On The Shelves

How Long ’til Black Future Month?: Stories by N. K. Jemisin  (Orbit November, 2018)

N. K. Jemisin is one of the most powerful and acclaimed speculative fiction authors of our time. In the first collection of her evocative short fiction, Jemisin equally challenges and delights readers with thought-provoking narratives of destruction, rebirth, and redemption.
 Dragons and hateful spirits haunt the flooded streets of New Orleans in the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina. In a parallel universe, a utopian society watches our world, trying to learn from our mistakes. A black mother in the Jim Crow South must save her daughter from a fey offering impossible promises. And in the Hugo award-nominated short story “The City Born Great,” a young street kid fights to give birth to an old metropolis’s soul.

Writing Challenge/Prompt

They say the world will end in fire–and the fires won’t stop burning. Despite the best, most heroic efforts of science–or magic–as soon as one fire is put out, another starts.

Put a character into this scenario and write a story.

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don’t forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you’ve never tried writing in first or second person, here’s your chance. The story doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up on the workshop at anytime. Put “Challenge” in the title so people can find it.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com).

Editor’s Choice Award November 2018, Short Story

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Harvest by Hannah Hulbert

“Harvest” got my attention this month with its hushed, pervasive atmosphere and the ease with which it made a long story feel quick and engaging. So this month, I’d like to talk about how our deployment of science-fictional worldbuilding affects engagement and suspension of disbelief, and how it’s not about facts, but context—both when writing worlds and the people who live in them.

“Harvest” does good work at the quick establishment of a world and relationships early on. Lines like “everyone knew how Forto felt about complaints” imply a history and routine, and the use of implication and subtext between Forto and Dejori sets considerable atmosphere—as does the image of a woman gathering moisture from aluminum harps in the dense fog.

The author’s note asked about quantity of worldbuilding in a first attempt at science fiction, and the best way I can sum that up as a reader is that I’m not sure how the harps work to harvest moisture, but I’m not sure I need to. The image strikes a balance between technical and otherworldly that “Harvest” handles well overall. As with the details of Colony 264’s cold weather and late twilight, the story tells us how people live in this environment, instead of stating orbital or temperature details. The clear advantage to this worldbuilding approach is that when introducing science-fictional information, what “Harvest” actually describes is not just a planetary fact (“it is cold here”) but how people live in relationship to that fact, both collectively and individually. Forto’s forgetfulness about just how cold the cold is tells me about the confines of his life—sedentary, predictable, routinized, and privileged-in-decline—and his respirator when Amiko lacks one speaks volumes about the society that they’ve built here.

It’s that layering of information that makes the worldbuilding in “Harvest” work well for me. People are in interaction with technology that outstrips our own, and even if I don’t understand the technology or that technology isn’t engineering-accurate, I can see clearly the social, economic, and individual relationships they’ve formed with and because of it. The ripples of these stones in people’s lives are easy to observe, and because of that, my suspension of disbelief is in good standing.

Where it doesn’t work for me is in certain questions of why. Why is water scarce enough to farm, if the valley is perpetually full of fog, and walking outside means getting soaked? Why build Amiko’s shack of iron, when there’s moisture in the air, and it’ll rust? If the plexiglass windows are designed to withstand earthquakes, why isn’t the rest of the plant similarly engineered? Why is Dejori’s promotion worth murdering for—why not just go somewhere else? And most importantly, why does Forto decide he’s in love with Amiko? He mostly conceptualizes her in terms of his dead wife, like an idea of a woman to fill a hole rather than a person in her own right, with affection between them.

One suggestion, to that end, is considering the timeline. The entire piece takes place over about eight days—which means eight days from meeting to marriage proposal for Forto and Amiko, and that’s a bit of a rush for anybody. Time pressure doesn’t appear to be a factor in any other aspect of the story, and a lengthened timeline—one that doesn’t necessarily need to appear on the page—would give a little more credence to the idea of them establishing a routine, Amiko’s coming out of her shell, and Dejori’s fears of being pushed out, and would set a bit more reasonable context for Agrablaj’s somewhat inappropriate prodding. As it stands, everyone appears to be jumping the gun.

