Its my honor today to bring you a guest interview with my friend and fellow author Luther Siler. He's got a new book coming out about a topic that's very near and dear to my heart: Teaching. I hope you check it out! Without further adieu:
1. First off, tell my readers a bit about yourself.
My name's Luther Siler. James and I met at InConJunction this year when we had tables next to each other in Artists' Alley, and... well, the convention was kinda slow, so we got to talking a bit. I've been a teacher since 2000, and I've been working on SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA in my head for nearly all of that time. I currently live in northern Indiana, and spent five years teaching in Chicago as well. I spend most of my time with my wife and son, blogging at my website, infinitefreetime.com, or shouting into the void on Twitter at@nfinitefreetime.
2. This book is about your experiences teaching. What got you into teaching in the first place?
It was basically an accident, believe it or not. I was in grad school at the University of Chicago from 1998-2000, and had a beer-and-pizza-money job tutoring Algebra and helping out in the computer lab at a local Chicago Public Schools school while I was there. I decided after my MA that I didn't want to continue on to the Ph.D, and applied for a job teaching computer classes at a Catholic school that, somehow, I got. And now it's fifteen years later. It really shouldn't have happened that way.
3. What does the title of the book refer to?
I ain't sayin'. The last essay in the book is the title essay, and it's last for a reason. The full title of the book is SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA: WHY TEACHING IS TERRIBLE... AND WHY WE DO IT ANYWAY, and I'm hoping the post-colonic part of the title is clear enough that the slightly confusing main title gets overlooked. :-) (It's $4.95 for the ebook or $15.99 for the print edition, and is nearly 500 pages long, by the way, so I promise either way you're getting your money's worth!)
4. Do you feel like teaching as a profession is undervalued?
Lord, yes, and in some ways that's what half the book is about. I'll go farther, actually: education itself is massively undervalued in America, which may be the most anti-intellectual first world country on Earth. So people whose sole purpose is to provide a service that lots of people don't really think is necessary (the number of times I've heard "I never could do XXX, and I turned out fine!" from someone who clearly DID NOT turn out fine...) are highly likely to be themselves undervalued. That said, this book is mostly about my experiences in the classroom. I'm a surface-level thinker and writer in a lot of ways and the book isn't super existential. I'm just telling stories for most of it. I just hope they're entertaining, or at least horrible in a way that keeps people reading.
5. What do you hope readers take away from this book about teaching in America?
I just basically want people more aware of the bullshit we have to put up with, and to be aware of the way education law over the last fifteen years (and, to be clear, this is ABSOLUTELY a bipartisan issue-- I voted for Obama twice, but he is NOT on our side on this) has taken what was already a historically difficult profession and made it virtually impossible. Standardized testing has polluted every aspect of the teaching profession and, worse, the teacher-student relationship, and it's not going to get better until parents start picking up pitchforks and waving them at government officials.
6. Most of your published writing has been science fiction, what was the transition to writing non-fiction like?
A piece of cake, actually. Okay, granted, I really am telling the truth about this book taking 15 years to write, but in some other ways it's the easiest thing I've ever done. Writing about education comes incredibly easy to me, as does telling stories about my life, and that's basically all SEARCHING FOR MALUMBA is. I once wrote a thirty-page essay in grad school in something like two hours, because it was an issue I knew a hell of a lot about and felt pretty passionately about. Writing nonfiction is much, much easier for me than writing fiction ever has been.
7. What are your other books about?
My series THE BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES is a short story novella and a full-length novel called THE SANCTUM OF THE SPHERE. They're space opera, very Star Wars and SAGA inspired, although I'm breaking away from the roots as I get farther into writing the stories. The elevator pitch, which I've never been hugely fond of but is reasonably accurate, is "Star Wars with D&D characters." The three main characters are a gnome smuggler, her husband and their halfogre enforcer. I'm trying to layer in some thematic complexity that doesn't come through in that pitch, but hell, if a Star Wars/D&D mashup appeals to you, you're gonna like it. My other novel is a near-future science fiction book called SKYLIGHTS, about the second human mission to Mars. It has a monkey in it. If you liked THE MARTIAN and were hoping for something not quite as good but with a monkey, you'll love it. (I know I'm not supposed to say other books are better than my book, but THE MARTIAN was wonderful. Read it after you read SKYLIGHTS if you haven't yet.)
My next project is a sequel to SKYLIGHTS, called either STARLIGHT or SUNLIGHT depending on my mood, and once that comes out the series will retroactively become known as THE JOHANNES CYCLE. After that, another BENEVOLENCE ARCHIVES book, this one a novel-length short story collection. Then something unconnected to either of them. It's weird to have my books planned out to 2017 already.
8. Do you think any of your students will be reading this book?
At least three of them definitely will, and those three have big mouths. None of my current students will see it, but there are a bunch who are either high school graduates now or close enough who I'm still in touch with. There are even stories about some of them in there. So, yeah, there's gonna be some former kids reading it.
9. What would you say is the best and worst thing about teaching?
The best thing is the actual teaching. I still, even with all my issues with burnout over the years, love the process of helping people (of any age) understand things that they don't get. The worst thing is everything else. Actually, no. The worst part is being a grown-ass man who can't go to the bathroom whenever he wants because the 28 adolescents he's in charge of will eat each other if he leaves them alone for five minutes. Everything else is second-worst.
10. Is there a chapter of this book that is your favorite?
Ooh. There is a piece called WHY I WILL NEVER BE A PRINCIPAL at the end that is about one of my more eye-opening days as the building designee, and there's another one called MITCH DANIELS CAN <GO ON A LOVELY PICNIC WITH HIS FRIENDS AND FAMILY> that is a massively reedited version of one of the most profane and insulting things I've ever written.
I swear in this book, by the way. If you're the type of person who believes that teachers should be pristine sinless virgins (another pet peeve about the job) in their private lives, this may not be the book for you.
11. Is there anything else you'd like to talk about we missed?
If you happen to be in the Midwest, and specifically a Hoosier, I'll have a dealer table at Starbase Indy in Indianapolis during Thanksgiving weekend. You can come grab signed versions of any of my books for less than they'll be at Amazon, and spend some time staring at people in cool costumes too! There will probably be an audio version for MALUMBA coming sooner or later, too, and if you want to read this digitally but don't have a Kindle, get in touch with me via my website up there and chances are there's a way I can magically put an .epub version in your hands. I will come up with some other Important Thing Everyone Needs to Know the second I hit send on this, I'm sure...
Thanks so much for the interview! I really appreciate it, and I hope everyone (yes, EVERYONE, including you!) enjoys the book!
Thank you so much for taking the time to talk to us Luther!
You can find Searching for Malumba at the link below:
Poet, Playwright, Game Designer, Writer, Freelancer for hire.