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The Brighton Readings: Part Three . . . Ghettos, Universities, Feesters, & Wonder

November 16th, 2013

The Scop at U of BrightonI was standing on the side of a multi-tiered lecture hall at the University of Brighton when Gina Wisker, one of my hosts for the evening, snapped the picture on the left. I didn’t see her take it. I was preoccupied with the stories I was going to present that night, queuing them in memory, getting ready.

I’d caught a red-eye into Heathrow the night before, spent the day getting to the Brighton Metropole (site of the World Fantasy Convention), and then took a cab crosstown in rush hour to the University’s Falmer Campus. I should have been tired, but I felt focused, ready to go.

My presentation that night centered on the same readings that I would give later that week at WFC, but it also included  reflections on fiction and how a writer knows when his stories are ready for submission.

At the end of the presentation, I collected a stack of questions from the audience. Some I answered there. The rest I took with me, promising to address a few more of them at this blog when I got the chance. That was two weeks ago, so I suppose it’s about time I make good on my word.

As I did at the presentation, I have selected the questions at random.

What are your thoughts on the ghettoization of genre fiction? Why do people dismiss genre fiction?

imdb top filmsThe ghettoization of fantasy and science fiction is much less an issue today than it was in the middle of the last century. We live in an age where genre novels frequently outsell so-called mainstream and literary works, and when movie titles such as Iron Man 3, Man of Steel, Monsters University, Oz the Great and Powerful, Gravity, and Star Trek: Into Darkness rank among the top-grossing films of the year. As for the top grossing films of all time, just take a look at the top-40 list from Internet Movie Data Base (at left).

I guess the takeaway is that today’s genre writers shouldn’t be overly concerned with having their works automatically relegated to a literary ghetto.

And as for those people who dismiss genre fiction? I wouldn’t pay them any mind. After all, we’re not writing for them, are we?

Is academia a good place to develop your writing, or should stories be written for a wider audience?

Dissections_bodyColleges and universities have become friendly places for genre fiction, with plenty of graduate programs offering MA’s and MFA’s in popular  literature.

For the past ten years, I’ve served as one of the residency writers at Seton Hill University’s program in Writing Popular Fiction, and there are many similar programs at colleges and universities across the United States.

I’ve also had the good fortune to work as a consulting editor for Dissections, a peer-review journal specializing in horror literature. Perhaps you’re familiar with that publication. (It’s produced out of the University of Brighton and edited by Dr. Gina Wisker.)

I might also recommend The International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts, or ICFA. It’s  a gathering of academics and genre writers from around the world, and it’s well worth your time if you can get there.

feestersWhat or who has influenced your writing?

 When I was in my early teens, I bought a subscription to The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. When the first issue arrived, it contained a story titled “Bait” by Bob Leman. I thought it was the most amazing thing I’d ever read. Years later, I learned the Bob lived right across town. I got in touch with him, and he became my mentor.

Bob’s writing carrier spanned four decades, but he only produced fifteen stories, all but one of which were published in F&SF. The stories have been collected in the book Feesters in the Lake. Bob didn’t care for the book’s cover when it came out. Perhaps you can see why. (That’s the cover on the right.) Nevertheless, the book stands as the definitive collection of his work . If you can find a copy, buy it.

What draws you to fantasy and science fiction?

FSFThe sense of wonder. It’s the thrills and chills that I encountered when I first read that Bob Leman story back in January 1967. And it’s a desire to pass that experience along to a new generation of readers, which is what I’m going to try to do as soon as I finish this blog post. I’ve got a half-finished story waiting . . . and I’m eager to see how it comes out.

If you have questions or comments about any thing posted here, feel free to let me know. Likewise, please let me know if you’d like to see a follow-up post based on a few more questions from my stack of question cards. You can reach me at the contact buttons above . . . or the comment box below. Always good hearing from you.

That’s it for now. New stories are waiting.

