The role the general interest magazines played in shaping the hobby is worthy of serious study. Smart people are beginning to ask interesting questions about this topic and the answers they ultimately uncover will no doubt be the subject of heated debate.
Speaking frankly, I stopped reading the general purpose mags because my interests weren’t being challenged by the level of content. Admittedly, I’m unusual, in that I know what I want from the craft and after forty years, I’m not a beginner anymore. I can lay track and build kits. I understand scenery and the effects of weather on objects and I can make something credible from a pile of raw materials. As a reader of the general mags I was raising my hand and saying: “Inspire me.” But no one was listening. As a modeler this was was frustrating.
Three years ago The Missing Conversation was born from this frustration. The title outlines my intent of bringing a thoughtful serious approach to the craft and so after ten volumes, here we are. It’s time to reflect a bit.
Sorry. Never Heard of You
The greatest barrier for any new venture is visibility. The Internet has unleashed a tidal wave of content that will only grow worse in the future. Regardless of the subject matter or genre, getting the word out now is a monumental task. I grossly underestimated the amount of work involved in promoting TMC and the work hasn’t even come close to finding the audience that I know is out there. I understand my mistake now and I’m giving serious attention to getting the word out.
So What Are You Trying To Say?
Compared to other craft-oriented pursuits, ours encompasses several criteria that are often at odds with each other.
You have the craft tradition of building models, which is what I’m personally drawn to, and then starting in the 1970s, a strong bias toward large operations oriented layouts that emphasized function over detail, exerted itself with a pragmatic force that continues to this day. The two cultures are not inherently incompatible but have two very different objectives.
So my second hurdle to overcome is helping people understand the message of TMC. In contrast to existing hobby magazines I deliberately went against the grain of the mainstream philosophy with the editorial focus of TMC. This was a way to stand out from the crowd but, positioning the work in this way automatically restricted the size of the audience. I knew this from the start and still believe I made the right call. I’m not chasing big numbers because the hobby doesn’t need another me-too, general interest magazine. That space is well covered by the existing titles and I feel it’s full.
From the first volume on there has been a progression in style and voice as I found my way in producing a 50-60+ page publication every three months. My initial plan was to present a series where each issue built upon the previous one but I admit that my focus has wandered over these ten issues. As an experiment in publishing, it was a genuine case of making it up as I went.
Speaking honestly, I may have gone too far out on the fringe with some topics. I have a very specific point of view with a strong bias toward the artistic side of modeling. Given the overwhelming pragmatism of the “good enough” modeling culture, most people simply don’t care or see the relevance of these forays into the realms of design and philosophy as they apply to modeling. This is something I look at constantly and there are changes, hopefully productive ones, coming in 2015. It’s a long game and I’m just beginning to play it.
In-spite of growing pains and missteps, a loyal band of readers embraced the work, confirming for me that a tightly focused, thoughtfully crafted publication that speaks respectfully to readers is welcome in the craft.
It’s my conviction that engaged modelers are the best advertisement the craft can have and that the healthiest way forward is to help people find deeper levels of enjoyment by presenting achievable challenges to strive toward and a path to get there.
This is why I place so much emphasis on understanding why you’re doing something. It’s why I emphasize craft and the mindset that supports excellence over presenting step-by-step instructions. There’s no shortage of coverage of how-to techniques and that’s why you won’t find basic stuff like laying flex track or building benchwork. In TMC, the focus is on growing as a modeler and understanding the thinking process behind the techniques.
A second anchor for TMC is a focus on building and designing smaller layouts using prototype based track and wheel standards such as P48 or P87 and employing fine craftsmanship throughout. Prototype based modeling in a variety of scales is the featured norm but excellence in craftsmanship and attitude is the real criteria for inclusion in TMC. If all you want is a simple, quick, easy and dirt cheap way to do model trains, The Missing Conversation isn’t it.
However, if you’re ready for a challenging but immensely satisfying exploration of a craft that will always provide something more to strive toward then I invite you to check it out. And because we all feel some hesitation about spending money on something sight unseen, I’m compiling a sampler of the first ten volumes, so you can see what it’s about firsthand and risk free. This will be a free download and I’ll post a notice on the blog when it’s ready.
Just finished TMC-10. Excellent discussion throughout. Bring more of a freelance modeler at times, asking why has become important. Why freelance a model railroad? For me, the why is to capture a place in time, maybe that town did not exist, but by plausibly combining the items that capture my interest in the topic, one can design a small achievable layout that tells a story of an industry, or town, or even an engine terminal.
I’m currently having an email discussion with a friend who’s trying to find his way. It’s not an issue of skills or commitment, he has both. For him it’s the choice of what to model. This might seem like a simplistic question on the surface but it isn’t that easy.
Our conversation has touched on some interesting issues about why we do what we do in this craft. About why we seem hellbent to approach it in a very casual manner, even as we proclaim how great an activity it is.
It’s gotten me to thinking.