“Teacher’s Corner: Five Reasons I Recommend Odyssey Online Classes” by Barbara Ashford

barbara ashfordAward-winning novelist Barbara Ashford  will be teaching the upcoming Odyssey Online class, One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling ScenesShe has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for her compelling characters, heartfelt storytelling, and powerful scenes.

Barbara’s first published series was the dark fantasy trilogy Trickster’s Game (written as Barbara Campbell). Published by DAW Books, Trickster’s Game was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society’s 2010 Fantasy Award for adult literature.

Barbara’s background as a professional actress, lyricist, and librettist has helped her delve deeply into character and explore the complexities of human nature on the stage as well as on the page. Her musical adaptation of Far from the Madding Crowd has been optioned for Broadway. 

She drew on her musical theatre roots for her second series, the award-winning Spellcast and its sequel Spellcrossed, set in a magical summer stock theatre. In 2014, DAW Books released the two novels in an omnibus edition: Spells at the Crossroads.

A graduate of the Odyssey workshop, Barbara has taught five previous online courses for Odyssey and has served on the staff of the Odyssey Critique Service for more than ten years. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.


Online classes. There are lots of them out there. You read the promos. Consider the content.  And agonize over whether to plunk down your hard-earned money. How do you know if that investment will pay off?

I can’t compare and contrast every online class available. But having taught five classes for Odyssey (with a sixth beginning this January), I can speak to the quality of its program.

Okay, I’m prejudiced. I attended the Odyssey Workshop in 2000. And several of the workshops for Odyssey graduates after that. Without them, I never could have developed my vague story idea into a novel—or wrestled my hopelessly wandering first draft into a novel that would sell.

As a student and a teacher who has learned a lot from Odyssey, here are the key reasons I think Odyssey’s online classes stand out:

1) The Philosophy

Odyssey isn’t about telling you how to write or giving you formulas to follow. In my classes, I like to offer insights from various writers because one approach may resonate with you more than another. And I prefer to talk about concepts that have worked for many writers rather than Rules You Must Obey. We all have different approaches to writing. My job is to offer support, guidance, and suggestions to help you create a compelling story and move forward on your writing journey.

2) The Mix

I’ve taught writers from all over the world. Senior citizens and college students. Short story writers and novelists. Writers of fantasy, science fiction, horror, historical fiction, contemporary thrillers, and romance. Writers for adult audiences, young adults, and middle grade readers. Some already have publication credits while others are looking to crack the pro market, but all go through a rigorous application process (which includes submitting a writing sample) to ensure that they’re equipped to handle the work required. Developing a supportive environment is a must for me. So I was especially pleased to see this quote on a student evaluation: “The other students were all great. No workshop trolls.”

3) The Work

If you expect to attend a live, online lecture for 90 minutes and then sit at home until the next class, don’t apply for Odyssey! Plan on devoting a minimum of five hours a week to the homework assignments and critiques. The assignments give you a chance to apply the concepts discussed in class to your own project. Each of your submissions will be critiqued by 3-4 of your classmates as well as your teacher. I like to mix up the critique groups each week so students can get feedback from others working in the same genre and/or writing for the same target audience.

4) The Discussion Group

Often, it’s only when you try applying new concepts to your story that questions arise. The online discussion group gives you a chance to ask those questions, for teacher and students to dig deeper into the topics discussed in class, and to share approaches to overcome challenges.

5) The Fellowship of the Web

Odyssey isn’t just a class. It’s a community you’ll join once the class is over. The Odyssey Salon offers live chat sessions on various writing topics. The online discussion group is a place to ask questions, report progress, and share struggles, market information, and insights. The online critique group allows you to have your manuscripts critiqued by other members. You can also submit your manuscript to the Odyssey Critique Service where one of the published writers (like me) will offer in-depth feedback about all aspects of your short story or novel—world building and characters, plot and scene structure, dialogue, theme, and pacing.

6) The Repeat Business

I know, I know…I said I’d give you five reasons, but here’s another: every year, I discover that at least a third of my students have already taken one or more online classes from Odyssey. I’ve had the opportunity to work with some of my students multiple times. (It’s great to revisit their projects and see their progress or discover what new project they’ve started working on.) To me, that speaks volumes about the dedication of these writers to their craft and their positive experience with Odyssey’s online classes.


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.

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