Well, this year they've outdone themselves; the following letter comes from one of their main editors about a short story I submitted this year.
Now, before you judge me: I am not being facetious. In the world of freelance writing and cold submissions a personal rejection letter with thoughtful notes is a half step below being accepted. Form rejections offer nothing to a writer, no guide to a better draft, no clue as to what editors might currently be accepting.
So, if you can, delve their archives and buy previous issues, or watch for Triangulation: Last Contact on Amazon, even though my story isn't in it. Based solely on their notes (which were spot on, by the way) these guys are thoughtful readers and very selective, which means the praise their anthologies have garnered are very much deserved.
From the editor's blog:
Story 201 (2/23/2011 Horror 4700 words)
Reader 1: “This story didn’t work for me despite some nice writing. In the end, the story itself is pretty cliched and the use of various devices (transcripts, discovered notes, etc.) to build tension actually have the opposite effect. By taking us away from the MC and providing background, they don’t give us time to get into the MC’s head. As a result, when the MC undertakes the climactic action, it comes out of nowhere and doesn’t really have an emotional impact. The dread in this story should come from the MC’s descent into madness, but it’s being relayed to us second-hand via transcripts. This device might work in a novel, where there’s time devoted to characterisation, but it’s ineffective here. “
I like the opening quotation, which evokes a moment of eloquent dread. The first paragraph efficiently sets us into scene (though not character). It’s a descriptive paragraph that reads a little flat after that resonant opening. Not great, not bad.
Nice observational details and a possible motivation by page 2. Good. First scene works well enough. I’m not getting a strong sense of story yet, but it’s enough.
Section 2 begins with a diary entry. It’s suitably creepy and promises something to come. I do like what follows it. Nice little scene here. I don’t like that the words the voice says are hidden from us. That pushes me away from character identification. Still, a creepy scene — would be even better with the words on the page, I suspect.
Viewpoint shift in section 3 throws me. I’m just getting into the MC and then I’m having to reorient. Then another viewpoint shift at the end of the scene. The entire scene seems to be here just to present evidence for what we already know/suspect. I don’t think it adds much to the story (in a longer work, yes it could, but here it diffuses my identification with MC).
Section 4 returns me to MC and is nicely written. I’m missing something here. This SHOULD be escalating, but I’m not feeling it. I think it’s because even though I’m inside the MC, I’m not really inside her experience. So much of what she experiences is left to inference that she feels manipulated in a way.
Section 5 switches viewpoint again. I’m not invested in any of these characters fully enough to appreciate the tension here. I do like the section lead-ins. Very clever way to introduce background and the quotes themselves are really evocative. The story itself, however, feels kind of flat despite some very nice writing.
Section 6 remains in viewpoint I haven’t identified with. This is the physical climax of the story and I get no sense of an emotional climax because we shift outside the MC to observe rather than feel.
Section 7 explains everything. It’s a clever device, but doesn’t really do much for me emotionally (or even intellectually as I have no real investment in the whys or hows).
The final section could basically stand alone. There is a very good core here for a character driven horror story centered on the initial MC (or even one of the other viewpoints), but we end up solving the puzzle of the situation rather than experiencing the story of it. It’s a shame, because the writing is spectacular at times.
Slush-o-meter (1-10): 5 An SF ghost story that delivers an interesting situation and character, but does not provide enough emotional investment to reach its potential.