Graduate Essay: Author David H. Hendrickson, “Blending Genre and Experience,” Part 2

dave-hendricksonAuthor David H. Hendrickson is a 2006 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. His first novel, Cracking the Ice, was praised by Booklist as “a gripping account of a courageous young man rising above evil.” He has since published four more novels, including most recently, No Defense and Offside.

His award-winning short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, most recently Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Fiction River anthology series. His titles have populated multiple Kindle bestseller lists.

Hendrickson has published well over one thousand works of nonfiction ranging from sports journalism to humor and essays. He’s been honored with the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award and the Murray Kramer Scarlet Quill Award.

For more information about his writing, visit him online at http://www.hendricksonwriter.com where you can sign up for his mailing list and be notified of new releases.


This is Part Two of an essay; Part One was published last Sunday, and you can read it here.

Ten years ago, I’d never read a single romance, much less considered writing one. Not to put too fine a point on it, but romances were… for women.

Once again, though, workshops by Kris Rusch and Dean Wesley Smith opened my eyes to wider horizons. As part of assigned reading for one of them, I read my first romance, a novel by Nora Roberts. I found I enjoyed it more than its counterparts in the thriller genre by James Patterson and Clive Cussler. The experience showed me that I read primarily for the characters, not the plot and action, and romance is all about the characters.

So every now and then I tossed in a romance novel into my reading (ignoring the curious looks I got when friends in the fitness center spied the bare-chested hunk on my book’s cover). But I didn’t give it any more thought until another Kris Rusch-assigned reading list included a hockey romance novella.

A hockey romance.

It was close to love at first sight. Hockey romances! Who’d-a thunk it?

The novella was pretty good and I enjoyed it, but there was one detail that wasn’t quite right to my finely trained eye. That got me thinking. Why not me?

I figured I’d write a short story around 10,000 words, put it up electronically, and see what happened. I imagined a female sportswriter who’d never, ever cross the line into dating a player she covered, only to find that an old flame from college had been traded to her team. An old flame that she still burned for. While I was at it, I figured I’d use my own experience and that of my colleagues to provide an inside look at the world of a sportswriter.

body-check-cover-webWhat I had thought would be 10,000 words, however, became 20,000 and then 40,000 words, with no end in sight. The final manuscript for Body Check weighed in at over 120,000 words. Off by only 110,000. That was, of course, far, far too long for a contemporary romance. Almost twice the ideal size. Almost certainly, any New York editor who even considered it would require major surgery.

Fortunately, with the wonderful advent of indie publishing, I could release the book as I envisioned it. The manuscript went out to my first readers, then after incorporating their feedback, to the professional editor I hired, and…

Body Check sold like crazy.

All because, once again, I had looked outside my comfort zone—my newly expanded comfort zone, this time—and I’d taken a chance.
                                                                       * * *
My second YA title, Offside, which was adopted by Lynn English High School for its entire school to read this summer, looks at the same era as Cracking the Ice, but from the eyes of a naïve young, white boy whose family moves from rural Maine to the terrifying “Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin.”

I had wanted to look at some of the same racial issues as Cracking the Ice, only from the flip side in terms of race, and wound up including a surprising number of my own personal experiences growing up in Lynn. This time, I stayed away from hockey; my protagonist, “Rabbit” Labelle, is a football fanatic with some baseball thrown in for seasoning. Why? I’m not sure, it just felt right.

My latest novel, No Defense, returned to the hockey romance no-defense-cover-webgenre, but in a surprising setting. I’d taken the trip of a lifetime to Tanzania and couldn’t help but write about the wonders of the Serengeti. So I took a goalie escaping to Africa after giving up the worst goal imaginable in overtime of the Stanley Cup Championship Game 7.
                                                                      * * *
I suppose in some ways, I’ve followed that loathsome advice “write what you know” more often than I’d care to admit. I know hockey, I know what it’s like to move to “Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin,” and I now know the Serengeti.

