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Bob
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 01:55 am:   

Gene Wolfe certainly deserves better than this!
Dammit.
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paulw
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 02:49 am:   

Yeah, I saw that. Really outrageous.
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Bob
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 06:16 am:   

Hi Paul,
It's the kind of behavior one can expect from true beginners, but those who make it into the Odyssey workshop, I thought, were of a higher caliber than that. Rejection and criticism is part of the life, learn from it. I personally would maim a minor government official for the chance to have Gene Wolfe look at my stuff - then again, I really don't even need *that* much incentive, now do I?
As has been noted at the Webderland site, those students really ought to be thanking the deity of their choice it wasn't Harlan Ellison teaching that week. I highly doubt things would have turned out so peacefully....
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JV
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:32 am:   

Yes, but Harlan Ellison is a horrible, often incompetent instructor, so I don't know if that's a good comparison.

JeffV
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Bob
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:47 am:   

Hi Jeff,
I'm talking end results. I can't speak to Ellison's teaching ability, I've heard just the opposite from others who have attended workshops with him.
What I can guarantee, almost unconditionally, is that those students wouldn't have gotten quite the satisfaction Gene Wolfe gave them had it been Harlan Ellison. There would have been blood, I think, at the least.
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Nathan Ballingrud
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 10:53 am:   

Yeah, Ellison . . . I love the man -- he was my introduction to genre, and his work managed to get me through UNC without killing anybody -- but my brief experience with him as an instructor left my faith in him somewhat shaken. It was back at Clarion 1992: even though a recent heart surgery prevented him from coming during his scheduled week, he managed to spew a lot of corrosive bile through a speakerphone over a couple of afternoons. Sweeping judgements rendered, based on two short stories and an exercise. He singled out one writer who, although clearly not very good, also was probably clinically depressed. His critiques became openly hostile, personal, and mean-spirited, and it's frankly scary to me to think about what could have happened as a result of that very public beating. Even though I was not on the receiving end of his contempt that day, it left me feeling that he was acting to fulfill an image of himself rather than attempting to improve the writers who had come. I don't mind a strident and passionate critic, but not if its all finally just self-serving.

I got the impression that Ellison was starting to succumb to the same affliction that struck Hemingway in his later years: he began to lose the distinction between the image he projected and who he really was, finally just becoming a self-caricature.

But I can't help it, he's still one of my heroes.
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Nathan
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:06 am:   

I should also add that Gene Wolfe's treatment at the hands of these "students" is obviously reprehensible, juvenile, and just plain mean.

Be sure to look for novels from these kids from your local vanity press.
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paulw
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 11:11 am:   

That is a workshop out of control. Ms. Cavelos had an obligation to step in and assert control, it seems to me, though I don't know all the details. But things never should have reached the point that they did.
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Ellen
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 01:48 pm:   

Paul, Absolutely.

This is what I posted about it on the HWA BB:

My take on it (aside from completely supporting Gene, as I believe he is "fair") is that the letter should never have been given to Gene. That there was a failure of communication between adminstration and students. That if there is a problem with an instructor it is imperative to go to the administration with a complaint and NOT take it directly to the instructor and get your friends to gang up on the instructor. Why do I say they ganged up on Gene? Because several of the students did not show up to class the next day. This indicates to me really bad behavior on the part of those students and the whole thing could/should have been nipped in the bud by the administration.

I've taught at Clarion West three times and Clarion east once and Odyssey once. I believe I've always been far too kind to the students. But that's me. I have a hard time saying to someone's face (and in front of other students) that their story completely sucks and that they need to learn how to write. I try to react as an editor not a writer/teacher.

If you're paying to attend a six week workshop you should expect your money's worth. Criticism, not coddling. When I've taught Clarion (always the 5th week) there were incipient and half-broken out personal and professional fires with the occasional residue by the time I got there. It's always the job of the administration to take care of those problems as they arise so they don't escalate and don't interfere with the workshop.

