I was scared because like this was the first like, real creative writing class that I was taking at Macalester, but also because I was not on a high enough dosage of Prozac.
Hello, and welcome to The Ramblings, a series about English majors for English majors. This week we sit down with Amy Vandervelde and Eric Fong to talk about writing inspirations, fanfiction, and favorite Mac English classes.
Hi, I'm Teddy Holt. I'm a junior English major, Chanter board member, and a big fan of pickled vegetables. I work in the English department on The Ramblings, the podcast you're listening to right now. And I'm here today with Amy Vandervelde and Eric Fong. Amy, do you mind introducing yourself to the audience? Sure.
Hi, everyone. My name is Amy Vandervelde. I'm an English major senior on the lit track. I also have a classical languages major and I'm a political science minor. I'm on the Mac Weekly staff and fun fact about myself: I have a dachshund named Taffy.
Taffy is so cute. I love seeing Taffy pop up on Zoom sometimes. Eric, do you want to introduce yourself also?
Sure thing. Hi, my name is Eric. And I am a senior on the creative writing track. I'm also doing a math major. And a fun fact about myself is that I can jump...like kind of high like I should have been a cheerleader in high school.
I would...you can jump really high, having seen it before. It's I don't know if I know anyone who can jump higher than you off the top of my head. Thanks for introducing. I'd love to know...my first question for you is what are your like fascinations in writing? Because I know both of you do creative writing because I'm in a creative writing class with you and Marlon. And I'm just wondering, you know, what are the things that you return to again and again? Ideas, topics, characters, places?
I think I always start with characters. I have no clue why it's just always what happens. I'm fascinated. I've wrote written a couple of stories where characters have like lost part of their memory in the situation, whether it's a fantasy story, and that just happens to be the situation. I have absolutely no idea why that's where I end up in writing. But it's very interesting to have some characters know what's going on others characters who have absolutely no idea what's happening. And it's kind of just a fun time.
Is that something you like? Like when you're reading as well? Like? Is that what you focus on?
I don't know. I think I like books that are told with multiple characters points of view. So I guess sort of
I am....It took me a little while to realize this, but I'm fascinated with like, bodies, or like writing about a character's own experience of their body. And I didn't realize I was doing this until I wrote a story about like a seed that gets like magic-ed into having a body and absolutely hates it and wants to go back to being a seed. And then I realized that like all of my stories have elements of like people growing scales or like having bark or iron skin or having like, just sort of like a half human shape. Yeah, I think that is something that I return to a lot and I couldn't tell you why.
I feel like honestly, like, so why is maybe even less...Oh, I mean Marlon James would say the [?]. But yeah, I definitely see in the, the, you know, writing that I've read both of you in the class like those sort of fascinations coming through Eric, do you mind if I talk about the story that you had the the piece that you had in Chanter that you also made me look at and it's rough draft form.
So, my very first, one of my very first interactions with Eric was we were at the concert choir retreat because we're also both in concert choir together. And...."hey, want to read this piece that I wrote? Like, you know, give it maybe some feedback?" And I was like, "hell yeah." You know, we're bonding, we're becoming friends. And this piece was, and it's in Chanter, so you can look it up, probably in the Chanter website, about Eric's body and his experience in his body. And it's a really great piece. But he does in fairly explicit detail describe the hair on Eric's ass. And that was really just like my first experience of who you are as a person.
I'm really sorry about that.
You shouldn't be sorry because it is like, hilarious. And I mean, like you said, it's a fascination of yours like it is actually....I think reflective with you in a way that is not bad.
Yeah, specifically, all the piece was about all the gross parts about, like, my own experience of my body. Which is a very, I mean, it's a very intimate thing. So it's a bit like getting married on the first date, almost, except on like, a platonic level.
Well, I'm so glad to be platonically married to you at an opportune stage in our relationship, Eric.
This podcast was probably the the not the best time to let you know. Anyways.
Amy, what are your thoughts?
Well, okay, so Eric, if you write about body experiences, do you read a lot of body horror? Or what's your take on like, watching horror films?
