There were three things I noticed immediately about the Odyssey Writing Workshop class of 2015; we weren’t short on creativity, odd careers, or punctuality.
We had stories about superpower-granting rectal worms, unicorn horn-dealing mafias and the ninjas that dismantled them, magical drag queen makeup kits, Rottweilers made of carbon dioxide, and Thundermonk and the Mantle of Uncertainty. We boasted among us a Ph.D. and a Ph.D. candidate, a freelance special effects artist/impressionist, an IT project manager/business analyst, an award-winning author/playwright, a political analyst for the State Department, a former driver for Google Maps, an actuary, and a video game writer. And with the exception of two trips to the emergency room, the majority of Odyssey 2015 arrived fifteen minutes before class started, and those that came “late” were still five minutes early.
To me, that says a lot about the caliber of people at the workshop, but also about their priorities: the writers who came to Odyssey 2015 came to learn, to get better, and to work hard.
We were led by Director and Primary Instructor Jeanne Cavelos, Resident Supervisor Olivia Do, and a host of wonderful guest lecturers into the depths of technique, craft, and our selves; we learned to lean on each other for support, for laughter, for whiskey-fueled debates about the genres we loved, and for dance parties and karaoke to bring us together—and for the criticism that helped push us to grow in new and uncomfortable ways. We were challenged constantly to become better, and we pushed ourselves beyond our limits.
I got to know these fourteen other writers—Erin, Chloie, Golden, Anami, Mike, Steve, Elise, Bridget, Cara, Jon, Ian, Greg, Starr, and Learned— over the course of our six-week-long personal Odyssey. Each of them brought their own unique perspectives, habits (Learned’s cereal boxes in class), ambitions, witty t-shirts (Erin’s were always on point), and in the case of Steve, awesome grilling skills for our weekly cookouts. We bonded over inside jokes (“Let me read that back to you…,” “How long is a crocodile’s tail?”, writing all the werewolf stories, space jellyfish erotica, Starr R.R.) and questions about proper jellyfish cage size, as well as Jeanne’s weekly cookout challenges.
In these kind, funny, humble, caring writers, I found kindred spirits who spoke my hidden language, who shared my fears and joys, and all of them surprised me daily with their growth. Over the weeks, we became friends, and then, a tribe of word warriors on our journey of discovery.
But we were also there for each other when we needed to be, with kind words and support after a harsh critique—or after a “dark night of the soul.” We were there cheering at first public readings, crashing Readercon parties together, and finding ourselves collectively exhausted at graduation—tired, but ready for the next challenge of incorporating what we’d learned into practice, and staying on top of our writing habits.
There are skills and knowledge we’ll take away from Odyssey; as Kij Johnson said, we’re schooled in a trade now. We’ve learned the craft that supplements our knowledge, either self-taught or instructed, and we take that into our writing. We set goals, we make our pacts for deep practice, and we’ll keep pushing forward towards our goal of 100 rejections each.
But, above all, we’re changed by the journey, and not only in the visible ways. We walk away more confident, more capable writers, and strengthened by our new tribe. With the workshop itself finished, we’ve reached the end of one journey, and the start of a new one, where we go into the world and tell the great stories we know we’re capable of. We couldn’t have done it without Jeanne, Olivia, and the guest instructors; we’re proud to call ourselves Jeanne’s torture victims. (Err, students.)
We’re especially proud of Jeanne for her World Fantasy Award nomination; her hard work and dedication to Odyssey showed with every massive and insightful critique she gave us (along with all of the alternate plot ideas!). She pours her heart into Odyssey, and nobody would be more deserving of such recognition. Jeanne inspired us to do better, and helped us cultivate the growth mindset in ourselves to keep improving, and to keep growing.
Make no mistake, Odyssey is difficult. Any great journey will be. But you won’t be making it alone. And when you’re ready to set sail and take your writing to the next level, Odyssey will be waiting.