Grapevine/Market News

DAW books is actively seeking new works of science fiction and fantasy written by and/or featuring people of color, Native people, disabled people, neurodiverse people, LGBTQIA+ people, and those from other underrepresented or marginalized communities. You can find full details on how to submit here.

Crossed Genres is now open to submissions, and will close again on August 15th. They ware paying 7 cents per word for stories about resisting fascism. Word count is from 250-8,000 words. Full details can be found here.

Publication News

OWW alumni Elizabeth Bear and T. Frolock have let it be known they both have new books coming out.

Watch for The Cobbler’s Boy by Elizabeth Bear in September 2018 and  Where Oblivion Lives in February 2019.

Publication News

Gregor Hartmann wants us to know: “A story critiqued at OWW long ago, “Wind and Stars and All Creation,” is now published in Terra Nullius, a British anthology of original work. The main character is a scientist, hiding on a planet orbiting a red dwarf star, whose isolation is disrupted by the arrival of a stranger. It takes place in the same universe as my Zephyr stories that have been appearing in The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction, and fits into the future history I’m gradually deploying.”

Editor’s Choice Award July 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.

When Bereft Of One’s Counsellor (Part 1) by Richard Keelan

“When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” caught my eye this month with its casual melding of an Arab/Spanish setting and classic second-world fantasy—and the interesting intricacy of Noor, Salma, and Khalid’s political process as its focus, instead of battle and blood. It’s a more interesting perspective on how wars are won, it conveys that perspective—while firmly staying in the adventure fantasy genre—by using a variety of embedded worldbuilding assumptions. So this month, I’d like to discuss what we convey to readers by saying it explicitly, and what we convey by what our narratives endorse—and how to harness that to create more effective story work.

“When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” iterates the idea of adventure fantasy in a different—and yet tonally consistent—direction. Its Moorish Spain-flavoured world feels new and yet it’s got all the components of a Tolkienesque universe: castles, sieges, elves, dwarves, quests. Add some good splashes of sensory imagery—”softer than a pebble tumbling down a snowdrift” is quite evocative—and well-paced battle scenes, and immediate stakes in the opening paragraph, with “Anasalença was burning,” and it’s a story in a familiar genre vein, but with more.

What caught my attention is that “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” is classic second-world adventure fantasy with an ethic, and the ethic isn’t being communicated didactically, but woven into the very fabric of the piece. When we talk about what a story endorses, frequently what we’re talking about is which assumptions about the world are treated as a given by the story—not necessarily the characters, but the narrative voice. And “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” communicates most of its worldbuilding in an integrated fashion that takes full advantage of that effect.

Just a few (a pile!) of examples: Noor and their Orccen colleagues casually use sign language together—having idiom and dialect, which Noor can’t always understand because it’s a second language for them. Salma shows a Dwarven woman as a competent and trusted soldier, even though that’s not her main role; her main role is to propel Noor into the election. The fact that the Remnancy is democratic and not a hereditary monarchy—led by mayors and electors—and that means Noor, Salma, and Khalid must use different strategies to win their particular battle.

On the sentence level, lines like “his Dragonnen soldiers—men like us, loathe as we were to admit it—” and the description of the Elfren militia as Noor’s “friends and neighbours” are a direct refutation of the kind of black-and-white morality that’s one of the core tropes—and bluntly, one of the core failure points—of secondary-world fantasy.

All this sits against the backdrop of what we’re canonically used to in elves-and-dwarves fantasy—racial segregation and stereotyping with races as monocultures, strongly hierarchical government, Western European-derived and English-speaking worlds, and problems being solved by alternate applications of magic and genocide. But “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” refutes that not by replicating it or actively calling it out; it just exists differently, on different assumptions. The entire setup of “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” quietly believes in a world where morality isn’t a racial characteristic, and while it never says that outright, it doesn’t have to: every worldbuilding choice it makes conveys that message.

It also quietly believes in society—in interreliance, in collective action. That assumption is shown in Noor’s days of campaigning, their thinking ahead to Hasan’s credibility in case Noor loses the election, the idea that Elven fighting can do a job sometimes when Orccen can’t and vice versa; that Hasan can be good for one job, but not effective at another, and that doesn’t make him bad. People save Noor’s life with their own bodies. The highest office is Steward, which connotes responsibility, not power—and Noor and Hasan’s argument over it an argument about the proper fulfillment of responsibility. When Noor does go alone, they take Khalid’s arms with them.

