Editor’s Choice Award February 2020, 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.

In A Hurry by Michael Glaviano

The story generates a strong atmosphere around the old research tower, with the ancient elevator, flickering lights, and strange, chaotic lab.  The story has some very visual images, especially in the first half, so I almost experience this like a movie in my head.  The atmosphere makes me feel that strange, threatening things can happen in this place, which makes the ending believable.

The setting at the end, the staircase, reminds me some of the sub-basement in “The Rats in the Walls” by H. P. Lovecraft, with the implication that things get worse the deeper he goes.

I think the story has a strong idea and setting, but doesn’t yet have a plot or protagonist that maximizes the impact of the idea and setting.  Gordon is a hapless, distracted protagonist.  He does things without much thought, and that ends up dooming him.  While behaving thoughtlessly (or being in a hurry) can certainly lead to one’s doom, that doesn’t make a very strong plot in this case.  Gordon never seems to have a chance of success, because of who he is.  If he gave his immediate situation more thought and was a bit more on the ball, he might have a chance.  But that’s not who he is, so he doesn’t.  He’s basically a powerless victim in the story, which doesn’t make him a strong protagonist.  A protagonist needs to have some power/ability to affect events–he can have a lot of power or only a little, but he needs some.  I don’t see that Gordon has any.

That leaves me, at the end, feeling somewhat disturbed by the staircase, but it’s a distant, abstract feeling, because I’m not strongly connected to Gordon.  If Gordon were a horrible person and I had followed his horrible actions closely and formed a bond with him, then I could be happy at the end that he’s getting his comeuppance.  If Gordon were a good person and I had followed his struggles to do good closely and formed a bond with him, I could be upset and horrified that he’s trapped in such a situation at the end.  But because I’m watching Gordon from a distance, thinking how foolish he is not to listen to Philips and not to take more care in counting the floors, I don’t feel much of anything for him at the end.  Since this is a horror story, feeling nothing is not a good outcome.

He also, as far as he is aware, doesn’t have much at stake in the story until he realizes the nature of the staircase near the end.  That means he’s not really struggling strongly to achieve a goal and isn’t strongly engaged in what’s happening until near the end.  That means I don’t feel much engagement, suspense, or emotion.

I think a story with a protagonist who is too much in a hurry to notice what’s important might be more emotional and involving if the protagonist was very focused on achieving some goal (getting to an important meeting on time, for example) and was struggling against obstacles to achieve that goal so that we became very involved and rooting for him to make it to the meeting.  Then we would be caught up in the hurry also.  If the protagonist then drives through a yellow light and hits a pedestrian and kills that person, we would be devastated, because we were caught up in the same state of mind as the protagonist.  Those conditions aren’t being met in this story.  Gordon’s goal to get back to his office to work on a long-delayed project isn’t a very involving or urgent one; it’s not one we share; and his fate is more the product of the staircase than of his hurry.  We don’t know whether he would have been fine if he’d taken his time and counted the floors as directed, though I suspect not.  So I don’t think this plot fits well with the theme that being in a hurry can carry horrific consequences.

Looking at the other character, Philips seems pretty much the stereotypical eccentric scientist.  He doesn’t seem to do much in the story except provide us with a scientific reason for the staircase–that it’s an inter-dimensional portal of some kind.

One other character, the dean, is mentioned.

I think you could do much more with the characters to generate more emotion and involvement from readers and a more powerful plot.  For example, let’s say Philips and Gordon are both working on interdimensional connections, but doing so separately.  The dean is also a specialist in this area, but since his promotion, he’s stopped active research.  He still explores theory, though, and he’s developed a new theory of interdimensional connections.  Everyone in the research division knows he’s been working on this.  The story could open with Gordon in the dean’s office, fearing that he’s going to be fired because his research just led to a failed experiment, confirming that his last few years of work have been a total waste of time. He has tenure, so he doesn’t think he can get fired, but he could be demoted or moved out of the institute into a regular teaching job, a huge humiliation.  The dean has done this with researchers who haven’t produced–those researchers are transferred out and never heard from again.  Gordon’s goal is to not get transferred out of the institute.  The dean comments on the failure and asks Gordon to deliver a draft of the dean’s new theory to Philips immediately.  The dean says he was ready to share his breakthrough theory with Gordon if Gordon’s experiment had succeeded.  But since it didn’t, he’s sharing his theory with Philips. And if Gordon doesn’t show some progress soon, he might not have much of a future at the institute.

