January 2011 Newsletter



Monthly Writing Challenge

Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

Membership Info



Welcome to 2011!

We start out the year with a new Resident Editor for fantasy whose name we're sure you'll recognize if you are anything but a brand-new OWW member.  Elizabeth Bear is a long time member of OWW, an oft-published novelist, a winner of many prizes, and a Clarion instructor, and we're delighted that she's joined our team. She comes to us with a wealth of experience and thoughtful insights.

In this month's Grapevine, there's also an announcement on Odyssey's upcoming summer program. If you're ready to take your education to the next level, the Odyssey Writing Workshop is a great place to start. Odyssey has graduated some amazing authors into the ranks of the published.  It's run by Jeanne Cavelos, who contributes a helpful review each month as our Resident Editor for horror.

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

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

Monthly Writing Challenge

Your characters lost something, whether through mischance or enemy action. How do they get it back, learn to live without it, or create a substitute? Maybe, if you want to write a downer, they can't ultimately sustain themselves without after all.

The thing lost doesn't have to be a concrete object; it can be their freedom, their health, their social position, or their individual powers or anything else you can come up with.

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

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Maria (newsletter (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com). 



Since its founding in 1996, Odyssey has become one of the most respected workshops in the science fiction, fantasy, and horror writing community. Odyssey is for developing writers whose work is approaching publication quality and for published writers who want to improve their work. The six-week workshop combines advanced lectures, exercises, extensive writing, and in-depth feedback on student manuscripts. Top authors, editors, and agents have served as guest lecturers, including George R. R. Martin, Harlan Ellison, Jane Yolen, Terry Brooks, Robert J. Sawyer, Ben Bova, Nancy Kress, Elizabeth Hand, Jeff VanderMeer, Donald Maass, Sheila Williams, Shawna McCarthy, Carrie Vaughn, and Dan Simmons. Fifty-three percent of Odyssey graduates go on to professional publication.

The program is held every summer on Saint Anselm College's beautiful campus in Manchester, NH. Saint Anselm is one of the finest liberal arts colleges in the country, dedicated to excellence in education, and its campus provides a peaceful setting and state-of-the-art facilities for Odyssey students. College credit is available upon request.

Jeanne Cavelos, Odyssey's director and primary instructor, is a best-selling author and a former senior editor at Bantam Doubleday Dell Publishing, where she won the World Fantasy Award for her work. As an editor, Cavelos worked with many different types of writers and found ways to help all of them improve their work. She provides students with insightful and constructive critiques of their work. "I give the same unflinchingly honest, concrete, detailed feedback that I provided as a senior editor," Cavelos said. Her typewritten critiques average over 1,200 words, and her handwritten line edits on manuscripts are extensive. In addition, she guides students through the six weeks, gaining in-depth knowledge of their work, providing detailed assessments of their strengths and weaknesses in private meetings, and helping them target their weaknesses one by one.

Odyssey class time is split between workshopping sessions and lectures. An advanced, comprehensive curriculum covers the elements of fiction writing in depth. While feedback reveals the weaknesses in students' manuscripts, lectures teach the tools and techniques necessary to strengthen them.

The workshop runs from June 6 to July 15, 2011. Class meets for four hours in the morning, five days a week. Students spend about eight hours more per day writing and critiquing each other's work. Prospective students, aged eighteen and up, apply from all over the world. The early admission application deadline is JANUARY 31, and the regular admission deadline is APRIL 8. Tuition is $1900, and housing is $775 for a double room and $1550 for a single.

Meet Our 2011 Writer-in-Residence

Odyssey's 2011 writer-in-residence is award-winning author Gary A. Braunbeck. Braunbeck has published 25 books, over 200 short stories, and co-edited 2 anthologies. Though he is best known as a writer of dark fantasy and horror, he has also published in the fields of mystery, suspense, science fiction, fantasy, bizarro, Western, and mainstream literature. His work has won numerous awards. But most important, Gary is an experienced and highly praised teacher and mentor. Gary serves as an adjunct professor at Seton Hill University's Master's program in Writing Popular Fiction. He has also taught writing seminars and workshops around the country

Other Guest Lecturers

The 2011 workshop has an exciting line-up of award-winning guest lecturers, who also happen to be some of the top teachers in the field: authors Elizabeth Bear, Barry B. Longyear, Theodora Goss, and Christopher Golden; and editor John Joseph Adams.

