Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

September 2015 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info





If you ask most readers what they like best about any given science fiction or fantasy novel, they usually name one of two things: the characters or the worldbuilding. Novelists pay a lot of attention to those two components of novel writing for just that reason.

Authors strive to create likeable and memorable characters. We work equally as hard (often harder) to come up with ideas for unique worlds. A story told against the backdrop of a strange, wonderful, even frightening place that none of us have ever seen or imagined is what readers of SF & F hope to find each time they open the cover of a new book.

In this month's Spotlight, OWW alum Fran Wilde tells us a little about how she came up with the unique and critically aclaimed worldbuilding in her debut novel, Updraft.

Until next month, keep learning and keep writing.  If you have a tip for building those unique fictional worlds, write it up and share it with the workshop via the newsletter (send submissions to the address below).  We love to share member tips.

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

Challenge dictator Leah Quire wants us all to forget all the rules and let loose this month: "Write 1,000 or so words of the absolute worst writing you can imagine! Do everything you have ever been told not to do.  In a word, go, like, crazy! Ok, that's three words. It's Fall! Fall off the writing wagon!"

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) 


Workshop alum Joshua Palmatier's small press Zombies Need Brains has a new project that is open to submissions. The ALIEN ARTIFACTS and WERE- anthology Kickstarter has made its goal. If you have a story idea that fits one of the anthology themes, now is the time to send it in for consideration. The press is looking for stories of up to 7,500 words and pays 6 cents per word. Full details here.

Uncanny Magazine is reopening to submissions on September 2, 2015. It is looking for stories of up to 6,000 words and pays 8 cents a word. Full details here.

Imaginate is reading submissions for the December 2015 issue. The theme is weather, and a photo prompt can be found on the home page. Themes for issues in 2016 can also be found on the Imaginate web site. They pay 5 cents per word for short stories up to 2500 words. 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

Under A Dead Moon, Chapter 01, by Lindsay Smith

I choose Under A Dead Moon, Chapter 01, for my Editor's Choice review this month because it is an interesting and useful example of a chapter that is very high quality but is nonetheless in need of feedback for characterisation and "freshness." (Which just goes to demonstrate that even the very good can need to be "different" or "better" when it comes to selling a book.)

The chapter opens with shadows whispering in the garden, "pooling... where Fierine's father died." The reader learns that the shadows are cleared away every month by "Justicars," but always return by "Dead Moon Night."

The viewpoint character, Fierine, is packing for a trip. Over the course of the chapter the reader learns that she is from an apparently aristocratic family, that she has an antagonistic relationship with her mother, that she is leaving for a year to the "Silver Crescent" to study some form of magic; that she has ambitions to stay longer, follow in her father's footsteps, and become something called the "Weaver of Moonlight," but her mother would prefer her to court a suitable boy; that she is being blackmailed by one of her mother's acquaintances, with whom she has a prior --  implied underage -- sexual relationship that she regrets and who wants her to aid his political ambitions; that there is a war -- or several -- being waged by the empire in which Fierine lives; that there is some secret attached to her father's death and his relationship to a person named Kileros; that the shadows have some power and some danger; that her father's research notes --  which her mother promised her  --  have been confiscated by the Justicars; that the shadows come from somewhere and whisper to Fierine, offering her power; and that at night on Dead Moon Night, the shadows attack in some manner. At the close of the chapter, Fierine resolves to find the "truth," about her father and about the shadows, and resolves to "seize whatever power she needed" to fight the shadows.

For a relatively short chapter, it conveys a great deal of information. For the most part, it does this very effectively: the interpersonal interactions are nicely judged, with the exception of the interactions between Fierine and her mother (of which more in a moment), giving a fine balance between tension, personality, and narrative movement.

However, there are a couple of points where the chapter is rather unclear about the nature of its worldbuilding. With regard to the shadows, the end of the chapter implies a state of affairs that contradicts the one implied at its beginning: if the shadows attack, if they are kept out by the city's wards, how are they pooling in the garden at the beginning of the chapter? If it is not the shadows attacking, but some more complicated manifestation, this could do with some exposition; if it is the shadows themselves, then the apparent contradiction needs to be addressed --  and made less contradictory.

