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

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

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)

Editor’s Choice Review June 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.

Ambrosia Chap. 1 (Part 1) by Robert Wooldridge

Usually when I do crits, somewhere in there I point out that the rules of writing are not forged in iron but are more of a Pirates’ Code—but that in order to treat them like…guidelines, a writer has to know exactly how and why they work. That’s the only way to know when, and how, to bend or break them.

Mostly I go on to point out where it would have been a good idea to stick to the rules. This time I’m going to talk about where the rules got bent or downright snapped, and why the chapter works for me in spite of it. Sometimes in fact because it messes with The Way Things Are Supposed To Be.

This chapter is the start of what looks like a nice, fat, chewy epic fantasy, or maybe swords and sorcery. It has the street urchin of unknown parentage, the grungy port city, the nasty bully, and the setup for an adventure. And of course it has the witch whom it is a bad idea to approach—but our hero is hired to do just that.

This author knows his genre. The elements are familiar but they’re not off-the-rack standard. What makes them work is the voice in which the story is told. It’s wry, deft, confident. If I were running a line edit I might point to bits that could be tightened, a ramble here and there, but that’s not a major issue for me.

Oh, there is the name thing. That’s a personal quirk. Random Earth names thrown around secondary-world fantasy make me want to spit linguistics textbooks. Then I go into my epic rant about how Westeros has to be a lost Earth Colony—First Men, I mean, really? It’s like Darkover without the psi and with even nastier politics.

But I digress. The naming conventions here are very much in genre, no matter how much they may fry my language-geek circuits. (Joaquin. Gah.)(Porus?)(Really?)

I have an allergy to dialect, too, but it quickly becomes apparent that this is a lovely case of I Meant To Do That. The way in which a person speaks is an indicator of where he comes from. Porus exploits this to pull scams on his employers, and today’s edition calls him on it. In the process of which, we learn a great deal about how this corner of the world works.

That’s what I like about the chapter. Rules say don’t frontload the exposition, but everything is there for a reason. The prose pulled me along as I read, and kept me interested even though I didn’t know Porus yet and was still finding my way around his city.

The author’s note expresses concern about pacing, but other than a bit of streamlining as mentioned above, I don’t think there’s a problem. The opening is somewhat leisurely but it keeps moving, and it’s clear there’s a purpose in it. It’s building a world and populating it with people who immediately start striking sparks off each other.

Oh, the rules say start off with a bang and preferably a magical one if it’s fantasy. The rules are for writers with less command of their craft. A writer who knows what he’s doing can keep us entertained with a passage of exposition that sets up our hero and the world he lives in, and then before we have time to get bored, swings us into some bully-on-victim action.

It works for me. I’ll definitely read on. I want to see if the witch is as well drawn as the characters as I’ve met so far—and I want to know where Poros and company go from there.

In short, it draws me in, keeps me interested, and leaves me wanting more. That’s as much as any first chapter needs to do.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review June 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.

Dark Shepherds: The Burn Notice by M Lachi

This is an interesting piece, with some intricate worldbuilding and a lot of careful thought about the setting, background, and characters. Reading it is an immersive experience. There’s so much detail, so much interwoven and interlaced descriptions, ideas, actions and thoughts.

What I’d like to talk about in the context of this Editor’s Choice is not so much the word-for-word, but a general concept that the author has clearly been thinking about, and has been working on. That is the idea of writing tight.

In terms of writing style, one size emphatically does not fit all. It’s not just about voice and word choice and process, but also about the needs of the individual work. A stripped-down, pared-to-the-bone style works for a thriller, for example, where the action is key and the rapid movement of the plot is what brings the reader in. A fantasy epic on the other hand, or a Dune or Exordium-style space opera, needs room to stretch out; takes time for lengthy passages of description and exposition; and explores the lives and surroundings of multiple characters.

This chapter leans distinctly in the latter direction, and in the prologue especially, the prose is a Celtic knotwork of repetition and recapitulation, piling up words and phrases to evoke a sense of complex and many-layered perception. This is the author’s style. But as with everything, there are ways to make that style, along with the author’s ideas, clearer and more accessible to readers.

