Welcome to another year with OWW. We hope the holidays have primed you for a productive new year. Do you have a writing resolution or goal for the year? Whatever it may be, the workshop and its members can probably help you achieve it.
We have monthly writing challenges to get you going (many of them end up published!); endless opportunities to improve your skills by giving critiques; a forum in which to get your writing reviewed by objective genre writers; a chance to read and learn from professionals' reviews of other members; and a place to discuss writing in general and speculative fiction writing in specific (our e-mail discussion list). For those further along in evolution as writers, we're running another proposal-package focus group next month to help you hone your submissions to agents or publishers.
We hope 2009 will be everything you're wishing for.
As always, contact us if you have any questions, publication announcements, or ideas for improving the OWW Newsletter.
Maria Zannini, newsletter editor
newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com
All is quiet on New Year's Day. A hung-over hush settles upon the world. It has been waiting silently for such a moment; the stars are right and it is time for the first writing challenge of 2009. This month's challenge is silence, quietude. Write a story featuring quiet, either thematically, as a element of plot, character, setting or even dialog. Hush!
Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don't forget to stretch yourself. If you normally write fantasy, try SF. If you've never tried space opera, here's your chance. It doesn't have to be great. It's all about trying new things. There's no word limit, no time limit, no nothin'. Just have fun.
Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Maria (newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com) or Walter Williams via the discussion list. For more details on the challenges, check the OWW Writer Space.
Proposal Package Focus Group
From February 9th through March 2nd we will hold another Proposal Package Focus Group. This time it will run on the oww-sff-focus mailing list. Long-time member Jennifer Dawson will lead the group. Pre-registration will be required; there is no limit to the number of participants but we will not accept registration after February 8th. Registration begins on January 26th; to register, just join the oww-sff-focus group. For a registration reminder on the 26th, e-mail Jennifer (jenn001 (at) mac.com).
Participants will be able to post their query letters for everyone in the group to comment on. They will also be able to upload their synopsis and first three chapters as one package for critique. Given the high word count, reviewers of these proposals will not do line nits, but instead give general feedback regarding plot hook, the quality of the writing sample, the likeability of the characters, etc. The fun will begin on Monday, February 9th. If you'd like more information, contact Jennifer at: jenn001 (at) mac.com
The more participation, the more fun, so whether your book is in circulation or you're still on the first draft, join the focus group to get some feedback on your proposal package(s), see what others are doing, and offer up your feedback to other writers trying to get their books published.
Odyssey Writing Workshop
The 2009 workshop for science fiction, fantasy, and horror writers will be held from June 8th to July 17th at Saint Anselm College in Manchester, New Hampshire. Odyssey is a great opportunity to improve writing and meet editors and authors. eanne Cavelos, Odyssey's director, founder, and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work. Being a writer/editor makes Cavelos uniquely suited to provide students with constructive and professional critiques of their work. "I give the same unflinchingly honest, concrete, detailed feedback that I provided as a senior editor," Cavelos said. Her typewritten critiques average around 1,000 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive. In addition, she guides students through the six weeks, gaining in-depth knowledge of their work, providing detailed assessments of their strengths and weaknesses in private meetings, and helping them target their weaknesses one by one.
Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures. An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth. Students learn the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen their writing. More information can be found at www.odysseyworkshop.org. The director, Jeanne Cavelos, is always happy to answer questions and discuss the workshop. She can be reached by email at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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 issue's reviews are written by Resident Editors Jeanne Cavelos, John Klima, Karin Lowachee, and Karen Meisner. The last four months of Editors' Choices and their editorial reviews are archived on the workshop. Go to the "Read, Rate, Review" page and click on "Editors' Choices."
Congratulations to the current Editors' Choice authors!
HER DRESS IS DARKNESS, Chapter 1 by Ranke Lidyek
There's something to be said for good, but not overwrought, description that really helps put you in the story and feel like you're in the characters' skins. This is not easy to do. Knowing what details to give and what details to leave out comes with practice. Ranke Lidyek does an excellent job of providing the right balance between enough detail and too much detail in his opening chapter for HER DRESS IS DARKNESS. On top of that, Lidyek has good dialog and a good grip of building tension to keep the reader turning pages.
