Grapevine/Market News

Unidentified Funny Objects is an annual anthology of humorous science fiction and fantasy. For their eighth anthology, they’re looking for all styles and sub-genres of speculative humor. Submission window opens April 1st and closes again on April 30, 2020. They want stories between 500 and 5,000 words, and payment is 10 cents a word.

Full details here.

Editor’s Choice Award January 2020, 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.

India World by Amit Gupta

“India World” caught my eye this month with its inversion of the Western immigrant narrative: an exploration of the gap between our stories about a place and what they truly are—and how stories change what a place can be. This piece outlines a sincere exploration of what home, country, and citizenship mean, but when the places and names are peeled back, it’s an exploration whose subtext is incredibly at odds with what the surface details are saying. This month, I’d like to discuss subtext, and how we can check—and be confident—that we’re in control of what our stories say below the surface.

On the surface, “India World” is already a fairly smooth and easy read: it’s the kind of idea fiction that is more invested in explaining its thesis than inferring it through shown action, but Rohit is a sufficiently sympathetic protagonist—and the way he’s torn between the parts of Delhi that remind him of his family and his unsteadiness with the rest of modern India a sufficiently compelling conflict—that the story engages me to the end. I didn’t have bobbles, pacing stresses, or issues with the surface of the work.

Even more interesting is the way “India World” treats stories about places. There’s a powerful statement being made about the way people live in assumptions and histories, not present-day realities, by the way Rohit’s parents haven’t matched their “land of opportunity” narrative to the air quality warnings they live under in San Jose; the idea of a theme park for white colonialist visitors where staff are rated on obsequiousness and deference, one nobody Indian-born wants to work at; Rohit’s father putting on the cowboy accent and Rohit, at work, being rated on his accent and given a failing grade while his supervisor derides his country to his face as a cultural wasteland. We never see that bright future India, the one that produces all the cutting-edge technology and has gained ascendance on the world stage. It’s a ghost lurking outside India World’s attractions. We only hear stories about it.

It’s a fascinating set of questions, but it’s where “India World” takes the gap between stories about places and their realities that I ultimately feel could use the most work and thought in the next draft—and that comes through in the subtext.

When I strip back everything, the action of the plot is: Rohit, who is “confused” about his cultural identity and heritage, goes back to his family’s country of origin to work a menial job and is taken under the wing of a more socially powerful older man. A speech from that older man inspires him sufficiently to immediately correct his inability to perform certain parts of his job, and he continues to advance via personal favoritism. No one else Indian-born wants to speak or interact with him outside his specific role. Ultimately, given the opportunity for indentured labour in India toward a potential permanent home there, he is called home to make—almost in his own words—America great again by reconnecting it with its historical pride, because it is good for immigrants to go home to their original countries and work on problems there instead of moving to more developed ones for a better life.

It’s a direct inversion of the immigrant experience, and I suspect that’s a commentary. But the question that left me with is: Whose story is that about how the world works? Whose values are these, really?

On the surface, “India World” sketches out an interesting future that’s doing some thinking about what makes a family, a home, and a culture. But what a story believes—what it truly endorses—is less about what it says than what, in that story, works: which actions are actually rewarded by results. And it’s hard for me as a reader to shake that “opportunities are created, not given” sounds a great deal like right-wing American pulling yourself up by your bootstraps; that Rohit’s triumphant choice to return sounds a lot like white American “immigrants go home”; that the idea that “education in who we had been, and who we could be again” being more important than actual economies and pragmatic skills training and resources has the waft of propaganda; that “if we can just remind ourselves of who we once were, maybe we can rise again” is one hair away from the established political slogan of people who run concentration camps for brown children.

“India World” is a story about the stories we tell; any story “India World” tells about India, America, Rohit, being bicultural, and how the world works is going to call extra attention to itself with readers—because “India World” has already asked us to pay attention to the gaps between stories and the real. Its readers are primed to notice what’s going on below the surface, what doesn’t fit.

