Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

April 2014 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info





T.S. Eliot said April is the cruelest month, but for OWW members and alums, April is shaping up to be anything but cruel. We have news of first sales for some of our members and more novel and short-story sales for others, and three new books by OWW members are being released this month.

I find that exciting, and proof postitive that all the hard work put in by our members--reviewing submissions, putting the insights learned into practice, and working on their craft--pays off.

Enough from me. Go read all the good news yourself and eye all the incredible covers. Visit our OWW cover gallery! And if you happen to dream of the day one of those covers might be yours, well, you aren't alone.

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 have a new challenge dictator! Workshop member Leah Quire has stepped forward to claim the title.

Leah's first challenge is a story start, a senario, a setting. This could go anywhere, so follow where it leads.

An hour ago, on a warm Saturday afternoon, your dog ran off after a rabbit while you were teaching him to play fetch.  You chased him into what you thought was a little thicket of trees behind your house.  Now you are hopelessly lost in a dense forest you never knew existed.  Before you stands a cabin that looks as though it was recently built, yet there are no signs of human habitation anywhere; no footprints, no paths leading up to it, nothing.  The flora has not overtaken it and the windows are so clean they sparkle in the few shafts of sunlight piercing the green canopy.  There is a hint of jasmine in the air mixed with something else, not as fresh nor as welcome...

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) 


The Exile Book of New Canadian Noir is a new anthology open to Canadian writers only, and paying 5 cents a word. The editors are looking for previously unpublished dark fiction that spans across genres to capture the whole spectrum of the noir esthetic. Guidelines and more information can be found here.

Crossed Genres is the newest SFWA qualifying market. They welcome and strongly encourages submissions with underrepresented main characters: women, characters of color, LGBTQ characters, characters with disabilities, etc. Guidelines and more information can be found here.

Ruthless Peoples Magazine publishes flash fiction up to 1000 words long, of any genre, and pays $100 a story. Guidelines and more information 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

Bonewood, Part 1 By Emmy Neal

This is a well-written, tense, fast-paced young adult fantasy with horror elements. In fact, it's so well-written that most of my criticisms fall around worldbuilding and structural elements, and I have very little to suggest with regard to the prose at all except for a couple of suggestions regarding transitions, line of direction, and pacing.

I like the prose style a great deal. It's clean and readable; the voice is engaging; and unlike many first novels there's not a lot of unnecessary scaffolding and repetition. This feels confident, in other words, and that confidence is very attractive. This is, at least so far, a story that is a pleasure to read. Good work!

It's listed as YA, but I get the sense that it's more middle-grade.  I think the protag is eleven, if I'm reading that particular sentence correctly, which is a good age for a middle-grade protagonist. In either case, I'd suggest cutting the scene where the characters banter and insult each other a little. Not enough changes in those lines of dialogue to justify the length of the passage: instead, the story loses momentum there and spends some time spinning its wheels.

Ideally, something should change in every sentence on the page. We often phrase this as "each sentence should do work," or "each sentence should do at least two and preferably all of the following four things: advance the plot (that is, create or resolve tension); develop character; establish setting and worldbuilding; illuminate theme."

Overall, however, this moves very well, which makes that one spot where things bog down a bit stand out more than it would in a less well-paced story.

On the other hand, there are a couple of places where the narrative little too much is assumed or hurried through -- or the line of direction is confusing. (By "line of direction," I mean way in which the narrative directs the reader's attention through the action and description.) The one place in particular where I feel this breaks down and becomes confusing is the following passage:

 Thora’s eyes widen and I’m turning, my heart stuttering then racing. Sera’s    talking at empty air, there’s nothing in the snow but our footsteps.

“TREES!” I scream, and then we’re running. I can’t drag my eyes away from Sera, who whips around in time to see us bolt away from her. To see Thora at my side. She starts sprinting, but it’s too late. If she breathed the fog it’s too close for her to escape.

Now, what this passage does well is show how sudden the change from banter and teasing to deadly peril is. Where it fails, however, is that in the process of demonstrating that shift, it becomes confusing to the reader.

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

Adventures of Derek Fade: The Rescue Of Addax by Sherry Shimshock

When a writer is having fun with a story, readers can tell. The prose has a looseness and flow to it, and the paragraphs chase after each other like water flowing down a rapids. This month’s EC, ADVENTURES OF DEREK FADE: THE RESCUE OF ADDAX, has that sense of fun.

