Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

June 2015 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info





If you hang around a group of professional writers for very long, you'll no doubt hear them them talk about what tricks they use to motivate themselves to write. Writers love to write or love having written, or they wouldn't choose that career path, but we all still have days we'd rather be outside, or do almost anything but race a deadline. In this month's Spotlight, author Fran Wilde shares some of the tricks she uses to get through those "donwanna write" days.

I spent part of my day making lists of workshop member sales and release dates. In the process I discovered evidence that sticking with it and working hard pays off in the end. Past and present OWW members will have at least fifteen new books in stores before the end of 2015. Those are only the ones I know about right now, and we're only half-way through the year. I'm sure that number will grow.

So until next month, stay motivated, keep learning, and write!

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)

Monthly Writing Challenge

Workshop member Owen Richards stepped up to offer a challenge this month:

You hear someone say: "It doesn't matter, does it? Nice guys always finish last." Write a story about what led up to that moment--or what  happens after.

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) 


Clockwork Phoenix 5, the next volume in the award-winning anthology series edited by Mike Allen, is open to submissions, and will close July 26, 2015. Stories should be under 10,000 words and payment is 6 cents per word. It is open to the full range of speculative and fantastic genres. Full details here.

MetaSagas is currently accepting submissions for their first anthology of short fiction, Futuristica Volume 1. They pay 6 cents per word against a pro rata share of royalties and are looking for stories between 3,000 and 10,000 words. Full details here. is open to short fiction submissions again. Guidelines have changed and all submissions are now done via a submissions form. They pay 25 cents per word for the first 5,000 words, 15 cents for the next 5,000, and 10 cents a word after that. Full details here.

Defying Doomsday will be an anthology of apocalypse-survival fiction with a focus on disabled characters. One of the protagonists must be a character with disability, such as physical impairments, chronic illnesses, mental illnesses and/or neurodiverse characters etc. They want stories between 3,000 and 7,000 words and payment is 7 cents per word. Full details 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, Liz Bourke, 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

Company of Orcs, Chapter 1 by Charles James
This Chapter 1 provides a promising opening. It caught my attention by featuring none other than orcs -- and some franchise tie-ins aside, it's not common to see a work look closely at fantasy's favourite racist caricature footsoldiers-for-evil. To complicate that picture, as it were. Company of Orcs also successfully signals its particular subgenre early on, setting up expectations to be fulfilled or subverted later: this is the kind of fantasy that has orcs and castles, knights and lords, and this is made clear within the first handful of paragraphs. We're set up to expect either an epic fantasy or something more along the lines of sword-and-sorcery. Efficient management of expectations is a good thing in a first chapter.
This chapter also has some promising descriptive turns of phrase: "[Sleet] coated the palisades with wet, sticky slush that sloughed downward," "The necromancer looked like a man who hadn't slept in two years, his eyes bloodshot and deeply set inside his skull," "her voice sounding as if she had a hundred pebbles jammed into her throat." But the prose -- and the narrative -- lacks a certain confidence and fluidity: it has a little way to go before it can be said to exceed the sum of its disparate parts.
Let's summarise what happens. The chapter is divided into two sections. In the first section, several orachai (orcs), apparently led by Kniam Krojan, the point-of-view character, arrive outside the well-defended city of Utrahal. They voluntarily disarm in order to enter and meet the woman (Lady Agathendra) who they've come to see. In the second section, the orcs are in a dining hall. Lady Agathendra and her attendants enter. There is discussion 0f the orcs' recent acquisition of a stronghold formerly belonging to a vassal of Lady Agathendra. Politics are exposited. Lady Agathendra requests (with unsubtle coercion) that the orcs rescue her granddaughter from the lord who has abducted her and is holding her hostage, and offers them a tenuous alliance. The reader learns that Krojan is a human and a former special kind of knight, now exiled, not an orc. The chapter concludes with Krojan and the orcs conditionally accepting Lady Agathendra's offer/deal, but not trusting her.
The most significant issue with this chapter is that it lacks any substantial tension. Why begin a narrative here? Nothing happens. Surely there are better ways to introduce one's characters -- Kniam Krojan, his orc comrades, Lady Agathendra -- than at what is to all intents and purposes a lunch meeting? A situation that involves activity, significant character interaction, that personalises tension either in terms of internal or external stakes... The opening section of this chapter, which ends with Krojan and the orcs disarming, promises tension and stakes, but the second section doesn't deliver on those promises. Instead, the lunch meeting becomes exposition central -- and unfortunately, it's the kind of exposition that comes closer to As You Know, Bob, than the compelling delivery of information.