Odyssey Graduates

Graduates of the Odyssey Writing Workshop have been published in the top fiction magazines and by the top book publishers in the field. You can find their stories in recent issues of many magazines, including Realms of Fantasy, Analog, Asimov's, Weird Tales, Orson Scott Card's Intergalactic Medicine Show, and Fantasy Magazine; and in recent anthologies, including Wild Cards I, The Living Dead 2, Blood Lite 2, and Full Moon City. Recent novels published by Odyssey graduates include Kitty Goes to War and Discord's Apple by Carrie Vaughn, published by Tor Books; Dark Designs by Luisa Prieto, published by MLR Press; Kings and Assassins by Lane Robins, published by Del Rey; Foxfire by Barbara Campbell, published by DAW; The Bastard Queen by Elaine Isaak, published by Swimming Kangaroo Books; and Ghosts and Echoes by Lyn Benedict, published by Ace Books.

Rhiannon Held, a graduate of the 2006 workshop, just sold her first novel, Silver, and two sequels to Tor.

She describes her development as a writer this way: "What I was missing was the bigger picture. . . . That's what Odyssey and Jeanne Cavelos gave me. Looking back, I wouldn't tell you that Odyssey taught me plot, or Odyssey taught me dialogue. It did, of course, very good plot and very good dialogue, but more importantly it taught me to think about writing, and to learn about writing. It gave me a fundamental mindset that has helped me learn after Odyssey, and keep learning even now. . . . Odyssey gave me the thinking and learning skills to succeed."

Comments from the Class of 2010

"I've taken part in other writing programs, and I can attest to the fact that Odyssey is in a different league. . . . I am so exhausted, but so happy to have experienced Odyssey. I would do it again in a heartbeat. And I wish I could do it again. I wholeheartedly recommend Odyssey to any writers who are dedicated to seriously improving their craft." --Meira Marom

"Odyssey is tougher and more intense than any workshop or writer's conference I've attended. By having one mentor and total immersion, I've made more breakthroughs in six weeks at Odyssey than in two years in an MFA program. Jeanne is thoughtful and compassionate, but doesn't let students get away with anything. Her insightfulness and dedication are Odyssey's greatest resources." --Eileen Wiedbrauk

Other Odyssey Resources and Services

The Odyssey Web site, www.odysseyworkshop.org, offers many resources for writers, including online classes, a critique service, free podcasts, writing and publishing tips, and a weekly writing LiveJournal, as well as more information about how to apply. Those interested in applying to the workshop should visit the Web site, phone (603) 673-6234, or e-mail jcavelos@sff.net.

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/Gary A. Braunbeck, Karen Meisner, Elizabeth Bear, 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

TWENTY-ONE GRAMS HEAVIER, Prologue and Chapter 1
by Ursula Murphy

For accuracy's sake, I should mention that this review encompasses both the chapter and the prologue, posted separately. I did not feel as if I could address one without considering the other, as the strengths and weaknesses of each reinforce one another.

In these opening passages of Twenty-One Grams Heavier, Ms. Murphy offers an intriguing glimpse of a protagonist (Tommy) haunted--even possessed--by ghosts, struggling with his fate, and reduced to desperate circumstances. It's a situation fraught with drama, and ripe with opportunities for drama.  Unfortunately, Murphy is not yet exploiting those opportunities as thoroughly as they deserve.

First, the good news. Tommy has several of the essential elements of a first-person narrator. He's sharp, witty, and likeable. He cares for others, and makes an effort to help them. He has a sense of humor, and a reasonable, amusing level of sarcasm. All of these are things that will help the audience bond with him, which is a near-inescapable requirement for a first-person narrator. If we're going to be trapped in an elevator with this guy for the duration of a novel, so to speak, it helps a lot if we enjoy his company rather than enduring it.

