August 2008 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

On Shelves Now

Membership Info



How is everyone doing on their yearly goals? I like to use August as my barometer to see how well I'm progressing. It's a little past midpoint, yet not so far down the year that I can't shift my strategy a little to tighten my focus and reassess my objectives.

It's time to stand up, stretch and take a deep breath. Go for a walk, see a movie, or take a much needed vacation. Use August for some you-time before you hit the keyboard again. You'll come back with a lighter load and perhaps a fresher perspective. Examine your goals, see how far you've come and decide what's left to do for the year.

Enjoy this month's newsletter!

Maria Zannini, newsletter editor
newsletter (at)

Monthly Writing Challenge

Here, it is August.  Here it is hot as all that place.  Or it is as cold, depending on if you are in the same here where I am here.

Rather hopeless isn't it.  At least that is what Aziraphale thought he heard Crawley say.  Crawley hadn't been making too much sense, lately, going on and on about if it were possible for a demon to do good, even by accident, or for an angel to do bad, even by accident, and if they did, wouldn't it be funny if their roles were reversed?


Made his head spin, it did.


With full apologies to Neil Gaiman and Terry Pratchett, this will be a hellish challenge.  With all that talk about angels and demons and good and evil last July, this month's challenge will be to write a story that shows two protagonists who are also antagonists.  Show each protagonist from their own POV as the hero, and make it convincing that they are doing good, but from the other's perspective they're not.  I call this the Two sides of good challenge.  Of course you could do the two sides of evil, but only if Crawley is right that wars begin in August for a reason. 


Anyway, after I told this idea to Aziraphale, he sadly shook his head, folded his wings, and reminded me of the standard disclaimer.


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) or Walter Williams via the discussion list. For more details on the challenges, check the OWW Writer Space.


Nothing to report this month.

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, Susan Marie Groppi, 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

MADHAVAN, CH. 13 by Simon Rhodes

In Simon Rhodes' sword and fantasy chapter, there are nice pieces of writing followed by little chunks of telling or infodumps.  There aren't any cases where Rhodes explains what just happened, but they are times when there is more talking to the reader rather than showing them something.  And there are even other times when a little more explanation is needed.

A minor example is when Rhodes explains what an eldactery is "a focus for channeling magic" when the story is in a perfect place to just show what one is and how it works.  In fact, after this little bit of exposition, Rhodes does exactly that and shows the reader one how is used in battle.  A little later, Ravenel, who had been on the wrong end of the eldactery, faces down a group of knights.  They surround her and attack her.  Rhodes feels the need to tell the reader about Ravenel's feeling of being wronged before she attacks the knights.  I don't know if this was done to make Ravenel seem less wicked by giving her a rationale for her actions, but it was unnecessary.

Shortly after this, the story of Ravenel losing her eldactery is recounted.  The telling isn't bad; because it gives information the reader needs, and it provides some juicy background bits about Ravenel.  But it trends towards telling/infodumpery which could be avoided.  It's a dense little paragraph that could be spread throughout the piece a little better.  And if this is just a recap of things the reader already knew, then most of the passage could be dropped altogether.

Immediately following this, Rhodes has a scene where Ravenel comes upon a dying soldier.  The scene is at times touching and poignant and at others weird and uncomfortable.  Rhodes shows some of Ravenel's humanity and compassion (rather than telling) by having her stay near the dying soldier rather than passing him by or worse, dispatching him.  The dialog between the two is very powerful yet sparse.  I could picture this whole scene in my mind.

However, Rhodes has Ravenel lie down with the young man almost in a lover's embrace.  At this point the scene shifts into the strange, and I want more telling and less showing all of a sudden.  I need more of Ravenel's rationale for doing this before the scene works for me.  I kept waiting for Ravenel to do something along the lines of taking his life force for her own power or to be able to use the end of his life to give herself some sort of sorceries advantage, but it didn't happen.  The end of this scene becomes so surreal I'd be tempted to cut it, but it's written so well and it's still compelling despite its oddness.

A little explication here would help the reader's insights into Ravenel's motivations and actions.  Later, when she joins up with three soldiers on patrol, Rhodes states that Ravenel is annoyed when she feels that the soldiers don't trust her.  Why would they? Does Ravenel trust the soldiers?  Her feelings seem nonsensical, seeing that they're standing in the middle of a battlefield.