What we've got here, in terms of exposition, is exposition purely in dialogue, rather than dialogue and internal point-of-view narration supporting each other. Rather than narration, basically what separates the dialogue is scene direction: physical cues for which it is difficult, if not impossible, to assign emotional weight and significance.
One of my favorite examples of a scene that in the hands of a lesser talent might prove to be nothing but discussion and exposition is in Lois McMaster Bujold's Paladin of Souls. It's the dinner scene where Ista is maneuvering her way into a pilgrimage on her terms. It succeeds in getting across quite a lot of information and characterisation in a short space -- and I recommend anyone looking to improve their exposition-alongside-dialogue skills go away and study it -- but it remains tense and full of stakes, because it never loses sight of the fact that everyone in that scene wants something, and feels something about whether or not they get what they want.

One of the problems in this chapter is that we have no idea what Krojan wants out of this exchange/meeting. We have no idea what his companions want. What does Krojan think Lady Agathendra wants? What does he think his companions want? Does it conflict with what he wants himself? "Show, don't tell," is useful as far as it goes, but sometimes you have to come out and narrate with some telling.

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

--Liz Bourke
"Sleeps With Monsters" columnist at
Book reviewer for, Strange Horizons, and Ideomancer

Now, my personal preference would be to find another way to open the novel -- another scene or set of scenes that convey the same information without being "lunch meeting" scenes. But improve the exposition and the tension, and this will be well on the way to being a solid opener. A little more consideration to the prose and it would be more solid yet. The prose shows good attention to the vividness of description, but not quite enough to sentence structure. Shorter sentences and tighter punctuation might do better in terms of conveying mood and description.
Take the opening paragraph:

Sleet fell from a grey sky and smacked into the ashlar curtain wall that surrounded the ancient city of Utrahal.  It coated the palisades with wet, sticky slush that sloughed downward and merged with the ground creating a cold mud at the city's main gate.
Kniam Krojan tried to still the uneasiness in his gut as he and his orachai companions approached the gate.

Then see what you can do when you shorten the sentences, and add a few more active verbs and a bit more context:

Utrahal's curtain wall loomed under the cold grey sky. Sleet slicked its ashlar blocks, a thin coating of wet slush that dribbled uninvitingly from the masonry. It chilled the wheel-churned mud through which Kniam Krojan and his orachai companions waded, ankle-deep. They had seen no other travellers for miles, and Kniam struggled to quell the uneasiness in his gut as the road approached the dark stone mouth of the city's main gate.

I'm only playing around here to point out the possibilities; style and voice are very individual questions. But I think Company of Orcs can improve measurably with a very little more effort and attention.  Keep writing, and good luck.

Editor's Choice, Science Fiction

THE REPUBLIC OF JO - CHAPTERS 1 & 2 by Charlotte Noyen

I love a book with a great opening paragraph, based in character and some revealing action. Like this one: 

"Hi," Jo said, gently tapping the thick glass with her fingernail. After all these years part of her was still mildly disappointed when the brain in the jar didn't respond. She didn't quite know what she wanted it to do. They always reminded her of pink jellyfish, the way they floated in the yellow goo with their long tails, so maybe she wanted them to pulse and quiver. The brain did neither.

You don't have to blow something up or start with violence. An arresting image, or a character who wants something, even something as small as a response from a brain in a jar, is enough. 

The brain in a jar is a cliché, so the next great thing this first chapter does is flip the cliché and make it fresh.

"Today's a big day," she said with a bit of a smile, unhooking the jar from the machine and carrying it to the shiny metal table in the middle of the lab. "It's your birthday, kind of. We're going to put you in a body. Isn't that nice? I made it myself."

It was very quiet in the lab. Apart from the subdued hum of the machines that kept the blank brains alive in their jars, the room was so quiet she could almost hear the sparkle of the white walls. The body she had built was stretched out on the table before her, the back of the head and the spine neatly cracked open for the brain to be connected. Suddenly she felt a little silly for talking to it. She knew it was a blank. Alexander had explained it to her often enough. But as she had explained to him countless times, she didn't understand what that meant.

