Archive for January, 2010

This week I had only three stories to first-read. That was fortunate since I’ve been sick all week.

Story 1 (1100 word Fantasy): The title intrigues. The story has a nicely archaic feel to it (ala Vernes perhaps) and the dialogue is lively. SF element is introduced early enough (but none too early) and the story remains consistent to its tone. We have a bit of class tension, some rationalized ethics, and a nice escalation of tension when the gun appears. The ending is a good twist. Two problems, though. The opening of scene two describes the core concept, leaving nothing else to be discovered.  Secondly, the story is well executed, but it’s really a simple twist story in the end. It just doesn’t feel substantial enough compared to other stories we’ve been accepting.

Thanks for sending xxxx our way, but I’m afraid we’ve decided to pass. The story is well executed and most of our editors enjoyed it, but it’s a little too insubstantial for the anthology. You might consider moving the lines explaining the core concept (essentially the first part of the final scene) to the end of the story where it could serve as a validation. This could add a little more punch to your ending. That would not be enough for us to reconsider the piece, but may help you place it elsewhere. We would be happy to read other stories from you that fit our theme.

Story 2 (3196 word SF):  I’m concerned as the story opens. It does set a scene but the protagonist is unnamed and lacks a goal.  The story then goes on for many pages describing a post apocalyptic idea, but not developing a plot. The protagonist seems to be wandering through a detritus of images rather than acting upon a specific world. There are some poignant images here, but the story never really gets off the ground and ends fairly predictably.

Thank you for sending xxxxx to us, but we’re going to pass. The main problem for us is that the piece reads like background summary for a story rather than an actual story. There are some poignant moments, but the protagonist is reactive rather than active and there’s almost no plot complication or escalation.

Story 3 (2470 word Fantasy): I’m turned off by the opening sentence, which basically minimalizes the story’s importance. I’m fairly engaged after that. The opening scene is decently portrayed and does its job. I begin to lose interest, however, once the plot turns superheroic. The SF concept is fair enough, but the story doesn’t really go beyond the superhero tropes (even) I have seen before. The final scene does come full circle but doesn’t really add a new layer of understanding, unless I’m completely fever-adled.

Thanks for sending xxxxx our way, but I’m afraid we’ve decided to pass on it. While we appreciate what the story attempts, it didn’t work for us.

The Slushy for this week goes to story 1, an enjoyable, if insubstantial tale of just desserts. And who doesn’t like desserts?


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I have five stories to first-read this week, so without further ado…

Story 1 (3549 word SF/Fantasy):  I’m a little worried that the story begins with an avoidance of description, other than the protagonist’s violet eyes and dark hair (which she could not see in any case, but that’s a minor niggle). Rather than actually describing a character within a scene, the character thinks about what’s going to happen. It’s better than moving backward, but not as effective as getting me into the scene with vivid description AND character insight.  At this point I’m more confused than intrigued.  I will say that the story does drop me into the middle of a situation, which is a good technique. It doesn’t give me enough context, however, to figure out where I am, what’s actually happening, or why I should care about the protagonist. She seems nice enough, but doesn’t have a goal as far as I can tell. She also spends a great deal of time passively watching and having things happen to her expression, body parts, moods, rather than causing these things to happen (passive vs active).  A more accessible goal and active presentation would help a lot.  Scene two begins with an “as you know, Bob” speech meant to fill us in on background information. This is usually not the most effective technique and it doesn’t work particularly well here. By this point it’s clear we’re not going to take the story, so I skim to the end. It’s a story about a young woman choosing a different path, but it’s not terribly compelling for the reasons stated above. The background seems pretty interesting, though it feels more like a piece of a book than a stand alone story. It’s basically about one woman deciding to change her situation, rather than a larger issue. That makes it a fairly “small” story. My advice would be to work much harder on establishing the initial scene, a meaningful goal for the protagonist, and a more robust complication that makes the ending matter to more than this one woman.

Thanks for thinking of us for this story, but we’ve decided to pass on it. While it does drop us into the middle of a situation, we found the opening more confusing than intriguing and did not understand the protagonist’s goal or need early enough.  She reacts passively throughout most of the story rather than taking an active part in the events. That said, there are some interesting ideas here and we wish you the best in developing them.

