Online Writing Workshop for Science Fiction, Fantasy and Horror

December 2014 Newsletter


Monthly Writing Challenge


Editors' Choices

Publication Announcements

Reviewer Honor Roll

On Shelves Now

Membership Info





I always think of January 1st as a chance to begin again. The old year, with all its stumbles, missteps and false starts, is in the past. A New Year is a blank page to fill with new adventures, new ideas and new stories, a fresh opportunity to explore and take risks with what I write. Will 2015 be the year I write that Science Fiction novel? Or will I continue to write Fantasy and branch out into YA? A year is a long time. Anything can happen in a year's time.

While I never make resolutions, I do set goals. I have lofty writing goals and plans for 2015, including learning more and becoming a better writer. After all, writers never stop learning--my years on OWW taught me that.

Until next month, keep writing and keep learning.

And as you use OWW to write and to learn in the New Year, you'll encounter a brand-new feature we hope you'll find useful: the Library. Each member now has Library Shelves, where you can archive your submissions. You can shelve (archive) any of your active submissions instead of taking them off the workshop. On your Library Shelves they are readable by workshop members, but don't occupy your three slots for active submissions.

In the Library they cannot be reviewed, but they stay readable until you delete them or your membership lapses. This helps when workshopping an entire novel, for example: move chapters to your Shelves once you get enough reviews, making room for current chapters while keeping earlier ones available for new readers. You can create unlimited separate shelves for your submissions in the Library, to organize them however you would like. You can also submit a piece directly to your Shelves. Direct submission does not cost review points. Later you can move it to active status by unshelving it (that will cost points). You can move submissions on and off your Shelves as needed. Let us know what you think of this new feature! Contact Jon via our Contact Us form or by e-mail: support (at)

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

Jaime Lee Moyer, newsletter editor
news (at)

Monthly Writing Challenge

Our beloved dictator, Leah Quire, brings us a craft challenge this month:

"As we enter the heart of a long, chilly winter, many of us are facing days filled with freezing ice and fluffy snow. What if the first sentence simply read, We are entering the heart of winter? The point is the same. Look over the first 500 words of your current novel, or write 500 words of a story, but do not use any adjectives or adverbs. Instead, choose strong, descriptive nouns. And then look for redundancies and eliminate them. It's time to work out and eliminate the fat. Tighten that prose!"

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)


Our own Charles Coleman Finlay is editing the September/October 2015 issue of Fantasy & Science Fiction. Submissions are electronic, and open on January 1, 2015. Full details here.

Issues In Earth Science publishes science fiction stories for middle grade and YA students, and they are reading for the next issue until the end of February 2015. They are looking for stories up to 3,000 words and pay 6 cents per word. Full details here.

The James White Award is open to previously unpublished stories of 6,000 words or less by non-professional authors from anywhere in the world, but the stories must be written in English. This year's prize is £200 plus publication in Interzone, and this year's competition closes on January 31, 2015. Full details here.

Suddenly Lost In Words is looking for the best in writing for young adults (13+) from both established and up-and-coming writers. Stories can be in any genre, but must be 3,000 words or less. Payment is 5 cents per word. Full 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, Liz Bourke, 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

Runes: Chapter One by Makena Bartholemew

This chapter starts with a relatively strong hook: fear of discovery. But it rapidly loses the momentum of its opening sentence in a lengthy piece of "character moves through landscape and muses on things" writing -- which can be effective in the right place and at the right time, but is rarely ideal in an opening chapter. Let's summarise what happens in these three and a half thousand words:

The main character is in a wooded area, training in some discipline ("runes") for some unspecified reason. It is apparently forbidden, or at least a very bad idea for the main character to get caught at this training, because she is very afraid when she thinks she has been discovered. It turns out that she has not been discovered by another person, but rather by a saddled but riderless horse, which is suspiciously -- one might say preternaturally -- eager to make the main character's acquaintance. (I was momentarily put in mind of Mercedes Lackey. If this isn't a parallel the writer is drawing intentionally, it might be as well to reconsider the horse's introduction.)

