Grapevine/Market News

New Voices submissions are open to new and emerging writers only (no novel-length published work forthcoming at the time of submission). They except a variety of genres, and pay .10 cents per word up to $200.00. Stories can be up to 7,000 words long.

Full details can be found here.

Clarksworld Magazine is open to submissions. They are looking for science fiction and fantasy stories of between 1,000 and 16,000 words. Payment is 10¢ per word for the first 5000 words, 8¢ for each word over 5000.

Full details can be found here.

Editor’s Choice Award December 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.

Hotwire And The Concrete Rainbow by RM Graves

“Hotwire and the Concrete Rainbow” snagged my attention this month with the places it departs quietly from archetype: a round spacebound girl who joins a punk band with a backpack of books, whose core emotion isn’t resentful anger but a kind of grief. It kept it with some deft thematic work, but there’s room to grow here too in order to make this piece shine. So this month, I’d like to talk about pacing and its context: how we can look to each scene and feeling in a story to dictate the pace of the last and next.

As ever with this author, I love the voice in this piece: lines like “the power of keeping your mouth shut in a time of commoditised opinion” and “being the size of two bulls shagging” made me laugh out loud. There’s always a wry sense of humour in this author’s work that makes it move and dance even—especially—when in dark places, and it really fits well with a future punk aesthetic. As does the sheer physical grounding of “Hotwire”: lines like “palms tipped up to the drizzle – to cool the throb of my new stigmata piercings – and my head in the clouds”, the space station as septum piercing, the cables and sharing bodily sensation versus plugging into the void, how deeply Sidney feels music, the difference between being dead and alive—all create a tangible, undeniable theme-and-variation on physicality. What results is a story about the difference between scene and relationship, real and unreal, that’s firmly grounded in the body: the fallibility and modifiability of bodies, fake digital bodies, a craving for the real—and then builds into imposter syndrome and image and how adapting the world to yourself fits into the very notion of space habitats, into experiencing the real.

There’s also an interesting juxtaposition in Sidney’s hurt, defensive attitude toward her parents and how anguished and avoidant she is about hurting them; how anguished and avoidant she is about letting anybody down. She’s a struggling people-pleaser, someone who’s got a significant amount of independence in her day-to-day life (her own flat, no chip), an ache to be noticed, and boundaries that barely exist, and there’s a painful, hopeful aspect to watching her struggle, half self-aware. I’d be tempted to unwind that struggle with a little more subtlety and gradualness. “Who wants me more?” lays that internal conflict out baldly, and I think that tips the story’s hand a little too early. That conflict’s clearly demonstrated further down in the scene, and it’s an interesting emotional hook to spool out longer, more satisfyingly.

Which leads into the core suggestion I have for “Hotwire and the Concrete Rainbow”: an editing pass with an eye to the emotional pacing and line of conflict. The opening, in particular, feels a little emotionally abrupt, and the turn into Jack and Skart’s breakup and Skart’s transition from rejecting Sidney to accepting her again was quick enough that they inspired a little whiplash. I’m not sure where any of those emotions are rooted—that quick-fire rejection/acceptance/belonging—and their suddenness frays my immersion in the world and the story.

There’s a lot of mileage in interesting worldbuilding and narrative voice, but by the time Sidney’s driving the truck to the gig, the cumulative effect of those quick and shallow-feeling turns meant I found myself lightly disengaging; not enough was, for me, escalating, developing, or changing.

These issues are ones that exist specifically in tandem. The emotional turns feel abrupt because the intermediate scenes are moving slower; the intermediate scenes feel slower by contrast with the emotional turns. When we’re reading a story for pacing, we’re reacting less to an objective measurement than the subjective, contextual one the story itself has already set: just like driving a car, fast feels slow if we’ve been going breakneck already, and vice versa. Sometimes the key to correcting a pacing issue isn’t altering the scenes where it itself shows up: it’s adjusting their context.

So with that in mind, I’d suggest taking the problem on as a linked problem, and attacking it from both ends. Specifically, I’d try playing the grounding and physicality up—play to the story’s strengths. The line of patter here carries the piece far, but I think relying on it too strongly might be the root of some of the story’s pacing issues; it’s a narrative style that takes a lot of page space to maintain, and tends to talk around experiences rather than getting directly to the heart of them. Shifting some, but not all, of that weight to visceral physical detail—playing up those thematic connections around embodiment hard—might pop “Hotwire and the Concrete Rainbow” into colour and assist with the pacing issues all at once. The intermediate scenes come out stronger, more vivid, sharper, and shorter by virtue of cutting a little wordcount; the plot turns look calmer and better-paced by comparison. Neither has to change much; they just meet in the middle more effectively.

