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Frequently Asked Questions about Odyssey
Answered by Director Jeanne Cavelos

  How is Odyssey different from other writing workshops?

Have any Odyssey graduates had their work published?

How many students are in the class?

Can I work on a novel at Odyssey, or must I write only short stories?

Can I charge my tuition or housing on a credit card?

What are some of the advantages of an editor-run workshop?

How much should I have written before I come to Odyssey?

Do I need to have my work published to be accepted into Odyssey?

Will I need to bring a laptop?

I'm under 18. Can I attend Odyssey?

What is the workshopping like at Odyssey?

How much work is really involved?

What is campus/apartment living like?

Do I need a car at Odyssey, and is parking available?

Will there be any one on one time with the guest lecturers/writer-in-residence?

Are there any recreational activities in the area?

What kinds of post-Odyssey support do students receive?

What are the typical ages of the students in an Odyssey class?

The application asks me for two references. Whom should I list?

What is early admission? Should I apply for it?

Should I submit a published story as my application writing sample?

What qualities are you looking for in the application writing sample?





How is Odyssey different from other writing workshops?

A number of key elements set Odyssey apart from other workshops.

  • A wide focus encompassing all fantastic fiction--fantasy, science fiction, horror, magical realism, and anything in between.
  • An advanced, comprehensive curriculum that covers the elements of fiction writing through in-depth lectures, providing the tools and techniques you need to improve. Receiving feedback on your work and learning your weaknesses doesn't help unless you have the tools to strengthen those areas.
  • A single instructor guides you through the six weeks, gaining in-depth knowledge of your work, providing detailed assessments of your strengths and weaknesses, helping you target your weaknesses one by one, and charting your progress.
  • Top writers, editors, and agents serve as guests, providing their own insights, perspectives, and feedback on your work.
  • A challenging yet supportive atmosphere focused on helping you improve as much as possible in six weeks.
  • Workshopping sessions are designed to maximize their usefulness. You will not be coddled, and you will not be attacked. Critiques are unflinchingly honest, concrete, and detailed.
  • Director Jeanne Cavelos, a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, provides you with an editor's perspective on your work. Her experience working with many different writers allows her to help you find the best writing process for you.
  • Jeanne's critiques on stories average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive. You will not receive feedback of this depth at other workshops.
  • While students are encouraged to work on short fiction, since improvement comes faster that way, students focused only on novels are allowed to work on long fiction.
  • Alumni resources, including discussion groups, a critique group, a newsletter, and an annual one-week workshop, allow you to learn from and interact with graduates who are building major writing careers for themselves. They also help you continue your lifelong odyssey to become the best writer you can be.
  • The Odyssey graduates are an energetic group providing support, information, and a kick in the pants when necessary.
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Have any Odyssey graduates had their work published?

Odyssey alumni are taking the publishing world by storm! Fifty-three percent of Odyssey graduates have gone on to be published, the highest success rate of any workshop I know. Even though Odyssey has been in existence only since 1996, alumni are building major writing careers for themselves. Chances are you're reading the work of Odyssey alumni without even realizing it. Their stories and novels have been published by almost every major publisher. Take a look at our Graduates' Featured Recent Publications to see some recent publications by alumni. Visit our Are you Reading the Work of Odyssey Alumni? page to get an overview of the success of graduates. And for all the details, visit our Odyssey Graduates Publication List. It's hard to keep up with all the publications and awards of the graduates, but we do our best.

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How many students are in the class?

I've experimented with classes as small as thirteen and as large as twenty. With too few students, the workshop lacks energy and sufficient variety of opinions. With too many, I'm unable to give each student individual attention. I've found that the perfect number is sixteen, so you can expect the class will have sixteen students or very close to that.

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Can I work on a novel at Odyssey, or must I write only short stories?

I encourage you to work on short fiction, simply because you can learn and improve more quickly when writing short pieces. If you write something short, then we can look at it as a whole, and figure out whether it works or not, which elements are weak and which are strong, and how the weak elements could be improved.

In critiquing a chapter of a novel, we can figure out some of those issues, but since the work is not complete, some problems might be difficult to detect until the entire book is done (for example, the chapter might be well written and interesting, but it may be unnecessary to the book).