I think a little more exposition in general or a little more thorough implication, to take advantage of fantasy's generally high tolerance for explaining things, might situate readers a little better. What's a soleur or a soleuse? Is it a top aristocrat-type, or a sorcerer-type, or both? What is Dead Moon Night? (And for that matter, what is the Sun Court and how do the soleurs relate to it? Although that might be a matter to address later.)

Regarding Fierine and her mother, Medrineau: their interactions don't, quite, feel pointed enough. The text tells us that Fierine feels "reckless," that she's prepared to incite an argument, but their skirmishes don't feel sharp and brittle in the way of dysfunctional families: there's no sense that Medrineau has the power to really hurt Fierine, on an emotional level, or vice versa. It's oddly bloodless. And it's been my experience that when you argue with someone with whom you have some emotional investment, over something in which you are emotionally invested, where there's a history of conflict... it's painful, and infuriating, and you punch each other's buttons. None of that comes across in Fierine's interactions with Medrineau: they're oddly impersonal, and don't carry the weight of a history of repeated conflicts or failed compromises, large and small. Fierine's interaction with the soleur of House Heaume carries (creepy, disturbing) weight in a way her interactions with her mother don't. Digging down into the dynamic between Fierine and Medrineau, exploring their relationship a little more, might be one way to make it "fresher," or to get a new angle on the characterization. 

The prose in this chapter is solid, quality stuff. I think, however, that the opening couple of paragraphs are perhaps a touch overwrought, and could be dialled back. And more specificity -- power, bargains, gift, owed: these words don't give readers anything solid to latch on to. (I might be poking uneasily at them, though, because I personally like my malevolent threats and sources of conflict to be well-defined. Mileage varies.)

I wish you and your agent the best of luck in selling this project.

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

Editor's Choice, Science Fiction

Softly into the Storm, Chapters 1-3 by Jeanne Haskin 

Stories succeed (and by succeed, I mean they find an audience, sometimes an enthusiastic one) because of the things they do right. Over and over again, I've seen writers start selling fiction once they focus on their strengths and become exceptional at them. But that doesn't mean you can completely ignore or neglect your weaknesses. Sometimes a writer just has to put in the effort to get better at something because it's holding them back.

The first chapters of Softly into the Storm have a lot of strengths, including complex characters and an interesting plot. They also starts off with a strong hook. In three paragraphs we move from one problem  --  Lineah discovering sabotage at her farm  --  to a worse problem  --  gunshots and people coming to attack her. And in six paragraphs we get a third problem when her hands are slashed open. The story stays immersed in the present moment, constantly moving forward. That's a heckuva strength.

Also note the excellent paragraphing. Paragraphing is one of the least discussed and most often over-looked skills in writing fiction, and these chapters are a good example of how to do it right. Each paragraph contains a distinct action or set of actions. The paragraphs are longer when the pace needs to slow down, and then shorter when it needs to speed up, as here:

Joreh hacked off the bonds on his legs then bolted out of the chair, which toppled over backward, landing with a thud on the floor.
He kicked aside broken bottles and crouched beside Lineah, who lay in a pool of cooking fluids. With the smell of oil strong in his nose, he lifted her like a baby, one arm beneath her knees, the other cradling her shoulders. Her head lolled back on his chest before he laid her on the kitchen table.

Lineah's eyelids fluttered closed, her face flushed with fever, runnels of sweat and oil pooling around her head.

"No!" Joreh shook her by the shoulders until her eyes opened to slits. "I need you to stay conscious."

"Can't," Lineah said.

I also really like the way exposition and backstory are integrated into the flow of the story. The two main characters, Lineah and Joreh, know a lot more than the reader does. But because we're deep in their POVs, information is revealed to us only in the moments when they would be thinking about it.

"Joreh's gaze followed the ceiling fan twisting lazily above him, avoiding the ransacked cupboards and overturned cabinets as Lineah cast about on the floor to find a kitchen knife. His blood roared in his ears while he wondered if she would kill him. He had seen her slit a man's throat before."