Gordon believes the dean wants to humiliate him, turning him into a delivery boy and having to face Philips in that capacity, as a failure.  The dean likes to play games.  Gordon takes the paper, which is sealed in an envelope.  He wonders if he could get into the envelope to read the theory before delivering it. His goal now is to learn the dean’s new theory.

The next scene could show Gordon going up in the elevator to see Philips and examining the envelope to see if it shows any signs of his tampering.  He opened the envelope and read the contents, but there was an unfamiliar symbol among the familiar ones, so he couldn’t understand it.  It seems almost like the separation from other dimensions vanishes if a certain condition is met.  But he doesn’t know what the certain condition is.

He gives the envelope to Philips, who seems like he might have noticed the tampering.  Gordon encourages him to open it and read it, hoping he’ll be able to engage Philips in conversation and learn about the unfamiliar symbol.  In the meantime, he’s trying to memorize the setup of Philips’s lab and figure out what kind of experiments he’s doing.

After Philips reads the theory, he seems to regard Gordon with new interest.  Gordon asks Philips out to coffee, but Philips says he’s too busy.  He asks Gordon if he’d like to participate in Philips’s research.  A research subject called in sick, and he doesn’t want to fall behind.  Gordon agrees, eager to learn about Philips’s experiments.

Philips shows Gordon moving images–like videos but not videos.  And they’re of Gordon doing things Gordon doesn’t remember doing.  In one, the dean is promoting Gordon to chief researcher.  In another, Gordon is selling computers at Best Buy.  As Gordon looks at each image, it radiates a weird light that gives him a strange feeling.  Gordon realizes he’s looking at himself in other dimensions.  Could he be a loser working at Best Buy in some dimension?  He tries to figure out how Philips has gotten these images.  One shows him opening the envelope, but the paper inside just says, “THIS IS A TEST.”  The images get weirder, with Gordon screaming, and in some he seems to be the tormentor and in some the tormented.  This leaves Gordon very unsettled.

Finally Gordon comes out and asks Philips to explain how he’s doing this, to tell him what the symbol means in the dean’s theory.  What is the factor that can make the separation between dimensions vanish?

Philips says it’s just your state of mind.  When you realize there is no difference between the dimensions, then the separation vanishes.

Gordon thinks this is Philips’s way of refusing to answer his question.  Philips is giving him a nonsense answer.  Gordon is furious and lets Philips know.  Philips asks if Gordon wants to hurt him.  Gordon says of course not.

Gordon heads for the elevator, and Philips tells him the call button doesn’t work; he’ll need to take the stairs.

In the staircase, Gordon thinks more about the images he saw.  He realizes that they were all him, that there is nothing inherently brilliant about him that would make him succeed in all dimensions.  He just got a lucky break with this position at the institute, and he may end up losing his position.  Some doors are locked, some open and show him dimensions in which he’s doing different things.  In some he’s a failure (in his estimation); in some he’s a success.  In some he is being tortured.  In some he is torturing.  He realizes that looking at the images has made the separation between dimensions vanish.  He rebels against the idea that there is no difference between the dimensions.  Of course there’s a difference.  He tries to convince himself of this–to believe he can be only the person he is now, not any of those others–to restore the separation between dimensions and be back in his own dimension.  He searches for the lobby door, to get back to his own dimension.  He goes down.  He hears the screams and curses and insane gibbering from below.  They are coming up the stairs.  He realizes he must choose a door.  He also realizes that the dean had sent him to Philips to be used in an experiment and discarded.  That’s probably what happened to the others who were “transferred” out of the institute.  He’s lost his precious position.  He finds the door to what looks like his dimension.  But now he knows what he faces there.  Failure.  He’s filled with shame and rage; maybe that’s what he is–a failure–in every dimension, whether he seems successful or not.  It’s not fair.  Why is Philips able to succeed while he is relegated to nothing?  The gibbering gets closer.  He goes down a flight, chooses the door where he is the torturer, and enters.

