Archive for January, 2011

Write1Sub1 Week 5

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Four Stories in Four Weeks (Write1Sub1)

On to week 5.

Saturday: For Week 5  I continue my steampunk series, which began with “The Glow” in week 1. This has been subbed to Fae Publishing and I’m awaiting their reply. Consequently, I’m not ready to commit to a particular market for this week.

Sunday: Once again I’m behind on my schedule. Polishing and nudging today instead of plotting for this week’s story. Fortunately I already have the core events in mind since it’s a continuation of last month’s steampunk, “The Glow”. I hope that will help as I need to get back on schedule soon.

Monday: I spent too much time today going over my story from last week. I’m just not happy with it and don’t want to leave too much to do on Saturday when I polish and sub. I’ve got a rough plot in place for this week’s story and will start that tomorrow. Wrote my literary flash tonight (1450 words) so that’s a good thing. It came out okay.

Tuesday: I don’t really want to admit this, but admitting you have a problem is half the battle, right? I keep obsessing over the ending for the story I wrote for Clarkesworld. It just doesn’t work, yet I know there’s the potential for a strong one in there somewhere. I woke up twice last night thinking of alternate ways to go, then again today when I took a break from reading slush. I was taking a bath and reading Pride and Prejudice when it suddenly came to me. It was so obvious. Now I have to write that before it fades away. This, of course, has cut into my time for this week’s story.  My respect for what Ray Bradbury did grows with every passing week.

Wednesday:I have my first scene envisioned and much of the dialogue between my MC and the woman he meets, but I’m having my usual problem sitting seat on chair and applying fingers to keypad. I settled for catching up a bit on Triangulation work tonight.

Thursday: I worked most of the day, but mainly managed to revise the story from last week (sigh). The pressure continues to build. Will I get my steampunk story rolling in time? It’s not looking good.

Friday: Where does the week go? I did a little research on reinforced concrete today and talked over my plot with Sue. Happy to report that the second steampunk story is now rolling along. I’m through the opening scene and have most of the second scene dialogue written. Here’s hoping for a productive Saturday. Not only do I have to finish this draft, I have to polish last week’s mainstream story and get it sent off. Sunday is shot since the Steelers are playing in the Super Bowl. May the spirit of Ray be with me.

Saturday: I polished up last week’s story “A Perfect Pair” and sent it off to Per Contra. I wrote through three scenes in this week’s story, but it still needs a final scene I’m afraid. I won’t count this week a loss, since I did write a short story at Show Me Your Lits; it came in second in the polling for best of the week, which was gratifying. And I did sub my story for the week, so it’s not technically a failed week. But it’s not a success either until and unless I finish the steampunk story I started. I’ll make that a priority in the coming week, along with the new story.


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I have a little time to read. Maybe we’ll find a gem or two.

See my previous post for disclaimers.

Story 48 (1/4/2011 SF 3000 words)

This one sounds familiar. I think I saw it last year for End of the Rainbow. I remember liking it, but having a problem with the way it built to climax, or something like that. Plus it’s a reprint, which places the bar much higher. Let’s see how it strikes me this year.

It starts well, in the middle of action. The writing is active and provides a character in context. There’s some tension implicit in the scene. Good.  I’m not quite getting what’s causing the damage we see. The kid’s actions are intriguing. There’s a thing? Here’s the problem with the scene. The protagonist does not react to his surroundings, does not think relevant thoughts even when someone whispers about the 800 pound gorilla. He’s observant, but disconnected from his own thought process. Which leaves me disconnected and observing too. I like what I see, but I long for a little more connection to someone. I want to care, not just wonder.

Scene two shifts to back flash. If you’ve been reading along in the blog, you’ll know how often we see this technique used. Usually, it’s used to draw the reader in with some flash-bang action before dumping them into the boring stuff. We much prefer that there be no boring stuff, that the story begin with its inciting incident and move forward. That said, we’ll surely make exceptions if a story works well.

Second scene is not boring. It’s not as exciting as the opening scene, but it does contain the inciting incident and an indication of character motivation that is missing from the first scene.  Third scene is s solid snippet. I like it. I also like the music overlay, by the way. It’s not enough to carry the story (in fact it adds to the distancing a bit) but it’s different and does tie into the theme as I recall.

Next scene is more back flash. That’s one problem with this framing technique. So much of the story necessarily takes place in back flash that it’s hard to overcome the distancing effect of that. I’m not feeling particularly close to this action, though it’s interesting enough.  I do like the autism thread. The main story is the problem.

Ah, the soup thickens on page 9. We have a parallel between the larger story and the autism angle. If the story were structured differently I have a feeling I would like it a great deal. This is a story that relies on emotional connection (heck, it’s about emotional connection) yet various techniques have been employed to distance me from that connection. It doesn’t seem like a wise choice to me. Obviously others disagree as this was published and received some recognition.

Page 10 is summary of story action. Distances me from the main plot arc. The emotional thread comes on page, which is good. Some strong emotion implicit in their dialogue yet I’m curiously unmoved. It feels intellectual, perhaps because none of the characters actually react to the situation. Their conversation is realistic, don’t get me wrong, but it comes across as a set piece to deliver me crucial information. I do not feel the tension I should.  It’s quite an interesting conversation and an interesting idea.

