Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

February 2013 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices


Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info





March always seems to hold promise for good things to come. Good things are already happening for some of our OWW alums. Deb Coates is a finalist for the Bram Stoker Award, and her debut book, Wide Open,  is in the running for Superior Achievement in a First Novel. Aliette de Bodard has two entries for the Nebula Awards: her novella "On a Red Station, Drifting" and her short story "Immersion".

Our own Leah Bobet has a nomination too. Her novel Above has been nominated for the Andre Norton Award for Young Adult Science Fiction and Fantasy, the YA branch of the Nebula.

Congrats to all the finalists. You make us proud.

Now that we've launched our update OWW site, we are planning to do a bit more on Facebook.  We're looking for a member who'd like to be our Facebook page manager, helping keep our Facebook presence current and working on how to extend OWW's helpful features into that realm.  Contact us if you are interested.

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

Maria Zannini, newsletter editor
news (at)

Monthly Writing Challenge

Sewage. Everybody produces waste and in our society it's mostly pumped somewhere people don't think about.
What if something weird happens? Treatment plants have oxygenated tanks full of bacteria, banks of carcinogenic UV-C lights and vats of powerful chemicals. What better place for comic or serious horror?

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.  Put "Challenge" in the title so people can find it.

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


The 18th Annual Parsec Science Fiction and Fantasy Short Story Contest: A contest open to non-professional writers (those who have not met eligibility requirements for SFWA or equivalent: sale of a novel or sale of 3 stories to a large-circulation publication). Previous first-place winners and current contest coordinators are ineligible. The best story that uses the contest theme as a key element will be published in the Confluence 2013 program book, and the author awarded the first prize of $200. Second and third prize win $100 and $50 respectively. The theme for 2013: "Steel Cities: Steel girders, iron grit, fey regret, the sooty breath of an industry born or lost. Time to test your metal, and send us something solid about a city (or cities) and strength. The theme need not be used literally, but the story should incorporate it in a non-trivial way." There is no entry fee. Deadline: March 31 (more details here).

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, Leah Bobet, Elizabeth Bear, and C.C. Finlay. 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!

Editor's Choice, Fantasy

Skye Allen, PRETTY PEG chapter 1

In full disclosure, about a year and a half ago, I wrote an EC review for a different chapter of PRETTY PEG in an earlier draft. It's indicative of just how highly I consider this piece of work that I've chosen to revisit it with a fresh slate of comments.

I very much hope this is a completed novel in the final stages of revisions, and not a few chapters being reworked over the course of years. I say that selfishly, because in the long term, I want to read this book. I want to find out what happens to Josy and her family and friends. I very much hope this is a manuscript that is on its way to being queried and I hope, eventually, published.

Allen is doing a wonderful job in this introductory chapter of bringing us in to Josy Grant's world, her worries and concerns. I adore the characterization of Josy--she's a lesbian and she's plus-size, but these traits do not define or ghettoize her. She does not become a stereotype. Instead, she emerges as a person--quirky, artistic, vulnerable, seeking. These are all very fine characteristics for a protagonist, and they are well-developed here.

One of the real advances I'm seeing in this rewritten chapter, however, is not in the characterization--which was already strong--but in Allen's prose. In particular, in 2011 I quibbled with her reliance on unconsidered cliché. In the current version of this story, much of that has been cleaned up, and replaced with tight observed details. For example, the Magic Marker heart on puppet-Jody's T-shirt is the size of a "lentil." Or the wonderful line, "If a little kid drew her face it would be all circles."

Allen also does an excellent job in this chapter of handling tension and exposition. She has learned that exposition handled properly is a form of reward for the reader, not a penance to be endured. She dispenses information as we're hungry for it--Margaret's fate in Afghanistan arises as we have become curious, and this leads us forward rather than stymieing us. Basically, when handled correctly, exposition becomes an opportunity to either increase or resolve tension, and thus either entire or reward the reader.

There is a sense in which novels are, more or less, elaborate Skinner boxes in which we reward readers for turning the page and punish them for lapses of attention. Those rewards--surprises, emotional highs, catharsis, unexpected delights, plot twists, pellucid bits of prose or characterization--are the thing that brings readers back, chapter after chapter and book after book. As with any relationship, if we value them, we need to make them want to spend time with us. Writers who ignore the fact that our job is to reward the reader for reading are unlikely to be read for long.

