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.