Reading a novel does not have to hurt. And we authors will be more heavily rewarded with readers if we can make it a pleasurable experience.

Additionally, Tommy's situation is interesting. He is a man beset by ghosts--ghosts who possess him, and cause him to do things we haven't yet quite learned the details of, but which are terrible enough that he's willing to subject himself to imprisonment and suffer a beating in order to prevent the possession from happening. Additionally, some of the scene-setting is beautifully written. I am in particular enamored of the opening paragraph of Chapter One and the reversal in the second paragraph that changes the reader's expectations of what the story is about.

Unfortunately, while it's a lovely pair of paragraphs, it is not an effective pair of first paragraphs. In fact, there's just not enough of import going on in these first four thousand words of novel.

It's not a lack of action that's at issue, because Tommy gets himself imprisoned and beaten in the brief prologue, and then (we assume, some time later) in Chapter One is newly sober and still beset by ghosts. One of the issues there (and one of the reasons so many people say they don't like prologues) is that that time-jump requires the writer to set the hook twice. In the (unexplained) gap between the prologue and Chapter One, the readers get lost, which means the writer has to do the work of getting them back.

That kind of thing can be deadly to a narrative.

And Chapter One doesn't do a particularly effective job of getting the reader re-invested. I think there are several reasons why this is happening. One is because it's an ordinary day, albeit an ordinary day in the life of a homeless person, and ordinary days are very rarely interesting.

There are some tricks that the writer can use to make an ordinary day captivating. One such technique is to make the character's ordinary day a thing of fascination--which requires, among other things, that the day be not very ordinary to readers. That seems to be the most obvious opportunity here, since most readers are not going to be familiar with the details of Tommy's life, and I'm a big fan of elegance--of doing what needs to be done within a narrative in the easiest manner possible and saving the stunt writing and special effects for when you need them. Megan Lindholm's Wizard of the Pigeons might be useful reading if Ms. Murphy chooses this approach.

Another technique, one probably less appropriate here, is the use of humor. As an example of that, see the opening of the movie "Shaun of the Dead."

But frankly, I'm not convinced this story needs that exposition. It seems to me that what the author is doing here is trying to give us a sense of Tommy's day. I suspect she realizes that it's not very gripping, and that's the reason the prologue has been tacked on. But it feels very tacked on, especially since it doesn't develop--it just stops, and then we pick up some time later without sufficient resolution. An easy way to fix that is with a tool dreaded by all writers: the transition. If the narrative moves readers through that intervening time rather than skipping over it, we no longer have to re-establish our connection, because it's never been broken.

Which leaves us with the second immediate problem--making readers invest in the narrative, and giving the narrative a sense of urgency. A lot of journeyman writers try to do this through violent action, as Ms. Murphy has done in these passages. Unfortunately, this rarely works, because readers invests in a character not because there is violent action going on, but because the character in turn cares deeply about something. She's got the beginnings of that here, where Tommy sacrifices his meager bankroll to Mickey, but the problem remains that Tommy is largely a passive character. In the prologue he's active, and I like him better. By the end of Chapter One, though, that fondness has faded, because I'm waiting for him to want something.

Kurt Vonnegut said, in advice to other writers, that you must "Make characters want something right away--even if it's only a glass of water. Characters paralyzed by the meaninglessness of modern life still have to drink water from time to time."

He was absolutely correct. Tommy needs to want something, and he needs to be moving towards it from word one. That will give the audience the patience to endure the world-building and explanations until the narrative gets rolling.

It also helps to start your story with a vivid sentence that raises a question in readers' minds. This is called a "hook," and readers keep reading to answer that question. (The trick to keep them reading is to answer that question in such a manner as to immediately raise another question.) That hook can take many forms, but I think in this case it's already in the story as written. I think it's the last line of that first chapter: "The ghosts always smile at the sun."

Now there's a sentence that makes me wonder what's going on here, and what's going to happen from now on.