The thing that Allen is doing in this chapter, very deftly, is rewarding readers for reading. Every page has something interesting, something engaging on it. Every scene serves a purpose.

In mature fictional prose, each sentence may serve up to four purposes. These are, in no particular order: to develop character; to build the world; to increase or resolve tension (i.e., to move the plot); and to illuminate theme. The ideal is for every sentence to do all of these things, but in practice this tends to create an airless environment tending towards unreadability and No Fun. Perhaps the fifth and most important purpose of any sentence in a work of fiction should be defined as "fun."

In my earlier critique of this novel, I had asked for more "telling detail," and Allen has responded to that request with elegance and care. Josy's world in this version seems to me perfectly balanced between narrative momentum and reality. I feel as if I could touch it. It's concrete and sensory and a little unexpected, as the world should be. But as important, there is always stuff happening. I'm not, in essence, expected to sit through an endless establishing shot.

I love little touches like the line, "I'd forgotten about my hair. I touched it to remind myself what was different. Pink, that was it. "Thanks, it's uh, actually my natural color. I'm letting it grow in.""

Josy's wit makes us like her. Funny narrators, especially narrators that can be funny at their own expense, are endearing to the reader.

However, some of the details are confusing. For example, the "Double Crosser," described as a shot of espresso in a pint of Coke. But it's also later described as steaming, and warm enough to change the temperature of Josy's hand. I love the detail of her having one hand warm and one hand cold, but I fell out of the story wondering if the Coke was served hot, then? Funny little things and consistency matter. A confused reader starts looking to pick holes in everything.

I'm very pleased by the way this chapter manages to balance the mundane and the weird, and draw attention of readers to the weird without seeming heavy handed or manipulative. Part of this art is allowing readers to become complicit in their own manipulation. Readers who have bought in will make excuses and find wonderful explanations for things that are frankly just auctorial lapses--and this is why we love them. Meanwhile, readers who have fallen out of love with a story will pick apart the most structurally sound bits as if they were made of old, mismatched bones.

It follows, then, that the first job of the novelist is to get the reader to fall in love. Allen has mastered that problem.

I strongly urge this author to finalize this novel, and move forward with a querying process if that has not already commenced.

--Elizabeth Bear

Editor's Choice, Science Fiction


From the author's note: "This is the first chapter of a xenofiction saga. There are no humans, Earth, or Milky Way galaxy in this story. Nor will there be." This submission attracted my attention because of its science-fictional high concept. It's an alien story, told from the alien characters' POV--that's ambitious, and I love ambitious in my science fiction!

Xenofiction is one of the most challenging kinds of science fiction to write. Perhaps the most famous example is James Triptree Jr.'s story, "Love Is The Plan, The Plan Is Death," about a giant spider-like alien trying to overcome its own nature. When they're successful, science fiction stories told from non-human POVs affect us in unique ways. The stories can introduce us to new and unusual experiences of perception and thought. Alternately, they can throw new light on human behavior by casting it in implicit or explicit contrast with alien behavior, the way that Ursula K. Le Guin does for human sexuality and gender roles in THE LEFT HAND OF DARKNESS or Samuel R. Delany does in STARS IN MY POCKETS LIKE GRAINS OF SAND.

The first challenge for the author is making readers overcome their human filter. This chapter starts in media res, with the main character Cohl trying to solve a problem with audio equipment as she prepares for an important performance. In the absence of language cues or displacing visual descriptions, the reader starts out by "translating" all of the details to human equivalents. Here, the author increases our tendency to do this by using human-based character descriptions. Some examples:

- Cohl swiped her hand across the audio console's touchscreen
- she wouldn't need the heavy headpiece
- Cohl shut her eyes and rubbed her temples to ward off a burgeoning headache.
- Cohl shielded her eyes with one hand.
- She opened her mouth to respond
- Someone held her hand.

These are all from the first couple pages. The other descriptions of people, society, and technology also all echo human equivalents with some slight gender-based variations.