I like to ask questions when I’m revising or when I’m suggesting revisions for others’ mss. With a ms. that could use some pruning, I look for answers to one or more of the following:

Has this information appeared before in the narrative? Does it need to be repeated here? If so, can I add something new to it, some aspect that wasn’t addressed before, that moves the story forward and further develops the characters or the setting?

Is this information essential for the understanding of the story at this particular point? Can I leave it out and still have the story make sense? Can I move it somewhere else in the narrative where it will be more effective? Does it need to be there at all?

Am I using too many words? Have I piled on the qualifiers? Can I pare them away without losing the meaning? Can my verbs be active and straightforward (walked instead of was walking, for example) and can my phrases be leaner, without extra padding? If I use two or more versions of the same concept, do I need all of them? Can I pick one and let the rest be implied by the context?

Am I repeating the same words over and over? Repetition of words and phrases can be very effective; politicians know this, as do motivational speakers. But as with most rhetorical effects, a little goes a long way. Can I keep it down to once a paragraph or once a page? Can I save it for when I really want the idea to pop? If I take it all out, has the story lost emphasis or vividness?

Am I trusting my reader enough? This question goes along with repetition of words and ideas, as well as infodumps, background information, and so on. Am I trusting my reader to understand what I’m saying? Am I including information that she can pick up through implication? Do I need to remind her of information she’s already seen, especially if she’s seen it more than once? She may need a reminder if it’s been a while, but if it’s important and it’s just happened, she probably just needs a quick pointer, or else she’ll remember it well enough that I can get right to my point without stopping to fill her in.

Have I chosen the right details? As I’m setting up the scene and portraying the character, am I providing too much information? Is it the right information? Have I emphasized minor aspects of the scene or setting or character but written around the major ones? Can I sharpen the focus and, again, trust the reader to get the details I’ve left out through the few I’m chosen to leave in?

Have I chosen the right scene? Have I written the events and interactions that are key to the movement of the story? Have I provided essential information, or is that information consigned to the background? Are characters talking about events that happened offstage rather than experiencing them onstage? Do we need the conversation, or will the scene itself tell the story with more immediacy and effectiveness?

Am I keeping my eye on the prize? If you’re a stylist (as I am), the immediate prize for a writing session is the cascade of words in front of you. What can get lost in the words is what readers in general come to genre for, which is story. The words may be my prize, but for most readers, they’re color and spackle at best and a distraction at worst. Readers want a story that moves forward, that contains believable characters, that satisfies the impulse that brought them to the genre in general and this story in particular. If I give them lots of detailed worldbuilding, they’ll sit for it better than readers of other genres, but eventually they want that beginning-middle-end, rampup-crisis-denouement thing.

For that, I have to be careful about the words-to-story ratio. As with meat to bun in a burger, there are different schools of thought as to which is optimal, but they all come back sooner or later to the nom in the middle. That nom is the story, the plot, the progression of scenes toward some form of conclusion.

That’s what writing tighter can help the story do. Pruning the undergrowth, keeping the best effects, letting them stand out from the rest. This helps build stronger pacing, which is what story-movement is. And that keeps the reader reading, which is the ultimate goal.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review June 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.

Hymns Of Sand And Stone by Joanne Albertsen

“Hymns of Sand and Stone” caught my eye this month because of its immediate prose, sophisticated use of a complex protagonist, and a tension that rises up between sentences like groundwater. It’s a story about colonialist power dynamics that doesn’t simplify, rooted deeply in how its characters are handled–which is why, this month, I’d like to discuss subtle handling of an unreliable protagonist–and going beyond the Protagonist Is a Bad Person story.