All those assumptions tell me, as a reader, about the world “When Bereft of One’s Counsellor” believes in. This is adventure fantasy with nuance—and it hasn’t sacrificed the adventure to get it, because the page space, the exposition, the time we spend with Noor, hasn’t had to be used to do that worldbuilding. The worldbuilding’s been done in the assumptions, freeing up page space for Noor, Salma, and Khalid to contest an election and rout a siege. Freeing up page space for, in short, the plot.

From a craft standpoint, having an ethic—and knowing what assumptions about the world our stories endorse—is good writing. It’s indicative that we, as authors, have thought about how our worlds work—and how the world we live in works, and it’s a crucial skill for writing works that are rooted in genre, but looking to grow. What’s more, using the same embedded assumptions that let a story show implicit bias to communicate important worldbuilding beliefs—to, in short, make choices instead of having accidents—is an incredibly powerful tool in the writer’s toolbox. It’s the kind of tool that lets one describe an entirely different vision of second-world Tolkienesque fantasy in the exact same space as a tense and rollicking story of breaking a siege, not compromising one for the other, and still do it in only about 8,000 words.

There are aspects of the piece that I think can use a little more attention. The magic system comes in late in the story: Noor doesn’t show a hint of having any magic until his foray to Santiago, at which point the entire story is dependent on it—and it makes the trip to Santiago’s camp a little too easy, and a little too anticlimactic. A little more telegraphing, early on, that it’s in Noor’s abilities would, I think, set that solution up better; alternately, a solution that’s more in keeping with the lower-magic, more physical resources Noor has already shown would also feel like a stronger fit.

Likewise, there are a few problems in plot logic. If Noor’s plan is to cripple Santiago by killing his counsellor, why go after Santiago first? The plan is going perfectly; there’s no reason to foul it up. And on a more pressing note: If Noor could rout Santiago single-handed, with the use of magic, then the entirety of Noor’s appeal to Hasan for more troops—and the entire election, and the entire plot of the story—has been for nothing. There is no reason to have not just done it this way the first time. That’s a major fault in plot logic, and it’s one that I think would bear some close examination.

On the prose level, there are also small places where scaffolding—bits of sentence that are a bit drafty—can be removed: “His scale-covered maw opened and spat burning venom over the front rank of Orccen spears” conveys the same information as “His scale-covered maw spat burning venom over the front rank of Orccen spears,” but it’s tighter and more streamlined.

But this piece feels well-integrated and interestingly ambitious, and I’m very much looking forward to seeing it find a good home.

Best of luck!

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

Editor’s Choice Award June 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.

The Thaumechanical Man, Part 2, Chapter 12: Jail Break by Robert Rapplean

I had a lot of fun with this chapter. “Fun and adventury,” indeed. Although I came to it without having read what went before, thanks to the intro and the incorporation of key information into context, I had no trouble following the action or keeping the characters straight.

I particularly enjoyed the breaking of the “rule” about not throwing in characters who haven’t been there before and will probably never show up again—it’s a nice way to show the action from the outside, builds a bit of mystery and tension, and gives us a slice-of-life view of a random citizen. The intro’s reference to him—“It doesn’t matter who Jedia Shunk is”—has a lovely little side effect of capturing the tone of the chapter as a whole.

That tone is a good part of the fun: fast, casual, sharp and to the point, with a good dose of offhand wit. The characters are distinct and their gifts are as unusual as their personalities.

As I said, it’s fun. What I would suggest in revision is to pay really close attention to details of narrative, all the way down to the words and phrases. Wit calls for precision. In draft of course the priority is to get the words down on the page or screen, but to really make it work, you have to really make the words work. Every action and every description has to be clear, and the choice of words should be spot on.

For the most part the prose works, but it has a tendency to run over itself when the action is moving along quickly. There’s awkward phrasing—a hexagonal lantern-shaped street light, for example, or she had to peek from under the black cloth that she covered her face with when she went on surreptitious activities. These images need to be clearer, more concise, more focused on what they’re trying to mean. Tightening the phrasing will help, as will smoothing out the rough edges of the sentence structure.

Much the same applies to what’s going on here: Clempson removed a metal dome from the toolbox’s lid and pulled a paint pot and brush from the box. A black circle, about seven feet in diameter and four inches wide, took shape on the wall of the facility. It’s a bit ambiguous as to whether he’s painting the circle or whether it’s forming on its own. It might be clearer to say Clemson paints it–to make the action more active. Also, point of syntax: it’s looked in her direction.

Sometimes there’s a pronoun pileup, too: Exhibiting none of his earlier finesse, Morgs hammered left and right with blows that made his wrench ring and his hands hurt, giving him no opportunity to counter-attack. It’s not immediately clear which his belongs to which character, who’s hammering or who’s hurting or who can’t fight back. Paying closer to attention to who is who will help the reader keep the action straight, and make that action move more smoothly.

