“April is the cruelest month/Lilacs of the dead land, mixing/Memory and desire, stirring/Dull roots with spring rain.”- The Wasteland, T.S. Elliot
It’s cliche’ to start a post about April with this quote, but it’s late and it seemed fitting given the long slog of grading, email answering, and semester wrapping that April brings for English professors like myself. If you do find the above lines overly familiar then let me share with you that fact that T.S. Elliot was an occultist, and an early contemporary of Aleister Crowley who left him only when he felt that Elliot and his group were not sufficiently dedicated to the practice of the black arts. There. Maybe you learned something new.
During the last month my own writing, as that of most of my friends’, has taken a backseat to work. But now I’ve finished all my grading, and the letters have been entered into a computer system. It’s time to get back to the page, but first it’s important to reflect. An unexamined life, blah, blah, blah.
One of the final assignments I have most all my students do in my creative writing classes is a reflective essay on their work during the past four months. It’s more for them than for myself. It forces them to consider where they began, what they learned, where they struggled and how they dealt with those challenges, and asks that they consider where they want to go from here. I’ve been thinking about what I’ve done in the classroom the last four months as well, and I hope that in a small way I’ve helped them find their tribe.
Fiction writing, or any artistic endeavor, doesn’t exist in a vaccuum regardless of what Anais Nin would have you believe. We all get by with a little help from our friends. As writers we depend on others in the fight to help us edit our work, tell us about readings or publishing opportunities, and turn us on to books we haven’t read. When students come into my class they are singular creatures who want to write, but don’t know how to go about it exactly. Oftentimes they don’t know anyone else with the same drive, and think of authors as all famous wordsmiths completely removed from a world of grocery stores and gas stations. Nothing could be further from the truth. One of the earliest lessons, and a lesson we expand on throughout my class, is about finding your tribe. I tell students that 10,000 years ago everyone in the world lived in a tribe. You could tell who was one of your own because they had the same history, the same stories, and a common language. Throughout the class, through literary journals to social media, I worked hard to help my students find their tribe. They started listening to author podcasts like Other People, and joined book clubs. They followed or friended authors they liked, and struck up conversations. They learned the words for fiction from our textbook, and by the end of the semester they’d be inducted. They had a tribe, and weren’t alone in this fight that no one wins.
As a member of the tribe it’s now time for me to stripe my face with war paint, chip a stone into a spearhead, and head out to war with the words. Here’s were the battle lines are at the moment:
I’m nearly done with my first book review. As I said before, as writers we have to rep the works we love, spread the word, and help each other find readers. This is one way I’m contributing.
The edits are coming along for my short story collection. It will be released in December by Foxhead Books. The title is still under debate, but I’m happy with the way it’s moving along.
I’m waiting to hear back from the two novella contests I entered, and thinking about writing two more novellas in that world that are connected with the intent of putting them together in one book–a novel in novellas.
I miss writing short stories since I’ve mainly done longer works so far this year, so I hope to finish a few flash fiction pieces this coming month and send them out.
I have one novel done, that was accepted but I pulled it from publication, and have no idea where it will go from here. It might be the unpublished book we all seem to have.
I have another novel mapped out and two chapters done, but no idea where I want to take it. I like it though.
So that’s where I am now. A little tired from the semester, but I still have heart. I’m looking forward to warm weather, and getting the words down. The days are getting longer every week.