Interview: Graduate Erin Roberts

erinrobertsOdyssey graduate Erin Roberts is a speculative fiction writer who tells stories across formats: her short fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in publications including The Best Science Fiction of the Year: Volume 4,The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror 2019, Asimov’s Science Fiction, Clarkesworld, The Dark, and THEN AGAIN: Vintage Photography Reimagined by One Artist and Thirty Writers; her interactive fiction has been published in Sub-Q Magazine and is forthcoming from Choice of Games; and her non-fiction essays and reviews have appeared on Tor.com and in Cascadia Subduction Zone, People of Colo(u)r Destroy Fantasy, and Strange Horizons, among others.

Erin is a 2015 graduate of the Odyssey Writers Workshop. She later earned an MFA from the Stonecoast program at the University of Southern Maine and was the recipient of a 2019 Individual Artist Award from the Maryland State Arts Council and the Speculative Literature Foundation’s 2017 Diverse Worlds and Diverse Writers awards.

To learn more about her work or read her musings on writing and life, follow her on Twitter at @nirele, support her on Patreon at patreon.com/nirele, or visit her website at writingwonder.com.


You attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2015. What made you decide to attend Odyssey?

The cocktail party version of my decision is that I met Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos at the Boston SFF convention Boskone and fell under her brilliant spell. The longer version is that I was in the right place at the right time at a moment when I was just figuring out I could call myself a writer. I was a bit of a writing late bloomer overall—I studied playwriting in college, but aside from a few NaNoWriMos, a soap opera writing class, and one general creative writing class, I didn’t write much of anything until my early 30s when I took a class in science fiction and fantasy writing at Gotham Writers’ Center with the wonderful Paul Witcover.

I immediately realized that I really enjoyed writing SFF and that it seemed like something I might be able to get better at. It was also clear that I had a long way to go. Luckily, that Gotham class introduced me to some writing buddies, including my future Odyssey classmate Golden Baker. He found out about Odyssey, applied early, got in, and then invited me on a trip to Boskone to get a sense of the broader SFF community. We went to a kaffeeklatsch Jeanne held to talk about the program and I was immediately hooked—she obviously knew her stuff and I immediately wanted to know/learn more. I applied as soon as I got home and the rest is history.

How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey? What insights did you gain into your own work?

One of the reasons I enjoy writing about memory is that I have a pretty bad one myself, so it’s hard for me to pinpoint a specific writing trick or tip that I learned at Odyssey. And yet my work leveled up 1000%. It’s as if we were so immersed in the learning and writing and critiquing process of being at Odyssey that I became a better writer by osmosis. But of course, it was more than that—it was that we were taught by Jeanne how the craft of writing worked, got to put those craft lessons into practice immediately in our own writing and see how they were incorporated into our classmates’ stories, and meet and talk to expert writers who had put them into practice in unique and masterful ways. And we were able to talk to our friends and roommates about the process every step of the way. It’s hard, if not impossible, to get that kind of 360-degree perspective on craft anywhere else. It can’t help but make you better.

Can you describe your Odyssey experience? What surprised you most about Odyssey?

IMG_1341Odyssey was…

• having long conversations with new old friends about writing…

• and dancing at 4 AM to stay awake while finishing a story…

• and the moment when you completely get what someone was trying to do with their story or they do the same with yours…

• and learning how the pieces of the writing puzzle that you put together instinctively but sloppily can work for you with purpose and power…

• and meeting experienced writers whose work you to this day recommend to everyone you can…

• and hugs and late-night convos about life and the occasional singalong…

• and realizing that deciding to make this kind of commitment to writing means you are a writer, even if you are still learning and growing.

I’m not sure I expected any of that, and certainly not all at once and so magically.

On your website you say you “primarily write about worlds that don’t yet (quite) exist.” What draws you to write about the near future?

I like to think that phrase covers both fantasy and science fiction. Basically, I tend not to go too far from reality in any of my speculative fiction—my fantasy stories usually don’t have overt magic and my science fiction stories aren’t too heavy on technology. I like the worlds I create to be stranger and more complex than the one we live in, but not so much that they aren’t recognizable. They’re like a funhouse mirror—similar around the edges but warped when you try to compare them to our reality head-on—and, if I do things just right, designed to make certain aspects of our world seem just that much more clear, whether for good or for ill.

Your story “Thanks for the Memories,” an interactive story about a woman piecing her life together one memory at a time, came out in Sub-Q in December 2018. What were some of the challenges in writing a story structured that way?

I had so much fun writing “Thanks for the Memories,” and it’s based on a story I wrote for my last week of Odyssey. I could never make it quite work in prose, but making it interactive and letting the player/reader experience the feeling of trying to work out the main character’s past from within her shoes, using her memories, was the perfect fit of story and format. The hardest part of doing it, other than learning a new coding language to write the piece, was figuring out how to make the piece non-linear (so you could experience the memories in any order), but also structured (so there was a set beginning, middle, and end to drive the story). My solution was to create a frame narrative with a ticking clock and key moments that always happened when the player got through a certain number of memories. That way their experience of the memories could always be different, but the story would still have a shape and forward plot momentum. I like to think it worked out in the end.

