have or learned to be the person I am today, so you take the good with the bad.

We tend to be a society very heavily influenced by pop culture. I have found role models in a lot of people in the public eye. I very rarely attach myself to anything to the point where I become a huge fan of someone, but in my life – Morgan Spurlock inspired me to want to be involved in documentary style filming, Blink182’s music has resonated with me from middle school all the way past college graduation, Josh Gates taught me (personally and theoretically) to go after your dreams no matter what some people may say, Lady Gaga taught me to love my crazy personality, and Nicki Minaj taught me to blow a kiss to my haters because they’re mad I’m doing something with my life. I think everything at this point in time is so wonderfully eccentric and nerdy – I honestly couldn’t picture my life today without my fan work with “DT”.

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As you can see, Amanda dished out some great advice for those dealing with negativity because of what they do for a job or just for fun (vlogging, podcasting, etc.). I’ve been dealing with a lot of it myself via my MySpace gig. And at times it gets a little overwhelming. But with each day that goes by, I’m actually able to handle it better. I’ve definitely grown a thicker skin over the past few months, and what others say about me or to me has gotten easier to handle. I’ve learned that those that care about me and know me support me and love me no matter what I choose to do. And it’s those people I turn to when I need advice or support.

If you’re in a position where you do have to deal with naysayers or people that want to tear you down, I think it’s important for you to remember that generally speaking people will say things to hurt you and knock you down because it’s their way of building themselves up. Or they want company in their misery.

I know this not only from present experiences but from my past, as well. Though it was hard to understand back when I was a teenager, age has brought clarity, and I’ve learned that people say and do things when they’re hurting. It doesn’t excuse their behavior, but it does make it easier to understand.

I apologize for going off on a little tangent here, but I wanted to add in my two cents, as well, just in case there are others out there reading this who are struggling with these kinds of issues. You’re not alone and there are plenty of us that can understand it. Be strong and believe in yourself.

Part 1 of the Two-Part Interview with Destination Truth Fan Ambassador Amanda

As many of my close friends know, I’m a bit of a Destination Truth/Josh Gates fanatic. Not to the point where I obsess over him, but enough so that I read whatever I can on JG and the show, as well as blog about both over at the Superficial Gallery.

Yes, when I’m writing at SG, I’m a bit more sarcastic, and I sometimes objectify Josh a little too much, but it’s all in good fun because at the end of the day, I truly admire what he does. I firmly believe he has set a really high standard for shows like Destination Truth, and I look forward to watching many more seasons of the show. (You hear that Syfy? RENEW RENEW RENEW!)

I would love to say that I’m as adventurous as he is, but lets face it, if I had to travel to some of the locations he has or experience some of the things he does, I’d probably be paranoid I was going to die. (Seriously, I’m convinced if I ever had to move to California, that would be when the BIG earthquake would happen, and I’d up kissing my butt goodbye.)

In my jaunts across the Net, looking for DT/JG news, I came across a fan page, Singularity: A Josh Gates Fan Page run by DT Fan Ambassador Amanda. Not only does she post related news, she also interacts with Josh and others on a regular basis, which has given her a really great insight into the show and the entire crew. She seems like really a nice person who is passionate about what she does. I admire her, and it’s nice to meet someone else besides Jenny who loves the show as much as I do.

The other day I finally decided to contact Amanda after playing with the idea for awhile. I mentioned interviewing her for my Reality TV Curator gig at MySpace and she jumped at the opportunity. The answers she provided to the questions I sent her are filled with awesomeness. They are so great and detailed that I actually have to split it into two posts. (She was also very gracious enough to provide me with some candid photos, some of her by herself as well as with a couple faces you may recognize.)

This is part one of my Amanda interview. Please read it, comment at the bottom and then on head over to one of her DT/JG pages and say hi. I know she’d love to hear from you.

Q: Many Destination Truth fans know who are, but there are some that don’t, so would you please tell everyone a little bit about you and how your Destination Truth/Josh Gates fan pages came about?

A: My name is Amanda and I started a series of fan pages, as well as corresponding media sites, to promote Syfy’s series “Destination Truth” and the host Josh Gates. I first knew of Josh from a reality show he did in the early 2000’s called “Beg Borrow & Deal” and didn’t hear about him again a while. Then I started to get more into the paranormal as I got a little older, which naturally involved becoming a SciFi (now Syfy) fan.

While watching “Ghost Hunters” one night in college, the episode I was watching ended and I guess I was folding laundry or something because I didn’t change the channel. From the TV, I heard a very familiar voice and realized it was a much skinnier Josh from “BBD” on a new show! I was then hooked on “DT” from the first season, but it didn’t take me until towards the end of Season 2.5 when I realized I wanted to make a fan site. No one else had made any (checked first because I don’t like stepping on people’s toes), I needed more website/social media experience and I wanted to show my appreciation for this show and it’s host. And now, almost three years later, this is where it’s gotten to. It’s pretty gratifying, most of the time, but definitely cool.

Q: Can you tell us a little bit about the first time you met Josh?

A: Well, other than interacting prior online, he had emailed me one day towards the end of June ’09, or the start of July ’09 I think, to tell me he was taking part in Comic Con and also the relaunch of the Syfy network in NYC at Imagination Park (a set up they did promoting the channel upgrade at Rockefeller Center). I knew I couldn’t make it to Comic Con, but I had some family business I needed to take care of in NYC that summer, so I wrapped a trip around this event, did what needed to be done and went.

I couldn’t sleep the night before due to a number of factors, but it was because I was wicked excited, for the most part. I got up very early and headed down to Rockefeller. I got there earlier than necessary, but I had a press pass with access to the set up and it was nice to walk around and observe (took video of it for my YouTube Channel). I was talking to some crew people for NBC and then all of the sudden, I saw people outside of the little barriers set up heading over to a building exit and I saw Josh! I filmed him doing his intro, and press interviews, and then I was introduced.

My first time meeting him, I was a little nervous but after a while, he put me totally at ease, was very nice and seemed really flattered a fan had gone out of their way to meet him and promote his show. That experience was great, I got to meet awesome people from the channel and it opened the doors for me to do other things related to Syfy such as the “Ghost Hunters” Alcatraz live audience special and getting to attend a press room for “Warehouse 13” and “Eureka” at San Diego Comic Con.

Q: I’m sure you’ve answered this before but for those who aren’t familiar with your site, could you please tell us what’s your favorite Destination Truth episode and why?

A: That’s like picking your favorite child, if I had one! Boy, I can’t tell you one favorite episode, but my favorite cases are Nan Madol (Season 4), Icelandic Elves (Season 2.5) and the Yeti episode where they find the iconic footprint (Season 2). It depends on what I’m in the mood to watch, really, because I’ve watched them all more than once, but Nan Madol sticks in my mind because I gave Josh a hard time about showing him vomiting on the show ever since he first revealed the news to me and after I saw it, I felt really bad. It also made me like him more because, I think for the reason other people like the episode, it shows that he too is human and can be taken down from time to time.

Q: If there was one thing you could change about Destination Truth, what would it be?

A: While everyone else would say they wish the crew would stay on cases longer, which isn’t possible due to their budget and time spent on the road in general, I’d say it would be the amount of episodes they’re given. They shoot months of amazing footage and I feel like there should be an hour episode for each case. That way, the show stays on air longer and, more importantly, there’d be more funny and candid travel moments, which is probably my favorite element of the show.

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Stay tuned for the second part of this interview which will be posted tomorrow.