May 2009 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

On Shelves Now

Membership Info



If it's May, it must be time for the flush of conferences, workshops, and Hugo award winners. Did your favorite author win?

This month we're launching an awesome critique contest sponsored by our very own Charles Coleman Finlay. We hope you'll participate, not only for the prizes, but for the excellent experience that comes with reviewing other writers' work.

In other news, we regret that Walter Williams is stepping down as the Monthly Challenge Dictator. We appreciate all his clever contributions but his departure leaves us with a challenge of our own: we need to find someone to take his place! If you have Evil Overlord tendencies and can think up scenarios in short, punchy sentences, contact us at

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

Hello, I must be going. This month's challenge is to write a scene where two people part, perhaps forever. They simply don't know if they'll ever see each other again. They may be friends, lovers, companions, enemies, rivals, etc. The key here is to get the reader emotionally involved.

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)


Crit Contest
OWW graduate, gentleman about town, and former Support Staff member Charles Coleman Finlay's Traitor To The Crown trilogy debuts this spring from Del Rey, and he's generously donated a set of all three books, signed and personalized, for the workshopper who contributes the most critques in the month of May.

What do you have to do to enter? Nothing except crit! Critiques must be of the minimum length and quality to earn review points for this contest, and as always, we at OWW reserve the right to include or exclude critiques on grounds of quality. The critiques will be tallied in OWW's top-secret moonbase headquarters, and the winner announced in early June.

Happy critiquing, happy reading, and a huge thank you and congratulations to Charlie!


Anthology Announcement
Norilana Books is a relatively new small press publisher (just a little over 2 years old now), and already has three finalists on the Nebula Ballot scheduled for next month. So, if you haven't heard of them yet, you might want to check them out. Some of their more popular anthologies are MZB's Sword & Sorceress (edited by Elisabeth Waters), Lace & Blade (edited by Deborah Ross), Warrior & Wisewoman (edited by Roby James) and Clockwork Phoenix (edited by Mike Allen). All are open submission. Just check the Norilana web site from time to time to find out when the reading periods start. You must either be a member of SFWA, the OWW or personally invited to participate. 

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, Karen Meisner, 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

ELEMENTAL ASSASSIN, Chapter 3 by Raven Matthews

Writing a solid point of view is a difficult and extremely important task that any writer takes on when composing a story. You want to control what your audience knows, not confuse them. Constantly changing viewpoints can be exhilarating to a reader, or it can be very frustrating. The trick is to maintain consistency during each viewpoint change. The other half of the battle is to clearly indicate to the reader when you change points of view.

Raven Matthews does a nice job of switching points of view in a short chapter. The scene moves from one limited third person to another and back again. The breaks are clearly marked, and the action and dialog within the sections are consistent. It is also interesting that because of the structure of the chapter, the reader can follow the conversation among the three teens throughout. But, because the point of view switches back and forth, the reader gets an observer's interpretation of the interaction among the three as well as an insider's interpretation of their conversation.

These two things are noteworthy because it makes for interesting reading. The reader gets the best of both worlds, and it's nearly flawless. The bracketing limited third person sections come from an elemental named Ash, who knows what's going on and what is in store for the teens. The teens, and specifically David, whose point of view the reader gets in the middle section, only know what they can see in front of them. They are, like the reader, wandering into this new world of elementals and assassins, learning as they go.

However, as well as Matthews handles these transitions from one point of view to another, there are some problems with dialog and description. The dialog is clunky--there are times when it doesn't read/feel like how people would talk to each other. The teens come upon a tree full of hung people after avoiding a rock slide, and Matt exhorts Danni to not lose it. However, Matthews doesn't show Danni as being in danger of losing it. In fact, she seems very calm throughout the scene. It would be better to have Matt checking on Danni, "Are you ok?" or to actually have Danni start to freak out so that Matt could calm her down.

