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)”

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Interview: Guest Lecturer Neil Clarke

neilclarkeAward-winning editor and publisher Neil Clarke will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine. Launched in October 2006, the online magazine has been a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine four times (winning three times), the World Fantasy Award four times (winning once), and the British Fantasy Award once (winning once). Neil is also a six-time finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor-Short Form and two-time winner of the Chesley Award for Best Art Director.

Additionally, Neil edits Forever—a digital-only, reprint science fiction magazine he launched in 2015—and The SFWA Bulletin—a non-fiction periodical published by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. His anthologies include Upgraded, Galactic Empires, Touchable Unreality, More Human than Human, The Final Frontier, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year series. His most recent anthology, Not One of Us, was published in November 2018 and will be followed by The Eagle has Landed in July 2019.


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?

I don’t think there’s anything I’d raise to that level, but I do often recommend that developing writers and editors volunteer as slush readers somewhere. The experience gives you insight into the common mistakes most writers are making and the distance you might need to start recognizing them in your own work. You’ll also see the current trends and get a good sense of your own place in the field. I’ve yet to meet a slush reader who hasn’t underestimated their skill level. The rule for writers is to quit when you stop learning. Potential editors should keep going a few more months, just to see if they can hack the experience when it becomes routine.

Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Neil Clarke”

“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”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Fran Wilde

Fran_Wilde_KyleCassidy
Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy

Award-winning author Fran Wilde will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her novels and short stories have been finalists for three Nebula awards, two Hugo Awards, and a World Fantasy Award. They include her Andre Norton- and Compton Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor, 2015); its sequels, Cloudbound (2016) and Horizon (2017); the middle-grade novel Riverland (Abrams, 2019); and the novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com, 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’sTor.comBeneath Ceaseless SkiesShimmerNature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications such as The Washington PostTor.comClarkesworldio9.com, and GeekMom.com. She holds an MFA in poetry and an MA in information architecture and interaction design. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, and at franwilde.net.


Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?

For me, writing seriously began when I started finishing stories. I’d always written. But I often didn’t complete the story drafts because something didn’t “feel” right or sound good enough. So of course because I didn’t finish a story, I had nothing to revise! Which made it really hard to sell things. Once I started finishing stories—writing them to completion, setting them aside for a few days, and then coming back and working on revision before deciding that they weren’t what I wanted—I started selling.  Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Fran Wilde”

Interview: Graduate & Odyssey Online Instructor Donna Glee Williams

Donna Glee headshot2011 Odyssey 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.


You attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2011. How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey?

Odyssey is like the Big Bang: it’s hard to imagine a state before it. But imagination is what we are all about, so here goes. I’d been writing all my life—my first poem in second grade—in a sort of scattershot way: introspective contemporary realist fiction, poetry, journalism, scholarship, song lyrics, and random acts of drama. Odyssey focused my energies like a gigantic magnifying glass in the sun. It was an intensive professional induction to the specific genre that had first wooed me to words. I treasured the personal conversations, conferences, and small-group lunches with Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos. That summer I was in the middle of selling my first novel, The Braided Path, over the transom to Edge, and Jeanne coached me in how to use the offer on the table to get an agent. Richard Curtis not only represented me for the arrangements on The Braided Path, but also applied his fine editorial eye to getting Dreamers ready to sell.

What insights did you gain into your own work?

I’d never read much horror. Sure, the occasional Stephen King audiobook when I needed to stay awake on a really long drive, but I’d never really had that much respect for the genre before Odyssey. That changed after hearing our writer-in-residence, Gary A. Braunbeck, read us his horror “manifesto.” His understanding of the functions of horror in storytelling gave the form new meaning and dignity in my eyes. And then, at our last private conference of the workshop, Jeanne pointed out very gently that the majority of what I’d written over the summer was, in fact, horror. She was right, and I’ve enthusiastically embraced my Inner Creepo since then. While I still don’t actually think of myself as a denominational “horror writer,” my second novel, Dreamers, has some ugly sadism in it. (And someone gets buried alive. That’s pretty diagnostic, right?) My short story “Dancing,” which I actually drafted during Odyssey and then sold to Pseudopod, involves an age-obsessed bug-lady who gets imprisoned inside an eternal exercise machine. “Come and Get It,” which I read at the Odyssey slam and sold to Psychological Perspectives, involves the classic woman-chained-to-the-rock-and-eaten-yum-yum-by-a-monster. “Absence Makes the Heart,” which—thanks to Jeanne—I just sold to Judith K. Dial and Tom Easton for their forthcoming Fantasy for the Throne anthology, involves a depressed amphibian trying to commit suicide. So, yeah—Horror ‘R’ Us.

Donna Glee book cover2A critical part of Odyssey, both during the summer residential program and in the online classes, is critiquing the work of your colleagues. Through the intensive critiquing of that summer, I learned that my fifty years of writing, MFA in fiction, PhD in linguistics, skills as a poet, and sprawling life experience all added up to being able to help other authors bring their visions to life. Eventually I wound up joining my sister Odfellow Karen Lacey in her remarkable editing/coaching/ghostwriting boutique, The Uncommon Octopus, and I’ve been happily earning my daily crumb by polishing other writers’ silver ever since.

What made you decide to attend the Odyssey Writing Workshop? 

It wasn’t really a decision—on the plotter-pantser gradient, I’m El Pantser Supreme. I learned about Odyssey; I applied, never thinking I’d be accepted. I got the letter; I made it happen. One step at a time: Apply. Get accepted. Find the money. Make the time.

You came full circle when you became a lecturer for one of Odyssey’s online classes this year on subtext. Can you briefly explain what subtext is and offer a way for writers to start incorporating subtext into their stories?

