Reviewer Honor Roll

The Reviewer Honor Roll is a great way to pay back a reviewer for a really useful review. When you nominate a reviewer, we list the reviewer’s name, the submission/author reviewed, and your explanation of what made the review so useful. The nomination appears in the Honor Roll area of OWW the month after you submit it, and is listed for a month. You can nominate reviewers of your own submissions or reviewers of other submissions, if you have learned from reading the review. Think of it as a structured, public “thank you” that gives credit where credit is due and helps direct other OWWers to useful reviewers and useful review skills.

Visit the Reviewer Honor Roll page for a complete list of nominees and explanatory nominations.

[ November 2017] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Lea Zane
Submission: Mayana’s Hunt by Dave Zeryck
Submitted by: Dave Zeryck

Reviewer: Gregor Hartmann
Submission: The Great Scarecrow Massacre by Robert Haynes
Submitted by: Robert Haynes

Reviewer: Mitchell S
Submission: The Fervent (Opening Chapter) – C4C by Jonathan White
Submitted by: Jonathan White

Reviewer: James Sadler
Submission: Dragon’s Hope (Working Title) by Donna Collins
Submitted by: Donna Collins

Writing Challenge/Prompt

You’ve spent the last six years trying to convince your twin girls that the monster under the bed is imaginary. No matter how hard you try, the girls insist the monster is real…and he’s lonely.

You come home from work late one night and the monster is at the kitchen table, having cookies and milk with your daughters.

Write a story about what happens next.

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).

On The Shelves (December)

Canto Bight (Star Wars): Journey to Star Wars: The Last Jedi by Saladin Ahmed, Rae Carson, Mira Grant, John Jackson Miller (Del Rey December, 2017)

Soon to be seen in Star Wars: The Last Jedi, welcome to the casino city of Canto Bight. A place where exotic aliens, captivating creatures, and other would-be high rollers are willing to risk everything to make their fortunes. Set across one fateful evening, these four original novellas explore the deception and danger of the lavish casino city.

 

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Editor’s Choice Review November 2017, 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.

Case Race Part 1 by Bobby Harrell

I was pleased to see this story segment, because I’ve been kind of a broken record in Editor’s Choices about “offstaging” or portraying key actions in a story through characters talking about them afterward—and I’ve also been reflecting that every rule or guideline (since writing rules are really the Pirates’ Code) will sooner or later have its exception.

The opening of this story, for me, is one of those exceptions. Normally I would encourage an author to go for immediate experience: write the scene as it happens, for more vivid effect. But here, opening after the fact and revealing the backstory in stages helps build suspense and creates a mystery. What really happened to Label? How will the stranger aspects shape the story as it moves forward?

These are the kinds of questions an author should want the reader to ask, to keep her turning the pages. Breaking a “rule” allows us to ask them, by revealing the backstory in discrete installments while developing the characters and building the world around them. By the time the story moves into present time, we have a sense of where we are and who is traveling with us, and a set of questions that we hope will be answered as the story continues.

Tl;dr: If it serves a distinct narrative purpose, and the story works well when told this way, you can break any “rule” in the book. Pirates’ Code.

I do have some questions and confusions that might be answered in revision. (Because editors, even more than readers, always have questions.)

First, Label’s name. That’s as much a personal quirk as anything else; I’m sensitive to the power of names. Which leads me to read her name as “Label on a bottle,” though I suspect it may be more of a French version, shortened from La Belle and pronounced that way? Because I’m reading it the way I am, I keep bouncing a little bit out of the story, wondering how and why she received the label, and what it means in her world.

I’m not quite clear on what a case is, as well. There are bits and pieces, but I think a little bit of description might be helpful. Show more detail about her getting into her case, perhaps? Let us have a few more visuals?

The same applies to what the race is, how it works, and where it happens. I was confused for quite a while as to whether the race was real or virtual, whether the case was an actual vehicle/body armor or a sophisticated VR device. By the time the segment ended, I was pretty sure it was a real-world race, but I’m still wondering if I was missing something.

