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.

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“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”

Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose: “Crafting the Series”

Elaine IsaacAuthor and Odyssey graduate E. C. Ambrose will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She writes The Dark Apostle historical fantasy series about medieval surgery, which began with Elisha Barber (DAW, 2013), continuing with Elisha Magus, Elisha Rex, Elisha Mancer, and the final volume, Elisha Daemon (forthcoming February 6, 2018). As Elaine Isaak, she is also the author of The Singer’s Crown and its sequels. Her writing how-to articles have appeared in The Writer magazine and online. A three-time instructor at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, she has led workshops across the country on topics like “Crafting Character from the Inside Out” and “10 Mistakes I’ve Made in my Writing Career so That You Don’t Have To.” Elaine dropped out of art school to found her own business. A former professional costumer and soft sculpture creator, Elaine now works as a part-time adventure guide. She blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history at ecambrose.wordpress.com and can also be found at facebook.com/e.c.ambroseauthor or on Twitter at @ecambrose. Under any name, you still do NOT want to be her hero. Learn more at www.TheDarkApostle.com.


In February of 2018, Elisha Daemon, the fifth volume of my Dark Apostle series, will hit the bookstores, thereby achieving something that many fantasy series never do: ending. I look upon that day with both excitement for the fulfilment of my plans and trepidation because I can no longer say quite what will happen next. The characters I’ve been living with for ten years now will be left behind. It’s like breaking off a longstanding relationship. “It’s not you, Elisha, it’s me—I have to move on.” But it will also be the moment I can reveal the ending I’ve been working toward for so long.

Continue reading “Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose: “Crafting the Series””

“Odyssey Online Writing Courses: Intense Focus, Great Results” by Marianne Knowles

MPKnowles (2)Marianne Knowles writes young adult novels with a science fiction slant, runs an SCBWI critique group, and serves as co-admin for the group blog Writers’ Rumpus. By day, she helps develop science curriculum for use by students in elementary, middle, and high school. Marianne is represented by Emily Mitchell of Wernick & Pratt Literary.


Two winters ago my novel got wrung out, taken apart, and put back together. It was praised and constructively critiqued by classmates from nearby towns and faraway countries. I found the emotional heart of my main character and discovered the spine on which to hang all the other elements of the story—all the elements worth keeping, that is. I had to throw out some due to the “kitchen sink syndrome.” I worked more intensely on my writing than I had in years and learned things I didn’t even know I needed to.

In short, I took an online writing course with Odyssey Writing Workshops.

» Odyssey Writing Workshops is a nonprofit based in New England, in the U.S.

» Their main focus is fantasy, science fiction, and horror, but their courses cover the basics of good writing, and any writer can benefit regardless of genre.

» Odyssey runs a six-week residential writing workshop each summer, but the online courses can be attended by anyone with an Internet connection, email address, and phone.

» Courses have a number of live meetings in the evening, Eastern Time, but don’t let time zones limit you. We had an Australian attending on her lunch hour last year, and a night-owl European too.

» Plan on several hours each week outside of class to complete assignments.

Three courses are offered this year (see below). Classes meet in January and February, 2018. Application deadlines are all in early December, and applications may take a bit of time to complete, so don’t delay.

Standing Out: Creating Short Stories with That Crucial Spark
Course Meets: January 11 – February 8, 2018
Instructor: Scott H. Andrews
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 15, 2017

Saying the Unsayable:  Building Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext
Course Meets: January 4 – February 1, 2018
Instructor: Donna Glee Williams
Level: Intermediate to Advanced
Application Deadline: December 8, 2017

One Brick at a Time:  Crafting Compelling Scenes
Course Meets: January 3 – January 31, 2018
Instructor: Barbara Ashford
Level: Intermediate
Application Deadline: December 7, 2017

Barbara Ashford taught the novel revision course I took in Winter 2016. She will drive you hard, keep you on task, and make you justify what you think you know about your own story and its emotional heart. Between classes you may wish you could spend all day, most days, just applying everything you’ve learned so far to your own writing.

Each course is a bargain at under $250. Once you’ve completed an Odyssey Online course, you’re welcomed into an online Odyssey community—a very active, prolific, supportive, online group of writers. Some of Dianna Sanchez’s posts on Writers’ Rumpus started out as weekly pep talks to the Odyssey group, and she’s just one member.

