Tag Archives: Orson Scott Card

Academia vs Creative Writing: Adversaries or Bedfellows?

Elitism

Should I pursue an MFA?

When I met Orson Scott Card, he told me:

If you want to be a writer, don’t major in English.

Although the quote has stuck with me for many years, I don’t remember the exact rationale behind it.

More recent guidance from one of Brandon Sanderson’s podcasts explored the question of whether a writer needs writing classes or degrees to be successful. He and two other writers all agreed:

Acedemic degrees related to writing are not a required for success as a writer. Furthermore, all three writers in the podcast acknowledged that many “English and Literature” programs will try to breed genre fiction out of the creative writer. There are still some stuffed shirts who believe that science fiction isn’t “serious”. (Crappy movies on the sci fi channel don’t help.) I myself had a devil of a time in undergraduate studies trying to convince my professors and fellow students that it was science fiction which introduced me to philosophy, because science fiction writers (good ones) are always trying to address deeper questions of philosophy, theology, anthropology, epistemology, and ontology.

A recent bar discourse with an undergraduate in English revealed his disdain for MFA and other “creative writing” focused programs. This is someone within the English field of study who is of the opinion that serious writers ought to first study serious writers — therefore study literature — because by diving straightaway into workshopping, they end up being 30 writers who don’t know much about writing all critiquing each other without much to go on.

The catch-22 there is that no writer wants to be a Hemingway 2.0 or a Dickens 2.0 or even a Shakespeare 2.0. In first place, such an aspiration would be insulting to the greats we ought to honor; they are unique and their work cannot be replicated. In the second place, we want to similar unique and irreplacable in our own way. It is entirely arguable whether immersing oneself in the canon of great literature is more likely to produce one result or the other.

Furthermore, many of the methods previously employed, for all their recognized genius, are tired and dated both inside and beyond literary communities. My ideas for fiction would not work in iambic pentameter any more than Star Wars would have worked as a silent film. Our methods of storytelling have evolved (and I remind my readers that “evolved” is a value-neutral term).

But here’s the rub — I’ve tried the “outside the English-teaching community” method already. I have devoted my time to studying thinkers like Aquinas and Luther, Augustine and Plato and Kant, not to mention countless others. I can no longer fall into the trap of young writers who learn how to write, but don’t have any content to write about. I have been a soldier, a cop, a warehouse worker, pianist, event planner, disc jockey, singer, composer, dancer, worship leader, and philosopher.

What I have is real world experience. What I lack is writing experience:

1. Workshopping, a speedy method of constant rejection, revision, and resubmission.

2. Discipline created by deadlines of submitting work for credit

3. Interpersonal connections in the literary world.

The previously mentioned podcast identified one of the biggest examples of going the traditional route of “studying” writing is the contacts that were made in the programs, which led to agencies, book deals, and at minimum better word-of-mouth.

For these reasons, I have decided to at least consider pursuing an MFA. I will first wet my feet in a non-degree seeking status taking graduate level courses. That will let me evaluate without commitment how much of a fit such a program would be for me.

But I’m excited about the prospect and I expect to be pleased.

Instead of “Failure”, let’s call it “lack of success”:

Thank you for offering your story [Woman’s Best Friend] to Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show.  We’re sorry to tell you that we will not be using it; you are free to submit it elsewhere.
 Sincerely,
The Editors

Eureka.

The online writing groups I joined before were through Hatrack, Orson Scott Card’s online community. Those were email based, but they now have a forum for the same thing:

http://www.hatrack.com/forums/writers/cgi/Ultimate.cgi?action=intro&BypassCookie=true

The method is you post the first 13 lines of your story, which (when formatted correctly) is exactly the first page an editor would read before deciding to

/REJECT!

or

/continue reading

Obviously, to grip people who read+reject repeatedly all day every day, your story has to be really gripping.

Which means the first 13 lines have to be really gripping. And really well-written.

So in this online community of would-be writers, you critique everyone else’s work, which helps you learn more about writing. And you ask, “Do these thirteen lines make you want to read the story?” And if they do, some people (complete strangers) will volunteer to read and critique the whole work.

If they don’t, well it’s obvious the story won’t grip an editor either.

Jackpot.

New novel underway: Mortal Gods

In my last post, I introduced the Drim, elemental gods from my new novel.

