Director’s Corner: Developing Your Skills

We run a pretty tight shop here at Odyssey via WordPress, which means you get the same type of post on the same week of each month. However, some months are a little longer than others, and when that happens, we’ll post some writing advice from the director of Odyssey, Jeanne Cavelos. We hope you enjoy the column.

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.

Developing Your Skills

During the presidential campaign, Peggy Silva, a New Hampshire teacher, submitted the following question to the candidates for a debate: “What don’t you know and how are you going to learn it?” This is an excellent question for every writer to ask himself. To improve your writing, you need to know exactly which elements or skills you need to improve and have a plan for improving them. If you have received useful feedback on your work, you should have noticed a pattern of some kind. What weaknesses do your critiquers usually find? Do you tend to have unbelievable characters? Weak plots? Slow beginnings? Awkward sentences? Nonexistent description?

Whatever your biggest weakness is, make a plan to attack it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

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Odyssey Graduates’ News: Publications and Sales

Recent/Upcoming Publications


Luisa Prieto, class of 2002
Cooking with Ergot
Published by: Aspen Mountain Press
Release Date: Available Now!
Luisa’s website:

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Writing Question: Strong Openings

Short-story writers are often told that if they don’t grab the attention of an editor immediately with a hot hook in the opening sentence or opening paragraph, the editor will reject the story.  Similarly, novelists are told that they must captivate the bookstore browser with their first page, or the browser will put the book back on the shelf.  This puts a lot of pressure on the opening of a work.  How do you write an opening that will grab the readers attention and show them just how awesome your story is?  It’s a difficult task, so we asked the Odyssey graduates for their tips and advice when it comes to writing a strong opening.

Writers are told that they must accomplish many things in an opening scene–grab the reader’s attention, set up the conflict, introduce the protagonist, establish the setting, establish the point of view and style, raise a question, and on and on. What goals do you try to achieve in an opening scene? What elements do you introduce? What do you think is most important for an opening scene? How are your goals different for the opening scene of a short story and the opening scene of a novel?

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Interview: Patricia Bray

Interview by Shara Saunsaucie White

Patricia BrayPatricia Bray will be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this summer. She is the author of a dozen novels, including Devlin’s Luck, which won the 2003 Compton Crook Award for the best first novel in the field of science fiction or fantasy. A multi-genre author whose career spans both Regency romance and epic fantasy, Patricia has had her books translated into Russian, German, Hebrew and Portuguese. She is a two-time co-chair of the Southern Tier Writer’s conference, and her articles on the writer’s craft have appeared in numerous publications, including Broadsheet, Nink, STARbytes and RWA’s Keys to Success: A Professional Writer’s Career Handbook.

Patricia lives in upstate New York, where she combines her writing with a full-time career as an I/T professional, ensuring that she is never more than a few feet away from a keyboard. Her latest novel is The Final Sacrifice, the concluding volume in The Chronicles of Josan, which was released by Bantam Spectra in July 2008. You can visit her website at

Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What do you feel you were doing wrong in your writing in those early days?

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Graduate News: David J. Schwartz


Congratulations to David J. Schwartz, class of 1996, for his 2008 Nebula nomination. Published by Three Rivers Press, an imprint of Random House, Superpowers is Schwartz’s debut novel, and this is his first nomination in the Novel category.

David J. Schwartz’s short fiction has appeared in numerous markets, including the anthologies Paper Cities, The Best of Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, and Twenty Epics. He attended Odyssey in 1996 and has participated in workshops with the Semi-Omniscients, the Supersonics, and the Sycamore Hill Writing Workshop. He lives in St. Paul, Minnesota.

You can visit David on his website at

For more about Superpowers, click through to read the blurb:

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Podcast #24: Jenny Rappaport

Podcast #24 is now available for download here.

In her guest lecture at Odyssey 2008, literary agent Jenny Rappaport provided so much useful information that we’ve chosen to make a second excerpt from her talk available as another podcast (for her first excerpt, see Podcast #23). In this podcast, Jenny explains how to write a strong query letter. Jenny first discusses what a query letter shouldn’t do and what information shouldn’t be included. You can find an example of what Jenny considers a bad query letter on her blog, here: (you need to scroll down). Jenny explains the importance of a strong hook to open a query letter and reads examples of weak hooks and strong hooks. The query letter then needs to establish the novel’s conflict and get the reader engaged with the main character and the plot. Jenny discusses how to describe your novel–what makes a middle grade book, a young adult book, or an adult book–and whether to compare your book to other books.

Jenny Rappaport is the owner of The Rappaport Agency, LLC, a boutique literary agency specializing in the genres of science fiction and fantasy, young adult, and romance. She has previously worked at Folio Literary Management and the L. Perkins Agency. Jenny attended Carnegie Mellon University where she graduated with a Bachelor of Arts in Creative Writing. She is a 2002 graduate of Orson Scott Card’s Literary Boot Camp. Her nonfiction has appeared in Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show, and her microfiction in Thaumatrope. She is currently working on a novel in her free time.