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.

[ July 2017] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: M Horst
Submission: MACHISTOPH Ch 1 by Robin Zell
Submitted by: Robin Zell

Editor’s Choice Review August 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.

Ghost Walk–Revision by Paul Taylor

Three things draw me into this story immediately. First, the title and the opening paragraph’s development of the concept of the “Ghost Walk” get me interested in how this tourist-type activity could become frightening. While I’ve read plenty of stories about amusement parks or weird museums becoming scary, I don’t think I’ve read one about a historical ghost walk becoming scary, so this seemed new and intriguing to me. Second, the writing feels assured and focused, diving right into the Ghost Walk, referring to the Ghost Walk as “it,” because the author knows we have read the title and will know what “it” is. This shows me the author will not over-explain and will allow me to figure things out on my own, which will make the story engaging. Opening with the statement, “It seemed like harmless fun” suggests to me that this writer is setting up an ending in which the walk will cause significant harm. As a reader of horror, I’m excited by this, and again this signals to me that I’m in the hands of a good writer. Third, over the first two paragraphs, the voice of the first-person narrator suggests a character who has some animosity toward his girlfriend/wife, who enjoys asserting his dominance over her. This suggests depth to the characters and the relationship, making me believe this story will not just be about scary ghosts but also about scary people, and that the flaws of the narrator will have an impact on the outcome of the story.

Of these three initial impressions, the first two turn out to be accurate and pay off through the rest of the story. The story does show me that this Ghost Walk is frightening, describing it in a vivid and fresh way that makes me feel afraid and provides the thrills I’m looking for in a horror story. The writing generally remains strong throughout. But the third impression I formed at the beginning turns out not to be accurate, and I think this is one way the story can be strengthened.

The voice sends me many signals that the narrator has a somewhat hostile attitude toward his unnamed girlfriend/wife, whom I’ll call Jane for ease of reference. In the second sentence, he thinks, “At worst, it might result in a nightmare or two for her.” His treatment of this as no big deal suggests either he doesn’t care or he wouldn’t mind if she had some nightmares, which seems quite cruel. In the second paragraph, he admits that taking her on the Ghost Walk is about asserting dominance over her. He explains she is easily frightened and doesn’t enjoy that, but then admits he jumps out to frighten her and finds her screams hilarious.

Unfortunately, all this character building leads nowhere. The narrator’s animosity doesn’t show up during the Ghost Walk and has no impact on the action. Instead, the narrator seems to become a bit condescending toward Jane, thinking she needs his shoulder to lean on and she needs him to take charge and “get her moving.” The condescending attitude again seems to have no impact on the action.

Both the animosity and the condescension seem inserted into the story simply to justify the behavior of the characters. Because he likes frightening her, he takes her on the Ghost Walk. Because she’s weak, he has to take charge, so the main part of the story can focus on his thoughts and actions, and she can be treated generally as an appendage who thinks and does the same things he does.

I think the story is missing a great opportunity. Strong, consistent characters could not only involve us more in the story but also create compelling complications by showing the interaction of character and supernatural. Right now, the characters seem largely the puppets of the author. They go on the Ghost Walk because the author says so, and they go the second time because the author says so. I don’t really believe they would choose to do these things. One way to take advantage of this opportunity would be to bring out the narrator’s hostility toward Jane more strongly, so I know that he’s taking her on the Ghost Walk because he’s angry at her about something and wants payback. He wants to scare her. Then as they go through this stressful experience, it could bring out the characteristics in Jane that the narrator doesn’t like, and bring out the narrator’s hostility more. For example, he could take some action to scare her near the climax, bringing on some disaster. That would allow the narrator’s character to have an impact on the outcome.

I do question, though, why Jane would be with him or why she would go along with this Ghost Walk, knowing that he likes to frighten her and knowing that she doesn’t like to be frightened. Jane’s character needs to be developed in a way that makes this believable. More than that, I’d love to see her developed with some depth, so there can be more interesting interaction and conflict between Jane and the narrator, and so we can have a contrast in how Jane reacts to the horror and how the narrator reacts to the horror. Right now, they become almost a collective entity when they go back for their second walk, which weakens the story significantly.

Another possibility would be to change their characters. Perhaps they both like frightening each other and are constantly trying to get the best of each other. Maybe they’re siblings rather than husband and wife. In any case, it would be really nice to see more interaction between character and supernatural, so the characters are reacting in interesting, distinctive ways to the horror, and that affects the horror and changes the outcome.

The other area where I think the story can be significantly strengthened is the ending. I really enjoy the shining blackness, but the characters easily escape it, and the entire experience seems to have little effect on them. We’re told they “carry scars” and are “changed,” but we don’t see that. Ultimately, the story seems like a minor episode in their lives–they see something scary and run away–that hasn’t had much impact. This was very disappointing to me.

Again, I think the story provides a great opportunity for a stronger ending. I love the idea that they stop at a coffee shop and it feels like “a different world, almost like we were watching a movie.” This is only told now, not shown, so it doesn’t have the impact it might. Instead, this could be shown through vivid sensory details. Exactly what seems strange, and what is the nature of this strangeness? Perhaps the narrator senses the glowing blackness underlying everything, which provides this false, movie-like brightness to everything. Maybe Jane sees it; maybe she doesn’t. Maybe the narrator sees the glowing blackness in Jane’s eyes. Maybe Jane jumps out at the narrator when he comes out of the bathroom, scaring him, and we realize the characters have now exchanged roles. In any case, I’d really like to see that the characters are profoundly changed by this experience, and I’d like to see that they haven’t escaped the horror. That would allow the story to create a lingering, haunting resonance.

