Updated: Aug 17
“Since it is so likely that children will meet cruel enemies, let them have at least heard of brave knights and heroic courage. Otherwise you are making their destiny not brighter but darker.”
February 23rd, 2016
Autumn Raquel Kenderson scribbled the last bit of Mr. Fraser’s lecture on the whiteboard into her composition notebook. The air seemed stale from the ventilation mixed with Expo marker and graphite pencil lead aroma. Despite this lesson narrowing down on her favorite subject, English, the thirteen year old wanted him to hurry through Edgar Allan Poe’s morbid taste in writing and then move on to the stimulating, good content. She brushed back a stray strand of her cropped red hair held back by two butterfly barrettes.
The middle aged man had auburn hair that was now graying from all his boisterous students staining the roots, wearing the latest bifocals. His attire was a simple teal polo shirt and khaki pants with loafers. Perhaps what some would consider a dress-code for male teachers, but it was all in their method of teaching, their effort and care for their students that mattered the most.
“And now we move on to your assignment, a three-part project that you’ll all have present in your groups of four. The deadline is June 13th,” Mr. Fraser said, using a red Expo marker to underline the title and instructions written in blue marker.
Choose three to four (each member choosing one) of your own favorite Speculative Fiction or classical literature author project, read three pieces of work by them and then model their writing style by sculpting a novella manuscript, approximately 10,000 to 40,000 words.
As Autumn predicted, the front two rows groaned in annoyance followed by passive aggressive or sarcastic remarks whispered under their breaths. Mr. Fraser seemed unfazed by his class’s reaction, having taught at Corning-Painted Post Middle for thirteen years.
“Now, come on, guys,” Mr. Fraser said sternly, clapping his hands together with emphasis. “This is eighth grade, not kindergarten! Sooner or later you’ll all be expected to do college level work, besides this should be a fun, interactive, creative assignment. Or else I could give you an intro to what ninth grade algebra is like as part of your summer school? Anyone?”
A murmur ran through the classroom before everyone shook their heads.
“Okay, that’s what I thought,” Mr. Fraser said wryly, raising an eyebrow. “Now I want all of you, starting from left to right, down each row to call out the name of either a sci-fi or a fantasy author you know and then their novels or series they wrote.”
He popped off the cap of a green Expo marker and poised the tip under the assignment title, ready to write them down on the whiteboard. Autumn felt the exhilaration fill her chest. She had two authors she wanted to shout out, but struggled because both were her favorites. Out of all fifty-five students in her class, none of them shared her interest.
“Timothy Zahn–he wrote most of the Star Wars Legends series including ‘Heir to the Empire’ published in 1991,” a boy said first in the front row. The marker squeaked, writing down the author’s name and title of the book.
“J.K. Rowling, she wrote the Harry Potter series later followed by the silver screen adaptation of the cinematic franchise with Daniel Radcliffe and Emma Watson,” another boy said with pride.
Autumn rolled her eyes. Next thing she knew there would be Team Policy debates of whether the book was better than the movie or there’d be a heated Star Wars versus Star Trek debate. However the list grew longer and Autumn realized her turn would arrive soon. Row by row, everyone shouted their opinions.
“John Jackson Miller!”
“Carrie Ryan and John Parke Davis–they co-authored a book series.”
“John D. Ordover!”
“Frank E. Peretti!”
“Donita K. Paul!”
Autumn cleared her throat.
“J.R.R Tolkein,” she began, easing the shaky tone out of her voice, “He wrote ‘The Lord of the Rings’, ‘The Hobbit’ and ‘The Silmarillion’, in 2001-2003 and then 2011-2014, Peter Jackson directed six films, each portraying the cinematic adaptation of Tolkein’s novels, although the author’s grandson, Chistopher Tolkein, hated the films.”
There it was, already the girl could feel the tension of three of her group members, the Musketeers. At the beginning of the school year, on the first day, Mr. Fraser had each of his students pick out a piece of candy from his basket and the person with the same candy or bar had ended up in the same group. Autumn and her team all picked out a Musketeer bar, a chocolate coated, wafer mousse in a silver wrapper.
