Interview With Odyssey Writing Workshop Graduate, Avione Lee

Wednesday, February 22, 2023

If your 2023 writing goal is to take a writing class, you'll love the Odyssey Writing Workshop. It's an intensive online, one-on-one writing workshop customized just for you. 

Since its inception in 1996, the Odyssey Writing Workshop has offered its world-renowned, 6-week workshop, helping writers of fantasy, science fiction, and horror make major improvements in their work. 

Fifty-nine percent of graduates have been professionally published, and among graduates are award winners, Amazon bestsellers, and New York Times bestsellers.

Last year, Odyssey transformed into a breakthrough new program to become both more accessible and more effective. Students taking Your Personal Odyssey receive the inspiring, transformative learning experience Odyssey is known for, but that experience is customized to maximize learning and improvement for each student.

Director Jeanne Cavelos is a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell, bestselling author, and winner of the World Fantasy Award with 35 years of experience guiding writers and helping them make major improvements.

Today I'll be interviewing graduate Avione Lee about her journey through the Odyssey Writing Workshop. Before you read our conversation, here's a bit more about her:

Avione Lee was born and raised in Texas, as indicated by her excessive use of the word y’all. She is a graduate of the summer 2022 Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop, a Madeleine Milburn Fellow, and a Pitch Wars alum. Her debut novel, about a boy who discovers he can turn music into colorful magic, will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2024, and she cannot wait for you to read it.

--- Interview by Nicole Pyles

WOW: First off, congratulations Avione on your publication! It's amazing to read that your book will be published by Simon and Schuster in 2024. What an honor! How did Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop play a part in getting your book published?

Avione: Thank you so much! And thank you for this opportunity to talk a little bit more about it! My book was on sub at the same time that I applied for the Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop, so it did not impact the initial purchase, but it will impact the final product because there are so many wonderful insights that Jeanne gave me during YPOWW that I am definitely implementing in the book!

As a fun fact, I actually got the news about my first offer about one minute before a scheduled zoom chat with Jeanne, which made me about 4-5 minutes late as I read the email and immediately freaked out. Jeanne was so wonderful and celebrated with me on the zoom call (after I apologized for being late!) and was just so nice to talk to about it. She was the first person I told (outside my husband, who heard me flipping out, haha), which will always be a very wonderful memory.

WOW: How awesome is that? I loved reading in your essay about how much knowledge and wisdom is within the Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop program. How did you absorb it all and apply it to your own writing?

Avione: Thank you so much! It is absolutely impossible to explain how much wisdom Your Personal Odyssey provides. I really thought I knew some things about writing, but that was all put into question in the opening 10-15 minutes of the very first class! There are so many new (to me) writing tricks I learned in YPOWW, from dissecting the writing voice of masters to seeing how an author can pull in and out of point of view and many other interesting tidbits and styles that I had no clue about. It was also really wonderful to view the guest author's lessons to get another take on how a successful writer writes -- and let me tell you, they are all different! 

But on top of all that, Jeanne herself is a jewel of the program. She saw so much in so little, and she always caught me when I was trying to cut corners or hide things I didn't really want to explain or even understand. In addition, she saw things that I didn't even see myself! I am still amazed at all of her insight.

As far as how I absorbed it all, I would say I didn't! There is so much information to learn, and I believe Jeanne knows that more than anyone, so she had us focus on one or two things. Of those two things I focused on, I would say I absorbed just enough to make a concrete change by the end of the workshop. It was difficult because I was forced to overwrite just to make sure I was getting the concepts, but in this case, overwriting was very helpful! Luckily, the classes are available indefinitely, so I make it a point to stop in on occasion to review certain topics.
WOW: That's awesome how much you gained. Who would you say this workshop is right for?

Avione: I would say this workshop is for someone who writes fairly consistently and who is hoping to take their writing to another level. I think it will benefit someone the most who has already written a short story or a novel to completion, regardless of how bad you think it is. There is so much knowledge gained in writing from just finishing something, so I would say an aspiring writer to Your Personal Odyssey should have something finished in their computer.  
WOW: Makes sense! Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop is an at-home program. What was that like for you?

Avione: It was something to get used to! I'm not going to lie, the transition was painful even when I did all the necessary steps that Jeanne recommended for preparing your writing space. I still had a full-time remote job while participating in YPO, so I needed to find time to work and write and be an active member of my family.

It took about one week to get everything straight, and I was so worried that I would not be able to pull it off, but after dividing my day up into work time, writing time, zoom time, and family time, I was able to make it all happen. Forget sleep, ha!
WOW: Ha, I'll bet! I love how you compare your experience with Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop to Dorothy and following the yellow brick road. How did this transform the way you write?

