Dianna Sanchez is the not-so-secret identity of Jenise Aminoff, also known to her children as the Queen of Sarcasm. Her middle-grade fantasy novel, A Witch’s Kitchen, debuted September 2016 from Dreaming Robot Press. Her short fiction appears in the 2017 and 2018 Young Explorers’ Adventure Guides. A Latina geek originally from New Mexico, she now lives in the Boston area with her husband and two daughters. Follow her on Facebook and at www.diannasanchez.com.
The day after Thanksgiving 2013, a novel fell on my head.
I didn’t know it was a novel at the time. I thought it was ten pages at best. My six-year-old daughter asked me to write her a story about fairies and unicorns as a Christmas present. I did my best not to roll my eyes. I was, at that time, struggling with a hard-SF YA novel idea and getting nowhere fast. Fairies and unicorns were the opposite of everything I was trying to accomplish. I thought I’d just jot something down and be done. Two days later, my nine-year-old decided to bake a cake, which she usually did without bothering to consult a recipe, and the idea struck: What if there was a young witch who was terrible at magic but really good at cooking?
By Christmas, I had three chapters. Three months later, I completed the manuscript, all 50,000 words of it. A Witch’s Kitchen was published in September 2016 (under my pen name, Dianna Sanchez), and it never would have happened without Odyssey Online, because I had absolutely no idea what I was doing.
I had studied writing. I have a poetry degree from MIT (yes, wrap your brain around THAT one). I attended the Clarion Workshop in 1995, before Odyssey even existed. I’d been writing since I was eight years old, and writing seriously since 1993. I made one pro sale in 2003 before I had children and they ate my life. But in all that time, I never once took a class or read a book or even really considered the craft of writing long-form fiction.
When I wrote A Witch’s Kitchen, it was like feeling my way through a maze in the dark with my elbows. I needed help, and I needed it fast. So I turned to that most trusty of resources, the Internet, for online classes on writing novels, and luckily I found Odyssey Online.
In the winter of 2014, Jeanne Cavelos was teaching Powerful Dialogue in Fantastic Fiction. If I had an Achilles’ heel in writing at that time, it was dialogue. Critique partners excoriated the clumsy, wooden, utterly inauthentic diction of my characters. After taking the class, my dialogue improved so much that I now receive consistent compliments on the smooth, natural flow of conversation between my characters. Who are sometimes six-inch-tall pixies and sentient trees. Not hard at all, right?
After I landed the contract for A Witch’s Kitchen, I had to confront my biggest writing nemesis: revision. I was terrible at it, infamous for rewriting good stories right into their graves. I didn’t know how to edit. I’d just rewrite the entire story from scratch, and somehow, despite correcting flaws, it was never, ever better the second time. But my publisher had requested a substantial revision, and I needed help.
I took Odyssey Online’s revision course, Getting the Big Picture, with Barbara Ashford in the winter of 2016, with my deadline looming in the middle of February. Thanks to Barbara and my amazing classmates, I not only got the revision done, I finally began to understand the subtleties of revision, how to discover the strengths of your story and enhance them. As I now revise the sequel, A Pixie’s Promise, I find myself returning to the lessons I learned in that class again and again.
Odyssey Online classes give you the opportunity to focus on one particular aspect of your writing craft, be it dialogue or character or plot arc or scene, and you come away having a whole array of techniques at your disposal to make that aspect really shine. On the other hand, as you’re focusing on that one topic, you become aware of how all the other aspects of writing feed into it, how plot arc is driven by character, how setting can support theme, how dialect can enrich worldbuilding. Jeanne Cavelos kindly introduced me to the three-act plot structure, even though it had almost nothing to do with dialogue. Last winter, I took Worldbuilding with Patricia Wrede, and it completely changed my understanding of character development.
As all authors know, writing is a process. You build your writing skills gradually over time, improving with every story and poem and novel and blog post you create. You learn the tools and tricks of the trade, and eventually, you master those skills. I have come to regard Odyssey Online as critical to my professional development as a writer. Every class I take improves my craft, often in ways I never expect and always appreciate.
I encourage you to take your writing craft to the next level with Odyssey Online.
The professional-level Odyssey Writing Workshop is dedicated to helping writers of science fiction, fantasy, and horror grow in the craft of writing through winter online classes and a six-week summer workshop in New Hampshire. There is nothing like Odyssey—exceptional writing classes, critiques, and community encourages you to move outside your comfort zone and build new skills.
Apply by December 7 through 15 for the online classes. This year’s topics are Compelling Scenes, Meaning and Resonance Through Subtext, and Short Stories With That Crucial Spark.
Apply by April 7, 2018 for the summer in-person workshop.