Ironically, the next person who was not in her group but one who’d received a Jolly Ranchers shouted “Dungeons and Dragons!” Mr. Fraser chuckled at this, an awkward, chagrined smile plastered across his bearded face.
“Uh, Justin, I asked for the author first and then their work, plus Dungeons and Dragons is a roleplaying game franchise created by graphic designers Gary Gyax and Dave Arneson. The book guides on the characters, monsters and witchcraft do not count, and I wouldn’t allow it, even if it was an actual book series.”
“But you’re letting my brother use J.K. Rowling’s Harry Potter!” Justin protested. “My choice has plenty of resources for worldbuilding. . .!”
“Which is why I am assigning in addition, for all of you in each group to read Orson Scott Card’s book Writing Fantasy & Science Fiction: How to Create Out-of-this-World Novels and Short
Stories,” Mr. Fraser interjected, abruptly cutting Justin off, and glared at his student’s careless attitude in the project.
The man walked back to his desk to grab one of the multiple books sprawled amongst pens and graded papers. He stepped in front of his desk to produce his find, an adult paperback tome with the title and author’s name embossed on the cover. Steampunk-like clock gears decorated the corners enclosing a man garbed in early 1900’s attire from London and rode what looked like to be a green T-Rex with dragon wings. A moth-falcon-bat creature was perched on the rider’s shoulder.
“ I have already placed an order at Barnes & Noble for enough of these books for all of you to take home when they arrive in the mail within the next week. Do not lose them! I paid good money for those books. Write your name with a blue or red marker on the inside of the cover.”
The teacher paused to catch his breath and then turned, facing the whole room, eyes narrowed in a serious demeanor.
“Please understand this warning, class: If either of you in your group slack off or refuse to participate with the workload, everyone will begin to collapse from stress, confusion, and anxiety until the project crumbles as well. Failing the group and possibly failing your final grade on your report cards. You all are capable of teamwork. Have deep discussions and share ideas, talking about which method or technique will work better. Just like when I had all of you redo a math problem or rewrite a sentence correctly in English, this is what each and every one of you need to be responsible for. Now I want you to take a twenty-eight minute break to head to the school library, to find and rent all the books of the authors listed on the board. Before you go, all members huddle in your groups for collaboration and vote on the top four authors you chose. Please be vigilant with time since it’s 3:25 and almost time for me to pack up and end the day.”
“Musketeers! Assemble!” the leader of Autumn’s group, Sumana Holman said just below a shout. She, being a Marvel and DC comics fan, used every opportunity to quote one of her favorite superheroes from each universe, also the oldest member alongside Autumn at thirteen years, but a year older.
“It’s all for one and one for all, Sumana,” Julius Carder, twelve and the smartest in math, groaned. He wore the River Hawks jersey, since he was an offensive player on the school’s soccer team.
“But it does make an impact,” Elias Roberts, also twelve but the tallest, and the final member replied with a shrug.
Awkward, yet eager to participate and get cracking on the assignment, Autumn cleared her throat. It was now or never.
“I think we should arrange the authors by category, search for their earliest published books and by genre, or else we could go old-fashioned alphabetical order. And ask the librarian for some pro tips.”
Even while Julius, Eli, and Sumana shared their thoughts on Autumn’s suggestion, she already envisioned the title of their novella in gothic font.
The Third Dimension.
Studio 315 within the library had its own arts and craft workshop called Makerspace, so if there was remaining time, Autumn hoped she could collect supplies. Once in the school library, the eighth graders separated into their groups of four, scouring the shelves for the list of fifty-five authors and book series they had copied from the board into their notebooks.
Autumn spied the laminated printed sign on the shelves, displaying either historical figures or science-related topics entitled, non fiction, biographies, animal atlas and the different categories of science in geography and physical anatomy. They seemed very appealing subjects too, however the targeted row turned out to be crowded with most of the class. A Disney-like fairytale, castle and a ringed orange planet, copied and pasted on a laminated printed paper sign that read in bold, italicized font Science Fiction and Fantasy .
“So much for a head start,” Eli remarked dryly, surveying the overwhelming task before them. End of Part One. To be continued. . .