Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

March 2014 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info





Happy March, one and all!

The light has returned to the world and spring is just around the corner. It's been a long, hard winter for many of us, with more snow than even a science-fiction or fantasy writer could imagine. Most of us can imagine quite a lot.

Spring is a time of new beginnings and new growth, new ideas and for OWW members, new stories, and a fresh opportunity to improve their skills. I can't think of a better time to start a new novel, or to submit that short story you polished during the dank, dreary days of winter.

Check the Grapevine section of the newsletter for new anthologies that opened on March 1st. You could be the next member success story I publish in the newsletter! Nothing would make me happier.

Until next month, keep writing!

As always, contact us if you have any questions, publication announcements, or ideas for improving the OWW Newsletter. And if you have any tips or writing tricks you'd like to share, send them in.

Jaime Lee Moyer, newsletter editor
news (at)

Monthly Writing Challenge

We're still looking for someone to run the monthly challenges. Until someone steps up, I'll put up the challenge of the month.

I've always felt that the best stories come from answering a question. Here's one to answer in your challenge story:

At the bottom of an old fleamarket trunk you find a book -- a diary -- covered in dust, its leather cover brittle and cracked. Scribbled on the very last page is a secret, a revelation, that could change the course of history.

Whom do you tell?

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don't forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you've never tried writing in first or second person, here's your chance. The story doesn't have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up at anytime. Put "Challenge" in the title so people can find it.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at)


Unidentified Funny Objects is an annual anthology of humorous Science Fiction and Fantasy that pays 5 cents a word. The submission window opens March 1st and closes March 31st. Full guidelines can be found here:

This Patchwork Flesh: QUILTBAG Horror is a horror anthology paying .05 a word CDN that opens to submissions June 1st. Because of funding restrictions, ninety percent of the stories in the anthology must be by Canadian authors, but the editor is open to stories from authors everywhere. Full guidelines can be found here:

Torn Pages is a semi-pro anthology paying 2 cents a word for stories of any genre. They open to submissions of between 1000-5000 words on March 1st. Full guidelines can be found here:

Editors' Choices

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, Leah Bobet, Elizabeth Bear, and C.C. Finlay. 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!

Editor's Choice, Fantasy

The House of Faegrim, Chapters 1 & 2, by Susan Keene

This is the beginning of an interesting and richly textured contemporary fantasy with some great strengths, and a few obvious and easily corrected structural flaws -- though they may require a certain auctorial ruthlessness to dispense with.

First, the good. These chapters offer some excellent characters, interesting and complex, with strong, relatable motivations. Snow in particular interests me -- her little rituals, her ways of coping. If anything, I'd really like to see more of those, of how she gets through the day. The single coffee cup on the washboard might strike her -- or does she set out a second one, a little bit of humble magic to bring her husband home? She has an altar; she meditates. I'd like to see a little bit more of that aspect of her personality reflected before it becomes convenient to the plot.

The sensory details are in general good throughout. The cold, the smells, the texture of the air, and the passage of time are all here. We experience them with the characters, and that provides grounding.

Also, the writing is of a very high calibre. The sentences have a good sound. The prose is gripping, in that once I started reading this submission it was easier to keep going than it was to stop. It kept me moving forward, in other words. Well done!

Snow's reaction to unwelcome news is also well-handled. It's not a trite Hollywood response; it rings as a real person responding to trauma. The only part that struck me as a little strange is that I'm not feeling her relationship with the animals with whom she shares her life. She observes the horses, for example, but she does not see them as individuals, as acquaintances -- even nonhuman ones. They're just scenery. When we live with animals and take care of them, we develop relationships with them. The horses need to be alive, rather than furniture. I don't even know how many there are, or if they are mares or geldings!

It occurs to me that one way to show a relationship is to have Snow take comfort in the animals when she tends the barn.

I also feel like she might have a stronger emotional response to the heart in her chat window. Which is to say, her response is muted. If I were her, I'd be grabbing after proof that my loved one was alive, not shrugging and closing the laptop! And our response as readers is muted because we have too much information -- we're not hopeful and worried, in other words, because we know Julius isn't dead. We know too much to worry.

I do feel as though there's an expositional problem early in her section. There's several passages of infodump, which is often stuff we already know from Julius's segment -- and which I feel bogs the story down. I think that a good percentage of what is exposited in Snow's sections could be trimmed back. The story is strong enough to carry itself without telling the reader what it's about.

