November 2008 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

On Shelves Now

Membership Info



Yikes! Where did the year go? Before long our thoughts will be on holidays, travel and family gatherings. But even in the mad rush, that can be a good thing.  Being able to step back and regroup can reenergize you and refresh a tired story or a blocked writer. Interaction is key for coming up with fresh ideas and new outlooks. That's part of what OWW does. It provides an outlet where you can touch base with other writers of like minds. Go out and mingle! It's good for the soul and the writer.

Some months our publication announcements are studded with novels; this month it's all short stories, including two first sales!  Congratulations to Jesse Bangs and C. S. Inman.

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

Maria Zannini, newsletter editor
newsletter (at)

Monthly Writing Challenge

This month's challenge is to write a very short piece using one of two themes: "yes we can" or "country first."  And also, salamanders. 

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.


Spectra Pulse Short Fiction Contest: For its third edition of Spectra Pulse, Bantam Spectra is allowing unpublished writers to get their work featured alongside some of the most well-respected names in science fiction and fantasy. Submit a work of speculative fiction (science fiction, fantasy, horror, new weird, anything fantastic in nature) no longer than 2,000 words in length to by January 31, 2009. Be sure to include your name, e-mail address, and mailing address.

Strange, Weird, and Wonderful Magazine is currently taking short story submissions for its 3rd issue, published January 2009. has guidelines and a sample issue. It's main motto is "there is talent everywhere," just not enough markets to showcase it.  It publishes horror, fantasy, science fiction, and paranormal romance.

OWW Contributes to Higher Education: Susan Adrian Barth is an active fiction writer completing her Master's degree in Technical Communication at Montana Tech of the University of Montana. Her project, titled "Online Critique of Creative Writing: Best Practices," is a study of how critiques of creative writing are handled by peers in online writing groups. She plans to write an article with her results, illustrating the best practices and trying to apply those practices to teaching creative writing in an online setting. As part of this study she is using OWW as one of her sources, with the permission of the administrators. 

Her research will consist of selecting a number of critique threads to review and studying the text for linguistic patterns, structure, tone, and author response. All authors and commenters' names will be removed for the purposes of the thesis article. No identifiable quotes or information of any kind would be used. All research materials with possible identifying information will be kept private and destroyed after the final paper is submitted.  If you object to Susan reviewing your posted material as part of her study, please let us know ASAP, and she won't include your thread. She will be starting research at OWW in early November.

Participants will have full access to the thesis and potential publications or other use of the material after completion, via a link to the final work posted on the workshop. If you wish, Susan will add you to a distribution list to be made aware of the final work/outcomes. 

Sounds neat, huh?  If you have any questions about this project, or to opt out, contact Leah Bobet.

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, 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

INTERFLUIT, Prologue and Chapter 1 by Suzanne Lazear

There's been a proliferation of young adult submissions at the good old Online Writing Workshop, so I think it behooves me to talk about young adult work and some of the issues and concerns that are unique to writing for young people. Suzanne Lazear, in the opening chapters of her novel INTERFLUIT, handles many of these issues and concerns with aplomb.

One of the most important things to do is to present the story from a point of view that a teenager can identify with. I personally like young adult books with first-person teen protagonists, but it isn't necessary. It does become more difficult to restrict your story's point of view to only that of the teen if you don't. The reason this is important is that your teen protagonist will be experiencing many things for the first time, so you need to make sure that the reader gets the teen's impressions of these events, rather than your more experienced viewpoint.

If you think back to your own teen days, you can probably remember how a lot of those days were confusing. You didn't understand people, you didn't understand your parents, you felt your parents didn't understand you, you knew that you knew more than your parents, you don't know yet the people have ulterior motives, and so on and so on. It is vital to keep this mindset driving your story. In an early paragraph in Lazear's prologue, she has Kat, the protagonist, describe how she spends her birthday in school. It's a disjointed paragraph and you might be tempted to edit it, but in my opinion it shows how a day might go for a teen.

In the same fashion, once the first chapter starts, Kat is recovering from a car accident, fatal for her mother and almost fatal for Kat, and is now going to live with her father. The scene is well constructed. Kat is still disconcerted from the accident, and on top of that, everything about her father and where he lives is different. Kat feels like an actual teenager (I was a teen librarian not that long ago) and it's easy for the reader to feel her pain and confusion. She already had parents that were separated, and now everything has to change.

Not everything handled perfectly, however. When it comes up that Kat will be living with her father, it's phrased "When I found out you were coming to live with me for good . . ." which to me sounds like Kat had a choice in where she went. I suspect this would not be the case--Kat would have no choice but to move in with her father after her mother died.