...and then we get exactly one paragraph of that memory, whole and complete, before an effective hand-off right back into the present moment of the story. The story never slows down or stops to "fill us in." I love this. I wish I saw more writers do this sort of thing well.

Finally, when you read this, pay attention to the way the chapter-to-chapter hand-offs are done. Even though we shift POVs, we stay firmly grounded in the present moment of the story, and the new POV adds tension to the scene. It's very smooth -- there's no reset. This is a great technique and keeps the reader turning pages.

But...  But... But despite all these strengths, all these things I love, if I saw this submission in a slush pile I would probably stop reading after a couple pages because the sentence-level writing falls apart too often. In most places, it is just good enough. The rest of the time it drops me right out of the story.

That's the bad news.

The good news is that writing good sentences is something anyone can learn. This is a problem that can be fixed, so that all those excellent things pop.

There's no way to discuss sentence-level writing except with examples, but I don't want to pick apart individual sentences as much as I want to point out categories of problems. Every one of these problems occurs in these chapters more than once. They provide specific areas to focus on to get better.

First, we have sentences that try to do too much, like the first sentence of the story: "Lineah plunged canvas-gloved hands into the crumbling ash and soil surrounding new plants given life by the overnight rains."

There are too many details here, four consecutive uses of the adjective-noun structure, three of them preposition-adjective-noun, all piled up with equal weight, which gives the reader no idea where to focus. Are the gloves important? The ash? The plants? The rain? At the simplest level, the "overnight rain" is the detail that wrecks the sentence. It pulls us out of the present moment and back to last night. It's position at the end of the sentence adds emphasis to it, making last night seem like the important detail (which it isn't). And it gives us a sensation  --  rain and wetness --  that contradicts the earlier image of "crumbling ash," which made me think of dryness and heat.

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

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

Editor's Choice, Short Story

"Once There Were Elephants" by Ivan Record

"Once There Were Elephants" caught my attention this month for its strong use of voice and implication -- and for unfortunately showcasing one of my most common reasons to reject a submission while editing: the whole story works mostly to build up to a punchline at the end.  So this month I'd like to talk about what a punchline story is, how to diagnose a twist ending that works -- or one that won't -- and how to potentially dig out something deeper and more satisfying from that idea.

"Once There Were Elephants" has a lot in its corner: Its opening line is a highly effective hook without feeling like it's trying too hard.  The narrative voice is particularly well-balanced: there's enough observation without the equivalent understanding of social consequences to make me believe Amelia as a child narrator, but there's also enough unemotional pragmatism there to make her feel plausibly off -- and justify her mother's panicked phone call and trip to the zoo.  Centering a story around a trip to a zoo to create empathy for life in a child also feels like a fairly unique approach for a science fiction story, and that unusualness pulled me through and promised more than a standard read.

There's also solid thematic weight built into "Once There Were Elephants": it's readable as a very tidy reversal of the classic Asimovian conversation about robots and their relationship to human beings, especially around the question of a robot's capacity for empathy.  That reading builds it into a larger SFnal conversation, which is always a great thing to be able to do with our work: give it depth and context.

Where it fell down for me was, as above, at the end, where the whole of the story is revealed to have been buildup to a twist ending: Humans are extinct, and Amelia's emotional problems exist because she's an android.

There's a term for this between editors, and it's called a punchline story -- describing a story which is built up to that one ending line in the structure of a joke, rather than a more standard way of thinking about story: a person in a situation with a problem.  Why do punchline stories rack up so many rejection letters?  There are a few pretty frequent flaws in the form.

For example, in the case of "Once There Were Elephants," Amelia and her mother are androids, and the human race is extinct -- but unfortunately, as a reader, I don't see why that matters inside the story or out of it.  Both Amelia and her mother know what they are all the way through, so the fact that they're androids isn't a point of growth or revelation for them or characters around them.  For readers, there's nothing in that point that affects anything outside of the story or can be carried with you.  It is exceedingly difficult to create the kind of satisfaction or payoff that makes a story matter to readers when it's structured to build up to a surprise.

