Grapevine/Market News

Uncanny Magazine is now open to submissions for Disabled People Destroy Fantasy from 1/15/2019 to 2/28/2019. They are looking for stories from writers who identify themselves as disabled. Disabilities can be visible or invisible. Stories should be between 750 and 6,000 words. Payment is 8 cents per word. Full details can be found here.

B Cubed Press has announced open calls for  three (3) new anthologies to be released in 2019. They are looking for stories of between 500 and 5,000 words. Submissions open immediately and close on April 15, 2019, for these anthologies:

• Alternative Bedtime Stories for Progressive Parents
• Alternative Apocalypses
• Tales from the Space Force

Pay is 2 cents per word, plus royalties. Full details can be found here.

Nightscape Press has two new open calls for submissions.

Their anthology Nox Pareidolia will open to submissions on April 1st and will close to submission at the close of that month. Payment is  6 cents per wor, and payment will be capped at 6,000 words.

Nightscape Press will open to short fiction collection submissions on May 17th and will close to submissions May 31st. Payment will include an advance and royalties to both the author and a charity of their choice. Short story collections must be 40,000 words or more, and include at least two to three previously unpublished works.

Full details for both these open calls are found here.

Editor’s Choice Award January 2019, 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.

Shrinking by Taliyah St. James

“Shrinking” caught my attention this month through its incredible thematic work, its emotional intelligence, and the way it puts a persistent genre trope through the kind of intersectional examination that creates stakes, investment, and impact. So this month, I’d like to talk about how multifaceted takes on a theme and wider context make our characters’ choices meaningful, and why we can get more character connection out of specific, richly-characterized protagonists than more loosely-drawn blanker slates.

The core idea of “Shrinking” is one many genre readers have seen: a dystopian, financially oppressive future where poorer people sell their very feelings to the rich to survive. It’s in the thoughtful, multifaceted, deliberate, and deft execution of that idea—the specific story “Shrinking” builds upon that idea—that it absolutely shines. The thematic idea it’s working with—poverty, what different versions of poverty are on a nuanced and systemic level—is woven through every paragraph.

On the plot level, “Shrinking” is a story about a woman, historically and in terms of class location better off than her partner, who walks to a feelings-selling clinic and chooses her old lifestyle over her relationship. On the barest level of plotting analysis, it’s a straight line. But on the thematic level, that walk and that choice comment on and reflect an infinite, rich, horrific, detailed context—and become more than they are, because of what “Shrinking” loads into that choice.

“Shrinking” is a story about poverty, privilege, and class, and it situates every single character in that framework immediately through the work of little details. So many offhand comments show how Aimee’s more affluent assumptions and habits persist: leaving the water running, resenting the house for not regulating it for her, not remembering the names of her neighbours, the secret-splurge manicures, legitimately not understanding Mrs. Washington’s reaction to her before they all get screened by security and Aimee, light-skinned, walks right through, thinking poverty is not having the latest phone. And bigger ones, too, like Aimee’s family considering her lifestyle a “phase” and the refrain of “it’s expensive to be poor”. Everything builds that context on multiple levels, subtle or explicit; every detail feeds, in a way that feels organic, into the river that is its main thematic idea.

The advice of “show, don’t tell” is a bit of a cliché at this point, and it’s been worked over in many ways, but “Shrinking” does an incredible job at showing—demonstrating—who Aimee is, where she’s from, and how she fits or doesn’t fit her current environment and relationships. It allows readers to pick up on how her actions and attitudes align with what she’s saying—or, more importantly, where they don’t, and lets the author communicate important information about this character, this world, our world through those disjuncts. Aimee doesn’t always understand these gradations, but readers can—which creates a tension and interest in the scenes where she’s just in transit, because the conflict between Aimee’s perspective and the narrative’s is a source of readerly fuel.

