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

Director’s Corner: Tying Character Types to Plot, Suspense, and Emotion

jeanneJeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust. She was a senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, where she worked for eight years, editing the fantasy/science fiction program, the Abyss horror line, and other fiction and nonfiction. Jeanne is also the bestselling author of seven books and numerous short stories and articles.  She has won the World Fantasy Award and twice been nominated for the Stoker Award.

Find out more about Jeanne here and more about the Odyssey Writing Workshop here.


Create a protagonist. Add an antagonist. Toss in a sidekick or minion, or if you’re writing a novel, perhaps a whole array of characters. But then what do you do with them? How do you incorporate each character into the story so he has a powerful impact on plot, raises intense suspense, and generates strong emotions? Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Tying Character Types to Plot, Suspense, and Emotion”

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)”

Special Announcement: Odyssey Podcasts #76 (Alex Jablokov) and #75 (Holly Black)

Jablokov Black podcastEvery month or two, the Odyssey Writing Workshop releases new podcasts created from excerpts from lectures given by guest writers, editors, and agents at the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Each one is ten to fifteen minutes long.

Our two newest podcasts feature authors and guest lecturers Alexander Jablokov (Brain Thief), from the 2014 summer workshop, and Holly Black (The Spiderwick Chronicles), from the 2013 summer workshop.  Alexander discusses how a character functions within a plot, and the many conventions authors use to present believable characters, while Holly explains how to create a magic system.

Other available podcasts include:

  • Carrie Vaughn: Goal-setting for writers (#38)
  • Lori Perkins: Agents, what they do, and what to look for in an agent (#37)
  • Sheila Williams: Qualities of short story openings (#74)
  • Nancy Holder: Short fiction and novel contracts; advances and royalties (#72 & #73)
  • Lane Robins: Outlining techniques (#64)
  • Craig Shaw Gardner: Writing humor in science fiction and fantasy (#18)
  • Melissa Scott: Worldbuilding techniques (#5 & #21)

These podcasts and many more are available for free on the OdboatcleanedupOdyssey Podcast page at http://www.sff.net/odyssey/podcasts.html.  Here you may browse and download podcasts, or subscribe to podcasts so you automatically receive them upon release.

Odyssey Podcasts can also be found in the iTunes store (for free): https://itunes.apple.com/podcast/odyssey-sf-f-writing-workshop/id213992784?mt=2.

Writing Question: Creating a Plot

Plot is usually one of the weakest elements in the work of developing writers. Most developing writers don’t know how to structure a plot. Even if they do, they often find themselves caught between two conflicting goals: the desire to let the story develop organically versus the need to plan and set up key elements so they generate a powerful, unified story.

We decided to ask the brain trust of Odyssey graduates how they have learned to deal with plot, so you can profit from their trials, tribulations, breakthroughs, and realizations. They’ve come through with some great responses. I hope you’ll try all the approaches they discuss and see which one works best for you. Each month, we’ll be asking them another question on writing.

Do you have some idea of what your plot will be before you write, or do you write by the seat of your pants, with no idea how the story will end until you get there, or something in between? What is your plot process, and what are the advantages and disadvantages of your process?

Continue reading “Writing Question: Creating a Plot”