But that question does speak to the core sticking point I have with “Harvest” as a reader: that it’s a story about a relationship that hasn’t yet sunk the care it took with extraplanetary worldbuilding into that central relationship. The story itself seems to be a machine to get two characters together—a set of circumstances that ends in kissing—but even Amiko seems ambivalent about the outcome, as she’s quite correct that they know nothing about each other. It’s a positive, for me, that Forto’s instinct is not to increase Amiko’s dependency—to offer more charity, or provide for her—but to help her build on her own skills so she can better support herself. He’s not abusive or controlling. But the very fact that Forto worries his technical help will mean Amiko not coming back to the plant says there’s no real relationship happening here.

So I’m left unsure why these two people, of all people, make a happy ending when they’re together. Forto is lonely and Amiko’s, well, around, but that has nothing to do with Amiko as a distinct, unique human being. Amiko is poor where she was once rich, and Forto is rich, but that has nothing to do with Forto as a distinct, unique human being. And while the genetic hierarchy of Colony 264 makes for interesting background flavouring, I’m not sure it alone is enough to act as motivation for both attempted murder and an eight-days-in marriage proposal. People aren’t, in my experience, Kinds of People; Amiko’s genetic diversity and her just being handy aren’t enough to move two hearts. People are themselves, and people need reasons.

What I’d suggest for the next draft of “Harvest” is to transfer the care taken with the setting to Forto and Amiko as people, individually and in relationship. Who are these two people, and why—aside from motivations like loneliness or three square meals a day, the motivations any warm body can fill—does the story feel it should be satisfying, at the end of 9,000 words, that they end up together? What problem does this hasty marriage resolve?

With a more nuanced answer to that question, I think “Harvest” will come out a much better-balanced piece.

Best of luck!

–Leah Bobet, author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance of Ashes (2015)

 

On The Shelves

The Adventurer’s Guide to Treasure (and How to Steal It) by Wade Albert White (Little, Brown Books for Young Readers November 2018) 

At Saint Lupin’s Quest Academy Completely Ordinary School Where Nothing Bizarre Ever Happens Most Especially Not Illegal Quests That Destroy Famous Landmarks, students are not taught about pirates. They’re not taught how to identify them, how to befriend them, or even how to fight them. This leaves the school completely open to pirate invasion, which, on the first day of classes, is exactly what happens. When a pirate captain and her crew attack to steal an ancient Prophecy Medallion, Anne, Penelope, and Hiro are caught up in yet another adventure. After accidentally activating a quest, Anne and her friends have no choice but to complete the task and deliver the medallion to the supreme pirate ruler, Octo-Horse-Pirate. But the quest and the medallion are not what they seem, and Octo-Horse-Pirate is more than just a simple rogue. To complete the quest, Anne will have to journey back into her own secretive past and discover the truth about who–and what– she really is. And, just maybe, save the whole world in the process.

Filled to the brim with heart-pounding action, miniature dragons, robot clones, and (sometimes friendly) pirates, The Adventurer’s Guide to Treasure (and How to Steal It) is a laugh-out-loud, fast-paced adventure that will leave readers breathless.

Writing Challenge/Prompt

Almost everyone has a book, or a series of books, they think of as comfort reads. You turn to these books often, reading them again and again, and reliving adventures with your favorite characters. After years of this, it gets to the point where you can recite parts of the book from memory.

Then one day, you open a much loved book–and the story has changed. You close the book, check the title, and go back to the beginning. The story changes again.

Put a character in that scenario and write a story about it.

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don’t forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you’ve never tried writing in first or second person, here’s your chance. The story doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up on the workshop at anytime. Put “Challenge” in the title so people can find it.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com).

Editor’s Choice Award October 2018, Science Fiction

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Balaam’s Donkey- Chapter One by Mike Jackson

There are some interesting ideas here, in a frame of biting satire. It’s rather timely and could be quite incisive. The robot/golem in particular has all sorts of dramatic and satirical potential.

I have a couple of suggestions for making the text more easily readable and for bringing out the ideas and characters in ways that will make them both clearer and stronger. The first is a fairly simple formatting rule (in the sense that every rule is there to be bent or broken, as long as you know what you’re doing—but first, try it the “right” way and see how it works).

