Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
June is the halfway point of the year. I've always thought of this as the month of beginnings and endings both. School ends and summer begins, students graduate from college and start new careers, and June weddings often mark the end of one life and the beginning of another.
All these beginnings and endings come with a story of one kind or another. All that's left is for the members of OWW to write them. So enough from me. Go forth and write. I'll do the same.
As always, contact us if you have any questions, publication announcements, or ideas for improving the OWW Newsletter.
Jaime Lee Moyer, newsletter editor
news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com
Our benevolent challenge dictator Leah Quire offers this for June:
Create your evil twin. Think only of your good qualities. Make a list of several things, big and small (big like "I'm a great driver" and small like "My fingernails are shiny without polish"), that are good about you, then create a character that is your complete opposite. Give this character a name that you hate and put everything into him/her that you would never want to be or that you, maybe, wish you weren't. Your evil twin does not have to be the opposite sex, but can be if you wish. Once you have made this person purely evil in every way, give him/her a best friend who is not evil. Now, write a story of how the two met and what the best friend sees in the ET that is "admirable"...using that term loosely.
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) onlinewritingworkshop.com).
The folks at Tor.com have announced that they will be expanding their original fiction program via a new imprint dedicated to publishing novellas, shorter novels, serializations, and any other pieces of fiction that exceed the traditional novelette length (17,499 words). Each DRM-free title will be available exclusively for purchase, and will have full publisher support behind it. It will have a heavy digital focus but all titles will be available via POD and audio formats. They will also consider traditional print publishing for a select number of titles a year, and all titles will be available worldwide. Full details and a link to submission guidelines can be found here.
Baen Books, in association with the popular gaming convention Gen Con, has launched a new annual fantasy genre contest that will present the winning entrant with the inaugural Baen Fantasy Adventure Award. The contest will be centered on adventure fantasy short stories, whether epic fantasy, heroic fantasy, sword and sorcery, or contemporary fantasy. The contest opens for submissions on May 1, 2014 and all entries must be received by June 30, 2014. Each entry is limited to a short story of no more than 8,000 words, one entry per author. More details here.
Fireside Magazine will be open to submissions of flash fiction and short stories from June 1 through June 30th. Fireside is seeking original, previously unpublished flash fiction of 1,000 words or less and original, previously unpublished short stories of 1,000 to 4,000 words in any genre. (Firm limit.) They pay 12.5 cents per word, with payment on completion of edits. Full guidelines here.
The Book Smugglers are looking for subversive fairy tale retellings. They are looking for original speculative fiction between 1,500 and 17,500 words long. Stories must be previously unpublished. Submissions are open until July 31, 2014. Payment is 5 cents per word up to a max of $500.00. More details here.
CICADA, for readers ages 14 and up, publishes original fiction, poetry, first-person nonfiction, and comics by both adult and teen writers and artists. They are interested in realistic, contemporary, and historical fiction, as well as humor, mysteries, fantasy, and science fiction. Length: up to 5,000 words; they will consider novellas up to 9,000 words. Fiction payment is .25 cents per word, poetry $3.00 per line. More information here.
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, 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!
We don't have a Editor's Choice for fantasy this month. Sadly for OWW, prolific author and long-time Resident Editor Elizabeth Bear has decided to focus fulltime on her writing career. We can't thank her enough for all the time and effort she's put into writing EC reviews for workshop members during her tenure here.
Next month we'll introduce a new editor, and fantasy reviews will return.
CROSSOVER, Chapters 1 & 2 by Emmy Neal
These chapters hooked me right from the Einstein quotation and the opening paragraph.
"Two things are infinite: the universe and human stupidity; and I'm not sure about the universe."
— Albert Einstein
Orson helped the young man pull on the virtual simulation cap, arranging the wires to fall over the edge of the recliner and not his face. Hope bloomed like a weed inside his chest, whispering, This time. This time it will work. He didn't have the strength to mow it down.
