Member News Of Note

The Hugo Awards were announced this weekend in a ceremony at World Con 2017, held in Helsinki, Finland.

N.K. Jemisin’s book The Obelisk Gate was awarded the 2017 Hugo for Best Novel. Congratulations to Nora from everyone at OWW!

Publication News

Jeremy Tolbert has wonderful news: “It can now finally be revealed that my story “Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” will be appear in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. This marks my first ever Year’s Best reprint. It’s a high honor to be included alongside these authors, including Nora Jemisin, Greg Van Eekhout, Caroline M. Yoachim, and many more.”

Fran Wilde also has awesome news: “I’m delighted to be working with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Lee Harris, Irene Gallo and the fantastic team at Tor.com Publishing on two new Gem Universe novellas, I cannot wait to share them with readers! The Fire Opal Mechanism and The Book of Gems are set in the same world as The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing, 2016) and the short story “The Topaz Marquise” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies). The Fire Opal Mechanism will be published in 2018.”

On The Shelves

Call of Fire (Blood of Earth) by Beth Cato (Harper Voyager, August 2017)

When an earthquake devastates San Francisco in an alternate 1906, the influx of geomantic energy nearly consumes Ingrid Carmichael. Bruised but alive, the young geomancer flees the city with her friends, Cy, Lee, and Fenris. She is desperate to escape Ambassador Blum, the cunning and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific—the confederation of the United States and Japan—achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father—the man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco.

When Lee and Fenris are kidnapped in Portland, Ingrid and Cy are forced to ally themselves with another ambassador from the Unified Pacific: the powerful and mysterious Theodore Roosevelt. But even TR’s influence may not be enough to save them when they reach Seattle, where the magnificent peak of Mount Rainier looms. Discovering more about herself and her abilities, Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to light the long-dormant volcano . . . and a war that will sweep the world.

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth) by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, August 2017)

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

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Member News Of Note

OWW’s own N.K. Jemisin and Charles Coleman Finlay have both been nominated for this year’s World Fantasy Awards.

N.K. Jemisin is nominated for the Best Novel award for The Obelisk Gate.

Charles Coleman Finlay has been nominated for the Special Award, Professional, for his work editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Congratulations to both Nora Jemisin and Charlie Finlay!

Editor’s Choice Review July 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.

The Calico Project – Chapter 1 by Christine Berman

I like the depth and detail of the worldbuilding in this chapter. There’s been a lot of thought put into the setting and the background, and the cast of characters is already large, with lots of complex connections.

As I read, I kept coming back to two things that I think would help the story work better.

Pacing

Noss does a lot of running from place to place on deadlines. First to find the missing professor before the shuttle takes off, then to make it to her anniversary celebration, and finally to escape from the murderous intruder. All of these actions are constructed on a framework of urgency, but the accumulation of details slows it down.

Science fiction loves its exposition, and a well-built world invites a fair bit of it. The writer’s job is to keep the story moving while the world unfolds within it. But story movement and the characters’ physical movement are not necessarily the same thing.

Noss runs around while the story takes place elsewhere. In the beginning, there are two things happening: the cheerful ruse to get her home in time for her anniversary celebration, and the discovery that her research has finally produced results. Both, logistically, take more than fifteen minutes to play out, and she’s external to both. Her partner is the one who concocts the ruse, and the Professor on the ground and Malia on the space station tell her what she’s been doing and how it’s succeeded.

What if all of this activity were rolled up into a tighter scene, in which Noss gives the reader a view of Earth and her purpose there, discovers for herself that her project is a success, all while rushing to get everything locked in before her apparent deadline—and then learns that the deadline is Alam’s idea? This would speed up the pacing and put Noss in the middle of the story-action. And then we’d get the laughing reversal of, “Oh! Alam’s pulled one on me.”

I thought for a while that Alam was the shuttle pilot, but he appears to be doing his thing elsewhere–it’s a bit confusing. Could he be the pilot? Would that work in terms of who he is and what he does for the station?

Once on the station, having rushed to get there, Noss slows down. There’s no urgency really. She focuses on work without thinking of Alam at all, then when she’s reminded, she informs Malia (and the reader) that he’s out on a flight, so there’s plenty of time to get some work done.

What this does is show the reader that what’s presented as urgent is actually not. The tension ramps up, then when we get to the payoff, it turns out there isn’t any. It’s a trick to make sure Noss gets home in time, but once she does, she doesn’t need to be there for hours.

