So I’ve been falling down on my blogging duties the last few weeks, but as the title of my blog maybe tells you, I’m a teacher before I’m a blogger. It’s the end of the semester and I’ve been teaching two classes, a directed studies (think independent study but with weekly meetings), and advising Myth-Ink, the Columbia College – Chicago student science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing club.
I require the students in the more advanced course, the Fantasy Writing Workshop, to complete at least one story and submit it to a semi-pro or pro market. But the course aimed at writing majors and non-writing majors alike, Exploring Fantasy Genre Writing, has more than half the students ready to submit a poem or short story for publication, as well. There’s always a few, each semester, but more this semester, I think.
So we’ve been doing a lot of copy-editing and proofing exercises, reviewing manuscript submission format, learning how to find appropriate markets, reviewing market guidelines, learning what and what not to put into a cover letter, walking them through writing their first author bio, and talking about what scares them about submitting. I’ve gotten the feeling that the last one is maybe the most important one of all. I’m going to have to think on that.
As part of the last week of classes, for both my courses, I’m having a representative from our department’s Publishing Lab (run by students, for students, to help them submit their poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction) come in. They help read proposed cover letters, find markets, and provide emotional support. The drill is this, with their laptops open and everyone tapped in to the school wi-fi, when a student author says they’re ready to submit, their finger hovering over the send button, the group does a mission-control countdown from five.
Five, four, three, two, one, SEND! When the button is pushed, we ring a bell and give them a cookie. An actual bell, and an actual cookie. We’ve found both help.
Myth-Ink has had a busy semester, too. Working with the Publishing Lab, they got 21 submissions into the Pub Lab Review — an online ezine for the students in the Creative Writing Department. Our dept includes poetry, mainstream and lit fiction, the various genre fictions, comics, and creative non-fiction. The May issue will be a special all spec fic issue. I’ll be sure to mention it here, when it goes live.
But the Myth-Ink gang also helped bring in guest authors and run panels at CG2, the Columbia Geek Culture Gala — a one day free conference featuring all things nerd and geek related in all media. There was everything from the Galahad foam sword fighting club, to an artist alley/dealers room. There were panels on feminism and geek culture, meet-ups about favorite shows, author development panels, a gaming room, a reading café, and a video room. It was a marvelous success.
And now, concurrent with the last week of class, and thanks to the kindness of Steven Silver and SFWA, seven of Columbia’s best junior and senior science fiction and fantasy writers will be attending and volunteering at the Nebula Awards Weekend here in Chicago, with a special eye to the author development seminars being held Thursday – Sunday. The graduation ceremony happens on Saturday morning, before anything much is happening at the Nebs. And many of the graduating seniors have convinced their families to delay the graduation party or celebratory meal until the next week, so they can attend the Nebs.
To prepare for the Nebs, they’ve designed and printed business cards, discussed what the genre take on a professional wardrobe is, studied the panel schedule, role-played approaching authors and editors after panels, talked about how to socialize and network, discussed how to make the most of the networking opportunities of the mass autographing, and how to have cocktails in the bar while being careful not to over imbibe. They are nervous. They are ready. They’re going to be wonderful.
Richard Chwedyk (who teaches the science fiction courses) and I (who teaches the fantasy courses) could not be prouder of these students if they were our very own kids. Because, in a lot of ways, they are.
I look forward to telling you how the weekend went for them.
Tina L. Jens has been teaching varying combinations of Exploring Fantasy Genre Writing, Fantasy Writing Workshop, and Advanced Fantasy Writing Workshop at Columbia College-Chicago since 2007. The first of her 75 or so published fantasy and horror short stories was released in 1994. She has had dozens of newspaper articles published, a few poems, a comic, and had a short comedic play produced in Alabama and another chosen for a table reading by Dandelion Theatre in Chicago. Her novel, The Blues Ain’t Nothin’: Tales of the Lonesome Blues Pub, won Best Novel from the National Federation of Press Women, and was a final nominee for Best First Novel for the Bram Stoker and International Horror Guild awards.
She was the senior producer of a weekly fiction reading series, Twilight Tales, for 15 years, and was the editor/publisher of the Twilight Tales small press, overseeing 26 anthologies and collections. She co-chaired a World Fantasy Convention, a World Horror Convention, and served for two years as the Chairman of the Board for the Horror Writers Assoc. Along with teaching, writing, and blogging, she also supervises a revolving crew of interns who help her run the monthly, multi-genre, reading series Gumbo Fiction Salon in Chicago. You can find more of her musings on writing, social justice, politics, and feminism on Facebook @ Tina Jens. Be sure to drop her a PM and tell her you saw her Black Gate blog.