It's worth noting that the Einstein quotation is disputed. It never appeared in any of his writing, and the person who first attributed it to Einstein previously attributed it to someone else. A very similar phrase appears in Guy de Maupassant's writing in 1880, when Einstein was only a year old. If Einstein said it at that age, then he was even more of a prodigy than we thought! (If you want to know more you can check here: https://en.wikiquote.org/wiki/Albert_Einstein#Disputed)
But I am drawing attention to this because someone will, sooner or later, and I want to say that I don't think it matters. First, because the quote is frequently enough attributed to Einstein, and second, more importantly, because, in conjunction with the opening paragraphs, it establishes the voice of the book.
And the voice is a good one. It's wry and funny, with sharp observation and a quick pace. Orson is full of hope and worry. Blake is full of curiosity and himself. They come across as distinct in their respective passages, yet not so different that it feels like we're reading different stories. Part of that is a smart decision to keep Orson's section short, since all the real action happens to Blake.
In the chapter notes, the author expresses some concern: "Sooo this is a finished WIP, but I think the opening could use a lot of work. I'm not sure I'm starting in the right place -- but I also have no ideas about what would make the opening more welcoming to the reader."
One question I had was when Orson thinks "please don't die" at the end of the first scene. Is this meant to imply that others have died before? If so, why not just make it more explicit: "…please don't die like the others." That works here because everything else--who Orson is (does he even have a last name?), who he's working for, what the project really is--are all mysteries. Ending it on something concrete--others have died--gives it some strength.
In Chapter 1, I was slightly jarred by the Photoshop and Pod People references. They pulled me out of the story's world into my world, and they didn't add any layers of understanding that weren't already in the text for me.
I also felt the chapter moved a little slowly between the time Blake ejected from the pod and the moment he meets the girl. Part of that is that he didn't have a clear sense of purpose. This would be easy to fix just by having Orson give him a more specific instruction when he logs him in. "Remember, your role is just to walk around and explore, and then tell me everything that you see." That's what he does anyway, but this just foregrounds it as a goal.
If the girl on the ship is a recurring character who plays a major role in the story, then I also question the reasons for holding back her name. Unless you're trying to accomplish something specific to the plot, it's important to let us know who she is and fix her in our heads as a person with a name and an identity right from the start. There's a convenient place to do it when she says, "You're pod 34.032." Blake can reply, "And who are you?"
A related name question: why don't Orson or Blake have last names? Just curious if it is a deliberate part of the plot.
Overall, Chapter 2 worked very effectively for me. The discussion between Orson and Blake, with Blake insisting he was fine, was great. I wondered if Blake's reluctance to go to the hospital might have anything to do with what happened to Claire. If so, adding that in here would add another layer and develop that backstory more.
I also thought that setting a specific date for the next session -- "It will be tomorrow before I can get the console working again" instead of "I'll give you a call" -- would create more anticipation and make the plot feel like it's moving forward better.
Except for the girl's name, these are all minor things. If the rest of the book is as strong as this, then it's ready to go out to agents. It was a fun, quick read that left me wanting more. The brief summary in the author's notes gives me confidence that the story will deliver. So good luck with it. I look forward to reading the rest some day.
--C.C. Finlay Guest Editor, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and author of the Traitor to the Crown series
"Partiple" by Kim J. Zimring
What caught my notice about "Partiple" this month is that it has promise: Its central idea is just unconventional enough in the style of science fiction it's working with to stand out, and it works that central idea -- of what constitutes paternity scientifically, sociologically, dogmatically, personally -- in a way that makes that question feel as if it touches all the aspects of its protagonist's life. That exploration of so many angles of one question in such a short space, combined with the author's accessible prose, kept me an interested reader: This is sociological science fiction, emotional science fiction, and genetic science fiction all in one.
But the other thing that caught my notice about "Partiple" is that it's all reasonably credible until you actually look at any detail of this story, and then the entire story falls apart.
