Saturday 29 September 2012

Interview with Philip Sharp, Author of Not in the Wind, Earthquake, or Fire

Today brings another interview, this time with writer and retired soldier Philip Sharp, who chats about his writing and his book, a non-fiction account of his tour of duty in Iraq.

Interview with Philip Sharp

Why don’t you begin by telling my readers a bit about yourself?

I was born in Elkins, WV and moved around quite a bit between there and Florida while growing up. I graduated from Apopka High School in 1990 and immediately left for the Army. In the Army I served as an Infantry soldier for 20 years where I graduated from Ranger School, completed 22 parachute jumps, and served as a Drill Sergeant. I have been to a variety of locations to include South Korea and Panama and deployed to Iraq on three separate occasions. Recently, I retired in July of this year from active duty service. Currently I am creating an all-natural farm and serving in church ministries.

Your book, Not in the Wind, Earthquake, or Fire, is historical non-fiction, an account of your second tour in Iraq from 2006 to 2007. Can you tell us how you came to write it?

Most of it was written while I was there and did not realize it at the time. I kept a journal while I was deployed throughout most of it. About a year after I returned I began to write a book to give an account from a combat soldier’s view, one that seemed to be missing at the time. At first I wrote from memory and by talking with others, but always went back to the journal to guide me. I then decided to put the journal in the book and write around it.

You served for 20 years in the US Army Infantry. Other than providing the subject matter for your book, how do you think those experiences influenced you as a writer and in the creation of your book?

Good question. I wanted this book to be from the view of an Infantry soldier. Experiencing these events as one, I believe, gives a far different outlook than you would otherwise see. The influence of my service certainly affected what and how I wrote.

What would you like people to experience from reading your book?

I would like for readers to feel, not just see, a glimpse of what combat soldiers endured in their daily lives in Iraq. It provides the experience from the best source, a first-hand account from someone on the ground. Readers will see triumphs and victories, sorrows and defeats, and an in-depth look at holding on to hope when none is easily given. Readers will get an honest and non-glossed version of the war, a recounting of its costs, and an appeal to see God in our circumstances. 

In the process of writing your book, were there any surprises, revelations or things you didn’t expect?

Oh yes! First off, it took longer than I expected. It was half written in the first place, because of the journal. It took three long years though. As I would read through my journal again it was like reliving the deployment all over again. At times I had to force my way through it. Also getting the book published was an education in itself. I paid my fair share of the fool’s tax in the process. 

You’ve also published articles and war game simulations for Strategy & Tactics magazine as well as written a column for Modern War magazine. Did you find the change from writing short articles to a book length manuscript difficult?

Writing a lengthy book is certainly more of a challenge. It is even more challenging when you are emotionally attached to the subject matter. There is certainly more editing involved and constant revisions. Formatting issues, in itself, are enough to dishearten the faint of heart. 

Now that you have written a book of non-fiction, would you ever consider writing a novel? Possibly a military thriller?

It is a possibility indeed. I have no inspirations as of yet, but could certainly use my experiences to come up with a tangible and realistic type thriller in the future.

What are some of the things you like to do when not writing?

I love tending to my plants, animals, and doing work around my place.

What are your future writing plans? Will there be more books from you?

Presently, I still write for Modern War magazine. There will probably be more books in the future, though they all may not be military in nature. I would like to write one on the basics of managing a small farm based on more natural principles. There is also desire in me to write on tactics and the training of Infantry soldiers in hopes that others will learn from our experiences, both positive and negative, and ensure our soldiers and leaders are prepared for future conflicts.

About the Author:

Philip Sharp has served for 20 years in the US Army Infantry during which he graduated from Ranger School, completed 22 parachute jumps, and served as a Drill Sergeant. He has worked in a variety of locations to include South Korea and the jungles of Panama. He deployed to Iraq three separate times from 2003 until 2010. He has published articles and war game simulations in Strategy & Tactics magazine and currently is a contributing columnist for Modern War magazine. Philip is retired from active duty service and now lives in West Virginia with his wife Heather and four children were they are creating an all-natural farm and serving in church ministries.

