As A Writer: Part 1

A shortish history of how being a reader made me interested in becoming a writer.

Musings on Memory

Memory_and_Dream

read Charles De Lint’s novel, Memory & Dream sometime between age 14 and 17. I honestly couldn’t tell you when I read it. I know it was in Canada, in part because he’s a Canadian author although he’s pretty popular in the US as well. But at the time, the book was out of print, I borrowed it from my local library. It was the first book of his I ever read.

I started reading fairy tale novels in late Junior High/High School. I was an avid reader, and I read the Lord of the Rings before the movies, and long before the books regained popularity. In fact, I was shunned at school for reading them. This was long before nerdom’s renaissance.

My parents read me a lot of books, but I really got into reading in 2nd grade because of my best friend Nicole—who introduced me to Babysitters Club’s Little Sisters series—which are easy reader books, but they’re all about the friendships between girls who are in elementary & middle school. So they were definitely geared toward my age group.

After I had read all the Sweet Valley, Boxcar Children, & Nancy Drew series available at the library, I got into reading Star Trek—this one was due to my father’s influence as he began purchasing Star Trek novels for me when he had business trips. When I had read all the available Star Trek novels, I began to search around the Science Fiction/Fantasy section of the library since I already knew I liked Star Trek I was looking for something in that vein.

I don’t know what my first discovery of Fairy Tale novels was, but I do know that I began a passionate love affair that continues to this day.

Shortly into this relationship is when I discovered Charles De Lint. He is the first and only celebrity that I have ever sent a fan letter to, and he was kind enough to respond and give me his autograph. Approximately a decade later I had written my own collection of fairy tales, At Times I Almost Dream, and I contacted him to tell him how much he had inspired me to become a writer and to become a writer of faerie. As De Lint likes to remind his readers, Jane Yolen once said, “Touch magic, pass it on.”

Though I have reread many of De Lint’s short stories, I never went back to Memory & Dream. In part because we moved away from the city with the library that held all his works of fiction—and like I said, for a long time it was out of print. But I suppose it also didn’t really occur to me. I was so busy devouring new titles, I didn’t really take the time to go backward.

A few weeks ago, my husband and I were discussing novel writing together. He has a novel that he’s been working on for several years, and I mentioned to him that I did as well. I gave him a short synopsis, and he said it sounded amazing and that I should work on it again. In fact, I should start on it right then, while we were talking.

I didn’t start it right then, but I did open it up and I reread all the chapters I had written. I suddenly recollected just how much I had loved Memory & Dream, and how I had wanted so desperately to follow in De Lint’s footsteps.
An aspect of Charles De Lint’s work that I love the best, is how he has formed a world inside the fictional city of Newford, but more than that, he created a community of artists who all bring beauty and magic into the world together. De Lint is both beautifully meta as well as a bit sentimental. But that’s what I like about him.

It was really fascinating for me being both older and more mature in my craft, to go back to this narrative that inspired me so heartfully. There was a great deal about the way I’ve come to view fantasy narrative, that I definitely have inherited from him. It was also somewhat moving, to come to understand that his prose was no more unearthly than any other writer. Of course, I adore him greatly, and of course I think that he is brilliant and talented. But I was able now to see flaws, where before I could only worship. Coming back to De Lint as an adult, humanized him for me. Which is a gift in and of itself. To no longer feel completely cowed by an idol’s talent. To realize that I have grown. And that I myself am talented. Equal to those whom I respect.

Thank you Mr. De Lint, for all that you have done for me.

Sexism in Teaching Literature & A True Teacher’s Response

Yesterday the internet was buzzing with some extremely sexist remarks made by Professor Gilmour – a University professor in Canada. He wrote:

“I’m not interested in teaching books by women,” he says, making an exception for one female writer.

“Virginia Woolf is the only writer that interests me as a woman writer, so I do teach one of her short stories,” he says. “But once again, when I was given this job I said I would only teach the people that I truly, truly love.”

Instead, Gilmour says, “[w]hat I teach is guys. Serious heterosexual guys. F. Scott Fitzgerald, Chekhov, Tolstoy. Real guy-guys. Henry Miller. Philip Roth.” Via

Holger Syme, a true teacher repsonds:

Is passion about your subject matter important in teaching? Absolutely. Is the passion required in teaching typically stirred because the teacher identifies with the author or the text she teaches? I seriously hope not. I can only speak for myself, but I can categorically say that I have never identified with Shakespeare. (Marlowe, well. Is wanting to be someone the same as being someone? [For the record: I don’t want to be Marlowe. I like my eye-sockets too much.]) I don’t believe I have a reputation for lacking passion for my subject, though. But what do I know. From what I can observe in my colleagues, I don’t think too many of them only teach authors in whose works they see mirror-images of themselves. English Departments would otherwise be rife with psychopaths, morbidly jealous types, would-be kings and queens, and wealthy socialites. And people who ride around on donkeys. (They’re not?) I don’t even want to think about how dangerous a work environment history departments would be.

The exact opposite of Gilmour’s point is true: good teaching requires empathy — an effort to understand things, ideas, and people totally unlike you. Some of those people are your students. Some of those things are of the past. Some of those ideas are the ideas of authors from different cultures than yours, and yes, shockingly, even of a different gender. Engaging with those people, things, and ideas is not just what research means, and why research is necessary, it’s what reading is. via

Gilmour has since offered an apology but one can only view in light of the vitriol that has been aimed his way in response to his outrageous and egregious misogyny. I’m not a teacher, but I am a woman and an author. Purposefully excluding women from what you consider to be academic worth is offensive and wrong. The more teachers promote ideas like this, the more students believe what society teaches them–that women’s work is worthless.

I’ll never forget during my studies when a male student told one of my female professors that he refused to be taught by her, or read any of the books she had chosen on the syllabus with female authors. He said, all these books were written by women. What could they possibly have to say to him. He wasn’t interested.  He was removed from her class, but it is my opinion he should have been kicked out of the program for that kind of disrespect.

How can you inspire and teach when your very students don’t consider you an authority? How does society respond to female minds and female achievement when authorities denigrate them continuously?