Month: April 2015

Appearing at Oasis 27

You COULD spend this weekend in Orlando shouldering your way through crowds of reeking tourists and their spoiled children, or you could spend it coming to see me speak on these panels at Oasis 27 at the International Palms Resort on International Drive:

Saturday, May 2nd

  • 5pm: The State of Horror
  • 9pm: Tales of the Supernatural

There are, apparently, other things going on like readings, signings, and other non-Will-related discussions, but if you want to avoid the crowds, come see anything involving me!

 

Now Let’s Blow This Class and Go Home!

The last class session of every semester I teach is dedicated to the “business” of writing: how one finds places to send short stories and novels, how one sends them, how one does or does not get paid for them.

It’s usually a grim and depressing class, and the students are all comically amazed at how little writers make or how bookstores can just send back books they’ve already bought. They look pretty gloomy at the end and I usually just say, “Well, thanks for coming. Have a good life!”

This semester, I thought I’d try to be a little…you know…encouraging.

What I tried to say was this:

I became a writer as a kid because of a movie called Star Wars (1977). Twenty years before you were born, I was running around in the yard with spaceships yelling “pew pew pew!” and whispering vast conspiracies between my action figures. What I know about morality and the nobility of friends working together, I learned there. What I know about dialogue and plot, I learned from performing my own stories with little plastic people.

hoth

A few days ago, the new trailer for Star Wars: The Force Awakens came out, and I watched it with all the glee and excitement of my childhood.

Here it is, so you can see it, too.

After the glee and excitement abated slightly, though, something awful occurred to me:

J.J. Abrams is making my fucking movie.

There are any number of reasons he’s getting to make my movie while I’m not. I’m guessing he might have had a more pleasant childhood, for one. He probably conducted himself better with other people, too. He also learned to work in longer concentrated bursts than thirty minutes somewhat sooner than I did. He had a clearer sense of what steps to take.

The real difference, though, is that he didn’t waste as much time wondering if he was “meant” to do it or if it was worth it or what he’d do as a back-up plan if he couldn’t like I did.

I’ve written some little stories that I’m proud of. I’ve gotten starred reviews and award nominations. I’ve entertained a few people, and I’m glad of it. But I wrote a lot of those stories because they were safe, because I could control them, because if I blew it, the consequences would be minor.

We live in a terrifying world at the mercy of oblivious or malevolent jackasses, many of them in publishing (though not as many per capita as in, say, Boko Haram). They want us to live small and be scared and buy things instead of making them.

You can work with them or against them. Maybe you’ll do that by writing, and maybe you’ll do that by doing something else. But what I hope for all of us is that we go down fighting big instead of fighting small.

Gah! Bees!

Though I understand that bees, like Republicans, have some arcane utility in our ecosystem, that doesn’t mean I’m above spraying them mercilessly with poison when they’re pouring out of my chimney.

(Bees, not Republicans.)

As with Republicans, our own bee attack started small: first one bee came in and then another. The cats leaped after them and Edgar got stung on the nose by a third. Aimee tried to humanely capture and release them outside, but then there were a lot more skittering across the bricks and my manly responsibility to KILL ALL THREATS kicked in.

So of course I hurried to Publix to buy bee spray, something that I hoped actually existed, and while I was there, a woman ran up to the same section and said, “There are a bunch of bees or wasps or something pouring out of my chimney!”

“Funny you should say that,” I said. “Mine, too.”

We wished each other luck and I returned home with two cans of what turned out to be outdoor wasp and hornet spray. At that point, though, the bees had more or less declared my house outdoors anyway.

When I got back inside, there were bees rattling against the windows and light fixtures, not to mention circling the living room. So I did the American thing: I took decisive action.

Hey, Norwegians were immigrants, too.

Hey, Norwegians were immigrants, too.

I swept the air with arcs of foaming poison, splattering the windows and the ceiling and oh, soaking the fireplace. Aimee had thoughtfully corralled all of the animals into the bedroom so I was free to essentially destroy all of our furniture.

And they. Just. Kept. Coming.

Yep. Exactly like that.

Yep. Exactly like that.

Now, I’ll admit I do have a deeply neurotic and intense fear of bees, maybe like you do for spiders or gay people. But what I fear almost as much are heights, and it was obvious that I’d have to climb onto our steep roof and attack the swarm from the top of our crumbling chimney.

So up I climbed, lodging my shoes against the corrugated ridges of our metal roof, and I took up a crouching position as close as I could get to the chimney.

(Which, by the way, was sealed long ago. The bees had found a crack.)

So I sprayed the bees zinging around the chimney too, grateful for all of the target practice from games like Call of Duty and Borderlands. A couple of dozen fell and then all was quiet.

When I climbed back down, there were no more in the house, either. They were gone. They’d given up. I’d proven once again that overwhelming irrational force can truly work.