You can find out more about Philip and his book here:

Wednesday 26 September 2012

A Guest Post: The Books of Randy Attwood

 Author Randy Attwood stops by today, to share about his books, a collection of edgy novels:

 The Books of Randy Attwood

Crazy About You

I grew up on the grounds of a Kansas mental hospital because my father was the dentist for Larned State Hospital and the State provided our housing there. You grow up around crazy people and they don't seem so bizarre to you. Seemed natural that I'd write a story based in that environment, and so Crazy About You got started. Brad Adams is going to have a week in his life that grows him up faster than he ever wanted to. Reviewers have called it a coming-of-age, young adult; some see it has a mystery/thriller. I used to get upset when people asked how much of what I wrote was true. Did they think I didn't have any imagination? Later, I realized it was a high compliment. The words on paper had created a reality for them and they thought all I was doing was describing it. That, for me, is what writing is all about: using words on paper to create a reality for the reader. They think you are just describing a reality and don't realize that the words are creating that reality.

One More Victim

I started writing the poem that ends One More Victim about 1975. It was February. I had looked out the window of the back door of our small house in Hutchinson, KS and saw crows pecking holes in our black garbage sacks.

First stanza came easy enough:

In February the crows come,
To pick though my garbage,
Make holes in the black plastic sack
And scatter its entrails over the snow.

For some reason that prompted an idea for a story that I started, and then stopped, and then went back to, and then stopped. That continued for about 25 years. And when I finished the story – turned out to be a three-part novella – the end of the poem came to me. I consider it my Heart of Darkness.

Because the Holocaust is a critical element in the plot, the story is classified as world literature, Jewish. And the few times I have offered it for free, it hit the #1 free download Amazon ranking in that category. A couple of times it has reached #92 in the paid category. I've used One More Victim as the title of a paperback POD collection that also contains "The Saltness of Time" and three short stories.

SPILL: Big Oil + Sex = Game On

SPILL is a political satire: a comedy that was written out of despair. When you write for 30 years and have such little publishing success to show for it, you do tend to doubt yourself. I thought what I was doing was pretty good, but I might be self-delusional. So I decided to write a comedy. If you made a reader laugh, the writing succeeded. I had a bar acquaintance who worked as a small-package deliveryman. He mentioned one time that his delivery that day was taking the head of a dog to the state veterinary school for rabies testing. That whole scene stuck with me. And gas prices were soaring. And I, and my whole department, had been laid off at the educational institution where I had worked for 16 years. I had the time. The SPILL wrote itself in three months. I've never written any novel that quickly. And it gave me a lot of laughs. It also secured me my agent. Haven't sold it yet, but they come close. It also got me into epublishing. I'd always thought self-publishing was an admission of failure. But a couple editors at a couple houses encouraged my agents to urge me to do SPILL an ebook. So I did, and thought, heck, why not that other stuff that's just sitting in my file cabinets. Now I have 13 works live with three more to come. Here are the first two paragraphs from SPILL:

Fred Underwood was driving his 15-year-old, once-white, now rust-speckled Nissan pickup six miles over the speed limit on his way to deliver the head of a dog to the state’s vet school for rabies testing when several things happened to him.
He saw a sign announcing—as though proud of the fact—that gasoline at the upcoming station was selling for $4.15 a gallon. He looked into the rear view mirror when he heard a siren and confirmed that, indeed, a police car was chasing him. He uttered, “Shit,” but then felt his body swept with euphoria: an idea smacked him that would make him rich.

Rabbletown: Life in These United Christian States of Holy America

Long before 1984 arrived, I had a dream of writing a novel called 2084. I constructed long biographies and future histories to show how by the time 2084 arrived the religious right would have taken complete power over America and rule her with a Bible in each fist. I thought it would be a long book and be told in tales from various decades. And it came to nothing. Again it showed me that outlining was no use for me; it actually hindered my writing. But I had a beginning segment of a mason returning home after a 14 hour day working on construction a huge cathedral for the Church of the Evangels, who ruled America. I finally just continued with that opening scene show what life was like for Bob and his wife and their 14 children, one of them Bobby, who had an amazing memory for Bible verses.