And when one of the soldiers says that they haven't seen anyone matching the description of the people that Ravenel is looking for, her hopes are dashed.  Really?  When your hopes are dashed, that means you've given up on them.  This clearly isn't the case for Ravenel.  Her hope is questioned, her motivation tarnished, her enthusiasm dampened, but her hopes are not dashed.

There are other examples when Rhodes perhaps makes the incorrect word choice.  The chapter starts with Ravenel flying on a giant bat being pummeled by wind, rain, and thunder (and how is a bat flying in so much noise?) but this meteorological phenomena is later described as a mist when it's obviously a fairly major storm.  Armor that is "torn with a thousand puckered holes" instead of punctured.  Look at how you're describing things and make sure that you're consistent.

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


This chapter is short and can be expanded, as it introduces a fascinating world through an identifiable voice. The image of the black glass landscape is stark and interesting for a beginning chapter and the beginning of a book. There are many great details to this beginning: the fact birds wouldn't even fly over the black glass casts an ominous tone to it all. Mentioning zombies in the context of urban legends lends itself to the book title (which is also fantastic) and sets up for the reader an expectation of many interesting tales to be told in the following pages. Though this is a dystopic future, the dark fairy tale quality to it all blends well with the smattering of neotech language and the writer's subtle ability to reference identifiable things and places (like setting it in Detroit).

There are some hiccups in the first few paragraphs, however. The first image is of the narrator (gender earlier, please) standing within The Ring and looking out at the perimeter of black glass, but a passage like "I stepped over the threshold and understood. It felt like committing a crime" muddies up the time frame so then it seems as if he was still standing outside of the Ring before entering past it. It's important to ground the reader as early as possible in an exact location for your narrator so that we get a panorama of the scene. This chapter does read very cinematically, so picking a solid point of view for the reader (in this case, the narrator's eyes) will bolster the narrative.

The set-up for the world in this chapter is delivered smoothly, in an engaging voice, but does tend to gloss a little where establishing more details (without infodumping) could go a long way in fleshing out the world as early as possible before it becomes peopled too thickly by the colorful denizens that Janos the narrator eventually meets.

For example, what does Janos see from the black glass perimeter until he gets to the mine shaft? What is the weather like? The kernels are all there, introducing what's different about Janos and the world (its immediate history), but the author can afford some time to sink into it a little and give the reader more atmosphere and 'sightseeing' details, even if it's just a couple sentences here and there to firmly establish place. What we're given so far is great, so a reader would naturally want more. (As a sidenote, the same thing could be said for chapter 2 as well, when we are in Dev's point of view (after a fashion) or going back and forth between Dev and Janos.)

There is some confusion in the brief flashback. While the information there gave some background, I wonder if this could not come up sometime later in the book (in the first few chapters at any rate) where it wouldn't interrupt the flow of the first chapter, and what essential details that were revealed in that scene could be somehow manifested in more of Janos' interiors. Besides that, there were just line break issues that made the dialogue confusing, as here:

"This -- this is crazy. You should be sitting on this until you can try it of Pluto or Eris."

Was this part of Janos's line?

She was silent for a moment. "I know. I started this out thinking it would never come together. But now if I tried to stop it, I'd just get fired and they'd put Roger in charge."

Is this Erin's line?

"You're right. He'd surely blow us up if left to his own devices."

And this line had no tag so it's unsure who is speaking. Be careful as you go through the rest of the book that line breaks are appropriate when the characters speak, and that if it's a continuing dialogue the lines are properly tagged somehow (it doesn't have to be with he-saids) so it's clear who's speaking. These are all nitpicking details but they do inform readability and flow. The less readers stumble on the mechanics of the writing, the more engrossed they will be in the story.

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

Karin Lowachee

Editors' Choices, Short Story

"The Hero of the Orcus River Bridge" by Giovanni Giusti

Giovanni Giusti's "The Hero of the Orcus River Bridge" begins with a group of passengers on a commuter train stranded on the Martian plain after their train breaks down. Stuck on the disabled train, watching the batteries that run their life-support systems draining, the passengers decide to send someone in a spacesuit out into the Martian night to a nearby military base to look for help.

Their choice for the expedition is Greg Stoker, a Martian colonist chosen largely because he happens to have a spacesuit in his luggage. The spacesuit, which belonged to his father, is practically an antique, and Greg is carrying it only because he's just come from his father's funeral.

