Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Gregory Ashe

Odyssey graduate and bestselling author Gregory Ashe will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Gregory is a longtime Midwesterner. He has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. He primarily writes contemporary mysteries, with forays into romance, fantasy, and horror. Predominantly, his stories feature LGBTQ protagonists. When not reading and writing, he is an educator.

For more information, visit his website: www.gregoryashe.com.


As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

The most important thing writers can do is keep trying. That’s not just general encouragement, although I do believe that persistence and hard work will probably pay greater dividends than waiting for genius, talent, or inspiration. I also mean keep trying new things: new genres, new points of view, new narrative structures, new character types, new lengths. As with so many crafts, failures in writing often teach more than successes, and trying new things will force you to stretch and grow—and it may help you see your own strengths and weaknesses.

You’re a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. What made you decide to attend?

When I decided to apply to Odyssey, I had been writing for seven years. I felt like I’d made a lot of progress and seen a lot of improvement, but I didn’t know how to take my writing to the next level. My goal was to have a career as a writer; I wasn’t sure if that was a realistic goal, and I didn’t know what to do to get better. After researching several writing workshops, I decided Odyssey seemed like the best fit for me.

How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey? What insights did you gain into your own work?

Like so many Odyssey graduates, I found the workshop to be transformational. Critiques from Jeanne, guest lecturers, and fellow students helped me see both errors and weaknesses in individual stories as well as systemic problems in my writing. Just a few of the important lessons I learned are the importance of the causal chain, how to use character goals and conflict, the three-act structure, the role of theme and resonance, and effective point of view. I also learned how to read fiction more critically, which has helped me continue learning after Odyssey.

Your latest book, Stray Fears, came out in October 2020 and is a paranormal/horror mystery. What are some of the challenges of writing across genres?

Writing across genres presents a variety of opportunities and challenges. Genre-bending or genre-blending works may appeal to a wider audience, for example, and they allow writers to incorporate a greater variety of plot devices and play on (or with) more conventions. On the other hand, cross-genre stories are always at risk of disappointing audiences—mystery fans, for example, may not enjoy the supernatural elements, or horror fans may want more monsters and fewer clues. In addition, because each story always has a limit to what it can contain, writing across genres also requires authors to make sacrifices—it’s a struggle to fit in all the beats and plot points expected in each genre.

You’ve published six books in your Hazard and Somerset mysteries. Do you tend to outline your books and series ahead of time, or do you tend to figure things out as you go along? When you started the series, did you know how many books you would write and where your characters would end up?

Although I have become more and more of an outliner, there is still an element of excavation and discovery in each book I write. One challenge I’ve faced as a writer is that I tend to write long books—and if I’m not careful, they become massive. Outlining helps me control the size of the story, as well as ensuring that I hit the right beats and turns when and where I want to. The excavatory and exploratory side of storytelling tends to happen, for me, between those major plot points. I have written quite a few books without an outline at all, but that is less and less the case. The same is true for series. The Hazard and Somerset series essentially took shape as two parts: the first four books, and then the last two. I learned from that, and when I wrote ‘season two,’ Hazard and Somerset: A Union of Swords, I had a fairly comprehensive outline for the five-book series. I now tend to write all of my series this way, with an outline to guide the pacing of the series as well as the individual books.

You’re a prolific writer in addition to working as an educator. What does a typical day look like for you? When and how do you set aside time for writing, and how do you remain so productive?

The short answer is that I don’t have much of a life! During the school year, I wake up at 5 and write until it’s time to go to work. When I get home, I spend a couple of hours revising, eat dinner, and read. That’s pretty much it—in the summer, I have more time to relax, but for most of the year I keep to a fairly rigorous schedule. While I have mixed feelings about word goals, I do find them useful, and I aim to write two to three thousand words every day. I don’t always keep all of those words, but I believe there’s value in getting into the right headspace (flow, self-hypnosis, whatever you like to call it) and spending as much time as possible in it.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

Let’s see: the third book in my The Lamb and the Lion series (The Same End) comes out at the end of January. Then I have a four-book series that follows up on my Borealis Investigations books—this series is called Borealis: Without a Compass. Then I have more Hazard and Somerset, and I’m hoping to squeeze in a follow-up horror/mystery before October. Maybe a new project will surprise me along the way—it’s been known to happen!

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Interview: Guest Lecturer David Farland

David Farland will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. David is an international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print.