That's what I'd like to talk about this month: The importance of attention to our details in science fictional worldbuilding, and how the details make our stories work.
"Partiple" is neither a very sensory or concrete piece: Most of its information is conveyed through explanatory dialogue pulled out only at the moment the reader needs it, and so the details that are provided stand out all the more. Placed against the vagueness of the protagonist's sketched-in life-- one official friend who doesn't seem to know him that well, bog-standard meetings at an office that we never see, smell, or hear -- those details quickly start to sabotage "Partiple" by relentlessly not adding up. The time period they give is an unspecified near-future: Instagram has crashed and burned, but recently enough that Eileen was an adult for it, and Larry King, currently 80, is still alive -- so we can't be too far into the future. However, Kiribati has sunk by the end of the story, genetic science has advanced enough to make gene hacks accessible to thirteen-year-olds from impoverished island nations (how? With which common language?), and American immigration policy has relaxed enough to admit the internationally-born children of citizens, so we can't be too soon, as all those things aren't about to happen next week, or next year.
As the detail conflicts keep adding up -- the protagonist is supposed to be in his mid-thirties, yet references The Secret of NIMH and East German border guards, both things barely on my radar as a reader in my very early thirties in the present day -- the details "Partiple" gives out start to look less like the careful construction of a personality and more like, bluntly, incomplete character planning. Characters are products of their times and environments, and what they select as emotional touchstones gives us information about who they are and where they're from. It is physically unlikely to impossible to have a character for whom the picture of official fear is an East German border guard, for whom navigation is Mrs. Frisby, be in his mid-thirties in a setting that's believable as a near-future world. The story is functionally telling us that he grew up in the late seventies and early eighties--in other words, he's at least thirty-five in 2014. The timeline of the story is officially made impossible, just by the details chosen to illustrate it.
Other details are working too hard to wink at the reader: the phrase "that antibiotic-resistant gonorrhea" is just about as plausible, coming out of the mouth of someone for whom it's a fact of modern life, as "that hard-to-treat HIV virus." It's a line directed at the readers on the other side of the fourth wall, and where details are supposed to bolster the reality of a story, it only serves to destroy "Partiple" by reminding readers that they are reading a story and not immersed in a world.
The inconsistencies extend from the protagonist's characterization into the plotting: His field work was on partible paternity, and yet the major source of narrative conflict until he meets Anote is his astonishment as to how Anote is claiming paternity when the protagonist's a virgin. This feels disingenuous at best. The very idea that he doesn't consider Anote's operating concepts of paternity to be different or a scam to be afoot, even when explaining the concept of partible paternity to Henry; that he has to somehow ascribe the whole event to a miracle and to "I made a son, somehow" when this is presented as his field of study paints the protagonist as either irredeemably gullible and professionally incompetent -- or indicates the story's plot logic is broken at the roots. The story doesn't work emotionally unless the protagonist ceases to think about all the things he spent years studying. That's a serious, game-breaking flaw.
But perhaps the most serious detail snap in "Partiple" is that Kiribati is a real nation, populated by real people -- and they are not the Kuikuru.
For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!
Author of ABOVE
"Wild Skins" by Heather Cale
Flash-length fiction provides a huge challenge to any author. Getting the reader involved and creating an ending with impact become very difficult when you have only a few words to work with.
"Wild Skins" uses a couple of techniques that are very helpful in flash fiction. First, it uses a familiar situation: scientists out in the middle of the woods to study some strange phenomena. If you watch movies on the SyFy Channel, you are well acquainted with this scenario. A familiar situation means that readers don't need much explanation about what's going on or much description of the characters.
