Tuesday, March 20, 2012

Please Welcome Jann M. Contento and Jeffrey Ross

Jann and Jeffrey have written an intriguing book about community colleges. They are just finishing a virtual book tour and I am honored to host A Phillip Dolly Affair here today.

Learn More About the Men Behind This Book

College Leadership Crisis: The Philip Dolly Affair
By Jann M. Contento and Jeffrey Ross


Jann M. Contento has a broad range of experiences in higher education including student affairs administration, athletics, and institutional research. He is currently working in a community college setting and has co-authored several articles on leadership and college culture. 

Jeffrey Ross, who resides in Arizona with his wife and son, is a writer, rockabilly musician, and former full-time community college teacher. He has had four "Views" pieces published on InsidehigherEd.com since 2007, has authored and co-authored several op-ed articles on community college identity, purpose, and culture, and has recently had several parody poems published on the Cronk News higher education satire website.


By Jeffrey Ross concerning College Leadership Crisis: The Philip Dolly Affair
1. What or who inspired you to start writing? I’ve read quite a bit of great literature (and not so great literature) in my life. I’ve always wanted to have a voice, to have a sense of separation, to be considered even as a minor literary figure.
2. How much fact vs. fiction is there in this book? Oh, it is fiction based on daily life at community colleges—or any place of work influenced by corporate management pressure. Our characters, events, and themes are just composite motifs—no character or event is based on a single person or college campus activity. Consider great films like Office Space or Christmas Vacation—certainly we all know people like the Red Stapler Guy or the cousins who show up in an RV and just hang out…. Jann (my coauthor) and believe much of our work lives is not about work. It’s about playing games, or acting in a play, or becoming a recognizable character….

3. How did you come up with your idea for Philip Dolly? College presidents, like school superintendents, seem to come and go. We have been immersed in community college life—and I have loved working at the community college—but leadership seems to be an ongoing issue. Google in Leadership Crisis and you’ll see what I mean.  I had a short story, a bit of satire, published on Insidehighered.com back in 2008 called “Call Me Phil”—about our  [2011] novel’s hero—the response was so positive I knew that someday I would have to tell “the rest of the story.” Plus, all of the recent American social issues and events, like the redistribution of wealth debate, the posture and activities of our government, and the Occupy Wall Street movement, gave us much food for thought.  And--everywhere we look ideas, menus, family expectations, infomercials—everything is packaged and commoditized like so much hamburger at the grocery store. 
4. What expertise did you bring to your writing? I have taught academic writing (English comp courses) for several decades—and I have had a few poems and op ed pieces published here and there. But I am really quite a novice when it comes to the art of writing fiction.
5. What would you want your readers to know about you that might not be in your bio? I’m not much of a reformer or a radical. I try to be common sense oriented. The daily buzz of American life fatigues me, sometimes.
I feel strongly that everyone is entitled to an honest living—and real dialogue, real conversations --without personal agendas-- are essential to progress.
6. As far as your writing goes, what are your future plans? Hopefully a sequel to Phil Dolly and a few more poems. I also have quite a few song ideas left in my head.
7. If you could be one of the characters from this book, who would it be and why? My favorite character is counselor Barry Woodwurd. He just goes to work, does his job, and goes home to a supportive family without a lot of fanfare, self promotion, or puffery.
8. Can you give us a sneak peak into this book? Essentially, we discuss the rise and fall of a community college president. We use hyperbole to create outlandishly self-centered characters—and bring up all kinds of issues most readers (who have taught school, gone to school, or been around school at any level—which is everyone!) will recognize. We provide over the top explanations for overtly ambitious and inappropriate career behaviors, have fun with acronyms, meeting speak, religious images, and history. Money, food, horse racing, vampire novels, leadership “puffery,“ and failed romances dot our fictive landscape. We are irreverent, but usually accurate. We hope our readers find it funny but painfully possible.
9. Do you belong to a critique group? If so how does this help or hinder your writing?  I belong to a small group of published and unpublished novelists. Their input is invaluable. Jann and I also belong to a group called the Men of Diverse Intellects Club in the East Valley [metro Phoenix], which meets periodically for discussions about politics, philosophy, and nachos. We make reference to such a group in the novel.
10. When did you first decide to submit your work? Please tell us what or who encouraged you to take this big step?  My coauthor and I were pretty keen on finding a publisher soon after beginning the novel. We have always considered our selves rather “fearless”—but we have been humbled by the journey to publication success. My dad thought Rogue would be a great place to publish because of their extensive web presence and good vibes.

11. What is the best and worst advice you ever received? (regarding writing or publishing) )  I think the best advice I received is to keep trying, to not get discouraged—and to listen to the good advice from those who have had success writing. We would also say we are glad we decided to not self-publish—we have learned a great deal from the Rogue Phoenix Press team about fiction writing, editing, and marketing.