Here's that opening scene for Rabbletown:

Bob Crowley, drunk and very tired, almost tripped over the broken toy truck before kicking it out of his way then trudging around the side of the house to the back of a former duplex that now housed six families of 50-some Christian souls. Work on the Great Christian State of Kansas Cathedral went on from dawn to dusk, almost a 14-hour, hot, summer day. After Bob had made the long climb back to the ground, he stopped at one of the small booze-holes at the edge of Rabbletown to drink its oily-smelling, stomach-wrenching, blessedly mind-numbing alcohol before going home. Now, in the doorway to his basement apartment, he burped and smelled the sour acid of his empty stomach. Pulling the burlap sack of tools off his shoulder and dropping it to the floor when he entered, the noise of his own household assaulted him. The twins came, screaming their welcome, and he picked the bag of tools back up, swung, and caught one of them on the side of the head, sending him sprawling sideways and setting up a wail of tears and pain that caused his wife to yell, “Stop beatin’ the kids, will ya?”
“Well keep the little retards away from me.”

Doesn't sound like a pleasant, Christian household does it?

Blow Up the Roses

I have never known the end of a story when I start it. It seems knowing the end is a fraud upon the reader. I start with a scene, or an idea, or a character, and then learn about the characters and follow what they do. When I found out the horror of what Mrs. Keene's renter was doing in Blow Up the Roses, I almost just quit writing it. But some characters demand their existence: this serial, pedophile killer tied me to my chair and extracted words from me as sure as blood from his victims. Blow Up the Roses is being published by Curiosity Quills and should soon be available as a paperback POD and an ebook. The language of flowers can be brutally frank.

Here's the chilling opening scene:

Mr. Brown closed the door on the whimpers and walked up the stairs to take a shower. He stood under the stream of water and leaned his head against the wall of the shower stall. "Mommy loves me. Mommy loveth me. Mommy loveth me," he whispered to himself as his heart slowed. Those pictures should really be something, he thought to himself. As good as these stills would be, though, he knew there was no way they would show the wriggling. That's what he loved, how they wriggled trying to get away from him. The audio cassette tape he supplied with the pictures made quite a package, but it was time to get into video-taping. He could invest some of the profits from the stills in good equipment. He already had the lights. If only he had a partner. But who could you trust in a thing like this? Sure there were plenty of others out there, if the way his distributor bought his picture-cassette tape packages were any guide, but how could you find one you could trust to work the camera? He'd just have to find some way to rig the camera in a static position. If he could afford it, he could buy about three cameras and ring the area, then splice the tape. He could be as careful as he was with the still pictures and the cassettes to ensure that nothing in them identified him. Maybe they offered some lessons on video tape splicing at the community college. They taught everything else there.
He reached for the soap, brought it to a lather in his hands, and then washed the blood from his penis.

You can check out Randy's books on Amazon

Sunday 16 September 2012

Guest Post: Three Things I Never Expected to Do with My Creative Writing Degree

Today another guest, Angelita Williams, pops by to share some of her writing experience:

3 Things I Never Expected to Do with My Creative Writing Degree

Every year, thousands of students across the country flock to colleges and universities in pursuit of higher education. Some pursue degrees in science, others study math and then there's the few who gravitate toward the writing and literary disciplines. I, myself, was part of that last group when I was a student fresh out of high school. All my life I had loved to write, so declaring a major in creative writing seemed like a no-brainer.

Sure, I heard all the horror stories and warnings about choosing such a non-specific field, but what did I care? I was 18 and ready to take on the world. All that job stuff would figure itself out later, I had learning and living to do. Besides, why would I force myself to switch to a major like engineering or accounting when all of my friends studying those subjects were downright miserable all of the time?