The same thing happens in the final sequence. The potential is tremendous: an intruder on the station impersonating Alam, a handful of characters with speaking roles killed, Noss apparently next in line. But when the intruder reaches her, all he does is tell her to run. The stakes weren’t high after all. She’s not in actual danger. She runs away and locks herself up safely in her quarters.

Narrative pacing has its ups and downs, its fast gallops and its breathing spaces, but in this chapter, the deadlines pile one on top of the other. It’s possible they can end in a pause, as Noss takes stock of all that’s happened, but the action up to that point should move along briskly. It escalates from “must find Professor and make the shuttle” to “intruder on station, innocents killed.”

Keeping up the pace means tightening the timeline not only in the opening sequence but in the middle one, when Noss arrives at the station. If she gets there, expects to meet Alam, but runs into the intruder instead, there’s no slackening of tension. The expository bits can be sketched in as they’re needed, but quickly, to keep from impeding the movement of the story.

Speed is the key here, and it needs tight plotting, which includes tight writing. A lot of description, a lot of adjectives, slows the pace and weakens the suspense. The time for those would be in the quiet zones, the intervals of slower movement in between the action scenes. This first chapter is very much an action scene.

The second thing I would think about is Character Motivation. This includes emotional arcs and characters’ actions and interactions. On the most basic, word-by-word level, there are some odd physiological descriptions that might bear rethinking: Noss’s heart thrashes, her stomach flutters, her chest compresses, every muscle locks and freezes. This seems intended to convey high emotion, but as a reader I kept stopping to try to figure out how these things are physiologically possible, or in the case of the chest compressions, to disentangle the image from the medical term.

Images can be vivid and unusual, but their meaning should be clear, and their emotional affect should match the overall level of the scene. The same applies to characters’ words and actions. When Noss forgets about Alam after she arrives on the station, on the one hand it’s clear she’s married to her work, which is solid characterization, but on the other, she’s here at this particular point because it’s their anniversary. That would logically stay on top of her thought processes even if she does have time to get to work before the party. If she then gets lost in her work, that makes more sense–and Malia could remind her, “Hey! It’s almost time for your date!”

The intruder’s arrival is shocking, and the deaths of her neighbors should hit Noss hard. So should the fact that he’s impersonating Alam. I think she would deduce that something has happened to Alam, and rather than running to her quarters and hiding, would try to get as much information as she can, as fast as she can, about whether he’s still out on patrol and whether he’s safe. Then she would use that data to either find him if he’s missing, or alert him if he’s away from the station.

I would also wonder why, having killed several inhabitants including a child, the intruder lets Noss go. Why doesn’t he kill her, too? Even if that will be explained later, here I think she would wonder about it, and be emotionally affected by it. Might she be grieved and/or angry about the child, guilty that she’s still alive, and frantic about Alam? What other emotions might tangle themselves up in her, and what might they motivate her to do? Would she try to protect the station? What about her work? Would she want to make sure that’s safe, either before or right after she’s checked on Alam?

There’s a good story here, with good bones. I would read on to find out if Alam is all right, and if the station is undergoing a larger attack, and what Noss does about it and how it all comes out.

–Judith Tarr

Member News Of Note

Elizabeth Schechter has become the latest OWW alumni to become a finalist for the prestigious PRISM Award for Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Romance. Elizabeth’s book Heart’s Master is nominated for best erotic novel. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

Editor’s Choice Review July 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.

Blood, Glass And Sugar- Chapters 1-3 by Lyndsay E Gilbert

I have a soft spot for high-school fantasy adventures, and an equally soft one for mss. that bubble gently on the back burner till it’s time to slide the cover off and see what’s cooking in there. Here we have both, which for me is a win. With bonus title-that-makes-me-look-twice. As a reader I’ll want to know what the title refers to, and why those particular things (blood, glass, sugar) are important to the story.

The author’s note mentions a wish to avoid “cliches.” What I’d like to do here is talk about something a bit different, which is tropes.

Tropes are the broader category of which cliches are a subset. Every genre has them. They’re elements that help to define the genre. If a reader sees a particular trope or combination thereof, she can be pretty sure of what she’s going to get in terms of plotting, characters, and story-stuff.