Do you write middle grade, young adult, or new adult? You WILL learn something from one of these classes, even if you write realistic fiction instead of science fiction, fantasy, or horror. Be aware that the courses are demanding. If you fall behind in your assignments, it will be noticed! But isn’t that a good thing?

A previous version of this blog post appeared on Writers’ Rumpus on December 6, 2016.


OdboatThe professional-level Odyssey Writing Workshop is dedicated to helping writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror grow in the craft of writing through winter online classes and a six-week summer workshop in New Hampshire. There is nothing like Odyssey—exceptional writing classes, critiques, and community encourages you to move outside your comfort zone and build new skills.

Apply by December 7 through 15 for the online classes. This year’s topics are Compelling Scenes, Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext, and Short Stories With That Crucial Spark.

Apply by April 7, 2018 for the summer in-person workshop.

“The Odyssey to Where I Am Now” by Linda Maye Adams

lonely-planet-cover2Linda Maye Adams was probably the least likely person to be in the Army—even the Army thought so! She was an enlisted soldier and served for twelve years and was one of the women who deployed to Desert Storm. But she’d much prefer her adventures to be in books. She is the author of the military-based GALCOM Universe series, including the novels Crying Planet and Lonely Planet. She’s also received three honorable mentions in the Writers of the Future contest and an honorable mention in Alfred Hitchcock Magazine‘s contest. Linda is a native of Los Angeles, California, and currently lives in Northern Virginia. Find out more about Linda Maye Adams on her website at www.lindamayeadams.com.


I had a very bleak point back in 2010: I was about to give up writing novels. I’d come out of a cowriter relationship that had blown up spectacularly, and I’d taken a hit to my confidence.

I’d had problems with my writing going in, and he’d promised his strengths could shore them up. I always ran too short and struggled with subplots. The result was that I spent several years not trying to figure out what the problem was. When we broke up, I had to relearn my craft.

I knew I needed to get back up on the horse, and that novel was Rogue God (though it was called Miasma at the time of my Odyssey Online class).

It was important that I finish a novel—without the cowriter.

But all the same problems that had plagued me for years returned, and the early versions were really broken. I remember one writer asking me if I wanted her to have a look at it, trying to be helpful, and I couldn’t do it. I thought she was going to think I was a horrible writer!

I could do short stories. I didn’t understand why it was different for novels. I was about to throw in the towel and just stick with short stories.

Then I found one of Holly Lisle’s workshops, right over Thanksgiving. It helped me see some of the problems that had crept into the novel. But she was an outliner, and her methods were based on the assumption I was outlining, so they didn’t really work that well for me. But it got me far enough along that the story didn’t look like a UFO had crashed and taken out an entire city. Maybe a freeway…

In 2013, I ran across the Odyssey classes for that year. Barbara Ashford’s class Getting the Big Picture hit me in the right way, so I asked if it involved outlining or not. She doesn’t outline, so I was willing to try and submitted the application. If you haven’t done it before, you have to get referrals and submit a sample of your writing.

In the back of my head, I expected to be turned down. My writing had been so messed up, it was hard for me to see what was good about it. I still thought: UFO crashing and taking out a city.

Then I got accepted!

The class was actually quite grueling for me. It was in January, and I got a cold and stayed sick for the entire class. But I did all the course work in spite of how I felt because you have to do the exercises to really stick the learning.

Especially if the exercises are hard.

I had to go back over my notes from the class to refresh my memory. I can see things in it now that I struggled to grasp then. But I understood enough that it got me on the next leg of my journey. I was able to finish Rogue God, and the only disasters happened in the story, not at the story.


OdboatThe professional-level Odyssey Writing Workshop is dedicated to helping writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror grow in the craft of writing through winter online classes and a six-week summer workshop in New Hampshire. There is nothing like Odyssey—exceptional writing classes, critiques, and community encourages you to move outside your comfort zone and build new skills.

Apply by December 7 through 15 for the online classes. This year’s topics are Compelling Scenes, Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext, and Short Stories With That Crucial Spark.

Apply by April 7, 2018 for the summer in-person workshop.