--Elizabeth Bear

Editors' Choices, Science Fiction

by Elizabeth Coley

Engaging characters, crisp prose and an interesting, rollicking plotline are staple traits in YA fiction. With the market being so popular now, teens have a lot to choose from, and any book entering that fray would have to capture the fancy of a young reader right out of the gate. This month's EC, though it's a Chapter 3, manages to do all of that using a bright, witty voice and point-of-view(s), though the title doesn't truly suggest these positive qualities, but instead reads somewhat generic; an easy fix all the same.

The concept for this novel is a simple one and has been used before in other ways, from movies to books: Jeremy is pronounced brain-dead and his body is donated to Dylan. The problem sets in when Jeremy's consciousness doesn't die, so now the two teenagers share the one "house." Though the concept isn't original, like most books it's in the execution where we find success and like any book, whether for adults or young people, it hinges on character. Jeremy isn't simply sharing his body now, he feels actually trapped -- and likens the experience to a sensory deprivation chamber. Dylan, meanwhile, discovers that it isn't a smooth transition -- on a mental as well as on a physical level -- and that the previous owner of his new body has skills ("muscle memory") that he didn't. We assume that as the book progresses more discoveries of this nature will manifest and turn these characters even more upside down.

The realizations so far are all shown through effective interaction/scenes with friends and family. In the first scene of the chapter, Dylan goes to see his best friend Nader, who is charmingly illustrated in Dylan's voice:

Nader's expression was a picture for the mental scrapbook. When he opened the door for Dylan, his chin rose to take it all in. Gazing up at new-Dylan, his normally squinty eyes filled the entire circle of his Lennon-style glasses. His eyebrows made McDonalds' arches, and his tight curly hair practically stood up straight. Not really, but it would have in a cartoon.

The fact Nader might have a "thing" for his best friend is also wonderfully, realistically dealt with:

Okay, so there had been a rumor at school, way back in seventh grade during the healthy year, that they were more than best friends. Stupid, since all they did when they hung out was write really bad love songs for the girls they liked at school. Possibly Nader was a little light in the loafers, but it was never an issue. Never came up. Maybe he played both bass and treble.

The spot-on use of language in both voice and metaphor description adds that extra level to the writing, so it's not simple or too straightforward. Just because something is written for young adults doesn't mean the author can't play with language and do interesting things with it to make the reading a pleasure beyond just the delivery of a story. The dialogue is similarly snappy, nicely representing a teenaged interaction, especially between boys who, probably more often than not, express themselves through jibes. When Nader confesses to writing a song for what he thought would've been Dylan's funeral, the exchange is:

And Dylan did, laughed till the tears filled his eyes and his stomach hurt. "Oh man. Thanks. That's probably the nicest thing anyone's ever done for me."

Nader's blush darkened. "Then I feel sorry for you. You haven't heard it."

Humor contributes to the overall tone of the book, something to be aware of no matter what age group you write for. But be wary of allowing too breezy a tone to infiltrate when the narrative could do with some darker comtemplation. Ultimately these aren't "light" matters -- the book is dealing with death, after all, and some added weight could provide yet another layer to the story and the characters. Particularly at the end of the chapter, when Dylan awakes confused after Jeremy has had a turn in his consciousness, there could be a little more time spent on the effects of this: Dylan's confusion, his fear, all of those things that can also seem heightened in the middle of the night when you're easily disoriented. Lead the reader through that.

Clearer separation could be made between Dylan and Jeremy, just in the narrative, when one point-of-view switches to another. Since the book is going to explore both of them and how they "co-habit" the single body, readers might get confused at any point and that would pull them out of the story. Especially for a YA audience, the flow of who is speaking and when they're speaking should be clear.

Also watch for awkward sentence structure/phrasing, as in: "A sound. A voice broke in. In on the darkness."

Having style in the prose is fantastic and encouraged, but not to the point where the reader might stumble. These are all nitpicky concerns, though, since overall the writing read very smoothly. The characters are engaging and possess their own strong personalities. Exploring them through the course of the novel looks to be an interesting ride.