We learn that there is an empire that the main character has reason to fear, and that apparently killed her parents. The horse has equipage with the emblem of this empire. She assumes this means there is an imperial type wandering riderless in the woods. When the horse follows her, she decides to take it home before going to the local town to meet with a friend and get news at the market. Some description of the town follows.

Her friend is a blacksmith who has just invented an automatic crossbow. She tells her friend about the imperial emblem on the horse. The chapter ends.

There are some ways in which the writing here could be made stronger and the worldbuilding rendered sharper and more cohesive. There is also a structural question to consider, to wit: what purpose does this first chapter answer? To be honest, the writing and worldbuilding improvements I'm going to talk about are relatively minor compared to the sense of narrative... uncertainty... that I'm getting from this first chapter. It seems as though the writer is feeling their way into both story and setting, and lacks the confidence to kick off in a more vigorous fashion. What we have here is a lot of incidental information without an inciting event or the kind of drive that grips readers and pulls them to know more. Readers need a reason to care about the information as it is presented to them.

It's not always necessary to begin with a bang, but it's frequently useful to begin with a change.

To move on to the issue of prose. At present, the prose is serviceable, but not strong. The writer tends to use "to be" verbs a lot, and to use more words than are necessary. (There's a reason The Elements of Style advises its readers to "Omit needless words" -- mind you, refining and developing what that means for one's own style is a lifelong chore.)

In sentences like "The sun was beginning to transition from dawn to sunrise, patches of deep gold and crimson visible through the gaps in the evergreen canopy overhead," it might be more effective to say "Sunrise coloured the sky gold and crimson through the gaps in the evergreen canopy."

Let's take another example and treat it in detail. "Wary, my eyes darted about my surroundings as I waited, frozen, for the intruder to show themselves." This sentence is not particularly necessary for the purposes of the paragraph. And it's somewhat confused. "Wary" is a dangling modifier: it's not quite clear what part of the next clause it modifies. "My wary eyes darted" would read with less potential confusion, while an adverb, "warily," would keep the lexical emphasis where it presently is. "Warily, my eyes darted."

But then one runs into the issue that "my eyes darted about" gives the unfortunate impression of eyes on little legs running places very swiftly. Do eyes need to dart? For this possessive-pronoun-noun-and-verb phrase, one can substitute a pronoun-verb construction: "I scanned," "I surveyed."

"Warily, I scanned my surroundings..."

Better. Especially because strictly speaking, eyes cannot be wary; only the owners of the eyes can be.

"Warily, I scanned my surroundings as I waited, frozen - "

Now we're running into more issues. The text is telling us two contradictory things. Thing one: surroundings are being looked at. Thing two: the narrator is in a state of frozen waiting. It is difficult to be both frozen and actively looking at things. Delete "frozen," and there is no more contradiction.

"Warily, I scanned my surroundings as I waited for the intruder to show themselves." This is a functional sentence. Not bad, but not good yet. In particular, the second half of the sentence isn't doing enough work. We already know the narrator is waiting for the intruder to become apparent. It is implied by the first half of the sentence, "Warily, I scanned my surroundings." (Or, if one is wedded to the idea of darting eyes, "My eyes darted about my surroundings" still implies that the narrator is waiting on someone to be revealed.)

So. How can one make the second half of that sentence do more and different work? One can't. It's unnecessary. "Warily, I scanned my surroundings."

Stop. The next sentence needs to do more and different work. To convey different information or add a more or different emphasis.