But the context widens further: Depicting Aimee as a nuanced, complicated person occupying only one position in the bucket of positions that all qualify as “poor”—and depicting other positions in John and Mrs. Washington—does an incredible amount of narrative work. The conflict that drives the story—her love for John versus the gap between their assumed normals that she isn’t really willing to bridge—is brought through at the same time the story’s thematic core comments on how poverty functions structurally in our world, now, today, at the same time as the worldbuilding avoids didacticism or flattening by showing multiple versions of similarly grouped experiences. And this happens at the same time that every detail contributes to Aimee’s characterization, making her a round, complex person—a very specific person, living a very specific experience.

One of the failure modes of dystopia is, I think, the flat landscape: a simplified world where X is good and Y is bad, and one situation fits all—when life is not ever like that. In reading “Shrinking”, I think this piece is a good example of how, while seeing oneself and one’s own situation in a story can be a good connection point for readers—and lead to the temptation to draw characters who are as assumed-generic as possible so readers can project themselves onto that character—empathy or emotional recoil over another’s specific situation, recognizing not the circumstances that caused it but the feelings of love and trappedness and misunderstanding and resentment that are part of it, can be an even better connector. It hooks readers into the space where, for this person, in this moment, everything is this choice. It illuminates spectacularly for the reader how they feel.

So by the time readers reach the explanation of the procedure—the stereotypically technical explanation, near the end—the action has been weighted with so much social and emotional significance that it’s no longer about what it’s about. How the Shrink works itself becomes a symbol of the conflict Aimee feels between her assumptions and expectations and what is legitimately a real, pure love; it’s the culmination of every piece of context the story has offered us so far about what Aimee and John’s life is, the structural barriers of poverty, race, assumption, social censure, personal shame, desire, and mid-belonging she lives in. It’s not even close to a flat choice. So that explanation—the stereotypical explanation of how the Shrink works—becomes the narrative equivalent of the slow click of a rollercoaster going up the hill, ready to drop.

When it drops like inevitability, the impact is terrific.

There are at least a thousand more words I could write on why “Shrinking” functions so very well, how deftly it handles its material, how the very idea Shrinking hinges upon—of running out of money, so making yourself smaller to fit—rings brutally true and familiar. It’s an incredibly well-crafted piece of work, one I think is ready to go to editors, and I very much look forward to seeing it in print.

Best luck!

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

Writing Challenge/Prompt

New Year’s Eve is the fresh start to a New Year. Nearly 2 million people crowd into Times Square to celebrate, and wait for the ball to drop. When the celebration is over, the revelers discover they are the only people left in the city. Where did everyone go?

Put a character in the middle of 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).

Grapevine/Market News

Remain Magazine is looking for stories between 1000 and 3000 words, that focus on survival situations, whether apocalyptic, dystopian or otherwise. Payment is 6 cents per word. They are also looking for comics, and will consider serializing stories. Full details are found here. 

Orbannin Books has opened for their first anthology project, Letters From The Grave: A Collection of Epistolary Horror. They are paying 5 cents per word and a contributor’s copy, and will be open until February 28, 2019. Stories should be between 2,000 and 10,000 words long. You can find full details here.

Editor’s Choice Award December 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.

Stonoshki by Rayne Hall

When I get to the millipede in the third paragraph, and Ahren throws it away and it seems to come back, I’m hooked.   That creates a good mystery–is there something supernatural about the millipedes?–and makes me want to keep reading.  The story also has some nice description of the millipedes.  I can see them vividly, and that helps to make the situation feel immediate and real.  The strange behavior of the millipedes (and centipedes) exists within a fairly normal-seeming context, with the characters and their interactions feeling pretty believable.  That helps the bugs to stand out and makes the Ahren’s situation easy to relate to.  These elements work well to keep me engaged until the end.

That said, once I get to the ending, I’m very disappointed.  By raising the question of whether the bugs are supernatural or not, the story promises me some sort of answer or resolution to this mystery.  Yet no answer is provided.

Instead, the story introduces, right before the end, the discovery of a new lethal centipede species.  Rather than resolving a mystery about millipedes, the story provides information about centipedes.  Rather than resolving the question of the supernatural, the story introduces a scientific discovery.  The story is kind of pulling a bait and switch on us, promising one thing and providing another.  This leaves the story feeling unfocused and the ending feeling unsatisfying.