There are some other phrasings in the piece that I find confusing. These can distract from the piece. One is "My father is smart and funny and looking for a woman . . ." When I first read that, my brain kept wanting to make it say smart and funny looking. These are two different phrases; they need to be broken up so that the reader can move through them smoothly. Later, Kat's dad is described as having "new-penny-bright hair." To me, this reads as if he just dyed his hair. Something more like bright-as-a-new-penny hair conveys the same imagery but without any confusion.

Earlier, Lazear describes Kat's father as redheaded, but doesn't provide any reason for bringing it up. I never like getting a physical description of a character just to show what they look like. When the reader gets to the penny-bright hair, this is given in context of how different Kat looks from her father. This is good. The reader has a reason to know what her dad looks like. The earlier reference to hair color can be dropped.

And speaking of hair, Kat's hair, which was shaved off in the hospital, is growing in jet black. I feel this is important for later, but the reader does not get any impressions as to what Kat thinks of this change. It would be good to note whether Kat thinks it's cool or weird or troublesome or irritating. Or a combination of those things. Whether they want to admit it, teens are concerned about their looks. If Kat liked her hair before, she would be very concerned about its current state. If she used to have hair like her mother, she could be sad that she was losing a connection to her. Perhaps it's nothing more than just one more thing that makes her different from her father.

My point is: if the reader is getting the story through a teen's eyes, every bit of it needs to be through the teen's eyes.

--John Klima, Editor, Electric Velocipede

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

Editors' Choices, Science Fiction

ARM! Chapters 1 & 2 by Eric Lowe

Two years ago, Chapter Two of this book (under a diferent title) was chosen as the SF Editor's Choice, and it is to the writer's credit that even two years later the details and characters of this world are well remembered. In this submission the author placed chapters One and Two together and after reading both, it is my suggestion that they can be flipped. The more intriguing and original part of the idea is definitely from the Chinese angle, and Chapter Two feels more focused as well. Though Max is a fun character and the first chapter rolled along at a quick pace, there wasn't as much meat to grab onto with a sort of standardized kickass Asian female pilot. Rather, Li Hwa's tragic "end" is a better hook and her story can be picked up through Bob's admission that comes at the end of Chapter One. Also, this way the story of Li Hwa serves as a sort of prologue (without being a prologue), since subsequent chapters, it seems, follow the story of Max and Bob without other "side trip" backstory explanations. This would create a smoother narrative with Max but provide the necessary plot details for Li Hwa upfront.

A smaller point to consider: the narrative sometimes switches rapidly between present tense and past tense.  This should be examined and changed to a consistent usage. Also, sometimes the descriptions seem to get away from themselves (it's infrequent, so this really is nitpicky stuff) and become sloppy, for example, the very first line in Chapter One:

The lunch crowd knew Max better than she knew any of them because it's hard to miss a short, skinny Amerasian with a shaved head, save for a green-tinted lock hanging down her forehead.

This is also an example of where the tense shifts mid-sentence. But the piece of (needed and fun) information about her green lock reads awkwardly. The prose is already snappy, wry, and in parts humorous -- a fantastic overall tone to the book -- but tightening things up, being more precise, and looking at the pacing down to the sentence level can polish what is already an obvious skill at storytelling. Beware ambiguity and work instead to weave telling details into the narrative over paragraphs. Of course you want an impactful image for the reader's first introduction to Max, but it doesn't have to come in a single sentence.

Other issues in Chapter One: a better explanation of Bob or a more detailed one in the first few pages would be preferable. He can seemingly hack into everyone's electronics, but how? It's still not explained by the end of Chapter One, but considering what he will be doing for Li Hwa, it is a detail that the reader would want to know soon. By the time we get to page 4 we still haven't seen much of anything besides Max's broken nose (the constant mention of gushing blood also creates a cartoony image that made me wonder why she wasn't passed out long ago from loss of blood). Her specific location (name, where exactly it is in this new future) isn't readily given so when the name of the station (one presumes it's the station) is thrown off the cuff, we're unsure what exactly it's referring to. Firmly establish place as soon as possible so the reader isn't left with distracting questions later on. Obviously some things can be left behind for suspense, but workaday details shouldn't be glossed over.