In a series of flashbacks, we learn that Greg's father was an ardent supporter of Martian independence, and that Greg's older brother David was a well-known suicide bomber, honored as a hero by many colonists, but that Greg himself was very ambivalent about Mars's conflict with Earth. Greg has a difficult journey to the military base, and when he finally arrives, he finds that the supposedly-decommissioned base is inhabited by a possibly- insane renegade Earth soldier named Elena; meanwhile, the people back on the train have found a way to restore power, and they've decided to leave without Greg. Oh, and Mars is at war with Earth again, leaving Greg and the possibly-insane renegade soldier stranded at the base to enact a last-people-on-earth scenario, while the train conductor carries out a suicide bombing mission.

If that seems like a lot of plot, that's because this is a very dense story, generally in a good way. The heart of the story is the interweaving of Greg's personal background, and his ambivalence about Mars itself, with his role in the attempted train rescue.

The complexities of the political situation are both vivid and realistic, as are Greg's feelings about his family. The bulk of the story is a good solid action-oriented piece, and I was particularly impressed with the way Greg's journey to and discovery of the military base was written. That section of the story was very physical and very grounded, and also a good engaging read.

I saw two major areas where this story had room for significant improvement. One of those areas is the dialogue throughout the piece, which often feels stilted and unnatural. To take a few examples: the first time Winston speaks, where he establishes himself as the unofficial leader of the train passengers, he opens with
"Two hours! Well, I have had enough."
This doesn't feel like a natural utterance, and was a particularly jarring note on which to introduce a character who becomes so central to the rest of the story. I also felt that almost all of Elena's dialogue seemed similarly awkward, and most awkward during the longer expository passages, such as when she explains to Greg how she ended up living at the base.

More importantly, though, I had very serious concerns about the ending of this story. You mention in the introductory comments that you weren't sure which direction you should take the ending, and I think that shows.

Everything from Greg's first interaction with Elena through to the end of the piece feels off -- the pacing becomes awkward and the character actions stop being believable. It starts to feel as though you're trying to tell too many stories all at once, and the entire last section of the piece would really benefit from some judicious weeding. Streamlining the action in these last scenes would help both with the pacing and the story logic problems.

When Elena shows Greg the news broadcasts, the reader is swamped under a heavy load of information all delivered very quickly -- three plot-significant revelations (that Mars is at war, that there's a suicide bomber on the train, and that Elena faked her own death) arrive in just a handful of paragraphs. As a reader, I barely had time to digest the possible implications before Winston was informing Greg that the train was leaving him behind to die. These are all problems of pacing, but they quickly progress to being problems of story logic.

Greg's inability to unlock the suit cable felt contrived, and when that contrivance was followed so quickly by his inability to take off the suit, and then subsequently by Elena's frankly bizarre choice to slice the spacesuit to bits, I couldn't help but wonder if the entire sequence had any purpose other than to get Greg to near-nakedness. A lot of stories suffer from problems similar to this, plot or story incidents that serve the author's convenience more than any intrinsic need of the story itself. In this case, my advice is to think about what narrative purpose is served by not allowing Greg to unhook the suit cable.  Being left behind at the more-or-less abandoned military base in the middle of a war is probably terrifying enough without the almost extraneous additional threat of being tethered to a speeding train, and cutting that whole sequence might help tighten up the ending. 

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

Susan Marie Groppi
Fiction Editor/Editor-in-Chief, Strange Horizons

Editors' Choices, Horror

"Frau Jellinek's Brother" by Pamela Troy

You're going to notice almost immediately that every note I have for you is of a purely technical nature because I think this story, as it stands, is a resounding success -- though your characterizing it as a "traditional horror" story might be limiting its potential readership, as it has more in common with Robert Aickman and Sheridan Le Fanu than with, say, Stephen King or Clive Barker (though comparisons to the subtle, enigmatic work of Peter Straub would be arguably justified). The late Charles L. Grant would have undoubtedly held this piece up as an example of what he called "dark fantasy." And I, for one, would have given him no argument.

This succeeds in not only its intent but in its deceptively simple structure, as well. Of all the narrative voices to tackle, 2nd Person is undoubtedly the trickiest; it offers not only the temptation for wordiness, loss of focus, and self-indulgence that is inherent in first-person narratives, but it also puts the writer in the unenviable position of having to create not only a fully-realized character for the narrator, but creating the other characters who populate the story solely through the sensibilities of the narrator -- including the character to whom the narrator is "speaking." You've done that here to excellent effect here, especially in the case of characterizing Szandrea with a few deft strokes.