The opening paragraph of this chapter typifies the control of detail--you can see the type of place he's writing about. Now perhaps this comes from having visited a number of castles in Scotland a number of years ago, but I get a very distinct image of where the protagonist Khaen is and how Khaen feels about what he's looking at, without being explicitly told how he feels. You can tell that this giant tapestry, and the room it's in, and what's behind the tapestry, are all objects that Khaen holds in awe, but also that the awe is tinged with resentment.
Later, when Khaen sneaks into the priory proper, he has a conversation with an unseen man through a locked door. This initial dialog between Khaen and the unseen man feels natural and flows along just as if two people were talking to each other. The conversation drips out more details about Khaen's life and the world he inhabits, but it's not done in a fashion that feels like a lecture.
The fun thing for me with this conversation is that this is clearly two people who don't get much chance to communicate with anyone in an open, frank manner, and they are taking advantage of the situation. The fact that they both try to stick to their own interests just makes the conversation feel like something that's happening between two people, instead of the weird contrived conversations you can read in fiction where the point of the dialog is to provide some information for the reader.
Towards the end of the chapter, the door opens--it has an old sword attached to it and no handle on Khaen's side; it must be opened by the unseen speaker--and Khaen follows the men who come through the door and leave the priory. They seem to have visited Temeres, the reason Khaen snuck into the priory. It's not clear if Temeres is a different world, dimension, planet, time, etc., but at this point it doesn't matter. Khaen lives under the assumption that's where his father is and he wants to find his father.
From the moment the sword door opens to the end of the chapter, Lidyek does a great job of pacing things. It's a really great mix of dialog and action that work hand in hand with each other to keep the reader slightly off-balance and wanting to keep reading to try and figure out exactly what's going on. Khaen knows only slightly more than the reader, so they make good partners to explore the world of this book.
Of course, not every moment of this chapter is constructed perfectly. Almost immediately I encountered something that bothered me quite a bit. The building that Khaen was in at the start of the chapter is called Soulhall. This might seem minor, but this is not a good name. There are too many straight, stick-like letters in that word. Look at it. I can really only speak for myself, but every time I see it, my brain wants to break up that word as "sou-lhall" not "soul-hall." And soolall and soul hall are very different things. Since the name is already capitalized as Soulhall, it would not be hard to make it Soul Hall, or the Hall of Souls, or something different. This might be a minor quibble, but it was a stumbling block for me as a reader.
Occasionally, there were places in the dialog that didn't feel natural. They felt like, "I'll write it this way since that helps me move the dialog to the next thing I want the characters to talk about." The old man behind the door asks Khaen his name, and then comments that it's an old name and seems to imply that's a good thing. But then Khaen asks for the old man's name and it just seems forced to me. The sentence would read better to me if it started with Khaen thinking about how he was picked on for his name, and then have him ask the old man's name. It seems trivial, but thinking about his own name before he asks about the old man's name just feels more in character for Khaen.
Not too far after the exchange about names, Khaen randomly states "But I'm looking for something important." He and the old man weren't talking about looking for anything, and they weren't talking about Khaen needing to leave the priory so that he would feel compelled to justify being there. If he interrupted the old man to say something like "There's something I need to ask you" or "Can you help me with..." it would flow much better into the conversation that's happening.
Finally, one small thing that bothered me was the fact that the tapestry at the beginning had a Lyon on it, but there was also a Lion--which is not explained, but this is the first chapter and I assume the reader will learn more about it--which is apparently at Khaen's home, or perhaps in his mind, and acts as a devil's advocate to anything he's doing. Needless to say, it got a little confusing to have Lion and Lyon both in the story. Likely after this chapter the Lyon in the tapestry will be less important, so it probably doesn't matter.
But these are minor quibbles. The chapter has some excellent descriptions and dialog, and provides an intriguing start to a story that should keep a reader engaged.
