Why a Course in Genre Fiction?
Genre fiction, just like literary fiction, requires (with exceptions!) a compelling plot, believable characters, coherent and sometimes even clever sentences, and thoughtful themes. So, surely literary fiction writers should accept genre-writing students into their classes and MFA programs, right?
No, but not for the reasons you might have already heard. Anyone who has spent any time with creative writing instructors, especially of undergraduates has heard the horror stories—often about horror stories. “It was this nice story of a boy and a girl exploring a beach, and then they found a cave full of gargoyles and were torn to pieces!” I heard someone at the AWP conference wail once. Such a story is apparently so awful that it cannot be improved. Literary fiction writers also complain that genre fiction is formulaic—quick, what is the formula for a science fiction story? Many would say: It doesn’t deal with serious themes or issues, and it is just so poorly written.
Basically, there is a bundle of fallacies to unpack. Literary fiction can be just as formulaic as genre fiction: Are the protagonists middle-class whites? Is mere infidelity or loss a primary theme? Does the first paragraph of a literary story introduce a moment, the next couple include some backstory, and is the epiphany at the very end and often connected to the beginning via an objective correlative?
The only difference between literary fiction and genre, at its worst, is who kills the teens on the beach: a murderer makes it a crime story, gargoyles fantasy-horror, and if they just walked into the ocean together because life is futile and empty, well then it’s literary fiction. As far as the quality of writing goes, I find that literary writers often make the mistake of comparing the best of their lot—say, Faulkner—with the covers of whatever lurid and forgettable novel they happened to walk past in the airport one day. One could just as fruitfully compare the best novels of Dashiell Hammett or Gene Wolfe with the worst short story about a cancer diagnosis in the latest issue of The Podunk Review.
The problem with the arguments of literary fiction writers, and the real reason why they don’t wish to teach genre fiction writing in their classes is this: they don’t read genre fiction and don’t know anything about it, but as a class refuse to simply come out and say that they are ignorant of the topic and thus incompetent to teach it.
Honestly, it’s worse when they try. I’ve had to “fix” several students of easily impressed literary fiction writers. One student was trying to write a dystopia, but the only advice his prior teacher could give him was to read Nineteen Eighty-Four and Brave New World, as if there is nothing new to say since the 1940s. (Here’s a big theme for dystopia: environmental degradation.) Another teacher congratulated a student on writing “weird, creative” fiction—except that this student’s ideas were all ancient. The first story of hers we read for my workshop was virtually a scene-by-scene reenactment of the first episode of the Twilight Zone, and the concept was old then.
All the genres have similar issues: I’ve seen noir stories set in the 2000s, but involve everyone speaking and acting as though they live in the 1950s—not one cell phone! Not one open marriage! Romance stories that take place in a lily white Oakland, California. If you’ve never actually read the genre, as literary fiction writers and sometimes even students have not (movies are a common student inspiration), you will only end up recreating the memories of a childhood sitting in front of the television set.
I used to share the annoyance of many aspiring genre fiction writers with the barring of science fiction, mystery, romance, in creative writing classes, but now I understand it. Why try to teach what you don’t know? Why demand to learn from someone who hasn’t read and doesn’t like what the sort of thing you’re writing?
But really, literary fiction writers who bar genre fiction from their classrooms should at least admit why they do it. Until such time, I am pleased to create a relatively open space for fiction of all sorts in my classes. We’ll even read some of that literary stuff. Even “li-fi” needs a compelling plot, after all.
Nick Mamatas reading at Write From the Gut! #9
Photo by: Zoe Christopher
We’ve got a new class starting October 15! It’s called Fabulist Fiction and will be taught by Nick Mamatas. It may be for you if you write or want to explore writing fiction in the following genres: magical realism, science fiction, fantasy, chick-lit, mystery, historical novels, YA, etc. It could also be for you if you consider yourself a literary writer, but you want to kick your plot up a notch or you just need help with plot. (Come on, who doesn’t?) He also teaches students how to write query letters that will get the attention of editors and agents.
