Editor’s Choice Award September 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.

Homestead (Iris) by Kelli Kimble

This novel-universe checks a lot of my boxes. I love ancient Egypt. I outright stan Anubis. And I’ve always been fond of the Stargate franchise. The hint of Southern gothic adds a nice touch of spice.

Since this is an early draft of a first novel, the first thing I’m going to say is one of my standard pieces of advice, which is that there is no wrong way to write a first draft. The time to worry about doing things “right” is later on, in the revision stages. Right now, the story needs to come out in whatever way it’s coming out. Just worry about getting the words on the page.

Once the draft is written, a couple of things might be worth thinking about. One is the time in which the story is set. There are numerous ways to establish that in the narrative—word choice, turns of phrase, characters’ attitudes and world view, references to current events, and so on—and it’s a good idea to apply some of them, but one very simple solution is to label a chapter or a section by date. Then the bits of relevant detail have a clear context.

Another thing that might be worth pondering in revision is the way in which the chapter—and presumably the novel—relays information. In many ways this first chapter serves as a sort of author’s note to self. It sets up some of the backstory and establishes who and what both Mr. Anu and Miss Hond are. It does this primarily through Mr. Anu’s speeches, interspersed with bits of Miss Hond’s internal monologue.

There’s nothing wrong with this at all, in a first draft. The story unfolds in its own way, and the author gets the words down as expeditiously as possible. In revision, I’d suggest opening up the exposition both within quotation marks and outside of them, and finding ways to convey the information in a more immediate fashion.

Mr. Anu’s revelations are enough in themselves to fill up a novel. As a reader I’d like to see how Iris is different, rather than watch Mr. Anu tell her how she is. Maybe we can see her working on the farm, see how she uses her powers to help her perform a task, and give us a sense of how she feels about it. Excited? Guilty? Scared? That might make an interesting opening, especially if it includes some sense of the mystery that surrounds Mr. Anu.

The revelation that she’s not human, and that he’s an ancient god, could build up over a series of scenes or chapters. Keep us wondering, build tension and suspense, give us information in smaller doses. Let us guess, and see if our guesses are right.

Maybe Iris comes in unannounced and catches a glimpse of his true form. Maybe she picks up on some communication between him and his interstellar contacts, or however else the science fiction plays out in the novel. Or maybe she finds something on the farm that isn’t of Earth, that points to Mr. Anu’s origins. Then she would have to make choices about what do, whether and when to tell anyone, and how to use what she’s found.

One thing that might help is to study authors who you think build suspense well, whose works you can’t stop reading—you stay up all night devouring their novels, and can’t wait to find out what happens. Look carefully at your favorite scenes. See how they keep you turning the pages—how they reveal information, what they show onstage and what they keep from you as well. What do they put in, and what do they leave out? What sorts of narrative devices do they use? How do they use dialogue and exposition? How do they develop backstory?

Then maybe try some of these techniques in a scene or scenes of your own. Experiment. See what works for you. Most of all, think about bringing your story alive, letting your characters act and interact and think through as few filters as possible.

Best of luck with this novel, and happy revising!

–Judith Tarr

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