The Protagonist Is a Bad Person story is one of the (many!) useful shorthands that come out of Strange Horizons’s Stories We’ve Seen Too Often page: a post their earlier editorial team made to document persistent slushpile trends and concepts that are so prevalent they’re hard to impress with. It’s a story that can be loosely described as a morality play or parable, one that only exists to impress on the reader fear for the consequences if they act the same way. And while there’s a loose validity in describing “Hymns of Sand and Stone” as examining how its protagonist behaves poorly, and gets a comeuppance in being personally colonized by the local magic, what I’m interested in is how it walks right past that trap into a full-on examination of colonialist power dynamics–how its protagonist behaves harmfully as part of a system of violence–and ends up as a deeply affecting and tension-filled illustration of colonized societies that felt emotionally real.

Crafting a story this carefully balanced takes both insight and skill, and there are a few notable craft decisions that help “Hymns of Sand and Stone” pull off its concept. The most standout is the choice of a second-person POV.

Writing in second person tends to pull strong reactions from readers, and other writers, but considering the subject matter of “Hymns of Sand and Stone”—colonialism, brutality, resistance—and the gaps between what the protagonist can see and the reader’s knowledge, I think it’s an exquisitely appropriate choice of point of view. One of the main effects of second person is explicit complicity between the reader and the protagonist, and for the vast majority of SFF readers, complicity is the core emotional question in a story about colonialism.

The second strong craft choice is how “Hymns of Sand and Stone” builds its fantasy culture on a psychological realism that is exceptionally well-seeded through the piece–and one which has its own arc of progression to follow. A portrait of a character is one thing, but “Hymns of Sand and Stone” includes the excellent decision to make its portrait dynamic. The protagonist’s opening sentence—”You just want to help”—can be at first taken at face value, and then quickly slides from that into “can’t fault the goals, but don’t like the methods” and “we didn’t like it but,” until by the end of the piece, that insistence on benevolent help has morphed into contempt and snarling hate.

Effective fiction often has an arc of growth: something changes in the character between the first paragraph and the last. In “Hymns of Sand and Stone” the protagonist’s personality does not change, but it is revealed, in a way that creates that feeling of change and motion–and echoes up on the thematic level to deepen and complicate into a whole comment on colonialism and how those types of helpers build up and bolster its effects.

It’s an especially effective trajectory to take with a character in the between-place the protagonist occupies: an object of power and pity to Elly and the other servants, and a subject to her husband—one who knows everything about how to minimize his violence and escape his notice. I love the messiness of the power dynamic here: how realistic it is, how alone the protagonist is caught between those power positions, and how that still doesn’t excuse her part in the system that keeps the Sandsbloods subjugated. It’s a position that inspires complex emotional reaction–disgust, compassion, fascination, complicity, and then ultimately self-examination. It’s a position that’s well-calibrated to create effect in readers.

And that, I think, is the major triumph of “Hymns of Sand and Stone”–and what, I think, makes it jump far and away above the vengeful air of a comeuppance story: at no point does it tell readers how to feel about its protagonist. The narrative isn’t assuming an authority over the protagonist, punishing or rewarding her; “Hymns of Sand and Stone” is entirely, on the text level, descriptive. The subtext definitely has opinions on her choices and situation, especially when Elly and the other servants are onscreen, or being imagined, but the text level lets her speak, and that transforms a narrative that could have been coercive–”feel this way about this attitude; these are the rules to follow”–into something that’s descriptive and demonstrative, that gives readers a clear window into a very complex, very common attitude to let us grapple with it ourselves–in second person, in you, in a position of full complicity. “Hymns of Sand and Stone” lets complicated things be complicated, and therefore makes room for a complex reaction in readers: one that’s ultimately going to be more memorable than a platitude.

It’s a significantly accomplished and subtle piece of work, and I look forward to seeing it in print.

Best of luck!

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

Editor’s Choice Review May 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.

Sowing The Seeds by Fredrick Hudgin

I’m somewhat late to the plate thanks to the dog’s broken leg and subsequent surgery (he will recover), with apologies, but here I am at last. I chose this piece because of the author’s note. I could see the enthusiasm and the air of sheer fun, and I went into the story expecting a light adventure.

