Interview: Guest Lecturer Alexander Jablokov

jablokovAuthor Alexander Jablokov, who will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey workshop, writes science fiction for readers who won’t give up literate writing or vivid characters to get the thrills they demand. He is a natural transition for non-SF readers interested in taking a stroll with a dangerous AI or a neurosurgeon/jazz musician turned detective, while still giving hardcore SF fans speculative flash, incomprehensible aliens, and kitchen appliances with insect wing cases. From his well-regarded first novel, Carve the Sky, an interplanetary espionage novel set in a culturally complex 25th century, through the obscenely articulate dolphins with military modifications of a Deeper Sea, the hardboiled post-cyberpunk of Nimbus, the subterranean Martian repression of River of Dust, and the perverse space opera of Deepdrive, his last book was Brain Thief, a contemporary high-tech thriller with a class clown attitude. He has recently written a YA alternate universe adventure novel.

His day job is as a marketing manager. He does his writing during the mornings, and on weekends. It took him several years to figure out how to get any writing done at all, particularly since he hates getting up early and hates working on weekends, but has somehow managed it. Visit www.ajablokov.com to learn more about the author and his books.


On your blog you say that, “writing is rewriting.” How do you maintain excitement for that original idea as you work through various drafts?

Sometimes I don’t and have to let it rest for a while. But I consider the first draft as something akin to ore. Smelting and refinement are the next steps. Now, that’s just me—my initial drafts are tangled, full of blind alleys, notes to myself, and repeated sentences where I try to get something right. I’ve learned that attempting to revise while I write stops me dead. That kind of revision can be like cleaning your desk or doing your laundry—a useful task that has wandered into the wrong place. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Alexander Jablokov”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 2 of 2)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPublishing veteran Michael J. Sullivan will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is the author of 29 novels and uses a wide range of publishing options, including self-publishing, small-press, big-five, Kickstarter, print-only, foreign translations, and audio. He’s sold more than 850,000 books, been translated into 15 foreign languages, and appeared on more than 150 “best of” or “most anticipated” lists, including those compiled by Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, and Audible.com. His most recent novel, Age of Myth, hit #2 on the Washington Post Best Seller’s List for hardcovers. Because of his wide range of publishing experience, Michael has taught several courses with Writer’s Digest and been a guest speaker at multiple fantasy conventions, as well as BookExpo America (the largest publishing tradeshow in the world). He’s currently working on his fourth Riyria Chronicles novel. The second book in his Legends of the First Empire series, Age of Swords, will be released by Del Rey in the summer of 2017.


Part 1 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.

How many stages does your work go through before you send it off to a publisher? How much of your time is spent writing the first draft, and how much time is spent in revision? What sort of revisions do you do?

Part of the problem in discussing the writing process is there are so many terms that mean different things to different people. For instance, I don’t re-write (which to me means starting the book over once you know where it ends up), but I do make a lot of changes through editing. There are some books where what was once on page one moved back to page fifty, and I cut some openings altogether. Is that re-writing or editing? For me, I consider that work editing, even though it may require rewriting parts of the book.

Okay, the process is rather long but here goes: Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 2 of 2)”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 1 of 2)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPublishing veteran Michael J. Sullivan will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is the author of 29 novels and uses a wide range of publishing options, including self-publishing, small-press, big-five, Kickstarter, print-only, foreign translations, and audio. He’s sold more than 850,000 books, been translated into 15 foreign languages, and appeared on more than 150 “best of” or “most anticipated” lists, including those compiled by Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, and Audible.com. His most recent novel, Age of Myth, hit #2 on the Washington Post Best Seller’s List for hardcovers. Because of his wide range of publishing experience, Michael has taught several courses with Writer’s Digest and been a guest speaker at multiple fantasy conventions, as well as BookExpo America (the largest publishing tradeshow in the world). He’s currently working on his fourth Riyria Chronicles novel. The second book in his Legends of the First Empire series, Age of Swords, will be released by Del Rey in the summer of 2017.


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?