One paragraph per speaker. Every time someone talks, give him his own paragraph. That way, it’s easier to follow the back and forth of the conversation, and the shorter paragraphs make the story overall easier to read. I like to keep bits of stage business together with the bits of dialogue as well, so that each character gets a paragraph to talk, act and react, and so on.

Try it; see how it works. As it becomes more familiar, it then becomes easier to know when to bend the rule.

Humor is hard. It’s much harder to write humor than straight narrative, because every word counts, and the timing and the language have to be spot on. The humor here has almost a middle-grade feel, but the subject matter is more Adults Only. I wonder if it might help to ponder the difference between humor and satire. Satire can be much sharper-edged; humor makes you laugh, but satire can make you wince.

If this novel is meant to lean toward satire, it needs some very careful editing and revising. The broadly sexist jokes and the robot’s frequent verbal misfires could hit even harder with tight and focused editing and meticulous choice of words and phrases.

A clearer sense of the religious aspect would help, too. This draft focuses more on the humor; the satire comes through less distinctly. It’s not meant to be a sermon, that’s clear in the text as well as in the author’s note, but I think we need to see more of the religious side of the story in this opening chapter.

One thing that will help with this, and generally make the novel read more smoothly, is better organization of sentences and paragraphs. Keeping the exposition to a minimum and focusing on characters’ actions and interactions can be a challenge in science fiction because the world at the outset is unfamiliar. On the one hand, the story wants (needs) to move quickly enough to draw the reader in and keep her reading, but on the other, she has to get a clear enough picture of what the world is like that she doesn’t bounce off all the strange words and concepts.

The writing has to be really, really focused in order to make both of these things happen at once. I often make the point that first draft can be whatever it needs to be—its job is simply to get the story blocked out for the author’s benefit. It doesn’t have to be perfect, and it may not even make sense to anyone other than the author. And that’s OK.

The revision stage is where the author takes his very personal process and turns it into a working draft—one that makes sense to a reader who hasn’t lived in this world or known these characters. In this case, the order in which details are presented is as important as the number and choice of these details.

Here’s a fairly typical paragraph. It’s also the opening paragraph, which means that it’s the reader’s first introduction to the novel:

Rob woke with a start. Eyes wide open, sucking in the air with enormous wheezes. His fellow passengers stared at him in embarrassment.  The woman in the seat opposite leaned in with mock concern. “Mister, you need to get that looked at! You really do!” He had woken from the same dream he had had most nights for as long as he could remember. It wasn’t some undiagnosed apnea that woke him, it was the weight of despair, the fear combined with panic and hopelessness that always brought him round. As he focused on his surroundings Rob smiled apologetically as a synthetic voice broke the silence.

The opening sentence is a classic. It may be part of the humor or satire, because it’s been used so often in so many different works. It certainly sets the tone, and is relevant to what happens next.

First we get a picture of what he’s doing, then we’re introduced to “his fellow passengers,” so he’s on some form of transport (a good quick bit of scene-setting), and the transport apparently has seats in rows. We meet a fellow passenger, and she speaks to him, but mockingly–people aren’t nice here, we deduce.

And then suddenly we’re back in the viewpoint character’s head, he’s had a recurring dream, and his state of mind is wretched. And then he focuses, and is apologetic, and there’s an announcement.

There’s a lot going on here, and the order of events is a bit chaotic. He wakes, people react, he reacts. It might be easier to follow if he wakes, we’re told about the dream, then the woman speaks, then the announcement goes off.

This kind of narrative chaos can work if it’s consistent and if the writer is deft with timing and choice of words. It’s not a terrible opening paragraph, if a little mixed up—but then so is Rob.

The rest of the chapter shows a consistent tendency to mix up ideas, actions, and exposition. It’s hard for the reader to follow, and it reads as if the author is jotting down ideas as they occur to him. Nothing wrong with that in first draft, but in revision, it’s important to make sure ideas and actions follow in logical or consistent sequence. Here for example:

The journey from home had taken fifty six days. Many had travelled with Rob from Canada. Toronto YYZ was by far the biggest embarkation point for travellers from Earth to the Solar System. There had been a short stop off on Mars and then three full weeks of weightlessness. Passengers paid premium rates to travel in ships with gravity generators and Rob’s employers did not see gravity as worth the expense.  Rob had not been sick but he had not enjoyed the experience. He had tried to be social but his unusual sleeping habits made it hard to make friends.