Further, punchline stories tend to destroy their own worldbuilding principles once readers give them some thought: If humans are extinct and Amelia is an android -- as are, presumably, all the people around her -- then why is her lack of empathy such a cause for panic?  Since empathy isn't a base state for machines, would there not be a fix for this based in their own physiology?  Why is Amelia not fully functional when it comes to empathy?  Why are the other children at the zoo fully functional?  The entire logic of the story falls apart in short order once its own worldbuilding rules are applied, and all the characterization that's built to mislead the readers -- to keep Amelia and her mother's identities obscured until it's time for the reveal -- just stops making any sense in the context of the world they're in.

The fairly common effect is to be left wondering just what precisely the point was, and that's unfortunately where I found myself with "There Once Were Elephants" despite the very strong craft in characterization, voice, and pacing.

If considering a story that runs on a twist ending, there are two good diagnostics I'd recommend for figuring out whether that twist is going to work well or not. The first: Ask what your story is saying. As writers, we should be able to answer that question for every piece we write.  That doesn't mean a switch to message-centric fiction, and it doesn't mean every piece has to break new ground on the big questions of life -- which can also be a major pressure when we're finding our voices -- but it does mean checking our work for a certain substance.  The answer to be careful of -- the one you don't want to find -- is the "It's just funny!" or "It was clever, and look how clever it is!"  While it can be hard to resist showing off the intricacy of our structures and ideas to readers, the author's cleverness is rarely what draws readers to a piece of work or makes it last for them.

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

--Leah Bobet
Author of Above (2012) and An Inheritance of Ashes (October 2015)

Editor's Choice, Horror

"Nox" by Tim Hawken

Many writers fail to consider the power a short story can gain from following the three unities described in Aristotle's Poetics: unity of action, unity of time, and unity of place.  Unity of action means following a single stream of action without subplots.  Unity of time means setting your story within a short period of time, ideally under twenty-four hours.  Unity of place means setting your story in a single location.  Short stories generally require compression to be both short and powerful, and these three unities can help provide that compression, preventing your story from sprawling and taking on more than it can handle.  The goal of a short story is usually to create a powerful impact at the end, and that impact is generated by having all the elements work together in a unified way.  The three unities help your story elements to remain focused and unified.

 I'm not saying that every story must follow these three principles, but like many writing "rules," they exist for a reason, and if you're going to break them, you should make the decision to do so mindfully and make sure you're offering the readers some pleasure greater than the one you are denying them by breaking the rule.   

"Nox" offers the reader a strong focus through unity of action.  The entire story follows co-workers Ethan and Suravi as Ethan saves Suravi from suicide and they both deal with the consequences.  The story also offers nice unity of time, with the story taking place in less than a single day.  This compression adds an intensity and urgency to events.  "Nox" doesn't quite fulfill Aristotle's requirements for unity of place, since the action moves from a factory to the streets to a basement.  To fulfill unity of place, the story would have to remain in the factory.  I could imagine a great story being set entirely in the factory, but it would be a different story.  In this story, the characters remain within a few blocks, so the setting is still fairly focused, and since the other two unities are fulfilled, the story feels pretty unified.

Another strength of "Nox" is the world, with the Oligarchs, perpetual winter, and freezing nights.  That feels quite intriguing and fresh.  I also enjoy the turn in the plot when Suravi cuts off her own hand to free herself.

I'd like to discuss two areas where the story can be improved.  These correlate to two unities I would add to those provided by Aristotle:  unity of protagonist and unity of viewpoint.

Many authors are drawn to story ideas involving more than one protagonist.  While these can sometimes work (all rules can be broken with sufficient skill, if you provide the reader a greater pleasure than the one you are taking away), it's very difficult to write a strong short story with more than one protagonist.  The protagonist is the character who faces a problem and is struggling to achieve a goal, the one in whom our primary interest resides.  We are concerned with whether the protagonist will achieve his goal, so we feel suspense, concern, and other emotions based on our connection to the protagonist.  When our interest is split between two or more characters, the emotional intensity of those bonds tend to be weaker, so we are less involved.  In a short story, it's very difficult to strongly develop more than one protagonist in the space allowed. 

