Hi there - I'm Ryan, and I'll be your instructor for "Writing the Human."  As we go through our course, I'm looking forward to getting to know each of you and your writing interests.  I previously taught this course as a two-credit Intersession course at Johns Hopkins, and I found that is sparked a lot of good discussions and wild writing.  I hope that it does the same for you.

To get started, here's is a bit about my background and my approach to teaching.  I earned my MFA in creative writing from the Johns Hopkins Writing Seminars in May 2010, where I've continued teaching as an an adjunct instructor.  As a grad student and adjunct, I've taught six semesters of undergraduate Introduction to Fiction and Poetry.  In the fall I'll begin my Ph.D. in English Studies with a focus on creative writing at Illinois State University.

I've been interested in science fiction since around sixth or seventh grade, when my grandparents gave me a subscription to Analog.  Back then, I was trying to rewrite The Lord of the Rings as a kind of Dungeons & Dragons story with King Arthur and Pirates, so science fiction offered a bit of a different course for me.  (granted, my writing was much different back then - this is the age when I was covering my G.I. Joe action figures in aluminum foil to make them resemble the Knights of the Round Table...)

Over time, my writing interests gradually shifted toward military sci fi and time travel, with a particular focus on artificial intelligence.  I've always been interested in the idea that computers could one day be "programmed" to think, and I've often speculated on how this might come to pass.  Could we program a machine to have our own thoughts and feelings (ala A.I.)?  Could a machine of sufficient complexity simply become self-aware (ala Skynet from Terminator)?  I'm not sure.  And that's part of what makes science fiction so much fun - we don't have to know the answers to everything we write about.  All we have to do is make our ideas believable enough that that our answers could be real.

On the flip side, though, there's something kind of funny about writing worlds that simply don't exist.  I mean, just look at Star Wars - if those movies were actually realistic, then those Imperial Stormtroopers would be listening to music on their iPods when they were off-duty.  (Trust me - I've been deployed.  The soldiers who conquer the galaxy will find ways to listen to music.)  So sometimes I like poking fun at the genre.  One of my current projects involves creating a world that has dragons, time travel, vampires, robots, zombies, machine guns - and anything else fantasticaI can fit in there.  The more impossible or unlikely, the better.

Naturally, it's hard taking a world that features every science fiction and fantasy trope and then molding it into a serious story.  The keystone, I think, comes in starting with a believable protagonist.  And I have several - sometimes, the protagonists become more interesting than the story itself.  And that's one of the reasons I enjoy teaching this course.  It offers a good reminder of the importance of character in the story.  No matter how wild/insane/complicated/freakishly awesome a story may be, it's the humanity of the situation which draws in the reader.  We want to imagine ourselves in the story, to be rooting for (or possibly against) the main characters.

If you have any questions about the course, please feel free to send me a message on Facebook.