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Archive for March, 2010

As I said in an earlier post, I decided to bite the bullet and send out most of those stories I’ve been holding back for that final polish that never quite seems to get done. I’m shooting for semipro markets for the most part with these and I’ve been doing minor edits between submissions when an editor notes a flaw in his or her rejection (so far, such comments, while rare, have been very helpful).

Since December, I’ve logged 61 submissions and received 42 decisions. 38 rejections, 4 acceptances, as follows:

“The Last Liverbeast” appears as the featured fiction piece in the March issue of A Fly in Amber. This was a short story I wrote after attending James Gunn’s Intensive Workshop in Science Fiction. The main character is a mini-tribute to two instructors, Kij Johnson and Chris McKitterick, who were so helpful and companionable.

“A Conversation With Mother”, my first flash fiction is slated to appear in the April Flash Me Magazine. This is a story I submitted to their online flash fiction workshop and reworked based on instructor and student comments. It’s a much cleaner story now. They liked the result enough to ask for it for the magazine.

“She Thinks of the Moon” will appear this spring in Sage of Consciousness. This is a mainstream short story written for a creative writing class I took at Indiana University a few years back. I brushed it up and sent it off. It’s a little overwritten, but has some nice moments.

“Monster in the Making”, a 100 word story, has been accepted for Flashshot. This was another story I wrote for the creative writing class, then later broke into pieces and trimmed into flash pieces. A Flash Me Magazine flash fiction workshop instructor suggested I distill this piece down even further (from 350 to 100 words) and try it at Flashshot. Looks like she knew what she was talking about.

As things stand, my accept rate is just under 10% since I began this effort. That’s not great, but it does get some of these stories out of that nag bin at the back of my mind. I do have more ambitious stories that I’ll be marketing soon. In particular, I’m hopeful of selling a few of my purple chin cycle, a near future scenario where the religious right and genetic advances have generated a whole new concept of socialized medicine. I got some nice comments from F&SF with my first one and a personal rejection from Sheila at Asimov’s, so I’m on the right track at least. A little more complication and amping up of the language and they may just go.

Meanwhile I’m finishing the polish round of our epic fantasy novel (working title: The Last Maker). One chapter to go, then back for some small to medium changes suggested by our workshops. Then off to the agent. Wish us luck!

If anyone would like to volunteer to first-read the behemoth manuscript for us (around 200,000 words), let me know via a comment or e-mail and I’ll be happy to arrange that. We could use a few fresh reactions from dedicated epic fantasy readers. This is not your typical fantasy world (we feature elephants and an odd sort of magic that involves body fat), but is designed to deliver the epic experience.

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The submission pace has picked up a bit, so I’ll dig right in to this week’s mound.

Story 1 (1500 word SF): This person has been published in major markets which, I must admit, colors my perspective just a bit going in. Nice hook. Moving forward, but there’s a little bit of jerkiness to the prose. I’m not feeling quite embedded in this scene, more like an observer of (neat) information and conversation that seems structured to provide information (not make me want it).  This is a fascinating idea, but I would prefer to see it delivered with an actual story. I found myself losing interest at times even though it’s a topic dear to me. It’s also a classic “ask the next question” approach. It’s a good story, but not quite in our sweet spot. I would suggest a more immediate story taking place against this interesting future landscape rather than an internalized summary of action. It’s more philosophy (mostly keen) than narrative. Pass to second read.

