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!

Interview: Graduate Kate Marshall (Part 1 of 2)

kateportraitOdyssey 2005 graduate Kate Marshall is the author of the young adult novels I Am Still Alive and Rules for Vanishing (Viking Children’s). Her science fiction and fantasy fiction has appeared in Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Crossed Genres, and elsewhere. She lives outside of Seattle with her husband, a dog named Vonnegut, and two small children. They all conspire to keep her on her toes.


You graduated from the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2005. What made you decide to attend the workshop? 

I’m one of those writers who never wanted to do anything else. I declared that I was going to be a novelist when I was four (though there was a brief period when I was going to be a marine biologist, as my mother had informed me this was how one got to have a pet otter). I started submitting stories for publication when I was twelve (without success) and read every book on writing I could get my hands on. When I found out about Odyssey in my junior year of high school, it was a bit like finding out that Narnia was real. A place to go and write and learn about writing and talk about writing and be taken seriously? I had a good dose of that teenage sense of invincibility and destiny, so I was sure I would get in. Of course, I also had an equal dose of crippling self-doubt (endemic to writers and teenagers both, I suppose) and so I had to have someone else read the acceptance email to make sure it really said I could go.

I didn’t decide to attend Odyssey so much as I never considered the possibility that I might not attend. Occasionally it’s useful to channel your inner teenager! Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Kate Marshall (Part 1 of 2)”

Interview: Graduate Farah Naz Rishi

FarahRishi_NewHeadshot2016 Odyssey graduate Farah Naz Rishi is a Pakistani-American Muslim writer and voice actor, but in another life, she’s worked stints as a lawyer, a video game journalist, and an editorial assistant. She received her B.A. in English from Bryn Mawr College, her J.D. from Lewis & Clark Law School, and her love of weaving stories from the Odyssey Writing Workshop. When she’s not writing, she’s probably hanging out with video game characters. You can find her at home in Philadelphia, or on Twitter at @far_ah_way.


You attended Odyssey in 2016. Can you talk about your pre-Odyssey writing process? What kind of writing schedule, if any, did you keep? 

Before Odyssey, I had no writing process to speak of; I wrote sporadically, at best, writing down a few sentences and phrases that I thought were interesting and would spur a greater story. Of course, they never did; my interest quickly waned and I’d give up. I also wasn’t exactly sure how one turned a few sentences into an entire book. As a result, I kept no writing schedule at all and only wrote during lulls in law school classes. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Farah Naz Rishi”

Interview: Graduate Travis Heermann (Part 2 of 2)

Heermann-hi-resFreelance writer, novelist, award-winning screenwriter, editor, poker player, poet, biker, and roustabout Travis Heermann is a 2009 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is the author of The Ronin Trilogy, Rogues of the Black Fury, and co-author of Death Wind, and has had short fiction pieces published in anthologies and magazines such as Apex Magazine, Alembical, the Fiction River anthology series, Historical Lovecraft, and Cemetery Dance’s Shivers VII. As a freelance writer, he has produced a metric ton of role-playing game work both in print and online, including the Firefly Roleplaying Game, Battletech, Legend of Five Rings, d20 System, and the MMORPG, EVE Online.

He has a Bachelor of Science in Engineering, a Master of Arts in English, and teaches science fiction literature at the University of Nebraska Omaha. He enjoys cycling, martial arts, torturing young minds with otherworldly ideas, and monsters of every flavor, especially those with a soft, creamy center. He has three long-cherished dreams: a produced screenplay, a NYT bestseller, and a seat in the World Series of Poker.


Part 1 of this interview, posted last Sunday, is available here.

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?

The biggest thing that I got from Odyssey was being able to apply a working vocabulary to aspects of writing that I had been mostly doing only intuitively. Story structure is a good example. I was vaguely aware that stories had an act structure, but I’d never applied myself to learning all that before. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Travis Heermann (Part 2 of 2)”

Graduate Essay: Rebecca Kuang, “Changing Everything”

Kuang HeadshotCongratulations to 2016 Odyssey graduate Rebecca F. Kuang on the success of her debut novel, The Poppy War, the first installment in a Chinese-history inspired epic fantasy trilogy about empire, warfare, shamanism, and opium.

Since its release in May 2018, The Poppy War has won the Crawford Award and the r/Fantasy Stabby Award for Best Debut and has become a finalist for the Goodreads Choice Award, the Compton Crook Award, and the Nebula Award. Rebecca is also a finalist for the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer.

The following essay about Rebecca’s Odyssey experience was originally published here on April 9, 2017.


I came to Odyssey on the verge of a horrible case of writer’s block. I had just sold my first novel. I was now under contract to write two more. I had to finish a 200,000-word project in a little over a year. I’d been trying for weeks to tackle it. I couldn’t write a word. Continue reading “Graduate Essay: Rebecca Kuang, “Changing Everything””

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 1 of 3)

SaraAuthorpicAlaskan writer Sara King will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is the bestselling author of The Legend of ZEROOuter BoundsGuardians of the First Realm, and her latest urban fantasy series, Sunny Day, Paranormal Badass, among others. She’s an alumna of the 2008 Odyssey Writing Workshop and has spent the last six years forging a successful career in independent publishing in the sci-fi and fantasy genres. To her chagrin, she is owned by four 120-plus-pound Tibetan Mastiffs, cautiously maintains a flock of ninja chickens, and has so many literary irons in the fire that she’s losing count. Thankfully, whenever she needs writing inspiration, she can step out her front door to go wandering in the Alaskan wilderness until she gets cold or almost dies—usually one or the other, but sometimes both—and then stumble home with fresh stories to tell and a new respect for falling, drowning, hypothermia, disorientation, and aggressive 1,500-pound wildlife.


