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”

Odyssey Podcasts #129 (Holly Black), #130 (E.C. Ambrose) & #131 (Scott H. Andrews)

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #129

Holly Black was a guest lecturer at the 2019 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from her question-and-answer session, Holly answers questions about writing young adult and middle grade fiction. One student points out that some people think fantastic creatures must be a certain way. How do you deal with those expectations? Holly says that when writing in a tradition, you’re adding to a conversation. Bring your own perspective into the conversation based on who you are. Another student asks how you get into a teen’s head and see things through their eyes? Holly suggests writers try to remember being a teen. Think of what you did, how you felt. The error writers tend to make is to write about teens or children who are very concerned with the adults in their lives when they should be thinking about themselves and their peers. When asked the difference between middle grade and young adult, Holly explains that the readers are very different. You need a protagonist of the appropriate age. Middle grade stories are generally about family and friendship. Harry Potter and Percy Jackson are examples. Young adult stories are usually about self-definition, friendship, and love, as the protagonist ventures outside of childhood into independence. YA should not involve an adult character looking back at her teen years. Middle grade and young adult fiction usually have a single viewpoint character; it is rare to have more.

Holly Black 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 BonesThe Coldest Girl in Coldtown, the Magisterium series (with Cassandra Clare), The Darkest Part of the ForestThe 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.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2019 by Holly Black. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.


mp3 Odyssey Podcast #130

E. C. Ambrose was a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2020. In this excerpt from her lecture on generating plot from the heart of your story, Elaine talks about “How to Middle,” how to use plot turns to avoid getting mired in the muddy middle. Many writers get stuck after the opening section of their novel or story. Once the characters and situation have been introduced, we need to start playing with those elements, using plot turns and plotting tools. Plot turns change the trajectory of a plot or change the meaning of the story in the mind of the reader. Elaine explains different types of plot turns: the time bomb, the time trap, the crucible, the dilemma, the reversal, the revelation, the confrontation, and natural elements. A lot of flash fiction has a single plot turn, usually a reversal or a revelation. Plot turns can be presented in different ways: through dialogue, action, thought, or narration. The rate of plot turns is a significant factor in the pace of a story.

E. C. Ambrose, writes knowledge-inspired adventure fiction including the five-volume Dark Apostle series about medieval surgery, The Singer’s Legacy fantasy series as by Elaine Isaak, and the Bone Guard international thrillers as by E. Chris Ambrose. The Dark Apostle started with Elisha Barber (DAW, 2013), described in a starred Library Journal review as, “beautifully told, painfully elegant.” Her latest releases are Bone Guard Two: The Nazi SkullThe Singer’s Crown: The Author’s Cut, and historical fantasy novella The King of Next Week (Guardbridge, April 2020). Her short stories have appeared in FiresideWarrior Women and Fantasy for the Throne, among many others, and she has edited several volumes of New Hampshire Pulp Fiction.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2020 by E. C. Ambrose. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.


mp3 Odyssey Podcast #131

In Winter 2019, Scott H. Andrews, editor and publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, taught the Odyssey Online course Emotional Truth: Making Character Emotions Real, Powerful, and Immediate to Readers, and he’ll be teaching an expanded version of the class this winter. In this excerpt from the first class, Scott shares an example from Angela Hunt, in which she describes how reading the sequel to Gone with the Wind had her in tears after a few pages. A character died, one that she had a strong attachment to from the first book. The sequel tapped into the well of emotion she already had. That’s what stories need to do; they need to make the reader feel something by leveraging readers’ past experiences. For writers, this task breaks into two parts. First, the writer needs to get the emotion into the story so the reader understands it. That means making the emotion clear and obvious enough that the reader picks it up. Many writers tend to be overly subtle or oblique about emotion, so it doesn’t come through. Second, the writer needs to make the reader feel the emotion. This involves using concrete images, using the physical rather than the cerebral, and conveying emotion through the prose. Common weaknesses include lack of specificity, ambiguity, and lack of honesty. Writers may flinch from what something really feels like.

Photo credit: Al Bogdan

Scott H. Andrews lives in Virginia with his wife, two cats, thirteen guitars, a dozen overflowing bookcases, and hundreds of beer bottles from all over the world. He writes, teaches college chemistry, and is Editor-in-Chief and Publisher of the eight-time Hugo Award finalist and World Fantasy Award-winning online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Scott is a graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop; his literary short fiction has won a $1000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & TimeCrossed Genres, and Ann VanderMeer’s Weird Tales.

He has lectured on short fiction, secondary-world fantasy, editing, magazine publishing, audio podcasting, beer, and heavy metal on dozens of convention panels at multiple Worldcons, World Fantasy conventions, and regional conventions in the Northeast and Midwest, and he has taught fiction writing for Clarion West, The Cat Rambo Academy for Wayward Writers, Houston Writefest, and at Odyssey. He is a seven-time World Fantasy Award finalist and 2019 winner for his work at Beneath Ceaseless Skies, and he celebrates International Stout Day at least once a year.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2019 by Scott H. Andrews. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.


