Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror
Happy May! The year keeps rushing past, and soon summer's warm days and lingering evenings will try to tempt you away from writing and reviewing. But while you're lying in that hammock, or floating in the pool, don't forget to look for ways to stay inspired. Read! Feed your imagination and daydream new stories, new worlds, and new adventures for your characters. Share those stories with others on OWW, and be sure to share your insights by reviewing other workshopper's stories.
New inspiration, new stories, new insights into writing. Sounds perfect to me.
Until next month, keep writing!
As always, contact us if you have any questions, publication announcements, or ideas for improving the OWW newsletter. And if you have any tips or writing tricks you'd like to share, send them in.
Jaime Lee Moyer, newsletter editor
news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com
Challenge dictator Leah Quire wants us all to think about villains this month, but with a twist.
"Create a lovable villain. Okay, maybe not lovable, but at least, an understandable and sympathetic one. What made him/her the way he/she is? Does your villain believe he/she's the good guy? Does the villain know he/she's wrong, society-wise, but believe his/her cause could change society for the better? No villain is purely evil. Can you give yours a sympathetic side that would make a reader wish the villain would change for the better?"
Remember: Challenges are supposed to be fun, but don't forget to stretch yourself and take risks. If you normally write fantasy, try science fiction. If you've never tried writing in first or second person, here's your chance. The story doesn't have to be a masterpiece, this is all about trying new things and gaining new skills, and most of all, having fun. Challenge stories can go up at anytime. Put "Challenge" in the title so people can find it.
Challenges can be suggested by anyone and suggestions should be sent to Jaime (news (at) onlinewritingworkshop.com).
Two new anthologies looking for stories set in the Lovecraftian mythos have posted guidelines. Neither opens to submissions until November, but that gives you a running start on writing stories.
Apotheosis is looking for stories of between 2000-7000 set in a world trying to survive after losing the war with the Elder Gods. Submissions open November 1st. They are paying 3 cents a word and full guidelines can be found on their website.
She Walks in Shadows, the first all-woman Lovecraft anthology, opens November 15th. All stories must be about a woman or female diety, and the author must also be a woman. They are looking for stories up to 4000 words and paying 6 cents (Canadian) a word. Vist their website for full guidelines.
Sword and Sorceress 29 opened on April 19th and closes May 16th. This is the perfect opportunity to submit a sword and sorcery story up to 9000 words starring your best femail protagonist. The anthology pays 5 cents a word as an advance against royalities. Full guidelines on the website.
Spacesuits and Sixguns (newly reopened) calls itself "a magazine of contemporary pulp fiction." They are looking for stories up to 4,000 words in any genre, and pay 4 cents a word. More information can be found on their website.
Escape Pod is both an audio and electronic publication that buys both original SF and reprints. They want SF stories between 2,000 and 6,000 words. Pay rate is 5 cents a word for original SF and 3 cents a word for reprints. Full details are found on their website.
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!
Beth (working title) by Lynn Hardaker
What we have here is a really promising opening to a middle grade novel, probably salable as written. However, I think I can spot a few tweaks that may make it a little more appealing to the intended audience.
First, however, I'd like to mention some of the things that make this piece so appealing.
The first thing that I noticed in reading this is the wealth of telling detail, and the amount of sensory information that the author manages to impart without ever slowing down the narrative to do it. She sets the scene efficiently and economically, and small exotic touches like the filthy oiled-cloth window give a good sense that this is not the world we know. Too often, fantasy gives the sense of taking place in modern-day southern California. Probably in a subdivision. Which might have red tile roofs, but it's not well-enough described for us to be certain of this.
Hardaker neatly avoids those assumptions, and gives her readers rich place setting that's nevertheless integrated to the narrative.
She opens with action and relationships and a protagonist we are instantly in sympathy with. She also gives us conflict between two sympathetic characters -- the protagonist and the mother of the child with the toothache. And she does very well in resisting the urge to spell things out that she's implied adequately. She does not need to tell us that the mother is afraid of what her husband would do if he found out they were wasting resources on having a rotten tooth treated; the mother's behavior implies this, and readers will be more invested for making the deduction themselves.
The author appears to already know that she needs a more evocative title, so I'm not going to reinforce that beyond mentioning it. Of course, titles are always easier requested than written, and I am not an expert on middle grade by any means.
Basically, there's very little here that I would change. What I would do is add a few things.
