Odyssey Writers Workshop
When I was accepted into the Odyssey Writers Workshop, I expected that I would be in for the most meaningful experience, to date, in my quest to become a fiction writer. I applied for advance admission and got in early, which was a great help as it gave me time to read a work or two by every guest author who was going to be there that summer. (I recommend that, by the way.)So, could I survive it? I’m a slow writer, but it wasn’t the writing that worried me as much as the physical demands. I’m seventy. I went through every Odyssey class picture to see if there was anybody else as old as I. I’d heard that participants got only six hours of sleep at night, sometimes less (which proved to be true). I even slipped into Manchester a day early and spent the night in a hotel so I could start without being sleep deprived. Later, I found out that that wasn’t such an unusual thing to do.
I arrived on the appointed day to find Odyssey administrator, Susan Sielinski, waiting for us in one of the two comfortable houses where we had suites.
How about the rooms? I had a single. (Old men have to get up in the night.) Two other guys, Jim Breyfogle and Andrew Cooper, shared the other bedroom which joined into a big living room and great kitchen. I was delighted with both my suite mates.
So what were the classes like? I can’t say enough good about them. Jeanne Cavelos took us through an ordered march of the elements of writing. It was almost like six weeks of private tutoring. She had critiqued three of our stories before we got there and in our first private session outlined our strengths and weaknesses and assigned us specific areas to work on. She kept track of us throughout the workshop and gave us a mid-stream critique and a final evaluation at the end.
In general, the daily schedule was two hours of lecture, short break, and then two hours of critiques. Everyone critiqued and was critiqued, multiple times. I can’t say enough good about the critiquing sessions. The strategy was this: Jeanne lectured on techniques of writing. You then got to use those techniques in evaluating the works of your peers. If it was in an area where you were having trouble, yourself, you were expected to work in this area in your own stories. In short, you heard about a technique, you evaluated works in light of that technique, you wrote using that technique and you were there long enough to assimilate that technique. I can’t imagine a better way to learn. Now, some people say that the benefits of Odyssey take a long time to assimilate, in some cases years, but in my case, I came out of Odyssey rarin’ to go. I wrote a piece of flash fiction the first day I got back to Texas.
During the typical day, we had very little time to indulge ourselves in computer games, blogging, or whatever. For myself, I had to spend at least eight hours, on weekdays, reading, writing up my critiques, and writing the next story of mine to be critiqued.Here it is, ye old classroom. I sat in the back on the right. Not because I was shy, but because I wore a hat. I figured I didn’t want to block anybody’s view. We always arranged the chairs in a circle for the critiques.
I won’t give any details about the classes, but it was made very clear that this was a safe place to be honest, to try, even to fail. Jeanne kept an even hand, throughout. There was no favoritism. There were no crucifixions. The critiques were individual efforts, and there was no ganging up on one another. Of course, there was a little nit or two (six weeks with seventeen throbbing egos), but those classes and those critique session were ideal places to learn. We also had terrific guest writers and editors, and we got some one-on-one critiques with them, too.
So what about fun? Six weeks with our noses to the grindstone? We did have fun. We had picnics; we had dinners, but no cocktail parties. I know some of the veterans of other workshops will drop their teeth at that. We had well-known guests, one in residence for an entire week. There were lots of conversations, lots of interesting stories, but no cocktail parties……
I mentioned at the beginning that I was afraid about being able physically to “make it.” To lay that issue to rest, I thrived. True, I didn’t get enough sleep, but I could hardly wait to get up in the morning. I was careful to eat right, and get a bit of exercise, mostly walking. The St. Anselm campus is beautiful and has all sorts of interesting nooks and crannies.
So, here we are, the graduating class of Odyssey 2010!
Front row: Susan Sielinski, Angela Graci, Lorraine Heisler, Nancy Madrid, Mary Ann Marcinkiewicz, Eileen Wiedbrauk
Second row: Carrie Mackey, Meg Pontecorvo, Laura Anne Gilman, Jeanne Cavelos, Nivair Gabriel, Erik Bundy
Third row: Andrew Cooper, Matt Kimmel, Gerald Warfield, Meira Marom
Back row: Terry Woodward, Jim Breyfogle, Zoe Zygmunt
Very back row: St. Anselm himself