Well, the final scene remains the same, and doesn’t work for the same reason we suggested last year. Oh well.  If I were revising, I would take a serious look at telling this story forward rather than backward. The tension here is limited to the first and final scene (the frame) and the rest kind of gets lost. The back story, which is the real story here, becomes an intellectual exercise. I think the ideas mesh well and the story itself has tremendous potential. One way to look at this is that the opening frame develops tension around the imminent destruction of a habitat and its population, with some ancillary concern over the child.  The final scene delivers resolution of the child’s situation, but not the habitat and population. In that sense, it’s not delivering what was promised.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The story is complex enough to carry this word count (and more), and the ideas are interesting. That’s a good part of the battle for SF. Unfortunately the story arc itself does not work as well as it might. The prose is good, though we’re held too emotionally distant.

Story 49 (1/4/2011 SF 1000 words)

This one starts a bit indifferently. The language is just a touch clunky. Nothing particularly visual and not particularly active situation. It’s a static scene in other words, that establishes a protagonist and a general setting.  Second paragraph moves to background information. As a reader, I want story. I want to experience what’s going on in the foreground. I want to begin identifying with a motivated protagonist who acts upon his world. The first forward movement is in the middle of page 2. This is too late (at least for me). To this point I’ve been reading background for a story, not the story itself.

Gets better after this, though I would like more specific details to make the world more immediate. There is some character thought, which helps. I feel like the story is hurrying too much. Overview of character actions, summary of motivation. I suspect this story wants to be longer, with scenes played out and building one upon another. It doesn’t feel like a flash fiction, in other words.

I do like that he walks into the desert. That probably needs expansion as well. He wakes up in a med center and the doctor explains the mystery to him. There is the core of a potentially interesting story here, but it doesn’t work as flash. If I were revising, I would focus on building the character’s background (NOT putting it into the story, mind you), and why this discovery is more than an intellectual exercise (i.e. why it should matter to me, the reader). Then I would craft a series of scenes building to a climax in which he chooses something at a real price to him. As it stands, he basically is rescued by the doctor, who explains everything to him.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 This doesn’t work as flash. The idea requires further development.

Story 50 (1/5/2011 Fantasy 1200 words)

This comes from a fellow with a “perpetually mutating imagination”. Now, I don’t doubt the guy”s credits, which are fairly impressive, but… really? That’s how you want to introduce yourself to an editor? So, of course, I had to look him up. He has published some fiction to decent markets, but the interesting tidbit is that he’s published THIS fiction (in August).  This is definitely the sort of thing you want to let the editor in on. In fact, it puts me into a bad frame of mind going in.

Begins interestingly. Closely observed details.  Not sure whether this is speculative or simply literary, but it’s interesting.  Gets a little confusing on page 2. I’m not so fond of the section where he’s ruminating on his photograph. I lose attention for a page or so, then zoom back at the beginning of page 4 (when we have some story movement). It is speculative.

This is effective, evocative flash, though I think it’s a little too opaque for us. It is a moment in time and emotion lushly captured. It does fit the theme.  I will send  it to the other editors, but am not expecting it to fly.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 This is a solid piece of flash fiction. Too focused on literary technique for our needs, I suspect, but good.

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We’re up to 155 submissions (70 rejections, 2 acceptances, 3 rewrites in progress). We have several stories we’re considering and a bunch to get to. I’ll try to make a dent in the latter today.  Music on, let’s rock and roll.

See my previous post for disclaimers.

Story 43 (1/2/2011 Fantasy 2300 words)

This starts confusingly for me. I don’t mind the archaic feel (fable-like in a sense), but I don’t really understand what this paragraph is telling me. Did he go in his youth? If so, why was he so powerful then? And when is now? There is a sense of world and motivation, which is good. I’m not lost yet, but suspicious.

Okay, now you’ve lost me. The second paragraph continues the archaic approach, but when sentences are twisted such that mundane actions become “mysterious” count me out.  Basically this paragraph tells me that a bunch of interesting stuff happened on the journey, but how about that ring of rocks up ahead? It’s like the interesting part of the story has been skipped in order to get to the less interesting description of place.

Then someone is talking. I don’t know who (narrator? the protagonist? someone else?). Ah, it’s the protagonist, telling the story in retrospect. Please realize that telling a story in dialogue robs it of the immediacy of action, the intimacy of inner thought/reaction and the tension of unknown outcome (he’s telling the story, he survived). If the reasons for using this device exceed the high cost, then by all means use it. Otherwise, rethink.

Page 3, the telling continues, with remembered dialogue, remembered characters and places. It’s not nearly as involving as witnessing the action unfolding. Skimming.

Page 6. The telling continues, with a character explaining ideas and background. Not very involving.

Ah, so it’s the narrator after all, reading from a book written by the protagonist. How many levels can one place between the reader and the story action? I supposed we could have someone transcribing someone reading the work of the person who actually experienced the adventure. I’m not trying simply to be facetious, but to point out that we have choices as writers and these choices should be shaped by what we hope to accomplish in the story’s telling. Here, the archaic language and passive device do hearken back to Victorian tales of terror, or early pulps. But is that really the most effective approach for this? Is there enough of the Cthulu here to actually overcome the passivity of its telling, or would a more active telling bring a wider audience?

The actual story is probably too simple for this length. I skimmed most of it, so will have missed nuances, but it basically boils down to a guy reading a journal about a guy who traveled to a legendary place in search of power, meets a powerful foe who tells him everything he needs to know, and defeats him. I suspect this is meant as one in a series of stories, which could explain the noncommittal ending and episodic feel of the conflict, but this story does not work particularly well on its own. The world may be interesting or it may be generic; I really couldn’t tell so far. There’s some details that caught my interest. There may be particular markets that would like this. We’re not one of them.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 In terms of epic “feel” this has some; it has a quest and a single conflict that is resolved. The telling device, however, greatly diminishes connection to character and story arc.

