July 2008 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

On Shelves Now

Membership Info



Depending on which hemisphere you're in, you might be baking in the sun or shivering in your boots, but chances are good the kids are out of school and thoughts have turned to vacations.

Writers never take a vacation--not a real one anyway. If we're not writing, we're plotting, researching, and sometimes daydreaming. Daydreams are an important part of every writer's job, though only another writer would see it that way. I have yet to convince my significant other that I'm doing meaningful work while staring out the window.

Even if you can't get away from your normal routine, give yourself permission to daydream. That's where gold is mined.

As always, contact us if you have any questions, publication announcements, or ideas for improving the OWW Newsletter.

Maria Zannini, newsletter editor
newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com

Monthly Writing Challenge

From member Cathy Freeze: July's challenge is to write a post colonialist story from a colonialist POV without being didactic or pandering. Can you do it? Place the words Colonialist POV in the title of your submission so that people can find it.

Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don't forget to stretch yourself. If you normally write fantasy, try SF. If you've never tried space opera, here's your chance. It doesn't have to be great. It's all about trying new things. There's no word limit, no time limit, no nothin'. Just have fun.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Maria (newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com) or Walter Williams via the discussion list. For more details on the challenges, check the OWW Writer Space.


The 2008 Backspace Writers Conference (August 7 & 8, NYC) brings together literary agents, acquisitions editors, bestselling authors, and publishing professionals for a two-day program of workshops, panels, and networking in the heart of the publishing world.  The cost for the two-day event is $395. Mystery Writers of America is offering their members a $50 discount. Attendance is limited to 200, but there's still room! Visit their web site for more information: www.backspacewritersconference.com

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 Gary A. Braunbeck, John Klima, and Karin Lowachee. 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!

Editors' Choices, Fantasy

TIMEKEEPER, Chapter 16, by Lindsay Kitson (Cross-genre)

Every month I find myself very close to picking a chapter from Lindsay Kitson’s novel TIMEKEEPER. There’s something irresistible about the world she’s created and the people who populate it.  This month, I couldn’t let it pass my by again.  I also like the scope of the novel. The chapter I’ve picked here is radically different in setting and tone from the earlier chapters.  That’s the way life is. As you go through each day, each week, each month, each year, you change.  You no longer look at things the same way. If you add awakening to special powers and secret societies, I’m sure things would be even more different.  That’s the way life is for Morgan. Once a normal human, she has awakened to her power as a Timekeeper.

This chapter opens with a great description of the cold. Morgan states that being “Outside of time [one of the powers of the Timekeepers] was cold, but nothing compared to the winter on the Canadian shield.” Even though there isn’t a reader alive who could know what it felt like to be outside of time, they can understand that it’s radically different from going through time slowly and naturally. And to say that something radically different from normal life isn’t nearly as cold as a place a reader could actually visit, well, that makes that real place sound darn cold.

It is clear that Morgan is not from a cold place. And that she is not happy to be in a cold place. Everything about the cold fascinates her; from the polar bear swims to the children cooperating with each other to build snowmen and forts, this opening part of the chapter reads very much how I would expect someone not native to the cold to react to it.

After all this wonderful writing about the cold, suddenly it’s Spring. While Kitson doesn’t need to go into the minutia of what happens in winter time with the Timekeepers, there needs to be something to move the reader from winter to spring.

In the same place, when the reader is asked to jump from winter to spring, we learn that a ceremony has taken place. I think Kitson should describe the events in the ceremony. Morgan’s ceremony is part of a larger ceremony that the entire tribe looks forward to. If the tribe looks forward to it, so will the reader.

Similarly, another character, Hannah, talks Morgan into “wearing the conventional navy blue dress that would match the Keeper’s uniform.” To me, this seems important. And it seems important that it’s implied that Morgan did not want to wear this dress to begin with and had to be convinced. You will not be surprised to hear that I would like to see this conversation that would be rife with conflict written out for the reader.