In some spots, it's not the dialog that seems confusing. Just after the rockslide, Matt is described as lying motionless and facing away from David and Danni. To me, that implies that he has his back to the brother and sister. But then, David rolls Matt over, which implies that Matt was lying face down. I had a lot of trouble visualizing this scene, so I would suggest that Matthews go over this and be very clear in her head how it is laid out before she changes things.

Another physical description that leaves something to be desired is when David rolls Matt over.  What he sees "had David scramble backwards" and then a rattling that he hears "had him look up." These things -- what he sees and what he hears -- can't "have" him do anything. They can "make" him do things or "cause" him to do things, but not "have" him do things. It's written in passive voice. The sentences should be restructured to be more active, particularly since a lot of action happens at that point.

In the same paragraph, David screams because of the hanging people, and then he looks at Matt, and they "both screamed again." Except Matt hadn't screamed at all yet, so he couldn't scream again. When you use words like again, you have to make sure that what's being attributed as "again" actually works.  This sort of slip-up distracts the reader from fully trusting you and staying immersed in your story.

To get even more nitpicky, Matthews uses one of my wrong-word pet peeves: she uses "passed" when she means "past." Passed is the past tense of the verb to pass. As in, "please pass the butter" and then "he passed the butter." Past, on the other hand, refers to location (a point in time or space). So, the teens would have "rolled past" trees and other detritus when avoiding the rockslide. My biggest wrong word pet peeve is "shutter" instead of "shudder." (I even included into my submissions guidelines that if I saw someone use "shutter" when they meant "shudder" I would reject their submission!)

But these are all fixable things. The main component is that Matthews is keeping her point of view consistent, even when she changes it. The plot is clear and defined, which is a big first step in getting the reader to keep turning the page. In my job as an editor, I see a lot of writing in which the point of view wanders from character to character in the narrative without any clear indication that the point of view is going to change. Matthews doesn't do that to her readers, and you should appreciate that.

--John Klima, Editor, Electric Velocipede

Editors' Choices, Science Fiction

VICESTEED, Chapter 27 by Abra Staffin Wiebe

In this competent action-filled chapter we enter mid-stride -- Valinda (aka Verity) has chased down a so-called friend, proceeds to interrogate her, then falls into battle with a grotesque pursuer in what appears to be Victorian-era Earth. This of course is just the framework for a future world where Valinda is a former "vicesteed" (fantastic neologism, by the way) in pursuit of her past identity. All of the elements of a great read are quickly set up, and even though this is twenty-seven chapters in, there is a strong sense of energy and urgency that compels the reader -- a good sign, since one assumes that if the first twenty-six chapters had been read, even more interest and investment would be taken from the narrative.

The summary in the beginning of the chapter gives a decent grounding of the action but is still a little confusing, especially when there is no direct line of even the most general events -- where the protagonist has traveled and in what order. Since writing summaries/synopses for agents and editors is an important part of submitting your work, a brief look at it to make sure it's as clear as possible would be beneficial. Try to avoid whiplash reaction in the reader, where something is established (Valinda's status as a vicesteed, artificial intelligences, a pseudo-Victorian backdrop) and then a seemingly random action (Valinda gets on a spaceship) is introduced. There are multiple planets in this future? A future galactic government? It would take only one line to give that expansion of detail and would provide a reader with a better grounding of the narrative. Even if all you're writing is a single-paragraph blurb, including essential details for an overall understanding in the reader is paramount.

In the actual chapter there is immediate and wonderful use of language. Though spare, it doesn't seem too scant (though some vague descriptions can be tightened and made more specific later in the chapter). Simple but effective similes like this work well:

As she read the handwritten note on the back, her face paled, making the red handprint on her cheek stand out like a fresh bloodstain.

As does the contrast in tone between Valinda and Anna, where Anna uses an older-sounding phrasing. Having a girl who is supposedly a part of a pseudo-Victorian milieu talk in modern slang would be jarring unless that was a specific point of the world or narrative.

