IN THIS ISSUE:
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This issue's name is lights goes to Jordan Legg, the author of the last story in our new issue "Cruel."
"Cruel" is actually a sequel to a short story of Jordan's that we published back in Volume 23/50 called "Second Law."
We don't publish a lot of sequels. Frankly, we simply don't run into very many of them that are truly publishable. But Jordan's work was a rare and happy exception.
I'm kind of hoping there's a third installment! But don't tell
him that! :)
by Jodi Thompson
Do the words "critique group" make you shrivel inside with a sense of dread? Do you fear the public ravaging of your work-in-progress? Would you rather face a pile of rejection slips than a critique group?
My friend, you are in the wrong group.
A well-run critique group should fill you with encouragement (even when they don't like your work).
How do you find one of these magical critique groups? Unless you live in the middle of a Nebraska cornfield, there is likely one not far from you. Heck, if you live in the right Nebraska cornfield, there might even be one there! Take to the internet to search "your location + writer + critique group" and see what comes up. You can also check online writers' forums and your local library. Once you have a list of candidates, go visit and see how they are run.
What makes a "good" critique group? The most important thing is a set of clearly defined guidelines for critiques. Trust me, you do not want to be in a group that lets people read and read until they are done. There must be a time limit for the reader and a time limit on the critiques. Ten to fifteen minutes is plenty of time for the reader - much beyond that and the listener begins to lose focus. Five to ten minutes is a good total amount of time for critiques, broken down to one to two minutes per person.
The most important amount of time is that which is reserved for rebuttal - zero. That's right, the reader needs to stay silent. If the writer/reader does not agree with the critic/listener, they are free to disregard their comments. In silence. However, if the majority of the listeners give you the same critique, you might want to give it a little thought before dismissal. However, while rebuttal should be avoided, if a critical point is confusing or unclear, the writer/reader may certainly ask for clarification. It’s a fine line, but necessary.
Someone in the group should be designated as the moderator. It is their job to watch the time, cut people off if they run too long, and generally keep things running smoothly. In the best groups, this task rotates amongst participants.
Some critique groups will ask readers to bring printed copies for the participants to follow along. There are pros and cons of this method. The obvious benefit is that others may pick up on spelling and punctuation errors that you missed. That is also a con - you don't want people so caught up in finding a missing comma that they miss out on the story. Personally, I prefer printed copies for poetry and fast-moving passages with lots of technical detail. A critique partner who has less than excellent hearing prefers a printed copy of everything.
The real value of your critique group comes after you go home. Take the notes from your reading (You did take notes, didn't you?) and look for patterns. Did five of six people comment on your overuse of the word "really?" Review your entire manuscript for the same problem. Did you shift POV during your 1500 word reading? Chances are good that you did it somewhere else in your work. Critically examine your notes to make necessary changes and don't be afraid to disregard some of the comments if they don't hold up to further scrutiny.
What if you can't find a good, local critique group? Create one! I have found that six to ten members is a good number. Fewer than that and it all falls apart if more than one person has to bow out of a meeting. There is value in having individual critique partners, but that is a different animal and shouldn't be confused with group reviews.
Once again, your local library is a great place to start. In addition to helping get the word out to attract participants, they will often provide you with meeting space. Ask your local newspaper to run a free notice. Post to online writers' forums. The first few meetings might be sparse, but the old "build it and they will come" applies. Keep at it and you can create a group.
Some will tell you that you should build a group where everyone writes the same thing. I have friends who are in special groups for speculative fiction, kid lit and romance; obviously they feel like they get something from the specialized groups. I prefer to be part of a group where you never know what you will get in a reading. Why? Because writers of different genres and backgrounds will pick out different things in your work. They may all hear word echoes or improper word usage, but those are the easy things. You want to have the person who can tell you what teens were wearing in 1984. You need the person who can point out the problem with your exploding car engine sequence. You desire the person who is so bored by the romance you are reading they realize you are describing North American autumn when your reading is set in an Australian autumn. In other words, if your group is focused on genre specific formulas, you are going to miss out on a lot of small stuff that bumps your writing to the next level. And, beyond that, it is just more interesting!
Are you feeling better about the idea of a critique group? You should be. I have had more than one agent tell me they will always request when queried by members of certain critique groups. They have noticed those submissions are always a head above the rest. That doesn't mean they always love the final product, but they are willing to give it a chance when they might otherwise pass. That is a powerful affirmation of critique groups.
One final note on critique groups - they only work if people can be brutally honest. I have heard "that is just horrible" more times than I would like to count. It is brutal to hear, whether you are on the receiving end or just a witness. The critique table is business and should never be confused for anything else. That also means that when someone praises your work, that is exactly what they are doing, not proposing marriage. Keep it professional at the table.
Now, will you cover yourself in rejection slips or take your writing to the next level?
Jodi Thompson is an active member of several critique groups and a member of the conference planning committee for the DFW Writers' Conference.
Heather turned away. "You're wrong."
"Have I been wrong yet about any of the men in your life? Hasn't each chart I've drawn up for you been an accurate reflection of their characters? Heather, I know you think you really like this guy, but he is all wrong. Please believe me."
Heather looked up, her face set in stone. Iris's heart sank as she saw her sister's Moon in stubborn Taurus come to the fore.
I slap him. Hard. His head droops forward like a broken puppet. Nothing.
"Daddy!" A heavy sob escapes my mouth like a volcano erupting from the back of my throat. My fingers frantically probe the sides of his throat for a pulse. I have no more words to plead with; only the unidentifiable screech of sounds being mangled into unrecognizable shapes as they squeeze past the tightness in my throat. But, I don't let myself cry. I have a job to do. I have one chance at this.