Second, the story uses a fairly familiar plot, in which an evil force overcomes one character after another. Using a familiar situation and plot allows the author to skip Act 1-- establishing the strange phenomena, introducing the scientists, having the scientists learn of the phenomena, deciding to go -- and about half of Act 2 -- putting together the expedition, heading into the woods, setting up the base camp, exploring, hearing strange sounds, and recording strange readings on the equipment. Instead, the author can start with the disappearance of the first scientist, and we can fill everything that's happened up to that point. The amount of plot that needs to be included in the story is essentially cut in half. From the disappearance of the first scientist, it's a short trip to finding the scientist's skin and deciding to flee back to civilization. That's the turn at the end of Act 2, and then we go to Act 3, in which the characters are quickly overcome by the evil force and we reach the climax.
The key to making this work is providing an unexpected twist on the familiar elements used. "Wild Skins" provides a twist, revealing that the missing characters are not dead, although their skins have been found. They have instead been transformed, their wild skins coming out and making them hunger. The presence of Cassie, a psychic among the scientists, who has some ability to sense what is happening to the others, adds to the twist. As the story ends, the first-person narrator, Tony, has been made a wild skin and now prepares to transform Cassie, the last one left.
One way the story could be strengthened is to further develop this twist. For me, the story feels a little too familiar and the twist not quite as dramatic or unexpected as I would hope. The characters never have a chance to survive and don't really make any serious attempt to escape, so the story never gets too exciting or emotional. They try to walk to civilization, but when one of their party dies each night, they just keep walking and don't change their behavior. So the characters just seem like victims. While their transformation is creepy and interesting, that, in itself, isn't quite enough to create a strong impact at the end.
If the psychic can sense what the wild skins are thinking, this seems like it ought to affect her behavior. Instead, she seems to behave like everyone else, just trying to reach civilization before being taken. The story tells us that the psychic, Cassie, does readings for grieving families. If she truly connects with people after death, then she has a sense of what the afterlife is like. If the afterlife is good, I would think she would hate to become a wild skin, which may trap her in some immortal state, never to reach the afterlife. If it's bad, then I think she'd want to become a wild skin and avoid death.
Since the second alternative reduces suspense, let's go with the first one.
For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!
--Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey
Mike Allen is the editor of the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies and Mythic Delirium magazine. He's won the Rhysling Award for best speculative poem three times, and his horror story "The Button Bin" was a Nebula Award finalist in 2009. His fiction and verse has appeared in Asimov's Science Fiction, Strange Horizons, Apex Magazine, Beneath Ceaseless Skies, Cthulhu's Reign, Solaris Rising 2: The New Solaris Book of Science Fiction, and many other places; his first novel, The Black Fire Concerto, was released in 2013. He lives in Roanoke, Va., with his wife Anita, a goofy dog named Loki, and two pucksterish cats, Pandora and Persephone.
You've done four Clockwork Phoenix anthologies to date, and the stories have gathered an impressive array of awards along the way. How did editing the Clockwork Phoenix anthologies come about?
At the time that I started Clockwork Phoenix, I perceived a lot of buzz out in the science fiction and fantasy field about stories that blurred boundaries: "new weird," "slipstream, "interstitial fiction," what have you. There were anthologies produced that tried to capture these trends and present them in manifesto fashion. I'd already been working for years in boundary-blurring territory -- I write "science fiction poetry," after all. I decided I wanted to put together an anthology that participated in these trends and blends without trying to make some sort of academic point about them. This not how most anthologies intended for mass consumption get made, but I found a supportive publisher in Norilana Books.
I had previously put together a pair of anthologies, MYTHIC and MYTHIC 2, in collaboration with Prime Books, that dealt with similar themes but basically slipped under the radar and vanished. I wanted to take everything I learned from that experience, good and bad, and use it to build something bigger and better. There's no way Clockwork Phoenix was ever going to be a commercial hit, but I've been bowled over by the acclaim that these books have received, with stories out of every single volume getting nominated for awards and selected for "best of the year" showcases.
It's no secret that Norilana Books ended up having huge financial problems that have continued even past bankruptcy. I own the rights to the first three Clockwork Phoenix anthologies now, and pay royalties to the contributors. (It's nice that sales are such that there are always royalties to be paid.)