He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for Best SF novel of the year, the Whitney Award for Book of the Year, and the International Book Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the year, among others. He is best known, however, for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

He is the lead judge for one of the world’s largest writing competitions and has helped dozens of writers launch their careers, including such well-known names as Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, Brandon Mull, and Stephenie Meyer.

You can learn about his workshops and sign up for his free advice column at www.mystorydoctor.com.


As a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

There isn’t one piece of advice that everyone needs. Putting together a writing career is like putting together a puzzle. So I try to talk to a writer and figure out what the one piece of advice that author needs is.

For example, with Brandon Sanderson, he really just needed to believe that he could make writing a career, so we worked on that. For Stephenie Meyer, we analyzed her intended market and how to break into it. For James Dashner, he needed to transition from a low-paying market writing sports tie-ins to writing science fiction for a wider audience, and so on.

Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer David Farland”

Odyssey Podcast #133: JG Faherty

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #133

JG Faherty was a guest lecturer at the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from his question-and-answer session, JG answers questions about writing advice and beta readers.

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A life-long resident of New York’s haunted Hudson Valley, JG is the author of seven novels, ten novellas, and more than seventy-five short stories, and he’s been a finalist for both the Bram Stoker Award (The Cure, Ghosts of Coronado Bay) and ITW Thriller Award (The Burning Time). He writes adult and YA horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, and paranormal romance, and his works range from quiet, dark suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness.

Since 2011, JG has been a Board Trustee for the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and a Mentor. He launched their Young Adult program, and also their Library & Literacy program, which he still runs. Recently, he co-founded the HWA’s Summer Scares reading initiative in conjunction with Becky Spratford and several library organization, and he teaches local teen writing programs at libraries. In 2019, he was recognized with the Mentor of the Year Award by the HWA.

As a child, his favorite playground was a seventeenth-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/jgfaherty, www.facebook.com/jgfaherty, and www.jgfaherty.com.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2020 by JG Faherty. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.

For more Odyssey podcasts, visit: odysseyworkshop.org/podcasts.html

OdBlog Flashback: “My Odyssey Online Experience” by Kodiak Julian

This winter, Odyssey Online is once again offering the course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, taught by award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford. The following essay, in which author and Odyssey Online graduate Kodiak Julian talks about her experience with the class, was originally published here on September 9, 2018.

The application deadline for this winter’s Odyssey Online courses is December 7, 2020.


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Kodiak Julian is a graduate of Reed College and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Together with Jamaica Zoglman, she cohosts the weekly podcast, Spirit of the Endeavor, which explores the pursuit of beauty, mystery and the sublime in everyday life. She lives with her husband and son in Yakima, Washington, where she teaches truly magnificent high school students. Her work appears in Lightspeed, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Grimoire Magazine, the Writers of the Future anthology, and in the Witches, Stitches, and Bitches anthology. She is frequently mesmerized by watching chickens.

Continue reading “OdBlog Flashback: “My Odyssey Online Experience” by Kodiak Julian”

2021 Odyssey Online Classes

ODYSSEY ONLINE OFFERS LIVE, INTENSIVE CLASSES WITH IN-DEPTH FEEDBACK

“I’ve taken other online writing classes before and gained a few useful insights here and there, but this class does more than just lecture—it gives you tools and forces you to practice using those tools. Then it shows you how to incorporate those tools into writing an actual story. I felt welcomed and supported in every stage of the class and am thrilled at how my writing network has expanded from this class. I was astounded at the amount and quality of the critiques I received from the instructor and my classmates on assignments I turned in. I learned so much from them! And I was just as astounded at the amount and quality of critique I was giving to other students—I’d been giving critiques for years, but this class taught me how to look at the big picture.” —Caitlin Jacobs

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust has announced its Winter 2021 online classes: One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, taught by award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford; Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers, taught by award-winning editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews; and Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, taught by New York Times bestselling author Patricia C. Wrede.