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

--Liz Bourke
"Sleeps With Monsters" columnist at
Book reviewer for, Strange Horizons, and Ideomancer

There are several possibilities for the kind of work the next sentence can do, but those possibilities are mainly different in emphasis. What comes next should be implied by what has gone before. What has gone before is Warily I and scanning and surroundings. The next sentence, provided we are in the same paragraph, should deal with one of these things: the narrator's reaction, or the surroundings. But because surroundings is the ultimate word in this sentence (and thus where most of a short sentence's emphasis falls), and because in my example here I have chosen to use the verb scanning (which implies active looking), what comes next should most naturally have to do with those surroundings.

Either absence: "Warily, I scanned my surroundings. There was no sign of the intruder..."

Or detail: "Warily, I scanned my surroundings. Just beyond the trees, the crumbling pillars of the precursor ruins stood in stillness. My slanting shadow reached across the clearing towards them. I could still hear the intruder, but the undergrowth distorted the noise of his passage. I had no idea from which direction he might come."

Be concise. Be definite. Be bold. Be vigorous. Omit needless words. Keep related words together. Remember that emphasis (prominence) falls at the beginning and the ending of a sentence.

The prose is serviceable now. It's a short step, albeit one involving an awful lot of hard work, from serviceable to good. You can do it.

A final note on worldbuilding.

Regarding the town: the narrator states that it is isolated, that hardly anyone ever visits, and that there has been no imperial presence in many years. Yet the town seems to be of no small size, with shops and inns (plural) and a market. It is very difficult for a town of sufficient size to support inns (plural) and industry to be as isolated as the narrator implies. It will need to be supported by a rural hinterland, and the presence of inns suggests travellers. Even a tiny village undoubtedly interacts in some fashion with a government or the absence of a government. Is it part of the empire? If so, does it pay taxes? How often? How are they collected? Who settles disputes between the inhabitants? Are there records of land ownership? Where are they kept? Does its hinterland supply all its needs for subsistence? What about metals? What happens to excess produce?

There's a giant iceberg of Stuff that goes into making a fictional world's surface smooth -- or at least believably grainy. The writer doesn't need to answer all these questions. Just to bear them in mind when showing the reader the outlines of the world.

Good luck.

Editor's Choice, Science Fiction

Seeing Monsters, Chapter 1 by David Emanuel

The first chapter of this Middle Grade cross-genre book grabbed my attention right away with its opening situation and voice. Caleb Fitz is a seventh-grader who sees giant, hairy spider demons. In his homeroom at school. He keeps his mouth shut about it because he doesn't want the other kids to think he's crazy. Also because the seven-and-a-half legged spider he nicknames Stump threatens to eat him if he tells.

Sarah Prineas, a former OWWer whose Magic Thief series has been translated and published all around the world, emphasizes that it's important to start MG books with action and a moment of change. This story starts with that moment of change -- when Fitz first notices the demon spiders. But I think it could follow up with more action.

After he sees the spiders, Fitz sits "as still as a statue," and he tries to "control [his] breathing and steady [his] eyes." Stump tells him not to say anything or he'll be killed, but he doesn't prohibit Fitz from taking action. So when Miss Fleishman barely misses stepping on the spider or when Frankie just misses the monster's fangs, the story would be stronger if Fitz did something to save them. If he distracts Miss Fleishman and causes her to step away from the spider. If he trips Frankie and causes him to fall under the fangs. Let Fitz be more active, even within the constraints of the warning. All the outcomes of the chapter will be the same. Stump might not even know that Fitz did those things on purpose. But as readers, we would know, and we'd be more connected to the story.

This chapter doesn't need both spider creatures. The scene introduces "the big one" and then Stump, but they don't coordinate or work together. Every danger, every threat, would be just as effective if it came from one spider. The story would have more focus with only Stump. And, if more spider-demons have to be introduced later, it would create an escalation and increase the tension then.

Make sure the voice consistently reflects the character. A good MG book never talks down to its readers. It can use large, complex words and images as long as they make sense in context and are true to the personality of the narrator. On the other hand, there's no need to complicate things either. This passage provides a good example:

It was a spider in every way except it was a million times bigger than any arachnid you could find in a web search. Each of its limbs stretched as long as a track star's legs. The thing was as thick around the trunk as an NFL lineman, and a big ol' set of silver chompers gnashed the air below its freaky, red eyes.