Anyway, that’s one possibility that would give Gordon strong goals he’s struggling to achieve, put more at stake, give him the power to affect what happens, take him through a character arc and epiphany, and require he make a difficult decision at the climax.  I think those things will make readers more engaged, increasing the intensity of the suspense and emotions they feel.

The story has some well-chosen details, and I really enjoy the images, such as the infinite staircase.  The atmosphere is very strong.  I hope my comments are helpful.

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

 

Editor’s Choice Award February 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.

Medon by Bill S.

The hushed, spun-out, precise prose of “Medon” is what caught my attention this month—and inside just one sentence. Beautifully written, incredibly observed, tonal and subtle, there’s masterful sentence-level work going on in this piece, but sometimes the aspects of our craft strong enough to carry a story can veil what has room for further work, and I think that’s at the core of the author’s question: why “Medon” is getting second reads, but no acceptances yet. This month, I’d like to discuss looking at other aspects of craft on a story when reaching excellence on one of them isn’t getting the result, and how we build the understructures that make a story operating on dreamlike logic work.

I can immediately see what’s garnered this piece some second reads at magazines (as per the author’s notes!): “Medon” establishes atmosphere and tone in the very first sentence. The word choice in that one line does so much work, from picking slightly inobvious and non-aggressive verbs (paddled, pulled, dipping) to set an emotional mood, to the intense alliteration within the sentence (paddled pulling pale paddles) that stitches it all together and connects it to the next (swollen steady say surgeon), as well as the animacy of the imagery (waters that are swollen, trees with limbs, blades that are paletiny hands, open mouth). The rhythm of it reminds me of a Nick Cave song, of Virginia Woolf—of a certain type of early 20th century modernist British literature—and all the connotations of that time and place come with it: a sense of shimmering, terrible, beautiful impermanence.

That is an incredible amount of work being done in one line, in a first line, and conflict, place, and cast are established just as quietly and quickly before the first paragraph is done. And that work stays consistent through the piece. Overall, the writing here is absolutely stellar: it’s rhythmic, specific, textured, made of sound, and every hitch in its diction unveils an emotion. It forces me to read “Medon” slow enough to savour, to spend time with every line.

If “Medon” hasn’t found a home yet, it’s because of something other than the sentence-level writing, and when we’re not sure what’s causing friction between a story and editors, it’s worthwhile to take a subtractive approach: eliminate what we know is working and then read the story with every other element of craft in mind, to see which one gives us the mental hitch of something that has room for improvement. As a reader, I should be able to peel away that beautiful prose and still find a solid and cohesive story world, characters with internal logic, a plot that has beats and develops causally and pays off into results that matter, thematics with something to say. It’s when one of those engines isn’t firing quite on full that stories, I think, hit second reads and then rejections.

When I peeled away the prose itself, a few points stood out to me as potential sites for work, and the major one was plot logic and narrative motion. The prose draws me through “Medon” so effectively that it’s easy to not notice how major plot points have not been set up until they’re upon me, and feel abrupt and unsatisfying because that information isn’t within a cycle of setup-and-payoff. Dreamlike fiction definitely relies on mood, pace, and aesthetic, but reader-brains still find the same things in a story satisfying: setup and resolution, tension and payoff. The atmosphere of a story like “Medon” is gorgeous, but it’s useful to think of it as the skin, and it won’t move unless there are solid narrative mechanics underneath, muscles and bones, to make it walk. The trick is to create a sense of tension and payoff underneath that sense of dream-logic, so the story feels both strange and eerie but also inherently satisfying and solid. It’s not so much skimping on one’s plotting work as covering it over and expressing it in different ways.

With “Medon”, I think that understructure isn’t quite complete, and the abruptness of how key information (the dreams, the voice) is deployed is just one way that expresses itself; a patch of slow pacing around the walk through the woods toward Medon is another, because we are still moving, but nothing is narratively progressing yet, nothing is paying off at a point in a piece when it would be appropriate to drop the first few narrative dominoes and have them set off the next. The turn to finding Medon is abrupt, the connection between the flashback and what the old man transforms into still tenuous-feeling, the twist into a mission of revenge startling and oddly out of place given the tone the rest of the story created. And—I’m not sure that’s a goal that really lives up to the fine-grained attention the rest of the story’s putting out there. It’s fairly archetypical; it feels out of character. It’s an easy answer and everything else in this piece has led me as a reader to expect more complex ones—again, this is a question of satisfaction, setup and payoff. What have I as a reader been led to expect, and am I getting it?