Morgan and the tribe start the chapter in Winterhome, but they need to go to Summerhome for the ceremony. I was having quite a bit of difficulty visualizing the two locations. In my mind, Winterhome and Summerhome would not be near each other to canoe from one to the next. But that’s me thinking of Winterhome as a condo in Arizona and Summerhome as a cottage on a lake in Wisconsin. The two Timekeeper homes could very well be close to each other. A little physical description, even a reminder if this was laid out earlier, will help the reader set in his or her mind where events are occurring.

Partway through the chapter, Morgan and Captain Windermere are speaking to each other and their conversations are part of the same paragraph.  The paragraph begins with “Pretty good.” If two separate people speak, their words have to be in separate paragraphs. This could be some weird formatting due to posting the story online.  If not, this needs to be fixed so the reader knows for sure that the person speaking has changed.

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

John Klima, Editor, Electric Velocipede 


Editors' Choices, Science Fiction

PINK NOISE, Chapters 1 and 2, by Leonid Korogodski

This submission intrigued from the get-go. The epigraph in the beginning and the first paragraph effectively hooked the reader, and as the chapter(s) progressed, what began as an intimate concern – a girl in a coma – expanded out to exotic worlds, embittered enemies, new technology and a grand plot. The characters are all wonderfully reined in – for the first couple chapters of a book, it doesn't pay to smatter the narrative with too many major players – and evocatively rendered. Nathi is a Zulu posthuman, able to orchestrate his way into minds, and in this case, the mind of a child who herself happens to be a 'parahuman.' In a post-mortality age, the author adeptly handles the concept of non-corporeal existence without making it so foreign it becomes unrelatable. Anchoring Nathi's technomagic in a frame of reference of ancient Zulu arts bridges this faux future with an anchored past, and the mix is fascinating.

The texture of the narrative is built with some beautiful phrasing and simile:  

And, hundreds years later, aboard a transport spaceship, he was waiting with the Zulu Zionist white-robes for their historic touchdown in the Hellas basin. Swaying bodies, pointing arms. Deep voices, resonant. Polyphony developing like the converging horns of buffalo.

Sometimes, though, there is a curious absence of words--prepositions and the like--that is too pervasive to be merely typos. I would suggest that on a final pass of the manuscript, the author go through the text on a line by line basis to make sure the sentences flow. Coming upon odd syntax and missing words makes what is an otherwise engaging story become littered with small bumps that break up the reading experience unnecessarily. When these mistakes are coupled with a story rich with new concepts and a lot of technical language, the reader may well glaze over pertinent paragraphs. 

The technical language and concepts do threaten to overwhelm at times, though the author does manage to pull back at the right moments or offer more prosaic ways of viewing the concepts using apt imagery and metaphor. Likening Nathi's work to a symphony or calling him an artist brings the future technology in a realm of understanding at the same time forming a poetic layer to the ideas that makes the story a joy to experience, not merely read. Layers of understanding add depth to what some writers may just deliver in a straightforward fashion. The author here doesn't merely tell a story; he envisions one and manages to translate a vision to the reader.

The other strong components in this vision (aside from the science he integrates into the narrative) are the characters and their world. In the first couple chapters we have people who make strong impact in both their roles in the narrative and their portrayals by the writer. We have Nathi, the comatose girl, and the Grand Magister. The first chapter in the submission deals with Nathi and the girl and bounces back between his point of view in the e-World (and her brain), and her dream world. Nathi's narrative is in past tense, the girl's in present. Both voices are distinct, in that Nathi comes across as an experienced person on the edge of a mystery, and by the end of the chapter a second mystery is introduced about his character that makes the reader even more intrigued by him. The girl, though seen through the lens of a memory/dream, comes across very much like a little girl, bridging the distance that could so readily form otherwise in such a situation. Her ties to her Nanny, her occupation with the blueberries, and just her perceptions of what is going on evoke a child-voice that is oftentimes difficult to capture.