Story 44 (1/3/2011 Horror 100 words)

As some of you may know, I admire the micro form. The exact choice of word and phrase, the implication of  story off the page. This one has some nice imagery, but the overall effect (for me) is a bit jumbled.  Hugging tongues do little for me, for example, and while I like that the piece evokes some story off the page, it really doesn’t deliver enough for me to say “Wow”. It feels blatant despite the evocative imagery, partly because what is not shown is not really implied (is this a storm creature, a dragon, a ???) and what is delivered is simply an ending. Pretty good, but not yet great.  It needs more work IMHO.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 The imagery is sharp, the word choices nicely active. It doesn’t leave the impact it should, however.

Story 45 (1/4/2011 Horror 1065 words)

Another short one. The first paragraph confuses me. It does set up a character with motive (though the details of that motive are obscure). The writing feels a little bloated for a flash fiction piece. If I were revising, I’d look at trimming words and finding more active verbs and maybe simplifying the setup a bit (rather than not knowing what she’s doing, maybe she could have a stronger sense of what she intends). I feel like this paragraph is a wasted opportunity to grab me.

Second paragraph isn’t really pulling me either, though I do like the bleeding line, except “I am reassured”. By whom? I think. How so? It feels like the protagonist is being intentionally passified. The “several minutes” is similarly frustrating. It’s difficult top pull off a flash that is in no hurry to get anywhere. If I were revising, I would look for ways to make this more immediate, more pressing.

I like the snippet of dialogue, though not the speech tag (“hopefully” tells about the character’s emotion rather than simply showing it through her dialogue or inner thought).  I think what bothers me about this character is her lack of reaction to the stimulus of her situation. Stuff happens to her. She observes it. She’s not really an actor in the play yet. This dragging me down as a reader. I’m anxious for her to earn her story and for the story itself to compel me.

“looking around for the source of the faint bluish light that casts an eerie glow. Seeing nothing…”

I don’t mean to pick on you in particular, but to try to make a general point for people reading the blog. There’s a fundamental difference between a character “looking around” for an “eerie glow” and a character SEEING an eerie glow and looking for its source. In the first case, the character is a passive observer of the surround. In the second she reacts TO stimulus in the surround. In the first case, we’re watching the character on screen; in the second we’re inside the character’s perspective, reacting with her. That can make a huge difference in how fully a reader identifies with a character. This is not to say that passivity is never warranted, but that when we use a passive character it should be because that device helps us to achieve the story’s requirements.

Skimming. Near the end of page 3, we discover the answer to the character’s mystery. It’s told to her by another character. She doesn’t really earn that knowledge or have to work for it or sacrifice. This is also a common problem for us.

In the end, this is an intriguing idea. If I were revising, I’d work harder on the character’s emotional investment, streamline the prose to maybe 500 words (unless I complicate her journey).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 Flash typically deserves crisp, active prose, and evocative imagery. This has some decent imagery and a good ending place, but the passive protagonist and generally passive prose work against it.

Story 46 (1/4/2011 SF 3200 words)

This comes from someone I would like to publish. The first reader was not impressed, however, so I begin with some trepidation.

Opening paragraph is active and drops us into the middle of action. We have two characters in tension. Unfortunately we also have some pronoun confusions. Clapping her hand over her mouth is usually problematic. Then the next sentence begins with her, and the next as well.  I’m kind of drifting at this point, not sure who I’m supposed to invest in, or who’s being hurt or who has the damaged body. I mean I can parse it out if I read carefully, but is that really a good thing when I’m beginning a story? I’ve got very little invested at this point and can easily go on to the next one.

There’s a creature? Now I’m totally confused. What just happened to whom? I need clarity at this point.  I expect this is an unreliable narrator. I don’t mean to single this particular story out, but we should realize that when we’re using an unreliable narrator it becomes absolutely essential that we provide very clear objective details to contrast that. Otherwise, the reader is lost in the madness, unable to orient. While this can be used to good effect if the madness itself is so gloriously compelling that we can’t look away, it’s more often a reason for us to stop reading a story. As a specific example here, there is an opportunity to provide concrete description of the nurse, of the bed rail, of a window, of the creature itself (especially if it will turn out to be real – if not, the details might be concrete, but shifting). I’m just not able to get into scene here. I do like the protagonist from what I’ve seen so far, but I’m so lost that I’m distracted from that.

The screaming girl seems a convenient device to divert the nurse. Is she that incompetent? I’ll buy this if I have a greater sense that this is a part of their ongoing struggle.  End of page 3 has some nice specific detail. I’m getting closer to the scene.

I didn’t see the first box. Was it shown to me? Describing it by describing how the new box is different doesn’t really work here.  A little direct thought about Emma’s worry here would help. I really don’t understand why the janitor wants the box.

End of page 4 is an “as you know bob”. Characters telling each other something they should know so that I hear it. Seldom does this work well.  Page 5 begins the too typical explanation of background leading to the interesting opening. Story typically slows and becomes less interesting at this point. This goes through most of page 6. It’s not bad, but not all that interesting. If I were revising, I would try to break up this background and use it only where it makes sense for the character to remember in reaction to something going on in story foreground. Right now it’s kind of a clump of necessary background (like taking medicine). Yanking a jaw open is a bit brutal, especially when a feeble woman is the object of the violence. Better to show the struggle I think.

I do like my prime rib 🙂 But that’s just me (it is a specific detail though, right?).

