OdBlog Flashback: “My Odyssey Online Experience” by Kodiak Julian

This winter, Odyssey Online is once again offering the course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, taught by award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford. The following essay, in which author and Odyssey Online graduate Kodiak Julian talks about her experience with the class, was originally published here on September 9, 2018.

The application deadline for this winter’s Odyssey Online courses is December 7, 2020.


Kodiak-headshot

Kodiak Julian is a graduate of Reed College and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Together with Jamaica Zoglman, she cohosts the weekly podcast, Spirit of the Endeavor, which explores the pursuit of beauty, mystery and the sublime in everyday life. She lives with her husband and son in Yakima, Washington, where she teaches truly magnificent high school students. Her work appears in Lightspeed, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Grimoire Magazine, the Writers of the Future anthology, and in the Witches, Stitches, and Bitches anthology. She is frequently mesmerized by watching chickens.


Continue reading “OdBlog Flashback: “My Odyssey Online Experience” by Kodiak Julian”

Special Announcement: 2021 Odyssey Online Classes

ODYSSEY ONLINE OFFERS LIVE, INTENSIVE CLASSES WITH IN-DEPTH FEEDBACK

“I’ve taken other online writing classes before and gained a few useful insights here and there, but this class does more than just lecture—it gives you tools and forces you to practice using those tools. Then it shows you how to incorporate those tools into writing an actual story. I felt welcomed and supported in every stage of the class and am thrilled at how my writing network has expanded from this class. I was astounded at the amount and quality of the critiques I received from the instructor and my classmates on assignments I turned in. I learned so much from them! And I was just as astounded at the amount and quality of critique I was giving to other students—I’d been giving critiques for years, but this class taught me how to look at the big picture.”

Caitlin Jacobs

The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust has announced its Winter 2021 online classes: One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, taught by award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford; Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers, taught by award-winning editor-in-chief and publisher Scott H. Andrews; and Worldbuilding in Fantasy and Science Fiction, taught by New York Times bestselling author Patricia C. Wrede.

Continue reading “Special Announcement: 2021 Odyssey Online Classes”

Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #132

In Winter 2018, award-winning novelist Barbara Ashford taught the Odyssey Online course One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, and she’ll be teaching the class again this winter. In this excerpt from the first class, Barbara talks about techniques writers can use to evaluate the effectiveness of their scenes. Scenes are made out of moments. Moments can be bittersweet, funny, shocking—the best ones grab our attention because they feature characters we care about, involve indelible imagery or worldbuilding, and show dramatic conflict that keeps us reading. All writers use the same ingredients for scenes, but writing is not about following a recipe but about mixing the ingredients as appropriate for the story and scene. We need to be aware of the effect we’re striving to create and the impact we want to have on readers. A dramatic scene requires conflict. The conflict in a scene needs to relate to the conflicts in the story as a whole. When analyzing the effectiveness of scenes, don’t just look for conflict, but whether that conflict pushes the plot forward and whether it impacts future events. Look at whether the POV character has a clear scene objective. If the scene is about several things rather than a single objective, it becomes unfocused. The short-term scene objective has to relate to the character’s long-term goal, the super-objective. The scene needs to put obstacles between the protagonist and the super-objective. Having a clear scene objective raises anticipation and makes the reader want to know how the situation will be resolved. The scene must have something at stake for the POV character. More than anything, a scene must change the situation for the POV character in a dramatic way. If the POV character is in the same emotional place at the beginning of the scene and the end, you should ask yourself if the scene is necessary. You can skip over unimportant scenes or roll scenes together. The best scenes do more than just change the situation; they show how the POV character is changed as a result of the action.

Continue reading “Odyssey Podcast #132: Barbara Ashford on Crafting Compelling Scenes”

Graduate Essay: “What to Expect from Odyssey Online” by J.A. Schimmel

headshot2020J.A. Schimmel is a 2018 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, as well as several of the Odyssey Online Classes. When the world is not on fire, she divides her time between Illinois and Michigan while writing speculative fiction and slowly racking up rejections.