Where this contrast falls down somewhat is in the tense usage. While it is understandable why a present tense is used in the girl's sections, it tends to read passive and not as smooth as the past tense parts. I would relook at the present tense parts for the girl and perhaps try writing them in past tense just to see the comparison and if it does read better as past. The battle in the girl's section is also a little confusing. Be careful not to get so caught up in imagery and the world that the action is lost. Especially in a battle, short and succinct sentences tend to go over better and provide a good cadence to the goings-on. While unusual concepts, tech-language, and neologisms can add flavor to a narrative, you don't want it to so overwhelm the story that it becomes just a morass of cool things that ultimately hold little meaning or the reader's attention. 

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

Karin Lowachee

Editors' Choices, Short Story

No short-story review this month.

Editors' Choices, Horror

METAPHYSICS OF GREEN, Chapter 1, by Gio Clairval 

Before getting to my specific comments, I wanted to say right at the start that the vast majority of this chapter works; the progression of events is smooth and never forced, the narrator's voice is for the most part well-established (with one glaring inconsistency that will be pointed out), the descriptive passages are vivid, and the pacing is excellent.

You also have the distinct advantage of an exotic locale that adds to the otherworldliness of the story. Too often writers who employ exotic locales do so solely for the purpose of dazzling window-dressing that he or she hopes will detract the reader's attention from any holes, inconsistencies, or sloppiness within the story. Here, you use the physical descriptions of the city to mirror Sarah's emotional and psychological state at the time – there are places where it seems as if her attitude toward others is directly affected by which part of the city she's in, as if the various areas of the city themselves are living, breathing, flesh-and-blood characters whose moods directly influence hers.

I do have a caveat about Sarah/Sarasvati/Sarà; during the job interview, having her correct the interviewer on her name makes for some nice early comic relief, but you call her by three different names within the first 2/3 of the chapter. I'm going to assume that there's a reason behind this – but if there isn't, it's a piece of business that could rapidly become distracting to the reader. Just something to keep in mind as you progress with the rest of the novel.

This was a fascinating and entertaining read, and while I remain uncertain as to how the story is going to be come "horror-ish," I look forward to seeing where you're going to take both the reader and Sarah.

You start with a deceptively banal but nonetheless terrific opening bit of business --Sarah's closing up of the sushi bar -- letting the character's actions speak clearly about the narrator's character, but it's also just obscure enough in the setup and some references ("I had been doing ghosters for three years…") to be tantalizing.

I also wanted to compliment you on not stopping every time you use a slang term and trying to find a way to shoehorn in a literal interpretation of the word or phrase. As both a reader and a writer, I find it not only obvious and annoying when a writer chooses to do that every single time a slang term or phrase is employed, but after a while, it becomes somewhat insulting to the reader's intelligence. That you almost never do this is to be applauded –- and the one time you do throw in the literal meaning of a slang term is done so smoothly, so deftly, and so quickly, that I was two paragraphs past it before I realized what you had done. Very sneaky. I like sneaky – when it's done as well as this.

Sarasvati/Sarah's character is sharp and clear almost immediately. Tough and unsentimental, yet also sympathetic – and by that I do not mean immediately likeable; likeable and sympathetic are not interchangeable, and you seem to have a fine grasp of this; you've also established a nice, strong cadence for Sarah's narrative voice, making it instantly recognizable.

When Kei makes his appearance, there's a bit of a contradiction in his characterization -- why does he call her by "Sarasvati" when he first appears? From that point on, he calls her only "Sara," so it seems a little inconsistent to have him call her by a name she does not prefer.

"On his motorbike, we rode down a wide street…" This particular paragraph's cadence isn't nearly as smooth as all that's come before; here, it seems a little forced, and all of it has to do with that first, long sentence. I personally am a big fan of long, complex sentences – when they work. This one misses the mark, and I think it has to do with the awkwardness of the phrasing in (particularly) the first three lines. >From "All these people coexisting…" on, you get the cadence back, but it's a bumpy transition after the first sentence. While you're obviously reflecting the sensory overload by choosing to slam everything into the reader's perception and clumping all the elements together, the effect is more cluttered than it is captivating. I strongly suggest you consider breaking the first sentence up into two – or possibly three – shorter sentences. If you look at the second half of the paragraph, you use a crackling, staccato series of short sentences that cumulatively have the overwhelming effect that the opening sentence only grasps at, and rather self-consciously, at that.

