eFiction July 2015 Review #4 – Best Before by Katrina Johnston



This brings us to the final review from July’s issue of eFicition magazine.

This week, I take a look at Best Before by Katrina Johnston

The fourth story in this issue is one by a writer whose works are very easy to find around the internet. Katrina Johnston is from Victoria in my home and native land, and was the winner of the CBC Canada Writes True Winter Tales Challenge.

The good:

As a slice-of-life, inner monologue piece, Best Before quickly sets up a believable, everyday situation. Sardonic humour wipes away any eye-rolling that the phrase slice-of-life might induce – it’s a fun read, and it’s clear that the author is having fun with it.

The protagonist, working in a Subway-like sandwich place ‘tells it like it is’ in the foodservice industry. She details her various customers and the freshness policies of her duties as a “sandwich architect” (a not-very-subtle jab at Subway). I have no trouble believing that the author worked in such an environment at some point – or at least talked with many people who have.

Her infatuation with a Prince Charming (a regular customer named David) is funny and a little sad. She clearly has it bad for the guy, and the narrative paints a crisp picture of unhealthy infatuation. It becomes clear early on that a) this is one lonely girl and b) it’s extremely unlikely that she’s going to get this guy.

The could-use-improvement:

My first thought when I finished this piece was ‘That’s it?’ The ending fell a little flat – once I got there, I realized that the story really was all in this girl’s mind. Her anger, loneliness, and frustration are all clear, but what does she actually do? She never clearly acts on her infatuation, and holds in her reaction when he walks in with his girlfriend.

I didn’t feel the story had a strong enough twist – I wanted to see her say or do something to David or his girlfriend. Shout? Loudly profess her love? ‘Accidentally’ spill sandwich fixings over the girlfriend’s dress?  Anything, really!

My takeaway:

Slice-of-life is a story type that is hard to make interesting. Most attempts are trite, uninspired, or just plain boring. Best Before, however, avoids tedium through humorous, sardonic commentary. I can learn more about how to use humour in my stories, and how to give my narrators voices that can carry readers’ interest to the final word.


Katrina Johnston can be found on Twitter – @Momtrina.

Best Before appears in eFiction Vol. 6, No. 4 (July 2015).

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I’m in B.C.!


Four generations of boys met near Prince George yesterday!

I have a good reason to skimp on my Wednesday posts – I’m travelling around British Columbia! It’s pretty far from my hometown of Waterloo, Ontario, but it’s where most of the Canadians in my family are now!

I’m in Prince George as I type, and I’ll be passing through Jasper, Banff, Whistler, Vancouver, and Victoria in the remaining two weeks of my vacation.

You can bet I’ll be looking out for writing inspiration as I travel. This beautiful land is ripe with history, scenery, and colourful characters!

Keep your stick on the ice, eh?


eFiction July 2015 Review #3 – Unaccomplished by Alissa Berger



Yup, I’m still reviewing July’s issue of eFicition magazine.

This week, I take a look at Unaccomplished by Alissa Berger

A richly detailed dystopia, Unaccomplished could just as easily have been in Nebula Rift, the science fiction imprint by the same folks as eFiction. It shows a world where worth of humans is decided by talent and accomplishment, and those who fall short are harvested. Their limbs or organs are collected, or they get ground up for food. Yeah, pleasant stuff.

The good:

The narrative takes its time in this piece, building a horrific concentration camp in a world obsessed only with the results people produce. The supremely talented, the prodigies, and olympic superstars are granted free passes, while everyone else must prove themselves or get chopped up.

Grim, gritty, yet believable – by mining a common worry (“Can anyone see how good I am?”), the story gives a world similar to other dark dystopias, yet different in focus. Its a deep, immersive narrative that quickly suspends disbelief.

The could-use-improvement:

It’s a little long in some places. While I appreciate the way the narrative takes time to set up the inevitable ending, there were some missed chances to chop down the word count.

