Major/Minor(s): English Major, Creative Writing and Music Minors
Estimated Graduation Date: April 2019
Hometown: Nampa, Idaho
Favorite Book: Speaker for the Dead by Orson Scott Card
Favorite Classes: Music 202 (Music History), English 359 (Short Story), English 318R (Writing Fiction). Being involved in ensembles in the music department is also really great.
Tell us more about your experience using your music/creative writing minors in conjunction with your English major. What did you like, dislike, etc.?
The thing I’ve noticed about art is that it informs other art. So my classical music training influences my writing styles, both creatively and academically–the way I use language, or so I’ve been told, has a musicality to it. And on that same line of thought, my English major has taught me how to analyze the human experience through the written word, which allows me to tap into and deepen the way I feel and use emotions, which feeds back into my music, which is a largely emotion-based art. By that I mean music, or musicality, hinges on my emotional state. The more I feel, the more I can relate to how others feel, the better I am at playing music. Therefore, learning to access my emotions more readily by reading a lot of writers, who tell a lot of stories, that make me feel lots of different things, builds up a ‘well of emotion’ for me to tap into when playing music. The one thing I’ve struggled with amidst all this English and music is time management–music is a harsh mistress that demands more attention than I have to give, mostly because writing is something of a needy bridegroom himself. And we won’t even mention the amounts of time I have to put into reading to get all of my assignments done for my literature classes.
What are your future plans/professional aspirations?
I plan on being a professional novelist of science fiction and fantasy for adults and young adults. Currently, I’m looking into applying to Creative Writing MFA programs for fall 2019, and also eyeing a few fellowships.
You are doing a study abroad in Japan. What kind of program is it?
The study abroad to Japan this spring is a cultural and language experience. We’ll be spending seven weeks in Kyoto, arguably the hub of traditional Japanese culture in Japan, and then two weeks going all over the place, from Hiroshima to Tokyo. The classes we’re taking are a traditional culture class, which is going to involve trips to shrines and temples and a firsthand study of the culture, and a conversation course that will hopefully have me speaking more than monosyllables by the end of the trip. The big appeal for me in the program is the opportunity to experience both modern and traditional Japanese culture, as a lot of the fantasy fiction I write is inspired by and draws upon traditional Japanese folklore. And, of course, there’s the food. I am very excited about the food.
What have you learned from your major?
I’ve learned to appreciate the canon of English literature. Before college, I never sought out books like Jane Eyre and Frankenstein to read on my own time (with the exception of Wuthering Heights because… Heathcliff). And I still don’t seek them out. But because of the classes I’ve taken, I’ve come to acknowledge, in my heart, that the writers that have come before me and managed to stay known by the majority of humanity have lots of things to teach me. Seems like an obvious thing to realize, but it took literature class upon literature class to drill that reality into my skull. Tradition is important. It is a catalyst for future innovation.
What advice would you offer to a newly declared English major?
Read. Read. Read everything you can, everything that’s given you. This is especially true if you want to be a novelist professionally, even writing genre fiction: read the canon your classes introduce you to. Read the tradition you’re emerging from, even if you don’t want to write about hills like white elephants or yellow wallpaper. And if you want to be a creative writer, definitely do the minor. It gives you a nice excuse to track down classes like English 359, which taught me a ton about form in fiction, and English 318R, which was a wonderful excuse to spend a semester writing a novel. Read, think, and write. The best way to learn to be an academic in the English field, and the best way to hone your skills as a creative writer, is to read, think, and write.
Anything else about your writing aspirations:
Something that always makes me squirm is when, usually in my English classes, science fiction and fantasy are brought up as examples of ‘pulp’ or ‘commercial’ fiction, with no real literary merit as a genre in general. Part of the reason this bothers me so much is that I can’t eloquently argue that that isn’t true–science fiction and fantasy, though once primarily written as a means of social critique and political comment, has become ‘easy’ fiction, marketable fiction, escapism fiction. Now, I don’t think escapism in fiction is bad. On the contrary, I believe that one of the purposes of fiction is to provide a space for humanity to take a breather, mentally and emotionally. What does bother me is that escapism has a stigma around it of not being of any intellectual merit, and therefore makes the genre as a whole become a sort of joke in the ‘real’ literary world. The core of science fiction and fantasy, what drew me to it growing up, and then later caused me to select it as the genre I want to write professionally, was the philosophical musings I came across in such authors as Bradbury, Asimov, and Card. These earlier science fiction/fantasy writers are a step away from the modern genre in that they aren’t writers that write purely escapism. They use science fiction and fantasy to pull apart the human experience, conjuring up a sense of wonder at the vastness of humanity’s potential, while at the same time zeroing in on the petty, sometimes foolish habits of humanity. They call out the flaws in society, but in such a way that, usually, a reader can leave feeling optimistic towards the future of humanity overall. I aspire to write such science fiction and fantasy. Science fiction and fantasy that is laced with human ideas and philosophy, coupled with the wonder of exploration and that almost soaring sensation of hope for the future. I want to write the sort of stories that are wild and cool with mysticism, and at the same time swollen with challenges to rethink the world, and how each of us as an individual interacts with all that is around and within us. In other words, I want to write ‘literary’ science fiction and fantasy.
A pretty lofty goal. But I’ve always believed that shooting for the moon and landing among the stars wouldn’t be all that terrible. At least the stars have their own light and not just light reflected through them, right?
Running List of Authors I’ve Met:
J. Scott Savage
Mary Robinette Kowal
Orson Scott Card*
*authors that have taught me personally/critiqued my work