School’s… Out… For Autumn!

by rsbakker

Aphorism of the Day: Ask the right question and a fool will build his own gallows. Answers for wood. Presumption for rope.

So I finished teaching that creative writing class at Fanshawe – my first straight gig in, like, a decade or so. I had a blast, and from what I could tell, the rest of my class did as well. I was going to write that I wasn’t sure why I love teaching as much as I do, then it occurred to me that this wasn’t true. There’s something about throwing the light switch on for a bunch of ‘young people.’  There’s something about making a room full of people laugh.

It makes me think of the old Burt Lancaster film, Elmer Gantry, the story of a shill who falls in love with a Christian Revivalist, and through sheer sociopathic charm beds her and takes over her mission. Lancaster does a brilliant job broadcasting the animality that underwrites so much spirituality, and the film does a brilliant job depicting the mobbish ecstasy of submission en masse.

Not to say my course was anything remotely approaching this (“Raise your hands and sing out the Glory of the Revised Manuscript and the Well-Written Query!”), but something happens sometimes, I think, in certain classes, something they call learning but feels more like trust. Whatever it is, we had it.

I was worried going in, simply because the course was too big to effectively workshop: How do you teach creative writing without workshopping? In a sense, you don’t. So I began with the sociology and psychology of creative writing, discussing audiences and authority gradients, the structure of ‘stable communication’ and the way literature tries to both milk and undermine it. Blah-blah-blah.

All the while I assigned paragraphs, which was always the core of my teaching strategy back when I taught basic college writing courses. Paragraphs, paragraphs, paragraphs. Two for every three classes, assigned in class to be turned in personally the following day. This encourages attendance, and most importantly, it keeps your students constantly writing, constantly engaged, through the week.

And I’ll be damned if it doesn’t seem to work. 

The idea behind each assignment was to tackle one of a number of things that tend to distinguish amateurish writing from professional work. It’s amazing how important the paragraph is, structurally speaking, and how much it can transform your writing once you master them. They are the cogs… or even better, the sprockets, of well written fiction.

So… like, yah… It was pretty cool.

But nowhere near so cool as sitting on your ass pondering apocalyptic madness on your screen…

The big reason I’ve been posting here as often as I have was simply that the class stranded me with small chunks of my day, and my brain is a diesel: it takes sometime to warm up. In a sense, this was where I was the student: I feel as though I’ve learned so much about the more ephemeral aspects of the biz.

For the first time in my career I actually started paying close attention to my sales. Amazon has a feature that allows authors to manage their own books and provides Bookscan data broken down by region in the US. I now know, for instance, that I am far bigger in traditional blue states than I am in red (no surprise there, I suppose, but I was hoping). I’ve also come to realize that my US sales are far below what they could be, compared to the UK and Canadian markets. And unfortunately, I now know just how dismally my two side-projects, Neuropath and Disciple of the Dog, have fared. (You’re a bunch of genre purists out there, you know that?)

But I also learned that The Second Apocalypse is alive and well, as tenacious as C. difficile in the cultural gut, and most importantly, growing, not quickly, mind you, but steadily – enough for me to turn down a full-time teaching job… Something which is gold these here parts.

Now I gotta make like Elmer Gantry, only without the womanizing, the speaking-in-tongues, the ranting and raving about What God Wants according to this ancient prose-poem. (The hellfire and damnation stuff I’m okay with).

I need to save some souls from the iniquity of certain certainties.

Sell a fucking book or two.

And write.

The new side project, what I turn to when I burn out on The Unholy Consult, will be a selection of stories and vignettes call Atrocity Tales, concentrating on events from the founding of the Consult to the rise of the Scarlet Spires during the Scholastic Wars. I’ll be posting them online as I go, soliciting feedback, and hopefully providing newcomers a less daunting way to climb into the series. Something to take the density out of The Darkness That Comes Before. Something easier to recommend.