And further to this:

Another writer/friend had the exact same experience teaching Clarion East several years ago and this person says that the writers who were upset had a sense of entitlement that they should be praised rather than criticized.

This writer (I'm purposely not exposing the gender) was very upset by the experience and managed to save the workshop by getting one of the not so good writers on his/her side to urge those who "disaproved" to pull back.

Apparently the adminstration --although they were aware of the situation --did nothing to ameliorate it, IMO a very poor way of administrating such a workshop, where students are often strung out with lack of sleep and the stress of writing a story a week.
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Cheryl Morgan
Posted on Friday, July 25, 2003 - 02:32 pm:   

I remember friends in Australia telling me about George Turner's attitude to writing workshops. Apparently George believed that it was necessary to completely demoralize the students in the first few days before carefully building up their confidence again so that you could get them out of their bad habits and introduce good ones. How times have changed.

Then again, having had a very small amount of experience of how some local writing groups work, this doesn't surprise me at all.
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JV
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 01:01 pm:   

It'd be nice to hear from J. Cavelos about the situation. I'm uncomfortable with what the students did re the letter, but I'm almost equally uncomfortable with the broad strokes in which this whole situation is being painted.

First off, not all students participated in the letter writing/signing. Yet in most posts about this situation, *all* students from that workshop are being pilloried.

Secondly, what we have is a letter from Gene Wolfe and a couple of blogs from the students. Neither Wolfe nor the students are disinterested parties. I'm not saying I don't believe Wolfe--but I do think that the level of vitriol aimed at the students is perhaps out of proportion to the crime.

Thirdly, we do not know anything about other pressures or other situations at the workshop that may have contributed to the deterioration of the workshop during Wolfe's stay. There may be mitigating factors. We simply do not know.

I'm not defending the students' actions, nor am I saying that Wolfe is misrepresenting the situation. But I am somewhat taken aback at the kind of falsely macho "what do you expect--newbies are supposed to take a beating at workshops" mentality, as well.

Re Ellison--I have to agree with Nathan. How else would one characterize a writing instructor who chastizes a student for using the word "pod" to describe a group of whales because said instructor didn't know the word, and who when he finds out he is wrong, then says, "Well, you shouldn't use the word anyway." Just a small example, but one of many.

Finally, you know what? Putting the Wolfe situation aside for a second--there are literally hundreds of really good writers who can't teach fer shit. Being a good writer does not in any way necessarily make you a good teacher.

JeffV
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JV
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 01:06 pm:   

Lucius' thread does a good job of discussing the issue:

http://www.nightshadebooks.com/discus/messages/32/986.html?1059242350

I am sending an email to Gene Wolfe expressing my support, just FYI.

JeffV
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Ellen
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 05:26 pm:   

This was posted by Eileen Gunn in the tangent online sff.net topic
Ellen

Update on Odyssey workshop:

I just talked to Harlan, who has spoken with Jeanne Cavelos. He says that it was in fact a single person who wrote the letter, misrepresenting himself as speaking for all the students, and it was only through a series of additional misunderstandings that only a few students were in the classroom. So it was not a rejection of Gene by the group, although it looked to Gene as if that were the case.

Apologies and explanations have been made to Gene. It wasn't anything in the drinking water, and there's no evidence of mass hysteria. The students,
understandably, don't want to discuss the debacle.


Eileen
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JV
Posted on Saturday, July 26, 2003 - 08:35 pm:   

Well, that's good to find out!!!! Perhaps Wolfe should have stuck around a little longer. Oh well.

Jeff
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John Thiel
Posted on Tuesday, September 02, 2003 - 08:49 am:   

Obviously the issue involved was that they liked criticism of their work less than they liked a competitive outlook (which Wolfe was undoubtedly instructing them about) and were willing to take a deal with chumps to oust the person running the show. Thereby they didn't agree with the spirit of the workshop they were in. Wolfe left them in the position of people who had no alternative to work with and who were not looked upon kindly by the administration of the place. He sounds like he favors the outlook of the students involved somewhat.

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