Grapevine/Market News

Nightscape Press has several open submission calls for a short story anthology, a Best of New Weird 2018 Anthology, and the Nightscape Charity Line. Payment is different for each open call, as are open and close dates. Full details are found here. 

Paper Butterfly Flash fiction is open to flash stories of up to 1,000 words, from any genre, until April 30, 2019. Payment is a flat $10 CD. Full details are found here.


Publication News

Anne Wrightwell wrote to say that she had a horror/fantasy short story published as an ebook by Demain Publishing, a new Horror publisher, on 31 March 2019.  The story is titled “A Monster Met” and Anne used the pen name Liz Tuckwell for this story.

Writing Challenge/Prompt

Try and imagine a character who can’t do anything right. No matter what job or endeavor they turn their hand to, everything goes horribly wrong. Then one day, they receive a package in the mail. Inside is a key.

What does it open? And does your character dare to find out?

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don’t forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you’ve never tried writing in first or second person, here’s your chance. The story doesn’t have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up on the workshop at anytime. Put “Challenge” in the title so people can find it.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at)

Editor’s Choice Award April 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.

Calvin (Part 1 OF 3) by Colin Bishoff

“Calvin” is, as the author’s notes describe, “a difficult story to read due to the sheer nastiness of the characters.” But it also caught my eye this month through its careful work with tone, worldbuilding, pacing, and a layered internal conflict. So this month, I’d like to talk about how to dig a little deeper on the idea of sympathetic and unsympathetic characters, and identifying the driving action of a piece.

“Calvin” is deeply textural: smells, sounds, colours, wear and tear, tastes, a world that’s built of little realistic contradictions and things that don’t work quite right. The vivid imagery makes a scene that’s largely internal—three young men saying nasty things about other people—alive and propulsive, and the way the worldbuilding rises in the background of those everyday interactions fits the speculative element, the copies, into the story in a way that feels organic and grounded. Pair that with a well-paced delivery of new information—this doesn’t feel like 5,000 words, never mind 5,000 words of an intro—and the fundamental craft here is sound.

But I want to address that question of nastiness: what made Brett, Tom, and Willie’s awfulness tolerable, for me, to read? There are a few factors in play here.

The first is that it’s immediately clear that the narrative doesn’t endorse Brett in the slightest. The opening lines—”Maybe we weren’t human. Then again, maybe we were”—immediately set an emotional and ethical framework for what follows. They create a manual for reading “Calvin”: readers are supposed to be weighing and judging this behaviour.

As the piece continues its portrayal of Brett, the hardest-line of the three, is ungrotesquely but consistently unflattering: “his pale white belly spilling over the tops of his faded Wranglers like a pasty, freckled slug”; his father as the tightly paired “charismatic minister” and “town nuisance”. While it’s definitely a problem when we equate bad and physically ugly in our work, there’s a technique in play here that made this read differently for me. What’s being communicated, deeply embedded in Tom’s POV and through features that could have been described neutrally or are socially neutral, is Tom’s contempt for Brett. As a character, Tom notices deeply unflattering things about Brett, compared to how he describes Willie, despite Willie’s particular brand of ugliness.

And yet, it’s not uncompassionate: the story—and Tom himself—seem to clearly understand why Brett is who he is, that he’s aping his father, that there is a tangle of love and approval and posturing and shame driving him. Similarly, he seems to understand Willie: his fear of knives, the scarring of finding his father’s body, that he’ll say both helpful and hurtful things mostly to provoke. That combination of noticing, understanding, contempt, dismissal, compassion makes Tom’s distanced evaluations of his friendships feel real, but also makes it a little safer to trust Tom as a POV character. He can evaluate and admit fault, and he can see the reasons behind behaviours and complexities, so he can be trusted to narrate with reasonable reliability. Tom seems vaguely aware that he’s being goaded, that he can be goaded; that he’s not precisely a good person. That he’s doing a wrong thing.

The second is—returning to Brett’s hardline bigotry—that theirs is an awfulness with gradations. Brett, Tom, and Willie aren’t of one mind about the world. Despite being together, and having a sort of tacit agreement to not draw hard lines on each other, they give each other a lot of shit and disagreement, cloaked in the kind of ribbing some men do. The layers of endorsement and non-endorsement between them make them more complex characters in a more complex web of interaction, and also takes away the worry that “Calvin” is trying to push an ideology or sell something—even something as simple as “men like this are bad”.

