From The Desk Of The Black Watch: Teaching Creative Writing

John Andrew Fredrick has spent the last three decades as the sole constant in one of music’s most perfect and unheralded rock outfits, the black watch. Using the Beatles as a tracing template, Fredrick has applied a kitchen-sink approach to the album at hand since his 1988 debut, St. Valentine, the opening volley in a catalog that would ultimately encompass 15 albums and five EPs, all of which inspired varying levels of critical halleleujahs and a deafening chorus of crickets at the nation’s cash registers. Fredrick will be guest editing all week. Read our band new feature with him.

I’ve never taught a full semester or quarter of creative writing, but if, one day, I decide to become a left-handed Creole bisexual transsexual anorexic from Madagascar with an MFA from Northwest Polytechnic Open University of the Atlantic/Pacific who writes poetry only (and in Tagalog) and has never taught a single class (but just last week graduated and got a grant from some foundation for left-handed Creole et ceteras) then maybe, maybe someone’ll hire me to teach people how to write a novel that’s good enough to throw away (you have to throw out your first novel—they’re like the pancake that primes the pan) and start over. I’ll give you my syllabus. It’d be Françoise Sagan’s Bonjour Tristesse (in order to illustrate how even shallow, self-absorbed and hedonistic characters and their picayune concerns can be shaped into something not at all shallow); any Jean Rhys book save the over-taught Wide Sargasso Sea (for Rhys’ rawness, honesty, sui generis voice, and her astonishing vulnerability); Ford Madox Ford’s The Good Soldier (to help writers understand that you must always know more about your characters than what appears on the page); Tolstoy’s War And Peace (to point up how thrilling little details can/must be in the midst of great, sweeping action); and Nabokov’s Laughter In the Dark (for the glorious phrasing, and the myth that you have to write characters that are “sympathetic”). They’ll never let me, though. Or probably not. It’s probably a blessing. Can you imagine spending your afternoon reading stories that begin with three suns wafting their beams over the horizon in the west in the morning as Pthlon or Tron or Haberdasherman wakes to find he can’t remember his oh-so-memorable name? I’ll stick to hitting unsuspecting freshman over the head with good old George Orwell, thank you very much. Probably till I’m dead. I think I’ll go read around in War And Peace again, just for the fun of it. As his biographer A.N. Wilson said, “It’s one of the few novels that just doesn’t seem to be narrated; it’s just as though it exists despite the author.” If that’s not a monumental achievement I don’t know what is! I used to think that Anna Karenina was the greatest novel ever written. Now I think the earlier thing is the best. Next week, I’ll say Proust or something by Henry James. That’s the beauty-glory of being devoted to literature: You can change your mind. Zadie Smith (who’s stuff, like Rushdie’s, I can only take in short bouts, and who is a much better essayist, like old Salman, than she is a novelist) has a book of think pieces called Changing My Mind. I love that. One should. I really do love the Brian Jonestown Massacre, come to think of it. I just never want to hear them again. Hahaha.