Saturday, January 27, 2018

I be the teacher

When I first got published way back in 2006, I looked for opportunities to share what I'd learned both to promote myself as an author and to make a little scratch teaching on the side. I contacted the creative writing department at my alma mater, the University of Denver, and was politely told that despite my three-book deal from HarperCollins, thanks, but no thanks. The reason for turning me down was that I lacked an MFA.

Since then, I've been on scads of panels and seminars, mostly gratis. One exception to the no-money-for-you situation was Lighthouse Writers Workshops, who take pride in making sure that presenting writers are rewarded with more than thank yous. Those gigs led to other paying opportunities at the Colorado Writing School, the occasional honorarium from libraries and assorted universities, and teaching a course on graphic novels at Front Range Community College.

Interestingly, my latest teaching assignment was with the Regis University Mile High MFA program, me still sans MFA. Like other creative writing programs they've expanded to include genre fiction, meaning commercial fiction, which is what I write. My first opportunity with them was to teach an afternoon craft seminar. The next semester I was assigned a student to mentor, and the following semester I got two different students. What I just finished was the 2018 Winter Residency, during which the students arrive on campus for an intense ten-day schedule of workshops and seminars, from 9AM to 8PM everyday. It might not sound that grueling but by the mid-residency intermezzo, I was ready for the break. The last two days of the residency felt like the final miles of an army conditioning march.

What most impressed me about the experience were the wonderful writers that I met, both the students and the faculty. The poets were especially noteworthy with their incisive and inspiring works. My students were exceptionally well read and very articulate during their critiques of one another's submissions.

A notable moment: At a meeting with my fellow instructors--all literary writers--several of them discussed upcoming works scheduled to be published in Ploughshares and Glimmer Train, which got me thinking...that if I were to get something published in those magazines it wouldn't add much to my credentials as a writer of speculative fiction. Then again, if I mentioned that I had pieces in Clarkesworld or Alfred Hitchcock's Mysteries (which I don't), it wouldn't have meant anything to these instructors. Aside from that, we shared a lot of similar experiences about the publishing industry. Mostly like, don't expect much promotion or a lot of money!

One unexpected accolade was that another instructor told me she recognized my input on a student's work because of the strong improvements in structure and plot development. I've learned a few things writing genre.

Among the new friends that I met at Regis were Kristen Iversen, Sophfronia Scott, and Christine Sneed, who were all visiting professors and acclaimed writers. Kristen wrote Full Body Burden, a memoir about growing up close to the Rocky Flats nuclear weapons plant (and she had read my book, The Nymphos of Rocky Flats). Sophfronia presented an amazing look at her newest novel, Unforgiveable Love, a retelling of Dangerous Liaisons set in post-WWII Harlem. Christine has earned an enviable reputation for her short fiction, and her collection, Portraits of a Few of the People I've Made Cry, is at the top of my reading list.


Unknown said...

No MFA? There's still hope! Thank you, Mario!

Marianne Wheelaghan said...

As a teacher, I believe to teach a skill is an honourable way to earn a living – if we are good at something, we should pass it on (MFA or no MFA). It sounds as if you're doing a very good job, Mario.