And the story that is happening below the surface is, right now, not a fit with the story on top: an immigrant having the brutal and exploitative immigrant experience in India, instead of America, and rejecting it on the surface—despite completely, uncritically embracing every story America tells about how that brutal and exploitative experience is actually good below the surface. Even though India is not the most right-wing and isolationist version of America; it has its own ways of doing things, values, failure points, and stories.

So after a few reads of “India World” my main, and sole question is: Why is the vision of a world-leading, innovating India not more than a reskinned repeat of the American South? What is India’s future?

I want to be plain: I very strongly feel there is strong potential in this piece to do interesting, sincere, heartfelt work on the questions it’s already raising—what makes a place real, what makes a person real, what you do when you’re not quite enough for either of your cultures. There are already tantalizing hints laid that Rohit’s modern India isn’t all that it seems, but they’re currently undeveloped: both the tiny warning spike of a surveillance culture in the jalebi wala’s food contamination panic and Chandra’s slight hint about caste limitations are incredibly telling details—as is the incredibly exploitative path Rohit faces to Indian permanent residency status—but none of them quite pay off.

I’m interested in where those hints lead, and what the India of this story actually looks like and why, and what the implications of it are. In short, what I would suggest is the strongest opportunity to develop “India World” in future drafts is basically doing the core work of science fiction: taking some significant time to think about what strengths, shortcomings, failure points, quirks, and patterns a future, world-class-economy India would have, extrapolating them from the now, and working Rohit’s experience to include that place.

I’d love to see this story take into account what that thriving and unequal India’s values would be. Even if it ended up treating people like Rohit and Chandra in similarly cruel ways, I’d like to see it have its own reasons—ones that feel less pasted from another culture—with the goal of making its text and subtext match: so I, as a reader, could believe Chandra when he talks about throwing off colonialism without seeing it be enacted absolutely through “India World”.

Best of luck!

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

On The Shelves


The Best Of Elizabeth Bear by Elizabeth Bear (Subterranean, January 2020)

From the start of her career, Elizabeth Bear has been one of the most distinctive voices in modern speculative fiction. Her debut novel, Hammered, won the Locus Award for Best First Novel in 2005, the same year she received the John W. Campbell Award for Best New Writer. In the years since, she has produced an impressive array of standalone novels (Undertow) and multi-volume series (The Eternal Sky TrilogyThe New Amsterdam Series), along with a steady stream of stories and novellas, the best of which are gathered in this generous, absolutely necessary volume. The Best of Elizabeth Bear contains 27 stories and novellas, many never before collected, that encompass an astonishing range of themes, settings, ideas and emotions. Whether you choose to read this book from end to end, or to parcel the stories out in a more leisurely way, The Best of Elizabeth Bear will provide you with endless hours of provocative, deeply intelligent entertainment. This is imaginative fiction in its purest, most highly developed form. It doesn’t get better than this.

Editor’s Choice Award December 2019, 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.

Spore Ghoul Version 2 by Michael Curl

What makes us remember a horror story?  There are many possibilities.  It could be a twist ending, or a constant atmosphere of dread, or a particular character, or a relationship, or a decision, or a moment when we felt true fear.  Or it could be an image the story forms in our brains.  I felt a really memorable image etching itself into my brain several times in this story.

  • She was free now, to worm herself into every crevice, to name unnamed caves, and to delve into lakes to feed on the bodies of fish born without eyes.
  • Her mind counted days with enzyme-etched numbers across the walls, floors, and ceilings.
  • She built little dolls from thick ropes of herself, like her father had once made from straw, only these moved. 
  • She felt the soft pudding inside Isabella’s head.

These are strong and fresh and disturbing.  They make me very excited to imagine them.  This image of Margaret forms a strong heart for the story.

I think other elements in the story could better maximize the power of this heart.  The areas I want to discuss mainly fall into two areas:  plot and style.