Story 2 (2620 word SF): This starts interestingly, though I find the voice annoying, a little too flippant. That could be taste, so I won’t let that be the deciding factor in my analysis.  It does fit the theme, which is a nice change of pace. The story is written as if I am interacting with the narrator, which almost always irritates me (not that I haven’t tried the technique myself though).  The actual writing is strong, with good naturalistic dialogue and many observations of character and history. It’s a time travel piece. The problem, for me, is that it’s not really a story, but a description of an idea. There’s no real escalation of tension or climax, only a tying up of loose ends with a penultimate scene that explains the story’s genesis (essentially) and a final paragraph meant to twist things around. The trouble is I don’t really care for the characters all that much.

Thanks for submitting xxxxx, which certainly fits our theme. Unfortunately, we’ve decided to pass on it, mainly because it lacks the sort of narrative momentum we like to see. Basically, the story describes an (interesting) idea rather than providing a story experience with escalating tension, climax, and resolution. The twist ending didn’t work for us, because we did not feel fully invested in the characters despite some good character details and dialogue.  Should you have other stories that fit our theme, we will be happy to consider them.

Story 3 (1992 word SF):  A solid opening. The rainbow feels a bit tacked on, but that’s not a huge deal.  I’m engaged through the first third or so. It’s beginning to lose focus, however. It’s devolving into chit-chat, amusing, but not moving forward. It turns serious (well, emotional) for the final third. It’s a nice little ending, but wholly undeserved. The story is pretty much a one trick pony with a serious thread woven into the last section to give it the appearance of substance. My advice would be to tighten the cleverness considerably and set up the ending properly in the first scene. Just because clever dialogue comes easy to someone doesn’t mean it’s the right tool for every occasion. We see that a lot, folks who are good at a particular technique or skill, overusing it, possibly to avoid weaknesses in other areas. I would have liked to love this story, but it’s just not… enough.

Thanks for thinking of us for xxxxx, but we’re going to pass on it. While we enjoyed the cleverness of your writing, the story had a little too much of it. The attempt to add substance in the final third of the story (relationship with son) was too little too late. You might consider tightening the first two thirds of this and setting up the ending in the first scene. In any case, we wish you well in placing the story elsewhere. If you have other stories that fit our theme, we will be happy to consider them.

Story 4 (4500 word SF/Horror): Solid opening. Second scene moves backward in time. I’m finding it confusing rather than helpful. It does establish a scene and character motivation, but I’m wondering why the story doesn’t lead with this instead. The opening scene certainly piqued my interest, so much so that this perfectly functional second scene is a letdown. The third scene establishes backstory, but is a bit tedious (mainly repetition). After that there’s a nice action sequence but it devolves into explanation of phenomena rather quickly. Then I’m feeling kind of disconnected from the experience (reminds me a lot of Men in Black with a bit of Lovecraft mixed in). Story doesn’t seem to be maintaining a focus at this point. The ending is reasonably good, avoiding the most predictable outcome and adding a nice little twist to the usual wish fulfillment tale. However, the story seems out of balance and I have no idea why that opening scene exists.

Thank you for sending xxxxx, but we’re going to pass. There is some strong writing here and the core idea is interesting, but we felt the story was out of balance. The opening scene seems to serve no purpose other than to titillate, which it does so well that the second scene comes off as a disappointment by contrast. You may wish to consider starting this at the beginning and moving forward from there. After the initial scene, the story proceeds in segments: situation and character introduction, background emotional content, depiction of idea, action sequence, emotional resolution. The story would work better for  us if these elements were better integrated (i.e. scenes serving more than one purpose). That may be an oversimplification, but that was our experience in reading the story, in case our reaction is useful to you. We wish you the best in placing this and look forward to receiving other stories from you.

Story 5 (1450 word Fantasy/Humor): The story opens with summary background that is not particularly engaging. Heavy issues are mentioned in passing, leading me to believe this will be a sincere story with a message. It then moves into mostly breezy dialogue that’s not half bad. My interest perks up. This turns out to be a clever little three wishes story with some gay-lesbian content. Maybe someone’s been listening to our podcasts? Anyway, the writing is overly controlled in places, but the dialogue is good and the story is  cute. I’ll pass it on for a full reading. Might be a nice contrast to other stories we’ve bought.

