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John Kessel on car crash stories

Yesterday, I attended an excellent workshop on writing slipstream fiction, which was taught by author and professor John Kessel from the University of North Carolina. He is the winner of the Nebula Award, the Theodore Sturgeon Award, the Locus Poll and the James Tiptree, Jr. Award.

I couldn’t possibly report all the incredible things I learned in that class, but I do want to share one thing that I think can be useful for writers who read this blog.

Kessel described something he calls a car crash story. A car crash story might also be defined as a “two worlds collide” story. Here’s the exercise, in a nutshell: take two seemingly disparate themes and force them into a story.

Kessel spent some time describing one of his own car crash stories. It’s an interstitial piece that connects Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein with Jane Austen’s Pride and Prejudice. Imagine! By doing some research, he was able to knit together common threads from both classics and turn it into a new short story with its own legs. I won’t give the plot away, but let’s just say, the question of just whose body became the Bride of Frankenstein may, for once and for all, be decided in Kessel’s story.

Kessel will be reading from this very piece tonight at the Richard Hugo House Fantastic Fiction Salon in Seattle (7pm, $5 donation at the door). I’d highly recommend the event; Kessel’s passionate about writing and a likable guy, to boot. If you can’t make it but still want to read his story, it’s coming up in the January 2008 edition of Fantasy & Science Fiction.

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