So I stuck it out, and graduated right on time with a pristine creative writing degree in hand. As many graduates are, I was a mess of mixed emotions—part excited, part relieved and part TERRIFIED about my future. Compared to the friends I mentioned before who pursued more traditional paths, I was a bit directionless when I graduated. They all had jobs lined up, or knew exactly what grad schools they'd be going to, but I, on the other hand was still desperately applying for any job I could find that even remotely required my writing skills.

Luckily it all worked out, but little did I know then that I would end up happy in a lucrative job doing what I love. I held a lot of random jobs, missed a few opportunities and did some downright strange things before I made it, and just want the college students and recent grads of today to realize that.

Below is a list of three of the most unexpected things I did before I got to this point in my career.

Helped Cover Up a Corporate Scandal

Since it's the one I'm probably least proud of, I figured I'd better get it out of the way first. For a brief stint right out of college, I landed a job with one of the largest engineering firms in the world at the time. I was hired as a writer/editor for their communications department and, although I wasn't exactly a fan of what the company did, I loved my specific job. I spent the majority of my days editing marketing materials, writing and researching articles and interviewing industry-leading decision makers, all to help develop promotional content.

Sure I couldn't get too creative, but I was getting paid to write—and getting paid well at that. Ask anyone who longs to be a writer and they already know a not-so-impressive paycheck comes with the territory. So I definitely felt I had hit the jackpot, until I started noticed some questionable things going on around the office.

Executives were always on edge. Our media relations department was working around the clock and we all started receiving random inquiries from outside parties—journalists, lawyers, the like. Turns out, one of our big wigs had been engaging in some less-than-legal activities during his time overseas, and there was evidence to prove it.

Suddenly, instead of writing about project updates or community activities, I was drafting damage control press releases, engaging in media training and deliberately omitting details from documents in the interest of the company. The stress finally got to me and I threw in the towel, because ethically, I knew what I was doing was wrong.

I was using my writing skills to mislead the public all for the sake of the mighty dollar, disgust doesn't even begin to describe what I felt toward myself. So, I cut my ties with the company and to this day know it was the right thing to do. Talk about an unexpected job. Thankfully the others are much more entertaining and less gut-wrenching.

Write for a Number-One Radio Show

Shortly after my stint in Corporate America, I found myself working for one of the biggest media groups in my city. They owned several radio stations and even an ad firm, and I worked in their promotions department. My primary job was to assist with events and giveaways the stations coordinated, until one day I was asked to fill in as a "sidekick" during a live broadcast. The host's usual partner had gotten unexpectedly sick and they needed a female voice to go over the air. Being the only girl in the area that was employed by the company they threw me a set of headphones and a microphone and shoved me on-air.

The broadcast wasn't exactly smooth at first, but as it progressed I got more comfortable and subsequently let my personality shine through. The host was impressed, but more importantly so was the program director. Later that week he arranged a meeting with me and told me to stop wasting my time in the promotions department. He felt I had raw talent and real wit that their top-rated morning show could use.

So the next week, I was working from 4 in the morning until noon, writing show content, interview questions and more for the city's number-one radio show. It was such a whirlwind. I couldn't believe that not even a month ago I was lugging around station equipment and now my words that I had WRITTEN were being heard by thousands of people all around me. To say I was thrilled would be an understatement.

At the time, if I had had my choice I would have stayed there forever, but unfortunately, as is the nature of that business, my run was shorter than I would have liked. The show eventually lost its draw and ratings slipped. Before I knew it contracts weren't being renewed and my professional future was once again up in the air. I eventually lost my job, but the company offered me a part-time position so that I could stick around in case something else opened up. However, I knew then and there this was NOT an industry I wanted to stay with. Sure it was fun while it lasted, but I could never see myself continuously dealing with that sort of instability and uncertainty , which brings me to my next position.

Draft Text Messages for My Boss

After my stint with radio, I decided I was much better suited for an average, everyday desk job. Sure radio was exciting, but I knew I needed to be somewhere stable for my growing family. So I took a job as a personal assistant for a very rich, very old oil executive. At first, the bulk of my work centered around scheduling and memos—then he decided to get a smartphone.