This week’s Slushy goes to Story 5. It’s not as well written as other stories, nor as ambitious, but it works for what it is. I would change the opening paragraphs to better set up the ending and weed the prose quite a bit, but it’s a fun read (for me anyway, and that’s what counts, right?)

Tune in next time for the Slushy rundown.

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We completed our third reading session for Triangulation: End of the Rainbow. It was a good session in that we were able to accept one story outright and two others that were resubmitted after rewrite requests. It’s always nice to see an author tackle a rewrite with good results. We sent out another rewrite request as well.

The anthology is beginning to take form. The new podcast should be up in a couple days. In this session we discuss endings, dialogue, and showing versus telling. I believe we accidentally allude to the secret book of fiction writing that editors have jealously protected for thousands of years. Hopefully, we won’t lose our membership in the guild over that.

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In my zeal to keep stories in the mail, lest dejection set in (20 rejections since December) I accidentally submitted one of my best flash fiction pieces to two markets, neither of which accepts simultaneous subs. Now I’m trying to decide whether it’s going to cause the editors more grief for me to inform them of my goof now, or wait until one of them accepts the story. In the first case I risk alienating folks at one of the markets. In the second I risk being blacklisted by one market should the other accept the story.

Given my recent track record (a flurry of rejections with no end in sight) I think I’ll just wait it out. Chances are that both markets will reject the story anyway. On the plus side, I’m sending rejected  stories right back out for the first time in my life. I still tweak them if I get comments or see a problem, but the days of rewriting after every rejection may be over. Time to spend that effort on new stories.

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I’m trying something a little different this week: pseuo-realtime posting of my reaction to stories assigned to me for first read (Triangulation: End of the Rainbow anthology). Best story IMHO will receive this week’s Slushy. No monetary award or promise of publication, but it’s a heck of a thing, no?

Story 1:  1900 words.  I was turned off by the first sentence, but that could be taste. Reading on with anticipation. A few paragraphs of summary character description and the story begins.  No, false alarm. Continues with more backfill and a little clever chit-chat. Then we are indeed moving forward and it’s pretty interesting. Seems to be a lot of switching viewpoint between colorful characters that aren’t characterized much beyond colorful names. It’s a little tiresome at this point. There is a  hint of escalation that fizzles quickly and the story ends with a pun. The writing itself is solid, if a bit overclever, but story and character development are lacking. Maybe at 500-700 words this could work, but it’s not for the antho in any case.

Thanks for thinking of us, but we’re going to pass on this one. The story starts too slowly for our taste (too much character backfill without forward movement) and is too long for its payoff.

Story 2: 3600 word reprint.  This starts with an overly lush description. It does move forward immediately, which is good, and there is an intriguing development in the second paragraph. I’m having trouble getting past the lush prose, however.  I’m also not getting a sense of character motivation at this point. Some of the dialogue appears to be intended to inform me rather than the participants. I’m not feeling connected to this protagonist. The next scene is a flashback, which only increases my distance from the protagonist. I would rather read the story from the beginning moving forward. In the next scene, we reach the landmark which forms the piece’s title. I’m wondering why we were coming here? That should have been established early (motivation). We come to a section of present tense and rainbows, which do help justify the theme. There’s some fairly interesting moralizing going on here, but I’m not all that involved I’m afraid. Near the story end, we get a character thumbnail that explains motive. Seems very late in the game for that. The ending seems familiar, a bit Star Trek and Lost Horizon. Overall, the story just doesn’t pull me in.

Thanks for thinking of us, but we’re going to pass on xxxxx. It’s a good story, but we found the lack of early character motivation to be a problem and the resolution was overly familiar.