For more Odyssey podcasts, visit: odysseyworkshop.org/podcasts.html

“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.

Interview: Graduate & Odyssey Online Instructor Donna Glee Williams

Donna Glee headshot2011 Odyssey graduate and Odyssey Online instructor Donna Glee Williams was born in Mexico, the daughter of a Kentucky farm-girl and a Texas Aggie large-animal veterinarian. She’s been a lot of places; now she makes her home in the mountains of western North Carolina, but the place she lived the longest and still calls home is New Orleans. These days, she earns her daily bread by writing and helping other writers bring their creative visions to light, but in the past she’s done the dance as turnabout crew (aka, “maid”) on a schooner, as a librarian, as an environmental activist, as a registered nurse, as a teacher and seminar leader, and for a long stint as a professional student. The craft societies in her novels The Braided Path (Edge, 2014) and Dreamers (Edge, 2016) owe a lot to the time she’s spent hanging out in villages in Mexico, Spain, Iceland, Norway, Croatia, Italy, Israel, Turkey, India, and Pakistan. As a finalist in the 2015 Roswell Short Science Fiction Awards, her short story “Saving Seeds” was performed onstage in Hollywood by Jasika Nicole. Her speculative fiction has been recognized by Honorable Mentions from both the Writers of the Future competition and Gardner Dozois’s The Year’s Best Science Fiction collection. She earned an MFA and PhD from Louisiana State University, knows how to brain-tan a deer hide, drives a stick-shift, and has eaten roadkill more than once.


You attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 2011. How do you feel your writing and writing process changed as a result of having attended Odyssey?

Odyssey is like the Big Bang: it’s hard to imagine a state before it. But imagination is what we are all about, so here goes. I’d been writing all my life—my first poem in second grade—in a sort of scattershot way: introspective contemporary realist fiction, poetry, journalism, scholarship, song lyrics, and random acts of drama. Odyssey focused my energies like a gigantic magnifying glass in the sun. It was an intensive professional induction to the specific genre that had first wooed me to words. I treasured the personal conversations, conferences, and small-group lunches with Odyssey Director Jeanne Cavelos. That summer I was in the middle of selling my first novel, The Braided Path, over the transom to Edge, and Jeanne coached me in how to use the offer on the table to get an agent. Richard Curtis not only represented me for the arrangements on The Braided Path, but also applied his fine editorial eye to getting Dreamers ready to sell.

What insights did you gain into your own work?

I’d never read much horror. Sure, the occasional Stephen King audiobook when I needed to stay awake on a really long drive, but I’d never really had that much respect for the genre before Odyssey. That changed after hearing our writer-in-residence, Gary A. Braunbeck, read us his horror “manifesto.” His understanding of the functions of horror in storytelling gave the form new meaning and dignity in my eyes. And then, at our last private conference of the workshop, Jeanne pointed out very gently that the majority of what I’d written over the summer was, in fact, horror. She was right, and I’ve enthusiastically embraced my Inner Creepo since then. While I still don’t actually think of myself as a denominational “horror writer,” my second novel, Dreamers, has some ugly sadism in it. (And someone gets buried alive. That’s pretty diagnostic, right?) My short story “Dancing,” which I actually drafted during Odyssey and then sold to Pseudopod, involves an age-obsessed bug-lady who gets imprisoned inside an eternal exercise machine. “Come and Get It,” which I read at the Odyssey slam and sold to Psychological Perspectives, involves the classic woman-chained-to-the-rock-and-eaten-yum-yum-by-a-monster. “Absence Makes the Heart,” which—thanks to Jeanne—I just sold to Judith K. Dial and Tom Easton for their forthcoming Fantasy for the Throne anthology, involves a depressed amphibian trying to commit suicide. So, yeah—Horror ‘R’ Us.

Donna Glee book cover2A critical part of Odyssey, both during the summer residential program and in the online classes, is critiquing the work of your colleagues. Through the intensive critiquing of that summer, I learned that my fifty years of writing, MFA in fiction, PhD in linguistics, skills as a poet, and sprawling life experience all added up to being able to help other authors bring their visions to life. Eventually I wound up joining my sister Odfellow Karen Lacey in her remarkable editing/coaching/ghostwriting boutique, The Uncommon Octopus, and I’ve been happily earning my daily crumb by polishing other writers’ silver ever since.

What made you decide to attend the Odyssey Writing Workshop? 