I like where this goes. It’s the setup that isn’t working. If I were revising, I would concentrate on my story basics. What is the inciting incident? What causes the protagonist to change her status quo as the story opens? It seems like she’s been planning this for a while, so it seems a bit like just another day. What is her goal? That’s in the story. Can it be made more specific and more concrete right away? What complicates her journey? We have a couple things, but they’re pretty straight forward and do not force her to change tactics or reveal different facets of the plan.  What is the climax? That’s done pretty well I think. Less well done is the sense that she’s paying a price she would prefer not to pay. What is the cost to her (there’s an objective cost, but what that she actually values is she giving up to get what she wants?). The husband comes into this far too late to be totally effective as a resolution.

Overall, there’s potential here, but lots of problems too.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 There’s a good idea here, but the story itself is flawed in its execution. Because of this it does not reach full emotional impact.

Story 47 (1/4/2011 Fantasy 1300 words)

This is advertised as a flash fiction, but is too long for that category. Typically flash runs less than 1000 words (occasionally 1200). That’s not really an issue for us, but I’m always suspicious of flash over 1000 words and less than 1500 words. It’s kind of an uncanny valley between sharp flash and substantial fiction. Let’s see if I’m right.

Begins with a poem, which is okay. The opening paragraph flows well, but I’m already niggled by the fact that it avoids telling me its main point in order to create a (false) mystery. What did come his way? If it’s interesting, I’d prefer to see it rather than read that it’s coming up. Second paragraph continues in same vein. Flowing prose, frustrating lack of specifics. Whatever it was was gone. Something else had changed.  Gets better later in the paragraph; some nice specific details about everything except what interests me. With the scratching, story finally seems to move.

And then it doesn’t. We go backward into the real of background material. Skimming. Not a huge surprise. Some very nice writing along the way and killer resonance in that ending line, but the story is slight to say the least. We prefer story over mood. If I were revising this, I would concentrate on some sort of movement in the world to carry the story, perhaps building off of that scratching in some way. When a story is comprised almost exclusively of inward rumination and remembrance, it becomes fairly one dimensional, even if the actual writing and actual thoughts are good.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 Good prose, some nice character sketch details, a nice resonance at the end. The story may work as literary fiction, though it may play out too long for it’s simple and not unexpected twist.

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Write On!

Write Hard logoI was thrilled and a bit surprised to read that Milo James Fowler has been inspired by lil’ ol’ me. I mean, the man is an engine of creation, his star is in ascendancy, and his blog amazes even the most jaded blog reader. Me? I’m just a wanna be writer carving a tablet or two here in the New Castle. I guess what I’m saying is that I’m honored, Milo. Right back at you, amigo.

Thanks to Milo’s recent post, I’m here to give eight of my fellow writers a well-deserved shout-out. They certainly live up to the “Write Hard Spirit” as described in detail here. (Yes, I know the rules say six writers, but I’m breaking that one. Sue me).

I’ve known Geoff Landis for a while now and his work impressed me from the very first page I read as a member of the Cajun Sushi Hamsters workshop. The guy is an amazing intellect, but also manages to tap a vein of emotion in his work. As much as any living writer, he inspires me to try harder. Now, he’s into poetry as well.

Chris Barzak is another writer I admire tremendously. He has worked tirelessly to establish himself as one of our best insterstertial fantasists. His books (One for Sorrow and The Love We Share Without Knowing) amaze me and his stories have appeared in all the best markets. Recently, he’s helped to establish a literary journal, Jenny, at Youngstown State, where he teaches.

I haven’t met Cat Rambo, but she inspires me at a distance.  Why? Because last year we (Triangulation: End of the Rainbow) accepted a reprint from her. We sent a proof, as we do for all our accepted stories. This story had been published a couple of times before, yet she still made small changes to the prose and in every single case they improved the story’s flow.  That is what I believe craft is all about. That inspires me.

Theodora Goss has inspired me since I read her first story at Strange Horizons. I don’t recall the title, but I do recall the vivid imagery she built through her prose. It was obvious even then that she was going places. Now, she’s in the process of arriving and I remain inspired by her blog entries. This one, in particular, whispered to that writer living deep inside my shuttered mind. We hope to let him out at some point, and see what he makes of the fresh air.

Recently, I’ve been voyeurizing Robert Sawyer on Facebook. Sue and I met him at Confluence years ago and were impressed by his humility and the unvarnished enthusiasm he showed not only for his work, but for the field in general. He was approachable and knowledgeable and incredibly hard working (just listening to a description of his work ethic made me tired). And guess where it got him? Only to the top of many readers’ lists of great SF writers. I want to grow up to be like Robert Sawyer. That’s how much he inspires me. I won’t speak for Sue, but there’s a possibility she wants to have his children (you did not hear that here).

Another writer I admire, both for his brilliant imaginings and his daunting work ethic is Ferrett Steinmetz. If you haven’t read his blog, The Watchtower of Destruction, you should. The world seen through his eyes is an amazing place. Mainly, he inspires me by finishing his workroom in the basement, one slice of wallboard at a time funded with proceeds from his short story sales, which are multiple and increasing. You’ll find his work everywhere, from Asimov’s to Three-Lobe Burning Eye.

For several years I’ve had the privilege of knowing Fran Van Cleave. She joined our little workshop in Bloomington Indiana having published three stories in Analog. I’m not really an Analog reader, yet I found her stories compelling. She managed to work emotional threads into the weave of idea-driven stories in clever and meaningful ways. I was impressed. Since then, she’s worked harder than any writer I know to perfect her craft. Currently she’s finishing her MFA at Seton Hill and completing two book manuscripts. I have no doubt we will see her name on bookshelves soon. In the meantime, I watch (from afar, alas) in awe as she works multiple jobs, raises a wonderful toddler (Hi, Athena!) and still manages to produce more words and more revisions and more sheer audacity of idea, than I can in my semi-retired state. Bravo, Fran. No one works at this harder than you do.

