Odyssey: What You Don’t Know (Will Set You Free)
The nature of learning is such that what you don’t know is what’s most dangerous to you. Your nemesis is not something as familiar or easy as that thing you generally understand and have read quite a bit about, or even that thing editors keep telling you you need (though you probably need that, too). The thing that eludes you most is the one you’re not even aware of yet, the thing you haven’t even heard of, but which somehow will unlock all the Great Secrets of Storytelling for you.
This is why the epic journey doesn’t start with the farmer’s son or daughter setting out to do the thing they always meant to do. The narrative intervenes. The narrative has to intervene. This is also why no one can really tell or convince you that you need to go to Odyssey. You either will or you won’t. You’re either the hero or you’re not.
If you are the hero, nothing stops you, and you’ve made your decision already. I can only tell you a bit of what has happened on my journey.
My small farming town or unforgivable fantasy tavern was suburban San Diego, where I kept my SF-reading habits appropriately closeted from polite folk, and marinated privately in the worlds of beloved fantasy authors: Anne McCaffrey, Ursula K. Le Guin, Isaac Asimov, Piers Anthony. Fantasy worlds, people, and creatures compelled me like nothing else, and eventually became second nature. I started a fantasy writing group with online friends when I was fifteen, and sent my silly first short story, set in the world we created, to Marion Zimmer Bradley when I was seventeen. I followed her advice to young writers, and it was always my however-impractical dream to become an author. So when I discovered Odyssey in my mid-twenties I saw it as an avenue to meet other writers and pursue that career. On the writing side, I couldn’t imagine that there would be much more to learn than what I had sought out in writing books and on the internet.
Boy was I wrong! And you’ll hear this over and over about Odyssey. Graduates talk about how much more they learned at Odyssey than at this prestigious college writing course, or that entire MFA program. Jeanne (avenging angel and Faustian devil housed in the same compact body, defying the laws of thermodynamics) packs so much into your time at Odyssey that you’ll still be unpacking it years later. As I look back at 2005, now five and a half years distant, with my first novel coming out from one of the most exciting publishing houses in the field, I know that there are still lessons imparted then that I’ll be meditating on five, ten, or more years from now.
Could you do it alone? Sure, plenty have, and maybe that’s your style. I have an honest-to-Glycon “problem with authority,” but I’m also practical enough to know that there’s safety in numbers. And what brought me to Odyssey at the end of the day was that I cared so damn much about my craft that there was very little I wouldn’t consider in the process of improving it. A hunger to improve and to learn overcame my pride and Nietzschean individualism.
What Odyssey does is show you the door. It doesn’t open it for you, because that’s not how these things work. It is not a be-all cure-all for your crippling plot problems or your wet noodle characters. But it is a beginning, not just of a new phase in your dramatic romance with the ever-elusive Story, but of a journey that will test you, toughen you, replenish you, not just for the time that you’re there but for the long and often lonely months and years later.
Twice in my life I have been phenomenally lucky to have found my tribe. (Yes, I have two tribes. Shut up.) The first time was at the Game Developers Conference, where I knew literally from the first moment that I was among my own. The second time was at Odyssey. For me, these two experiences braid together: I’ve learned things from games and game people that I apply to fiction, and I’ve learned invaluable things about story that I in turn apply to games. They both get to the heart of one of the most important deep taproots in life: how people work. And because Story and Game are about the logic of humanity, you’ll learn as much from your fellow Odysseans as you will from Jeanne. They are your Raid Group, your guild, and this too lasts long beyond the grueling six weeks of the course.
So as you read these essays, searching for answers (or, for some of you, nostalgia 🙂 ), the thing you need to ask yourself is this: are you one of us?
Can you afford not to find out?