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Archive for May, 2011

Nazi Spock's Mind Meld - Star Trek - Patterns ...
Image by Marshall Astor

This week I’ve been working behind the scenes to bring the anthology together. The editors melded minds and decided on the final selections. The way we managed this was that we gave each of our four editor/readers an editor’s choice selection from the 16 stories still in hand. After purchasing those four, we had room for another few thousand words, so I collated editor rankings and we collectively took the longer, more ambitious of the top two (which tied). We may also take another flash but we need to put together the table of contents first to see if we need that sort of change of pace. We’re holding two short flash pieces that are pretty good, but need a little work. We should know after June 5, when we meet to discuss the ordering of stories.

Jamie and I split up manuscripts and we’ve made suggested edits, which I am beginning to send out to authors along with the formal contract. I’m finding that I’m mainly focusing on trimming and rearranging openings. We writer types sure seem to be fixated on getting that necessary background in there, even if it means delaying the story. I’m guilty of that too.

The most important development is that we have launched a kickstarter project. One of the founders of Parsec Ink died earlier this year and we’re scrambling a bit to lock in funding to launch the collection. Like priming a pump, is how I see it. We just don’t have enough up front money to launch, but issue sales do eventually break even. This year we hope to do better than that by launching various e-book formats as well as the print anthology. We also hope that people will support the print anthology by purchasing a copy and/or getting the word out through social media and word of mouth. Anyone who likes short speculative fiction should enjoy this collection. Reviewers certainly have these past few years.  We’re proud of the job we do and, particularly of the authors who send us some amazing work.

Please check out our Kickstarter project and spread the word that it exists.  I hope I’ve provided some useful feedback via this blog and the behind the scenes work I do for the anthology. I hope people will see the value of what we do and support the anthology in whatever manner makes sense for them. That’s my wonderful wife in the video by the way.

I’m a crappy self-promoter, unfortunately, though I’ve been trying to do better. For me it’s not about the sales but the work itself. Lousy way to fill a pantry ain’t it?

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Yesterday I worked through and edited of one of the stories we accepted.

Pentecost copyedits

Image by TheCreativePenn via Flickr

This part is a bit fun, but I do have to balance tucking and nipping and shaping with making sure I don’t get in the way of the author’s voice. The objective here is to bring the story to its full potential, dramatically and grammatically. And do it quickly enough that we can get through the all in a reasonable period so that authors have long enough to react.

Today, I put together our Kickstarter campaign. With luck we’ll be able to raise enough money to finance this baby and use sales from this year to finance next year. Our main benefactor, Ann Cecil, died earlier this year. We miss her for much more than her ability to raise money. It has, however, left a bit of a gap between what we have in hand and what we need to do a first printing. So, we’re going to the creative community in hopes of getting us through the squeeze. If that doesn’t pan out, we’ll find a way, but it won’t be pretty and may well doom the future of the series.

That’s neither here nor there for the moment, except to relate that it took me roughly six hours to put the materials together and I still have one more step to finish up before we can go live. My wife also contributed around 8 hours a few weeks back, creating the marketing video and most of the printed material for the site. We’ll be offering some cool incentives, including a full set of Triangulation anthologies with the Last Contact issue signed by Robert Sawyer, who graciously agreed to help us out. You will not find a more accommodating, enthusiastic and humble SF writer out there. He’s da man in my book.

I did a preliminary edit of a second story tonight and will get that put together and sent off tomorrow. Our two readers have ranked stories for our remaining slots and Jamie and I should finalize that process over the weekend. We have a mild consensus on the top of the list, but it will be interesting to see which stories squeak through as final selections. I already know that a couple of my favorites won’t make the cut. Sad, that, especially since my own stories are so often in that boat (good story, but we just can’t fit it in).

Which reminds me that I’m overdue for a brag page. I’ve had 11 short stories (flashes mostly) accepted in 2011, and to increasingly solid markets. Maybe I’ll get there someday, wherever “there” is.  In the meantime, let’s enjoy the ride in any way we can, eh?

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.

At this point we’ve officially accepted 20 stories (53,000 words). I spent much of the weekend putting together a final analysis of the remaining stories under consideration and today sent around a list of the final 15 for editor ranking and input. Of these, we have room for perhaps 5-6 depending on length. The collection is going to be larger this year. You folks are making it very difficult on us. Which makes the upcoming round of final rejections all the more painful for me. I’ll be working through those this week. I’ve also begun editing the stories in hand and will be preparing contracts as well. There are still a few stories that we sent in via mail. I’ll provide reading notes for those here. I’ve already responded to one (who requested a full critique).

Story 382 (3/8/2011 SF 985 words)

The opening is decent, but not compelling. It established a character in context. First person present tense doesn’t really help it, as I feel confined to the head at this point.

Second paragraph provides some background, which is okay, but it’s not moving the story forward. No inciting incident yet, no character motivation.

Third paragraph is more observation, external and internal. I’m anxious for a story to begin, especially at this flash length. I need some forward plot movement.

Fourth paragraph is more background. This is becoming an explanation of idea, I’m afraid.  Page 2 is more of this. The background isn’t bad, but I’ve seen it before. What I need is a story experience. Motivated character trying to overcome an obstacle, escalating tension, etc.. I think the choice of viewpoint really hurts this one. It’s funneling everything through the character’s perspective such that I don’t get a good balance of internal and external.

Page 3 is internal ruminating on the theme. Explanation of idea, essentially. It’s not bad, but doesn’t compel me as an actual story experience would.

I’m not exactly clear on how the ending is supposed to impact me or why it fits the Last Contact theme. I get that it’s a twist on expectation, but I’m not engaged enough with the character’s situation to care, unfortunately. The key to making this one work, I suspect, is to come up with a solid story arc to mesh with this character arc. I’d also consider moving it to close third person to force it out of the head a bit. Present or past tense should work.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A story about human worth and social pragmatism. Timely, but the lack of a solid story arc hurts it.

Story 383 (1/31/2011 Fantasy 2011 words)

I like this opening. It intrigues me. Generally I don’t like openings that withhold, but this one does it perfectly (and only for a beat).

We move into character perspective in second paragraph. Good observations that pull us into his viewpoint.  The last line in second paragraph is a little clever for me, however.

Get what over with? I’m wanting more concrete context now. The scene should be sharpening.

Fourth paragraph brings me the jolt I need. Name the woman earlier. Unnamed characters tend to annoy some readers (i.e. me).  I’d like the revelation before the “Let’s get this over with,” comment. That smacked of withholding, delaying a reveal. Jolt me first and I won’t care so much.

I’m not as happy with where this is going as I thought I would be. It seems a little cute. But maybe not. It’s an interesting issue. Maybe just a bit too much clever dialogue.

Some nice lines, but page 2 is mostly chit-chat, cleverness rather than story movement. There is a story here, however.

Page 3 becomes an explanation of idea.  Losing me now.

Page 4 is more of the same. It’s a really clever idea. Too bad I’m not getting a story experience to match it.

Clever idea. Create a story (motivated character attempting to overcome obstacle of some sort, reaching a point of decision, paying a price) and this could work nicely. Right now it’s just a fluff piece. We don’t generally take those.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A clever story about sex in the afterlife. Lack of story arc hurts this one.

Story 384 (12/13/2011 Horror 1400 words)

I can’t believe I let this one sit for so long. Profound apologies to the author. Dialogue punctuation is incorrect.  “How are you ?” he said. Not, “How are you?” He said.

The story opens with dialogue and an unnamed character. The physical detail that follows is nice.

Second paragraph introduces a second unnamed character.  Omniscient viewpoint. I wonder why.

Inciting incident halfway down the page. The writing is awkward enough that I’m not going to be purchasing the story unless it’s amazing.

A lot of mundane action and description. It escalates at top of page 2. That’s good. If it wasn’t the limbs she watched what WAS it? We’re in her viewpoint now. Show us what she sees, how she reacts, etc.

I’m not exactly sure what I’m seeing re. the flat screen. His sister? Not his sister?

The big problem here is that the convenient omniscient viewpoint hops us between heads too frequently to really identify with anyone. I don’t know who to root for or who will matter to the story.

