Bill and Dennis Anderson took a casual
Dennis Anderson is the author of the novels Arthur, King, under his own name,
and Blackbird and Target Stealth under the pen name Jack Merek.
hike at Vasquez Rocks Natural Area
County Park in northern Los Angeles
County, California, back in March 1996.
It was about six months after Dennis
wrote this profile. The area has been
used for location shoots for many Hollywood
science fiction and fantasy productions
because of the distinctive rock formations.
Bill and Dennis Anderson took a casual
Dennis Anderson is the author of the novels Arthur, King, under his own name, and Blackbird and Target Stealth under the pen name Jack Merek.
teaches with critical eye
and a helping hand
By DENNIS ANDERSON
Special to the Valley Press
Fledgling writers trying to move from experimental stories to the best-seller lists are getting a helping hand and steely critical eye from one of the area's most prolific published authors. William F. Wu, nominated for science fiction's Hugo and Nebula awards, gives his Antelope Valley College students exercises designed to get the creative juices flowing.
In one exercise, wannabee Stephen Kings must begin their writing with the line: "There were rats in the souffle . . . again!" Writing student Karen Perry said she's still not sure what to do with the rats in the souffle, but that the exercise jolts the imagination. "Nobody looks at that line and goes blank," Wu said. "They may go blank for a minute, but that one never fails to get them started."
Found his zone
The author of 13 published novels and 47 short works, Wu brings decades of creative writing experience to class. His writer's retreat is a Mojave Desert ranch house that could serve as a "Twilight Zone" set. One of Wu's stories "Wong's Lost and Found Emporium" was adapted for the Twilight Zone revival TV series. The current edition of "Realms of Fantasy" magazine features a Wu short story, "Tuli, Prince of the Mongols," a tale about an eerie visitation by warrior royalty.
Wu also wrote recent installments of Isaac Asimov's "Robots in Time" series, books that feature Asimov's robotic creations roaming history from the medieval to the Jurassic periods. "It was an honor to be asked to write in Asimov's universe," he said. The Robots in Time novels, Wu said, are suitable for young adult readers and represent "the kind of book that created the popularity of science fiction. ' "Star Wars' probably would never have been made without the generation of readers that authors like Asimov and Robert Heinlein created."
Heinlein, author of the science fiction classic "Stranger in a Strange Land" espoused a teaching philosophy practiced by Wu. A novice writer received advice and critique from Heinlein. "The writer asked Heinlein 'How can I repay you?' and Heinlein answered that you pay it forward by helping another new writer some day."
At the University of Michigan, Wu earned a bachelor's degree in East Asian studies and eventually, a doctorate in American culture. But the learning experience that shaped his career came at the Clarion Writers Workshop in Science Fiction and Fantasy.
Wu learned at the knee of teachers that included Hugo-winning author Harlan Ellison, who in addition to novels and stories scripted episodes of "The Outer Limits." Ellison originated material "The Terminator" movies drew from. "Clarion totally changed my life," Wu said. "I learned things in six weeks that might have taken years to learn."
The author uses what he learned to teach his Monday night class. Beginning writers break into small groups to critique each others' work. Criticism must be impersonal and constructive. The writer speaks after the critique to defend or explain the work.
"I made it clear the first day of class that it wouldn't be easy, but it's probably easier than chemistry or calculus."
Despite earning a doctoral degree, the author makes no claims to intellectual elitism. He keeps the "Batman" comics he collected as a boy in Kansas City and flooded the letters column of "Master of Kung Fu" comics during the 1970s.
"I was offended that Fu Manchu was still part of American culture," Wu said. Wu's scholarly dissertation was "The Yellow Peril: Chinese Americans in American Fiction, 1850-1940."
Sax Rohmer's master criminal Fu Manchu represented the kind of stereotype depicted in much popular fiction, Wu said. Other stereotypes included the detective, Charlie Chan and his No. 1 Son. Ironically, when Hollywood popularized such characters, they were played by white performers. Boris Karloff, known to most of the world as the Frankenstein monster, played Dr. Fu Manchu. Myrna Loy played the evil doctor's daughter.
"Most of the way we were depicted was not accurate," he said. "Much of what was written was hostile, and much of what was favorable was not accurate either."
Wu weaves Asian characters into the tapestry of his most personal fiction, trying to reverse stereotypes and create tales that illuminate the Asian experience. Even if the character is a vampire or space traveler. A storyteller since his Midwest childhood, Wu, 44, favors the wrangler boots and Western wear of the kind worn by one of his characters in his comic futuristic novel, "Hong on the Range." The novel, a pastiche of Wild West and science fiction story forms was described by the writer as a "cyber-punk Western."
For students taking his Monday night class, Wu said he puts in several days' preparation.
"I read every word of every piece, aggressively," he said.
Wu believes the audience rather than critics ultimately casts the vote that matters on what's worthwhile to read.
A recovering addict recently released from prison approached Wu to get a copy of one of his books signed. "He held up one of my Asimov books," Wu said. "He said he didn't need drugs and alcohol, that 'reading will take you anyplace you want to go.'" Wu reflected, "It occurred to me that if it was a matter of getting the approval of the New York literati or the former addict and a bright 12-year-old, that the latter was the more rewarding."