ASIM pre-slush workshop post #10

Here is the tenth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

Please Step Aside

The soft sounds of music filtered in through gauzy curtains to the
sunroom of the Cultural Director’s office suite. As far as Rezin was
concerned, it could just filter right on out again, through the
gracefully arched windows and over the soft green lawn to the shimmering
lake in the distance.

He shifted in his chair, tired of the being softened up. He wanted this
over with.

“What exactly do you want from me, Director?” he asked impatiently.

“Call me Artok,” the Director said gently, for the third time in the
past half hour.

Rezin sniffed contemptuously.

“What do you want, Director Artok? You know as well as I do that I’ve
fulfilled all current requirements. Let me go, and we can both get back
to work.”

Artok sighed, thinking back to other difficult meetings with the same
man in the same room.

“Yes, Rezin, I know you’ve met the requirements. I know you don’t want
to be here, that you were assigned to the Attendant program
involuntarily. And you’ve done everything we asked of you.”

“Then let’s go. You want me to work, I’m ready to work. Let’s get on
with it.” Rezin allowed the tone of aggravation in his voice to rise.

“Rezin,…” the Director paused. “The Observatory exists to witness the
birth and death experiences of the galaxy’s cultures. That’s what
Attendants do. They observe, but do not interfere. And even though
most Attendants join us after a thorough psychological evaluation,” a
tone of vexation crept into his voice, “they find death to be a wearing
experience. That’s why we have the ‘two births, one death’ rule.”

“So what are you complaining to me about? I’m helping you out.” Rezin,
full name Rezin Patience Miller, mixed in a little exasperation.

Editor’s comments:

I’m copying this directly as it came from the site (as I have done with all other pieces), and I am sure that there are some problems with the formatting of this piece, namely that all the lines are cut short and don’t wrap. You may want to check your settings, because something inserts hard returns in every line. Hard returns are only for new paragraphs. Whatever inserts hard returns needs to stop doing that, because this will look horrible in a real life submission. Just the pain of having to edit out all hard returns may cause some people to reject it. Don’t allow formatting to detract from the piece. It may well be that software is doing it, but you’ll need to find out why this happens and fix it.

About the piece itself:

This is space opera. Two men are sitting in an office discussing something. They’re either impatient or bored.

As another editor mentioned earlier, there is a danger with starting a story with a character who is bored. You need to engage the reader and boredom is very catching.

A rule I apply to my own fiction: do not—ever—make your characters sigh unless you want them to sound annoying and pedantic. I think sighing and whining are two things that make readers to lose sympathy for characters.

A lot of words are spoken, but the two men not all that specific about what is going on. I’d like to know what the main character’s challenge is.

Who is the main character? The sentence starting with ‘Artok sighed’ is in Artok’s POV, while the rest of the piece is in Rezin’s.

I also think the narrative text is fairly wordy. The story doesn’t start until the characters start speaking. The first paragraph is very, very dense. Too dense, in my opinion. I had some trouble understanding the second sentence. It has too much information and becomes unwieldy.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #9

Here is the ninth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

Pyre Fly Away

Namtar stood with one hand in his pocket and the other stroking his favorite charm: a small sundial he had owned since the beginning. Its intuitive function was useless to him at this time of night, with the moon approaching the zenith of its path. Regardless of the time, the markings around the gnomon didn’t indicate hours; they were much more important.

So many centuries had passed since his master had given it to him. Millennia on top of millennia. It was his last physical connection to his people–a tribe long forgotten by the chapters of history.
He ground his toe in the moist soil. Bits of grass lay flat under the force, stuck in the mud. It was good digging ground.

Thigh-high obelisks lined up neatly to his left and right, and in rows both before and behind. He stood dead center in the graveyard, staring down with a new sense of finality at the marker directly in front of him. Poor Doctor Kennor had been moved long ago, but the headstone knew no different.

A firefly landed on the front of Namtar’s button-up shirt and he shooed it away. The warm, humid air of late June, combined with the knoll’s tall grass, attracted a swarm of them. They blinked at each other slowly, like dying embers waiting for a bellows. They bobbed from knee height to shoulder height, illuminating the names on the tombstones far better than the sliver of moon overhead.

