One of the recurring anxiety dreams I’m prone to having is the one where someone in the public education system realized that I had somehow missed achieving some crucial requirement to pass high school, and I have to go back and re-do a year (despite the fact that I’ve gone through college and have a daughter in high school).
I sort of had that feeling last Friday as I went to Kent Island High School (which I did not actually attend, in real life) to speak to Ms. Christina Brinster’s 2nd period creative writing class. There were 30 students, all of them very engaged, and we did an hour-and-a-half “ask-me-anything” session about writing and reading.
Some of my favorite questions:
- “Who are some of your favorite authors?” (J.R.R. Tolkien, Michael Moorcock, Ernest Hemingway, F.Scott Fitzgerald, William Shakespeare, Jorge Luis Borges. I should have added Harlan Ellison and Ray Bradbury)
- “What are some of your favorite books?” (The Hobbit, The Lord of the Rings, The Little Prince, Charlotte’s Web, the Elric saga, The Stand, King Lear, The Waste Land, The Great Gatsby)
- “What’s the worst ending you’ve ever read?” (The Stand, again, even if it is one of my favorite reads. And by “ending,” I’m referring to the nuke explosion in Las Vegas)
- “What do you think of James Patterson?” (Let’s just say, I’m not a fan)
- “What’s your next book?” (In Lonely Lands, a modern-day fantasy/horror novel where the monsters are taken from nightmares I’ve had. Wait until you meet the fellow in the bathroom)
- “In fantasy, do you prefer dwarves, elves, mages, or normal humans?” (Dwarves. But I told them that I would never write about dwarves and elves, because IMHO, Tolkien had done everything that could be done with them, and there was no topping the master)
- “How do you deal with writer’s block?” (Go write something else for a while. I told them about spending years trying to write In Lonely Lands before finally giving up and doing my other books: Dragontamer’s Daughters, Lost Dogs, and Our Wild Place. So, yeah, it’s been “a while” since for me)
- “How do you write a good opening to a story?” (It has to grab the reader’s attention and interest within the first two pages, or they’re gone. Lost Dogs has a plane crash in the first paragraph, but you don’t have to use that much spectacle. Consider, “In a hole in the ground, there lived a hobbit”–what a great opening!)
- “What kind of characters do you like?” (Decent people with flaws who have to grapple with morally ambiguous issues. And I hate “Mary Sues”)
Speaking of autobiographies, I told them the usual where I was born, grew up, went to school (I didn’t think to give them the more interesting version, alas for them). I sheepishly admitted that years of playing Dungeons & Dragons honed my abilities at making characters and settings.
The highlight of the class period was when a student challenged me to write a short story using Story Cubes, which I had never heard of before. How it works is you roll the dice, look at the pictures that come up, and incorporate those into a piece. Ms. Brinster included everyone in on this, so we spent 10 minutes or so working bee, beetle, foot, face, credit card, teepee, alien, house, and fish into a narrative. Then we read them out loud.
I wish I had thought to keep mine, as it was a good start. It was about driving onto a Native American reservation to visit an old friend. As we set out to go fishing, he started to tell me about the alien he saw the night before.
Thanks, Ms. Brinster, and KIHS for having me! It was a great time!
Kenton Kilgore is the author of Lost Dogs, the story of a German Shepherd and a Beagle-mix who survive the end of the human world, only to find that their struggles have just begun. Kenton also wrote Dragontamer’s Daughters, a two-part young adult fantasy novel based on Navajo culture and belief. With Patrick Eibel, he created Our Wild Place, a children’s book about the joy to be found in exploring Nature. Follow Kenton on Facebook for daily posts on sci-fi, fantasy, and other speculative fiction.