Writing Science Fiction and Fantasy Afterschool Program?

crocodile_hunter, mauro liraI would love to start teaching an afterschool program for teens to write science fiction and fantasy.  I have often taught this at a local school library–with snacks–once a week for high school students.  If you know of a way to contact or approach Dayton/Vandalia area high schools, or program coordinators at high schools, let me know.  I’d love to be able to offer these classes again.

Rocketfuel ignites imaginations



Solidarity in Purple: Supporting Gay Teens After Spirit Day

Heather Kennedy, or moria on Flickr, used under Creative Commons LicenseAs millions are wearing purple today, Wednesday, I found myself trying to imagine what this might mean to a closeted man or woman.  Walking down the street are all the people who would support you coming out. 

When I was struggling with coming out–I didn’t know who might be supportive and who wouldn’t.  I grew up in a culture that would designate a day, “If you wear Purple on Fridays, you’re gay.”  So it was a color to avoid–for fear of being outcast.  Today, it is THE color–not to show you are weird or different, or even “in” or “cool”–but to help others come out, and know that it’s safe.by ciccioetneo on Flickr, creative commons license  That you support and love them and are waiting for the day when they feel comfortable, and pushing for the day when there is no more bullying about anything. 

So in the Spirit of Spirit Day, let’s keep the purple flowing–as long as we can, in concerted efforts.  Let’s celebrate the color purple.  (All of these photos were found on Flickr and are part of the Creative Commons distribution license.) 

Purple has a long history of being associated with royalty, kings, priests, and even with Christ.  Lydia, famous for her purple cloths, was one of the first leaders of bible studies in the early Christian era.  Purple is a rare color in nature–but when it happens, you notice. 

kevindooley on Flickr, used under Creative Commons LicenseRight now, the climate for gay people is getting better.  However, there are still large pockets where gay and lesbian people are not affirmed for who they are, and what they bring to their communities, and society in general.  We’ve built up a long tradition of pushing men and women back for their sexual orientation, and it’s entrenched in our churches, our military, our governments, our city councils, and it finds its way into schools where kids–who can’t hide a prejudice–act on it.  We punish the kids, but they learn it from the adults. 

So, go out there and get your purple on.   Show your kids that you stand in solidarity with those who are in the LGBT community, and that you want to assure them that not only smittenkittenorig on Flickr, used under Creative Commons Licensedoes it get better, but we–every day–are making it better for them.  Slipping on a hat or a shirt or some purple shoes is the simplest start. 

Binary Ape, from Flickr, Creative Commons License What are the next steps–the day after Spirit Day, the week after Spirit Day?  The next steps may be harder, but we can do those too. 

Get a group of you to wear purple in your churches.  Ask to speak from the podium announcing something, address everyone, but specifically those gay people who may be present in your congregations–out or not–and tell them that they have someone in your church (or a group of you wearing purple) that they can count on to be supportive no matter what your church’s theology might say.  Your purple shows them that you support them right now.  

Get a group of people to wear purple and show up during a city council meeting and ask to speak in honor of gay teens. 

As a gay man, I would look for any, any sign that someone might be friendly, supportive, and understanding– the weight of our secret–our fear that being different makes us less than–is

Purple Heart by the US Army, on Flickr, used under Creative Commons License

 sometimes a lot, especially when we come from communities where there is active discrimination towards gay people.  This can take many forms:  a theology which doesn’t treat gay and lesbian people as equals in the church, a simple understanding that something “gay” is wrong or weird, or a belief that being a gay man is somehow not masculine enough. 

Our military values each soldier, but currently doesn’t value the gay ones if they say they are gay.  The soldier at the right here is receiving a purple heart–and that’s why I have him in the post.  We value what we give Purple to: kings, deities, soldiers, priests–purple is considered one of the rarest colors, hard to create, and therefore highly prized. 

by aussiegall on Flickr, used with Creative Commons licenseWhen we wear purple today–we say, “We highly prize gay teens.  We value you.  We know you have something worth giving and sharing with us.  We value what you have to say and the point of view you have.  You are loved and appreciated.  We want to see what you’ll become.  Our country is changing.  Our governments are changing.  Our churches are changing.   And it starts today.  It starts with me.”

How to talk about Plot Shapes, or Don’t tell Creative writers they aren’t creative

Well, you live and learn as a teacher. One thing I will never do again: give my high school writing students a handout on plot shapes. My goal was to tell them that if they needed to have some help in shaping a plot, that they could look to these “shapes” —forms that would give them patterns that might help them complete a plot.

Of course, I prefaced this with saying that some people believed there “are only 20 plots” and that everything boils down to these forms in some way or another.