Oh, I, I am...I'm a coward. I do not. Like I. I like writing about bodies. I'm fascinated by bodies. I don't like horror, I think. I think I could write about like, the strange things about bodies or even like, like unsettling, but I don't think I could ever go into full blown horror because I would give myself a heart attack and I would sweat through all my shirts.
I mean, valid, I hate horror movies, too.
Yeah. Amy, do you ever have a hard time doing horrible things to your main characters for the sake of tension?
Absolutely. Are you kidding? Um, so I feel attached to my main characters always, like I developed you in my mind. And then I'm like, but I have to crush all of your hopes and dreams. Which is kind of heartbreaking. But it's also really exciting. I, for some reason, always have the beginning and the ending of a story in my mind. And then it's kind of trying to figure out what the middle is. So I know that it's sometimes going to end up okay, other times, I know that it's just gonna end up being awful at the end. So it's like, sorry, did I know that when I made the character so I just kind of I like that character, because I design the character, but I also hate the character because I designed them that way. What about you?
Doing horrible things to my characters, you mean? Yeah, I know, I'm so bad. I have such a hard time I remember...so um Matt Burgess is a professor at Macalester, obviously. And he was talking about how sometimes it's hard to do terrible things to our characters, because we want our readers to like our characters, because they're paying like, ideally, they're paying like $20 for the, for the experience of reading this story. And the story that we write, and if it's about horrible characters, we don't want them to be like, I feel cheated out of these, these like $20 that I spent reading about these terrible people.
That's interesting to think of it as like transactional. Matt Burgess. I, Amy, I'm really interested in what you said about how you like come to stories. How you have the beginning in mind and the end in mind, but in the middle is...you kind of got to wade through. Eric, do you have like a way that you often start stories? How the stories come to you? I'm also thinking about Tochi Onyebuchi came to our class with Marlon's fantasy writing class and he said the way that he comes to stories is often he has an image in his mind, and then he's like, how do I get there? And that has really just been on my mind a lot since he came to our class and talked. So with those those contexts, I don't know how, how do you come to stories, Eric, and if you have something to add Amy, go ahead.
Yeah, I think I subscribe to the Tochi School of coming up with stories, which is like, thinking about all the cool things I want to have in my story and like, trying to figure out how to like, what is the connecting logic between all of those possibly disparate elements? I think a big part of how I figure out what I want to write is twofold. So on, on one hand, I want to like incorporate parts of my own, like experience that I feel like uncertain or confused about. Because writing is just a good way to like, sort of sit with those like questions or thoughts, even if it's like, like a fantasy story about dragon people. The other thing is that I usually turn to like, fanfiction tropes that I love. And try and write them with my own characters. So I'm a huge fan of enemies to friends. And, just like those like, Oh, no, there's only one bed and it's really cold out.
Really, really, really fanfiction.
It's really fanfiction-y tropes. And I, I try to approach that as like earnestly as possible with, like, my own take on it. Usually, my own take is nothing like particularly special, but I have a good time writing it.
That's the important part.
Amy, do you read fanfiction at all?
I haven't in a long time, but I'm definitely like, give me any book that I can get my hands on it and I will, like, try and read as much as I can at a time. I definitely have like bookmarks in like 20 different books right now. Which means I'm only like three chapters into some of them. But it's a kind of a fun time. Because then I know, like if I feel like fantasy one day, I know which book to go and grab.
That strong initial first push through the book, I think is so important. I also have a stack of books with bookmarks and....what are...I'm curious, because both of you were asking each other about like, the things that you're interested in writing, are they things that you're interested in reading....What are things that you're interested in reading? What are I mean, you know, if if you were recommending like three series or three books?
Let's see. Okay, I just started the Witcher series this summer, because I saw that the Netflix show is coming out. Don't be discouraged if you weren't a fan of the Netflix show. The book is better than the show. I promise. I had a really good time reading it. Yes. It's like classic fantasy, but it's really cool if you're into retellings. I'm a big mythology retellings person. So I'm reading Circe by Madeline Miller, already read the Song of Achilles. It's also great. So definitely check those out. Madeline Miller is amazing. That's definitely my classics major coming through. And then I'm just a fan of Gothic literature. So anything that has like demons and whatnot in it. So I recently have been reading...what's the first book called? I think the first book's called House of Furies by Madeleine Roux. And it's a trilogy. It's really cool. It's kind of like, "what is the real determinant of what's good and evil?" And it does it in this really kind of trippy way, and it's awesome. So those are my three recommendations for today. But I always have more, so feel free to reach out.
