by Margaret Turley
I just finished attending the Desert Nights, Rising Stars 2009 ASU Writers Conference that is put on by the Virginia G. Piper Center for Creative Writing. The main attraction for me was that Orson Scott Card was giving a reading and this morning he taught a a class titled "All Fiction is Genre Fiction." He spoke about how universities fossilize learning and that any Live Literature requires writers and readers that are in dialogue with each other - unmediated by academia - which really teaches literary anthropology. (Please excuse me if I got this wrong, Brother Card - I was an entranced listener - not a short hand taker - and I didn't have a tape recorder.)
OSC talked about how Live Literature needs to change over time - it needs variety within the genre - "cozies." He explained why there are no metaphors in Science Fiction - because in Sci-Fi everything can be real. How academic Literary Fiction readers have trouble reading Sci-Fi because they only have the tools they were fed by their professors. And he stated something about his writing being professor-proof literature - Hooray! (that's from me.) And one thing that made me feel good was when he said that Chic Lit is better than Conformist Literature - Romance, due to editorial regulation, has become pornography - but Chic Lit still has the true love story element. I personally read from almost every genre - and OSC claims that reading all genres is necessary to be able to grow in your writing.
I tried to attend the rest of the conference with an open mind and heart to learn what the greats and the award winners and the academics said needed to be included in my writing to make it publishable.
I am sad to say there were only two other instructors that I could listen to and enjoy. Michael Stackpole had a reading on the same night as Orson Scott Card and shared his "Titanium Turtle" that is available on his website for purchase - not in any stores. It was a good laugh and very engaging. OSC read a few of his poems - which I now absolutely need to find a copy of to buy, and a story he wrote for his wife, "The Porcelain Salamander." The other reader that I thoroughly enjoyed was Laurie Brooks who is Terry Brooks sister. Her novel will come out in October and is about Silkies. Very delightful. I also need to purchase more of his short stories. They'll be great reading that won't keep me up all night.
On the first day I listened to a reading by a "creative-non-fiction" travel writer, Jeff Biggers, that was absolutely entertaining. His presentation gave me a better appreciation for the history of the Sierra Madres. In general I'm not a history buff. I was turned off reading history during high school because it was written in a very boring manner. Ever since Gerald Lund came out with historical fiction that was fascinating, I have been more open to reading about history in fictional form. Perhaps now I'll give it a try. There may be something out there that isn't as dry as chalk.
Other presenters / instructors gave exercises that were informational and gave lessons I will keep in my reference files for "how to's" and "prompts." But mixed in with the batch, in greater than 50%, were Gays and Lesbians touting their garbage. I don't care how many awards they have won - they don't get my vote. Not because they are Gay and Lesbian - that is their privilege - but because their writing is full of obscene, sexually gross, and lurid words and phrases that I do not feel constitute anything worthy of my time or use of my brain cells. Their books were available for purchase next to the others. The covers don't give anything away. But if you crack the book open and scan the contents - or sit through a reading all the way through because it would be impolite to get up and leave to go throw up - the language is intolerable.
For this reason I have dropped my ambition to obtain an MFA in creative writing. I don't want my mind filled with that trash.
One of the things I learned attending my first non-ANWA writer's conference is that perhaps you don't want the whole package. Research out the instructors and presenters before wasting your time and money. There can be some superior knowledge imparted and there certainly was opportunity to improve technique and broaden the horizon. But I won't be herded like cattle through a chute and come out bawling the "new" dogma that isn't worthy of the paper it's printed on or the cyberspace it occupies.