Story 3: 5200 words. The cover letter partially explains the story, which is usually a bad sign. A catchy, but confusing opening sentence. I’m not clear whether the name refers to the protagonist or to the world. It’s not until second paragraph that I can be sure. The opening conceit is fairly interesting though. I want to see what the author does with it. Viewpoint? I’m quickly losing confidence. And there it is, paragraph four, where the story begins moving backward. This is such a common flaw in submissions we see. We much prefer a story that starts at its (interesting) beginning and moves forward. I’m a third of the way through now and I’m still reading variations of the basic premise. There has been some interesting stuff, but it’s too drawn out to hold me, and often confusing as well. I have no idea who the narrator is, for example.  There’s an interesting world here. I think the author is working too hard to hide it (create mystery) rather than developing narrative momentum. The story meanders from focus to focus. It does end well enough, but the ending is not deserved by what has gone before. The story is too long for the idea and the first person presentation does nothing to help it. My advice to the author would be to take this apart and start at the beginning with a third person protagonist. There’s a good story idea here, but the first person delivery and various confusions largely hide it. Think in terms of protagonist motivation and protagonist change rather than working so hard to make the world sound mysterious. It IS mysterious. Use that mystery as window dressing or symbol, sure, but it will be the characters that compel us to read. I’m not going to say this in the rejection; there’s too much to rewrite here and at 2 cents a word with no real confidence the new version would be purchased, it would be unfair to the writer. Still, I wish he/she were in my writers workshop because there’s something interesting in here.

Thanks for thinking of us, but we’re going to pass on xxxxx. This is an interesting world and there’s a good story to be had here, but it took too long to develop for our tastes and seemed to change focus a few times along the way. We were confused by the opening sentence. Is yyyyy the character or the world? We were also troubled that the story moved backward after the initial scene.

Please do consider us for future submissions.

Story 4: 4200 words. A nice opening. Good specific (characterizing) details. Unfortunately, it’s going on too long by the fourth paragraph. There’s good observational detail (with an overlay of the symbolic) but not a lot of narrative momentum, which is what we generally prefer for the anthology. It’s a literary retrospective with a speculative conceit, but little actual speculative content. The story is primarily symbolic. Nothing wrong with that, but it’s not what we’re looking for.

Thank you for thinking of us, but I’m afraid we have to pass on xxxxxx. While the story is well conceived, well written, and nicely observed, it lacks the narrative momentum we look for. Nor is the connection to our theme particularly clear.  Should you have other stories that fit our theme, we would be happy to consider them.

Story 5: Ah, a detective mystery. Good opening paragraph, nothing flashy, but effective. It’s taking too long. Also, the story is apparently being told in retrospect, which could be a negative (though not necessarily).  About midway through, I pull my hair out, realizing the story relies on a what-if world where a common practice does not exist. Really? Halfway through the story I learn this? ? And there’s this device to introduce this concept to the protagonist?  It’s going to be hard to recover my trust at this point. Even better, the device was used to remove the concept from everyone else in the first place. The ending is basically a logic puzzle that only works if one doesn’t think too hard.

Thanks for thinking of us, but I’m afraid we’re going to pass on xxxx. The connection to our theme was not particularly clear and, while the core idea is logically interesting, it would take a lot more development of this world and this device to convince us to suspend disbelief.

AND THE WINNER IS: Story 3 (5200 words), not because it’s the best written story or even the strongest narrative, but because it contains more of the elements we’re looking for in a story for the anthology.

Tune in next week for the next batch. And don’t forget to listen to our weekly podcasts.

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We completed our second Saturday reading session with me participating remotely. After some initial glitches it went smoothly enough.

The stories this time were stronger in general. We had more debate than last session and fewer clear rejections. Part of this is due to each editor doing a first rejection of some stories, but much of it was due to more stories actually fitting the theme. We had to turn down a couple of potentially excellent stories, one because it recently appeared in Asimov’s — while we do consider reprints we will generally prefer to discover stories from smaller presses that deserve a wider audience than the other way around — and one because several editors were just not compelled enough to work through it. It was ambitious and fit the theme and drew together a great many styles and concepts, perhaps a few too many for 5000 words.

We issued a rewrite request and held one story for next session while we do some infighting in the background. The question there is not whether we like the story — everyone did to different degrees — but whether it fits the theme well enough for inclusion. It’s short and a nice change of pace from other stories we’re likely to print, so I’m holding out for ‘publish’ at this point.

Episode 2 of our weekly podcast is done and will be posted here soon. It’s well worth checking out, particularly for the brainstorming session at the end.

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We completed our first podcast for Triangulation. It covers anthology history, submission statistics, our slush reading process, and observations about stories that may prove helpful to writers wishing to sell to us.

The mp3 file can be found here.

We plan to post a podcast after each Saturday reading session.

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