This seems like an idea I’ve seen in movies before.  It’s taking too long to play out in any case. We get a convenient clue at top of page 4.  Good timing with the knocking, however.

Why does the girl scream? What does she see?

The ending doesn’t do much for me. We basically have a story about a passive victim being victimized. There’s some decent tension here and there, but the story is just too simple to carry even 1400 words. The is some promise here, however, and I’d encourage the author to keep working on their craft.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A simple horror tale about a girl and another girl. Lack of character identification and story complication work against it.

Story 385 (1/3/2011 Horror 4737 words)

Ditto to this author. I should have replied more quickly.

The title turns me off immediately as it suggest a fluff piece. We’ll not be taking a 4700 word fluff piece anytime soon. That’s too many pages in the anthology.

The opening doesn’t do much for me. It establishes two characters, no setting, no motivation. Just kind of sits there on the page rather than inviting me in. Not bad, just not great.

Characters talking to each other for my benefit. This is not helping.  It gets better a bit further down the page, though I’m not fond of the withholding of the mystery. It’s not awful, not like a story where the withholding is intended strictly to postpone a reveal, but unnecessary. I would start the story with the question about it being safe to go out. The stuff before that is pretty mundane.

Page 2 begins with overwriting. In this case it’s sentences dressed up to avoid telling us the specific detail that matters. Atmosphere at the expense of clarity. Usually a poor tradeoff.

Viewpoint shifts in mid-page 2. Why? It diffuses the identification I’ve formed with the initial viewopint. Also, this is mainly dialogue intended for me, not each other.  End of page two brings background.  The basic rule (well, my basic rule) is that if the background story is more interesting than the foreground story, you probably should be telling it instead.  In this case, I suspect it is more interesting. The frame does little for me.

Interesting. This is the same pattern as the prior horror story. Fairly mundane activity, something jolting, then a convenient news flash providing a clue to the reader. Eyes do not widen to the size of softballs, by the way.

The creature attacks. The viewpoint characters are basically victims here to observer rather than part of a story that revolves around them in a meaningful way. Horror so often has this issue. Atmosphere over content. Terror over characterization. That’s fine, but it’s not what we look for. We prefer story and character arc.

I do appreciate that the character is trying to overcome the obstacle on page 7. He’s being a protagonist here. Good. Then there’s a complication which is welcome. So far the story has taken too long to develop. Maybe it will move faster now. Decent tension on page12. The writing is a little clumsy, but the story is moving forward.

I like the complication on page 14.  This gets better as we go. I don’t understand why the MC was spared or why this is happening. Hopefully I will find out.

Not exactly. I did find out why the creature came to Earth. That’s good. I didn’t find out why the MC was spared or why he needed this story to happen or why the creature needed him. These are issues that should be addressed.

Overall, there’s an interesting and creepy idea here. Dump that opening, move the early third more quickly, develop the theme/philosophy more fully, and most importantly, make the MC deserve this story. Why is his participation important to the creature? Why is the price he pays relevant? A few more drafts and this could be good.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A horror tale about recreating man. A slow opening, lack of compelling character identification, and some logic holes hold this one back.

That takes care of the mailed in manuscripts. I have a batch of stories that didn’t quite make the final cut. I’ll get to those tomorrow.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.

It’s been an uplifting morning as I’ve focused on accepting stories that the editors have agreed upon. At this point we’ve officially accepted 20 stories (53,000 words). Another 3-4 are pretty certain and we’ll likely take another 1-2. I’m aiming for 65,000-70,000 words this year.

I still have a few stories that I have not read (first readers have), so that’s where I’m headed now.

Story 372 (3/8/2011 Fantasy 5500 words)

Reader 1: “This is a good idea, well written, and an actual story.  This story is lively and a bit tongue-in-cheek. It’s a little slow to start. I think there too much of a back flash on page two. I think I’d start it on page 6 . That’s when it really picks up. There may be too many characters, but the author needs them for the plot. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening paragraph drops us in mid-scene, in character, and suggests genre and motivation.  Above average.

I don’t like that the MC doesn’t actually see his work before commenting on it. That’s a missed opportunity to make the scene more real in my head. We’re moving backward on page 2. I’m intrigued by the situation, but losing interest in the story. Start a story close to the inciting incident and move forward. Background can come in as the MC requires it, not so that I have it.

Inciting incident on page 3. Might be better to begin story closer to this point. The background has dulled my experience quite a bit.

Some nice details. This is getting interesting now. The reveal on page 6 comes too late in the story.  The reader makes a good point for starting the story here.

Oh yes, the dialogue is priceless. Story coming to life now. I’m on board now.

Good pacing, good light and dark moments, a couple of clean complications and resulting tension. A lot to like here. And while it’s funny on the surface it’s rather touching just beneath. The ending brought a tear to my jaded eye. I’m a sucker for honor and sacrifice being rewarded.

Nicely done, Author. Now we simply must do something about that opening. Thumbs up from me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A quirky fantasy about eternity and personal ethics.  A slow opening hurts and otherwise strong story.

Story 373 (3/12/2011 SF 3150 words)

Reader 1: “Very understated and nicely written opening, but it takes too long to get to the moment of change. Some beautiful imagery though. God, I wanted there to be more of a story here. I loved all the details, the author’s knowledge shining through the page, but there wasn’t a story. Where’s the explicit conflict and the attempts of the character to solve that conflict? Too much is kept vague and the stakes for the character in a changing world are not made explicit enough. This is a very well written slice of life with a speculative tinge, but I didn’t feel as if the atmosphere was enough to make up for the lack of plot. It’s a shame, because I really liked the writing.” (plot spoilers removed)

Reader 2: “I like this piece. It’s nicely written, but lacks clarity. The beginning needs shortened, probably by a page or so. The story doesn’t really begin until  page 3, but I don’t mind the beginning scene that sets the place and tone. The big problem is understanding what [something] is. I think if that is clarified, it will help a lot. I am not sure what happens at the end either. There should be a character revelation, but since we don’t know what the girl is doing, we don’t understand the man’s feeling. I’d like to see a rewrite of this.”

An opening paragraph that sucks you right in. Great character detail. No in-scene context, but I can live with that so long as we get it soon. First page remains retrospective background, beautifully written.

A gorgeous concept here, lovingly crafted. There’s too much of it, however. It gets in the way of story, which hasn’t actually started yet (page 3). Love the ending of the first scene. Finding a way to inject a sense of story starting into that scene would likely be enough. I have no problem reading this prose for a long while, but I do want to feel like it’s going somewhere.

Inciting incident on page 4.  Good second scene complication. There is movement now, but it’s more like novella pacing. My worry is that the story payoff will not justify the word count. If the payoff is really large (emotionally speaking) it will be fine, but I’m leery of investing this much attention to a fleeting fancy. Which will it be?

The next scene is a little too coy. I can parse out what the girl means, but I shouldn’t have to. The MC knows. I don’t need this false mystery when I have the very real mystery of whether the girl will go through with her job, whether the MC will allow it.

We don’t find out, really. It leaves us unresolved. The character has been transformed, but I’m not quite sure what that means in the larger scheme. There’s real emotional power here, but the fog of my lack of full understanding holds me back. This is a tough one. I’d love to see this published in the anthology, but it really does need a stronger context (if I understand fully what the girl means to do, I can invest fully in the ambiguity of the ending; right now it’s just another thing I don’t quite understand). I don’t know if the author would be willing to do what we would want her to do with this. I guess I can ask.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A literary fantasy about the ghosts of experience that hold us together in the end. While effective as literary fiction, a slow opening and persistent lack of clear context keep it from fully meeting genre expectations.

Story 374 (3/21/2011 Fantasy 960 words)

Reader 1: “While the premise was quite interesting, there wasn’t much else to this piece. I found the ending a bit ‘so what?’ and it didn’t fulfil the promises made by the start.  There’s a lack of specificity in the writing (“But their faces were such that they seemed almost more human than my own family” doesn’t actually tell me what the women look like, as poetic as the phrase might be) and non-intentional contradictions (“they plummeted to earth like feathers”). While these elements don’t ruin the story, they do create a distance. ” (plot spoilers removed, mostly)

Effective, efficient opening. I’m ready for a really sharp social satire. I don’t like the beat of withholding in that second paragraph. The story shouldn’t need that false mystery. The actuality is pretty damned mysterious.  By the end of page 1, the sharpness is gone, replaced by vague description and intellectual summary. A shame.

