Graduate Essay: Rebecca Kuang, “Changing Everything”

Kuang HeadshotCongratulations to 2016 Odyssey graduate Rebecca F. Kuang on the success of her debut novel, The Poppy War, the first installment in a Chinese-history inspired epic fantasy trilogy about empire, warfare, shamanism, and opium.

Since its release in May 2018, The Poppy War has won the Crawford Award and the r/Fantasy Stabby Award for Best Debut and has become a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award, the Compton Crook Award, and the Nebula Award. Rebecca is also a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

The following essay about Rebecca’s Odyssey experience was originally published here on April 9, 2017.


I came to Odyssey on the verge of a horrible case of writer’s block. I had just sold my first novel. I was now under contract to write two more. I had to finish a 200,000-word project in a little over a year. I’d been trying for weeks to tackle it. I couldn’t write a word. Continue reading “Graduate Essay: Rebecca Kuang, “Changing Everything””

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Interview: Guest Lecturer Holly Black

BlackHolly Black will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. She is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), The Darkest Part of the Forest, The Cruel Prince, and The Wicked King. She has been a finalist for an Eisner Award and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award, and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.


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?

To write books for their reader selves, rather than the books they think they’re supposed to write. You are your best audience. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Holly Black”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Joshua Bilmes

bilmesLiterary agent Joshua Bilmes will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. He is the founder and president of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. Prior to founding his own agency, he spent a chunk of his high school years writing monthly critiques of Analog magazine to its editor, Stan Schmidt. He spent summers in college doing freelance work at Baen Books; his letters to Analog caught the eye of Betsy Mitchell, who was lured from the #2 spot at Analog to be Jim Baen’s deputy. And ten weeks after graduating college, he was hired at the Scott Meredith Agency, which launched the careers of at least a half dozen leading agents in science fiction and fantasy.

Top JABberwocky clients include #1 bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson and Charlaine Harris. The agency’s other NY Times bestselling and/or award-winning clients include Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon, Walter Jon Williams, Simon R. Green, Suzanne Palmer, Marie Brennan, and Daniel José Older.

Bilmes is known for his hands-on editorial work with his clients. In recent years, he’s been leading a quixotic charge against inappropriate use of smiles, shrugs, sighs, grimaces, nods, winces, blanching, quirking, eye-rolling, gritting of teeth, smirks, snorts and other “head and shoulders” gestures. For the avoidance of doubt, by “inappropriate” Bilmes means “almost all.”

Joshua Bilmes spends a good chunk of his spare time watching movies and watching tennis.


At this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be interacting with students as a virtual guest lecturer via Skype. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

You have to be prepared to put in the “hard yards.” There are lots of authors and agents in the world, and some of them have paired up when the author put the perfect manuscript on the agent’s desk the agent’s very first day on the job. That hasn’t happened very often with me! Most of the first novels I’ve sold, they’re on a third or fifth or sometimes close to a tenth draft before they go out on submission. And then for all the work done on those earlier drafts, when the book is sold the editors still have more suggestions to make. An author should never be a weather vane, blowing every which way with each passing editorial comment, but you need to be prepared to work. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Joshua Bilmes”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Paul Witcover

PaulWitcover2-300x300Author and editor Paul Witcover will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is the author of five novels, most recently The Watchman of Eternity. His collection of short fiction, Everland and Other Stories, was a finalist for the Shirley Jackson Award. He has also been a finalist for the World Fantasy and Nebula awards. With Elizabeth Hand, he created and wrote the DC Comic Anima. He was a writer for the serial novel Tremontaine, set in Ellen Kushner’s Riverside universe, for three years. He lives in Brooklyn, NY, and can be found online at paulwitcover.com.


You were the science fiction and fantasy editor for iPublish.com; you edited novels for Del Rey Books, TokyoPop, and Night Shade Books; and you offer editorial services. What has such extensive editing taught you about your writing?

They are very different pursuits. I think my writing informs my editing more than the other way around. That is, as an editor I try to keep in mind the writer on the other end of the manuscript: what they intend, what they have invested. I try to be very sensitive to that. As an editor, I want to be invisible, helping the writer achieve their vision for the book, which is exactly what I want as a writer from my own editors. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Paul Witcover”

2019 Odyssey Writing Workshop Scholarship Opportunities

GEORGE R. R. MARTIN SCHOLARSHIP AND OTHER FINANCIAL AID FOR THOSE ATTENDING THE ODYSSEY WRITING WORKSHOP

The Odyssey Writing Workshop is an acclaimed, six-week program for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror held each summer in New Hampshire. Writers apply from all over the world; only fifteen are admitted. For those attending, Odyssey is pleased to announce that five scholarships and one work/study position are available.