Last night, I did about 90 minutes of research on ancient earth cultures, some of which have been underused in fantasy and science fiction. Genre fiction readers have seen many incarnations of Olympus or Odin. I want to move away from that.

I also brainstormed for about 20 minutes straight for a title.

This is after thinking for about week about this story, its ideas, and trying to come up with a title all day every day; in my car, at work, at home, while gaming, you name it.

Because of the mishmash of theological themes I’ll be toying with, and for reasons I can’t reveal until the end of the story, I eventually settled on “Mortal Gods”.

Today I started to google that phrase, and as always, there’s nothing new under the sun. Orson Scott Card wrote a short story called Mortal Gods. It’s been years since I’ve read it, and now I have no idea if the title bubbled to the surface from my subconscious, or actually was an original thought. (I’ve often had this problem reading philosophy, too, recognizing something which I’d thought of last year, but maybe I’d only thought of it because of a quote or movie or song or pop culture icon which already made use of the same themes or ideas.)

Mortal Gods is also the name of a novel by some guy named Jonathon Fast – also science fiction. Fortunately for me, it’s not very popular or very good.

Mortal God is also the name of a Death Metal band from Finland in 1992 which has now broken up.

It is frustrating to know the title that so thoroughly excited me as an immediate way to encapsulate grandiose ideas of this story (some of which I can’t even reveal to you yet) has already been repeatedly used, and in similar context. It is even more frustrating to know that if I rack my brains for another week to produce a different title, it will likely be no more original than this one.

Competing with peasants, competing with giants.

horror_normalLast entry, I vented some of the frustrations of more-amateur-than-amateur writers adding to the slushpiles where I also submit work.

There’s a certain sense of impending doom when one considers competing with the masses. When there’s enough competition, the fastest, cleverest, or brightest dog doesn’t necessarily emerge victorious. Sometimes he doesn’t emerge at all.

But that sense of overwhelming odds has its evil opposite. (Yes, in this case BOTH twins are evil.)

Any reader who receives my story is looking for the first reason to reject it so that s/he can move on to the next manuscript in the pile. That’s a given.

But if Stephen King approached the same editor with a story, s/he would drop everything to read it. Said editor’s attitude would be the polar opposite of what it is for new writers. For King, they’d be deliberately forgiving flaws while actively looking for positives. Same for Dean Koontz, or Chuck Palahnuik, or Orson Scott Card, etc.

This would be true even if my story was better than King’s. I’m an unknown, he’s a national bestseller.

How does one compete with such giants and remain sane? Some publishers/magazines advise you to compare your work to something similar so that they have an idea of your audience. But how pretentious is it to put on a cover letter, “This is similar to Dean Kootnz.” I can only picture the recipient rolling his eyes.

Not only has everything been done, it’s been done bigger, stronger, better, faster, and with an immediate readership. That’s the competition I face. Thousands of Davids, and dozens of Goliaths. And I have to beat them ALL.

That’s why less than 1% of novelists ever turn a profit.

Another submission underway

main8Since 2 out 3 who answered thought Woman’s Best Friend was good enough for immediate resubmission, I have now sent it on to the Intergalactic Medicine Show, an online magazine owned by Orson Scott Card (one of my three favorite writers).

I put a note on the calendar expecting a reply in three months.

Woman’s Best Friend: What we know so far

The Bad

There are a number of missing words…11 or so. It’ll be nice to get these corrected before the story is submitted for publication.

I used the wrong version of “emergency” (oops).

Some transitions have gotten mixed reviews.

The Good

I made a few corrections prior to sending it out — the things I corrected have not been named as concerns, so this makes me think 1. the corrections worked and 2. they weren’t obvious (or jarring).

The best thing I’ve heard so far is that this story kept people guessing. In truth, I was afraid it would be too predictable, given the title.

Still Wondering

Hopefully (nobody has stated this explicitly), this means the story was also suspenseful.

My #1 goal writing WBF was, “Write something suspenseful.” I hope that it was also a little scary.

I haven’t decided where to submit it yet. It clearly isn’t right for Analog or Asimov’s, my first two submissions went to Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. The Magazine of Science Fiction and Fantasy is always requesting more sci-fi…this might fit that request but I doubt it. I could try and outright horror magazine, but my fear would be that this story isn’t scary enough for an outright ‘horror’ audience.