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”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Joshua Bilmes

bilmesLiterary agent Joshua Bilmes will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Workshop. He is the founder and president of JABberwocky Literary Agency, which will celebrate its 25th anniversary this fall. Prior to founding his own agency, he spent a chunk of his high school years writing monthly critiques of Analog magazine to its editor, Stan Schmidt. He spent summers in college doing freelance work at Baen Books; his letters to Analog caught the eye of Betsy Mitchell, who was lured from the #2 spot at Analog to be Jim Baen’s deputy. And ten weeks after graduating college, he was hired at the Scott Meredith Agency, which launched the careers of at least a half dozen leading agents in science fiction and fantasy.

Top JABberwocky clients include #1 bestselling authors Brandon Sanderson and Charlaine Harris. The agency’s other NY Times bestselling and/or award-winning clients include Peter V. Brett, Jack Campbell, Elizabeth Moon, Walter Jon Williams, Simon R. Green, Suzanne Palmer, Marie Brennan, and Daniel José Older.

Bilmes is known for his hands-on editorial work with his clients. In recent years, he’s been leading a quixotic charge against inappropriate use of smiles, shrugs, sighs, grimaces, nods, winces, blanching, quirking, eye-rolling, gritting of teeth, smirks, snorts and other “head and shoulders” gestures. For the avoidance of doubt, by “inappropriate” Bilmes means “almost all.”

Joshua Bilmes spends a good chunk of his spare time watching movies and watching tennis.


At this summer’s Odyssey Workshop, you’ll be interacting with students as a virtual guest lecturer via Skype. What do you think is the most important advice you can give to developing writers?

You have to be prepared to put in the “hard yards.” There are lots of authors and agents in the world, and some of them have paired up when the author put the perfect manuscript on the agent’s desk the agent’s very first day on the job. That hasn’t happened very often with me! Most of the first novels I’ve sold, they’re on a third or fifth or sometimes close to a tenth draft before they go out on submission. And then for all the work done on those earlier drafts, when the book is sold the editors still have more suggestions to make. An author should never be a weather vane, blowing every which way with each passing editorial comment, but you need to be prepared to work. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Joshua Bilmes”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Fran Wilde

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Photo credit: Kyle Cassidy

Award-winning author Fran Wilde will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. Her novels and short stories have been finalists for three Nebula awards, two Hugo Awards, and a World Fantasy Award. They include her Andre Norton- and Compton Crook-winning debut novel, Updraft (Tor, 2015); its sequels, Cloudbound (2016) and Horizon (2017); the middle-grade novel Riverland (Abrams, 2019); and the novelette “The Jewel and Her Lapidary” (Tor.com, 2016). Her short stories appear in Asimov’sTor.comBeneath Ceaseless SkiesShimmerNature, and the 2017 Year’s Best Dark Fantasy and Horror. She writes for publications such as The Washington PostTor.comClarkesworldio9.com, and GeekMom.com. She holds an MFA in poetry and an MA in information architecture and interaction design. You can find her on TwitterFacebook, and at franwilde.net.


Once you started writing seriously, how long did it take you to sell your first piece? What were you doing wrong in your writing in those early days?

For me, writing seriously began when I started finishing stories. I’d always written. But I often didn’t complete the story drafts because something didn’t “feel” right or sound good enough. So of course because I didn’t finish a story, I had nothing to revise! Which made it really hard to sell things. Once I started finishing stories—writing them to completion, setting them aside for a few days, and then coming back and working on revision before deciding that they weren’t what I wanted—I started selling.  Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Fran Wilde”

Interview: Graduate Jason S. Ridler (Part 1 of 2)

ridler2005 Odyssey Writing Workshop graduate Jason S. Ridler is a writer, improv actor, and left-wing military historian. His novels include Hex-Rated, the first installment of the Brimstone Files series for Night Shade Books; Rise of the Luchador; and Death Match. He’s also published over sixty stories and numerous academic publications. FXXK WRITING! A Guide for Frustrated Artists collects the best of his column of the same name, and his next historical work, Mavericks of War, is forthcoming from Stackpole Books. A former punk rock musician and cemetery groundskeeper, Mr. Ridler holds a Ph.D. in War Studies from the Royal Military College of Canada. He lives in Berkeley, CA and is a Teaching Fellow for Johns Hopkins University.