Story 2 (7900 word SF): The length worries me, but we’ll give it a go.  We begin with two unnamed characters (iconic, most likely) battling over some nebulous matter. I’m mildly confused. The human character is named by inference in paragraph two. I had no idea initially whether this was one of the first paragraph characters or someone new. Another confusion. Paragraph 3 begins to give context, but I’m unanchored to this point and thus questioning everything – is the “room” inside or outside the holo? Where is the protagonist? What is his/her purpose? Onward to more veiled references. It’s one thing to drop me into the middle of a situation, another to intentionally make things murky. It would be relatively easy to establish this protagonist and his/her surroundings, then move on to the matter at hand. Something is mysterious when it’s mysterious TO THE viewpoint, not when it’s simply hidden from the reader. Yes, there is a fine line between divulging too much irrelevant info via POV (using POV to inform reader rather than showing POV reacting naturally to stimulus) and withholding relevant info (not showing information of immediate relevance to the POV). This story has headed down the latter path from my perspective. I’m not anxious to read 8000 words of basically forced mystery, so I’m switching to skim mode. I’ve gotta say that I’m not feeling attached to this protagonist in the least. There’s some characterization a few pages in, but she seems so detached from her own world that I’m not hooking in either. I do like some of the linquistic stuff. Nice alien perspective implied by that. The story engages me once we get to the alien/human interaction (via logged recording). Halfway through, I’m getting into the story. The character remains somewhat flat for my tastes, but I’ve identified with her at least.  Some nice, active description of her moving through her world. It’s rare that I slow down after entering skim mode, but this story managed it once it got active. It could be quite a bit shorter, however, and the opening is way too confusing. Better, I think, to begin with the press conference scene, then move to scene with unknown ally appearing and through the active adventure to the solid ending. The reason I think the story is quite a lot too long is that its ending depends on idea resolution more than character resolution. The character does indeed make a choice and take some risk, but I don’t really feel she’s a different person in the end. This is likely because I never understood her starting state, her flaw, etc.. With this additional layer, the story might support nearly this many words (more likely 6000-6500). Without it, I think it should be 4500 or thereabout. Reject.

Story 3 (4100 word SF): This is a reprint. We’re trying to limit the number of reprints we buy. This one was in a fairly minor market and no longer available via web, which is good. The writing is smooth, but I’m not feeling any real narrative tension after the first page. A hint of mysterious dread. My concern is that its meaning is being hidden from me (first person POV should not hide relevant info). False mystery. We get a couple of paragraphs explaining what the characters already know. Another false mystery with the zombie joggers (not real zombies, but the fear having been scared out of them? Huh?) More information presented as dialogue. The protagonist has a mission, but isn’t telling what it is. Something terrifying is happening, but we can’t see what. We’re in the POV’s head, but have no real sense of her experience (some good description of a cloud and a bridge, but what’s all this terror about?) Some sort of confrontation with blue and  green men. An extended conversation with terrorists delivering info for our benefit.  Devolving into a message. The bridge is interesting in concept, but the story is basically a means of delivering idea and message. Since this is a reprint I won’t suggest improvement here. Reject.

Story 4 (3500 word SF): The opening sentence strikes me as overly dramatic and I’m seeing too many adjectives for comfort. The piece is striving for a noir feel (Pulp Fiction/graphic novel), which it seems to be achieving, though I’m concerned it is overly arch . Active prose gives way to backward motion in the eighth paragraph, reprised in a second person viewpoint technique that is handled well enough. The basic thrust of this story is fine. I think the prose is trying too hard, however. I like the description of the girl – how it changes with distance. Nice. But then we’re back to the overly arch delivery. Final scene explains everything that was carefully sidestepped in the previous scenes. It’s an interesting concept, actually, but not really all that compelling as written. The story is pretty much window dressing for the explanation. I would recommend turning this into a story of discovery instead, with the protagonist risking something to discover the truth of his situation.  Right now he’s mostly a victim of circumstance. He does make a crucial choice, but we don’t understand what motivates it or why it’s crucial until the explanatory scene tells us. Reject.

Story 5  (3200 word SF):  Interesting opening, particularly the final line of the first paragraph. I’m intrigued. Interesting opening scene. I like the opening of the second scene, but am starting to feel a little repetition soon thereafter. Oops, we’re heading backward. The opening scene appears to be another of those unfortunate frames. Hook me, then drag me through the less interesting background. Losing interest. This is a really interesting idea, but it’s being explained to death in this second scene. Why not tell this background story forward instead? Make it a story of revelation rather than summarizing? The story ends up being an explanation of idea with a hint of a conflict to come after the story. Reject.

Story 6 (750 word SF):  The delivery is matter of fact, the subject interesting enough, but I wasn’t particularly grabbed by this. I don’t actually understand what happened in the end, whether this was a designed outcome or somehow random. Nor am I particularly drawn to any of these characters who are consumed without malice or purpose. I do think this could make a good short story, however. It’s just not working for me as flash. Reject.

