Category Archives: ucla-creatinguniverses

Establishing horror in five paragraphs or less… #amreading

DSCN0555One of the exercises I run past my “Creating Universes, Building Worlds” group is to start a piece and, within five paragraphs, establish the speculative subgenre–fantasy, horror, cyberpunk, hardSF, whatever.

Then I have them rewrite the same fragment in a different genre.

It always yields interesting results, and something that’s pretty consistent, from class to class, is that few people tackle horror and many of those submissions are less in your face, less out-and-out unabashedly horror, less easy to identify than the fantasy, the dystopian near-future SF, the time travel, and the space opera.

I was reminded of this today when I read “each thing I show you is a piece of my death,” by Gemma Files and Stephen J. Barringer, because by the time I hit the word canker, I’m not in any doubt. And from there the authors just dial it up:

“There is nothing either good or bad, but thinking makes it so.”
–The Tragedy of Hamlet, Prince of Denmark, William Shakespeare.

Somewhere, out beyond the too-often-unmapped intersection of known and forgotten, there’s a hole through which the dead crawl back up to this world: A crack, a crevasse, a deep, dark cave. It splits the earth’s crust like a canker, sore lips thrust wide to divulge some even sorer mouth beneath–tongueless, toothless, depthless.

The hole gapes, always open. It has no proper sense of proportion. It is rude and rough, rank and raw. When it breathes out it exhales nothing but poison, pure decay, so bad that people can smell it for miles around, even in their dreams.

Especially there.

Through this hole, the dead come out face-first and down, crawling like worms. They grind their mouths into cold dirt, forcing a lifetime’s unsaid words back inside again. As though the one thing their long, arduous journey home has taught them is that they have nothing left worth saying, after all.

Because the dead come up naked, they are always cold. Because they come up empty, they are always hungry. Because they come up lost, they are always angry. Because they come up blind, eyes shut tight against the light that hurts them so, they are difficult to see, unless sought by those who–for one reason, or another–already have a fairly good idea of where to start looking.

It’s a great story, if you’re looking for a creepy read.

Student Sale: “Daughter of the Air”

write memeOne of my UCLA Extension Writers’ Program students, Gail Labovitz, has a story up at Expanded Horizons: it’s called “Daughter of the Air” and if one were to vastly oversimplify, it’s a fractured retelling (or perhaps examination of) “The Little Mermaid.”

Gail drafted and workshopped this story for “Creating Universes, Building Worlds“, which by chance is the class I’m teaching as of next Wednesday. The course is full, but there is an option to join the wait list.

slayer

Slayers are so helpful on the #BuffyRewatch

slayerThis week’s rewatch covers the episode “Help,” which is the one where a young teen predicts her death, and Buffy tries to stop it.

Today is the last really full week of work for my Novel One students at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. They’ll walk out with a first chapter, an outline, and a plan for moving forward with their projects. Starting next month, I’ll be teaching “Creating Universes, Building Worlds,” which is the speculative fiction course with a focus on short stories. There are still some slots for students in this one; if you have any questions, let me know.

In terms of one-on-one mentorships, I will not be taking new students for at least the first couple of months of 2014. I could be persuaded to run a waiting list, so if you are interesting in this and we haven’t talked before, reach out.

I hope everyone had a good Thanksgiving, if you happened to celebrate it last week.

Reading, Riting, Rithmatik

Tor Shorts2I have begun Hilary Mantel’s Wolf Hall
this week, having finished The Great Influenza: The Story of the Deadliest Pandemic in History and Hild, but I have only just scratched the surface. The bulk of my readerbrain is engaged with my Novel 1 students at the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. They turned in their first chapters this week, and are deep in the workshop process. The group of them have some delightful books on the go; it’s always incredibly cool to see novels just sprouting, in this very new stage. I’m a fan of beginnings: many of my all-time favorite TV episodes are pilots. But I do need to pick myself another history or science book. I find it easier to read non-fiction when I’m reading student submissions. Hmmm, this probably means it’s time to crack The Best American Science and Nature Writing 2013.

Next quarter I will be teaching Creating Universes, Building Worlds, and in the spring I will be running the more advanced Writing the Fantastic. Both classes will be open to new and returning students–I’ve had people take CUBW more than once, just for the chance to workshop again. Both have filled fast the last few times they’ve been offered.

Speaking of books, my very fun day-counting app now has an entry for the release of Child of a Hidden Sea; it’ll be out in 223 days.

Toronto Transition, Day Fifty

Saturday was our fiftieth day here in the big city, and I am definitely beginning to have a sense of things having settled. The apartment is squared away and I’m finding some satisfying routines. I’m starting to feel, for Downward Dog, the first wisps of the deep affection I felt for Open Door Yoga in Vancouver.

The landscapes are still incredibly new, of course. There is no place I can go where I’ve seen and noticed everything. By chance we spent both this past Saturday and the one before walking north up Bathhurst Street . . . and on the most recent jaunt, I saw this, which I’d totally missed the first time.

For some reason, @kormantic, this makes me think of you.

