Friday, May 6, 2011

Interview With "Visiting Author", Norman Partridge (Part 4), and End of the Year Editorial

Norman Partridge has posted the final segment of his interview my Creative Writing class.  Once again, just wanted to thank Norman for his willingness to take time out of his busy schedule answering these questions.   My kids got a kick from this inside peek into the process.

Our Second Annual "Visiting Writers" program is coming a close.  In a few weeks we'll welcome novelist Thomas Phillips, author of The Molech Prophecy, and close out the year with author Rio Youers.  Considering that, and how busy that time of year gets for me with finals and all, thought I'd offer something of an "Editorial" on the year now.

The instruction of Creative Writing is a strange animal.  On one hand, there are plenty of set rules and standards - all that "Englishy" stuff - that needs to be reinforced and taught, plus the "rules" of prose: where to put quotes for dialogue, how to separate dialogue from exposition, etc. "Show" don't tell.  Avoiding the "info dump".  POV (point of view) rules.

However, there's so much room for preference and personal choice.  Choice of genre, 1st, 2nd, 3rd person Omniscient or Limited perspective.  Spare, minimalist exposition and narrative, or Bradburyesque flair for the dramatic.  Backstory.  A "leave 'em hanging, open to interpretation ending" or a traditional resolution that answers all the readers' questions.  Opening the story in media res  - in the middle of the action - or offering a classic exposition that introduces all the characters and sets up the plot, and regarding that: plot driven story, or character driven, ALA Catcher in the Rye?

It's mind-boggling.  Teach all that?  AND, don't forget - teach it to an eclectic group of 10th - 12th graders, a mix offering experienced creative writers, dabblers, and seniors who need an elective to graduate, and my class looked easier than AP Astronomy.   And do all that in a class that runs from September to June, five days a week, when most Creative Writing classes on the collegiate level run for only a semester and meet two or three times a week.

Needless to say, the last two years have been experimental, moving towards something more structured and ordered.   And of course, I learned very quickly that while half the class would be motivated enough to read all the material I provided on  the Honor System alone, the other half wouldn't be, so I - reluctantly - had to bring quizzes, midterms, and finals into the picture.

Also - five days a week for the whole YEAR is tough to fill.  After the smattering of notes, group workshops on pieces, writing labs in the computer lab, discussion of the ever-changing publishing industry, I'm still left with a lot of time.   SO, Thursday and Fridays have become affectionately known as "Buffy Days", during which we screen Seasons 1,2 &3 of Buffy the Vampire Slayer, simply because Joss Whedon (director, producer, writer) is one of the best out there.  He's just such a good thematic storyteller.  

And of course, I quickly learned that also only half the class would watch Buffy closely on the Honor System, so eventually the "Buffy" essays on the midterms and finals were born, along with paragraph summaries for every episode: summary, reaction, takeaway.

That's why I created the "Visiting Writers" program, as a core for my Creative Writing class, as well as a chance to introduce students not in my class to the reality of a writing career.  Having to meet with authors once a month, reading and analyzing their work, interacting with them is better than anything I could teach.  Hopefully, most of my students get something out of the experience. I think they do.

This year, we were so fortunate to experience hands-on instruction when Paul Wilson and Tom Monteleone brought their famed Borderlands Press Writers Bootcamp on the road to our school.   Even though our third day got snowed out, the students I'm sure learned more from this experience than I could've taught them myself.

As we near the end of the year, I guess that's my greatest hope: not that I'VE taught them all that much about Creative Writing, but that I've exposed them to a wide variety of writers, styles, and creative influences powerful enough to teach them through experience alone.