There were two kinds of people who worked in the android lab. The surgeons and biologists who dealt with the brains, and people like her, the engineers who dealt with the shells. Neither one had much to do with the other. So when they explained to her that while the lab-grown brains with their long spinal tails were technically alive but completely blank, she didn't quite know what that meant. She just looked at the rows and rows of pre-people on the shelves and wondered whether they dreamed in their jars.

As soon as I read "blank," I was hooked. The writer has created trust. She's given me an interesting situation, with a twist I haven't seen before, and I'm curious to see what she does next. The following paragraphs between Alexander and Jo, which establish their relationship while explaining more about the brains and setting up conflicts in the lab, are also well done.

The mistake a lot of writers make in this circumstance is to immediately move backward and start explaining the history of the character or the world, so that we can understand more about the context. It's almost always a mistake. Once you create a little narrative momentum in a story (and a little is all that's required -- enough to get me from one paragraph to the next), you want to build on it and keep things moving forward. The writer does that here by introducing the next conflict: Doctor Xiao is going to do the graft (to put the brain inside the body) instead of Jo.

And I love how this conflict is handled too. Jo and Xiao are both adults who can talk to each other. Doctor Xiao explains exactly why he's doing the graft, and Jo reluctantly understands. This conflict is then replaced by a new one that is seriously much bigger.

[Xiao:] "You don't mind my doing the grafting, do you? Doctor Graham asked me to assist Alexander, seeing how it's his first time."

"Oh," she said, and the anger snaking up her spine settled down again. "Well."

"Next time, I promise," he smiled, and she wanted to point out that that's what he had said last time too, but she bit her tongue. He'd almost left when she remembered something and ran after him. He didn't stop walking, but then he hardly ever did.

"Doctor Xiao, did you have a chance to look at my schematics?"

Here's the conflict.  Jo is ambitious. She wants to augment the android bodies in cool ways and make them so much more than human. Doctor Xiao wants none of it. The Council won't approve.

All in all, it's a very effective first chapter, introducing us to characters and the world through a series of interlocking and increasing conflicts, leaving us finally with one that is worthy of a next chapter. Jo wants to see what she can do, and we do too.

But this submission contains a second chapter, introducing a second character, Micah. This second chapter doesn't work nearly as effectively for me, but it's all in small ways. The contrast between Chapters 1 and 2 is a really useful comparison on good openings.

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

--C.C. Finlay
Edtior, Fantasy & Science Fiction

Here's the first paragraph of Chapter 2.

They had told him it had been a cathedral once. He didn't quite know what it had been used for long ago. Looking up at the red brick wall with the crumbling statues of old saints reminded him that there had been a time before him, and really, that was all he needed to know. It was soothing somehow. There had been a time before him, there would be a time after him, and at the end of the day he didn't matter all that much. It made him feel slightly better about his assigned career path

In Chapter 1, Jo's name is the second word. In Chapter 2, we don't get any name in the first paragraph. It's not connected in any way to the previous chapter, so we have no idea who we're reading about at this point. This can be an effective technique, if there's a secret or a big reveal -- but here there isn't. We finally get Micah's name in the (I think) 23rd paragraph of the chapter:

The first to come in was a young man in the standard blue clothes, somewhere in his mid-twenties, looking nervous and guilty as all hell. Micah smiled at him. He always did, because he kept hoping that one day it would help one of them feel a little bit better.

There's no reveal here. There's no introduction to the name, like with someone recognizing him. Micah's name is simply used as a proper noun. It's buried in the middle of a paragraph. After pages and pages of "he," suddenly he's "Micah," probably for clarity since there's another male character who speaks. It comes well after we've been introduced to Matt and Lauren and Audrey by name, and after Micah has had conversations. For the rest of the chapter, he's noted by name.

If you're telling a story in third person, and you're going to withhold key information like a character's name, make sure it's for a good narrative purpose. When you do reveal it, draw attention to it in a way that accentuates that purpose. If there was a reason for withholding Micah's name here, I don't see it. He should just be called Micah from the beginning.