This is an important paragraph because it physically introduces the danger. But I feel like each sentence is trying a little too hard. The part about the "web search" pulls us out of the moment -- it takes our imaginative attention away from the spider and creates an image of a computer instead. What's wrong with "It was a spider in every way except it was a million times too big"? That keeps us in the moment and focused on the spider. The "track star's legs" and the "NFL lineman" are supposed to create a humorous visual comparison, I think, but instead they make me ask questions about the character -- is Fitz obsessed with sports? Adults seldom think of "track stars" unless they have an interest in track. "NFL lineman" is also very specific and probably not something a seventh grader would think of in the heat of danger unless he was a fan. And "big 'ol set of silver chompers" has a homespun, folksy ring to it… but do kids actually talk that way?

On the other hand, "freaky, red eyes" is vivid, pointed, and does ring true. Try to keep the voice authentic to the character. Funny comparisons are only going to work if they mirror the interests and obsessions of this specific 13-year-old kid. A good simile will not only paint a picture and make us laugh, but it needs to reveal something about Fitz as well.

Finally, I wanted to take a closer look at this passage:

All the other students sat at their desks and listened to Ms. Fleishman in her low-cut, yellow dress go on about attendance policies and the importance of girls avoiding spaghetti-string tops.

This is making a subtle point about hypocrisy but I think it's too indirect. Middle Grade books are generally more on-the-nose. The story shouldn't shy away from the points it wants to make.

Overall, I think this chapter has an interesting character, an interesting problem, a good opening hook, and a voice that's almost there. I hope these comments help with revisions and I wish you good luck when you start looking for an agent or a publisher.

Best wishes

--C.C. Finlay
Guest Editor, Fantasy & Science Fiction
Author of the Traitor to the Crown series

Editor's Choice, Short Story

"The Long Way" by William Campbell Powell

"The Long Way" caught my attention this month because of its work with voice and inference, and because of the state of progress it's in: a first draft with a lot of promise, but still a lot of room for the author to move scenes around, adjust structurally, and refine the story before it's set. There are elements of "The Long Way" that are intriguing and appealing, and unfortunately, elements that I found extremely well worn. This is a first draft, like the author says, and first drafts are our space to try out story elements for best fit. I'm hoping to talk a little, this month, about preserving the story elements that are working -- while improving the ones that could work better! -- between our first and second drafts.

What snagged my attention almost immediately in reading "The Long Way" was the opening heading: "Distance travelled: 2 miles; Distance to go: 36,999,998 miles". Aside from being a great hook -- great hooks can come out of giving readers something they legitimately don't expect -- this sets a very specific tone for the piece: just enough whimsy and naivete to establish Joey as a child young enough to not entirely grasp the limitations of his abilities, and just enough determination and steel to evoke that absolute stubbornness young children can have -- and make readers really want him to make it.

The emotional stakes, in other words, are established immediately along with the voice, which consistently works for me: it's clean, declarative, and fits as a smart but young child while allowing enough gaps for fascinating inference (Tommy's mother asking how Joey is, and him not wanting to talk about it). I want to know how far Joey's going to make it from the first lines. I'm rooting for him; I'm on his side.

The author asked two specific questions in the notes, and by way of answering them I'd say that "The Long Way" achieves its goal of evoking Bradbury and Keyes both, and of presenting a voice that's credible for a young child -- that very much works. But in doing that, the unfortunate side effect is that the alternation of the voices suffers.

The second voice, the exposition voice, falls comparatively flat in "The Long Way". It's fairly obvious that its primary function is to contextualize what Joey's doing into a wider, more "adult" picture -- to fill in the gaps in his limited point of view -- and the effect is a lopsided feeling: I read the expository scenes to get back to what Joey's doing.