The story is space opera. Derek Fade is a Galactic Security Agent called in to help find the missing son of an important political figure. Derek is forced to work with Syra Saris, a young security agent he doesn’t know or trust. Together, they infiltrate an illegal fighting ring where the politician’s son is being held as a prisoner. Just when the mission is starting to get somewhere, they run into Valdune, the man who murdered Derek’s wife.

Nothing in this plot (so far) requires science fiction, but the SF elements are used smartly to heighten effects. For example, the fighting ring takes place aboard a space cruiser, meaning that Derek and Syra are in cramped quarters, under almost constant surveillance, with no easy means of escape. Cultural gaps between characters span solar systems instead of oceans. Physical differences can be exaggerated for interesting visuals. All of this makes the story very accessible and gives it some good eyeball kicks.

The story is propelled forward almost exclusively by dialogue and simple, direct action. The primary conflicts in almost every scene are between people, whether they’re unwilling allies, false friends, or outright enemies. This is always a smart choice for adventure stories.

There are some very basic changes that could make the good elements of this story even better. The author tells us that this is “the first half of the third episode” in Derek’s adventures. The word “episode” makes it sound like it’s intended as a standalone, a possilbe entry point for coming into these stories. If that’s the case, then establishing the characters, especially Derek, in the first scene is very important. Lois McMaster Bujold does a wonderful job of re-establishing the character of Miles Vorkosigan in the opening scenes of every novel, in a way that sets up plot for long-time readers while establishing the character for brand new readers. For people writing episodic space opera with a strong central character, there’s a lot to learn from how she does it. Jim Butcher also does an excellent job establishing plot and re-introducing Harry Dresden in all of the Dresden File books. Although the genre is different, the techniques are the same. As a new reader to the Derek Fade series, I wanted to see his character established at the same time that the derelict ship plot element was introduced.

In general, pay attention to how you introduce both male and female characters. Prime Minister Yuna Yeth and Syra are the two characters described physically at any length. Since both are women, it feels male-gazey even if the language doesn’t overtly sexualize them. Maybe it feels less balanced because I didn’t see comparable physical descriptions of either Derek or Valdune.

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

--C.C. Finlay
Guest Editor, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and author of the Traitor to the Crown series

Editor's Choice, Short Story

"Of Women and Hice" by Bo Balder

"Of Women and Hice" does some fascinating, pointed work with trope reversal, creating a story that feels like it belongs in one literary conversation and easing it into another without a hitch.  It's quasi-feminist antimatter space pulp, and that alone would have made it catch my attention this month.  It's also, however, a piece that does a lot of work, and not all that work is balancing entirely well, or closing off its loose threads by the story's end.

The definite strong point here is the worldbuilding, and so much of what makes that worldbuilding work is in the little touches: The eel farming, the changing pelt colours of the hice as they grow, the way house food is edible but tastes artificial compared to grown crops.  This is a fully functional society, practicalities, rituals, generational conflicts, and all, and it's made undoubtedly real by letting us see both the things people do here and a whole spectrum of opinions on how good those practices are.  A common mistake when building societies is forgetting that no matter what those societies do, the people living there will agree, disagree, subvert, undermine, defend, or just generally react to those structures.  Aoife's disagreement that House should get to inspect Mine, her uncertainty about what will happen if Mama dies in childbirth, and her still-unquestioning devotion to the system of symbiosis between hice and women make the village feel instantly three-dimensional and complex.

There are some small contradictions in that worldbuilding at times: I had some slight confusion about how the hice root and uproot when their women die which could be ironed out by a small change in phrasing, and the logic of why Mama's House can abide "man-smell", when Aoife's brother was born not one day ago -- and when the smell of male bodies isn't a static or monolithic thing -- felt downright flimsy.

The village has been thought nearly all the way through, but if it's thought entirely through and the logic loops are closed, it'll be seamless.

Likewise, there's a very interesting conversation happening in "Of Women and Hice" about agency and consent.  There's an undercurrent of possession in every relationship shown in the piece, and as it adds up from Aoife naming her house Mine, and telling it how it should smell, to the men assuming that the houses have subjugated the women, to Mama telling Aoife point-blank her opinion doesn't matter yet, that undercurrent becomes gradually and impressively creepier.  There's symbiosis -- and complicity -- on all sides in "Of Women and Hice", and that provides some nuanced food for thought.