And the Slushy? I’ll give it to story 1.  It’s a classic SF piece that asks the next question rather than settling for the obvious one.  It could be more engaging as story, but is more complete than other stories this week.

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Some nice weather we’re having today. It was good to get out walking again. But one can never walk too far from the slush or risk falling behind.

Before I begin, let me iterate (or reiterate if I’ve already iterated) exactly why I chose to undertake this endeavor. As a writer I’m painfully aware of how difficult it is to get real world reaction from editors. Some editors will send a really useful comment or two along with their rejection, but most do not have time or do not want to put up with the inevitable flak.

So, thunk I, why not post a “real time” reaction to slush stories as I read them? It seems to me this would be the very best feedback an author (especially a newbie) could ask for. I didn’t want to turn this into an exercise in author bashing, nor did I want to shy away from honest reaction, colored by the monotony of reading so many stories that do not work or do not fit or do not stand out, or by the rapid fire submission of trunk stories from a few authors. This is not a workshop and it is not my job to determine the intent of a story and craft detailed criticism designed to help it reach its platonic ideal. I do a good bit of that for my face-to-face workshops, mind you, but that is not my role here. Here, my job is to read a story as carefully as necessary to determine whether or not it is of serious interest to us in putting together a themed anthology.

That said, it’s been pointed out that I’ve become increasingly harsh in my readings of late. With that in mind, my goal this and future weeks is to continue with “real time” reaction to a story, but to follow that with a brief suggestion as to how one might go about improving said story if one wished to do so before submitting to other markets. I hope it helps someone. It may even help me in my continuing quest to become a “real” writer.

Story 1 (3000 word Fantsy): This one begins with a moderately solid hook intimately related to our theme. I’m interested so far. Next few paragraphs  summarize the Wizard of Oz and catch us up since then. These dull my interest. I’m not feeling closer to the protagonist, but as if I’m reading a synopsis. The writing is borderline flowery for us (it’s good stuff, but draws attention to itself at the expense of plot, which is moving backward at this point).  The first scene is essentially background rather than story. I’m losing patience. Second scene is mostly background as well. There are some nice moments, particularly in the third scene, but the story continues to exist in the past. We do finally have an inciting incident near the end of scene 3 and it’s interesting, if late.  I like where this story ends and it’s nicely realized in terms of theme. I’m just troubled that it takes so long to unwind and depends too heavily on prose over narrative. I would suggest starting this with the inciting incident (mystery of returning shoes) and move forward briskly from there, using foreground to incite memory rather than just to break memory into smaller parcels. There’s some very nice imagery and metaphor at work here, but the story engine is idling. I think this will be complete when the foreground story fully competes with the background. Pass to second read.

Story 2 (3200 word SF-humor): It’s never a good sign when a cover letter begins by saying the author doesn’t think the story succeeds, but sent it anyway. I’ll try not to let that impact my judgment, but it won’t be easy. As an author, you really do need to develop a thick skin and not sabotage your efforts. If you truly believe your story doesn’t work, don’t send it.  If you aren’t certain whether it works, let it sit as long as you can and read it again. If it doesn’t work, fix it. If you believe it does, send it confidently into the marketplace with the understanding that editors can be right or wrong. There are no gods here, only people trying on the stories you send our way. We may have a comment that helps you or say something stupid that hurts (wince and move on). Or we may just buy the darned thing if it’s good and hits us at the right time in the right frame of mind, etc..

Okey dokey, then. The story begins with dialogue, which is typically not a good sign. I’m not able to quickly identify the next speaker, also not a good sign. This is intended as farce, I see in the second paragraph. It’s good to establish that early. Nice rainbow, but I’m not seeing a character motivation yet.  Scene the second starts zapping me with some funny lines that make me smile. There’s even some triangulation going on (which reminds me, dear reader, Do you Triangulate?).  I like the second scene. Third scene breezes by as well. Fourth scene starts to lose some sharpness. Still some good lines, but it’s growing more strained. Fifth scene continues that trend, though I do like the final line a lot. Final scene is fun, but the story resolves too easily to be really compelling. We like humor, but we want story too. This moves well for a time before heading down the path of least resistance to an easy ending. I would suggest envisioning this from a single viewpoint, concentrating on an actual plot with setup complication climax and resolution. This sequence can be over the top, but would add a level of interest the story does not currently have. There’s some sharp humor/satire here. I’d hate to see it wasted. Pass to second read.