Once upon a time, I worked on writing creative fiction mostly on my own. Inevitably, I came to the end of where writing in isolation and studying published works would allow me to grow as a writer. I could see that in my work, but I couldn’t identify where my weaknesses were and improve on them. So… how to solve this issue? Continue reading “Graduate Essay: “What to Expect from Odyssey Online” by J.A. Schimmel”

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Barbara Ashford

barbara ashfordBarbara Ashford will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. Barbara has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for her compelling characters and her “emotional, heartfelt” storytelling. Her 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.

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.

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

A 2000 graduate of the Odyssey workshop, Barbara has taught eight online courses for Odyssey and has served on the staff of the Odyssey Critique Service for more than a decade. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.


You’re one of several authors who provide in-depth critiques for the Odyssey Critique Service. What are some of the common weaknesses you see in submissions?

Often, writers do not think about how the various “big picture” elements—plot, character, theme, world—relate to each other. To me, it’s critical to understand the heart of the story you’re telling. Whether you call that the story’s promise or its theme, without a clear understanding of the “message” you want readers to take away, the story can devolve into a series of plot incidents instead of evolving into a unified whole where all the “big picture” elements work together to create a story that is more cohesive and compelling. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Barbara Ashford”

“Make Your Big Moments Sing!” by Barbara Ashford

barbara ashfordAward-winning novelist and librettist Barbara Ashford will be teaching the Odyssey Online class “The Heart of the Matter: Bringing Emotional Resonance to Your Storytelling” this winter (application deadline: December 7, 2019). Barbara has been praised by reviewers and readers alike for her compelling characters and her “emotional, heartfelt” storytelling. Her 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.

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.

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

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


Before I began writing fiction, I worked as an actress in musical theatre. Those years not only gave me the inspiration for my novel Spellcast, but taught me a lot about creating memorable moments in fiction. Continue reading ““Make Your Big Moments Sing!” by Barbara Ashford”

“The Revision Machete” by Derrick Boden

Derrick Boden’s fiction has appeared in numerous online and print venues including Daily Science Fiction, Flash Fiction Online, and Compelling Science Fiction. To date, he has participated in four Odyssey online workshops and is always looking forward to the next. He is a writer, a software developer, a father, and an adventurer. He currently calls New Orleans his home, although he’s lived in thirteen cities spanning four continents. Find him at derrickboden.com.


I’m a workshop junkie, which means I’ve stockpiled a metric ton of writing notes over the years. Scribbled on the backs of hotel business cards, jotted in the margins of conference brochures, hammered into my laptop keyboard. And like any self-respecting workshop junkie, after each session I promise myself that I’ll review my notes regularly, once a month—no, twice!—and use them as a foundation for my future writing success.

It’s a nice thought.

Continue reading ““The Revision Machete” by Derrick Boden”

“Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture” by Barbara Ashford

barbara ashfordBarbara Ashford is the award-winning author of six novels published by DAW Books. She is also a developmental editor and teacher. Her online course “Getting the Big Picture: The Key to Revising your Novel” will be offered in January-February 2019 through the Odyssey Writing Workshop, application deadline December 4.


When I began revising my first novel, I believed my story had good conflict, complex characters, and a world that was pretty cool. Okay, the plot was a bit of a scavenger hunt. And the novel was way too long. But trimming and refining was what revising was all about, right?

Well…that depends on your interpretation of “refining.” I ended up rewriting two-thirds of the novel and cutting 80,000 words from the final manuscript. But my biggest revelation occurred early in revisions: while my protagonist was blazing a trail through a magical forest, I realized that I had lost sight of the forest for the trees. What was this story about?