The challenge for the writer is to walk the line between elements a reader wants to see in the genre, and elements that the reader has seen too much of. The devil is in the details: the combination of characters and events that make up the story, how these characters and events are portrayed, and how it’s all written: the choice of words, the emotional arcs, the ways in which these unfold. There has to be some element of freshness in the tropes, a little bit of surprise—but not too much; past a certain point, conventions shift from bent to broken, and the reader feels as if the author is messing with her. The trick is to respect the conventions even while offering a new take on them.

Here we have the school, the dance, the hard-working and vulnerable young student, the Mean Girls, the tough girl, the popular boy, the cool stepmother, the old curiosity shop, the wicked old witch, the magic mirror, the shady bar, the even older and grottier shop, the gang of evil beings, the undertone of werepeople and vampire-type people and faery-type people…and that’s just the first three chapters. The signal these send is that this is a school story, this is fantasy, it’s probably urban fantasy, and it has distinct fairytale elements. We may also be seeing some vampires and werewolves, from hints in the descriptions of the characters (notably the queen of the Mean Girls).

The ms. could benefit from a line edit to catch the word- and phrase-level wibbles and bobbles, the repetitions, the over-and-overs, the words and phrases and bits of conversation, but the first question I would ask is, “How can I streamline my story?” By this I mean, are there too many things going on in these chapters? Can I pare them down and focus on just a few, and grow my story out of those?

If we tease out the different threads, we’ve got Evie and her problems at school, Evie and her friend, Evie and her stepmother, the two shops, the tattoo, the explosion and its consequences, and the mysterious bad guys. While it’s important to establish the character and setting at the start, again it’s a balance between too much and not enough. There’s a lot going on here, and it can be hard to follow.

How much of the school sequence do we absolutely need at the start? Do we need all the details of what Evie is doing, what her school assignments are exactly, and the multiple encounters with the Mean Girls? Can all of this be condensed into one, tight and focused scene, perhaps in the car park, with Louise to the rescue?

The key I think would be the destruction of her art portfolio—but all we may need of the opening scene is a mention of why she’s late at school, how she drew the raven, then she and Trix confront Bella and company. Perhaps Louise and Farez arrive in time to break it up, and off they all go? Or better yet just concentrate on Louise, and show Trix heading off to her own ride, without getting overly specific about the who and what.

The same applies to the shopping sequence. Could the two shops and the space between them be combined into one? If Louise is enchanted by the mirror, can Evie be lured into another part of the shop for a tattoo (perhaps moving the raven to this part of the story), then bad things start to happen, and she overhears the bad guys’ conversation?

All of this tightening does two things. It reduces confusion as the reader gets to know the characters and the setting, and sharpens the focus of the story in general. It also opens up room to work with the tropes that shape and define this particular story.

Some questions to ask in revision might be:

-How can the Mean Girls be particularly and uniquely mean? Apart from messing up Evie’s portfolio, what can they do to make her life miserable,without adding a lot to the word count? Is there some magical aspect that can be hinted at, to be made more obvious later? I kind of get a Cinderella vibe, though the mirror has a Snow White angle to it as well. If Cinderella is one of the root stories here, how about two Mean Girls, rather than a gang? Or two with speaking parts, the rest in background for now?

-What can the Tough Goth Friend do or be or say here that helps to advance the story in the direction you want it to go? What is unique about her personality and her role in the story? How does she contribute to the story—positively or negatively?

-Louise is likable and Evie likes her, and that’s a clear departure from the Wicked Stepmother trope. Can you think of other ways to bend the trope? Is she important to the story going forward? Will she continue to play a major role in Evie’s adventures? That would be different, and if it’s played right, it might even win over a dedicated YA reader who wants the focus to remain tightly on the young adult characters.

-Work on dialogue especially. There’s a lot of back and forth in this draft, which might be condensed and focused and pared down to short, pithy interchanges that both establish character and advance the story. The same applies the stage business around the dialogue: just a bit here and there, where it’s most apt or most striking. This will make the words that are said and the actions that are shown stand out more clearly and work harder to move the story forward.

It’s your novel, of course, and your decision as to where it goes and how it gets there. It’s an interesting start, and looks as if it could go off in some intriguing directions. With a leaner, more tightly focused beginning, the key elements of the story will be clearer to see and the lines of the plot easier to follow. Then there’s a bit more room to freshen up the tropes and play with the conventions of the genre.

–Judith Tarr

On The Shelves

The Lays of Anuskaya: The Complete Trilogy (Omnibus Edition) by Bradley Beaulieu ( Quillings Literary July 2017)

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo…

 

 

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Editor’s Choice Review July 2017, 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.