The second major issue is the ending, and that I’m not sure the question being asked is the one being answered by Sidney’s choice to connect to the void. The conflict set up is very much to do with acceptance, with being seen and love and fake versus real regard, and the answer given feels abruptly decisive, not entirely built up to, and as if it’s solving a different problem than the one posed. Committing to the punk scene might answer the question of where Sidney’s going to sleep tonight, but I’m not sure it solves that hesitation, that people-pleasing, that deep hurt that characterizes her from the very first scene. I didn’t get a sense of solace or progress for that pain, and the ending doesn’t land satisfyingly for me as a result: I feel the echo of the resolution I’m supposed to feel, but just the echo.

So while looking at the pacing, I’d suggest a strong look at aligning the conflict with the solution, and vice versa, in the same fashion: adjust the problem a little, or adjust the solution. As long as they meet in the middle, the average speed will work out.

All in all, there’s a lot of potential here: a truly interesting protagonist I feel for, a fresh-feeling take on space habitat living, a concreteness I can relish and read with my hands. I very much look forward to seeing a new version!

Best of luck!

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

Editor’s Choice Award November 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.

Dream Hunters (Working Title) Chapters 1 and 2 by Debra Sylver

I’m impressed with this submission not just because of all the thought that’s gone into the plotting and worldbuilding, but because of the dedication it takes to stay with one’s characters through four complete novels. That’s worthy of much respect.

An Editor’s Choice review is a little bit different from others in that it tries to look at issues of more general interest as well as those that are specific to the individual submission. Here I’d like to talk about the challenges of beginning the fourth novel in a series. On the one hand, many readers will presumably have read the first three books and be familiar with the characters and their stories. On the other, some will be picking up the series for the first time here. What’s an author to do?

It’s a balancing act. The author has to sum up previous events and reintroduce characters clearly enough that the new reader gets the picture while the longtime reader appreciates the reminder without feeling over-reminded. The pacing needs to be brisk especially at the beginning of a fantasy adventure, but not so brisk that the reader (both new and old) loses track of who’s who. On the other hand, if it’s too leisurely, the story will stall and the reader will wander off.

As a new reader, I very much appreciate the capsule synopses in the author’s note, though when I read the chapters I put those aside and tried to read as if I’d just picked up the book. With a published novel I’d have the cover copy to guide me, and that would be it.

I found that I wasn’t having a great deal of trouble keeping up with the characters. The action is clear enough at the beginning, and there’s plenty of clueing-in to the identities of characters who have appeared in previous volumes.

What I would suggest especially at the very start is a deep pruning of Caitlin’s internal monologue, paring away repetition and making choices as to where those repeated phrases and chunks of information would be most effective. For example the first chapter, and therefore the novel, starts with a line of dialogue, which is a tricky thing to do; it can be quite dramatic, but it also needs some quick framing in order for the reader to get the context. The framing here is lengthy and tends to repeat the same ideas in different ways (and sometimes in the same ways—the repetition of fault for example, and Caitlin’s ruminations on different realities, including the frequent reminders that nobody in this reality would believe the other reality exists). For the most part we’re inside Caitlin’s head, with brief intervals on the outside as Liam takes his martial-arts class.

For me as a reader, it feels as if this balance should be reversed. Less internal monologue, more external action. Less description, too, and less backstory. Just give us what we need to know right here and now. The rest will come up later as it’s relevant.

When I’m revising a draft in which I’ve put in everything I as the writer need to know in order to build my world and story, I ask myself what does the reader need to know now? Can I pick one or two essential details, and let those contain the rest? Do I need to describe the entire setting (or go into detail in describing a character) or just the elements that are important at this particular point? If I leave anything out, is it still clear what’s going on?

Another thing I would like to suggest is a bit of re-framing on the sentence level. I noticed as I read that Caitlin tends to think in a certain pattern, and it’s often in negatives. The structure is subject – verb – object – but:

He seemed to be a natural, but

Caitlin wouldn’t ask him directly, but

It was inevitable that she would meet them again, but

The cumulative effect is of ongoing negation of whatever the initial thought happens to be. We’re set up for one reaction, then told nope, not happening. It’s an interesting insight into Caitlin’s personality and thought processes, but it’s also a bit disorienting.

There are other forms of negativity as well, which add to the effect:

Not that it was dirty—in fact, the room was spotlessly clean

It didn’t escape her that

That didn’t really clear anything up.

wasn’t sure how

was never that excited

Note how in each case, instead of stating a fact straight up, we’re told what it’s not. It made me wonder as I read, how Caitlin would come across if all her negatives were switched to positives. Would she be a different person? Would that affect how she acts and reacts within the story? Would the story itself change?

It’s certainly an interesting story. I love Caitlin’s were-lion persona, and I like that she’s so invested in making the different realities safe for Liam—as well as giving him the tools to protect himself. It not only makes her a good sister/foster parent, it gives her more depth as a character.