Some suggestions that there’s a deeper point (is there?) then we skip forward several years. Some nice passages, but not consistently sharp or precise. The situation isn’t really escalating; we’re still seeing the inciting incident in pretty much the same terms as we originally did. I’m hungry for transformation. I need to see this incident through different eyes by the end. Will I?

The ending feels tacked on, as if the story didn’t quite know what to do with its idea. There is something here,though. Keep watering it until the potential blossoms.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A flash about gender. Lack of precision and escalation/transformation of concept hold this one back.

Story 375 (3/25/2011 Horror 3213 words)

Reader 1: “Writing is okay, but there is nothing new to this vampire tale. ” (plot spoilers removed)

The opening drops me into mid-scene, which is good, but the writing is a little too ornate at the expense of clearly setting a scene. That final sentence ought to come before the details (and note that that sentence contradicts the first sentence).

I don’t understand why they care about this issue. What I want is a sense of character motivation. This is too much a day in the life so far. Inciting incident at end of page 3.

Well this feels like a fairly typical speculative romance; passive protagonist, lover too good to be true, etc. I’m coasting now.

Ah, action on page 7. Rising tension. This is welcome, but the stakes remain low (one guy’s doom) and I don’t feel particularly connected to the MC.  I’m glad to see her make a decision and act on page 11. That pushes this out of the passive protagonist category.  Some breathless overwriting here and there, but otherwise competent.

This does go to an interesting place, a nice twist on the usual. Unfortunately, the story doesn’t set up this ending very well. In order to release tension (emotional, plot) it must be built through the story. The chase scene gives an immediate burst of adrenalin, but doesn’t really build the deeper issues between them.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A horror tale about the sibling bond and growing up. An over reliance on generic situations at the expense of thematic exploration hurts this.

Story 376 (3/25/2011 SF 4200 words)

Reader 1: “If I would only save my note before doing the next step, I wouldn’t have to write it again. There are no obstacles. The writing is okay, the story just didn’t work. ” (plot spoilers removed).

And you thought our readers had it easy 🙂

Unnamed character in mid-action. The mid-action is okay (though “As” is a weak word to open with), but the unnamed character not so much. The dialogue does establish context and motive, which is good. It’s a little cheesy, but efficient.

Now we’re moving backward. Beware of this tendency, fellow writers. We’ve become so addicted to the “hook” that we’re losing sight of the fact that we need to hold an editor’s eyes after that too. The fact that I’m writing this now should make my point. Why not open with her arriving at this place rather than thinking about the past?

We have a back flash next. It moves forward, but is mostly background disguised as chit-chat. As I’ve said here before, my eyes glaze over when I begin feeling as if an author is feeding me “necessary” background. If it were necessary it would be coming via the character needing it.

Here’s my reaction to this setup. Hey, that’s interesting. I wonder where it came from and why she’s claiming it. Impatient now. More background? I wonder when the story will begin.

Characters give me more background through their conversation. Some good prose sprinkled in. No story really. Plenty of setup.

Some more withholding. What about the object? The MC knows a heck of a lot more than she’s letting on. I don’t expect an infodump, but I’m not going to be satisfied with some sort of reveal later.

Ah, good emotional tension on page 5.  Page 7 is startling, but a little sterile in its description. It gets stronger with the craving touch. I don’t really feel her need, though, I’m being told about it.

The story should probably begin with this (or near it) and move forward. The Alliance dulls this for me. Another franchise story? Will this one be episodic like most we see? Good details here though. I really like this title, by the way.

The decision is too easy. She’s not paying a price because she values nothing she’s obtained yet. The addiction complication is good. The action scene is a bit rushed.

We get an explanation of background to explain the mystery that just popped up. It doesn’t satisfy, but opens a tangent.  Nice ending, and not episodic.

However, the story structure is off. Rather than setting up the emotional payoff, the story settles for providing background and intellectual underpinnings for the first third or so. Then it must rush through a story arc in a few pages and an oh-by-the-way here’s why it matters explanation. The core of this, which does work, is the MC’s discovery and how it gives her what she didn’t know she needed, how she must choose between it and duty in the end, and makes a surprising story.

I see potential here; the story needs considerable work on its scaffolding, but can be very good.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about the frictions between intellect and emotion, duty and passion. A slow start, uneven buildup and rushed climax work against it.

Story 377 (3/25/2011 983 words)

Reader 1: “I would not classify this as a genre story. It’s not even horror. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Character waking up. We’re dropped into viewpoint with minor context. Very day in the life. Good prose.

Good observations. The prose is effective without being in my face. Unfortunately there’s no sense of story after 2 pages (of 6).  Possible inciting incident on page 4.

This feels like an exercise in observation. If so I’d say it passes with flying colors. There’s no story, however. An incident was thrust upon a character, yes, but no story experience.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A observational story about an incident with a gun. Lack of story and character arcs work against this.

Story 378 (3/25/2011 SF 4700 words)

Reader 1: “This is basically a romance story. The POV is supposed to be a scientist, but she doesn’t know anything about botany or growing plants, which is what she’s supposed to be doing in her lab.  The science is horrible.” (plot spoilers removed)

This comes from a widely published author. The opening effectively sets the situation, viewpoint and genre. First page sets a tone and parallels to our reality. Not bad. Nice nuance at the end of page 1. We’re moving in scene now.

A long static discussion of the idea and implications. First scene is pretty static. I’m not getting much sense of story yet. The idea is decent if not exactly new. There are some decent twists to it, however.  A discussion of the implications of the idea with a different character in another static scene. A more active tour of the idea.  Something important does happen off scene, but it’s merely used to launch another discussion of the idea.

A reunion on page 14. I didn’t care very much because I’m not really invested in the character. There have been some nice internal thoughts and lots of observations, but the experience has mainly been one of examining this idea from various angles  with characters serving as mouthpieces. The MC lacks proactive motivation and is thus difficult to care about.

Now the solution to the looming problem presents itself, pretty much out of nowhere. I didn’t even realize the MC was looking for this. Ah, now she’s looking. This comes too late in the story. It’s almost an afterthought.

I do like that it’s not a complete solution, but a stopgap. I don’t understand what it is either, so it seems like a magical rescue. Ah, rescue arrives before the final scene. Then a summary of how things are afterward. Which begs the question as to how this fits the theme, but never mind that. My main problem is that the protagonist is mainly passive, rescued twice, and not very compelling, emotionally. I’m not a fan of this one, I’m afraid.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 A story about a woman in a world coming to an end. Lack of compelling motivation and uneven  escalation hurt this one.

Story 379 (3/26/2011 SF 1300 words)

Reader 1: “This is an idea. This could have been funny, but it wasn’t.  It’s too long for the idea and the story doesn’t have much forward momentum. ” (plot spoilers removed)

This is another author I’d like to publish, but it doesn’t sound too encouraging. The opening line grabs my attention. The second line not so much.

The next paragraph discusses background without actually saying what I want to know, which is how the thing was botched. I’m not able to identify with the character withholding the most relevant knowledge like that.

Consider opening with the paragraph at top of page 2, then show reactions to it. Much stronger than showing reactions, then describing stimulus.  Yeah, I can see this opening with this couple of action paragraphs showing the botch, then the character and others reacting. That should pull me in.

Now we’re off to a lively back flash. It actually works pretty well to contrast the opening scene, but I don’t really see that opening frame leading to anything particularly powerful, so I dunno.

Some good prose, though a bit distancing. Too often reaction precedes stimulus, turning it into an intellectual rather than visceral experience.  But the real problem is that the story isn’t really escalating. It’s basically a riff off of a really interesting idea; it lacks a true story or character arc since we already know where it goes and the how it gets there isn’t used for complication, but chuckles. The chuckles are decent, mind you.

The end is nicely sentimental and fun at the same time. I wish the story had earned it. If I were revising, I would focus on the relationship and build the story forward from their bonding over this wacky plan, through the engineering phase, culminating in the disaster and ending with the redeeming letter. As it stands, the story doesn’t build in a way that makes me care.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A story about an ill equipped boy trying to honor his relative’s dying wish. The funny bits get lost in the soup.