Finally, I cannot say enough about the one writer who has inspired me more than any other. Susan Urbanek Linville was there when I was ready to quit. She was there when I was too full of myself. And she’s still there when I wake up in the morning. Her nonfiction book, A School for my Village (a.k.a. The Price of Stones), is a testament to persistence and the writing craft. Her short stories almost always make me cry (ummm… make my eyes itch?). Is there any greater inspiration than love? I ask.

These are only a few of the people who inspire me to keep writing, keep trying. There are others, some of them already mentioned in Milo’s blog and Aaron’s blog. To these folks above, I dedicate whatever success I manage to carve out of the time remaining to me on this Earth. When I head out to Mars, it’s a whole ‘nother ball game.

Our society is not set up to nurture creativity, but to  mine , refine, and market it as it does other resources. It’s up to our smaller community of writers, artists, and dreamers, to band together and support each other in whatever ways we can. Write Hard is one such way. I hope the idea will spread far and wide.

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Write1Sub1 has been consuming vast tracks of my attention. I’m afraid I’m falling well behind on Triangulation. Time to catch up a bit today.

See my previous post for disclaimers.

Story 38 (12/28/2010 SF 1700 words)

This one has been sitting in slush for too long. My sincere apologies to the author.  I like that the opening sentence drops is into the middle of movement, with enough context to establish a sense of place. The ensuing paragraph provides a lot of specific detail, but it’s not really pulling me in. I’m missing a sense of purpose (character motivation). We appear to be in a 19th century setting, though it could be later. Certainly historic.

Hmmm. Page two starts talking of demographics, which places me in another time zone entirely. I’m not as intrigued by this as I would like to be, mainly because there’s no sense of motive here. I’m in the mode of waiting for something to happen.

Next page is a mix of archaic and modern. No sense of motivation yet. Skimming.

At the end of page 4, the story begins. I find this situation interesting, but it’s the story that will pull me in and keep me interested. If I were revising, I would consider beginning the story here (final paragraph on page 4).

Nice ending for a flash piece. This is an interesting and timely idea. The problem for me is in the story arc itself. As a short, sharp flash, say 800 words, this might work. At the current length, I need more character arc and definitely more plot arc. The story currently delivers 3 pages of background followed by an inciting incident and discussion of the story idea. It ends with a very nice emotional resonance. I’d say it’s worth working on this one, but it’s not close enough that I would want to ask for a rewrite.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 Parts of this work really well, but it’s too long for the concept and begins too slowly to pull me in. Nice, timely idea, decent execution. Story structure needs work.

Story 39 (12/29/2010 Horror 2400 words)

This begins in mid-action, which is good. The prose is clunky. I would vary sentence rhythms and lengths just a bit. Numerous “the”s result in a plodding cadence. This is just a style issue, not a story issue, so not a huge deal, but it does put me into a different frame of mind. I’m looking at the prose more closely than I would otherwise.

The dialogue is good. Realistic. What I’m missing in this opening scene is a sense of the protagonist’s character. Who is he? What does he want? A snippet of internal thought might do wonders here. As it stands, dialogue and gesture is being asked to carry the entire load and that’s keeping me outside the main character rather than pulling me into his perspective. I’m less involved as a result.

On page 3 we get our first internal reaction from the protagonist. It’s effective. I feel as if I’m in a dessert and have come upon a glass of water. Viewpoint begins to waver at the end of page 3. I’m no longer in the protagonist, but learning about a secondary character’s motivation. This dilutes my investment in the main character.

The conversation on page 4 seems to be giving me a lot of background. I’m not getting an escalation of tension at all, just information delivered in realistic dialogue. I’m getting impatient for the story to advance. We have a nice inciting incident, now we’re talking it to death.

By page 5 the point of view is all over the place. Technically it’s a sort of loose omniscient with occasional dips into the viewpoint of convenience.  That’s a difficult viewpoint to pull off, especially in genre fiction. It’s not working here.

More conversation. I like some elements of this story, but it’s too talky for me. Story revolves around tension (the buildup and release thereof). Simple conversation seldom rises to that ideal.

The plot moves on page 6. It’s pretty predictable at this point. Will the ending surprise me? Viewpoint remains problematic. Perhaps this story should be told from the secondary character’s point of view? Depends on how it ends. So far, it’s not clear who actually has the most invested in this story or who will have to make the important decision that changes everything.

It gets reasonably horrific on page 9. That’s good, but too late, I think.

It ends about as I expected, but the ending still has a nice jolt. It ends in the secondary character’s viewpoint. If I were revising, I would likely tell this story in tight third person from the secondary character’s point of view. I’d also pare down the “telling about” conversation and insert a complication or two to keep the ending from being predictable.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 There’s a nice little payoff at the end, but the buildup is sluggish and the viewpoint’s a mess. The idea may be worth developing further, but it’s fairly standard stuff at this point.

Story 40 (12/31/2010 SF 1500 words)

This starts sharply. We’re in the middle of a situation, the protagonist is established, and we get a hint of his personality from the way he thinks about the situation we’re in the middle of. Good.