My Friend Jules by Stanislav Sredl

“My Friend Jules” caught my attention this month with its playful, rhythmic narrative voice and unconventional narrative conflict: an invisible friend’s desperate attempts to help a little boy get well, despite the eventual, brutal cost to himself. There’s a lot of tongue-in-cheek creativity here, unfortunately counterbalanced by small issues that add up to muddy the emotional tone of the piece. So this month, I’d like to look at how smaller systemic issues in a piece can feed into bigger ones, or show themselves down to the very last line of a story, and how tackling the smaller pervasive problems with a story can often solve the larger ones.

“My Friend Jules” has a lot of great craft on its side. There’s a strong sense of irony and great imagery—”bent like a soggy pretzel” is entirely original, evocative, and got a laugh—and the balance of energy between the protagonist in Jules, where one thrives as the other fades, feels narratively right. Watching the protagonist’s vocabulary fade in the narrative, while knowing it feeds what he wants for Jules, is a gorgeous, painful effect.

However, the same voice tricks tends to be leaned on a little heavily: Both the mic check scene and the scripted one between Jules and his mother are relying hard on flowery and bombastic language, and since they’re both scenes meant to communicate fairly small things, it makes the language feel, to me, out of proportion. As former workshopper (and NYT bestseller!) Rae Carson has very rightly pointed out, if everything goes up to eleven, eleven is actually three—or, in other words, it’s not volume but contrast that matters when we’re crafting prose effects. I’d suggest finding places where it’s plausible to turn the protagonist’s operatic language down—rest spots, valleys—as a way of making the voice work signify both more important parts of the story and ensuring it doesn’t wear readers out, but complements their reading.

The major issue I found with “My Friend Jules” is that its ending doesn’t quite land in a way that’s emotionally satisfying for me as a reader, and I think that’s down to the still-ambiguous nature of the narrator.

There are a few roads “My Friend Jules” marks out for readers to walk down, a few assumptions to make: imaginary friend, the ghost of Mike (calling Jules’s parents “mom and dad” does hint in that direction; the “ask him about the brother” and talking about Mike together hints away), the ghost of some other kid entirely. While this isn’t a hard and fast rule against leaving a protagonist ambiguous, given the kind of emotional closure “My Friend Jules” is going for and how it centers Jules’s grief for his brother, I think it’s perhaps a better call here to close some of those roads, to ensure that readers can pick up the author’s idea of what the narrator is.

The work I’d suggest here is subtle: enough little clues dropped to let readers still enjoy putting together the puzzle of the narrator, and enough restraint in giving out information to keep the question of who the narrator from becoming the central point of the story.

The other question I’d suggest tackling is a structural understanding of some of this story’s why: Why does the doctor suddenly hear the protagonist after all the time spent not hearing him?

The crux of “My Friend Jules” is turning on something arbitrary, and while we’re not always required to show our work to readers in full, I’d suggest that it’s important to know why major plot events occur and demonstrate our own understanding of them. Consider the clues we leave our readers about why something happens, despite not putting that reason on the page, as fibers in a fabric: it’s tangible to readers when those fibers—those reasons—all run in the same direction. The reasons in “My Friend Jules” aren’t running to a common goal yet, aren’t giving the strong sense of a reason behind the doctor’s turnaround, and so that plot point feels mildly arbitrary to me; as if it only happens to get the story moving.

Both those issues are contributing, I think, to the way the ending feels slightly unsatisfying to me: not something that concludes the story but just kind of stops. Jules’s promise to tell his friend about the world outside, about something bigger, should feel deeply emotionally resonant, but because the protagonist’s nature—and therefore limitations, and therefore sources of conflict—hasn’t been cleanly established, it’s hard to know what the story wants me to feel about that promise. Because I can’t be sure why the protagonist broke those limitations in communicating with the doctor, I can’t evaluate well the stakes of this situation and how much he’s invested in Jules’s well-being, and so it’s hard for me to put the right emotional weight on the protagonist letting, finally, Jules go.

There’s a lot to love in “My Friend Jules”: a unique conflict, a playful and urgent voice, a really interesting take on the invisible friend trope. With some focusing, clarifying, and deliberation in the details — in the how and why — I think this piece can untangle its more big-picture issues and, in its next draft, really shine.

Best of luck!

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