Story 380 (3/31/2011 SF 5500 words)

Reader 1: “The writing is good, but this story of doesn’t seem to have any genre elements.”

Fascinating opening. Media res to be sure and such interesting details. Such beautiful prose, the details exquisite. We have a motivated character in a very clear context.

It develops leisurely. The character and setting are interesting enough that I don’t really mind and the writing is wonderful, but I’m not really feeling a compelling story through the second quarter.

Battle begins. Strong action scene, which is a good contrast. I think what is bothering me is that the MC, while very dimensional, is not actually motivated early in the story. He has given up, which makes it difficult for me to attach fully. The story becomes something of a tour of its world (which is our world made alien by the distance in time).

I’m very much enjoying the post battle scenes. MC has a realization and his passion returns as well as his pain. Delicious pun at the end of page 16. What a beautiful ending. I’m not certain the love interest (or precisely his need for it) is set quite as strongly as it needs to be early in the story and I believe the plant should be defined there as well (in a sense it is the speculative element here, the magic it possesses that they choose to leave behind in their disconsolate state; as if the disease of their psyche mirrors the disease of their limbs and their lack of faith in the potential of either dooms them in the end – or something like that). A poignant, powerful story. I hope the other editors will agree. A tweak here and there perhaps to speed it a bit in the early section and add even more power to this ending.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A story about pain, the bad and the good of it, and where it leads us in life. A stronger hint of motivation/need early in the piece may be called for.

Story 381 (3/26/2011 Fantasy 400 words)

Reader 1: “This is short and I liked it. ”

First person present tense; immediate but difficult to pull reader into. I do feel distanced from the scene (in the MC’s head).  Clue in first paragraph reminds me that something is being withheld. I’d prefer that not be the case.  Rather than pointing out that the character is not telling me something, distract me instead. Not “How could I forget the celebration that tonight brings.” but “How could I forget? It’s All Hallow’s Eve; the parade has probably already started.” Now, rather than thinking that something is being withheld to tempt me further into the word count, something interesting is being promised to draw me in. Revelation rather than withholding. It’s vastly underused from what I’ve seen in the sums this year.

Good description, but the “Like…” line is too artificial for me (inside the head). The next line is stronger, a visual that can SHOW the MC’s interest rather than confirm what has been told to me about it.

“I’m so caught..” that sentence is another case of overkill, especially the recognition part. SHOW what happens and SHOW him reacting rather than telling me his reaction, then showing the stimulus. Get me out of the head as much as possible in first person (actually you want a balance between internal and external, and that balance depends on the effect you mean to create). Nice ending.

So, basically, I’d like this better at 325 words, with less telling and greater focus on showing, but it would make a decent filler for the anthology.  It depends mainly on whether we need a shorter piece to balance out longer ones. I won’t know that until next week.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A sharp Fantasy flash about loneliness. A slight imbalance between internal and external and showing/telling hurt this one.

Well, I’m done for today. We’re going to have to cut loose some stories I really like (already have cut a few of them actually). We’re thinking at this point about balance in the final collection. Does this fill a gap? Is it too close to an idea we already have? Do we have a good mix of long and short, fantasy and SF, enough spicing of horror?

I’m hoping to hear back from a first reader over the weekend, which will help make these final tough cuts.  For context, I’m looking at 20 to 21 stories to fill the last 3-5 slots. Good night and thanks for all the wonderful stories this year.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 16 stories (42,000 words).

Story 369 (3/21/2011  SF 2500 words)

Reader 1: “This has a nice voice, but the ending is completely Deus Ex Machina and doesn’t involve the protagonist making choices at all. It completely spoils a perfectly competent (if unremarkable story) and made me lose my trust in the author straight away. ”

The opening establishes a solid steampunk feel and introduces a character. Good. Inciting incident a couple paragraphs later. There’s good solid background here. I would like a stronger sense of character motivation. I’m getting a bit of the tour of a world feel by page 2. Moves in scene on page 3. Good dialogue.

I’d rather have specific details of the part, to make it real. This scene is well written, naturalistic, and not very interesting. The problem is that the character is not motivated. The stakes are minimal because of it (i.e. the story is unimportant). With a motive beyond worrying she’s in trouble, this scene might well shine, provided, of course, the stakes are high.

On page 7 we get what seems like an inciting incident. We get some tension, though the stakes remain very low. There’s a good deal to like in this story; it’s told comfortably, I like the MC. But the story and character arcs are minimal. What does the MC decide at climax? To speak up for someone. What does it cost her. Nothing. Not that every story has to follow a formula, mind you, but often when a story doesn’t work, a formulaic analysis can help pinpoint why. The stakes are very low here; the tension minimal, and the character pays nothing for her success.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about a kid learning a lesson. The story stakes are relatively low and the protagonist barely has to sweat to gain her prize.

Story 370 (3/24/2011  SF 1000 words)

Reader 1: “It’s a bit ‘twilight zone/to serve man’ for me. There’s no real observable conflict here, just a set-up for a ‘gotcha’ ending. While it raised a bit of a smile, that’s not enough reason to include it. ”

Effective opening. Establishes context, genre, viewpoint and a sense of conflict, if not motive in two sentences.

Good relevant background in second paragraph.

Then we start moving backward into world building and idea. This is how we got here, but where are we going now? When will story start?

On mid-page 2 we get forward movement.  In a regular short story this might be fine, but we’re a quarter of the way through this one. The writing is smooth and confident. No problem on that front.

Good complication on page 3.

Yeaaahhhh… what the reader said. The story, which had my attention, settles for a punch line twist. Too bad. The situation was pretty interesting.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF flash about a Mom and her pet. A solid setup is weakened by a too simple payoff.

Story 371 (3/25/2011  SF ?? words)

Reader 1: “I’m not fond of stories that start with unattributed dialogue and the dialogue isn’t particular effective as a framing device.  We’re also far outside the girl’s head and I’m not particularly involved with her discoveries. It didn’t take me long to lose interest. ” (plot spoilers removed)

Story opens with a scene of unattributed dialogue. It’s skillfully written and does introduce the story. It’s also a technique that draws attention to itself. I usually worry that such techniques are used to paper over a lack of actual story.

Second scene opens with an unnamed character looking up. This is also technique that draws attention to itself. The scene itself is telling us about the girl, primarily what she doesn’t know. There’s a reason for this, but it’s not very compelling to read two pages of reason. This is a tale being told to a child. At times it feels like that; at others it feels like an infodump. The writing itself is solid. When will the story begin? Ah, there it is, at the end of the second scene.

An interlude in the present that basically repeats what we know and promises more tomorrow. Nothing wrong with the writing.

More explanation of the character and her background. A complication. It takes too long, but does move the story a little.

A complication in the next interlude. This one interests me.

Then we’re back to the other character, hearing about why she does what she does as she goes through her day. We take almost a page to say that she didn’t understand something said. This story is too long for its idea.

A complication, then a couple pages explaining it. Another interlude. A touch of mystery (true mystery since the withholding is intentional).

Then more explanation of the previous complication. I don’t buy that this character, who has been thinking abstractly and talking abstractly, has her mind broken when confronted with a fairly simple concept.

Then we skip forward in time and the character is given the second part of her reward. Explanation of consequence.

Foreground story slips into explanation mode.  The end. The story is mainly telling about the idea. It does have some decent in-scene sections, but not 4000 words (I estimate) worth of story.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A genesis fantasy. Too much explanation of idea and too little actual story hurt this one.

That’s it for tonight. I have a few more stories to deal with here, scattered among the final batch.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 16 stories (42,000 words).

Story 361 (3/31/2011  Fantasy 5000 words)

A strong opening. Not a lot of stage context, but an interesting perspective and wry voice. I’m on board.

Second paragraph mostly loses me. Rather than a sharp inciting incident, we get a day in the life approach that is much less interesting than the setup was. Still time to recover though.

It’s a tour of the idea/world for the first couple pages. What I need is a sense of motivation for THIS story, a reason why it begins here and now, not there and then. This lack of specificity really hurts this story for me, because the setup was so intriguing. The concept remains interesting, but the story is not yet.

