Odyssey Podcast #135: Brandon Sanderson

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #135

Brandon Sanderson was a guest lecturer at the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from his lecture, Brandon talks about story progress, promise, and payoff.

Brandon was born in 1975 in Lincoln, Nebraska. By junior high he had lost interest in the novels suggested to him, and he never cracked a book if he could help it. Then an eighth grade teacher, Mrs. Reeder, gave him Dragonsbane by Barbara Hambly.

Brandon was finishing his thirteenth novel when Moshe Feder at Tor Books bought the sixth he had written. In 2005 Brandon held his first published novel, Elantris, in his hands. Tor also published six books in Brandon’s Mistborn series, along with Warbreaker and then The Way of Kings, Words of Radiance, and Oathbringer, the first three in the planned ten-volume series The Stormlight Archive. Five books in his middle-grade Alcatraz Versus the Evil Librarians series were released by Starscape. Brandon was chosen to complete Robert Jordan’s Wheel of Time series; the final book, A Memory of Light, was released in 2013. That year also marked the releases of YA novels The Rithmatist from Tor and Steelheart from Delacorte—the first book of the Reckoners trilogy, which concluded in 2016 with Calamity—who also published his most recent work Skyward in late 2018.

Currently living in Utah with his wife and children, Brandon teaches creative writing at Brigham Young University. He also hosts the Hugo Award-winning writing advice podcast Writing Excuses with Mary Robinette Kowal, Howard Tayler, and Dan Wells.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2020 by Brandon Sanderson. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.

For more Odyssey podcasts, visit:
https://www.odysseyworkshop.org/resources/podcasts/

Odyssey Podcast #134: JG Faherty

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #134

JG Faherty was a guest lecturer at the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from his question-and-answer session, JG answers questions about his biggest career break and his biggest dislike about the writing life.

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A life-long resident of New York’s haunted Hudson Valley, JG is the author of seven novels, ten novellas, and more than seventy-five short stories, and he’s been a finalist for both the Bram Stoker Award (The Cure, Ghosts of Coronado Bay) and ITW Thriller Award (The Burning Time). He writes adult and YA horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, and paranormal romance, and his works range from quiet, dark suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness.

Since 2011, JG has been a Board Trustee for the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and a Mentor. He launched their Young Adult program, and also their Library & Literacy program, which he still runs. Recently, he co-founded the HWA’s Summer Scares reading initiative in conjunction with Becky Spratford and several library organization, and he teaches local teen writing programs at libraries. In 2019, he was recognized with the Mentor of the Year Award by the HWA.

As a child, his favorite playground was a seventeenth-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/jgfaherty, www.facebook.com/jgfaherty, and www.jgfaherty.com.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2020 by JG Faherty. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.

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

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Gregory Ashe

Odyssey graduate and bestselling author Gregory Ashe will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Gregory is a longtime Midwesterner. He has lived in Chicago, Bloomington (IN), and Saint Louis, his current home. He primarily writes contemporary mysteries, with forays into romance, fantasy, and horror. Predominantly, his stories feature LGBTQ protagonists. When not reading and writing, he is an educator.

For more information, visit his website: www.gregoryashe.com.


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?

The most important thing writers can do is keep trying. That’s not just general encouragement, although I do believe that persistence and hard work will probably pay greater dividends than waiting for genius, talent, or inspiration. I also mean keep trying new things: new genres, new points of view, new narrative structures, new character types, new lengths. As with so many crafts, failures in writing often teach more than successes, and trying new things will force you to stretch and grow—and it may help you see your own strengths and weaknesses.

Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Gregory Ashe”

Interview: Guest Lecturer David Farland

David Farland will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. David is an international bestselling author with over 50 novels in print.

He has won the Philip K. Dick Memorial Special Award for Best SF novel of the year, the Whitney Award for Book of the Year, and the International Book Award for Best Young Adult Novel of the year, among others. He is best known, however, for his New York Times bestselling fantasy series The Runelords.

He is the lead judge for one of the world’s largest writing competitions and has helped dozens of writers launch their careers, including such well-known names as Brandon Sanderson, James Dashner, Brandon Mull, and Stephenie Meyer.

You can learn about his workshops and sign up for his free advice column at www.mystorydoctor.com.