My main criticism when the previous chapter was chosen was the lack of environmental details. I don't notice a remarkable change in this area save for some minor description when Max is recovering from her assault, and the perfect detail during Chapter Two where we discover the initial proceedings against Li Hwa are in a middle-school gymnasium. That gives a prompt and accurate visual image, and works on an ironic level too. It's not a professional arena they are in, but a grade school one, even if it is a proxy location. If more telling descriptions like this are smattered throughout the narrative it would pump things up in the best way. The rest of the chapters still read a little blank, visually, even if the people don't. Work on that balance a little more to make the story fuller.

The world details (new tech, occupations, politics, etc) and characterizations are definitely this writer's strong suits and make for interesting and brisk storytelling. The fact many of these details could be recalled even years after reading only a small excerpt of the entire book speaks well for the author's ability to draw vivid imagery and create an engaging narrative.

--Karin Lowachee

Editors' Choices, Short Story

No short story review this month.  We are are still in search of a new Resident Editor for short stories--an editor, publisher, agent or established author who can craft a polite and helpful critique.  Send your suggestions to us at support (at)

Editors' Choices, Horror

"Cities of Dust" by Thomas Wortman

This story has a fascinating setting: a post-orange-rain world, in which electronics seek each other out, meld into mutant devices, and evolve into ever-more-sophisticated robots. There's no scientific explanation, and I'm happy without one, just as I am happy with no scientific explanation in most zombie stories (and this is, in a sense, a really cool variation on the zombie archetype). Any explanation would probably be both implausible and distracting. As is, the descriptions of the electronics melding, and of the robots going about their mysterious business, are striking and fascinating. The setting and descriptions are the greatest strengths of the story.

The plot is the main area that I think could be strengthened. Right now, I would summarize the plot like this: The robots create a new, huge robot that threatens Emily and the narrator. Emily and the narrator overcome the new robot and the existing army of robots, but a new army, even more sophisticated, appears and overwhelms them.

That's not a bad plot, but the way in which it's developed minimizes the suspense and fear the reader feels. The story opens with four scenes that establish the status quo: the robots are immobile during the day, when they charge their solar power, and come to life at night. The protagonists watch from a hotel. No real threat appears until the fifth scene, when the huge robot almost kills the protagonists (but they are saved when it conveniently runs out of gas). This is when the protagonists form their goal: to stop the huge robot. In the seventh scene, the protagonists have already set every gas station in the city on fire, thus destroying the gasoline that the huge robot needs. We didn't see them struggle to achieve their goal; we join them when the goal is already achieved. This minimizes suspense. In the ninth scene, the protagonists are covering the solar cells that power the regular robots. In the eleventh scene, night falls, and we see that the protagonists have succeeded. The robots are immobile. Then the new robots appear.

So how could this plot be improved? It's usually best to establish the protagonists' goal as soon as possible in the story. Right now, the protagonists are passive observers for the first four scenes. That's not good. The characters need to be working toward their goal sooner. For example, they could be killing or incapacitating or disassembling robots every day, or searching for the facility where new models are developed. You could show them pursuing their goal at the same time that you establish the status quo. This is the principle I call "plot densification." You want each scene to serve multiple purposes, not just to be doing one thing. So you want a scene that establishes the status quo, develops characters, shows the characters pursuing their goal, establishes the conflict/danger, and foreshadows the end (we need some hint about where new robots are being developed; a new army just can't appear on the street at the end).

The conflict could be clarified by showing what the robots do in the first or second scene. I don't know what their goal is. I assumed they'd want to kill all remaining humans. But they don't seem to pursue that goal at all. Until the huge robot attacks (and his attack seems random, just punching at buildings), the robots seem harmless. Establishing this threat more clearly could create suspense earlier in the story.

Suspense is created when we see a dangerous possibility and fear it might come to pass. For example, suspense could be created if the protagonists see the robots building something huge down the street. Each day, they might struggle to disassemble/destroy the huge chunks of machinery being assembled each night. As the creation grows larger and larger and the protagonists fail to disassemble/destroy enough of it each day, as the shape of the creature becomes clearer and the threat it poses becomes clearer, the suspense increases. By having the two main threats in your story (the huge robot and the new army) show up suddenly out of nowhere, you fail to develop suspense.

The plot also needs a stronger causal chain. We need to see one event causing the next. This creates the illusion that events are happening on their own and are not being manipulated by the author (an illusion the reader needs to enjoy the story). Right now, very few of the events in the story seem connected by cause and effect. If we see the protagonists struggling to fight the robots and struggling to survive at the beginning of the story, and due to some small success the protagonists have, the robots build the huge one to counterattack, then the events are connected by a causal chain. Causal chains can create great suspense, because the reader fears the effects that will arise due to the action--and then those effects occur. It's like watching a car wreck. And when the effects are different or greater than we expected, we have an exciting plot twist. In this case, when the huge robot appears, it will be a terrifying escalation of the situation. The reader will be thinking, the protagonists could barely survive against the regular robots; there's no way they can survive this!

