Victoria Nelson is a writer of fiction, criticism, and memoir. Her books include the award-winning Gothicka and The Secret Life of Puppets, both published by Harvard University Press; two collections of stories, Wild California and A Bestiary of My Heart, a memoir, My Time in Hawaii; and On Writer’s Block. She was a Guggenheim Fellow for the 2016-17 academic year and edited and wrote the introduction to the New York Review Books edition of Robert Aickman’s story collection Compulsory Games, published in 2018.
*Photo Credit: Sylvia Plachy
MA in English, University of Toronto
BA in English, University of California, Berkeley
Areas of Expertise
- Creative Nonfiction
Teaching writing at the MFA level for me is an empathic act that amounts to entering my students’ imaginations as companion and mentor on their writing journey. My task is to see the project through their eyes and then enhance their efforts with my own skills and perspective, which serve as a container within which to bring the project to fruition. “Rules” of good fiction and dramatic exposition must be acknowledged but also, once the craft is mastered, questioned. Genres can be opened up, reshuffled, combined into meta-genres. Working in familiar forms and creating new ones both require literary sophistication. I encourage my students to read in a wide international and historical arena to broaden their perspective from the last few decades of American realism, appreciate the aesthetics of other forms and possibilities, and sharpen their critical faculties.
My writing career includes works in a number of literary genres and subjects. They represent, in effect, a series of developmental memoirs. Even as I wrote works of fiction, literary criticism, film scripts, a writer’s book (On Writer’s Block), and a memoir (My Time in Hawaii), all belonged to only one genre informed by the same narrative structure–the bildungsroman of a person or cohort group (writers and artists; writers of grotesque literature; a generation of young Americans who came to the Pacific, etc.). My teaching experience ranges from university to workshop to one-on-one in a variety of settings: the universities of Hawaii, California, and Minnesota; the California College of the Arts; proposal writing in the historic first all-Maori small business seminars ever held in New Zealand; the Honolulu Model Cities program, and other venues. The imaginative and the analytical have been mutually reinforcing realms in my development as a writer. Writing The Secret Life of Puppets, a critical study of the supernatural grotesque, became a means of constructing a genealogy for myself as an imaginative writer and locating my own literary sensibility within a philosophical tradition. Many of the diverse subjects of that book were drawn from previous fictions I had written. My latest efforts in fiction indirectly echo and extend these concerns. My first collection of stories, Wild California, was published in the United Kingdom. A second story collection, A Bestiary of My Heart, appeared in fall 2011 from InkerMen Press, also in the UK.
Harvard University Press published Gothicka, my critical study of the Gothic genre in twenty-first-century fiction and film, in 2012. It is a companion volume to The Secret Life of Puppets and traces strands of alternate spirituality in the fictional realm of vampires, space aliens, and other supernatural entities.
I have written nine screenplays, with one optioned, and I am a co-producer of a major feature film. I have found writing screenplays an exciting complement to writing prose fiction because both, for me, are intensely visual and landscape-oriented mediums. Writing for film has the advantage of a larger visual canvas of action and spectacle; writing novels and stories allows for more subtle psychological and interior effects. As a screenwriter I am drawn particularly to science fiction and the supernatural precisely because these genres allow a skillful writer to exteriorize the psychological life of a character so that “dealing with one’s inner demons” takes the literal form of not-so-alien monsters the character must openly meet and engage. As a prose fiction writer, I have found myself (until recently) sticking closer to what we call “reality.” As a writer of memoir and criticism, I endeavor to bring as many of the techniques of imaginative writing to bear on my work as I can. As a teacher, I try to communicate the common principles that inform all these forms.