Editor’s Choice Award December 2021, 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.

Lying With Strangers Chapter 2 by Samia Hayes

This chapter is deftly and confidently written. It sketches the characters in vivid, memorable images, and moves the plot along briskly. The bits of exposition and backstory are nicely woven in, supplying details that illuminate both the immediate context and the overall story. The same applies to the bits that point to the fact that it’s a period piece: fashion, popular culture, the prevalence of smoking in public places.

Since this ms. is in all-but-final form, I would suggest a thorough read-through, sentence by sentence, to make sure everything is clear and the images do what they’re intended to do. For the most part I believe they do, but here and there, a turn of phrase made me catch my stride. For example,

A pale man with a shock of untidy black hair surrounding his melancholy face

He has hair completely around his face? Beard, too?

This is a little less odd, but still enough to give me pause:

A rogue lock fell in front of his face.

It seems as if the lock is coming from somewhere else and landing in front of him. Fell into? Fell in front of his eyes?

Sometimes words echo, as if they’ve stuck in the mind and repeated themselves inadvertently:

a harrowing feeling of deep sadness that stopped my heart for a beat. A serene feeling swept over me

But I must salute the splendid cascading repetition of bothered, which is clearly intentional, and it works.

The dialogue is fast, snappy, and spot on. I would only ask why it shifts to summary right before Abacus fails a snatch and has to answer the central question. Though it seems to be meant to speed up the narrative, I think the command of dialogue and interaction is solid enough to allow it to continue rather than to recede into the emotional and physical distance of synopsis.

The one larger question I have is about Abacus and his constant lying. Does he know about Allie’s power of detecting truth and lies? If so, is he intentionally provoking her? Or is he unable to stop himself, in the way of con men and habitual scammers? If it is intentional, could that be pointed up just a bit more?

Overall this is well done, and I would definitely read on. As a fan of mystery and thriller, I especially look forward to the start of the murder mystery, and to seeing how Allie and company handle it.

–Judith Tarr

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