"We pushed our way through the throng of other bikes, motorbikes and motorised rickshaws, the bajaj jammed together in slow motion. The places I went to were still busy at night. Yeah, things bustled in that part of town." The last sentence strikes me as superfluous, only re-stating in different words what was said in the previous sentence. I suggest cutting it.

"The neighbourhood sickened me: rotting refuse, the occasional whiff of spice…" Excellent, effective use of imagery to echo the Sarah's worldview – and this is not as easy to pull off as it can be made to look. For my money, there are few tasks more difficult in fiction that to employ a character's physical surroundings to clearly serve as an external metaphor for their internalized feelings, but you do a fine job of this.

"'I reached for the headpin that kept my hair in a chignon--at work, you know--and pulled it out, shaking my head; shiny midnight-black hair spilt down my face. 'What? What were you saying?'" Having a first-person narrator describe how he or she looks almost never works, especially when the narrator uses similes to describe some physical aspect of him- or herself. While it is an effective image, it also draws a lot of attention to its intent, and may momentarily take the reader out of the story. But since it is such a fine descriptive image, why not have Sarah undo her hair while she applies the lipstick in the earlier scene? The use of a descriptive simile in that moment would be completely justified and not feel quite so self-conscious.

Also keep in mind that, as you're bringing Sarah and Kei to the gambling sequence, You start to have them address each other by name too often. Since Kei's appearance, the focus has been on him and Sarah, so having them refer to each other by name isn't unnecessary, but you need to start scaling back on doing, and this would be the ideal spot.

"The shanty town to the west, where I lived, was not as sparkly as the corporate centre…" Compare this excellent paragraph to the awkward one that begins, "On his motorbike…" and see if you can't spot why this one works and the previous one only half-works. The cadence here is right on the money from first word to last, the imagery is evocative without becoming too obvious of your intent as the story-teller, and the flow of Sarah's internal logic – offset and perhaps even symbolized by her inexhaustible cache of opposing images ("sparkling" and "bright" are counterbalanced by "older" and "shabbier") – is smooth and believable.

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

Gary A. Braunbeck, co-editor of MASQUES 5 and FIVE STROKES TO MIDNIGHT


photoThe best part of my job at OWW is interviewing some of the most interesting writers in our community, and in that regard Suzanne McLeod does not disappoint. Suzanne has been a cocktail waitress, a dance group roadie, and a secretary. She's worked in pubs, hotels and a football club and has sold everything from "sweeties" to jewelry. All of which she claims has been great grist for the "developing characters" mill. When not writing, Suzanne deals with dreaded tax returns.

She lives on the South Coast of England, with her husband and their two rescue dogs -- a hyperactive Jack Russell/Lab cross, and a couch-potato German Shepherd/Lab, (who doubles as a tummy on legs) -- and they all share their garden with a colony of local bats.

Editor's Note: I did verify that sweeties are in fact candy. You don't want to know what I thought she meant.

This month, Suzanne gives us an insider's look at how she earned a 3-book deal with her first novel, THE SWEET SCENT OF BLOOD.  It's published by Gollancz and will hit bookstores on September 25, 2008. You can order this book through Amazon.co.uk.

So what is THE SWEET SCENT OF BLOOD about? 

It's set in current day London, but with an alternate history.  Genevieve Taylor is one of the noble fae, a Sidhe.  The Sidhe are a reclusive race, uncomfortable in the modern world, preferring to live in The Fair Lands and follow the old traditions. So Genny is unusual, even in present day London where celebrity vampires, eccentric goblins and scheming lesser fae mix freely with the human population.  Genny is a rising star at Spellcrackers.com -- making magic safe.  Spellcrackers is affiliated to the Witch Council, whose ancient tenants prohibit any contact with vampires. Genny also works as a volunteer at a clinic which treats victims of vampire attacks. Then there's her extra curricula activity, extracting vulnerable fae lured by the local fang gangs. Genny neither wants nor needs any closer involvement with the vampires.

Where did the idea for the novel come from?