GeorgeMartin*New York Times bestselling author George R. R. Martin is excited to once again offer a scholarship to help a horror writer with financial need attend Odyssey. Martin explains, “Odyssey has become legendary for the challenges it sets for students and the enthusiasm with which they meet those challenges. And all that writing, learning, critiquing, and sweat yields great results. Among Odyssey’s alumni are New York Times bestsellers, Amazon bestsellers, and award winners.”

The Miskatonic Scholarship is awarded each year to a promising writer of Lovecraftian cosmic horror, a type of fiction Martin loves and wants to encourage. The scholarship covers full tuition, textbook, and housing. Martin says, “It’s my hope that this new scholarship will offer an opportunity to a worthy applicant who might not otherwise have been able to afford the Odyssey experience.”

Last year’s scholarship winner, Valerie San Filippo, explains the impact of the Miskatonic Scholarship on her Odyssey experience: “I wouldn’t have been able to attend Odyssey if not for George R. R. Martin and the Miskatonic Scholarship. Odyssey and the scholarship made it possible for me to devote my mind and heart fully to my craft, to level up my writing, and to meet some of the most wonderful, talented people I’ve ever had the pleasure of knowing. I left the workshop motivated and professionally equipped to take on the writing world. To know that George supported my writing journey heartens me beyond belief. To any writer out there who wants to attend Odyssey but worries about the cost, I encourage you to apply for the Miskatonic Scholarship. It’s an incredible opportunity. I’m so glad I applied.”

Applicants must demonstrate financial need in a separate application. A panel of three judges will select the winner from among the applicants who have demonstrated financial need, using the writing samples sent with the workshop applications. Martin notes, “we are not looking for Lovecraft pastiches, nor even Cthulhu Mythos stories. References to Arkham, Azathoth, shoggoths, the Necronomicon, and the fungi from Yuggoth are by no means obligatory . . . though if some candidates choose to include them, that’s fine as well. What we want is the sort of originality that H. P. Lovecraft displayed in his day, something that goes beyond the tired tropes of werewolves, vampires and zombies, into places strange and terrifying and never seen before. What we want are nightmares new and resonant and profound, cosmic terrors that will haunt our dreams for years to come.” Contact Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos (email jcavelos@odysseyworkshop.org) for the Miskatonic application, which is due April 1.

*Bestselling author and Odyssey graduate Sara King is sponsoring the Parasite Publications Character Awards to provide financial assistance to three character-based writers wishing to attend this summer’s Odyssey. The Parasite Publications Character Awards, three scholarships in the amounts of $2,060 (full tuition), $500, and $300, will be awarded to the three members of the incoming class who are deemed extraordinarily strong character writers, creating powerful, emotional characters that grab the reader and don’t let go. No separate application is required.

*New this year, the Chris Kelworth Memorial Scholarship will be offered to a Canadian writer admitted to Odyssey. Chris, a 2013 Odyssey graduate, was an inspiration to many Odyssey alumni and a strong believer in creating systems and participating in events to increase his productivity, such as setting goals, attending workshops, and participating in NaNoWriMo. This scholarship, funded by alumni and friends of Chris, will cover $900 of tuition. A separate application is required and due April 1. Contact Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos (email jcavelos@odysseyworkshop.org) for the Chris Kelworth Memorial Scholarship application.

*One work/study position is also available. The work/study student spends about six hours per week performing duties for Odyssey, such as photocopying, sending stories to guests, distributing mail to students, and preparing for guest visits. Odyssey reimburses $800 of the work/study student’s tuition. The work/study student will be expected to fulfill the regular requirements of Odyssey in addition to these duties. Contact Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos (email jcavelos@odysseyworkshop.org) for the work/study application, which is due April 30.

About Odyssey

odysseyThe Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust is a 501(c)(3) nonprofit with the mission of helping promising writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror improve their work. Odyssey’s six-week, intensive workshop, held each year since 1996, is widely considered one of the top programs for writers of the fantastic. Odyssey director Jeanne Cavelos is a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, bestselling author, and winner of the World Fantasy Award. Top authors, agents, and editors serve as guest lecturers. Intensive instruction in advanced writing techniques, in-depth feedback on manuscripts, and one-on-one guidance help students to make major improvements. Graduates say they learned more in six weeks than in two years at a creative writing MFA program. Fifty-nine percent go on to professional publication.

This summer’s workshop, held on the campus of Saint Anselm College, runs from JUNE 3 to JULY 12, 2019. Class meets for over 4½ hours each day, 5 days a week, for workshopping and lectures. Students spend about 8 hours more per day writing and critiquing each other’s work.

The early action application deadline is JANUARY 31, and the regular application deadline is APRIL 1. All applicants receive feedback on their writing sample.