It wasn’t really a decision—on the plotter-pantser gradient, I’m El Pantser Supreme. I learned about Odyssey; I applied, never thinking I’d be accepted. I got the letter; I made it happen. One step at a time: Apply. Get accepted. Find the money. Make the time.

You came full circle when you became a lecturer for one of Odyssey’s online classes this year on subtext. Can you briefly explain what subtext is and offer a way for writers to start incorporating subtext into their stories?

Me? Brief? About subtext? I love your dry sense of humor.

Subtext is everything you communicate without explicitly stating it. When humans are face to face, some of this below-the-surface communication comes through non-verbal cues and some of it comes through actual words that invite or insist that the listener fill in the blanks with information the speaker never said. In writing, we can manipulate those verbal cues in the same way that speakers do, forcing our readers to know things we never state. The non-verbals are a little more complex for writers, because our medium doesn’t let people see our gestures or facial expressions. But, as the Bad Guy Captor always says, ve haf vays . . .

(Ways that can be taught!)

What are some books or short stories you’ve read recently that offer good examples of subtext?

The absolute classic example is Hemingway’s The Sun Also Rises, in which the main trouble of the book (that the love-struck protagonist is impotent because of a war wound) is never, ever explicitly stated. More recently, Tim O’Brien’s The Things They Carried also buries its real story like a truffle in the deep dark woods and leaves the reader to sniff it out. While I was pulling examples for my Odyssey Online subtext class, I also found myself turning a lot to mysteries like Elizabeth Brundage’s All Things Cease to Appear—mystery writers, of course, often need to make sure their readers know things that don’t, technically, appear on the page.

Both of your novels, The Braided Path and Dreamers, are young adult fantasy. What drew you to write for a young audience? What were some of the challenges you encountered while writing your novels?

Ever since Wilder Penfield’s experiments with electrodes on the brain, we’ve known that all of us contain every single age we’ve ever been, and it seems that a lot of my passion for Story lives in the Me that’s about 12-13 years old. Whatcha gonna do?

Donna Glee book cover1One of the challenges for me has been discerning what, exactly, comprises YA literature these days. It’s not, as I was told by some, the age of the protagonists—Doerr’s All the Light We Cannot See features youngsters, but the book is pretty clearly not YA. It’s not subject matter or how graphic the sex and/or violence is—YA rule-breakers like John Green shatter these boundaries with every book they publish. And it turns out the membranes that separate YA from Adult are even more permeable in fantasy than in other types of fiction. Adults happily read Harry Potter and kids devour Game of Thrones. This is fortunate for me, because I am a great fence-straddler when it comes to categories. The Braided Path had three main characters, two teens and one woman in early middle age. I call it a “three-way coming of age story,” and I really do think it’s valuable for my young readers to know that middle-aged people have to deal with growing up, too. The Night Field, the novel I’m working on now, which has a teen protagonist, isn’t YA at all. I’m coming down to a “feel” test for YA; like Justice Stewart, “I know it when I see it.”

You have published numerous poems in addition to novels and short stories. What can writers of prose learn from poets? What are some poetic devices that fiction writers can use in their prose?

On the craft side, a fiction writer with any ambition at all is going to want to provoke strong emotions in readers. Ipso facto—and how often do you get to work an ipso into a blog post?—that writer is going to need ways to communicate to the other-than-rational parts of the mind: the gut, the heart, the subconscious, however you name it. The technology for doing that exists in three places I know of: poetry, clinical hypnosis, and advertising. (I include political propaganda in advertising.) I’ve studied clinical hypnosis, neuro-linguistic programming, and therapeutic storytelling and learned a lot, especially about pacing and the power of metaphor. Studying advertising makes me feel like I need a bath. Reading and studying poetry immerses you in the power of super-refined language-craft—the tricks of our trade—while opening your heart to a deeper experience of life and its sensations.

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

Ouch. My bugaboo these days is my work habits. I’ve got a big ole discovery draft of my next novel, tentatively called The Night Field, which I dutifully put away for a while to grow some fresh eyes before starting my revisions. But the trouble with putting something away for a while is that it’s hard to get back into the butt-in-chair routine. Any excuse, right?

What I’ve done to defeat my inertia is to plan some time at writers’ residencies this year, one month at Jentel in Wyoming and one at Messen in Norway. This is essentially like locking yourself in a room with nothing to do but write or go crazy. It really works; I started The Braided Path at The Hambidge Center in North Georgia and finished it on my Fulbright to India.

Another thing I’ve done is to get a developmental edit from Karen Lacey. Sometimes you just need some dynamite to blast you out of your stuck place.

And then there is always patience. I try not to be too harsh with myself, and to make sure I’m filling the time with other productive work (like submitting things and pulling together my first book-length poetry manuscript.) I’ve been here before often enough to know that what feels like procrastination is often just the Chaos Cave where we are doomed to flail until we are truly ready to take the next step.