He looked at the sundial, keeping it cupped in his hand, as though hiding its face from the curious bugs. The engraved markings–unreadable to all but the scholarly few these days–glowed subtly with a yellow-green radiance. All but the last few were alight.

“Nearly there,” he said to the grave. “I’ve almost got them all.”

Editor’s comments:

I quite like the atmosphere described in this beginning. There is a sense of place, and a sense of mystery. There is a sense that the author has done some interesting worldbuilding. I had no idea what a gnomon was, so, like a pedantic editor, I googled it. It’s the triangular blade on a sundial. We’re in a graveyard and the character is doing mysterious things. All good.

That said, I think this piece needs severe trimming. Overwriting is a term that means using more words than necessary, often dramatically so. I think this piece is overwritten. This is very likely to be a problem in the entire piece.

I dislike re-writing other people’s prose, but I’ll give some pointers here as to what I think should be cut.

The first sentence should end after the word sundial. The rest is not important, because you’re not specific. Non-specific language is blah. Blah needs to be cut.

The second sentence: all you need is: It was useless to him at night. You don’t need intuitive (doesn’t mean anything here). You don’t need the bit about the moon. You might say something about moonlight, for setting’s sake, but I’d make it a visual image.

The third sentence is telling, and you probably need something about the markings, but I would make it visual. Could you tie it up with the moonlight perhaps, like describing the mysterious markings in moonlight. Maybe he was using the moonlight instead of the sun? The scene is powerful. Give us something visual.

I’d delete the entire second paragraph. You probably need this somewhere, but here isn’t the place. It clutters up the beginning.

Keep going with the visual cues. The obelisks, the graveyard. End the first sentence of the third paragraph after ‘rows’.

Words like ‘before him’, ‘from behind’ and other place markers are what’s sometimes called ‘stage directions’. Important if this was a screenplay. This is not. Delete that stuff unless it’s vital. This piece has a lot of those descriptors: dead center, the front of his shirt. Delete, delete. If he can see the fly, it’s obviously not on his back. It doesn’t matter where in the graveyard he is.

What matters:
He’s in a graveyard (describe it in a suitably spooky way)
He’s got a weird thing (describe it, never mind how he got it—that can wait)
He’s going to do something with it.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #8

Here is the eighth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

The Sneeze Hound

Shawn Pavlovsky pulled his mail from the box, hoping Mr. Tadwill had responded with an update on his model ship. A freshly crushed lilac petal was stuck to the top piece – a sweet scent.

Shawn sneezed.

Facing the mirror, Shawn saw two loose sacks of skin, wrinkled, with mismatched nipples that both pointed downward. Age-spotted hands rose to cup each breast, pushing them upwards and inwards. The old woman hummed off-key through cracked lips as she prodded her breasts into different positions, then released them to pick up the pamphlet on the counter. Dropping onto the toilet seat, she flipped the pamphlet open and looked at the series of breast implant before and after pictures as she started to piss.

Shawn’s nose was smashed into the tile flooring, his mail scattered beneath him. Mrs. Herringbone again, he thought, shivering in disgust. He started to push himself up.

“Stay still,” a woman yelled.

He heard heels clicking down the stairs.

“You’ve had a bad fall. When I found you, you were unresponsive. The cell reception here’s atrocious, so I ran upstairs to try to find someone to call 911. No, stop! You could be badly injured.”

Shawn pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, then stood up and turned towards the woman. She appeared to be in her late twenties, and pretty despite the blue streaks in her hair. “I’m fine. I have these epileptic fits sometimes. Once the seizure wears off, it takes me awhile to regain consciousness.” It wasn’t true, but it was a lie he had told often. He wanted to pick up his mail, but the petal might cause him to sneeze again, and he didn’t want to have a second episode in front of her. He didn’t want to have a second episode at all.

Editor’s comment:

Technically, there is little wrong with this piece. It also creates a good question: why does Shawn have fits and what does it mean?

I’m wondering if the mention of Mr Tadwill and models in the first sentence is needed. It sets me off on the wrong foot, but thinking that this is going to be a story about models and all the while the fit is happening, there’s a little annoying voice in the back of my mind that keeps going ‘but what about the models?’. I think it would be better to raise the subject of models at a spot where you can actually elaborate. No big deal.