The news report as exposition device is frequently used in newer writers' fiction, but it's perhaps important to remember that this isn't primarily a prose tool: When we think about news stories playing in the background, filling us in on the importance or context of our protagonist's actions, what we're thinking about is movies or TV shows. It's a tool that can function more smoothly in film because film has a deeper ability to background instantly than prose fiction does. We do not literally have to walk away from the protagonist and story to watch the news when this trick's deployed in a movie; the sound of the newscast can play in the background while the protagonist brushes their teeth, or reacts, or drives to the next scene -- or otherwise continues the actual story. This continuity of story while delivering background information just isn't possible in prose, not without some intensely fancy footwork. It's a technique that doesn't translate media well at all.

So: How to address that, without damaging how Joey's voice and story sections work?

There are several approaches, and they all come down to zeroing in on the problem -- clumped exposition that interrupts the primary story being told, but is important to it -- and choosing which one works best for the story the author is trying to tell. Is that sense of alternating voice important, the way it changes the pace of "The Long Way" and sets a certain meter? Is that sense of background more important, and if so, can the exposition be woven into Joey's POV? Is the problem that readers would expect more from a whole second POV and aren't getting it, so instead of adding more to that POV to meet that expectation, one could reduce the expectation by taking the dialogue format out and reducing that POV to clear background information?

Solutions to redrafting problems usually come down to a balance of priorities. I'd suggest strongly that the answer for "The Long Way", and for other thorny revision questions, is looking at the piece that's not performing as we'd like and deciding why it is that we found it important in the first place. Once we know what our priority with it was (a good alternating pace, or not having to intrude into the child-POV with exposition, or creating a tone) then we know what's off the table for solutions -- and can target our solutions to make each piece closer to the story we wanted it to be.

So before embarking on the second draft, I'd suggest making some firm decisions as to what this story is, specifically, about. Is young Joey's experience with his father's ghost the point of the story, or is that only a background to explain why he goes to Mars? Why is the second POV there? What feeling do you want readers to come away from "The Long Way" feeling?

Either way, deciding what's important ahead of a revision helps us put the appropriate spotlight (spend the most time, give the most attention or weight) to the things that are important, and ease back on the things that aren't.

Best of luck with the piece!

--Leah Bobet
Author of ABOVE

Editor's Choice, Horror

"All I Can See Are Sad Eyes" by Tim Major

Including the words of your title in the body of your story can create resonance and emphasize a key element or idea. Making the words of your title the last words of the story emphasizes them even more. If this element or idea is powerful enough, it can make a great impact on the reader.

The title "All I Can See Are Sad Eyes" is repeated at the end of the story, and there it provides a powerful, haunting image. I found the ending the strongest part of the story. What I'm going to talk about shortly is how to increase the depth and resonance of this image, so it carries even more power. Before I get into that, though, I'd like to point out another strength of the piece. The prose is efficient and concise, conveying situations with few details and stripping the story down to its bones.

While this stripped-down prose moves the story quickly ahead, I think perhaps it's a little too stripped down. Adding a few well-chosen pieces of meat to the bones could increase the power of that final line and avoid the feeling that the story is "slight," which the author mentioned.

For me, the main quality missing from the story is significance. The first-person narrator sees this sad-eyed woman again and again, becomes obsessed with her, and ultimately retreats into his house to avoid her, only to see her sad eyes when he looks through the letterbox slot. While that is a haunting image, I'm not sure of its meaning. Why does he keep seeing this sad-eyed woman? Is it her sadness that upsets him? The fact that he can't explain her presence? His attraction to her? The fact that she reminds him of his own sadness? Does the last line mean that he is overcome with sadness? Does it mean that he's haunted by his attraction to her?