--Karin Lowachee

Editors' Choices, Short Story

"The Harvester" by Erin Stocks

This story takes place in a dystopian future, in which a metal alloy has been invented that bonds with the human body to strengthen, heal, and preserve life. The alloy has gone far beyond its original purpose, however: it's become a destructive force, reinforcing bodies but leaving little humanity in them, decimating the population. Due to a flaw in the material, the alloy requires help from human stem cells to stay viable. Those affected are seeking out any rare remaining newborns and fetuses to harvest them for their stem cells. Our main character, Heloise, occupies a unique position in this world. She's the scientist who invented the alloy, her life prolonged by an unusual hybrid of flesh and metal. Now she's waiting for all the alloy to fall apart, and meanwhile she's been killing off pregnant women so the tainted alloy can't get a hold of their stem cells to save itself. This is an intelligent and sharply evocative piece of writing, but a few of the plot points are a little murky, and I'd like to see the narrative move deeper into the main character.

Let's look at some of the interesting stuff going on in here. When the alloy transforms a person, that person is referred to as "alchemized" -- a terrific word for the process, because it invokes the sort of horrific dark-fantasy atmosphere that permeates this story, even while it's ostensibly set in a science-fictional situation. This menace may be technological in origin, but it shows up in the form of living skeleton knights. This is a particular kind of play on genre that I happen to enjoy a great deal.

The alloy has become both protection and death. There's plenty of resonance in this idea. We can understand both the appeal and danger in how something can keep us safe by essentially controlling our lives. Seeking safety, in political or interpersonal realms, often results in unforeseen consequences and loss of freedom. So this story has created a type of "monster" that speaks to some very real modern fears and concerns.

Meanwhile, stem cells are an emotional topic for many people, with some viewing them as potential healing salvation from disease, and others concerned over the morality of the harvesting methods. I don't read this story as direct allegory, but it certainly rings those bells, bringing in more layers of emotional impact.

The story does a terrific job of integrating future-tech in moments like this:

Beneath her feet, the tapping of an auralometry pole spun vibrations up through the shoddy soles of her boots, revealing to the raiding party exactly where she and the young man stood.

In that one sentence, the auralometry pole is introduced seamlessly, with just enough explanation to give us a sense of the tech involved without getting too specific about how it works: a wise choice for presenting technology sufficiently advanced enough to feel almost magical, in this almost-fantasy story about science.

A couple of fundamental plot points do need to be made clearer, early on. I never quite grasped the basic rules of why the alloy needs stem cells. We get a vague impression that the alloy interacts with the cells in some way that allows it to heal itself, but I think this needs to be clearer in order to make sense of the plot. Heloise seems inconsistent in her actions toward pregnant women, and I don't understand the facts well enough to understand her reasoning. I balked at the scene where a fetus is removed from one womb and inserted into another: in order for me to accept that, I would need to believe that the alloy in Heloise can immediately form the necessary tubes and channels to support a fetus and hook it up to the right organs for survival, and also that contrary to what's happened before, it would heal itself without killing the child. We need a stronger understanding of the relationship between alloy and stem cells early on, in order for the rest of the plot to fall into place. As with all the other tech in this world, it works best when it's not detailed or realistic. What it needs to do is feel plausible. A few clear bold strokes can give us an image or two that make sense of how the babies fit into the overall situation, and can help us understand what Heloise is doing and why.

One of the first things we learn about Heloise is that she is a multiple murderer of pregnant women, and I think if a story is going to kick off our introduction to a character with that information, it has to show a more original, individual response from her than just guilty weeping -- otherwise we won't feel much for her except revulsion. Of course she feels guilt; that tells us nothing except that she's not a sociopath. I'm not interested in feeling sorry for her or seeing her cry, but I am interested in knowing what drives her to do the things she does. The facts of her situation are revealed gradually over the course of the story, but in the meantime, I would like to see a more complex development of her emotions.