Me? Brief? About subtext? I love your dry sense of humor.

Subtext is everything you communicate without explicitly stating it. When humans are face to face, some of this below-the-surface communication comes through non-verbal cues and some of it comes through actual words that invite or insist that the listener fill in the blanks with information the speaker never said. In writing, we can manipulate those verbal cues in the same way that speakers do, forcing our readers to know things we never state. The non-verbals are a little more complex for writers, because our medium doesn’t let people see our gestures or facial expressions. But, as the Bad Guy Captor always says, ve haf vays . . .

(Ways that can be taught!)

What are some books or short stories you’ve read recently that offer good examples of subtext?

The absolute classic example is Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which the main trouble of the book (that the love-struck protagonist is impotent because of a war wound) is never, ever explicitly stated. More recently, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried also buries its real story like a truffle in the deep dark woods and leaves the reader to sniff it out. While I was pulling examples for my Odyssey Online subtext class, I also found myself turning a lot to mysteries like Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear—mystery writers, of course, often need to make sure their readers know things that don’t, technically, appear on the page.

Both of your novels, The Braided Path and Dreamers, are young adult fantasy. What drew you to write for a young audience? What were some of the challenges you encountered while writing your novels?

Ever since Wilder Penfield’s experiments with electrodes on the brain, we’ve known that all of us contain every single age we’ve ever been, and it seems that a lot of my passion for Story lives in the Me that’s about 12-13 years old. Whatcha gonna do?

Donna Glee book cover1One of the challenges for me has been discerning what, exactly, comprises YA literature these days. It’s not, as I was told by some, the age of the protagonists—Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See features youngsters, but the book is pretty clearly not YA. It’s not subject matter or how graphic the sex and/or violence is—YA rule-breakers like John Green shatter these boundaries with every book they publish. And it turns out the membranes that separate YA from Adult are even more permeable in fantasy than in other types of fiction. Adults happily read Harry Potter and kids devour Game of Thrones. This is fortunate for me, because I am a great fence-straddler when it comes to categories. The Braided Path had three main characters, two teens and one woman in early middle age. I call it a “three-way coming of age story,” and I really do think it’s valuable for my young readers to know that middle-aged people have to deal with growing up, too. The Night Field, the novel I’m working on now, which has a teen protagonist, isn’t YA at all. I’m coming down to a “feel” test for YA; like Justice Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”

You have published numerous poems in addition to novels and short stories. What can writers of prose learn from poets? What are some poetic devices that fiction writers can use in their prose?

On the craft side, a fiction writer with any ambition at all is going to want to provoke strong emotions in readers. Ipso facto—and how often do you get to work an ipso into a blog post?—that writer is going to need ways to communicate to the other-than-rational parts of the mind: the gut, the heart, the subconscious, however you name it. The technology for doing that exists in three places I know of: poetry, clinical hypnosis, and advertising. (I include political propaganda in advertising.) I’ve studied clinical hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and therapeutic storytelling and learned a lot, especially about pacing and the power of metaphor. Studying advertising makes me feel like I need a bath. Reading and studying poetry immerses you in the power of super-refined language-craft—the tricks of our trade—while opening your heart to a deeper experience of life and its sensations.

What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

Ouch. My bugaboo these days is my work habits. I’ve got a big ole discovery draft of my next novel, tentatively called The Night Field, which I dutifully put away for a while to grow some fresh eyes before starting my revisions. But the trouble with putting something away for a while is that it’s hard to get back into the butt-in-chair routine. Any excuse, right?

What I’ve done to defeat my inertia is to plan some time at writers’ residencies this year, one month at Jentel in Wyoming and one at Messen in Norway. This is essentially like locking yourself in a room with nothing to do but write or go crazy. It really works; I started The Braided Path at The Hambidge Center in North Georgia and finished it on my Fulbright to India.

Another thing I’ve done is to get a developmental edit from Karen Lacey. Sometimes you just need some dynamite to blast you out of your stuck place.

And then there is always patience. I try not to be too harsh with myself, and to make sure I’m filling the time with other productive work (like submitting things and pulling together my first book-length poetry manuscript.) I’ve been here before often enough to know that what feels like procrastination is often just the Chaos Cave where we are doomed to flail until we are truly ready to take the next step.

“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”

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Meagan Spooner

SpoonerNew York Times bestselling author and Odyssey graduate Meagan Spooner will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the author of Hunted, Unearthed, and the Starbound Trilogy (These Broken Stars, This Shattered World, and Their Fractured Light). She attended Odyssey in 2009 and sold her first novel a year and a half later.

She grew up in Virginia, reading and writing every spare moment of the day, while dreaming about life as an archaeologist, a marine biologist, and an astronaut. She’s traveled all over the world to places like Egypt, Australia, South Africa, Antarctica, and the Galapagos, and there’s a bit of every trip in every story she writes.

She currently lives and writes in Asheville, North Carolina, but the siren call of travel is hard to resist, and there’s no telling how long she’ll stay there.

In her spare time she plays guitar, plays video games, plays with her cat, and reads.


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?

One of the things I tell developing writers is to get used to sharing your work as early as you can. Learning to receive both praise AND critique is an invaluable skill, and like any skill, it takes practice! Leaving aside the emotional component that makes sharing work and receiving critique difficult, one of the hardest things to learn as a writer is the ability to pick and choose what elements of a critique serve you and your story. Not every suggestion is right for you—and what might work well for one writer’s style may not work for another. You can’t accept and implement every suggestion you get, but neither can you reject it all out of hand! This skill is one that simply takes practice, and a lot of it! Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Meagan Spooner”