Driverless cars, bottled lightning and a stalker who feeds on the memory of other life forms were just a few of the images unleashed at Saturday's science fiction, fantasy and horror short story slam at Nashua's Barnes and Noble.
The 16 up-and-coming sci-fi and fantasy writers attending this year's Odyssey Writing Workshop at St. Anselm College huddled in the bookstore's magazine section and shared stories and excerpts of their work. The six-week workshop draws talent from around the world and is one of the premier writing programs for the genre.
"It's a lot of writing, and a lot of work," said Jeanne Calvelos, who launched the program in 1996. "Writers who come are very serious. They put aside everything else in their lives for six weeks to be here."
But Calvelos, the primary instructor for the program, makes it worth their while.
An award-winning sci-fi author who has published eight books, Calvelos started her career as an astrophysicist working at NASA's Astronaut Training Division. But a life-long love of writing and science fiction lured her back to graduate school where she earned a master's degree in creative writing.
After several successful years as a senior editor in New York's publishing industry, she decided to devote her time to her own writing.
"I wanted to be somewhere that was the opposite of New York," she said. New Hampshire fit the bill.
Cavelos, who is also a freshman English instructor at St. Anselm, said she loves working with aspiring authors. Participants in the program spend part of the day in classes and long hours at work on stories.
"There are a lot of lectures about technique," she said, adding that writers focus on building a futuristic or fantastic world that supports their ideas for themes and characters.
Calvelos said science fiction and fantasy gives writers an edge with certain themes that readers might otherwise resist. A story about racism may seem less like contemporary social criticism when it's set on a planet other than Earth.
Some literary critics and scientists have been wringing their hands for years about the direction of science fiction. During the 1940s and '50s, science fiction produced stories of space travel in amazing ships equipped with tremendous inventions that were credited with inspiring a couple of generations of scientists and engineers. Some say today's writers have left imagining the possibilities of the future behind for fantasy worlds of quests, wizards and dragons.
But there's room for all types of imaginations at the Odyssey Workshop.
During Saturday's reading, writers from Utah, Texas, Australia and Canada and other distant places ,read stories about magic, space dust, the onset of solar calamities and the horror that people face when they discover the plain, dull truth about human nature.
In addition to classes and lectures, Calvelos spends time working with individual writers, critiquing their work in intricate detail.
Calvelos also teaches online fiction courses during the winter and offers professional critiquing services for any writers who can't make the trip themselves to Goffstown.
Cavelos, who is also at work on "Fatal Spiral," a new novel about genetic manipulation that she's described "Frankenstein turned upside down," said the Odyssey Writing Workshop is an intense six weeks of work.
"I get about three hours of sleep a night," she said. But she wasn't complaining.
"I love working with new writers," she said.