The main thing we know about Heloise is that she's not really the good guy. She's the scientist responsible for the creation of the alloy that destroyed humanity. And lest we kid ourselves that she was a gently idealistic humanitarian to begin with, we catch a glimpse of her scientific methods, which involved lethal experimentation on live human subjects. Given this history, feeling guilty is really the least I'd expect from her! In fact, "guilt" (repeated three times throughout the story to describe her emotion) seems too mild and generic a word for what she must be feeling. It diminishes the impact of her unique experience: surely she must be tortured by the awareness of her responsibility. Even that alone doesn't sum up the tangled mess of emotions that appear to drive this character to repeatedly murder. I would like to understand more of what she's like inside.

In general, the narrative hovers a bit outside of Heloise. Here's a telling moment: when she cuts herself open, the description we get is, "There was more pain than she could imagine." It's an odd way to describe pain from a close third-person narrative -- she doesn't need to imagine her own pain! She should be feeling it.

So try bringing the story deeper into Heloise's inner life. There's no need for a wordy analysis of what she's feeling, but let us witness those emotions in play as she goes through her actions. What sort of person can kill pregnant women, convinced it's for the greater good? What is it like to live with the knowledge that she's destroyed civilization? How does she feel when she witnesses the rare survivors alchemized in front of her? Does the alloy within her body affect her loyalties? Does she have to struggle to hold on to her humanity? Seeing hints of these concerns come through would help build a more fully-dimensional character.

Since Heloise is the heart of this story, the more we can feel that we know her, the more real and alive the story becomes for us. I hope this is helpful; I found the story really interesting. Good luck with it.

--Karen Meisner, Editor, Strange Horizons

Editors' Choices, Horror

"Not a Perfect Day" by Silvia Hiven

This short piece about a man whose gun convinces him to kill himself is vivid, striking, and original, with strong sensory details. I see everything with an intense, almost hallucinogenic clarity as I read. I really enjoy the sentient gun, and the story effectively imbues the gun with power.

There are two main areas that I think can be strengthened. The first is the imagery. The various images and concepts don't quite fit together. The story opens with the image of the sky as a clean sheet of blue. But then the clouds are "hung out to dry across it like white cotton dresses." But dresses wouldn't be hung out to dry across a sheet. They would be hung out to dry across a clothesline. So the two images clash. Then the idea of the perfect, clean laundry is set up in conflict with the idea of rottenness. But these aren't really opposites. Clean laundry would be opposed to dirty laundry. Rottenness would be opposed, I think, with the idea of wholeness or ripeness. This conflict is the key to the story, so it's important that the images set up a clear opposition. Later, the main character is searching for beauty rather than cleanliness or wholeness, so that's another quality that doesn't quite line up with the existing images.

Many developing writers struggle to come up with strong images, comparisons, contrasts, similes, and metaphors. These are difficult and generally require significant thought. Keep at it until the underlying conflict of the story becomes clear; then the best images to reflect that conflict will also become clear.

The other area that I think could be strengthened is the main character. Generally, a strong story will have a protagonist who is struggling to achieve a goal. In this case, the main character wants to assert that the world has beauty in it and is not entirely rotten. But he does nothing to prove to the gun that beauty exists. He sees a neighbor girl who conveniently walks by and kills a butterfly, and then agrees with the gun that the world is rotten and decides to kill himself. The girl's actions are hard to believe, and it's hard to believe that this one action convinces the protagonist that the world is rotten. More important than that, the protagonist isn't strongly struggling to achieve his goal; he is passive. This is a weakness in many stories by developing writers. I understand that this is a short piece and so any struggle must be short, but the character could still do something to try to prove that beauty or goodness exists, and then fail and decide to kill himself.

Also, to strengthen the main character, I think we need some hint of why he believes the world is rotten. Why is it so hard for him to believe there is beauty or goodness in the world? Why is this his last chance to prove to himself that beauty exists? Without putting this conflict in a little context, it's hard to relate to the main character or to feel what he feels.

