Graduate’s Corner: When Is It Time to Move On? by James Maxey

James Maxey attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 1998. He’s gone on to publish stories in a score of magazines and anthologies, and eight novels to date. His currently available novels are the superhero tales Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn, and two fantasy series, the Dragon Age trilogy of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, and the Dragon Apocalypse series that debuted in 2012 with Greatshadow, Hush, and the soon to be released Witchbreaker. For more information on his writing, visit dragonprophet.blogspot.com.


I never sold the first novel I wrote. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: When Is It Time to Move On? by James Maxey”

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Interview: Barbara Ashford

Barbara Ashford will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She abandoned a career in educational administration to pursue a life in the theatre, working as an actress in summer stock and dinner theatre and later, as a lyricist and librettist. She’s written everything from cantatas to choral pieces, one-hour musicals for children to full-length ones for adults. Her musicals have been performed throughout the world, including such venues as the New York Musical Theatre Festival and the Edinburgh International Festival.

In 2000, after Barbara began writing fiction, she attended Odyssey. The workshop provided the supportive feedback and immersion in the craft of writing speculative fiction that she needed to create Heartwood, the first book of her Trickster’s Game trilogy (written as Barbara Campbell). Published by DAW Books, Trickster’s Game went on to become a finalist for the Mythopoeic Society’s 2010 Fantasy Award for adult literature.

Barbara returned to her theatre roots for her most recent novel, Spellcast, a contemporary fantasy set in a magical summer stock theatre in Vermont. She is currently at work on the sequel—Spellcrossed—to be published in June 2012.

Her short fiction has appeared in the anthologies After Hours: Tales from the Ur-Bar and The Modern Fae’s Guide to Surviving Humanity (March 2012). When she’s not writing, she critiques manuscripts for the Odyssey Critique Service.

Barbara lives in New Rochelle, New York, with her husband, whom she met while performing in the play Bedroom Farce. You can visit her dual selves at barbara-campbell.com and barbara-ashford.com.


How would you compare your pre-Odyssey writing to your post-Odyssey writing? What changed the most for you?

Continue reading “Interview: Barbara Ashford”

Interview: Craig Shaw Gardner

Craig Shaw Gardner will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He sold his first short story in 1977, and began writing full time in 1987. He has published over thirty novels ranging from his first, A Malady of Magics, to the Changeling War fantasy trilogy, written by “Peter Garrison,” to the horror novel Dark Whispers, written by “Chris Blaine.” Along the way, he’s done a number of media tie-ins, one of which–the novelization of Batman–became a New York Times bestseller. He’s also the author of more than forty short horror and fantasy stories, which have mostly appeared in original anthologies. Gardner has also served as both President and Trustee for the Horror Writers Association.


You write a lot of horror, but you also write humorous and epic fantasy. How do your techniques and approaches change when you write in these different genres?

Continue reading “Interview: Craig Shaw Gardner”

Interview: Lane Robins

Lane Robins is a 1999 graduate of Odyssey. She was born in Miami, Florida, the daughter of two scientists, and grew up as the first human member of their menagerie. When it came time for a career, it was a hard choice between veterinarian and writer. It turned out to be far more fun to write about blood than to work with it. She received her bachelor’s of arts degree in creative writing from Beloit College and has attended the CSSF Novel Workshop based at the University of Kansas. She currently lives in Lawrence, Kansas, with an ever-fluctuating number of dogs and cats.

Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?

I was working as a retail manager in a dying outlet mall. The stores were pulling out right and left and I had no staff at all. The clerks in the stores that remained had nothing better to do than wander back and forth talking. It was a very bizarre time, but it also gave me a great chunk of time to write. I also worked part-time in a bookstore, shelving books, which gave me lots of time to think. So basically, I worked on stories while people paid me to stand around. When I went home at night, I put my scribbles into the computer. On my days off, I sent stories out.

What made you decide to attend the Odyssey Writing Workshop?

I was getting really frustrated and I felt like I had stalled in my writing. I knew something was wrong, but couldn’t put my finger on it. I needed fresh eyes and I needed instruction. I heard about Odyssey and thought that it sounded like it might be exactly what I needed. That Odyssey was six weeks was an extra plus for me. I was beginning to have doubts about my dedication to writing–it’s hard and sometimes lonely work. I figured if I couldn’t work on writing, critiquing, and revising non-stop for six weeks, then I should stop wasting my time, go back to school and get a more marketable degree. Turned out I loved spending all my focus on writing and was energized at the end of the workshop.