It becomes almost impossible not to visualize Cohl and Chon as humans based on the way the story starts, even if details later in the chapter move us farther away from this interpretation. So if the authorial intention is to give us a non-human, non-Earth-based experience, the opening scenes do not set us up for that. On the other hand, if the author's intention is to tell a story about humanoid characters, in humanoid-like environments, interacting in humanoid-like ways, then there's no point in emphasizing the xenofictional aspects of the story--what we are reading is really a variety of space opera. (Which is cool: I also love space opera!) And if the author's intention is to set up some explicit comparison with contemporary human modes of behavior, then there is no reason to exclude all humans from the story.

My point here is just that I think you should be fair when you establish reader expectations. If the aliens are eventually going to look and behave and feel completely non-human, then maybe the opening scene should set us up for that. Our first impressions establish our expectations for the story. An opening chapter should work narratively but also give us an honest flavor of the story ahead.

Putting that aside, the plot of Chapter 1 has a clean, strong narrative, with some excellent twists and turns. Cohl, with help from her twin-spouse (one of the sociological twists) Chon, is performing an audio sculpture at an important planetary political event. Cultural tensions between Cohl and the ruling Meng create difficulties for her. Cohl also suffers from some disturbing and unexplained memory lapses. Several important revelations happen during and after the performance, including threats to Cohl's safety, and Chon is appointed to a special military role to protect her.

For me, the strongest points in the chapter are the sound sculpture itself, the mystery of Cohl's memory loss, the relationship between Cohl and Chon, and Chon's appointment as Sentry.

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

--C.C. Finlay

Editor's Choice, Short Story

"AllBook, Rania, and the Infallible Cloud" by Ada Hoffmann

"AllBook, Rania, and the Infallible Cloud" stood out for me this month because of a quality that's very hard to pin down in written work: this is a story that is generous. It illustrates perfectly the difference between a piece of fiction that has a moral, or is trying to teach a lesson about being kind, and one that just assumes the natural, go-to reaction of a person is kindness. In short, it's a lesson in how we figure out what the morality of a story really is, and how far the mantra of "show, don't tell" can really take us.

As always, there are a number of choices the author has made that come together to give readers that elusive sense of generosity, and a lot of them are what we'll call "undercarriage work": choices that might not be front-and-centre, but which make the story run better. The most notable of these, for me, was the casual but determined multiculturalism of Emma's world. Rania Mehanna is an Arabic name, and while her cultural identity matters in this story, that cultural identity isn't the whole story on her. The film star they universally adore has an Indian name, and he is also a character with a personality and three dimensions. There are casually mentioned characters who are East Asian, Greek, and one who glosses (to me, at least) as Jewish.

Why's this important? For one, it signals to a variety of readers -- as we mentioned in last month's review -- that this story is for them and they belong here by presenting non-white characters who aren't either stereotypes or white people in disguise. Secondly, to many readers, especially younger readers, multicultural settings are, to be blunt, the real world. But there's a more specific craft reason at work here, too: Because the author's attention to that aspect of the story supports Rania's later upset at the Orientalism of the Brightside party. It establishes firmly, in the weave of the story, what normal means here, and so when we hit the party full of privileged white teenagers wearing fake hijab and keffiyeh -- who are "the same people who would've whispered and called her a terrorist anyplace else" -- even readers whose life experience wouldn't lead them to notice this sort of racism are primed to see it sticking out. In establishing what's normal for Rania, Emma, and Deborah, the author's established what's not normal in their world, and readers can more easily follow the story where it wants to take them.

Another aspect which I don't want to shortchange is the sheer humour of this story. For a piece that's rather clear in making a serious statement about how we live, it's full of these marvelous little touches that maintain a light, open, friendly tone: really, "Catgirls vs. Pterodactyls" and "Stephen Hawking: Space Pirate" are just dead hilarious. That creates another undercarriage effect: it tells readers they're welcome here; that this is a fun place to be. This is how Terry Pratchett's fiction works: he repeatedly manages to write very issues-centred books that nobody ever calls didactic, because not the issues, but the context they live in is gentle, and playful, and...generous.

