On Characterization, and Other Excerpts from Odyssey Workshops

posted in: interviews, Odyssey, writing 0

Odyssey Workshops Logo

Odyssey Writing Workshop is a long-running, intensive, hands-on training camp for folks just learning to be science fiction and fantasy writers—one of the most demanding and most rewarding in the business. On a couple of occasions in the past, I have been privileged to be a guest speaker at Odyssey, and on one of those occasions, I spoke on the subject of creating believable and interesting characters. I don’t really remember what I said, but I must have hit something right, because the folks at Odyssey have just put up an excerpt as the latest in their podcast series featuring guest authors.

You can listen to it right here, or here. It’s also on iTunes, I’m told.

Better still, especially if you’re interested in the craft of writing, browse the whole Odyssey Podcast home page for the many fascinating topics, by a whole host of authors. Some of them also talk about characterization. In fact, I just found one such by my friend Craig Shaw Gardner.

Lots of good advice to be found there.

Plot Devices (…vices…vices)

Is there an echo in here? I wonder how many stories have used this device:

Any reader of The Hobbit remembers this. In their quest for the Arkenstone, the dwarves and one hobbit make use of the prediction that on Durin’s Day, the last light of the setting sun will shine directly upon a keyhole enabling entry to a secret passage into the mountain.

In The Raiders of the Lost Ark, Indiana Jones makes use of ancient instructions to find the location of the Well of Souls, where the Ark is kept hidden. The light of the rising sun, passing through the headpiece of the properly positioned Staff of Ra, shines directly onto the location of the Well of Souls in the fabled Map Room.

In the 1959 movie Journey to the Center of the Earth (which I started watching while feeling under the weather today), the location of the passage leading into the Earth is revealed when the sun shines through an opening in a nearby peak, directly onto the mouth of the passage. (In the Verne original, I believe, the mechanism is similar, but less cinematic.)

Reuse of plot devices is a time-honored tradition among storytellers, of course. How many other stories have used this device? If you can think of examples, list them here in the comments!

Writers of the Future Podcast: Science to Science Fiction

posted in: podcasts, writing 0

Things have been a little quiet on the podcast front, but I recently participated in a good one: “Science to Science Fiction: Jeffrey A. Carver, Edward M. Lerner, Alan Smale, Edward Willett” which is part of the “Writers & Illustrators of the Future Podcast” series. I joined my colleagues listed above, in a discussion of writing, hosted by John Goodwin. Unlike many podcast hosts, John actually reads the work of the people he is hosting. Thumbs up on that one!

The discussion among the five of us was lively and, I thought, interesting. And, I hope, helpful for new or aspiring writers.

Here’s a video teaser:

You can listen to the whole thing on Soundcloud:

Not Alone

posted in: writing 0

For the last little while (like, since before the pandemic), the writing hasn’t been going so well. There are probably a bunch of reasons for that, some of which I might elaborate on someday (but not today). All I want to say today is that it’s nice to note once in a while that I’m not alone.

John Steinbeck was a pretty well-known writer-fella. Won a Nobel, I believe. He wrote in his diary, “I’m not a writer. I’ve been fooling myself and other people. I wish I were.” Yeah. What John said.

On the other hand, one of my favorite nonfiction writers is John McFee. Great writer. He once said, “If you lack confidence in setting one word after another and sense that you are stuck in a place from which you will never be set free, if you feel sure that you will never make it and were not cut out to do this, if your prose seems stillborn and you completely lack confidence, you must be a writer.”

There. I feel better now.


A Haiku for Difficult Times

posted in: creativity, haiku, writing 1

When the leader of a small group I am in suggested that we each write a haiku about our relationship with creativity, I had to look up what the pattern is for a haiku. (I am not a poet.) I stared for a while at the screen, muttering. Because, frankly, my relationship with creativity has been highly contentious of late, a lot of circling and snarling. Here’s what I settled on:


I chip at granite
Hoping to spark ideas
Ow ow ow—what’s this?


Happy Thanksgiving, everyone!