I did get that, so that part of the mission for me was accomplished. As I read with my crit-hat on, I found myself falling into worldbuilding mode, as I do when I’m helping my writing students develop their worlds and characters.

Usually I start asking questions. The author doesn’t have to answer all or even most of them—just the ones that help the most with the underpinnings of the story. Some will get a firm, “No! That’s not where I’m going at all!” Others will give rise to their own questions, and maybe the world will expand and the story follow suit. And still others may get the classic editorial “Oh crap yes, you’re right, I have to fix that.”

With that in mind, here are some questions to ponder while the revision proceeds.

In your introductory note you say, “And why not make the claim jumpers Mer people! I don’t see many Mer people in Sci Fi. And make the captain female!” All of which is fun stuff, but my question is, is it new or radical to have [a] a female captain or [b] a female mer-person? Aren’t merfolk more commonly seen as female, i.e. mermaids?

Is there anything else you can do to make this species and this captain different? Do they have to be binary? Is there a reason why male would be default and female unusual enough to be worth noting? Or why species need to come in two genders? Not one? Or three? Or however many? Or no gender at all?

Quite far along in the story, you reveal that Captain Phillium is an octopus. It might help to know this at the start—the reader can get a clearer picture of him. I happen to love octopuses, and there are things about them that might add some depth and extra flavor to your portrayal of this character.

One of the things about the species is that it is highly intelligent but also extremely short-lived. As soon as an octopus mates, if it’s male, it’s either eaten or it dies soon after mating. If it’s female, it may eat its mate, and it will die shortly after its eggs hatch.

This means that a retro human-style marriage with a wife at home is kind of unlikely. Unless he’s out in space having a last hurrah before he dies, and she’s home incubating the eggs, starving slowly and expecting to die soon. Or they’ve married in order to reproduce, but the actual act will happen after this voyage—and he’s fully expecting to go home, have sex, and become his wife’s dinner. He may be plotting all sorts of ways to make the babies but still escape alive (but he’ll die within months anyway because once that part of his life is done, so is he).

Or, is marriage for this species something different? What would it be? A business contract? A political alliance? Why would octopuses need marriage?

Bear in mind too that female octopuses are often much larger than the males. Would it make more sense for the captain to be female, since males are so much smaller and more vulnerable? Or have males gone into space as part of a culture-wide campaign to avoid being eaten by the females back home? Have the females accepted this? Or are they the big corporate bosses? (I have more questions about those below.)

Much the same would apply to your arachnids. Big, dominant females who eat their husbands. Is your whole spacefaring culture about males having what fun and freedom they can before their inevitable death? You do have various mammalian types, but in subordinate roles; the primary roles are generally held by octopoids and arachnids—for whom gender and reproduction are very different than they are for other species.

Now think about what this does to your story about claim jumpers led by a female captain. If merpeople relate to one another more or less as humans do, though perhaps with a tendency toward matriarchy (does their leader need to be a king? Why not a queen?), consider how deep the differences are with a species for which the war between the sexes is real, inevitable, and deadly.

For the mer captain, maybe this is just business. For Captain Phillium, a female adversary must, according to everything he knows, be out to kill and eat him. How will that affect the intensity of their reactions to each other? Will he see a deadly threat when all she intends is a bit of petty larceny?

Meanwhile, what about the species Phillium is ordered to elevate? Why primates? Why not octopoids or arachnids? Wouldn’t he gravitate more toward his own kind? Are there solid business reasons for corporate to prefer primates over other species?

Or is there another motive here? Phillium is about to raise up a species that is near-immortal by octopoid standards, and for which reproduction is not a death sentence. And, what’s more, the male tends to be larger than the female. Is this a strike back at the tyranny of octopoid biology? A campaign of subversion against the females? A long-running political game played by his superiors, which Phillium might begin to see as he carries out his orders?

