Last Sunday, Dec. 4th I flew out to Palm Springs, CA to be a guest faculty lecturer at the UC Riverside MFA program. Tod Goldberg (writer, uber-blogger, man about town, and director of the Palm Desert MFA program) kindly extended me the invite to talk about something related to speculative fiction. He gently talked me out of doing a “The Jetsons: Where the #$%& is my hover car, and will dogs really communicate after the singularity” lecture.
My flight out was so-so (to quote Mclusky: “I’m fearful, I’m fearful, I’m fearful of flying, and flying is fearful of me”). I white-knuckled it to Phoenix, then took a puddle jumper from Phoenix to Palm Springs. Clearly concerned how this northeasterner would take to desert temps, my considerate hosts used their weather machine to ensure that the highs would only be high 50s to low 60s, with temps dropping to the low 40s at night. It was like I never left abnormally-warm-for-December Boston.
After getting in to the Riviera, I spent a few hours relaxing with other MFA faculty: Mark Haskell Smith, David Ulin, and Rob Roberge, all of whom I met at the LA Times Festival of Books back in ’09. They made fun of my accent and called me “Cactus Flower” the entirety of my stay. Wait, that didn’t happen at all. Actually David, Mark, Tod, and Rob are extremely talented writers/teachers that I admire, as well as generous, smart, and endlessly entertaining folks. The jerks.
The next morning (Monday), 9am, was my real lecture: “How to Write Literary Horror that Doesn’t Suck.” Despite my not being as handsome (as John Langan often points out to me) as last year’s guest lecturer Stephen Graham Jones, my lecture was well-attended. There were lots of questions and no tomato throwing at me. Using Yeah, Yeah, Yeahs “Heads Will Roll” video during my lecture helped.
The two pics below were taken by Maggie Downs.
Post-lecture I chatted horror with Maggie, Julia Watson, Ross, and many more folks. It kind of felt like I was at Readercon! Except more deserty.
After a quick lunch, the students met with their teachers/advisors for 3 hr. long workshops, and I took a walk to downtown Palm Springs.
Later, I met Mark and his class for happy hour in the Riveria, where there was more talk of horror and speculative fiction in general. Later was dinner and more hanging out at the bar with Mark and David.
Tuesday, after taking in a morning lecture breaking down Woodrell’s first chapter of WINTER’S BONE, Mark let me borrow his car (the fool!), and after joy riding and jumping over the San Andreas fault line, I parked at the base of Mount San Jacinto (which was only 10 minutes away from the hotel) and took a tram up it’s 8000 feet. Amazing. There were 3 inches of snow at the top, and apparently (no one told me before I decided to take a 2 mile hike on one of the mountain paths by myself) hungry mountain lions lying in wait. Pics:
Post-mountain, I saw Even Ratliff present his new long-form journalism publishing venture THE ATAVIST. I was blown away and plan to do a full blog post about the ground-breaking work his publishing company is doing.
Then, my last night there, I accompanied Mark, David, Tod, Rob, and the rest of the MFA faculty to dinner at the hotel they’ll be moving to for June’s residency. After dinner, I wound up in Tod’s room arguing 80s/90s hoops with Rob. We were both right.
Up the next morning at 5am for a day’s worth of turbulent flights. I managed to finish the last 300 pages of 1Q84, though!
Besides having a boatload of fun and spending time with people who I wished lived closer to me, I came away totally impressed with the Palm Desert MFA program. Here’s a program that not only welcomes genre writing, but teaches it; embracing both imagination and good writing, along with an impressive focus on the practical side of publishing. I talked to a ton of students and they were all excited, challenged, engaged, and yeah, happy. If you have an interest in genre fiction and are thinking about going for your MFA, I couldn’t recommend the Palm Desert program any more highly.
Yes, I said highly.