In addition to shifting its focus, the ending also lacks a strong causal chain.  The bugs seem to behave in a fairly consistent way through most of the story, and then all of a sudden at the end they attack in a swarm.  Why?  Without a why, or even the hint of a why, the bugs seem to attack at the end because the author made them.  That’s not satisfying either.  The reader needs the illusion that events are unfolding on their own, through a chain of cause and effect.  Otherwise, it’s impossible to believe in the story.  Without a why, it’s also hard to make any meaning out of the story.

My suggestion would be to decide what you want to promise readers, and then try to fulfill that promise (in an unexpected way, so readers are surprised but also satisfied).  If the story is promising an answer to the question of possibly supernatural millipedes, then provide that.  And if the situation is going to get much worse (which is exciting), then there needs to be a cause for that.  A why.

So why is Ahren plagued by these bugs, and why does the problem get worse?  Does Ahren himself do something to create and worsen the problem?  Or does Boyana or Willard create this problem for some ulterior motive?  Or does the house hold some secret that causes the problem?

Ahren is attracted to Boyana, despite being engaged to Florrie.  I think the story could develop this more to answer some of these questions.  Perhaps Florrie insists on coming for his birthday, and Ahren gets frustrated trying to get rid of all the millipedes before she arrives.  She comes, and we could feel a lot of suspense as we anticipate an appearance by the millipedes.  But they don’t come.  When Florrie takes a bath in the new bathtub Ahren has put in, a millipede crawls onto her.  She gets upset and tells Ahren she won’t come back until he’s gotten rid of all of them and replaced the bathtub.  Ahren gets more angry.  As he’s pulling out the bathtub, he finds dampness and more millipedes below.  He decides he’s sick of doing everything Florrie wants; he’s going to put in a Bulgarian-style shower, and if she doesn’t like it, maybe he’ll end up with Boyana instead.  He tells Florrie everything is fixed but he won’t send any photos; it’s a surprise.  He stops cleaning up the millipedes.

As this plot heads to some horrific climax (I’m hoping Ahren ends up taking a millipede shower), I think you can see that it has a stronger causal chain.  Ahren starts the story catering to Florrie’s desires, and as she’s not satisfied with his efforts, he becomes frustrated and starts to do unwise things, which have the unintended consequence of worsening the millipede problem.  Unintended consequences are one great way of escalating a situation.

One might see the millipedes, in this sort of scenario, as symbols of his discontent with his life, and as the relationship problems grow, the millipedes become more numerous.

This story has some really nice elements.  If the promise better aligns with what is delivered, and the causal chain is strengthened, it will be quite involving and powerful.  I hope my comments are helpful.

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

Editor’s Choice Award December 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.

Rookie Chapter 1 & 2 by Saffron Bryant

I have a soft spot for hardscrabble planetary SF, and I’m intrigued by the author’s note. The novel is finished and published, but it seems to be “lacking some shine.” It takes courage to revisit a published work and want to make it better.

As I read the opening chapters, I noted some prose habits that might be worth addressing. Fortunately the fixes are fairly straightforward. It’s mostly a matter of recognizing that these things are happening, and adding that extra layer of tightening and polish.

Conjunction splices. These are like comma splices in that they run separate clauses together, but they disguise themselves with the conjunctions and and but. For example:

Oppressive heat surrounded her and it felt as though she spent every day drenched in sweat. Almost immediately we also see That was the problem with deserts; too hot to breathe and sand that found its way into everything.

What this does is level out the emphases: everything has the same emotional temperature. We lose the distinction between characters and concepts, or between the abstract and the concrete. Consider this example:

He knelt in front of a sand-buggy and a streak of grease stained his right cheek.

Two different things are happening, but they’re lined up as if they were in the same category of action. The character kneeling and the grease staining carry equal weight.

I would suggest is breaking up sentences that are spliced with and and but. It can be as simple as getting rid of the conjunction and creating two sentences: He knelt in front of a sand-buggy. A streak of grease stained his right cheek. If the result starts to get choppy, clauses can connect with semicolons and colons, or you can even cut details that aren’t directly relevant.

