Site Updates!

We’re pleased to announce a pair of minor feature enhancements that members have been requesting!
  • By default, the Online Writing Workshop offers reviewers the ability to rate submissions by a number of criteria in addition to the primary critique method of entering their feedback. While some authors enjoy the “star ratings,” others do not; to enable everyone to have the workshop experience that they prefer, we’ve added the ability for authors to suppress the ratings area when reviewers critique their submissions.To disable the ratings area:
    1. Click the drop-down list next to the My Dashboard button.
    2. Click Account.
    3. In the Preferences section, select the Block reviewers from using the ratings when critiquing my submissions check box.
    4. Click Update Preferences.
  • When a reviewer saves a review in progress but does not submit it, the review remains in the Reviews section of the Dashboard. By default, if an author archives the submission, the review still remains in the Reviews section, although the reviewer cannot update it. We’ve now added the option for reviewers to hide these reviews!To suppress in-process critiques if the author shelves the submission:
    1. Click the drop-down list next to the My Dashboard button.
    2. Click Account.
    3. In the Preferences section, select the Hide draft reviews on dashboard if the author archives the submission check box.
    4. Click Update Preferences.
Note: The reviews remain on the database. If the author later unarchives the submission, the review is again displayed in the Reviews section, and the reviewer can update it.
In addition to these changes, the new Account option provides access to existing functionality in a new place, the Accounts page.
  • The Membership area displays your membership expiration date, and provides a link for you to extend your membership if you choose to do so.
  • The Info area provides links that enable you to update your profile and to change your password.
We hope you enjoy this new functionality! Please let us know what you think, and if there are any other improvements we can make for you!

Member News Of Note

Jodi Meadows revealed the cover of the first book in her new Fallen Isles Trilogy. You can see the stunning cover for Before She Ignites here. Look for the book in September 2017!

Fran Wilde shared the news that her work made the Locus Recommended Reading List in three separate categories. Cloudbound for novels, The Jewel and Her Lapidary for novellas, and “Only Their Shining Beauty Was Left” in short stories. Congratulations, Fran!

Editor’s Choice Review January 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.

Burning Season by Cherae Clark

“Burning Season” caught my eye this month with its fascinating linguistic worldbuilding: a city where cultural purge is the norm, which isn’t even sure if it believes its own myths anymore—and one we see through a protagonist who has been a collaborator, and has very little to believe in as well.  It’s a story that’s doing some adept, fascinating work, but also feels like it has yet to fully inhabit its concept. So this month, I’d like to discuss why finding the right size for a story matters, and what it means, on a pure craft level, to commit to the stories we’re telling.

“Burning Season” already stands apart just by nature of its subject matter: sociolinguistic speculative elements are a lot more common in science fiction than in fantasy, and while the idea of an ever-colonized city isn’t a new one in fantasy, focusing a story on the ground-level experience of the people who live there—the writing and rewriting of culture and customs that would mean for them, and how it shapes them—is, just by existing, an excellently interesting piece of trope pushback.

As is casting Saman as a collaborator—one who isn’t faking being casual about their relationship with Kiroga or their attitude to politics.  As well as subverting the idea of the vulnerability-free, passionate hero, Saman’s hesitation and flaws and going along to get along are a highly effective way to make Rashid feel real as a colonized city.  Saman’s own internal colonization resonates well with the constant presence of violence in the streets, and combines with the deft use of a few other details—how Saman and the other characters handle that sense of language, code-switching and cross-communicating across a whole spectrum of social language taboos; the history people don’t actually want to talk about; and the way characters are believeably non-fluent in a language—to bring Rashid off the page and make it feel real.  The small touches of ambiguous futures throughout the piece—Borlena’s perhaps-daughter, where Liral is now—and the drumbeat repetition of I don’t know the story combine with that trope pushback to tell readers this isn’t the usual fare.

Though it’s got my attention with what it’s not, I think “Burning Season” could come out much more strongly on the page with what it is.  The author’s mentioned being unsure if this can work as a short piece or needs to be expanded, and I’d argue there’s an intersection of both needs here—as a short piece, it would be more effective trimmed shorter to make sure it delivers a clear and effective narrative, but in terms of plot, “Burning Season” ends just as the story is getting started.

Either way, I’d suggest trimming the piece down as a first move.  Making sure it has the same amount of words as story helps eliminate the feeling of drag that shows up throughout the piece, and will help make that expand-prose-or-contract-plot decision from much firmer ground.

That tightening to get the gaps and air bubbles out is a lens that can be applied in a few ways; the sentence level is the most obvious.  For example, the very first sentence is a good candidate for a quick tightening.  Consider the difference between the current opening line:

“It started with something foolish, as most things like to be known as tragedies usually do.”

–and a tighter, leaner version:

“It started with something foolish, as most tragedies do.”

What’s been taken out is mostly qualifying, hesitation, and hedging. “Most” and “usually” qualify the same Not All Tragedies idea in the same way; there’s no reason to say the things that might maybe be known as tragedies where one word will do—yes, tragedies, that’s what we’re talking about here.

This isn’t a flinch that’s consistent throughout “Burning Season”; the second paragraph, “It was burning season in Rashid. Again,” is a beautifully authoritative sentence, and sets a huge amount of tone and reader expectation in seven little words.  The description of Slaughterhouse is absolutely evocative.  The single gunshot is left on the page like a stain and its aftermath allowed to bloom in a way that has real impact.  Just as I’d suggest finding those moments that are hesitating, repeating themselves, hedging, and clearing them up, I’d suggest finding the moments of clear, confident, evocative prose and making sure they have the space to shine.