I really like this scene, but I am a little afraid it's not doing quite enough work and there's a possibility that this book may be starting too early. It gripes me to say that, actually, because what's here is so good. But I don't know what it's doing in terms of the plot.
It's establishing a lot of things -- who Beth is, what she does, what her world is like. But no plot has yet been introduced. There are small conflicts and tensions and encounters, but two things in particular strike me as missing. (I do think it's short enough that if it's doing a little more work it can be allowed to stand, even in a middle grade.)
The first thing I'd like to see brought in is a subtle introduction to the speculative element. I think it would be remarkably easy to do -- simply having Beth notice the lack of anything of value where she is... or even better, to have her notice something that might be worth something, which the inhabitants obviously don't know about. (One way to do this would be to have the mother attempt to pay Beth with some disreputable bit of tin jewelry that turns out to be some sort of talisman, have Beth refuse it, and then do the lovely bit of business with the scrap of silk. Of course, there are dozens of other possibilities.)
For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!
Author of STELES OF THE SKY, April 2014
The Rivers of Time, Chapter 1 by Susan Curnow
This chapter starts strong and ends strong, and has a middle that can be easily fixed. The opening paragraphs of this novel excited me because they do certain things that only novels can do well.
A false wind swept through Geoffreys Station, brought by the docking of a ship. The breeze carried the scent of burned oil, along with the indefinable odor of a ship long out in space.
Kate Neville stretched her aching back and cursed the cold rising from the metal dock plates. Lights flashed at bay ten. She watched the entry on the screen above, heard the screech of grinding metal and winced, as the ship thumped and latched to its waiting iris.
Not a tidy docking. Another dent to Geoffreys' ailing hide.
In just three short paragraphs the writer evokes multiples senses -- the scent of burned oil, an aching back, cold dock plates, flashing lights, the screech of grinding metal, the thump of a latching ship. The use of specific, concrete details grounds us in the scene and in the character. Geoffreys Station is old and falling apart. Maybe Kate is too. It's vivid and economical, using action as an opportunity to layer in description and background.
I also liked the immediate switch to a mystery. There's a dead body on the ship. And then that turns again, into an opportunity for Kate -- the chance for her to leave the failing station and see space.
The relationship with Willis didn't quite work for me, just because Willis was a little too anthropomorphized. It says that it feels tired, but what does “tired” mean to an android? Does it have a hard time finding replacement parts? Does its software not engage with contemporary software? Is its processing time too slow compared to new models? I wanted to understand that better in the context of its own existence, rather than just having it speak like a human might.
The scene in Tony's, where Kate approaches the Icarus crew members about a berth also didn't quite work for me. There has to be a standard procedure aboard a space station for this sort of thing. One expects that due to personality differences, urgent messages from home, unexpected opportunities, and so on, crew members would change ships with enough regularity to create protocols for it. In fact, the story hints at this when the captain threatens to leave Kate at the next station if she doesn't work out.
In all, this scene felt very static because mostly it's pages of Kate waiting to have a few sentences of conversation at the end. The conversation is needed, but I'm not convinced the bar is the best or most realistic place to have it. This conversation could have been combined with the visit to her quarters and been just as effective. Or, because nothing happens in either the bar or her quarters, it could all happen in the next scene at the ship when she goes to meet Pete. Unlike the opening scene, which is very dense and efficient, these three scenes are just the opposite, and, because they all point to the same result (Kate leaves on the Icarus), could be combined to better effect.
If these scenes are combined, then there is room for another scene, one where Kate cleans out her quarters or says goodbye to Willis. Something that would mark the transition from the only life she's known to this new opportunity. Creating a brief space for her emotional reaction to this change, and a chance to reflect on any second thoughts she may be having, could be very powerful and set us internal tensions that will play out later in the story.
Once she's aboard the Icarus, the story moves away from doing the things that made the opening scene so compelling. We get Kate's descriptions of the crew and life aboard the ship, but with a minimum of sensory detail, and it's all told to us instead of being revealed through action. Bessy and Willis are introduced with more vivid personalities than Verdano, Sandy, or Thor. Sometimes it's just easier to tell instead of show. But finding a dramatic scene that introduces all the characters through action would have more payoff later on when you put the ship in danger.