Now we’re getting the world rules explained to us via dialogue. It’s a very nice idea and world, but it’s the story that will hold me. Is there one?

On page 6 we get a possible inciting idea (why the story exists), but it’s gossip about what happened earlier, diffusing it for purposes of story momentum. Now we’re getting a discussion of that idea.

On page 9, the story may be starting. A page of discussion about this issue.  Story may be starting at the end of page 10.

Neat concept, but it can only really support maybe 1000 words. There needs to be more complication of plot, more exploration of the idea (not discussion of it, but implications and why it presents obstacles).

Now the characters are talking to each other for my benefit again. They know this already. What we need to see is the conflict caused by crossed agendas, tension, not explanation. More explanation of idea. We’re basically repeating the same issue here. It hasn’t escalated (p15-16). Escalation happens at end of 16.

Okay, now we’re getting to a possible story, with obstacles and motivated characters striving and paying a price.  The story starts here on p17.  Then it starts talking about six years ago? On page 24 we get an explanation of the meaning of what we’ve just witnessed. It’s interesting, but explanation is not story. Story is plot and character arc, tension building and tension released.

Interesting ending. Overall it’s a really interesting take on humanity. It’s just not a very compelling story. We don’t buy ideas, we buy stories (with very rare, and generally short, exceptions).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy about men and their gods. The idea is sound, but a lack of story movement and character tension weakens the telling.

Story 362 (3/31/2011  SF 3200 words)

An effective opening that drops me directly into a character’s perspective, suggests a landscape, with a hint of motivation. Good start.

I like the specific detail in second paragraph, but I’m not fond of the intentional withholding of what he’s looking for. It’s a false mystery. I’m not too put off by it (yet), but it’s unnecessary.

A second viewpoint. The establishing paragraph is strong here as well. I wasn’t quite ready for this yet as I was just getting close to the initial viewpoint and this interrupts the process. However if both viewpoints are to be important it is best to establish that quickly.

What is this planet’s “bigger mystery”?  Connection to what? That’s another false mystery. I’m feeling pushed out of scene by these issues. No, the mystery does not deepen. It frustrates. This is setting up to be a simple reveal story. Typically a reveal can support a flash, but not a longer chunk of prose.

I should point out that the difference between false mystery and true mystery is that false mystery relies on hiding from me something the viewpoint character knows. True mystery stems from revealing something that is a mystery to the viewpoint. A good cliff hanger should leave me wanting to discover the answer with the character. A manufactured cliff hanger leaves me hoping to be told what the author has hidden from me.

I like the tech details on page 6. On page 7 we learn why the story takes place here and now. It would be better to learn this very early. That would provide a sense of character motivation. Scene that ends at top of 8 ends in true mystery.

On page 9, why is this species more exciting than others? What others has she met? This approachment is taking forever. There’s no escalation of story here, just a slow accumulation of background information and some superficial foreground action. The tension we get feels simplistic because it’s not really attached to a deeper character issue.

The action scene is decent. On page 16 one character tells the other background information about the world. He then thinks all the big questions that might have been expressed early in the story to build some tension.

I think the multiple viewpoint approach hurts this story because it diffuses character identification with both, particularly the initial character. I do see why the technique was used here, to examine the idea of cultural miscommunication, but neither character was strongly developed (need/want complication decision price). Both sort of wanted, both sort of had complications, both sort of made a decision, one paid a price. That said, it’s an interesting world, especially the background mentioned at th end of the story (which wasn’t really important to this story at all, but is intriguing).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about cultural miscommunication. Multiple viewpoints and a reliance on false mystery weaken the buildup.

Story 363 (3/31/2011  Fantasy 3200 words)

The opening is informative, but passive and a bit confusing. Is the named character the prisoner or someone else? Clarity is job one in an opening paragraph. Third sentence explains this. Entire paragraph is told from an omniscient point of view. This is okay, but maybe not the best choice here.

I do like the witch. I’m not fond of this viewpoint, which keeps me from identifying with the MC. I do like this situation.  I’m content with the opening scene as an establishing shot in this story, but now I want the story to begin.

Second scene is more of the same. It’s fine, revealing more of the situation. I’m not completely lost yet because it has a fabulist feel, but I’m not up for too much more establishing stuff.

Third scene delivers some story movement. A complication. Good. I don’t like the omniscient viewpoint, which dilutes my identification with the MC. Scene ends well.

I’m not clear on what’s happening on p8-9. His father? Him? Has he been doppleganged? Does it matter? And why would he give her a book with clues to escape? It had better make sense in the end.

So the story of her becoming is off the page? That’s the real story here, isn’t it?

Well that was easy. Interesting story, a little generic in its setup, but with a decent twist. The big problem is that the actual story stuff (motivated character meeting obstacles changing making decision paying price) is off the page. What’s left is a summary of the idea. It’s told well enough, but not compelling to me. Another problem was that I didn’t understand the turning point, when she figured out what had happened. She kept that from me so that when she made her move at the end and her foe was revealed for what he was, I was surprised more than glad.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A fantasy about killing the monster than holds you back. The majority of the actual story arc is not shown on the page, leaving us to guess at the tension and decision point that must have happened.

Story 364 (3/31/2011  SF 3570 words)

Interesting opening paragraph (I don’t mean the quotation, which does nothing much for me). Drops me right into a character’s perspective, observing something eye-catching.

Second paragraph confuses me. Too much strangeness to absorb at once. Parse it out a bit through the story action if possible.

Well, I’m with the MC further down the page: “Whatever to you mean?” When presenting me with strangeness, make sure I have somewhere concrete to set my feet down and observe from. I feel like I’m whirling around and around in midair. Concepts that sort of make sense, maybe, whiz by  at every turn. That doesn’t really anchor me in scene, I’m afraid. In the end, I feel as if the opening scene was much ado over nothing much. I thought the story would begin, but it didn’t.

Second scene is more of the same. A tour of world rather than a story experience. Where is the motivated character that opening promised? What does she want/need? Why? How does she plan to get it? What complicates her journey? World building is not story; it supports story.

Next scene is a discussion of background and idea.

Next scene begins with banter and moves on to music. No story yet.

Explanation of idea. Something happens. It feels like an inciting incident, since the story hasn’t begun, but is more likely intended as a complication. The story certainly seems to shift direction. It’s a superficial conflict, however. The good doctor uses the device that was just introduced a few paragraphs earlier to overcome the obstacle.

He then explains the idea.

The final scene goes on too long for its part in the story arc, but it feels like it wants to convey a genuine emotional resonance. That’s good, but it’s not been set up and escalated  by the story and so falls mostly on deaf ears. Then some explanation of background.  I should mention there is some good prose here.

And the ending leaves me feeling as if this is part of a larger work. Episodic rather than character changing. Not for us.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about the power of nostalgia. The story is too slow to begin and then rushes through its climax to an overlong anti-climax that feels episodic.

Story 365 (3/31/2011  SF 3600 words)

The opening intrigues, though I do not like the unnamed character, which feels a bit pretentious (technique over substance). By the third paragraph I’m disoriented. Who is doing what to whom here? Who should I identify with? Vagueness creates more confusion than mystery in most cases.

We get more context on page 2. It’s clearer, but not particularly specific. Description of the animals is good, but I get very little sense of the surround or how these people fit into it. I don’t need an infodump, just a few more specifics where relevant. For example, when i see the unscalable cliff on page 2, my first reaction is “Where did that come from?” The opening context did not paint a surround that could contain such a feature, so that when the detail came in, I had to reinvent (I was looking out onto a flat field from the edge of an orchard).

I’m totally missing out on what’s happening with the girls. Consequently, I don’t really care. Inciting incident comes in at end of scene 1. That’s too late for this particular story.

She’s not human? I hadn’t considered that possibility. Reinventing the rules in my head.

I’m waiting for a story to begin. This has been day in the life stuff so far with the exception of that item I thought was an inciting incident. It apparently was only a clue. What does the MC want/need? How does she plan to get it? What stand in her way? The story is flat without motivation, a simple tour of the world building.

Mr. Haney? Here? (you’re probably too young to get the reference, but it gave me a smile).

On page 11 we get a surprise. It’s interesting, but why should I care? It’s illegal? Reinventing rules. A discussion of background. Some discussion of idea.