Odyssey is funded in part by donations from graduates, grantors and supporters, and in part by student tuition. Tuition is $2,060, and housing in campus apartments is $892 for a double room and $1,784 for a single.

In addition to the five scholarships and work/study position, other opportunities for financial assistance exist. 

Writers from the New York Metropolitan Area (including New Jersey) are eligible to apply for the Donald A. and Elsie B. Wollheim Memorial Scholarship, created by the New York Science Fiction Society–the Lunarians. The amount of the scholarship is variable.

Members of the Horror Writers Association are eligible for one or both of the scholarships they offer, each worth $2,500.

Since Odyssey is a member of the Association of Writers & Writing Programs, those accepted into Odyssey can apply for AWP’s three Kurt Brown Prizes, scholarships of $500 each.

For more information, visit http://www.odysseyworkshop.org/workshop.html. The Odyssey site offers many programs and resources for writers, including online classes, webinars, a critique service, consultations, coaching, free podcasts, author interviews, writing tips, and a monthly online discussion salon.

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 3 of 3)

SaraAuthorpicAlaskan writer Sara King will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the bestselling author of The Legend of ZEROOuter BoundsGuardians of the First Realm, and her latest urban fantasy series, Sunny Day, Paranormal Badass, among others. She’s an alumna of the 2008 Odyssey Writing Workshop and has spent the last six years forging a successful career in independent publishing in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. To her chagrin, she is owned by four 120-plus-pound Tibetan Mastiffs, cautiously maintains a flock of ninja chickens, and has so many literary irons in the fire that she’s losing count. Thankfully, whenever she needs writing inspiration, she can step out her front door to go wandering in the Alaskan wilderness until she gets cold or almost dies—usually one or the other, but sometimes both—and then stumble home with fresh stories to tell and a new respect for falling, drowning, hypothermia, disorientation, and aggressive 1,500-pound wildlife.


Part 2 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.

In a blog post from 2015, you mention burnout in writing. How can writers recognize burnout, and what do you think they can do about it so that they can continue writing or resume it in the future?

Uhm, well, this is a big ongoing problem for me. I think the biggest way to avoid burnout is to keep consuming good creative input. (Keyword “good.”) Unfortunately, that’s easy to say and less easy to do when your job requires you to be at your computer for vast portions of every day, so I’m guessing the easiest way to avoid burnout is to maintain a set schedule of consumption vs. production where you never output more than you input. But, because I’m a non-linear creative type who finds that impossible, I’ve just come to understand that burnout is inevitable and so maybe binge Game of ThronesSherlock, or Firefly to get back on track. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 3 of 3)”

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 2 of 3)

SaraAuthorpicAlaskan writer Sara King will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the bestselling author of The Legend of ZEROOuter BoundsGuardians of the First Realm, and her latest urban fantasy series, Sunny Day, Paranormal Badass, among others. She’s an alumna of the 2008 Odyssey Writing Workshop and has spent the last six years forging a successful career in independent publishing in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. To her chagrin, she is owned by four 120-plus-pound Tibetan Mastiffs, cautiously maintains a flock of ninja chickens, and has so many literary irons in the fire that she’s losing count. Thankfully, whenever she needs writing inspiration, she can step out her front door to go wandering in the Alaskan wilderness until she gets cold or almost dies—usually one or the other, but sometimes both—and then stumble home with fresh stories to tell and a new respect for falling, drowning, hypothermia, disorientation, and aggressive 1,500-pound wildlife.


Part 1 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.

For the past four years, you have sponsored the Parasite Publications Character Awards, which provide scholarships to three character-based writers attending Odyssey. Thank you for your generosity! What draws you to character-driven fiction? What do you think plot-driven writers could learn from writers of character-driven fiction?

Uh oh. You asked The Question. (Warning: What follows is a rant on the state of science fiction as an art form, how it lags behind the other genres in both readership and author diversity because it is actually less evolved creatively than the other genres, and how it needs to be brought up to par with all the other genres by intrepid people like you.) Well, for one, I can’t believe you’re asking this question. It’s my humble opinion (f*** it, I’m not very humble) that character-driven fiction is the best kind, hands down, because it allows readers to fully submerge themselves in the minds, situations, and psyches of another human being, enriching them for life afterwards. Name me one other medium that can do that. It allows people to live lives they haven’t lived, experience emotions they otherwise wouldn’t experience, and make friends they otherwise wouldn’t have had. The most gripping stories are character driven. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, George Lucas, George R.R. Martin, Patricia Cornwell, Orson Scott Card, David Baldacci. Every thriller I’ve ever read has been character driven, and they have to be—otherwise people won’t have any investment in whether the character lives or dies, and the end result of the thriller would be moot. Same for romance or fantasy. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 2 of 3)”