The final scene, where the Icarus gets struck, really worked for me again because it includes action, vivid detail, character, and plot. When she's struggling to reach air again in the last paragraph, I'm hooked. Fix the middle so that it's as strong as the first and last scenes, and you'll have a great opening chapter.
I enjoyed reading this and I hope these comments help!
Guest Editor, Fantasy & Science Fiction, and author of the Traitor to the Crown series
"Kara's Ares" by Clint Spivey
"Kara's Ares" caught my attention, this month, because of its absolutely compelling treatment of a story rooted in a very standard space-exploration narrative: A long-term mission is sent into space, and things between the crew go very wrong. It's a very familiar spine for an SFF story, but displays an understanding of just how much we can do, as writers, with those pieces of the familiar. Classic, centre-of-genre tropes can be called standard in the sense that we describe jazz standards: of being strong bases for innovation, play, commentary, or a sheer display of raw skills. And it's how to handle the standards, make them ours, and make them shine that I want to discuss this month -- the skill that "Kara's Ares" demonstrates so well.
The absolute centerpiece of "Kara's Ares" is its character work: As is fitting in a piece with only three characters -- and one of them more a framing device -- the dynamic between Salas and Kara, and the building desire to find out how their tense battle of wills comes to a head, is what drives the entire story. Salas is utterly nasty, but he's round: His motivations for hating Kara are rooted deeper than random malice, and as a bully, he's a thousand times more nuanced than a schoolyard stereotype -- and a thousand times more effective. Kara's helplessness at his needling is brutally sympathetic, and her plot for revenge feels entirely appropriate as the war between them develops. More and more, I just wanted to see how the whole thing would end: in a blaze of glory or otherwise.
In fact, it's through that character work that "Kara's Ares" manages to explore several tropes of its chosen standard narrative very thoughtfully: The fairly typical idea of humans buckling under pressure in space environments is tweaked neatly by the story's upfront acknowledgment of Mission Control's monitoring for it, and the way Salas games that system to produce more stress is a neat comment on what kind of pressures our stories assume would exist in space -- and what pressures we might actually be facing, having brought them ourselves.
On another front, Salas's resentments, loyalties, and reflexive need to establish a pecking order make his reaction to Kara's failure to fit that model not just entirely in character for him, but an interesting thought experiment on how science fiction treats military personnel and civilians in our space stories. We have tropes about those people too: The competent, hardassed, right-because-the-code-says-so military astronaut; the useless, bleeding-heart, emotional civilian. By making Kara and Salas both so exceedingly human, their motivations both so grounded and believable, "Kara's Ares" manages to subtly question the whole way we have that conversation, and propose some different ideas for how military and civilian space explorers might interact.
It's this exploration of the standard tropes of space exploration stories that takes "Kara's Ares" from a repetition of those narrative elements to a story that grows them forward. As Resident Editor Elizabeth Bear says, literature is a conversation; as writers, we're all commenting on and questioning and talking to the stories that have come before us in our chosen genres. The best players of jazz standards know when to stick to the melody and when to innovate. "Kara's Ares" reflects that intuition and demonstrates a skill worth building as speculative writers: Doing the very foundation science-fictional task of asking, "What if?", even -- and especially -- when it comes to what we take for granted about our own genre and our own stories.
For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!
Author of ABOVE
"The Old Monster" by Sheryl Kee
Horror often deals with the shadow, a character in whom the worst trait of the protagonist is dominant. The protagonist may or may not recognize that he holds this trait in common with the shadow, but he is often compelled and disturbed by this other character, sometimes becoming the shadow, sometimes being overwhelmed by it. "The Old Monster" gives us a variation on the shadow/protagonist relationship. The woman watches her stepson be killed by a monster. She becomes obsessed by the monster and its power, and gradually becomes determined to gain similar power for herself. Ultimately she does; she becomes more of a monster than the original monster probably ever was, and uses the monster for her own ends.
This is an involving and disturbing progression. For me, the most disturbing section of the story starts when she is wounded by the monster and finds she loves the power that her deformed arm gives her, and ends when she accomplishes her husband's death. During that section, her desire for power is conveyed very strongly. I understand her; I feel what she's feeling, and experiencing her change as she succumbs to her darkest impulses is compelling and involving. Here's a moment I found powerful: "His face had gone very white, and she felt the desire to push him further than he was able to go. She opened herself to the possibility of truly wounding him, something she had never before considered." The image of the dark door inside her opening helps to make her change more concrete. Another strength of the story is a consistent voice that helps to suggest the world, as in this description of the monster: "Resting in the shallow water, it was almost invisible against the black mud that made up the bottom. It slumbered in the warm water while the sun still rode the sky -- and old monster, come to a new place."