In this story, I think Ethan is intended to be the protagonist, but in reality, Ethan and Suravi are co-protagonists and the story doesn't provide the space for either to be sufficiently developed.  The reason I say they are co-protagonists is that Ethan is passive at the climax and Suravi solves the problem for him.  The protagonist usually needs to solve (or be the one to fail to solve) his own problem to create a satisfying ending.  The story seems to want to be about both Ethan and Suravi, and that leads to two characters who are not as strong as they need to be.

For me, Suravi is not a believable character.  She seems to be doing what the author wants her to do (attempting suicide, giving up the attempt, needing to be dragged, wanting to live, feeling terror,  cutting off her own hand and killing two cannibals, and then fainting).  She seems to be going through  too many changes in this short period of time without sufficient motivation.  Her change seems like a character arc for a novel, not a short story.  Character changes in short stories generally need to be small, so we can believe they could occur within this brief action.  One possibility would be to have Suravi following another co-worker from the factory at the end of the day.  Ethan follows Suravi because he wants to ask her out, or whatever.  The co-worker is the one attempting suicide, and Suravi tries to stop her, with Ethan joining in when he realizes what's happening.  But they fail to save the co-worker.  Now they are both stuck outside for the night and both desperate to survive.  This would require a less radical character arc for Suravi and one more appropriate to a subsidiary character.

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

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


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, was released by Tor/Macmillan on September 1, 2015. She was kind enough to tell us a little bit about how Updraft came to be.

The worldbuilding in Updraft has been praised as unique and innovative. What inspired you to write about a human civilization living—or better yet, surviving—far above the clouds in towers of bone?

I was given a prompt at the Viable Paradise workshop about megacities. I'd been talking with one of the workshop instructors, Steven Brust, about Milton (I'd done an honors thesis on Paradise Lost, way back when, and we'd been talking about Pandemonium and falls from great heights). At first, I began writing my megacity as a mechanical automaton, but a false one. Then I realized what I really wanted to write about was more alive, and the towers of living bone appeared somewhere between midnight and one in the morning after the assignment was given. Could have been too much coffee, combined with my reading, past studies, and Steven Brust.  Whatever it was, I had fun writing about the towers and the flying culture that lived in them – and people had fun reading it, which meant a lot to me.

Djonn, a character from that first story, lives on in later stories (though not in Updraft), but another character, named Miltin, has long since disappeared, thank goodness. That was a terrible wordplay.

How much research did you do in order to design the wings that your protagonist Kirit, and everyone else, uses for flight between towers?

I took a long look at the history of man-made wings – especially at what hadn't worked. I found that one of the things early inventors often forgot was the tail, so I made sure to include a tail/footsling in the wing design. Also, I studied the way pulleys and cams could be used to adjust fine controls like wing-tip curve. I wanted them to feel real, like usable tools, but to still be crafted items, not machined. I was delighted to find that human interest in flight and wings goes back exceptionally far and is not limited to that one guy in Italy. I posted some of my research on iO9.

One of the major threats to all of the towers survival are the skymouths. Skymouths are definitely alpha predators on the world of the towers. Are they based on any creatures readers might recognize, or are they wholly creations of your imagination?

coverSkymouths have cephalopod ancestry, and certainly kraken cousins as well. They fly. They have no beaks, and instead have row upon row of glass teeth. But they, unlike their cousins, are wholly invisible, their skin camouflaging them completely until they open their mouths and you see the red maw opening in the sky.

You know how when you're swimming in a lake or ocean and suddenly you think, "Well what if something big came up from below, right near me?" Does anyone else worry about that sort of thing besides me? When the thought strikes, I can't get out of the water fast enough, and I love swimming. So skymouths are kind of like that, except that they don't just come from below, they can appear almost anywhere. And they're bitey.

