Editor’s Choice Award September 2022, 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.

Grayson Chapter 7 by Daniel A.

This is an interesting combination of nuts-and-bolts historical fantasy and werewolf adventure, with a mystery to solve and a world to save. I especially like the idea of Yellowstone staffed by shifters and elementals. And maybe other parks, too? I’ll be taking a closer look at the rangers next time I head up the road to Saguaro National Park.

The idea, in short, works for me. Some aspects of the execution might benefit from a little more polish.

As I read the chapter, I noted a tendency toward what I call “floating heads” dialogue. There is some framing of the conversations, and some stage business to help orient the reader, but I think they need more. At times I had trouble sorting out who was saying what, and in a couple of places I couldn’t be sure how many people were engaging in the conversation. A few more lines of framing, even the use of good old “said,” would help the reader keep track of the speakers.

I noted too that Grayson has issues with agency. This may not be true throughout the narrative, but in this chapter, other people tell him what to do and think. They deliver explanations and exposition, and he waits for them to make decisions. They move the plot; he is moved by it.

While it’s clear that he has twenty-five years of human history to make up for, I think he could play more of an active role. He uses his experience as a wolf to help him navigate the world, and that works nicely. But he is the protagonist. He could do more to help move the story forward.

Some of that might be a result of the way the chapter is written. Grayson spends much of the time at a remove from both the action and his own feelings. His internal monologue, like the dialogue, defaults to exposition. We’re reminded frequently that he’s the viewpoint character: he wonders, he realizes, he thinks, he remembers.

It might be worth removing these viewpoint tags and seeing how the narrative works without filters. Let us inhabit his skin. Let us be Grayson: sharp, focused, right up close and immediate. The potential is already there, especially when he transforms from man to wolf. That’s some of the best writing in the chapter. I’d like to see more of it.

— Judith Tarr

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