--John Klima, Editor, Electric Velocipede
Fingerprints Don't Lie (FOREVER QUEEN, Ch. 1) by Stelios Touchtidis
The selection this month has a strong grasp of story and plotting, diving immediately into the spark that sets the narrative in motion. Through subtle clues we learn that this is a future Earth, but it's recognizable, the characters identifiable, from Jack's story-profiling of random passengers at the airport to David's geek-savvy and Mark's reporter edge. All of the main players seem to have been set up in this first chapter, with all the major hints of intrigue to follow.
Besides typo inconsistences and sentence-structure issues (pay attention to overuse of passive voice and some cliché, as in describing Jennifer's voice as ‘warming him up from the inside, better than coffee'), the main flag is in the first scene at the dissemination of information when Jack is interrogating Mary Anders. We go from Jack's drifting thoughts about the passengers to ‘a loud buzz,' which serves as a disembodied detail because it's not anchored to anything specific. Small environmental details can add that extra layer of depth to the scene you're painting ... so where did the buzz come from specifically? One assumes it's from the turnstiles and scanners, but as we've been engrossed in Jack's musings, dropping another anchoring hint about the environment would be helpful. Also, is there anything else that sets this future airport apart from the ones modern readers are familiar with? If so, it would add to the ambience and world details to infuse them somewhere.
The author does slip backstory into the narrative rather well. One mention of ‘the Blight' gets the point across succinctly, to be expanded upon later, and is a stark enough term that it's not likely to be forgotten easily in the course of the storytelling. Names like ‘Solarsoft' (a couple places used Stellarsoft, so just check that) and neologisms like ‘thunking' and ‘clink' all sound like possible derivations of new technology without being ubiquitous in other SF. Using David to explain these terms in a natural way through conversation is a deft example of infodumping that doesn't come across heavyhanded.
Counter to the telling details, sometimes too much seems to be withheld. During the interrogation we are often given Jack's reaction to things he is seeing on his computer, but are not told what he sees. While this might be an attempt to create suspense, it serves instead to provide a blind or muffled feel to the story, so when details are revealed in conversation it all seems pretty abrupt. Nothing would really be lost, since the narrative is in a tight third person and the opening scene is following Jack, if his knowledge is our knowledge. There would still be the major question of why these two women have the same fingerprints, and that is the real mystery that you would want carried over anyway. Be careful to differentiate between building suspense (the purposeful hinting of necessary details) and keeping back essential information. Everything given to the reader should allow the plot to unfold naturally (even if plotting a novel is hardly natural in its bare bones, it should not read too orchestrated or that can pull the reader out).
The final issue for this overall very well-written chapter is the ending of the chapter itself. After such great set-up, character introduction, and subtle world-building, the last line/image or even the last conversation as a whole is a bit of an anticlimax. We're left with just the interaction between David and Jennifer, and a small thought about Helen--a third wheel. While this may be foreshadowing relationships later, it doesn't have enough impact to support what came before. Is there some other sense of threat or tension that would be better to round off the chapter? Look into Chapter Two to see if anything can be transferred back or expanded upon to presage the unfolding story.
Just from reading this chapter alone I am incredibly interested in what might follow: if Bjorn is all that he says he is, how all the characters will interact and influence each other, and what the ramifications of this new technology will be. The subsequent chapters on the workshop are well worth reading.
Author of THE GASLIGHT DOGS, BURNDIVE and CAGEBIRD
"Summer" by Christopher Johnstone
Plague has struck an isolated island village, and the only human survivor is a young woman. In her grief, she is enticed by fairy folk toward the illusion of comfort and companionship that would probably mean her death.
"Summer" fits into a familiar structure: supernature creature (real or imagined) comes to woo a lonely person away from the human world; she chooses to remain in it. That's fine; the reason this plot shows up so often is that it speaks to all of us. We know the appeal of withdrawing into fantasy or oblivion when faced with a painful reality. So this story has the potential to be very powerful, but it's not yet firing on all cylinders for me.
