Odyssey graduate Scott H. Andrews will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Scott lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, twelve guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He writes, teaches college chemistry, and is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the eight-time Hugo Award finalist and World Fantasy Award-winning online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Scott’s literary short fiction has won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & Time, Crossed Genres, and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales. Scott has taught writing at the Odyssey Workshop, Writefest, and online for Odyssey Online Classes, Clarion West, and Cat Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers. He has lectured on short fiction, secondary-world fantasy, editing, magazine publishing, audio podcasting, and beer on dozens of convention panels at multiple Worldcons, World Fantasy conventions, and regional conventions in the Northeast and Midwest. He is a seven-time finalist and 2019 winner of the World Fantasy Award, and he celebrates International Stout Day at least once a year.
In 2020, the Odyssey Writing Workshop took place not on the campus of St. Anselm in New Hampshire, but in the homes of writers all around the globe via Zoom. Many science fiction and fantasy conventions have moved to meeting online as well. How can writers tackle this unique method of learning and networking in order to make the most of it?
For residential writing workshops like Odyssey, meeting virtually is definitely a different learning environment than living in a dorm for six weeks. I think it’s important to approach it with the same total professionalism that you would if you were living on-site and immersed in that environment 24-7. Which requires intense dedication! When I lectured to the 2020 Odyssey class, I was extremely impressed how thoroughly involved they were, despite being located each at home rather than together on a campus. They had even developed a very active social community in addition to their writing community, which to me showed their enthusiasm to wring every ounce out of that virtual workshop experience.
For conventions, the panels and discussions in my experience have worked very similarly to in-person conventions, but the social interaction or networking part of it I think requires extra initiative for people to connect, in side chatrooms or on discussion threads. But people are creative and adapting to it.
What do you think about including real-life, large-scale problems, such as the COVID-19 pandemic, in fiction? Is this something you wouldn’t mind seeing in submissions, or do you hope to completely avoid such things when you’re reading?
In their fiction, I think writers should include whatever real-life things inspire or move them. The best art always comes out of the artist’s beliefs and passions, and fiction, including speculative fiction, is to me no exception.
In secondary-world fantasy, like I publish at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, where the stories’ settings are fantasy worlds or historical Earth or alt-history Earth, many writers use the elements of the fantasy setting to comment on real-life problems and issues. BCS has published hundreds of stories that comment on gender identity and roles, personally and in societies. Since 2016, we’ve published many stories examining political systems and immigration and dystopian authority, and late last year we published a story of survival after a plague. During that same time, we’ve also published stories of triumph and hope and coming-together, which to me can be just as important.
So I’m happy to see in our submissions stories that are about whatever is important to the author. As long as they meet our guidelines—we only publish fantasy set in pre-modern worlds. But I’m continually impressed by the many ways authors have used fantastical settings and societies and characters to comment and explore what it means to live in our real world.
You’ve been the editor of Beneath Ceaseless Skies since 2008. How has short fiction changed in that time? Where do you see short fiction going in the next ten years?
The major change to me since 2008 has been the proliferation of ebooks, especially for short fiction periodicals. Ebooks were an underground thing back then, before e-readers and Kindle and smart phones, but those devices and online platforms for selling ebooks increased the short fiction readership and created an income stream that online zines, like BCS, that publish the fiction available for free online can leverage in order to support the large costs of paying our authors a pro pay rate for their stories.
A big change in the past five or so years has been the emergence of a larger international presence in the short fiction field. BCS has published authors from Nigeria, Singapore, Thailand, India, and Greece, and there’s been an explosion of short fiction translation into English from around the world. I’ve seen that spill over into the submissions too, with more writers from international communities reading BCS and submitting, and attending workshops (sometimes online). It meshes perfectly with online fiction, which can be read anywhere around the world that there’s an internet connection, and shows that our field has a truly global reach and connection.
You’ve made several appearances at the summer Odyssey Writing Workshop and at the Odyssey Online courses as an instructor. How do you feel writers can best prepare for a workshop ahead of time in order to make the most of it?
For a six-week workshop that’s as intensive as Odyssey, where students will be writing and critiquing new work during the workshop, I think one thing to be aware of beforehand is that you will likely experience so significant a revolution in your understanding of fiction craft in general and your writing in particular that you may need to completely change your mindset or your view on your work or your approach or process. I know that’s how it was for me as a student at Odyssey in 2005—I needed to be broken down before I could be rebuilt. So to me, the sooner and more open you are to that process, the sooner you can begin the rebuilding and start on the new path and new awareness that your writing will be on from there.
Once writers have completed the Odyssey Writing Workshop, or any other workshop or series of lessons on craft, how would you suggest they incorporate what they’ve learned into their fiction?
Six-week workshops can feel like a fire hose of new and revelatory information, and the encouragement and motivation from being in a group situation is so inspiring, but then after the workshop ends, you’re at home, back in real life, and your group is scattered across the world. Incorporating lessons into new work or revision of old work can be a tricky process. One approach is to take it slow and see what comes naturally. Another is to revise the pieces you wrote at the workshop.
A very important step in my opinion, if you want to have a career or build a name for yourself, or just get your stories in front of readers, is to start submitting your stories. Even if you’re sending out older, pre-workshop material that may not be up to your current level of work. You will need to learn the submissions process and to make an emotional peace with the act of sending your work out (and getting it rejected), so, in my opinion, start that sooner rather than later, so that when your new, post-workshop work is ready, you’ve already accrued experience with submitting and working through rejection.
You started a Patreon account for Beneath Ceaseless Skies to raise the pay rate for authors to the SFWA professional rate, and many authors have turned to Patreon to share their work with fans. What helped you reach your pledge goal on Patreon? How can writers successfully use Patreon to build an audience?
I think a huge thing that helped the BCS Patreon reach our pledge goal—to raise our support to a level that we could pay our authors the new higher pay rate promoted by SFWA, the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America—was that BCS already had a reputation in the field for treating writers professionally, for including personalized comments in every rejection that we send, and for publishing lots of new and emerging writers. We had readers and fans who loved our fiction and what we do, and who respected our goal of paying our authors this higher pay rate that they deserved, and people stepped up to support us. As a special thank-you to our patrons, we give them free BCS ebooks.
Our most recent goal is money to boost the honorarium that we pay our First Readers. They write 80+ personalized rejections every month, which is a ton of work. We’ve had a big rush of new supporters of the BCS Patreon in the last week, and hopefully we will make this new goal for increasing the First Readers’ pay this month.
For writers using Patreon, I think that having some name recognition can help a great deal to draw supporter interest. Offering your supporters special content, such as new work or older work that might be out-of-print and tough to find, is great exposure and shows the patrons that their support is valued and appreciated. Some fantasy authors share on their Patreon deeper information and background about their fantasy worlds, like descriptions or mythology or maps, and some share stories that are origin stories or tie-ins with published works.
Patreon is a great platform for creators, like magazines and writers, to reach supporters. I think it’s limited only by the creators’ creativity.