As mentioned before there are some places where description could be tightened or honed better, even in the above example -- watch for redundancy. The "red" description of the handprint doesn't necessarily need to be used when the simile is "like a fresh bloodstain" since the color is then implied. Another place of redundancy is in this:

"Shit!" Valinda swore.

Oftentimes, tags like "said" or "shouted" aren't needed when it's implied contextually, and the writer can launch instead into whatever action the character is doing instead of describing how things are said. These are things that can be fixed when the draft is honed, as a matter of tightening the narrative. Be also mindful of repetition, as in "He fell to the ground like a felled tree," as this sort of repetition of words or parts of words appear a few times in the chapter. There are also some inconsistencies where blood was mentioned on the sole of Valinda's foot but she was in fact wearing shoes. Watch the choice of words -- pick the ones that are the most accurate to convey meaning, not throwaway words that generally aim for the target.  An few examples:

A muffled bang and the sound of screaming broke Valinda's complacency.

"Complacency" seemed to be the wrong word for someone like Valinda, who is supposed to be a skilled fighter. Though she is confident in her abilities, a fighter wouldn't be complacent in a threatening (or potentially threatening) situation like that.

"It isn't safe!" said a woman whose glass crown sat askew on an unraveling hairstyle.

Is it an updo? Be as specific as possible in even casual description, as this cements the story and adds life. Even something as innocuous as the wallpaper in the Prime Minister's mansion could be better described to give a fuller picture of the world.  If the writer is going to use it as a detail, have it tell something that enhances the narrative.

These are nitpicking details but they do stand out in any draft and the cleaner the narrative is, the less reason there is to pause while reading it. Overall the chapter moves along with interesting interaction (the fight with Luke and his disfigurement are well played), though there are some logical stumbling blocks once Valinda gets to the mansion. After some thought was given to bypassing her bedroom and moving to the study, her sudden turnaround of priorities doesn't seem to make sense; it is also odd that the study is on the second floor and not the first. And why couldn't she simply ask the homechuli when the Prime Minister was due back to the house so she could explore freely? This would not be a question that would flag alarm.

Still, finding the diary (a necessary plot point, it just needs to be arrived at more naturally) is a perfect way to end the chapter of this interesting narrative and world, and propel the reader to the next.

--Karin Lowachee

Editors' Choices, Short Story

"No More Games" by John Chu

"No More Games" takes a futuristic techno-spy scenario and applies it in satisfying ways to the negotiation of a relationship. Hark is secretly an illegal cyborg, who accurately suspects his boyfriend is involved with a military group that may be out to decommission him. Meanwhile, Tyler, the boyfriend, has his own hidden agenda. The two must navigate their suspicions and fears in finding out what they really mean to each other, while fulfilling their political goals. There's all sorts of terrific stuff going on in here: action, intrigue, and a love story that's charming without being sentimental. It's a smart, sweet story that gives us some fascinating glimpses into an original imagining of a cyborg's frame of mind.

The interplay between Hark and Tyler as lovers who are also undercover opponents has a nice shape to it: I like how they move from concealing to revealing, going their separate ways, then discovering new levels of trust. I do feel, though, that in a story revolving around the dynamic between these two, we need more evidence that they have a real relationship. I see this a lot in stories featuring a point-of-view character with a robotic mentality: it can be difficult to get the reader emotionally engaged, since the character himself isn't very expressive, either in his behavior or what we can see of his inner process. The story begins with a Go game that sets us up to view Hark and Tyler as adversaries, and what we're shown of their relationship--the doubt, suspicion, deception--seems to confirm that. So when Tyler asks Hark to marry him, it seems to come out of the blue. We can see that Tyler has feelings about it, but it's hard to get a sense of Hark's response, which makes the proposal seem like a manipulation. At this point in the story, I am wondering: do they actually love each other? Why would Tyler propose to someone who doesn't show any feelings? What does Hark bring to the table, emotionally, that makes a relationship possible? I enjoy the gamesmanship in that first scene, but I'm also wishing for more warmth--humor, affection, companionship, understanding--to come through. In contrast, the friendship between Hark and Gray is wonderfully alive: playful and funny, with a sense of trust and understanding between them. It would be great to see some of that warmth in the relationship between Hark and Tyler.