Finally, "AllBook, Rania, and the Infallible Cloud" takes on a teenage reputational economy -- and the trickier fine points of labels and their maintenance -- in a way I found interestingly nuanced and ultimately, fascinatingly non-judgmental. The labelling system the characters work within highlights very strongly that they all want different things in life, and all must jump through different hoops to get them. Rania wants to save the world, but that means there are places and people she's actively turning up her nose at. Jacob, as odious as his behaviour to Rania is, is bumping up against the glass ceiling of a certain upper-class social acceptance, and that to him requires the appearance of a stable relationship that he clearly doesn't actually want. Emma wants as many friends as possible, and the altruism of her concern for Rania balances, in the subtext, against the occasionally rather cold and calculated way she balances her social obligations to get things from people like Deborah; to make the most people feel she values them with the least effort. And yet, they're all treated here as not good or bad guys, but complex people: even the clear antagonists are presented as people with desires and motives. And that lack of judgment is another aspect where readers might see their wants and needs reflected, but not feel hated or driven away. People want different things. That's true here, and that's okay, and that's an important -- and careful, in terms of the character work -- thing to say.

Overall, these things combine into a story that feels warm to read, without being saccharine or explicitly moral. Its overarching attribute is a great and wonderful humanity, existing casually in what's functionally a darkly dystopian surveillance society. And that's achieved by sheer showing: by readers intuiting, from the decisions the narrative itself shows us are normal and rational, what it has to say about how we live, so that when it comes time to tell us so, at the end, that speech feels supported by piles of evidence.

I admit I have no real improvement notes for this. It's a multilayered, smart story, that does what it sets out to do well. Thank you for the read, and best of luck with it!

--Leah Bobet
Author of ABOVE

Editor's Choice, Horror

"The Museum of Your Life" by Joseph Ahn

Unity is one of the most important qualities for a short story to have. With it, all the elements work together to create a powerful impact at the story's end. Unity is also one of the most difficult qualities to discuss or teach. But I'm going to attempt to discuss it here.

In this intriguing flash piece, the second-person protagonist, "you," goes to a museum where one can find the meaning of one's life. In the maze-like interior, the protagonist finally finds the love who had left him. He tries to take her from the museum but gets lost and realizes he will never escape.

The idea of the story, that this museum exists, is fascinating. Simply introducing it, particularly with the second person, forces readers to think about the meanings of their lives. One of the pleasures readers get from stories, particularly fantasy/horror/SF stories, is to explore big questions and new concepts, and that definitely happens here. The structure of the museum is effective on multiple levels. On a basic story level, it helps to explain how the museum might hold the answers for many people, because each person will take a different path through the maze and end at a different spot. It also works on a symbolic level, reflecting the nature of the question--"What is the meaning of your life?"--which can draw one into endless introspection or, using the metaphor of the story, trap one in an endless maze.

I enjoy the creepy atmosphere of the museum, which fits well with the ending, in which the protagonist realizes that the question is an empty one, and that he has made the choice to forsake his life to search for an answer to this pointless question.

The main weakness I see in the story is a lack of unity. Everything in the story isn't working together to create a powerful impact at the end. Various ideas are introduced that war with each other and weaken the impact. In the previous two paragraphs, I've described several parts of the story that work well together and seem to aim at a unified effect. But the story has other parts.

From what I've said above, it seems like the protagonist should be someone obsessed with finding meaning in his life, driven to find an answer to the question. But the protagonist doesn't seem to be searching for an answer at all. He seems to know what he will find in the museum--his old girlfriend--and to be seeking her out with the goal of having her back in his life again. He seems to know that she--or the secret she utters--is the meaning of his life. Thus the ending of the story doesn't seem to fit. He's not someone who forsook his life to search for an answer; he's someone who knew the answer and was willing to risk his life to regain his love. This is a very different story and doesn't fit with the first story I described.

Having his old love embody the meaning of his life is disappointing, in light of the first story and its implications. Since the story invites readers to consider the meanings of their lives, readers have all sorts of possibilities dancing in their heads. Is the meaning of his life that he gave up his own happiness to help others? That he could have been a success if only he'd received some support? That he was born into the wrong era so no one understood him? Readers are considering all sorts of meaty, existential questions, and the story doesn't explore them. I realize this is a flash piece and that doesn't allow for lengthy philosophical explorations, but the story could show us hints of events in his past as he makes the different turns in the maze, and he could consider different possible answers he might find. Perhaps he's hoping he'll find that he failed due to the small-mindedness of others, but that his failures will inspire others to follow in his footsteps. Perhaps he fears he will find that he failed due to egotism and low intelligence. And perhaps he never finds any answer, but readers now realize that his egotism and insecurity led him to search for an answer to console himself, and in doing that, he has given up his chance to turn his failure into success. This would reinforce the idea that the question is a pointless one.

