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

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