My 10 Year Writing Odyssey

Even though I wrote my first short story in the third grade, my journey as a writer actually started 10 years ago. I was a 24-year-old recent college graduate who had majored in English and minored in journalism, but I had no idea what the word “genre” meant.

I had spent the last two years writing four novels about a vampire slayer working in New York City, and it was my good friend Shara (and our fearless editor-in-chic) who told me my genre was urban fantasy. Urban what?? Looking back, I was pretty clueless. I was a writer, but I never planned to actually send out my stories to get published. I had never done any research on markets or editors or agents. I was a kid writing about vampires in the comfort of my own room, but I loved these stories and characters so much I wanted to share them with others. But where could I start? How could I make them better? How could I revise and edit? How could I send it to agents and editors? After all, I had just learned what the word “genre” meant.

It was the spring of 2006. The previous summer Shara had attended the Odyssey Writing Workshop, a six week program located on the Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. After learning more about the workshop from Shara, I decided to send in my application for early admission — and I GOT IN! I was super excited and also super nervous. At the time, I had just been hired as a staff writer for a weekly newspaper (my first “real” job since graduating). Would they let me take off for six weeks in the summer? Plus, my aunt was getting married in June right in the middle of the workshop and I was a bridesmaid. At first, it looked like the odds were not in my favor, but thankfully, my boss approved my time off and after speaking to Jeanne, the director of Odyssey, I got the OK to leave for the weekend to attend my aunt’s wedding.

Late night writing session at Odyssey (Photo by Adria Laycraft)

Late night writing session at Odyssey (Photo by Adria Laycraft)

As I said, I had written four novels in a short amount of time. For someone who had never written anything more than 10,000 words before, to write books with the word counts between 50,000 and 80,000 was an astonishing feat. It showed me I had the discipline and passion, but once I got to Odyssey, it taught me I had so much more to learn — like how I had to trash my four novels and start over! I changed the setting; I removed the vampires! That really shook me, but it was more like a reality check. I had to get my head out of the cliches and be more original, and I knew I could do it.

After attending Odyssey, I was motivated to apply to grad school again (after being rejected from schools a few years earlier). Once again, following in the footsteps of Shara, I completed my MA in Writing Popular Fiction from Seton Hill University in Greensburg, Pennsylvania in June 2009. And yes, I trashed the novel rewrite I completed after Odyssey to once again to focus on another draft of my novel (at this point those four novels were now combined into one book). I really learned the meaning behind True writing is rewriting. I graduated with a market-ready novel that I was able to send to agents and publishers. Although I haven’t sold it yet, I have had partial and full requests for pages, so there is interest; I just haven’t found the right home for it.

With my two mentors (Anne Harris and Mike Arnzen) at my SHU graduation ceremony.

With my two mentors (Anne Harris and Mike Arnzen) at my SHU graduation ceremony.

Both Odyssey and Seton Hill taught me about the world of publishing and that there were markets for genre writers. After Odyssey, I also sold my first short story. Yes, someone actually wanted to publish my story in a book AND pay me! Let me tell you, I was so excited about that check for — I think — $10, haha!

Aside from the business side of writing, in these last 10 years, I’ve written in other genres like romance, sci-fi, horror, and fantasy. If you majored in English in college, you know being a genre writer is not taken seriously, but Odyssey and Seton Hill taught me there is a community out there. We can write about dragons, zombies, space ships, and not be mocked for it! Genre is not a dirty word — and if you want to write it, go for it!

A collection of all the books I've been published in over these last 10 years.

A collection of all the books I’ve been published in over these last 10 years.

After spending more than five years working on the novel (and all the rewrites), I focused a lot more on short stories. They tended to lean more toward dark fantasy/horror and supernatural. I sold a couple more stories (and again, this is something I never would have thought to do or even research 10 years ago). I learned that submitting was a big part of the job, and how to submit again and again despite all the rejections, to never give up on a story. One story was rejected eight times before someone finally bought it. It shows you the power of persistence, that if you believe in your story, you will find a home for it. That’s what I love about the genre market. There are so many publishing opportunities out there, both print and digital, and various anthologies are always seeking stories on all sorts of themes. One of my favorite stories I ever wrote was selected for an anthology that had to include the themes of “90 minutes to live” and “a lock of hair.” You really do get inspired! And below is a video I captured of me opening up that book for the first time! It was also my first sale for a print publication, so it was pretty awesome to see my name and story in print.

 

Ten years ago, I didn’t know what genre meant. I didn’t know I wrote urban fantasy. I didn’t know there were workshops and graduate schools focused on genre fiction. I didn’t know there were so many genre markets out there. I didn’t know there was a community for genre writers and genre readers.

But I do now, and I’m so grateful. I fully embrace being a fan of genre fiction and most importantly, being a genre writer!

Odyssey turned 20 this year, and since I graduated, Seton Hill became a MFA program. It doesn’t matter if you were as clueless as I was or if you’re a New York Times bestseller, I encourage you to send in your applications to either program! And let me know in 10 years how you’ve grown as a genre writer!

 

4 Comments

  • Abby Goldsmith August 18, 2016 at 6:40 pm

    Sweet, Nu! Odyssey was 10+ years ago for me, and I think I was also 24 years old when I went through it. What an eye-opening and awesome workshop.

    Reply
  • Shara White August 18, 2016 at 8:00 pm

    Weird…. I was also 24 when I attended, and then turned 25 the following October.

    Reply
  • nuyangwriter August 19, 2016 at 12:41 pm

    Haha! And I was considered one of the young ones in my group! I really admired my older classmates, who actually had to sacrifice time away from spouses and kids to attend the workshop!

    Reply
    • Shara White August 20, 2016 at 7:52 am

      I never thought of it at the time, but looking back, I realize how privileged I was to be able to take a six-week chunk out of my life for this workshop. I think being younger and not tied down to a specific job (at the time) definitely helped. I wouldn’t be able to do this today.

      Reply

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