I don’t think the plot effectively builds to Margaret’s transformation or adds significance to Margaret’s transformation.  Her goal at the start could be clearer, and the causal chain that leads to her transformation could be stronger.  Right now, I get the sense that Margaret’s goal in going to the caves to lose her virginity, but it’s unclear how she plans to do this.  It seems like couples go to the caves, so how would she find someone there?  For example, perhaps Margaret is going to the cave to intercept Jean and Isabella and demand Jean leave Isabella alone and try to convince him to choose her instead.  She could confront them and touch Jean’s face at a key moment, expecting to find him sympathetic but instead finding he’s laughing at her.  This could so horrify her that she would run deeper into the caves and beat her hands against the walls and perhaps find a drop and jump to kill herself.  This would allow her to be driving the action and to have one event cause the next (a causal chain), so it doesn’t feel like the author is manipulating the story.  Right now, the rain, Margaret’s reaction to the rain, and her fall feel manipulated by the author.

Some trauma related to her hands–feeling Jean’s mocking expression–could better tie to her multiplicity of hands, to wanting to feel things to block out that earlier sensation.  The more all these pieces work together, the more powerful they will be.

Another plot element that could be strengthened is the overall structure.  For me, structure is defined by the protagonist’s goals.  Right now, Margaret’s goal seems at first to lose her virginity in the caves.  Once she’s injured, her goal is to survive.  Once she dies, her goal is unclear, but perhaps to explore and enjoy her new abilities.  I think her goals need to be clearer.  The middle goal, to survive, doesn’t work very well because she has no power to struggle to achieve it, and her desire to survive doesn’t have any impact on the rest of the story (so it’s not part of a strong causal chain).  If, instead, she kills herself (just one possibility), then we could go from her goal to get Jean (which ends with her giving up and killing herself); to her goal to feel many other things with her hands and enjoy her new existence, forgetting about Jean; to finding she’s still upset about Jean, confronting him, and killing him.  This would again allow Margaret to be more strongly driving the story, create a clearer cause for that final confrontation, and create a clearer emotional arc for Margaret and the story.

One aspect of style that I think could be improved is the flow.  I have a blog post about flow here:  It explains how a passage flows when one sentence makes us curious about a particular thing, and the next sentence discusses that very thing.  I found myself confused and brought up short a number of times in the story when one sentence did not flow into the next.  The first paragraph, for example, feels quite disjointed.  The first sentence makes me want to know how far the cave actually is, but the second sentence has Margaret thinking she shouldn’t have gone alone.  The second sentence makes me want to know why she thinks that (what dangers she perceives), but the third sentence describes her walking ahead in a competent, seemingly safe way.  Improving the flow will allow readers to fall into the story and have a more immersive and vivid experience.

Another element that combines both plot and style is pacing.  Key moments in a story should be slowed down (dilated) with intense description.  Unimportant moments should be sped up with recapitulation.  This is a key element in horror, trapping readers in important moments and making them feel those moments intensely.  Many important moments in this story are rushed over, so they don’t carry the power they might.  One example is the section between “A wet finger slithered around her foot” and “her hands tasting the wet tang of salt.”  That should probably be about 4 times as long as it currently is.

I really enjoy some of the imagery in this story.  I hope my comments are helpful.

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

Writing Challenge/Prompt

We all have holiday traditions of one sort or another, no matter what the holiday or the culture we come from. Some our parents or grandparents instilled in us after learning them from their grandparents. Others are long established in the society we live in; still others we make up as we go along.

Now think of a character. What if she/he was tasked by a mysterious someone with the job of coming up with all new traditions for the biggest holiday of the year? And what if she/he discovered this mystery power made the same demand every few centuries, and refusing brought disaster? Ask yourself why and what purpose that request serves.

Now write a story about that concept. Twist it any direction you choose.

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)

Editor’s Choice Award December 2019, 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.

Copper Bride by C.K. Attner

I always appreciate a good author’s note when I’m reviewing submissions for an Editor’s Choice. The note on this chapter is excellent. It sums up the story so far, and points readers toward the issues that the author particularly wants to address. It also gives me a sense of what’s been happening with the revision process.

