My wife planted potatoes yesterday, so I’ve got hoeing on my mind as we set out to discover tonight’s slushy treats. Brow furrowed, I plough into the pile…
Story 1 (3500 word fantasy): Nice credentials provided without fanfare. Good, breezy opening. I’m curious, but not terribly patient. Good, we’re moving forward with a casually talking gem. Interest piqued. First scene works well enough. It’s a trifle long for what it accomplishes. Second scene features some nice imagery. The dream is perhaps too lucid, but not bad. I’m beginning to suspect, however, that the story may lack a dimension. The idea is developing new facets, but the character feels static. I’m not getting a sense of development on that front (flaw, need, etc). Third scene is a nice complication. The mystery deepens. Still not getting a sense of character arc. Scene four begins nicely, but turns abruptly to the matter of dragons, which have been set up, but do not feel integral despite that. Dragons are cool, but WHY does she need them, why is this the protagonist’s story and not just a clever idea? Scene five starts out well, feels like a natural progression of events. A little too heavy an emphasis on the decaying meat smells. A little goes a long way. Devolving into a tug of war over a dragon. Not so elegant as I had hoped. Recovers quickly, though, with a nice passage. The final scene is very nice. Overall, I like this one. I would recommend working a bit harder on the character (who she is prior to the story) as that could bring more depth to the telling. She basically has one trait now and no real history. Friends are mentioned, but nothing specific holding her to the world. Makes her final resolution easier on her than it might be. Pass to second read.
Story 2 (4900 word fantasy): Nice opening. Second paragraph is a little disorienting. The pawn shop reference should be moved higher (otherwise, I have to reinvent the stage I’ve erected in my head – initial reference to a “shop” was vague enough, but once I started hearing about jewelry and guns, I filled in specifics that weren’t contradicted by pawn shop, but weren’t quite syncopato either). Why risk me guessing wrong? Good description of the little man. By fifth paragraph I’m getting impatient. There’s been a bit of repetition and little forward movement. Yes, it’s relatively funny, but the joke wears thin. NOW we learn it’s raining outside? (“carrying the weather” was generic and the “glistening trail” did not provoke rain for me, but perhaps leprechaun magic in the context of the anthology) Didn’t the guy come from there in the first place? Is he dripping? Did we see rain through the window/door? Okay, now were slipping into “clever” mode (for my taste), with every observation and description triggering a cute or clever line. I’m losing interest. It’s not funny enough that I’m blown away, and is now detracting from narrative movement. Note: one should note an accent when a character speaks for the first time (more than a word or so), not a few paragraphs later. Grandfather Sal is an interesting character to be sure, but his scene doesn’t feel quite right in this story. It’s substantial in ways the story is not (yet) and long winded for what it accomplishes plot wise. I do like where this goes. It’s a clever take on the theme and I’d like to see us publish it. However, the cleverness factor is problematic, especially in the early scenes. I would recommend cutting the early scenes mercilessly, cutting Sal’s scene somewhat, and setting up the ending through some veiled reference in the story opening. Right now the guy is advertised as St Patrick the snake charmer, but that only confuses the actual story, which is about a leprechaun creating a rainbow. We may ask for a rewrite on this, but it will be fairly extensive, if so. Pass to second read.
Story 3 (4015 word SF): This is a reprint, which places the bar a little higher. Written in present tense, first person. The opening scene is effective at setting up an SF situation. I’m interested. Second scene shows a parking lot that the humans should have identified from space, I would think. It’s an unconvincing discovery for this protagonist, in other words. Oh, I see. Humans have only recently arrived. That was not clear from the opening scene. In any case, this scene basically repeats the first scene rather than advancing it much. Third scene escalates the mystery. It also seems to have a tense shift midway through. Nothing too awkward, but not precise either. I’m becoming increasingly aware of the summary nature of the prose. We’re not so much participating in a story as hearing about one. This is damping my initial enthusiasm. I feel distant from the world and this emotionless character. The next scene begins to reveal the mystery (good pacing on that front). Tense shift is slightly problematic. Again, not jarring, but time frame is not quite clean. Scene 5 is an escalation. Same tense shift problem, same sense of hearing about an active story secondhand. Scene 6 personalizes the mystery, a good idea. The “I cry” speech tag is a bit melodramatic; reinforces that these characters aren’t real humans, but placeholders in a message story. Scene 7 returns missing men to the narrative. The protagonist’s reaction seems a bit overboard. The storm is a nice touch as it amps up tension just a bit. Soapbox moment: Story tension comes from many sources, setting, language, character interaction, idea. Use them all effectively and you’ll have a story that seems more layered than it otherwise would. Scene 8 offers a jolting end. It was set up well enough. The main problem with this story is in its telling, which is intellectual almost to the point of sterility. That can work in SF, but the payoff in this story is as much visceral as intellectual. A more immediate telling, in which characters inhabit this world and interact with this girl and develop emotional connections with each other (and me) would be much stronger. Since this is a rewrite, I’ll not suggest specific improvements. Reject.
Story 4 (2840 words SF): This story comes from a well respected SF writer with abundant pro credits, yet we have rejected a number of their stories in the past. The usual complaint is that the story takes too long to develop. Let’s see what this new one promises. We’d like to publish something from this person, but only if it fits the collection well. First scene opens with some effective description. I am noting an abundance of specific detail early. While specific detail is very important to making a world seem real, it can also overload a story (I know this because it’s one of my problems as a writer). The best way I’ve had this explained is that while modern readers crave specific detail, they also want to feel a part of the creative process. Giving them too many details, especially irrelevant details can lead to a feeling that the author is smothering them or not trusting them. The ideal is to find that one really spectacular detail that causes a scene to flash into the reader’s mind. It’s not important that the reader experiences the exact same scene as the writer, only that the scene he/she experiences does not contradict NECESSARY story scene details. For example, I might describe a room with one door to the left of a window with a curtain featuring a rustic duck pattern. Unless it matters that the door is to the left of the window, why bring it up? That just burdens the reader with one more thing to keep track of. Anyway, on with this story. The first scene seems a little arch, as if the characters are talking around something they know in detail in order to create a sense of mystery for the reader. I’m a little frustrated by this and also the omniscient viewpoint, which keeps me from bonding with a particular character. I’m closest to the child at this point and I do like her, so it’s not a fatal flaw (yet). There’s a rainbow connection too. Scene 2. WHO knew this place? With omniscient viewpoint it could be anyone. Again, this is a beat of false mystery I find frustrating. Finally, we learn what the implant was. It’s not SF at this point. Scene 3 is nice. I like the description of the rainbow colors. Next scene shifts to Mother’s point of view. I’m not as compelled by it. We learn more about the implant, but nothing too speculatively exciting. I think I’ve guessed the ending. Nope. I’m glad I was wrong. The story ends with an image that should evoke emotion, but falls rather flat for me. I understand the need for omniscient viewpoint with this deaf character, but that viewpoint also weakens my identification with her, spreading it among other characters. The ending, being so personal to the deaf character, isn’t as impactful as it could be. I would recommend trying this story either from the mother’s point of view or, more challenging, the deaf child’s point of view. In the latter case her implant might sporadically work so that we get snippets of conversation that make no sense to the child (but do to us). The key, I think, is to get us more fully identified with the child so that this ending reaches its full potential. There’s really no speculative element here either, which is a problem for our collection, but not other markets. Reject.
Well, that does it for this session. I’m going to try to get a few more done tomorrow. The Slushy this time goes to Story 1. It’s an evocative idea that’s handled pretty well. Story 2 is a close second.