July 2012 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge

Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info



Time for the mid-year stretch to assess and evaluate. What have you accomplished so far? What's left on your to-do list? There's still plenty of time to get it done.

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

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

Monthly Writing Challenge

Inventions. It's a cliche that the brilliant lone inventor is a thing of the past. However, nowadays there are hackerspaces, clubs, and co-ops that offer workspace for a fee and these sometimes provide access to rather expensive equipment most individuals couldn't purchase on their own. Build a story around one dramatic invention by a lone inventor.

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. Add "Challenge" to the title to enable searching.

Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Maria (news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com). This month's challenge was submitted by Elizabeth Porco.


Netherworld Publishing is actively looking for novels of between 65,000 and 90,000 words in the following genres only: Science Fiction, Paranormal Romance, Paranormal Erotica, Fantasy, Historical Fantasy, and Horror. They publish both print and digital editions of their titles. For more information, see their Submissions Page.

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 C.C. Finlay, Leah Bobet, 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


This chapter concerns itself with the madcap adventures of a baker, Paulus, who in previous installments has been driven from his bakery and seen his recipes stolen and--worse!--poorly prepared. He breaks into the bakery at night to seek recompense and finds a peculiar automaton at work amidst sorcerous ovens. Bested by the automaton, knocked unconscious, hallucinating, and pinned to a table with cutlery, he nevertheless manages to work his way free--only to come under siege from a well-organized army of gingerbread men, who are more formidable en masse than their friable nature would seem to imply.

After an epic--and humorous--battle, Paulus makes good his escape, pocketing the crumbs of the vanquished against hard days ahead.

In general, the narrative and its tone is very readable--in places, delightful. Allison is developing a strong, clean voice as a writer, and there are passages that flow much more effortlessly than her efforts of years past. It's a funny and effective sequence, with just a few problems.

There are places where the prose is trying a little too hard to be clever, and instead of being sharp and witty, becomes distracting. This is often due to a tendency to over-belabor a good sentence with too many adjectives and adverbs. For example, the perfectly vivid metaphor, "forks and measuring spoons jangling in his hair like a poor man's excuse for a proper door bell" could be bettered by removing the word "proper," which isn't doing any work in the sentence.

Some other examples include, the phrase "of all things," in the sentence, "It was a cookie of all things." It's clutter, and it serves to slow the pace of the narrative and make readers work harder than they ought. Also, in the sentence, "He ripped the sticky honey dripper from his tresses and tossed it on to the floor where it landed a few feet away." The phrase "where it landed a few feet away" doesn't really tell us anything new. It would be much stronger and more vivid to end the sentence with "where it landed."

In a story of this sort, which relies in part for its impact on clean and rapid pacing, that kind of scaffolding is very detrimental.

There are a number of places where several similar descriptive words are used where one will do. "The taste was horribly wretched, rancid almost." can be rendered either as "The taste was wretched," or "The taste was rancid," either of which is stronger and more vivid than burying the important descriptive words in adverbs they do not need.

It's important to look out for weasel words such as "almost," "somewhat," and "nearly." Far better to commit to a description than try to hold something back. Such qualifiers betray a lack of confidence that readers can sense, and if the narrative is not confident, the reader has a tendency not to press on. If the author doesn't believe the story, after all, why should readers?

I do like the little mysteries salted throughout the chapter. Those will serve to keep a reader hooked--especially as other answers are revealed. We've learned that the bakery has been converted to a sort of automated factory, that the cakes are rancid--that a number of cakes that were set about cooling mysteriously vanish by the time Paulus wakes up--and that somebody is constructing murderous gingerbread men.

Paulus also comes across as a well-realized character, one with interesting flaws and engaging strengths. He's clever in combat, but not so clever he isn't bested. He's witty in the best sarcastic action-hero fashion. He's also apparently something of a lady's man. He suffers from denial strong enough that even when he's being stabbed in the calf by a gingerbread man, he manages to convince himself that that can't be what's happening.

