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)”

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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”

Director’s Corner: Gaining Distance to Revise

Jeanne Cavelos is the director of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. 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.


You don’t care about my protagonist? You don’t find my plot to be a page-turning masterwork of suspense? You think my sentences are awkward and my point of view inconsistent? Writers are often quite surprised by the feedback they receive on manuscripts. Continue reading “Director’s Corner: Gaining Distance to Revise”

Graduate’s Corner: Torture Your Character, Capture Your Reader by Elaine Isaak

Elaine Isaak is the author of The Singer’s Crown (Eos, 2005), and sequels The Eunuch’s Heir (Eos, 2006), and The Bastard Queen (Swimming Kangaroo, 2010). Her short fiction has recently appeared in Live Free or Undead and Escape Clauses. A graduate of the Odyssey Speculative Fiction Workshop, Elaine writes traditional fantasy in a mythic and historic vein, harrowing tales of complex human relationships in the realms of fantasy. Magic may offer the choice of transcendence–or tragedy–and the quest never leaves you untouched. Above all else, know this: you do not want to be her hero. She has written how-to articles for the Writer Magazine, and authored the Lady Blade fantasy writing column at AlienSkin magazine for three years. Her speaking engagements have included local chapters of Romance Writers of America, the World Science Fiction and World Fantasy conventions.


I am a strong advocate for the abuse of imaginary people–not because I am, by nature, cruel and wicked (at least–I hope not), but because it will make your characters stronger, your stories better, and you–a better writer. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: Torture Your Character, Capture Your Reader by Elaine Isaak”

Graduate’s Corner: The Sprint or the Marathon? by Carrie Vaughn

Carrie Vaughn is the bestselling author of a series of novels about a werewolf named Kitty who hosts a talk radio advice show. The ninth book in the series, Kitty’s Big Trouble, has just been released from Tor Books. She’s also written young adult (Voices of Dragons, Steel) and stand-alone fantasy (Discord’s Apple, After the Golden Age). Her short stories can be found in many publications and anthologies, and one of her short stories has been nominated for the Hugo Award in 2011. She graduated from Odyssey in 1998, and returned as writer-in-residence in 2009. Visit her website at www.carrievaughn.com.


I never made a conscious decision to transition from writing short stories to novels or vice versa. Continue reading “Graduate’s Corner: The Sprint or the Marathon? by Carrie Vaughn”