Wednesday, May 6, 2015

Getting to Where You Are, Part 3: The Job

Continued from the previous blog: 
I’m hired by Seton Hill. All my reasons for initially saying “no” evaporate. The Teaching of English course is developed successfully, and I handle it for years and even enjoy it.  
 And I love teaching English at SHU, especially literature. I’ve managed to cover almost all my favorite areas: the whole sweep of British literature, 20th century American lit, Shakespeare, Romanticism, poetry as well as novels, the modern short story, European literature, Russian literature, and even some writing from the Ancient world. On top of that, I’ve also taught courses in the reading and writing of science fiction. And, covering my other interests, I’ve given courses in the graphic novel, lectures on art and astronomy, a whole class on the Sublime, and even history courses, Western Cultural Traditions I and II.  
It’s been great.  
I even learned, eventually, that two factors which fascinated the committee that hired me was my interest in science fiction, and that I had a Bachelor of Science degree instead of a BA. So you never know what will be appealing to the people hiring you. 
And the event I’m most proud of at SHU is the creation of the graduate program in Writing Popular Fiction.    
When I started, Seton Hill was only a college, but the decision was made to change it into a University. So the school was in search of graduate programs. Dr. Lee McClain, my colleague in English, had an interest in the romance genre, so she proposed the idea of a Masters in Writing Popular Fiction. She shared the notion with me because she knew I had a background in SF. So she and I worked together to create the program, and ultimately to get it accepted. And it’s been very successful. She was the Director for the first half of its duration. Then I took over, with the task of moving it from a Masters degree to a Master of Fine Arts. And that task has been accomplished. (I’m about to step down from Directing myself and Dr. Nicole Peeler will be taking over.)            
Seton Hill has been very supportive of the program (remember that they hired someone obsessed with SF). And this is not common at all universities, where there’s often a prejudice against popular fiction. Seton Hill, thankfully, has been open to new and innovative programs—at the time, few online classes existed, and we proposed the bulk of our instruction to be online. And I know, having been on the committee that hired Dr. McClain, that one of her qualities appealing to us was her having written a genre novel—in the same way that my SF and BS degree fascinated my committee. When we established the program, we sought to hire genre writers specifically: Dr. Michael Arnzen (the Stoker-winning horror writer) and later Nicole Peeler (writer of urban fantasy).  
A good example of the quality and success of this program can be seen in the anthology Many Genres, One Craft, edited by Michael Arnzen and a graduate of the program, Heidi Ruby Miller. Nearly every writer in the anthology has been part of WPF as either a teacher, mentor, student, or guest speaker. The book has won awards and is used often as a text in fiction-writing courses.  
We also now have an undergraduate Certificate in Writing Popular Fiction. We’ve always had an undergraduate major in Creative Writing, but we’re applying our expertise in genre fiction to make an opportunity for undergraduates too. All this demonstrates Seton Hill’s unique support, and belief in the worth, quality, and career-focus of popular fiction.  
And then, finally, to bring this story to a very pleasant personal close . . .  
I said in the first installment of this blog-trilogy that I always had the desire to write science fiction. Though I became very caught up in teaching (and administrating and creating programs, the natural activities of academia), being involved in Writing Popular Fiction brought back my longing to write fiction, and that desire was eventually fulfilled. Though I had played with writing short stories and novels over the years, I became more serious and applied myself strongly to writing an entertaining genre novel whose publication I would pursue.   
And just last year the novel was published by Dog Star Books, and released at our WPF summer Residency: The Man Who Loved Alien Landscapes. It’s a straightforward SF novel—I’ve described it as a murder mystery that turns into an interstellar treasure hunt. One critic described it as “space noir,“ and I heartily agree. It combines all my interests in the subjects of SF: other planets, outer space, the future, space travel, interstellar mysteries, wonder, the sublime. And a hero who’s always seeking, questioning, searching, exploring—the embodiment of so many characters I loved in both literature and popular fiction.  
There’s a prequel being written right now (In a Suspect Universe), a collection of poems supposedly written by Mykol Ranglen, the protagonist of these stories (called Temporary Planets for Transitory Days), and eventually a sequel to the entire sequence (tentatively titled Galaxy Time). I’m thrilled to be working on these books, and to bring my long-held childhood interests to such a practical and valued conclusion.
In writing these three entries I went far beyond the little summary I gave to the freshman English students about how I got to where I am. But the “themes” I started with are still valid: 
  • You never know where you’ll end up. 
  • You need to be prepared for sudden openings and chances in order to shift your gears quickly. 
  • Do not short-change your interests no matter how “childish” they might seem—they could take you to a career you’ll love. 
  • And watch for institutions that are compatible to those interests, that are good “ground” for your own growth—because not all institutions are.
I hope these three entries were interesting, enlightening, and maybe even useful. 
Good luck with your own journey of “getting to where you are.”  
Best wishes!

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