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

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


Amy Raby says she's the product of the US space program since both her parents were computer programmers for NASA. Now she lives in Seattle,  where she's active with her kids and animals. Unless your computer has been on the blitz, you were bound to see Amy Raby's beautiful cover for Assassin's Gambit, her debut novel.  Hope you enjoy our interview with Amy.

authorGive us the blurb for Assassin's Gambit.

My one-line elevator pitch is that it's about an assassin who falls in love with the man she's supposed to kill. And here's the official blurb from the publisher. They're better at writing copy than I am:

Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She's a trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor's bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.

As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he's drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while--and fulfill other needs, as well.

Lucien's quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala's gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good.

There's a sequel coming in October (Spy's Honor). Will it pick up where Assassin's Gambit left off?

Yes and no. Spy's Honor is actually a prequel. It takes place about five years before the events of Assassin's Gambit. The Assassin's Gambit series isn't the type with a continuing story and cliffhangers at the end of each book. It's the type in which each book is self-contained and fully resolves, but the stories are connected through a shared world, shared setting, and shared characters. There is a continuing story that unfolds slowly, but no cliffhanger endings. This is similar to the way Lois McMaster Bujold's Miles Vorkosigan series is structured.

coverAssassin's Gambit is Lucien and Vitala's story. Spy's Honor steps back a few years and is about Lucien's cousin Rhianne and the spy Janto. Although Lucien isn't the protagonist of Spy's Honor, he's a minor player of great significance, and it's in this book that we see his ascent to the throne. A third book, also under contract, takes place a number of years after the events of Assassin's Gambit and focuses on Lucien's sister Celeste as well as following up on the characters from Gambit.

I was fascinated by your posit: "What if the Roman Empire never collapsed and instead survived into the Renaissance?" What kind of extrapolations did you create for Assassin's Gambit?

First I have to give the caveat that the Kjallan Empire isn't exactly the Roman Empire--I've borrowed from other cultures, invented some things out of nowhere, and added magic, some types of which are so significant they alter the culture. For example, a type of warding magic provides, among other things, absolutely reliable birth control, and as a result, Kjall is somewhat sexually liberal, especially for unmarried women, despite its patriarchy. But what Kjall is struggling with is an increasingly educated and literate middle class that is frustrated with its militaristic and autocratic government. The country teeters on the edge of revolution. Lucien spent the early years of his reign cleaning up the damage a bad emperor inflicted on his country. He is smart and compassionate, a benevolent emperor, but the people aren't happy. They want a voice. And what will happen after Lucien dies? It might take only one bad emperor to undo all the work he's done.

You're an accomplished horsewoman and dog trainer. Did you get a chance to use some of your expertise in your book?

I love writing animals into my books! Assassin's Gambit has a subplot featuring a stranded dog of mysterious origin. The dog was supposed to appear on the cover, but we couldn't quite fit her in! And my characters travel on horseback, which allows me bring my horse knowledge into play. Gambit is probably the least horsey of the novels I've written because the characters are frequently on the run and possess only borrowed or stolen horses when they have them at all, but in some of my other books, the horses are minor characters in their own rights. I have known horses and dogs with extraordinary personalities, and my novels have given me the opportunity to immortalize some of them. I write other animals too. Spy's Honor features a sentient, telepathic ferret. No, I am not kidding!

Was there anything you especially enjoyed writing or researching for Assassin's Gambit?

Believe it or not, the chess scenes were especially fun. In the book it's not actually chess--the game is called Caturanga and it's a bit different. But it's based on chess. I don't play chess myself, but I have two sons who, at the time I was writing Gambit, were active on the tournament circuit. Chess has a specialized jargon, and I was fascinated by the way my boys would come out of a tournament round and debrief with their teammates using this language that was foreign to me. "Did so-and-so open with the Queen's Gambit?" someone would say, and another kid would answer, "Yes, he always does, but I answered with the Albin Countergambit," and they would be off to the races talking in this gibberish.

