Guest Post! Academic Writing: A Style I Once Despised

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!

62255085_446703712808940_7055845546010869760_n
Lew Andrada!

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.

download (3)
They knew Lew could do it!

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.

a35e2863e1779ec525d9b52971e2bedd

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.

6f79cabe247b698eacf242dea7c2e2ea


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.

A to Z: Quotes

Hello, hello!  Today, I thought I would compile a list of quotes from various authors (ranging from A to Z).  Some will be old favorites and others will be new things I find during my searches.  What are some of your favorite writerly quotes or quotes from authors?  Feel free to share here or on my social media pages!

Quotefancy-22200-3840x2160

A. Isaac Asimov: “Those people who think they know everything are a great annoyance to those of us who do.”

B. Judy Blume: “Each of us must confront our own fears, must come face to face with them. How we handle our fears will determine where we go with the rest of our lives. To experience adventure or to be limited by the fear of it.”

C. Angela Carter: “Reading a book is like re-writing it for yourself. You bring to a novel, anything you read, all your experience of the world. You bring your history and you read it in your own terms.”

D. Roald Dahl: “I understand what you’re saying, and your comments are valuable, but I’m gonna ignore your advice.”

E. Ralph Waldo Emerson: “Do not go where the path may lead, go instead where there is no path and leave a trail.”

6813-F-Scott-Fitzgerald-Quote-That-is-part-of-the-beauty-of-all

F. F. Scott Fitzgerald: “That is part of the beauty of all literature. You discover that your longings are universal longings, that you’re not lonely and isolated from anyone. You belong.”

G. Louise Gluck: “Of two sisters one is always the watcher, one the dancer.”

H. Ernest Hemingway: “Always do sober what you said you’d do drunk. That will teach you to keep your mouth shut.”

I. John Irving: “Your memory is a monster; you forget—it doesn’t. It simply files things away. It keeps things for you, or hides things from you—and summons them to your recall with will of its own. You think you have a memory; but it has you!”

J. James Joyce: “History…is a nightmare from which I am trying to awake.”

gPlealb.png

K. Stephen King: “People think that I must be a very strange person. This is not correct. I have the heart of a small boy. It is in a glass jar on my desk.”

L. H.P. Lovecraft: “The oldest and strongest emotion of mankind is fear, and the oldest and strongest kind of fear is fear of the unknown.”

M. A.A. Milne: “If ever there is tomorrow when we’re not together, there is something you must always remember. You are braver than you believe, stronger than you seem, and smarter than you think. But the most important thing is, even if we’re apart, I’ll always be with you.”

N. Friedrich Nietzsche: “People who comprehend a thing to its very depths rarely stay faithful to it forever. For they have brought its depths into the light of day: and in the depths there is always much that is unpleasant to see.”

O. George Orwell: “Each generation imagines itself to be more intelligent than the one that went before it, and wiser than the one that comes after it.”

P. Edgar Allan Poe: “I became insane, with long intervals of horrible sanity.”

Q. Paul Quarrington: “Everybody is damaged goods. Everybody got bumps and dents, ja? But sometimes two people fit together, and the bumps go into the dents, and you have a whole thing like a potato.”

5926-J-K-Rowling-Quote-It-is-impossible-to-live-without-failing-at.jpg

R. J.K. Rowling: “It is impossible to live without failing at something, unless you live so cautiously that you might as well not have lived at all – in which case, you fail by default.”

S. Maggie Stiefvater: “There are moments that you’ll remember for the rest of your life and there are moments that you think you’ll remember for the rest of your life, and it’s not often they turn out to be the same moment.”

T. J.R.R. Tolkien: “I don’t know half of you half as well as I should like; and I like less than half of you half as well as you deserve.”

U. John Updike: “The world keeps ending but new people too dumb to know it keep showing up as if the fun’s just started.”

V. Jules Verne: “We are of opinion that instead of letting books grow moldy behind an iron grating, far from the vulgar gaze, it is better to let them wear out by being read.”

W. Oscar Wilde: “Always forgive your enemies; nothing annoys them so much.”

X. Xue Xinran: “Everybody says women are like water. I think it’s because water is the source of life, and it adapts itself to its environment. Like women, water also gives of itself wherever it goes to nurture life…”

Y. Jane Yolen: “Literature is a textually transmitted disease, normally contracted in childhood.”

Z. Sarah Zettel: “The true lady treats the whole world as her dance floor…”

Plotter Vs. Pantser

Hello, hello!  It’s been awhile since I’ve really written something writing related, so I thought I should probably get back to that.  After a long day of errands and asking people what I should blog about, a friend brought up the question of whether I’m a plotter or a pantser.  Basically, do I outline my stories or do I let them grow organically.  I’m sure I’ve at least glanced over this at some point in the past two years (I’ve kept a blog going for two years???  Who’d’ve thunk it?), but I decided to take a minute to dig deeper into this seeming dichotomy.

issue7
From So You WriteI still don’t know all the abbreviations, so don’t feel bad.