Do those those three recommendations have any like common threads between them?
No, they have no common threads. They're just completely random. I could go on for days recommending books.
Yeah, that's the literature major. All the literature that you read.
I read more fanfiction, or like web comics online and play video games than I do like real life book books.
Recommend us some of those. What's your...Eric? What's your top three fanfictions? Go.
Well, hang on, hang on, hang on. I do have like, a couple, like actual books to recommend. And the first one is, This Is How You Lose The Time War. It's like two time time traveling spies, who are like, snarky, and like write letters to each other, fall in love. Even though they're on opposite sides of the war of the Time War. It's, oh, gosh, it's so it's so sassy and sharp and like gushy and the...the writing is, like, really poetic. There's this...oh, I almost gave you a spoiler. Anyways, it should....you should read it. It's, it's. Oh, it's so gay. It's so good.
Nice. Eric, you should review books. Those were some really good adjectives. "Gushy."
Oh, gosh. So, This Is How You Lose The Time War. A video game that I have played recently and really liked is Fallout New Vegas. There is a...there's a quest in Fallout New Vegas, where you are uncovering a mystery of like, some disappearances in a hotel. And this isn't a spoiler because it gets revealed early on. But it turns out there's like a whole, like, ring of cannibal chefs that you have to like, take down. And the whole...the whole video game is just filled with like, like weird stories like that. And they're just like, the dialogue is so well written. There is a quest in the game where you have to help a like coven of radioactive zombies who are extremely like religious get to space.
Every single word of that sentence took me into like a totally new place that I could not have possibly predicted.
Right. And they're and they're so polite, too. They're very nice.
They're the most well spoken. Yeah, and it's just a wonderful game full of surprises. And it takes place in like, the 2300s after a nuclear war, which is like, why it's called Fallout. So I think those are my two recommendations is This Is How You Lose The Time War and Fallout New Vegas.
Well, thank you for those recommendations Eric and, Amy, for yours as well. I kind of like desperately want to keep talking to you about like books that you like and things that you're interested in, like how you write and stuff like I that is a conversation that I would happily have over like several hours. But in the interest of time, I do want to ask you some more stuff about sort of the English major at Macalester. I know and we've mentioned this before, and I know you're both in Marlon James's Crafts of Writing. Fantastic Beasts and Where to Find Them as the actual title of the class. JK Rowling sucks. So it's really just a fantasy writing class. What are some other classes that you've taken in the English department or even just at Macalester that have like informed your English major that you've really liked or have been really formative for you?
I really enjoyed with Professor Geng...she taught a Demonology course. And it was amazing. We read Macbeth and Dr. Faustus and The Witch of Edmonton. We watched a horror movie too and it was so scary. I had nightmares for like a month. "The VVitch." It's creepy. If you like horror, I recommend. If you don't, I don't recommend. I also took the Homer course that was cross listed between the classics and English department. It was a lot of fun because I took Intro to Creative Writing with Matt, and so it was nice to have a second creative writing course with Matt, and I also...Nanette Goldman from the classics department is wonderful. So two wonderful professors teaching a course on Homer's The Odyssey, which fantastic, epic poem. We read the brand new, like translation by Emily Wilson. And it was just a great time. So I think those are my two, like, favorite Mac courses, which I, both...both of them happened in the spring of 2020. Kind of a fun time there. But um, yeah. What about you, Eric?
I was not expecting to do a creative writing major. When I came to Macalester, I thought I was going to be a lit major. But I took Professor Bognanni's creative writing class, or Intro to Creative Writing class. And I just realized that I really liked creative writing, specifically the part after you finish writing, and you just have the finished piece. The writing itself is not...it's fine. The writing, the writing is fine. But like, being done with a piece and like, being able to like go back and read it is, is my favorite part. So just the discovery that being in an intro class, let me sort of like make...probably the most transformative English class that I had. But yeah, I, oh, boy. I think the first class I took with Marlon is also another class that...this was the...this was the class that I wrote ass hair essay for. Crafts of Writing: Creative Nonfiction. It was it was kind of a scary class because I was still like, I was still a baby writer.