We start off with the length of the journey, jump to “many” who apparently are passengers, then there’s a bit about Toronto and Mars, followed by a jump to ships with gravity generators and how it’s expensive and Rob’s employers won’t pay for it, so he didn’t feel very good and he wasn’t successful socially, and then we learn he has trouble sleeping. There is a narrative sequence, but there’s a lot going on in a lot of different directions.

One way to fix this particular paragraph would be to reorganize it a bit, and break it up. Start off in Toronto—something to the effect that most of the passengers traveling with Rob began the fifty-six-day journey in Toronto with a stopover on Mars, followed by three weeks of weightlessness. New paragraph about gravity generators and how Rob doesn’t get any, and he hasn’t been able to be social between the weightlessness and the strange sleeping habits. Then back to the present and Mikael, with a quick tag to let us know where and when we are. The reference to Rob’s problem works for that.

The trick is to focus on one detail at a time, and make sure the chronology is clear. Start at the beginning, filling in details like the length of the journey after you’ve established where it all starts, and when you introduce a new idea, start a new paragraph. That little bit of formatting-fu can make a huge difference to the flow of the story.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award October 2018, Fantasy

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

The Unknown Ones, Chapter 1 by Peter Kelly

I love historical fantasy. Historical fantasy is my jam. Add Celts, and pointers toward Roman Britain—you’ve got me with some of my favorite things.

This chapter has a lot of potential. I can see a story taking shape. It hasn’t really gone anywhere yet, but it is moving. This may be a long book, as historical novels can turn out to be, but that’s fine, as long as the story stays in motion and the characters and their actions and reactions keep the reader turning the pages.

My main advice to a first-time writer would be to keep writing, and not worry about doing it “right.” Just get the story down and the characters blocked out. Let the words come in the way they want to come. Worry about revision after the draft is finished, when it will be time to go back and tidy up and sort out the various threads of the story.

That being said, since I’m here to offer a more general set of pointers as well as to address the chapter at hand, here are a few things I noticed as I read. I would say don’t worry about making the fixes now, and don’t let that worry get in the way of finishing the draft. Finishing is the most important thing. Just take what I say here and file it for the revision phase.

First, viewpoint. There’s no doubt about who is telling the story. We’re reminded in every sentence. We’re told Calgacus thinks, feels, suspects, knows, understands, ponders, and so on. I call these “viewpoint tags,” and while it can be helpful to sprinkle in a few to keep the reader apprised of the camera angle, a little (as with so much else in writing) goes a long way. Most of the tags don’t need to be there; the choice of words, the nature of the reactions, the feelings and opinions and biases that come through the narrative, will tell the reader all she needs to know about who Calgacus is and how he feels about what he’s seeing.

Another layer of viewpoint is a bigger one, and that’s whether this is the right character to tell this part of the story. All the important things that happen here are happening to someone else. Calgacus is pretty strictly an observer, and in that respect he’s less a protagonist than a plot device. He describes the ceremony and its participants, and delivers exposition about who the people are and what they’re doing and why.

This is particularly noticeable when he Explains Things to Bricriu, on the pretext that Bricriu is too much of a jock to have paid attention in history class. While the reader may need or want to know these things, having Calgacus explain them to his older brother shows just a little too much of the scaffolding underneath the structure of the story. We want to feel as if we’re inside the story, experiencing it with the characters. We end up wondering if Bricriu really has paid this little attention to one of the key elements of his religion, and if he has been that oblivious for so many years, whether he’d really bother to sit still when his brother starts godsplaining. Or would he just blow on past and leave Calgacus expounding to the air? And finally, would Bricriu really know that little about something that is so very important to his own future, let alone that of his tribe?