I do think that other areas of the story could be strengthened. I had a hard time prior to the section I described above, because the woman's emotions and motivations were not clear to me. Also, the emotions are often told rather than shown, and I sometimes don't believe what the narrator is telling me. The woman seems to have very little reaction to the death of her stepson, beyond fascination and pity for the monster. Yet at the climax of the story, when she arranges for the monster to kill her husband, we learn that "She never wanted to be a loving, feeling human being again. It had proven more painful than any poison." This implies to me that the death of the boy was extremely painful to her, yet this pain is never shown to us, so when this moment happens, I find it hard to believe. For the first half of the story, I often feel like the woman is the author's puppet, being forced to take certain actions or think certain things. I don't believe that her reaction, on the death of her child, is to wonder if the process that made an animal into a monster could be reversed. I don't believe that she suddenly becomes angry when her husband stops being angry. I don't believe that the woman feels nothing when her husband argues with the crowd to save the monster's life. I don't believe she feels a sudden urge to separate her husband and the monster that triggers her wounding.
For the rest of this review, visit the Editors' Choice area of the OWW site!
--Jeanne Cavelos, editor, author, director of Odyssey
Workshop alum Jodi Meadows, author of the Newsoul Trilogy (Incarnate, Asunder, Infinate), sees metaphors for writing everywhere. She was kind enough to share some writing advice with us this month.
First, go read this story: http://www.robinsweb.com/inspiration/rocks.html
I'm sure a lot of you have seen this little story before (I think I've seen it a billion times on Facebook), and I like it. It's a nice story. But after a while . . . I started thinking about it as a metaphor for actual stories, too. (Because everything relates to writing.) It works for approaching a manuscript from start to finish, and focusing from big to little.
First, get the rocks into your story jar. The rocks are the big things, like plot, character, setting, and conflict. They don't have to be perfect yet, they just have to be there, and roughly in the right places. Sometimes that takes a little bit of fussing to make them fit correctly. (Knowing your beginning, middle, and end; who the characters are and what motivates them; where everything takes place and the basic rules of that world.)
Your rocks might be your outline, or your first draft, depending on whether you're a plotter or an organic writer (or anywhere on that spectrum!). It's okay. There's no wrong way to do it. Just put your rocks in the jar.
Then, you can pour in some second-draft pebbles: various subplots, ensuring every scene moves the plot forward, making sure you don't have several different scenes all performing the same function. Some of your pebbles might expose themes (I like to imagine those as shiny silver pebbles). Others might dig deeper into your characters (shiny blue). Still more might expose more about the world (shiny green).
Arranging the (shiny) pebbles might take a draft or two--sometimes more! Sometimes this is where we discover the rocks are out of place and we have to dump out the whole story jar. It's okay. You'll get it.
So, moving on to the sand.
The original rocks/jar story says to let sand take care of itself, and that's where my metaphor doesn't so much fall apart -- but it gets complicated.
Because yes, we can pour in the sand of line editing and proofreading, but it's not really taking care of itself. We still have to do a lot of work. That silver theme pebble? Time to layer the sand around it just so to make it truly shine. That epic action scene? Time to go through it word by word to make it clear and snappy. The dialogue? Time to make it realistic and memorable.
Those things do need to fall into place . . . for the reader. You, the writer, need to make it happen.
Moving rocks is hard work. Arranging pebbles is tricky, too (they're slippery). So by the time we get to sand and have to arrange each grain one at a time, a lot of us are pretty tired. Who wants to spend time double-checking every bit of sand in the jar? How tedious is that!?
But this is where you have a chance to truly make your book stand out from the rest. Is your sand just kind of dumped in? Do you even have sand? Take another look at your book and be honest with yourself.
If your sand still needs work, take the time to add it and arrange it so that everything does fall into place . . . for your readers.
Bo Balder's story "Daddy's Home" will be published in the Big Pulp Zombie Anthology Part 2, in April 2015, and his story "Civil Troll" will be part of the Local Magic Anthology, scheduled to be published for the 2014 holiday season. Congrats times two, Bo!
