Odyssey: A Never-Ending Experience
I’d written a novel. I’d gotten an agent. I thought I was set. Unfortunately, every editor who read that first novel passed on it. “Too much fantasy to sell as a romance.” “Too much romance to sell as a fantasy.” And the blunt “Not for us” scrawled on a Post-It note.
I started one book after another. Abandoned each. Got depressed.
That’s when Odyssey entered my life in the form of a shocking pink flyer that stood out among the white and beige envelopes cluttering my mailbox. Christopher Vogler would describe this as “the call to adventure.” Robert McKee would term it “the inciting incident.” Jeanne Cavelos would remind me that all of the above is a prologue and those are usually unnecessary.
Five weeks later, I was off to New Hampshire and an experience that changed my life. (Jeanne would also remind me to avoid clichés.)
Odyssey immersed us in all aspects of writing as an art and as a business–from basic grammar to story construction to marketing our work. It introduced me to Jeanne, who shared her unique perspective as a writer and editor. It created a supportive environment that encouraged us to experiment and learn from each other. It brought in established writers to teach seminars, review our work and talk to us about the business. It fostered lasting friendships. And it offered an opportunity–The Never-Ending Odyssey (TNEO)–to return each year for one week of thoughtful critiques, panel discussions, and late-night marathons on the state of publishing, genre and life (not necessarily in that order).
I went to Odyssey with eight chapters of my latest novel. I knew that the story would be loosely based on the myth of the Oak King and Holly King whose twice-yearly battle determined the turning of the year. I knew that I was starting with the premise “What would happen if the battle was interrupted and the seasons didn’t turn?” I had a good grasp on my characters and I’d written some snappy scenes for the Trickster-God. I was just a little vague on some of the other details. Like plot.
Jeanne, God love her, did her best to make sense of my ramblings during our story conferences. I left New Hampshire with a lot of paper to recycle, but also with a new set of skills and enough confidence in myself to overcome the terror of starting over.
It took me more than a year to complete the new version of the novel. And then I started rewriting. Again. That was another thing Odyssey taught me. Rewriting is more than augmenting this descriptive passage or punching up that exchange of dialogue. In her essay, Carrie Vaughn describes it as “dismantling” and “reassembling.” In my case it was more like slashing and burning. But I now had the tools to analyze pacing, world-building, characterization (and my old pal – plot). With the help of the Odfellows at TNEO, I ultimately transformed my wandering fantasy of 180,000 words into a 100,000-word novel I was ready to show my agent.
Heartwood was published by DAW in May of 2005.