Beyond the Trope is a weekly podcast about writing, hosted by the lively and welcoming Michelle and Giles. This week, they pick the brain of moi, and we talk about writing in general, touching on research, teaching, and television hosting. I just listened to it, and I was not disappointed! Hopefully you will be, too. Er, not. You know what I mean. Check out all of their podcasts!
This week I learned of the passing of not just one, but three former teachers. That sort of takes my breath away, and not in a good way. None of these deaths was really recent, but even in the days of the internet, it can take time for word to travel.
First, I heard from my brother Chuck, who read it in our high school alumni newsletter, that our old wrestling coach, Chris Ford, had passed away in January of this year. Coach Ford was, for me, the very model of what a good coach should be: encouraging, demanding, scrupulously sportsmanlike, respectful to his own team and opposing teams alike, and a builder of relationships in the wrestling community. I had the benefit of his coaching for just two years, before he left Huron (Ohio) High School to build a wrestling program from the ground up at Ashland College (now Ashland University). After creating at Ashland a nationally noteworthy wrestling program, he went on to do the same thing at Ohio State University, from which he retired in the mid-1980s. I still think of him as the youthful coach who led the high school team on which I wrestled.
I once wrote a science fiction short story about an intragalactic wrestling tournament, in which I depicted an annoying coach. Chris Ford was not the model for that coach, but he did set the standards against which that coach was contrasted. (The story was “Shapeshifter Finals,” and can be found in my story collection, Going Alien.)
Further down in that same alumni newsletter, I read that Coach Ford’s son, Brian, had died several months later. That just seems too cruel.
In the same damn newsletter, I learned that my high school Latin teacher, Marlene McKillip, had also passed away, at the age of 83. I did not have as close a relationship to her, but I do remember that she was stern, demanding, and fair. Veni, vidi, vici.
You’d think that would be enough for one newsletter. But no, down at the bottom, there’s an alumni membership signup form. And on the form are blanks where you can specify contributions to different scholarship funds. One of them is in the name of the teacher who probably influenced me more than any teacher in any school: Larry Zimmer. You don’t suppose, I thought. And I googled his name, to learn that he has been gone from this world for three years! I found this tribute, from another former student named Lesa, which says it as well as I could: “Larry Zimmer died on Thursday, and the world is a little less kind because of his loss.”
It was Larry Zimmer, Mr. Z, more than any other teacher, who encouraged me to write.
In my 1990 novel, Down the Stream of Stars, I had an AI holo-teacher for kids on a colony starship. The teacher was named Mr. Zizmer, or Mr. Z for short. I’m glad I was able to give him that tribute, but I wish I’d been home when he called to say how much he enjoyed it. He did not leave a return number. I was not very good at keeping up old connections in those days, and I never stayed in touch the way I wish I had. If wishes were horses…
Science fiction writer Joe Haldeman and his wonderful wife Gay have retired from part-time teaching at MIT, after thirty years of teaching students the craft of fiction writing (Joe) and the art of writing clear, comprehensible English prose (Gay). Florida residents most of the year—unless you call them Earth residents, because I’ve never known a more well-traveled couple—they’ve been coming to Cambridge every Fall for the last thirty years, and we’ve managed to snag a dinner with them many of those years.
Joe was one of the first professionals I met when I was a new writer entering the science fiction field. At the time, he was all the buzz in the industry because he’d snared a record-setting advance for his novel Mindbridge. He introduced me to Jim Frenkel, who soon became my editor and friend. Years later, when Joe became seriously ill in the Fall of 2009, I had the privilege of stepping in for him, teaching his SF writing class at MIT for a semester.
Joe and Gay (Jim Kelly referred to them as “Joe-and-Gay, like space-time”) got to watch my kids grow up in time-lapse fashion. My younger daughter Julia once wondered aloud, as a teenager, why her own contemporaries weren’t as much fun as Joe and Gay.
Here are a couple of pix taken at their retirement dinner at MIT, on a balcony overlooking Boston’s beautiful Charles River basin.
Gay and Joe Haldeman, September 2014
Me, Joe, and Jim Kelly
We’re going to miss our annual dinners. But if anyone has earned a happy retirement, it’s Joe and Gay.
May is going to be a busy month for me, for teaching. I’m participating as an instructor in two different conferences for high-school-aged writers. The first (coming up this weekend) is the New England Young Writers Conference, at the Bread Loaf campus of Middlebury College in Vermont, which is something I’ve been doing off and on for a number of years now. It’s always a great time, and I hope this year will be even better.
Just one week later, I’ll be teaching for the first time at the Champlain College Young Writers Conference, in Burlington, Vermont, which I’m told is rather similar. (And even has some overlapping faculty.) I look forward to working with still more young writers on what I understand is a beautiful campus overlooking Lake Champlain.
I get a break after that, but August 7-10, I’ll be teaching one more weekend, this time at the Cape Cod Writers Conference in Hyannis, Massachusetts, which is a workshop conference for adult writers. At this one, I’ll be working specifically with aspiring science fiction writers, while a lot of writers in other genres will be teaching the tools of their specific trades. This conference is still open for registration, so if it sounds like something you’d be interested in, take a look and maybe I’ll see you there!