Here is an example of how to strengthen the character in these two ways.  The story might begin with the protagonist at a cemetery, saying goodbye to his rotten wife who spent him into poverty. He might then walk home past his former rotten job, so we understand why it's so difficult for him to believe in beauty or goodness. He sees the neighbor girl fighting with another girl and breaks up the fight. He and the gun decide this is the perfect opportunity to test whether any beauty or goodness exists. He tells the neighbor girl he wants to give a gift to her companion, and the neighbor can decide what the gift will be. Should it be five dollars or a button? The neighbor chooses the five dollars. The protagonist takes this as proof that goodness exists; despite their fight, the neighbor wants her companion to have the nice gift. He gives the companion five dollars and walks away, but as he glances back, he sees the neighbor wrestling with the companion for the money. He realizes the world is rotten and decides to kill himself. In this example the outcome is the same, but the protagonist is more active in struggling to achieve his goal.

I hope this is helpful. The story has some strong sensory details and a creative premise.

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


Any writer worth his salt knows about Absolute Write Water Cooler, an amazing resource with dozens of forums touching on every aspect of publishing. Today we bring you the owner and administrator of AbsoluteWrite.com, MacAllister Stone. Mac is also a staff member for the Viable Paradise Workshop for SF writers, held yearly on Martha's Vineyard. She lives and writes in the Pacific Northwest, where the weather and landscape are suited to her daily indulgence of interests that range from hiking to cooking and reading to horses.  

You run Absolute Write. How did it all start for you?

photoI found AW when I was researching novel-writing and publishing. Finding an online community of like-minded writers felt like finally coming home. So a few years later when the founder was looking for someone to take over the site I jumped at the chance.

Tell us a little about Absolute Write. How many members? How many forums?

Well, what people don't always realize is that the website is actually quite a bit larger than the forums. There's an extensive archive of writing-related articles, the absolutewrite.com blog, with writing-related articles, in addition to the forums. But when people ask about Absolute Write, they're generally asking about the forums, which are pretty extensive. We have just under 30,000 active members with over 5 million posts. There are something like 65 or 70 specific forums (or rooms) that cover writing-related topics like freelancing, poetry, e-publishing, agent research, politics, genre fiction, screen-writing, and pretty much anything else you can think of.

AW is well known as a reliable source of information from fellow writers, editors and agents. Did you have a vision for what AW could become? Do you think you've achieved it yet?

I very much began with a vision for Absolute Write and that's something that evolves as the site grows. We work hard to keep conversations about publishing from being taken over completely by the gormless-but-enthusiastic, for example. It's a great deal of work, work that wouldn't be possible without AW's fantastic and knowledgeable team of volunteer moderators -- many of whom are regularly publishing freelancers or novelists.

What are the most popular forums on AW?

That's actually almost impossible to answer. The different rooms on AW tend to have very different regulars. We have members, for example, who may only ever read and post in the Politics and Pop Culture rooms. We have members who spend almost all their time in the Writing Lab rooms, doing critiques to sharpen their own skills. One of the benefits of having reached such a bewildering size is that smaller, extremely cohesive communities can form within the larger context of AW as a whole.

A company as big as AW needs a lot of moderators. How are mods chosen for each forum?

Mods are chosen with several factors in mind. Members pretty regularly PM me with suggestions for how to improve rooms, or volunteering to moderate should a spot open up, and a great many of our members are already essentially self-moderating. When there's a mod opening, I keep in mind the list of people who've expressed an interest. I'll generally watch the regulars in the room for a few days, to see who is already sort of invisibly doing the hardest task of a moderator -- which is to help keep conversations stimulating, interesting, and accurate. Then we check out that individual's post history, and share our general impressions with each other, and I contact them privately to invite them to join the mod squad.

But sometimes I just arbitrarily mod people by surprise, too, because they'll do a terrific job and I think it's funny to surprise them.

Running a site as big as AW seems like a daunting task. What would you say is your primary job at AW?

Answering e-mail. I answer a lot of e-mail. That and being the buck-stops decision guy.

What's next for AW? Are there any plans for expansion in the future?

You know, I've been considering how to make the other areas of the site more interactive for the AW community, and there are some really interesting software upgrade features that have a lot of promise, in terms of integrating people's posts and profiles with other features, like individual blog space. So I'm always investigating ideas to make the wealth of knowledge more accessible and visible.