OK, now we come to my problem with this piece: the eew factor. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would like to know how many slush submissions pass my computer screen where I feel compelled to wash the screen afterwards. Guts, blood and vomit, all in the first few paragraphs. An old, wrinkled woman squishing her breasts and peeing isn’t by far the worst thing I’ve seen, but I am going eew in my mind. Meanwhile, I know nothing about this character so don’t yet feel any sympathy towards him. This combination of the absence of redeeming features for Shawn, and his vision, makes me wonder why he has to see this toilet scene in particular. It then combines with the mention of the neighbour as ‘pretty despite having blue streaks in her hair’ and my red flags are up. I’m wondering whose judgement this is. I think the story had better make it clear that it’s Shawn’s judgment that older women are gross and people with blue streaks in their hair are ugly. In which case, I won’t have any sympathy for him, because he’s sounding like an opinionated you-know-what.

I think it would be safer to allow the reader to gain sympathy for Shawn first before starting on the gross scenes. Personally, I would change the vision to something more benign, and ideally something that raises a question or two related to the plot. I would concentrate on the vision and the mystery. It seems this is a story about sneezing. Develop that right from the beginning. You don’t really want the slush readers to be icked out before they get to the plot.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #7 FTW!!!

Here is the seventh of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

The Gears of War

Every morning, Kiyoshi rose from sleep as a boy with messy hair, a slim frame and, usually, an urge to pee.

Every morning, he rolled up the futon and knelt before the shrine honoring his sister’s memory, gazing at her sunny face and burning incense for her. Aiko, the name on the picture said. Aiko, meaning beloved. Beloved of an entire family, jewel in the eyes of her parents and role model in the eyes of her little brother.

Every morning, he brushed his long hair until it lay straight and still against his back, dipped fingertips into bowls of cosmetics to outline eyes and lips and slid into one of his sister’s kimono.

Every morning, Kiyoshi entered the kitchen as a dead girl.

“Aiko!” her mother said, waving her chopsticks. “You’ll be late for work again. Hurry and eat.”

“Yes, mother. Sorry.” Aiko’s lips were always quick to smile with infectious cheer; they spread now in sheepish apology and the smile was returned.

Kneeling at the low table across from her mother, Aiko seized a pair of lacquered chopsticks and began her assault on the feast spread before her: miso soup, steamed rice, a rolled omelet, a bowl of fermented soybeans and various pickled vegetables. She ate as if to fill a bottomless hole, wielding her chopsticks like a weapon to slay her breakfast.

“Eat, eat,” her mother said. “You’re a growing girl and you have a day of hard work ahead.”

Her mother’s name was Hanako, flower child, a strange name for a woman born and raised in a city made of cogs and smog where flowers were rarely seen in any other state than dead and dried. There was one such dried flower in the house, a sad, brittle thing trapped in a frame and hung on the wall.

Comments:

Do not go to sleep, eat or go to the loo before you have sent me the rest of this story. I’m serious*. This snippet does everything right, and I’ll talk a bit about why.

You had me interested at the end of the first sentence.

Then you immediately went to explore the character. A dead sister always generates sympathy, especially what with sibling rivalry.

Then you added mystery in a subtle way by letting the boy put on the sister’s clothes.

And you sealed it with the concluding fourth paragraph. The boy is now a girl.

Were this section less economically-written, more tell and less show, I might have moaned over the fact that the first four paragraphs start with repetitive words. In this case, it’s perfect. It works. Don’t change a thing (aside from the kimono that should be ‘one of his sister’s kimonos’).

Thus transformed into a girl without explicitly saying so, the character starts interacting with someone else. Through further subtle interaction (eating a lot of food), the story shows that the boy is probably on the verge of becoming a man, adding extra tension to the snippet.

This is a wonderful beginning.

