Well, I’m exaggerating a little in the title to get your attention…I do have elements in my personality of the carnival sideshow barker, which came in handy when writing cover lines for porn mags! 😉 In any case, the late novelist and creative writing teacher R.V. Cassill, who was long associated with the famed Writers’ Workshop at the University of Iowa, was never directly my instructor–I never met him or physically took a class from him–but I learned many fiction skills from him. You see, besides writing several paperback novels in the 50s and 60s like 1959’s fascinatingly lurid and utterly absorbing The Wife Next Door (a Gold Medal book that would have been classified as pretty naughty in its time), he also wrote an influential instructional text entitled Writing Fiction that I picked up freshman year in college (1969-70) and studied carefully to learn the craft of writing short stories.
Cassill recommended the study of several stories included in his book, among which were Anton Chekhov’s “The Lady with the Pet Dog”, the tale of a nineteenth century married Russian man and his affair with an equally married woman; and its structure became, I’ve long thought, somewhat of a template for the many stories I’ve written over forty years of one man and one woman and what happens when they meet, especially in a kind of “pick-up” situation as in Chekhov’s tale. My stories, of course, are explicit whereas Chekhov’s was subtle (and believe me, I am in no way comparing our levels of achievement), but the idea of “life lessons learned” through erotic encounters is frequently the undercurrent in my work as well as in this great story by Master Anton.
I was delighted to see that “The Lady with the Pet Dog” was recently included in Rowan Pelling’s collection Erotic Stories from Britain’s Everyman’s Pocket Classics. I’ve always considered it an erotic tale in a genteel, quiet way, and it seems finally I’m not alone in that estimation. Ms. Pelling is also the editor of the new British print magazine The Amorist, dedicated to literary erotica and arts. You can visit their site here.
But getting back to Cassill: my original copy of Writing Fiction was full of my scribbled reactions and thoughts from when I studied it back in the early 70s. A few years ago I picked up another copy of the same edition at a paperback collector’s show, and perhaps someday I will fill it with new markings if and when I give myself a refresher course. Not that I’ve ever stopped being a “writing student”–many, many of the books I’ve enjoyed over the years are filled with jottings and notes in my “osmosis” method of soaking up technique to keep my “job skills” sharp while having fun reading.
Right now I’m into another one of Cassill’s paperback originals, Naked Morning. Like The Wife Next Door, it’s set at the Midwestern “Blackhawk University” which was Cassill’s fictional stand-in for the University of Iowa.
Ironically, long before I read any of Cassill’s novels or knew of his transmutation of the University of Iowa U into Blackhawk U, when I wrote porn novels in 1974-75 I fictionalized my own alma mater in Ohio as “Hindenburg College” for my book Teasing Teenage Daughter (the publishers’ slightly amended version of my original title, The Professor’s Lustful Daughter). Inevitable, I suppose, since we’re often taught to write from our own experiences…I still pay that imaginary campus a visit every now and then, too, as one of my Twitter friends, Fast Pauly, will attest! 😉 The latest example is OBEY YOUR TUTOR, one of my Kindle femdom erotica ebooks, available on Amazon here. For adults only, of course.
R.V. Cassill died several years ago, but his skilled teaching through Writing Fiction, and his ability to mix thoughtful and insightful prose with sensational plot elements in his paperbacks, guarantee that I’ll have much more entertainment to enjoy from his pen. Look for his books on Amazon too, especially Writing Fiction. There are plenty of reading copies available for just a few bucks, so you can make your own notes and jottings as you study the lovely art of telling stories.
By the way, there’s an interesting review of The Wife Next Door at a site called NeglectedBooks.com here, dedicated to worthy yet unjustly forgotten literature. There’s a review of Naked Morning as well but I haven’t read that one yet since I’m still in the middle of the novel.