You’re a writer, a historian, and also an improv actor. How has doing improv impacted your writing? What lessons have you taken from improv and applied to writing?

Improv has provided many things that help me be a writer: being socially engaged in creating art with others; the nature of performance and stagecraft in reaching an audience; tools for brainstorming; a life outside of “all I f***ing do is write and be in my head,” which acted as an antidote to a lot of the writer b***s*** about being special because you’re a loner who does art (writing is also a great way to AVOID dealing with people and problems: improv helped me crack that code); improv uses less conventional storytelling tools and tactics that allow you to play with the absurd and normalcy and break expectation; improv also champions mistakes and failures as awesome means to new ideas (writing …. not so much); and it’s fun as hell. Improv and its gifts are now just a part of the complex lab of the imagination that exists in my storytelling brain. Continue reading “Interview: Graduate Jason S. Ridler (Part 1 of 2)”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Nisi Shawl

Hewlett-PackardAward-winning author Nisi Shawl will be a guest lecturer at this summer’s Odyssey Writing Workshop. She wrote the 2016 Nebula finalist and Tiptree Honor novel Everfair, and the 2008 Tiptree Award-winning collection Filter House. In 2005 she co-wrote Writing the Other: A Practical Approach, a standard text on inclusive representation in the imaginative genres. Her short stories have appeared in Analog and Asimov’s magazines, and many other publications. Shawl is a founder of the Carl Brandon Society and a Clarion West board member.


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?

Listen to your inner bell. That’s a maddeningly vague tip, I know, but it’s the closest I can come to describing what it’s like to understand when something just is not working, or when something needs a little tweak to make it work smashingly well, or when you’re laboring over something that is not going to ever work, no matter how you tweak and nudge and sweat and polish it. I’m an aural writer, so I think of it in terms of sound; others may metaphorize the idea differently, but most of you will recognize it. For me, it’s “clunk” versus “bonggg.” Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Nisi Shawl”

Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 1 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.


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’s so much advice to give!! Hopefully, we can get into this more during the workshop, but I’m going to narrow my focus to two equally important pieces of advice…and they go hand in hand. The first relates to developing your craft, which doesn’t happen overnight. It can take years (or decades) to find your voice and get your writing skills up to a ready-for-prime-time level. Art, all art, takes time and practice, so this isn’t a sprint but a marathon. Stephen King says you should treat your first 1,000,000 words as practice, and Malcolm Gladwell said it takes 10,000 hours working at a task to get proficient. I think these numbers are about right. For me, I wrote for a decade and created 13 novels (most of which were utter trash), but they taught me a great deal. So my advice is to prepare yourself for a long haul, and never stop focusing on continued improvement. Persistence is the most important trait of the “writing business,” and the only way to guarantee failure is to stop trying. Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Michael J. Sullivan (Part 1 of 2)”

Graduate’s Corner: When Is It Time to Move On? by James Maxey

James Maxey attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop in 1998. He’s gone on to publish stories in a score of magazines and anthologies, and eight novels to date. His currently available novels are the superhero tales Nobody Gets the Girl and Burn Baby Burn, and two fantasy series, the Dragon Age trilogy of Bitterwood, Dragonforge, and Dragonseed, and the Dragon Apocalypse series that debuted in 2012 with Greatshadow, Hush, and the soon to be released Witchbreaker. For more information on his writing, visit dragonprophet.blogspot.com.


I never sold the first novel I wrote. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: When Is It Time to Move On? by James Maxey”