The story requires no supernatural explanation; that would ruin it. But it requires a character-oriented explanation for events to carry significance. Why is this happening to this character, as opposed to anyone else? Why does he react to it in this way, as opposed to any other way? What does that ending mean for him, and what theme does it carry? These answers don't need to be explicitly stated; that would probably also ruin the story. But they need to run through the subtext of the story. We need to pick up hints along the way, so when we reach the end we can put them all together and discover a deeper meaning.

I'm not sure if the author already has some meaning in mind, but I don't sense it in the story yet. So what sort of meaning could be added to the story, and how could that be done? There are many possibilities. One might be that the narrator is someone who has always repressed his sadness. He is a joker who always wants to maintain his emotional cover, never revealing what he truly feels, so much so that he no longer knows what he feels. (But it's sadness.) We never need to know why he's sad or what sort of incidents in his past contributed to this. That would make the significance too explicit, when it needs to run as an undercurrent in the subtext. But this joker personality could be shown throughout the story. When he first sees the sad-eyed woman, he could make some clever comment about her to his girlfriend. When he talks to the woman herself, he could joke about where they might have met. As he sees her more and more, his joking could become more elaborate. Eventually his humor could become strained. With this type of character, I would cut the scene in which he calls for help, since the narrator wouldn't do that. And in his final confrontation with the sad-eyed woman, perhaps the only line he says in the entire story that isn't intended to be humorous is "You have to stop this." At this moment, his humorous facade is broken, and he would have a reason to withdraw into his house. Now he can't escape the truth that the broken facade has revealed, and this leads the reader to the last line. We now understand that he has lost the ability to deny his feelings. This is just one possibility, but I hope it provides a sense of how such depth might be added through subtext.

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

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

In addition to his joking, his other actions can also provide insight into the hidden layers of his life. For example, in the current version, the narrator is, in turn, at a coffee shop with his girlfriend, watching other friends at a marathon, at a library by himself, at a party with his girlfriend, on the tube with another friend, at the park with his girlfriend, and at a bus stop. These locations and activities seem kind of random to me. I think they could be chosen more carefully to convey more subtext. If we want to show that he's denying his sadness with a facade of happiness, then perhaps he does things that reinforce his self-image as someone who is carefree, fun-loving, and humorous. Perhaps he's at a street fair with his girlfriend instead of a coffee shop. Instead of standing alone to watch friends run a marathon, he might be working out at the gym with friends and exchanging jokes. I doubt this character, as we're imagining him now, would do many things by himself. I think that's the last thing he'd want, and that would make the ending, when he is locked up alone, even more powerful by contrast. If he's shown constantly socializing, constantly trying to have a good time, the presence of the sad-eyed woman will be more disturbing and reveal his underlying problem.

I'll just briefly mention a few other things I noticed while reading. It's implied, when they both say, "You have to stop this" at the same time, that the same thing is happening to them both. But the story doesn't support that, so it's not convincing to me. I don't believe she's having the same experience he is. So I'd suggest just letting him say the line.

Some information is given out of chronological order, which is jarring. For example, in the first sentence, the narrator explains, "I spilled coffee as I turned and saw her waiting in the queue." I think the author intends to suggest that the narrator saw her and that caused him to spill his coffee. But the order of the words in the sentence undercuts that. Even though "as" tells us both things happened simultaneously, we read the words in order, and that means we picture him spilling the coffee before he turns and sees her. It would be better to say, "When I saw her waiting in the queue, my coffee slipped from my hand."

A few places could also use another detail or two about the setting. We need a little more setting not only to clarify our sense of where we are, but to add to character and subtext. If they're at a street fair, details of movement and light and music could help to show the happy atmosphere he's trying to surround himself with. More than that, a particular image, such as the whirling neon lights of the Ferris wheel bright against the night sky, could create a parallel to the narrator's internal life. He's trying to be the bright lights, but he is surrounded by darkness. Just a few more details sprinkled through the story could help provide those hints that the reader can subconsciously gather, which can then provide a big payoff at the end.

