Tuesday, February 21, 2012

Your First Doctor Moment

I had this friend in college, and he and I were inseparable, like Han and Chewie. Whenever one of us would do something, the other would follow, which was how I got roped into attending a private house party he’d heard about from a flyer that someone had given him.

I questioned both the entertainment value in a room full of strangers and also the safety of such a thing. But he really wanted to go, and so we did. We arrived at this house and discovered that several professors from our school’s biology department were there, and also the teacher’s aid for our natural sciences professor that semester, Dr. T. We made light, awkward conversation with these professors, who seemed a little needled about us undergrads invading their space (we were early; there was no one else there to talk to) until one of us asked “is Dr. T coming?” And one of them said “I should hope so; this is his house.”

Yes, we had accidentally gotten an invite to our professor’s party. He and his partner had just had the entire house spongepainted by hand and were hosting a gathering to christen it.

His house was lovely–colorful, sparsely and tastefully decorated–and he gave us the tour. I wandered into an upstairs office space to look at something, a desk, I don’t know. I thought the room was pretty bare and unfinished, and then I turned around to exit. On the wall beside the door, corner to corner, floor to ceiling, in perfect order, were shelves containing books. Identical in size and shape. Lovingly arranged. Hundreds of books, at least. Maybe over a thousand.

Each and every single goddamn one of them was a Doctor Who novel.

This was years before the current show got popular, and my only impression of Doctor Who at that point was of a British science fiction character with a big scarf. But I was transfixed on this collection. Even if I didn’t know a thing about Doctor Who back then, I was still an English major, and a dedicated library was something to appreciate.

Dr. T soon found me, still mesmerized. When we spoke, it was quietly, in shared reverence of his hoard, as though we dared not disturb the books.

“I’ve been collecting them for years,” he said.

“Have you read them all?”

“I’ve read about ninety-five percent of them,” he said, completely candid; “they’re terrible.”

This is one of the weirdest memories I carry. Since I was in the middle of a marathon sprint streaming Doctor Who episodes before I cut the TV cord, it’s been on my mind.

Saturday, February 11, 2012

Odyssey Writing Workshop 2012

If you are a writer of science fiction, fantasy, or horror, and are considering a workshop to devote time to your writing, you should apply to Odyssey. It's a six-week summer workshop in New Hampshire.

I can't recommend it highly enough, speaking as a graduate. Not only do you get six whole weeks to devote to learning about, practicing, and developing your craft, but you learn how to recognize your strengths, how to address your weaknesses, and how to critique with a scalpel-sharp eye. You also--this is the best part--meet other writers and make new friends who share the same passion as you.

The deadline for this year's applications is April 7th.

Here is the press release with all relevant info:


About Odyssey

Since its founding in 1996, Odyssey has become one of the most respected workshops in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing community. Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. The six-week workshop combines advanced lectures, exercises, extensive writing, and in-depth feedback on student manuscripts. Top authors, editors, and agents have served as guest lecturers, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Robert J. Sawyer, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff VanderMeer, Donald Maass, Sheila Williams, Shawna McCarthy, Carrie Vaughn, and Dan Simmons. Fifty-six percent of Odyssey graduates go on to professional publication.

The program is held every summer on Saint Anselm College's beautiful campus in Manchester, NH. Saint Anselm is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, dedicated to excellence in education, and its campus provides a peaceful setting and state-of-the-art facilities for Odyssey students. College credit is available upon request.

Jeanne Cavelos, Odyssey's director and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work. As an editor, Cavelos gained a reputation for discovering and nurturing new writers. She provides students with detailed, concrete, constructive critiques of their work. Cavelos said, "I've worked with many different writers, and I know that each writer thinks and works differently. We limit attendance at Odyssey to sixteen, so I can become deeply familiar with the work of each student and provide assessments of strengths and weaknesses. I work individually with each student, helping each one to find the best writing process for him, suggesting specific tools to target weaknesses, and charting progress over the six weeks," Cavelos said. Her typewritten critiques average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive.

Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures. An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth. While feedback reveals the weaknesses in students' manuscripts, lectures teach the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen them.

The workshop runs from June 11 to July 20, 2012. Class meets for four hours in the morning, five days a week. Students spend about eight hours more per day writing and critiquing each other's work. Prospective students, aged eighteen and up, apply from all over the world. The early admission application deadline is JANUARY 31, and the regular admission deadline is APRIL 7. Tuition is $1920, and housing is $790 for a double room in a campus apartment and $1580 for a single room.

Meet Our 2012 Writer-in-Residence

Odyssey's 2012 writer-in-residence, Jeanne Kalogridis, is the New York Times best-selling author of more than thirty books ranging from historical novels to dark fantasy to novelizations. She has written in many different genres, and has even written several nonfiction titles. Her novels are renowned for their detail and evocativeness. Her trilogy The Diaries of the Family Dracul was described as “authentically arresting” by the New York Times and “terrifying” by Robert Bloch, the author of Psycho. Kalogridis is also an amazing teacher and mentor, who has taught at the American University in Washington, D.C.

Other Guest Lecturers

Lecturers for the 2012 workshop include some of the best teachers in the field: acclaimed authors Paul Park, Elaine Isaak, Barbara Ashford, and Craig Shaw Gardner; and top agent Jennifer Jackson.