You’ve written for the exergame Zombies, Run! What did you learn from writing scripts for the game that you’ve been able to apply to writing prose?

zrTo go back to an earlier question, one of the things you learn at Odyssey, I think, is to better understand your natural strengths and weaknesses as a writer. You’re writing quickly and reacting to all the things you’re being taught, and you often end up drawing on the things that make you the writer you are when you first start, the things that feel as easy to you as breathing. That’s not to say that people don’t push themselves in new ways at Odyssey, but I think having such a concentrated writing experience helps you get to know yourself as a writer.

What I learned is that one of my greatest strengths as a writer is conveying character through voice and one of my biggest weaknesses is plot and structure. The Zombies, Run! writing experience has been wonderful for the latter. We plot out seasons at a time and individual missions within that season before we write them, and that process has helped me put some of the things that Jeanne mentioned a lot at Odyssey (like causal chain) into practice in a different way. Not only that, but Zombies, Run! uses a format that’s still all about storytelling, but still has to fit a specific structure, length, and pace. In writing for Zombies, Run! (and learning from the talented writing staff, led by writer Naomi Alderman), I’ve figured out how to work within a set plot structure to make my stories clearer and better. As I start moving into longer form work, that’s something I will absolutely be drawing on.

When and how did you make your first sale?

ClarkesworldMy first sale was a revision of another story I wrote at Odyssey: “Wolfy Things.” I had a tendency to turn in shorter pieces, and this was no exception—I think that first draft was about 1,000 words in total. The story really resonated with everyone, but there were a few questions and things I needed to flesh out, so I worked on it after I got back home and turned it in to the very first workshop at my MFA program the following January. I think I was encouraged to keep going with it in part by one of my Odyssey roommates, who had all of us sign the first page of her favorite story by us when we left. That was the story she picked, and since I love her writing, it made me want to make “Wolfy Things” even better.

After a few more tweaks of the story during my MFA workshop, I started sending the story out and collecting rejections. My Odyssey class had all made a pact to try to get 100 rejections in a year, and while I never got remotely close, the pact encouraged me to keep sending the story out and boosting my numbers. Eventually, instead of sending a rejection, the fine folks at PodCastle bought it, which was amazing.

What’s next on the writing-related horizon? Are you starting any new projects?

I’m working on a few different short stories at the moment, both on the fantasy and the science fiction side of the SFF genre. They include a fantasy story about an island where people are made into ink and bound to obey the things they read, a sci-fi piece about a human scholarship student trying to fit in at a finishing school for androids, and a story in my memory universe (where “Thanks for the Memories” and my story “Sour Milk Girls” are set) focused on life after prison for a woman whose memory has been erased as a condition of her parole. I’m also gearing up to write a novella about the ghostly protectors of a majority-black urban neighborhood in a rapidly gentrifying city. I look forward to finishing those, getting them out in the world, and continuing to try to do Odyssey proud!

Advertisements

Interview: Guest Lecturer Holly Black

BlackHolly Black will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. She is the author of bestselling contemporary fantasy books for kids and teens. Some of her titles include The Spiderwick Chronicles (with Tony DiTerlizzi), The Modern Faerie Tale series, the Curse Workers series, Doll Bones, The Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), The Darkest Part of the Forest, The Cruel Prince, and The Wicked King. She has been a finalist for an Eisner Award and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award, the Mythopoeic Award, and a Newbery Honor. She currently lives in New England with her husband and son in a house with a secret door.


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?

To write books for their reader selves, rather than the books they think they’re supposed to write. You are your best audience. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Holly Black”

Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose: “Crafting the Series”

Elaine IsaacAuthor and Odyssey graduate E. C. Ambrose will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She writes The Dark Apostle historical fantasy series about medieval surgery, which began with Elisha Barber (DAW, 2013), continuing with Elisha Magus, Elisha Rex, Elisha Mancer, and the final volume, Elisha Daemon (forthcoming February 6, 2018). As Elaine Isaak, she is also the author of The Singer’s Crown and its sequels. Her writing how-to articles have appeared in The Writer magazine and online. A three-time instructor at the Odyssey Writing Workshop, she has led workshops across the country on topics like “Crafting Character from the Inside Out” and “10 Mistakes I’ve Made in my Writing Career so That You Don’t Have To.” Elaine dropped out of art school to found her own business. A former professional costumer and soft sculpture creator, Elaine now works as a part-time adventure guide. She blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history at ecambrose.wordpress.com and can also be found at facebook.com/e.c.ambroseauthor or on Twitter at @ecambrose. Under any name, you still do NOT want to be her hero. Learn more at www.TheDarkApostle.com.


In February of 2018, Elisha Daemon, the fifth volume of my Dark Apostle series, will hit the bookstores, thereby achieving something that many fantasy series never do: ending. I look upon that day with both excitement for the fulfilment of my plans and trepidation because I can no longer say quite what will happen next. The characters I’ve been living with for ten years now will be left behind. It’s like breaking off a longstanding relationship. “It’s not you, Elisha, it’s me—I have to move on.” But it will also be the moment I can reveal the ending I’ve been working toward for so long.