12. Do you outline your books or just start writing? I have always taught the importance of process—writing drafts, reviewing, reflecting, and revising. I suppose I more or less follow Peter Elbow’s [Writing with Power] advice—just start writing and it “will happen.” Eventually. But writing acceptable prose is an ongoing struggle for me. No piece of writing is ever finished. I really enjoy working with essays and poetry since they are “easier” to edit and revise.

13. How do you maintain your creativity? I enjoy a certain amount of primitivism in my life. I would rather create than watch.  For example, I would rather write my own half-baked songs than get “amped” up over a rock concert or buying mp3 files. I have resisted corporate citizenry—and this has undoubtedly cost me in this material world—but I cherish keeping my head filled with my own weltanschauung, my own world view.

14. Who is your favorite character in the book. Can you tell us why?  I like Jack Frost. He has had a tough go of it—the poor guy tries hard but seems to always end up with the wrong gal. I want desperately for him to find a love interest that is secure, salubrious, and constant. Now, at the end of the novel…

15. Are your plotting bunnies angels or demons?  Ducks. Or Angels. Ultimately, mankind is good. Individuals do good work, but the Demons of system often corrupt our best intentions.  Dorothy makes it back from Oz, doesn’t’ she? And who doesn’t love John Wayne? Plus, the rainbow has a beard.

16. Anything else you might want to add?  Writing this novel with coauthor Jann has been fun. I hope our readers find the book many layered, truthful, and entertaining. And please eschew defensiveness.   We are just spoofing a system.  Don’t you think we ALL take ourselves too seriously?


College Leadership Crisis: The Philip Dolly Affair
Jann M. Contento and Jeffrey Ross
Excerpt Heat Level: 1
Book Heat Level: 1

Buy at: www.roguephoenixpress.com

Call Me Phil
I'm Phil Dolly, EdD, recently resigned, or deposed, community college president.

Yesterday I was the CEO at North East Central Community College here in Folsom County, West Dakota. Today, I'm contemplating my own crisis in leadership. Following a faculty vote of no confidence and caving in to growing board pressure, I packed it in this morning. No one was surprised, really, including me. But more about that later...

This evening I am sitting here at the bar nursing a weak gin and tonic, assessing the landscape of my shattered career. This place is nothing fancy, that's for sure. I don't know when it saw fresh air last. Located in Payson, West Dakota, this bar and grill has been owned by the same guy, I.M. Tyred, for nearly a decade. I'm a little bit out of my element--but I'm comforted by the visual relics of my own blue collar past--seed company calendars, jars of pickled pig's feet, softball trophies, and the effervescent aroma of bacon, beer, and cheese. Many of the locals know me and enjoy seeing me stop in for an occasional drink. I probably get in here once a month. Maybe more.

I'm not sure what happened. Enrollments didn't increase, but they didn't decline much, either. We opened up more centers. I had bandwidth upgraded. I was in Rotary Club. I brought in some of my former graduate school colleagues from University of Toledo at Arlington to help invigorate the executive staff and to help bring this district into the 21st century in terms of management. I wanted diversity on the management team. 

Hmm, I made all of the directors deans and all of the deans became associate VPs. Only one of the new VPs had emotional problems, but no damage was done. He checked into rehab. Our quality initiatives must have moved the college forward. We redid offices, put in new floors and windows, and really spruced the place up too. We won several national awards.

I remember there was some grousing when I had the president's salary increased to 475K, but the board agreed we needed to be competitive in future presidential searches.

I guess the future arrived more quickly than I anticipated.

The hazy blue smoke in this bar settles at about stool seat level. I wish I.M. Tyred would do something. Why doesn't he install some fans or air purifiers or something? I should say something before I have another asthma attack. The country music just drones on and on. All those sad songs about lying, drinking, and needing to be somewhere else are driving me crazy. How do these people stand it? 

The lights around the mirrors seem so harsh. I barely recognize my own face in the mirror--the burdens of leadership, I guess. All those retreats, keynote speeches, conferences, dinners, trips to Europe--just so much, so much over the years.

The governing board said I spent too much time out of state. They said I belonged to too many national organizations and attended too many conferences. They just don't understand the difficult and complicated nature of being a community college president. Networking means survival and prosperity for the institution and for me. They don't understand the community is much bigger now. We can serve China! GIs! Nebraska! Technology has empowered us to do so much more than teach welding, massage therapy, and fertilizer applications.

We ought to do more than just serve the needs of our county taxpayers! We can have the reputation of being a global higher education leader! Oh, I guess it's no longer we.

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