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?

There isn’t one piece of advice that everyone needs. Putting together a writing career is like putting together a puzzle. So I try to talk to a writer and figure out what the one piece of advice that author needs is.

For example, with Brandon Sanderson, he really just needed to believe that he could make writing a career, so we worked on that. For Stephenie Meyer, we analyzed her intended market and how to break into it. For James Dashner, he needed to transition from a low-paying market writing sports tie-ins to writing science fiction for a wider audience, and so on.

Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer David Farland”

Odyssey Podcast #133: JG Faherty

mp3 Odyssey Podcast #133

JG Faherty was a guest lecturer at the 2020 Odyssey Writing Workshop. In this excerpt from his question-and-answer session, JG answers questions about writing advice and beta readers.

OLYMPUS DIGITAL CAMERA

A life-long resident of New York’s haunted Hudson Valley, JG is the author of seven novels, ten novellas, and more than seventy-five short stories, and he’s been a finalist for both the Bram Stoker Award (The Cure, Ghosts of Coronado Bay) and ITW Thriller Award (The Burning Time). He writes adult and YA horror, science fiction, dark fantasy, and paranormal romance, and his works range from quiet, dark suspense to over-the-top comic gruesomeness.

Since 2011, JG has been a Board Trustee for the Horror Writers Association (HWA) and a Mentor. He launched their Young Adult program, and also their Library & Literacy program, which he still runs. Recently, he co-founded the HWA’s Summer Scares reading initiative in conjunction with Becky Spratford and several library organization, and he teaches local teen writing programs at libraries. In 2019, he was recognized with the Mentor of the Year Award by the HWA.

As a child, his favorite playground was a seventeenth-century cemetery, which many people feel explains a lot. You can follow him at www.twitter.com/jgfaherty, www.facebook.com/jgfaherty, and www.jgfaherty.com.

The text of this recording is copyright © 2020 by JG Faherty. The sound recording is copyright ℗ 2020 by Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust.

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

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose

Elaine IsaacAuthor and Odyssey graduate E.C. Ambrose will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She writes knowledge-inspired adventure fiction including The Dark Apostle series about medieval surgery, The Singer’s Legacy fantasy series (as Elaine Isaak), and the Bone Guard international thrillers (as E. Chris Ambrose). Her latest releases are Bone Guard Two: The Nazi Skull, and The King of Next Week (Guardbridge). In the process of researching her books, Elaine learned how to hunt with a falcon, clear a building of possible assailants, and pull traction on a broken limb. Her short stories have appeared in Fireside, Warrior Women, and Fantasy for the Throne, among many others, and she has edited several volumes of New Hampshire Pulp Fiction. A graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop, Elaine has returned there to teach, as well as at conventions and writer’s groups across the country. She has judged writing competitions from New Hampshire Literary Idol to the World Fantasy Award.

Elaine dropped out of art school to found her own business. A former professional costumer and soft sculpture creator, Elaine now works as a part-time adventure guide. In addition to writing, Elaine creates wearable art employing weaving, dyeing, and felting into her unique garments. To learn about all of her writing, check out RocinanteBooks.com.


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?

The most important thing about your first works are to FINISH THEM. We tend to obsess about where to start, how to start, how to handle this or that thing, or (heaven forbid!) which publisher or agent to send this book to when it turns out to be brilliant, because of course it will be. Or we fret that it just won’t ever be good enough and polish the same three chapters over and over every time we feel we have leveled up as a writer. But here’s the deal. You can’t level up until/unless you finish things. The only way to really learn how to write a story arc is to complete one. Then another. Then another, then get feedback on them and write another one. Then study some of your favorite stories with your newly jaundiced writer’s eyes, then write another. Finish things. The first ones won’t be great things, most likely, but they will teach you how to middle and how to end. Learning how to middle and how to end will help you understand where and how to begin. Focus less on polishing and revising and more on delivering words of story on the page. Bonus: when you finish a thing, it feels really good! Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer E.C. Ambrose”

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Scott H. Andrews

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Photo credit: Al Bogdan

Odyssey graduate Scott H. Andrews will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Scott 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 seven-time Hugo Award finalist online fantasy magazine Beneath Ceaseless Skies.