That said, though, I understand that some people tend to think in long forms rather than short ones (I'm one of those people myself). And I believe that the most important thing is that you work on projects that you're passionate about. So when people come to me and say they really want to work on a novel at Odyssey, I explain to them that their progress may be a little slower and the issues they're dealing with more complex. Then I let them work on what they feel most excited about, because I don't think churning out short stories for the sake of churning out short stories ever really taught anyone much. After conferring with me, a few students switch over to short story projects they've been wanting to work on, but many go through Odyssey working on novels.

In the lectures, we cover all the major elements of fiction in the six weeks, and specifically discuss the challenges those elements present in f/sf/h fiction. We also discuss how these issues differ in short fiction and long fiction. So different aspects of novel writing are covered.

In individual conferences, I try to help students writing novels to apply those various concepts to their work. All students have a minimum of three individual conferences with me, to chart their progress over the six weeks. When students are working on a novel, I try to get a short outline from them at the beginning, which we then discuss in our first conference.

Sometimes students revise the outline for a future conference, or come to the conferences with various questions regarding "big picture" issues of the novel that don't get discussed when we workshop a single chapter in class.

I also sometimes point students to special readings or exercises to help them with specific points. These may involve issues particular to longer fiction. As the six weeks pass and you submit more chapters for workshopping, I'll get a better sense of how those chapters fit into your outline, and a better idea of the strengths and weaknesses of the overall story structure, which we'll discuss.

I think the students who have worked on novels while at Odyssey (on average, about 15% of the class works exclusively on novels, while the rest sometimes experiment with a test chapter) have gained new insight into their work, getting a better idea of exactly what they're trying to do and how best they can do it. It can be extremely difficult to get some emotional distance from a novel and see it objectively, as a reader sees it; that's one of the important things Odyssey provides. Students also see much more clearly the weaknesses in their novels, and they learn the skills to tackle those and make major improvements.

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Can I charge my tuition or housing on a credit card?

The tuition and housing costs quoted on the home page are discounted rates available to students paying by check or money order. If you are a US resident, you may instead pay both tuition and housing through PayPal <www.paypal.com>. PayPal is an Internet service that allows you to charge expenses to your credit card. It's easy to set up an account with PayPal; it takes about five minutes. Those using PayPal need to pay the full rates, which are about 3% higher. International students must make all payments by international money order in US dollars.

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What are some of the advantages of an editor-run workshop?

As an editor, I have worked with many different writers. I know that each writer works differently, and each writer is trying to say something original and distinct. I've found that many writing teachers try to mold students in their own image, and that's something I won't do. An editor's job is to help a writer become the best writer he can be. Rather than teaching you the "right" way to work, and the "right" things to write about, I try to help you find the best writing process for you, and to help you better write what you want to write.

That doesn't mean that anything you write is okay; I have very high standards and feel that most fiction fails to fully realize its goals. But at the workshop we examine the qualities that make great fiction, and we study a variety of techniques for achieving that greatness.

When I critique stories, I give you an editor's point of view, telling you what would excite an editor, what would turn off an editor, when an editor would stop reading your story, and when an editor would buy your story. If you want to succeed as a professional writer, insight into how editors think and work can be very helpful.

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How much should I have written before I come to Odyssey?

This really depends on the individual. Some of the people accepted into Odyssey have been writing for decades and have multiple finished novels, or many, many short stories. Others may have been writing only a year, with only a handful of finished pieces, but they're all of a very high quality.

The main thing to consider is that you should not come to Odyssey until you have a strong sense of who you are as a writer and what you have to say. Otherwise, you can be overly influenced by the other students at Odyssey. After getting a few harsh critiques, a student may feel tempted to write stories that she thinks will please the class. These won't be stories she feels passionate about, or stories that embody something special she has to say; they'll be tailored to avoid negative comments.

This is a common phenomenon in many college writing programs. Students come into the program writing very differently from each other, but leave the program all writing alike. You don't want that to happen to you.

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Do I need to have my work published to be accepted into Odyssey?

There's no publishing requirement. The writing sample you send with your application will reveal the level of your writing skills, and the information on your application will tell me your level of commitment to writing and what your goals are.

