Sculpting with Words: My Odyssey Experience

 

Elaine Isaak

 

The Odyssey workshop, and its fearless leader, Jeanne Cavelos, shaped and guided me in areas from the practical to the near-spiritual. In fact, the first two stories I ever sold would not have been written without Odyssey!

 

Certainly, it was wonderful to have my work under the eye of professional writers, as well as my fellow classmates, but it was always Jeanne's comments I returned to. She has an eye for identifying the author's intent and the heart of the work, and offering useful advice about to how to craft the work to be nearer to the dream. After Odyssey, I re-worked the opening of my novel based on the critiques I received in class. Without those insights, I would not now be anticipating the book's publication next year. I also learned that there are times to kill your babies and sculpt the story into a whole new form—and other times when you fear that you're failing, and the enthusiasm of a fellow student's praise gives you the strength to keep on trying.

 

Something I initially rebelled against was Jeanne's suggestion that we write short stories during the workshop rather than working on novels. She maintained that the short form gives the writer a shorter learning curve for the various aspects of well-written fiction. Well, my hard-drive crashed early on, trapping my nascent novel, and leading me to pick up some of those ideas stimulated by the Odyssey exercises and massage them into stories. That approach enabled me to examine the potential of ideas and the applications of the techniques we discussed without committing to book-length work. The structure of the workshop and Jeanne's teaching methods provide a lasting foundation for self-aware writing, the basis for weaving together all the threads of technique to form the luminous web of a story.

 

One of the most valuable aspects of the Odyssey experience continues to be the upwelling of support for the growing writer. I have a posse I can count on in my fellow graduates—whether for crash-space, honest criticism, a kick in the pants, or a rousing "Woo-hoo!" The community spirit reaches out through e-mail and encounters at distant conventions to reassure me that I am not alone.

 

My short fiction has appeared in several small magazines, like Kinships and Glyph, and I have a novella on-line at ElysianFiction.com. My first novel, The Singer's Crown, part of a two-book deal, will be published by HarperCollins in fall 2005. (www.ElaineIsaak.com)

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