The sparseness of description mostly works, but I think a little more here and there will clarify parts of the worldbuilding. For example I wondered how the garage could only be a meter tall—are humans that much smaller in this universe than they are here? I’d have liked just a bit of explanation there.

One more thing caught my attention, and that’s the ethnicity of some characters’ accents. I get the worldbuilding element of populations preserving their dialect, but there’s an art to portraying that dialect that I’m missing here. I really am glad the text didn’t try to go full-on phonetic dialect; that’s so hard to read and so difficult to do without tripping over questions of racism and classism. But the ms. has further to go, I think, in evoking the sound and sense of these characters’ speech. It’s almost there with certain word choices, bits of distinctive vocabulary. It just needs a touch more.

I might suggest studying these dialects, really listening to them. Vocabulary and diction are part of it, but so are sentence constructions, rhythm and flow, the way people put their words together. If the rhythm is right, and if the choice of words and idioms is likewise on point, the reader can get an amazingly clear sense of how the dialect works, even when the text is written in more or less standard English. It’s like a line drawing: catching the handful of elements that convey the sense of the whole.

As to the question in the Author’s Note: I think it’s a solid start. It makes me want to read on, get to know the characters and the world better, and see how the story unfolds.

—Judith Tarr

Grapevine/Market News

Apex Publications will be accepting unsolicited submissions of novels/novellas January 1st through January 31st.

Apex will consider novellas in length of 30,000 to 40,000 words and novels in length up to 120,000 words, and are particularly looking for novels that fit within the dark sci-fi category. Dark fantasy and horror submissions are also welcome. A literary agent is not required for submission.

Full details can be found here.

Editor’s Choice Review November 2017, 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.

Chapter One, Thy Gods Awaken, Part One: Witch Queen by Tony Valiulis

I very much appreciate the inclusion of the synopsis with this chapter. It lets me see how the chapter fits into the whole, and how the author envisions that whole. Synopses are Not easy; kudos for attempting it, and extra chocolate for including it.

It’s a good synopsis, too. Says what it needs to, rounds up the main events, introduces the characters and sets up their relationships to one another. Well done.

The chapter is an interesting segue from it, with quite a different overall voice and tone. There’s a lot of emotionally laden language, lots of strong active words and deliberately hard-hitting imagery: Kayla snaps awake, she’s drenched with sweat, she’s stabbed with needles of panic. She’s nauseated, we’re told more than once, and given the reasons for it: nightmares and terrifying visions. Her mouth melts, her lips curl, her heart screams.

I’m a big fan of active writing, but I’m also a fan of Just Enough To Get The Job Done. Writing is a constant balancing act between not conveying quite enough, and stating the case VERY VERY STRONGLY.

Here I think that dialing it back a few notches would retain Kayla’s vivid perception of the world, but allow the narrative to move along more smoothly. If we’re constantly bombarded with powerful images, we become inured to them; then when something really needs to stand out, there’s nowhere to go. All the big! Bold! IMAGERY! is taken.

There’s good stuff here. I like the riff on the ancient and dishonorable mirror-description trope: we’re teased with it, then it becomes a plot driver all on its own, showing us the blond (note spelling; it’s a French word, and there’s no feminine –e when describing a male) dream boy. If Kayla’s narrative up to this is toned down, there’s more room for her to react strongly here.

I’d also note how often Kayla’s thoughts take on a life of their own—in one case, explicitly so. They drift, they float. She jerks and pushes them. They’re personified, as if they exist apart from her.

This can happen when we try to focus tightly on a viewpoint: we filter it. We remind the reader that she’s reading a narrative about a fictional character, and here’s the character, this is where we’re standing, this is our camera angle. Rather than experiencing events directly, the reader is pushed back a step.

Often if we remove that filter, we find that we’ve not only pared down the word count, we’ve brought the story closer to the reader. Kayla is in a state of confusion, that comes across clearly. If her thoughts are jumping all over the place, the reader can follow her; can feel them as she feels them, without needing to be told that she’s our eye on this world.

The same applies to the repeated details: her nausea, her feelings about the villagers, her reactions to the boy, her reflections on what’s about to happen today. A little more subtlety, a lowering of the emotional temperature, a general calming down, can actually be more effective in conveying the strength of her feelings. It’s good old Less Is More.