I’d like to talk about one issue which, as I understand from the note, has drawn attention from earlier reviewers. I think I see, here and there, where the text has been revised with it in mind. Penn’s characterization, and especially her motivation for doing what she does, is crucial because she’s both the protagonist and (at least in this chapter) the sole viewpoint character.

The note does a pretty good job of describing what the author wants to accomplish here. Penn comes across in this draft as naive and rather innocent, not picking up on the clues that an alert reader might pick up—the skulls, the braids, the significance of Penn’s hair color. It seems clear that this is a riff on the Bluebeard story (with a strong set of references to Mad Max: Fury Road). Some of that may be denial, but mostly she seems focused on her personal reactions to Barton’s physical presence. She rationalizes those reactions, tells herself everything’s fine, and makes assumptions about what’s going on that aren’t borne out by what other characters say and do.

This level of cluelessness can be very effective, especially if it sets the character up for some hard truths later on in the story. One thing that might help achieve this end would be to rethink some of ways in which the narrative presents Penn.

I was struck as I read by how most of her actions and reactions are external. We see what she sees, we see what others do around and to her. We hear what she says and what people say to her. We get descriptions of the setting and the events of the story.

What we don’t get, except in a handful of places, is a sense of living in Penn’s skin. She sees, she hears, she moves and is moved around. But we’re missing the deeper aspects of being Penn, how it feels to live in her body, what it does to her to see and hear and experience these events.

In the scene in which Barton cuts her hair, we get a bit of what could be. She’s clearly upset, and she expresses it by asking silent rhetorical questions—a kind of internal monologue that dips below the surface and gives us a bit of insight into her emotional life. A little of this goes a long way, but it’s a start.

When Barton embraces her, a similar thing happens. She feels as well as acts and talks. There’s a little more depth, a broader range of emotions, and we see how the moment affects her physically. That pang in the gut is an example of what we should see more of in the chapter.

In revision, maybe take on a challenge: In each scene, add one more layer of thought, feeling, reaction and response. If someone speaks to Penn, what is their tone? How does that tone affect Penn? Does that change what she does or how she responds? If she’s acting or being acted upon, what’s going on underneath? What is it like from the inside?

Maybe even change things up a bit, and switch to first person—not necessarily as a permanent change, but as a way of seeing more deeply into Penn’s character. Imagine that it’s you in this situation. How would you feel? What would you do or say? If it’s totally the opposite of what Penn does, think about why. How are you different from each other? What makes you different? What drives Penn to want what she wants and to do what she does, versus how you would do it?

Much of characterization happens on the inside, in the character’s mind and heart. Once you’ve learned to wear a character’s skin, it becomes easier to figure out what she’s doing and why, and from there, to develop the arc of her emotions as well as her actions. Then she’ll come alive on the page.

–Judith Tarr

Publication News

Bryce Heckman has exciting news: “My story “Become One” (workshopped here on OWW) will be appearing in a future issue of Flash Fiction Online as “Love and Assimilation.” This is my first pro sale. Thanks to everyone who provided comments! Your input is always greatly appreciated.”

Congratulations, Bryce! A first pro sale is super exciting.

Editor’s Choice Award December 2019, Fantasy

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

The Chained Prophets, Opening Chapter by Michael Kinn

There are a lot of good things happening in this opening chapter. It’s ambitious in its scope, and it stretches the boundaries of genre and craft in interesting ways. It portrays personal and family dynamics that contemporary readers can relate to, even while its central characters represent a rare and unusual spectrum of human experience.

I get the feeling that the author has thought carefully about these characters, and tried hard to imagine what it must be like to live in their heads and bodies. There’s a good deal of thinking through, in short: looking past the Cool Idea to the ramifications, its effect not only on the twins but on the world around them and the people they encounter in the course of the story.

