Writing Question: Titles

Some authors slap a title on their work without much thought. Others obsess for ages over the best possible title. A title can grab a potential reader’s attention, or it can send a potential reader away. Choosing a memorable, appropriate, appealing title is a difficult task, so we asked the Odyssey graduates for their tips and advice when it comes to generating titles.

How and when do you title your works? Does the title come to you first and inspire the story? Or do you finish the story still banging your head over what to call it? Do you like to go for the long and bizarre title, or the short and simple title? Have you named stories after main characters or worlds, or do you prefer a more thematic, indirect title? Is your process (and your result) for choosing a title different for short works and long works? Do you compile long lists of possible titles, or just come up with the title in a flash? Does the title usually come from some element in the story itself or from another source, such as a song or metaphor?

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Interview: Jeffrey A. Carver

Jeffrey A. CarverJeffrey A. Carver will be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this summer. He is the author of sixteen science fiction novels, including Sunborn (Tor Books, November 2008). Prior to that, his most recent books were Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries (a novelization), and Eternity’s End, a grand-scale epic of conflict and mystery in the far future, which was a finalist for the Nebula Award.

His novels Neptune Crossing, Strange Attractors, and The Infinite Sea began his series known as The Chaos Chronicles, a hard science fiction series which continues with Sunborn. Science Fiction Chronicle named Neptune Crossing one of the best science fiction novels of the year, while Kirkus called Strange Attractors “dazzling, thrilling, innovative…probably Carver’s best effort to date.” Periodically he returns to his Star Rigger universe (Star Rigger’s Way, Dragons in the Stars, and others), a favorite haunt for readers.

Carver’s writing involves elements of both hard science and psychology, and is character-focused while exploring possibilities for science and technology in the future, including nanotechnology, artificial intelligence, and the possibilities for travel (and both contact and conflict) among the stars. His novels and stories explore not just technological but moral, ethical, and spiritual challenges for tomorrow.

In addition to writing, Carver teaches. In 1995, he developed and hosted an educational TV series, Science Fiction and Fantasy Writing–a live, interactive broadcast into middle school classrooms. Reaching into schools across the U.S., the show encouraged student writers to stretch their imaginations and learn the basic skills of storytelling and writing. Much of that teaching is now free online for aspiring writers at writesf.com. He also teaches regularly at the New England Young Writers Conference at Bread Loaf, Vermont, and at the Ultimate Science Fiction Writing Workshop in Cambridge, Massachusetts.

A native of Huron, Ohio, Carver is a graduate of Brown University, with graduate work in marine resources management at the University of Rhode Island. He has been a high school wrestler, a scuba diving instructor, a quahog diver, a UPS sorter, a technical writer and developmental editor, a private pilot, and a stay-at-home dad. He lives with his family in Arlington, Massachusetts, and is a member of the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America, and The Authors Guild. For more information, visit his website at starrigger.net.

Several of Carver’s novels (and some short stories) are available for free download as ebooks at http://www.starrigger.net/Downloads.htm.

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?

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Podcast #26: Allen M. Steele

Podcast #26 is now available for download here.

At Odyssey 2005, Allen M. Steele lectured on building a world’s environment. In this excerpt from his lecture, Allen takes writers through the process of creating a believable, realistic world, using the setting from his “Coyote” novels as an example. He explains how to use scientific discoveries as a basis for setting, and how to use real-life locations as inspirations for your imaginary land. He talks about common problems in invented settings, such as the homogeneous world and the habitable planet that has no atmosphere-generating volcanoes. From designing the solar system to the geography of the planet to the plants and animals, Allen covers the important elements necessary to creating an entire environment. If the author does it correctly, he can create a setting that “sucks the reader’s eyeballs out of his head and pulls him into story.”

Allen M. SteeleAllen M. Steele was born in Nashville, Tennessee. He received his B.A. in Communications from New England College in Henniker, NH, and his M.A. in Journalism from the University of Missouri. His novels and short fiction collections include Orbital Decay, Labyrinth of Night, Oceanspace, Chronospace, The Last Science Fiction Writer, and the “Coyote” series—Coyote, Coyote Rising, Coyote Frontier, and, most recently, Coyote Horizon.

His work has appeared in all the major SF magazines as well as in many anthologies. He was First Runner-Up for the 1990 John W. Campbell Award, and Orbital Decay won the 1990 Locus Award for Best First Novel. He’s won two Hugo Awards (’96, ’97), two Locus Awards, four Asimov’s Readers Awards, the Analog AnLab Award, the 1996 Science Fiction Weekly Reader Appreciation Award, and 1998 Science Fiction Chronicle Readers Award as well as the 1993 Donald A. Wollheim Award and the 2002 Phoenix Award. Steele serves on the Board of Advisors for the Space Frontier Foundation.