Wake Up Call: These are teenagers. Do they want to be told that there are only 20 plots!?? NO. Do they set about trying to prove you wrong? Yes. And that’s fine. It was their ire at being told they could only have 20 choices that saved them.

At first, they looked pretty crestfallen–how could I stand there and tell them “there’s nothing new under the sun”?

I had a math and science teacher who told me that once. I hated that. I hated that he might be right. You hear it in church sometimes–I think it’s in Ecclesiastes somewhere–that there is nothing new under the sun–but we are creative people. CREATIVE writers. We do create something new. What I am writing now has never, never been written before.

I think books like 20 Master Plots are good for a person who’s ready to read about how to master certain forms in the same way that people who sing learn the 20 or so songs in one book together—to work their muscles. Or the way that autoshop kids learn to rebuild a few classic cars–at least ONE Mustang!  But the book is not for everyone.  I find it helpful —when I know which shape I’m writing— to know what reader expectations are for that shape.  But it can be diminishing…

I did much better job when I talked about Motifs–and they all loved stealing motifs from the Folklore and Fairy Tale index–they created the coolest plots using plot skeletons. And if you talk about plot skeletons, this will work. Masterplots are really plot skeletons too. DO NOT tell them that any person (sorry Ronald Tobias) ever said there were only 20.

If I had it to do again, I might offer the 20 as plot skeletons–and ask them to create a story using one plot skeleton or two. But, at all costs, no one should bust the creative impulse or dampen it by suggesting that someone else’s plot fits neatly into one of 20 formulas.

Seeing that storm clouds had entered the French library, where we meet every Wednesday for fun and writing, I instead challenged them to break the formulas with their own version of the plots–how do you subvert a Rescue plot (#17) or a Sacrifice plot (#15)? How do you masterfully up-end the Adventure plot? Then I had their hearts back into it!

Don’t do this to adults either. Just don’t. It makes you look hoity-toity, like you know what they can possibly do, and limits creativity.

Yep, I’m writing a Quest plot (plot#1) but you ain’t seen nothing like this quest! hehe.

Rocketfuel Blasts Off, 10 and Rising

The fantasy writers of tomorrow are sitting in a high school French Library looking at photographs on a table. Their task is to first pick a photo that appeals to them out of the twenty or thirty scattered there. Then, they have to tell who this person is, what’s happening in the picture, and what that person wants. After writing for fifteen minutes, I tell them to switch gears. I tell them to keep the same person they’ve written about but change the setting to a science fiction or fantasy one, give them a new situation. Keep the real person, though…

Rocketfuel started with six students and now has nine students and next week will have ten, and we meet at FH Collins High School to work on Fantasy and Science Fiction writing. So far, it’s green lights all the way! Snacks seem to be the fuel for this writing –and there’s a lot of good writing going on. And enough enthusiasm to make an hour and a half zoom by. They are a great group.

Thanks to all those who spread the word–and if you are still thinking of signing up, or telling your son or daughter about Rocketfuel, have them meet us on Wednesdays at FH Collins Library at 3:30. We’ll get them on board.

Rocket Fuel May Not Make it Off the Ground

Our new afterschool program for High school students interested in Science Fiction and Fantasy writing may not make it off the ground if The City of Whitehorse doesn’t have enough registered people.

So far, we have five.  They need eight to make it.  But I know there are many many more young authors out there who love to write science fiction and fantasy.  The group is scheduled from Sept 17th through the first part of December.  The cost is $65 for 12 weeks of instruction–exercises, workshopping, brainstorming, building characters and plots–plus snacks.

I’m gonna do this:  I’ll meet on Wednesday, after school with whoever shows up.  If we don’t make the required numbers via the City of Whitehorse, we will figure out our options.  If you know of youth interested in writing science fiction and fantasy, have them sign up via Parks and Recreation, 668-8325, or 668-8360 at the Canada Games Centre.

Rocket Fuel is Relaunching

The City of Whitehorse is launching a new time and space for Rocket Fuel, the science fiction and fantasy writing group for teens, this year. Watch for times and place here, and in the leisure guide. We’re hoping to have it after school at a Whitehorse school, once a week. We’ll be exploring more ways to write science fiction and fantasy and doing exercises that build writing skills. I think there’s gonna be food too! So, food, science fiction, and other people who like science fiction–all right after school. How can this be a bad thing? No more will you have to give up Saturdays or evenings! I’ll add the blurb from the Leisure Guide when we have all the places and times set!

Tell your friends–we’d love to have 10-16 people, or more. So, if you know anyone who wants to write their own science fiction and fantasy stories and read and comment on other people’s work— invite them. We’d love to have enthusiastic learners and writers!