But I don’t know what it was like to be a black teenager in the sixties, much less one leaving home for prep school. I don’t know what it’s like to be a female journalist. Or a professional hockey player. Those required research, interviews, and imagination.

So no, I didn’t just write what I knew.

I wrote what I was passionate about. Hockey. That wonderful African safari. The Civil Rights era. And in a love-hate sort of way, my tumultuous, sometimes violent years in “Lynn, Lynn, City of Sin.” And I wrote in genres I enjoy.

My advice is this: give yourself the freedom to explore new genres and new avenues of your imagination. Don’t limit yourself to autobiographically “write what you know.” You might find yourself slowly cannibalizing your life experiences, as I have done at times, but it’ll be the natural result of your storytelling, not some paint-by-numbers autobiography masquerading as fiction.

You’ll have the most fun writing—and your readers will have the most fun reading your work—when you do one thing above all.

Follow your passion.

Graduate Essay: Author David H. Hendrickson, “Blending Genre and Experience,” Part 1

dave-hendricksonAuthor David H. Hendrickson is a 2006 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop. His first novel, Cracking the Ice, was praised by Booklist as “a gripping account of a courageous young man rising above evil.” He has since published four more novels, including most recently, No Defense and Offside.

His award-winning short stories have appeared in numerous anthologies and magazines, most recently Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine and the Fiction River anthology series. His titles have populated multiple Kindle bestseller lists. 

Hendrickson has published well over one thousand works of nonfiction ranging from sports journalism to humor and essays. He’s been honored with the Joe Concannon Hockey East Media Award and the Murray Kramer Scarlet Quill Award.

For more information about his writing, visit him online at http://www.hendricksonwriter.com where you can sign up for his mailing list and be notified of new releases.


Do you always write within your comfort zone? How widely do your stories vary?

So many writers constrain themselves within a narrow area of interest, creating stories that seem not only similar to each other but similar to other stories within that sub-genre. Sometimes breaking free of that ‘comfort zone’ and realizing you are a person with many interests and many different types of stories to tell can bring new energy and originality into your work.

I didn’t used to think so. I used to cling to my comfort zone. But I learned better, and perhaps my experience can help you. Let me start at the beginning.

Write what you know.

That’s what some long-forgotten book told me to do shortly after, at the age of twenty, I read my first Harlan Ellison short story and said, “Ohmigod, that’s what I want to do!”

I was horrified at the book’s advice. Write what I know? I didn’t know anything. Oh, I’d been captain of the math team and chess team in high school, and as an MIT student, I was learning a lot about computers. But I sure didn’t want to write about any of that. All that was software career stuff. I didn’t want to read fiction about math and computers, and I sure didn’t want to write about it.
Continue reading “Graduate Essay: Author David H. Hendrickson, “Blending Genre and Experience,” Part 1″

Interview: Guest Lecturer Alma Alexander

Alma AlexanderFantasy author Alma Alexander will be a guest lecturer at 2015’s summer Odyssey Writing Workshop.  Alma Alexander’s life so far has prepared her very well for her chosen career.  She was born in a country which no longer exists on the maps, has lived and worked in seven countries on four continents (and in cyberspace!), has climbed mountains, dived in coral reefs, flown small planes, swum with dolphins, and touched two-thousand-year-old tiles in a gate out of Babylon. She is a novelist, anthologist and short story writer who currently shares her life between the Pacific Northwest of the USA (where she lives with her husband and two cats) and the wonderful fantasy worlds of her own imagination. You can find out more about Alma on her website, her Facebook page, or her blog.

Welcome! 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? Continue reading “Interview: Guest Lecturer Alma Alexander”

Podcast #44: Laura Anne Gilman

Laura Anne Gilman was the writer-in-residence at Odyssey 2010. During her week at Odyssey, Laura Anne lectured on a variety of topics, participated in critique sessions, and worked individually with writers. In this podcast, Laura Anne discusses how to approach revisions. Before one can revise, one first needs to get a draft of the story written. Often, writers can get hung up on creating the perfect sentence and lose focus on the story. In a first draft, each sentence doesn’t need to be perfect; it’s more important to get the heart of the story on the page. Of course, that doesn’t give one the right be a sloppy writer. Improving the sentences will come in revision, along with other improvements. Laura Anne discusses common problems writers need to address in revision, drawing on her experiences as both editor and writer. She also provides tips on how a writer can tell when something isn’t good enough. And she explains how revising a work can help you with future works.