On page 13 it gets kind of interesting. This seems to be important. Too late to hook me, but encouraging. Explanation of background isn’t.

Good escalation toward climax. I’m not invested enough to feel its power, but it’s some good prose. Viewpoint change on page 16 is distracting.

Overall, there’s a good seed here for story. Story is more than world building and idea, however; it is plot and character arc requiring specific motivation, obstacles, rising tension, climax, decision, price. I’m not sure this MC should be the protagonist here, for example, because she makes no decision, pays much less of a price than others. Potential, but needs work.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF tale about the dangers of failing to understand the world around us. The story begins too late and lacks sufficient complication and character arc to carry its word count.

Story 366 (3/31/2011  SF 3134 words)

Another cover letter with a brief story synopsis. I realize that some markets ask for this, but it’s generally not a good idea. The story has to stand on its own. The most likely outcome of me reading one of these (which I seldom do) is that I’ll know the story doesn’t fit the collection before I start reading. This is a case in point.

I’ll try to keep an open mind, though.

The opening paragraph narrative summary. It tells me that something extraordinary is about to happen. Consider dropping this paragraph and starting in-scene.

I appreciate that this is third person. The prose is straining to be funny, however. There’s some decent funny here, but not as much as the author believes. I do like the first line of dialogue. The dialogue is decent and the voice breezy. The problem, as usual, for these stories is that it’s all about the delivery and not the story. Humor in support of story can work for us; humor in place of story seldom does. It’s too subjective to satisfy four editors, for one thing.

More banter. Oh gawd, it’s a pun. I love puns. I don’t love pun stories that run more than a few hundred words unless they’re incredibly compelling on the story level too.

Skimming to end 😉  Okay page 12 is pretty hilarious, but I never would have gotten here, trust me.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 3 An occasionally funny SF tale about tail. Lack of story and character arc and too many words to support the payoff work against this.

Story 367 (3/31/2011  SF 3900 words)

This is a reprint, which sets the bar high, especially given the strength of original submissions this year. The opening is immediate and interesting. I’m dropped into perspective and presented with a suggestion of character motive. I’m not sure what the best friend adds here, other than a red herring. Nice scene end.

The second scene opens provocatively, but I’m torn. The opening sentence draws attention to itself and away from the MC’s voice.  Good dialogue. The scene moves efficiently. I’m not getting a speculative sense or much of a story arc yet. It’s interesting enough to carry me for now. Very nice detail and active prose.

A very enjoyable read, but not speculative. The ending isn’t a strong for me as it wants to be, I think because it relies on the red herring set up early on. I guess it wasn’t a red herring, just a false mystery 🙂 Because that element was only artificially set up in the opening scene it didn’t really feel full circle, but revelatory.

Anyway, it’s still a really strong story. I just don’t think it’s going to fit the anthology. Close, because I really like the voice and the immediacy and the emotion of the piece. If it were not a reprint and if we didn’t already have a story on the same subject (broadly speaking), the answer might be different. I would at least pass it around to the other editors.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 8 A story about friends and enemies and childhood baggage. The emotional thread resolution relies on a weak setup, yet still delivers an emotional punch. Imagine if it had had a strong setup instead.

Story 368 (3/31/2011  SF 4839 words)

This one also gives me a synopsis in the cover letter.  It sounds like a book rather than a short story. We’ll see.

Opens with unattributed dialogue. Then an unnamed character. Not a fan so far. Ah, first person to boot.  This touches most of my touchy buttons.

That said, the scene is curiously effective. Very Star Trek prologue-ish.  I’m on board for now.

Hey, now it’s present tense. The only thing missing is a reference to me (you know what I mean?). Well, it’s mostly present tense. A few tense confusions here (“have” or “has”  not “had”).  The writing is a bit clumsy, in viewpoint one second, telling me about a secondary character’s motivation the next. Still, as far as the actual scene framing goes, it’s pretty good. Just needs some work on the craft stuff.

Pretentious opening to third scene. Just tell us who “him” is. This false mystery draws attention to technique, not story. The scene is a bit off. The interior thought is pretty good, moody and interesting, but the conversation is so mundane my eyes go numb. (but I do keep picturing Captain Kirk kissing Spock, so that’s something).

Next scene is interesting. I do like the ship. The scene goes on too long, however, and sort of repeats rather then escalating.

He seeks out another character so he can explain what I already know to her. He does add some additional background. This feels pretty artificial (and somewhat repetitive). Not getting a sense of story escalation at this point, though there is a story here, which is nice.

Scene at end of page 7 is also information conveyed through dialogue, but this one works. It feels natural that the character would be telling the other one these things now. And it’s interesting too. The scene goes on too long, however. Get in, make the point, create some tension, get out is my motto.

I like this ending very much. Overall, the story is sort of haunting (my jibes aside). It has a mood to it and the main issue is interesting, if overplayed. I’d say that not enough actually happens to justify the word count. Either complicate the story a bit, probably by developing the human love story more fully, or cut this to maybe 3500 words and make it really sharp.

I’ll send this to another reader just to make sure I’m not being unfair, but I don’t think it’s going to work for us. I did enjoy the read.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF story about love, need, and power. Overlong scenes and a general lack of complication (for its length) work against it.

I’m going to stop here. This takes me through my cue. I still have a handful of stories from first readers that I haven’t dealt with here and will try to get those done tomorrow. I also have a few that came in via mail. If you have not received a response and Submishmash is showing that it’s in progress, it likely means your story is either in this final batch of first-read stories, or else we’re holding it for the final cut, which should happen by early next week.

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See my previous post for disclaimers. Wherein I continue to advance through the ranks of hopeful stories for possibly inclusion in Triangulation: Last Contact. My sincere apologies to those of you who have been waiting patiently for decisions.  At this point we’ve officially accepted 16 stories (42,000 words).

Story 347 (3/30/2011  SF 5000 words)

The story starts with unattributed dialogue. After the second paragraph I’m still not entirely certain who says that first line. The second paragraph is interesting, but I’m hesitant to commit to a viewpoint after the opening.

So is this person the male or someone else? Clarity would help this opening. Remember that I’m new to your world. I want to enter it clear-eyed and unconfused.

Okay, I’m totally confused by page 2. These folks aren’t human? Shouldn’t I know that right away? What are these odd terms that get tossed about? I’m glad there’s no infodumping and the characters simply say what they would in their terms. Normally I would use context to figure out what they mean (or enough to keep me on track) but since the context feels jumbled, I’m much more sensitive to strange terms and strange ideas. I’m in a whirlpool at this point, not a story arc.

Well, I have to take some of that back. On page 2 they begin feeding me background through dialogue, though the strange terms continue to flummox me. I don’t know motivation because I can’t figure out what they’re talking about or why. Page 3 is more background. When will the story begin? Page 4 is a discussion of character background. No inciting incident yet.

Page 5 provides some interesting context. It’s too late. I’m lost.  Action begins on page 6. I can’t tell yet whether this is the story arc starting up, but it’s active.

Now we’re back to explaining background through dialogue. It’s decent dialogue and the characters are mostly talking to each other, but I suspect the information is aimed at me.  I remain confused. The alien terminology means no more to me now than it did on page 1. Partly may fault for not reading carefully, but mostly the story’s fault for not providing enough context to figure it out. This is probably the most difficult aspect of alien viewpoint stories. How does one balance truth to the alien viewpoint with the reader’s need for comprehension? It’s not easy. This one errs toward too little context, which is actually refreshing in a way; most of these stories provide too much explanation, to the point they become artificial. This one feels real and immediate; I just don’t understand it.

On page 10 we seem to be heading off on a new story line. Is this the beginning of the actual story? Page 11 brings more background via dialogue.

Nice ending. Very resonant and seems to address the issues raised in the opening scene. There’s some interesting world building here, but I just couldn’t follow the terminology and relationship stuff well enough to fully appreciate it. If you look at the actual story arc, it’s too simple to support 5000 words. It needs an additional complication. If I were revising, I’d decide if I wanted to tell this story in 3000 words or a more ambitious one in 5000. Then I’d lay out the plot first (motivated character needs/wants something, tries to achieve, meets obstacle(s), makes a life changing decision, pays a price. I’d write that story in the character’s perspective, looking for opportunity to bring the class and world stuff in as the character requires it. Given the strangeness of this, I’d likely have to make a final pass to force a little more concrete context in where it can fit without interfering with story movement.