She could run, she thought, but where to? She would be at the mercy of strangers and everyone knew there was none to be found there. Standing, she climbed down.
Tears filled her mother’s eyes and she only ran her fingers through Rheel’s cropped tresses before asking why.
“Maybe he’ll refuse me,” she blurted out. In her desperation, she had thought it might work, but it sounded silly now. She should have slashed at her face.
“It won’t be so bad. You’ll come to love him as I did your father.”
Bear with the Quantum Heart"
She was three and a half, an only child. She'd already gone through a phase of begging for a pet and another of begging for a brother or sister, and I was the best of both worlds: a toy who could grow with her, who could be a companion, a playmate, a tutor, whatever she needed, as long as I was loaded with the appropriate scripts.
All at once, I was awake again, looking not at Mom or Dad this time but Kayla herself—light brown hair still rumpled from bed, her hazel eyes wide with joy. She squealed and hugged me, and then Mom showed her how to set me up. When I held out my front paws with one pink and one blue, she grabbed the blue one, so I was a boy. And when I said hello and asked what my name was, she didn't hesitate. "Bear-Bear!" she proclaimed, and so I was.
Even back then, I was almost too big for her to carry
around, but she managed. I could walk on all fours by myself, but I
hardly ever did during those first years.
Last Spell, My Love"
do you break up with a demon?
How do you break up with a demon?
I have no idea, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’ve drawn
the pentagram in the center of my living room with the scented pink
chalk she gave me for our six-month anniversary--on June 6th (cute,
huh?). I had to rip up the carpet and expose the concrete beneath for
a suitable drawing surface. She always likes it when I break things
to summon her.
I have no idea, but I’m going to give it a shot. I’ve drawn the pentagram in the center of my living room with the scented pink chalk she gave me for our six-month anniversary--on June 6th (cute, huh?). I had to rip up the carpet and expose the concrete beneath for a suitable drawing surface. She always likes it when I break things to summon her.
The pentagram has been there for an hour, and the goat’s blood
is starting to congeal in the chalice in the middle of it. I’m
stalling; I’ve been sitting here on my couch rehearsing what I’m
going to say, how I’m going to say it, and so on. I’ve also
been thinking about how I might be forced to let my soon-to-be ex-lover
have it with a super-soaker full of holy water if she takes the breakup
badly. The containment spell I’ve worked into the pentagram should
make the holy water shower unnecessary, but no spell is foolproof.
The pentagram has been there for an hour, and the goat’s blood is starting to congeal in the chalice in the middle of it. I’m stalling; I’ve been sitting here on my couch rehearsing what I’m going to say, how I’m going to say it, and so on. I’ve also been thinking about how I might be forced to let my soon-to-be ex-lover have it with a super-soaker full of holy water if she takes the breakup badly. The containment spell I’ve worked into the pentagram should make the holy water shower unnecessary, but no spell is foolproof.
I’m scared, sure. Who wouldn’t be?
I’m scared, sure. Who wouldn’t be?
Face of Heaven"
The stench of death was an alien thing to his senses, and it made the universe tighten around him like muscle, squeezing him from every side.
“Oh my,” he said, the words leaking out in an exhausted sigh.
Lilith was draped across the center of the bed, a blanket tucked snuggly around her thin form. The flesh seemed to have melted off her shoulders and neck, leaving behind a frail frame of bone and sallow skin. The frazzled bush of cinnamon hair that Martin had always associated with her— that hair he had, so long ago, struggled to untangle when she had been playing in the rain— was all gone, replaced by patches of white stubble. Her eyebrows and lashes were gone. Her lips were gray and shriveled. White pustules dotted her hands and face. It was a monstrous sight.
Martin opened his mouth to speak her name, but the words were lost in a pitiful wheeze. He swallowed.
“Hey,” was what he finally said.
Game of the Day"
‘Didi is it?’ I extended my hand.
‘That’s my character name,’ she said.
‘Right, and your real name?’
‘You don’t need to know.’
She left my hand flapping out there like a sock in the wind. The likeability factor turned down a notch. I mean there’s sassy attitude and then there’s just plain rude.
‘It’s those freaky giant birds,’ she waved her own hands around, taking in the open paved area we were crossing, which was covered with smears of white shit and the occasional squashed and mangled bee.
Jack felt a twinge of both anger and fright at Spencer’s words. “Who? There is no one in Darwin not committed to the One General Law.”
“It’s not someone in Darwin.”
Jack’s eyes narrowed with harsh curiosity. “How is that possible? I thought we were the only ones to survive the Wars.”
Spencer glowered. “Apparently not. People from the outside are coming in and taking the Deficients. That’s what happened to Alda. Keef. All of them.”
Jack nodded slightly and looked out into the desert. The implications were unthinkable. The possibility that Deficients, especially Warsick Deficients might have been allowed to live—and worse, to breed—grew in Jack a silent revulsion.
“I want you to find them,” Spencer rasped.
this issue we're doing things a little differently. Instead of short
Allegory deals with submissions in the way that, as far as I know, remains fairly unique in the publishing world. Each story is individually reviewed and, if considered publishable, is placed in our "Maybe" pile. At the end of each submission period, these "Maybes" are reviewed, and the best eight chosen to appear in the next issue. This final cut is made on the basis of issue balance, and does NOT reflect the overall quality of these stories.
That said, here - in no particular order - are the "Maybes" who just missed publication in Allegory. Each one is a fine tale that we would have been proud to publish. Remember these names, friends and fellows. You'll be hearing from them in the future. I guarantee it!
Lost in a Vacuum by Miriah Hetherington
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