This is the letter I sent to my administration about World Horror Con. I thought some of you other writer/teachers might be able to use it (or parts of it).
I will be gone on May 11th and 12th to attend this year's World Horror Convention, an annual conference on speculative fiction and issues concerning the horror and dark fantasy genres. This year's World Horror Convention, held in San Francisco, California, is one of the largest international genre conferences, inviting a host of writers and other professionals in the publishing field to lead workshops and panels on a variety of topics related to the writing and publishing of speculative fiction.
Attendance at this conference will introduce me to new creative writing strategies and reading techniques that I can directly incorporate into my classroom. Through interacting with professional writers and publishers, I will be able to cull practical writing tips for my students. I have also signed up for Mort Castle's Writing Workshop, to be held during the conference. Professor Castle has been honored as one of "21 Leaders in the Arts for the 21st Century in Chicago," as well as being the only person to have two national winners in the high school Scholastic Arts competition from different schools in the same year. This Writing Workshop has been very highly recommended, and promises to improve my writing instruction a great deal. I will learn new skills for use in writers’ workshops. Professor Castle is a superb example of how to present an effective overview of the writing and publishing process in a relatively short period of time. I plan to incorporate the materials and strategies used in the Writers Workshop into my own creative writing classes.
This will give me a new perspective on how organizations conduct and promote conferences and workshops. I will be able to see how the conference organizers promote on the web, in the conference guide, in local media, in genre specific media, etc., and how they organize and set-up the presentation space and equipment. This will aid a great deal in the design and execution of similar workshops at Concord Academy-Antrim. This education pertaining to instructional delivery is one of the requirements for the professional development of novice teachers under the Michigan School Code.
During the conference here are to be many convention panels that deal with Young Adult fiction. Literacy and increasing reading for pleasure is an important issue in education today. This is evidenced in our own curriculum plan, and the drive statewide to improve MEAP reading scores. Using fantasy and horror is one proven way to reach students and get them to read. The Harry Potter books have increased literacy and the rates at which young people are now reading enormously. The residual effect is that the Harry Potter books have sparked readers to look for more books such as Eragon, Lemony Snicket's Series of Unfortunate Events, Artemis Fowl, Charlie Bone, Cirque du Freak, and initiated a resurgence in the popularity of The Lord of the Rings and The Chronicles of Narnia.
There are often on panels about horror and academics, since horror literature and creative writing are often taught in schools. The panels deal with the genre and provide information I will directly use in class. There will also be many panel discussions about the history and current trends of the horror and dark fantasy literary genres. I will be able to stay abreast of the most current books in the field that would be of interest to my students.
I will use what I learn in the discussions to help students develop their writing and possibly reach for publication. These discussions will help me craft a list of Young Adult friendly markets that accept submissions from teens. I have already had one student place highly in a poetry contest. More awards and publications for our students will increase the self esteem of the student, and their fellow classmates as well. The notoriety that such awards and publications will bring to Concord Academy will be a huge help in community relations, advertising for students, and student retention. Imparting my knowledge that come from being a professional writer will help the students recognize the mistakes and misconceptions that beginning writers have about writing and publishing. I will also help them understand the techniques they can employ to make a quantum leap in the quality of their fiction, and learning the do’s and don’ts for trying to get their work published. These enhanced publishing opportunities for students will make the act of creative writing much more exciting, personal, and meaningful for the students.
I will have our students read short stories by authors attending the convention and have the students come up with a list of questions which I can present to the author to ask he/she to respond. Because of the informality of WHC it is easy to speak directly to writers who attend WHC; writers whom I might convince to read and critique our students' work. It will enhance our students' self-esteem to have authors they read respond to their writing (whether it be a critique of their work or short fiction based on what they have read). I will be able to develop ongoing and professional relationship with these professionals who may agree to visit Concord Academy-Antrim as guest lecturers and workshop leaders. These opportunities will really open our students' eyes to the world around them. We want our students to expand their horizons, to think about more than just their little corner of Antrim County. This is a great avenue for that self-discovery.
WHC also has a strong cadre of professional artists from the other fine arts, which is an important aspect of Concord Academy as well. There are a number of artists who attend WHC who sell their work, many of whom do school visits and/or communicate with students. I can show our students their work prior to WHC and have our students write questions for the artist, and then present the material to the artist at the convention for their response. There are also singer/songwriters, world-famous actors, and every other type of artist imaginable. This will show the students how artists in different fields express themselves. This gets at Dr. Gardner's "Multiple Intelligences," something that is of great importance at Concord Academy.
My association with other educators in the genre will also help when our students our applying to colleges. I have heard from many heads of English departments who write in the genre that they have given a step up to students of writers they knew and respected, sometimes even arranging scholarships to qualifying students. Combine this leg up with a student body that has published and won awards, Concord will be well on its way to making a way for itself as one of the preeminent fine arts academies in the state.
I have been told attending WHC the best way to meet other professionals in the trade as it is much more of a "pro writer's meeting" than a "fan convention." The convention is a great way to meet other writers, editors, and professionals in the trade. A number of connections made at WHC haves helped authors publish stories in markets they wouldn't have heard about otherwise. This includes markets for our students that teachers not in the know would be ignorant of. As a professional writer, this conference will allow me to confer with publishers who are in the process of publishing several of my works, as well as afford me the opportunity to meet with potential publishers for the novel that served as my Master's thesis at Seton Hill University. To this end, I have scheduled a "pitch" session, where I will be given a one-on-one meeting with an editor or agent to attempt to place your work for publication. I plan to model a pitch session to our students when I return, so they can see first-hand what it is like to sell their work face-to-face to an editor. I have also prearranged meetings with some of the top genre professionals to "talk shop" and introduce me to others in the business. If teachers are role models, then an aspiring student writer can look to me for guidance and business advice. I will learn this from more established writers in my field at networking events like this convention.
In addition, the school's academic reputation will be enhanced due to the positive exposure of having a faculty member share his creative and professional expertise with scholars and professionals from around the world. This exposure will also demonstrate that the faculty of Concord Academy-Antrim not only teach literature, but they are active writers with impressive publication credits. This, in turn, will have positive effects on student and alumni satisfaction with the school, and possibly spark interest in potential students who are interested in creative writing.
World Horror Convention is an opportunity for me to really come into my own as a teacher. Techniques I will learn in writing instruction will stay with me for the rest of my career. Contacts I make (and plan to foster) will aid in student publication. My own emergence in the field will fix me as a role-model for those students who yearn to write, and will work well for advertising the school as a true fine arts academy. This conference is an important step in my move toward becoming a master teacher, and will be a boon to the school as a whole.
Aaron C. Bennett