There’s also the question of why Calgacus isn’t the one who’s becoming a man this year. While I love the details and the exposition, as a reader I’m wondering when Calgacus will start protagging. Why is he the observer, and Bricriu the one who actually acts? If he has to be left out of the manhood ceremony for reasons that move the plot through to its eventual conclusion, what can he do here to show more of his active side? Is there something, some plot-piece, that he can be in charge of, that lets us see how he’ll be acting as he goes on?

Explaining and expositing don’t count. It should be something he does, some action he takes, or something he says that precipitates action—to which he then has to react.

Second, dialogue. The characters “quip” and joke around, and it seems they’re trying for some kid-level realism and comic relief in among the descriptions and the explanations. The problem with this in the draft is that the joking doesn’t move the story forward, and it clashes emotionally and stylistically with the ritual around it. I rather like Bricriu’s potty mouth, but the joshing and bickering slows down the narrative and keeps us from being able to really feel the power of what’s happening around it.

In revision, ask whether most of it really needs to be there. Some does help character, and we get a picture of an expanding cast of major and minor players, which is good. But again, a little goes a long way.

Third, names and naming. I’m a little confused about this, because some names are standard Celtic, such as Bricriu, but then there’s the Romanized Calgacus of the Epidii, and then there’s Martyn, whose name comes from another tradition altogether. Names have power, and in historical fantasy, that can be literal. Names make the magic. If the names aren’t consistent, and there isn’t a clear reason for that inconsistency, they undermine the worldbuilding.

Now mind you, I can give you a perfectly solid historical reason to have a character named Tiffany in your Viking historical, but that reason has to be clear and up front. If I’m writing in the viewpoint of a tweenaged boy in Britain, unless that boy is Roman or part Roman, he’s not going to give himself a Roman name. (Is he part Roman? Ione has a Greek flavor.) He’ll call himself something Celtic, and he’ll call his tribe by its Celtic name. Likewise his brother Martyn—what would the Celtic form of that be?

I would work on the names as carefully as the rest of the details, many of which, as lovely as they are, somewhat front-load the narrative here; I’d cut them about about 75% and save them to be woven in later where they’ll be more directly relevant. The depth of the research is clear to see. Let the names show it, too.

Best of luck with this. It’s a very good start. I’ll be interested to see how it progresses.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award October 2018, Horror

The Editors’ Choices are chosen from the submissions from the previous month that show the most potential or otherwise earn the admiration of our Resident Editors. Submissions in four categories — science fiction chapters, fantasy chapters, horror, and short stories — receive a detailed review, meant to be educational for others as well as the author.This month’s reviews are written by Resident Editors Leah Bobet, Jeanne Cavelos, and Judith Tarr. The last four months of Editors’ Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop.

Downbound by Victoria Gregg

Description can drown readers in unnecessary, distracting details, or it can immerse readers in the key details that build the story.  “Downbound” provides some vivid, significant details that help make its setting and premise come to life, that build atmosphere, and that convey emotion. The story really pulls me in with the first description of the interior of the old, abandoned caboose:  “The walls were paneled in rich, dark wood, shining glossy in the glow of flickering lamps that dangled from the ceiling.  Dark red couches of crushed velvet lined the sides of the caboose, on top of thick rugs that overlapped one another.”  What the girl sees is surprising and fascinating.  On another visit to the caboose, the girl sees men inside playing cards and talking, and one detail helps us to feel the supernatural nature of the situation:  “Their words were muddled like she was hearing them from underwater.”  The description keeps me involved all the way to the story’s end.  I also really enjoy the premise and the setting.

For me, the protagonist and the plot aren’t as strong as these other elements.  It’s hard for me to understand or relate to the protagonist, the girl.  The opening seems to be showing us two contradictory things about the girl.  First, she has absorbed many things about the caboose and the train it was once part of.  Second, she has never had a desire to look inside the caboose.  It’s hard to believe she would absorb and remember all of this information and notice all of these details without having any interest in the subject matter.  So the girl doesn’t quite seem like a real person to me.

Her sudden interest in the caboose doesn’t have a clear cause, either natural or supernatural; it seems caused by the author wanting her to be interested.  The same seems true when she wants to return two more times.  I don’t understand her motivation for returning.  She is frightened by what she sees in her first visit and frightened by the second visit.  It doesn’t make sense to me that she would want to return.  We know the girl is poor and neglected; if we saw her threadbare dress and her tangled, greasy hair and felt the girl longing for the thick furs, long evening dresses, and shiny curls of the women she sees in the caboose, then I would understand why she wants to return.

