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 & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 2 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.


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

For the past four years, you have sponsored the Parasite Publications Character Awards, which provide scholarships to three character-based writers attending Odyssey. Thank you for your generosity! What draws you to character-driven fiction? What do you think plot-driven writers could learn from writers of character-driven fiction?

Uh oh. You asked The Question. (Warning: What follows is a rant on the state of science fiction as an art form, how it lags behind the other genres in both readership and author diversity because it is actually less evolved creatively than the other genres, and how it needs to be brought up to par with all the other genres by intrepid people like you.) Well, for one, I can’t believe you’re asking this question. It’s my humble opinion (f*** it, I’m not very humble) that character-driven fiction is the best kind, hands down, because it allows readers to fully submerge themselves in the minds, situations, and psyches of another human being, enriching them for life afterwards. Name me one other medium that can do that. It allows people to live lives they haven’t lived, experience emotions they otherwise wouldn’t experience, and make friends they otherwise wouldn’t have had. The most gripping stories are character driven. Stephen King, Dean Koontz, George Lucas, George R.R. Martin, Patricia Cornwell, Orson Scott Card, David Baldacci. Every thriller I’ve ever read has been character driven, and they have to be—otherwise people won’t have any investment in whether the character lives or dies, and the end result of the thriller would be moot. Same for romance or fantasy. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Sara King (Part 2 of 3)”

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”

Interview: Nancy Holder

Nancy Holder will be the writer-in-residence at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She is an award-winning, New York Times bestselling author of adult, young adult, middle grade, and early reader work, both fiction and nonfiction. She has sold approximately 80 novels and 200 short stories, comic books, and essays in various genres. She has taught creative writing classes at the University of California at San Diego, the Maui Writers Retreat and Conference, and other conferences and colleges, and has been on the faculty of the Stonecoast MFA in Creative Writing for seven years. She has also served on the boards of Clarion (San Diego) and the Horror Writers Association. You can learn more about Nancy and her work at her website: http://nancyholder.com/


You are an incredibly busy and successful writer, writing in different genres, for different ages, in different formats. How do you keep up? Is there ever a danger of having too much on the go? Continue reading “Interview: Nancy Holder”

Interview: Alex Hughes

Alex has written since early childhood, and loves great stories in any form including science fiction, fantasy, and mystery. Over the years, Alex has lived in many neighborhoods of the sprawling metro Atlanta area. Decatur, the neighborhood on which Clean is centered, was Alex’s college home.

On any given week you can find Alex in the kitchen cooking gourmet Italian food, watching hours of police procedural dramas, and typing madly.

Alex is a graduate of the 2011 Odyssey Writing Workshop. You can learn more about Alex at www.ahugheswriter.com.


Congratulations on the upcoming launch of Clean! It’s been great to see so many success stories among the Odyssey alumni. Can you tell us about this dystopian thriller? Continue reading “Interview: Alex Hughes”

Interview: Paul Park

Paul Park will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. He has written a dozen novels in a variety of genres. His most recent work includes a steampunk story in an upcoming anthology, an apocalyptic science-fiction Icelandic Edda, and a Forgotten Realms novel called The Rose of Sarifal, to be published under the pseudonym Paulina Claiborne. His novella Ghosts Doing the Orange Dance, nominated for the 2010 Nebula and Sturgeon Awards, will soon appear in an expanded, illustrated version from PS Publishing. He teaches writing and literature at Williams College in Berkshire County, Massachusetts, where he lives with his wife and two children.


Your books often deal with religion. What fascinates you about the subject? Do you have specific themes in mind when you begin working on a piece?

Continue reading “Interview: Paul Park”

Podcast #33: Jeffrey A. Carver

Podcast #33 is now available for download here.

Jeffrey A. Carver was a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2009, where he lectured on Story Structure: Conflict and Plot. In this podcast, Jeffrey explains the importance of structure. Structure supplies the skeleton for your story; without it, your story becomes a jellyfish. But structure is more than the organization and skeleton. It gives your story its purpose, movement, life. Jeffrey discusses the different components of structure and how they interact with each other. He especially stresses the interaction of plot and character in the structure, and explains that to discover plot, one must discover character. He offers various techniques for creating structure, from outlining in advance to discovering and recording it as your write. He also provides a checklist to help you examine your structure after you have a draft, so you can discover weaknesses and make necessary changes.

Jeffrey A. CarverJeffrey A. Carver is the author of sixteen science fiction novels, including Sunborn (Tor Books, November 2008). Prior to that, his most recent books were Battlestar Galactica: the Miniseries (a novelization), and Eternity’s End, a grand-scale epic of conflict and mystery in the far future, which was a finalist for the Nebula Award.

Continue reading “Podcast #33: Jeffrey A. Carver”