I had put the series on hiatus in 2010 with a nagging sense of business yet unfinished chewing at me, and I suppose not just at me: I kept getting asked, "When are you going to do another one?" So in 2012 I posed a question of my own, "Will all of you help me make another one?" and I did that through Kickstarter. I asked for $5,000 and raised more than $10,000, and that's how we got Clockwork Phoenix 4.
How editors put together an anthology is largely a mystery to most writers. Did you have a vision for each volume before you started, or did a theme evolve as you read and selected submissions? How did you decide on the final order of the stories you'd chosen?
Most of the anthologies that you see on the shelves are either cherry-picked out of previously published material or comprised of stories from established authors who received invitations. New writers need not apply. I'm not a fan of this approach -- I like giving new voices a chance. The invitation approach wouldn't work for Clockwork Phoenix anyway, as what I want is something more nebulous than, say, "steampunk dinosaurs fighting zombies." Though if a story on that topic suited my tastes, I'd take it.
The themes that link the stories in each Clockwork Phoenix volume definitely grew out of what I found in the submission pile rather than any preconceived ideas. These are things the author has no control over, but they certainly happen: "Oooh, this story would go perfectly with this other one I'm already hanging on to." And then we -- I say we because Anita, my wife, helps me with this -- try to arrange the stories in a way that emphasizes those connections. By the way, this isn't limited to art-for-art's-sake endeavors like ours. Ellen Datlow has said she does the same thing.
You're a writer and a poet as well. Was it difficult to switch gears between thinking like a writer and thinking like an editor?
I've been an editor and writer both since the mid-90s, so I'm used to switching back and forth. They are different yet related mindsets, sort of like minding other people's children versus raising your own. The challenge isn't so much switching gears mentally as making time to do it all. Being obsessive helps.
What projects have you been working on since Clockwork Phoenix 4 was published, and what can we look for from you in the future?
My first novel, The Black Fire Concerto, came out last year, simultaneously with Clockwork Phoenix 4. It's a dark fantasy about a pair of musicians fighting the undead in a post-apocalyptic future where magic works. I love my heroines, Olyssa and Erzelle, and I wanted them have more adventures -- that's why I just finished a sequel, The Ghoulmaker's Aria, that's even weirder and bloodier. So keep an eye out for that.
I'll have a new poetry collection, Hungry Constellations, out shortly -- it spans almost twenty years of my verse, with selections made by Dominik Parisien, who works with Jeff and Ann VanderMeer's Cheeky Frawg Books. Even more exciting, I have a collection of horror stories coming out, my first short fiction collection, called Unseaming, that's going to debut at the World Fantasy Convention this November. Horror master Laird Barron's written the introduction, and I certainly hope readers find the book a match to the hype he gives it.
On the editing side, I held a Kickstarter in 2013 to reboot my 15-year-old poetry journal, Mythic Delirium, and that was a success too. It's now a digital zine publishing both poetry and fiction. We post a new story and two new poems every month at mythicdelirium.com, and we're getting ready to release a print volume -- titled Mythic Delirium, of course -- that collects the entire first year of our digital incarnation.
Marla Anderson sent word of a writing woohoo: "I sold my story 'Heart Trouble' to Mad Scientist Journal. It's scheduled for publication next year." Excellent news, Marla!
Tim W. Burke wants all of us to know: "I just sold a story to DarkFuse: 'To Get Past It,' which was posted at OWW as 'The Pink Cellphone.' Thanks to Jeanne Cavelos, B. Morris Allen, Marion Engelke, Jim Leach and Jeff Stanley for their reviews!" Great news, Tim!
Beth Cato has a major announcement: "My steampunk fantasy novel The Clockwork Dagger will be released by Harper Voyager on September 16th, with the sequel a year later. The beginning chapters of the book were critiqued on OWW in 2012." Way to go, Beth!
