Interview: Guest Lecturer Neil Clarke

neilclarkeAward-winning editor and publisher Neil Clarke will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is best known as the editor and publisher of the Hugo and World Fantasy Award-winning Clarkesworld Magazine. Launched in October 2006, the online magazine has been a finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Semiprozine four times (winning three times), the World Fantasy Award four times (winning once), and the British Fantasy Award once (winning once). Neil is also a six-time finalist for the Hugo Award for Best Editor-Short Form and two-time winner of the Chesley Award for Best Art Director.

Additionally, Neil edits Forever—a digital-only, reprint science fiction magazine he launched in 2015—and The SFWA Bulletin—a non-fiction periodical published by the Science Fiction and Fantasy Writers of America. His anthologies include Upgraded, Galactic Empires, Touchable Unreality, More Human than Human, The Final Frontier, and The Best Science Fiction of the Year series. His most recent anthology, Not One of Us, was published in November 2018 and will be followed by The Eagle has Landed in July 2019.


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?

I don’t think there’s anything I’d raise to that level, but I do often recommend that developing writers and editors volunteer as slush readers somewhere. The experience gives you insight into the common mistakes most writers are making and the distance you might need to start recognizing them in your own work. You’ll also see the current trends and get a good sense of your own place in the field. I’ve yet to meet a slush reader who hasn’t underestimated their skill level. The rule for writers is to quit when you stop learning. Potential editors should keep going a few more months, just to see if they can hack the experience when it becomes routine.

Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Neil Clarke”

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“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: Guest Lecturer Alexander Jablokov

jablokovAuthor Alexander Jablokov, who will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey workshop, writes science fiction for readers who won’t give up literate writing or vivid characters to get the thrills they demand. He is a natural transition for non-SF readers interested in taking a stroll with a dangerous AI or a neurosurgeon/jazz musician turned detective, while still giving hardcore SF fans speculative flash, incomprehensible aliens, and kitchen appliances with insect wing cases. From his well-regarded first novel, Carve the Sky, an interplanetary espionage novel set in a culturally complex 25th century, through the obscenely articulate dolphins with military modifications of a Deeper Sea, the hardboiled post-cyberpunk of Nimbus, the subterranean Martian repression of River of Dust, and the perverse space opera of Deepdrive, his last book was Brain Thief, a contemporary high-tech thriller with a class clown attitude. He has recently written a YA alternate universe adventure novel.

His day job is as a marketing manager. He does his writing during the mornings, and on weekends. It took him several years to figure out how to get any writing done at all, particularly since he hates getting up early and hates working on weekends, but has somehow managed it. Visit www.ajablokov.com to learn more about the author and his books.


On your blog you say that, “writing is rewriting.” How do you maintain excitement for that original idea as you work through various drafts?

Sometimes I don’t and have to let it rest for a while. But I consider the first draft as something akin to ore. Smelting and refinement are the next steps. Now, that’s just me—my initial drafts are tangled, full of blind alleys, notes to myself, and repeated sentences where I try to get something right. I’ve learned that attempting to revise while I write stops me dead. That kind of revision can be like cleaning your desk or doing your laundry—a useful task that has wandered into the wrong place. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Alexander Jablokov”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 2 of 2)

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERAPublishing veteran Michael J. Sullivan will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He is the author of 29 novels and uses a wide range of publishing options, including self-publishing, small-press, big-five, Kickstarter, print-only, foreign translations, and audio. He’s sold more than 850,000 books, been translated into 15 foreign languages, and appeared on more than 150 “best of” or “most anticipated” lists, including those compiled by Library Journal, Barnes & Noble, Amazon, Goodreads, and Audible.com. His most recent novel, Age of Myth, hit #2 on the Washington Post Best Seller’s List for hardcovers. Because of his wide range of publishing experience, Michael has taught several courses with Writer’s Digest and been a guest speaker at multiple fantasy conventions, as well as BookExpo America (the largest publishing tradeshow in the world). He’s currently working on his fourth Riyria Chronicles novel. The second book in his Legends of the First Empire series, Age of Swords, will be released by Del Rey in the summer of 2017.


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

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?

Part of the problem in discussing the writing process is there are so many terms that mean different things to different people. For instance, I don’t re-write (which to me means starting the book over once you know where it ends up), but I do make a lot of changes through editing. There are some books where what was once on page one moved back to page fifty, and I cut some openings altogether. Is that re-writing or editing? For me, I consider that work editing, even though it may require rewriting parts of the book.

Okay, the process is rather long but here goes: Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 2 of 2)”