Overall, I suspect this is part of a larger work, at least I hope so, as the world feels complex enough to support it.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An alien viewpoint SF story about class systems.  The story arc is too simple to carry this word count and there’s too much alien terminology and politics thrown about without clear context.

Story 348 (3/30/2011 Fantasy ?? words)

First person retrospective opening. This viewpoint seldom works for me because the story almost always stays too much in the head and not in scene. That’s like hearing about a story rather than experiencing one. Often the technique is used to paper over a lack of story, using voice to carry me through the concepts and word count.

I do like the line concerning God. That’s a nice angle to the argument. There’s no story yet, however.

The story slides into scene about a quarter of the way through. This is welcome, but is it the beginning of a larger story, or only an incident? Some nice details here.

The in-scene experience is interesting, but it’s really only an incident. The opening tells us the point of the story and the incident is simply evidence of that point. The ending harkens back to the opening. What I’d like to read is the story beginning with this incident and moving forward through the MC’s dawning understanding of her guardian angel and her fears/needs as she grows up. There’s not enough here to provide a full story experience, but it is a neat incident neatly told.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 A fantasy about guardian spirit. The incident is interesting, but the lack of a complete story and character arc hurt this.

Story 349 (3/30/2011 Fantasy 2950 words)

A chatty cover letter here which I enjoyed since I feel a certain connection to this author’s situation. It took me some 25 years to make me first pro sale. I spent my energies pedaling in the real world and telling myself “someday”. I always wrote, just not very much, and I focused only on selling to the top markets. I’m glad I did the latter as it kept me from falling into the mid-level market security blanket syndrome, where ambition gets sacrifice for immediate sales. About a year and half ago I decided to throw that strategy to the wind and start marketing everything I could, everywhere that made sense. Now I am that mid-level market success, with some 30 publications in the past year, but I’m not content with that. I want my work to be better, more accomplished, more accessible. The key to that, I’m learning, is what writers have advised forever. Write more; write regularly; write every day if you can. I used to stare at a blank pages for hours (and sometimes still do). Rather than start something, I would wait for inspiration to strike. Since I’ve begun writing weekly flash at Show Me Your Lits, I’ve learned to just start writing and let the inspiration come as it will. And it will.  I was shocked to find that I’ve published about half of the prompt stories I’ve written in the past six months. It’s literary, but I don’t think that’s the secret; my true love remains SF and Fantasy. The secret is to get into the habit of overcoming the blank page, of finishing what I start, of seeing story rather than idea. It took me a long time to discover this “secret”. I can do nothing about those years gone. I can do something about the years to come.

Anyway, what about this story? Good opening line. Opening paragraph captures the character well, but doesn’t supply much in the way of specific context for this story, nor motivation, etc.. It’s an interesting overview. My concern is that the voice will mask a lack of story. Let’s find out.

Inciting incident in second paragraph.  This is smoothly written, but I’m not a huge fan of the “clever” prose that draws attention to itself at the expense of story. I’m intrigued by the situation, not the authorial intrusions. This is not to say it isn’t well written; it’s not overwritten or overly provocative, it’s just the balance between narrative voice and in-scene experience is a little off for my taste. The story takes a cerebral approach, mostly telling me about what I’m seeing rather than simply showing it and allowing the characters to carry narrative. Such stories usually come off as too clever for me.

A good complication on page 4. In the scheme of things the stakes in the story are pretty low, but there is a story structure here at least.  End of scene on page 5 is classic withholding. Story attempts to carry me on the force of a false mystery (something the character obviously knows, but does not divulge to me) rather than true mystery (how is this possible? she should be dead, surely; something like that).

We shift to backflash. I like the writing here better. It’s less aggressive in drawing attention to itself and the story it describes plays out at a good pace. The problem is that the telling about story is not as immediate as showing story. So while I do invest in the scene being described, I’m not feeling it as if it were happening. It’s not as vibrant or impactful as it could be, in other words. Which begs the question: Why did the story not start here instead? Why are we obsessed with framing every story these days? Maybe the device will be justified in this one. We’ll know soon.

Pete, the young boy, is unlikely to think of this as rape. That’s an adult interpretation. At that age rape isn’t even rape for the majority of boys. They don’t know better, even if they’ve been told.

Back to the present on page 9. This is an interesting moral question and the related history frames it well enough, but is the foreground story also as story? That’s less certain. Page 10 belabors the point, although I do like the subtlety of the nonsequitor and subsequent action that can be interpreted variously.

Well, this is interesting, but not compelling. I can’t help but think how Stephen King would approach this. He would begin with the actual story (the back flash) and put those characters so fully on stage I would be tasting their breakfast. He would leave that scene with a profoundly regretful vibe as the boy turned away from his chance at redemption. Then he would flash forward to the present and relate the frame story pretty much as it plays out, again focusing the scene through the character’s perspective (i.e. not through the author’s interpretations).  And this ending would be heartbreaking and heart lifting in the same instant as the depth of the loss he inflicted took hold and his moment of delayed grace peeked through.

Which is to say, I think this can be quite good, but it isn’t there yet.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A modern fantasy about regret and redemption. An intrusive voice and ineffective framing device work against this.

Story 350 (3/30/2011 SF 3000 words)

The opening establishes a character in scene and suggest genre. It reads a little flat for me, all the same. Maybe that “had” in the first sentence starts me off on the wrong foot, but I think it’s more about the static nature of the image. Characters sitting and watching are something of a pet peeve of mine.

The viewpoint gets a little murky on page 1. Am I supposed to identify with the MC or not? This is mostly background information anyway, right? Is it worth distancing me for that?

When the secondary character says her bit in second paragraph page 2, we get the same information that the paragraph I describe above gave us, only it’s more immediate here and it trusts me to figure out the key point from the way she says this and what she says. I like being trusted.

Nice complication at the end of scene 1. Nicely done.

Argh! Another framed story. This one works, but I’m very sensitive to the technique these days. If the backstory is so interesting that we have to backflash to it, why not simply start there? If it’s not as interesting as the foreground story, why do we need it?

I do like the back story, but it would not be as strong an opening. So, yes, the frame seems justified in this story. It does make me want to know how we came to this situation. Since the backstory is interestingly told, it carries the flow from there, at least for now.

The goddess line on page 8 is very interesting, but it comes too late for me. I have to reinvent her in my mind. If there were a hint of this mindset earlier I would be happier. I do like the way the relationship builds and the husband is wonderfully drawn through her perspective. I do need to find out why the sister despises him. What we have so far is not enough.

That final line isn’t deserved. It’s the right idea to leave us with a resonant image, but the fire has not been characterized unless I missed something important. Rather it should have to do with the goddess mindset I think. And, for the record, yes the framing device works perfectly here. It’s nice to see it used to good effect. Kudos for that.

This is strong, but not perfect. I need a little more characterization of the sister’s relationship with the husband and a little more of the goddess angle. Maybe a few more words, but not many, as the plot is very simple. I’ll pass it along. I think it may appeal to the other editors as well.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A fantasy about growing into love and the price one willingly pays for that. The characterizations are a little thin to carry the full emotional weight of this, and the final line feels wrong.

Story 351 (3/30/2011 Fantasy 1300 words)

This is great. Enough said. Oh, that, and it breaks pretty much every rule I’ve talked about on this blog. It does so with purpose, for more than simple effect. Bravo.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 9 A fantasy about finding your groove happily ever after. Really well done retelling of fairy tale in a voice that will not let you (i.e. me) stop reading.

Story 352 (3/30/2011 SF 1700 words)

The story opens mid-scene, which is good. The writing is not quite as sharp as it needs to be, but it does plop me into a character in context, with a hint of motive.

Good inciting incident.  This situation intrigues me and I like the conversation. The flow, however, is not escalating. It feels more like a tour of the concept rather than a story experience (character with motive meets obstacle, tries, fails, tries, succeeds, makes a life changing choice, grows or doesn’t).