Nick Mamatas is a master of his craft. He is the author of 7 novels, over one-hundred published short stories, and has edited various anthologies. For his day job, Nick works at Viz Media. His major client at Viz is world-famous animator Hayao Miyazaki. As somebody who has worked as an editor for 20 years, he has industry knowledge about what it takes to publish your fiction, but also has the writer’s perspective on what it takes to craft your fiction.
Here’s the course description…
Fantasy, Sci-Fi, Mysteries, Young Adult, Magical Realism, Chick Lit & More.
Exciting plots and larger-than-life characters are the cornerstones of popular fiction and the emphasis of this course. Whether you’re writing romance, mystery, science fiction, or suspense, the principles of writing popular fiction — interesting prose, characters with whom we can empathize, and a story that moves — are key.
In this course, we’ll workshop your short stories and novel chapters, explore the history of the genres, perform writing and idea-generating exercises, and discuss the magazines and publishers looking for your sort of fiction. The goal is to give you a solid grounding in the demands of popular fiction from an editorial point of view, and a better understanding of your favorite genres.
Oct. 15-Nov. 19, 2015
“Nick is an electrifying lecturer. Each of his classes was an experience that left me feeling energized and excited about the prospect of returning to work. It’s hard to overstate the extent to which his lectures feel like superbly timed and carefully crafted performances. He’s obviously put far more work into developing his course than is typical for a creative writing instructor. During workshop, he gives excellent, honest, and very practical feedback. He holds you to a high standard, but he’s also encouraging, and he’s very cognizant of his responsibility to prepare writers for the realities of the publishing world. When I took his class, I was working on the stories I planned to include in my MFA applications. After eight weeks, I had a suite of stories that were where I needed them to be, and he’d also given me some practical advice on how to market my just-finished novel to potential agents. All in all, his class has everything you could possibly want: it’s both commercial and literary, practical and revelatory. Certainly equal, in terms of instruction, to the Clarion Workshop or an MFA seminar—I’d say it’s the best creative writing class I’ve ever taken.”
-Rahul Kanakia, author of ENTER TITLE HERE, a contemporary young adult novel coming out from Disney-Hyperion in August 2016.
“Nick’s lectures are funny and his critiques are honest. He brings a unique perspective to the classroom as both a professional writer and editor. His classes are dense with thought-provoking material and he has a lot to offer writers at all levels of experience. I’m so glad I signed up.”
–Dominca Phetteplace, author of stories in Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, Zyzzyva, and VICE Terraform.
Nick Mamatas is the author of seven novels, over one hundred short stories, and dozens of essays and articles.
His books include the novels Love is the Law and The Last Weekend, the short fiction collection The Nickronomicon, and the how-to guide for writing short fiction and non-fiction, Starve Better. Nick’s short fiction has appeared in Best American Mystery Stories, Asimov’s Science Fiction, New Haven Review, and many other anthologies and journals. He has written about writing for The Writer, Fine Books & Collections, and Wonderbook. His anthologies include the award-winning Haunted Legends (co-edited with Ellen Datlow) and The Future Is Japanese (co-edited with Masumi Washington.)
Sign up for Nick’s Class here.
At the Inkwell Reading Series
Come to our reading:
At the Inkwell Memoir Night.
Monday, October 19 7pm *free*
Here is a pic of our September 18th readers and curator from At the Inkwell’s Fiction Night in San Francisco. L-R: Kathryn Kruse, Elena Mauli Shapiro, Alexandra Kostoulas, Carolina de Robertis, Apollo Papafrangou.
Elena Mauli Shapiro reads from her latest novel, IN THE RED.
Alley Cat Books
3036 24th Street
Our Oct 19th reading will feature:
Alexandra Naughton, John W. Evans, Carrie Visintainer, and Giovanna Capone
Alexandra Naughton is a problem. Alexandra Naughton has a problem. Alexandra Naughton is probably the Courtney Love of Bay Area poetry. An Oakland-based writer, she combines the mundane and the existential in her life experience in both poetry and memoir. With a prominent internet persona and following, she is the founder of the BE ABOUT IT reading series, zine, and small press. She is the author ofI Will Always Be Your Whore: Love Songs for Billy Corgan , and YOU COULD NEVER OBJECTIFY ME MORE THAN I’VE ALREADY OBJECTIFIED MYSELF both on Punk Hostage Press. You can find out more about her here: http://thetsaritsa.tumblr.com
John W. Evans
John W. Evans is the author of two books, Young Widower: A Memoir (University of Nebraska Press, 2014) and The Consolations: Poems (Trio House Press, 2014). His poems and essays appear in Slate, The Missouri Review, Boston Review, ZYZZYVA, The Rumpus, and Poetry Daily, as well as the chapbooks, No Season (FWQ, 2011) and Zugzwang (RockSaw, 2009). He teaches at Stanford University, where he was a Wallace Stegner Fellow.