Cut to back flash. Sigh. We see this technique endlessly. In this case it actually works okay, but still feels somewhat artificial. Catchy opening line, but wait! It doesn’t start here. Don’t you want to know how we came to this startling place? My answer is usually “no” since these stories inevitably backtrack to the boring stuff that wasn’t good enough to open with. What really gets our knickers in a wad are stories that begin in an interesting, dynamic place and move forward from there.

In this case my answer is “maybe”. The opening line was short and sharp and the back flash has its own forward momentum that keeps it alive. And it’s only a ten second flashback. How much boredom can accumulate in ten seconds? 🙂

The writing is lively enough and I like the observation at the end of page 7 about the holes aligning.  I must say, though, that the story is taking an awfully long time to go anywhere. We saw the first hole in the first sentence and pretty much all that’s been accomplished by the end of page 2 is that we’re back to seeing the hole and the dog’s barked.

Page 3 begins to develop a back story that adds a little dimensionality. Can we get here a little more quickly? The prose is mildly amusing. It doesn’t go over the top, but isn’t really funny enough to carry the story on its own either (for me anyway).

On page 4 we get to the interesting bit. Page 5 brings some story movement.

Story ends with a sort of one line payoff. In a shorter flash (maybe half this length) that might be enough for me. As it stands, I’m frustrated at having invested so much time watching these two investigate stuff that ended up being essentially meaningless. The flash could just as easily begin in the basement and have the same impact.

While I do like the writing for the most part, the story takes too long to develop for the punchy line it leads to.  And yes, I get the little tweak of horror in that final line. I just don’t know why it matters. It certainly wasn’t set up by anything I read in the story. I may have missed something, of course. If I were revising, I’d start later, keep the unnecessary action to a minimum and either insert a clue as to why the final line is deserved, or leave it out.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 The idea feels about right for a short, sharp flash piece of 500-800 words, but is not complex enough to support a longer story. It could be complicated in order to support more words or cut back to support the current one-liner approach.

Story 41  (1/1/2011 Horror ???? words)

This is interesting. Author double spaces contact info, and single spaces manuscript. This is the exact opposite of standard manuscript formatting. I don’t really care too much, except that it will make reading the story a little more difficult (i.e. my patience will be tested more easily).

The cover letter is chatty. I normally recommend against this as it’s one more thing that can work against you with an editor. We normally want to know word count, that the story is original and unpublished, not submitted elsewhere, and maybe a couple substantial writing credits to clue us in that you’ve established yourself. If you don’t have substantial credits, no worries. That won’t count against you with most editors. Many, in fact thrill at discovering a new writer in slush. It doesn’t happen all that often because, well, most undiscovered writers aren’t ready to be discovered. Not yet.

In this particular case, I’m glad we got a cover letter as I learn the author has been diagnosed with PTSD and is coping with rather a lot in his life. He tells me this in the context of a rousing good story, not as a whine or plea for sympathy (which would have soured me). It’s not going to effect my reading of the story, but it may effect my comments somewhat.

This opens well, though I think the final sentence in paragraph 1 weakens it. There’s a starkness to the first half of the paragraph that grabs my interest, then a chattiness to that final sentence that makes me worry we’re heading to a big clump of background rather than a story.

I’m on the fence after the first mini-scene. It’s efficient background, but it’s relentlessly passive (was, were) as well. I’m both interested in the concept and a little bored by the prose. If the next scene kicks off with active prose and an involving viewpoint, this contrast could work for the story. If it retains the passive approach, I’m going to get tired of reading. It’s as simple as that.

I’m afraid, it’s the latter path here. I feel at this point as if I’m reading the summary for a very interesting story. Can you envision this second scene played out on the stage of my mind, rather than told to me passively? I’m drooling at the thought as I think this could be a vivid scene that pushes the story forward.

I do think the first person is handled well here. There’s a sense of necessary distance sprinkled with moments of emotion. However, the tone remains passive, summarizing. I’d like to see this mixed in along with actual in-scene active prose. The story is becoming somewhat monotone due to this constant summarizing. I’m still interested, however, which says a lot about the quality of this idea so far.

Near the end of page 3, there’s a good example of my main problem. We hear about the pain of the procedure, but feel nothing. We hear about the sounds of the instruments, but it’s off the page, not immediate. Summary of action rather than action.

Page 4 explains the idea through overheard conversation. This can work, but it’s probably too easy on the protagonist, who should be struggling to achieve some goal rather than passively being operated on and overhearing relevant conversation.

I like the end of page 5. This is an example of in-scene tension. The protagonist is too passive, but we get a sense of the crass inhumanity of the others.

The dream scene is okay. I don’t know that it adds enough to the story to justify its existence, but it’s a nice example of being in scene and active. The next scene is more active too. I feel connected to the character here. It feels real.

The next scene remains active, but too sparse. Tension is not played out as fully as it should be. We’re left with the protagonist learning what we’ve already guessed, and rather than working to learn it, he asks someone, who tells him.

Well I didn’t see that coming (page 9 reveal). Nicely done, especially the screaming at each other. This scene is effective. There’s an odd vibe to it that is powerful to me.

The ending is disappointing. I wanted to see this idea played out. The idea is really interesting. I think it will require more words to pull this off. The first half of the story is too passive. It’s fine to have a contrast between passive and active sections, but I think the relentless summary will stop  a lot of folks from reading on.

If I were revising, I would consider starting this story later, perhaps with the operation (working just a little background into that scene to give us context), then the reveal, then a story of the chase. The part of the story that intrigues me most is the part that is missing between the reveal and final scene. Probably not what you want to hear, dear writer, but know that I think there is power in this idea and in several of these scenes. Definite potential here.  Do you want to put yourself through the necessary rejection to get to that potential? It’s a question you should consider very carefully. Whichever way you go, I wish you the best. The awesomeness of this idea outweigh some of the technical flaws, but not enough to request a rewrite. I would look at a revision of the story if the author wants to undertake one, but no promises beyond an honest read.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 The idea is awesome, but there’s too much missing here to carry this story to its potential. It should be longer, and probably start later than it does.