Sentence by sentence, most of "Summer" is in pretty good shape (apart from some shifting between present and past tenses). But why stop at good? Let's make it as strong and striking and original as it can be. For this to stand out from the crowd of similarly-themed stories, it needs to become less a "type" of story, and more its own individual self. There's too much in here that follows along predictable lines. Starting with the title, try going through and noticing every place where there's a generic object, action, phrase, or description we've seen before; think about ways to rephrase or replace it with something more specific. Right up front, we see the word "rose" repeated eight times in the first twelve sentences, creating a generic fairytale tone that undermines the story's power. I've got nothing against roses, but each of those lines is an opportunity to show us something new, different, memorable. Doesn't need to be dramatic, just distinct. My favorite moment in the whole story is the bit of dialogue when Jack Frost says, "You are very polite. I like that," and then he's gone. It's brisk and strange and unexpected. It delights me.
The story begins with Maighread playing with perspective, imagining herself small and tiny objects as landscapes: moss becomes trees, rocks become "treacherous mountains." This offers a lovely glimpse into her state of mind as she attempts to cope with her changed world, in those moments of delicate detachment that sometimes carry us through overwhelming circumstances. The scene ends heavily, though, on the line, "After a time she starts weeping." We can already guess that she's crying as she visits the grave of her beloved, so the line feels unnecessary, and edges into the sentimental. Is there a way to suggest her sorrow that, instead of dwelling on the obvious, might bring a fresh image or observation to the picture? What if this moment harkened back to the opening sentence, with Maighread focused in on a blade of grass, a crack in the stone, even a teardrop on the grave that she envisions as a lake? I don't just want to see a woman grieving; I'm interested in the unique experience of this woman in this place.
One challenge we're up against here is that there's only one character in this world (not counting her dog, and possibly-imaginary fairy visitors). Since she's alone with her thoughts all the time, there's a danger of the narrative becoming too mired in her inner life -- and stories that take place within an internal emotional space tend to slide into vagueness. I'd recommend balancing that with more exploration of what her physical, external life is like now. She's in an unusual situation. Let's see it.
There's good stuff in here about Maighread chopping wood and fishing and such, but I never quite believe she's doing these things. They seem too easy, somehow. They're all a bit soft-focus. Sharpening up the details will give them more impact. I want to know specifics of what her life has become: what's it like to be the only living person left among all those empty houses? What exactly does she do when she wakes up, throughout the day, and when she goes to sleep? Are there tasks she hates and performs clumsily because she doesn't know how to do them well, but they have to get done? Do her muscles hurt from doing work others used to take care of? Is she still weakened from her own brush with plague? How does she react to hearing wild dogs howl at night?
And really, who is Maighread, beyond just a nice young woman? Does she have any particular skills, interests, dreams? I love when an author's passions shine through, no matter what they are: if the author happens to be into astronomy, or jewelry-making, or building model ships, let the character care about those things too! Maybe research some fascinating facts in an area of activity or specialty that she can know. Never mind how smoothly it seems to "fit" her; people have all sorts of surprising interests, and they help shape a character beyond stereotypes. Reading a story can be like climbing a cliff: we need plenty of texture to hold onto, or we'll slide right off the surface. Odd facts and details give us something solid to grasp.
A note on dream sequences, which are notoriously difficult to pull off well. The one in this story doesn't come across as a real dream to me; it feels too much like a tool for handing us some exposition. I'm glad to learn what happened to the village, but I suspect the vital points could be summed up in a very few short declarative sentences and sentence fragments. A dream doesn't need to explain itself, only show glimpses. Sights. Sounds. Action. It may seem counterintuitive that brief bits of text could invoke a more poetic mood than vague drifty sentences trailing off in ellipses. But those little fragments can help focus our attention on momentary images and sensations, bringing our experience of reading about the dream closer to an actual dream state. Experiment with different ways to write dream sequences until you find what rings true to you.