For the second month in a row, Elizabeth Bear has a big announcement! "There are going to be more Eternal Sky books! Tor will be publishing at least three more books in this world. This second trilogy, The Lotus Kingdoms, will follow the adventures of two mismatched mercenaries--a metal automaton and a masterless swordsman--who become embroiled in deadly interkingdom and interfamilial politics in a sweltering tropical land. Look for them starting in 2017." Woooo, Bear!
Eliza Collins has a story, "Penance," coming out from Pseudopod May 9th. Yay, Eliza!
Tom Greene's story, "Another Man's Treasure" sold to Analog for the May 2014 issue. Great news, Tom!
Seth Skorkowsky has news to share: "My novel Dämoren has been released by Ragnarok Publications and is now available on Amazon." Major congratulations, Seth!
Ian Tregillis sold his story "Testimony of Samuel Frobisher Regarding Events Upon His Majesty's Ship Confidence, 18-22 June, 1818, With Diagrams" to Fantasy and Science Fiction for the July/August 2014 issue. Super congrats, Ian!
Kim J. Zimring has sold a story to Asimov's! Look for "The Talking Cure" in the April/May 2014 issue. Yay, Kim!
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.
April 2014 Honor Roll Nominees
Reviewer: Lynn Hardaker
Submission: The Pegasee Bone, Part 1 of 4 by Rita de Heer
Submitted by: Rita de Heer
Reviewer: Rob Smythe
Submission: Adventures of Derek Fade: The Rescue of Addax by Sherry Shimshock
Submitted by: Sherry Shimshock
Reviewer: Gene Schiappa
Submission: Chronicles of Janie Lane - Chapters 9 & 10 (C4C) by Raymond Walshe
Submitted by: Raymond Walshe
Reviewer: Sean FromEdwards
Submission: Outland Exile Prologue and Chapter 1-3 by Walter Boutwell
Submitted by: Walter Boutwell
Reviewer: Brent Smith
Submission: When No One Remembers by Kathryn Flaherty
Submitted by: Kathryn Flaherty
Reviewer: Gene Schiappa
Submission: Family Affair (A Five against the Shadows story) (1/2) by Jon Paradise
Submitted by: Jon Paradise
Reviewer: Rachael Garza
Submission: Thaumatist by William Campbell Powell
Submitted by: William Campbell Powell
Reviewer: Frances Snowder
Submission: Mother Floyd - Chp. 2 by Kevin M. Sullivan
Submitted by: Kevin M. Sullivan
Reviewer: Tim Major
Submission: Burnt Bridges by Jonathan Sari
Submitted by: Jonathan Sari
Reviewer: Kevin M. Sullivan
Submission: Druid Story new chapter one by Frances Snowder
Submitted by: Frances Snowder
Expiration Day By William Campbell Powell (Tor Teen, April 2014)
Tania Deeley has always been told that she's a rarity: a human child in a world where most children are sophisticated androids manufactured by Oxted Corporation. When a decline in global fertility ensued, it was the creation of these near-perfect human copies called teknoids that helped to prevent the utter collapse of society. Though she has always been aware of the existence of teknoids, it is not until her first day at The Lady Maud High School for Girls that Tania realizes that her best friend, Siân, may be one. Returning home from the summer holiday, she is shocked by how much Siân has changed. Is it possible that these changes were engineered by Oxted? And if Siân could be a teknoid, how many others in Tania's life are not real? Driven by the need to understand what sets teknoids apart from their human counterparts, Tania begins to seek answers. But time is running out. For everyone knows that on their eighteenth “birthdays,” teknoids must be returned to Oxted -- never to be heard from again.
Damoren (Valducan) (Volume 1) by Seth Skorkowsky (Ragnarok Publications, April 2014)
Fourteen years ago a pack of wendigos killed Matt Hollis' family and damned his soul. Now, Matt is a demon hunter armed with a holy revolver named Dämoren. After a violent series of murders leaves only fifty holy weapons in the world, Matt is recruited by the Valducans, an ancient order of demon hunters. Many of the knights do not trust him because he is possessed. When sabotage and assassinations begin, the Valducans know there is a spy in their ranks, and Matt becomes the core of their suspicions. Desperate to prove himself, and to protect Dämoren, Matt fights to gain their trust and discover the nature of the entity residing within him.
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This month's featured article from our Tips and Advice section:
Member Carlos Cortes on pacing and the three functional types of scenes