What year did you take it?
I was...I took it first semester sophomore year. And I was, I was scared, because like, this was the first like, real creative writing class that I was taking at Macalester, but also because I was not on a high enough dosage of Prozac.
Ugh, feel that one. Um, Amy, you mentioned really liking Matt Burgess's, like sort of style of teaching and his classes, which I can relate to. He's a, he's a great professor. I'm curious what you think--both of you think--makes for a good class? What are things that you really like when professors do, especially when it comes to creative writing and like workshops.
I definitely like a mix of lecture and like, conversation amongst the students. I think that's kind of my ideal of...I don't like sitting and just being talked at for like an hour, it's not always the most exciting to me, although I have taken really interesting classes where that happened. So I mean, you know, to each their own, but, um, I do like when it's like, actually like a discussion, where the students are mostly talking, but that the professor kind of guides that along. I think that's really helpful.
I...I like Matt's style, and Amy, feel free to jump in. I like Matt's style, because there's this structure that he has, I'm certain that like, there are other really good ways to run the class. But I've gotten so used to the way that like Matt runs his workshops, that it's almost like, like, a routine or like, security blanket. Like I've gotten so used to like that particular style that it It feels like, I don't know, like yoga, I assume. I've never done yoga. But like, start...starting off with like, a summary of the piece so that the author who's getting workshops knows, like, how other people saw their work. And then like, moments of heat, which is just like the things that other people liked about the work, which is like it's so...
They're like little compliments.
Yes, absolutely. And then it's not parts that I didn't like that Matt, like, puts into his workshop. It's like moments of confusion, which is like, a huge perspective shift for me when I like learned about, like that particular, like piece. Because if I was like workshopping a horror piece, I would not be having a good time. And there would be a lot of things that I didn't like about it, because I don't like horror. But that's not really what the author of that horror piece needs to hear. The author of that horror piece doesn't need to know like how I feel about horror, the author needs to know, like, was it clear that when the main character got stabbed in the spleen, that that was what happened? So I, I really appreciate Matt's structure in his in his workshops. Yeah, I think it's a it's a smart way to do it. Yeah.
I think Matt, at least in my opinion, is, you know, just so so good at centering workshop around making the piece that you worked on workshopping the best piece, in accordance with the author's goals for the piece. Like, you know, so often in workshops, you can say things that are just, you know, you can't be sure, but seem like they're saying things to make the piece, steer the piece in a direction that they would take it. But it's really not like workshop, I don't think it's really about that I think workshop is much more about taking the piece to where the author wants it to go. And I think Matt is so good at that, and so good using opinions to facilitate that. I know other professors in the department are like very anti-opinion, which is one way to run a workshop has its its, you know, pros for sure. But I love that Matt uses opinions as like, like a neutral piece of information, you know?
Welcome to the Matt fancast.
We should title the episode "Welcome To The Matt Fancast." I'd love to know, just like, bam, bam, bam. A couple questions. First: you both have other majors. Amy, you're classics. Eric, you're math. Do you think that that's influenced your writing or your experience in the English department at all?
I think my classics major absolutely has. I came to Mac intending English major. And that was it. But then I found the classics major. And I think a lot of the times I'll write something and it definitely you can see, like, if I'm writing a retelling of a myth, it's pretty obvious that I know like the myth in a couple different ways than just, I'm rewriting this randomly. At least that's how I think they come across, maybe it's not. Um, so I think it definitely has. And I also think like word choice is something that's really important in Latin and ancient Greek that I've learned like, translating is a time, it's a fun time, but it's a time um, and so just knowing that all these authors chose their words very specifically is really cool to see. And like a creative writing element too.
I have tried to think about math while I do English, and it has never succeeded. The part of math that I study has a lot to do with, like, how to think about symmetry, using the tools of like matrices, which is like how computers like to think, basically, I like to imagine that my math major is all about how to describe symmetry to a computer. And I have never figured out how to incorporate that into my writing. I know that the author who wrote a short story that the movie Arrival is based on...I know that he is also a computer science major. And he writes about math in his fiction, or like he incorporates math in his fiction. So I wish I was smart enough to do that. I haven't figured out how.