As a last thought: I'm sure everyone can come up with their own examples of how a few distinctive details can turn the ordinary into something extraordinary, but here's one that was an early inspiration for me. It's a song by Joni Mitchell called "The Last Time I Saw Richard" (Google the lyrics!). By putting her characters in specific situations and environments rather than explaining what they're feeling, Mitchell writes around the shape of emotions without ever handing us a cliché to describe them. It's a memorable sketch of a scene, even though at its heart is a very common human experience. The details may seem like odd and clunky choices, but a line like "Richard got married to a figure skater, and he bought her a dishwasher and a coffee percolater" will stay in my head longer than a thousand other songs about sadness.
--Karen Meisner, Editor, Strange Horizons
"Festival of Teeth" by James R. Fowlston
"Festival of Teeth" is told through the journal entries of an artist who makes his most extreme works of art from the body parts of women. The story mainly follows his relationship with Ashley, ending with the revelation of the artwork he has made from her body and that of a journalist, Judy.
The voice of the narrator is one of the strengths of this piece. Old-fashioned, sophisticated, and often delightfully weird, the voice pulls me in and engages me. The story also has some nice description. I really like the narrator's description of his own state of mind after first meeting Ashley: "unhinged, light minded and spiritually intoxicated." Another strong sentence describes the effect of a drug on Ashley: "the stomach-bound toxin gave birth to a demon, and that demon crept up Ashley's spine and into her head where it began its wicked dance." You offer vivid sensory details in the description of an abstract mental change, which helps the reader to experience it.
The main area that could be strengthened is the plot. The current plot lacks unity and focus. Ideally, all of the details you've introduced throughout the story would work together at the end to give power to the revelation of the artwork. This story is really all about the end, and I don't see all the details working together to give that ending the power it needs to have.
The current scenes are as follows: (1) narrator meets Ashley; (2) narrator has Ashley to his house; (3) narrator depressed; (4) narrator returns from vacation with Ashley; (5) narrator gives Ashley drugs and apparently kills her; (6) narrator interviewed by Judy; (7) narrator prepares to leave for meeting of secret society with his new artwork.
Scene 3 seems unnecessary, and scene 6 mainly serves to provide a bunch of exposition (background information) about the narrator. I would suggest cutting both of these, and cutting the character of Judy. Exposition, in general, should be minimized, and it should come early in the story, not right before the climax/end. The appearance of Judy feels like a device of the author's, allowing the narrator to tell us about his philosophy. While I find the idea that he considers himself God's slave fascinating, I think you could put that one bit into one of his conversations with Ashley, as they discuss art. The rest of the exposition seems unnecessary to me. When dealing with the mysteries of the universe, often less is more, and you show elsewhere in the story that you can effectively hint at things without coming out and stating them. The straightforward explanations in the Judy scene weaken the story.
Similarly, the presence of Judy in the story and in the artwork lessens the power of the Ashley plot. I'd much rather have a short scene that gives us a tantalizing, horrifying glimpse at the process of making the artwork and provides some sort of closure to Ashley's life, than to have the interview.
I'd also suggest that you cut the policeman, who shows up twice and is turned away by the narrator. That element is really a cliché and doesn't have any effect on the plot, so it doesn't belong.
Several other plot elements hurt the unity/focus. The narrator seems to put great value on the discoveries of primitive tribes, making me think he believes they have discovered some great truth. Later in the story, he says only the aristocratic literati can understand the truth. Those two pieces don't seem to fit together.
When the narrator gives Ashley the drug, he seems to share an hallucination with her, in which he creates a small ocean in his living room, complete with cruise ship and passengers, and then kills the passengers. This is wonderfully strange, but it seems to belong in another story. I don't see strong connections between this event and the narrator's artwork. I can see that both elements show the narrator's contempt for life, but I don't see how the power of suggestion, which he seems to have (or the power to create life, if that's what he's doing), relates to his inner "insect," this essence that compels him to create the artworks. What this drug scene should show is the narrator's nature as a slave of God (or why he thinks he's a slave), some hint of the "Thinking Formless Stuff" that is God, and a hint that his artworks have life of some kind--perhaps you could use the brainlike sculpture, which Ashley sees early in the story. Ashley might believe it is trying to communicate with her.
If the narrator truly has the power to create life, as is hinted in the interview, then he could create any body parts he wanted and wouldn't need to kill any women. So I don't think you want to suggest that.
