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: 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)”

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 1 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.


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?

Honestly, I think the most important advice I can give new writers is to cultivate a relentless follow-through and stubborn tenacity—a powerful knowledge than you will be a successful writer, and everyone who says otherwise is full of s***. Plenty of people want to be writers—millions of people—but they don’t keep wanting it until it eats at them at night that they’re not producing stories for the masses. I think the difference between a professional writer and the average writer who will never get past the first failed book is that the average writer will take that failed book after it’s clear it’s failed and hug it and cry and call their mother about how life is so hard and they’re an artiste and nobody understands them or their genius and then stubbornly and bombastically swear off writing in a drunken admission of defeat, whereas the professional writer will take that same failed book, cock their head at it, and think, “All right, what do I need to fix for the next one?” And then go do it. Ten more times. Fifteen more times. However many times it takes to get it right. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 1 of 3)”

“The Revision Machete” by Derrick Boden

Derrick Boden’s fiction has appeared in numerous online and print venues including Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Compelling Science Fiction. To date, he has participated in four Odyssey online workshops and is always looking forward to the next. He is a writer, a software developer, a father, and an adventurer. He currently calls New Orleans his home, although he’s lived in thirteen cities spanning four continents. Find him at derrickboden.com.


I’m a workshop junkie, which means I’ve stockpiled a metric ton of writing notes over the years. Scribbled on the backs of hotel business cards, jotted in the margins of conference brochures, hammered into my laptop keyboard. And like any self-respecting workshop junkie, after each session I promise myself that I’ll review my notes regularly, once a month—no, twice!—and use them as a foundation for my future writing success.

It’s a nice thought.

Continue reading ““The Revision Machete” by Derrick Boden”

“Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture” by Barbara Ashford

barbara ashfordBarbara Ashford is the award-winning author of six novels published by DAW Books. She is also a developmental editor and teacher. Her online course “Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising your Novel” will be offered in January-February 2019 through the Odyssey Writing Workshop, application deadline December 4.


When I began revising my first novel, I believed my story had good conflict, complex characters, and a world that was pretty cool. Okay, the plot was a bit of a scavenger hunt. And the novel was way too long. But trimming and refining was what revising was all about, right?

Well…that depends on your interpretation of “refining.” I ended up rewriting two-thirds of the novel and cutting 80,000 words from the final manuscript. But my biggest revelation occurred early in revisions: while my protagonist was blazing a trail through a magical forest, I realized that I had lost sight of the forest for the trees. What was this story about?

Continue reading ““Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture” by Barbara Ashford”

Graduate Essay: “How to Decide When to Apply to Odyssey” by Julian K. Jarboe

jarboeJulian K. Jarboe is a writer and sound designer from Massachusetts. They are a 2018 Graduate of Odyssey and a Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston. Their other work can be found in Strange Horizons, The Fairy Tale Review, and the LAMBDA Award-winning Best Transgender Speculative Fiction series. They can be reached via their website, juliankjarboe.com.


Ask yourself: why now? Why this year? There are as many good reasons to go to Odyssey and as many ways to improve and learn from your experience there as there are writers who attend. When you graduate, your extensive readings, your writing, and your notes will all be down on paper to keep and reference forever, and yet, there is no way any former student could simply hand over their teetering pile of manuscripts and handouts and promise you the same experience or growth achieved by your own attendance. There is not even a way some past or future version of yourself could promise you this, either. Timing, in the personal sense, matters.

Perhaps you have scoured and practiced and gained as much as you possibly could from books, articles, podcasts, reading widely, and writing as often as you can. You may have hit a plateau, or have become aware that you don’t know what it is you don’t know that you don’t know. You’ve already tried isolation—for creativity it does at first seem like a terribly romantic approach—and possibly hit something in the dark, echoing bottom of your own thoughts. Well, this might be true next year, too.

But this year, while part of you seems to spin in place, another part is changing direction. You’re about to move or get married or you’re thinking about quitting your job or you’ve been laid off. You have the summer off before or after another program. Your kids are finally old enough to babysit each other. Something is different this year that may not be true every year that makes it logistically possible for you to attend, yes, but there’s more to it. You’re not just moving along a track: you’re searching. That spinning in place you’ve been doing, at least with your writing, turns out, in fact, to be the wind-up spring for a trick you didn’t even know you could do. This is not a stable quality of life, but it is a rare balance between knowing who you are and being prepared to change.

You’re ready to re-learn ways to write stories but you have a sneaking suspicion what or who they might be about. You have something you can offer others and you know that when they offer you their own thoughts, suggestions, questions, and support, that this is treasure. You will let yourself, and your drafts, be what they are without judgment (there is no reading and writing, only rereading and rewriting). You will let others do the same.

At Odyssey, you will get a few people together, put on some tea, set a timer, and write until the timer rings. You will stretch, whine (and/or wine), vent, and then do it all again. You will think you are too tired or busy to go to the Friday picnics and then you will see them from your dormitory window, and as though following a fae into an enchanted clearing, you will go to the picnics. You will ask for what you need and you will even get it. You will find there is an uncharted territory between friend and colleague and it is most fruitful when you lean into the vulnerability of the former and the courtesy of the latter. You will not try to impress each other but you will impress upon each other.

It has been said elsewhere that Odyssey is not a place to come and “party,” though you have a hard time imagining how it would be possible. You will notice that it is also not quite the place to try to hunker down and be a hermit, either. You may want some time to yourself, or you may need to seek out solitude to focus or brainstorm from time to time, but the person you are, whom you have brought to this experience at the right time, is seated in a circle with others. Oh, sure, some luck, and interpersonal chemistry, factors in. Mostly it’s that Jeanne is actually very, very good at this whole group learning thing (you will wonder how she does it all, and she will giggle and say that she is wondering the same). A room full of spring-loaded people, arranged in a ring, doing something very hard and very much worthwhile, their mechanics clicking in place until the whole summer is a strange and wondrous automaton.

That is what you cannot recreate from notes, though you will refer to your notes for years to come. And that is what heightens Odyssey from a very hard summer class (and it is, also, a very hard summer class) to the transformative experience so many graduates describe it as. When nothing else will do, when you feel the click inside, that is when the time is right.