The structure of the plot as it’s evident so far is solid enough, whatever may happen in later chapters. I’m fine with the shifts of viewpoint—for the most part it’s clear who’s thinking what and when, and I don’t find it confusing; in general I get why the shifts are necessary, and they generally serve a purpose in the narrative. Here I’d like to focus on an aspect of craft that’s usually addressed later in the process: the author’s use and choice of words.

In writing draft, writers often repeat the same information over and over, setting it down as it occurs to them or as it seems appropriate. That’s a perfectly valid way to write a draft, but in revision, the emphasis shifts from getting the words on the page to making the story clear and comprehensible to the reader.

At this point, the writer learns to ask what the reader needs to know and when she should know it. Is this information absolutely necessary right here and now? Am I providing enough information to satisfy the reader, but not so much that it overwhelms her or throws her out of the story? How much is enough, and how much is too much? If I repeat the same information in the same words, am I doing it intentionally, for effect, or have I lost track of what I said and how I said it? Can I eliminate the repetition, or find different ways to say what I need to say?

Many times it’s a trust issue. Trust the reader to get it the first time. She may need an occasional reminder, but probably not multiple times in the same scene. The way one twin feels the other’s scowl, for example, is a great detail and shows the care with which the author has imagined these characters. Because it’s so great however, and so evidently thought through, it only needs to be mentioned once in a while. It may be more effective to show other ways in which the twins share physical as well as emotional reactions.

In order to keep the reader reading, it’s important to keep the story moving. Repetition, along with blocks of exposition and backstory, acts as a series of speed bumps. Again, when revising, ask lots of questions. Do I want the story to pause here while I explain or expand? Have I earned the reader’s goodwill enough (especially at the beginning) to keep her reading while I fill in the background or explain why the characters are doing what they’re doing? Can I pare down my explanation to a few words that clarify what’s happening without stalling the action? Do I need the explanation at all here, or can I shift it to another part of the story? If I do that, will it work better, be clearer, engage the reader more, if I present it as a scene or a flashback? And if I do present it as a flashback, will the reader be able to shift in and out of the different timelines without losing track of each one?

I would suggest an experiment: going through the draft and cutting all repetitions of the same words and phrases or the same thoughts and actions, and then reading what’s left to see if any of these phrases need to go back in. If they do, might there be other ways to show what’s happening? Are there other words and phrases that would work as well while at the same time offering new insights into the story and the characters?

Check to make sure the words are the right words, as well. There are some odd usages here and there. For example:

We only need to avoid Terric from catching us unaware–Is avoid meant to be a synonym for prevent?

eager to fend up a surprise capture—The more usual phrase would be fend off.

He sensed Mher reach—More likely phrasing would be either He felt Mher reach or He sensed Mher reaching.

Once the prose matches the care and attention paid to the worldbuilding and the characters, the novel will be stronger, and the line of the story will be clearer and more compelling. It’s a good start, and it will be even better. Best of luck, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr


Editor’s Choice Award December 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.

No One Left To Save by Dave Herz

I was struck this month by the goofy, gutshot way “No One Left to Save” tackles its central ethical question: what do you do with a nuclear payload when there’s nothing left to lose? While this piece manages to juggle action, genuine emotion, a philosophical problem worth considering, and a slightly tragic screwball feel, I felt the ending didn’t quite bring all those elements home. So this month, I’d like to dig into the difference between resolving the surface plot conflict and the deeper emotional or thematic conflict we’ve set up, and how to bring those closer to each other so the end of a story satisfies readers.

Well-paced, well-planned, and built around an absolutely solid plot twist, “No One Left to Save” sets up, despite its tongue-in-cheek and fairly dry sense of humour, a serious dilemma from the second scene. With the entire crew reeling from their own personal losses and taking very different sides, it’s an effective and compelling engine for story, one which keeps its stakes fresh and relevant until the last paragraphs.