That said, most students accepted into Odyssey have had publications of some kind. Perhaps they're in a major magazine, perhaps in a minor one. They might be in a school literary journal or local newspaper, or in an Internet magazine. The publications aren't what gets these applicants accepted, but they do reflect these writers' commitment to the field.

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Will I need to bring a laptop?

Odyssey students have access to the main computer lab at the college, but the hours it is open are limited. If you are able to bring a computer with you, I would encourage you to do so. It will give you more flexibility and allow you to work in the privacy of your room. Since the workshop is very demanding, students often find themselves working late into the night on a submission. The computer lab closes most nights at 9 or 10 PM. You will probably find it very helpful if at least one person in your apartment brings a computer.

Each college apartment has both wired and wireless high-speed Internet connections. Wireless Internet connections are available in most areas of campus.

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I'm under 18. Can I attend Odyssey?

The program is designed for adults and is comparable to a master's-level college course. But there is no minimum age requirement. Over the years, we've admitted a few students who were under 18. They were extremely talented and responsible for their ages. Stephen Chambers, who attended Odyssey when he was 17, sold his first two novels to Tor Books before he turned 18.

If your skills are at a level similar to the other students, then I would be happy to have you. The one caution I would give is that you also need to be mature enough to handle the workshop. Much of our time is spent critiquing the manuscripts of the students. This means that your stories would be discussed by the class, and we would talk about what's working in your stories and what's not working. While our workshop is always focused on giving the author feedback that is truthful and helpful, having your story critiqued can be painful, no matter what your age. You put a lot of effort into your stories, and it's difficult to hear people say anything negative about them. But that's how you learn to improve. So you need to be able to handle this process.

Also, if you intend to live on campus, you need to be responsible enough to live on your own. Since Odyssey is a program for adults, we don't have any supervision for students. No one is there to make sure you eat right and get to bed on time. You need to be able to take care of yourself, and also to keep your apartment clean, for the sake of your roommates. And your parents need to trust that you can do that.

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What is the workshopping like at Odyssey?

The philosophy by which we operate is that all feedback given on students' stories must be truthful and helpful. This may seem obvious, but many workshops don't operate on these principles.

What this means is that everything you or your fellow students say about a story should be true. You shouldn't say "I liked it" if you didn't like it. Similarly, you shouldn't say something bad about a story just to make yourself sound clever, if you don't really believe what you say.

Also, everything you say should be helpful. Saying "This story sucked" is not helpful. The author has no idea what's wrong or how to fix it. This doesn't mean critiques have to be gentle and "nice." You're not doing an author any favors by telling him his work is great when it's not. You're actually doing him a serious disservice. But your criticisms must give the author some idea what's wrong and how he might begin to fix the problem. So you might say, "Your characters are all flat. I didn't believe for a moment that any of them was a real human being with a real history and real problems and desires." That criticism may be difficult for the author to hear, but it is truthful and helpful, and absolutely critical to any writer wanting to improve.

David J. Schwartz, who attended Odyssey in 1996, has written a description of "Workshopping at Odyssey," which all prospective students should read.

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How much work is really involved?

At Odyssey 2011, student Olivia Do summed it all up like this: "Sleep is for babies and dead people."

The situation at Odyssey isn't quite that extreme, but few students get a full eight hours of sleep every night.

Odyssey is very demanding, with every night and every weekend consumed with work. During the week, once class gets out at 1 PM, you should plan to spend at least 8 hours each weekday on homework--writing exercises, critiquing the work of classmates, and writing your own next story/chapter for the class. You should plan to spend at least 12 hours per day on the weekend on your own writing, critiquing the work of classmates, and doing more writing exercises. Often, students stay up late into the night to work on stories. Students do most of the writing of their stories/chapters on the weekends, since simply doing the critiques and writing exercises can often take up most of the time on week nights.

To get the most out of the six weeks, I encourage all students to focus 100% on their writing and work as hard as they possibly can without having a meltdown. One of the major benefits comes from simultaneously hearing lectures about writing, putting those concepts from lecture into practice with writing exercises, becoming more aware of story strengths and weaknesses through critiquing, and trying to combine all this knowledge in one's own writing. So there's a lot of work to do, and focusing totally on writing helps these activities have more impact. It is a six-week marathon, so you have to pace yourself, and at times you'll need to take some sort of break. We have Friday-night cookouts/dinners to help students relax for a couple of hours. Students have certainly been known to take in a movie or do some other relaxing activity for a few hours on occasion.