Ultimately, I was left asking: What is actually happening here, on a barest plot level, and why is it satisfying to me as a reader and important to these characters? and that’s diagnostic of a plotting question still to be resolved.

What I’d suggest, in the face of that, is a serious and thoroughly thought-out redraft that approaches those questions head-on, run through the filter of what’s being set up, what’s being paid off in every scene. There’s so much thought being put into certain aspects of “Medon”; I’d love to see what it becomes if that much thought is applied to other aspects too, and the somewhat thinner logic of the archetypical rich people on high ground with guns, mysterious kissing knowledge, and revenge gets the attention, care, and complexity of a voice made of orchestra and bees; of wind, water, grass.

This is a lot of work—take this story apart, and then put it back together—but I think if you really step back, look at every element of craft, and think about what this story is and how each part of it can be strong in its own right to support the others, how each element of craft in “Medon” interacts, it’ll be very possible to give this story a sense of plotting and pacing that supports that prose so firmly that the entire piece is luminous. I think the story is very much worth that work.

Best of luck!

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

Editor’s Choice Award January 2020, 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.

Hoarded Thoughts Chapter 1 by Michael Curl

I had a lot of fun with this submission. It’s an unusual setup and an equally unusual set of characters. I do wonder if 15,000 words will be enough to tell the whole story, but would need to see more of the chapter to get a fuller sense of the shape and scope of the plot.

One big question I have is how the ogre manages to have both male and female halves. There’s one reference to magic, but I want a bit more. Are all ogres constructed like this, or is this one unique? How and why would a god fuse two individuals together in this way? It’s complicated for them to move, but it also forces cooperation, which might be a cosmic lesson. I’d love to know the story that goes with the nifty idea.

How that story unfolds is important. A block of exposition at the beginning can be hard for a reader to get over. Maybe there could be hints, a gradual revelation. And maybe the ogres’ condition plays a part in the development of the plot—not just in how they function, but why they’re the way they are. And that might be important to the outcome of the story.

I’d like to know, too, why the female is apparently of low intelligence and the male is much more advanced in his thought processes. That might get a bit complicated in the current social and cultural climate. Is she in fact as intelligent as he is, but equally unable to express her thoughts? If so, and if they’re mutually telepathic, wouldn’t he know this? And wouldn’t we be able to see, through him, that her inner life is so much different than her outer one? Even though he’s hoarding thoughts, might he still be able to read hers? How does it all work?

This might be addressed later on in the story, of course. I’m just noting what comes to mind as I read this opening section. There’s no need to front-load it all; in fact, a little mystery and suspense is a good thing. It keeps the reader turning pages, eager to find out if her questions have answers.

If this were my story, I’d focus on these larger issues first, and save the line edits for a later stage. That would be the time to smooth out the tone and the emotional affect. There are lovely bits of description, and glimpses of a grander or darker atmosphere. If that’s the direction the story wants to take, the seeds are there. This version however still leans a bit more toward the lighter side of fantasy: an ongoing sense of almost slapstick in the way the twofold ogre moves, for example.

When the worldbuilding is more developed and the tone is clearer in the author’s mind, I would suggest a really good, close edit, word for word and phrase for phrase. I quite like some of the language, such images as

The words were clear as mountain water inside his head, but on his tongue they sounded muddy.

I might use a different verb than sounded, but the rest is lovely. And this:

Jal loved how stupid humans made their animals.

It’s an unusual insight into the mind of an ogre. Pretty up-to-date science in this world, too, which gives it a nice double resonance.

Sometimes however, the phrasing strains a bit. Watch out for awkward phrasing:

Jal moved his head with big heavy nods

This is an odd use of the word nod, and odd phrasing.

He waited a second to feel her shoulder rise, But instead of pushing themselves off their back as a human would do, they turned their heads to face, the ground, and knuckle-walked like a gorilla into the orchard.