The Sweet Scent of Blood is at heart a murder mystery. And so once I'd built my world, I started with the victim and asked myself all the usual questions –- Why was she killed? Who wanted her dead? How does her death affect the people/world that she leaves behind? How would Genny, my main character, become involved? The answers gave me both my cast of characters and of course, my plot.

We love call stories. (Okay, I LOVE call stories.) Tell us yours: when did you find out you'd made the sale?

Monday morning, 10 a.m. I was staring at my computer, biting my nails down to my knuckles, getting close to a full-blown panic attack, waiting for my agent to phone. A commissioning editor (now mine, of course *big grin*) had asked for a week's exclusive to read through the manuscript to see whether she liked it or not and if she wanted to take it further.  And Monday morning was D-Day! Then the phone call came, and of course, after my agent's first few positive words, I said nothing much intelligible for quite a while as you can guess. Poor man, he has to put up with a lot.

The title series, Spellcrackers.com is an awesome title. And you pitched it as a series to your agent. We usually get advice not to pitch series until the first book is contracted. How did you manage to pull this off? 

coverThank you! As I love reading a series and following the same characters through different (stand-alone, rather than a trilogy or whatever 'olgy' number) plots, that's what I decided to write. And as I never heard the news about not pitching series books to agents, it never entered my head not to pitch Spellcrackers.com like that!

How long have you been writing fiction?

I started writing five years ago. Up until then the only fictional writing I'd ever done was a (very, veeeery) long time ago at school!

What made you decide to make this your career ambition?

I didn't start to write with the aim of getting published or having a career.  My initial efforts were more along the lines of 'Can I do this or not?' But once I began, I found I loved writing and everything about it, from thinking up the ideas, the world, the characters, and how they would interact, to getting the words down on screen, and then playing with them so they say exactly what I want. I was totally thrilled when the first story I wrote was accepted for publication, and after that there was no stopping me.

Are you an outliner or a pantser?

Definitely an outliner, otherwise I tend to go off on tangents and fall down numerous rabbit holes!

Do you wait until your manuscript is polished before sending it to your critique partners?

My stuff has a good gleam to it when it goes to my CPs, but the real polish comes later after they've torn it to shreds (nicely, of course) and I've put it back together again.

I'm lucky to be part of a weekly face2face group. The six of us have been together for four years now and we all met at the same writing class. I've also found that the OWW extremely valuable and I truly believe that without both being critiqued and critiquing I'd never have made it to having my book published.

What do you do to recharge your batteries when you've been neck-deep in edits?

Read!  I find I need to 'put the words back in' as writing or editing in binges turns my brain to porridge, and it then reaches for the easiest word/phrase it can find, which of course, is the same word/ phrase it reached for the last half dozen time - sigh.

What's next in the Spellcracker series? 

In Book 2, The COLD KISS OF DEATH, humans are being murdered by magic. All the evidence points to Genny -- and the situation isn't helped when the Detective Inspector investigating the case has her own reasons to judge her guilty.

Visit Suzanne at MySpace or her blog. To learn more about her series Spellcrackers, visit her web site at www.spellcrackers.com.

Publication Announcements

Deb Atwood tells us: "My story "Glimmer" has been accepted for publication in Chimeraworld #5 this fall. "Glimmer" was written for the Blood Challenge years and years ago on the workshop. I no longer remember who critiqued it, but thank you to everyone who offered comments on it over time. Much appreciated!!"

Aliette de Bodard has been busy. Aliette says: "I've sold my alternate history "Butterfly, Falling at Dawn" to Interzone, my short story "Blessing the Earth" to Tales of Moreauvia and "Desaparecidos" to Realms of Fantasy. Also in print is "Horus Ascending" in issue 8 of IGMS and "The Dancer's Gift" is out in Fictitious Force 5. Of these, "Butterfly" went through OWW, where it received very helpful feedback that helped me streamline the exposition. I'm embarrassed to discover that I've gone back to my bad habits of not keeping track of the crits I received; and it was well over a year ago, so I'm afraid I don't remember who dropped in, apart from Camille Picott--but many thanks to everyone who did so!

