Interview: Matthew S. Rotundo & Krista Hoeppner Leahy

Odyssey Graduates Discuss Their Recent Writers of the Future Wins

Matthew S. Rotundo attended Odyssey in 1998. In addition to Writers of the Future Volume XXV, Matt’s stories have appeared in Jim Baen’s Universe, Cosmos, and Orson Scott Card’s Intergalactic Medicine Show. He also plays guitar and has been known to sing karaoke. He and his wife Tracy live in Omaha, Nebraska. Visit his blog at http://matthewsrotundo.livejournal.com. Matt placed first in the first quarter of the 25th Annual Writers of the Future Contest.

Krista Hoeppner Leahy attended the Odyssey in 2007. Her work has been published in Writers of the Future Volume XXV, Shimmer, and flashquake. She is a member of Codex, the online writing community, and also the Fantastic Saloon–a group of NYC-based authors. She lives with her husband in Brooklyn, NY. Krista placed third in the fourth quarter of the 25th Annual Writers of the Future Contest.

What made you decide to submit to the Writers of the Future Contest? Have you submitted to the contest before?

Matt: I’ve known about the Writers of the Future Contest for many years now. Its track record for finding new talent in the genre is unmatched. It also pays very well, and generates a lot of exposure for the winners. And who could say no to an expenses-paid trip to Hollywood, a week-long writing workshop, and a glitzy awards ceremony that makes you feel like a genuine celebrity?

I entered the contest a total of ten times. Previous entries had made it to the quarter-finalist (now Honorable Mention), semi-finalist, and finalist levels, so I knew I was doing something right.

Krista: I decided to submit because the Writers of the Future Contest offers aspiring speculative fiction writers an extraordinary opportunity, and you can’t win if you don’t submit.

“The Dizzy Bridge” was my fifth submission to the contest. I’d had one previous finalist entry, one honorable mention, and two no-shows.

How did you select which story to submit to the judges? How do you feel your experience as a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop helped you in writing the story?

Matt: The story should be as good as you can make it; the contest receives thousands of entries each year. You’re up against a lot of competition. Beyond that, my only real concern regarding story selection was word count. Seriously. The contest is equally receptive to works of SF, fantasy, and dark fantasy, so genre isn’t much of a concern. But you can’t submit anything over 17,000 words (and Coordinating Judge K.D. Wentworth told us that she’d seen plenty of entrants try to game the maximum–without success).

The first draft of my winning entry, “Gone Black,” was around 20,000 words, making it ineligible for the contest. After a scathing critique from a friend of mine, it became clear that the story took too long to get started. I lopped over 3,000 words from it, most of which came out of the beginning. My experience at Odyssey helped me with that. One of the important lessons I learned from Jeanne was that my plots needed stronger causal connections. When I undertook the revision of “Gone Black,” I could see that the opening scenes were all setup that didn’t move the plot forward at all. Though I liked a lot of what I had written in those pages, they had to go. I made the excisions and wound up with a story that was under the WotF word count maximum. So I submitted it. The results speak for themselves.

Krista: In reading the anthologies, I’d noticed that most of the stories were immediately identifiable as either science-fiction or fantasy. I thought “The Dizzy Bridge” might be a good fit, for the story falls squarely within fantasy, whereas some of my other work is harder to classify.

An initial draft of “The Dizzy Bridge”–originally and somewhat awkwardly titled “Underneath the Tail of the Peacock”–was the first story I wrote while attending Odyssey in 2007. So, in a very real way, if I hadn’t made the commitment to go to Odyssey, and been lucky enough to be admitted, the story might never have been written.

Both Jeanne Cavelos and my classmates gave me terrific feedback on the story, and their comments and insights were invaluable in my revision process. My heartfelt thanks to each and every one of them.

Less immediately relevant to the writing of “The Dizzy Bridge,” but perhaps as significant in my recent success with the Writers of the Future Contest, attending Odyssey strengthened my courage to persist. At Odyssey, I saw myself improve as a writer. (Wonder of wonders–it’s actually possible to get better!) That possibility alone has emboldened me to keep writing and keep submitting, knowing that as long as I keep writing, I will keep getting better.

Both of you attended the Writers of the Future workshop. Can you summarize the event for us and what you learned from it?

Matt: The workshop assumes that you’re already schooled in the fundamentals of writing; you’d have to be, or else you wouldn’t be there in the first place. While there is some review of the basics (and it’s always good to review), more focus is placed on the professional aspects–career planning, dealing with agents and publishers, and the harsh realities of the marketplace. It’s invaluable information, delivered by established authors who know whereof they speak.

A significant chunk of the workshop is devoted to the 24-Hour Story. We were given three prompts–a random object, a trip to the library to research a topic of your choice, and an interview with a stranger. From these, we had to craft a complete story in 24 hours. The purpose, I think, is to show you what you can do when pressed. I was really happy with the way mine turned out–so in addition to everything I learned, I came out of the workshop with a new story.

Krista: At its simplest, it’s a week-long workshop and ceremony designed to identify, foster, and celebrate new talent in the sf field. Many of the top pros in the sf field generously lend their expertise, insight, and support to the writers and illustrators who win the contest.

I learned there are many, many different ways to be a successful writer–the old adage about skinning cats comes to mind–but that all of them involve hard work, dedication, and perseverance. I met eleven new writers–the talented Mr. Matt Rotundo included–whom I look forward to reading for the rest of my life. I learned tips for everything from how to write more quickly to how to handle giving an autograph. I discovered that some of my favorite authors are even more wonderful in person than I’d hoped they would be. I discovered that the field of speculative literature can be just as welcoming and wonderful as I’d always hoped.

Now that WOTF is over, what are your plans for the future?

Matt: Land an agent, sell a novel, win multiple Hugos and Nebulas, and conquer the world. Not necessarily in that order.

Krista: To write, write, write. To read, read, read. Then to keep repeating those two steps.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

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