Robert J. Sawyer

Hugo and Nebula Award-Winning Science Fiction Writer

Odyssey Workshop

by Rob - July 15th, 2006.
Filed under: Uncategorized.

Jeanne Cavelos, Rob Sawyer

Jeanne Cavelos runs Odyssey, the famed six-week-long science-fiction and fantasy writing workshop held in New Hampshire each summer. Back in October 2005, she asked me to be “Special Writer-in-Residence” at Odyssey 2006.

Odyssey and the three Clarion workshops are the best known long-term SF-writing workshops, and they’re often referred to as boot camps for new writers. The Clarion workshops have a different writer or editor in residence for each of the six weeks of the workshop. Odyssey takes another approach: Jeanne Cavelos — World Fantasy Award-winning former editor for Dell Books — teaches for all six weeks of her workshop. For five of the weeks, there’s a guest lecturer for one day, and in the fifth week of the workshop, she has her Special Writer-in-Residence on hand for the entire week.

Jeanne is ably assisted at Odyssey by administrator (and Odyssey grad — they’re called “Od Fellows”) Susan Sielinski. I’ve done a lot of teaching over the years, but this was a new experience for me. In all my previous teaching, the students and I all met each other for the first time the day I arrived; at Odyssey, these people had been working together for a solid month before I got there. And it showed, too: instead of having to spend time on beginner’s errors, I was able to concentrate in my critiques on big structural and thematic issues.

In total, Odyssey had sixteen students this year, and some were quite experienced: one was already an active member of SFWA, another had co-written an episode of NYPD Blue, a third had published children’s books, and one more had completed a creative-writing degree. Others, such as my friend Adria Laycraft from Calgary’s Imaginative Fiction Writers Association, were long-term members of successful writers’ groups, and one had previously done Clarion.

My job entailed giving five one-hour lectures (one each morning, starting bright and early at 9:00 a.m.); participating in round-table critiquing of one story or chapter by each of the 16 students (I gave the final critique for each; in the course of the week, 272 critiques were presented, including the ones by Jeanne and me); and having a private one-on-one meeting with each student.

The venue — a small Catholic college named Saint Anselm College — was gorgeous, and mostly deserted. The apartments, in big old houses, were charming and pleasant (although hot!), and the campus staff couldn’t have been more helpful and accommodating. On Monday night a group of us showed up at the dining hall after it had closed for the day — and the chef insisted on reopening for us, putting out soup, a salad bar, and cooking us all delicious ham steaks and mashed potatoes. I commented about how hospitable they were being, and the cashier said, “Of course — we’re Benedictines; being hospitable is one of our pledges.”

I really enjoyed working with the students (two from Canada, one from the UK, and 13 from all over the US). Without exception, every single one of the students wrote well, critiqued insightfully, and took criticism professionally. They are all names you’ll be seeing in bookstores and magazines soon:

  • Ellen Denham
  • Terry Edge
  • Rhiannon Held
  • Dave Hendrickson
  • Elizabeth Hirst
  • Larry Hodges
  • Lance Kind
  • Clayton Kroh
  • Adria Laycraft
  • Eric Newman
  • Jeffrey Pert
  • Deborah Sacks
  • Russell Scarola
  • Calie Voorhis
  • Victoria (Tori) Witt
  • Nu Yang

I had a fabulous time at Odyssey, and was stunned by how fast the week flew by. My profound thanks to Jeanne for inviting me to participate; it’s an experience I’ll never forget.

4th row: Dave, Tori, Lance, Clay, Eric
3rd row: Calie, Russ, Terry, Jeff
2nd row: Larry, Deborah, Rob, Jeanne, Susan
1st row: Rhiannon, Adria, Liz, Nu, Ellen

(Jeff VanderMeer visited the Odyssey workshop earlier this year. His blog entry on his visit is here.)

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