After all, the process of seeding planets is a really, really long game. Octopoids individually are extremely short-lived. Who is really in charge? What species began the whole process? Is it still extant? Would Phillium be aware of it? If so, how would he feel about it? If not, would that ignorance be intentional on the part of the big bosses? Do they have ulterior motives that might come into play here, with two different species moving in to raise up two different sets of not yet sentient life forms?

What if both applications were accepted? Is there a reason why that’s not allowed? As it is, one species is aquatic and the other is not. If multiple species can get along on starships, why not on planets? Wouldn’t corporate see this as a way to double up on their investment?

These are just some of the questions I found myself asking as I read. What you do with them is entirely up to you. It really is a fun universe, with some very interesting characters and cultures. There’s lots of scope for further stories, too.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review May 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.

The Hole In The Flame by J.L. Roberts

I am in love with the title of this story. It’s unique, it’s evocative, it’s directly relevant to the plot and the protagonist. It caught my eye right away and drew me in.

I really like a number of things about the story. The depiction of the fire as a happy sentient, and Cassie’s ability to see and share it. The concept of ghost/memories/apparitions as a form of time travel, and fire as the power source. The images of both the fire and the time past, which are vivid and evocative.

I do have some questions and confusions about the draft. Some will be resolved with a line edit and polish, breaking up paragraphs for greater clarity, and so on. Others may need expansion or clarification, or possibly rethinking.

Do I feel anything for Cassie? I see that she’s confident, that she has a plan, that she’s not afraid of the fire and in fact she’s pleased and excited about it. What I’m not getting is why.

It’s evident that fire for her is a friendly force, and that it’s a kind of time travel. Does she pass through into the past every time she’s called to a fire? Or has she been aiming for this result and achieving it by degrees, and finally she’s succeeded? I’d add the option of her not knowing what will happen if she follows Bobby’s apparition, but the impression I get is that she wants it and that’s why she’s here.

This leads me to a fundamental question. Why does she want to go back in time? What is she trying to accomplish? What does she expect will happen when she gets there? Is it death she’s aiming for? Or is she trying to change the past? How does Bobby’s voice enter into this, and what is the distinction between the voice she hears in the outside world and the one she’s hearing inside the fire? Is this some sort of revenge for past sins, evil force trying to devour her, old love wanting her back, past trying to get her to alter it and possibly bring Bobby (or Sam) back to life, or…?

You don’t have to spell out every single thing; you can be mysterious and allusive. Part of the appeal of the subgenre this story seems to fit into (on which more below) is that it doesn’t explain everything. It leaves some things to the reader’s imagination. It revolves around ambiguity. But it’s important to be just clear enough that the reader is sure the obscure bits are meant to be so.

I wondered as I read, how Cassie could get away with “accidentally” cutting off communications every time. Wouldn’t she be called on it? Would her fellow firefighters and her superiors detect a pattern? Has Edgar started to catch on, and that’s what the body language is about when he finds the communications device she’s dropped? When he comes back and tries to carry her out, is this something he’s done before, or that he’s been expecting to have to do? What are the undercurrents here?

It seems clear that he sees the apparition of Bobby. Is this a first? Has it happened before? Should Cassie be more worried about it than she is? Or is she so sure she’s leaving forever that it doesn’t matter?

I am a bear of little brain, and I did not quite get who Bobby is, or whether Sam is also Bobby, because Bobby disappears near the end and the hole in the flame becomes Sam. Are they both supposed to be there? Is Bobby the guide and Sam the one he’s leading her to? What would he do that? What does he want from her?

The line edit I mentioned above will help answer my questions, along a thorough proofread. In the draft, words tumble over each other, phrases and sentences repeat verbatim, and the effect is rather like the fire itself: exuberant, over the top, and headlong as it tumbles through the telling of the story. There’s great energy in it, at the expense of clarity; but that’s what revision is for. I’d definitely be in favor of keeping the energy and the enthusiasm, but layering in a clearer sense of who and what and why.

I had one further thought as I read and reread the story. It’s labeled Urban Fantasy, and this led me to reflect on genre markers, tropes and signals that tell a reader what to expect within the confines of the genre.