That said, there are times when the plot logic feels as if it's been sacrificed in service of making that point about consent.  The male expedition feel notably cardboard and flat in comparison to the women and hice, even when taking into account Aoife's biased narrative perspective.  Everyone else in this world has such rich and conflicting motives, but all we see of the Earth expedition is exclamations about rape and stubbornly prejudiced thinking.  It's a little too close to the stereotype of prejudice, rather than the more complicated reality of it, and I think "Of Women and Hice" could benefit by making those characters equally nuanced.

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

--Leah Bobet
Author of ABOVE

Editor's Choice, Horror

"Pink Cellphone" by Tim W. Burke

Often the characters in horror stories lack depth.  There's the good character pursued by evil, the evil character tormenting the good one, the mildly flawed everyman who must rise to the occasion, the tragically flawed protagonist who must sacrifice himself to stop evil, the evil character who receives his just desserts, and a variety of monstrous archetypes.  But seldom do we get true depth in a character, particularly in a short story, when space is so limited.  The strength of "Pink Cellphone" is in its protagonist.  Glen is a reformed bully.  As a child, he tormented others.  Even into adulthood, he was a bad person, went to jail, and is still, at the time of the story, on parole.  Yet he has tried to change.  He has begun to regain his daughter's trust; he has made peace with his father.  Over the course of the story, we learn that his father beat him, behavior he mirrored as a bully.  Yet now he cares for his dying father.  While I've read many stories about bullies, I haven't read many stories about former bullies, and particularly about a former bully who is the protagonist of the story.  I believe Glen's love for his daughter and father, even as I believe his father beat him and that he was a bully and still struggles with explosive anger.  He is a strong, multi-faceted protagonist.

The main area that I think could be improved is in creating a story that not only reveals the character but changes the character in some irrevocable way.  In the current story, one of Glen's childhood victims returns for revenge.  The man pretends he has kidnapped Glen's daughter, to provoke Glen into attacking him so Glen's parole can be revoked.  This is the outline for a good conflict, but it ultimately doesn't seem to change anything for Glen.  The conflict serves mainly to allow Glen's background to come out, so we can understand the character.  Glen does, indeed, attack, and perhaps realizes how quickly he can lose his temper and revert to his former self, but I think he always knew that.  I don't believe this is a major revelation for him, and I don't think it changes his behavior or his life.  So that leaves me, as a reader, wondering why this story is significant.  It seems to be missing something, and that something is why this is the most important event in Glen's life.

I think the story would be stronger if Glen were challenged more by events and changed in some significant way.  One possibility would be to simply have the man go through with his plan.  As is, Glen beats him, but the man seems to forgive him and just drives away.  So Glen faces no consequences for what he's done.  If the man called the police, Glen would lose everything.  Another possibility would be for the man to arrange for Glen's daughter to walk in on them and see her father's brutality.  Again, Glen would lose something important.  Another possibility would be for the man to be more clever and turn off the daughter's cell phone, which he has brought as evidence of her abduction.  In the current version, she realizes her phone is missing and calls it; this reveals to Glen that the man hasn't actually abducted his daughter, so he stops beating the man.  If the man had turned off the phone, Glen could have beaten him to death, which could either send Glen to jail, or if he hid the body somehow, to face being a killer, which would probably compel him to abandon his father and daughter. 

A possible low-key ending would be to have the man force Glen to hurt himself to save his daughter.  Glen's anger would build as he was forced to cut himself and bang his head into the wall and hit his leg with a baseball bat, so he would have an internal conflict between the desire to save his daughter versus the desire to vent his anger on the man.   Eventually, he would break and attack the man, revealing to himself that his anger is stronger than his love.  The man could leave, as he does now, satisfied with that revenge.  But Glen would face a much more haunting knowledge than he does in the current version, not only learning that his anger is still inside him, but that it is stronger than his love for his daughter.  I think that might be a more powerful way to accomplish the effect the story seems to be aiming for. 