It’s important to keep track of the larger details as well—to be sure that what’s happening takes into account where all the characters are and what they see and hear. I kept wondering during the pre-break-in scenes, why the guards couldn’t hear the sounds Bat and Clempson are making to signal one another. On the one hand we are told that they’re trying not to make so much noise that they’re spotted, but wouldn’t all the scraping and clicking arouse suspicion? If not, why not? Do the guards have less acute senses than Bat and company?

I had the same question about the glowsticks Bat drops inside. What if someone sees them? Are they somehow only visible to our protagonists? What prevents them from betraying what’s going on?

Even with these quibbles and questions, I enjoyed the caper immensely. It’s a great start, and with some tweaking and tightening will be even more fun to read than it is in this draft.

—Judith Tarr

Grapevine/Market News

Tor.com Publishing will soon be reopening to unsolicited novella submissions starting July 30, 2018, Lee Harris, Carl Engle-Laird, and Ruoxi Chen will be reading and evaluating original novellas between 20,000-40,000 words long. They will be open for two weeks beginning on July 30 around 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00) and ending on August 13 9:00 AM EST (UTC-1:00).

Full guidelines and how to submit are available here.

Editor’s Choice Award Fantasy, June 2018

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 Amulet Chapter 1 by David Kernot

I was drawn to this submission by its lively energy and its carefully detailed Australian setting. Also, I like portal fantasies. There’s quite a bit of work to do with the prose, particularly the meanings and connotations of words and phrases, and readers of the ms. in its entirety will have specific and informed things to say about how this revision fits into the whole both structurally and thematically.

But that’s something other reviewers can do, and will do. I had thoughts in that direction myself—until I met Whitejay.

Disclosure: I write the twice-monthly SFF Equines column for Tor.com, and I’ve published an ebook from Book View Cafe, Writing Horses: The Fine Art of Getting It Right. Also I have, at current count, seven horses on a farm in Arizona, and I’ve been a breeder and trainer for mumblemumble years.

So, when I meet a horse in a novel, I tend to fixate on it. I have expectations. Especially when the horse is given a name and the narrative implies that the characters (and by extension the author) care about it as an individual, I look for a more knowledgeable portrayal than if it’s just nameless transportation (though even there I have Thoughts).

My first thought here was, “A horse is not a motorcycle.” I had this thought even before we met Angus on his motorcycle and we learned that Ethan has deliberately chosen to ride a horse. Because Whitejay is treated exactly like a motorcycle or a bicycle. When Ethan is busy with plot-stuff, she’s stowed without moving, fidgeting, or interacting with her environment, and she shows no signs of needing to eat or drink.

It’s good that Ethan tells Elise to “keep an eye on the horses,” but she takes off, only pausing to tie Whitejay to a “small tree branch.” Ethan interacts with Whitejay, including a ferocious coughing fit, but Whitejay does not respond at all. Nor has she moved or shown signs of life.

What she would actually do is move around, especially if she can hear the booming voice, which might spook her or at the very least cause her to stand rigid, with ears pricked toward the sound—and here’s some proof for Ethan that there’s something there. Or if she doesn’t react, that’s a kind of proof, too.

In any case, whatever she does about the voice, while she’s tied she’ll try to graze or browse, maybe try to pull away when the other horse leaves (because herd animal sees herd member abandoning her), maybe paw impatiently if she can’t reach anything to eat. When Ethan pets her, she may push her nose into his hand, or she may nose his pockets for treats. She might stamp and switch her tail at flies. She’s a live animal with a mind of her own, and she will have her own ideas as to what should be happening.

Ethan’s fit of grief may get a reaction, too. She might move a little closer to him, and stand steady while he leans on her, supporting him with her greater weight and mass. She might curve her neck around him if she really relates to him, or she might shy away if she’s not into howling humans (though the relationship they have seems to be more or less reciprocal). His tears will wet her neck, and her smell will be sharper, in a way that’s pleasant to horse people though it may seem pungent to the rest of the world.

When the voice booms again, does Whitejay hear it? Or is she perfectly still? How does she participate in what’s happening to Ethan?

Hours later, when Ethan wakes up, Whitejay has been being a motorcycle all night. That means she hasn’t moved or reacted or been a living thing for all those hours.

If this is the actual case, then she’s been under a spell. Frozen, in stasis. Otherwise, once he falls off, she’s most probably run back home. The people there have seen her coming, realized she’s riderless, and gone to find Ethan.