Story 3 (1900 word Fantasy): This starts with an unnamed protagonist for no good reason. Strike One.  The next few paragraphs are author intrusion telling us the setup for a story (apparently an inverted version of sleeping beauty). It’s well enough written, but relies too much on cleverness over story for our needs. Successful fairy tales have a certain  momentum that carries the reader along to ultimate message. Here, the story seems to meander around a single character trait while clinging to the most basic icons of the original tale without really updating their relevance (unless I’m particularly dense tonight). It’s nice to see a stutterer in fiction, but stutter, like most affected dialect grows irritating after a time.  Overall, the story just doesn’t have enough plot or layering for us. I would suggest actually following the original tale’s plot structure more closely and updating its message for a modern audience. Gender change is fine, but that choice should mean something in terms of story message. Reject.

Story 4 (3100 word SF): This drops me into the middle of a situation, which is a good idea. The problem is that it feels like chit-chat without real purpose. We learn a little info about the characters and that they’re heading somewhere and got lost, but why? They find a place to ride out a storm. A third of the way through the story we find out what the protagonist does (and that there’s a king), but not why this time is special. Why does a story erupt THIS time and not last or next? More info about the sidekick. End of scene one offers up a potential complication, but of what? The story is well enough written, but lacks plot. Yep, it was a complication with predictable results. Next scene offers another complication and then an explanation of the complication, then a quick end scene, summarizing how things came out a year later. There’s some potentially good background here, but the story is minimal. The story offers a situation without character motivation (thus the chit-chat feel). Motivate this character so that this story has its own momentum and shape, rather than using a couple of events to reveal background information about the sidekick and world. I need to identify with this protagonist (i.e. pull for him or against him) in order for the story to have impact on me. Reject.

Story 5 (no word count SF): This starts promisingly. Another story about disappearing colors, which could be a problem. It’s done well so far, good detail, fluid language. In scene 2 we learn that this is happening to everyone, which doesn’t ring true. No one else the protagonist saw has reacted appropriately. The doctor seems unconcerned, which does not ring true to life. No TV warnings or cell phone calls, etc..  Third scene finds the protagonist putting daughter to bed and casually educating herself on a variety of complex topics, without a shred of emotion.  One paragraph draws attention to the fact that a similar idea has been done in movies (Pleasantville). It doesn’t state this, but brings up the idea in a way that makes me think of it. I like her dream.  The final scene is quietly sentimental and contains an interesting take on this idea I’d like to see developed. As the story stands, I don’t buy the lack of emotional reaction in world at large (and in protagonist specifically, at least until the final scene) and I don’t think it handles this idea as strongly as the other two stories we have purchased. I do like the writing in general, very comfortable and observant of detail (sans emotional detail). I would suggest taking this a little different direction, perhaps moving the color phenomena to the opening and developing the idea implied in final scene through the middle of the story. One could still end with this ending; it would be a reinforcement of the story rather than a new idea. The story could be longer or shorter depending on intent. The ideas are big enough to play with, but the characters are not yet. Pass to second read.

Story 6 (2200 word horror): Second person point of view. Difficult to pull off well. It’s competently written, but I’m halfway through and haven’t seen a hint of speculative elements.  The final page or so turns horrific and it’s handled nicely enough. The story feels overlong for this payoff, without sufficient foreshadowing to hold me through it. The ending comes out of left field, in other words. At half the length and with a more horrific undertow  it might work, but probably not for us.  Reject.

This week’s slushy goes to story 1. It is a very appropriate story for the collection and the writing is very good for the most part. My problem with it is primarily  in the balance between foreground and background.

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The pace of submissions has picked up a bit this week, reminding us that we’ll likely get a flood of manuscripts in the next three weeks. That probably means we’ll be getting tight on slots for the anthology. If you’re a writer, consider sending off that submission before the final week. We’ll take as long as required to read each and every submission, looking for that glimmer of gold among the slush, but it gets more difficult to hook us as we run out of room.

Which brings me to this week’s slush.