There are going to be readers who will be dissatisfied with the lack of a concrete explanation for what happened to her brother, but the intent of this particular type of horror story is not to offer answers but to engage the reader's emotions and intellect with the microcosm of the mystery surrounding the events portrayed. Yes, there are questions about the girl and her keeper: was the old woman a witch? Was perhaps the daughter herself in possession of supernatural powers? Who exactly did the brother's friend see in the performance of the play, and why did images from a play she'd never read haunt the little sister's dreams?

You've done an excellent job of showing the pattern of otherworldly elements that lie beneath the surface story, and an equally fine job of implying one interpretation to the events while also leaving it up to the reader to infer his or her own interpretation; like a majority of Aickman's and Straub's work, you've created the fictional equivalent of a Rorschach test, and this daring gamble has paid off, with a handful of minor exceptions, nearly all of which are, as I said at the outset, technical, but let's start with the single non-technical element that creates a minor narrative problem: the person to whom the narrator is speaking.

While it is not necessary to give this young man a name (something I think you don't need and would urge you not to add), the questions of how and why this unnamed character has come to be speaking with the narrator needs to be addressed. If you cannot give us the circumstances that led this young man in question to be sitting there listening to what amounts to the narrator's monologue, then he is ultimately nothing more than a literary construct and the central catalyst for the story is lost, as is the story itself. You have to find a way to give us the circumstances that led to this encounter -- nothing complicated, a single line or two from the narrator can do the trick -- but it has to be added.

Now, the technical glitches:

First and foremost, the word should be spelled "theatre" and not "theater." The latter in the Americanization of the former, and in a traditional, faux-historical story such as this, the original and formal spelling would be employed.

"I was fifteen when it happened, and it was only when I was older and wiser and married to Herr Jellinek that I was able to get the entire story of that night from one of my brother's friends, a fellow officer who sometimes came home with my brother when he was on leave. They were on their way to our home for one of those leaves when my brother insisted on stopping in Vebrenz because an actor he liked was performing there. Perhaps you know the name? Boris Szandrea. Yes, it was in the twilight of his career, or so everyone thought. No longer could he play ardent young lovers but as you know, his King Lear was legendary, and my brother would never willingly miss a performance by Szandrea's troupe."

I am of the opinion that this would better serve as the story's opening paragraph; it introduces virtually all the elements dealt with in the story, and establishes the tone of unsolved mystery that comes to permeate the second half. You can easily write a few lines to serve as a transition between subjects where this paragraph now appears in the story. I urge you to consider using this as the story's opening.

"Night had fallen, and a star or two had come out, and there were few people out on the streets."

The use of the word "out" twice in a single sentence is distracting (and reads like careless writing, and this story is not carelessly written; far from it); replace one of them with something else.

"Almost as quickly they realized the truth of the matter when they saw her blank eyes, her stupidly half-opened mouth. This creature had the mind of a child."

I quote this simply to show other potential reviewers and fellow OWW members how effective and affecting it can be when one employs deft brush-strokes of language and imagery. This is a superb line.

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, and author of Coffin County and The Collected Cedar Hill Stories


Book Review: Hooked by Les Edgerton

 I think the true measure of a craft book, or perhaps any book, is how often a reader is willing to go back to it. I'm such a cynical curmudgeon, you can slap a label on my forehead and call me hard to please.  I expect a lot from a novel. I demand even more from a craft book. Perhaps for that reason, I buy very few of them. Most are rehashed versions of things you hear in chat rooms and forums. And let's face it, how many ways can you tell writers: show, not tell?

HOOKED is different. I picked it up, expecting to be unimpressed when I flipped the book open. On page 50, Edgerton wrote something that contradicted what I thought to be true, and then proved it.  He said: "Instead of elevating the emotional language, the smart writer flattens it." 

Edgerton went on: "Look at the documentary on the Discovery Channel for the scene when the female lion cuts the tiny, weak wildebeest fawn from the herd, and brings her down by her neck while the mother looks on. See the sorrow and even the anger in the wildebeest mother as she helplessly watches her baby die, and you will see Nature herself flatten the response, and that makes it more powerful. Lower the volume; don't turn it up." 

It made perfect sense. Moreover, Edgerton explained it with an example that I not only understood, but thought illustrated the point beautifully.

The author breaks down the concept of hooks step by step. Even if it's something the reader already knows, it's nice to see it defined in plain language. In Scene Basics, Edgerton does exactly this. We all know (or should) that the protagonist enters with a goal, but many writers forget about the antagonist. He needs a goal too. I like how the author takes all the pieces to a scene and lays it out on the table for the reader to examine. Like an autopsy, seeing the pieces gives you a better understanding of the whole.

