Editor’s Choice Award July 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.

Tomorrow’s Place by Jim McDougall

I like the concept of this story. Magical artifacts are always fun, and when they come from mysterious junk shops, that’s even better. I also appreciate the punch line. “Dead right,” indeed.

I have a couple of suggestions for the next round of revisions.

First, the character arc could be smoother and more consistent. The story opens with Lucy as the skeptic, bored and out of sorts and referring to the contents of the shop as “garbage.” It’s Jack who’s the believer.

After this beginning, the reader expects Lucy to keep on being a hard sell. But as soon as Jack buys the radio, suddenly she’s fine with listening to it. We need to see how she gets to this point. For example, when she agrees with Jack, she might be less willing; she may say “Sure,” but without enthusiasm. She’s just saying it to maintain family harmony.

There’s another abrupt shift once Jack turns the radio on. She immediately realizes what it’s doing, and suddenly she’s wildly enthusiastic about it. Now it’s Jack who’s the skeptic, and he’s both rude and insulting—until the station starts playing the disaster at the factory. Then he’s the believer again, so much so that he insists on physically investigating; and now it’s Lucy who’s the skeptic again, so much so that she stomps off and leaves him to it.

In revision I’d suggest some careful rethinking of the characters’ reactions and their interactions. Make sure the shifts from skeptic to believer and vice versa progress logically. Make it a little clearer in the beginning that in spite of Lucy’s tiredness and her lack of patience with Jack’s fascination with old junk, she’s the imaginative one.

Maybe he makes it clear that he’s just looking for a cheap radio, and she makes a joke about “If it’s that old, it must be magic.” Then when she’s proved right, Jack’s nastiness makes more sense. Jack doesn’t like to be wrong.

Likewise, when Jack shifts toward acceptance of the truth, give it a little more space. Show how he comes around to it. Does he think to apologize to Lucy for doubting her? If he doesn’t, would Lucy call him on it? Or does she stay on the moral high ground?

None of this needs to take up a lot of story space. The right line or two in the right place will do it.

The other suggestion I would make is to rethink the structure of the ending. The shift of scene from Lucy abandoning Jack to Lucy dreaming about the factory’s collapse is confusing on two fronts. First, it’s not clear that it’s a dream, until we’re told in so many words.

Second, would Lucy really do that? She’s the one who believes wholeheartedly in the radio’s predictive powers. If it’s broadcasting a disaster, does it make sense for her to go away and leave Jack? If she really is that pissed off at his general assholery, wouldn’t she get all or partway home and then turn back because he might be in danger? Would she leave him like that, ignore his absence, and go calmly to sleep, considering what the radio predicted?

Much of the dream sequence would work if she were stomping along in a temper rather than lying in bed asleep. She could hallucinate the walls falling, and hear Jack’s voice—then turn and run back, praying she isn’t too late.

That would close the gap of several hours between her dumping Jack and her waking up from the dream. Where is Jack during those hours? Why didn’t he just make the call and then come home? Would he stay around the factory if he knows it’s going to come down?

There’s also the question of how long the interval is between the radio’s prediction and the event it predicts. The baseball game happens 24 hours later. The factory seems to collapse much sooner. Is there any particular logic in play here? If so, how do Jack and Lucy figure it out?

One final note: Think about the emotional temperature of the ending. Make sure it’s high enough. “It was time to look for Jack” needs to be stronger, more urgent, less passive. Let us feel the tension. Lucy’s “flash of cold understanding and hot grief” is lovely—that’s what we want to feel in the whole scene. Then the punch line truly is a blow to our emotional center.

–Judith Tarr

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