Eric Smith is a friend.
Let’s not hesitate in sharing the disclosure. A figurehead of Philadelphia’s young blogging scene, there aren’t many people involved in web communities in this city who don’t know Smith.
But Smith, 27 (though he turns 28 this Sunday), is involved in enough cool projects that intersect with technology, the web and Philadelphia that it’d be something of a sin to not share them.
He is the newly minted chief of social marketing for indie Old City-based Quirk Books — famed for its Pride and Prejudice and Zombies title — after ending a three-year tenure at the helm of popular arts and entertainment blog uwishunu, and spends his weekends and nights, well, he spends them playing.
“I like to have fun,” Smith says, in what is much more an ethos than a cliche for him.
Smith is probably the ultimate social butterfly. If you catch him in one of his haunts in and around the Rittenhouse Square area he calls home, he’ll likely be incessantly texting or tweeting.
At any moment, he’s probably organizing an event — like the annual Halloween bash he throws with his crew from the popular geek blog Geekadelphia, which he co-founded in November 2007, and his friends at Old City coworking powerhouse Independents Hall.
You might call him a connector.
He’s decidedly from the social side of a broad technology community that includes startups, investors, social entrepreneurs, tax activists, designers, developers and consultants.
Smith, on the other hand, recently put a down payment on a custom suit of armor modeled on the Master Chief character from the epic Halo video game series. …Seriously.
He has chops though.
Blogging and social media has become a staple of his for a vocation, but he teaches English courses at Peirce College and has done the same at Holy Family University.
For a guy who’s awfully adept at writing in 140 characters, he knows the classics well — he, like, actually read Beowulf — and this summer he took off on a road trip with a friend to write something of a coffee book called The Whiskey Road, which would chronicle the country’s most famed whiskey spots. This fall he’s self-publishing his long-developed novel Textual Healing, which he’s also in the midst of releasing as a podcast.
Below, Smith talks about the novel, recording and releasing it as a podcast and a handful of other projects he has in the works.
Edited for length and clarity.
Tell us about your first novel.
Textual Healing is a quirky romantic comedy about a once famous writer named Andrew Connor, who owns a used bookshop. He sort of lives in this world in his head, where he thinks he’s still this big shot. Unfortunately, reality shatters that. Over the course of a week, a number of mishaps make him realize he isn’t such a big deal anymore.
As a result, he ends up in a support group called Textual Healing, a group of writers who aren’t writing anymore. Here he meets an array of characters with bizarre problems. He also meets a woman (surprise surprise), who he forms a strange new relationship with.
Through a mix of the support group, the romantic interest, and the colorful cast of characters that surround him — including a local florist who only speaks in haiku — he learns to just, well, accept who he is.
How? Eh, you have to read the book.
I started the book my senior year of college, while attending Kean University, and finished it shortly after I wrapped up graduate school at Arcadia. So it took about three years, during which I was working and schooling full time.
But, without a publisher, you’re recording the novel as a podcast. Why give it away for free?
For two reasons.
One, as a little marketing stunt, to drive attention to the actual print release of the book. And two, well, because it’s fun. I’ve been roping in good friends, having them record different characters, all over wings and beer. We have ourselves a good time.
What are you doing with the recordings?
I’m uploading an MP3 every Friday to my blog — the second part ran today.
Once there are enough episodes, I’m planning to submit it to podiobooks.com, a great website that syndicates podcasted novels. It’s a fantastic community that my pal Dan [Tabor from Geekadelphia] introduced me to.
Should this mean anything to other aspiring novelists?
I think it’s just another cool medium to publish your work in. Some of these podiobook folks publish solely as podcasts. It’s interesting. The world of publishing is always evolving.
A few months ago, you launched a blog focused on harassing people’s craigslist posts, right?
[laughs] Yes, ‘Missed Corrections.’
That’s one of my latest silly internet side projects. I suppose grammar snobs and fans of craigslist will enjoy that site the most.
It’s essentially me ragging on awfully written posts, pointing out misspellings, faults in logic or just general rudeness. Just because you’re anonymous and on the Internet, doesn’t give you the right to be crass, Craigslist Man.
Writing is a love and planning events is a passion, but we hear your real dreams are with entering the professorial class full-time someday. You’ve already broken in, having taught classes at Peirce College, Holy Family University and others. We’ve heard of some fun you’ve pulled on your students, do you have a favorite prank?
Ah, yes, the joys of having a classroom, and somehow convincing a local college that you’re a trustworthy individual [laughs].
I love teaching. My favorite is a staple of my classroom routine: pretending I’m a student on the first day.
I just let the kids file in, watch the clock run ten minutes over, and abruptly start class from my seat amongst the students. Great way to break the ice and show the students you’re a fun prof.
What have you seen change about the Philly scene since you first got here?
I think I arrived in Philly just in time to witness the online community really blossoming into something wonderful. Spearheaded by a lot of the brains in Indy Hall, bloggers around the Internets, and local web developers, I saw all sorts of wild events launching left and right.
With all the various unconferences and camps, charity events, the Geeks Who Give gals, Ignite, Pecha Kucha, your Switch event, TEDX, Junto, even art exhibits, like DrinkPhilly.com hosting First Fridays, I’ve gotten to watch folks leave the glow of the monitors and create something more than just a blog post or a status update.
I’m not sure if that’s something that changed — all of us nerds and geeks are just driven and kind by nature — but it was certainly something that seemed to evolve.
I wish I could claim a larger part in all of that. I just write about these things when they happen and host video game competitions and movie screenings.
Secretly, I want to be Roz Duffy.
What first brought you into tech and geek culture?
Eh. I’ve always been a self proclaimed geek.
I grew up addicted to video games — specifically Final Fantasy — disassembling computers and loved me some Star Wars, Star Trek, the Last Starfighter, Starman — hell, anything with the word Star in it, with the exception of A Star Is Born.
I obsessed over select action figures, adore limited edition screenprints and have to buy every single special edition video game that comes out. It’s a sickness really, but there are worse things to be addicted to.
When I moved to Philadelphia, I was surrounded by this awesome scene of geeks and wanted to be a part of it. But alas, I was writing about cheesesteaks and museums all the time. Thus, Geekadelphia was born, as an outlet for what I really cared about, a city I had come to love, and the passions that kept me happy.
What’s your background?
I’m originally from Elizabeth, New Jersey, one of those cities that people claim they are proud to be from, but have no real reason for that sort of behavior. Now, I live in Philadelphia, a city that does deserve that sort of selfish ego trip. Love this place.
I went to Kean University, where I earned a BA in English, and moved to Philly to go to Arcadia University, where I earned my MA in English with a literature concentration. My family is your standard, hardworking, American, could-be-a-Norman-Rockwell-painting sort of family. Dad was in the military, Mom worked at my high school, they adopted me and my sister. My background leaves me as racially ambiguous as Thorny from Super Troopers. We’ll leave it at that.
What kind of person and what would you be doing 50 years ago?
Probably a lot of what I’m doing now, just minus blogging. I’d be teaching someplace, and probably struggling to write books. Despite how internet-y I am, I’m perfectly happy when I unplug for a couple of days. I think everyone should be like that. It’s healthy.
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