Hello, hello! Welcome to 2019’s first guest post. The illness of doom kept me from finding a victim (aka an awesome person who was willing to help me out) back in March, so I decided to wait and open with the incredible Lew Andrada who offered to sacrifice himself this month. A fellow alum of Stonecoast, we met briefly during my graduation semester/his first semester and have maintained a writerly and foodie friendship on the book of faces. The following post is a wonderful tale of how he fell down the academic writing well. Read on!
Academic Writing: A Style I Once Despised
When I began my MFA program for creative writing at Stonecoast back in the winter of 2015, I could barely contain my excitement. I had a rare opportunity to hone the craft that I had first begun practicing as a young kid watching Saturday morning cartoons. While my days of writing Ninja Turtles fan fiction were essentially over, Stonecoast offered a focus on popular fiction that would allow me to explore and expand my understanding of my favorite genres, specifically fantasy and horror. I remember looking forward to everything: workshops, lectures, hanging out with my fellow classmates and writers… But there was one thing that I had dreaded. Stonecoast requires a third semester project, one with a more academic bent to it than the creative projects necessary for the other semesters. Academic writing wasn’t one of my strong suits in undergrad. There’s very little wiggle room in terms of creativity, and the tone can often come off as “dry.” Granted, I was a biology major with an English minor, so the majority of papers I had to write were scientific in style and nature. When the time came for my third semester project, I had a lot of anxiety, especially since I was working with the esteemed Elizabeth Hand as my mentor.
I chose a topic that was related to my second semester project, which focused on writing short stories with a humorous bent. My essay explored the evolution of humor techniques from Victorian Era comic fantasy to contemporary comic fantasy written from the 1970’s and onward. I won’t lie; it was a stressful experience. I had a lot of reading and research to do in a short amount of time. The finished product, however, ended up being something I was quite proud of. After graduating from Stonecoast, I didn’t think I’d ever have to worry about academic writing again. I would focus on my fiction and go on to make millions of dollars a la Stephen King or J.K. Rowling. But wait! Just like any good story, there’s a plot twist.
I had previously heard about an academic conference focused on genre fiction from my second semester mentor, Theodora Goss. Some of my classmates (shout-out to the hammocks!) had presented at the International Conference of the Fantastic in the Arts (ICFA) and talked about the fascinating blend of fiction and scholarship that thrived at this event. I was interested but hesitant because of my anxiety with academic writing. There’s a lot of pressure when writing about “facts” because you have to get everything “right.” On top of that, I didn’t feel comfortable with the possibility of presenting a paper in front of a room full of academic hard-hitters. After some reassurance from my writer friends and some helpful examples from Dora, I decided to give academic writing another shot. I wrote an abstract on the effects of Spanish and U.S. colonialism on Philippine speculative fiction, received an acceptance letter, and tackled the paper with gusto. I presented the finished product at ICFA last year, and much to my surprise, it was received with enthusiasm. Fast forward to present day: 1) I attended ICFA again this year, presenting a paper on the writings of Nick Joaquín and how his style of Philippine magical realism explored the complicated relationships and dynamics of Filipino families; and 2) I’m currently working on two academic papers that have a strong shot at being published.
So how did I get here? As someone who has never really enjoyed academic writing, how did I end up pursuing this style as a part of my writing repertoire? I can think of at least two major reasons:
My paper topics reflect my reading interests. Academic writing requires a TON of reading. Fortunately, that’s something I enjoy even when it’s not required. In the case of the academic papers and essays I’ve written, I’ve always chosen a topic that results in me reading stuff I find interesting, whether it be comic fantasy or Philippine speculative fiction. Having an sense of curiosity for my chosen topic motivates me to get through the hardest part of academic writing, which is the stacks and stacks of reading material. Once that’s all done, the writing is so much easier to tackle. Love what you read, and the rest will take care of itself.
I have a personal connection to my chosen topics. For the past two conference papers I’ve written, the focus has been on Philippine literature. That’s become something near and dear to me. Being Filipino American and the son of immigrants, I’m always looking for ways to reconnect with my culture, my heritage, and my roots. By examining the history of Philippine speculative fiction, I feel like I’m learning more about myself, and at the same time, my resulting work provides awareness for a culture that’s often forgotten in the United States. The Philippines was a U.S. colony for almost 50 years. Because Philippine history is also U.S. history, I want to help promote Philippine literature. Much of it is written in English, which is the second official language of the island nation. Yet many Americans couldn’t name a single Filipino writer. While my research interests focus on speculative fiction, in a way, my papers are also providing an opportunity for people to discover new writers and hopefully expand their reading interests beyond what’s published in the United States.
So here’s the takeaway message. As a writer, you shouldn’t limit yourself to only writing in the styles you feel comfortable with. Don’t be afraid to take chances on projects that give you anxiety. Don’t be afraid to tackle imposing challenges. There’s a possibility that you may discover something that you can latch on to and make it all your own.
Lew Andrada received his BS in biology and minor in English from UCLA in 2006. He then received his MFA in creative writing – with an emphasis on popular fiction – from Stonecoast at the University of Southern Maine in 2017. He currently works as a research assistant at the UCLA Department of Radiology, a position he has held for more than 12 years. Aside from his regular day job, Lew also teaches World Literature and English Composition online for the University of the People. He has presented two academic papers at the International Conference on the Fantastic in the Arts: “The Lingering Effects of Colonialism on Modern Philippine Speculative Fiction” (2017) and “Nick Joaquín and the Tropical Gothic: How Magical Realism Explores Philippine Family Politics and Legacies” (2018). Lew was a fiction editor for the literary magazine, Stonecoast Review, for Issue 8 and also served as a first reader for over two years. His short fiction has been published in The UCLA Beat, The Literary Hatchet, and The Journal of Unlikely Entomology, among others. His home on the web can be found at lewandrada.com, where he blogs about writing, travelling, video games, and other random topics of interest.