Continue reading “2021 Odyssey Online Classes”

Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #132

In Winter 2018, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford taught the Odyssey Online course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, and she’ll be teaching the class again this winter. In this excerpt from the first class, Barbara talks about techniques writers can use to evaluate the effectiveness of their scenes. Scenes are made out of moments. Moments can be bittersweet, funny, shocking—the best ones grab our attention because they feature characters we care about, involve indelible imagery or worldbuilding, and show dramatic conflict that keeps us reading. All writers use the same ingredients for scenes, but writing is not about following a recipe but about mixing the ingredients as appropriate for the story and scene. We need to be aware of the effect we’re striving to create and the impact we want to have on readers. A dramatic scene requires conflict. The conflict in a scene needs to relate to the conflicts in the story as a whole. When analyzing the effectiveness of scenes, don’t just look for conflict, but whether that conflict pushes the plot forward and whether it impacts future events. Look at whether the POV character has a clear scene objective. If the scene is about several things rather than a single objective, it becomes unfocused. The short-term scene objective has to relate to the character’s long-term goal, the super-objective. The scene needs to put obstacles between the protagonist and the super-objective. Having a clear scene objective raises anticipation and makes the reader want to know how the situation will be resolved. The scene must have something at stake for the POV character. More than anything, a scene must change the situation for the POV character in a dramatic way. If the POV character is in the same emotional place at the beginning of the scene and the end, you should ask yourself if the scene is necessary. You can skip over unimportant scenes or roll scenes together. The best scenes do more than just change the situation; they show how the POV character is changed as a result of the action.

Continue reading “Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes”

Graduate Essay: “What to Expect from Odyssey Online” by J.A. Schimmel

headshot2020J.A. Schimmel is a 2018 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, as well as several of the Odyssey Online Classes. When the world is not on fire, she divides her time between Illinois and Michigan while writing speculative fiction and slowly racking up rejections.


Once upon a time, I worked on writing creative fiction mostly on my own. Inevitably, I came to the end of where writing in isolation and studying published works would allow me to grow as a writer. I could see that in my work, but I couldn’t identify where my weaknesses were and improve on them. So… how to solve this issue? Continue reading “Graduate Essay: “What to Expect from Odyssey Online” by J.A. Schimmel”

Odyssey Podcasts #129 (Holly Black), #130 (E.C. Ambrose) & #131 (Scott H. Andrews)

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #129

Holly Black was a guest lecturer at the 2019 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from her question-and-answer session, Holly answers questions about writing young adult and middle grade fiction. One student points out that some people think fantastic creatures must be a certain way. How do you deal with those expectations? Holly says that when writing in a tradition, you’re adding to a conversation. Bring your own perspective into the conversation based on who you are. Another student asks how you get into a teen’s head and see things through their eyes? Holly suggests writers try to remember being a teen. Think of what you did, how you felt. The error writers tend to make is to write about teens or children who are very concerned with the adults in their lives when they should be thinking about themselves and their peers. When asked the difference between middle grade and young adult, Holly explains that the readers are very different. You need a protagonist of the appropriate age. Middle grade stories are generally about family and friendship. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are examples. Young adult stories are usually about self-definition, friendship, and love, as the protagonist ventures outside of childhood into independence. YA should not involve an adult character looking back at her teen years. Middle grade and young adult fiction usually have a single viewpoint character; it is rare to have more.

Continue reading “Odyssey Podcasts #129 (Holly Black), #130 (E.C. Ambrose) & #131 (Scott H. Andrews)”

Interview: Graduate Adria Laycraft

Adria_Author Photo 2Freelance editor, fiction author, and wood artisan Adria Laycraft earned honours in Journalism in 1992 and has always worked with words and visual art. She co-edited the Urban Green Man anthology in 2013, which was nominated for an Aurora Award, and launched her debut novel Jumpship Hope in 2019. Look for her short stories in various magazines and anthologies, both online and in print. Adria is a grateful member of Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association (IFWA) and a proud survivor of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Learn more at adrialaycraft.com, or follow her YouTube channels Carving the Cottonwood and Girl Gone Ground.


You attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2006. What made you decide to attend?

A big-name author told me I was ready, that it would do me good if I was up for the commitment. I had only ever heard of Clarion at that point. I wanted to prove to myself that I had what it took. I actually did my own personal Odyssey the winter before, following the syllabus I found online, just to test myself and my discipline. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Adria Laycraft”

Interview: Graduate Alec Hutson

AlecHutsonAlec Hutson is a 2003 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He lives in Shanghai and is the author of the epic fantasy trilogy The Raveling. The first novel in the trilogy, The Crimson Queen, was named one of Booknest’s Top 100 Fantasy Books of Our Century.


You attended Odyssey in 2003. Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?

I had none! I had just graduated college, and although I’d dreamed of being a writer, I hadn’t written more than a few short stories. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Alec Hutson”