Is Arrival the Amy Adams one?
Oh, I don't know.
Yeah, with the, like, Octopod.
Yeah, such a cool movie. I recommend it. Sorry, tangent.
So speaking of majors, what advice would you give to somebody thinking about choosing an English major? And I'm thinking especially if like, you know you're you're in different tracks, Amy's literature, Eric is creative writing. How did you choose that? How would you, you know, recommend people think about choosing that? What's your advice?
Yes. Um, so I, quote unquote, knew that I was going to be an English major. When I came to Mac, I had no clue what track I wanted to be, though. I knew I wanted to be able to take both. So, um, I talked to one of the professors, and I don't know which one, I think I was still like a prospective student. So it may have been Daylanne, I think, um, when I came to just visit campus, and just kind of asked about what the tracks were, and got the info that I could still take creative writing classes while l was a lit track major. So I'm, actually, all four electives that I'm taking, as a lit track major will be creative writing classes. So I'll have taken six lit classes and four creative writing classes for my major. So it's kind of really nice that way. So I just would say take whatever classes you're interested in, I don't know what the creative writing requirements are. I'm sure Eric can talk more on that.
I got some advice from my junior year English teacher. And she said, oh, this is high school, by the way. She said to do two majors if you can, and pick one practical one, and one that is for fun, or that you feel passionate about, which is what I thought I was doing. And then I realized that pure math is actually not super marketable. So now I just have two majors that I'm very passionate about. If you liked the, like, take Intro to Creative Writing, because it's a great class, like I think everyone at Macalester should take Intro to Creative Writing
They really should.
But take the intro class, and if you enjoy, like writing and getting feedback, then you should talk to someone about the creative writing major. But also, I should, I should mention that at Macalester, the creative writing major and the literature major are extremely similar. Or can be because the creative writing major is just the lit track but you need to take creative writing classes for all of your electives. So, Amy, the only difference between you having a lit major and you having Creative Writing major right now is just what Capstone you take.
Oh, well, there we go. I am taking the lit Capstone, though. Cool Gothic literature stuff.
That's funny to hear you say that, Eric, because as a creative writing major, that's the track that I am. Yeah, that's my allegiance here in this conversation. I'm also taking the lit Capstone next semester with Penelope. So there's definitely a whole lot of crossover between creative writing and literature. And I think when you're choosing it, you know, they asked you to choose one, but like, you're not actually that locked in you just, you know, take the classes that you are interested in.
One last question for both of you. What is something that you are proud of for..from your time as an English major?
These questions always stump me. Um, I think I'm just kind of proud that I made myself take these creative writing classes. It was definitely something that I wasn't going to like, do at first, and I took intro and I loved intro. So I took the Homer class, and now I'm in this fantasy writing class. And in the fourth module, I'm taking a world building class, and it's just so much fun.
I'm gonna take that world building class too!
I'm very jealous. I think it's hard for me to feel proud of my work, like in the moment. I think the moments where I feel most proud of what I've accomplished is when I read my old writing, and I go, oh, geez, this is...there's a lot of things I would change about this if I were to write this now. And so I guess, just seeing how much I've learned about sentence structure, and elements of plot, and elements of story, and all these little details that have accumulated to change how I write. Yeah, I guess just seeing how much I've changed.
That's so sweet. I it makes me happy that for the things that you're proud of are sort of these intangible things like I've watched my writing get better or I've really pushed outside of what my comfort zone was or you know what I thought I would take. It's, you know, sweet, inspiring, and I'm glad that you're proud of yourself because you both deserve to be. I can't even remember if I said this while we were recording but I do think that you are both just like great writers and really interesting people. And I'm so glad that you can join me here today for this probably inaugural episode of The Ramblings.
Thank you for listening to the ramblings. Teddy Holt was the anchor, Dalton Greene assisted in writing. Anna Chu is the editor, music is Get Jazz, courtesy of purpleplanet.com. If you're an English major senior and you're interested in being a part of this project, please contact firstname.lastname@example.org for more information. Thank you.