Writing: Update on the supervolcanoes pitch

Had quite a shocker this afternoon – I withdrew my pitch from Cracked!

Here’s what happened, generally. It was quite a saga early on but the moderators eventually passed it on to the thread for pitches they’re interested in.

I knew Cracked was really interested in it, because some of the higher level editorial gods then posted criticism of it (no sarcasm – these editors and writers at Cracked are among the best around, and I’m honored that they even paid attention to this newbie’s pitch).

The first time, I tried to respond and correct the article.

Supervolcano doom

Supervolcano doom on page 1 of a Google search for “supervolcano” (click to enlarge, if you want).

See – it’s about supervolcanoes. That’s the problem, that and the need for “geology eyes.” I didn’t realize that at first.

As for caldera volcanoes, geologists and amateurs like me get ticked off about all the “OMG We’re All Gonna Die” style of coverage in the general media when it comes to supervolcanoes. Some geologists don’t even like the word “supervolcano,” but I used it in my pitch because the scientist in charge at Yellowstone defined it as an informal term.

Basically, I think the editors were looking for the “OMG” coverage, and I was coming from a more informative place.

Besides that whole sticky mess, there is also the problem that I see with a geologist’s eyes (even if I didn’t get the degree), and the editors and most of the readers of Cracked do not. Until now I hadn’t realized what a difference those field trips made back when I was trying to get an undergraduate degree at SUNY Albany.

You really end up not seeing rocks as rocks, but as Earth processes frozen in time (usually, when they’re not forming, changing phase or otherwise in motion for one reason or another).

Geology students

Developing “geology eyes” requires some hands-on work. (Source)

Didn’t realize until today that it’s an unusual POV.

I rewrote my sample (on Campi Flegrei) to mention some of the more dramatic things about it – the pyroclastic flows, during its big eruption, that went all the way to the Appenines; the current drilling into the upper part of the caldera; the September 7th swarm this year; the problem of evacuating 4 million people.

Figured I had aced it – and believe me, that was tough to write. That sort of writing (that is, not blogging or commenting) is not easy.

I’ve been wrong before.

I checked today and the criticism was still about it not being real for readers unless the volcanoes would likely erupt during their lifetime; that something that happened tens of thousands to a million years ago was just too long ago to matter.

With my “geology eyes” I could see the magma chamber under the bays of Naples and Pozzuoli (to just use Campi Flegrei as an example) and didn’t understand that the editors (and through them my readers for a Cracked article) could not themselves understand what I was trying to say.

I also felt that they wanted an OMG approach – I can’t do that. Well, actually, my way of doing that is pointing out the pyroclastic flows at Campi Flegrei, etc., but it doesn’t mean anything to the general reader. They want Yellowstone redux.

I just withdrew the pitch. It was the simplest solution to the whole thing. I’m sorry about there being no result after all the effort I put into it, and I’m also sorry it wasted those editors’ valuable time.

All afternoon I’ve been reeling. I totally misunderstood the market I was trying to enter, for one thing. That’s a major goof. Then there was the whole “geology eyes” business.

Well, it’s a learning experience in many ways, some of which I can’t put into words.

I felt a lot better after mentally comparing myself (and anyone else with “geology eyes” who’s trying to communicate a hazard to ordinary folks) to the sorcerer Tim in Monty Python and the Holy Grail, at the rabbit cave. He knows all about the dangerous rabbit, but he can’t convey it to Arthur and his knights because they don’t see it as he does.

That helped a lot, as Monty Python memories often do.

Well, onward and upward. I’ve learned a tremendous amount about caldera volcanoes, and I’ll use that pitch in something else eventually.

Now, at least, I have time to get back into the Civil War Anniversary posts big time. Those will be the next priority here at the blog.

Thanks to everybody for your interest!


(Source: Daniel Hall)

Categories: Writing

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