Editor’s Choice Award January 2021, 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.

Some Women Like To Hear The Cannon Balls/Akash And The Ship Of Ice by Kate Wooderson

I really liked the wild, frozen setting of “Some Women Like to Hear the Cannonballs”, and its small-but-consequential story: the polar quest for a dead King’s will, and the consequences it might bring down on the living. However, I was caught by the metaphors here: when they work, they really work, but they aren’t entirely tuned up in other places. So this month, I’d like to talk about resonances between our themes and our plot, how they work to tie a story together, and how to fix the ones that have come a little loose.

“Some Women Like to Hear the Cannonballs” is ultimately working as fun: an adventure story that balances its romance and its epic consequences without making either feel like they’re too big or too small. The title—even if the reference is gone!—is deeply fun, and I think better than the other ideas. It captures Akash’s sense of humour very well.

But most of all, from the beginning, this piece is deeply atmospheric in a way that clearly signals what’s coming, and what each place and element of story is for. The first paragraph’s description of fog—how it limits the space—creates an intimate opening that really strongly sets up the nature of the story to come. The mention of Akash’s compass roses, right after a comment about direction, builds a resonance around her as a navigator of physical but also emotional spaces. The Sceptre‘s blind figurehead tacks a feeling of abandoned melancholy onto the ship—and then the government it belonged to—and the description of its silence is deeply evocative.

All of those references work because they’re pairing externally-focused elements of story—things like description and plot—with internally-focused ones, thematics and characterization, and using one line to say something about both of them. As a reader, I’m feeling the sense of depth, because each line is lifting more than its surface weight.

However, the way Akash and Dell’s romance is set up breaks that pattern somewhat. The “Akash and Dell had spent the long voyage north circumnavigating friendship’s globe” set of metaphors felt to me, as a reader, somewhat forced compared to those more subtle resonances; it hops quickly from comparison to comparison without developing them as strongly. Most importantly, while it’s telling me about the internal question of the relationship, the information I’m getting as a reader—that this story takes place in the sea and on ships and in the ice—is information I already know. Those lines only work to pin the relationship to the nautical setting, and not tell me anything about that setting like the ones above, and so they feel less deep to me, less effective—only going one way.

It’s where “Some Women Like To Hear the Cannonballs” does this—overstates its case, or states it three different ways and less precisely, or builds metaphors that only go in one direction—that I’d focus on as places to shore up (pun not intended!). I’d suggest looking at each paragraph to see if the same thing’s being said in different ways and settle on what the author feels is the better one. For example, “Instead of the chests of gold coins she had hoped for, she saw only gilded gewgaws” and “She’d hoped for diamonds but found only ice” are functionally the same sentence, expressing the same emotion and doing the same work in terms of moving the plot forward. If one is cut, that paragraph will read sleeker, more directional, and more confident afterwards.

There are a few other bobbles there’s a chance to handle in a line-by-line revision: for example, a little more variance in word choice. There are a few runs of repetition in “Some Women Like to Hear the Cannonballs”; two sentences that end with “herself” in a row, or little batches of them starting with “she” that set up rhythms that aren’t being used deliberately. And it’s a space to resolve some small confusions: In Fortune’s introduction, it’s hard to tell if this is a sailor or the wider concept (favouring the bold!).

Aside from a line edit, I noticed the author’s mention of having developed character motivations and the romance from a prior draft, and think there could be room in the next draft to continue that work. As it stands right now Dell and Akash don’t quite have the tone of voice, the body language, the emotional connections of a friendship turning romantic. We’re told they’re friendly and involved, but I’m not seeing that come through their interactions just yet. Fortune is also never quite established as a character, and so his betrayal in the second half of the piece reads as very sudden to me, and slightly arbitrary.

There’s a good site to do that work, I think, in that early hint of threat to Akash’s captaincy (“For now“). Right now it isn’t ever really exposited on: did Akash have hints this was coming or not? But it’s an obvious place to develop the setup for that inevitable betrayal.

But overall, the bones of this story are well in place, and the technical work that I think could make it stronger is already being done in other parts of the piece. It’s just a matter of a tighter line-by-line revision, adding in some supports, and cutting some lines that aren’t necessarily needed, and I think this’ll be ready to go.

Best of luck!

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

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