Some of you might be thinking this is great, good for him for embracing technology. Only problem was I was the one who got stuck with the task of teaching him how to use it. During my time there he never really caught on, but that was no surprise to me. A majority of my days would be spent with his phone in hand, typing out texts as he dictated them to me—yeah, exciting I know. I had a hard time believing this guy was for real. But, I guess when you've got that much money you don't really care anymore.

Needless to say that job didn't exactly work out either. I quit shortly after that and now find myself here, doing what I love—writing.

This piece is not meant to deter future students from pursuing their passions, but rather serve as a window into reality. No, you will likely not land that perfect job right after college and no, you will not make an amazing salary right off the bat, but with a little persistence and hard work you just might be able to do what you love for a living. Isn't that what we're all after anyway?

Angelita Williams is a freelance writer and education enthusiast. She strives to instruct her readers and enrich their lives and welcomes you to contact her at if you have any questions or comments.

Wednesday 12 September 2012

Million Dollar Murder: A Review of It's Murder, My Son by Lauren Carr

My Book Review of It's Murder, My Son: 

It’s Murder, My Son by Lauren Carr is an entertaining mystery romp.  It’s perfect for a rainy day read or a relaxing weekend.

The first book in the Mac Faraday mystery series, It’s Murder, My Son, begins with a new chapter in former homicide detective Mac Faraday’s life.  Recently divorced, he finds himself the heir to a multimillion dollar fortune of a late mystery author, a woman who was the birth mother he never knew.  And along with the money and property, he inherits a couple of murders and a whole lot of trouble.

I enjoyed reading this novel.  It had a nice pace, charming and believable characters and reasonably good conflict, while never losing its sense of fun.  The main character of Mac Faraday was especially likable and I was pleased with the way the author had him interact with his new world.  There was no smooth transition to the world of money; he behaved like an uncomfortable fish out of water.  I also liked the main female character/love interest of Archie; she’s smart funny and there’s a nice chemistry with Mac.

I did have a few slight problems with the storyline in that I found some of the plot points a bit easy to figure out, although the author does give the reader plausible reasons as to why the characters haven’t come to the same conclusions.  Also, there were one or two twists that I didn’t see coming, so the plotline considerations are minor quibbles.  Overall I can give this book a recommend.

It’s Murder, My Son can be found on Amazon in Print and Kindle formats

Saturday 8 September 2012

Interview With Poet And Writer, John Lavan

Today we have a wonderful guest stopping by for an interview, poet and blogger, John Lavan.  Enjoy!

Interview with John Lavan

Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.

I have a lovely wife and three sons. I live mostly in Yorkshire, in the UK; sometimes in Cumbria (UK). I work as a management consultant and travel a lot, so I write many of my poems on trains.

As a poet, where do you find inspiration for your poems?

My eldest son, Andrew has Down’s Syndrome and he is my greatest muse. Love between father and son is not well explored in literature and I ‘go for the mystery of love’ in many of my poems. Of course, my other family members also inspire me! That’s why the collection is called ‘Familial’.

You’ve published a collection of your poems, Familial.  Can you tell us a bit about the book?

I have 2 blogs: and with over 600 poems there. I like to write a poem every other day. I selected the poems for Familial from those on the blog with most hits and comments. So Familial is a democratic collection! Apostrophe Books found me on Twitter (@Toltecjohn) and eight weeks later Familial: Selected Poems ( was out! That’s magic.

What drew you to write poetry?

In my early 50’s, I re-married and started writing short poems to my new wife. I found I had some talent and my passion grew – for studying, reading and writing poetry. It is indeed spellbinding.

What is your favourite aspect of writing? Your least favourite?

I like the first creative expression – forcing out the poem onto the page from an inner feeling. That can make me grunt out loud on a crowded train. There is no least favourite. Crafting the poem from a first draft is also fun.

You have a significant blog and Twitter following.  How do think social media has impacted you as a writer?

