Wednesday, September 17, 2014

Writerly News: Why you wish you were taking Seriated Speculative Fiction

It's been a bit longer than I'd hoped between blog posts, mostly due to technical difficulties.

I own a laptop, (I call it Critter) that is mighty in soul but not in body. Critter's actual computer-y components work fine. It's just exceptionally fragile and prone to crumbling. When I first received Critter, it got so excited it's hinges started bursting apart. With some creativity and a few coats of glue, we've managed to weather a few years without any major incidents, but the end of this summer proved to be the time when Critter threw in the towel. Once again, the inner computer worked fine, but the metal that joins the power cord and the inner computer decided to break and pop out after I did a whole lot of nothing to it.

Luckily, the laptop doctors managed to fix Critter up and Critter has since returned home, slathered in a fresh coat of glue (seriously. There is additional glue on my computer. Along with replacing the part that broke, they generously squirted more glue on Critter) and humming away happy as ever.

This all happened just in time for my Twitter account to malfunction and lock itself up for several weeks. So while I could finally write again, I had limited options for alerting people of blog updates. Mercifully, the account is back to normal again. So I now have a healthy computer and a healthy connection to the my interwebs "presence" (such as it is).

At the same time, the usual September business engulfed me as I moved to a new job and, even more importantly, into the final semester of course work for my Masters degree! It feels very exciting and I've worked towards this for a long time. So hurray. :)

As my writing life is once again being dictated by course work, I thought it might be fun to switch up some of my posts to reflect what I'm working on, especially since my final classes are SO COOL!!!

Due to the fact that I am currently working with my school by distance, my final course is something of a self-directed study. It's half literature/readings course and half writing/workshop seminar and since I'm the only student, its somewhat tailored to my interests.

So what is this mystery class? (Other than fabulous, of course)

I have proudly and pretentiously titled it: Seriated Speculative Fiction

But what does that MEAN?? Well, to those uninitiated in the jargon of University Creative Writing, "seriated" means "something that comes in a series" and "speculative fiction" is basically code for "science-fiction and fantasy, but we're calling it something else because SERIOUS writers keep making fun of us for writing science-fiction and fantasy."

This is a pretty special kind of course to do. Most of the time in English literature courses, there are a lot of confines on what you do and don't have time for. I took a class in my first semester on English novels that prominently feature manor houses and use them as a thematic element. Yes, that sounds really specific, but there was still plenty that was being left out by the course. The novels were dense and we only had time for five. Also, it turns out a LOT of people have written novels about crumbling English manors. When you think about it in those terms, it's easy to see that I could have done a whole course on just Charles Dickens featuring manor houses as a strong thematic element. But of course, in order to do the topic justice, our teacher chose breadth and we read five different authors, just one book by each.

Last year I studied Young Adult literature, which was a fantastic course, but there the subject matter was even broader. We plowed through over a dozen novels for this course, but again, there was only time for one book by each author. This meant, for instance, that when we were covering the topic of science fiction and dystopia, our professor had us read The Hunger Games but neither of the books that followed. Frankly, it's difficult to make time for a series within a class, unless you're studying the work of a single, specific author. (Example: I took a course on August Wilson, one of Pittsburgh's favorite sons, and we read his entire Pittsburgh Century Cycle. But unless you're a two time Pulitzer winning playwrite, like Wilson, it's unlikely you'll get to read every work by a single author.)

But as a science fiction and fantasy writer, the topic of the "series" is a highly relevant topic for someone like me. Certainly there are stand alone novels within these genres, but a large number of the most "important" works within sci-fi and fantasy are series. With authors creating whole new worlds, isn't it natural to use those worlds for as many stories as possible? The pattern is obvious as early as The Lord of the Rings or The Chronicles of Narnia and not much has changed since.

On top of that, in my first year in my program, I wrote a sci-fi/fantasy novel, which I then had to put on the back burner so that I could finish my thesis the following year. But I'd confided to my thesis director that I did have ideas for a second book in the same series and she's been looking for an excuse to teach a course like this - one that focuses on how a series builds over time rather than as stand alone novels.

And so here I am! Studying the coolest thing ever and writing some of my own *ahem* seriated speculative fiction on the side. I'll be reading three full series for the course, each published relatively recently and each aimed at a different age group. And as I finish each, I plan on posting a few of my thoughts about the series as a whole and what can be learned from them. So for those reading along, the series are as follows!

As my middle grade series, I will be studying The Giver Quartet by Lois Lowry

Because reading it for YA lit clearly wasn't enough, my YA series will be The Hunger Games Trilogy by Suzanne Collins

And ending the year, I will tackle the adulty adultness of The MaddAddam Trilogy by Margaret Atwood

I just finished up The Giver, so expect a follow up post to this one coming soon! Until then, happy seriated speculative fiction to all!

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