One of the hardest things for an author to judge (because to the author it's all obvious) is how much information is comprehensible to a reader who doesn't go in knowing the backstory. After reading "No More Games" a few times, the plot all started to make sense to me--but in my initial reading, I had a hard time sorting out the role of MISA and the skunkworks team and the relative positions of each character to those organizations. We get a lot of information dropped on us very quickly and casually, between Hark's history with MISA and his secret plan to destroy them and Tyler's role in all of this and so forth. I'm willing to buy all of it, but the way it's presented to us makes the plot seem more convoluted than it needs to be. Look at the exchange that begins when Tyler asks Hark to marry him: there's hardly any change in tone, pace, or intensity between their Go game, the marriage proposal, and the sudden exposure of secrets they've been keeping from each other for years. All of this is important, but it gets buried and obscured by the too-steady pacing of all the dialogue around it. The characters are finally revealing vital information that's going to change their lives forever. Even if they hide their reactions from each other, this information is new to us, and the story needs to give us breathing room to absorb it. I'd like for some of these bombs they're dropping to make more impact when they hit.

An early example of this comes four paragraphs in, when we get what seems like a throwaway line or two about an entropy source and MISA agents. On a first read, this felt very confusing. I like that the story doesn't dwell in explanations and exposition, but the obliqueness of these references combined with the mechanical nature of Hark's perspective were off-putting. I'd actually love to see more about the entropy source, because the way it's handled in this story has such a richness, in the uncertainty and frightening lack of control that's part of getting close to someone else. The blend of cyborg mechanisms and emotional truths is really well done, as when Tyler attempts to break through to Hark by giving him the verbal cue to accept data uncritically. What a neat way to express the struggle between trust and insecurity and control! More depth and layers come through in Hark's attempts to build a predictable model of Tyler, and the "systematic bias in his model" of underestimating how much his boyfriend loves him. This is a great use of science fiction to tell a human story.

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

--Karen Meisner, Editor, Strange Horizons

Editors' Choices, Horror

"Children Dumpling Soup" by Erin Stocks

This is the charming and disturbing story of Hephzibah, the cousin-once-removed of the evil witch who was killed by Hansel and Gretel. Hephzibah considers herself a good, healing witch and struggles with her desire to eat children. But when she discovers a child alone in the forest, the temptation is too much for her. She brings the child home to feed him, but gradually makes plans to eat him. Before she can act on her plan, the child reveals himself to be a troll in disguise and attempts to eat Hephzibah. Her magical broom sacrifices himself to save her. Hephzibah is at first upset and disappointed, but then begins thinking of ways to cook the troll. A child comes to the door selling bread, and Hephzibah invites her in, contemplating cooking the child.

The writing is very nice, evoking a fairy-tale feel. Hephzibah's constant creation of recipes in her head is fun and fascinating, and really makes the story feel fresh and different. Her internal conflict is strong and well developed; we see her going back and forth between what she wants to believe she is and the desires she can't banish. That works well.

The area that I think could be improved is the plot. The plot has many threads right now, and they don't all work together to create a unified whole. Here are some of the plot threads in the story:

1. Hephzibah seems to be in possession of her cousin's recipe book, which seems to haunt her in some way with the possibilities it offers. This thread doesn't seem to go anywhere. I'm not sure if you even intend it, but it's what I'm thinking as I read.

2. You say that most of the townspeople never got over the cousin's horrible deeds, which makes me think the townspeople will have some effect on the story's events. This thread also doesn't go anywhere.