Let's go back to that beginning, that first paragraph, and continue the comparison. Jo speaks. Jo taps on the glass. Jo wants a response. She's active. But Micah? "He" was told. He didn't know. Looking. Was reminded. It was. In addition to being absent by name, his actions are absent in this paragraph -- he's very passive. Other people and things do all the work: tell him, remind him, soothe him.  Again, this sort of thing can sometimes be effective, if it's done for a specific active narrative purpose, but here I'm not sure it is. Take a look at all the qualifiers in this paragraph as well: quite, somehow, all that much, slightly. Whatever impression we are getting is constantly being diminished. 

So the first paragraph of Chapter 2, which is starting a whole new storyline in the book, did not hook me the same way. One of the things I liked about Chapter 1 was that information was revealed through a series of desires and conflicts: Jo wants to get to work on the brain graft, she argues with Alexander, she has the work taken away by Doctor Xiao, she raises her ambitious project with Xiao. All of these take place in the present moment of the story, one leading to the next.

But not for Micah. Four of the next six paragraphs start by going backwards into the past:

He'd been glancing up at the crumbling saints and walking into the old cathedral for over six years…

He'd been a little early that morning and had avoided the morning rush at the security checkpoint…
Not for the first time he wondered…

He had often tried to explain what it was like to read people…

If, as writers, we find ourselves using the past perfect tense a lot at the beginning of our book or chapter, it's almost always a sign that we've chosen the wrong place to start. I feel strongly that's the case here. For me, the chapter picks up speed and gets grounded in the present moment once Micah starts interacting with Audrey, and then especially once they start doing the interviews together.

For my money, everything that's ineffective with the second chapter could be fixed by starting with and expanding the interviews. Call Micah by name in the first paragraph, if not the first sentence. Give him something he wants, even if it's something small – like an easy day because he has a headache. Let the interviews build in difficulty and intensity, like Jo's problems do. Then, at the end of the chapter, if he has to go to the cathedral to recover, because being a psion exhausts him, the scene has an entirely different effect. It's been earned and is part of the present moment of the story. I'm not sure the chapter needs that, but it's one way to rearrange the pieces just to make them work better.

Overall, I really like the first chapter of this and was not excited by the second. But I think the second chapter can be improved a lot with just some minor cuts and rearranging. Building a stronger connection between the two chapters  -- having Micah "read" an android who is trying to come across as human or something (which is where I thought the chapter was going with Matt) -- would tie the pieces together better and make me look forward to the intersections of Micah's story with Jo's.

Whatever you end up doing here, I wish you good luck with the revisions and best of luck with the book when you take it out into the world.

Editor's Choice, Short Story

"The Bow (Part I)" by Senner D

It's the language of "The Bow" that caught my eye this month:  A taut, spare narrative style that fits both the piece's title and the austere post-apocalyptic landscape it inhabits.  However, it's also a long story -- one that's needlessly so for the amount of plot, growth, and development it covers.  This month, I'd like to talk about what it means for a story to be too long for its plot and share some techniques for effectively cutting a wordcount down.

"Too long for its plot" is one of the more common reasons for a short-fiction rejection.  There's a palpable balance between a story that's telling rather than showing too much of its action -- not giving the story enough space to be told -- and one that repeats structurally, feels like it drags by the middle scenes, tends to repeat information, and doesn't move at least two craft elements forward in every scene.  One of the factors we have to balance in our fiction, as well as the five craft elements we're familiar with, is the number of words in our story and the amount of story in our story.

Where "The Bow" is strong is where it's terse and subtextual.  There's a great cadence to the chosen narrative style: That cadence and rhythm takes the story's initial short, sharp, factual sentences, unadorned with motive or explanation, and makes a narrative voice that sounds like a flat, harsh human being -- not just flat or harsh.  They're further balanced with the occasional great image -- "while the sky was still grey with indecision" being a notable one -- and a slight run-on to certain sentences that reinforces the sense of a panicky narrator trying to stay hard and calm.

It's a great example of form following function: Ana is living tense and in austerity, the world is a state of austerity and tension, the bow is tense and austere, and so is the prose.  It's a perfect fit.

However, it's also on the prose level that the bloat in "The Bow" starts being visible.  Scaffolding and hedge words are visible in several of the sentences: for example, "During this time she loaded another bolt in the bow" would be tighter and crisper as "She loaded another bolt in the bow."   Sentences like "He went to move toward it with his good hand but hesitated," and "He went to get up," are putting an extra verb between the reader and the action.  The recurring "seemed to" also intrudes between the readers and the story and damages the realism of the reading experience by sending the subtle message that the author isn't the authority on what's going on.  Yes, I know it's Ana's guess, but the overall buildup reflects on the authority of the narrative itself.