This might also help with the general comments about portraying a female character. I like very much that so much of this world is female—that there’s so clear an effort to counteract the tendency of many writers to create worlds with a Strong Female Character, but everyone else is default-male. This is good. I applaud.

But because Kayla is so emotionally over the top, she runs into the problem of the Emotional Female. It’s not intentional, I don’t think, but it’s a trope and a tradition, and the strength of her reactions would tend to trigger it.

What I might suggest is an exercise I’ve tried a few times myself: genderbending a few chapters. Write her as male and see if anything changes. Do his reactions come across differently? Does he feel things in a different way? Do you as author feel differently about him? Can you translate this back to the original Kayla?

Women are really just people, but our culture treats them as Other. Writing them as people (i.e. male) can sometimes shake the assumptions loose. It may be worth a try, at least to see if Kayla is coming across as intended.

Best of luck with this ms.! It has lots of potential.

–Judith Tarr

Publication News

William Delman has a few announcements to make: “In addition to selling “Minerva” to NewMyths.com last month, I also sold “Adiona Falters” (a former Editor’s Choice) to Little Blue Marble, and “The Commonwealth Turn” was purchased first by Kzine (electronic rights), and then by The Centropic Oracle (audio rights).”

Christine Lucas wants us to know: “OWW alum here. I have good news to share. My short story “The Drowned Man’s Kiss” that was an editor’s pick back in 2011 and received great feedback from guest editor C.C.Finlay (and many OWW member) sold to Pseudopod for their Artemis Rising 4 event. It took me a few years and several drafts, but I finally made it. And thank you all for your help.”

Editors Choice Review November 2017, 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.

There’s Someone In The House by Johann Thorsson

The opening chapter of There’s Someone in the House shows a major reversal, starting out with a husband, Michael Stillwater, eagerly arriving home from a business trip to see his wife, and ending with–I think–the husband, possessed by some entity–killing his wife. The smooth flow and building suspense keep me reading to the end of the chapter.

The chapter also has some nice writing that draws me in. The ends of the first two paragraphs–“It bored him” and “A bit of an enigma, called in for specialized jobs”–provide intriguing hints that Michael is not the standard protagonist. Once he gets home, some of the descriptions help to evoke fear. I particularly like “Her voice was a rush of leaves,” which I can actually hear, and the paragraph in which Michael hears a soft hello, “Deceptively quiet and menacing, heard like you ‘hear’ the words someone mouths from across a crowded room.” That is very evocative.

So the chapter has a lot going for it. I found after reading it, though, that I didn’t have any urge to continue. Pulling readers through and leaving them satisfied can work well for a short story. But a novel chapter, especially a first chapter, needs to leave readers eager to turn the page. I think there are several elements in the chapter that could be revised to help make that happen. Of course, it’s difficult to know exactly what to suggest without knowing where the novel is headed, but I’ll try to cover various possibilities.

One reason I don’t feel a strong need to continue reading is that I’m not attached to Michael, and I’m not terribly upset about his wife’s death. If I really cared about Michael or I really cared about Ellen and couldn’t walk away without a better understanding of her death, then I’d want to keep reading. But I barely know either of them. The first two paragraphs tell me some interesting things about Michael’s work life, but they don’t show Michael. It’s exposition, what is often called “driving to the story,” or in other cases “walking to the story,” “flying to the story,” or “riding to the story.” This means that the story starts with the character on the way to a place, and that place is where the true story will begin. As he travels, the character thinks about his life, filling the reader in on various facts. This is generally not a strong way to open a story or chapter. These paragraphs do get me interested in Michael’s work, but they don’t allow me to get attached to Michael, because I don’t see him in action. And once he arrives home, all of that information seems irrelevant. He becomes what seems to me a much more standard protagonist. He doesn’t act in any way that seems connected to his life as a contract lawyer to the stars. If his profession is going to be important later in the novel–and I suspect it is because it’s included here–then the novel could open with a scene of Michael doing his job, creating suspense over this false celebrity meltdown or some other issue, and making us care about Michael (either in a positive or negative way) by seeing how he operates in this milieu. This could help set up some plot elements that will become important in later chapters and create suspense that will make us want to keep reading after Chapter 1. It can also make us care more about Michael, so when he’s possessed, we’ll be upset. Ellen could even call several times during the meeting, but Michael can’t take the calls, so there can be conflict between the two parts of Michael’s life. Or maybe it appears that Ellen is calling, but when he checks the voicemail, he hears only a weird whisper he can’t understand, and when he calls her back, she says she never called. (And once he gets home, he can be getting calls regarding his job while he’s searching for the intruder. Job’s like Michael’s generally don’t limit themselves to work hours and can easily be all-consuming.)

