Over the next few months we will be publishing a series of blogs from Mesdames who write and also teach writing. This month we feature our Queen of Comedy, Mme. Melodie Campbell, author of the Goddaughter mysteries.
Vegetables for Authors – or Why I Teach Writing
It all started in 1992. I’d won a couple of crime fiction awards, and the local college came calling. Did I want to come on faculty, and teach in the writing program? Hell, yes! (Pass the scotch.)
Over the years, I continued to teach fiction writing, but also picked up English Lit, Marketing (my degree) and a few odd ones, like Animation and Theatre. Such is the life of an itinerant college prof. (Pass the scotch.)
Twenty-four years later, I’m a full-time author. Except for Wednesday nights, when I put on my mask, don a cape, and turn into SUPER TEACH! (Okay, ‘Crazy Author Prof.’ Too much time alone at a keyboard can be scary. Pass the scotch.)
Why do I do it? As another term lurks ever nearer, I decided to ask myself that question. And give a completely honest answer. Here goes:
- It’s not the Money
Hey buddy, can you spare a dime? Part time profs in Canada are poorly paid. I’m top rate, at $45 an hour. I’m only paid for my time in the classroom (3 hours a week). For every hour in the classroom, I spend at least two hours prepping and marking. We don’t get paid for that. At end of term, I spend several days evaluating manuscripts. We don’t get paid for that either. This means I am getting paid less than minimum wage. So I’m not doing it for the money.
2. It’s not all those Book Sales
I found this alarming, but other authors since then have said the same. They teach a workshop and students beg for feedback on their manuscripts. But they don’t buy the teacher’s books. Not even one. I find this bizarre, because I would want to see how the instructor practices what she preaches. Bemusement aside, I’m careful in my classes not to pressure students in any way to buy my books. They’ve paid money for the course and that’s enough. My point is: if you think by teaching a course, you are going to get an avalanche of book sales, think again.
Years ago, an author gal more published than I was at the time said a peculiar thing to me: “Aspiring writers don’t buy books.”
So why the heck do you do it, Mel? That’s time you could invest in writing your own books…
3. It takes me Back to First Principles
I teach all three terms. Every four months, I am reminded about goal/motivation/conflict. Three act structure. Viewpoint rules. Creating compelling characters. Teaching “Crafting a Novel” forces me to constantly evaluate my own work, as I do my students’. It’s like vegetables for authors. In other words, good for me.
4. It’s the People
As well, you meet people from different professions…doctors, lawyers, salesmen and women, bank officers, government workers, labourers, grad students, Starbucks baristas, roofers, police, firefighters, chefs, paramedics. I have my own list of people to call on when I need to do research.
Getting to know people other than your own crowd (in my case, other writers) is extremely valuable for an author. You’re not merely guessing how others different from you may think…you actually know people who are different. This helps you create diverse characters in your fiction who come alive.
By far, the most valuable thing about teaching a night course year after year is it allows me to mix with people who would not normally be part of my crowd. Adult students of all ages and backgrounds meet up in my classrooms, and many are delightful. I’ve treasured the varied people I’ve met through the years, and keep in touch with many of them.
5. It’s good for my Soul
No question, my life is richer through teaching fiction writing, even if my bank account is not.
Students take my writing course for all sorts of reasons. Some take it for a college course credit. Some take it for interest, as they might take photography or cooking classes. Some need an escape from dreary jobs, and a writing class can provide that escape, if only temporarily. But many actually do hope to become authors like I am. And when I connect with one of them, and can help them on their way, it is magic. There is no greater high.
Melodie teaches Crafting a Novel at Sheridan College in Oakville. Courses start in September, January and April. Here’s the link.
And you can help Melodie’s bank account by buying her humorous books, like The Goddaughter Caper. This will keep her from writing dreary novels that will depress us all. Pass the scotch.
More good news from Melodie!
Join me and the Hamilton Literacy Council on March 30th for the launch of Book 5 in the award-winning Goddaughter Caper series, THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER! Celebrate more antics of Gina and Nico, in this multi-award-winning series set in Hamilton. Details of the launch to come.
And here’s the teaser:
Do old mobsters ever really retire? Not in HAMILTON!
When a transport truck full of unidentified booze is hijacked, Gina and Nico work feverishly to keep the latest bungled family caper under wraps. But the police are closing in. And once again, everything points to the Holy Cannoli Retirement Home in THE BOOTLEGGER’S GODDAUGHTER.
Well said, Mel! I must admit I do miss the interesting mix of people, now that I have stopped teaching at George Brown. One thing I do not miss is the drive down the Parkway in all sorts of weather!
Super column Melodie. Is it possible aspiring aurhtors don’t buy because they are short on cash or, and this could be more alarming, they feel they need to read foreign (U.S.) work to be up on what is good and enjoyable? Are we still a literary colony?
Fabulous, Melanie! Loved every word of your blog article, share your feelings, have experienced so much of what you describe. Thanks so much. Rosemary A.