Story 1 (1880 word magic realism):  And my internet connection promptly goes down. A sign? Here we go… The opening scene is interesting. It promises something darkishly unicorn. There’s only minimal scene setting, but since it seems to be contemporary (despite the initial clue to rough hewn lumber) that may be enough. Could go either way at this point. Second scene makes me suspicious. This is a seven year old, and it’s premature to be discussing her ravishing looks and potential as husband bait. It’s also a little young to be labeling her as dumb, requiring help with math, etc.. I’m not getting a good vibe about this child’s portrayal. It gets much better later in the scene. There’s some wonderful writing here and that promise of darkish unicornism persists. By scene end I’m a little worried that the darkish unicorn theme is a little simplistic for the promise made, but we’ll see. Third scene starts to lose me. Too much is being artificially withheld. This is a time to reveal the mystery, not shroud it. My suspicion is the mystery isn’t really all that meaningful in the end, leaving the author trying to obscure that through making it seem really mysterious.  The writing is evocative, but frustratingly obscure at key moments. Final scene constitutes a reveal, but reveals nothing clearly. One can read between the lines to figure out what may have been going on, but isn’t it the author’s job to come up with something really meaningful to make it worth my while? The mystery revealed is nothing special unless I’m badly misreading clues. There’s no deeper layer, just a puzzle.  This is the most frustrating kind of story for us, because the writing is quite strong, it promises something, then can’t quite deliver. It does have unicornish stuff, which Jamie has been craving. Pass to second read.

Story 2 (4700 word SF): The opening is lively, but the first person narrative is coming too close to “clever author” for me. Still, there seem to be some interesting concepts at work.  I’m getting a little frustrated that the protagonist’s goal is as unclear as the river we’re hearing about. The writing is solid, but begins to feel a little chit-chatty. A quick “as you know, Bob” moment disguised as jest. The eleventh paragraph gives us a concise situation statement. I would have liked that sooner. I’d also like to see some forward movement by now.  Another “as you know, Bob” exchanged disguised as info for the viewer. It works pretty well. The story begins moving forward about a quarter of the way in. Some more thinly disguised “as you know, Bob” dialogue. A third of the way in, we learn the protagonist is a reporter (i.e. has an actual goal).

Time out for a mini-rant. Speech tags in modern fiction are used to identify a speaker. That’s their function. When choosing between “X said” and “said X” choose the former unless you have a really good reason not to (e.g. archaic story setting, fable, etc). Think of it this way: if the goal of a speech tag is to efficiently identify X is speaking, is it more efficient to focus on “said” or “X”; “said” only postpones the connection for a moment.

Back to the story. Some more “as you know, Bob” dialogue, but the main problem is that the first person narrative has distanced me from the protagonist. First person tends to minimize the link between exterior event and interior reaction. Unless the interior experience is really intense/goofy/meaningful/unreliable  it’s difficult for the reader to be fully engaged. It’s counter intuitve, but we see it again and again. Reader identification with first person is difficult to pull off. Close third person where a reader can watch a character react to external stimulus (thus understanding the character from an objective distance) is much easier to pull off. It’s usually the right choice for genre stories. Choose third person unless you have a really important reason not to. Hmm, unintended mini-rant.  Back to story. Some panicky moralizing that feels like a developing message. Yep, incoming Message. Nice sense of escalation in the action. We end up somewhere unexpected that ties it to our theme. The story is way too long and develops too slowly, however. Reject.

Story 3 (488 word SF): This is a flash fiction that acts as a metaphor for the modern age of Islamic terrorism.  In that sense, it’ s interesting. The story, however, feels incomplete, the parts not played out for best effect. Mainly, this is a matter of sharpening and polish, I suspect. The story likely needs to be a little longer in order to build reader identification with the (iconic?) protagonist before the jolting end. The motivating device (complete with cool sparks and flame) works well for me, but I don’t quite feel the connection between it and the final image. It’s in there (in the form of a brief news story) but not completely connected yet (it’s a character issue as well, actually). Having said this, I’m seeing this as a potentially interesting addition to the anthology, a different take on the theme with real world implication, but it’s going to have to be a lot cleaner and sharper. I dunno. I’m not really compelled by it as I was the other flash piece we asked for a rewrite, but it’s intellectually interesting and could be strong with a solid revision. Pass to second read.