There’s so much advice to give!! Hopefully, we can get into this more during the workshop, but I’m going to narrow my focus to two equally important pieces of advice…and they go hand in hand. The first relates to developing your craft, which doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years (or decades) to find your voice and get your writing skills up to a ready-for-prime-time level. Art, all art, takes time and practice, so this isn’t a sprint but a marathon. Stephen King says you should treat your first 1,000,000 words as practice, and Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours working at a task to get proficient. I think these numbers are about right. For me, I wrote for a decade and created 13 novels (most of which were utter trash), but they taught me a great deal. So my advice is to prepare yourself for a long haul, and never stop focusing on continued improvement. Persistence is the most important trait of the “writing business,” and the only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 1 of 2)”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Mark Gottlieb

20121130-trident-mark_153_grey_highres-agentMark Gottlieb is a literary agent with Trident Media Group who will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He attended Emerson College and was President of its Publishing Club, establishing the Wilde Press. After graduating with a degree in writing, literature and publishing, he began his career with Penguin’s Vice President. Mark’s first position at Publishers Marketplace’s #1-ranked literary agency, Trident Media Group, was in foreign rights. Mark was Executive Assistant to Trident’s chairman and ran the Audio Department. Mark is currently working with his own client list, helping to manage and grow author careers with the unique resources available to Trident. He has ranked #1 among Literary Agents on publishersmarketplace.com in Overall Deals and other categories.


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?

The most important advice I can give to writers just starting out is to learn and grow from constructive criticism and rejection, rather than being discouraged by that feedback. It is not an editor or literary agent saying the author’s writing is not good—we’re saying the writing is not good enough, at least not yet. So, hang in there… Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Mark Gottlieb”

Interview: Odyssey Online Graduate and Author Jenise Aminoff

jenise-headshotDianna Sanchez is the not-so-secret identity of Jenise Aminoff, whose superpower is cooking with small children. She is an MIT alumna, graduate of the 1995 Clarion Workshop and Odyssey Online, active member of SCBWI, and a former editor of New Myths magazine (www.newmyths.com).

Aside from 18 years as a technical and science writer, she has taught science in Boston Public Schools, developed curricula for STEM education, and taught Preschool Chef, a cooking class for children ages 3-5. A Latina geek originally from Albuquerque, NM, she now resides near Boston, MA with her wonderfully geeky husband and two daughters.

Her debut novel is A WITCH’S KITCHEN, forthcoming from Dreaming Robot Press in September 2016.


Congratulations on the sale of your first novel, A Witch’s Kitchen, coming out from Dreaming Robot Press on September 25, 2016! How many stages did your novel go through before you sent it to the publisher? How much of your time was spent writing the first draft, and how much was spent in revising? What sort of revisions did you do on the novel?

Thanks! All told, A Witch’s Kitchen took me two years, three months to complete. I started it just before Thanksgiving 2013 and completed the first draft on March 25, 2014. Luckily, I had signed up for Odyssey Online’s Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction, intending to use it for a completely different project, so that helped a great deal. Even so, I knew it was nowhere near ready to send out. Continue reading “Interview: Odyssey Online Graduate and Author Jenise Aminoff”

Interview: Graduate and Author J.A. White

Jerry WhiteAuthor Jerry White is a 1996 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He teaches writing, math and science to middle grade students in New Jersey, where he lives with his wife, three sons, and a hamster named Ophelia that doesn’t like him very much. Jerry also works for a production company that makes short films and book trailers.

We interviewed Jerry back in 2014 when his first book, the middle-grade fantasy The Thickety: A Path Begins, kicked off The Thickety series. A second book, The Thickety: The Whispering Trees, was published in 2015, and The Thickety: Well of Witches, joined them this past February. The fourth book will be released in January 2017.

Learn more about Jerry and The Thickety series and peruse Jerry’s teaching blog at http://www.jawhitebooks.com.


Congratulations on the third installment in your Thickety series, The Thickety: Well of Witches, which came out earlier this year. What drew you to write for middle grade readers? What are some challenges unique to writing for a younger audience?

