John Scalzi rides new wave to Antioch Writers’ Workshop at UD

Award-winning sci-fi author John Scalzi bestows his teachings at Antioch Writers’ Workshop, this year at UD; photo: John Scalzi

By Tim Walker

Bestselling author John Scalzi, who has quickly become one of the biggest names in the world of science fiction, couldn’t be in a better mood.

“Everything is spectacular,” he says.

It’s easy to see why. Scalzi’s newest novel, titled “The Collapsing Empire” and the first in a new space opera series, was released in March by Tor Books to rave reviews. The novel is also the first book released by Tor as part of Scalzi’s much-reported $3.4 million, 13-book publishing contract. Scalzi, who will be the keynote speaker and a creative writing class instructor at this year’s Antioch Writers’ Workshop, was interviewed about the book on NPR and other major media outlets, and the film rights to his novel were recently sold to a producer.

“I’m very happy with it,” Scalzi says when asked about the new book. “It’s been very well-reviewed, which is always nice. It’s the first book of that ridiculous contract of mine, and it’s gotten good reviews and done very well commercially…”

Scalzi, who hails from California but now lives and writes in the Dayton area, has been well known to the science fiction community for years. He is a past president of Science Fiction Writers of America and his first novel, 2005’s “Old Man’s War,” became the first book in another wildly popular SF series. One of Scalzi’s more recent novels, “Redshirts,” won a Hugo Award and is a sendup of the doomed lives of nameless characters on shows like the original Star Trek. He is also the recipient of the 2016 Ohio Governor’s Award for an Individual Artist.

“I wasn’t too worried about whether the fans would like ‘The Collapsing Empire,’” Scalzi continues. “It was more a question of pressure because that was the first book of the series. So to have it appreciated, and to have people enjoy it, and for it not to disappear under the waves, was a little bit of a relief.”

In decades past, science fiction writers were considered beneath contempt by publishers, professors, and readers of “serious” literary fiction. As examples of “popular” or “genre” fiction, the novels and short stories of SF writers—much like those of mystery, horror, romance, and westerns—were looked upon as nothing more than trash, pulp fiction, disposable tales that would be consumed by a child in an afternoon and then forgotten. As the ’60s “New Wave” SF movement gave way to the ’70s, and as filmed science fiction and space opera tales such as Star Wars and Star Trek became wildly successful, however, publishers began to show a bit more respect and consider science fiction an important branch of modern literature—more than just shiny kids’ stuff. Which is why seeing Scalzi listed as the keynote speaker and an instructor at the esteemed and long-running Antioch Writers’ Workshop isn’t as shocking as it would have once been.

“It was pretty simple,” Scalzi responds when asked about his involvement with the workshop. “Sharon Short, who is a friend of mine and is a director at the workshop, basically contacted me a couple of years ago and said, ‘Would this be something that you would be willing to do?’ And I’ve done a number of speaking engagements and writing workshops over the course of the years. I was an instructor at Clarion, which is the elite science fiction writers’ workshop, and also with the Viable Paradise workshop, so it was something I was comfortable dealing with.”

In addition to speaking as this year’s keynote, Scalzi teaches the Sunday morning creative writing craft class, both of which are sponsored by Greene County Public Library. Of Scalzi’s ability, Short adds, “John mixes experience and knowledge of the creative writing craft, as well as of the business side of writing and serves it up with humor, practicality, and grace.”

The Antioch Writers’ Workshop, which has relocated to UD this year, had been formerly aligned with Antioch University Midwest from 2009-2016. The weeklong workshop, first held in 1986 at Antioch College in Yellow Springs, has in the past welcomed such esteemed authors as Joyce Carol Oates, William Zinsser, John Jakes, and Sue Grafton as keynote speakers, a role this year’s instructor and keynote speaker welcomes.

“I’m a big believer in doing stuff locally when you can,” Scalzi continues. “For one thing, it makes travel a lot easier, but another reason is that Ohio is surprisingly—well, surprisingly for people who are not from Ohio—full of creativity and creative culture. So to be able to participate in that directly, while here at home, is important and is something that I want to encourage.”

The Antioch Writers’ Workshop takes place Saturday-Friday, July 8-14 at University of Dayton, 300 College Park in Dayton. For more information, please call 937.567.2399 or visit Whatever.Scalzi.com and AntiochWritersWorkshop.com.

 

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Tim Walker
Tim Walker is 51 and a writer, DJ, and local musician. He lives with his wife and their two children in Dayton, where he enjoys pizza, jazz, and black T-shirts. Reach DCP freelance writer Tim Walker at TimWalker@DaytonCityPaper.com

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