All of a sudden, my second year in Tennessee begins.
To my surprise, I have now taken all the scholarly classes I will ever take for my PhD. I only have three courses remaining, and all three will be in fiction writing, not literary criticism.
What makes this even more appealing is that this semester, my two fiction classes both break with the normal “workshop” model for teaching creative writing, a teaching model that readers of this blog will know I have considerable doubts about.
For my fiction class with Margaret Lazarus Dean, we're being asked to produce one short story or novel chapter (as standard), but also to present an hour-long lecture and discussion on a craft issue of our choice. What makes this challenging and nervous-making is that can't be a craft issue that we think we have licked. Rather it is meant to be something in our own work that we find particularly troubling.
It looks set to be a really intriguing class.
My other class is an independent study with the novelist Michael Knight. Here, myself and two other PhD students are going to discuss and share our ideas for forthcoming novels. We're each choosing one book for the group to read, a novel that we think offers tools or models for the kind of novel we want to write. This coming week, we meet to discuss John Brandon's Arkansas.
My other duties for the PhD this term include: a single class to teach of Composition 101, reading and writing about global warming and Bill McKibben's terrifying new book, Eaarth; editorial assistantship work with a couple of professors, and, most scary of all, a Spanish reading exam.
I am required for my PhD to demonstrate reading comprehension in two foreign languages. And although I speak moderately competent Mandarin, I can't read it at all, so that knowledge is useless to me here. In the spring, I passed the French translation exam, and now I have to re-teach myself Spanish. Several years ago, I spent two months studying Spanish in Mexico and Guatemala: let's hope my brain is still warm enough to re-learn all that vocabulary.
I continue to work on my Taiwan novel. It's getting so close to done that I don't feel it would be appropriate to post much about it here: that's part of the reason I've blogged so little this summer. For me, blogging tends to follow the topics I feel most energised about, and when my energy is overwhelmingly directed at my novel, it can be a challenge to know what to post about. But with my agent's help, I'm continuing to make edits, and even after all these years in my fictional version of Taiwan, I'm still amazed to see the story improve and grow. It's exciting to have worked so much on it.
After this semester, the reading for my exams begin. I have to pass three exams, and my entire third year at Tennessee will be devoted to them. You can see some of the reading lists here: yes, they are that substantial.
Best wishes for all your writing,