And his quest to reclaim his bakery--and find out why and how he's been driven out--makes him sympathetic and relatable. This engaging quality is a big strength of the piece.

Another thing to be careful of is the copyediting. Homonyms are a problem--one bares one's teeth, one does not bear them; one eats black currants, not black currents--and there are also some words that aren't used in quite the correct fashion. One cannot cast a pallor over something, for example--though one can cast it in a pallid light. An inanimate object cannot roll laboriously, although it may be rolled in such a manner by an animate one. These awkwardnesses can trip a reader, and every time readers remember they are reading is an opportunity for them to get up and go do something else. We want 'em sitting in their chairs until their butts go numb!

Additionally, this author has a tendency to rely on clichés slightly overmuch. If one is used to hearing two words together, it's generally a bad idea to place them side by side in fiction, especially if they're intended to carry a good deal of narrative weight. Some examples: a vicious attack; a low growl; devastating accuracy. Avoid these, as the joke goes, like the plague!

All in all, however, I like this piece a great deal. And I feel very bad for Paulus by the end of it. After all, are the crumbs of de-animated gingerbread men really likely to be any less rancid than that cake batter?

--Elizabeth Bear

Editors' Choices, Science Fiction

Perfectible Animals: Ch. 1, by Thomas Norwood

This month's editor's choice explores the possibilities of genetic manipulation in order to save humanity. It begins, as most experiments of this nature, with monkeys--macaques and bonobos, to be precise--and a protagonist suffering from a god complex and the people who want to stand in his way.

The writing overall is smooth; the handy synopsis at the beginning provides a solid foothold for any editor. The first chapter competently introduces the main character (Michael), his work (modifying the human immune system and the apparent positive side effects) and some of his opposition. The world is vaguely post-apocalyptic, in that it's environmentally damaged and society is on the brink of total collapse. Michael, however, seems to think he can save it through his experiments, and at the same time get rich.

There is some question behind why money would be as important if, as the text states, people would be/are preying on one another and falling to barbarism -- this image suggests more Book of Eli than anything benign, and paper money wouldn't seem to have much importance in that potential environment. It could be that, for a first chapter, the actual state of the world isn't exposed enough to the reader to take care of small questions, and that's perfectly acceptable, but the blank spots in the narrative can provide a firmer foundation. The canvas of the scenery is pretty blank overall, so even if we are getting a lot of technical information about the nature of the experiments and the potential importance of the work, the characters seem to be moving through stock backdrops with only dots of imagery or information to fill it out.

Spend more time on using the environment, Michael's surroundings, his observations of even small physical details that will give the reader accumulated information about the gritty, threatening nature of Earth in this future. There are a lot of repeated interiors about what he wants out of his human immune system project (which is needed, since there's a lot of scientific jargon), and not enough focus on taking advantage of the setting to shore up the overall world building (the politics, the economies, the social systems). The reader needs more information like that of the blackmerries encroaching on the landscape and the government's solution to develop over it and pretty much obliterate nature and humanity's constant tampering of it.

The solution in this world to the deleterious effects of gene tampering seems to be more gene tampering, and this is a hot debate, or at least a moral quandary worthy of exploration. The narrative needs to delve more into this as time goes on as well, so the argument isn't too thin or one-sided or even too polarized. The potential of Michael and the reporter girl is a good one and provides an interesting note for the reader to look forward to, to see how it plays out. Especially as it impacts Michael's relationship with his wife Annie (ending on the intimate note and how off-putting it is for Michael is a good human touch that's absolutely necessary in a scientifically-driven plot concept).

The delivery of that scientific information can get unwieldy but for the most part the narrative remains smooth. The only hiccup seems to be where Michael first enters his lab and...

These particular macaques were unlike any that had lived before. Not only did they have enhanced immune systems, but also some behavioural traits of the bonobos these were partly derived from. It was an unintended side effect. He never would have imagined that the clusters for bonobo socio-sexual behaviour were linked in with their MHC locis.