Scop on!

Monster Wrangled!

June 23rd, 2012

Mission accomplished . . . but of course I had expert help from the fourteen talented writers who attended the presentation.

Together, we considered how to effectively present strange creatures in genre fiction. With a nod to Christopher Priest’s novel The Prestige, the discussion explored how some of the most effective monster scenes in science fiction, fantasy, and horror basically employ three elements:

1. the sense of anticipation
2. the appearance of something terrible or wondrous (sometimes both)
3. a dramatic payoff (what Priest’s novel refers to as the prestige).

That last step is important. It’s not enough to have the creature appear and chew the scenery. Instead, the most successful monster scenes present something new and unexpected, as do the vampire scenes in Bob Leman’s excellent (albeit relatively obscure) “The Pilgrimage of Clifford M,” which served as one of our examples during the discussion.

We also deconstructed Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven” (in which the monsters never actually appear) and Bob Leman’s “Window” (in which they do). The discussion seemed to go well, and in the end I sense that I learned as much as my students. A great way to spend a Thursday afternoon at Seton Hill!

The next day, with the monsters successfully wrangled, I visited the alumni writers retreat, aka “In Your Write Mind” (which runs concurrently with the university’s graduate writing program) for a survey on Genre Conventions. As I often do at such events, I began by providing each attendee with a 3×5 index card for submitting questions and comments. In this case, I also asked for recommendations of conventions not covered in my presentation.

Here are a few of the comments and recommendations that I received:

“Don’t forget about Killercon! This year it’s September 20-23 in Las Vegas [featuring] Bill Nolan, Kelley Armstrong, Jack Ketchum, Don D’Aurua, and Brian Keene.”

Yes! Thanks for the reminder. I’ve heard good things about Killercom.

SCBWI – Summer & Winter Cons.”

This one’s new to me, but it looks like a must for people interested in children’s books.

Love is Murder (held in Chicago around Valentine’s Day). Cost is approximately $200 – $250. The focus is on mystery/thriller but also includes paranormal, suspense, pulp, near-future thrillers, master classes, and manuscript critiques.”

I must check this one out!

And here are a few of the questions submitted (along with some quick answers):

“How far away is too far [to go to attend a con]?”

With air travel and ticket pricing being what it is these days, distance isn’t really much of an impediment. Indeed, I found that some of my longer trips have actually been far more affordable than the close ones. The ticket prices for my last three trips from Pennsylvania to the west coast (San Diego, Los Angeles, and San Jose) were better than half the price of my upcoming trip to Toronto for World Fantasy. I also find that I can get a lot of work done on planes and in airports, so the time in transit isn’t really lost. In all, I think it comes down to the event itself and not how far away it is. If it looks worthwhile, go for it.

“Is the western genre being absorbed into science fiction? Can science fiction and horror be blended as well?”

I don’t really see sf taking over the western. True, both deal with new frontiers, but – with the exception of western steampunk (The Wild Wild West, for example) – I don’t really see one taking over the other.

The dividing lines between horror and sf tend to be quite permeable, as can be seen in works such as Arthur C. Clarke’s Childhood’s End, Ray Bradbury’s “Mars is Heaven,” and Bob Leman’s “Window” – all stories that we considered in Monster Wrangling (see above).  For this reason, if you are interested in horror, you might consider checking out WorldCon, where the programming usually contains a few horror-related discussions.

“Many writers are introverts – how do you break out at cons?”

The people you want to meet and work with are almost certainly introverts as well. They probably spend most of their time reading books and sitting in front of their computers. They’re attending the con to meet people like themselves . . . and you are one of them.  I find that keeping that in mind helps. Perhaps it will work for you as well.

Right now, I need to get away from this computer and attend a book signing sponsored by the alumni at SHU. Hope to see some of you there!

As always, feel free to post comments, corrections, or questions below. Don’t be an introvert. I’d love to hear from you.