If she has stayed with him (and horses who are bonded to their humans will do so), then she’s wandered at least somewhat in search of food and water. If she can’t find either, see above re. heading back home. Because horses need to eat pretty constantly, and they need water particularly in hot, dry conditions. Fifteen to twenty pounds of forage per day to maintain basic condition, and up to fifty gallons of water daily, though if it’s not too hot or dry, that amount goes down to five or ten gallons. Right now, with temperatures here running in the low 100s F during the day, my six who are turned out together are drinking down half of a 100-gallon tank and all of a 30-gallon barrel between 9 a.m. and 7 p.m. That’s standing around, doing their thing.

Even without the mathematics of equine metabolism, when a human falls off a horse, the horse is likely to have a dangling rein, which she will probably step on and break. She may break the whole bridle, and it will either be on the ground or hanging from her in pieces. And if she’s been sweating, her saddle will itch, which means she may have rolled and tried to get it off—it will be dusty, dirty, and may be damaged when Ethan wakes up, and if he’s unlucky, she’s managed to break the girth and get rid of the whole rig. Probably not if she’s well trained and the saddle is well fitted and the girth is tight, but it is a possibility. Horses are geniuses at getting themselves into trouble. If they can, they will.

And then there’s what happens when Ethan gets on.

Horses do not talk like dogs. A whinny is a distress call. It’s ear-splittingly loud and it acts like a klaxon. ALERT ALERT HORSE ABANDONED WHERE IS HERD WHY AM I ALOOOOOONE! Also with stallions it can be the aria with which he greets his mares and challenges his rivals, and with mares it may be a call to the foal who has gone too far from her side. None of which applies to Whitejay.

When a horse greets a friend, she flutters her nostrils, a soft sound called a whicker or nicker. It’s the sound a mare makes to her newborn foal. It’s soft and gentle.

Or she won’t make a sound at all. She’ll turn her head to touch his knee, and that’s when he can tickle her whiskers. Though I don’t know why he would want to, because horse whiskers are sensory organs like those of a cat, and horses don’t generally respond well to having them messed with. He might more likely rub her neck or smooth her mane or, if she’s incredibly tolerant, tug oh so lightly on one of her ears. (Incredibly tolerant, be it noted. Horses can be tender about their ears.)

Once Ethan gets going, he would be really concerned to find water for the horse first of all, and feed soon after—supposing she hasn’t spent the night grazing. Dehydration in horses can be fatal, not just because of the usual effects in any animal, but because the equine digestive system is horribly easy to mess up. Everything goes only one way, there is no backup mechanism, and if there’s a blockage in the miles of intestine, that part can die and so can the horse. Colic is the number one killer of horses, and impaction colic is a frequent cause.

The motorcycle encounter shows Whitejay actually reacting, but if she’s that gentle and that well trained, I would propose that she doesn’t prance. All she does is stop, throw up her head, and look hard at the noisy thing. This I can tell you from experience is maddening to the asshole trying to make her blow up and ditch you.

After this episode, we discover that Ethan has a canteen of water. Which he has completely failed to share with the horse. Or even think of doing so. Bad Ethan. Bad horse person. Bad.

In reality, the canteen by now is empty, because he gave most of it to Whitejay, and he’s been taking tiny sips himself. As to how he gave it to her, most likely he used his hat as a bucket. Doesn’t have a hat? Give him one.

I am glad he reaches the trough right after this, but there are still many waterless hours. I also notice that she can hear the horn, and “prancing in place” seems to be her standard reaction to odd noises. Again, more likely she stops and focuses hard on it. Or she might shy away from it, and refuse to go forward when he tries to make her do so.

He won’t stroke her chest from the saddle to calm her. That involves leaning precariously out of the saddle and reaching down and around. Stroking neck possibly, speaking softly, relaxing his body and sitting as deep in the saddle as he can, doing his best to stay in the middle when she erupts.

Nor will her coat do what it does here. Horses unlike dogs or cats do not bristle when they’re alarmed. Their coats do fluff up when they’re cold, but their response to scary things is to prick their ears, tense their muscles, snort explosively (which is another form of alarm call) and, as you show here, to leap or bolt out of there. Then indeed he would go flying off, and Whitejay would head for home.

I appreciate the effort here to make the horse a character in the story, and to show Ethan’s relationship with her. With more knowledge and a better sense of how horses act and react, Whitejay will play much more believably, and may even offer some additional plot-stuff both in this chapter and in the rest of the story. She’s a very cool character, and Ethan’s connection with her has a lot of plot-potential.

–Judith Tarr

 

Writing Challenge/Prompt

Everyone around you looks like a living, breathing person. Your family, your friends, and the person you’re falling in love with all feel real. Your heart tells you this is true.

Occasionally, something you see or hear makes you doubt your heart. To make it worse, your head keeps asking uncomfortable questions.

Put a character in the middle of that 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).