If the women he uses are important, which is what you indicate, then I think you need to show Ashley's character more strongly, and to show her evolving relationship with the narrator more strongly.
For the rest of this review, visit the Editor's Choice area of the OWW site!
This month, I am pleased to bring you a very special interview with one of our resident editors, Karin Lowachee.
Karin was born in South America but grew up in Canada. She's worked (vaguely) in heraldic sales (yes, it's odd), a music school, and for an exciting near-year in the sub-Arctic. She's published three novels, a few short stories, and is currently working on two new trilogies. Her first novel, WARCHILD, won the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest and was a finalist for both the Philip K. Dick Award and the Prix Aurora Award for Best Long-Form Work in English, which her third novel, CAGEBIRD, later won. Before that, a chapter of WARCHILD was one of the first Editors' Choices on the workshop. Karin is just as apt to find herself listening to a wide array of music, drawing, reading, watching films or taking pictures as she is writing (though writing is, with no surprise, her first love.)
She is also our Resident Editor for science fiction and is a long standing member of OWW. I think you'll enjoy this interview. Karin not only gives us a glimpse into the author's life but also her editor's desk.
What comes first, the character or the plot for you?
Character, always. I write because I'm intensely interested in the way people work (in their environments, with other people, societies, etc.) I approach my books as psychological puzzles and everything else it takes to make a novel supports that.
WARCHILD was a phenomenon with your bold use of second person POV. Why did you go that route? Did anyone try to dissuade you from using 2nd person POV?
The only people that read it in its draft form were on the OWW. I think some people mentioned not liking it, but I felt it was essential to the character. People at first thought I intended to write the entire book that way; I never intended that. I always knew when I would stop the point of view. I didn't consider it a particularly hard point of view and I didn't think it was all that bold. It came naturally in those first few pages when Jos began to tell me his story. It's a distancing point of view, one that a person takes when they want to disassociate themselves from events or emotions. In that light it made sense for Jos, as that first part was the flashpoint of his trauma.
Also, I don't tend to do things just because other people say it's right or wrong. I'll weigh opinions but if I feel strongly about anything in my writing I will go my own way. My attitude was unless an editor thought I should change it and it would be heavily discussed in the publishing process, I wasn't going to listen to anyone else but myself on that particular matter. Not everybody is going to "get" your work. No matter how hard you try, some people just won't get you or won't like what you're doing. But that's life and that's writing. I learned pretty early the difference between negotiating aspects of your writing for the betterment of the writing, and negotiating because you want to please people's opinions. Never do the latter.
You started on OWW (didn't you?) Tell us a little about how it was for you.
I did. It was an incredible way to workshop my writing. I didn't know anyone on it so their opinions had nothing to do with me personally (unlike university writing classes where the face-to-face social aspect can sometimes weigh in on how people view the writing). I joined up with specific intentions to a) surround myself hopefully with other serious, like-minded writers who were aiming to be published; b) give myself deadlines in completing chapters so I would eventually finish a publishable novel; c) see what kind of reception my work got from strangers so I would know if the book could be marketable; and d) receive constant critiques and return in kind so I could better hone my own critiquing skills. I believe learning how to critique well can help your own writing because you begin to develop a way to distance yourself from your own work, which is essential to self-editing.
I think before launching into any kind of critique or workshop environment, a writer should have some clear goals as to what he or she wants to get out of it. If you want validation for your "mad writing skillz" it's probably not the route for you. I think it's important for young or unpublished writers (or anyone, really) to understand the difference between accepting positive feedback on your work and seeking validation from those positive comments. You should never seek validation in workshops, or in anything. Workshops (and life) can be damaging if you hang your belief in your work (or yourself) on other people's opinions.
Do you still use critique partners? Why?
I don't, really, mostly because everyone is very busy writing their own books. My editors and agent have become my first-line critiquers, in a way. I do have friends that I trust who would read my work occasionally, though. And I definitely take into consideration everything they say because they have great insight. It's important to surround yourself with people that you trust, who are not afraid to critique your work honestly and helpfully.