For me, starting a horror novel with a character being killed feels quite familiar and gives me the sense that the author doesn’t have faith in his ability to get my attention without killing someone. But the writing in this chapter indicates to me that the author could definitely pull me into a novel with a scene in which no one dies. So why not establish Michael and get readers attached to him, and show his relationship with Ellen, so we can care about her too.

Another reason I don’t finish the chapter eager to turn the page is that the plot feels self-contained. It provides the reversal I mentioned above, and then ends with Michael discovering what has happened. I’m thinking that Michael is going to be arrested for his wife’s murder and go to jail for life. That doesn’t leave me a lot of reason to keep reading. I’m not terribly curious about who possessed Michael–I’m imagining it’s some dead, disgruntled celebrity client. But I don’t really care. I’ve read lots of possession stories, so for me, that’s the least interesting aspect of the chapter. I was more interested when there was a mysterious shadowy presence in the house that whispered to them. But if the chapter ended in an unexpected way that shed new light on either the characters or the possession plot, I could be excited to continue. If I had some intriguing suspicion, such that his wife made this happen so she could get revenge on Michael for cheating on her, I would want to keep reading to see if my theory was accurate. Or if Michael had an unusual reaction to events, such as he buried his wife in the backyard, or jumped in the car and headed out of the country, or called an enemy over to the house to frame him for the murder, or the experience gave him an idea how to solve the celebrity problem he was working on earlier, I would be eager to turn the page to follow his character and see how that played out. Or if there was some clue or strange element discovered at the end, such as his wife’s body parts were arranged to spell out a message, or some old (and lost) item of Michael’s was left beside the body, then I would want to keep reading to learn what that meant.

Thinking about plot on a larger scale, if Michael is the protagonist of the novel, the end of the chapter feels like the end of Act 1. I feel that he’ll change his goal in the next chapter (which will start a new act) to figuring out who possessed him and getting revenge on that person. But Act 1 (in a three-act novel) usually involves the first 25% or so of a novel, so things are feeling a bit out of balance. The novel feels like it’s rushing through important Act 1 elements. Having Act 1 build suspense through about a quarter of the way through the novel allows the crisis that ends Act 1 to have more power. The other possibility I see is that Michael is not the protagonist and this chapter is playing the role of a prologue–establishing an evil that will go after the protagonist. I don’t think that’s where this is going, but if it is, that’s an overused structure in horror that I wouldn’t recommend. I think it would still be better to develop Michael over several scenes/chapters so we care more when he’s faced with a possible intruder, possession, and murder.

I enjoyed many elements in this chapter. I hope my comments are helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, writer, director of Odyssey

Writing Challenge/Prompt

What’s it like to be an explorer, the first to see lands, sights–and even universes–that no one has seen before. And what does it feel like to be out there all alone?

Now write a story about a character in that position.

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).

On The Shelves

Red Dust and Dancing Horses and Other Stories by Beth Cato (Fairwood Press, November 2017)

This debut collection from Nebula-nominated author Beth Cato brings together works that span history and space, a showcase of vividly imagined speculative stories that range from introspective and intense to outright whimsical. Here you’ll find the souls of horses bonded into war machines of earth and air, toilet gnomes on the rampage, magical pies, a mad scientist mother, a bitter old man who rages against giant extraterrestrial robots, and a sentient house that longs to be a home. The book features 28 stories and 6 poems, and includes Cato’s acclaimed story “The Souls of Horses.”

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