There are a couple other minor points I'd like to make about the characters.  At times, Glen seems to make unwise decisions that distance me from him, such as letting the man into his house.  Glen's lack of memory of his childhood made me think something supernatural was going on, so I was disappointed when the story ended and there was no explanation for his poor memory.  As for the man, I don't currently believe he would just leave, since he doesn't seem to have gotten the revenge he was looking for and I don't think he gained anything else from the experience.  I think the man needs to be a bit more obsessive and to show that he has planned this confrontation better.  Finally, the power dynamic seems to shift back and forth between them a bit too much; it would be stronger to see the situation slowly evolving and the tension increasing.

I hope my comments are helpful.  I really enjoy the character of Glen.

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


This month Brian White, the editor and publisher at Fireside Fiction Company, joins us to talk about crowdfunding short fiction. Brian's also a newspaper copy editor, bourbon guzzler, and sorta-grownup. He lives with his wife and two cats near Boston. Find him online at and @talkwordy.  "photo"

Short fiction can be a tough sell. The novel is queen. It can be hard to get a publisher to take the chance on paying for an anthology, or, harder still, to get the money to launch a new magazine. The short-fiction audience is a small slice of the reading public, and the potential rewards just aren’t great enough to justify the risk.

That’s why crowdfunding is such a boon for short fiction. Sites like Kickstarter or Indiegogo or any of the couple dozen alternatives allow you to connect directly with short-fiction fans, and it takes the risk out of the game. If you succeed, you have the money you need to pay writers, artists, and designers and to pay for production costs. If you fail, well, it’s sad, but all you’ve lost is time. You’re not on the hook for a loan, or stuck with crates of unpurchased books or magazines, rotting away in your warehouse or garage.

I started Fireside in 2012. We’re a multigenre fiction magazine, and we’ve now published eleven issues, three during 2012 and the rest since we started monthly publication last August. All paid for with the proceeds of four Kickstarters. It’s something I never would have been able to do on my own. I don’t have the money, and what bank is going to give a couple thousand dollars to a 28-year-old --  whose only experience in publishing is as a newspaper copy editor --  who shows up wanting to publish a fiction magazine? I know I probably wouldn’t.

I’d had this stew of ideas in my head, kind of cooking all throughout 2011. Twitter was my pantry. I was following a lot of interesting publishing types, and once in a while an idea would slip free of the conversations and plop into the stew. There was talk about the rise of independent publishing. About whether genre mattered. About pay rates for short fiction writers, which seemed stalled around 5 cents a word, and that was for publications paying what was considered the professional rate. (As always, there are notable exceptions to that.)

All of this was interesting, and had me thinking about magazines and anthologies and publishing in general. But I didn’t have money. I couldn’t do anything. Until people started talking about Kickstarter.

Kickstarter had been around for a while, but, at least for me, it didn’t start crossing my radar until the second half of 2011. And when it did, one day in September, something in my brain went click.

I started recruiting writers. I pitched them on the idea of a magazine that was focused on storytelling, not on a particular genre. We’d pay 12.5 cents a word. We’d have art. It would be glorious.

And it was. We funded the first three issues one at a time. Four stories (each with art) and a comic in each. Then we went for funding a full year of twelve issues. We’d been Kickstarting every three or four months, and we knew fatigue was going to set in, both for our backers and for us. We’re now in the middle of that year. We’re publishing a short story, two pieces of flash fiction, and an episode of a serial every month. All paid for. It’s been a lot of fun.

If all this has you thinking about crowdfunding your own short-fiction projects (or really, any kind of fiction), here are some of the things I have learned:


--Brian White

Publication Announcements

Skye Alexander (writing as Skye Allen) wants us all to know she's sold her first novel! "I just sold my YA fantasy novel Pretty Peg to Harmony Ink Press. It should be released in Summer 2014. The first two chapters were Editor's Choices, and I got some great encouragement from Elizabeth Bear about the submission process, plus some helpful reviews from OWW members." Big congrats, Skye!

Our own Elizabeth Bear made a big announcement: "I have just licensed world rights (including translation and audio) for two far-future Big-Idea space operas to Simon Spanton at Gollancz. The first, entitled Ancestral Night, will be out in autumn of 2016." Yay, Bear!