And that is very much my biggest problem with Julius's sections as well -- except the ratio of demonstration to narration is reversed. We tend to wave around the phrase "show don't tell" a lot without -- often -- thinking about what it means. But I do think in the case of (especially) the early portions of Julius's point of view, the reader is being told entirely too much. And entirely too soon, for most of it. The initial couple of pages of this novel destroy any suspense about who Julius is, or what his backstory is, and as a result they're the literary equivalent of the opening voice-over in the movie Dark City. They take an intriguing situation and render it skimmable and uncompelling.

For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!

--Elizabeth Bear
Author of STELES OF THE SKY, April 2014

Editor's Choice, Science Fiction

INTO CHAOS, Chapter One, First Scene, by T.W. Frost

For the second month in a row, I want to take a look at a highly polished opening scene because I think it reveals some important lessons about where to start a story. With INTO CHAOS, the author's intentions are stated clearly in the notes: "I was going for a strong, action opening with this first scene, with a closing that hopefully hooks well into the next scene. What I'm hoping for is strong, clear imagery, with conscise dialog that is not confusing. […] I separated this scene out of the chapter because I want to get it to the point where it shines on its own as the beginning of the book."

This is a very smart strategy, both for opening a book and for workshopping it. And for the most part it works. Lachlan, a young heir with special abilities, is being trained for combat by his less-than-gentle uncle. He loses his temper and tries to strike his uncle with a killing blow. His uncle easily disarms him, and gives him a harsh lesson and a cold promise. The fight scene happens quickly and cleanly, Lachlan’s flaws and potential both shine clearly, and the arc of the novel -- Lachlan coming into his inheritance -- is set in motion.

But as strong as this is, there are places where it can be improved, both at the beginning and the end of the scene. Let’s look closely at the first lines, because I think it illustrates something I see a lot.

“You can do better than that boy!”

With a horizontal sweep, the armored figure before him sent his massive axe scything through the air right at Lachlan’s head. He was on one knee from a devastating blow just seconds before and barely managed to roll backwards out of the way.

The first line is thematically important, because Lachlan can do better, and that’s going to be the arc of his story. But it may not be the right place to start. Why? Let’s look at how many steps back we have to take to get into the POV of the character.

The first line is dialogue but we have no idea of context -- who is speaking or under what circumstances. So the second line has to take a step back and tell us that there is an “armored figure” with a “massive axe” coming toward him. Lachlan knows that the “armored figure” is his uncle, so holding that information back from us actually keeps us at a distance from the story. And we still aren’t centered, physically, in our main character. So the third sentence has to take another step back to tell us that Lachlan was “on one knee from a devastating blow just seconds before.” We have to go all the way to the third sentence to establish the context for the opening line.

Three sentences isn’t bad -- I’ve seen work that takes three paragraphs or even three pages! But if the goal is to create a strong hook and grab the reader immediately, experiment with a draft that starts off by putting us directly into the character’s perspective. For example, just move the sentences around here so that we don’t have to step back for explanations:

A devastating blow knocked Lachlan to one knee.

“You can do better than that boy!”

With a horizontal sweep, the armored figure before him sent his massive axe scything through the air right at Lachlan’s head.

He rolled backwards out of the way.

Now flesh this out. Don’t hide information that the character knows, like the fact that he’s facing his uncle, not when you reveal it shortly after with no extra drama. So describe his uncle standing over him and give us a hint of Lachlan’s feelings toward the man. What does the story gain by holding that back, especially when you describe it so vividly just a few paragraphs later?

For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!

--C.C. Finlay

Editor's Choice, Short Story

"Enmeshed" by Jon Paradise

"Enmeshed" stood out in a rather strong month (and let me make a point of that: there was a lot of promising work on the workshop in January!) because of the visceral intensity of its emotions -- love, fear, frustration, inadequacy, grief -- and its fine, subtle character work. While it's true that, as Resident Editor C.C. Finlay says, people don't like stories for what they do wrong, but what they do right, sometimes what we're doing right can also highlight weaknesses in a story's craft. So this month, I'd like to explore how to integrate a very strong craft element into the rest of a story.

The strength of characterization and family relationships in "Enmeshed" is brilliant: it could carry the whole story single-handed. Alan's highly emotional, utterly complicated relationships with the two most important people in his life are rife with fear and love and absolute despair, and the subtleties of those relationships make all kinds of plot elements plausible: the way Alan discusses gaming as Michael's thing, parenting as Michael's thing, hints that Alan was more of a follower than an equal partner with him sometimes, and it quietly explains his disconnection from any sort of support network or social group. Alan's return to the game, despite how little he wants to play again, is utterly believable once he's fantasized about handing Tee off to a nanny -- not because he doesn't love him, but because he does, and because of how inadequate and helpless he feels as a single parent.