“Odyssey Online: Honing Your Craft” by Jenise Aminoff

jenise-headshotDianna Sanchez is the not-so-secret identity of Jenise Aminoff, also known to her children as the Queen of Sarcasm. Her middle-grade fantasy novel, A Witch’s Kitchen, debuted September 2016 from Dreaming Robot Press. Her short fiction appears in the 2017 and 2018 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guides. A Latina geek originally from New Mexico, she now lives in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters. Follow her on Facebook and at www.diannasanchez.com.


The day after Thanksgiving 2013, a novel fell on my head.

I didn’t know it was a novel at the time. I thought it was ten pages at best. My six-year-old daughter asked me to write her a story about fairies and unicorns as a Christmas present. I did my best not to roll my eyes. I was, at that time, struggling with a hard-SF YA novel idea and getting nowhere fast. Fairies and unicorns were the opposite of everything I was trying to accomplish. I thought I’d just jot something down and be done. Two days later, my nine-year-old decided to bake a cake, which she usually did without bothering to consult a recipe, and the idea struck: What if there was a young witch who was terrible at magic but really good at cooking?

By Christmas, I had three chapters. Three months later, I completed the manuscript, all 50,000 words of it. A Witch’s Kitchen was published in September 2016 (under my pen name, Dianna Sanchez), and it never would have happened without Odyssey Online, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.

I had studied writing. I have a poetry degree from MIT (yes, wrap your brain around THAT one). I attended the Clarion Workshop in 1995, before Odyssey even existed. I’d been writing since I was eight years old, and writing seriously since 1993. I made one pro sale in 2003 before I had children and they ate my life. But in all that time, I never once took a class or read a book or even really considered the craft of writing long-form fiction.

When I wrote A Witch’s Kitchen, it was like feeling my way through a maze in the dark with my elbows. I needed help, and I needed it fast. So I turned to that most trusty of resources, the Internet, for online classes on writing novels, and luckily I found Odyssey Online.

In the winter of 2014, Jeanne Cavelos was teaching Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction. If I had an Achilles’ heel in writing at that time, it was dialogue. Critique partners excoriated the clumsy, wooden, utterly inauthentic diction of my characters. After taking the class, my dialogue improved so much that I now receive consistent compliments on the smooth, natural flow of conversation between my characters. Who are sometimes six-inch-tall pixies and sentient trees. Not hard at all, right?

After I landed the contract for A Witch’s Kitchen, I had to confront my biggest writing nemesis: revision. I was terrible at it, infamous for rewriting good stories right into their graves. I didn’t know how to edit. I’d just rewrite the entire story from scratch, and somehow, despite correcting flaws, it was never, ever better the second time. But my publisher had requested a substantial revision, and I needed help.

I took Odyssey Online’s revision course, Getting the Big Picture, with Barbara Ashford in the winter of 2016, with my deadline looming in the middle of February. Thanks to Barbara and my amazing classmates, I not only got the revision done, I finally began to understand the subtleties of revision, how to discover the strengths of your story and enhance them. As I now revise the sequel, A Pixie’s Promise, I find myself returning to the lessons I learned in that class again and again.

Odyssey Online classes give you the opportunity to focus on one particular aspect of your writing craft, be it dialogue or character or plot arc or scene, and you come away having a whole array of techniques at your disposal to make that aspect really shine. On the other hand, as you’re focusing on that one topic, you become aware of how all the other aspects of writing feed into it, how plot arc is driven by character, how setting can support theme, how dialect can enrich worldbuilding. Jeanne Cavelos kindly introduced me to the three-act plot structure, even though it had almost nothing to do with dialogue. Last winter, I took Worldbuilding with Patricia Wrede, and it completely changed my understanding of character development.

As all authors know, writing is a process. You build your writing skills gradually over time, improving with every story and poem and novel and blog post you create. You learn the tools and tricks of the trade, and eventually, you master those skills. I have come to regard Odyssey Online as critical to my professional development as a writer. Every class I take improves my craft, often in ways I never expect and always appreciate.

I encourage you to take your writing craft to the next level with Odyssey Online.


OdboatThe professional-level Odyssey Writing Workshop is dedicated to helping writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror grow in the craft of writing through winter online classes and a six-week summer workshop in New Hampshire. There is nothing like Odyssey—exceptional writing classes, critiques, and community encourages you to move outside your comfort zone and build new skills.

Apply by December 7 through 15 for the online classes. This year’s topics are Compelling Scenes, Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext, and Short Stories With That Crucial Spark.

Apply by April 7, 2018 for the summer in-person workshop.