What was the best thing you remember about Viable Paradise when you attended as a student?

The best thing I remember? I think the intensity of a week spent living, working, eating, breathing, and (not)sleeping a writing-related focus alongside a bunch of incredibly interesting and talented people. It was exhausting, but also enormously gratifying.

I've read mention of your horses. Tell me about them. Have you ever written about horses?

I have two horses, an Arab gelding called Willie, and a Bashkir-Curly cross called Rasta. I spent years training horses, competing in Endurance, and teaching people to ride for a living. I still beta-read horse scenes for writer friends, and I've spent a lot of time over the years answering horse-related questions for writers. Finally, I collected a bunch of the standard questions and their answers, here.

What does MacAllister Stone do for a living when she's not running AW? What's next for you in your career?

I'm a part-time farrier, and otherwise I'm a freelancer. Sometimes that means I'm writing articles about eggplant recipes, sometimes it means I'm ghostwriting corporate blog posts, and pretty much anything in between. Lately, I've been doing a bit of consulting about community-building and social-media for writers. As for what the future holds? I actually don't spend a great deal of time thinking about that. As long as the future holds the sort of robustand stimulating conversations that AW has come to represent, I'm pretty content.

Thanks!  AW Links:

Absolute Write blog

Absolute Write Water Cooler

Absolute Write on Twitter

Absolute Write on Facebook

Publication Announcements

Kyle Aisteach's short story "Too Close for Comfort" appeared in the Oct/Nov 2010 issue of Cosmos Magazine.

Leah Bobet has sold "The Ground Whereon She Stands to Realms of Fantasy.

Deborah Coates has a fabulous announcement! "I have sold my novel WIDE OPEN plus two sequels to Tor."

Peter Cooper's recent sales include "The Hobbit Query Letter"to Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #48, October 2010; "Who the Hell is Willard Price?", Andromeda Spaceways Inflight Magazine #49, December 2010; and "A Random Booze-Up", Antipodean SF #151, coming in January 2011.

Teresa Frohock has sold MISERERE: AN AUTUMN TALE to Night Shade Books (July 2011)

Kate Kanno sold short story "Tfoo" to the Rockets, Swords, and Rainbows Anthology, "thanks to some wonderful feedback I received here."

Dy Loveday's story "Three Brothers" will appear in the upcoming Happily Every After Anthology from Pink Narcissus Press (2011).

Tony Peak wrote us to say, "'Mirror of Sky' will appear in Linger Fiction, January 2011 issue. Also, my story 'Divine Questions' will be published in a forthcoming issue of Golden Visions Magazine."

Reviewer Honor Roll

The Reviewer Honor Roll is a great way to pay back a reviewer for a really useful review.  When you nominate a reviewer, we list the reviewer's name, the submission/author reviewed, and your explanation of what made the review so useful.  The nomination appears in the Honor Roll area of OWW the month after you submit it, and is listed  for a month. You can nominate reviewers of your own submissions or reviewers of other submissions, if you have learned from reading the review.  Think of it as a structured, public "thank you" that gives credit where credit is due and helps direct other OWWers to useful reviewers and useful review skills.

Visit the Reviewer Honor Roll page for a complete list of nominees and explanatory nominations.

December 2010 Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Ian Welke
Submission: DragonLeash Chap 2 by Pete Aldin
Submitted by: Pete Aldin

Reviewer: Erin Stocks
Submission: "Thrice Remembered" by A. Merc Rustad
Submitted by: A. Merc Rustad

Reviewer: Kari Cooper
Submission: Y Ddraig Goch ~ The Red Dragon Prologue & Ch.1 by Joy Ball
Submitted by: Joy Ball

Reviewer: Boz Flamagin
Submission: The Lore of the Sea by Christine Lucas
Submitted by: Christine Lucas

Reviewer: Kari Cooper
Submission: The Third Rail Chapters 1 and 2 by Mark Knight
Submitted by: Mark Knight

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) sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com and we'll do the rest.

Until next month--just write!

The Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy & Horror
support (at) sff.onlinewritingworkshop.com