On a more macro level, I’d suggest looking at every interaction and scene and seeing how it’s either building the argument or taking the narrative forward—and trimming if it’s not working to a goal.  For example, I’d suggest shortening the opening interaction with Borlena.  As an establishing shot, the initial paragraphs do the trick quite nicely of telling us what the omniloquists are and do; what the conversation with Borlena seems to underline most, right now, is a roguish, Bogartesque, I-stick-my-neck-out-for-nobody protagonist.  That’s an archetype that’s worn enough around the edges that it’s sticking out harshly against the rather innovative worldbuilding: it feels as if it’s gotten less quality thought than the world itself.

As a side note, there are a few other aspects of “Burning Season” that could perhaps use more evidence on the page of careful thought.  The explanation of the city layout is the most notable example, which—forgive me—reminds me a bit of a game of SimCity (industrial zone right up next to residential zone!), and created some disconnect from the story for this reader: With the wonderful linguistic layering of Rashid telling me this is not what conquest looks like and Saman’s messy history telling me this is not what living through war looks like, having a very basic approach to what city planning looks like grates against the sense of realism that the story’s already established.  Every other aspect of this piece has embraced complexity; when a craft element doesn’t, “Burning Season” falls down for me as a reader.

Which brings me back to the author’s question: To refine as a workable short story, or to expand “Burning Season” into something larger?

Ultimately, I think that decision lies in the answer to a simple question—one that works best when asked after refining a piece into its most effective shape.  What is “Burning Season” meant to get across, and in short story format, is it getting that across as well as it could?

While stories evolve on the page—and that’s a good thing!—we start off a piece with something we want to communicate.  Writing is, always, at its heart, communication.  When considering whether to expand or contract a piece, the most useful way of reframing that question is to ask which toolset—short story, novella, or more—will get that crucial something across to readers in the most effective way.

Ultimately, everything we work with is a tool; what we—and our work—have to say for ourselves is what makes our stories come alive.  So I’d advise asking what “Burning Season” has to say with its complexity and ambiguity—without flinching, without shorthands, being utterly itself—and picking the form that will make it the clearest version of itself.

Best of luck!

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

Publication News

Gregor Hartman sends very happy news: “My fight club story which I posted here in the spring of 2015 has been bought by F&SF. Back then it was called “On Bone,” which sucked; subsequently I changed it to “What the Hands Know.” My thanks again to Meredith, Allan, Elad, Owen, Charlotte, Robert, and Terry for pointing out weaknesses that needed to be fixed.”

Mark Reeder also had good news to share: “Wanted to let you know that a novel I co-authored with Ron Meyer was released October 15.  The Adam Enigma from Origin Press is a paranormal thriller with magical realism. It has a startling premise – a radical twist on Christ’s promise to return to earth and lead humanity into a new era, though in ways not anticipated by the churches or by anyone else.” You can learn more about the book here.

Goodbye, Kagi, and thanks.

Kagi just announced it is ceasing operations as of now. Find out details at www.kagi.com, but it looks like this will be more complicated for suppliers (that’s us) than customers (that’s you).

The sad result is that OWW members who live outside the U.S. have fewer payment options now.  We will try to find other companies that offer quick, easy, reliable service.  Luckily PayPal (which most of you use) has gotten better for non-U.S. customers in the last few years, so the need is now less urgent.

Reviewer Honor Roll

The Reviewer Honor Roll is a great way to pay back a reviewer for a really useful review. When you nominate a reviewer, we list the reviewer’s name, the submission/author reviewed, and your explanation of what made the review so useful. The nomination appears in the Honor Roll area of OWW the month after you submit it, and is listed for a month. You can nominate reviewers of your own submissions or reviewers of other submissions, if you have learned from reading the review. Think of it as a structured, public “thank you” that gives credit where credit is due and helps direct other OWWers to useful reviewers and useful review skills.

Visit the Reviewer Honor Roll page for a complete list of nominees and explanatory nominations.

[ May 2016] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: M.C. Pierce
Submission: Zombies in Fairyland Part D by P.C. Collins
Submitted by: P.C. Collins

Reviewer: Steve Brady
Submission: THE THAUMECHANICAL MAN, CHAPTER 5, TAKE 2 by Robert Rapplean
Submitted by: Robert Rapplean

On The Shelves

The Second Death: Los Nefilim: Part Three by T. Frohock (Harper Voyager Impulse, March 2016)second death cover

Save the world, or save his family…

For Diago Alvarez, that’s the choice before him. For unless he wants to see his son Rafael die, he must do the unthinkable:

Help the Nazis receive the plans to the ultimate weapon.

And while Diago grows more comfortable not only with his heritage, but also with his place among Guillermo’s Los Nefilim, he is still unsure if he truly belongs amongst them.

In a frantic race to save the future of humanity, Diago is forced to rely on his daimonic nature to deceive an angel. In doing so, he discovers the birth of a modern god—one that will bring about a new world order from which no one can escape.

Publication News

It’s been a good couple of weeks for OWW alumni.

Kathyrn Allen wants us to know: “My short story “Unheil” has made it into print in Typhon: A Monster Anthology. The book is available via Amazon and Amazon Uk.

Jeremiah Tolbert’s story “Not By Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” appears in the February issue of Lightspeed Magazine.

Amber Van Dyk’s story “And the Woods Are Silent” was published in the latest issue of The Dark.

And the covers for Fran Wilde’s next book, Cloudbound, and a new cover for the trade paperback edition of Updraft were revealed. Watch for Cloudbound in September 2016.

FRan's new updraft and cloudbound covers