The Author Spotlight on Claudia Casser, author of “No Child Left Behind”
“The more abstract the truth is that you would teach, the more you must seduce the senses to it.” Friedrich Nietzsche, Beyond Good and Evil.
First year of college, my philosophy classes both enthralled and enraged me. It was only the third year Yale admitted females as “freshmen;” years before Mory’s or Skull & Bones admitted females. For many, the “woman’s perspective” was a charming little joke among tolerant academics. I vowed to show them different.
But I was swamped in a multiplicity of choices, drowning in diverse theories of “the good” and “the just,” with nothing but feelings to guide my choice among them. (I recognized that as a clue, but male Yale culture did not.) In short, I discovered lots of “wrongs,” but no touchstone to judge what was “right.”
My high school plan had been simple: go to law school (Harvard, as it turned out) and work as an international lawyer. The plan met all the criteria of intellectual, cool, prestigious, and parent-funded.
At Yale, floundering in deepening quicksands of multi-cultural ethical complexity, I decided to carry on with my old plan until I turned 50. By that time, I figured, I’d acquire enough wisdom to write an updated version of Aristotle’s Nicomachean Ethics. Meanwhile, I’d be too busy practicing law, buying a horse farm, having kids, and learning about “real life” to let the sounds of my own wheels drive me crazy (Eagles: “Don’t let the sound of your own wheels drive you crazy/Lighten up while you still can/Don’t even try to understand/Just find a place to make your stand, and take it easy.”).
Oblivious to the irony, I began singing Bob Dylan’s lyrics beneath my breath: “Good and bad, I defined these terms/Quite clear, no doubt, somehow/Ah, but I was so much older then/I’m younger than that now.” Then I hand-lettered and hung three mottos on my dorm room walls:
(1) “Everything he is doing is excellent and in order and yet he has a bad conscience with it all. For the extraordinary is his task.” (Nietzsche, The Gay Science)
(2) “Do not be virtuous beyond your strength! And do not desire anything of yourself against probability.” (More Nietzsche, Thus Spoke Zarathustra)
(3) “Everyone must be faced, but no one can be turned to.” (My own first epigram)
And so I chose my path.
Somewhere along that path I realized the difficulty of communicating with clients and kids. As a corollary, I realized that if I wrote my new Nicomachean Ethics in academic form, nobody would read it except academics.
Following Nietzsche’s advice to seduce the senses, and my own passion for speculative fiction (for decades second only to my obsession with horses), I decided to ask my ethical questions within spec fic stories. Perhaps a distressing surrender of intellectual rigor, but a satisfying nose-thumbing at those with narrow minds. With the dividend of “giving back” some of the pure enjoyment I derived from spec fic.
By the time I turned 50, I was raring to embrace impossible questions again and fulfill my life’s purpose. To the shock of my male bosses, colleagues, and husband (who apparently thought the plans I pestered them about were some kind of joke), I quit the practice of corporate law and started writing ethical-debate-rich spec fic.
Writing good fiction is a lot harder than I thought it would be. For me, much harder than non-fiction. Plus, contrary to my freshman assumptions, “real life” got harder when I “retired.”
With regard to writing, it became clear that even my fiction was too densely packed with interconnecting concepts to be accessible to the audience I wanted to reach. To force myself to simplify, I decided to try writing for Young Adults.
Which meant I needed a story about young adults. But everything I write has to be something I care about deeply, and struggle to understand, or I cannot generate the will to type.
Aha! My ADHD second child. As a bonus, someone I could directly ask for guidance during the struggle to understand. (Note to parents: turns out that in terms of family dynamics, this is no more a good idea than stand-up comics writing jokes about their kids.)
I gloated over the classic conflicts arising from diversity and bullying, not to mention the mysteries of grown-ups (how did those people get that way?) and other aliens. To force all lesser conflicts into perspective, I added war. Softened for a YA audience into impending genocide in an adjacent dimension.
No Child Left Behind was born.
And sat in my “drawer” as “real life” occurred. My husband surprised me with his inability to take over the role of breadwinner, my nest emptied, divorce ensued. The “marital home” and 25 acres of my precious 100-acre horse farm were sold. I moved to the office over my stable to live with two Greater Vasa parrots, one Great Pyrenees and ten horses. You can see pictures of the remaining 75 acres at http://www.resolutionfarm80.com/farm-views.html
Finally, after a spate of injuries ended my riding and heightened my sense of ephemerality, it was time to focus on marketing what I wrote.
In 2015, the Journal “Issues in Science and Technology” published my semi-comic, contest-winning story, Heirs of the Body. If you don’t subscribe to the print journal ☺, you can still read the story at http://issues.org/31-4/heirs-of-the-body/
But the subscribers to IST, scientists and policy-makers, are still the next thing to academics. To engage a wider audience, I decided to promote my YA novel, No Child Left Behind.
Unfortunately, my social website skills are non-existent and my social habits those of first millennium hermits. I’m also too vain to take pictures of myself, or allow others to do so. Like the Madwoman of Chaillot, whom I played while a junior riding counselor at summer theater camp, I’m convinced “the glass lies” when it reflects my face today. The picture attached to this bio is much more my self-image.
But now it’s time to plunge back into other universes. If you join me at http://www.ethicalantics.com, you can help me with my new, biggest writing problem: prioritizing which stories to finish/polish/publish first. My “drawer” overflows with not-quite-ready-for-prime-time stories in the Heirs universe, in the Three Commandments universe, and, yes, in the No Child Left Behind universe, too. But new story ideas continually distract me.
Moving forward, I’d be grateful for your opinion about which stories to concentrate on first. Unlike the rockmores in No Child Left Behind, my parrots refuse to comment.