Odyssey 2000: Experience of a Workshop
By Laurie Lanzdorf
The best part of the year 2000 was my trip to Manchester, New Hampshire for the intense- and I do mean intense- six-week writing workshop, Odyssey. I've never been to a workshop that goes into such thorough study of the elements of fiction and I've been to many workshops given by many well know, at least in literary circles, writers/professors. That we brought science fiction, fantasy, horror or literary didn't matter. One of the stories submitted was an sf romance. More than anything else, what mattered was that we came with great desire and the energy to work hard. If you think you've too little energy, don't worry, Jeanne keeps a supply handy and passes some out every day (along with the homework). When we discussed character, we talked about elves, aliens and humans. Or others. Like a talking pop machine named "Pops." Several days, sometimes the entire week, was spent on one aspect of story setting, plot, character, etc. If you think you know all there is to know about any of the aspects of what makes a good story, what makes good writing, you don't. But you will after Odyssey, or at least you'll come away with a better understanding. We workshopped not only short stories, but parts of novellas and novel chapters. All were accepted, which is just one of the many and great things that makes Odyssey different from the two Clarions. Jeanne Cavelos, the Odyssey director and main instructor, is a wonderful teacher patient, understanding, open, friendly and absolutely not intimidating. She teaches as if she was one of us and shares her knowledge than actually lecturing. Her experience as the senior editor at Dell gave us a different perspective, a good one, than that of someone who is solely a writer. She could tell us what's come across her desk too often (by the way, she hates dream sequences and prologues). She also gave us some detailed and helpful information about the publishing process. Her experience as a writer, too, was as helpful as any of the other writer/teachers I've had. Her weekly guest lecturers and our writer-in-residence, Dan Simmons, gave us a thorough and diverse view of the sf/f field as well as each writer's opinion on all aspects of writing. All the guests were extremely accessible, especially Dan Simmons, who sat with us around the picnic table and chatted about all sorts of writerly and non-writerly things after class. One of the best parts about Odyssey (as is true, I've no doubt, of the two Clarion workshops) was meeting a wonderful group of people. We bonded somewhat the way I imagine prisoners of war might bond (only our six week writing workshop wasn't nearly as intense as that). It's great to have such a gang that I can call lifelong friends, and when they critique my stuff I know their comments are going to be good. We've stayed in contact through e-mail discussion groups not only with the class of 2000, but with a discussion group and critique group that includes all the other Odyssey grads. I feel as if I've been changed dramatically (a good thing) by this experience. I'm excited about where my writing is going. I've goals and a clear idea of where I'm going. I came away from Odyssey feeling like a professional, like a somebody writer, no longer a wanna be. After each six week session, Jeanne also offers a one week workshop for any Odyssey grads wanting a booster shot.
The Accommodations: We were housed in the upperclassmen townhouses, which really weren't that bad even to those of us who've long been away from the style of college living this offers. Jeanne matched us up to house-mates with an uncanny ability to put us with exactly the right person in the group for us. (Or maybe it was her simple questions that guided her. All I know is, man, is she one smart mamma. Skinny, but smart. A little weird- anyone with an iguana who thinks she's his lover has to be weird- but smart).
The Students: Age ranged from college to older (sorry, but we don't disclose figures as in how much older, just suffice it to say the age varied widely). Occupations also varied widely. We had several scientists, naturally, who were there to get all the science right in all the science fiction. But there were those who had no science background, who, for example, wrote musicals and knew squat about science, or the one who'd spent a lifetime with the circus and had great insights into people, or the English grads to help with the technical stuff. All made excellent points about story. Everyone brought a great deal to each discussion. This workshop isn't for anyone who cannot deal with criticism (the good kind) well. It is for anyone who wants to take their writing to the next six levels of good.
The Material and Classwork: Each day Jeanne lectured on some aspect of writing. Discussion and questions were vigorous. Afterwards we workshopped class stories, stories we'd read the night before. Many students brought work they'd already written and many worked on stories there. Everyone did a lot of revision. Occasionally, we escaped the campus and went to a movie or out to eat or to the beach.
Overall: In a word: The best writing experience you'll ever have. In another couple of words: The best writing experience you'll ever have. The last word: The best writing experience you'll ever have.
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