It has opened up grand and global possibility! I remember reading somewhere in a creative writing book ‘The internet poets are coming!’ and I guess I decided to become one. I love to believe that ‘a cuppa and a Kindle’ can associate reading a couple of poems with a coffee (without dragging paper around). We could reframe the public’s appetite for poems as a way of starting to feel! … to easily feel alive!

Do you have any advice for aspiring poets?

Write every day. No exceptions – and write about what’s happening now. Pinch ideas from other poets.

Do you any authors you admire, or have inspired you?

Emily Dickinson – she has unmatched insight, mystery, compression and feeling.

What’s next for you?

An epic poem – I’m half way into it. First, though, a cup of coffee and a Kindle!

Familial is available from:
and will soon be available from 130+ other retailers, through

Tuesday 4 September 2012

Interview with Frank Fiore

 Today we have a fascinating interview with the intriguing writer Frank Fiore...

An Interview With Frank Fiore

Why don’t you begin by sharing a little about yourself.
Though most of my life I’ve been an entrepreneur, I’ve always enjoyed being a teacher. In fact I hold a Masters Degree in Education. This ability to help people learn translates into the kind of books I write. My non-fiction books are all about learning how to market on the Internet, how to start and online business and how to shop online. I’ve sold over 50,000 copies of those types of books. 

You’ve written a thriller series, Chronicles of Jeremy Nash.  Can you tell us about it?
Jeremy Nash is a noted debunker and skeptic of conspiracy theories, urban legends and myths is drawn into pursuing them.  Each Nash chronicle in the series is a thriller that sends Nash on an investigation of these myths and legends. Though he doesn’t believe in any of them, he is forced into pursuing them by threats to the lives of his family members or himself or threats to his reputation. The Chronicles is three book series that is available on the Nook, Kindle and Apple platforms. I am currently running a promotion for the books. Two of them are selling for only .99 cents and SEED, the second book is being offered as a serial of 15 parts that can be downloaded from Smashwords for free. 

Like myself, readers love challenges and my stories seek to challenge their minds. The kind of stories that reflect the personal challenges that they face in their day-to-day lives.  My stories, in many ways, reflect the challenges I had in my life. The back-story, so to speak, of the novel. I hope my fiction through the characters and what they face in my stories, can open the door a little wider and cast light on how we deal with the world and face it’s challenges.

You’ve written numerous successful non-fiction books.  Why did you decide to write fiction?
I’m turning my talents to writing fiction to both entertain and to teach.  That kind of writing is called geek fiction. Geek fiction breaks the boundaries of formulaic writing. It introduces intellectual acumen and provides a thoughtful, entertaining diversion for the reader. While the genre niches I write in can be varied – thrillers, action/adventures/ speculative history, short stories, and mainstream fiction - my books challenge readers and surprises them with well-paced, well researched and compelling stories.

My readers have higher-than-average IQs or advanced educations, and are looking for intellectual challenges and extraordinary entertainment that is well-crafted fiction transcending traditional genre boundaries, providing both literary character development and an interesting plot.

Was it difficult to transition from writing non-fiction to writing a fiction series?
In a way, my non-fiction taught me how to create a logical progression of ideas.  In the case of fiction, it helped me create an entertaining and logical plot. But though I can write interesting characters and unpredictable plots, I need to have a story polisher ‘beef up’ my prose. I use one for every one of my stories.

Early in your career you founded, wrote and edited the New Times newspaper.  What was that experience like?
It was my very first foray in to the entrepreneurial world. I knew nothing about the newspaper business – less about journalism. But several college dropouts and myself came up with an idea for an alternative newspaper in a very traditional community. It hit and nerve and took off.  Though I left the paper early to pursue other opportunities, it is now a multistate operation and part of the establishment now.

You’ve worked as a researcher, designed and taught courses and seminars on the future of society, technology and business, and served on several vital committees.  How much has this social and educational work influenced your writing?
Much. I have always been interested in all the disciplines and have read extensively on many subjects. This knowledge acquired over the years acts as source material for my novels like CYBERKILL, the Chronicles of Jeremy Nash.