I noted quite a bit of repetitive internal monologue. Nova spends most of these chapters inside her head, thinking, feeling, remembering, opining, debating. She goes over the same thoughts and reminiscences within single paragraphs but also through the larger narrative: thoughts about where she comes from, what she’s doing here, how gross her boss is and how she feels about Axel and how she needs to make rent. Paring away the repetitions and leaving one of them in just the right place will help with both the pacing and the prose.

The same applies to dialogue. In the scenes with Koba and Axel, the conversation cycles through the same ideas and arguments. They’ll say something once, then go over it again: Koba can’t do that, Koba is doing that, he has to pay her, she has to make rent, Koba can’t do that, he won’t pay her, he has to pay her, she has to make rent. Cutting the conversation by half or two-thirds, zeroing in on the key ideas and pruning the internal monologue when it repeats information we’ve already seen, will speed up the narrative.

It is true that, if used very sparingly, this kind of recursive dialogue can work. It has to be be spot on, playing continually and slightly varied riffs on the same idea, so that we get the full effect of the viewpoint character’s frustration while also feeling that the story is moving forward.

Within internal monologue and external dialogue, there is a tendency to insert digressions, mostly background and description, which repeat from scene to scene as well as within scenes. For example:

Nova stood just inside the door and fidgeted. The less time she wasted standing in Koba’s office the better; she needed to get back to her ship and search for more Bounty Hunter jobs. She had to get out there and start making a name for herself—she hadn’t left Tabryn with her very own space ship just so she could be a mechanic for the rest of her life. She wanted to travel, explore things. And one day, maybe, she’d be accepted into the legendary Bounty Hunter guild: The Jagged Maw. But right now that was a pipe-dream because you had to do something really special to get noticed by The Jagged Maw, and fixing broken-down spaceships wasn’t it.

She cleared her throat.

We’re in the middle of a tense scene. Nova is about to beard her boss in his den. The story stops for a chunk of backstory. Several sentences later, it starts again. In the meantime, the tension has snapped—and Nova has told the reader in so many words that the scene is a waste of time.

Readers are tough customers. They don’t cut a lot of slack, particularly at the beginning of a book. When they’re told the scene they’re about to read is not important (even if in fact it is), they may skip to the next scene. If they find themselves skimming too often, they’ll put the book aside and move on to something else.

To keep the reader reading, information should flow smoothly. It can slow down in between action scenes or scenes high in emotional tension, providing a breathing space and allowing room to fill in background and exposition. A tense scene needs to be tightly focused, moving along briskly from action to reaction, with crisp, concise dialogue and a nice snap at the beginning as well as the end.

Any details that appear here should be few, carefully chosen, and directly relevant to the scene. Active verbs and positive phrasing are key.

It’s particularly important to avoid negatives and demurrals: to say what something is rather than what it isn’t, to make it clear to the reader that this scene is worth her time, and to draw her along from line to line and paragraph to paragraph to paragraph without interrupting the flow with nonessential information. In short: to keep her turning the pages. If she stops, if she’s distracted, she may not be able to get back on track.

My personal checklist for details, especially at the beginning of a novel, goes like this:

Do we absolutely need to know this right here and now?

Can the reader make sense of the story without it?

Can this particular information wait for a later scene?

Does the reader need all of this information? What can I leave out? What particular detail or small handful of details can I provide that will allow the reader to pick up on the rest?

Have I already conveyed this information? Does the reader need to be reminded?

How concise can I be and still get my meaning across? How can I convey the most information with the fewest words?

Sometimes the story needs to relax into a leisurely unfolding of events and information. It’s part of the ebb and flow of the narrative. At the beginning, and in important conversations that set up and develop friction between characters, it’s generally more effective to keep the scene short, clear, and focused. When information is doled out sparingly, in carefully chosen increments, the reader keeps reading. She’s eager to find out more.

Best of luck, and kudos for offering up this novel for critique. There’s good stuff here. Once the prose is honed and polished, I do think it will shine.

— Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award December 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.