He wondered at the correlation.

Would he really be wondering about it at that point when he's already well into his research? This seems to be put there for the reader and it's not organic to the character in that moment. Perhaps just deliver the information without placing Michael so obviously in the midst of it, and that way it comes across more meta, as in just his observations without it being anchored to that moment where it doesn't seem natural for him to think about it then.

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

--Karin Lowachee

Editors' Choices, Short Story

"The House Whisperer" by Tom Greene

"The House Whisperer" takes an idea that pretty apparently started off as a pun and brings it into a life of its own: a beautiful example of the kind of story in which the fantasy element is world-changing, but in quiet, pervasive, meditative ways. And paired with clean, transparent, immersive prose -- the kind of style that says Don't worry, I know where we're going -- that sense of quiet and calm inevitability really grows off the page, drawing readers into caring about Rick, the abused house he's working on, Ben the cat, and the girl with the dark hair. It's a deeply engaging and effective story: this is right at the top of the workshop's word limit, but it does not feel like reading 7,500 words.

This is another piece where the strongest thing it's doing is also the thing that's keeping a great story from being an excellent story; where the strongest element it has is used a little too much. And here, that's the question of subtext and subtlety.

From the start, most of what's really important in "The House Whisperer" is told in the silences - something the author has real skill at doing. Telling us important information in the subtext happens almost right from the first paragraphs:

"I only said I would look at it," Rick said.
He looked out the window at the suburban blocks with their rows of healthy, well-behaved houses. Flower beds. Toys on the lawns. Sports equipment in the driveways. Big garages with shiny SUVs inside.
"Nobody likes to put a house down," Keeley said.
"Quit trying to sell to me," Rick said. "I said I'd look at it."

Both Rick and Keeley are responding to what the other is thinking or avoiding, rather than saying right out. This not only makes the world of the story feel real - characters talking to each other like real people reinforce the fourth wall, just like characters explaining the plot to each other break the fourth wall because readers can sense that they're being catered to -- but creates the feeling of well-rounded characters who have history with each other. These guys know each other. They have thoughts they aren't communicating but are there nonetheless. They're complex, fully-developed people.

It's a trend that continues to the conversations between Rick and the girl with the dark hair:

"Is it okay if I stay?" she said.
"I think that would be good," Rick said. "For the house."

This time it's much more subtle, but the placement of Rick's dialogue tag, and the pause that creates, tells us loud and clear that Rick's skittish with his feelings; that he can't come right out and say he wants her to stay, but has to deflect his feelings onto the house.

But not all the clues "The House Whisperer" lines up quite hit home. Rick's dream, where he hears "something scraping in there, like something with knees plated with metal trying to get up off a wooden floor" has the hallmarks of being crucial to the themes and metaphors weaving through the story - and the way Rick and the house are identifying with each other more and more -- but I couldn't say how. There aren't enough clues about what happened to the house to let me make the leap to what that scraping noise or image actually signifies, and therefore, to what's going on with Rick.

And what's going on with Rick and the house is the engine that drives "The House Whisperer". Rick's repeated refrain -- "What happened to you?" -- is actually the central question of this story: it's the parallel between his relationship with the house and his relationship with the girl, between the broken house and broken Rick. He asks the house and gets no answer; the girl with the dark hair asks Rick and gets no answer. Until Rick gets an answer from the house, the girl gets no answer from Rick, and the readers get neither answer, and things go a little off the rails.

It's important for stories that set up a question -- especially a compelling question, and especially one that reflects through multiple parts of the story -- to provide a close to that question that's emotionally satisfying for readers. It doesn't have to be a detailed answer (Mrs. Peacock, in the library, with the candlestick) but it does need to make sure readers feel like the emotional energy they've put into wondering what happened, caring what happened, has been repaid with enough clues or reasons (including a reason why it might not matter!) to not feel cheated by the story. And this is where "The House Whisperer" is missing a piece, or is perhaps giving us that piece in a way that's too subtle to make out completely.