Gio Clairval has two more publications on the horizon. "The Writing Cembalo" will appear in Kisses by Clockwork, a Ticonderoga Publications anthology edited by Liz Grzyb (April 2014), and "Ambrotype" will appear in Typehouse literary magazine (May 2014). Congrats to Gio on both sales!

Eliza Collins let it slip that her story "The Last King" is included in theFae anthology due out from World Weaver Press in June 2014, and her story "The Clouds In Her Eyes" will appear in Writers Of The Future, Volume 30 this month. Great news, Eliza!

Amanda Downum had a big announcement of her own: "I'm thrilled to announce that Solaris is buying my novel Dreams of Shreds & Tatters. More details to follow as I have them." Super congrats, Amanda!

Tom Greene's story "Another Man's Treasure" will appear in Analog's May 2014 issue. Congratulations, Tom!

Lynne Hardaker made her first story sale! "My first short-story publication is forthcoming in the Spring 2014 issue of Cabinet des Fees: 'Scherezade's Bequest.'" Yay, Lynne!

l.s. johnson sold "The Queen of Lakes" to the Fae anthology from World Weaver Press as well, out in June 2014. Congrats on the sale!

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.

March 2014 Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Rob Smythe
Submission: God's Challengers ch 1 by Grace Campbell
Submitted by: Grace Campbell

Reviewer: Rob Smythe
Submission: The Riftwalker Chronicles:  Chapter One by Angeli Pidcock
Submitted by: Angeli Pidcock

Reviewer: Caroline Norrington
Submission: Dragons and Unicorns - Identity by Mel Tong
Submitted by: Mel Tong

Reviewer: Bo Balder
Submission: The Last Crane by Zora Quynh
Submitted by: Zora Quynh

Reviewer: Charlie Cogwin
Submission: The Apothecary's Curse by barbara barnett
Submitted by: barbara barnett

Reviewer: Nicole Minsk
Submission: Immortalis: Chapter 1 by Alex Kent
Submitted by: Alex Kent

Reviewer: Karen Lee-Thorp
Submission: Beyond Seven Mountains, Chapter 5: Statecraft by Marion Engelke
Submitted by: Marion Engelke

Reviewer: Jon Paradise
Submission: C4C--Revised--Changing the Timestream without Great Men by Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Submitted by: Allan Dyen-Shapiro

Reviewer: Jessica Gruner
Submission: Bida by Joanna DaCosta
Submitted by: Joanna DaCosta

On Shelves Now

Steles of the Sky (The Eternal Sky) by Elizabeth Bear (Tor Books, April 2014)"cover"

Elizabeth Bear concludes the award-winning epic fantasy series that Kirkus calls "a masterpiece." Re Temur, legitimate heir to his grandfather’s Khaganate, has finally raised his banner and declared himself at war with his usurping uncle. With his companions -- the Wizard Samarkar, the Cho-tse Hrahima, and the silent monk Brother Hsiung -- he must make his way to Dragon Lake to gather in his army of followers. But Temur’s enemies are not idle; the leader of the Nameless Assassins, who has shattered the peace of the Steppe, has struck at Temur’s uncle already. To the south, in the Rasan empire, plague rages. To the east, the great city of Asmaracanda has burned, and the Uthman Caliph is deposed. All the world seems to be on fire, and who knows if even the beloved son of the Eternal Sky can save it?



Expiration Day By William Campbell Powell (Tor Teen, April 2014)"cover"

Tania Deeley has always been told that she’s a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society. Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania’s life are not real? Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth “birthdays,” teknoids must be returned to Oxted—never to be heard from again.


Prince's Fire: The Hearts and Thrones Series by Amy Raby (Signet, April 1, 2014)

The imperial princess has been offered in marriage to the Prince of Inya as part of an alliance needed to ensure Kjall’s military prowess. And despite having been hurt in the past by men using her to gain power, Celeste finds herself falling for the passionate fire mage. Prince Rayn has no intention of allying his country with the militaristic Kjallans. But his political enemies at home may be the greater threat. The princess’s beauty and intelligence catch him off guard, throwing an unexpected and dangerous hurdle in the way of his plans. As a deadly political plot threatens Rayn’s life, the attraction between Celeste and Rayn ignites into a sizzling affair. But to save her people and herself, Celeste will have to discover if Rayn’s intentions are true or risk having her love burn her yet again....



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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!

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)