On page 6 there is some escalation in the MC’s thinking. This is good, but comes too late in the story. There’s a complication and some minor escalation of plot on page 7. Much stronger through here. A decision point on page 8. I like that this passive protagonist is thinking of taking action. I like that she does act, and the brief recall of her senses in the opening scene.

Well, for an it-was-all-a-dream story, this wasn’t bad. The ending leaves room for interpretation. In the end, though, what has she learned? What price has she paid? There’s not enough character arc here; it’s more of a tour of an intriguing idea. If I were revising, I’d think about how I could collide a second idea with this in order to complicate the story. And, definitely, I would focus on the character’s journey, how she is changed by this experience.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF story about seeing the unseen. The opening is too slow and the ending leaves the character unchanged, which works against developing emotional power.

Story 353 (3/31/2011 SF 800 words)

This opens in mid-scene, which is good, but it could be sharper. In flash, sharpness really matters. For example, instead of the static image of a man peering into a sky and seeing that something is descending, why not a more active image of the person descending, followed by a reaction from the MC? It would feel less like a set piece that way. Admittedly it’s harder to do well because we don’t want to focus on the wrong viewpoint first.

Page 2 brings intentional withholding (false mystery). They talk around what they both know, specifically to keep me on the hook. This, especially for me, is frustrating more than intriguing. These reveals are almost always used to hide a lack of compelling story arc.

The writing is simple and effective. The continued withholding digs at me, though. On page 4 we finally understand what they’ve been discussing (and seeing and touching).

I like the intent of this piece, but it’s told from the wrong viewpoint. It’s the secondary character whose understanding changes. Switch the viewpoint and do away with the artificial withholding (yep, that’s going to require coming up with a simple story arc to carry us to the end; a complication, a bit of tension, a choice by the viewpoint character that costs him something).  I do think this can work, but not without some significant changes. Don’t let that stop you from sending it around, but maybe think about revising first? (Another way to make this work would be to make the end a surprise to the younger character; in that way it’s a true mystery rather than something he’s hiding from me because you want him to).

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 4 An SF flash about what we lose as we become more organized, more technological. This is told from the wrong viewpoint, most likely, and depends too heavily on withholding.

Story 354 (3/31/2011 SF 350 words)

This opens innocently enough. I’m in a character’s perspective, in scene. No motive, but it’s interesting. Escalates at a leisurely pace. The writing is unadorned, but effective. It starts to feel a little draggy by the end of page 3, then bam, the short sharp shock to end it. That’s nicely done. My recommendation would be to shorten the story by 50 words or even 75 and add a hint in that opening dialogue that he’s longing for conversation. I mean that’s  sort of implied, but the ending will be stronger if I go back and say, “Wow, that rascal even set this ending up.” Right now I feel like it’s an ending I couldn’t really have guessed, which makes it slightly less skillful in my mind.  I’ll pass this around. I’m not sure it will get the thumbs up, but it would make a nice filler for the collection if we need one.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A quick stab of horror told in an innocent manner. Ouch.

Story 355 (3/31/2011 SF 1100 words)

The opening is intriguing. The writing is vivid and lively, but I’m not getting a sense of story. It’s an eloquent tour of idea so far.

This is perfectly good literary fiction with a genre flavor, but not genre sensibility. It’s not a story experience, which makes it a difficult sale to us.  I hope it finds a home elsewhere.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A literary story about our capitalist obsession and where it might lead. Lack of story arc hurts it for us.

Story 356 (3/31/2011 SF 1000 words)

The opening is a good introduction to character and setting and genre (humorous SF). We then slide backwards into backfill.  This provides motivation, but I wonder if it might not be more effective telling the story from its beginning rather than starting here.  You might even consider doing away with this second paragraph completely. It almost provides too much serious context for a breathless pulp adventure satire.

This is a clever little story, but it’s not really substantial enough for us. It does bring a twist to the usual hero satire, but that’s not enough (for us) to carry 1000 words. I would definitely send it to other markets though.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF flash satire about heroic sacrifice (from the outside in). Clever, but insubstantial for its word count.

Story 357 (3/31/2011 4875 words)

Another epistolary story. Since we’ve already purchased one for the anthology it will take something really special to convince us here. The opening is intriguing, but not particularly informative of motive or speculative element. I can wait a while, but not too long.

This is very well written, very much like a diary and I’m very interested in the story unfolding off the page. It’s not really moving quickly enough for us, however. Then on page 8 a new concept jumps in to give it some momentum. I would try to get that concept in earlier, if it were my story. How it was accomplished can stay her on page 8 as an escalation of the original mention of the procedure. Right now I’m reading the earlier pages and thinking, this is cool, but is it going to go anywhere?

Good tension on page 9. I wish the earlier story had more momentum to get me here.

This bit at the end of page 13 really needs to come early in the story. Tone down the emotions, but plant the seed (maybe she begins thinking that in her drugged state she thinks she sees this). It feels out of place here. The glimpse could be used throughout the story as a reinforcing image, of course, but I don’t think it works as a new complication this late in the story.

Nice escalation of her mental state. It’s pretty predictable that it would go here, but the ride has remained interesting. Nice use of the cover as a repeating motif showing the changing seasons of her mind.

This is very good, the second half stronger than the first. It’s not a great fit for us, however, as the speculative elements is insubstantial at best.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 7 A story about loss and obsession. The opening third or so could use a greater sense of escalation and the pivotal conceit ought to be set up earlier. The story may end up being somewhat shorter as a result.

Story 358 (3/31/2011  Horror 1500 words)

A breezy first person retrospective opening. It works here, but makes me suspicious. Will this be a story?

It moves in-scene fairly quickly, though the scene is past perfect backflash. “Had” is such a distancing word. It saps immediacy from the reading experience.

It’s getting to “clever” for me by page 3. The thing with Otto on page 7 doesn’t seem to fit (for me). It feels like a convenient story device.

There’s something powerful lurking around the edges of this, but it takes the easy ways out for the most part. Some very good writing line by line and a good voice. Only a couple of too-clever moments. If the story were to take these issues on head-on, without flinching, without giving him an easy way out, I suspect it could be a powerful story. As it is, it’s well written and dark. Best fit is probably one of the small press horror zines.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 A story about youthful fascination gone wrong. A superficial treatment of the issues involved weaken it.

Story 359 (3/31/2011 750 words)

This opens with unattributed dialogue, but it works here, mainly because of what is said and how it’s quickly used to move us into viewpoint.

The story depends on withholding. I’m tuning out at the end of page 1. Why can’t the reveal at the end of page 2 be moved nearer the top of the story. The pages in between feel largely like a delaying action.

Nice ending. Consider doing away with the dead weight and turn this into a 500 word gem. I’ll send this around, but I think it’s probably a little to “generic” to catch on. We’ll see. With a trim I think this will be emotionally satisfying.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 6 An SF flash about holding on and letting go. The opening third depends on withholding and doesn’t really escalate the premise.

Story 360 (3/31/2011  SF ?? words)

An engaging opening, though I’m already feeling a bit put off by the cleverness of it. The writing is quite good and the dialogue very realistic. Police procedural with some interesting tech thrown in. By page 6, however, I’m tired of waiting for this to go somewhere beyond everyday actions. The big problem for me is that I don’t really care about any of these characters. They’re a mass of clever names in my head. I don’t see them, feel them, etc. And if I don’t care about solving this crime, I don’t care about how it’s done. Which is kind of maddening since the writing itself is very good. It’s the characters that ain’t doing it for me.

It’s also a little annoying on page 13 when we learn the viewpoint character recognized the person she’s been talking to for half a page, but didn’t bother to let us in on that until now. I am getting closer to the MC in this scene despite that.

Good action scene. The writing is very good throughout and the procedural details are nice, but I just don’t care about the characters or the crime or the victim. The stakes are very low here, not what I’m looking for in an SF story.

Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 A well written SF procedural centered on an interesting tech concept. The characters do not compel, unfortunately.

That may have to do it for today. I’m getting burned out from reading. Finish line is in sight. I have 7 stories left in my “New” list, then whatever the first readers have for me, so maybe tomorrow. Then it will be a matter of winnowing the remaining contenders down to a handful. Then on to editing individual stories, working with authors, getting contracts out. We want to have the book to the printer by June 30. It’s a tight window. Wish us luck.

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