With some depth and significance added through these techniques, I think the story could be extremely powerful. I hope this is helpful.


Three-time Hugo Award winner Lynne M. Thomas is the Co-Editor-in-Chief and "photo"Publisher of Uncanny Magazine with her husband Michael Damian Thomas. The former Editor-in-Chief of Apex Magazine (2011-2013), she co-edited the Hugo Award-winning Chicks Dig Time Lords, as well as Whedonistas and Chicks Dig Comics. She moderates the Hugo-Award winning SF Squeecast, a monthly SF/F podcast, and contributes to the Verity! Podcast. In her day job, she is the Curator of Rare Books and Special Collections at Northern Illinois University, where she is responsible for the papers of over 70 SF/F authors. You can learn more about her shenanigans at

Collecting Days of Future Past

I'm a professional geek. It's kind of an awesome gig.

I began as a professional librarian, and then I got very, very lucky. I married a lifelong geek, and as he was introducing me to his many SF/F loves, a geeky librarian job opened up. My newfound geekiness translated into previous experience. It is part of my job to read SF/F novels and comics, among other things, to keep up in the fields that I'm now charged with documenting.

I'm not going to lie. It's kind of awesome.

I work in special collections, a library catch all term for "archives, rare books, old things, weird stuff and fancy stuff we don't know quite what to do with." We select, care for, document, and make available the materials that tell us who we are -- our own history, often collected as events are happening.

It just so happens that one of the subsets of history I'm collecting as part of my professional purview is the history of imaginative fiction, specifically science fiction and fantasy literature. It's part of my job to collect past and present versions of what SF/F writers think the future will be like.

I often joke that I collect SF/F authors, but it's nothing like in The Simpsons; I don't put the actual authors into mylar bags stapled to my walls. I help writers document their own work, and the processes behind how they produce that work, so that future researchers will be able to access it, study it, and make sure it is not forgotten. I help to document the notion that writing is, indeed, work, and that stories don't just magically spring fully formed from the heads of authors. (If only it were that easy!)

I'm not alone in this quest. There are dozens of libraries across the country that do similar work. Because librarians love our lists… here are two places to begin: Libraries with relatively large SF collections and External resources:Research Libraries.

If you're interested in seeing where the literary papers of particular authors live, this wiki, maintained by a group of librarians who collect SF/F, may be helpful. We call ourselves the Science Fiction Collections Consortium. We're mostly an email listserve. Keeping in touch with each other makes it possible for us to trade duplicates, direct collections on offer to the most appropriate place, and generally hang out and enjoy our shared professional geekery.

So how exactly does this whole "literary papers" thing work? Well, the basics are covered over here. To begin with, assume that you should not be throwing things away that document your writing process. It's also a good idea (not just for your archives, but because computers fail at deeply inopportune times) to back up your electronic files in multiple places, and to migrate your files forward when you change computers or upgrade operating systems or software.

It's okay to ask archivists and librarians for help with the best way to organize your files, or to see if they'd be interested in collecting your work. This is what we do! We'd much rather talk to you earlier, while your files and documentation still exist, than to begin the discussion when a goodly portion of your materials are already lost, recycled, or corrupted.

So, why exactly am I collecting SF/F in particular, beyond the obvious answer of "it's my job"?

The history of libraries and archives is full of collections being selected based upon people or organizations being considered Important and/or Literary. Unfortunately, particularly before the late 20th century, "Literary" or "Important" as a metric routinely excluded large quantities of culturally relevant materials, assumed to be "unimportant" because of either their intended audience (dime novels, children's books, comic books, genre literature, etc.) or the writing communities that produced them (women, people of color, LGBTQ, working-class or less-well-educated writers, etc.) Libraries and archives have been working to change this, expanding our notion of What and Who Counts as part of our collective historical record.