What I learned was that while I didn't know what any of the words meant, I could pick up the emotional tenor of the conversation quite easily, so I could follow the progress of the game without needing to understand the details. I realized I could replicate that experience in a book, and I ended up writing a scene like that in Gambit, where the hero and heroine are talking Caturanga in jargon, and the reader is not expected to understand the details, but can easily track the emotional undercurrents.

My editor told me later it was that scene that sold her on the book.

What's your "call story"? How did you find out you had sold the book?

It had been on submission (via my agent) and was about to go out to a group of publishers when, as I understand it, Claire Zion, the editorial director of NAL, read Game of Thrones, loved it, and put out the word that she wanted a romance novel that would appeal to Game of Thrones fans. My agent said she had that novel--Gambit--and sent it to Claire. We agreed to a short exclusive, and after that things happened quickly. Claire read my novel within days and spoke to me on the phone. She told me what she enjoyed about the novel and what she wanted me to revise, and she also wanted to know about series potential, because NAL only acquires series. Happily, I had another book already written in the same world (Spy's Honor) and plans for others. She asked me to email her all of that information, and within days I had an offer for a 3-book series.

I feel grateful to George R. R. Martin because there is no question that through the success of his fantasy novels, he opened this door for me, and I'll bet he opened it for other fantasy novelists too. It's not a zero-sum game out there. When one author succeeds, that person's success can pave the way for future authors.

Is there anything you wish you had done differently on your path to publication?

Not really! I'm thrilled with where I ended up. Of course, when my agent and I took that exclusive with NAL, we shut the door on a number of other publishers who never saw this novel and never had a chance to offer on it. Maybe we missed a good offer. But we have no way of knowing, and my editor is fabulous, as is everyone I've worked with at NAL. The cover for Gambit is spectacular. I have no complaints, and while no author can know how readers will respond to one's work, thus far I think Gambit has been given every opportunity to succeed.

Do you have any publishing advice for OWW members?

It's my opinion that selling into the adult SFF market is very difficult. When I tried to query my fantasy novels, few agents paid me much attention. I made my sale when I switched from straight fantasy to fantasy romance, and that was for two reasons. One, the RWA taught me some storytelling techniques that improved my writing and made it competitive in the pro market. Two, I was able to enter the RWA's writing contests, which put my work in front of agents and editors. This was a much better way for me to get noticed than through query letters. I write better novels than marketing copy.

My big break came when I finaled in the Golden Heart, the RWA's nationwide contest. This contest is so prestigious that if you final in it, your chances of being picked up by a major publisher leap to over 50%. Many agents request all submissions by Golden Heart finalists regardless of the contents of the query letter. Suddenly my query letters, which had "Golden Heart Finalist" plastered on them, weren't getting ignored. I had literally dozens of requests. Everyone was reading my manuscript, and then I had multiple offers of representation for a manuscript that I had previously queried (and which many agents had previously rejected).

I know this advice is not helpful to people whose writing doesn't fit under the RWA umbrella. I wish the SFWA ran a similar contest for SFF writers. I think it would do so much good for the genre! I can only say that if the query system is not working for you, look for other ways to get your writing noticed. I'm not convinced the query system works as well as publishing professionals think it does.

What's next for you?

I'm currently writing the third book in my 3-book contract. I hope NAL will end up wanting more books in that series, but that will depend on how well the first three books sell. I have a long-term series arc planned, and rough ideas for books four and five, as well as for a couple of novellas that would be companions to the series, telling the stories of some of the lesser characters.

While Gambit was on submission and I didn't know if it would sell, I hedged my bets by writing another novel called Flood and Fire. It's completely different, a fantasy mystery series set in the Bronze Age. I entered it in the 2012 Daphne du Maurier, and then Gambit sold, and I had to abandon Flood and Fire to work on Gambit. And then, to my astonishment, Flood & Fire won the Daphne! This was amazing and wonderful, but it created some awkwardness, because editors were requesting the manuscript and asking my agent for it, and IT WASN'T FINISHED because I'd had to abandon it for Gambit. I had a rough draft and some polished chapters, but the second half of the novel wasn't ready for prime time, and my agent hadn't even read it because I hadn't sent it to her. I would never send my agent a rough draft!

