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 .

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”



There’s only a few more days to apply for this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop! If you’re serious about improving your writing, Odyssey provides a great opportunity to work with Jeanne Cavelos, former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell and winner of the World Fantasy Award. Jeanne will critique your work in depth, show you your strengths and weaknesses, and teach you how to attack those weak areas. With writer-in-residence Carrie Vaughn and guest lecturers Jack Ketchum, Melissa Scott, Patricia Bray, Jeffrey A. Carver, and Ace/Roc editor-in-chief Ginjer Buchanan, we’re going to have a great session.

You can find more information here and the application form here

Director’s Corner: Developing Your Skills

We run a pretty tight shop here at Odyssey via WordPress, which means you get the same type of post on the same week of each month. However, some months are a little longer than others, and when that happens, we’ll post some writing advice from the director of Odyssey, Jeanne Cavelos. We hope you enjoy the column.

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles. She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.

Developing Your Skills

During the presidential campaign, Peggy Silva, a New Hampshire teacher, submitted the following question to the candidates for a debate: “What don’t you know and how are you going to learn it?” This is an excellent question for every writer to ask himself. To improve your writing, you need to know exactly which elements or skills you need to improve and have a plan for improving them. If you have received useful feedback on your work, you should have noticed a pattern of some kind. What weaknesses do your critiquers usually find? Do you tend to have unbelievable characters? Weak plots? Slow beginnings? Awkward sentences? Nonexistent description?

Whatever your biggest weakness is, make a plan to attack it. Here are a few ideas to get you started:

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Odyssey Graduates’ News: Publications and Sales

Recent/Upcoming Publications


Luisa Prieto, class of 2002
Cooking with Ergot
Published by: Aspen Mountain Press
Release Date: Available Now!
Luisa’s website:

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Writing Question: Strong Openings

Short-story writers are often told that if they don’t grab the attention of an editor immediately with a hot hook in the opening sentence or opening paragraph, the editor will reject the story.  Similarly, novelists are told that they must captivate the bookstore browser with their first page, or the browser will put the book back on the shelf.  This puts a lot of pressure on the opening of a work.  How do you write an opening that will grab the readers attention and show them just how awesome your story is?  It’s a difficult task, so we asked the Odyssey graduates for their tips and advice when it comes to writing a strong opening.

Writers are told that they must accomplish many things in an opening scene–grab the reader’s attention, set up the conflict, introduce the protagonist, establish the setting, establish the point of view and style, raise a question, and on and on. What goals do you try to achieve in an opening scene? What elements do you introduce? What do you think is most important for an opening scene? How are your goals different for the opening scene of a short story and the opening scene of a novel?

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Interview: Patricia Bray

Interview by Shara Saunsaucie White

Patricia BrayPatricia Bray will be a guest lecturer at the Odyssey Writing Workshop this summer. She is the author of a dozen novels, including Devlin’s Luck, which won the 2003 Compton Crook Award for the best first novel in the field of science fiction or fantasy. A multi-genre author whose career spans both Regency romance and epic fantasy, Patricia has had her books translated into Russian, German, Hebrew and Portuguese. She is a two-time co-chair of the Southern Tier Writer’s conference, and her articles on the writer’s craft have appeared in numerous publications, including Broadsheet, Nink, STARbytes and RWA’s Keys to Success: A Professional Writer’s Career Handbook.

Patricia lives in upstate New York, where she combines her writing with a full-time career as an I/T professional, ensuring that she is never more than a few feet away from a keyboard. Her latest novel is The Final Sacrifice, the concluding volume in The Chronicles of Josan, which was released by Bantam Spectra in July 2008. You can visit her website at

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

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