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

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


This month, I thought it would be fun to talk to a few of our top reviewers. I contacted Ruthanne Reid, Josh Vogt, and Gio Clairval to get their take on how they review and what they look for when browsing the submissions on the workshop.

Josh Vogt is an aspiring fantasy and science fiction writer. While looking for an agent, he has sold short stories to magazines such as Leading Edge, Shimmer, Dragons, Knights, and Angels, and the Dead Letter Press anthology BOUND FOR EVIL.

Ruthanne Reid is an aspiring urban fantasy author living in the wilds of New England. She has a five-book series in the works, and is currently looking for an agent.

Gio Clairval has completed five novels in a mythic fantasy series with romantic elements. By day, she is an international management consultant. Born on the Lake of Como and a mother of three, she lives in Paris, France, in a flat owned by a Birman cat. Not a 'Burmese', s'il vous plaît.

What makes you decide to choose a particular submission?

Ruthanne: Two things: a good author's introduction (especially essential if this is not Chapter One), and the all-important hook. All the "hook" means is this: making your reader care about your characters, plot, or world enough to turn that first page.

Josh: I see if it hooks me with that first line or paragraph. Sometimes the title catches me, or I follow a particular person's submissions because I've enjoyed their work and want to see more. Other times it's the usual repayment of a critique they did for me.

Gio: Once the reviews I owe are posted, I look for authors I don't know. A title can intrigue me. Or else one of my critting partners signals an interesting author. Sometimes I just pick a sub out of the under-reviewed submissions, or, conversely, those that made at least eight reviews. I don't shy from reviewing subs written by beginners, because I think that it's important for us writers to help one another.

How in depth do you like to get when you review?

Ruthanne: Very. I read for plot, for characterization, and for setting, but grammar and punctuation still matter. While nuts-and-bolts alone do not good writing make, they can derail a good story if done poorly.

Josh: It depends on the quality of the submission. If there are many technical errors or writing craft issues with the story, then I pick a few of those and point them out in a broad sense, not only hoping to improve just that submission, but also to stick something in the writer's mind for future stories. Things like passive verbs, dialogue, pace, etc. Big things that can affect any story. If the story flows pretty well, then I start digging for the more detailed problems that might hamper an all-but-finished piece.

Gio: I usually line-edit thoroughly, and I try to give the grammar/punctuation rationale. I do this not only for the author, but also because it helps me in the analysis of the piece (after spending two hours at least on a chapter or a story, I end up knowing its structure by heart). I give an overall comment, saying what worked for me, and I point out the main weaknesses in plot or writing. Then I list the line-edits. My reviews are two to six pagees long on my word processor, but, once, I wrote fourteen pages...

How do you handle a submission that fails to live up to its potential?

Ruthanne: By focusing on the potential it does have and trying to communicate where I, as a reader, felt it veered off course.

Josh: I try to be honest (yet tactful). If it's someone who admits to being a new writer, I point out some broader themes and techniques that they might be able to add to their writing toolbox. I also encourage them to keep trying, because it's the only way they'll get better. Otherwise, I openly tell the author that the story didn't work for me specifically. I point out a few reasons why, and also mention that I may just not be the audience they were aiming for. Everyone has different tastes, and those certainly can affect a read.

Gio: First, I try to grasp what the author intended to do, what was the story/chapter's theme, and where it failed to do what the author wanted to convey. I begin by saying that there is a lot of potential, and I try to illustrate why, and then I list the points that can be improved. When I have ideas about the plot/characters, I give them to the author.

How has reviewing helped your writing?

Ruthanne: Many ways, but the most important was learning the subtler nuances of tense and point-of-view. The fine line between narrator voice and third-person limited was invisible to me for a very long time. When I helped other authors with the same problem, my own little light bulb finally lit up, and it has completely rejuvenated my writing.

Josh: As many others have found out, I'm sure, the more you review, the sharper your eye gets when turned onto your own work. You see a lot of the same issues you point out in other's pieces, and when you are creating a draft, those questions keep popping up in your head--is this paced well? Is the dialogue strong? Are the characters three-dimensional? The same things you'd ask others to check when they review. The more you review, the more revision becomes second nature, and even enjoyable (at times).