J.A. White Thickety-3-Well-of-Witches-Cover-220x281Thanks!  There were a few different factors that led to me to write for middle-grade readers.  I’ve been a classroom teacher for 17 years now, mostly 5th and 6th grade.   Since I enjoy spending time with kids of that age, I suppose it makes sense that I would enjoy spending time with fictional kids of that age as well!  Continue reading “Interview: Graduate and Author J.A. White”

Interview: Guest Lecturer N.K. Jemisin (Part Two of Two)

NK Jemisin

N. K. Jemisin is a Brooklyn author who will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop in Manchester, N.H.  Her short fiction and novels have been multiply nominated for the Hugo and the Nebula, shortlisted for the Crawford and the Tiptree, and have won the Locus Award for Best First Novel. Her speculative works range from fantasy to science fiction to the undefinable; her themes include resistance to oppression, the inseverability of the liminal, and the coolness of Stuff Blowing Up.

She is a member of the Altered Fluid writing group, a graduate of the Viable Paradise writing workshop, and she has been an instructor for the Clarion workshops. In her spare time she is a biker, an adventurer, a gamer, and a counseling psychologist; she is also single-handedly responsible for saving the world from KING OZZYMANDIAS, her obnoxious ginger cat. Her essays, media reviews, and fiction excerpts are available at nkjemisin.com.

Her newest novel, The Fifth Season, came out in August, 2015.


Part One of this interview posted last Sunday, and is available here

What are some elements of your favorite novels or works that influence your work?

My inspiration is usually mythology. I’m more interested in stories as they’ve existed throughout antiquity. I like oral storytelling; I like creation myths of various peoples and cultures and religions. I myself am an agnostic, so I see all religions and all creation myths as mythology, although I know that for a lot of people it’s a lived experience. As far as I am concerned, humanity has had several thousand years to perfect storytelling, and there’s a lot to be learned from those basic, classic—even primordial—storytelling forms and ideologies. That is more interesting to me than what is selling best and what is popular. That may be why I’m not a bestseller! I don’t know. I write stories that excite me; I’m not trying to become the next G.R.R. Martin; I’m trying to tell a story that makes me happy. It’s entirely possible that at some point that writing a story like Martin might make me happy, but right now I’m a little more basic.

My favorite authors tend to be other people who do the same thing. Tanith Lee—I fell in love with her Flat Earth books, way back in the day—and Ursula LeGuin, and other writers like that. I’m a big fan of Storm Constantine, who I think is clearly not interested in what is being done elsewhere in literature; she’s very much doing her own thing. She’s written a number of series and standalones that are just mindblowing. She’s probably best known for a series of six or seven books, called Wraeththu. It’s a fascinating fantasy love story set in a far future Earth in which humankind has mutated into a monogendered species (for lack of a better description). Intersex is the more appropriate term. The characters have both female and male organs; they are capable of reproducing amongst themselves, and they use sex magic to do all kinds of miraculous and horrific stuff. The story is all about several characters in this Wraeththu-verse going forth and doing their thing. It turns out belatedly that the story is a post-apocalyptic fantasy but it takes a while to realize that.

I liked Louise Cooper (rest in peace). I like a lot of the fantasy that you see coming out of other cultures. I’m a giant anime and manga fan. An example of the stuff that I’ve loved that has definitely influenced my work is Rig Veda by CLAMP, the all-female manga group. This type of group is not unusual in Japan; there’s quite a few women writing fantasy there. Manga isn’t nearly as male-dominated there. In Japan it’s pretty easy to find stuff from different perspectives, not just the straight guy. I do like the straight-guy stuff too, especially when it’s coming out of a different culture, simply because it brings different perspectives and really just different ways of thinking about things. Rig Veda is particularly interesting because it is a Japanese manga retelling of an Indian myth. Just imagine the core mythos of any religion, retold in manga form, and that’s what you’ve got. Imagine the story of Jesus retold by Japanese manga artists. Some people might find that blasphemous, but it sure as hell would be interesting—it probably exists out there, too.