Taking more time off than that is problematic. Critiques and stories must be completed by the deadlines, and if you take a Saturday off, you may find you're forced to pull an all-nighter on Sunday to complete your work for Monday. In that case, you are not only losing time and energy that could be put toward your writing, but also reducing your available energy for the rest of the week and the rest of the workshop.

Most likely, if you attend Odyssey, those six weeks will comprise the largest chunk of uninterrupted time you will have to focus on your writing in your entire life. I hope that if you come, you will devote yourself to this experience and get the most out of it.

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What is campus/apartment living like?

Saint Anselm College is located on a beautiful, 400-acre hilltop campus in Manchester, NH, a city of about 100,000 people. The campus is one hour from Boston, one hour from the New Hampshire and Maine seacoasts, and one hour from the White Mountain National Forest. Saint Anselm offers many resources, including a cafeteria, computer labs, library, the Dana Humanities Center, and the New Hampshire Institute of Politics. The apartments provide comfortable, dorm-style living, with two or three bedrooms, a bathroom, living room, and eat-in kitchen (with stove, oven, refrigerator, and cabinet space). Each apartment can house a total of four or five people (with each bedroom holding one or two students). Since some students prefer to pay extra to have a bedroom of their own, most apartments end up with two to four people. Students usually cook some meals in their apartments and eat some meals in the cafeteria. Food at the cafeteria is purchased on an item-by-item basis, and is reasonably priced.

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Do I need a car at Odyssey, and is parking available?

A car is not necessary. The classroom is within walking distance of the campus apartments. Students just walk back and forth between these locations. The computer lab, library, and campus coffee shop, where students can eat, are all within walking distance of the classroom and apartments.

Grocery stores, drug stores, and restaurants are farther away, a 15- to 30-minute walk. About half of the students at Odyssey bring cars, so it's easy to catch a ride with a classmate to get some groceries.

If you do bring a car, parking is available beside the campus apartments. Odyssey students with cars receive free student parking permits.

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Will there be any one-on-one time with the guest lecturers/writer-in-residence?

Yes. Guest lecturers come once a week and provide a great resource to Odyssey students. They offer unique perspectives and invaluable real-world experience. The guests arrive the night before their lectures and meet the whole group informally at a reception. Over soda and snacks they answer questions and talk about their experiences. The next day, the guests run the class, delivering their lectures and sometimes leading students in writing exercises. After lunch with the class, they participate in workshopping student stories. Finally, they meet privately with several students to critique their stories one-on-one. Many guests stay for our Friday evening class cookouts.

The writer-in-residence participates in Odyssey for an entire week. Each day, the writer-in-residence lectures and critiques stories; every student will have a story critiqued by him. Every student will also have a private meeting with the writer-in-residence. The writer-in-residence stays on campus in an apartment, joins in student activities, and is generally available throughout the week for informal talks. In the past, nighttime trips to movies, local restaurants, and private discussions on students' work have been common.

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Are there any recreational activities in the area?

New Hampshire offers a wide range of outdoor and indoor activities, including Hampton Beach and the White Mountains within driving distance, the nationally recognized Currier Gallery of Art, restaurants, movies theatres, used book stores, and nightlife. But, and let it be repeated, but almost all students find that there is very little time for anything other than writing and critiquing. Odyssey is an intensive six-week course and you will find yourself immersed in writing like never before. By the sixth week most students are dreaming about writing while they sleep.

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What kinds of post-Odyssey support do students receive?

Graduating Odyssey requires great commitment and energy. But it is only one stage in a writer's lifelong journey to becoming the best writer he can be. To aid in the continuation of this journey, we've set up a variety of resources for graduates of Odyssey (otherwise known as Odfellows). With these various resources, graduates can continue to improve their writing and keep in touch with other Odfellows--to exchange information, discuss writing issues, receive feedback on their work, offer support, and build friendships. Odyssey has on-line discussion groups, an on-line critique group, and a free print newsletter (The Odfellows Log) with useful articles and information. For those who can't get enough of the workshop experience, each year we hold TNEO (The Never-Ending Odyssey). TNEO is a week-long, invitation-only writing workshop for graduates held each year at Saint Anselm College. Graduates can get together to critique manuscripts, continue old friendships, and make new ones. Who said you can never go back? More detailed descriptions of these resources are available on our Special Resources page.

