Nick Mamatas went on a Tweet storm yesterday about creative writing teachers barring students from writing genre fiction. It sparked conversation in the various Internets where writers dwell. I had thoughts.
I think Nick took it too far. Were we close, I’d ask him who hurt him, but alas, we’re not. I do think Nick was onto something, though.
(I should preface the rest of this with the disclaimer that I am not a fiction teacher, nor have I ever had the opportunity of teaching fiction writing, and nor is this a criticism of any creative writing teacher in particular. It’s a hard and thankless job, and it takes a special person to legitimately be excited to help others grow and succeed.)
I grew up reading comic books and was firmly in the Marvel camp, more specifically with the X-Men.
For the last couple years, I haven’t watched any Marvel movies (save for the X-Men movies, but they’re in their own bubble universe). It wasn’t for lack of desire. I just missed them at the theater, and then I missed them at home, and before I knew it, I was like seven movies behind. I wasn’t going to jump back in with the latest at that point, and the new ones kept coming out.
So the lady and I have been catching up, and we finally got to Thor: Ragnarok. I liked it. It was fun. Trouble is I feel like the filmmakers did everything they could to not make a Thor movie while making a Thor movie. I don’t think they were subtle about this (there is no other reason for them to cut Thor’s hair than for it to be symbolic).
If you had someone encourage you to write when you were young, he or she may have said, “paint me a picture.” As it turns out, this would be the worst advice anyone would ever give you. Even more dire is it may be the foundation of what many people believe to be good writing, and it’s evident as one of the most pervasive problems I see in the work of new writers.
Sometimes I think, maybe one day, I’ll get to teach a creative writing class. I think I would really enjoy it, and I think I could be reasonably good at it. In these times of grand fantasy, I consider the lessons I might bestow upon the next generation of writers.
Chief among them would be, as the writer, you’re not the painter. You’re the person at the paint store. Your readers aren’t using your imagination. Your readers are using their imaginations.
The lady and I recently watched Netflix’s The Staircase, a docu-series about the novelist Michael Peterson who was charged with murdering his wife in 2001. Similar to Making a Murderer, it’s another fascinating investigation of the American justice system. I highly recommend both of them.
A bit of a disclaimer, though: these are not mystery stories. They are not about whether the suspects did or did not murder the victim (I realize the marketing image I chose to plop down to the right of these words poses that very question, but it’s the most compelling way Netflix could find to sell you on it).
These docu-series put the American justice system on full display, exposing its flaws. They will make you question your faith in the fundamental tenet of American justice that a defendant should be considered innocent until proven guilty, and they will make you question our very humanity, especially given the context of the cruel times in which we live. If you watch them, they will anger and sadden you because the reality they portray is not one we confront often, or maybe because it’s one which we are increasingly forced to come to terms with.
Today, I recalled that I survived an author’s worst nightmare. I gave it some consideration, smiled off a painful memory that became bittersweet in context, and moved on with my thoughts before yanking myself back to ponder it some more. I thought maybe the experience could be useful for another writer. Therefore, here we are.
In college, I was on the selection committee for a student-run literary mag run. I also submitted a poem for consideration. You may already see where this is going.
Setting aside the amazing ethical conflict of being allowed to sit on a submissions committee and submit, there’s a much more practical reason this shouldn’t ever be allowed. Continue reading
This Sunday, at Awesome Con in Washington, D.C., I’ll be on a panel of local authors at 11 a.m. I thought a lot about how to get people as interested in coming as I am in participating, and I realized the best thing to do was provide the basis for why I’m excited to hang out with five other D.C.-local authors: they’re all intriguing writers and people that you should get to know, and I think if you know a little bit about them, you may decide to come hang out with us.
So, please humor me while I say some nice things about my friends.
If you’re friends with me on social media (or you’re that damned stalker I almost caught in the tree outside my office that one time when my wife said, “it probably was just a couple of squirrels making that rustling sound,” and I said, “I know what I saw,” and she said never you mind what my wife said), you may have seen me mention this anthology, “The Will To Survive.”
If you’re not friends with me on social media, that’s fine, I guess. *kicks rocks
But this isn’t about us, friends, non-friends, and frenemies. This is about an anthology for hurricane relief.
I know last fall seems like ages ago, but it was, in fact, mere months, and if you recall, hurricanes Harvey, Irma, and Maria pounded the Southeastern United States, Virgin Islands, and Caribbean in rapid succession. Damage estimates are in the billions of dollars, and still, five months later, parts of Puerto Rico’s electric grid remain down.
In case you need a translation on that, those are U.S. citizens who don’t have basic utilities five months after a hurricane.
Before I picked up Neverwhere, I’d never read any Neil Gaiman. I know. I couldn’t believe it either.
I went for Neverwhere because American Gods seemed like too much of a commitment (but I’ll get to it), and it intrigued me as an archetypal urban fantasy novel, a genre I’m trying to get more into.
Everyone seems to love Neverwhere. It seems to occupy a space of underground reverence (no, that’s not a pun). All of my friends on Goodreads have given it five stars, and nobody will dare utter a bad word about it.
So I will. I’m sorry to say I thought Neverwhere was just okay.
It’s been a while (ten months, in fact) since I wrote about writing. I never intended for the topic to be a regular feature, but that is too long, especially since this second tip is the integral other half of a sentence. Good thing you’re not paying for this.
Verbs are the key to powerful prose. My first tip is all about the subject of a sentence. That is, the thing that is performing an action. This tip is all about that action.
I’ll probably keep this much shorter than most reviews. Andy Weir’s follow-up to his mandatory-reading sci-fi novel The Martian is just okay. And you know what? That’s okay. It would be unrealistic to expect any human being to replicate the utter brilliance of a novel like The Martian. Its shadow is long, and its influence is broad. Not even Barry Bonds hit a home run every time he came to the plate, and he was on drugs.
There are many arguments to make for Artemis, and if we didn’t already know what Weir was capable of with The Martian, Artemis would be a standout novel in its own right. The world-building is utterly fascinating. The science is authentic but never exhausting. And Artemis still contains Weir’s nerdy, amazingly fun wit, not to mention the atmospheric charm that we’re reading something written by a guy who legitimately loves the playground he’s playing on.
Where Artemis falters is, perhaps, in something Weir took for granted with The Martian. The premise of The Martian is so immediately gut-wrenching: Astronaut Mark Watney is caught in a storm during an emergency evacuation, and his team, thinking he is dead, leaves him behind. But Mark is not dead. He is alive, and he must survive until his rescue.