Juggling Dr. Death and social change

Prof’s bibliography is broad

After being published in a science fiction magazine, Schutz's novelette was turned into a graphic novel.

After being published in a science fiction magazine, Schutz’s novelette was turned into a graphic novel.

Not too many professors see words like “thrills, horror, chills” on the cover of their publications.

But Aaron Schutz, professor in the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee Department of Educational Policy & Community Studies, combines his education scholarship and teaching with a sideline as a successful science-fiction writer.

An anthology of his science-fiction writing, “The League of Almost Super Heroes” came out this year, around the same time that his more academic “Collective Action for Social Change” was released in paperback. (Marie Sandy, an assistant professor in the same department is co-author of this textbook on community organizing.)

“It’s a completely different type of writing than I usually do these days,” Schutz says of his exploration of science fiction and fantasy. “I actually started out as a fiction writer, and then became an academic. It’s great training, because fiction writers are always sending stuff out to publishers, getting rejections all the time. The first time I got a set of grumpy reviews about an article,  I thought it was great  because you usually just get a printed rejection slip for fiction.”

Schutz has loved science fiction since he was a child. He always wanted to be a writer, but got serious when he won a story-writing contest in high school, and was invited to join a monthly workshop in his hometown with award-winning writers Kate Wilhelm and Damon Knight. He eventually earned a master’s degree in creative writing from New York University before changing career directions and earning his doctorate in education.

Aaron Schutz

Through the years, he’s written numerous academic articles and books on community organizing, social change and progressive visions of democratic education. In his off-campus life, he’s also actively engaged in the community, most recently with a group of churches working to increase their spending on minority businesses.

He had mostly stopped writing fiction. Then a few years ago, right before he and his wife adopted daughters Hiwot and Sheta, a three-day novel-writing contest inspired him to take a short break from regular responsibilities and do some serious creative writing. The result was a novelette, “Dr. Death vs. the Vampire,” which was published in the magazine Fantasy and Science Fiction, and then turned into a graphic novel by A. Kaviraj at Champion Comics, an online publisher.

Schutz describes “Dr. Death vs. the Vampire” as the story of Dr. Death, an anti-hero and sometime member of the League of Almost Superheroes. His super-power is the ability to feel the emotions of people around him. Ironically, Dr. Death isn’t really that empathetic, and he has decided it’s his calling to euthanize people whom he believes would be happier dead. On the run from the law on a Greyhound Bus, he runs into a “vampire” of sorts and a conflict begins.

“This is weird stuff,” says Schutz happily. Champion Comics published another story, “Dr. Death vs. the Zombie,” based on Schutz’s character, and is working on continuing the series. Schutz advises them at times, but says he’s done with the characters himself.

“It’s kind of dark, but it’s just this fun other piece of my life,” says Schutz of his science-fiction and fantasy writing. “You get to play out all sorts of interesting things.”

When “Dr. Death” came out in 2010, Schutz announced it briefly on his education blog:

“Just so people know that us academics are not completely pedantic, my novelette, ‘Dr Death vs. the Vampire’ has just been published in the Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction. He added: “My wife got very nervous when I had a bunch of books on how to poison people lying around the house.”

Schutz says he’d like to do more fiction writing, but the rest of his busy life means that probably won’t be happening much in the near future. He’s busy with his UWM research and teaching, writing academic articles and books, engaging in community work and raising his daughters – whose tastes run to much lighter fantasies.

“I need another three-day Memorial Day weekend novel-writing challenge.”