The most important cue is, ultimately, back in those first lines. They present not just a framework but a tonal cue—this is a story about retrospective queasiness—that tells readers this story isn’t just going to portray awful behaviour, but meaningfully engage with the question of what was wrong with us then?

There can be, I think, a certain struggle about how graphically we want our work to portray terrible behaviours, traumas, or awful things. Depiction is not always endorsement, no, but depiction can clearly be hurtful. What was ultimately interesting about “Calvin” for me, though, was that it moves past non-endorsement into active, thoughtful engagement. Tom is wrestling with himself and his friends, and with the why of something awful that is clearly coming. We are seeing these things for a purpose. The purpose is better understanding, or resolution, or clarity, and it’s on the other side.

This means the subject matter of “Calvin”—its internal arc of conflict—isn’t actually prurient or violent behaviour but self-examination; that this story is so far one of coming to grips with oneself, and that is a highly sympathetic, engaging, and relatable trait in a narrator.

When evaluating whether a character is sympathetic, I think it’s worthwhile to note that the relatable behaviour—the sympathy—can be a few layers down in the narrative and still work, so long as there’s a point for readerly connection. And that’s, for me, the aspect that pulled me through “Calvin” and would have me read the next two parts.

As for things to look at in revision—which is difficult with a partial story!—I would suggest toning Brett down a touch. The dialect only he speaks is a bit much on the eye for me as a reader, especially since they all grew up in the same place and should speak similar dialects. Especially in the paragraph where he’s suggesting attacking Calvin, he’s also laying it on a bit thick. Paring that back would, I think, keep him from veering into cartoonish, or the “Ain’t natural” from hitting so squarely on the nose.

I’m also tempted to suggest trimming around the paragraphs with the bikes, although it’s hard to evaluate from only a third of a full story. I can say, though, that my attention wanders there. Once the decision to go after Calvin’s been made, a certain amount of the scene after feels just like obstruction between it and the narrative payoff—how this goes wrong next—until they’re traveling down the roadway, and Tom’s history with the town reconnects the story for me again.

As it stands, though, I think this is a promising first third, one that combines solid craft, regret, and the mounting foreboding of something awful in the wind with several balancing tonal factors. I’m interested to see how it concludes.

Best of luck!

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

Member News Of Note

Nominees for this year’s Hugo Awards were announced today, and OWW’s own Aliette de Bodard has been nominated in two categories:

The Universe of Xuya series is nominated for the Best Series Award

The Tea Master and the Detective is nominated for the Best Novella Award

All our congratulations go to Alliette! Our fingers are crossed too.

On The Shelves

Riverland by Fran Wilde (Amulet Press April, 2019) 

When things go bad at home, sisters Eleanor and Mike hide in a secret place under Eleanor’s bed, telling monster stories. Often, it seems those stories and their mother’s house magic are all that keep them safe from both busybodies and their dad’s temper. But when their father breaks a family heirloom, a glass witch ball, a river suddenly appears beneath the bed, and Eleanor and Mike fall into a world where dreams are born, nightmares struggle to break into the real world, and secrets have big consequences. Full of both adventure and heart, Riverland is a story about the bond between two sisters and how they must make their own magic to protect each other and save the ones they love.

Editor’s Choice Award March 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.

A Cat-A-Strophic Tempest: Chapter 1 by Jennifer Dawson

I’ll come right out and say it: This submission is delightful. The author’s note warns that readers will find signs of rapid writing, NaNo style, but the only thing that pinged for me was a word or phrase here and there that might have been a placeholder for something more precisely in context. For example:You may go now, I dismissed—maybe missing the him, maybe trying to carry a bit more weight than dismissed tends to carry.

I caught a number of word echoes, too, that might have been intentional repetitions (magichappens frequently) or author’s brain catching on a particular word and repeating it from sentence to sentence (such as stuck). There’s nothing there that a little polish won’t fix.

In general, the chapter reads fast and light. The narrative voice for me is dead on. It nicely depicts a sassy and opinionated cat, but it also tells me here’s a fully rounded person of whatever species.

I get a good sense of Jack/Stupid, too. Nice guy, loves animals. Makes perfectly natural assumptions that animal-loving people tend to make. Looks for food and water (her magical coverup comes too late), sees none, does the right thing—leaves a note and takes her home.

Of course that’s actually the exact wrong thing, and there’s the heart of the humor. We see that Izobel is in a predicament, and Jack inadvertently compounds it. We don’t know all the details of her situation, but we pick up enough to get a sense of just how much worse it gets by the chapter’s end.

