Gather ’round, folks, it’s time for me to tell you a story.
A few years ago, I noticed that some friends of mine were posting pictures from something called OYAN. This included folks like my intrepid agent, my original publisher/editor, and numerous writer friends. They were all giving speeches on a stage and sometimes, they were even dressed in costume. One of them in particular seemed to go all out for his cosplay (I’m looking at you, Jeff!), but I had no idea what was going on. What was OYAN? What were they doing? I wanted to know, because it looked like so much fun.
So I dropped a line to a few of them and asked the question, “What’s OYAN?” And when I learned what it was, I wanted to be a part of it too.
So what’s OYAN, you ask? Well, OYAN is short for “One Year Adventure Novel.” It’s a curriculum for homeschoolers, specifically high schoolers, in which students are taught how to write a novel. But what makes this unique is that every summer, in Olathe, Kansas, there’s a conference for the students. The organizers bring in all sorts of teachers to share their wisdom and knowledge with the students, and from what my friends who participated in it told me, it’s an absolute blast.
I was jealous. I wanted to go. And little did I realize, I would get my chance. As you all know, six months ago my family relocated from the Twin Cities in Minnesota to a suburb of Kansas City, less than an hour away from where the conference is held every year. So I asked my agent to make the introductions, I got to meet the infamous Mr. S, and the next thing I knew, I had my invitation to come and teach at the workshop. That’s what I’ve been up to for the past week and I have to say, I am exhausted. I had a blast, but boy, I’m tired. And a little terrified, but more on that in a bit.
So what was it like, teaching a room full of enthusiastic and creative teenagers about writing? Oh my goodness. It was so much fun! I was asked to teach three classes in total. One was for the “main stage,” and I talked about the kinds of conflict we find in stories and how to add them to our stories. I taught a class to the 18+ crowd which was more like “Here’s my journey from wannabe to published author and how you can learn from me.” And on the last day, I got to talk to the parents of the students and offered them what little advice I had about how to encourage their kids as they pursued their writing dreams.
First of all, I was so impressed with these students. They were polite, respectful, and absolutely insane. Every day, about half of them were dressed in cosplay from their favorite fandoms, and some of the costumes were detailed and wonderful. I snuck a quick pic one morning as a bunch of them lined up on stage:
But what was really cool were the times I had where I could talk to these guys one-on-one in mentoring appointments and a big brainstorming session. These are some extremely creative writers with amazing stories they’re telling. There was more than one occasion where, as I was listening to one of the students sharing their story ideas, I had to remind myself No matter how cool this is, you can’t steal it! This is their idea and they thought of it first!
And even better, these students had an excellent sense of humor. For example, in my talk on conflict, I included this joke a couple of times:
In the interest of full disclosure, my wife has informed me that no one thinks of me when they think of romance. But that’s another story for another day.
Anyway, the students not only picked up on this joke, they ran with it. I heard this repeated several times throughout the week. And even during other people’s lectures. At one point, the eminent Steve Laube was talking about one of his clients, sharing how this retired school teacher wrote somewhere around seven novels a year. One of the kids asked if maybe she could come to a future workshop and teach. Steve hesitated, saying that he wasn’t sure since she writes romance (and the vast majority of the students write some variation of speculative fiction).
Almost immediately, a chorus of voices shouted, “WHEN YOU THINK ROMANCE, YOU THINK JOHN OTTE!”
And this is another thing that was really cool about this conference: the high caliber of the presenters. The aforementioned Steve Laube delivered some powerful talks about the theology and philosophy of science fiction (a talk that the students really enjoyed) and the keys to writing good fiction. In addition to Steve, we also got to hear from Jill Williamson, Nadine Brandes, C. S. Lakin, Stephanie Morrill, and Mark Wilson. Notice how I said “we?” That’s because, when I wasn’t speaking or chatting with folks, I was in the classes, learning as well. This was some high powered stuff we’re talking about, and the students just soaked it up like sponges. They’re extremely knowledgeable of their craft and fiction. At the beginning of one of Nadine’s talks, she tried to do a little trivia with them, asking them questions I couldn’t have ever answered. The students ate those up and did fantastic.
I can’t really gush about the faculty enough. I suppose part of it was the fact that so many of us have so much in common. Enclave Publishing, my publisher, was well represented, what with Steve Laube (the head honcho) there, along with two other authors. It’s always a blast to get a few Enclave folks together.
So if everything was as great as I’m saying, why am I so frightened by my experience? Well, it was like I was telling the parents in my talk with them. I had the opportunity to meet a lot of great and talented writers who are going to take the industry by storm someday soon. They are going to make a huge impact, and I just know that a bunch of them are going to end my career as a writer by snapping up all the contracts. They’re just that good.
I guess the best way to sum it up is this: if you have a teenager (or are a teenager) who wants to learn a lot about writing, you can’t go wrong with One Year Adventure Novel. It clearly works. And hopefully, I’ll see you at the workshop next year!