Openings can mean the difference between a requested manuscript and a form rejection. It defines whether an agent or editor will invest any more time on you. And I discovered too, that understanding what makes an excellent opening, spills over into the rest of the manuscript. Once you grasp the concepts of inciting moments, story-worthy problems verses surface problems, and balancing setup and back story, you will find yourself asking these same questions throughout your manuscript. One feeds the other.

I was a little disappointed with the examples the author used as good openings, but only because they were mostly literary examples and not genre-based. Nonetheless, HOOKED kept me invested from beginning to end.

The other thing I wasn't interested in was the Q&A from the perspective of editors and agents. Anyone who has sent out partials knows full well that hooks are important, so I thought this was hitting the reader over the head, but this might be useful to new writers who haven't yet traveled the query road.

This book is chock-full of writing wisdom as evidenced by the dozens of sticky notes I've used to decorate my copy. I think what I liked best about HOOKED is that it was written in clear, concise language and in an editorial style that was clean and easy to follow.  I like the punch list the author provides that defines each concept. If I were to add anything, it would have been nice to have a summary list at the end of each chapter.

Edgerton was also very positive in his delivery. So many craft books berate the struggling author, but HOOKED eschewed the dreary lectures in lieu of encouragement and positive reinforcement. 

I buy very few craft books, but HOOKED is one I can see referencing again and again, especially if I have story with a troublesome beginning. It is worth the full cover price. Recommended.

Maria Zannini (


Publication Announcements

Brenta Blevins says: "My story 'Beyond' placed third in this year's ChiZine short story contest. The story will be published in the October-December 2008 issue of ChiZine." 

Cathy Freeze's story "Practicing Perfection" is in the latest Fantasy Magazine.

John Hornor Jacobs reports: "'Sneaking In' sold to Doorways Magazine, 2008 Fall Issue. 'Verrata' sold to Polluto Magazine, Issue 3. 'Twilight' accepted by DARK DISTORTIONS ANTHOLOGY, 2009 release."

Former member Ann Leckie's story "Marsh Gods" is in the latest issue of Strange Horizons.

Sean Markey's story "Sorrowbird" is in the latest Fantasy Magazine.

Sandra Panicucci writes: "'The Order Of The Golden Horn' sold for the Nov-Jan issue of Sorcerous Signals. 10,000 word short I wrote awhile back in pretty much one sitting. Ran it through OWW and sent it off once or twice...not too many markets for 10,000 word dragon/demon stories, so although it garnered a very positive rejection from John O'Neill at Black Gate (he didn't need dragon stories but seemed to like it) I set it aside for about a year. Pulled it out a while back, trimmed about 600 words out of it and sent it to Sorcerous Signals."

Marshall Payne hit pay dirt with his short story "Bullet."  "This is my first professional sale. Sale #29 from when I began subbing in earnest three years ago when I joined OWW where I've met some of my best friends."

Christie Skipper Ritchotte's short story "Penguin and Wren" is forthcoming in Fantasy Magazine, 2008; "Reset the Night" is forthcoming in Strange Horizons, 2008.

Jason Rolfe reports: "'Notes on the Evocation of Demons' -- Short Fiction (Horror) -- will be published in the August, 2008 issue of The Harrow."

Seth Skorkowsky's "The Reluctant Assassin" will appear in Flashing Swords this month.

Rachel Swirsky has a story called "Marrying the Sun" in the latest Fantasy Magazine.

On Shelves Now

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...

Membership Info

Fees: $49/year, $30/6 months, or $6/month. First trial month free. (more)

How to pay: PayPal, Kagi, check in US dollars, money order in US dollars, barter (more)

Scholarship fund: We accept scholarship fund donations and award full or partial scholarships to active members in need. (more)

Gift memberships: You can give a gift membership for another member; just send us a payment by whatever method you like, noting who the membership is for and specifying whether the gift is anonymous or not. We will acknowledge receipt to you and the member.

Bonus payments: The workshop costs only 94 cents per week, but we know that many members feel that it's worth much more to them. 25% of any bonus payments we receive will go to our support staff; the rest will be tucked away to lengthen the shoestring that is our budget and keep us running! (more)


Got a helpful tip for your fellow members? A trick or hint for submitting or reviewing, for what to put in your author's comments, for getting good reviews, or for formatting or titling your submission? Share it with us and we'll publish it in the next newsletter. Just send it to support (at) and we'll do the rest.

Until next month--just write!

The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
support (at)