Editor’s Choice Award October 2020, 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.


She Dreams Of Teeth by D. Campbell

This story does a great job of presenting its premise clearly and compactly in the first seven paragraphs.  Alice can receive a dream (a wish) in exchange for a tooth.  A mysterious girl who seems almost an echo or reflection of Alice offers her the deal.  This opening scene quickly draws me in and makes me want to keep reading to see how this premise develops and what consequences it has.

The story continues by delivering on what it has promised, showing various instances of Alice exchanging a tooth for dream as she goes through life.  It’s interesting to see her wishing her crush would notice her in one scene, being mocked by her crush-turned-husband in the next scene, and having lost her husband through divorce in the next scene.  We see how Alice’s dreams are fleeting. One intense wish, after being satisfied, simply leads to another.

All of that is very nice.  Of course this magic is necessarily limited.  Alice has only so many teeth.  And at the end, Alice has no teeth left, though she still has dreams.

While the story kept me reading, I’m afraid I wasn’t satisfied when I reached the end.  I felt a bit cheated, because the story had only shown me three exchanges, yet Alice suddenly had no teeth left.  I think Alice needs to become aware, at some point pretty early on, that her wishes are limited.  In the second scene, in which Alice is in high school, it would be helpful to give a paragraph or two of exposition, letting us know what happened when her baby teeth fell out (do they not provide wishes like teeth pulled out by choice?), how she used a flurry of wishes in childhood (it would be great to list some of these quickly–they could be very revealing of her character), and when she realized the number of wishes was limited and started being more selective (or whatever happened to use up so many teeth).  This will put more at stake with each tooth she barters.  We could also feel her trying to get her ideal life into place before she runs out of teeth–a husband, a profession.  (I’d also like a clear visual of whether she’s having these teeth replaced as she loses them, or if she has holes in her mouth.  And does the wish creature gain teeth as Alice gives them up?)

Another element that could be built up through the story to make the ending stronger is Alice’s nature as a dreamer.  This is mentioned several times through the story, but my understanding of what this means doesn’t grow with each mention.  I think this is connected with another aspect of Alice’s character, that she seems to be unable to succeed without having a wish granted.  What makes her a failure?  Her inability to ride her bike as fast as her older brother seems a matter of age.  Her inability to get the attention of her crush seems due to shyness.  I don’t know why she can’t get an assistant professor position.  And I don’t know why she can’t get published, builds up credit card debt, or loses her husband to divorce.  If the reasons for her failures were connected, so the story slowly built up a pattern that was revealed in that final scene, that could provide the emotional punch that, for me, is missing right now.  For example, maybe she always wants things that others have.  She wants to ride her bike fast because her brother can do that and it makes him happy.  She wants her crush because some other girl, who seems super happy, has him.  She wants a full-time English literature teaching position because her English lit professor in college seemed so happy.  She wants to be published because all her colleagues are published and it makes them happy.  So at the end, she not only has fake teeth but a fake life, a life made up of other people’s interests, things she thought she wanted at the time but were not really her at all.  She has made herself into something she’s not, and now she’s stuck in this position, with no way to get more dreams, and more than that, no way to even understand what she really wishes for.  This would add another layer to the character and the story.

Together, I think these two elements could create an inevitable yet surprising climax, which is the idea.  Charting the loss of teeth would make the ending feel inevitable, and the revelation about her character could feel surprising.

Other than that, my mine suggestion is to look more closely at the sentences.  Little things pretty regularly tripped me up as I read, throwing me out of the story.  For example, the verbs in the second and third sentences should be lying and lies, not laying and lays.  The four sentence should read, “She wants to be fast,” not “She wants to be as fast.”

Some word choices also distracted me.  The word pressing to describe her sitting up seemed odd and was hard to visualize.  I also had a hard time visualizing “two braids topped with blue ribbons,” when the girl is wearing a helmet.  I don’t think I can see the tops of her braids under the helmet.  I could see the bottoms of her braids, but that’s not what’s being described.

Sometimes the prose doesn’t flow from one sentence to the next.  For example, “Alice follows, tossing her plastic cup into the trash.  The cafeteria is dark, and Alice squints to see as she crossed the dance floor.”  It jars me to get the description of the dark cafeteria here, when she has already been standing in for five paragraphs.  The first paragraph does a good job of setting the scene, so it seems unnecessary to repeat that the cafeteria is dark here, and it doesn’t seem like something Alice would notice again at this point.  Instead, you might describe the whirling lights of the disco balls centered over the dance floor and how disorienting they are.  This paragraph is also confusing because the girl starts leading Alice toward a door, and I think the door is very close, and only later do I learn it’s all the way across the room.  Also, Miles was in a corner earlier, and now he seems to suddenly be in the middle of the dance floor. Spending more time thinking about details and the order in which they appear could be helpful.  The description of the bathroom in the next scene is much clearer and more effective.

I enjoyed the compact nature of the scenes and the progression they reveal of Alice’s life.  I hope this is helpful.

–Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of The Odyssey Writing Workshops Charitable Trust

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