Tripartite Chapter 1 (Revised) by Taliyah St. James

This is a good opening chapter. It starts off peacefully, defining who Kayla is and what she does. Then the pace picks up; we find ourselves in the middle of unfolding action. We can see what’s happening and to whom, and we catch a glimpse of how the plot will proceed from here. The pacing overall is quick, and the end of the chapter pulls us straight into the next.

Structurally, so far, we’re on solid ground. The prose has some work to do.

The first thing I would point to is an issue with characterization as well as style and diction. Kayla’s emotions tend to ramp up to 11, and to do so in repetitive sequences.

She wanted to talk to someone, but she hadn’t made any friends in Philly, no one who she could really talk to, no one she could tell about the hallucinations, no one who would laugh with her about the man outside Dr. Richards’ office, not even someone whom she could tell about Dr. Richards.

This kind of repetition-for-emphasis can be quite effective, but a little goes a long way. Especially when it’s combined with the ongoing internal monologue about her loneliness and her strange visual malfunction, it presses the issue just a little too hard, a little too long.

The same applies to her estrangement from her family. We’re told about it several times, in much the same words each time, with the same structure of estranged/wishes she weren’t/wants to get back in touch/can’t bring herself to.

In each case, judicious pruning and tightening will actually make the emotional arc stronger. Find just the right place for each bit of information, and let it resonate through the rest. If it needs to be brought up again, do so briefly and use different words; develop it a little more, add a touch of new information, so that we move forward even while we’re reminded of what we were told before.

A large part of the art of revision is the ability to position each nugget of information in just the right place. Put it there and it changes and enhances the whole novel. This applies to characterization, plot developments, emotional arcs—all the way down to the placement of words and phrases.

For example we’re told she’s in Philadelphia rather late in the chapter, so that for a moment I thought she lived somewhere else and had just arrived in the city. Then the context told me the novel is set in Philadelphia. If I’d had the information at the beginning, I wouldn’t have had that moment of confusion.

There’s another form of confusion that’s actually an attempt to clarify. Particularly when two characters of the same gender are interacting, rather than get tangled up in the pronouns, the narrative offers synonyms: Marla/the coordinator/the woman, her mom/the elder woman. The problem is that every time we get a new synonym, we have to stop and wonder if we’re being introduced to a new character. As a reader I prefer simple repetition of the character’s name or epithet (her mom, for example)—like said, it’s basically neutral, and it helps me keep track of who’s doing what.

While we’re looking at the use of words and the structure of sentences, I’d also like to suggest paying careful attention to the meanings of specific words, and to the ways they fit together. Sometimes when we’re trying for unusual images or combinations of words, we don’t quite hit the mark. Figurative language needs to be straight on point.

The man with the shadows on his face is almost there, but shadows has a different connotation than the shadowy nubs it’s meant to refer to. Face and forehead are two different kinds of facial space, and shadows have their own heft of meaning apart from the vestigial horns Kayla sees. A simple fix (I do like simple) is to change face to forehead. Or change it to the man with the shadowy horns or a similar variation on the theme.

Tears threatened Kayla’s eyelids is a little bit inside out. The context seems to be that tears are threatening to spill over, but the strong active construction actually shifts the meaning from “she’s almost ready to cry” to “tears from elsewhere assault her eyelids (but not necessarily her eyes),” or even “something is threatening to tear or shred her eyelids.”

A frown that dimpled his cheeks is hard to visualize. A frown is the drawing together of the eyebrows. Lately it’s shifted to, or been expanded to include, the mouth. (I’m old school. I say Nope. But English is a living language, and living things change.) I’m not sure how the cheeks fit into it, and dimples usually appear when a person is smiling. I’d like a clearer sense here of what the character is doing.

think it’s good to push the envelope with style and imagery, but sometimes we (and I include myself in this, for sure) find ourselves in a different word-universe than the one we intended.Then we have to pull back, regroup, and usually simplify.

There’s lots of potential here, and I love the way the chapter ends with a bang and a swoop—on to chapter two! Best of luck, and happy revising.

—Judith Tarr

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.