Continue reading “Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose: “Crafting the Series””

Interview: Guest Lecturer Alma Alexander

Alma AlexanderFantasy author Alma Alexander will be a guest lecturer at 2015’s summer Odyssey Writing Workshop.  Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career.  She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, and touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, or her blog.

Welcome! 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? Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Alma Alexander”

Interview: Guest lecturer and graduate Elaine Isaak (E.C. Ambrose)

Elaine IsaacE. C. Ambrose will be a guest lecturer at the 2015 Odyssey Writing Workshop. She writes “The Dark Apostle” historical fantasy series about medieval surgery, which began with Elisha Barber (DAW, 2013) and continues with Elisha Magus (July 1, 2014). Other published works include “The Romance of Ruins” in Clarkesworld Magazine, and “Custom of the Sea,” winner of the Tenebris Press Flash Fiction Contest 2012. She is also the author of The Singer’s Crown and its sequels, The Eunuch’s Heir, and The Bastard Queen, published as Elaine Isaak.

An Odyssey 1997 graduate, Elaine quite enjoys her alternate identity, aside from a strong desire to start arguments with herself on social media. She blogs about the intersections between fantasy and history at ecambrose.wordpress.com and can also be found at facebook.com/e.c.ambroseauthor or twitter @ecambrose. Under any name, you still do NOT want to be her hero. Learn more at http://www.TheDarkApostle.com

In addition to writing, the author works as an adventure guide. Past occupations include founding a wholesale business, selecting stamps for a philatelic company, selling equestrian equipment, and portraying the Easter Bunny on weekends.


You graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in the summer of 1997, and returned as a guest lecturer in 2011 and 2012. You’ve also taught for Odyssey Online, and you provide feedback on author manuscripts through the Odyssey Critique Service. What draws you back to Odyssey and working with developing writers? Continue reading “Interview: Guest lecturer and graduate Elaine Isaak (E.C. Ambrose)”

Interview: Author Patricia Bray

patricia-bray-author-photo-2Author Patricia Bray will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She has written 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 epic fantasy and Regency romance, her books have been translated into Russian, German, Portuguese and Hebrew.  She’s also spent time on the editorial side of the business, as the co-editor of After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar (DAW, March 2011) and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (DAW, March 2012).

Patricia lives in a New England college town, where she combines her writing with a full-time career as a Systems Analyst, ensuring that she is never more than a few feet away from a keyboard.  Visit her website and blog at http://www.patriciabray.com.


You are a multi-genre author: how do you find the writing techniques for epic fantasy and Regency romance compare? Continue reading “Interview: Author Patricia Bray”

Interview: Holly Black

Holly BlackAuthor Holly Black will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop.  She is the bestselling author of contemporary fantasy novels for teens and children.  Her first book, Tithe: A Modern Faerie Tale, was published in 2002 by Simon & Schuster and received starred reviews from Publisher’s Weekly and Kirkus Reviews, and was included in the American Library Association’s Best Books for Young Adults. Two other books share the same universe: Valiant (2005), and Ironside, the sequel to Tithe.  Valiant was a finalist for the Mythopoeic Award for Young Readers and the recipient of the Andre Norton Award for Excellence in Young Adult Literature.

Holly collaborated with Caldecott award-winning artist Tony DiTerlizzi to create the bestselling Spiderwick Chronicles: The Field GuideThe Seeing Stone, Lucinda’s Secret, The Ironwood Tree and The Wrath of Mulgarath, the last of which climbed to #1 on the New York Times bestseller list. These were followed by the lavishly illustrated Arthur Spiderwick’s Field Guide to The Fantastical World Around You, The Notebook for Fantastical Observations, and Care and Feeding of Sprites. To date, the books have been translated into 32 languages. The Beyond the Spiderwick Chronicles series also includes The Nixie’s Song, A Giant Problem and The Wyrm King.

The Spiderwick Chronicles were adapted into a film by Paramount Pictures in conjunction with Nickelodeon Films. Released in February 2008, the film stars Freddie Highmore and Sarah Bolger, with Mark Waters as the director.spiderwickfg

Holly frequently contributes to anthologies, and has co-edited three of them: Geektastic (with Cecil Castellucci, 2009), Zombies vs. Unicorns (with Justine Larbalestier, 2010), and Bordertown (with Ellen Kushner, 2011). Her first collection of short fiction, Poison Eaters and Other Stories, came out in 2010 from Small Beer Press. She has just finished the third book in her Eisner-nominated graphic novel series, The Good Neighbors, and is working on Red Glove, the second novel in The Curse Workers series; White Cat, the first in the series, came out in May 2010.

Holly lives in Massachusetts with her husband, Theo, in a house with a secret library.  For more about Holly Black, visit her website at http://www.blackholly.com/ or her blog at http://blackholly.livejournal.com.


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?

Continue reading “Interview: Holly Black”