Just like the relationships in "The House Whisperer" thrive or fail -- the one between Rick and the house stronger because he's patient enough to see it through, and the house gives him an answer back; the one between Rick and the girl failing because he asks for her patience with him and she says she can't give it, and so she never finds out what happened to him, really -- the relationship between the story and the reader needs both the reader's patience and an answer to work. In this case, I think the writing, the soft twist of the idea, the way Rick and the house resonate and have the same problems, the same fears and histories, the question of what happened to them both are all things that will provide more than enough patience to take readers to the end of the story. But what they need then for a good relationship, for that emotional satisfaction, is a few more subtle clues. More of an answer, delivered with the same awareness and realism and care as the rest of the story.

Best of luck!

--Leah Bobet
Author of ABOVE

Editors' Choices, Horror

"Hunger Ain't No Game" by Scott Lindeman

Scott Lindeman's "Hunger Ain't No Game" is a horror story set in the historical American west, about Kitty Sunday, a "high-society woman," who appears one day in the tumbleweed town of Wheat Ridge, drawing accidents and misfortune in her wake. George Stone, the local preacher man and narrator of the story, recognizes that Miss Sunday is possessed by a demon but falls in love with what he believes to be the pure soul of the woman trapped inside the dead body that she can no longer control. Stone risks everything he has to help Kitty, with unsettling and - uncertain -- results.

Horror is the one genre defined by its emotional effects, and "Hunger Ain't No Game" has some genuinely disturbing moments, like these examples:

• While I swept [the bugs away from Miss Sunday], repeated stabs of hunger sent shudders through my belly. A large cockroach limped along near the edge of the wall, one of its legs missing. I snatched it up and popped it into my mouth.

• I gripped her shoulders with calloused hands, my tongue greedily exploring her cheeks, her neck, her ears--my mouth closed around her earlobe and I bit down hard. She gasped and then giggled. A chunk of flesh broke free, which I swallowed.

• After placing my severed finger on her pillow, she unbuttoned her corset, baring her body. A sort of fleshy flap--a door to her stomach--ran down the side of her belly. She retrieved my finger and pushed it in through the gap...

...and that doesn't even include the scene where Kitty has her mouth sewn shut with silk thread in an attempt to starve the demon.

The overall arc of the story is also disquieting. It's clear from the beginning that George is affected in bad ways by his contact with Kitty. When she consumes bugs, he grabs the cockroach and eats it; when she slaughters the pigs with her bare hands, after he struggles with her he's the one who ends up licking the blood from his fingers; after she consumes the corpses, he's the one who bites off her ear. We see his progression toward hunger from the inside and recognize the problem, even when he seems to not be aware of it.

When George is finally able to perform a successful exorcism, separating the demon from the dead body it houses, and we get the great plot twist -- that it is the demon he has fallen in love with, the demon who is the victim -- it's a goose-pimply, shudderworthy moment.  

There are two main areas I would focus on to improve this story.

The horror hinges on George's relationship with Kitty, and yet the most important events in that relationship -- when they meet and when they marry -- occur off page! Here are the passages that describe their first meeting and their marriage:

• If I hadn't been there to put the fear of God into them, the repercussions might've been worse.

• Kitty Sunday was indeed my wife, and had been for a few hours. We'd gotten hitched early that morning at the town hall.

That's it. These should be two of the key moments in the story! The meeting should show us George's first impressions of Kitty, which establish his feelings, and this is a story about feelings. And the marriage scene is the main turning point of the story, when George makes the life-changing decision to commit to Kitty over his religion. It's almost always a mistake to have your main character-defining moments of the story take place off-page, especially when you have a first person narrator. Keep us grounded in the story.

But the real devil in this story is, as usual, in the details.

For written horror to work, it has to get under our skin so that the feelings and memories of horror linger long after we're done reading. And it's hard to remember the feelings when the details trip us up.

