The streets are chock full of bustles and parasols, top hats and sundry items of woven brocade. The handlebar mustaches are a dead giveaway for those fully committed to the lifestyle. By all evidence, there was a lot of declaiming in fantasy Victorian times. An inordinate number of people are stopping at random intersections and offering seemingly important declarations in loud voices. There is a lot of brass.
For some reason this spring I got into more than the usual number of “but it really happened that way” discussions in my fiction workshops. I’m always intrigued by the numbers of young writers who believe that the incidents recounted in short stories and novels are fundamentally autobiographical. Much of this is connected to how limited their reading experience is and the fact that some of their literature teachers in high school and college teach through an autobiographical lens. And we live in the age of the memoir, and the distinctions between genres are not of much interest to these readers.
Cyberland’s recent meltdown over an outrageous plot twist on everyone’s favorite high fantasy series got me thinking again about the speculative fiction class, in particular what they chose to write about. My worst nightmare had been that I might , in fact, walk into a room full of George R.R. Martin wannabees. Building a world the size of the multiple kingdoms in the Game of Thrones saga has defeated many an accomplished writer; with the young and inexperienced, the outcome would more than likely have been a… mess. A dog’s breakfast of half-baked and endless plot summaries interrupted every few pages by a not very well wrought battle scene.
- That loving, say, high fantasy doesn’t automatically shut down one’s critical faculties. My students were clear and precise about the pervasive problems with a lot of the books in their favorite genres: the flat characterization, implausible plotting, the overwriting. A bad book is a bad book, they repeatedly assured me, waving their hands at my shelves full of “literary” novels, daring me to defend one and all.
The session promised to be about speculative fiction, and since I had no AWP board duties on the schedule during that time block, and because I happened to be teaching an undergraduate workshop focused on speculative fiction, I thought I’d give it a go.
In the film “Last Night” the character played by David Cronenburg (yep, that David Cronenburg) spends Earth’s final moments calling the customers of his utility company and thanking them for their patronage. Steve Carrell in “Seeking a Friend for the End of the World” dutifully reports to his job at an insurance company days before the apocalypse. The narrator in Jim Shephard’s excellent short story “The Netherlands Lives With Water” monitors his equipment as the sea breaches the dikes and presses into the windows in front of his station.
I’ve taken some time away from the blog, yes, for the final edits of the novel, and, yes, for a minor tussle with the flu bug, but mostly to allow myself time to get settled in for the Spring 2013 semester with the undergrads.
I’ve implemented a new curriculum in creative writing and am doing so with two new colleagues under wing. Ironically, since they have no memory of the old curriculum, I’m the one chafing the most at the changes—changes that have largely been of my own instigation.