That’s good plotting and pacing. Often the first draft of an opening chapter front-loads the exposition, gets it all in there and spells it all out. As author’s notes and synopsis, this is solid drafting praxis, but big blocks of exposition keep the story from moving forward.

They also slacken tension and remove suspense. Especially at the beginning when we’re still making up our minds about the story and the characters, we want to know something about them, but not so much that we start to get overwhelmed with facts and details and explanations. We don’t like to be confused, but we like a little mystery. We want a reason to keep reading.

Always leave them wanting more is one of my writing mantras. Tell them just enough to whet their appetites. Reveal information gradually—a taste here, another bite there. Keep it coming fast enough that they don’t get bored, but not so fast that they can’t keep track of what’s going on.

This chapter does a good job of that. I want to keep reading; I want to find out more about why Izobel is trapped in cat form with without a cat brain. Who is she and, more to the point, what is she? Where does she come from? And how is she going to get herself out of this pickle?

I’m on board to find out.

—Judith Tarr

Editor’s Choice Award March 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.


This submission hits a number of my Favorite Things buttons. Mystery. Matriarchy. Complicated relationships. Nice chaser of wry humor with topical twist—the Pharm Lords. Indeed.

First, a structural question. When Rif and Winga are married, Hamir attaches himself to them, and stays attached. He seems to be a vehicle for exposition, supplying chunks of information and being supplied with them in turn, and adding comic relief to the awkward interaction between Rif and Winga. I wonder if there might be a more organic way to establish the worldbuilding and to develop the relationship between the new husband and wife: whether they might interact directly, without the addition of a third character, and whether we might see some of the things Winga describes in action rather than being told about them. A private, one-on-one Q&A between Rif and Winga could go in some interesting directions.

If Hamir must be there for Plot Reasons, I’d like be clearer about what those are. Chaperone? Bodyguard? Ritual separation of the newlyweds until they’re properly bound and bedded?

I also wonder why Rif takes the detour to his apartment, and why Winga acquiesces to it. It needs more grounding in the story, and more sense of how it fits into the arc of the plot.

On a more general level, I kept noticing something I call viewpoint tagging. When a writer is establishing viewpoint, she will make use of various phrases and devices that say, “This is the POV. This is the camera angle. This. Right here.” Our experience of events is filtered through one or more characters, rather than conveyed through choice of words, position within a scene (what we see and from where), or emotional reactions to what’s done and said.

Words like thought and saw and wondered will signal that someone else is experiencing events and we’re being told about them. We may get stage directions, too: His eyes moved on, or He returned to his desk and read. And we’ll get sections of internal monologue, with rhetorical questions:

What would it mean, in practical terms, for a planet to be a matriarchy?

So why was she now willing to go back?

What, oh what had he gotten himself into?

When a character stops to think about things and ask himself questions, the story stops, too. The writer’s challenge is to find ways to get the information across while also keeping the plot in motion.

Dialogue is one way to do this, but as the scenes with Hamir demonstrate, it needs to be done with care. If it turns into a form of exposition, or if the character doesn’t necessarily need to be in the scene, the plot will stall again.

Motion is key. Moving events forward. Choosing the right characters for a scene, and establishing why they’re essential to that scene. Developing arcs of emotion, of action and reaction.

Little things help, too. Choice of words. Variety in that choice. Sometimes repetition can be very effective, driving home a point or building tension. But again, this has to be done with care.

The sequence with the admiral and the cookie and the teacup has an odd sort of resonance. Picked up and cookie repeat and re-repeat. On the one hand, there’s an almost ritual quality to it. On the other, it’s not clear if it’s intentional or if it’s what I call brain-echoes—words and phrases that just keep recurring during the writing process. If it is intentional, a little polish and a bit more work on the prose will help make that clear.

In a later scene we’re told Rif’s pants are too tight. Shortly after that, he says they’re too tight. Later he goes through a sequence of suffering with them, then getting them off.

This, like Hamir’s role in the wedding and its aftermath, seems meant to be humorous. Humor needs a deft touch and spot-on timing. Pruning the repetitions will help—rather than telling and then talking, choose the one that works best for the scene—as will thinking through where the characters go after the wedding, and why they go to those particular places at that particular time.

There’s a lot of good stuff happening here. I love Winga’s deadpan comments; of all the characters in this chapter, she’s my favorite. I would definitely like to see more of her.

–Judith Tarr