Story 42  (1/1/2011 SF 9800 words)

This story is too long. I’ll read through it quickly. Gotta say the title is provocative and would catch an eye or two.

The writing is very good line by line. I skimmed very quickly because I can’t afford to invest a great deal of time in a story that we will not purchase due to its length (twice our guideline limit of 5000 words).  One gets a sense of a writer in control of his craft, spinning an ambitious story. My worry is that the first character is perhaps not the best choice to open with, especially at such length. Relentlessly inward-directed, fixated on mafia, and not particularly likable, he doesn’t pull me in (the truth is that if the story had really pulled me in and held me through 9800 words I would have argued for us to take it despite our rules, but it would have to be WAAAAAY good to manage that).  My interest piqued with Sylvia’s section (though she started to drone into introspection too), the later, more active sections did pull at my attention as I whizzed by. And the actual writing throughout offered a good balance of rhythms.  But it’s just too long for us, and the SF element (which was handled in an interesting way) doesn’t appear soon enough for us.

I wish the author well with this piece. I can’t say how effective the story is because I merely skimmed it, but even at that blur it’s clear this person writes well.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): ? The slush-o-meter requires a more careful reading than I fed into it.

I’m off to accept our first rewrite and requesting a rewrite of another story that we like a lot. Two formal accepts at this point and four rewrites, plus a few stories in the slush that have made it past first read. It’s going to be a strong collection; lots of variety.

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Exterior view. Bronze tympanum, by Olin L. War...

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The third week proved toughest so far. The story I had in mind just would not gel. Finally, on Saturday morning, the breakthrough that allowed me to finish a draft. Is it good? I doubt it, but it’s a story with closure and some emotional investment. This week I’m writing literary fiction. I plan to base this one on the weekly prompts at Show Me Your Lits.

Saturday: For Week 4 I chose to target Per Contra an online literary magazine that publishes very good, accessible stories. It’s listed as a professional market (>5cents/wd) on Duotrope.

We publish literary fiction (read several of our stories before sending us your work).


Per Contra accepts submissions of short fiction up to 3000 words. We publish both flash fiction and short stories.


We publish only work that has not been published before, either online or in print.

Yes to Work on Password Protected Sites

Material work shopped and posted in password protected sites are not considered to have been published.

No to Work Previously Posted on Blogs

Works posted on your own blog or on someone else’s blog may not be submitted: we consider them to have been published.

About Translations

Although we publish translations, at this time we can accept only original fiction in English as submissions. Do not send translations or fan fiction.


If this is a simultaneous submission, please let us know right away when/if it is accepted elsewhere.  You do not have to identify it as a simultaneous submission, just let us know immediately if you have to remove it from consideration. When you let us know include in the subject line:  FICTION WITHDRAWAL:  YOUR NAME:  TITLE OF STORY


We may ask for some edits in stories we would like to publish.

We regret that we cannot comment on all stories.


We purchase first rights (that is, we do not accept previously published work), right to archive, right to broadcast and to reprint in an anthology.  You retain copyright, and we ask that you acknowledge Per Contra if you reprint the work.  We are a paying market.


Submissions will be open until March 1, 2011.

Sunday: I worked today on Triangulation submissions and watching a certain Steeler game. My plan this week is to use one of my 90 minute Show Me Your Lit prompt stories as a jumping off point for the story. I’ll read sample stories from Per Contra prior to doing my challenge story in hopes that will help me to produce an approach that will be suitable. I’ll then take that story and expand or deepen it.

Monday: I wrote my literary prompt piece tonight. It’s rough, as anticipated, but I think it will serve as a starting point for something interesting.  I imagine it will end up around 2000 words.

Tuesday: I spent much of the day learning my moderator duties over at Show Me Your Lits. Didn’t get a lot of writing done, but did talk through ideas for expanding my literary story. The bare bones are okay, but the story lacks the extra layer it needs to be substantial. It will take some fleshing out of scenes and characters, but there is a metaphor to be had here. Can I manage it in three days? Stay tuned.

Wednesday: Ouch. I’m falling behind here. The original flash is getting some good comments from fellow Show Me Your Lit folks, so I can fall back on subbing that, but I’d really rather seize the opportunity to write a more ambitious piece with this material.

Thursday: Between a writers group meeting and some moderator duties at Show Me Your Lits tonight, I’ve not gotten a single word onto the page. I have been thinking about characters at least. Will I finally manage to get this down in black and white tomorrow? I hope so.

Friday: Once again I don’t know if I’ll make it. I did get a start tonight and I think I found the voice I want, but there’s still a ways to go and the metaphor is pretty subtle, so I have to be careful to include enough to make recognizing it possible without doing it in a way that seems blunt.

Saturday: Finally got those characters talking to each other in my brain. Working on polishing my Week 3 story for submission now. I have a writers group meeting tomorrow morning, but will finish up after that. It’s not getting any easier, but I feel like a large part of the problem is in my head. Gotta crack that walnut soon.

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Category:Zombies and revenants in fiction

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The first week was tough, the second even tougher (6500 word story). This week I’m aiming for something a little shorter, but no less challenging. My schedule calls for Horror or Mystery. I’ve decided to go with Horror and write out an idea I’ve had bouncing around in my head for months.

