Teaching


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Isn’t this Scott Bakal image incredible?  My good fortune is that it accompanies my story, “All The Snake Handlers I Know Are Dead” at Tor.com.  It appeared on July 31st, but I was deep in the throes of a computer crash and a glacially slow Carbonite restore that’s had me on a forced vacation since returning from Maine.  Better late than never.  I recently visited the home that inspired this story and had a wonderful time in spite of continual driving rain.

My experience as a resident at Norton Island exceeded my wildest expectations.  What a wonderful place, what wonderful people.  I finished a story and completed a draft of another while there.  I almost lost it all in the computer crash, but fortunately I’d saved that work on a thumb drive as I was leaving the island.  My computer was completely dead when I woke it from sleep the day after I returned.  A humbling experience.

I start teaching on Thursday, an Advanced Fiction Writing class at VCU, and I’m looking forward to it.  Meanwhile I’m trying to reconnect to the e-world and sort out what I’ve lost.  If I’ve neglected anyone out there, it’s only because I lost my laptop, and I was adrift without my virtual life.  Somebody should write a novel about this.

 

My fiction writing class is a very talented bunch with a range of styles and interests. Since a couple of stories have made fine use of narrative restraint, I thought we’d take a look at Hemingway’s “Hills Like White Elephants.” No one does minimalism like Hemingway. The story is available in a variety of formats on the web.  Here, for example.

I’m posting links to stories I’m recommending to my creative writing class here for everyone’s enjoyment.  I wanted to point the class to Karen Joy Fowler’s “Always,” but alas that link has lapsed.  Another Fowler story will do, however.  I’m not keen on vampires, but find her “Younger Women” irresistible.  Enjoy.  While you’re there check out the other fine stories at Subterranean Online.

The Twenty-First Century Fantastic class concluded Friday, and I’m going to miss them. Smart, engaged, if a bit frostbitten in the chilly classroom.  Everyone brought hoodies, myself included.  I’ve worked in walk-ins that were warmer.  They never bored me, and I hope they can say the same of me. Their favorite of the four story collections we read was Jeffrey Ford’s The Empire of Ice Cream, not just one of my favorite short story collections, but one of my favorite books of all time.  They liked all the films, Children of Men especially, but Another Earth made a strong showing.  Thank you, guys, you were wonderful.

I begin an eight-week fiction workshop Tuesday, and I’m looking forward to it.  I’ll be suggesting stories available online for them to read along the way.  In honor of Jeff’s popularity in the last class, and because it’s so damn fine, the first story I’ll suggest is “Creation,” which first appeared in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction and is collected in his wonderful collection, The Fantasy Writer’s Assistant.  If you don’t know his work, “Creation,” isn’t a bad place to start—and just in time for Father’s Day.

In the midst of a 3-week romp through the Twenty-First Century Fantastic class, I’m pausing for a breather to sing their praises. They’ve been a terrific group. We’ve been through Link and McHugh, and we’re in the midst of Fowler. We finish with the inestimable Jeffrey Ford next week.
On June 12th I begin a Fiction Writing class that meets Tuesdays and Thursday 6-8:40 pm for eight weeks. There’s still room available, if you’re interested.

Need something to read? As I’m preparing for my summer classes, I find this site invaluable. Almost any writer worth reading in the field has at least one story here.  It’s a great way to sample new authors you’re curious about.  Enjoy.
Free Speculative Fiction Online.

This summer I’ll be teaching two classes at Virginia Commonwealth University. The first one is an intense 3-week version of The 21st-Century Fantastic. We’ll read 4 short story collections by Kelly Link, Maureen McHugh, Karen Joy Fowler, and Jeffrey Ford, interwoven with the films Pan’s Labyrinth, Children of Men, Another Earth, and Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind. The class begins May 21st and meets Monday through Friday 9 am-noon, ending on June 8th. The class is listed as English 215-001 Textual Analysis.  There’s plenty of room.  Get a whole semester’s worth of fantastic in just 3 weeks.  Reality will never be the same.