For example, it's not clear what kind of preacher, or what kind of Christian, George is. He's called to administer the "last rites" for old man Johnson and performs "the sacred rite" of exorcism on Miss Sunday. These are Catholic rituals, as is the use of holy water, but George clearly isn't Catholic. His use of Biblical texts, the way he picks up and moves to another church, and the fact that he gets married, all seem to more consistent with the Methodist or Baptist ministers who were common in the old west, but the story never goes all the way down that road either. A third possibility is that he is one of the "self-ordained" evangelical itinerant preachers who picked and chose what they wanted from different religious traditions, but the story never commits to this possibility either.

Choosing any one of these options would make the story more specific and more intense.

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

--C.C. Finlay
Author of the Traitor To The Crown series


OWW proudly welcomes alumna Hanna Martine as she shares her OWW workshop experience. Hanna Martine left a decade of office work in order to show her daughter what it meant to go after one's dream. She loves bar stools, books, travel and her friends. Though she and her family live outside Chicago, her heart resides in Australia. Her novel LIQUID LIES comes out this month from Berkley.


author photoIn 2004, I noticed the name Online Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy, & Horror in the acknowledgements page of a novel. My first thought? I want an acknowledgements page. My second? What is this workshop, and how did it help this author get to where she is--and where I want to be?

The moment I uploaded Chapter One of the epic fantasy I'd been slaving over for four years might have been the scariest in my writing life ... just eclipsing when I got an e-mail telling me I'd received my first critique. Until then, no one had ever read my manuscript, let alone told me what they thought of it. I had no idea what to do with the comments. There were many. They were critical. I may have cried; I don't remember.

What I do remember was taking a moment to detach myself from my manuscript (that hurt; it was like really strong Velcro being pulled apart) and saying to myself, "These people are trying to help you. This is what you wanted, to improve your writing. Right?"

I jumped into the workshop head first. I gave and received critiques. I found helpful people and glommed on to them, becoming surprised when they reciprocated.

Everyone seemed more focused than me. More experienced. More talented. Some of my critique partners had actually started the query process and had cracked open the door to the Secret Publishing World. They went to cons and actually knew people whose names were on the covers of books. Others even had agents or publishing credits.

What took me a few months to realize was that all of those writers I envied/admired/feared/loved started somewhere. They once had their own doubts and anxieties. They all had their own "where I began" stories" ... and I was beginning with OWW.

They were not "better" than me. They had just started before me.

Learning how to absorb criticism and apply it to my writing was by far the most important lesson I've learned. It works with critique partners. It works with editors. And I started to learn it on OWW. I remind myself of these points every time I send work out to be beta read:

1. Acknowledge you have weaknesses. Don't defend your work. Listen.

2. Be open to suggestions you may not have considered, even if it changes your original story plan.

3. Don't ask for critique if you're just looking for compliments. You will never, ever, ever please everyone. And as my good friend says: "If you just want someone to tell you it's awesome, send it to your mother."

4. Find critique partners you respect who understand what you're trying to write and offer suggestions accordingly.

coverMany writers will say that some of the hardest things they've ever done were acknowledging that their first manuscript was unsaleable, chalking it up as a learning experience, and setting it aside. All that work! All that hardship! Gone!

I'm here to say that, after being on OWW for six months or so, I did just that. No one told me to do this. I realized that trying to retrofit my old manuscript with all the amazing input I'd received would never work. The destiny of my epic fantasy was not to be published, but to teach me.

Two manuscripts later, I earned my publishing contract. I got my acknowledgements page, and OWW is at the top of the list.

Please feel free to contact me at hannamartine@gmail.com or visit me on my website at www.hannamartine.com.

Publication Announcements

Mark Fewell told us: "My workshopped story 'Amy's Last Dance' will appear in the anthology SERIAL KILLERS 2 to be put out by Static Movement."

