Beyond The Lord of the Rings: Interview with Evan Fleischer
by Writing Workshops Staff
2 weeks ago
Get ready to explore the world of fantasy writing as we sit down for an insightful interview with Evan Fleischer, a skilled writer, editor, and educator. Evan's impressive work includes has been published in The New Yorker, The New York Times, and The Guardian, and he holds an MFA from Emerson College.
Evan is all set to take you on an exciting journey his upcoming course, Beyond The Lord of the Rings, a Fantasy Writing 6-Week Zoom Workshop.
This workshop is not just about hobbits and elves; it's an opportunity to delve into a diverse range of fantasy literature, from the works of Ursula K. LeGuin to the adventures of Dungeons & Dragons and the magic of Princess Mononoke.
Over six weeks, participants, regardless of their writing experience, will have the chance to develop their skills in crafting fantasy fiction. Whether you're a seasoned writer or a newcomer to the genre, Evan's class offers a welcoming space for all.
Below is a brief interview with Evan about his exciting new class.
WW: Can you tell us about the inspiration behind your new course, Beyond The Lord of the Rings? What motivated you to create a workshop that goes beyond the conventional boundaries of fantasy writing?
EF: Because the traditional, Paul Engle-styled model of the creative writing workshop demands experimentation, for one. It's been 'the' model for creative writing instruction for the past eighty-or-so years, and its constancy forces us to ask, 'What are we doing when we prioritize a pedagogy that emphasizes silence and critique?' (I'm aware that -- for the layperson -- this answer may seem a little too inside-baseball, but bear with me.) Yes, critical thinking skills are important, and, yes, it's important to be able to know how to truly and deeply listen to someone else ... but there are a lot of different ways to get there. There is more than one way to 'solve' a narrative problem, be it a cat with skin or otherwise.
And that takes us to this course, as well as the next question.
WW: The course description mentions exploring a variety of media within the fantasy genre, from Ursula K. LeGuin to Dungeons & Dragons and Princess Mononoke. How do you believe exposure to these diverse forms of fantasy storytelling can benefit aspiring writers?
EF: Despite the work required, there still remains an almost strange amount of democratic flexibility in writing itself. Find yourself inspired by the visual vocabulary of Princess Mononoke? Write about it. Want to take the time to tell us about a moment in a D&D session that you wish could have gone on longer? Write about it. It's a big, diverse world out there, and our writing should reflect that.
WW: "Hard worldbuilding" and "Soft worldbuilding" are the focus of the first week. Could you elaborate on the significance of these terms in fantasy writing and how they impact the overall immersive experience for readers?
EF: If you're reading something that relies on 'hard' worldbuilding, then there's a strong chance you will know the rules of how the world being described works. You'll know about the specific economy that drives a region, and why. You'll learn about the subatomic or chemical elements that comprise a certain spell, and why mixing element X together with element Y produces the thing that it does. You will know the phonology, morphology, syntax, semantics, and pragmatics of Elvish, Orcish, or whatever other fantasy language awaits.
'Soft' worldbuilding is a hint. It's a synecdochal gesture at a larger thing. Consider the train in Spirited Away or the cat bus in Totoro. We don't know the whys and wherefores of either, but we know they feel 'real' and 'earned.'
Both are narrative strategies that help persuade the reader that the thing they're experiencing is 'real.'
WW: Your course involves integrating elements of tabletop role-playing games like Dungeons & Dragons and Pathfinder. How do you see these interactive experiences enhancing the creative writing process for your students?
EF: Table-top roleplaying games are a great way to remind creative writers that plot can emerge from character choice. They're a great way to nudge the writer to 'listen' to the emotional honesty of the character they're playing. Roleplaying sessions are structured generative opportunities as well, eliminating the need for saying, 'What about this?' or 'What about that?' from the otherwise traditional part of the creative writing workshop process when students are trying to think of ideas that can help their peers.
WW: The course outline suggests a progression from analyzing specific works to hands-on activities like D&D sessions and potential Pathfinder gameplay. How do you envision these activities contributing to student's ability to craft compelling and imaginative fantasy narratives?
EF: Well, what happens when we add these bits together? What happens when we look at the answers here and add them up into a unified whole? We find a willingness to analyze different media and find ways to incorporate that analysis into one's own writing. We find a greater appreciation of various narrative strategies. We will know the intellectual legwork required to create a functioning fantasy economy or fantasy language. We'll be able to craft stories that tightly hew to the emotional honesty and choices of the character. And that's for starters.
WW: Your background includes writing for esteemed publications like The New Yorker and The New York Times. How has your own experience as a writer and editor influenced the way you approach teaching this fantasy writing workshop?
EF: I worry that the framing of the question will make my answer feel like I'm saying, in effect, 'Here's what I learned at The New Yorker and The New York Times,' even when my answer really has nothing to do with either of them. I could lean into that feeling and straight up lie about all the great curse words David Remnick taught me in our one-on-one meeting, but that would be silly, and there's only so much time in the day.
So here's my real answer: when it comes to teaching, be honest, clear, and kind. Listen. That's it.
Evan's Beyond The Lord of the Rings: Fantasy Writing 6-Week Zoom Workshop starts soon!
Instructor Evan Fleischer is a writer, editor, and recent MFA graduate. He has written for The New Yorker, The New York Times, The Guardian, The New Republic, Slate, The Washington Post, Vice, and numerous other publications.