Continue reading ““Don’t Lose Sight of the Big Picture” by Barbara Ashford”

“My Odyssey Online Experience” by Kodiak Julian

Kodiak-headshotKodiak Julian is a graduate of Reed College and the Clarion Writers’ Workshop. Together with Jamaica Zoglman, she cohosts the weekly podcast, Spirit of the Endeavor, which explores the pursuit of beauty, mystery and the sublime in everyday life. She lives with her husband and son in Yakima, Washington, where she teaches truly magnificent high school students. Her work appears in Lightspeed, Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, Grimoire Magazine, the Writers of the Future anthology, and in the Witches, Stitches, and Bitches anthology. She is frequently mesmerized by watching chickens.


The best courses give me more than my brain can handle. They linger with me for years as I gradually process the content. Barbara Ashford’s Odyssey Online course, One Brick at a Time: Crafting Compelling Scenes, was one such class.

I was preparing to revise a novel when I learned about the course. I knew the class would help me craft scenes from their early draft mess into structured units, but I was floored by the tools Barbara provided.

I learned how to control the tension and pace, ways to hook a reader early, and how to keep the reader wanting more. I write with a literary voice, so I’m always interested in making my work more commercial for the genre world. I believe that Barbara’s class has given me tools to make my writing more entertaining while being true to my voice. I expect to grow from these tools for years to come.

Barbara and Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos take the class seriously, and they expect the same of their students. The homework started even before the first class: reading assigned texts on the craft of writing, analyzing scenes from acclaimed writers, studying the film Casablanca. Barbara referenced the homework during classes as we deepened our understanding of each text’s authorial magic.

Barbara talks fast and you’ll want to capture every word. Fortunately, she assembles substantial handouts of her talking points prior to each class. I have my handouts printed, in a three-ring binder, covered with notes, indexed, and on a high shelf to keep them safe from flooding. They are valuable. I will refer to them repeatedly.

Classes were lectures and Q&A sessions, meeting on alternating weeks via GoToMeeting. For our first assignment, Barbara asked us to apply the tools discussed in class by writing an opening scene.

I chose to revise the opening scene of my novel. You know when you’re in good physical shape but then do a new kind of workout that awakens different muscles? That’s what this revision process felt like. I looked for ways to communicate my story’s promise and build intensity as the scene progressed. With my literary style, my characters live lives of rich internal conflict, but I’ve always struggled to increase the external conflicts. This class pushed me out of my comfort zone of internal monologues and into the less familiar territory of tangible action.

Next, we critiqued the work of several classmates. I love what I learn from critiquing, and Jeanne provided helpful guidance on the critique process. Barbara asked us to analyze specific qualities of the work: What was the protagonist’s goal? What was the promise of the scene? What were the internal and external conflicts? What was the turning point? These questions focused my attention on aspects of storytelling that I usually don’t consider.

Giving critiques is often more valuable than receiving them, but in this case, both were tremendously helpful. The guidance from Jeanne and Barbara led my classmates to produce illuminating critiques, and then there were the critiques from Barbara herself: thoughtful, insightful, and wise.

After our second GoToMeeting class, Barbara asked us to write a scene with significant tension so that classmates could analyze the beats. I felt I’d learned so much between the first two classes that it was already time to revise my opening scene once more. I rewrote the scene from start to finish, responding to the feedback I had received from the first set of critiques. This time we critiqued scenes from a new group of classmates and also met for individual GoToMeeting sessions with Barbara. With this new revision, the feedback I received highlighted significant issues that needed to be fixed in my novel, specifically regarding the magic. This was a key quality that I had been unable to see on my own, and I’m so grateful that the course brought it to light.

How did this class shape me as a writer? I now consider a protagonist’s change as the central element. Each scene is another step along my protagonist’s journey of change, and I’m placing more emphasis on translating internal changes into a character’s external actions. I know where, how, and why to tighten scenes, and I know much more about making a reader want to pick up a story and keep reading. And maybe the class will help this literary writer become more commercial in a genre world.


Odyssey Online Classes are announced on the Odyssey site each October with application deadlines in December. Classes are held in January and February. To receive a notice about the upcoming classes, sign up for the Odyssey newsletter.

“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.