Scott’s literary short fiction has won a $1,000 prize from the Briar Cliff Review, and his genre short fiction has appeared in Space & Time, Crossed 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.


You’re the editor-in-chief and publisher of Beneath Ceaseless Skies, a magazine for literary adventure fantasy. What do you look for in the stories you buy?

The major thing I love to see in all stories is “the human heart in conflict with itself,” which is a quote from Faulkner’s Nobel Prize acceptance speech. I want to see a character who is dealing with some sort of conflict, whether an external struggle like plot obstacles or an internal one like trying to overcome flaws or to grow in relationships, or ideally both external and internal. But the story also needs to make me FEEL something about that character who is in conflict. I get many stories, by writers who’ve been to workshops, that have a character in an interesting situation, but the writer isn’t executing the story such that the writing makes me feel what it means to be who that character is. For me it’s not enough just to see the character or focus on them; the story has to resonate off the page and make me feel for the character. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Scott H. Andrews”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Sheila Williams

Sheila WilliamsSheila Williams will be a guest lecturer via Skype at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. Sheila is the multiple Hugo Award-winning editor of Asimov’s Science Fiction magazine. She is also the winner of the 2017 Kate Wilhelm Solstice Award for distinguished contributions to the science fiction and fantasy community.

Sheila started at Asimov’s in June 1982 as the editorial assistant. Over the years, she was promoted to a number of different editorial positions at the magazine, and she also served as the executive editor of Analog from 1998 until 2004. With Rick Wilber, she is the co-founder of The Dell Magazines Award for Undergraduate Excellence in Science Fiction and Fantasy. This annual award has been bestowed on the best short story by an undergraduate student at the International Conference on the Fantastic since 1994. She has served as an instructor at Clarion, Clarion West, Odyssey, and other writing workshops. In addition, she coordinates the Asimov’s website (www.asimovs.com).

In addition, Sheila is the editor or co-editor of twenty-six anthologies. Her newest anthology, Entanglements: Tomorrow’s Lovers, Families, and Friends, is the 2020 volume of MIT’s Twelve Tomorrow’s anthology series.

Sheila received her bachelor’s degree from Elmira College in Elmira, New York, and her MA in philosophy from Washington University in St. Louis, Missouri. During her junior year she studied at the London School of Economics. Sheila is the mother of two daughters. She lives in New York City with her husband, David Bruce.


You talked about appealing story openings during your lecture in 2013 at Odyssey. What makes for a satisfying ending to a story?

It’s a huge relief when an unfamiliar author lands the ending. In a great ending, the multiple layers of a story come together in a satisfying way. A well-thought-out ending shows me that I’m in the hands of a professional or budding professional. Generally, a good ending is not one that the author tacked on to their story. Sometimes I realize that the ending was foretold in the opening paragraphs, but that doesn’t mean that it was predictable, just that the groundwork was laid. Although an ending can develop organically from the tale being told, many authors begin their story with an understanding of exactly where and how the story will conclude. Sometimes they even write it first. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Sheila Williams”

Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Barbara Ashford

barbara ashfordBarbara Ashford will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. 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 2000 graduate of the Odyssey workshop, Barbara has taught eight 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.


You’re one of several authors who provide in-depth critiques for the Odyssey Critique Service. What are some of the common weaknesses you see in submissions?

Often, writers do not think about how the various “big picture” elements—plot, character, theme, world—relate to each other. To me, it’s critical to understand the heart of the story you’re telling. Whether you call that the story’s promise or its theme, without a clear understanding of the “message” you want readers to take away, the story can devolve into a series of plot incidents instead of evolving into a unified whole where all the “big picture” elements work together to create a story that is more cohesive and compelling. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate & Guest Lecturer Barbara Ashford”

Director’s Corner: Unifying Your Story around a Meaningful Theme

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.


When I’m teaching at the Odyssey Writing Workshop and I bring up theme, some writers balk. They’re eager to learn about setting, character, point of view, plot, and more, but theme, to some, seems like an abstract, mysterious, high-school English class torture device that doesn’t relate to what they’re writing. Even those few who have fond memories of discussing the theme of Romeo and Juliet in high school often do little more than jot down a theme for their story, set it aside, and forget it. Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Unifying Your Story around a Meaningful Theme”