I hope my comments are helpful. The story feels fresh and well written, and it kept me involved throughout.

—Jeanne Cavelos, editor, writer, director of Odyssey

Member News Of Note

The Hugo Awards were announced this weekend in a ceremony at World Con 2017, held in Helsinki, Finland.

N.K. Jemisin’s book The Obelisk Gate was awarded the 2017 Hugo for Best Novel. Congratulations to Nora from everyone at OWW!

Publication News

Jeremy Tolbert has wonderful news: “It can now finally be revealed that my story “Not by Wardrobe, Tornado, or Looking Glass” will be appear in Best American Science Fiction and Fantasy 2017. This marks my first ever Year’s Best reprint. It’s a high honor to be included alongside these authors, including Nora Jemisin, Greg Van Eekhout, Caroline M. Yoachim, and many more.”

Fran Wilde also has awesome news: “I’m delighted to be working with Patrick Nielsen Hayden, Lee Harris, Irene Gallo and the fantastic team at Tor.com Publishing on two new Gem Universe novellas, I cannot wait to share them with readers! The Fire Opal Mechanism and The Book of Gems are set in the same world as The Jewel and Her Lapidary (Tor.com Publishing, 2016) and the short story “The Topaz Marquise” (Beneath Ceaseless Skies). The Fire Opal Mechanism will be published in 2018.”

On The Shelves

Call of Fire (Blood of Earth) by Beth Cato (Harper Voyager, August 2017)

When an earthquake devastates San Francisco in an alternate 1906, the influx of geomantic energy nearly consumes Ingrid Carmichael. Bruised but alive, the young geomancer flees the city with her friends, Cy, Lee, and Fenris. She is desperate to escape Ambassador Blum, the cunning and dangerous bureaucrat who wants to use Ingrid’s formidable powers to help the Unified Pacific—the confederation of the United States and Japan—achieve world domination. To stop them, Ingrid must learn more about the god-like magic she inherited from her estranged father—the man who set off the quake that obliterated San Francisco.

When Lee and Fenris are kidnapped in Portland, Ingrid and Cy are forced to ally themselves with another ambassador from the Unified Pacific: the powerful and mysterious Theodore Roosevelt. But even TR’s influence may not be enough to save them when they reach Seattle, where the magnificent peak of Mount Rainier looms. Discovering more about herself and her abilities, Ingrid is all too aware that she may prove to be the fuse to light the long-dormant volcano . . . and a war that will sweep the world.

The Stone Sky (The Broken Earth) by N.K. Jemisin (Orbit, August 2017)

THIS IS THE WAY THE WORLD ENDS… FOR THE LAST TIME.

The Moon will soon return. Whether this heralds the destruction of humankind or something worse will depend on two women. Essun has inherited the power of Alabaster Tenring. With it, she hopes to find her daughter Nassun and forge a world in which every orogene child can grow up safe.
For Nassun, her mother’s mastery of the Obelisk Gate comes too late. She has seen the evil of the world, and accepted what her mother will not admit: that sometimes what is corrupt cannot be cleansed, only destroyed.

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Save

Member News Of Note

OWW’s own N.K. Jemisin and Charles Coleman Finlay have both been nominated for this year’s World Fantasy Awards.

N.K. Jemisin is nominated for the Best Novel award for The Obelisk Gate.

Charles Coleman Finlay has been nominated for the Special Award, Professional, for his work editing The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction.

Congratulations to both Nora Jemisin and Charlie Finlay!

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

Member News Of Note

Elizabeth Schechter has become the latest OWW alumni to become a finalist for the prestigious PRISM Award for Fantasy, Futuristic, and Paranormal Romance. Elizabeth’s book Heart’s Master is nominated for best erotic novel. Congratulations, Elizabeth!

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

On The Shelves

The Lays of Anuskaya: The Complete Trilogy (Omnibus Edition) by Bradley Beaulieu ( Quillings Literary July 2017)

Among inhospitable and unforgiving seas stands Khalakovo, a mountainous archipelago of seven islands, its prominent eyrie stretching a thousand feet into the sky. Serviced by windships bearing goods and dignitaries, Khalakovo’s eyrie stands at the crossroads of world trade. But all is not well in Khalakovo. Conflict has erupted between the ruling Landed, the indigenous Aramahn, and the fanatical Maharraht, and a wasting disease has grown rampant over the past decade. Now, Khalakovo is to play host to the Nine Dukes, a meeting which will weigh heavily upon Khalakovo’s future.

When an elemental spirit attacks an incoming windship, murdering the Grand Duke and his retinue, Prince Nikandr, heir to the scepter of Khalakovo, is tasked with finding the child prodigy believed to be behind the summoning. However, Nikandr discovers that the boy is an autistic savant who may hold the key to lifting the blight that has been sweeping the islands. Can the Dukes, thirsty for revenge, be held at bay? Can Khalakovo be saved? The elusive answer drifts upon the Winds of Khalakovo…

 

 

Save

Save

Save