Thursday, February 19, 2015

Chicanonautica: The Ancient Chicano Sci-Fi Wisdom (Take One) Post-Game Show

I've avoided teaching for decades. I was never very good at being a student – the quirks that make me an interesting writer get in the way. I never really liked school, so signing up for a life sentence seemed crazy. Then Nalo Hopkinson asked me if I would be willing to teach a master class in science fiction writing for this year's University of California Riverside Writers Week . . .

I asked if it was a paying gig.

She said yes.

I said yes.

Then I googled “master class,” which turns out is a class taught by “an expert in the field.”

I only have an AA degree. I though that pursuing writing would be cheaper than further formalized education in the long run. Besides, a lot of my favorite writers were dropouts. At least I didn't end up with a huge student loan debt that I couldn't pay.

Am I an expert? What do I have to offer that any basic creative writing class can't?

I submitted my first story, and got my first rejection slip after taking a creative writing class in 1974. I sold my first story in 1982. I have over forty years experience writing and submitting fiction. I sat down and made a lot of notes.

(Note: These notes were just that, notes. Often not even complete sentences. Reminders of this and that and funny stories to pull out of the memory bank just in case I find myself in front of a room full eager students and my brain fails me. Not good reading. I doubt anybody would be able to make sense of them but me. They'd need a lot of work before they could become something publishable or even readable, and I'm ridiculously busy right now.)

Also somebody needs to provide an alternative to the get-rich-quick, how-to-write-a-bestseller scams out there.

I don't know how to write a bestseller. I find most of them uninteresting. And there are a lot of people out there who say they know how to write bestsellers, but for some mysterious reason, haven't done it themselves. Actual writers of bestsellers are too busy to teach classes or give webinars. 

Anyway, they flew me out there.

I was put up in Riverside's historic Mission Inn. It's a place where you could film a low budget steampunk spaghetti western; you can amuse youself just wandering around finding interesting furniture, paintings, statues, flowers, parrots, bells, cannons, . . .

At the university, I got to see some facinating stuff from the Eaton Collection of Science Fiction and Fantasy, including original editions of Thomas Moore's Utopia, Brahm Stoker's Dracula, Mary Shelley's FrankensteinEdgar Rice Burroughs' Tarzan of the Apes, and an edition of Ray Bradbury's Fahrenheit 451 with an abestos dust jacket.

The class went well. Nalo's creative writing graduate students were there, and a selection of others. There was also an old-school science fiction fan who looked like he arrived through a time warp from a sci-fi con in the Seventies. A diverse group, in every way. They were interested, and responsive, and the time flew as I chattered away.

Turns out I had way more material in my notes than I needed. One woman thanked me for giving so much “good information.”

Then was rushed off to give a reading of my story “Burrito Meltdown.” According to the campus newspaper the audience members were "Biting back snickers, many were hesitant to laugh at the racial jokes he presented."

Then I was interviewed, by a student, then on video by Tom Lutz, who organized Writers Week, then by a young freelancer who had me answering questions as I powerwalked to catch the SuperShuttle to get back to the airport.

It was good for my ego, the students seemed to be satisfied, and it paid better than any writing gig I've had in years.

Also, it was all the fun of teaching without the pain-in-the-ass stuff.

I'd be willing to do it again.

Ernest Hogan has recently been told that he is “important literary history.” Too much is happening in his life right now. He's hoping to get some rest soon.

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