After that layer of trimming (within each sentence) it's good to look at the next level of magnification out -- how sentences interact with each other.  There's a certain amount of structurally overstating the case on the sentence level. "No part of her felt sorry for him. No part of her wanted to help him," in its context, is saying the same thing twice where once is sufficiently powerful.  There are multiple musings or sentences here that could sink into the subtext for a greater impact and shorten the piece without losing content at all.

Zoom out again and it's how each paragraph interacts, and whether they're all moving the story forward or adding something that wasn't there before.  Ana's repeated musings about what Blake's plan might be, while they establish a state of mind the first time as to how she treats strangers as threats, become redundant fast.  They're an easy candidate for shortening or to cut, especially in the presence of repeated strings of dialogue that tell the readers that Ana doesn't trust Blake and has trouble trusting in general, and that Blake isn't going to do her harm.

This process follows on the scene level, on how scenes interact with each other, until the unit you're looking at is the story itself: What is it saying that moves the conversation forward?  What is established here, what is new, what is interesting about this statement?  What does every sentence, paragraph, scene -- the whole story -- add?

"The Bow" has all the makings of something very well crafted, and the worldbuilding is solid enough to bolster what seems to be the real strength of the piece, which is the narrative tone.  It sets up a two-person love-hate dynamic similar to the author's previous Editor's Choice piece and makes that function as a tense push-pull through the story, and it understands that the road story, formally speaking, is less about the journey from Point A to Point B than it is about gradual character growth.  But I'm left wondering what it has to say for itself -- what Ana's sudden-seeming conversion in the last scene is saying -- and where it fits in the larger body of work that is post-apocalyptic narrative.

So my suggestion for "The Bow" is fairly simple, if labor-intensive: Pare down all the fat from its structure and see what the story has to say for itself.  And if the voice it's speaking in is still muddled, or if that exposes flaws in the structure, character relationships, or premises, it'll be that much easier to work on them.

Best of luck!

--Leah Bobet
Author of ABOVE (2012) and AN INHERITANCE OF ASHES (October 2015)

Editor's Choice, Horror

The Dark Filament Ephemeris, Chapter 4 by Russell Connor

One of the major challenges of writing post-apocalyptic fiction these days is distinguishing your work from what's already out there.  This sub-genre has become so popular that many of these worlds feel almost as familiar as our own.  Based on the introductory note with this submission and the chapter, this world seems fresh and distinct, with the Incarnates able to move from one body to another, the threat against the young, and the underlying mystery of the Dark Filament.  The situation is set up well to create suspense, with Korden endangering himself just as he approaches a "safe" age.  The confrontation with the Incarnate in this chapter is quite intriguing, providing a better idea of who the Incarnates are and how they function, but also generating many questions that motivate the reader to keep reading. 

Some elements of the chapter are not as strong, reducing the impact of events.  One is point of view.  The POV feels quite distant at times, preventing me from feeling like I'm there with Redfen going through these things.  The chapter seems intended to be in third-person limited omniscient, limited to Redfen's head, yet I often feel detached from Redfen's body.  For example, when the Incarnate grabs Redfen by the neck and lifts him off the ground, the experience is described as follows:

He felt a curious lifting sensation, and then the Incarnate had him suspended above the ground by his neck in an iron grip that must have been forged in the Stranger's own furnace, held so high his head brushed against the branches of the overhanging tree.  He scrabbled at the fingers, trying to prise them open far enough to catch a breath.

I don't feel at all that I'm in Redfen's body, being choked, unable to breathe.  I feel like I'm watching this from several feet away, as if it's a movie.  This distance removes the urgency from the situation and makes me feel detached from Redfen.  This is a common problem among developing writers, who often visualize scenes as if they're watching a movie.  If we're in third-person limited, then we need to experience things along with the character, as if we are in his body.  That's one of the reasons people read fiction -- to have experiences they could never have in real life. So putting yourself in the character's head and body, and experiencing each scene and moment in that way, is necessary to create a close point of view and a strong virtual experience for the reader.