Gio: I am much more aware of style and structure. I recognize my own writing quirks and tics. Another point I am much more aware of now is how to sustain suspense (I tend to rush things), and the necessity of elaborating the character's internal thoughts (I hold back on emotions). Clarity is another issue of mine, sometimes because I (wrongly) tend to conceal plot points. Seeing why and how another writer is not being clear helps me a lot. All this comes much more from reviewing than from getting reviews.

What has been the most gratifying thing that reviewing has done for you?

Ruthanne: Successfully encouraging others to keep working on their craft. The road to publication is very long (tell me about it!), but I fully believe it's worth the effort. It's my hope that other authors will come to want it as much as I do.

Josh: It has put me in touch with some amazing writers. I've loved getting the chance to read a lot of great stories, and even a few full novels at this point. My hope is that a lot of us will remain in touch over the years, whether through OWW, e-mail, web sites, maybe even meeting up at conferences and all. I look forward to celebrating people's sales, and thinking that I might have had a small part in helping that story shine a tiny bit brighter.

Gio: Receiving e-mail from authors who tell me how I am helping them. And, of course, finding critting partners. And, childishly, getting bees. I am about to obtain my third bee, and I am proud to say that wishing to earn three bumblebees never pushed me to shorten or rush my crits.

Thank you for participating in this interview. It was fascinating to see how you process your reviews.

Publication Announcements

Jesse Bangs announces his first sale. "Just letting you all know that I sold a flash fiction piece "Screening of a Silent Film" to the anthology Cinema Spec: Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy.  A huge thanks to fellow workshopper Eva Folsom for reviewing the story for me on very short notice and offering excellent feedback."

Brenta Blevins's story "Beyond" is in the current ChiZine.

Adrienne Clarke's short story"The Swan Wife" was published in the July issue of Les Bonnes Fees webzine. She didn't tell us about it but we found it anyway!

Aliette de Bodard says: "The excellent folks at Interzone want to publish "They Come Bearing Gifts," an SF story with EM pulses, weird aliens and Alzheimer's (not necessarily in that order)."

Rita de Heer's short story "The Carbon-Knitter's Tale" will appear in Canterbury 2100: Pilgrimages in a New World. To be published 2009

Stephen Gaskell's short story "Micro Expressions" was recently published at Cosmos Magazine's website. Check it out!

April Grey's short story "Exile" will appear in the November anthology Terrible Beauty, Fearful Symmetry from Dark Hart Press. Her story "Russell Stover is Your Pal" will appear in the anthology Northern Haunts.

C. S. Inman's first sale is short story "Prince of Wolves" in Issue Two of Expanded Horizons, November 2008.  Congratulations!

Vylar Kaftan reports: "My flash fiction piece "Starshow" will be published in Cinema Spec: Tales of Hollywood and Fantasy."

Sandra McDonald got a birthday surprise. She says: "For my birthday the Submissions Fairy brought me a lovely sale to Strange Horizons, for my story "Diana Comet." It should be appearing as a two-parter next March or so."

Sandra Panicucci sold short story "Order Of The Golden Horn" to the Nov-Jan 08/09 issue of Sorcerous Signals.

From Marshall Payne: "Just got an email from Patrick Swenson that he'd like to buy my SF story "Sausages" for Talebones #38.  I'd like to thank Aliette de Bodard, who read it first and made me believe in it. And Linda Steel for much feedback after I believed in it. This is a sale I really wanted to make!"

Linda Steele's short story "The Rune Hag's Daughter" appears in the Pagan Fiction Anthology (October 2008).  She has also sold her short story "Snake Eater" to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine for January 2009.

On Shelves Now

coverPERFECT CIRCLE by Carlos Cortes (Bantam Spectra, November 2008)

Set in the impenetrable jungles of the African Congo, here is a story that asks if man and nature are fated to clash -- or if the right man can break the cycle.  Heir to a mining dynasty, geologist Paul Reece has chosen a simple life over the scheming opportunism of the International Mining Company. But when IMC approaches him about their mysterious discovery miles beneath the rain forest, Paul is compelled to set aside the sordid event that drove him from his legacy. For the project requires not only a brilliant engineer but one gutsy enough to descend 20,000 feet of solid rock -- into the heart of a miracle. With Paul’s expertise, IMC can unearth a windfall–unless Paul decides to bury them first.  But Paul isn’t alone in his quest. Congo’s mystics have prepared for this day. Paul doesn’t realize it yet, but he’s been chosen to pilot a mission that will decide the fate of humanity.

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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!

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