Wednesday, February 27, 2008

It's been a while

By now I've probably lost the one or two people that might have been following this blog, but in the event that I haven't...well, here we go.

Next Monday will be the last meeting of my Sci-Fi/Fantasy workshop, and it's been a terrific experience. I had some real concerns, as I'd never written fantasy for others to read before (in classes or workshops), and doubted my ability to write something that would entertain people who were serious sci-fi/fantasy fans.

When I submitted my first piece to the class, I was extremely nervous. It was a prologue, or a first chapter, and until the second to the last paragraph of the piece, absolutely nothing about it rang of fantasy. It couldn't, because it was about my main character's frustrations, mainly that he's been close to death on many occasions, only to somehow fight back and stay alive. He is, he tells us, ready to die, and hopes that the next time his immune system "goes to hell" that it stays there and lets him rest in peace.

Prior to the second class, the instructor e-mailed everyone's submissions for us to read, and then discuss in class. Mine was placed last, and I knew that it was going to be a difficult night, as my nerves would just be nuts, because everyone's submission was quite good. And a difficult night it was indeed. For the first half of the class we reviewed the works (good examples and bad) of published sci-fi/fantasy writers. I think we had a bit of Gene Wolfe, George R. R. Martin, something from Zelazny's Amber series, Robert Jordan, and others that I don't recall. (I should say that Jordan's was the 'bad' example. The example was from-pick a book, really-where page after page after page of descriptions do nothing at all to advance the story, character arcs, plot, or anything. With all due respect to the man-it could be argued that without his very long books, that George R. R. Martin's books might not have achieved the level of popularity that they have-I wish he had been a more efficient writer. It started out beautifully, then was massacred by tangents.) We talked about how these writers did what they did, and why what they did or didn't work. That was daunting enough. Then we took a break, came back, and our material was read aloud to the class by the instructor.

I was absolutely amazed at how good everyone was. The writing was pretty solid, especially considering these were rough drafts, and more than anything, the creativity that my fellow classmates displayed was even more daunting, to me, than the works of the published writers - because these guys were in a class with me, and we were all trying to do the same thing, which was to write successful sci-fi/fantasy. I compared myself to their works, and found myself lacking. I wondered what in the world I was doing in this workshop, what gave me the idea that I could write fantasy, and frankly I just wanted to leave. When we got to my piece, I sat, mute, wondering how something with barely any fantasy elements in it was going to be received.

Imagine my surprise when I discovered, based on comments from the instructor and my classmates, that it was received well. By what I could tell, it seemed to be received very well. (Though I probably shouldn't say that as I'll jinx something.)

Subsequent submissions, all of them very rough drafts, have also been well received, and I've been extremely encouraged. In essence, my story passed the second test. (Well, it seems to have. I'm not saying that I'm sitting on the next A Song of Ice and Fire here, or even that I've written something worthy of publication. Just that it seemed to pass this second test.)

The first test was asking Donaldson fans if they thought my idea was too similar to the Covenant series. They said no, and they're a tough crowd. I honestly expected to fail that test. If I had, I guess that probably would have been it. The second test was workshopping this idea in a dedicated sci-fi/fantasy workshop, to see if what I was doing was viable. Granted, I didn't unveil the entire story line, or all of the plot points or characters. The class only saw a glimpse of the beginning, which I still need to do quite a bit of work on. And I couldn't have unveiled the entire story line if I wanted to, because I've had to make so many changes to it that I don't even know what's going to happen in this book. Not everything, at least.

But what I did present was well received, so now it's time for the third test, which will be to workshop this through a dedicated novel writing workshop. It's likely that most of my classmates won't have an intimate understanding of fantasy. So there won't be, what the instructor of that workshop calls, 'deep fantasy knowledge'. What there will be is 'deep writing knowledge'. I know the instructor/tutor of the novel writing workshop, and she's GOOD. She's teaching the Reading as a Writer workshop that I'm currently in (we read Patchett's The Magician's Assistant, which was remarkable), and the comments that she's made on the little writing that we've been asked to turn in have been extremely impressive and uncommonly insightful.

The novel workshop starts in March, and runs for eight weeks. I'll have a bit less than a month to get the beginning of my book set up, and then will hopefully get it turned inside out. The goal, of course, is to write the best book I can.

I'm still waiting to hear from UIC as to my application into their graduate program for writers. I don't have a good feeling about it. They're an academic institution, and my bachelor's degree is from Columbia College. *I* don't like the education that Columbia's Fiction Writing program provided me. It was horribly lacking, and frankly did me one hell of a disservice, considering how much it cost to go there. I know for a fact that UIC doesn't think much of their program either, and even others with MFAs, who prefer an MFA program to an MA don't think much of Columbia's program. I feel a bit guilty saying that, because I admire John Schulz and Betty Shifflet. John founded the program, Betty is his wife, and they both know how to use John's Story Workshop method to its fullest. The other teachers, frankly, do not. Aside from being forced to write, and aside from having won a national award for a piece I wrote while I was there, the classes I had that were headed by anyone other than John or Betty were next to useless.

But I was a straight A student there, so I can't exactly tell UIC that I thought their school, their program, and the degree I have from them isn't worth a roll of toilet paper.

Anyway. It will be interesting if I am accepted. UIC, as an academic institution, and as they offer an MA as opposed to an MFA, doesn't encourage genre fiction. And here I am, at the point in my life where I am most ready and capable to get to work on the fantasy novel/series that I've been waiting most of my life to be ready for. If accepted, I'll have until August to work on the fantasy novel before having to devote some of my attention to other studies and writings.

I'll be disappointed if I'm not accepted, but not heartbroken. Workshopping at Story Studio Chicago has shown me that there are more ways to educate oneself in the craft of writing than at the university level.

1 comment:

Esther said...

You still have one reader.