When I think of UF, I think of an urban setting, of course, and the supernatural or the fantastic underpinning a more or less contemporary setting. The popular trope of the kickass female hunter of supernatural beings, or the noir detective investigating odd or inexplicable crimes, isn’t all there is to it, but it’s an indicator of the voice and “feel” of urban fantasy.

The force of nature personified, its gleeful destructiveness, the appearance of ghosts or revenants from the past, the protagonist who is compelled to follow them even if it means her death—those all say horror or dark fantasy to me. If this were UF I’d look for Cassie to have some way of controlling or being controlled by supernatural beings—the fire, in this case. She’d either fight it or ally with it, for reasons that would become apparent in the course of the story.

Does it make a difference what label an author or publisher puts on a story? It does, I think: quite a lot in terms of marketing the final draft, but also in regard to what the reader expects.

Readers tend to like their labels; they know what they’re getting, they know how to react as the story unfolds, and they also know what kind of payoff they can reasonably expect to get. If the story presents a couple, for example, and the reader is told it’s a romance, she looks for the story to focus fairly tightly on an emotional arc (down as well as up) culminating in a happy ending. If it’s a space opera, on the other hand, the couple may or may not get together romantically, and their relationship won’t be the first priority; the heart of the story will be the adventure in space.

If the label isn’t quite right, the story can be very good or even brilliant but still draw reader criticism and editorial rejections. It’s like the cooking shows in which the judges will say, “You called this a semifreddo but it’s a very tasty, old-fashioned American ice cream. You promised us a particular thing, and you didn’t provide it. That’s why we had to chop you.”

Here, we have a pretty satisfyingly atmospheric dark fantasy with ghosts and a side of time travel. Our protagonist has a thing for fire, she can see her past in it, and she ends up giving herself to it. Relabeling the story may more clearly reflect what the story is about, and give it a better chance of reaching the audience that will most appreciate it.

–Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Review May 2017, 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.

Moongirl by Sharon Cullars

Set in San Diego, 2202, “Moongirl” shows us an interesting and unique future, in which monsters, visible only to those on a particular drug, eat humans.  Selene struggles to decide what to do with this knowledge.  The story has some nice emotion to it, since those previously on the drug, including Selene’s friend, Anne, and Anne’s mother, have killed themselves because of what they’ve seen.  The most intense and disturbing moment, for me, occurs when Selene sees her drawing of a girl on a swing grow animated, and then the girl is eaten by a monster.  That’s really haunting, and it’s something I’ve never seen before.

The main area of the story that I think can be improved is focus.  The story right now includes more than a short story can hold.  The focus needs to be narrowed to the elements necessary to create a powerful impact at the story’s end.  Other elements need to be cut.  I’ll discuss this in more detail below.

I think there is way too much plot here for a short story.  Since the vast majority of the plot has occurred before the present action, that means the story is filled with exposition (background information), most of it in the form of flashbacks.  Roughly three out of eight pages, almost half the story, is exposition.  If you find that much of your story is exposition, that usually means you’ve started the story in the wrong place.  Generally, the reader wants to be swept up in the present action of the story, with minimal amounts of exposition that provide a few key pieces of information about what happened earlier.  The story would be stronger if it was re-plotted to focus on present action with only a little exposition.

Right now, the present story has quite a weak plot.  Basically, Selene takes the drug, sees the monster, thinks back over all that happened, and decides to fight the monsters by giving others the drug, so they too can see.  The causal chain is weak, because there’s no particular reason why Selene makes the decision on this night, at this moment.  And she’s passive throughout, mainly watching and thinking, not struggling to achieve a goal.

