Thursday, December 4, 2008


I'm wrapping up my teaching for the fall semester, and it's easy to complain when you get a stack of stories about what people did during their semester abroad or a big party that results in drunken hijinx, but there was something weird going on with a faction of the beginning fiction class.

I had students turn in stories about:

a) a woman who joins an "Experience Club" where one of the exercises is to retain as much water as possible.  So she makes careful incisions all over her body, takes a day-long bath, and fills herself up with water.  Later, she and her husband have sex and the water seeps out onto the sheets.

b) a woman who moves into a house where a group of slightly insidious, wish-granting gnomes live in chicken coops in the back yard.

c) a nine year old sent from the future to assassinate a senator in the hopes of preventing a meteor from hitting the earth.

d) a minister obsessed with a strange mating dance that he read about in National Geographic who ends up buying an elephant gun and then burning down his house.

I'd like to think the Aimee Bender, Brian Evenson, Kelly Link, and Padgett Powell stories we read in class had some effect on them but they might just be a strangely-wired bunch.


Molly Gaudry said...

Good class! Good class!

Matt Bell said...

That's an impressive batch! The first one is actually kind of upsetting, even in summary.

And chicken-cooped gnomes?

I teach fourth-graders creative writing once a week, and my students this week invented a plastic cup character whose father was recycled, leaving him orphaned, and a sinister planet with a "plethora of rainbows and unicorns." Good times.

Anson Mountain said...

I remember reading that you were working with 4th graders, which sounds really cool, though I think I'd be terrified. 1st graders, I can handle, but 4th graders seem old enough to specifically not like me. "A plethora of rainbows and unicorns" would be worth the anxiety attack though. Kids love orphan stories, don't they?

Congrats on the chapbook, which I'm looking forward to reading.

Matt Bell said...

You're absolutely right on the orphan stories-- It's really interesting. Half of the kids in class are writing about characters who are orphans. It must be the age they start dealing with death.

It does seem like my own favorite books from that time period were also about kids that were orphans or whose parents were never around (The Chronicles of Narnia come to mind right away, but I'm sure there are lots of others). I've never read Harry Potter, but he's an orphan too, right? I wonder why that's so prevalent in children's literature.

Thanks for the congrats on the chapbook-- I hope you like it! I can't wait to read your book as well.

Anson Mountain said...

I was trying to think about this a while back. Perhaps, if we are asking for some kind of conflict in a story, a child would immediately go to the big one, no parents. Other conflicts have recognizable resolutions. You only get one set of parents. It immediately creates a shared understanding among children. Without parents, what do we do? How do we get what we need? Is this bad or good? How does this shoe tying thing work again?

This is probably not correct at all and I am making children seem very very stupid, because kids aren't writing the kid stories like the Lemony Snicket books or as far back at The Secret Garden. So why do adults think kids will respond to orphans?

Oh well, enough of this. I'm going to watch some mixed martial arts in the fifteen free minutes I have while my wife feeds the baby.

Scott Garson said...

"Other conflicts have recognizable resolutions. You only get one set of parents. It immediately creates a shared understanding among children. Without parents, what do we do?"

i think this is so on target. last yr, when she was 5, i read my kid the start of James and the Giant Peach one night, but she stopped me after a few pages, after she'd verified that the parents had in fact been hit by a bus or whatever, and had died, and that James, according to the story, was truly going to have to live with these miserable aunts. She was like, No. No.

But I tried again this year and she loved it.

Rebecca said...

I'm thinking they're just a 'strangely-wired bunch.' Haha :)