Saturday, December 21, 2013

Crashing the World of Kurt Vonnegut

Well, this is science fiction related, so I'll include it here.  This semester I had a fiction writing class in which students read a novel by Kurt Vonnegut (either Slaughterhouse-Five or God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater) and then wrote a parallel story that extends but does not contradict the world of the book.  It was a great exercise for students in that it was a way of acknowledging influence while creating something original.  In fact, I now think of how miserable it is to read fiction in a writing class that is all about "finding your true, inner voice."  In a class like that, all the fiction you read is just about the voices that are already taken and which you should therefore try to ignore.

Anyway, this kind of project would be worth doing in any writing class, but what made it unique is that Amazon has struck a deal with the estate of Kurt Vonnegut so that such stories (oh, all right, I'll call them "fan fiction") can now be published for the Kindle.  This ups the stakes for students in that those who choose to do so know that their work will be publicly available (this has the added benefit that proofreading suddenly becomes more important than ever).

I was the guinea pig for the class.  I wrote and published a story that takes Billy Pilgrim's wife, Valencia, as its protagonist.  She's a minor character in Slaughterhouse-Five, and I've always thought her portrayal was a little unfair (particularly now that I know the marital trouble Vonnegut was going through when he was drafting S-5).  Does it make sense that Montana Wildback can tell when Billy time travels, but his wife, Valencia, can't?  In my story, "What Valencia Knew," I put Valencia's perspective in the foreground and allow her to become as interesting of a character as any other in the novel.  And, yes, there are aliens involved.  Click on the link if you want to check it out (and you don't need a Kindle, since you can use the Kindle Cloud Reader).

One of the students in the class, Brian Pals, has already published his parallel story.  "Unmanned, or the Passion of Frenchie" is an extension of God Bless You, Mr. Rosewater.  Brian did a great job staying true to the novel while writing a unique extension of it.  For a while, his story was ranked #1 on the Kindle Worlds Contemporary best-seller page, so congrats to Brian!  More work by the students in this class will be published within the next month or so, and I'll make sure to post when it is all available.

Thursday, August 15, 2013

In which the blog becomes more of a diary...

... which is probably the fate of most blogs, after all.  Like many things, they start with a rush of enthusiasm, persevere out of a sense of responsibility, and eventually fade as interest wanes.  It's not that I've stopped writing (I figure I have about 40 pages left to draft of my novel), but when I have time to write I want to work on the book.  Blogging seems a luxury.

Or, in this case, a bit of an excuse perhaps.  I'm rethinking one of the chapters I'm drafting, which mean throwing away a few days worth of work.  That's sad in the way that burning a dinner is, only in that case you can order out for pizza.  When you trash a section of a book, you still have to make dinner, so to speak. 

I heard a new term yesterday: declinism.  It means what you think, that everything is going to hell.  Since my book is a anti-dystopia (which is different from a utopia), it actually works very well to have some declinist characters.  In fact, I love the irony of having a declinist who also believes himself to be immortal.  And he's a hypocritical sociopath, so the perspective is a blast to write.  My model for this chapter is the Jason section of The Sound and the Fury, which gets overlooked because it is not as difficult as the Benjy and Quentin sections, but it's a masterpiece in its own right.

Okay, enough distraction.  Time to get to work.

Thursday, February 14, 2013

A bad blogger's redemption

Forgive me, blog master, for I have sinned.  I started my blog about my SF project with great enthusiasm and made great progress.  Then life caught up, and now it's a battle to find the time to work on the last 1/3 of my book.

But I am giving a reading of material from The Cord at the new Red Cedar Books in Waterloo on Feb. 21.  You're invited: