Tuesday, July 20, 2010

Paying Forward


A few month's ago, on Greg Hall's The Funky Werepig, author Thomas F. Monteleone told of how sf editor Damon Knight once line edited a story for him. The edits put the young writer on a path that eventually led to a string of bestselling books, but when Monteleone asked how he might return such generosity, Knight suggested that, instead of paying back, the young writer might one day consider "paying forward."

Paying forward is a long-standing tradition among writers, a tacit understanding that the student will become the new master who will, in turn, guide the next generation of students.

Last month, during my summer residency at Seton Hill University, I heard David Morrell tell a story about his teacher Phil Klass. It's a story that I had heard many times, from both Morrell and Klass, but it's one I never tire of hearing. Basically, it's about how a young man in search of a writing voice and a father figure found both while attending Penn State University in the 1960s. At that time, Phil Klass (better known to sf readers as William Tenn) was the resident writer at Penn State. Working with Klass, Morrell created a thesis project titled First Blood (which he dedicated "to Philip Klass and William Tenn: each in his own way").

Last month, when I saw Morrell in a Seton Hill lecture hall talking to an assembly of young writers about the process of becoming a novelist, he was practicing the art of paying forward.

In a way, I was also one of Phil Klass's mentees. For a while, I lived down the street from him in Pittsburgh's South Hills, and once a month we got together for dinner at a local restaurant. It was never just the two of us. Other writers attended, so many that at times we talked of calling ourselves "Tenn's Nine" or "Tenn's Dozen." But regardless of how many of us there were, we all learned from the master.

Phil passed away last winter, in the thick of a week-long snowstorm that blanketed the Pittsburgh area with 3-4 feet of snow. Travel was treacherous, making a suitable memorial impossible. But now the roads are clear, and this coming weekend a Phil Klass memorial is being held at Confluence 23. I'll be there.

But teaching isn't the only way to pay forward. Tomorrow, I'd like to share an update on W. H. Horner's Kickstarter campaign and talk once again about how you can get involved with helping provide a showcase for a new generation of writers. I'll also have a few announcements and surprises, so be sure to check back.

In the meantime, if you haven't already done so, check out Horner's video . . . and share the vision!

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