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?

Honestly, I think the most important advice I can give new writers is to cultivate a relentless follow-through and stubborn tenacity—a powerful knowledge than you will be a successful writer, and everyone who says otherwise is full of s***. Plenty of people want to be writers—millions of people—but they don’t keep wanting it until it eats at them at night that they’re not producing stories for the masses. I think the difference between a professional writer and the average writer who will never get past the first failed book is that the average writer will take that failed book after it’s clear it’s failed and hug it and cry and call their mother about how life is so hard and they’re an artiste and nobody understands them or their genius and then stubbornly and bombastically swear off writing in a drunken admission of defeat, whereas the professional writer will take that same failed book, cock their head at it, and think, “All right, what do I need to fix for the next one?” And then go do it. Ten more times. Fifteen more times. However many times it takes to get it right. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 1 of 3)”

Graduate Essay: “How to Decide When to Apply to Odyssey” by Julian K. Jarboe

jarboeJulian K. Jarboe is a writer and sound designer from Massachusetts. They are a 2018 Graduate of Odyssey and a Fellow at the Writers’ Room of Boston. Their other work can be found in Strange Horizons, The Fairy Tale Review, and the LAMBDA Award-winning Best Transgender Speculative Fiction series. They can be reached via their website, juliankjarboe.com.


Ask yourself: why now? Why this year? There are as many good reasons to go to Odyssey and as many ways to improve and learn from your experience there as there are writers who attend. When you graduate, your extensive readings, your writing, and your notes will all be down on paper to keep and reference forever, and yet, there is no way any former student could simply hand over their teetering pile of manuscripts and handouts and promise you the same experience or growth achieved by your own attendance. There is not even a way some past or future version of yourself could promise you this, either. Timing, in the personal sense, matters.

Perhaps you have scoured and practiced and gained as much as you possibly could from books, articles, podcasts, reading widely, and writing as often as you can. You may have hit a plateau, or have become aware that you don’t know what it is you don’t know that you don’t know. You’ve already tried isolation—for creativity it does at first seem like a terribly romantic approach—and possibly hit something in the dark, echoing bottom of your own thoughts. Well, this might be true next year, too.

But this year, while part of you seems to spin in place, another part is changing direction. You’re about to move or get married or you’re thinking about quitting your job or you’ve been laid off. You have the summer off before or after another program. Your kids are finally old enough to babysit each other. Something is different this year that may not be true every year that makes it logistically possible for you to attend, yes, but there’s more to it. You’re not just moving along a track: you’re searching. That spinning in place you’ve been doing, at least with your writing, turns out, in fact, to be the wind-up spring for a trick you didn’t even know you could do. This is not a stable quality of life, but it is a rare balance between knowing who you are and being prepared to change.

You’re ready to re-learn ways to write stories but you have a sneaking suspicion what or who they might be about. You have something you can offer others and you know that when they offer you their own thoughts, suggestions, questions, and support, that this is treasure. You will let yourself, and your drafts, be what they are without judgment (there is no reading and writing, only rereading and rewriting). You will let others do the same.

At Odyssey, you will get a few people together, put on some tea, set a timer, and write until the timer rings. You will stretch, whine (and/or wine), vent, and then do it all again. You will think you are too tired or busy to go to the Friday picnics and then you will see them from your dormitory window, and as though following a fae into an enchanted clearing, you will go to the picnics. You will ask for what you need and you will even get it. You will find there is an uncharted territory between friend and colleague and it is most fruitful when you lean into the vulnerability of the former and the courtesy of the latter. You will not try to impress each other but you will impress upon each other.

It has been said elsewhere that Odyssey is not a place to come and “party,” though you have a hard time imagining how it would be possible. You will notice that it is also not quite the place to try to hunker down and be a hermit, either. You may want some time to yourself, or you may need to seek out solitude to focus or brainstorm from time to time, but the person you are, whom you have brought to this experience at the right time, is seated in a circle with others. Oh, sure, some luck, and interpersonal chemistry, factors in. Mostly it’s that Jeanne is actually very, very good at this whole group learning thing (you will wonder how she does it all, and she will giggle and say that she is wondering the same). A room full of spring-loaded people, arranged in a ring, doing something very hard and very much worthwhile, their mechanics clicking in place until the whole summer is a strange and wondrous automaton.

That is what you cannot recreate from notes, though you will refer to your notes for years to come. And that is what heightens Odyssey from a very hard summer class (and it is, also, a very hard summer class) to the transformative experience so many graduates describe it as. When nothing else will do, when you feel the click inside, that is when the time is right.