The tone is also key in making “No One Left to Save” work for me: the slight absurdity of starting with Joseph’s decision-making lifehacks conveys something of the futile feeling of staring into a tragedy without making the story itself so heavy I can’t read on. Lines like “Joseph underlined everyone twice for emphasis” and the Happy Show soundtrack are legitimately funny, and work as a solid counterbalance to the grimness of the situation—and tiny, awful details like Nasrine’s burn marks, where the real emotional impact of what’s just happened above peeks through. It’s legitimately impactful to see the slightly goofy and definitely dark idea of torture through kids’ program jingle just serve to remind Joseph how much he loves—and misses—his family, and there’s real skill on display here in how those emotional moments weave together with thrillerlike action and sidelong humour, keeping the story balanced and moving without miring it in awfulness or getting so unserious that the stakes are undermined.

However, the side effect of that combination is that the emotional conflict (Joseph’s sense of responsibility versus his personal grief) and the plot-level conflict (nuke Garland or not?) aren’t always given the same depth and screen time, and that means when Joseph takes a third way and pulls something unknown to the reader out from up his sleeve, it resolves the plot conflict, but in a way that feels significantly weightless. If Joseph had a self-destruct code from High Command all this time, why bother with the general escapades of the previous scenes? Garland is saved, but Joseph’s complex feelings about duty, grief, and children terminate in an abrupt bullet and an explosion, and leaves the question of his grief and what he’s doing with it—the emotional engine of the whole story—running in thin air, unresolved.

This is where the question of emotional versus plot conflicts come into play—and where the two pull apart. Readers take a few cues from a story to figure out what the most important issue is, one of the simplest being page space spent on a question—and “No One Left to Save” spends a lot of page space on Joseph wrestling with the question of ending children’s lives explicitly because of his family, his own children. His reaction to Serena’s threat is a feeling of peace, but that’s one line of prose; there’s no explicit tip into proactively choosing to die for this—a very different headspace indeed. What I remember as the reader is the feeling that got the page weight: grief, and love, and wanting people to live—and his actions in the ending as written does not follow reasonably from that tone. That leaves an overall feeling of a mismatch in play between what the story’s telling us is the problem and the problem it solves. The solution’s reasonably clever, but what I was reading “No One Left to Save” for was its goofy side, its snarky side, its loving side—all those things that counterbalanced the grimness and made the piece so readable. In short, its heart.

What I’d suggest in addressing that is patching from either side, depending on the effect you’re looking to achieve: a grimmer story that sets up that Twilight-Zone plot twist of the self-destruct code, or the more wryly screwball story that brings humanity into a somewhat stock situation. Depending on which end the revisions come from—and which result they move towards—I’d look to bridge that gap by either adjusting page weight to emphasize the emotion that leads logically to that decision, or thinking back through the decision to see if one that flows more logically from Joseph’s headspace as described can be found. Either way, it’s substantive work, but the kind of work that’ll bring what happens—the plot!—and why it happens closer together so the story feels like a unity.

In terms of more minor suggestions: I’m not entirely sure that the opening scene works for me. It’s beautifully written in and of itself in terms of texture, sensory information, and effect, but the tone never matches the rest of the story’s claustrophobic atmosphere; that perspective is never revisited. It ends up feeling extraneous, when the information about what’s at stake—and what happened to Arkhaven—is already embedded in the second scene. As it stands, I feel like it just delays the actual start of action: Joseph’s briefing.

This is also marked as a middle draft, which means it’s probably already slated for more polish, but I’d also suggest a revision that looked at line-by-line edits: from checking on the rhythm of prose to trimming out duplicate information, and finding ways to make lines like “Nasrine smiled. ‘You’re welcome. We are old friends, after all.'” potentially less obviously designed to give information to the reader over showing how two old friends would, more naturally, talk. I think there’s a chance of trimming a few hundred words out of this piece just on small edits, tightening, and line-by-line work, and making it more accessible for magazines with wordcount caps in the process.

I think there’s great potential here for an impactful, claustrophobic, meaningful narrative that doesn’t lose its tongue-in-cheek sense of humour and humanity—with a few edits and some careful thought about what kind of action would close the question Joseph’s relationship with his family opened.

Best of luck!

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