Multiple Enthusiasms

Infinite jest. Excellent fancy. Flashes of merriment.

Big News I Got While Away

Not a book deal. Yet. Hopefully soon there. Querying and such.

Sitting there in Miami airport, which currently has free Google wifi that doesn’t actually work, or didn’t on my iPhone. My phone goes off with a number I don’t have stored in my contacts. Usually I let such calls go straight to voicemail. Usually it’s a creditor or something. I’m a writer, so payment due dates are like deadlines, both of which I love for the whooshing sound they make as they shoot past.

I’m glad I didn’t. It was the chair of the English department at the college where I’m currently teaching composition. Or was teaching composition last semester. There’s been a lot of alteration to my schedule; when they asked me onboard, they offered me two classes, but they only had one for me by the time the semester started. I took it anyway. This semester around, they’ve switched me out of not one but two classes. I get it, of course; there are a lot of other faculty members who have been there for ages, so seniority gets dibs. I’m still a new guy, only having been there for a semester, and it’s not like I’m tenured or anything. Technically, in fact, I’m still an adjunct instructor, and not a professor, even though they still call me a professor.

The chair told me there was good news and bad news. The bad was that they had shuffled me out of the composition class. I was disappointed by this; they had begun me in one only to shuffle me into the second-half of my first semester class, which I was actually looking forward to as a challenge; I’ve never taught a two-semester course. Never had any student for more than one semester.

The good news, though, was that they had a prose fiction course offered. Which is, like the composition course, a part of the core curriculum, but which is an actual literature course.

This is ludicrously exciting for me. Then again, I’m a giant geek, so of course it is.

I’m leaving in a moment to discuss the syllabus and book choice with the chair. So far I’m hoping to use a few stories by Poe, one by Hawthorne, Fitzgerald’s The Great Gatsby, Stephen King’s Night Shift and Different Seasons collection (for my money, the finest collections ever published, in any language), and J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter and the Philosopher’s Stone. I think this will work. I know Gatsby will fly, and I saw a few other syllabi include both A Thousand Splendid Suns and What We Talk About When We Talk About Love, both of which are rather contemporary and the former of which is decidedly popular (if not exactly genre), but I have a good feeling.

I have a great feeling, in fact. This is gonna be fun.

Edit to add: All books approved. Also given a big book of short stories I can select from. So there’s my week/end.


  1. I think I’d love to sit in a class taught by you.

    Methinks I need to make this happen.

  2. Oh and Congrats and stuff 😉

  3. PQ: I’m sure you could audit one if you’re ever in the neighborhood. What I really need to do is start getting speaking engagements so I can travel and more people can see. I love the challenge of teaching, and so far, all signs indicate I’m good at it. Better than I expected, in fact. And thanks!

  4. Congrats!
    I had so much fun doing some guest lecturing and teaching at the University last year. I am hoping to get back into it soon. I am sure you will be great. How is the writing progressing?

  5. That is a really strange collection of choices. Poe, Hawthorne, Fitzgerald, King, and Rawling? Why not include some critically acclaimed authors who are still alive, or some pulpy ones who are dead? Do you really think that King and Rawling are the descendants of Fitzgerald and Poe?

  6. The writing’s going very well, Alegra. Working on a few new projects, as well as new essays for the Nervous Breakdown, while querying.

    I’ve read many critics acclaim both King and Rowling, Miconian, but really, I’m rarely one to care for critics, anyway. King is certainly a descendant of Poe (to the degree that both have been called “Master of the Macabre,” if I’m not mistaken). As for Rowling, the reason I chose the first Harry Potter novel was for its differences to The Great Gatsby; the latter is a character study with a very distinctive voice and style, while the former is a textbook example of a highly structured plot and a three-act structure.

  7. Hey, congratulations! I think teaching a literature class would be a BLAST!

    And thanks for retweeting my post on the hidden assumptions behind self-marketing your own fiction. The publishing world is such a wild and woolly place right now.


  8. I can see the Poe/King connection, but I guess what strikes me is that King and Rawling are both decidedly genre writers, whereas I think of Hawthorne and Fitzgerald as more generalized. I mean, King and Rawling are obviously skilled, but are they really shaping the art of fiction the way that Hawthorne, Fitzgerald, and Poe did? I mean, what about Joyce Carol Oates or John Updike, for example?