Saturday: For Week 3 I chose to target Clarkesworld Magazine. This is one of the most difficult markets to penetrate. That means I’ll have to work even harder on the layering of ideas, the language, and characterization.

Clarkesworld Magazine is an online science fiction and fantasy magazine that publishes short fiction, interviews, articles and audio fiction on a monthly schedule. All original fiction published in Clarkesworld is also made available in single-issue chapbooks and collected annually in the Realms trade paperback series. Our art, articles and half of our fiction are open to submissions.

Word Limit: 1000-8000 words (preferred length is 4000)
Pay Rate: 10¢ per word up to 4000 words, 5¢ per word after
Genres: Science fiction and fantasy
Language: English
Rights: We claim first world electronic rights (text and audio), first print rights (author must be willing to sign 100+ chapbooks), and non-exclusive anthology rights for Realms, the yearly Clarkesworld anthology.

Stories must be:

  1. Well-written. Language is important. There is no distinction between “style” and “substance” or “story” and “writing.”
  2. Convenient for on-screen reading. Very long paragraphs or typographical trickery may work against you.

Science fiction need not be “hard” SF, but rigor is appreciated. Fantasy can be folkloric, medieval, contemporary, surreal, etc. Horror can be supernatural or psychological, so long as it is frightening. There are no barriers as to levels of profanity, gore, or sexuality allowed, but high amounts of profanity, gore, and sexuality are generally used poorly. Be sure to use them well if you do use them.

Though no particular setting, theme, or plot is anathema to us, the following are likely hard sells:

  • stories in which a milquetoast civilian government is depicted as the sole obstacle to either catching some depraved criminal or to an uncomplicated military victory
  • stories in which the words “thou” or “thine” appear
  • talking cats
  • talking swords
  • stories where the climax is dependent on the spilling of intestines
  • stories where FTL travel is as easy as is it on television shows or movies
  • time travel too
  • stories that depend on some vestigial belief in Judeo-Christian mythology in order to be frightening (i.e., Cain and Abel are vampires, the End Times are a’ comin’, Communion wine turns to Christ’s literal blood and it’s HIV positive, Satan’s gonna getcha, etc.)
  • stories about rapist-murderer-cannibals
  • stories about young kids playing in some field and discovering ANYTHING. (a body, an alien craft, Excalibur, ANYTHING).
  • stories about the stuff we all read in Scientific American three months ago
  • stories where the Republicans, or Democrats, or Libertarians, or the Spartacist League, etc. take over the world and either save or ruin it
  • your AD&D game
  • “funny” stories that depend on, or even include, puns
  • sexy vampires, wanton werewolves, or lusty pirates
  • zombies or zombie-wannabes
  • stories originally intended for someone’s upcoming theme anthology or issue
  • stories where the protagonist is either widely despised or widely admired simply because he or she is just so smart and/or strange
  • stories that take place within an artsy-fartsy bohemia as written by an author who has clearly never experienced one
  • your trunk stories

Sunday: I spent most of the day polishing my 7500 word story from last week. It’s set aside now for submission next Saturday. I also made notes on this week’s story.

Monday: I outlined the story, then outlined it a second time after the first one seemed too generic. The story needs to have multiple layers for Clarkesworld, yet be simple enough to tell in a fairly short word count. I worked on character background this evening. Ready to roll on scene one, I think.

Tuesday: I read through openings for stories in the first Clarkesworld anthology I found this quite intimidating. The stories tend to begin in media res, possess a literary sensibility, and ALSO manage to convey a speculative idea within the first paragraph or two. Density is important. I tried various approaches to finding such a beginning for my tale without a lot of success. Upon further think-state, I realized the reason I was having problems is that my story opening didn’t have enough depth to manage the feat suggested above. It’s too linear in concept. I can’t really get all media res on it’s ass until it has an ass worthy of such an approach. Back to the drawing board for now. I did write three literary flashes, however. (750, 250, 100 words)

Wednesday: More of the same. I have a new inciting incident that does offer a media res potential, and I’ve deepened my view of the protagonist and the story situation. The climax and resolution can remain as I had it. I just have to get there via a somewhat different path. I tried a couple more openings. Not quite, but closer.

Thursday: I found my opening at last (I think). The rest of the plot fell into place as well. Simple enough to keep under 4000 words or so and layered enough to read deeper than that. Now it’s a matter of writing it effectively. I’m less confident of that, but tomorrow is the last day of the week. I’m determined to get a draft laid down.

Friday: Started the day with good intentions. Sat down and started into the second scene with some momentum, then promptly lost it. The scene seemed boring and headed in the wrong direction so I stopped writing and tried to get a grasp on things. I don’t know the characters well enough, don’t know the world well enough, don’t even know if my climax is a climax. To complicate matters, I feel like I’m falling behind on several fronts and yet can’t get myself to work on any of them. Something has to give if I’m going to make it through this year. I have got to stop procrastinating and get on with it. I guess you would call today a reality check. Will I persevere? It’s not looking likely, but I’m at least sitting at the keyboard typing words onto the page tonight. Tune in tomorrow.

Saturday: Well, I very nearly gave up. I mean I already wrote 3 literary flashes this week, so it wouldn’t technically be a failed week, but it just didn’t sit right. So, I talked to Sue about my plot problems and she said something in passing that lit the old light bulb and I was off and running again. I revised the second scene almost entirely (reversed the roles of the two characters involved), then went on to a third scene. This was enough to bring the story to closure. So, at 3500 words, I had a draft. It feels so much better than giving up.

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