I’m building up my mental maps of the neighborhood, but there’s an enormous novelty factor. It’s exciting, because there’s always something new to see. Touristy, you know? But it also means there’s rarely a moment where I can lapse into walking on auto-pilot.

In other news, my latest session of Creating Universes, Building Worlds has opened up at the UCLA Writers’ Extension Program. (I didn’t announce registration this time simply because class filled so quickly.) I’m looking forward to meeting a new crop of writers and seeing what they write this summer.

Finally, and on a related topic, I’m not doing the Clarion West Write-a-Thon. I love this event, but the things I need to accomplish right now don’t lend themselves well to a Thon.

95 days until Blue Magic is out!

That’s right, it’s just over three months away! You can expect to hear more as we get closer to April 10th–there will be at least one contest, and I or TOR will almost certainly put up a first chapter, and I have yet to figure out what else.

BUT WAIT, THERE’S MORE! In just a couple weeks I’ll have a new story up on Tor.com. It’s called “Among the Silvering Herd” and I hope you all enjoy it very much. Or, if you’d rather get your Whedon fan on, watch the TOR blog for my 2012 Buffy Rewatch series, coming any second now.

AND A SET OF STEAK KNIVES: there are still exactly three slots open in my winter UCLA course, “Creating Universes, Building Worlds,” which begins January 25th. Come spring, I’m scheduled to teach Novel Writing I… and I’ll let you know when registration’s open for that. Finally, I will be teaching Novel Diagnostics at the Richard Hugo House in Seattle on Sunday, January 29th from 10:00 a.m. to 4:00 p.m..

What have you all got going on?

Creating Universes, Building Worlds

This January, I will be teaching Creating Universes, Building Worlds via the UCLA Extension Writers’ Program. A full syllabus can be found here. As always, the syllabus is subject to tweaking right up until class starts January 25th… but it won’t change radically. If you want to spend Christmas getting a leg up on the reading and exercises, you can safely do so.

In April, I am scheduled to run Novel Writing One: Writing a Novel the Professional Way. Though there are no guarantees, what generally happens is that one teaches N1 in a given term, then teaches N2 in the next, N3 in the one after that, and so on. This allows students to work through the lion’s share of a book with one instructor, if they wish.

Questions? Let me know!

All the little storytales, everywhere I go…

Broken house on 2nd

A drafty snippet from the current story in progress:

It was splinters, driven into the burns. They were lined up like little dominos, bristles that ran along the lines of my hand, life line, heart line, brain line… all the things palm readers find so much meaning in. Tiny little fenceposts of bristling birch, embedded in both hands, and each filament barely aglow with the blue that had come to mean magic.

“Go to jail,” I whispered. “Go directly to jail. Do not pass go.”

And behind me, someone answered, in a deep bass voice: “Ma’am? May I have some clothes, please?”

Between writing words for the Clarion Write-a-thon (up to 16,411 words out of 20,000 as of Thursday!) and teaching “Creating Universes, Building Worlds”–which is focused on short speculative fiction–I have been trying to read a few new short stories.

So far there have been four:

1) “Crazy Me,” James Patrick Kelly – http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/05/crazy-me It’s creepy, it has great build-up, and it ends abruptly. Like many of the people who commented on it at Tor.com, I’m not sure I got the whole point; I may need to reread it. But it has been a fair while since I read anything by Kelly, and I like his style. I enjoyed this a lot.

“The Guy With The Eyes,” Spider Robinson. From BEFORE THEY WERE GIANTS, which is an anthology edited by James Sutcliffe, of first-ever stories by some well-known SF writers. I was surprised that Spider’s first published story was a Callahan’s Crosstime Saloon piece, though I’m not sure why that surprised me.

I want to pick a piece from BEFORE THEY WERE GIANTS to add to the reading list for CUBW… not this time, so much, but in the future. I love the idea of the anthology, and the right newbie story by someone who’s indisputably regarded as Genre Awesome just seems like a terrific thing to include my course reader.

(Anyone read the whole thing yet? Got any faves?)

“Down where the Best Lilies Grow,” Camille Alexa. Jessica Reisman recommended this a few days ago, and it’s a lovely little short-short–moody, self-contained, with memorable images.
(http://10flash.wordpress.com/genres/10flash-fantasy-stories/down-where-the-best-lilies-grow/)

And, yesterday, Michael Swanwick’s “The Dala Horse”, (http://www.tor.com/stories/2011/07/the-dala-horse) which has a “Little Red Riding Hood” feel but is so much more. I currently have Tanith Lee’s “Snow Drop” assigned as a fairy tale variation in CUBW; I might add this in as an optional reading, or swap them. Michael was one of my Clarion West instructors, a last-minute addition to the teaching roster after someone (I can’t remember who) had to bow out. He was, I might add, awesome.

Also on the topic of short fiction, Kris Rusch says that the prospects for writing them are better than ever, thanks to the growth of online magazines and e-books. (http://kriswrites.com/2011/06/22/the-business-rusch-short-stories/) What’s your take?