Willow Fagan announced: "Cockatrice Girl Meets Statue Boy" has appeared in Fantasy Magazine, February 2008. "Scatter and Return, the Eyes of the Princess" will appear in a forthcoming issue of Fantasy Magazine.

Nora Fleischer has told us that she signed a contract with Drollerie Press to publish her novelette about mermen and historians, OVER THEIR HEADS.  "I'd like to thank Stella Evans, Dena Landon, Ilona Gordon, D. Melissa Bowden, Michael Destro, Kathryn Allen, Esme Ibbotson, RE Kelleher, and the fabulous Deb Cawley.  And Charles Coleman Finlay who had some very kind words for this story!"

O.H. Fowler says: "My story "Intervention" just got picked up for the anthology Taken By Force edited by Christopher Pierce to be published in June by Starbooks Press."

John Hornor Jacobs has two credits this month. "I've recently sold a story I workshopped on OWW to Doorways Magazine. My story "Sneaking In" will appear in Doorways Magazine Fall 2008 issue. Also, my story, "Verrata," has been sold to London based Polluto, the Anti-Pop Culture Journal. "I don't know what it means, but a very strange little story has found a home. Thanks to C.S. Inman, Gabriel Malloy and Gio Clairval and Leah Bobet."

Camille Picott: " My flash fiction story "Zombie Bride" was accepted for publication by AntipodeanSF. It will appear in the October issue. Thanks to F.R.R. Mallory for her ever-helpful critique! "The Gargoyle" was sold to Afterburn SF. It will appear in the February issue. The story received critiques in various incarnations from Mark Ward, Steve Chapman, Elizabeth Shack, Daniel Bartel, F.R.R. Mallory, Adsa Dasdw, Larisa Walk, Jerry Murray, and Sage Vadi. I also turned my short story "Raggedy Chan" into a children's graphic novel. It's now available in full color at Lulu.com. Info on the book can be found on my web site, www.raggedychan.com. Thanks to Deb Atwood, Jerry Murray, Rayne Hall, Michael Keyton, Debbie Smith, and Ruv Draba for great feedback!"

Marshall Payne has sold the SF horror time-travel story called "Facing Myself" to Fear and Trembling.

Steve Ramey has sold his short story "It Takes a Town"  to Triangulations for July 2008 and PodCastle, July 29, 2008.

Tony Stauffer's "Family Reunion" has appeared in the Werewolf Magazine #8, May 2008. 

On Shelves Now

THE MAGIC THIEF by Sarah Prineas (HarperCollins, June 2008)


In a city that runs on a dwindling supply of magic, a young boy is drawn into a life of wizardry and adventure. Conn should have dropped dead the day he picked Nevery's pocket and touched the wizard's locus magicalicus, a stone used to focus magic and work spells. But for some reason he did not. Nevery finds that interesting, and he takes Conn as his apprentice on the provision that the boy find a locus stone of his own. But Conn has little time to search for his stone between wizard lessons and helping Nevery discover who--or what--is stealing the city of Wellmet's magic.

A DARKNESS FORGED IN FIRE by Chris Evans (July 2008)


coverKonowa Swift Dragon, former commander of the Empire's elite Iron Elves, is looked upon as anything but ordinary. He's murdered a Viceroy, been court-martialed, seen his beloved regiment disbanded, and finally been banished in disgrace to the one place he despises the most -- the forest.

Now, all he wants is to be left alone with his misery...but for Konowa, nothing is ever that simple. The mysterious and alluring Visyna Tekoy, the highborn daughter of an elfkynan governor, seeks him out in the dangerous wild with a royal decree that he resume his commission as an officer in Her Majesty's Imperial Army, effective immediately.

For in the east, a falling Red Star heralds the return of a magic long vanished from the earth. Rebellion grows within the Empire as a frantic race to reach the Star unfolds. It is a chance for Konowa to redeem himself -- even if the entire affair appears doomed to be a suicide mission...

and that the soldiers recruited for the task are not at all what he expects. And worse, his key adversary in the perilous race for the Star is the dreaded Shadow Monarch -- a legendary elf-witch whose machinations for absolute domination spread deeper than Konowa could ever imagine.... 


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