Gio Clairval is having a stellar month when it comes to publications. In the month of June you can find Gio's stories all over: "Punk up Your Road Blues" in punkPunk, a Dog Horn Publishing anthology; "The Writing Cembalo" in Kisses by Clockwork, a Ticonderoga Publications anthology; and "Ambrotype" in Typehouse, a literary magazine. Major kudos, Gio!
Anna Kashina wants us all to know about a writing award: "My Dragonwell title 'Mistress of the Solstice' just won a silver medal in the fantasy category at the Independent Publishers Book Award (IPPY)." That's fantastic, Anna!
Jennifer Oliver has great news, too: "I wanted to let you know that I just sold my short dark-fantasy story 'Shuffle' to Kaleidotrope magazine. I workshopped 'Shuffle' here on the OWW and received a lot of fantastic, thoughtful feedback that helped me make the story stronger and also made me a better writer. It will be published online in 2015." Way to go, Jennifer!
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.
May 2014 Honor Roll Nominees
Reviewer: Bill Tyrell
Submission: Bye, Robot (revised) by Matt Farrow
Submitted by: Matt Farrow
Reviewer: Gregor Hartmann
Submission: A Chip Off the Old Block by Tim Major
Submitted by: Tim Major
Reviewer: Matt Farrow
Submission: Wireframe (Part 1 of 3) by B. Morris Allen
Submitted by: B. Morris Allen
Reviewer: John L. Manuel
Submission: The Wind Cries Malinche by Theresa Krause
Submitted by: B. Morris Allen
Reviewer: Jon Paradise
Submission: One Hundred Windermeres of Rain by Robert M Graves
Submitted by: Robert M Graves
Reviewer: Christian Crowe
Submission: The Necromancer's Daughter by K. H.
Submitted by: J.L. Stovall
Lex Talionis by R. S. A. Garcia (Dragonwell Publishing, May 2014)
A battered young woman wakes from a coma in a space port hospital with no memories of herpast. The only thing she remembers are two words: Lex Talionis—the Law of Revenge. To discover her identity, she must re-live the nightmares of her past, and face the only survivor of a terrible massacre that connects her with her abductors. This fast-paced stunning debut takes the readers through an emotional roller-coaster as Lex relivesher ordeal and the shocking aftermath. Everything she learns draws her nearer to the person who almost destroyed her: the only man she has ever loved.
A Barricade In Hell by Jaime Lee Moyer (Tor Books, June 2014)
Delia Martin has been gifted (or some would say cursed) with the ability to peer across to the other side. Since childhood, her constant companions have been ghosts. She used her powers and the help of those ghosts to defeat a twisted serial killer terrorizing her beloved San Francisco. Now it's 1917—the threshold of a modern age—and Delia lives a peaceful life with Police Captain Gabe Ryan.
That peace shatters when a strange young girl starts haunting their lives and threatens Gabe. Delia tries to discover what this ghost wants as she becomes entangled in the mystery surrounding a charismatic evangelist who preaches pacifism and an end to war. But as young people begin to disappear, and audiences display a loyalty and fervor not attributable to simple persuasion, that message of peace reveals a hidden dark side. As Delia discovers the truth, she faces a choice—take a terrible risk to save her city, or chance losing everything?
Fees: $49/year, $30/6 months, or $6/month. First trial month free. (more)
How to pay: PayPal, Kagi, check in US dollars, money order in US dollars, barter (more)
Scholarship fund: We accept scholarship fund donations and award full or partial scholarships to active members in need. (more)
Gift memberships: You can give a gift membership for another member; just send us a payment by whatever method you like, noting who the membership is for and specifying whether the gift is anonymous or not. We will acknowledge receipt to you and the member.
Bonus payments: The workshop costs only 94 cents per week, but we know that many members feel that it's worth much more to them. 25% of any bonus payments we receive will go to our support staff; the rest will be tucked away to lengthen the shoestring that is our budget and keep us running! (more)
This month's featured article from our Tips and Advice section:
Author Harry Turtledove on researching and creating a world and the importance of detail (especially in alternate history).
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) sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com and we'll do the rest.