Story 4 (6500 word SF):  Long stories have a hard time with us, one strike. Starts with dialogue, two strikes. Reading on. Tense confusion in second paragraph confuses me; I’m not getting a solid sense of place. In fact I’m not SEEING anything on the first page. Not smelling, tasting, touching either, but seeing is crucial in establishing a scene for us sight-centric human readers. Unseen people talk without attribution on the next page. We learn crucial character fact too late. By this point I’m on strike three. I’ll keep reading out of courtesy.  Page 4, we learn (I think) we’re on an alien world with limited tech.  Seems to be turning into a murder mystery. Why was the opening scene necessary? Maybe it will be, but seems unlikely right now. Read on. Gets interesting on page 5. Page 6 gives more setting info (too late). Character seems curiously detached from her own tragedy. A nice turn of phrase on p 11. Story is moving along now. Gotta say, though, that it’s focusing on a lot of seemingly unimportant stuff. A bit of “as you know, Bob” on p16. Character named Rainbow? Seems kind of tacked on. The story is well shaped (yes, the opening mattered, though it failed to set up the character’s emotional state effectively). Clues lead to answers, etc. I’d call this a competent murder mystery SF story, just not compelling. Connection to theme is tenuous. From my perspective, the protagonist’s emotional arc needs considerable work to deserve this ending. Reject.

Story 5 (2530 word SF): The title is a bit bland, leading me to expect a typical story. That’s not a deal breaker, of course, but I could be more excited to get to this one. Starts out moving backward, usually not a good idea. We bore easily. It is a nice depiction of childhood fantasizing, but where is the story seed? Where is the story movement? Character motivation? We do have a concrete setting, which is good. I believe I see the ending coming about halfway through; will let you know. Yep, that’s the one. Small twist on what I figured, but not too different. Basically, the story we might be interested in is the one that begins after this final page. That said, there’s some good evocative writing here, just not enough story to make us spin. Reject.

Story 6 (4329 word Fantasy): This comes from a very accomplished author with more than 300 sales, 20 books, etc.. In a way these are among the more difficult stories to judge. I want to like the story out of respect, but more often than not they simply don’t pan out. I guess the lesson is that a trunk story from an excellent writers is not always better than a new story from a beginning writer. I should have known this, having read Ted Chiang’s only unsuccessful short story when I was at Clarion with him in ’89. He made sure it never saw the light of day, but it showed us peons that even giants can stumble. Anyway, on with this one. It starts with an unnamed protagonist. Strike one. There’s a sense of (possibly forced) mystery in the first couple pages. I’m not all that interested yet. So far no speculative element, story seems very simple. P3 who’s Pat? P4-5 moves to omniscient viewpoint to further sense of (possibly forced) mystery. I like the line by line writing, it’s not overly flowery, effectively conveys action and image. Story seems to be taking an awfully long time to go anywhere, though. P6-8 lots of background, little story movement. P9 I learn he’s going to the place I thought he was running from. Strike two. I learn the horse’s name. P10 moment of potential tension comes and goes without actual tension. Strike three. Reading out of courtesy now. P14 back to an omniscient moment to add to the (probably forced) mystery. That’s one mean horse, but where is the speculative element? P18, the dude’s Irish? Really? P18 delivers the speculative element. That’s a bit late to hook a speculative reader. Nicely sentimental ending. I liked that. Overall, too much of the story action takes place off the page. There’s very little tension to hold my interest and the speculative element comes way too late. Reject.

Story 7 (???? word SF): No word count or contact info on first page. Strike one.  The opening is a nice, easy exchange. Solid setting delivered with minimal word count. Change Strike one to ball one ;-).  A clunky background disguised as dialogue instills a bit of doubt in me. Further somewhat clunky background interjection is worrisome. Nice description of secondary character – but this should be set up initially. I have to reinvent my vision. A quarter through and no speculative element. Story could (and prob should) start with them stumbling upon the unusual woman. There hasn’t been a real hook to this point. Not quite halfway through, I think I see the ending. Stay tuned. This gets interesting after the woman encounter.  Ends kind of lamely, unfortunately. A very nice incident that should have deeper meaning, but doesn’t yet. With some rethinking this could be very good. Not close enough for a rewrite request though. There’s an entire layer of meaning missing at this point, but the story is worth pursuing. Reject with suggestions.