It's those juxtapositions that make all of "Enmeshed" feel so real; the interplay between Alan's contradictions and consistencies, and how all of his motives come up against Tee, whose uncommunicable desires and reactions Alan desperately wants to work with, but feels helpless against. It's horribly, painfully messy -- in just the ways that real people, and real lives are -- and that makes Alan and Tee's situation absolutely heartwrenching to read.

As a side note: It was a very satisfying thing to read an emotionally intense story about two men parenting that ducks every stereotype about men and parenting. Alan and Michael don't parent Like Men, they parent like themselves; better or worse at certain kinds of things because of their personalities, their fears, and their comforts. While this shouldn't be so in 2014, the sheer lack of lazy stereotype in Alan and Tee's relationship also contributed to making them feel three-dimensional and real, and to the story's veracity.

Unfortunately, that standout web of relationship does make some of the other interactions in "Enmeshed" fall short by comparison. The work we do first in a story sets a bar for readers' expectations of the rest of the story, and because of those expectations, Alan's interactions with his team in the Mesh -- Kinder especially -- feel notably more false.

Kinder's rather callous reaction to Michael's death -- the death of someone said to be a member of his team for years, from a man who "hugs [Alan] like a brother" -- is only half of what took me aback. The other half is Alan's lack of reaction to Kinder: If it's a characterization choice to have Kinder greet the death of his colleague with concern over the game, not Alan or Michael, where are Alan's feelings about that? About Kinder's Sotto, which functionally slaps him across the face with the death of his spouse? These are moments that are brushed off, pushed out of the spotlight, and it weakens the emotional veracity of the gaming plot and the whole of "Enmeshed."

For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!

--Leah Bobet
Author of ABOVE

Editor's Choice, Horror

"Discord" by Traci Castleberry

Incorporating an unusual milieu into your story can be a great method of increasing interest and providing opportunities for fresh twists. In the case of "Discord," I was immediately drawn into the world of an acclaimed orchestra conductor, Richard. I can safely say I've read about a thousand times more stories involving writers than conductors. A protagonist with this unusual profession is, by default, more intriguing. The details of Richard's baton, his tuxedo, and his rehearsals for "Don Giovanni" give the story a fresh, different feeling. The music milieu is further developed when we learn Richard's love, Henry, is a famous composer. Henry is obsessed with the science of sound and its effect on the human body, and the story provides some disturbing details that lead to Henry's compelling vision of how his music might control others. I particularly like the descriptions of the tuning forks and the web of wires Henry creates.

I do think some other elements of the story can be improved, though, particularly the characters and plot.

The characters aren't quite coming to life yet. Richard at times feels like the author's puppet, doing things because the author wants him to. He knows that Henry can control him with music and that he has no defense against this, yet he returns to Henry after Henry's first phone call asking him to. He seems so weak that I get frustrated with him and emotionally withdraw from him; that makes me less engaged in the story. Not only does he offer minimal resistance, but he returns with no plan to protect himself or stop Henry, when he knows Henry wants to control everyone in the world with his music and has the means to do so.

Henry seems to suddenly become a mad scientist, after being brilliant, talented, and sane for many years. There seems to be no reason why he suddenly wants world domination, and we have no sense why Richard would be attracted to a man who desires such power. The characters seem to be fulfilling archetypal roles, but not to be fully realized individuals. I would care so much more if the characters had depth and acted according to strongly held motivations. For example, perhaps Richard felt inferior to the brilliant Henry, so had an affair to boost his self-esteem. The affair drove Henry to want to bind Richard to him, so he devoted himself to discovering a musical method of connecting them forever. That could be his goal, rather than controlling the world.

The plot also seems manipulated by the author to resolve in the way the author wants. I don't know why Richard is able to escape from Henry the first time. It seems like Henry has an iron grip on Richard. But Richard breaks it very easily, and Henry is unable to reassert it. Richard even has time to gather up his important possessions before leaving, which seems very convenient. Later, when Richard returns, Henry once again conveniently loses control of Richard, and the tuning forks are conveniently left in a spot where Richard can get to them, so he can defeat Henry. There is no strong reason why the tuning forks are there, or why Henry loses control of Richard for such an extended period. It's hard to believe that Richard can succeed, when he arrives with no plan and seems very slow to catch on. Authors often tend to make things too easy for their protagonists, because they like their protagonists and don't want to paint them into a corner. But don't worry about that. Paint them into a corner. Then figure a way out, if you want them to survive.

For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!

--Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey



Anna Kashina grew up in Russia and moved to the United States in 1994 after receiving her Ph.D. in cell biology from the Russian Academy of Sciences. She works in biomedical research and combines her career in science and her passion for writing. Anna's pursuits in ballroom dancing, world mythologies, and folklore have fed her high-level interest in martial arts of the Majat warriors. She lives near Philadelphia, Pennsylvania. Her novel Blades Of The Old Empire was released by Angry Robot Books on February 25th.

First, congrats on your first novel coming out! Without too many spoilers, tell us about the book and the world your story takes place in. Did you draw on any particular culture or mythology for inspiration?

Thanks! I am very excited about this book coming out, and I appreciate the opportunity to do this interview.

For those OWWers who critiqued my work at any point, this novel was originally workshopped as “The Black Diamond,” and changed its name during the editorial process.

When I was working on this novel, I aimed for a fast-paced adventure fantasy in a medieval setting--just because this is the type of books I enjoy reading. In my hands, however, the setting and story acquired some twists and became a bit of a blend between East and West, with elements of European, Russian, and Middle-eastern cultures. The book has its own folklore and mythology that draw on all these backgrounds.

Central to it all is in the concept of the Majat warriors, the western ninjas, who bring the fighting style and weapons of the eastern martial artists into the medieval European setting. The top-ranked Majat, the Diamonds, are very powerful, but must pay the price for this power. They hire out their mercenary services to the highest bidder, and must always follow orders. This conflict between power and control becomes the centerpiece of the story. Kara, a Diamond Majat, is guarding the royal heir, the young man whose magic gift is the kingdom’s main hope in defeating a powerful enemy. She is slowly falling in love with him. And then, when her term to him is over, she receives an order to kill him. The choices she makes, and the aftermath, drive the rest of the book.

The characters in any story, their backgrounds and how they came to be where they are, always interests me. Tell us about your protagonist, Kara. What prompted her to become a mercenary, and how did she become a Diamond warrior? What do you know about Kara the rest of us don't?

The Majat, especially Diamonds, are born to it. The are gifted with strength and speed beyond a regular human. children with these abilities are identified early on and brought to the Majat Fortress for training.

Kara has been traded to the Guild from the southern kingdom of Shayil Yara before she can remember herself. She is very gifted, even for a Majat, so she gets her top, Diamond, ranking, very young. This becomes one of the reasons she is finding it so hard to deal with unfair orders, something that would seem commonplace to a more experienced warrior. So when she receives such orders it forces her into a choice that puts her entire life into question.


Which character (or characters) was the most fun to write? Which was the most difficult? Why?

The most fun for me was Mai, another Diamond warrior who becomes Kara’s counterpart and slowly emerges to play a major role in the story. He started off as a secondary character, and surprised me at every turn until he developed into someone I did not originally anticipate.

The most difficult for me was Kyth, the main point-of-view character. He was conceived as a “traditional” adventure fantasy protagonist, a young idealistic boy with very straight values. I found it nearly impossible to write him this way. What I learned from all this was that dimensional characters must have inner conflicts and faults. It seems obvious, in retrospect, but arriving at this empirically through trial and error with my main POV character was a challenge.

What surprised you most about the entire publication process? What was the most fun?

You mean, after I got over the surprise of the book getting accepted by a publisher? Well, re-reading that e-mail and pinching myself to make sure I was not dreaming was both surprising and fun. I still pinch myself every once in a while.

The most fun was working with the cover and map artist. Both were extremely receptive to my ideas, and both the cover and the maps turned out even better than I imagined.

In what ways did membership in OWW help you with your writing? What is the most important lesson you learned--or unlearned?

I was an OWW member since 2001, back in the Del Rey days. I have submitted and received thousands of reviews, and I feel both immensely grateful and apologetic to people who endured numerous drafts of chapters and stories, many of which did not even survive to posterity. I learned bit by bit, by receiving and digesting feedback, but even more so, by reading the work in progress from writers better than me. One day it just all came together. And of course I still have lots to learn.

In a bigger sense, my most important lesson was never to give up. I started off as such an amateur, and I credit OWW for helping me grow into a published author.

Publication Announcements

Skye Allen writes: "I got the word today that my short story "Edwina" will be published in Toasted Cheese in March. I workshopped the story here and it's my first fiction acceptance. Mary Garber gave me some excellent suggestions, and Jane Forni and Sandy Fetchko both pointed out the same problem with the dialog, so that showed me I needed to fix it."

Eliza Collins (as Liz Coalter) had a story "Advances" published last month in Stupefying Stories Showcase.

D.J. Daniels's story "A Day at the Beach" is online at Luna Station Quarterly.