Quiet Inspirations

posted in: essays, writing 0

This slipped by me when I was busy celebrating my 35th wedding anniversary (yay!) a couple of weeks ago…

It’s an essay I wrote for Readers Entertainment Magazine, called “The Quiet Inspiration for Writing.” Here’s a small snippet:

“No writer works in true isolation. Every conversation a writer has, every book she reads, every job he has ever held, every movie they watch, everyone they’ve fallen in love with, is fodder for the creative process. And most writers, I think, would acknowledge some special influences in their lives, people who touched them early on, encouraging them or maybe trying to discourage them. In my own early life, there were many… [read more]”

You can read the whole thing at https://readersentertainment.com/2021/09/07/the-quiet-inspiration-for-writing-by-jeffrey-a-carver/.


Drop in on “Pen for Hire”

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I had an entertaining chat with Pen for Hire host Matthew Harms not long ago, and he’s posted it on YouTube so that you, too, can be entertained. (Well, I hope you’re entertained. If you’re not, I guarantee your ticket price back.) You can see it here:

Or, if that doesn’t work for you, here: https://youtu.be/6SyXPmqqtq8


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Interview on Writers Corner Live!

posted in: interviews, writing 0

In more upbeat news, I recently was featured on a talk show called Writers Corner Live with Bridgetti Lim Banda and Mary Elizabeth Jackson. They run a very polished operation and were great, welcoming hosts. I had a lot of fun talking to them. You can view it right here, or visit the Writers Corner Live page on Facebook.

Here’s the YouTube link to the interview if it’s not displaying properly for you.

Further Notes from the Creative Front

Retreat, Day 4. I’m feeling a bit more like my old self, don’t cha know. And I have, in fact, figured out a couple of important key points about the new story that had been eluding me. Which I think will help make it a story worth telling. I think.

Here are a few more pix. Yesterday, I biked the 6.5 miles to this railroad lift bridge, which was great. Then I biked back, into a stiff wind, which just about put me 6 feet under.

Today, I repeated the trip, except I drove to a park only 1.5 miles from the bridge, and rollerbladed the rest of the way. And then bladed back (into the wind, of course), which just about kilt me.

Cape Cod Railroad Bridge

I must either stop doing this or get into better shape. I rewarded myself with a gentle stroll along the Sandwich board walk down to the bay. After first passing this sign.

Okay, here I am at the actual shore.

I have to admit, I feel a little guilty enjoying myself like this, knowing what folks out west are going through. Oh well, tomorrow I head home!

In the Creativity War, Sometimes You Need to Retreat

Even before the pandemic hit, I was having trouble getting traction on the new book. Lots of notes, more than a few false starts. Feeling like a blind badger trying to find its way through unfamiliar territory. Since we entered Covid-world, it’s only gotten worse. I’m sure you all have your own reasons why it’s hard to get things done these days. Add to that a degree of discouragement over how hard it’s been to get Reefs / Crucible of Time noticed within the SF readership, and the result has been a creative malaise that I’ve found very difficult to shake.

Allysen to the rescue. The moment certain outside stressors let up enough to allow it to happen, she seized the proverbial bull by the you-know-whats and made the call to get me a retreat-spot on Cape Cod. Sending me kicking and screaming, that sort of thing.

And now I’m here in Sandwich, near the sea, land of great bicycling and even greater seafood. I’m loving it. Her instructions were explicit: “If you can write, that’s great. But you are not going there to get writing done. You are going there to shed all this and find yourself again. You are going to rediscover what it means to you to write a book, and why you want to do it.”

So, here I am. Too soon to be sure, but from preliminary signs, I think it might be working. (And I did write a bit last night.)

Here are some pix from the motel and the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.

CapeCodCanalside bike trail sundown
Sunset over the Cape Cod Canal bike trail.


Coast Guard, heading out toward Cape Cod Bay. I’d like to have one of those boats, tough and seaworthy. I wouldn’t paint it gray, though.


Duck-mascots at the motel.
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