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?

I’ve always been an epiphany learner, muddling along until that bolt of lightning clears my head and makes me go, “Oh, I get it!” Odyssey was like being in a lightning storm, often overwhelming, insanely useful. In the first week, I learned what a POV (point of view) violation was and to stop doing it. I learned what story structure was and that I didn’t have it. I learned that stories should have a reason for existing beyond being a “cool idea.” I learned that plots should make sense both as you read the story and when you thought about it afterward. I think the only things I had going for me when I went in were basic grammar skills and some gift for characterization.

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

I had a lot of fun at Odyssey; it was like some bizarre ideal summer camp, except without all the camping. Still had the crazy squirrels though. It was scaldingly hot and we kept the front and back doors open to our little townhouse. We created a squirrel shortcut–they were always running through the first floor. Weird, but entertaining.

What surprised me most was how helpful critiquing other people’s stories were. I’d sit in the room, read stories that felt not-quite-right and see some of the same flaws that were pointed out in my stories. Critiquing as a whole turned out to be invaluable: it taught me how to recognize the flaws in my own work without depending on someone else to point them out. Listening to critiques on other workshoppers’ stories was also incredibly helpful because I could see not only the problems identified, but hear suggestions on how to fix them, without having the emotional response of it being my work critiqued. My personal knee-jerk response to critiques on my own work is a “No, you’re wrong!” which is why I’ve learned to just listen, take notes, then sit down later and really consider what was suggested.

When and how did you make your first sale?

I’m bad with dates, but my first sale was actually a poem, which is crazy because I don’t write poetry. It was “Villanelle by Moonlight” published in Weird Tales. It was actually a very painful experience! I had been out rollerblading, tripped, slaughtered myself on a cement hill, came home limping horribly, checked the mailbox, found the acceptance letter, and started leaping up and down again. Mistake. Ouch. I had a broken wrist and a twisted knee. But I was so happy, I didn’t care.

The poem ended up published in the same edition of Weird Tales as Carrie Vaughn’s “Kitty Loses Her Faith.”

The first story I sold was to the now-defunct Fortean Bureau, a comic piece about gremlins. The editor, Jeremy Tolbert, requested a rewrite and guided me through that process.

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?

These days I’m concentrating on novels and meeting deadlines (trickier than you think). Maledicte, the first book I wrote, went through what seemed like a zillion drafts. I wrote the thing without an outline of any kind, without any real idea of where the novel was going when I began it. I had to revise it three times before I wasn’t ashamed to show it to anyone; then I hit up some of my OdFellows [Odyssey graduates] to critique it, revised it again. After that, my agent gave me a revision letter, and then I revised it once more when I got the editorial letter. I honestly haven’t read that book since it hit print.

Now, things are a lot different. I make a rough outline so I have goal posts to aim for, then do a detailed outline for the first five chapters. Write those, outline the next five, and so on, until I have a draft.

If I’m not butting up against deadline, I tend to set the draft aside for a little bit to get some distance. Then I come back with a revision checklist and start going through it again. I’ve built this list up over several years, trying to hit the weak spots I see in my writing, the same mistakes I make over and over and over again.

It’s probably 70 percent of time spent writing, 20 percent revising, and 10 percent dealing with editorial requests, copy-editing, and proofing.

What’s the biggest weakness in your writing these days, and how do you cope with it?

Sad thing is: each book I write seems to have a new and appalling weakness. I think I’d have to say pacing, currently. I just went back and retooled the first third of the novel I’m working on because the plot I’d outlined allowed the protagonist to learn too much, too quickly. I think I’m going to be struggling with pacing for a while.

You write under two names: Lane Robins and Lyn Benedict (for your Shadows Inquiries, urban fantasy series). What would you say would be the biggest difference between those two personas?

Time. Lyn Benedict writes urban fantasy. The modern setting, modern dialogue, and a familiar world means smaller quantities of research.

Lane Robins gets to write second world fantasy which means: tons of research into political analogues of what I want, extremely picky setting work–I don’t want to spend five pages describing a single place, but when you’re in another world, you can’t count on the reader filling in a blank the way you want. And then there’s dialogue. In Maledicte, I spent an inordinate amount of time dealing with dialogue, trying to stamp out any anachronism, looking up origins of words. It was all fun, but time-consuming. For second world fantasies, I’ll end up with a much longer list of research topics.