The second class is a Beginning Fiction Writing class (English 305-903, Creative Writing: Fiction) which meets Tuesdays and Thursdays 6 pm-8:40 pm June 12-August 2.  We’ll explore both process and craft to figure out what a story is and how to make yours more wonderful.  Students read some professional stories and write their own for workshop.  I’m accepting ideas for favorite exercises.  I suppose it goes without saying, but unlike some workshops, it’s okay to write sf in my workshops, though it’s still okay to write like Chekhov too.  These classes fill up fast, but there are still a few seats available.  If you miss this one, I’ll be teaching another in the fall.  Stay tuned.

My class this summer was plagued with more than the usual difficulties in attendance and getting the work completed on time. They were stretched thin, often carrying too many hours, working too many jobs, worried about money, sleep, illness, debt, etc. If you have some notion of the carefree college student who’s only looking for the next bong hit or keg of beer, you need to update. They’re carrying serious debt to prepare themselves for the crappiest job market in decades. When I went to college, I could put myself through at a public tax-supported university, earning four degrees with very little debt. We boomers had it great, but things have gotten awful stingy for the young now. Personally, I don’t want my taxes cut, so we can raise tuition. Give these kids the same break we had. The kids are alright, but I have my doubts about the stingy older generation.  When we’re old and drooling, we might regret our short-sightedness when there aren’t enough educated professionals to look after our sorry asses.

I’m headed to the woods for some post class reflection in the Blue Ridge, but a few words first about the Online Fiction experiment.  While my experience teaching sf and fantasy in recent years to a largely “mundane” audience has been that the genres are much more accessible to a general readership than is generally supposed, the most lauded fiction online by the sf community was the least successful with my students.  For good reason too.  “The Things” is symptomatic.  It depends for its success on more than a passing knowledge of a 1982 sf film, like everybody the story cares to reach has that, right?  I like the film, but it’s not exactly the gospels or the Odyssey.  “Spar” once you wade through all those fucks doesn’t do much past the shock value.  Geeks can say fuck too.  I wanted the debriefing.  Most successful with the class was probably “Light on the Water” for the impressive feat of making us care about a love story between buildings.  I liked “Standard Loneliness Package” but found it too similar to the IMO superior “Daughter of the Monkey God,” by M. K. Hobson, which can be found in Ellen Datlow’s stunning e-collection Digital Domains.  It’s full of gems.  Meanwhile I’m reading Bleak House to cleanse the palate.

As part of the Twenty-First Century Fantastic class this summer, we’ll be looking at a sampling of online fiction for the last few years.  These are all terrific stories that have garnered a good deal of praise and prizes.  Enjoy.

Strange Horizons
Helen Keeble. “A Journal of Certain Events of Scientific Interest from the First Survey Voyage of the Southern Waters by HMS Ocelot, As Observed by Professor Thaddeus Boswell, DPhil, MSc, or, A Lullaby”—(June 1 and 8, 2009) Part 1, Part 2

Clarkesworld Magazine
Kij Johnson. “Spar” (Issue 37; October 2009)

Peter Watts. “The Things” (Issue 40; January 2010)

Catherine Valente. “13 Ways of Looking at Space Time” (Issue 47;August 2010)

Lightspeed Magazine
Carrie Vaughn. “Amaryllis” (Issue 1; June 2010)

Vylar Kaftan. “I’m Alive, I Love You, I’ll See You in Reno” (Issue 1; June 2010)

Charles Yu. “Standard Loneliness Package” (Issue 6, November 2010)

Fantasy Magazine
Kat Howard. “Choose Your Own Adventure.” (in April 2011 issue)

Genevieve Valentine. “Light on the Water” (October 2009)

Tor.com
Rachel Swirsky. “Eros, Philia, Agape”

_____________. “A Memory of Wind”

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