By Augusta Nafziger ’23
Since their first episode in December of 2020, Erin Milanese, Abby Nafziger and Tillie Yoder have co-hosted the “Just Plain Wrong” podcast, in which the three Mennonite librarians, who all worked at Goshen College at the time, review depictions of Amish, Mennonites and other Plain groups in fictional works such as Amish romance novels and historical films.
“Just Plain Wrong” just finished up its first season with 20 episodes, and is gearing up for season two, which will launch in July.
When Erin Milanese, who concluded her work as head of learning technologies at Goshen College in February 2021, first decided to start a podcast, she wasn’t sure where to begin. Her podcast co-host Abby Nafziger, head of technical services, serials and systems at the college’s Good Library and a 2006 alumna, says that Milanese tested several possible podcast premises.
“Her original idea was something about getting old 1950s cookbooks and trying different jello recipes,” said Nafziger. “I think she got one and tried it and was like, nope, not doing that!”
One failed jello experiment and lots of brainstorming later, Milanese came up with the idea of a podcast that would focus on Mennonite and Amish fiction.
“I don’t remember a particular a-ha moment when the idea… came to me,” she said, “but after I had the idea, I asked a few friends and family members what they thought, and eventually decided it was worth pursuing.”
Now that Milanese had a premise for her podcast, she needed to find co-hosts. Two of her former co-workers, Nafziger and Yoder, the instruction, research and acquisitions librarian at the Good Library and a 2012 Goshen College alumna, were interested in Milanese’s proposal for the podcast.
“I liked the idea of having people to collaborate with, because none of us knew anything about podcasting before we started this,” said Nafziger. “So the idea of doing it with people that we knew and liked and got along with sounded appealing to me.”
“I’ve always been curious about Amish fiction because I see it at the Mennonite Historical Library a lot,” said Yoder. “I’ve never actually read it, but I have been judging it from a distance for a few years now. So I figured if I am going to judge it, I should read it.”
Located in the Goshen College Good Library, the Mennonite Historical Library is one of the world’s most comprehensive collections related to Anabaptist and Mennonite History, including many historical bibliographies, texts and images. Nafziger notes that the Mennonite Historical Library is the “common thread” between herself, Milanese and Yoder.
“Erin used to work at the Mennonite Historical Library,” Nafziger said. “And when I first started at Goshen, I worked there, and Tillie still works there.”
The episodes range from discussions of Amish romance novels to commentaries on Amish-inspired episodes from the popular sitcom “Schitt’s Creek.” Yoder enjoys discussing each piece of Mennnonite fiction with Milanese and Nafziger, even if she’s not a fan of all of the actual material.
“Sometimes the books are difficult to value,” she said. “But usually by the end of the discussion, I’m like, well, that wasn’t entirely without merit.”
Learning to podcast
With a wealth of experience with Mennonite literature and an enthusiasm for the podcast premise, Milanese, Nafziger and Yoder were ready to get started. But first, they needed to learn the ropes of podcasting.
“We did a lot of Googling to begin with,” said Yoder. “What microphones should we buy, what programs should we use?”
Milanese enlisted the help of a podcasting friend in order to learn more about equipment and software for podcasts. Over time, the three co-hosts developed a reliable system for producing each episode.
“We just record over Zoom,” said Nafziger. “We have all taken various steps to ensure that we have good Internet at that particular time.”
“To edit our audio, we use Audacity, which is a free open source program,” said Milanese. “We’ve had to buy microphones, and we pay for a monthly subscription to our podcast hosting sites. We meet almost every week to either plan or record, and then in between meetings we have to read or watch the content we are reviewing, edit episodes and respond to emails and comments on social media.”
The three co-hosts love receiving feedback from listeners and fans of the podcast.
“I think I’m finally getting used to the idea that there are people actually listening to this,” said Nafziger. “I think all three of us expected that we would put this out and our parents and siblings would listen, but we wouldn’t get any other listeners. So we were kind of shocked that people were actually listening.”
Listeners leave reviews, send in compliments and even sometimes email corrections to the co-hosts. But Yoder says that they value the corrections that they receive and make sure to “fess up” when they get something wrong.
Nafziger adds that all responses from listeners are appreciated, “whether it’s correcting us on types of buggies that Amish use in particular areas or whether it’s saying they liked an episode.”
“The whole idea that people are listening and interacting with us is wonderful,” she said. “As I see it, people who are correcting or adding to it are making the podcast better, so I’m a big fan of that.”
“Just Plain Wrong” can be accessed on Apple Podcasts, Audible, Spotify and other platforms. Season one features 20 episodes, and the podcast will return in July with season two. Follow them on Twitter here.