3. Hephzibah is a healing witch, which makes me think she must interact with the townspeople, including children, offering them poultices and medicines. This makes me confused when Hephzibah touches the boy and receives a shock to her system. Has she never touched a child before in her life? That seems unlikely.

4. The broom talks about making something like a gingerbread house, which makes me think it wants her to kill children. This thread doesn't seem to go anywhere.

5. The wind seems attracted to Hephzibah. A minor point, but it would be nice to tie all these things together.

6. The troll disguises himself as a child to get to Hephzibah. This implies several things: a) the troll needs to get her trust to attack her (which seems untrue; he gains no advantage by being in her house), b) the troll either believes Hephzibah is kind and will help the child (in which case I don't know why he wants to eat her) or that she'll want to take him home so she can eat the child (which suggests he lumps her and her cousin together and perhaps had a beef with her cousin). This causes some major problems. We don't even know trolls exist in your universe until the boy transforms into a troll, and the troll's plan seems completely nonsensical. Hephzibah never seems afraid of the small troll, and the troll never seems to have a chance to eat Hephzibah. I don't know why he wants to eat her. Do trolls often eat witches? If so, we need to know that at the beginning. Why is this troll going through all this trouble to target her?

7. In retrospect, I conclude that the boy keeps asking for worms because he needs them to transform into a troll, but this was pretty confusing while I was reading the story. The boy had plenty of worms earlier; why does he need her to cook them and feed them to him? It seems kind of random, not like part of a strong causal chain.

8. While the broom is fun, its character seems inconsistent. I don't know why it doesn't tell her immediately that the boy is a troll, and I don't know why it sacrifices itself to save her. That doesn't make for a satisfying climax, since the main character is not solving the problem but merely watching while the sidekick solves the problem.

9. Now that I have concluded, near the end of the story, that Hephzibah has never touched a child in her life, a girl shows up at her front door. This seems way too convenient and unlikely. This thread also seems completely unnecessary, since the internal conflict has already been resolved. Hephzibah had decided to eat the boy; that's when the internal conflict was resolved. When the broom killed the troll, the external conflict was resolved. Presenting the internal conflict again, through the girl, is repetitive. The story would have ended more strongly with her planning how to cook the troll. That's a fun moment that fits the tone of the story.

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

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


photoThis month I am pleased to introduce the perfectly charming and eloquent Carlos Cortes. His first two fiction titles in English, PERFECT CIRCLE and PRISONER, will be published by Bantam, a division of Random House, in 2008 and 2009 respectively. I didn't know anything about Carlos when I interviewed him but somehow he managed to captivate me with his grace and charm. I've no doubt his novels are just as remarkable.

I asked Carlos a little about his background and he said:

After twenty years of wandering and building weird structures on all five continents, I returned to Spain, this time to Barcelona. There, with of scores of technical papers in my background--published to nurture my ego while in the wilds--I started writing.

I wrote a score of technical texts on lighting and fiber optics and three books on bridge--not the one with a span but about the 13-card game. Then I started to write fiction.

My first novel was huge; all the pent-up ideas went into half a million words of a cryptic arcane book that no publisher would touch with a barge pole. Later I split the novel into four and made a saga.
At around this time I lost what little sanity I had left, and translated one of my novels into English, after all Conrad was a foreigner and he did well. Of course, I did not take into consideration that there is only one like him born every century and one like me every four seconds.

Now I've published a couple of novels, a few more are doing the rounds, and I'm hoping to immigrate to California and reunite with my family.

I work as R&D vice-president for a Norwegian fiber-optics group, play bridge, and write like an indentured scribe.

Incomparable and sublime, Carlos Cortes is an author to watch and read. I hope you enjoy his interview.


coverTell us about PERFECT CIRCLE. What is the story about (the elevator speech) and where did the idea spring from?