Can you tell us about a few of your other books?
My first novel is CyberKill. It’s a techno-thriller that answers the question “How far will an artificial intelligence go for revenge?” It’s garnered 5 star ratings on Amazon.

What advice would you give beginning writers?
Don’t write for money or fame. Write because you enjoy telling a story. If that story is good enough, the money and fame will come. 

What’s your next book or project?
I’ve just finished a novel called Murran. Murran is the story of a young African-American boy named Trey coming of age in the 1980s, and his rite of passage to adulthood. Trey is a member of a ‘crew’ in Brooklyn and is enticed into helping a violent street gang. He is eventually framed for murder and flees with his high school teacher to the teacher’s Maasai village in Kenya. Trey goes through the Maasai warrior’s rite of passage, becomes a young shaman, and returns to America to confront and defeat the gang leader that framed him.

How can people find out more about your book? 
Go to my author site at and my blog at 

Saturday 1 September 2012

Teaching Sci-Fi Stories in a College Lit Class

Another guest blogger joins us today, Maria Rainier, to talk about using sci-fi in the classroom.

Teaching Sci-Fi Stories in a College Lit Class

Until recently, I was a graduate student who taught English at a large public university in the American South (I won’t name it, because of what I’m about to write in the next sentence, and because I’m paranoid). After two years of teaching freshman composition (which is just about the most dry, boring, futile, and demoralizing job one could hope for), I had a chance to teach Introduction to Fiction. Yay! Fiction! My passion in life, my favorite avocation, the whole reason I went to grad school in the first place. Now I would finally be able to inculcate the younger generation in the love of fancy prose and made-up stories.

We had a big anthology for a textbook, the Norton Anthology of Short Fiction, with hundreds of short stories representing the whole world’s literary traditions (all translated into English, of course). I tried to organize my syllabus thematically, starting with classic “literary” workshop-style short stories by the likes of Carver, Cheever, Updike, then moving on to some older European and American stuff, and bridging into Halloween (it was a fall course) by means of Kafka and Poe. Finally, I did science fiction, and some experimental stories by Borges, Cortazar, and Nabokov.

The experimental stuff was a mixed bag, some of it too difficult for my sophomores...but the sci-fi ones went over like gangbusters, which pleased me to no end because this was the genre that had gotten me into literature to begin with. I don’t know if “The Lottery” by Shirley Jackson counts as science fiction. I suppose it does. In any case, it’s eerie, an alternate-reality story with a lot to say about our real world, like all the best speculative work. The horror stuff went over big (who doesn’t like Poe, you know?) but here, as with Jackson, a problem I hadn’t considered was that they’d mostly read “Fall of the House of Usher” already in high school.

“The Enormous Radio” by John Cheever could technically be considered sci-fi, though to explain why might be a bit of a spoiler (hint: the title object). You should check it out yourselves for an example of very restrained, realistic fiction about technology.

The biggest reaction the class had to any story was to “The Veldt” by Ray Bradbury, the famous and colorful sci-fi chiller about children doing unspeakable things with their virtual-reality simulator. The class immediately drew the connection with their own electronic upbringings and it was kind of amazing how much the story’s concerns hadn’t dated. We also watched two Bradbury-related YouTube videos on the projector screen: one a great documentary/interview on the (voluble, affable, charismatic) writer and his career, and one a fairly inappropriate music video by a fan entitled “F--- Me, Ray Bradbury,” which had them laughing uproariously and chattering all the way out the door.

It was the best class we’d had all semester. This year, when Bradbury died, I thought, what a testament to a writer and a human being that his work still had this kind of impact on kids and adults over half a century later. I felt the same way recently when they named Curiosity’s landing site on Mars after him. Bradbury may be dead, but the spirit of science fiction is alive and well. May it live on into the future and beyond the solar system.

Maria Rainier fell in love with blogging before it was cool, and now she's lucky enough to make a living out of it. She generally writes about subjects related to online education, including for, where she expounds on universities that offer competitive online associate degrees and online bachelor's degrees for the 21st century college student. Please share your comments with her!

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