*I am really serious. Send this to the ASIM submissions address with a note that this is a workshop survivor, and the slushmistress will pass it onto me (she has been notified of which stories to pass on). I hope that the rest of the plot both has SFF elements and is as wonderful as this snippet. In any case, I will comment on it privately.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #6

Here is the sixth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

The Red Carpet Welcome

The man at the bottom of the ramp into the ship looked me up and down.
“Name?” he said.
“Minerva Brown.”
“We’re not expecting any new crew.”
His doubts were in his hesitation. And rightly so. In my disguise I looked nothing like a prospective starship crew member, whatever its dress-code – he was in velvety moleskin pants, a shimmering sea-green coat cut away at the front with a silk shawl knotted at his throat.
I was a little old lady in a chameleonising surcoat and matching wig. Both grey at present, and in keeping with the largely grey exterior of the Galleon. By trade I was a fact finder and a trouble shooter. My mission was to learn why this starship stayed alive when others on comparable tasks died.
Jupiter-side port gossip was that the Galleon’s programs had been corrupted. That she and the crew and her captain masqueraded as an Inter Planetary Government vessel when they were really working as privateers, with an off-world money launderer backing them. In that story fancy dress inspired by ancient sea pirates didn’t seem all that far-fetched.
I dropped my data cube into the input slot of his hand-held and he dropped his jaw at my rank and work stats. Ignoring my outstretched hand, he saluted me smartly. “Olympus of Mars. Earth-origin immigrant! First Engineer!” He snapped to attention and stared into the distance.
Not a good beginning. “At your ease,” I said somewhat tartly. “I doubt I would’ve been here if the Galleon was a naval vessel.”
He coloured.
Whether from rage or embarrassment, I couldn’t tell.
Another of the crew appeared from aft, the direction of the cargo holds. She was a young Cassiopeian, dressed in an ordinary sailor’s get-up of canvas pants adapted to her penguin-like stature and a striped sailor’s jersey.

Editor’s comments:

There’s a problem with using a lot of visual description in a short story (and particularly leading off with a lot of description), which is that it cuts into the actual telling of the story. In a novel, it’s possible (though not always desirable) to offer a lot of description; in a short story, it’s generally not a good idea. And it doesn’t help as much as one might think to establish the scene in the reader’s eye: in the above snippet, I’m stymied by trying to work out what the Galleon looks like, aside from the fact that it’s largely grey. I know what three people are wearing, but there’s lots else missing. In a SF or fantasy story, because things very often would look very different to the everyday world, the temptation is to explain all the ways in which they’re different.

The thing is, though, it doesn’t matter as much as you might expect. It doesn’t actually matter whether you tell us what everyone’s wearing–the readers will work it out for themselves. It’s more important to offer clues as to moods, reactions, things like that–and these often help the reader more to picture a character than if you go to describe the shape of his/her face, or what he/she is wearing. Readers are clever like that.

I do like the way in which you’ve outlined the protag’s mission, and have set up a degree of interpersonal tension within the first three hundred words: that’s a useful start to the story. With a bit more focus on the interactions, and less on the appearances (unless the appearances actually tell the reader something useful about the interactions), this would be off to a strong start.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #5

Here is the fifth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

Hunger

The first bullet hit the trunk of a tree, a few feet off target. Gart dove to the right, crashing into the bushes as he heard more shots being fired. The bullets missed him, but the thick brush took its toll in hair and blood where his bulky frame tore through; plenty for the hounds to follow.

It had been days since he had any sustenance at all. Constantly on the move and staying just barely ahead of the hunters, he had no time to look for a meal. Even now he had a more immediate problem. He needed to throw the dogs off his scent.

His luck held out. There was a stream, just a few feet wide, but enough for his purpose. He crossed over and lingered on the other side for a few moments, to create a false trail. He then returned to the water, walked in and waded downstream, an ice-cold current nudging him along. Neither hounds nor trackers could follow his path as long as he stayed in the water.

Gart remained in the stream for an hour, his fur-covered skin barely registering just how cold the water had been. It felt more like days. Hunger was an overwhelming presence now, an enemy as deadly as the hunters. It made him weak and sluggish, and unable to keep up his pace.

A few years ago Gart had been a myth. Humans rarely met his kind, and an occasional sighting was dismissed by the skeptics. They were called yeti, abominable snowmen, and a dozen other names in remote areas where a chance encounter could take place. But the world kept shrinking – humans explored and populated much of the land that was too forbidding and harsh to their ancestors. Their discovery became inevitable.

Editor’s comments:

Writing is generally quite clean, but I feel the pacing is uneven.

