a live, educational television series with Jeffrey Carver

Jeffrey Carver and Dinosaur GuestIn fall of 1996, I developed and hosted for a second season a six-part educational TV series called SCIENCE FICTION AND FANTASY WRITING. The series was produced by the Massachusetts Corporation for Educational Telecommunications (MCET), a distance-learning network based in Cambridge, Massachusetts. Our series premiered in the winter of 1995, with five shows, to an enthusiastic response.

The shows, featuring excellent production values, were broadcast live via satellite directly into about 70 schools around the U.S., and were aimed primarily at junior high/middle school English classes (grades 6-8). States represented included Massachusetts, Maine, Connecticut, New York, California, Montana, and Florida. Many schools participated interactively, with phone-link connections directly into the studio.

Guest authors enlivened each program, giving students a chance to ask questions of some of their favorite authors–whether it was about the writing process or about what it’s like to be a writer. Authors in the first two seasons included the well-known writer of children’s books, Jane Yolen, author and public radio personality Ellen Kushner, award-winning SF novelist Joe Haldeman, fantasy author Craig Shaw Gardner, author and Tor Books editor Delia Sherman, and SF illustrator Cortney Skinner, who brought aliens to life as the students devised them from their classrooms. Other authors joining us were Melissa Scott, Thomas Easton, Alexander Jablokov, and James Patrick Kelly.

Each show focused on a particular aspect of writing and storytelling. Topics included world building, creating human characters, creating aliens, understanding conflict and plot, rewriting, and finishing what you start. Students heard readings, listened to teaching on the subjects at hand, and participated in live interactive exercises. They were encouraged to submit their own work for review on the air, and to complete their own short stories in time for the last show of the series.

One teacher wrote: “Your series has been inspiring an interest in just about everything! Our seventh graders are beginning to see connections between science, social studies, art, and language arts. It’s fabulous.”

The show was extremely satisfying for me personally, in large part because it helped to excite so many kids about writing in general, and SF and fantasy in particular.

Videotapes of the show have been shown at a number of SF conventions, including the Science Fiction Research Association Conference, and Intersection (the 1995 World Science Fiction Convention). DVDs reside in the archives at the Science Fiction Museum in Seattle, Washington.

The show unfortunately was not renewed for the 1996-97 year, due to funding and other considerations. In the years following, MCET itself was disbanded.

Much of the material taught in the course was later adapted for a CD-ROM course, and eventually re-adapted for my free online course, Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy, still available for use by aspiring writers of all ages.