Sometimes the descriptions and thoughts don't seem to reflect what Redfen would really notice or think, again creating POV distance.  For example, in Part 2, "Allin did the same, his darkly tanned chest glowing in the sunlight."  Is this really what Redfen is going to notice as he waits with arrow nocked to take down the ramlars?  If Redfen is in love with Allin, this would be appropriate.  But I don't think he is, so this description seems forced by the author into the character's head.  I understand the urge to describe Allin; we do need visuals of these other characters.  But being within a viewpoint character's head requires that the author provide only those details the POV character would notice, at the time he would notice them, with the attitude he would have about them.  Because Redfen doesn't seem to be in love with Allin, this description undermines Redfen's character and throws me out of the chapter. 

An example of the viewpoint character having thoughts that don't seem to reflect what he would really be thinking comes with what I call an "As you know, self."  This occurs when a viewpoint character thinks a fact he already knows.  We generally don't think such things to ourselves.  I wouldn't think (in third person), "Jeanne hadn't owned a smartphone until last month, but she now looked forward to texting her friends each day."  Yet Redfen thinks, "Redfen had never heard of the bipedal creatures until he came to live with the Olders, but he looked forward to their succulent meat each year."  This is the author forcing exposition (background information) into the character's head, when it is not a believable thought.  Whenever you're putting exposition into a story, always question first whether the information is absolutely necessary in order for the reader to understand and enjoy the piece.  Generally, it's a good idea to cut exposition down to the bare minimum.  I don't think we need to know that Redfen hadn't heard of these creatures before coming to live with the Olders.  As far as I can tell, that's unnecessary.  On the other hand, his love of the meat helps to establish his motivation here, and it could help to put us more vividly in his body if we convey his longing for the meat.  One might say, "Redfen nocked his first arrow, his mouth watering in anticipation of the succulent meat."  This allows the character, prompted by something that happens in the moment, to react to the fact rather than just thinking the fact.   We react to facts all the time, so this is a more believable type of thought.

A closer viewpoint that better reflects Redfen's character will make the chapter more immediate and involving, strengthen Redfen's character, and increase our emotional attachment to him.

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

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

The other area I'd like to discuss also relates to Redfen's character.  In this chapter, Redfen seems passive and reactive, without a strong goal that he must struggle to achieve.  Readers tend to be involved with characters who are struggling to achieve a goal.  The goal may be good or bad; they may fail or succeed.  But if they don't try, readers won't care.  I don't feel any particular goal from Redfen until the end of the chapter.  He doesn't seem to particularly care about the success of the hunt or to be struggling to ensure it is successful.  He doesn't seem to have the goal of protecting his older comrades, who are less experienced with the world outside the Barrier, and he doesn't struggle to do that. Instead, he seems to have no particular goal, and his thoughts seem to wander over various things.  He reacts when others say or do things, but because these reactions seem random and not related to how they help or hinder his pursuit of a goal, he is reactive.  Instead, the protagonist usually needs to be active, struggling to achieve a goal and reacting to events based on how they affect his struggle.  This helps to create a focused, involving character. 

I can see that Redfen is worried about his son, but since the son isn't there and Redfen doesn't know Korden has gone outside the Barrier, that worry seems unrelated to the present events.  He seems a bit one-dimensional when his main characteristic is worry over Korden even when Korden is seemingly safe.  If Redfen were obsessive-compulsive or suffered from an anxiety disorder, then this could work.  But as is, I think Redfen needs something else to be motivating him in this scene.  The background suggests that Redfen ought to be better at fighting Incarnates than the others, which suggests to me that, if he's grateful for their years of protection, he would be focused on watching over them when they are outside the Barrier.  He would be looking for signs of Incarnates or other threats.  That would provide him with a goal he could struggle to achieve.  I don't understand why he seems the least fit to fight the Incarnates and spends much of the confrontation frozen in inaction.  If this is his issue--he's gotten timid and cowardly by spending all these years in the safety of the Barrier--that could be fascinating, but that's not how he is presented.

I really enjoy the world and the premise, and the novel seems like it will have a lot of exciting action.  I hope this is helpful.


Workshop alumn Fran Wilde is an author and techonology consultant. Her short stories have appeared in Asimov's, Nature, Daily Science Fiction, and Beneath Ceaseless Skies. Her interview series "Cooking The Books" -- about the intersection between food and fiction -- has appeared at Strange Horizons,, and on her website. Fran's first novel, Updraft, is forthcoming from Tor/Macmillan on September 1, 2015. You can also find her on Twitter and Facebook. This month Fran offers ways we can overcome a reluctance to write.