In the first paragraph, we meet Gart, who is on the run and far too busy explaining his current situation. People are after him. Cool.

In the second paragraph, we experience a huge change of pace, where Gart as narrator starts explaining what he was doing in the previous days. The only sentence in the second paragraph that moves the scene forward is the last one. The first two sentences of the second paragraph meander. This is not-so-pressing, everyday stuff that feels out-of-place in a chase. I’d delete those sentences and replace them with one sentence that tells us something enticing about why he was followed.

The third paragraph still doesn’t volunteer this information. By now, I’m getting a bit impatient. There is a lot of detail about actions Gart goes through, but none about why. I want to know why this happens, preferably in the second paragraph.

In the fourth paragraph we get some sort of an idea. Except the structure of the narrative takes the story further back from the chase by offering the start of a history lesson, signified by the red-flag word ‘had’. To be clear, the word ‘had’ is not evil, but it often indicates a spot where a writer lapses into infodumping, lecturing about history or what people tend to call ‘telling’. It’s not always a deal-breaker, but I think this narrative does not belong in a chase. Having created the urgency of a chase, the subsequent text needs to stay closer to the character and concentrate at first on why he is fleeing in the here and now, and then work its way into the history. It is my guess that the history probably does not belong in this particular scene, since history-dumping bleeds a lot of tension from a scene.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #4

Here is the fourth of the submissions, continuing in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, it’s your call. If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

The Darkness

Soon enough the Xandaux would find her, but Aliciara Blackwolf would be long gone by then. She couldn’t rely on anyone, not even the one she was bound to.

Kasana sat up, oh thank the Goddess she was back in her own body. She was covered in sweat as Kasana approached the mirror, she began to unlace her corset; allowing herself to breathe.

Lozen rode hard over the plains of Pierres, her white stallion – Comare – had certainly been put through his paces.

The bells tolled as the villagers ran, news of the Matriarch’s return had spread like wildfire. Lozen was the High Priestess of the Pierres plains – villages were few and far between.

Aliciara touched the mirror, closing her eyes. She felt the Call like it was a child tugging at her arm. It would not silence itself until it was answered, and if not given what it wanted, it would return. She wanted to reach through the mirror, but using her Goddess-given abilities would draw the Xandaux nearer.

“Our Priestess returns! My Lady, how are three? Be you well? There was news of an attack on Lacruz”

The man fretted. He was the Elder of the village, and had always served each High Priestess.

“I am well Thomas, where is your wife?”
“I – she passed away” he bowed his head, “A moon ago, Fenrir has taken her to his Forests to be at peace”
“I am sorry” Lozen kissed his forehead, “She was a good wife” she sighed.

Fenrir, God of Death, had come prowling through the village. If a home bore his mark, then someone in the household would die. He only ever picked those close to death, or those on the brink.

Kasana had an affinity for night, for the Wyld.

Editor’s comment:

I tried harder than I normally would, and read this a few times, but I’m afraid I cannot make much sense of this. Let’s go through the first few paragraphs.

First paragraph: we have a character on the run and some baddies. I have no idea what Xandaux are, but am willing to wait a while to see if the next few paragraphs will enlighten me. ‘The one she was bound to’ seems redundant to me, because I didn’t know she was bound to anyone, since there hasn’t yet been anyone in the story. Also, the words ‘soon enough’ imply a precedent, and don’t suit a first sentence.

Second paragraph: a different character. I have no idea how she is related to the first character.

Third paragraph: another character, plus two more names that don’t mean anything to me yet. I have no idea how this character is related to the other two. Moreover, by now, I have lost track of any kind of setting. In the first two paragraphs, I was imagining rooms with frilly bedspreads and ladies-in-waiting, but this last paragraph doesn’t build on that picture. I’m wondering where we are. I’m lacking setting, logical connection between the characters and a POV character to follow. I don’t know why any of this is happening. This is the point where I would give up reading if this were slush.

I did read on in this case, and the jumpiness of the text did not get any better. For example, in the fourth paragraph, I found out that Lozen is female (the name sounds male to me). There is an eight name mentioned (a matriarch—who is this?). There are villagers mentioned in the same breath as it is said that villages are far in between. While all that may be true and make sense in the author’s mind, it just does not flow on the page.