Check the punctuation and capitalization, and work on the way in which both the characters and their actions are described. I had trouble visualizing this, despite earlier descriptions of how they’re constructed. I found myself wanting more clarity, and more precision in the phrasing and the imagery.

Keep an eye on the figures of speech, too. Here’s a mixed metaphor:

their wide trumpet ears scanning the darkness like owl eyes

Trumpets are both a visual and an auditory image, and that works for ears (to me it suggests Shrek—which may be something to ponder when refining the tone of the story). The switch to the visual image of owl eyes is a bit disconcerting. Is there another image that would fit ears and sounds, and convey a similar effect?

The main thing to aim for is to keep the reader reading. If she has to stop and figure out what a particular passage is trying to say, she loses track of the narrative. The clearer the prose is, the easier the story is to follow. Then she’ll stay with it all the way to the end.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award January 2020, 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.

RAI by Alex Taylor

This chapter has some interesting things going on. It sets up a classic conflict between artificial and human intelligence (with further conflicts among the humans), and lets us see how the AI’s thought processes work. The computer language operates through analogies to human experience, which adds a layer of accessibility for the human reader.

I’d like to talk about two things in this Editor’s Choice.

1. Whom are you writing for?

Every written work has an intended audience. It may be written for the writer’s own taste and level of knowledge—as a sort of private note-to-self, with no accommodation made for others. Or it may be written for a particular set of readers—defined either broadly or narrowly depending on what the writer wants her work to accomplish.

Since this is a novel and has been submitted to this workshop for critique, I can assume it’s written for a genre-savvy audience. It’s not labeled for younger readers; it aims, then, at the adult reader of science fiction. I am picking up those signals in subject matter, setting and characters, and arc of the plot as far as the chapter lets us see.

The chapter presumes a reader who is computer-literate, who can pick up on finer points of coding and language, and who has a fairly sophisticated understanding of how programming and programmers operate. That’s a fine thing for a hard science fiction novel. But the chapter as is could use a little polish, and some pruning of the opening section.

The long passage of coding gibberish does establish the utter chaos that overwhelms Rai. Even for the educated reader, however, that’s a lot of data-barf. Just as with real barf, a little goes a long way. A line or two, with a concise indication that this is a somewhat lengthy process, would make the point quite as effectively and rather more mercifully for the reader’s eyes.

“A little goes a long way” is a useful maxim in general. Unconventional narrative techniques and unusual rhetorical and contextual tricks are great fun, but the writer has to walk the line between too much and not enough.

The educated reader will sit still longer for abstruse and arcane lore, but it never hurts to think about the less educated reader, too. This reader comes to the story for plot and characters and setting—all those good things—but will skim over the arcana. A big wall of it may bounce him out altogether. If there’s just enough to keep the knowledgeable reader engaged, but not so much that the more casual reader gives up and leaves, there’s your sweet spot.

2. Framing and Blocking of Scenes

The opening sequence is fairly clear about what is happening and to whom. Once the chapter moves on the human characters, however, it becomes harder to follow. Part of that may be the formatting: one of the simplest ways to signal a change of setting, viewpoint, or timeline is a plain old line space.

Within these different scenes, however, there’s a tendency to skip connections. Characters seem to strobe from place to place and from timeline to timeline. Conversations pop up without a clear sense of where or when they happen. Events are described somewhat nonlinearly; it’s difficult to tell if a scene is happening sequentially, if it’s a flashback, or if the narrative has jumped ahead.

I would recommend taking some time to block out each scene. Figure out when it happens and where it’s set, and make sure it’s clear where everybody is. If characters are moving around, check to be sure you’ve let the reader see them move.

It is perfectly acceptable to jump from scene to scene without obvious transitions—“they walked here,” “two hours later,” “meanwhile, back at the bot farm”—but the scene should establish who-what-where-when with enough clarity that the reader doesn’t have to stop and hunt for a context. When pulling in information from the past or foreshadowing the future, give it a little space to breathe. Let it stand out slightly. Slow down a bit, let us see the change of time or place. Frame the scene with a line or a phrase, so that we get a sense of where we are and when, and how that time and place emerge out of the last scene and move the story forward into the next.