The Singers, taken as a whole, struck me as mixed blessing, not only for Kirit, but for everyone in the towers. They protect the towers from skymouths, they maintain traditions, but they also rule with an iron fist. In many ways, the Singers gave the book a dystopian slant. Is that what you intended from the beginning, or did that develop as you were writing?

I didn't want a twirly-moustache bad guy. The world isn't black and white, and the Singers, while they're scary, have good elements too. They see themselves as a means of keeping the city safe, both from itself and its inhabitants, and from outside threats. I'm not sure it's solely a –topian premise (u- or dys-) but I think in this case, the Singers are past the point of doing only good. Plus, the Singers aren't a uniform group. There are internal politics... and I find that interesting for many reasons.

Your protagonist, Kirit, comes into her own as the book progresses, but I didn't see this as a conventional coming-of-age story. Kirit's survival, and the survival of those she cares about, is on the line far too often for me to think of this book that way. How did you view Kirit's story as you were writing?

I wanted her to know what she wanted, to be determined. There's something to be said for the drama of having goals, and drive, and having to change your path despite all this. But Kirit doesn't back down, she charges ahead. It's a different kind of character building. But also? I wanted Kirit to be intensely connected to her community, and to see it for what it really is. Kirit and her friend Nat are not perfect, nor are they singled out for greatness, but they do participate in the activities of their quadrant -- and when they begin to break laws, they have to face the consequences.

What's next for Fran Wilde?

I'm working on book 3, and heading into copy edits on book 2. Meantime, I have a short story coming out in Beneath Ceaseless Skies set in this world, called "Bent the Wing, Dark the Cloud," on September 3. And I have a novella coming out next spring or summer from called "The Jewel and Her Lapidary." Cloudbound, the next book in the Bone Universe series, will be out in Fall 2016.

You can keep track of me, and jump in and say hi, over at, on facebook as franwildewrites, and on twitter as @fran_wilde.

Publication Announcements

Scott Beckman wanted us to know: "My high-fantasy epic novel, called Wings of the Sathakos, is available in ebook on Amazon. You can find it here."

David Busboom's story "The Vindication of Y'ha-nthlei" will appear in Whispers From The Abyss, October 2015.

OWW member Robert Graves has great news:"I got 3rd place in the second quarter 2015 Writers of the Future Contest with my OWW-critted story "Freebot." Thanks again to all that helped me with it."

John Meszaros says:"I've been a contributor to the Workshop for several years now.  From 2013-2014, I posted my book, At Yomi's Gate, for critique. At Yomi's Gate is now available through Amazon, Kindle and my Createspace store, with Nook coming soon. You can find it here."

Aimee Picchi's story "Frank Discussions with your Genie" will appear in a forthcoming issue of Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine.

Seth Skorkowsky's short story collection Sea Of Quills will be available from Ragnarok Publications in October 2015.

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.

August 2015 Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Submission: Safe Inside by Christine Lucas
Submitted by: Christine Lucas

Reviewer: Steve Brady
Submission: Chapter 22 of To Hear Even Your Cry by Allan Dyen-Shapiro
Submitted by: Allan Dyen-Shapiro

Reviewer: Shiloh Carroll
Submission: CROWS' GAMBIT by Michael Glaviano
Submitted by: Michael Glaviano

Reviewer: Jason Kimble
Submission: The Allocution of Bob Hayward (C4C) by Floris Kleijne
Submitted by: Floris Kleijne

Reviewer: Ethan Cale
Submission: Air Gets Into Everything CH 1 by Jay Ant
Submitted by: Jay Ant

Reviewer: Michael Glaviano
Submission: Necromancer's Blood - Chs. 2-3 by Shiloh Carroll
Submitted by: Shiloh Carroll

Reviewer: John Piebel
Submission: WORSE THAN WICKED - Chapters 4 and 5 by Kathryn Jankowski
Submitted by: Kathryn Jankowski

On Shelves Now

The House of Shattered Wings by Alliette de Bodard (Roc, August 2015)

In the late twentieth century, the streets of Paris are lined with haunted ruins, the aftermath of a Great War between arcane powers. The Grand Magasins have been reduced to piles of debris, Notre-Dame is a burnt-out shell, and the Seine has turned black with ashes and rubble and the remnants of the spells that tore the city apart. But those that survived still retain their irrepressible appetite for novelty and distraction, and The Great Houses still vie for dominion over France's once grand capital.