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What are the typical ages of the students in an Odyssey class?

The particular make-up of each class is different. In general, out of 16 students total, we usually have 0-1 under twenty, between 4-8 in their twenties, 4-7 in their thirties, 2-5 in their forties, and 1-2 over fifty. Usually, roughly half of the class is male and roughly half female.

Odyssey welcomes applications from all interested writers.

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The application asks me for two references. Whom should I list?

The references should be people who are familiar with your writing. The ideal reference would be an expert of some type--a published writer, a writing teacher, an editor. If there is no expert who is familiar with your work, then the next best choice would be a peer, someone who has about the same level of writing knowledge as you--a fellow member of a writers' group, someone with whom you've exchanged manuscripts. If no one has seen your work except for friends or family members, then list them as references.

You should, of course, ask these people for permission to use them as references before putting their names on the application.

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What is early admission? Should I apply for it?

Many people need to know months ahead of time whether they've been accepted into the workshop or not, so they can make arrangements for time off, child care, and so on. The early application system is set up for them.

Any applications received by January 31 are automatically considered for early admission. At that time, I read all the applications that have come in, evaluate them, and pick a small number of applicants (usually 4) to admit. Those 4 are sent acceptance letters by the end of February, and they pay a deposit in March to enroll. This early schedule allows the admitted students plenty of time to make plans for the summer.

The rest of the applicants are sent notices that their applications are being held over and will be considered again after the regular application deadline, on an equal basis with the rest of the applications.

It is a bit harder to be accepted under early admission, since only a handful of applicants are admitted at that time. But granting only a few applicants early admission ensures that we leave most of the spaces open until the regular application deadline, so everyone is given a fair shot at acceptance.

Those who don't need so much advance notice often opt to apply at the last minute, by the regular application deadline, using the extra time to work on their application stories.

One option isn't "better" than the other. Your application will receive fair consideration whether you submit it early or at the last minute--as long as it arrives in our hands by the regular application deadline. It's just a matter of figuring out which option is better for you.

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Should I submit a published story as my application writing sample?

Most applicants submit unpublished work, since they're usually sending in something they've just finished, which they think best represents the current state of their skills. If an applicant is not accepted into the workshop, I send some brief feedback on the piece that may be helpful to him in revising the work or in strengthening future work. If an applicant is accepted, I do a full critique on the application piece and deliver that critique in a private meeting with the student during the first week of the workshop.

Some applicants submit published work. There is no rule against sending in a published piece, though it is discouraged. If such an applicant is not admitted, then, as above, I give some brief feedback on the piece, even though it's been published and the author is probably not interested in revising it. My hope is that the feedback may reveal elements that could be strengthened in the author's other works. If the applicant is admitted, then I need him to immediately send another piece that I can critique in place of the application story, so he isn't "wasting" that critique slot on a story that has already reached its final form. This requires more reading on my part, which is why I discourage it. But if you feel that a published piece best represents the current state of your skills, send it in. It is probably the right piece to send with your application, and doing so will not hurt your chances of admission.

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What qualities are you looking for in the application writing sample?

I look for a number of different qualities in the writing samples submitted with the Odyssey applications. The one I value most is originality--the sense that the author is trying to say something that only he can say, and he's trying to say it in his own unique way. I also look for evidence of strong stylistic skills--clear and compelling sentences, vivid sensory details, a powerful, consistent voice, proper grammar and punctuation, and strong word choice. And, of course, I look for strong story elements--a vivid setting, a clear and consistent point of view, a believable character with a goal and an internal conflict, and a well-structured plot that builds through a causal chain to a climax.

Most applicants who are accepted have one element that really stands out as exceptional, while the other elements may have flaws but do show the skill level necessary. It's important for a writer to be at a fairly advanced level before coming to Odyssey, so he can keep up and profit the most from what the workshop has to offer.

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