Or if she is afraid of what she sees, perhaps there’s another reason she returns.  For example, after her first visit, perhaps she discovers that she has lost something of value–something she made for her mother, or homework for school–and realizes she dropped it when she fled from the caboose.  So then she needs to return.  Or she realizes that an object she saw inside the caboose could be worth a lot of money and could solve her mother’s financial problems.  It’s important, for almost all stories, that the character actions and plot events follow a causal chain, where one thing causes the next, like a row of dominoes falling over.  Without a causal chain, the story can feel manipulated by the author.  And while all stories are manipulated by the author, readers need the illusion that events are unfolding on their own.

Right now, I don’t feel a strong causal chain, so the girl’s actions and the plot in general feel manipulated.

If the story is trying to show that supernatural forces are compelling the girl to go to the caboose, those forces need to be conveyed more vividly.  For example, perhaps the girl sees some glittery object hanging in the window of the caboose that she’s never seen before.  She might want to make a necklace out of it, so she’d go to the caboose, and we’d understand she’s being lured by some supernatural force.

Another element that could strengthen the protagonist and plot is a goal.  In most stories, the protagonist needs to be struggling to achieve a goal, and the protagonist needs to have some power to achieve that goal.  If she doesn’t have a goal, then her actions seem dictated by other forces.  This, too, can make the story feel manipulated.  More than that, we seldom form a strong emotional bond with a protagonist who isn’t working toward a goal.  We relate much more strongly to a character struggling to achieve a goal, because we all have goals and struggle to achieve them.  If the protagonist has no power to achieve the goal (she doesn’t need to have a lot of power, but she needs to have some), then she’s a victim, and again seems manipulated, and we have difficulty caring and relating to her.  If the character has a goal and power to achieve it but there is no struggle, then the story has no suspense and we don’t feel strong emotion toward the character.

In the story, the girl has no goal except to keep returning to the caboose, which I don’t believe.  She has power to achieve her goal, which is good, but she has no struggle in achieving that goal.  It’s easy for her to go.  So the story has little suspense.  It seems she’ll keep going back until something bad happens to her, and indeed that’s the plot.

I think the plot could be pushed much further.  If her goal is something more difficult, and something that enriches her character, then we will believe it more, relate to her more, and feel more suspense.  The story seems to imply the mother has an abusive boyfriend or spouse.  If so, maybe the girl wants to get some object that seems valuable from the caboose and convince her mother to buy a car and leave town.  This would be a difficult goal for the girl to achieve, but one she would have some power to attempt.  This goal would also allow/require the girl to do more than look into the caboose.  She could gain the object and struggle to convince her mother to leave town.  The boyfriend could pose a threat to the girl and take the object away.  The girl could struggle to get it back, anger the boyfriend and cause him to beat the mother.  The girl might lie and tell the boyfriend that there are more valuable objects in the caboose to get him away from the mother.  The girl might take the boyfriend to the caboose . . .  and the story would reach its exciting climax.

This is just one possibility, but it’s one where the protagonist and plot are following a causal chain, the situation is changing more, the girl is struggling more toward her goal, and the stakes are rising.  Something like this, with the strong description, setting and premise currently in the story, could make this more suspenseful and more emotional.

I hope this is helpful.  I think the story has some strong elements to build on.  The description, setting, and premise really kept me involved.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey

 

Grapevine/Market News

Nothing’s Sacred is Jack of No Trades Productions’ horror magazine, and Volume 5 is now open for submissions. They pay 5 cents a word for fiction up to 3,000 words, take limited reprints at 2 cents a work, non-fiction articles about the horror genre at 5 cents per word, and poetry pays $10.00 each.

Full guidelines can be found here.

Constellary Tales is a new a pro market for science fiction and fantasy, and they are now open for submissions. They pay 6 cents per word for stories between 1,000 and 3,500 words. Stories must have a speculative element, but they aren’t open to horror.

Full details and a submission form can be found here.