readercon catchup #1: Odyssey Writing Workshop

Odyssey Workshop

Jeanne Cavelos, director of the NH-based Odyssey workshop, had a lot of good information packed into a short time, regarding the ins and outs of this particular workshop which she started 19 years ago as a way for her, as an ex-editor, to stay in contact with writers and writing. it’s 6-weeks, intensive, and some of the core precepts she described were: it’s a lot of work; all feedback must be both truthful (no false praise) and helpful (telling me it sucks may be true, but not helpful); it’s a lot of work; most writers have an ideal process, but they aren’t using it – they’re using one they’ve just kind of come up with rather than determining whether there might be a better way or not;  it’s a lot of work; we give it to you straight and you need to listen; and, well, it’s a lot of work(4 hours lecture/critique and 8 hours homework/writing on weekdays and 12 hours homework each weekend day – yes, weekends too).

Gene Wolfe was there as a past Writer-In-Residence and he had a lot of great gems, ranging from ‘it isn’t enough to read a book on how to swim’, ‘you have to learn the rules before you can break them’*, ‘all writers must understand that their work isn’t perfect now – their job is to make each and every story better than the previous one’, and that ‘the world is full of people with one flaw that they absolutely worship’.

Elaine Isaak was on the panel as a former student (and now multi-published author) and described herself as a muse-driven writer in her early career, and Odyssey taught her that waiting for the muse is no way to survive. she also emphasized the growth as a writer when critiquing others’ work, because developing analytical tools helped her as a writer identify what did and didn’t work in her own writing.** she mentioned also that it’s the writer’s purpose to give the reader an expereince they can get nowhere else.***

several of the audience were former (and current, as this year’s workshop is currently underway) students, too, giving their own examples and commendations. one, Doug Cohen, described how the wealth and breadth of what you learn at Odyssey can open up doors you never even considered, which led him to his current position as Assistant Editor Realms of Fantasy Magazine (currently a placeholder until new site goes up, following their acquisition by Tir Na Nog Press – and more on this later).

following this Gene Wolfe said that story submissions are not lotteries. if there are 500 submissions to a mag each day, it’s not a 1-in-500 chance; instead, if there are 500 submissions and you submit top quality writing, it’s a 1-in-4 or 1-in-5 chance, because that’s how few are actually quality. this prompted much evidence from the audience, culminating with Dennis Danvers who said he’s been submitting to Fantasy & Science Fiction Magazine since he was 14 and only sold a story to them this year (according to Wikipedia, he was born in 1947, so that’s almost 50 years!), despite having published widely elsewhere in short fiction and novels.

* it was all i could do not to cheer out loud at this!

** more silent cheering!

*** less cheering as i suddenly questioned my ability to achieve this. is what i write any different than anyone else’s? this was to prove a lasting and nagging question for the remainder of the con, and continues to go unanswered by me.