So I would love to finish Flood and Fire and get that manuscript out on submission.

Find Amy Raby on her web site or on Facebook.

Publication Announcements

JS Bangs tells us: "Just letting you know that my workshopped story ‘The Suffragette's Election' is currently up at Crossed Genres. This story was workshopped --- three or four times, in fact --- while I attempted to find the proper ending. A big thanks to everyone who helped with it, and especially those who read it multiple times."

Aliette de Bodard says: "Pleased to announce that I've sold my Xuya story ‘The Weight of a Blessing' to Clarkesworld. This is part of my ‘Vietnamese in space' series with the Rong people (the same as in 'Immersion'). It's also, er, a somewhat angry story about colonialism, cultural legacies and virtual realities. Should be in the March issue of Clarkesworld."

Sarah Byrne writes: "'Victoriana' is forthcoming in Mirror Dance (March 2013)"

Eliza Collins announced: "'Beyond the Gates' will be reprinted to Aoife's Kiss (due out March '13)"

Crash Froelich tells us that his novel, NEVER, is available from Artema ePress.

Richard Fuller says: "I'm pleased to announce my horror short story ‘Pieces of Art' is in the current (December 2012) issue of Cover of Darkness magazine. Also, my dark urban fantasy 'GodPod Blues' can be found in the anthology INTO THE DARKNESS by Necro Publications. Both stories greatly benefitted from the many insightful reviews by OWW members, just as my overall writing has benefitted from reading and reviewing their works. Thanks to all!"

Elizabeth Hull announced: "DARKSPIRE REACHES was contracted to Holland House for their Kristell Ink imprint. This will be published on 20th March 2013."

Graham Keeler tells us: "I have just had my first short story published. It is called 'Alien Encounter.' It was critiqued in OWW a while back, and it has just appeared in Jupiter Magazine, issue number 39."

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.

Reviewer: Bill Danner
Submission: Rain over Ghaidhealtachd by Dave Crosby
Submitted by: Dave Crosby

Reviewer: K. E. Cooper
Submission: Godfire Chapter 58 - plot summary included by Elissa Hunt
Submitted by: Elissa Hunt

Reviewer: Kaia Vintr
Submission: A Mother's Protection (3 of 3) by Jon Paradise
Submitted by: Jon Paradise

Reviewer: Zvi Zaks
Submission: Thon's Youngest Son by Martha Villone
Submitted by: Martha Villone

Reviewer: Jane Forni
Submission: Naturally by Rebecca Schwarz
Submitted by: Rebecca Schwarz

On Shelves Now

Assassin's Gambit, by Amy Raby (Signet, April 2013)

Vitala Salonius, champion of the warlike game of Caturanga, is as deadly as she is beautiful. She’s acover trained assassin for the resistance, and her true play is for ultimate power. Using her charm and wit, she plans to seduce her way into the emperor’s bed and deal him one final, fatal blow, sparking a battle of succession that could change the face of the empire.
As the ruler of a country on the brink of war and the son of a deposed emperor, Lucien must constantly be wary of an attempt on his life. But he’s drawn to the stunning Caturanga player visiting the palace. Vitala may be able to distract him from his woes for a while—and fulfill other needs, as well.
Lucien's quick mind and considerable skills awaken unexpected desires in Vitala, weakening her resolve to finish her mission. An assassin cannot fall for her prey, but Vitala's gut is telling her to protect this sexy, sensitive man. Now she must decide where her heart and loyalties lie and navigate the dangerous war of politics before her gambit causes her to lose both Lucien and her heart for good....



Pretty Girl 13 by Liz Coley (Katherine Tegen Books/HarperCollins, March 2013)

Pretty girl
13 when she
went missing

to her family
to her friends
to the world

but still missing
her self

In Liz Coley's alarming and fascinating psychological mystery, sixteen-year-old Angie Chapman must piece together the story of her kidnapping and abuse. Pretty Girl-13 is a disturbing-and ultimately empowering-page-turner about accepting our whole selves, and the healing power of courage, hope, and love.

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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)


This month's featured article from our Tips and Advice section:

Mary Rosenblum, author of The DrylandsChimera, and The Stone Garden, on writers' groups and workshops

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

Until next month--just write!

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