As the daughter of two scientists, how did you find a creative outlet?

I didn’t really have a problem. My mother’s a double-threat, an MFA as well as a PhD; she’s a sculptor. My father’s sort of a renaissance guy. Everything interests him, and he has a huge love for literature. It’s sort of a family joke that my taste for dark fantasy is all his fault, but he used to read me Poe in the crib. He also gave me Have Spacesuit–Will Travel, and Starman Jones. Both of them put up with my voracious reading, even encouraged it. I don’t think they were surprised at all when I started writing my own stories.

As a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, what do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

Two things have helped me enormously. 1) Be persistent. 2) Remember to enjoy yourself. Whenever I get all stressed, I like to stop and think what about writing do I like? What keeps me going? For me, I have a huge fondness for revelation scenes. If I’m tired and unhappy with what I’m doing, I’ll stop and write random revelation scenes, the cheesier the better. What? My dog is a superhero? Kind of things. It’s very silly.

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

Right now, I’m working on book three of the Shadows Inquiries, with book four lined up after that. I also have another urban fantasy style novel I’m trying to market, and a second world fantasy I’d really like to write. I figure at this point, I’ve got enough books I want to write to keep me busy for the next six years or so, universe willing.


For more information about Odyssey, its graduates and instructors, please visit our website at http://www.odysseyworkshop.org.

Interview: Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne Gilman will be the writer-in-residence at this summer’s Odyssey workshop. Before she took the first plunge into murky writing waters and submitted her first story to a professional market, she was an editorial assistant at the Berkley Publishing Group in 1994. An almost immediate sale to Amazing Stories followed. She didn’t make another fiction sale for more than a year, which taught her humility and patience. And the fine art of perseverance.

Over the next few years, in addition to a number of short stories published in magazines and anthologies (many garnering “Year’s Best” honorable mentions), she wrote or co-wrote four media tie-in novels (Quantum Leap: Double or Nothing; Buffy the Vampire Slayer: Visitors and Deep Water; and Poltergeist: The Legacy: The Shadows Between). In the meanwhile, she moved up the corporate ladder to be Executive Editor at NAL/Penguin USA.

In 2003, after a great deal of planning and soul-searching–and with a three book contract in-hand–she left editorial to become a full-time writer. In 2004, her first original novel, the urban fantasy Staying Dead was published by Luna. It was followed by Curse The Dark, Bring It On, Burning Bridges, Free Fall, and Blood From Stone. The first in a spinoff series, Hard Magic, will be published in May 2010.

The first book in The Vineart War trilogy, Flesh and Fire, was published by Pocket Books in October 2009. The second book, Weight of Stone, will be available October 2010.

To-date, she has sold over thirty works of short fiction, ranging from mainstream to science fiction to horror. She is also the author of the Grail Quest YA trilogy for HarperCollins (2006), and a number of nonfiction books for teenagers. Writing as “Anna Leonard,” she has also written four paranormal romances (The Night Serpent, Dreamcatcher, The Hunted, and Mustang).

Laura Anne also co-edited the anthologies OtherWere: Stories of Transformation (Ace), Treachery & Treason (Roc) and The Shadow Conspiracy (Book View Press). As part of the Book View Café (http://www.bookviewcafe.com/), she is involved in expanding the definition of publishing beyond the traditional models, experimenting with the writer-to-reader connection.

More details about her work can be found at http://lauraannegilman.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?

I have a terrible confession to make. Continue reading “Interview: Laura Anne Gilman”

Interview: Scott H. Andrews

Scott H. Andrews lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, nine guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, fifty board-feet of lumber, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He is a graduate of Odyssey 2005. His short fiction has appeared in Weird Tales and Space and Time, and he has been a Finalist in the Writers of the Future competition. He is also Editor-in-Chief of the pro-rate fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies. His website is http://www.scotthandrews.com/.

Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?

Continue reading “Interview: Scott H. Andrews”

Interview: Barbara Campbell

Barbara Campbell attended Odyssey in 2000. She is the author of the Trickster’s Game trilogy published by DAW Books. (Heartwood — 2005, Bloodstone — 2006, Foxfire — 2009). A lyricist and librettist as well as a novelist, her musicals have been performed throughout the world. She is a member of SFWA and ASCAP. Visit her website at www.barbara-campbell.com.

Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep?

Continue reading “Interview: Barbara Campbell”