What advice would you give to people trying to find an agent?
Research. Don't approach someone who has never published your kind of book and has expressed that they will never publish your kind of book. The SF/F/H field is lucky because we have conventions where you can go and listen to agents from many of the established and respected agencies, so it puts a face on things. You can see what kinds of people they are and if you feel you could work with them. It's important to trust your agent and that he or she believes in you and your work. It's a business arrangement, but because they are going to be the vanguard of your hard work, there has to be a rapport. Also research how they like to be approached, just as you would a publisher. Query letters and first 50? That sort of thing. Know when not to approach. Accosting them outside of a panel when they are heading off to another engagement isn't usually a good way to go about it. Professionalism is important at every stage of your development as a writer, both in the manuscripts and in your conduct.
Don't go into things with ego, but go with confidence. It can be a very egotistical endeavor, writing. You are very much in your own head and you have to believe in your work. Sometimes this can go overboard, just as much as it can be overboard in the other direction and you have zero confidence. Seek to strike a productive balance so this attitude is translated to how you approach agents and publishers. Only seek an agent when you have a publishable novel in hand. I would also caution not to get too precious about your work. Agents and editors will be forthright about what they think about your writing. If our novels are our children, then understand that you have to shove your child into the world and let it take some hits in order to become stronger.
How did you know you were ready to start submitting?
I've never been a writer who was intimidated to submit my work. I've always been very driven and single-minded about wanting to do this, and I understood very early that I would never accomplish my dreams if I didn't actually submit things. I submitted to a number of places with what I thought were good stories (I was woefully mistaken)--to various anthologies, contests, magazines...naturally I racked up a few rejection slips. But I also knew short stories were not my heart. I was always a novel writer first, and so as soon as I had a novel completed that I thought could go somewhere, I submitted. It happened to be WARCHILD, and it happened to be to the Warner Aspect First Novel Contest. I realize I'm lucky every single day I think about my writing or do anything related to it. Which is every day.
You review SF stories for OWW's Editor's Choice. How do you decide which stories to choose for review?
It has to stand out from the norm, whether it's through a unique voice, setting, idea, or some other combination. Science fiction is the literature of innovation--not just in content, but in everything else. Or it should be. I look to see what the author's intentions are; obviously I won't critique a space-opera adventure romp with all the same criteria as a literary post-apocalpytic tale, so I am conscious that way in how I judge a piece, while still looking for a certain level of skill and style. I don't necessarily pick the "most professionally written" chapter, though that obviously plays a role. I look for works that I can say positive things about as well as things that I think that writer, or many writers, might want to take note of in their own work. You have to know what you're doing well and be conscious of it, just as you need to know what you might not be doing so well and should be conscious of that. I love the art and craft of writing. I love creativity. I want to encourage people of any age or background to continue to write, so having this interaction with other writers to me is reciprocal. It's paying it forward. I was encouraged by Resident Editors too, so I know how much it can be worth to someone who has never had a professional evaluate their work. I want to be a positive, albeit small, contribution to their development as writers.
You are an award-winning novelist. What's been the biggest surprise to you on your journey as a writer? Is there anything you wish someone had told you before you started?
The biggest surprise is how much it taught me that this is something that I absolutely love--every aspect of writing and publishing I honestly enjoy, from the first draft to the revising, page proofing, promotion, etc. Not to say it isn't hard or frustrating sometimes, but I love it. Before getting into it I wondered if I had what it took--not just as a writer, but as a person, to sustain the editorial process and being published, and all the ups and downs that are bound to happen in a career. It's a process that goes beyond just sitting at your computer pounding the keys. It's the difference between having a dream and living the reality. I am discovering what kind of writer I want to be, right along with discovering the type of person I want to be (and want not to be), and that I am. I find both endeavors to be important in my life; they are connected. I don't look on writing or being published as something that just happened to me for a random reason, or for material reasons, so I don't treat it that way; nor do I think that any award is going to change the quality of or the reasons for what I do.