  9. In terms of reading, you need either a really dead author or one that is not soo dead. I’m not making a joke. There is a middle ground of authors that people tend to run away from. At least I run from them. I like your selections and I would not run away from. As a student at another school, I hope that has value.

    I ran from Updike.

  10. Yes, Miconian, I would argue they are. I can’t think of any single writer besides Rowling (it’s an ‘o’, by the way, not an ‘a’) who has more successfully told a hero’s journey in any medium. Harry Potter is every bit the achievement of The Odyssey. I think Oates and Updike are too concerned with critics and not enough concerned with actually telling a story well. Neither ever kept my attention for more than a few pages. I think the issue is the way you think of them; while Stephen King is often considered a genre writer, his works have spanned many genres (horror, science fiction, fantasy, and mystery, for a few), and his early stuff especially demonstrates an attention to craft and a proficiency with it neither Oates nor Updike ever managed, certainly.

    I think most people would run from Updike, GothamGirl.

    And no problem, Victoria. It was a great post. And yeah, I’m very much looking forward to it.

  11. I guess this is just an “agree to disagree” type situation, then. I’m a big fan of the hero’s journey and I’d venture to say that I understand it as well as you do, but the first Harry Potter book bored me to tears, and I haven’t been motivated to read any of the others (or even to see the movies). Reading Oates’ short stories, I swoon at nearly every sentence.

  12. I’m sorry, but I can’t let it go. Rowling and King are popular storytellers. Updike and Oates are/were masters of insight into the human condition and how to express it through the English language. For some readers, that stuff is not as important as being caught up the question of how the second-act tension is going to be resolved. But I’m not one of those readers, and neither are a lot of other people. It’s not necessarily a qualitative distinction, but it’s one that I think is worth making. I guess it depends what you’re calling the course.

  13. No worries, Miconian. Really I’d like to address this in another post, because there is much fodder for discussion here, but suffice to say I should have mentioned I am also teaching from a reader called The Art of the Short Story, from which I am allowing the students to choose work beyond the stories I’ve already chosen. Among those: Poe, Hawthorne, and Joyce (“Araby”). The students have already chosen one by Oates (“Where Are You Going, Where Have You Been?”), and I’m also assigning Fitzgerald’s “Absolution” to along with his novel. My goal is to offer a diverse experience of fiction, and to teach plot and structure as well as style and theme.

    Have you read King’s “Strawberry Spring”? It is, in my estimation, one of the finest stories ever written in the English language. Up there with “Araby.”

    You’re right that King and Rowling are popular storytellers. So were Dickens and Shakespeare. Poe’d always hoped for popularity but never managed it, which is probably why he drank himself to death seeking critics’ validation when readers already for the most part loved him.

  14. Popularity and artistry are neither synonymous nor mutually exclusive. The fact that Shakespeare has always been popular doesn’t mean that being popular makes anyone else Shakespeare. The fact that Emily Dickinson was unknown in her own time doesn’t meant that laboring in obscurity is a prerequisite to scholarly validation.

    Anyway, glad to hear you are letting students choose from a reader, which means that they can enjoy the class even if they might happen to agree more with me than with you here.

    I haven’t read Strawberry Spring that I can remember. I’ll look for it.

    I guess I should mention that I don’t have a problem with King per se, and I have read and enjoyed a few of his books, including Skeleton Crew, It, The Shining, and the first couple Gunslinger novels. He does a lot of interesting stuff, and I especially like the way he intercuts the characters’ thoughts with the narrative voice. That being said, I think that comparing him favorably to Updike in terms of agility with language and character is a bit silly.

  15. I generally take a democratic approach to teaching. I find it works best. I’m teaching at a college level, too, and I believe students should participate in the shape and function of the course as much as they should learn within it.

    Shakespeare wasn’t always popular, actually. There were times he went largely unknown.

    You can think it’s silly, and we’ll agree to disagree. For me, as a reader, King’s always been a better writer, overall, than Updike, whom I find as boring and tedious as Oates. Sure, King’s had some stinkers, but he’s done great stuff, too. To dismiss him as simply a popular storyteller, seems, to me, a bit silly. Like I said, though, I wanted to teach structure and plot; I think you’ll agree I couldn’t really find either with Updike. Or most other authors acclaimed by critics, most of whom seem to think “literature” is synonymous with “mess.”

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