Graduate Essay: Linden A. Lewis, “How to Create a Novel from a Short Story”

LindenALewisOFFICIALAuthorPhotoLinden A. Lewis is a queer writer and world wanderer currently living in Madrid with three American cats who have little kitty passports. Tall and tattooed, Linden exists only because they’ve stopped burning witches. Linden graduated the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2016, and their first novel, The First Sister, will be released by Skybound Books in Spring 2020.


I was in the query trenches for over a year when I realized I needed to focus on something else. The novel I had poured my heart and soul into brought only rejection after rejection—or even worse, silence—and I was falling deeper into what I thought of as “writer’s depression,” or the belief that I would never write something good enough. Continue reading “Graduate Essay: Linden A. Lewis, “How to Create a Novel from a Short Story””

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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””

“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.

“My Odyssey Online Experience” by Kodiak Julian

Kodiak-headshotKodiak Julian is a graduate of Reed College and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Together with Jamaica Zoglman, she cohosts the weekly podcast, Spirit of the Endeavor, which explores the pursuit of beauty, mystery and the sublime in everyday life. She lives with her husband and son in Yakima, Washington, where she teaches truly magnificent high school students. Her work appears in Lightspeed, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Grimoire Magazine, the Writers of the Future anthology, and in the Witches, Stitches, and Bitches anthology. She is frequently mesmerized by watching chickens.


The best courses give me more than my brain can handle. They linger with me for years as I gradually process the content. Barbara Ashford’s Odyssey Online course, One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, was one such class.

I was preparing to revise a novel when I learned about the course. I knew the class would help me craft scenes from their early draft mess into structured units, but I was floored by the tools Barbara provided.

I learned how to control the tension and pace, ways to hook a reader early, and how to keep the reader wanting more. I write with a literary voice, so I’m always interested in making my work more commercial for the genre world. I believe that Barbara’s class has given me tools to make my writing more entertaining while being true to my voice. I expect to grow from these tools for years to come.

Barbara and Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos take the class seriously, and they expect the same of their students. The homework started even before the first class: reading assigned texts on the craft of writing, analyzing scenes from acclaimed writers, studying the film Casablanca. Barbara referenced the homework during classes as we deepened our understanding of each text’s authorial magic.

Barbara talks fast and you’ll want to capture every word. Fortunately, she assembles substantial handouts of her talking points prior to each class. I have my handouts printed, in a three-ring binder, covered with notes, indexed, and on a high shelf to keep them safe from flooding. They are valuable. I will refer to them repeatedly.

Classes were lectures and Q&A sessions, meeting on alternating weeks via GoToMeeting. For our first assignment, Barbara asked us to apply the tools discussed in class by writing an opening scene.

I chose to revise the opening scene of my novel. You know when you’re in good physical shape but then do a new kind of workout that awakens different muscles? That’s what this revision process felt like. I looked for ways to communicate my story’s promise and build intensity as the scene progressed. With my literary style, my characters live lives of rich internal conflict, but I’ve always struggled to increase the external conflicts. This class pushed me out of my comfort zone of internal monologues and into the less familiar territory of tangible action.

Next, we critiqued the work of several classmates. I love what I learn from critiquing, and Jeanne provided helpful guidance on the critique process. Barbara asked us to analyze specific qualities of the work: What was the protagonist’s goal? What was the promise of the scene? What were the internal and external conflicts? What was the turning point? These questions focused my attention on aspects of storytelling that I usually don’t consider.

Giving critiques is often more valuable than receiving them, but in this case, both were tremendously helpful. The guidance from Jeanne and Barbara led my classmates to produce illuminating critiques, and then there were the critiques from Barbara herself: thoughtful, insightful, and wise.

After our second GoToMeeting class, Barbara asked us to write a scene with significant tension so that classmates could analyze the beats. I felt I’d learned so much between the first two classes that it was already time to revise my opening scene once more. I rewrote the scene from start to finish, responding to the feedback I had received from the first set of critiques. This time we critiqued scenes from a new group of classmates and also met for individual GoToMeeting sessions with Barbara. With this new revision, the feedback I received highlighted significant issues that needed to be fixed in my novel, specifically regarding the magic. This was a key quality that I had been unable to see on my own, and I’m so grateful that the course brought it to light.

How did this class shape me as a writer? I now consider a protagonist’s change as the central element. Each scene is another step along my protagonist’s journey of change, and I’m placing more emphasis on translating internal changes into a character’s external actions. I know where, how, and why to tighten scenes, and I know much more about making a reader want to pick up a story and keep reading. And maybe the class will help this literary writer become more commercial in a genre world.


Odyssey Online Classes are announced on the Odyssey site each October with application deadlines in December. Classes are held in January and February. To receive a notice about the upcoming classes, sign up for the Odyssey newsletter.

“Ecstatic Moments and How to Destroy Them” by Donna Glee Williams

Donna Glee headshotOdyssey graduate and Odyssey Online instructor Donna Glee Williams was born in Mexico, the daughter of a Kentucky farm-girl and a Texas Aggie large-animal veterinarian. She’s been a lot of places; now she makes her home in the mountains of western North Carolina, but the place she lived the longest and still calls home is New Orleans. These days, she earns her daily bread by writing and helping other writers bring their creative visions to light, but in the past she’s done the dance as turnabout crew (aka, “maid”) on a schooner, as a librarian, as an environmental activist, as a registered nurse, as a teacher and seminar leader, and for a long stint as a professional student. The craft societies in her novels The Braided Path (Edge, 2014) and Dreamers (Edge, 2016) owe a lot to the time she’s spent hanging out in villages in Mexico, Spain, Iceland, Norway, Croatia, Italy, Israel, Turkey, India, and Pakistan. As a finalist in the 2015 Roswell Short Science Fiction Awards, her short story “Saving Seeds” was performed onstage in Hollywood by Jasika Nicole. Her speculative fiction has been recognized by Honorable Mentions from both the Writers of the Future competition and Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction collection. She earned an MFA and PhD from Louisiana State University, knows how to brain-tan a deer hide, drives a stick-shift, and has eaten roadkill more than once.


**IRONY ALERT: In the tradition of satirical essays like “A Modest Proposal,” Donna Glee offers the exact opposite of the advice you should take to create strong emotional moments in your work.**

An ecstatic moment in writing is a scene in which the emotion or action is so intense that it invites readers to step out of normal reality and into an altered state of consciousness. Ecstatic moments heighten our senses, intensify our experience, fiddle with the flow of time, and connect us to a big, fat Something larger than ourselves. They blow the roof off normality and leave its ruins smoking in the dust.

Continue reading ““Ecstatic Moments and How to Destroy Them” by Donna Glee Williams”