Laura Anne GilmanLaura Anne Gilman was an editorial assistant at the Berkley Publishing Group in 1994 when she took the first plunge into murky writing waters and submitted her first story to a professional market. An almost immediate sale to Amazing Stories followed. She didn’t make another fiction sale for more than a year, which taught her humility and patience. And the fine art of perseverance. Continue reading “Podcast #44: Laura Anne Gilman”

Podcast #43: David G. Hartwell

Podcast #43 is now available for download here.

Award-winning editor David G. Hartwell was a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2010, where he spoke on a variety of subjects authors need to know to survive and thrive in the publishing world. In this podcast, David discusses story titles and pseudonyms. A good title can make a story stand out, not only to editors but to readers, as they scan down the contents page of a magazine or anthology. A good title may relate to the themes of the story. It can even suggest to the reader how to read the story, or suggest to the author how to revise the story to make it stronger and more unified. A bad title confuses or turns off the reader. For example, a title that makes sense only after the reader has finished the story is generally not a good idea. A title with unfamiliar words is weak and may turn off readers, bookstores, and book distributors. David also discusses pseudonyms. He explains the different reasons you may want to use a pseudonym, as well as some of the questions you should ask yourself before making that decision.

David G. HartwellDavid G. Hartwell is an American editor of science fiction and fantasy. Continue reading “Podcast #43: David G. Hartwell”

Podcast #42: Gregory Frost

Podcast #42 is now available for download here.

As a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2010, Gregory Frost spoke about “Character, Viewpoint, and the Critical Voice of the Story: Why It Matters How You Tell It.” In this podcast, the second of two parts, Gregory continues his discussion of the properties, limitations, and challenges of each viewpoint, covering second person and first person. He describes different ways to use first person, such as the interior monologue, the dramatic monologue, the epistle, the diary, and the memoir. Gregory stresses the importance of considering the question, “Who is listening?” when a first-person narrator tells his story. He also provides a series of questions for an author to ask himself when choosing a point of view. Gregory explains the difference between viewpoint and voice. Voice is critical to establishing character and can create an image of the character more powerful than any physical description. He also describes the unique nature of voice and points out that voice can be a powerful source of originality in fiction. You can find part 1 of Gregory’s lecture excerpt in Podcast #41.

Gregory Frost Continue reading “Podcast #42: Gregory Frost”

Podcast #41: Gregory Frost

Podcast #41 is now available for download here.

Gregory Frost was a guest lecturer at Odyssey 2010. In his lecture, “Character, Viewpoint, and the Critical Voice of the Story: Why It Matters How You Tell It,” Gregory explained how to choose the best point of view for a story, how to create a consistent viewpoint and voice, and how to reveal character through voice. In this excerpt, the first of two parts, Gregory describes the underlying, pervasive importance of point of view to a story. All the elements of fiction are connected to viewpoint. The viewpoint also determines how the reader interacts with a story. Each viewpoint carries different rules; a writer must consider which viewpoint will allow him to do what he wants to do in his story. Gregory begins a discussion of the properties, possibilities, limitations, and challenges of each point of view, including third-person objective (camera view), third-person limited omniscient, and third-person omniscient; this discussion is continued in part 2. He explains the concept of psychic distance, which is critical to point of view. Controlling psychic distance and limiting shifts in psychic distance help the reader to more vividly experience the story. Failing to maintain a consistent psychic distance distracts and confuses the reader, as Gregory’s examples illustrate.

Gregory FrostGregory Frost is a writer of fantasy, thrillers, and science fiction who has been publishing steadily for more than two decades. Continue reading “Podcast #41: Gregory Frost”