The libraries on the lists above are among those making sure that SF/F materials can survive long enough to become part of our collective history. When you look around at the culture that we consume in the US and realize that the vast majority of people's cultural storytelling touchstones (movies, television, books, comics) include elements of SF/F, the need to collect this aspect of our culture is abundantly clear.

Given the ubiquitousness of the personal computer,I'm particularly interested in making sure that we don't end up with a whole lot of missing materials because we thought that SF/F wasn't important enough. The rate at which our technology changes, bit rot of untended files, and hardware and software obsolescence is the 21st century equivalent of an experience I'd like to avoid if at all possible: when families would burn the literary papers of Victorian writers after their deaths, erasing the history and work of writers for future readers.

My greatest fear is of the historical black hole we can create by not documenting ourselves. So I work with the SF/F writing community to make sure that our stories remain visible and accessible over time. The Long Conversation of SF/F literature shouldn't end just because we moved to having a whole lot of it via electrons rather than ink and paper.

I hope that, instead, you'll consider bringing an archivist or librarian into your conversation.

Publication Announcements

Tom Greene slipped yet another publication by us recently:"Monoculture" was published in Interzone 255 in November 2014.

Tim Major's story "Like Clockwork" won Second Prize in the 2014 Story Quest contest, and will be published in forthcoming issue ofStar Quake Magazine. And to top off his year, Tim's story "The Sleeper" will be published in Phobos, Issue 3 forthcoming in 2015. Way to go, Tim!

Tony Peak wants us all to know his great news! "My science fiction novel Inherit the Stars will be published by Penguin Random House in November 2015. I workshopped the novel's earlier draft here on OWW under the working title A Star in Hand, way back in 2011-2012. Major thanks to all those who read and reviewed those chapters. This sale allowed me to join the SFWA as an Active Member." What a great way to start a New Year.

Seth Skorkowsky's short story collection Mountain Of Daggers is due to be released by Ragnarok Publications in March 2015. Congrats, Seth!

Brent Smith snuck a publication by us as well: "Schrodinger's List" appeared in Daily Science Fiction in October 2014.

Reviewer Honor Roll

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

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

[December 2014] Honor Roll Nominees

Reviewer: Lea Zane
Submission: Mayana's Hunt by Dave Zeryck
Submitted by: Dave Zeryck

Reviewer: Gregor Hartmann
Submission: The Great Scarecrow Massacre by Robert Haynes
Submitted by: Robert Haynes

Reviewer: Mitchell S.
Submission: The Fervent (Opening Chapter) - C4C by Jonathan White
Submitted by: Jonathan White

On Shelves Now

"cover"Of Bone and Thunder: A Novel by Chris Evans (Gallery Books, October 2014)

In the distant nation of Luitox, which is wracked by rebellion, thaumic users copilot mammoth armored dragons alongside fliers who do not trust their strange methods. Warriors trained in crossbow, stealth, and catapult are plunged into sudden chaotic battles with the mysterious Forest Collective, an elusive enemy with a powerful magic of its own. And the Kingdom's most downtrodden citizens, only recently granted equality, fight for the dignity they were supposed to have won at home while questioning who the real enemy is.

Membership Info

Fees: $49/year, $30/6 months, or $6/month. First trial month free. (more)

How to pay: PayPal, Kagi, check in US dollars, money order in US dollars, barter (more)

Scholarship fund: We accept scholarship fund donations and award full or partial scholarships to active members in need. (more)

Gift memberships: You can give a gift membership for another member; just send us a payment by whatever method you like, noting who the membership is for and specifying whether the gift is anonymous or not. We will acknowledge receipt to you and the member.

Bonus payments: The workshop costs only 94 cents per week, but we know that many members feel that it's worth much more to them. 25% of any bonus payments we receive will go to our support staff; the rest will be tucked away to lengthen the shoestring that is our budget and keep us running! (more)


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

Member Greg Byrne on scene analysis--how to make sure each scene helps the story

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)