At the Pittsburgh airport now, heading home from the Alpha Science Fiction, Fantasy, and Horror Workshop for Young Writers where I was an instructor. The Pittsburgh airport is pretty cool; it has a T. rex skeleton and exhibits on Mister Rogers and Andy Warhol, plus free wi-fi.
I had a fabulous time at Alpha. The young writers are smart, energetic, focused, and extremely talented, and the staff very helpful and well-organized. Even the school cafeteria food was good. The four manuscripts I critiqued from the “Betas” (previous students returning to the workshop as teaching assistants) were of extremely high quality, and the ideas I reviewed for the stories the Alphas will be writing this week were astonishing in their creativity. I wish I could be here next week to see the stories that result.
I got great feedback on my lectures and critiques; one of the Betas even told me that he’d been to Alpha three times and he liked my lectures the best. Everyone was friendly and supportive. However, I must publicly acknowledge the debt I owe to my own instructors: Pat Murphy, who gave me the “turn an idea into a story” exercise I used for my first lecture; Algys Budrys, who gave me the seven-point plot outline I used in my second lecture; and Carol Emshwiller, who gave me the line “use exposition as ammunition.” I stand on the shoulders of giants.
One of the students, Gretchen Hohmeyer (@adkwriter15 on Twitter) live-tweeted the following highlights from my lectures:
- “Writing is a form of telepathy. You are putting your thoughts into someone else’s brain.”
- “Experiment with experimental writing… just don’t inhale.”
- “A symbol is a prop that has more weight than its own self.”
- “Use exposition as ammunition.”
- “The first sentence of any story is going to be world-building.”
- “You can do a lot of world-building in a few sentences, if you choose the right detail.”
- “Smoking’s a great help during dialogue. I dont smoke, I dont recommend it. But ur characters wont get cancer unless u want them to!”
- “English is a marvelously rich language. We’ve stolen language from every other language.”
- “You can get away with anything in this business as long as you can sell it, in both senses of the word.”
- “The difference between a comedy and a tragedy is where you choose to end the story.”
- “Ideas are like neutrinos: they fall from the sky and we just have to be dense enough to catch them.”
We also had a successful reading and signing at a local bookstore and attended a showing of the final Harry Potter film, which I really enjoyed (much more than the previous one, which took the sins of the whole book onto itself, leaving all the good bits for the final film).
All in all, I’m pleased, honored, satisfied, and very tired. It’s been fun, but I’m ready to be home now.