Yes, this works with flashbacks and braided timelines, too. It’s a matter of making sure each section of the story is clearly delineated. We should be able to follow it wherever it goes, and still keep track of the larger dimensions of the plot.

–Judith Tarr

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)

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:  http://blog.janicehardy.com/2019/01/uncovering-mysteries-of-narrative-flow.html.  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

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

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)

Editor’s Choice Award November 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.

Code of Dragons And Warriors Chapter One by Kit Davis

I am a complete sucker for dragon fantasies. I love them all—film, television, and of course, prose fiction (and poems, too). I Impressed as a teen on McCaffrey’s bonded human-dragon pairs, and I adore the dragons of Le Guin’s Earthsea.

The Author’s Note of this chapter asks us to be honest if we feel we’ve seen it all before. My honest response is, It doesn’t matter. If the author does it right, even the oldest trope can be new again—and the reader will love it both because it is a beloved trope, and because it’s well done.

There’s lots of potential here. The dragon’s viewpoint is a lovely touch, and the name Mezentius has a classic fantasy resonance. The setting is beautiful, too, and I very much like the sense of the numbers and varieties of dragons. I’m a big fan of Novik’s Temeraire books, and appreciate the echoes here.

In revision, I would suggest some rethinking and restructuring of the chapter. This draft focuses on Mezentius as he contemplates the gathering of dragons and fills in the backstory. He sits on his peak and reflects on the state of the world and the dragons’ role in it, until the messenger he’s sent out comes to report on the latest developments. Then the meeting begins, and the dragons discuss the situation and decide what to do about it.

I call this narrative technique “offstaging.” Characters think or talk about what’s happened in the past and what’s happening in the present, and discuss what to do in the future. It’s a kind of filter; it separates the reader from the action. The thing the reader has come for, the story itself, happens offstage.

There is a lot of backstory to present here, and a complex political and cultural and social setting which needs to be established as the novel begins. The reader has numerous questions, and the writer’s challenge is to answer them in ways that both get the story started and leave enough mystery to keep the reader turning the pages. What do we need to know and when do we need to know it? How much is enough for clarity, and how much is too much?

The same applies to events that happen before the novel opens. The usual rule of thumb is to begin as close to the end as we can, and fill in the rest through exposition and flashbacks. But again, how exactly do we do this while also keeping the plot moving and the reader engaged?

Mezentius’ viewpoint, here, serves as a device for conveying information. We get the story so far and the setting and background as he sees it. What we’re getting less of is actual, immediate, live and active story. Even the council, while it shows us some of the interactions among the different factions dragons, is primarily characters talking about events rather than living them.

While I like the framing device of Mezentius on the peak—it’s visually beautiful and offers a nice bit of insight into the world and the dragons—as a reader I would like to see more of what he’s pondering and everyone is talking about. Rather than being told what’s happening elsewhere, could we see some of it? A scene or two that lets us be right there, living it with the characters? Can we live through Canace’s death in a flashback as Mezentius experiences it, as a dramatized scene? If Renke’s own viewpoint adds too many to the novel as a whole, might he relate one significant example of everything he’s seen, as a scene with a beginning and a middle and an end, summing up all the rest in a short but powerful story-within-a-story? Can he tell us what happened in one place, what he did and how he felt and what other people did and felt around him?

Much of what the council plans to do might turn into scenes later in the novel. Let us know that they discussed the state of the world and made plans that will be executed as time goes on, but leave those to be revealed as they become relevant. What matters here is that they met, and we get to see why and get some sense both emotionally and factually of what they’re reacting to. Let us see and feel and experience the various chunks of exposition when we absolutely need to know them, when they can be a part of the story as it happens. Here, just give us a detail or two that tells us what’s most important, which, as I read it, is Canace’s death and the fact that some dragons are blaming it on humans.

If the chapter focuses on one major plot point, the reader has a clear sense of what the novel is about. Likewise, if the story is told in direct scenes rather than in exposition and conversation, it’s that much stronger and more memorable. The reader gets to be there with the characters, experiencing the story as it happens—whether in the story-present or as flashbacks from the past.

–Judith Tarr