Writing on those days you just don't want to

Donwanna days. I know them well. I hate them. They're the ones where my writing brain draws a line in the sand and says "nope." 

Maybe I wrote double my wordcount the day before. Maybe I have too much other stuff going on this week. Maybe I overslept, underslept, or some combination of both.

Sometimes donwanna days stack up.  For you, too? Come sit by me.

I'm not going to grab you by the shoulders and shout "WRITE ANYWAY." Yelling doesn't work on me --  or, actually, it works in the opposite direction because I'm contrary. Instead, I'm going to share how I write on donwanna days -- and have been since I was an OWW member back in 2010 and 2011.

Like all recipes, you can use or adjust it as you see fit.


Bribes -- to taste. If I get this done, I can do [x]. Where [x] is something my brain likes very much, like chocolate. Or sketching.

Early bird hour --  writing when I'm half asleep is barely like writing at all. And sometimes, when my internal editor is still sleeping, I get really great ideas. Even if I don't, I've gotten words down before the rest of the day starts, which makes it easier to write more later without yelling at myself. A big part of donwanna days is guilt -- that I haven't written enough, that I've been slacking. Early bird hour gets that out of the way.

Friends --  applied liberally. Writing 1k/1hr with friends is a great way to jumpstart a donwanna day. Either in person, over a chat, or on Twitter. Keep an eye out -- sometimes I say I'm doing one on Twitter and I'd love the company.

One social-media blocker -- when I write, I set a timer and block everything (yep, even for 1k/1hr). I use Anti-social, but you can use whatever you want. (I wrote about a few over here:

Five minutes of quiet -- Sitting somewhere quiet for five minutes after telling myself "I'll just write five sentences. Or four," often does the trick when bribes and friends don't. No need to stop at those five sentences.

Action movie music -- Right now, that's mostly Big Hero 6, Pacific Rim, and Carmina Burana (shshshs. Carmina is kind of auxiliary action movie, at least O Fortuna is. The rest of it is equally good.). Turn it on, make like one of the heroes in a movie. The other day on Twitter, Rose Fox called music their writing training montage. I couldn't agree more.

These are the tricks that get me going and get the words flowing. Over time, most writers develop their own ways for getting past a donwanna day.

Keep at it. You'll find yours too.

Publication Announcements

Workshop alum Kathryn Allen wrote to tell us: "My strange western story 'Pale' is going to be part of the Beneath Ceaseless Skies anthology Weird Western Stories From Beneath Ceaseless Skies. And I've sold a story to Pseudopod: 'Unheil' will appear on their site soon."

Charles Coleman Finlay wants us to know that his story "Time Bomb Time" is in the current issue of Lightspeed. He says, "My memory is that I actually workshopped the first draft of this story on OWW back in 2003. (Yes, it took me over a decade to finish and sell it. Don't judge. It was a hard story to write! And I had to become a much better writer first.)"

Rhonda Garcia has big news: "First, I was invited to be a panelist at the Bocas Lit Festival, which is the premiere Lit Festival in my country, and one of the biggest in the Caribbean. When I got home, I had an e-mail waiting that said Lex Talionis had won the Silver Medal for Best Science Fiction/Fantasy/Horror Ebook at this year's Independent Publishers Book Awards. I was completely NOT expecting this, so I'm really thrilled. Lex Talionis would not be out in the world and doing well without the OWW, my publisher Dragonwell Publishing, my fellow writers, or this list. Thanks to all of you for supporting me, nurturing me and most of all, not letting me give up." Go, Rhonda!

Anna Kashina announced: "I just found out that my most recent novel, The Guild of Assassins, has been shortlisted for this year's Prism Award in the fantasy category. The details are here. Last year's Prism Award went to a fellow OWWer, Amy Raby. I feel very honored, and am keeping my fingers crossed!!!" Us too, Anna.

Jodi Meadows revealed the cover for The Mirror King, the next book in her Orphan Queen series, and announced a giveaway for a copy of the ARC.  Jodi says we have to wait for The Mirror King until April of 2016.

