The Frostburg Effect

Well, it’s been a productive week here at the Rancho Del Daryl. Going in reverse order, on Friday I finished the final revisions on Dracula: Company of Monsters #12, and I’m really happy with how we used all our ideas — mine, Kurt Busiek’s, and those of our editor, Dafna Pleban — to hit the right notes in this last issue of the arc. It’s been such a great experience working with them on this book.

Then on Thursday I finished the first draft of Planet of the Apes #3, which features some very nice set pieces that Carlos Magno should have a blast drawing. Four words, people: Apes With Gatling Guns.

But back on Tuesday I played the Visiting Writer at Frostburg University, with Andy and Sydney Duncan as my hosts.


Andy Duncan

Andy is simply one of the finest writers in SF, and the best readers I’ve ever heard. I once had to follow him in a reading, and it was intimidating.

Sydney Duncan

Sydney, his wife, is one of the organizers of the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts. and I met them both when I attended my first ICFA a couple years ago. They’re both faculty in the Frostburg English department, and they invited me in to talk to a creative writing class (taught by  Brad Barkley) and to do a reading.

Plus they fed me! I had a lovely dinner with the Duncans, Gerry LaFemina (also a member of  the English department, who runs the Center for Creative Writing, and who paid for my dinner, despite having to miss dinner himself so that he could help a friend with a dead cat– it’s a long story), the poet Nina Forsythe and her mathematician husband Robert, and Keith — a retired member of the English department whose last name escapes me. Sorry, Keith.

Frostburg’s a lovely town, and I was jealous of their independent bookstore, Main Street Books, whose owner Fred sold books at the reading. (Well, not very many. Sorry about that, Fred.) I read my story “Unpossible”,  as well as the short-short “Digital,” which is about a man whose consciousness moves from behind his eyes to the index finger of his left hand. Thank God people laughed.

What I most enjoyed was sitting around in the afternoon at Sydney and Andy’s house, petting various dogs and cats, and talking about writing, Clarion, and teaching. They told me about the Harry Potter Effect they’re seeing — almost all their creative writing students are writing YA, and by that they mean fantasy YA. One of the students in Brad’s creative writing class told me that they’re all writing genre fiction. This is a complete turnaround from just a few years ago.

The students in the class asked a lot of questions, but here’s one of the most interesting. We were talking about cliches and genre conventions, and the student asked me, If you subvert all the cliches, isn’t that a cliche in itself? This started us talking about the use and abuse of cliches. I said that you always had to be aware of cliches, but they could also be used for effect. I wasn’t sure where my line was, of which cliches I’d allow in to a story and which I’d rule out, though I could talk about some of the cliches I’d intentionally subverted in my own work. But I couldn’t articulate what my line in the sand was, what I would allow or not allow. And I didn’t differentiate between the different kinds of cliches. Were we talking about genre conventions, plot conventions, cliched characters, cliched language…?

I wish I’d given them a better answer. I’m going to think more about this.


2 thoughts on “The Frostburg Effect

  1. Oddly, I was just in Frostburg to give a seminar. But nobody asked me about cliches. I was at the Appalachian Lab talking about science.

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