“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.

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“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.

“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.

Special Announcement: Writing Resources

OdboatThank you to all who have applied to the summer Odyssey Writing Workshop!  The deadline for the 2016 June-July Workshop has now passed. Applicants should receive word by May 1.

Writers, there is a variety of free writing resources available on the Odyssey Workshop site. Here are just a few:

–Salon (noun): 1. a place of business that specializes in beauty techniques and products  2. the room in a large house used for the reception and entertainment of guests 3. a gathering of writers, artists, and creative thinkers.

Director Jeanne Cavelos hosts an online writing salon every second Wednesday, from 7.30-8.30 Eastern time (the next one is this Wednesday, April 13). Check out more information, as well as the technical requirements, here, and make plans to join other writers and readers in an online discussion. No experience necessary other than a love for writing and a desire to discuss the craft.

–Manuscript Formatting: Do you need to know about spacing, indents, best fonts, and overall manuscript preparation? See the FAQs of manuscript presentation.

–Literary Agents: Go here for advice about starting your agent search.

Other free offerings: writing exercises and almost one hundred podcasts of authors’ and editors’ lectures from the Workshops, on a variety of subjects from plotting to worldbuilding to submitting and much more.

Stay tuned for notifications about online courses and webinars!

And above all–keep writing.

SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Summer Workshop Dates & Application Deadline

OdboatcleanedupDon’t let more time slip by.  Make 2016 the year that you take your writing to the next level!

The Odyssey Writing Workshop is one of the top programs in the world for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror.  Since its inception in 1996, the Odyssey Writing Workshop has become one of the most highly respected workshops for writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror in the world.  The intensive, six-week workshop is held on the campus of Saint Anselm College in Manchester, NH, and combines writing, critiquing, in-depth feedback on students’ manuscripts, private conferences, and an advanced curriculum covering all the major elements of fiction writing.  Students commonly describe it as inspiring and transformative

Fifty-nine percent of graduates go on to professional publication, and among Odyssey graduates are best sellers and award winners.  Odyssey is for serious writers ready to give up their lives for six weeks and focus solely on their writing.  You’ll work harder than you ever have before and make friendships that will last a lifetime.

The 2016 Odyssey Summer Writing Workshop will take place June 6 through July 15.

Polish up those entrance stories! All applications must be received by April 8, 2016.

The workshop, directed by award-winning author and editor Jeanne Cavelos, combines an intensive, advanced curriculum with in-depth feedback on students’ manuscripts. 

 Top authors, editors and agents have served as guests at Odyssey, ready to lecture, workshop, and give feedback. This year’s guests:

2016 Writer-In-Residence

Mary KowalMary Robinette Kowal is the author of The Glamourist Histories series of fantasy novels. She has received the Campbell Award for Best New Writer, three Hugo awards, and the RT Reviews award for Best Fantasy Novel. Her work has been a finalist for the Hugo, Nebula, and Locus awards. Stories have appeared in Strange Horizons, Asimov’s, and several Year’s Best anthologies as well as in her collection Scenting the Dark and Other Stories from Subterranean. 

Mary, a professional puppeteer and voice actor, has performed for LazyTown (CBS), the Center for Puppetry Arts, Jim Henson Pictures, and founded Other Hand Productions. Her designs have garnered two UNIMA-USA Citations of Excellence, the highest award an American puppeteer can achieve. She also records fiction for authors such as Kage Baker, Cory Doctorow and John Scalzi. 

Mary lives in Chicago with her husband Rob and over a dozen manual typewriters. Visit maryrobinettekowal.com.

 

Guest Lecturers Continue reading “SPECIAL ANNOUNCEMENT: Summer Workshop Dates & Application Deadline”

Special Announcement: Final Odyssey Online Course Deadline +New Podcasts

OdboatThank you to all those who have registered for the winter online writing classes with Jeanne Cavelos and Barbara Ashford!

There is still time to register for “Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot,” taught by David B. Coe, author of The Thieftaker Chronicles (writing as D.B. Jackson), the LonTobyn Chronicle, a trilogy that was awarded the William L. Crawford Award for best new fantasy series, the Winds of the Forelands series, and the Blood of the Southlands trilogy.

Odyssey Online helps you to learn new techniques and build your skills, and provides in-depth feedback to guide you.  If you’re ready to hear about the weaknesses in your writing and ready to work to overcome them, you’d be welcome to apply.

Point of View: The Intersection of Character and Plot

Course Meets:  January 21 – February 18, 2016
Instructor:  David B. Coe
Application Deadline:  December 26, 2015
Level:  Beginner/Intermediate

Of all the many tools writers have at their disposal, perhaps none is more powerful, or more overlooked, than point of view. Often thought of simply as the perspective through which a story is told, it is actually far, far more.  It is the mechanism by which we guide our readers through the plot points, narrative arcs, and emotions of our fiction. It is the place where all of our storytelling elements–character, plot, setting, prose–come together. And point of view can also provide solutions to some of the most common problems encountered by aspiring writers and professionals alike. Award-winning author David B. Coe, highly praised mentor and teacher of fiction writing, will show how weaknesses in point of view can undermine an entire story.

We will begin our discussion of point of view by looking at the many factors that go into choosing the correct point of view character or characters for our stories, as well as the proper voice for those characters. We will then move to the study of how point of view influences not only character arc, but also our establishment of plotting, setting, and pacing. We’ll explore the challenges in writing from the point of view of non-human characters and characters from alien cultures. Finally we will conclude the course with an exploration of the ways in which POV can be used to address a host of common problems writers encounter in their work.


Resources abound at the Odyssey Workshop home! Visit the Odyssey Podcasts page for downloadable lectures on a whole variety of writing-related topics. Recent podcasts include:

  • “Making It Real” by E.C. Ambrose (#87 and #88), who discusses the importance of worldbuilding, setting, details, and POV.
  • “Productivity for Writers” by Alex Hughes (#85 and #86).  Alex Hughes shares how to prioritize writing and strategies for focusing on getting words on the page.  Alex will also be leading our first live webinar in February 2016. See the details and register here!
  • “Characterization” by Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman (#83 and #84). Guest lecturers at the 2014 Summer Workshop, Ellen and Delia talked about writing characters with your own heart and insight, and creating in depth, complex characters.