The plot is straightforward. Five miles below the Congo Ituri Forest, the International Mining Corporation detects a strong magnetic source. Ituri is a national park and the Congo Republic has been at war for the best part of a century.

IMC engineers propose a visionary plan to drill a narrow shaft and drop a manned capsule. Thus begins a frantic race against time, technology's edge, government agencies and a clan with arcane knowledge.

The IMC locates the one man qualified to handle the exploration, Paul Reece, a brilliant geologist and estranged grandson of Hugh Reece, the IMC's president.

Deep into the Earth, Paul finds more that his mind, schooled by scientific tradition and custom, can grasp. But embrace it he must, if humanity is to survive.

Throw in warlords, pygmies, an alien, and a bunch of misfits. Shake well.

I've always been fascinated by scores of oddities that contradict neo-Darwinian evolution. Punctuated equilibrium could justify a few singularities, but saltationist theory explains most evolutionary voids. One day I set out to flesh a mechanism to trigger saltations. The result was Perfect Circle.

I've read on your blog that you've lived in 32 countries. How has your traveling influenced your writing?

Anyone who has firsthand experience of different cultures is enriched. It can't be otherwise. Breaking bread with a Jew in Israel, smoking a sisha with Muslims in the Sahara, and shooting craps with Christians by the Vatican walls have a profound impact in anybody's outlook on life and our society. A few weeks ago, I was in Kuwait. When I expressed my surprise about the Chinese personnel on a building site, a colleague pointed out the workers were convicts.  It seems the Chinese government hires out prisoners at $20 a day, plus bunk and bowl of rice. I spoke with a few of the convicts. For them it was good deal. They didn't get a cent, but the alternative residence in a Chinese prison was much worse. Why didn't they attempt to escape? Where to? Iraq? The desert? On the flight back I wrote a chapter-by-chapter synopsis of Rice Gang.

Tell us about your "call" story. What was your reaction when you learned that PERFECT CIRCLE had been sold? Relief, or did your wife have to tether you to the ground?

The call was in two parts. Four weeks after signing the contract with my agent, I received an e-mail from her. An editor from Random House had read the Perfect Circle manuscript and loved the first part. If the author agreed to rewrite the second part, add a few chapters, delete a few thousand words, kill half a dozen characters, and create several others, he would consider READING it again in three weeks. I kid you not.

I recall telling my agent that if the editor wanted my macho hero decked in sequined platforms and falsies I would oblige. Two weeks later, on a Friday, I sent off the rewritten manuscript.

Tuesday the following week, at three o'clock in the morning, my agent called (I was in Barcelona) to say the editor had bought it.

Yet the story didn't end there. Though what follows is anecdotal, I feel that my fellow writers at OWW can extract from it a sobering lesson about the realities of publishing. Four weeks later, I received the manuscript back from another editor at Bantam, requesting I delete several chapters, add others, kill a few characters, and create others. This time with a shorter deadline: two weeks. By then I was getting the hang of it. I rescued previously deleted material (saved for a rainy day) pasted it back, messed about with the manuscript and returned it a week later. This time it's perfect, the editor said.

To this date, I suspect the ridiculously short deadlines were a test of sorts.

Your wife SJ Thomas is also an author. I can think of several advantages to living with another author. Can you name one disadvantage in having two authors living in the same house?

You're right. There are many advantages to living with another author, although we spend the best part of the year an ocean away. We read, edit and pull apart each other's work, comment on ideas, and end up fighting like cats over plot points. But it's fun.

If we both wrote in the same genre, I could foresee problems. But that's not the case as she writes fantasy. So, I can't name a disadvantage.

What is your typical writing day like?

I have a full-time job and I travel extensively. On workdays, I write on a PDA or laptop on lunch breaks, waiting for flights or, if I am in Barcelona, a few hours in the evenings on my apartment's computer.