He lives in western Massachusetts with his wife Linda and their two dogs. To learn more about Steele and his work, just visit his website at http://www.allensteele.com/.

Odyssey Graduates’ News: Publications and Sales

Recent/Upcoming Publications


Lane Robins, class of 1999
Kings and Assassins
Published by: Del Rey
Release Date: Available Now!!!
Lane’s website: http://lanerobins.livejournal.com/

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Writing Question: Unlikable Protagonists

While a cool idea, unique world, or suspenseful plot may grab the reader’s interest, the story’s protagonist is often the key to making the reader love your story. A strong protagonist can move the reader to tears and stay with him for the rest of his life. A protagonist who rubs your reader the wrong way can make him throw the book across the room. How do you create a protagonist that the reader will follow through fire and blood? It’s a difficult task, so we asked the Odyssey graduates for their tips and advice when it comes to creating a protagonist.

Have you ever had readers react negatively to your protagonist? For example, do they reject your farmboy protagonist as whiny and prefer your scoundrel sidekick character?  How do you make readers like your protagonist? Do you think about making the character likeable as you create him, or do you simply make him someone you like and hope the reader will feel the same? 

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Interview: Jack Ketchum

Jack KetchumJack Ketchum is the pseudonym for a former actor, singer, teacher, literary agent, lumber salesman, and soda jerk–a former flower child and baby boomer who figures that in 1956 Elvis, dinosaurs and horror probably saved his life. He will be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this summer. His first novel, Off Season, prompted the Village Voice to publicly scold its publisher in print for publishing violent pornography. He personally disagrees but is perfectly happy to let you decide for yourself. His short story “The Box” won a 1994 Bram Stoker Award from the HWA, his story “Gone” won again in 2000–and in 2003 he won Stokers for both best collection for Peaceable Kingdom and best long fiction for Closing Time. He has written eleven novels, the latest of which are Red, Ladies’ Night, and The Lost. His stories are collected in The Exit At Toledo Blade Boulevard, Broken on the Wheel of Sex, Sleep Disorder (with Edward Lee), Peaceable Kingdom and Closing Time and Other Stories. His novella The Crossings was cited by Stephen King in his speech at the 2003 National Book Awards. Four of his novels have been filmed  — The Lost, The Girl Next Door, Red and most recently Offspring, for which he wrote the screenplay. You can visit his website at http://www.jackketchum.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?

Not sure what you mean by “writing seriously” since it seems to me writing is always pretty serious.  You’re exposing yourself, after all — and willingly.  It’s essentially a somewhat crazy thing to do.  In junior high and high school it was all about popularity, probably.  The first thing I ever published was in the seventh grade — a mimeographed weekly paper called THE DAILY BLAB, a class-clown kind of thing which my homeroom teacher encouraged to reign in my urge to disrupt pretty much everything I possibly could.  I graduated from that to high school poet laureate — their designation, not mine — wherein I got to show all the girls my sensitive side.  By then I was hooked though, and all through college I was reading precociously and writing constantly.  The goal was the literary magazine for prose and poetry and stage production for my one-acts, with which I had some success.  I was also submitting all over the place, going through the back pages of The Writer, at which I had no success at all.  Somehow after college I got it into my head that I was either the next Harold Pinter or the next Henry Miller.  Sort of hard to reconcile the two, doncha think?  So that for years thereafter, that was where the problem lay.  It was only after a dozen or so rewrites of my massive “road” book a la Henry that I finally burned the only copies of the damn thing in our  fireplace, and — free at last — not long after sold my first short story to Swank, a wannabe Playboy.  So, say that I was twelve baring my disturbed, disruptive soul in THE DAILY BLAB, and thirty selling that equally disturbed story to Swank, it took me eighteen years of trying.  And they said in school that I had problems with my attention span.

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?

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Podcast #25: Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman

Podcast #25 is now available for download here.

In their guest lecture at Odyssey 2008, Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman discussed the many differences between writing a novel and writing a short story. In this podcast, Delia and Ellen explore how the opening of a novel differs from the opening of a short story. What must the beginning of a novel do, what can it do, and how much space does it have to do these things? Ellen and Delia list the elements that should usually be established in the opening chapter. They also explain that many novelists don’t know the right opening for their novel until they reach the end. Thus, it’s very important to keep pushing ahead, rather than to get bogged down rewriting the opening chapters. Ellen and Delia discuss the difficulties of getting through a first draft and offer valuable advice on how to make it to the end. They also explore some of the things that short stories can’t do and novels can.

Delia ShermanDelia Sherman was born in Tokyo, Japan, and brought up in New York City. Continue reading “Podcast #25: Ellen Kushner and Delia Sherman”