Story 8 (2833 word SF): Unnamed protagonist. Strike one.  The prose is a bit pretentious in its bleakness. First pages is moving backward. Strike two. To be fair, a case can be made for a nameless protagonist, so back to Strike one. The prose is getting heavier and heavier, however; soon I won’t be able to keep my eyes moving. First nearly-half of story is telling us what protagonist is going to do; next section shows him attempting to do it. Very long for what it is so far.  Maybe he’s going to talk his adversary to death? Now he’s telling us his background, disguised as telling the adversary. “Allow me to explain” Oh, dear lord, no. Strike two and three. I like the final line. Basically, this is a description of a story that could be worth telling. As the story stands, it’s not. Reject.

Story 9 (620 word magic realism):  Nice hook. This is a nice attempt at fable with a feel good payoff. It certainly fits the theme. I’m just not convinced it actually works as well as it should. The escalation seems random rather than purposeful. The character arc is undeveloped. I think it needs a sharper progression and maybe a few more words, but it’s clever enough to consider. Pass to second read.

As you can tell, I had more time to devote to slush reading this week. I’ve tried to be more thorough (and brutally honest) with the above in hopes this can be helpful to writers out there who want to see the process through the editor’s perspective.

This week’s slushy goes to Story 9. It’s a perfect fit for the anthology. Other stories were more ambitious and even better written, but this one hits the sweet spot after some reworking.

Tune in again next week.

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In my editorial capacity at Triangulation, I’ve seen us request about a half dozen rewrites so far. This compares with three or four outright acceptances. Why this approach? The idea is that we should not outright accept a story unless we’re willing to run in exactly as it comes to us, because sometimes an author turns out to be a auteur and refuses to change a word of his or her masterpiece. My reaction to this policy was mixed, the reasoning being that at two cents a word we should be encouraging writers, not throwing uncertainty at them. The counterargument is that it’s a buyer’s market flooded with decent stories, most of which could be improved with a little work. We shouldn’t settle for less than the best we can get. Plus, it’s actually quite helpful for most writers, particularly early in their career, to work through such edits. We do end up accepting almost every rewrite (every one so far this year), which is gratifying for all involved. Still, there was that niggling unease in me that thought we just were not being fair to writers.

That changed today. We received an excellent story that would have been a nice contrast to other stories in the anthology, but it suffered from a few fixable problems that kept some of us from being entirely enthusiastic. Myself, I was wetting my pants at the possibility of publishing it, though I did see the main problem others identified. I was just willing to look past it, figuring we could always work to iron it out in revision.

So we crafted a rewrite request explaining pretty clearly what we thought the story needed to really shine. The author declined to make the changes. Now, I see first hand why the policy makes sense. I would not have been truly content running the story as is – the main flaw really does detract from the story opening in a measurable way.

At the same time, I’m sorry to see that one slip through the net. I have no doubt it will be published somewhere.

I guess it’s the author’s prerogative. At least this experience has shown me the other side of the desk; next time an editor requests changes on my manuscript, I’ll be sure to consider long and hard before refusing.

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More snow this week, but they’ve actually plowed our road for a change. Reminds me I’d best plow through this week’s slush.

Story 1 (4500 word magic realism): This one has a cute idea, but there’s no real character arc to support so many words.  The story does not change this character other than superficially (he goes from unemployed to rich). In the end I find myself amused by the concept, but indifferent toward the protagonist. Reject.

Story 2 (4880 word horror): In a way this was a very tough call. There’s some very engaging writing here and our first leprechaun and it’s clearly written with our theme in mind. However, the first three paragraphs introduce five named characters (plus a nickname). They describe situation and relationships in loving detail, without a hint of plot movement. The actual plot does not begin for several pages. And when the plot does move, it moves slowly. There’s a hint of Goodkind disease at work – why say something in five words when you can use ten? Still, it features a few sharp twists that work nicely. On the other hand, I’m left wondering whether this is really the protagonist’s story in the end and whether he ever had a goal. So, while I like the core concept a lot, I feel there’s way too extensive a revision required to suggest a rewrite. Pass to second read.

