Monday, September 28, 2009

SF, Fantasy, and Teaching Visions


When I started writing back in the ages of manual typewriters and carbon paper, I found that I enjoyed the private nature of the work. I wrote my first stories in silent obscurity, and even when they sold to the likes of Twilight Zone, Amazing Stories, and Year’s Best Horror, I regarded writing as a private affair. I had never attended a workshop, didn’t belong to a writing group, and (it being the early 1980s) lived in a world devoid of things like tweets, texting, and blogs -- modes of communication that today put writers in close and constant contact with readers.

My perception of writing privacy changed when I was hired to teach freshman composition at a large university. “You might want to share your stories with your students,” the English chair told me. “They might like knowing they’re learning from a published writer.”

I took his advice, and soon found myself engaging in conversations with some fairly opinionated undergrads, some of whom were genuinely interested in learning how a person went about selling fiction to the magazines. I told them what I knew, and two years later I moved from covering Freshman Comp to teaching upper-division classes in Fiction Writing and Science Fiction.

Other public gigs followed: library readings, high-school workshops, book-group talks. Then came a full-time position with the Senior School English Department at Sewickley Academy, where I have been for the past twenty years, and a resident position in the Writing Popular Fiction Program at Seton Hill University, with which I have been associated since 2002. In short, writing hasn’t been private for a long time, and yet, unlike many of my peers, I have resisted cultivating a presence in that digital fishbowl provided by the Internet.

Enter Will Horner at Fantasist Enterprises.

After purchasing my novel Veins in 2008, Will expressed interest in putting out a collection of some of my stories. The result is Visions: Short Fantasy and SF, which will be officially released tomorrow, September 29. (And which received good advance notice in the August 3 issue of Publishers Weekly.)

As we were assembling the book, it occurred to me that the stories (which included my first sale to Amazing Stories as well as my most recent novelettes for F&SF) had something to say about the development of a writer. Each story represented a series of lessons learned, many of them the same lessons that I strive to pass along to my students. Although some of these lessons are shared in the introductions to the stories in Visions, as well as in the book's retrospective afterword, I felt, as I looked over the final manuscript, that I had much more to say.

Hence this blog.

In future installments, I hope to use the stories in Visions as departure points for the discussion of writing, science fiction, fantasy, and whatever else the stories bring to mind. Along the way I hope to pass along some strategies for young writers, lessons for writing instructors, and perhaps a few reviews of contemporary works that have proven useful in workshops and lectures over the years. In any event, I hope you will come back, read what you find here, and offer feedback.

Because I believe in the benefits of a routine, I’ll plan to produce three posts a week, one each Monday, Tuesday, and Wednesday. We’ll resume tomorrow, on the day of the official release of Visions, with some musings on second-person narration.

Until then, share the vision.

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