Sarah Pinsker wrote, "I was a member of OWW a couple of years ago and have stayed on the Yahoo! Groups, though I don't often post. A story of mine that some of you critiqued on the OWW site was published today in Nine: A Journal of Imaginary Fiction. The story was called 'Monsters of Central Texas' at the time (now 'Not Dying in Central Texas') and I received some excellent feedback, which helped in its slow development. Thank you to everybody who helped me fine-tune the piece."

Benjamin Rosenbaum mentioned that his short story "Elsewhere" has been published by Strange Horizons.

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.

June 2012 Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Scott Lindeman
Submission: Be Quiet Please, You're On a Date by Chris Behrsin
Submitted by: Chris Behrsin

Reviewer: Frances Snowder
Submission: Carrier of All Spirits, Chapter 8 by Shanon Huston-Willis
Submitted by: Shanon Huston-Willis

Reviewer: Chris Behrsin
Submission: Ghost Warrior by Scott Lindeman
Submitted by: Scott Lindeman

Reviewer: Matthew Johnston
Submission: The Fable of Screaming Trees by Luke Anton Wilson
Submitted by: Luke Anton Wilson

Reviewer: Seth Skorkowsky
Submission: Waking Up to Yesterday by Matthew Johnston
Submitted by: Matthew Johnston

Reviewer: Tim Brommer
Submission: Fickle Moon Ch 3 by Susan Kuczynska
Submitted by: Susan Kuczynska

Reviewer: Shanon Huston-Willis
Submission: Stolen Blade (Ch 1) by Samia Hayes
Submitted by: Samia Hayes

Reviewer: Samia Hayes
Submission: Wanderer by Karen Kobylarz
Submitted by: Karen Kobylarz

Reviewer: Tom Greene
Submission: The Elephant Keeper part 1 by Bo Balder
Submitted by: Bo Balder

Reviewer: Jane Forni
Submission: Carrier of All Spirits, Chapter 13 by Shanon Huston-Willis
Submitted by: Shanon Huston-Willis

On Shelves Now

Liquid Lies by Hanna Martine (Berkley Sensation, July 2012)

coverMagic is corporate America's best-kept secret, and Gwen Carroway is the best at selling it...

With her ability to pick up any language in an instant, Gwen Carroway is taking her family business global. As dutiful future leader of water elementals, she'll do anything to protect her people's secrets and bloodlines--including enter an arranged marriage. Inside, however, she yearns for the forbidden.

Reed is a mercenary addicted to the money and adrenaline rush of his work. After he inadvertently saves Gwen's life, he ignites her taboo desire for men without magic--and with bodies of gods. Just as things heat up, Reed discovers that Gwen is exactly who he's been hired to kidnap. He resolves to put work before lust, yet her luscious beauty and fiery spirit unravel him.

But there is a terrible truth behind Gwen's family business--and now, caught between the kinsmen she no longer trusts and an enemy bent on vengeance, the only ally she has is her abductor...


Obsidian & Blood by Aliette de Bodard (Angry Robot, June 2012)

coverA massive fantasy omnibus containing all three novels in the Obsidian and Blood series:

Servant of the Underworld: Year One-Knife, Tenochtitlan - the capital of the Aztecs. The end of the world is kept at bay only by the magic of human sacrifice. A priestess disappears from an empty room drenched in blood. Acatl, high priest, must find her, or break the boundaries between the worlds of the living and the dead.

Harbinger of the Storm: The year is Two House and the Mexica Empire teeters on the brink of destruction, lying vulnerable to the flesh-eating star-demons - and to the return of their creator, a malevolent goddess only held in check by the Protector God's power. The council is convening to choose a new emperor, but when a councilman is found dead, only Acatl, High Priest of the Dead, can solve the mystery.

Master of the House of Darts: The year is Three Rabbit, and the storm is coming... The coronation war for the new Emperor has just ended in a failure, the armies retreating with a mere forty prisoners of war - not near enough sacrifices to ensure the favor of the gods. When one of those prisoners of war dies of a magical illness, Acatl, High Priest for the Dead, is summoned to investigate.

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