On weekends, starting early on Friday afternoon, I clock around forty hours of writing or 20,000 words. My agent sold The Prisoner, my second book for Bantam, with a short synopsis and the first chapters. I delivered the 130,000-word manuscript eight weeks later.

Lots of writers dream of being published. You had an interesting viewpoint differentiating being an artist or building bricks. Could you explain that further?

Pablo Ruiz Picasso once said that painters produced what the public demanded. Artists, on the other hand, didn't give a damn about the public; they just painted.

In literature, we have similar extremes. Some authors strive to create art and there's nothing wrong with that, as long as they're aware of the market limitations. A few years ago, a literary critic in The New York Times ranted about a best-selling author, "he may sell zillions but this is still trash." Er... perhaps. But the author in question sold eleven million copies, by implication, to eleven million trash consumers. I've secretly harbored the notion that if Salman Rushdie had not contrived to get a price on his head he would have sold a dozen copies of The Satanic Verses, probably to aunty Gladys and a few harassed friends.

In my opinion, writers should consider early in their careers if they want to write for an elite or for the market. By "the market" I mean the great majority of readers. Then it's a question of finding out what the market wants.

How did you go about finding your agent?

Like everybody else, by sending out queries.  

I wrote Perfect Circle in Spanish, a paltry novella with close to half a million words. When a compassionate agent in Spain suggested I split the tome into reasonable chunks and write it in English I thought, why not?  So I divided the text into four, translated it into Spanglish, and sent it off to hundreds of agents to collect a similar number of rejections.

Something was obviously wrong with American agents. Couldn't they appreciate my bewitching talent? Were they blind to my sublime mastery?  Then I came to my senses and realized my writing was garbage. I joined OWW.

In the five years spent learning a modicum of this fiendish language (a fair number of them being daily thrashed by the OWW fiends), I rewrote Perfect Circle, four other novels, two non-fiction books and over one-hundred short stories. In addition, I wrote the structures of two-dozen additional projects. Then I made lists of agents, classified by genre, and sent queries out for five manuscripts.

Almost by return, I received several requests for partials, and another handful for complete manuscripts. A week after sending them off, I fielded a phone call from an agent and agreed to sign with her.

The following day, I received a second call, this one from one of the New York heavyweights. He was disappointed when I said I had already given my word to someone else. Sometimes, having principles is an expensive hobby. My agent was new to the business and hadn't sold a single title.

Live and learn. In the year I was contractually bound to my rookie agent, I wrote more novels and studied the industry.

Once I was free, I prepared once more several packages for different genres and sent queries out. Two weeks later, I signed with a "real" agent.

What would you gladly give up and why?

My full-time job. I want to eke out a living from writing and move permanently to be with my family in California. Yes, I know it's a chimera, but I have to try. Bantam has an option on my current work, Light Bondage, and I will know within few weeks if they buy it or pass. If they go for it, it will mean three or four additional titles. Meantime I'm readying a few manuscripts under a pseudonym that my agent will attempt to peddle: Mahdi; Bad Water; Moonshards and Cordova, a series. If it works, I will invent another pseudonym, and then another...

What is your favorite part of the day?

It depends where I happen to be. If I am in California it's spending time with my family and attempting to teach the kids how to eat with chopsticks. Claire, the little one (she's only 3) refuses to eat pasta with any other implement.

In Barcelona, at the end of the day, I usually grab a smoke and a glass of Malt in a bath full of piping hot water. There, I explain scenes to my four rubber ducks while they listen attentively and in silence, though they bob their heads from time to time.

Publication Announcements

Darla J. Bowen says, "I was a member of OWW for over a year and received lots of wonderful insight from those who reviewed the pieces I submitted. Some of those have been since reworked and are awaiting acceptance. But I have had some success. My first published story is now available, with others on their way. 'For Honor' is in the April issue of Lorelei Signal. 'Duties' will appear in Flash Scribe, 'Awaiting Mother's Ride' will be in the May issue of Silver Blade, 'Into the Fray' will be in the July issue of Bards and Sages Quarterly, 'Portrait in Red and Gold' has been accepted by MindFlights. I have submitted 40 times to get these 5 acceptances. I consider that very successful." 