Avione: The way I write will never be the same, honestly. I think the biggest transformation is in the thinking process of writing. In YPOWW, I learned how to really sit down and plan a scene to figure out what emotions I want to impart in this scene and what I want to accomplish. I also had a focus area for me to work on, which was point of view and sensory detail. Since I knew that was what I needed to work on, before I started writing the scene, I would sit down and write out how I wanted the point of view to develop in the scene and what possible sensory details could be added. My novel deals in color and music, so Jeanne really wanted to push me to add more of that to the scenes. Amazingly, it was sadly lacking beforehand, haha. Go figure! The things you don't notice until they are pointed out, right?
WOW: That type of feedback is so invaluable. Would you say that you waited at just the right time to take this program? If so, why is that?

Avione: Yes, I feel that my writing career was at a standstill. I had gotten an agent, which was great, and I was on sub, which was great, but I didn't have anything else I was doing. I am lucky to have some amazing writing mentors in my life, from my Pitch Wars mentor Shakirah Bourne to my agent Chloe Seager and my agency Madeleine Milburn. After my book was on sub, I knew I needed to learn more, which is why I tried out for Your Personal Odyssey. Also, I just want to say that a stay-at-home writing program of the caliber of The Odyssey Program is like getting a golden ticket in Willy Wonka. To have a master of craft coach me while in the comfort of my daily routine was an experience that I will cherish forever.
WOW: That is so rewarding. I'm impressed you completed this workshop while raising children AND working full-time! How did you manage to do it all?

Avione: Thank you for that, haha! It was so hard. To answer your question, I clocked my time to the minute! Seriously. My entire day was planned, including rest and playtime. Jeanne gave us all a sign to hang on our doors or to put up in our workspace that indicated that we were working and should not be bothered, and let me tell you, I used the mess out of that sign! Haha. 

To give a more concrete answer, I usually woke up around 4 am and worked on Odyssey material until the kids woke up. It was the summertime, so they didn't need to wake up too early. Then we all ate breakfast, and my lovely husband played with them while I went back to writing for another hour. My break time would be spent working on my day job. So, let's say at around 9-10 am, I tried to finish as much work as I possibly could with my job. After that, I would take a work break and work on Odyssey assignments for another 1-2 hours, which would put me around lunchtime. In this instance, I ate lunch at my computer while watching an Odyssey lecture. If I was behind, then I might watch the lecture at 1.5 speed to catch up, and I always took assignment notes while writing so I didn't have to go back and fill out the assignment afterwards. That was a trick that Jeanne told me, actually!

After lunch was probably a thirty-minute break, and then I would go back to working on my job for another hour or two. Right after that, I would take another 15–30-minute break, then hop right back into Odyssey work. I also took a nap somewhere in there as well. The nap was always a nappaccino, which I highly recommend! If you have never heard of it, a nappaccino is where you drink a coffee in 5 minutes and then take a nap immediately. The coffee does not affect your system until 20 minutes later, so you can get a good twenty minute nap in, and then the coffee kicks in to wake you up from your nap so you are wide awake afterwards and ready to work. I cannot recommend them enough to people who drink coffee, and it also works with black tea. The trick is, you have to drink the entire coffee within 5 minutes and then nap immediately afterwards. It does not work if you sip the coffee for 20 minutes and then try to nap.

If I had any work left from my day job, then I tried to finish that after the kids went to sleep, then I wrote until 12-1 am every night and woke up at 4 am the next day to do it all over again. It was an insane six weeks.
WOW: I LOVE your tips! What type of strengths did you gain from Your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop that you will take with you in your future writing endeavors?

Avione: There are so many. I would say of my focus points, planning the scene is a big takeaway. I really enjoyed the tool of using bubble maps to see how a scene could progress. Another big takeaway is Narrative Distance in point of view, which I knew nothing about before I started! But now, narrative distance is one of the things I always think about. I am still working on understanding and using narrative distance the best, but it is a really fun and worthwhile learning process. 
WOW: That is something to keep in mind. What would you say to someone who wonders if this program is right for them?

Avione: I would first ask, do you have 15-17 hours a day that you can give to the Odyssey program? It is a serious time commitment that should not be taken lightly. After that, I would ask if they have ever finished anything. This could be a short story or a novel. It doesn't have to be good. It could be the most awful pile of poo you have ever seen, but if you finished it, then you have done something the vast majority of writers have not done. Lastly, I would ask them if they think they need to learn something or if they just want to get praise for how great they write. If they are only thinking of getting praise, then this program is not for them because the goal is to make you a better writer, not to shine your shoes for you. 

Even if you are a stellar writer, the goal is to make you even better, so Jeanne will look into your weaknesses so that you can improve on them. And perhaps your weaknesses are miles better than the next person's strengths, that could be the case, just don't expect Jeanne to not tell you that it is a weakness for you personally because this is Your Personal Odyssey. That is what is so lovely about this program, and that is why everyone who goes through it will become a better writer at the end if they are open to all the wonderful information and riches this program offers.

DIRECTOR NOTE: “Avione took the 6-week version of the program; 12-week and 18-week versions are also available for those prefer more time to complete the work.”

WOW: Thank you so much for your time today! Writers, if your Personal Odyssey Writing Workshop sounds right for you, submit your application. The deadline is March 13th. Don't wait!


Powered by Blogger.
Back to Top