Odyssey Graduates

Graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop have been published in the top fiction magazines and by the top book publishers in the field. Their stories have appeared in Realms of Fantasy, Analog, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Lightspeed, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Fantasy Magazine. Some of the recent novels published by Odyssey graduates are Kitty’s Big Trouble by Carrie Vaughn, published by Tor Books; Spellcast by Barbara Ashford, published by DAW; Jane and the Raven King by Stephen Chambers, published by Sourcebooks; and Sword of Fire and Sea, by Erin Hoffman, published by Pyr Books.

Martin Larsson, from the class of 2011, had this to say about his Odyssey experience: “The six weeks of Odyssey were a roller-coaster ride of inspiration, inadequacy issues, laughter, tears, learning and despair. Somehow, with Jeanne at the helm, we navigated through all this and came out the other side, forever changed into better writers and better people. I came away from Odyssey with knowledge I didn't know existed and inspiration I've never felt before. Apply. Apply now.”

Comments from the Class of 2011

"I have a bachelor's in Spanish literature, an M.F.A. in writing, and a Ph.D. in linguistics, but nobody has ever taught me about writing the way I've been taught at Odyssey." --Donna Glee Williams

"The Odyssey course is amazing! What a privilege to be able to experience this level of teaching! The incredible amount of progress that each participant made during the course speaks for itself. Fantastic, inspiring teaching in a supportive and encouraging environment!" --K. V. Lavers

Other Odyssey Resources and Services

The Odyssey Web site, www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including online classes, a critique service, free podcasts, writing and publishing tips, and a monthly LiveJournal, as well as more information about how to apply. Those interested in applying to the workshop should visit the Web site, phone (603) 673-6234, or e-mail jcavelos@sff.net.

Wednesday, February 8, 2012


I have this lofty dream of being a baker. Not professionally, just . . . able to bake. So far, all I've managed are some muffins. And pizza dough, if that counts. With a pizza on top of it.

There's a lot for me to learn.

Simple lessons came early. One of my muffin recipes said "mix all together in one bowl," so I added all sorts of ingredients from the list into the same bowl--wet and dry. The batter came out clumpy and was ridiculously hard to mix. And it's not like I haven't witnessed the "wet bowl vs. dry bowl" wisdom from watching cookies being made, so, no excuse. Except that the recipe skipped this instruction and I didn't have cause to think about it. Now I know. Separate wet and dry bowls.

I've recently come into possession of a stand mixer and I'm really itching to start baking with a vengeance. And I know where I want to start: bread.

Now I'm reading on the internet about different flours and the gluten content of each (mine is not a gluten-restrictive kitchen, but I do want the different types of food to come out tasting like they should). For instance: bread flour? Who knew?

There's this whole science to baking--and cooking in general--that fascinates me. I still think it's magic that adding salt to cookie batter is necessary to make them sweeter. Put ginger root in tea? Holy crap! So the chemistry of various flours and yeasts is proving to be a little overwhelming.

And since yeast is "living culture" I have of course been trying to make friends with it when I proof it. Hope you're ready to bake today, yeast. Time for your warm bath, yeast. Open wide, here's your sugar. I know it's your favorite. Now foam, you yeasty bastards, foam!

And then whenever it does, I lift my fists to the sky and shout that it lives.

Baking is fun!

The Year of No TV

On January 1st I did what has been heretofore impossible for me and I shut down the television. I'm way too addicted to it and it's time to see if I can cut (or unplug) the cord.

I only have one TV in the house, and I don't get cable channels. But I have a Netflix subscription and a lot of movies on disc and it got to the point where that was eating up a lot of free time. Netflix streaming is addictive! Why watch one episode of Dr. Who when I can plow through five? How fast can I get through a season of Damages? What documentaries are new this month? If each Parks and Rec episode is only 22 minutes without commercials, surely I can get through three in an hour compared to two on broadcast.

It was getting out of hand. I was neglecting my reading, I was neglecting my writing, and was getting generally squishy. If I wanted to stop backsliding on actual creative stuff, I needed a change.

So, riding fresh on the tail of some other self improvement successes, I unplugged the TV and cancelled Netflix.


-No DVDs, streaming content, or broadcast television in the house.

-No internet bypasses for shows, such as Hulu or network sites.

-Outings to movie theaters are okay.

-Going to someone else's house for the purpose of social viewing (like movie night, or the Superbowl) is okay. (Looks like we're hosting a Superbowl party anyway.)

-Exceptions are made for coverage of a major news story or the presidential election.


-No TV? Dang it!

-Really, watching television is stress relief for me. I already had my resolve tested; three weeks ago my car, on the verge of many fatal ailments that had been anticipated in February, got worse and died. So while I had an inkling that I was going to replace it, all of a sudden I found myself scrambling to get the car loan stuff and the insurance stuff and that "find a car" thing done. I am a worrier by nature, and if ever there was a week where I just wanted to turn off the worry switch in my brain, it was that week. I settled down to read a book and kept drifting to worries about the car, when some TV would have definitely helped. Not fun, but I'm on the other side of it.

-I'll have to listen to radio when football starts back up next season.

-Any traditions (like our Christmas movie, The Family Stone) will be shelved this year.

THE (vaguely defined) GOALS:

-Read more, off-internet.

-Write more.

-Draw more.

-Blog more. (hey!)

So... we're a month in. I haven't cracked yet.