Story 3 (3550 word SF): This one snuck up on me and I ended up liking it. I’m not sure it’s what we want for the anthology, but it could be. Semi-omniscient viewpoint, unreliable narrator, mixing science and psychosis, but the ending makes the read worthwhile. I’d like to see the relationship played out a bit; as the story reads now the protagonist seems believably unstable, but her lover also comes off as a bit loopy. It’s really close on that front too, though. Just a line or two should fix it for me. Pass to second read.

Story 4 (4112 word Horror): This was an odd story from an unreliable narrator. The execution was mostly sharp, at times excellent, and I did enjoy reading it. The story ended well and featured some good edginess. In the end, though, I’m left wondering how it would fit into the anthology and it just doesn’t feel quite right. It’s not a tight fit with our theme and is also more experimental in its telling (technique over story, in a sense) than we typically like. It’s also a reprint, which is a slight negative for us. We’re trying hard to rely less on reprints this year. Pass to second read.

Story 5 (4400 word Horror): This first person story starts with a chunk of philosophic navaling, then proceeds to a waking up somewhere strange scene (thought I was dead), through a fast-paced action scene, then to a somewhat predictable reveal and a philosophical anticlimax. I rather like the final sentence and the story is certainly competently written. However, I wasn’t particularly drawn to the character initially and the pacing was too slow to keep me motivated. The action scene was handled well, but I didn’t really have an investment in the outcome (possibly due to the first person narrative choice, which tends to distance the reader a bit). In the end, I’d say this is a perfectly competent tale that just didn’t stand out for me. Reject.

Story 6 (2000 word SF):  This is basically a soft porn SF story. While I don’t have a particular objection to that combination (the best story in Taking Flight was such a combination), I do have problems with the SF idea as an excuse for soft porn. This reads more like a description of an idea than a story. Reject.

Story 7 (2000 word SF): This was a strange little beast, at times riveting, at times confounding.  I was disappointed in the ending, which felt like a white flag to desperation rather than revelation. I liked the last scene until the very ending, however.  Pass to second read.

And this week’s Slushy goes to…  Story 3. Story 4 gives stiff competition, but 3’s the one closest to what I’m looking for in the anthology. Other editors may disagree.

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After watching the majority of President Obama’s health care summit, I finally understand the root of this great philosophical divide that separates Democrats and Republicans.

Trust. Precisely, who do we trust to manage the public interest? Democrats trust government; Republicans trust wealth.

In the democrat ideal, government polices big business and the wealthy in order to prevent weaker segments of our society from being victimized. In the republican ideal, wealthy individuals and corporations police themselves and provide incentives to lift up weaker segments of our society.

Both are right; both are wrong. In the real world, we need both government regulation and responsible wealth. The perfect balance would be somewhere between extremes of government intervention and total deregulation.

Looking back, this seems to be a constant struggle in our nation. In the early 1900’s the pendulum was at the republican end of the spectrum. Wealth ruled (and some would say, built) the nation. It also repressed the majority of American workers.

Fearful of class warfare and seeing some of the consequences of unbridled greed come to fruition (e.g. stock market collapse), we pushed that pendulum back, enacting progressive taxation on wealth, regulating business practices, instituting unions. Government took a larger role in our society.

This continued until the 60’s. By then unions had become too powerful, government too intrusive. People rebelled. Fears of Big Brother ran rampant. Assassinations sapped our morale, Nixon’s enemies list drew ire, Viet Nam became a rallying cry. We pushed the pendulum again.

Enter the 80’s and the Reagan Revolution. Taxes were trimmed, regulation reduced. Greenspan let the markets innovate. The 90’s bubble inflated and burst; the housing bubble inflated and burst. We began to see the consequences of unbridled greed. Even Greenspan had to take off his Free Marketeer ears when he heard the markets begin to crumple.

In 2008 we pushed the pendulum again, electing Barak Obama on a platform of Change. And, as always happens when the pendulum is pushed, there is opposition pushing hard against it. Most likely the pendulum will overcome their efforts and we’ll start the cycle yet again.

I certainly hope so, because the alternative is ugly.

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