Friday, October 30, 2009

The Type Of Things That Keep Me Teaching...

I was supposed to be cutting down on the teaching. More time spent writing, getting Book 3 done, Jedi-Knight training, stuff like that. Leaving the tenure track has helped that a bit, but then again... I've continued to teach at the Stonecoast MFA Program. (What can I say? They let me teach pop fiction!) And then I got this offer to teach a fiction writing course at Hampshire College, topic of my choice. I came up with a focus on reading and writing from other cultural/ethnic perspectives. Kinda cool, but a one off, right?

Well… that would be until last week. The folks at Hampshire asked if I would like another course for the spring. Hmm. Topic of my own choosing? Hmmm...

I proposed something. They said sure. I said... "Ah... Okay, then." What else can you say when you ask for something and get an affirmative? Here's the description I came up with:

Speculative Fiction
Writing the Fantastic: Science Fiction, Fantasy, Horror

Robert A. Heinlein is often credited for coining the term "Speculative Fiction". The term has been redefined and debated ever since, but I'd argue it defines literary works that prominently feature fantastic elements. This course will explore that concept through the reading and writing of quality genre fiction. We'll read speculative works in a variety of sub-genres. Students will respond to the texts by writing short fictional pieces. Later, each student will focus on a longer story in the genre of their choosing. Authors may include: Margaret Atwood, Paolo Bacigalupi, Elizabeth Bear, Octavia Butler, Michael Chabon, Ted Chiang, Neal Gaiman, Joe Hill, Jay Lake, Ursula K LeGuin, Kelly Link, James Patrick Kelly, Mary Robinette Kowal, Stephen King, George RR Martin, Cherie Priest, Dan Simmons, SM Stirling, David Niall Wilson.

Now, I came up with that list pretty darn quick, since once they said yes they wanted the course description yesterday. It's by no means what I'll actually use. Mostly, I recalled the stories/authors that I'd been able to slip into courses over the last few years - or wanted to slip in. It's all early days, though. I won't really know what I'll be using until a bit later. So... suggestions? Any stories/authors come to mind that would get your writing juices pumping?



Blogger David H. said...

I'm not really a writer, but in the past year, reading some H.P. Lovecraft collections have done the most lately to make me want to write a short story of my own. I don't know if you're going to go that "old school," but Lovecraft really made me interested in perhaps trying something of my own sometime, especially after reading The Dreams in the Witch House and Other Weird Stories (ed. by S.T. Joshi), which contain most of his Dream Cycle stories, which I found so evocative.

Another author I've really come to appreciate is Jeff VanderMeer. I first encountered a steampunk short story of his in Gevers' Extraordinary Engines anthology (not the best collection, unfortunately), but it got me onto VanderMeer's excellent Ambergris stories, especially City of Saints and Madmen.

Just some recommendations from this end of the Internets. :)

3:52 PM  
Blogger Ben said...

Follow a beginning-middle-end over time. Start with Mary Shelly, continue with JRR Tolkien, George Orwell, or Aldous Huxley, then end with Neil Stephenson. Or something like that.

6:56 PM  
Blogger Shauna Leigh Atkinson said...

Wow! I'm jealous, would love to take courses like that. In that genre and all. Wow. Fresno is missing... Congrats, truly, it sounds like an amazing opportunity!

5:36 AM  
Anonymous sengei tawn said...

I'd encourage the students to read someone they DON'T know, in a sub-genre they WOULDN'T ordinarily read. If you only stick to what you are sure you will like, you'll never discover unique writing styles.

Example is Vicki Petterssen, Sign of the Zodiac series. I am not thrilled with dark urban fantasy, but her writing blows my mind. I sit there and re-read her sentences!

Otherwise, I'd just give you a long list like: CJ Cherryh, Orson Scott Card, Greg Bear, China Mieville, George RR Martin, Naomi Novik, and so many more.

Above all. Make them think, David.

7:31 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...


Going back to Lovecraft might be a very good idea. And, yes, Jeff should be in the mix too! (I'm reading with him next month, ya know.)


Solid suggestions, especially if this was a literature course. I bet that most of my students will have read something by those authors already, though. My intent isn't to provide a survey of the genres. It's more of a writing course, wherein I'll be looking to the texts as craft examples. That inclines me to think (mostly) of contemporary examples.



Sengai Tawn,

I will make them think! I know I can't but touch on sub-genres in a single course like this, but part of my focus will be in getting them to understand the diversity of what's offered within each genre.

10:41 AM  
Anonymous CV Rick said...

There is a limitless supply of works from which to choose. Suggesting anything extra is simply muddying the waters . . . so allow me to swirl in some more choices. I just reread Paladin of the Lost Hour by Harlan Ellison. This time I read it slowly and tried to dissect what makes it powerful and I could find no flaws. Any speculative class without Kurt Vonnegut is missing something special IMO. And then there is my all-time favorite genre tale, both in short work (the original story) and as a novel, which it became: Flowers for Algernon by Daniel Keyes.

I would love to audit the course.

9:15 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Ellison... I really need to catch up on my Ellison reading.

8:00 AM  
Anonymous jjgeorge said...

I have to say Guy Gavriel Kay!..LOL..his books are all very good. I'm very jealous that you doing a writing course as I am currently writing my first fantasy!..I've got everything in order, plot, characters, names, places..etc. But I feel like I almost get into a trance when I write..LOL..If I'm not in that trance I can't write anything worth reading. I have written the first 3 pages..keep rereading and rewriting them..LOL.. any tips for a first time writer? HEY!! you should teach an online writing course!..That'd be perfect!

11:57 AM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

Tips for first time writer: Have patience.

1:37 PM  
Blogger Shauna Leigh Atkinson said...

Thank goodness for online writing resources and classes!

5:14 AM  
Anonymous Cecile Marre said...

Robin Hobb of course !
She is Steinbeck in fantasy

11:02 PM  
Blogger Teri said...

I find that when it comes to inspiring writing in speculative fiction, short stories always do it for me - and there are so many great short story authors out there. My favorite one that wasn't on your list, however, is Theodora Goss. She creates a beautiful and transporting experience in just a few pages.

3:58 PM  
Blogger David Anthony Durham said...

I agree. I always think of novels first, but short stories can be such wonderful intros to the genre.

I've met Theodora Goss before, and I know how much her work is respected. Yep, I'll take a look at her stuff soon.

4:27 PM  

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