First, let’s take a look at plotters.  These are the people who get a story idea, then spend hours or days or weeks or longer plotting out all of the details and creating outlines and character bios and the like (and even charts or graphs for the hardcore plotters).  Some of them plan every little thing ahead of time.  Others write out the broad strokes (major plot points and characters and all of that) but leave connecting the dots until the actual writing process.  This works really well for some people, but it’s not the only way to write.

leqoiq575v_1437536694125
Just one example of plotting, courtesy of J.K. Rowling.

On the other hand, you have pantsers.  These are the people who get a story idea and just go with it.  Characters and adventures come and go organically as the story unfolds on the page.  Many of them have no notes beyond the story itself.  Some take notes as they go, so they don’t have to keep scrolling through their story to remember what someone was wearing or whatever.  Others plot things out in their head as they go, but allow the story to ultimately dictate what happens.  They aren’t afraid of getting sidetracked by a character who refuses to do what was planned.  In other words, they fly by the seat of their pants.

As different as these two things are, I think they’re more two ends of a spectrum than separate identities.  I certainly know people who are strict plotters and others who refuse to even attempt the restrictions of planning things out, but I prefer taking the middle ground.  I fully admit that I have more pantser tendencies than not.  I’ve always had trouble creating (and adhering to) outlines.  All of my stories start organically and I prefer to let them unfold on their own, but I do get stuck sometimes when I do it that way.  That’s when I switch to plotter mode.  I write a rant (I literally whine and complain and generally grump during this whole process) to myself figuring out where I want the story to go, then once I get back on track, I switch back to pantser mode.  There’s no shame in swinging both ways.

spockkirk_ed6bcd_4777877
How most pantsers feel when dealing with unruly characters.

There’s no one right way to be a writer.  Anyone who tells you otherwise is a Liar McLiarson, so don’t listen to them.  Don’t be afraid to try plotting if you’re a pantser.  It can really help things flow better when you’re stuck.  Also, try flying by the seat of your pants occasionally if you’re a plotter.  It can be freeing and new, exciting things could happen.

What are your thoughts on plotters vs. pantsers?  Which one are you?  Or do you dabble in both?  As always, leave a comment here or on my social media pages!

Until next week!

Ten Books (Or Series) That Have Stuck With Me

Hello, hello!  I haven’t been feeling 100% the last couple of days, so I thought I would make today’s post short and simple.  We all have books or movies or songs or works of art or whatever that stick with us.  You know the ones.  Those things that we randomly think of even though we haven’t seen or thought of them in years.  The things that pop up in our lives at the most unexpected of moments.  They helped shape who we are today, for better or worse.  That’s what I’m going to talk about today.  Namely, the books or series that have stuck with me.

d6de63e8a6f4d617ee170e163589916a
It’s kind of like that.

1. The Girl Who Loved Tom Gordon by Stephen King.  It was the first book I remember reading that I didn’t actually have to read.  Pretty much everything by King sticks with me, though.

2. The Harry Potter series by J.K. Rowling.  I don’t think there’s anyone around my age who wasn’t at least exposed to Harry Potter.  It’s one of those series that keeps surprising you, even after you’ve read it for the third time.

3. Angel Sanctuary by Kaori Yuki.  I know it’s a manga (Japanese graphic novel) series, but it taught me so much growing up.  I learned that, sometimes, the cruelest of demons comes packaged as an angel, and vice versa.

grouppic3
From Angel Sanctuary.

 4. A Separate Peace by John Knowles.  I honestly don’t even remember liking this book, but I find myself thinking about it quite often.  It’s one of those books that I’m afraid to read again, in case it ruins the nostalgia.

5. The Seance by Joan Lowery Nixon.  This is another of those books that I haven’t read since I was small (it was my first “pick your own book” book report in elementary school).  It was my first foray into the whole spooky mystery thing.

6. Ransom by Lois Duncan.  Again, this was something I read in elementary school.  It was the first book I remember reading that had a disabled kid.  He wasn’t in a wheelchair or anything, but he was different from everyone else and it was strange to see someone else deal with that kind of stuff.

7. Neverwhere by Neil Gaiman.  I fell in love with Gaiman’s writing because of this book.  It will always hold a special place in my heart, even if some of his other stuff was less than impressive.

51io310opcl__sx307_bo1204203200_
I should read it again.

 8. Anne of Green Gables and most of the other Anne Shirley books by L.M. Montgomery.  Yes, I went through a stage where reading about the everyday antics of Anne entertained me.  I still think of her fondly every once in a while.

9. His Dark Materials trilogy by Philip Pullman.  This is another series that forced me to ask questions.  It makes me think.  I come back to it a lot when I’m thinking of religion and all that.

10. The Hobbit by J.R.R. Tolkien.  I don’t know of anyone who hasn’t been exposed to this title thanks to the movies, but that’s not how I know it.  For me, it will always be that short, fun read that opened up the fantasy door.

What about you?  What are some of the books that have stayed with you over the years?  Feel free to list them here or on my social media accounts.