–Judith Tarr

 

Editor’s Choice Award November 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.

 

The Gray Tabby by William Stone

I know this piece wasn’t intended as a complete story but more as a sketch or exercise.  But I was drawn into it and wanted to keep reading, and I think it could become a really engaging and involving story.  So I wanted to offer this feedback in case it’s helpful.

An intriguing character in an unusual situation can very effectively draw readers into a story.  You don’t need to be flashy or extreme.  You just need an intriguing character, such as a college student so irritated by having to clean the toilet and change the toilet paper while his roommates do nothing that he decides to move off campus, in an unusual situation, such as commuting to college from an out-of-town trailer park, where he rents a trailer that was previously home to a cat who was killed.

That, along with the fairly smooth writing, drew me into “The Grey Tabby.”  As the story goes on, though, I don’t think these elements are developed as strongly as they might be.  The intriguing character, who seems particular and easily irritated, becomes laid back and not very emotionally involved in anything that happens.  So the characteristics that initially drew me in seem to fade away, and the character moments I anticipated–the narrator becoming dissatisfied with his new place and irritated by the irresponsible people around him, and this building to a climax–never happen.  Writers can certainly reveal a character to be different than what readers anticipated, but the character needs to be at least as intriguing as he initially seemed to keep readers satisfied.  Instead, the narrator becomes less intriguing, mainly serving as a camera through which readers experience the story.  Looking back on the story, the narrator kind of seems to be doing what the author needs him to do for the story.  He seems to get irritated at dorm life only because the author needs him to move to the trailer park, not because that’s a part of his personality.  Someone who moves out of town because his roommates won’t take their turns cleaning the toilet is not someone who will pick up the poop of the neighbor’s dog without taking steps to stop it or move.  Instead, after one brief complaint, he gives up.

If the narrator’s initial traits lead to increasing conflict through the story, the character will feel more consistent, readers will remain intrigued, and suspense will increase.  This connects to another area that I feel can be strengthened, which is that the narrator needs to be struggling to achieve a goal.  He easily finds a new place to live, the trailer park, and after that, he forms the goal of getting the dog’s owner to keep the dog out of his yard, but he quickly abandons that and seems to have no strong goal after that.  So he’s not struggling to achieve anything.  He goes to school, works, interacts with the cat, and the story starts to feel kind of repetitive.  He’s mainly a bystander.  He’s not present for the climax, when the cat kills the dog.

Similarly, the unusual situation isn’t developed as strongly as it might be.  We see that the cat scares the dog, so when the dog is killed by running in front of the car, we know that the cat scared him.  But this doesn’t involve building conflict or suspense.  It’s simply an explanation provided for an event.  The story is structured as a revelation story, with the last line revealing the cat was the ghost of the one previously killed.  But most readers of horror or supernatural fiction would figure this out very early in the story.  Once we learn that a cat that previously lived in the narrator’s trailer was killed by the neighbor’s dog, and we see a mysterious cat show up at the narrator’s door, we know that cat is the ghost of the dead one.  I formed that theory as soon as the cat appeared with its “shining yellow eyes.”  About a page later, when the cat frightens the dog, I’m sure my theory is correct.  So structuring the story with the big reveal at the end that the cat is a ghost doesn’t work well, because most readers will already know that.  Instead, the story needs to get that revelation out of the way quickly and allow this unusual situation to develop and twist in unusual ways.  For example, perhaps the cat wants the narrator to leave the trailer that once belonged to his owner, so the cat starts pooping (spectral poops, I suppose, which could be nasty) in the toilet, creating a worse mess than the narrator had to deal with in the dorm.  Then the narrator could struggle to get rid of the cat (so he’d be struggling to achieve a goal).  Or the narrator could fall in love with the dog’s owner, so he’s got an internal conflict between his desire to help the cat get even with the dog and his desire to keep his love happy (which means keeping her dog alive).  Both of these seem like they would take the story in a somewhat humorous direction.  For a more frightening option, the cat might have been killed not by the dog but by an abusive boyfriend of the cat’s owner.  The ghost cat shows up, looking for the boyfriend to exact revenge, but finds only the narrator.  The narrator has a different girl over every night–perhaps this is why he moved out of the dorm.  He’s not a nice guy and doesn’t treat them well.  One morning, he has a fight with the girl, pushes her, and the cat attacks him, scratching him up badly.  At this point the narrator thinks the cat is the ghost of the one the landlady said was killed by the neighbor’s dog, but the dog doesn’t seem very fierce.  Frightened, the narrator tries to secure his trailer.  He has another girl over, so he doesn’t have to be alone, and when she suggests he’s afraid, he yells at her.  The cat mysteriously gets in and attacks him again.  The narrator throws the cat outside, thinking it might go after the dog, but it doesn’t.  Desperate to find some way to stop the cat, the narrator searches for and finds the cat’s grave and digs it up, finding a bloody man’s boot buried with the cat.  He seeks out the cat’s owner and finds she is living with an abusive guy–the owner of the boot.  He tries bringing the cat to that house, but the cat vanishes.  He invites the guy to the trailer under false pretenses and locks him in, so the cat will get its revenge and leave him alone.  But one of the narrator’s girlfriends shows up and hears horrible sounds inside.  She insists they have to help the person inside.  He fights with her and knocks her down to stop her.  When the sounds subside, he opens the door to see what has happened.  The owner of the boot is dead.  Then the cat attacks the narrator and kills him too.