JJ Roth wrote to say: "In addition to the Nature sale last month, I've sold a flash piece, 'Barden Bernick, Living the Dream,'to Every Day Fiction."

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.

May 2015 Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Deckland Oz
Submission: Princeling - Chapter 2 v1.1 - Working Title by Owen Richards
Submitted by: Owen Richards

Reviewer: Robert Rapplean
Submission: Dragon's Hope Chapter 3 by Donna Collins
Submitted by: Donna Collins

Reviewer: l.s. johnson
Submission: Labyrinth - Part One by Marci Gass
Submitted by: Marci Gass

On Shelves Now

coverThe Clockwork Crown by Beth Cato (Harper Voyager, June 2015)

Narrowly surviving assassination and capture, Octavia Leander, a powerful magical healer, is on the run with handsome Alonzo Garrett, the Clockwork Dagger who forfeited his career with the Queen's secret society of spies and killers -- and possibly his life -- to save her. Now, they are on a dangerous quest to find safety and answers: Why is Octavia so powerful? Why does she seem to be undergoing a transformation unlike any witnessed for hundreds of years?

The truth may rest with the source of her mysterious healing power -- the Lady's Tree. But the tree lies somewhere in a rough, inhospitable territory known as the Waste. Eons ago, this land was made barren and uninhabitable by an evil spell, until a few hardy souls dared to return over the last century. For years, the Waste has waged a bloody battle against the royal court to win its independence -- and they need Octavia's powers to succeed.

Joined by unlikely allies, including a menagerie of gremlin companions, she must evade killers and Clockwork Daggers on a dangerous journey through a world on the brink of deadly civil war.

Dreams of Shreds and Tatters by Amanda Downum (Solaris, May 2015)cover

When Liz Drake's best friend vanishes, nothing can stop her nightmares. Driven by the certainty he needs her help, she crosses a continent to search for him.

She finds Blake comatose in a Vancouver hospital, victim of a mysterious accident that claimed his lover's life--in her dreams he drowns. Blake's new circle of artists and mystics draws her in, but all of them are lying or keeping dangerous secrets.

Soon nightmare creatures stalk the waking city, and Liz can't fight a dream from the daylight world: to rescue Blake she must brave the darkest depths of the dreamlands. Even the attempt could kill her, or leave her mind trapped or broken.

And if she succeeds, she must face the monstrous Yellow King...


coverPathfinder Tales: Forge of Ashes by Josh Vogt (Paizo Publishing LLC, June 2015)

A decade ago, the dwarf warrior Akina left her home in the Five Kings Mountains to fight in the Goblinblood Wars. Now, at long last, she's returning home, accompanied by Ondorum, a silent companion of living stone. But once you've traveled the world, can pastoral pastimes and small-town suitors ever be truly satisfying?

Adding to Akina's growing discomfort is the fact that her father has disappeared into the endless caverns beneath the city. In an effort to save him, Akina and Ondorum must venture below the surface themselves -- and into a danger greater than they could ever have imagined!

From bold, new voice Josh Vogt comes a fantastic adventure of subterranean battle and the bonds of friendship, set in the award-winning world of the Pathfinder Roleplaying Game.


Enter The Janitor (The Cleaners, Volume 1) by Josh Vogt (WordFire Press, May 2015)cover

Clean-freak college student Dani Hashelheim never imagined she'd discover her latent magical ability in, of all places, a bathroom. But when she ducks into the ladies' room at the library, she's put in the crossfire between an elderly janitor and a ravenous muck-monster that emerges from the sink. Dani's previously unknown power manifests in self-defense, and she floods and burns down the library -- at the same time. Enter Ben, the janitor, who works for the Cleaners, a supernatural sanitation company that keeps reality tidy and safe...and a company Dani now works for as well, whether she wants to or not. This puts a significant crimp in her dream to attend med school and become a doctor. Nor is Ben happy, since it's his duty to help Dani adapt to the job and learn to control her chaotic talent before it kills them both. Dani barely has time to try on her new company uniform before she and Ben are hunted down by a cult that wants to cleanse all life from the planet, and believes her power provides the means to do so. While fighting to survive the cult's increasingly violent recruitment attempts, the pair must battle dust devils, navigate a maze of mystical sewers, face down trash golems -- and scrub the occasional toilet.

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

Ruth Nestvold, workshop member and published short-story author, on POV (point of view) in fiction

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
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