I don't think there is anything I wish I'd been told, because there haven't been any regrets or any troubles that I haven't been able to overcome. You do what you do with what you have and keep pushing forward. That has become my mantra. I am also constantly dissatisfied and I find that to be good motivation to try to write each book better than the last and to push my own boundaries. It's a journey of learning. Someone said once that the true measure of success is experience. Money is necessary and recognition is nice, but it isn't where true value is found--in anything. So I try to look on everything that happens in my life and with my writing as experience. I've always had a combination of practicality and daydreamer in my approach to writing, and I think that's what has made both sides of it--the creative and business sides--consistently interesting.
Can you give us any hints on your next project?
THE GASLIGHT DOGS is very different from any of my other novels in both content and style, but I think it still has my stamp on it because of the characters. It is a fantasy novel that will take you from the Arctic to dirty, pseudo-Victorian cities and wide open frontier. There's magic, battles, family strife, insanity and contention with "the other." There's religion, centuries-old clotted history, wild and tame things...and every once in awhile, four-footed predators.
Thanks, Karin! And to whet your interest, here's the blurb for the new novel:
THE GASLIGHT DOGS is a pseudo-Victorian Era fantasy--it stretches from the cold Northern reaches of a newly colonized continent to the barely populated and wildly contested lands where tribal magic meets soldier steel. Overshadowing it all is a strongly rooted religion of Seven Gods and an old tradition from a far-off mother country that threatens to invade the burgeoning nation. Embroiled in the politics, culture feud, and for all anyone knows the battling wills of higher powers, there is a young spiritual leader kidnapped far from her snowy home, and an estranged son of a powerful general who wants nothing but to be free in the open frontier. The book draws on the histories of clashing cultures, when modern and ancient thought collide, and explores the consequences that befall everyone in their need for exploration, knowledge, and conquest.
THE GASLIGHT DOGS will be published by Orbit Books with an expected release in 2009/2010.
Bo Balder says, "I won first place in the Dutch Paul Harland Awards--a yearly Dutch language competition for sf and fantasy shorts. Yay! Most money anybody ever got for a short story. I'll probably never get paid that much again... I won with my OWW-workshopped story 'Satyricon' in a Dutch translation. So many thanks to the workshop and all those who critted the story, which made it infinitely better."
Brandon Bell tells us: "My story 'Best Gift' is featured in the Return to Luna anthology, which is now out and can be purchased from the publisher's website and Amazon.com. Thanks to everyone who critted it! I also received an acceptance for my story 'Do Men Dream of Bloody Sheep' from M-Brane. Pub date pending. Thanks for the crits on that one as well."
Leah Bobet sold "Six"! "A big thank you to Elizabeth Bear, Amanda Downum, and Jaime Moyer for crits. Also, while we're at it, I'm going to have a novelette, 'Miles to Isengard,' in the January issue of Interzone: thanks for that one go out to Elizabeth Bear, Liz Bourke, and Jaime Moyer."
Tim W. Burke says: "I just sold my workshopped story 'The Tortoiseshell Tom In The Dark Box' to Space and Time. Thanks to reviewers Heather Hillstead, Josh Vogt, Suzanne Lazear, and Darryl Nash for their help in making the story its best!"
Resident Editor John Klima's story "Life's Simple Pleasures" was recently published in Diet Soap.
FRR Mallory tells us that "Black Ice" will be featured in the anthology Return To Luna by Hadley Rille Books.
Rochita Loenen-Ruiz received a wonderful e-mail from Fantasy Magazine offering to buy her short story "Pink Elephant."
Karen Osborne's story "Retirement" appears in the December 2008 Aoife's Kiss.
Marshall Payne says, "Just learned that Three Crow Press--The Morrigan Books Ezine--will be using my story, 'Molkar's Curse' for their new ezine in 2009. I don't write many high, secondary-world fantasy tales, but I'm rather happy with this one so I'm glad it found a good home. A big thanks goes out to Aliette de Bodard and Linda Steele for their help and encouragement on this story!"
Michele Winkler says: "Stories for Children online magazine accepted 'Carp Diem' which I put through the OWW. I'd like to thank everyone who took the time to critique it."
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