This beginning needs major streamlining. Make sure one sentence leads to the next. Choose one POV character and follow that character.

Also, I notice some unattributed dialogue. Make sure it’s clear who speaks by using dialogue tags or action tags. Use correct punctuation and capitalisation (there is a post about that on this blog here because there are too many mistakes in this snippet to make me think they’re typos)

Also, I’m not a historian by any stretch of the imagination, but the name Fenrir rings a bell, so, as a pedantic editor, I googled it. I’ve found out that Fenrir is a Norse mythological figure in the shape of a wolf, but nowhere does it say anything about him being either a god, or the god of death. I think you need to be rather careful with this sort of stuff, because many, many people will be familiar with the myths, and will assume things based on that knowledge. I’d say that unless you made a good case you were representing the mythology accurately (and apologies if you are, and the sites I found were wrong), change the name.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #3

Here is the third of the submissions, continuing in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, it’s your call. If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

Big Grey Man’s Mountain

The news is all over the Net by now: humanoid bones found on a Scottish mountainside. Not human, unless Andre the Giant had a big brother lost in the Cairngorms. And some reports mention scraps of hide, still covered with coarse grey hairs.

Officially it’s an Environmentally Sensitive Zone, authorized entry only. Reporters and rubber-neckers come flocking to the villages or the Ski Centre’s funicular railway, any place they can grab a toe-hold to gawk at a stony mountainside. Rumors are epidemic: the bones have been removed for study. They’ve been removed and destroyed in a government/religious/industrial cover-up. They’ve been left in place for a sacred ceremony to contact the Ancient Transplanter Spirits of the Stars.

Like they say, it’s not what you know; it’s who you know. One of the railway operators remembers me kindly. There’s an old man, he says, in a hut halfway up Ben Macdhui. Says he knows all about Fear Liath More, the Big Grey Man. Says he’ll talk to whoever will listen — not that anybody will believe what he has to say.

I don’t have to believe it; I just have it report it. So I’m scrambling up a rocky little track with delusions of grandeur, looking for a man to tell me about Scotland’s answer to Sasquatch, Yeti, and Co.

Scotland’s late answer, that is. It looks like the position’s just come open.

#

If you had told me stateside I could miss the only human-made building on a barren slope, I’d say you read too many fairy tales. Not even the romantic Scottish highlands make houses just disappear. But this place I somehow don’t see until the slate roof’s almost under my feet — set right into the hillside, with a trickle of wood smoke rising from empty stones.

Editor’s comment:

I find the present tense a little worrying; I’m not sure how it will hold up for the rest of the story. The infodump at the beginning is one way to get the essential information over to the reader, but I think it moves a little too quickly. It could be expanded a fraction to set the scene more elegantly. The part after the hash mark is the real beginning of the story, which raises the question of why it doesn’t begin the story, with the other details regarding the reporter’s presence filled in later. That would create more suspense. But it’s interesting enough to make me want to read more.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #2

Here is the second of the submissions, which will be posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, it’s your call. If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

The Last Mission

Dressed in dirty clothes and slouching to hide their military bearings, Joseln and Taya made their way through the streets of the colonial capital. Joseln’s heart thudded and her fingers twitched, eager to throw spells. Taya gave no sign of excitement, but for her this mission wasn’t personal.

Behind them their fellow imperial soldiers guarded the pallisade that protected the loyal part of the city. The rough barricade with which the rebels had blocked off a large section of the city lay two blocks ahead, and beyond it, the rebel army that had captured Joseln’s little sister. With the army was also the man Joseln had been ordered to kill, but she had decided not to think about that.

A block from the barricade, Joseln gestured to Taya, and they slipped into the doorway of an abandoned grocer’s, shadowed from the long row of magelights that lit the street. Joseln patted her sheathed sword for the half-dozenth time as they watched the guards.

“All right,” she said, “once we’re through we have to blend with the crowd and head straight for the tavern. We’ll sneak in for the prisoners and get out before anyone knows we were there. So don’t do anything that will draw attention.”

“Who, me?” Taya asked.

Joseln glared at her. The woman was a good soldier¬Joseln wouldn’t have worked with her on so many rescue or spying assignments otherwise¬but she tended to not take things very seriously.