The structure of ending by revealing that the story had a ghost in it was used quite a bit about a 100-150 years ago.  Modern readers are looking for something that provides a twist or takes the ghost story in a new direction (the movies The Sixth Sense and The Others twisted this structure by making the protagonist the ghost and unaware of that fact).  I think reading some recent ghost stories could help provide a sense of what readers would be familiar with.  Reading a few volumes of The Year’s Best Dark Fantasy & Horror edited by Paula Guran, and The Best of the Best Horror of the Year edited by Ellen Datlow (which compiles the best stories in her previous ten best-of-the-year anthologies) should help provide a sense of the horror field.

For me, “The Grey Tabby” doesn’t fit within the horror genre, because it doesn’t evoke horror or any of those dark related emotions.  Suspense is another quality important to horror, and I don’t feel much suspense either.  This could be called a ghost story or supernatural story.  If the story is intended to create fear, suspense, terror, or other associated emotions, I think the narrator needs to be more emotionally involved in events, more disturbed, challenged, and frightened by events.  This should come out in the character’s actions, thoughts, and descriptions.

I think the story has some strong ingredients and some nice writing, but those ingredients could be developed more strongly, in a more emotional and unpredictable direction.  I hope this is helpful.

—- Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust

 

Editor’s Choice Award November 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.

Phage Chapter 14 by Michael Keyton

I love genre-bending, I do confess. I am particularly fond of disaster stories and especially plague stories. (It’s the medievalist in me.) The combination of near-future science fiction and monster-at-the-windows horror is one of my favorites. All which is to say that this submission ticks quite a few of my boxes.

It also accomplishes something that doesn’t happen that often: it’s stayed with me. The setting, characters, and overall thrust of the plot are clear in my head. I even got to spend a happy half-hour listening to anharmonic music, partly to immerse myself in the soundtrack of the chapter and partly for the raw physical experience, that thrum through the bones. In short, the draft needs work, of course, but the framework is strong.

For this Editor’s choice I’d like to address a couple of issues.

1. “Floating Heads”

Here and there in the chapter, the dialogue gets going so fast that it leaves the rest of the narrative behind. Exchanges go on and on, snapping back and forth, with an occasional pointer to who’s speaking. Even with those pointers, the frame gets lost. We’re left with sets of fast lines floating in space.

It’s not a complicated fix. Doesn’t need a whole lot of said-words and throat-clearing and shifting around. Just a line once in a while to tether the conversation to the story.

It may help to break up some of the conversations. Make them shorter. Tighten and condense the rush of information. Let the characters (and the reader) stop for breath.

2. Viewpoint-tagging

My second observation is the opposite of the first. Floating Heads have too little going on. Viewpoint tags have too much. One expects the reader to fill in all the relevant context. The other is nudging constantly: I’m here, I’m here, did I mention I’m here?

By viewpoint tags I mean all those little reminders that the character is present. Words like thought, wondered, felt, looked, watched, saw, surveyed. Longer passages, too, stretching into internal monologue while the story waits for the character to stop thinking and the action to start again.

There must be a rule somewhere that “You Must Always Make Sure The Reader Knows Who Is Telling The Story.” That’s true, mostly, but first, trust yourself. And second, trust your reader.

Once you’ve established the POV of a scene, you won’t need to keep pointing to it unless there’s a shift to another POV. We know the character is thinking, seeing, feeling, without needing to be told in so many words. It’s implicit in the idea of a viewpoint character. Let the story happen without the filter. Just tell it direct, and we’ll know whose eyes we’re using at the time.

In revision, perhaps try an experiment: get rid of all the viewpoint tags. Then read what you have left, and see if it still makes sense. One or two tags might go back in for clarity, but most should turn out not to have been necessary.

Writing is a balancing act, always. A little more here, a little less there. As long as the story itself is solid—and as far as I can see from this chapter, it does seem to be—the rest should be fairly straightforward to fix.

Best of luck, and happy genre-bending!

–Judith Tarr

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.