Once the most powerful and formidable, House Silverspires now lies in disarray. Its magic is ailing; its founder, Morningstar, has been missing for decades; and now something from the shadows stalks its people inside their very own walls.

Within the House, three very different people must come together: a naive but powerful Fallen angel; an alchemist with a self-destructive addiction; and a resentful young man wielding spells of unknown origin. They may be Silverspires' salvation—or the architects of its last, irreversible fall. And if Silverspires falls, so may the city itself.


Walk on Earth a Stranger (Gold Seer Trilogy) by Rae Carson (Greenwillow Books, September 2015)

A young woman with the magical ability to sense the presence of gold must flee her home, taking her on a sweeping and dangerous journey across Gold Rush era America. Walk on Earth a Stranger begins an epic saga from one of the finest writers of young adult literature.

Lee Westfall has a secret. She can sense the presence of gold in the world around her. Veins deep beneath the earth, pebbles in the river, nuggets dug up from the forest floor. The buzz of gold means warmth and life and home—until everything is ripped away by a man who wants to control her.

Left with nothing, Lee disguises herself as a boy and takes to the trail across the country. Gold was discovered in California, and where else could such a magical girl find herself, find safety?


Updraft by Fran Wilde (Tor, September 2015)

In a city of living bone rising high above the clouds, where danger hides in the wind and the ground is lost to legend, a young woman must expose a dangerous secret to save everyone she loves.

Welcome to a world of wind and bone, songs and silence, betrayal and courage.

Publisher's Weekly Fall 2015 SF, Fantasy & Horror Top 10:

"This splendid debut, in which winged traders fly among the spires of a city grown from bone is a lyrical tale of politics, secrets, family love, and personal triumph."

"... The world itself is as much a character as any of the individuals within its pages, and in the grand tradition of science fiction and fantasy, the main character's growth and struggles are bound up with learning more about the world. ... I galloped through it to find out what came next.... With Updraft, Fran Wilde has written a compelling debut, and I for one look forward to seeing what she does next." - Locus May 2015

coverAsh & Bramble by Sarah Prineas (Harper Teen, September 2015)

The tale of Cinderella has been retold countless times. But what you know is not the true story. Sarah Prineas's bold fairy-tale retelling is a dark and captivating world where swords are more fitting than slippers, young shoemakers are just as striking as princes, and a heroine is more than ready to rescue herself before the clock strikes midnight.

Pin has no recollection of who she is or how she got to the Godmother's fortress. She only knows that she is a Seamstress, working day in and out to make ball gowns fit for fairy tales. But she longs to forsake her backbreaking servitude and dares to escape with the brave young Shoemaker.

Pin isn't free for long before she's captured again and forced to live the new life the Godmother chooses for her -- a fairy-tale story, complete with a charming prince -- instead of finding her own happily ever after.


Twelve Kings in Sharakhai: The Song of Shattered Sands: Book One by Brad Beaulieu (Daw, September 2015)

Sharakhai, the great city of the desert, center of commerce and culture, has been ruled from time immemorial by twelve kings -- cruel, ruthless, powerful, and immortal. With their army of Silver Spears, their elite ompany of Blade Maidens and their holy defenders, the terrifying asirim, the Kings uphold their positions as undisputed, invincible lords of the desert. There is no hope of freedom for any under their rule.

Or so it seems, until Çeda, a brave young woman from the west end slums, defies the Kings' laws by going outside on the holy night of Beht Zha'ir. What she learns that night sets her on a path that winds through both the terrible truths of the Kings' mysterious history and the hidden riddles of her own heritage. Together, these secrets could finally break the iron grip of the Kings' power...if the nigh-omnipotent Kings don't find her first.


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

To Be or Not to Be (Critiqued) by Mary Rosenblum, author of The Drylands, Chimera, and The Stone Garden, on writers' groups and workshops.

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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