Stephen Gaskell reports: "I recently sold a couple of stories. 'Under An Arctic Sky' went through OWW a few years ago and was given a thorough polishing after crits from B.K. Dunn, Magda Knight, Adrian Krag, Rebecca Stefoff, and a phantom critiquer who remains nameless. It will be appearing at Futurismic in the near future. 'Prisoners', one of my Clarion 2006 submission stories that helped get me into the workshop (and was mercilessly red-penned by Michael Swanwick, our second week instructor, afterwards), has sold to M-Brane SF."


Leonid Korogodski tells us: "I have just been informed that my story was awarded the first place in the Adult division at the OddContest. The OddContest is an annual competition for speculative (science fiction, fantasy, or horror) stories or prose poems no longer than 500 words. For my submission, I took an excerpt from my 28K Pink Noise novella, modified it and trimmed it down to 500 words exactly."

Ron Leming, aka Bonestructure, says, "Sold my story 'Fox Goes Fission' to the Severed Press Dead Bait anthology. Third time I've sold this story. Which I think is kinda cool. Not a major anthology or anything, but I thought a horror anthology about fishing was a very cool idea, so I submitted. And it's an Australian anthology, so this makes my first publication in Australia. S'funny, even after all these years of bashing away at it, you still get a thrill out of an acceptance. It never seems to get tired. Maybe if I was Stephen King and turning out 47 books a year I might get tired of it, but I ain't. Oh, and I did rewrite and polish it up a tiny bit before subbing it to the anthology. It was written like, 20 years ago, and just because it's been published twice, that's no reason not to try to spiff it up a tad."

Tom Marcinko reports: "I recently sold a short story, 'Temperance,' to an as-yet-untitled anthology to be published by Circlet Press. It wasn't workshopped -- I had to work straight up to the deadline. But I will say this: The workshop helps me focus, gets me thinking about the effect of words on a reader, which in the end is all we have."

On Shelves Now

A SPELL FOR THE REVOLUTION by Charles Coleman Finlay (Del Rey Books, May 2009)

coverAfter making early gains on the battlefields, General Washington's struggling young armies are being relentlessly pressed back by British troops and Hessian mercenaries. Among the enemy's ranks is a mysterious force from the Covenant, a secret society of witches that for centuries has been pulling the strings of European history: a Hessian necromancer who drinks the power of other witches like a vampire and whose allies include devils and ghosts. Now this man seeks to sap the fighting spirit of Washington's troops by means of a pernicious curse, chaining the souls of the dead to the spirits of the living.

Against him stands Proctor Brown and Deborah Walcott, two young patriots who lead a ragtag band of witches as much in danger from their own side as from the enemy. Proctor and Deborah must find a way to break the Hessian's curse before the newborn revolution is smothered in its cradle-and the Covenant extends its dark dominion to the shores of America, extinguishing forever the already sputtering torch of liberty.


coverTOUCH OF FIRE by Maria Zannini (Samhain Publishing, April 2009)

The last apocalypse transformed Earth into a fusion of culture, language and religion. But it also gave birth to a new race of people, the Elementals, mages who can wield one of the four Elements: earth, water air and fire.

When an ancient book surfaces, it threatens to reintroduce technology to a world that knows only magic. Leda, a fire Elemental, has been charged with retrieving the book -- but all she finds is Greyhawke Tams, a plainfolk scavenger who'd rather rot in jail than help one of her kind. Grey is determined to thwart her at every turn, but when they realize someone is out to kill them both, it's a race for survival to find the book before their enemies do. Their journey leads them to the terrible truth about Old Earth and how the Elementals emerged from its collapse.

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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!

The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
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