“And I believe you forgot something,” Taya added.

Joseln scowled. Despite her colonel trying to convince her of the necessity for weeks, she didn’t want to kill the rebel captain. They’d worked together, before the discontent turned to open rebellion. He’d even courted her sister for a time.

Editor’s comments:

This is, even from the very first sentence, over-written. Information comes pouring in, and there’s no characterisation, apart from painting the cardboard slightly. Why, for instance do we need to know about the guards on the palisade? Is an attack imminent?

The essential question, which this excerpt does not answer, is why the reader should care about this at all? There is a lot of detail about imperial soldiers. Why is Joseln, and that is an unlikely and unpronouncable name, want to throw spells? How come there’s a palisade that protects the loyal part of the city? Palisades take time to build. How are they intending to get through the barricade?

The entire idea of merging with a crowd, sneaking in and getting the prisoners, in a tavern, and getting out again without being noticed is a stretch. The third-last sentence is confusing and mostly unnecessary.

This, unfortunately, reads like fan-fiction.

ASIM pre-slush workshop post #1

We start with the first of the submissions, which will be posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, it’s your call. If you appreciate what we’re doing here, please support our magazine. To coincide with the release of issue 50, we have a number of special deals. See the ASIM website.

Original text:

The Time Traveler

Prologue

Hi. My name is Sarah Flynn. My life began when I was born on February 2nd, 1989 in the small town of Greenville, North Carolina. Because I grew up loving the English language, I decided to teach it. On April 30th, 2012, my education finished, I arrived at my new teaching position in an Eikawa located in Higashikawa, Japan and proceeded to teach there for over half a year. December 21st, 2012 was the last time I saw my students. I’ve been exploring the universe since then. You see, in addition to being a teacher, writer, and knowing a little bit of everything, I’m also a time traveler.

Year: 2093
Jump no.: 56 (?)
Location: Outlying Colony of the Abractan Empire

My partner yelled across the room, “These things just don’t stop coming no matter how many we shoot.”
“Just keep shooting then. It may take forever, but we’ll clean these bugs out eventually,” I replied, taking a well aimed shot that blasted two bugs into metal shards.
“But to think that this kind of thing could happen. I didn’t know this kind of technology existed.”
“And I’m trying not to think about it at all. Slows down how fast I can shoot. I don’t particularly want to end up like Malk.”
“Speaking of which,” he shot another bug, “Where has the rest of the team disappeared to?”
“I have no idea. I just hope they’re alive.” I took aim at another bug and it shattered.

Year: 2193
Jump no.: 77
Location: The Terran Intergalactic Port in orbit around Jupiter

I woke up flat on my back, again. The ceiling was the flat, boring gray of a medical bay. Someone had tried to dress it up with a poster of a green meadow under a blue sky, but the effect was even more forlorn as it lay plastered there all alone.

Editor comments:

Technically, I can’t fault the writing.

I’m a little puzzled by the word prologue. Prologues belong in novels. Stories are too short to have prologues. We get to see a lot of stories that have quotes or short general/history paragraphs at the start. They rarely work. Usually, they go against the story.
The reason is this: you have a few paragraphs, rarely more than the 300 words submitted here, to catch the attention of a slush reader. I don’t think it’s a good idea to clutter up this space with historical quotes that don’t as yet mean anything to the reader.

I think the first paragraph outlives its usefulness. While there is nothing inherently wrong with starting a story with an introduction, the introduction needs to remain relevant without rambling. I think this introduction starts to meander off in the third sentence. Is it important that the reader knows all this life history? The last sentence is important, but that ones before it, in my opinion, are not.

After the first jump:
There is very, very little visual language in what must be a visual situation. We know the adversaries are bugs, but what do they look like? Why are they fighting? Who is the gender-less ‘partner’?

After the second jump:
Now I’m starting to wonder: where is this all going? I’m willing to forego a logical connection between the first mini-scene and the second one, but now there is another jump and I’m not seeing a connection. I’m not seeing a story develop. Alternatively, I’m not seeing any characterisation taking place. What is she doing here? Why? Why is she a time traveller? How did she become one? I think at least one of these issues should be followed through to create flow between these mini-scenes.