My advice is to restructure the story to move the more emotionally powerful material into the present action.  The story could begin with Selene saying the line currently on p. 7:  “What is it you see, Anne?”  She and Anne could be on the rooftop, with Anne standing too close to the edge.  Selene tries to convince her to step away from the edge.  This scene could combine some of the dialogue from p. 7 with some of the dialogue from p. 9 (“I see things, Moon.  They’re here with us but no on sees them,” etc.).  Anne tells her to take the duffel.  Anne says her mother couldn’t handle it, and she can’t handle it, but maybe Selene can.  Selene senses Anne is about to jump and runs forward and grabs her, but Anne slips through her fingers and falls.  This would be a very powerful opening scene, and you could slow it down and describe their interactions some more and show Selene’s emotions.  The current version seems rushed and tells emotions with emotional labels (confused, frightened, desperately, hoping, etc.) more than shows them.

I think the details about Anne’s mother and how she died aren’t important to the story.  It’s enough to know that she took the drug and killed herself.  That’s all we need.  The focus should be on Anne, who is closest to Selene and who Selene tried and failed to save.  Since the story has too much plot, some needs to be cut away, and I would suggest most of Anne’s mother’s story could be cut.

This could be followed by the scene with Selene in the warehouse taking the drug for the first time and seeing the girl on the swing be eaten.  In that same scene, she could flee the warehouse after the girl is eaten and see more monsters on the streets, eating.  She could rush up to Liam and ask him what’s happening, but he doesn’t know what she’s talking about.  She runs off, horrified, seeing people being killed, and it’s so awful she can’t stand living in the world.  She understands now why Anne and her mother killed themselves and she prepares to throw herself in front of a bus.  But she realizes that Anne trusted her and wanted her to change things, to end this.  She can’t just kill herself and let this go on.  She runs to Liam and tells him he has to take the drug.  He fights her at first, but finally she convinces him to do it, for her.  He’ll be the first of her army.  And she’ll stop them.

Compressing the time line, putting all the important events into the present of the story, and allowing Selene to struggle–first to save Anne, then to deal with her horror and despair, then to create the first soldier in her army–will strengthen the plot and make Selene a stronger protagonist.

In addition to the plot, there is also more setting here than the story requires.  The technology and futuristic setting seems irrelevant to the story.  Invisible, people-eating monsters can exist in any time.  I suggest simply setting the story in the present day.  It will be much more disturbing to think that monsters live among us and eat us than to think that in some imaginary future they will do so.

The alternate dimension also seems unnecessary.  That doesn’t add to Selene’s struggle or decision.

Simplifying the setting will also allow the point of view to be simplified.  Right now, it’s mainly omniscient, moving at times into Selene’s head.  The omniscient point of view keeps me distant from Selene for most of the story and prevents me from getting very emotionally involved.  I think the story would work much better in a close third-person limited omniscient POV, limited to Selene’s head.  The omniscient viewpoint allows for explanation of the technology, but if the technology is cut, then the POV can simply stay in Selene’s head and allow us to experience events with her.

Narrowing the focus should allow the strong core elements of the story to be further developed.

I really enjoy the disturbing premise and the emotional connection between Selene and Anne.  I hope my comments are helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey

 

Editor’s Choice Review May 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.

The Restaurant At The End Of The War by Clint Spivey

“The Restaurant at the End of the War” grabbed my attention this month for its thoughtful take on a post-MilSF future—the scattered directions people, supplies, and refugees go after peace is declared—and the way it’s genuinely advancing the conversation that most stories in that subgenre lay out. This month, I’d like to talk about the balance between innovative and classic story elements, and how we take a subgenre conversation down a slightly different road while staying firmly in the subgenre where we started.

“The Restaurant at the End of the War” establishes its innovative bona fides quickly with a low-flying perspective on the standard MilSF intergalactic war. It’s entirely plausible, without needing to explain, how a human and Mewlani would build a bond working in military kitchens—and refreshing for me as a reader to see work that acknowledges and centres those cooks and support workers, and gets that war takes infrastructure: infrastructure that’s still there, and winding down, after hostilities are over, just like a war’s vets, translators, and refugees. There’s a great resonance between a restaurant built on military surplus and how every character in “The Restaurant at the End of the War” is moving from a military life to a civilian one.