A bunch of my workshop graduates have gotten together to do a very cool thing. They’ve published an anthology of some of their best short stories—and on top of that, all the earnings are going straight to a great cause: the SFWA Emergency Medical Fund.
Here’s how it happened:
The Earth formed, and the rocks cooled. Shortly afterward, Craig Gardner and I got started in our writing careers. Fast forward to a few years ago, when we ran a series of workshops called the Ultimate SF Writing Workshop. A bunch of talented new writers attended, and we all became friends, and many of them are now becoming established as published writers in their own right. We stay in touch through an online group, and get together at local conventions. At last year’s Readercon, one of them—I think it was Lisa (LJ) Cohen—said over dinner with the group, “Why don’t we get together and publish a collection of our best stories?” The crowd rumbled approval, and with that, the project was born.
Pen-Ultimate: A Speculative Fiction Anthology has just been published, a year later. The workshoppers (my workshoppers!) did all the writing, selecting, editing, cover art, book design, and ebook formatting. Craig and I wrote the intro and outro, but other than that, it’s all the work of these fine new writers.
Check it out! The stories are great, and it’s only $2.99 in ebook. It’s also available in print for $8.50. Every penny earned is going to a medical fund that helps SF/F writers who have fallen on hard times medically and financially. What could be a better cause than that?
The New England Young Writers Conference at Bread Loaf was a tremendous success. It always is, but I’d been away from it for five years, and felt pretty rusty going in. Though I arrived frazzled, and was exhausted most of the time (we had a very busy workshop schedule), it was an enormously rewarding experience. This conference selects over two hundred talented and motivated high school-aged writers, and they were a wonderful bunch of kids. One of my students came all the way from Paris for the workshop—a half-French girl with an Aussie accent and a great sense of humor. Another turned out to be the son of a horror writer I once did a bunch of book signings with. As always in the past, I enjoyed getting to know the other writer-teachers (there were about twenty of us), who were of all stripes and genres, but all very friendly. And my reading of an excerpt from Neptune Crossing to the whole conference was very well received.
Allysen, meanwhile, put her foot down and said she wasn’t letting me come home until I’d taken a few days for myself. Thanks to her diligent research, I am now holed up at an inn near Woodstock, Vermont and Quechee Gorge. First goal, to rest and decompress. Second goal: start wrapping my head around The Reefs of Time again, and start finishing that sucker.
I’m leaving shortly for Vermont and the New England Young Writers Conference, where I’ll be one of a couple dozen writers of all types and genres working with high-school student writers. I’m returning after a five-year hiatus, and I’m hoping for it to be a good time.
We finished moving everything out of Allysen’s mother’s condo this week, and the closing for the sale went off yesterday. So that big job is behind us. Fay herself will arrive while I’m at the conference, and should be moved into her new place at the retirement village by the time I’m back.
[This is an old posting, for historical interest. The workshop is currently on indefinite hiatus.]
Ultimate SF, the annual writing workshop that I lead with Craig Shaw Gardner, will be starting again in October! This is a workshop for serious aspiring SF/F/Horror writers, meeting once a week for ten weeks. For obvious reasons, this is primarily of interest to people in the Boston area. This year, we’ll be moving from our old venue at the Pandemonium bookstore in Cambridge to a location, still to be finalized, in Arlington, one town out on the bus line from Harvard Square. (Pandemonium has become too successful as a gaming center to provide space anymore.)
The weather has been fantastic here, and we’ve officially declared it rollerblading and moped weather, back at last! Allysen and I have been out on our skates two
days in a row, and can’t wait to get back in shape. (Aachh—my $%^back*()&!) Plus, we went tooling on our two-wheeled steeds, Dracos and Buckbeak, the other evening. Fantastic!
As Spring gears up, so too do the local journeyman SF/F writers. Craig Gardner and I are about to crank up our third annual Advanced Writing workshop for graduates of our fall Ultimate SF Writing workshops. We’ve got a good crew of students, most from our Fall 2009 group, but a couple from earlier groups, as well. We start next Sunday. It’ll be fun to see what folks are working on.
Finally, one of my old Launchpad Astronomy Workshop buddies, Tempest Bradford, invited me to contribute to the inaugural “Burning Question” feature of Laptop Magazine online: Which technology makes you feel like you’re living in the future? Check out my thoughts along with those of John Scalzi, Tobias Bucknell, Eileen Gunn, Charlie Stross, and others.
Last summer I appeared as a guest lecturer at the Odyssey writing workshop. What I talked most about was story structure, what it is, and why it’s important. The folks at Odyssey have just posted an excerpt from my lecture as a podcast that you can listen to online, or right-click on to download as an MP3 file. They have a number of similar excerpts online, and if you’re interested in hearing writers talk about the craft of writing, here’s the list of lectures. If writing is one of your interests, check them out.