Carrie Visintainer is the author of WILD MAMA and the founder of of Free Your Wild, empowering people to unlock and embrace their personal “wild.” Her articles and essays have appeared in Outside, Backpacker, The Huffington Post, and several Travelers’ Tales “The Best Women’s Travel Writing” volumes. When not off the grid, she writes in a tiny shed in her Colorado backyard, where she lives with her husband and two young kids. Visit her and share your insights at www.freeyourwild.com.
Giovanna Capone is a poet, fiction writer, and playwright. She was raised in an Italian American
neighborhood in New York, whose strong immigrant influence still resonates in her life. She has been living in California for over 20 years, but she will always be a New York Italian. Her work has appeared in various publications, including Curaggia: Writing by Women of Italian Descent, Bless Me Father: Stories of Catholic Childhood, Unsettling America: An Anthology of Contemporary Multicultural Poetry, Avanti Popolo: Italian-American Writers Sail Beyond Columbus, Queer View Mirror 2, Lesbian & Gay Short Short Fiction, andFuori: Essays by Italian/American Lesbians and Gays. Her recent fiction has appeared in The Paterson Literary Review. Her current project is an anthology of short fiction and memoir by lesbian writers, which she’s co-editing with two other women. It’s tentatively entitled: Dispatches from Lesbian America. Giovanna lives in the San Francisco Bay Area, where she works as a public librarian.
Sunday Dec 6, 2015. 5-7pm.
1 Grove St. San Francisco, CA
We will have an end-of-class reading on December 6, 2015 at SAFEhouse for the Performing Arts at 1 Grove. We are partnering with Central Market Now, a group of arts events geared toward the Central Market Street neighborhood in SF. The event will feature students of Jack Grapes’ Method Writing Program taught by Alexandra Kostoulas, the Sunday Poetry Workshop taught by Hollie Hardy, and Fabulist Fiction, taught by Nick Mamatas.
We will also have a special guest reader coming up from LA. Chiwan Choi
, poet and publisher at Writ Large Press will be our featuring on Dec 6. Here he is reading poetry in an alley in LA.
We recently created a YELP page thanks to Poetry instructor, Hollie Hardy. Be the first to write a review!
If you have taken classes from Alexandra, Nick or Hollie and you like what you have learned and the way it was presented, please review us here
. Please list the name of the class and instructor in your review.
Write from the Gut #9 on Sept 18
was fun, and eclectic and our best one yet! Thank you to all of our readers. Here are a few highlights and photos sent in by Zoe Christopher, student of the Jack Grapes METHOD WRITING Program.
reads from her novel-in-progress
Hollie Hardy, Poetry Instructor reads from a selection from her collected and new poems.
Dennis Estrada reads a piece from his memoir-in-progress.
Yvonne Campbell reads from her novel-in-progress
Lapo Guzzini reads some new creative non-fiction.
DONATIONS GRATEFULLY ACCEPTED
If you would like to donate to SF Creative Writing Institute, your donations are fully tax deductible. Our fiscal sponsor, SAFEhouse Arts is a 501(c) 3 organization. To make a donation, you can send a check made out to SAFEhouse Arts, (our fiscal sponsor). Please write SF Creative Writing Institute in the memo line. Donations are accepted year round. Send the check to 25 Taylor Street. San Francisco, CA 94102. Donations will go toward funding our ongoing and new programs. We are also actively seeking arts and education grants. More on that to come.
San Francisco Creative Writing Institute
25 Taylor Street
San Francisco, CA 94117
“Artists don’t get down to work until the pain of working is exceeded by the pain of not working.”― Stephen DeStaebler
“I write for the same reason I breathe – because if I didn’t, I would die.”