Rhonda Garcia made a special announcement! "Dragonwell Press has announced my upcoming debut novel, Lex Talionis, on their blog with cover and all. I had just turned in my proof-edit the day before. My sister went out and bought exotic fruit, wine, and chocolate and we had ourselves a mini celebration after work because after all this time, it's finally happening. I'm finally going to publish a book." Super congrats, Rhonda!

L.S. Johnson's short story "Marigolds" is in the latest issue of Long Hidden and short story "The Queen of Lakes" will appear in the Fae anthology from World Weaver Press.

Henry Szabranski wants us to know he has a story coming out this summer: "Very pleased to announce my story 'The Edge Of Magic' will be included in the upcoming charitable anthology Fantasy For Good, edited by Richard Salter and Jordan Ellinger, published by Nightscape Press. Net proceeds will be going to Colon Cancer Alliance. The anthology includes stories from some new up-and-coming talents such as George R. R. Martin, Neil Gaiman, Michael Moorcock, Piers Anthony and many others."

Reviewer Honor Roll

The Reviewer Honor Roll is a great way to pay back a reviewer for a really useful review. When you nominate a reviewer, we list the reviewer's name, the submission/author reviewed, and your explanation of what made the review so useful. The nomination appears in the Honor Roll area of OWW the month after you submit it, and is listed for a month. You can nominate reviewers of your own submissions or reviewers of other submissions, if you have learned from reading the review. Think of it as a structured, public "thank you" that gives credit where credit is due and helps direct other OWWers to useful reviewers and useful review skills.

Visit the Reviewer Honor Roll page for a complete list of nominees and explanatory nominations.

Reviewer: J. Michael Neal
Submission: Ain't No Scottish Play by Jody Sollazzo
Submitted by: Jody Sollazzo

Reviewer: Bill Tyrell
Submission: A Piece of Intelligent Equipment, Reborn by Marion Engelke
Submitted by: Marion Engelke

Reviewer: Marion Engelke
Submission: Silvertongue (Ch's 1 & 2) by Caroline Norrington
Submitted by: Caroline Norrington

Reviewer: Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Submission: I, Freebot by Robert M Graves
Submitted by: Robert M Graves

Reviewer: Jessica Gruner
Submission: The Light of a Thousand Suns. Chapter 2 by Toni Spencer
Submitted by: Toni Spencer

Reviewer: Caroline Norrington
Submission: The Singing Cat, Chapter 1: The Weight Part 1 by DH Jones
Submitted by: B. Morris Allen

Reviewer: Malcolm Everett
Submission: The Arcane Engineer: Prelude - CH 4 by Kyle Kirby
Submitted by: Kyle Kirby

Reviewer: Caroline Norrington
Submission: The Singing Cat, Chapter 1: The Weight Part 1 by DH Jones
Submitted by: Rebecca Chastain

Reviewer: Jim Leach
Submission: A Rock and A Hard Place pt 1 by Noelle C Campbell
Submitted by: Noelle C Campbell

On Shelves Now

Blades of the Old Empire: Book I of the Majat Code by Anna Kashina (Angry Robot Books, February 25, 2014)


Kara is a mercenary - a Diamond warrior, the best of the best, part of the Majat Guild. When her tenure to Prince Kythar comes to an end, he wishes to retain her services, but must accompany her back to her Guild to negotiate her continued protection. When they arrive they discover that the prince's sworn enemy, the Kaddim, have already paid the Guild to engage her services - to capture and hand over the prince (who she has grown very fond of). A warrior brought up to respect both duty and honour, what happens when her sworn duty proves dishonourable?

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This month's featured article from our Tips and Advice section:


By Ruth Nestvold, member and author of "Latency Time" (Asimov's Science Fiction, July, 2001)

Point of view, viewpoint, first person, third person: a story can't be written without "using" point of view. And the better we know the ways in which it can be used, the better use we will make of it.

The two main points of view are those of third-person narration, in which the narrator stands outside the story itself, and first-person narration, in which the narrator participates in the story. The first type always uses third-person pronouns ("he," "she," "they"), while the latter narrator also uses the first-person ("I").

These are not the only distinctions, however. Besides exotic types like second person narration (the standard form for text adventures), first and third person can be used in many different variations.

Read the rest of this tip in our Tips section!

Got a helpful tip for your fellow members? A trick or hint for submitting or reviewing, for what to put in your author's comments, for getting good reviews, or for formatting or titling your submission? Share it with us and we'll publish it in the next newsletter. Just send it to support (at) and we'll do the rest.

Until next month--just write!

The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
support (at)