We hope you are looking forward to the Odyssey Workshop this summer! As a guest lecturer, you’ll be lecturing, workshopping, and meeting individually with students. What do you think is the most important piece of advice you can give to developing writers?

jemisin 1 kingdom of godsI’m looking forward to the Odyssey Workshop. I always wanted to participate in a six-week workshop, and I always thought Odyssey would be the one, because Odyssey is one of the few workshops willing to accept novel writers, and critique novels. Other workshops only accept short stories—and remember at the time that I was a little snooty toward short stories. I wanted to do Clarion but didn’t have the skills at the time to write short stories.
As for advice, I would say that if you get into a critique group or a workshop, you’ll learn a lot more from watching other people be critiqued than you do from actually getting critiqued yourself. In a lot of cases, people are too close to their own work. It’s hard to hear criticism without having that visceral “You hate my baby!” reaction. “You just said my baby was ugly! I’ve going to kill you!” You’re too busy reacting to really hear what’s being said. But with other people’s work—you’re detached from it because it’s not yours. You’ve read it, you’re thinking about how you interpreting it versus how other people interpret it and that gives you a better sense of what makes a story work.

If you’re using the Milford model critiquing method—the sort of standard workshop critiquing method—you’re also going to hear what the author intended versus what they actually managed to do. That shows you different techniques to use, how effective certain techniques can be or how ineffective they might be. It’s important to remember it’s not about getting about critiqued yourself—that’s important; that helps—but what’s going to teach you the most is watching other people being critiqued. It’s so helpful to listen.

Tell us about your writing schedule—where you like to write, and when. You mention a “business day” in other interviews. Does that have to do with your writing career? Do you have any advice for writers about writing schedules and so forth?

My business day is a thing I’ve had to institute because I’ve become a professional writer. I didn’t have to worry about doing interviews or going to the bank to set up a business account or meeting with my accountant—none of that stuff was an issue before. I do have a full-time day job—my boss and coworkers have been incredibly understanding about me having a secondary career. I work four days a week, ten hours a day, at the day job. Then Fridays I have free, because I needed a day during the week when I could do all these meetings and things like that. That leaves my weekends free for writing.

My writing days include Fridays if I don’t have any business, but it’s rare that I don’t. But on my writing days, I get up around eight, feed the cat. Usually the cat will try to get me up before eight, because he’s annoying—that said, we’ve reached a mutual point of understanding about certain things. I will make breakfast, mess around a little bit, and usually try to keep a nine to five day, because as far as I’m concerned, writing is work.

I do my best writing by day. Different people do different things; some people write at night, but I write by day because that’s how my brain works. I will start writing around nine and try to get in about 1500 words a day. More if I’m in deadline mode, which means 2500-3000 words a day, which is hard on me. But writing at my usual leisurely pace equals about 1500 words a day. And I do the same thing on Sundays. I write till about five p.m. I try to go to the gym afterwards. Exercise is important. But it’s also important to have a life—to have people in your life. To spend time with family and go out with friends and have those experiences.

If I’m on a deadline, I will also write during the week. I come home from work and try to target write a couple of hours before I go to bed—to hit a certain number of words per week so I can stay on track. I don’t like doing that; I’m usually tired after working all day and then come home and do more work, but sometimes it’s necessary. If I can write about 250 words after work I feel like I’ve done something amazing.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon for you?

I have a couple of projects that I’m working on right now. One I can’t actually mention right now; for the first time, I’m doing a media tie-in novel, which I am contractually obligated not to talk about, but I’m doing it, so I can at least acknowledge I AM DOING THE THING. That will be out later this year.

I’m also on Book Three of the Broken Earth trilogy. I’d broken jemisin 2 fifth seasonground on it but I had to put it aside to do the media tie-in. That’s not a bad thing; the Broken Earth books are soul-grinding. The Fifth Season was hard to write. After writing The Fifth Season, I needed a palate cleanser, so I went off and wrote the “Awakened Kingdom” novella (set in the Inheritance trilogy world) which was my attempt at being silly and light-hearted—but even when I’m writing a light-hearted story, I have to change the world in it, and it turned out that after the events in the second Broken Earth book I wanted a palate cleanser there too. I decided to do the media tie in for that. Now I’m raring to go on Book Three. I’m hoping to get that done before August.

I have a short story I wrote last year coming out on Tor.com, but they haven’t given me an ETA on publication for that.

That’s what’s happening right now!