I feel it’s also rare to see MilSF portray the sheer, unblinking structural obstacles that racism puts up at every turn. The ways Stain authorities and The Ledge work to prevent Wallroy and Blistren’s business from succeeding feels far more realistic than broken bottles and random slurs, and Stain’s casual corruption presents a real threat, largely because it’s clear nobody’s swooping in to save Sluice, and that the barriers are not about to end.

All this comes back to the sheer quality of the worldbuilding nested unobtrusively in “The Restaurant at the End of the War,” and it adds up to an overall excellent sense of atmosphere. There is a whole universe of backstory implied in how Sustain has turned to Stain, the dirtiness of a neighbourhood where streets were once named Prosperity and Empire, ships are named for non-Western rulers, the krone as the currency of record, and the fact that Wallroy absolutely butchers his Mewlani pronunciation, but tries anyway. Wallroy works wonderfully as a POV character who’s observant but not hyping his observations, or trying to be overclever: his casual ability to differentiate poverty from danger makes his background feel realistic, and the details he relates—the beard just long enough to flout army regs is my favourite example—are legitimately great tells, ones which encapsulate whole relationships with authority and safety in single details.

And yet, for all those notable and newer details, “The Restaurant at the End of the War” is unmistakably a MilSF story. There’s little explanation of the war between humans and Mewlani, which allows readers to fill the standard intergalactic war tropeset in those gaps. Wallroy, even as an army cook, still wraps his world in the structure and regulations of the military: he differentiates less between military and civilian personalities than different kinds of military personalities. I know what kind of story this is, in what conversation: while it’s innovating in certain respects, it’s keeping one foot firmly in topics that as a reader, I’m familiar with, and understand—and letting me see the direction it wants to take MilSF in and appreciate that innovation for what it is.

It’s that balance that keeps—on the other end—elements like the archetypical nature of Meat and Hook from feeling stale: what might come off as overdone in another piece just feels like another weight for the standard trope side of the balance here, and is peculiarly grounding instead.

There are a few skipped beats I’d like to note: The moment where Wallroy and Blistren realize their containers of slange have been impounded—and the potential setup from The Ledge—is so quick as to be almost missable, making me need to back up half a scene later to establish that conflict in my head.

I’d also look again at the ending of the piece. The revelation that the Mewlani group are the red-headed soldier’s translators is a touch on the nose: It’s a very close analogue to the U.S. and Iraq, perhaps too close, and is the one place where the narrative strays into direct allegory.

The author asked for comment on whether “The Restaurant at the End of the War” oversimplifies the complex issue of refugee crises in the wake of war, which is a difficult question to tackle: There are as many ways to tell a refugee story as there are refugees, unfortunately. For what it’s worth, I don’t think this is an irresponsible take. Stain is set up as a morally messy economy, one Wallroy and Blistren are quite clearly buying right into: theirs is a business run on giving former enemies a little taste of home, but only workable because this tourist town is on the route for prisoner repatriation. Wallroy and Blistren are doing a kindness no one else will, but they’re not doing it for free; they’re making sure toys are ready for impulse buying by families who have nothing, and there’s a cold realism to that kind of profiteering, and that kind of deeply mixed action.

If anything, I’d say “The Restaurant at the End of the War” wraps up a little too tidily: The forces of corruption and racism are held off at least for the meantime by plain force, good guys are identified, and everything will, for the meantime, Be All Right. It’s a very military ending, fully in line with the values of armies—evil is defeated by force and hearts-and-minds propaganda—but I’m not sure it fits the story that precedes it.

I think the main strength behind that ending working out is the plain fact that “The Restaurant at the End of the War” isn’t actively selling a solution. It’s presenting a situation, and the relative lack of agenda might let the piece get away with a little wishful thinking. However, I’d suggest that ending is worth the examination given to the worldbuilding on Stain, Wallroy’s past, and the other details of this universe. It’s not bad as it is; it has the potential to be something special.

Overall, this is a thoughtful piece that reads lightly, and punches seriously above its weight, and I look forward to seeing it find a home.

Best of luck!

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