Among our casualties on the field of battle were several pillows and cushions, a dog bed, the clothes we were wearing, and several towels and washcloths. Aimee and I had to scrub down the windows and floors and bricks around the fireplace because man, that poison is some serious shit.

Aimee discovered with some Internet research that apparently bees will send out scouting swarms in search of new places for hives, and apparently they came to our house (not to mention the other lady’s at Publix) looking for succor. They found none. We drew a wet oily poisonous line in the sand.

Do I wish there was a diplomatic solution? Of course. But with so much at stake, we couldn’t risk failure. We had to destroy the living room to save it.

I Could Not Stop for Academia, But It Kindly Stopped For Me

Twenty years ago today, I received my first humiliating sign that I really didn’t belong in academia. Given that I now have two graduate degrees and an adjunct teaching position, I clearly have yet to follow that sign, alas.

Definitely not me.

Definitely not me.

I’d scampered quickly through my undergraduate degree at the University of Florida, attending over the summers to minimize how much I’d have to pay in room and board. So when I started graduate school (also at UF), I was the youngest person in my first class, an Emily Dickinson seminar: twenty-one.

(Nowadays, it is far more common for there to be people that young in grad school, hiding from life. I like to think I helped started that trend back in 1995.)

I felt that youth acutely because during our class introductions, the other students had been teaching abroad or publishing poetry or otherwise doing cool things, and I was a terrified introvert who’d spent his entire academic career avoiding other human beings in the library like a Lovecraft protagonist.

The class went well, though; I loved Emily Dickinson and I loved the old-school literary scholarship my professor encouraged, actually reading letters and researching biography and understanding origins and context. At the end of class, we had a presentation for our research, and I was terrified.

For good reason, it turned out. On April 21, 1995, I walked to the front of the classroom with a little packet of index cards, ready to discuss what I’d discovered. I was literally sick in the bathroom all that morning, and I’m pretty sure my hands were shaking.

A key to my discussion was the theory of Friedrich von Schiller that great art is an interplay between two drives, stofftrieb (the intuitive and emotional) and formtrieb (the structural and logical) resulting in spieltrieb, a kind of artistic play. So I walked up to the board and wrote:

STOFFTREIB  FORMTREIB

There were a few chuckles from the class and my professor raised his hand. He pointed out that I’d transposed the E and the I in both words.

(In my defense, those are both words in the horrible language of German. Or as I like to call it, Klingon.)

Now, any normal person with social ability would have laughed and made a joke about being nervous while correcting the spelling. Not me. I doubled down, insisting that my sources spelled them that way. I know, I know.

I was flustered then, and the index cards got scrambled in my hands. I forgot the cogent argument I’d structured and was left to stammer and glance around the room like a cornered raccoon.

According to later reports, what happened next was that I set down the index cards and lurched out from behind the podium among the desks to pace around the room and deliver a comedy routine about Emily Dickinson scholarship. I don’t remember it at all, which is probably good. I drove home that afternoon thinking that my academic career was over.

The next day, I visited my professor in his office and asked if there was any way I could make up for the disaster.

“Disaster?” he said. “That was the best presentation I’ve ever seen! You shouldn’t be in academics. You should entertain people for a living.”

And I sort of followed his advice: that was my last semester at UF while I meandered through a teaching certification, followed by a whole host of other egregious errors in judgment both personal and professional. Plus I started writing stories more seriously.

I later went back (though to UNF) for my Master of Arts, and then I earned an MFA from Stonecoast. What can I say? I like taking classes.

Now I teach creative writing to undergraduates in a manner not much unlike that botched lecture long ago: I ramble a deranged comedy routine about some writing concept and then skulk away at the end.

I guess I still haven’t taken the signs.

Finally! Will Has Spoken!

Gee, Will, why don’t you take a principled stand in any of the burning questions of the day?

Due to a quirk (one of several, actually) in the way I grew up, I have absolutely no expectation that rational argument will change anyone’s mind. When I was a kid, all the yelling and sturm and drang tended to result in the same thing: me sneaking off to do what I wanted anyway. These days aren’t much different; I say my thing, someone disagrees, and then I quietly sidestep that person like any other inanimate obstacle to move on.

That’s not to say that I’m impervious to changing my mind. I’m often swayed by argument. I just don’t think that my arguing is particularly effective, and certainly not as effective as experience. When you walk in someone else’s skin, that’s when things change, and that’s why I think fiction can often be more useful than simple rhetoric.

So my reaction to recent events like the cadre of frustrated fedora-wearers who have stacked the Hugo awards nominations with authors and works of their choosing is to think, “Huh. That’s a flamboyant scream into the abyss of irrelevance for them, isn’t it?”

Are there things worth fighting for? Of course. But there are definitely people who aren’t worth fighting because they’ve already lost.

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