The main character, Wrander, facing death by dismemberment, never seems too broken up about it. There’s a serious lack of emotion – the tone of voice is a bit flat. Now, I realize this might be intentional as a mood for the piece, but I felt that Wrander didn’t fight, didn’t try to take a stand. I wanted to feel sorry for him, or to root for him, but as soon as he’s taken in to the concentration camp, he seems to just … accept it. I wanted stronger reactions from him, or some last-ditch attempt to show everybody that he is indeed talented, that he is accomplished.

My takeaway:

In a word, Worldbuilding. The big strength of this story is in building its world – the environment and reality are established quickly and expertly. The dystopia takes common fears and the modern obsession with celebrity and talent-searching to a horrifying yet believable extreme. The characters accept this reality fully, allowing the reader to accept it.

This story can help me learn how to craft a stronger world that readers will accept and appreciate.

Alissa Berger can be found on the web at writerdissection.wordpress.com.

Unaccomplished appears in eFiction Vol. 6, No. 4 (July 2015).

Buy the magazine at Amazon.

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eFiction July 2015 Review #2 – Garbage Collector by George Garnet



I’m reviewing each of the stories featured in July’s issue of eFicition magazine (which also happens to have a story by me).

This week, I take a look at Garbage Collector by George Garnet.

The second piece in the issue follows a night in the life of a garbage collector in a dangerous city. Told from the first-person, the story moves briskly as the collector witnesses a woman terrorized by thug, and decides to intervene.

The good:

This is an easy and quick read, its narrative quickly painting a gritty environment and a character who just wants to make it a little cleaner.

The story shows a restless protagonist, seeking solace in a repetitive, easy job of cleaning the world. I like that while the protagonist is conflicted, he is brooding or overly cynical, like one might expect from a garbage collector. He sees the good in his job, and has found ways to take pride in it.

When he helps the woman in trouble, it’s clear that this is just another kind of cleaning. He rises to the occasion not just to help out, but as part of his self-assigned mission. I have no trouble understanding and sympathizing with him.

The could-use-improvement:

The voice seems a bit sophisticated for a garbage collector. There are a few choices that mark him as more educated – which is fine, if it’s clear why he’s a garbage collector instead of something else. There’s a hint that he’s there because his wife left him, but it’s not enough. I would have liked either a hint of a previous job that ‘fits’ his language, or to see him narrate with more slang and less sophisticated word choices.

My takeaway:

The prose moves quickly, painting the dark world of this lowly garbage collector. I appreciate stories with a lowly underdog, someone overlooked by society. My own protagonists tend to be in more ‘respectable’ positions – this story made me think that I should have more variety in my characters’ social and economic backgrounds.

Garbage Collector by George Garnet appears in eFiction Vol. 6, No. 4 (July 2015).

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Oh, I’m going to submit to Mothership Zeta.

Just a quick Wednesday post here.

I just found out about Mothership Zeta through another writer, and I have to try my luck. It’s rather short notice, but what the hey – worth a try!


I wonder if any other members of the Busan Writing Group will try with me? I’ll have to find out tonight!

Recommended Writing Resources

A really good list of resources – I need to put together my recent finds in a list like this!

eFiction July 2015 Review #1 – Seven Seconds by BJ Neblett



I bring you reviews! I’m reviewing each of the stories featured in this month’s issue of eFicition magazine (which also happens to have a story by me).

This week, I take a look at Seven Seconds by BJ Neblett.

This work opens the issue, and I think it works well as an opener. From the first lines, the dark mood of the work is established as the reader meets a man before a mirror, holding a gun to his head. There is a lot of detailed scene-setting and description – I appreciate how deeply the reader is taken into this man’s reality. As the man readies to pull the trigger, he remembers dark days from his past. Each of these flashbacks takes place in one second, each triggered by a sound, taste, or feeling in the present.

The good:

The writer avoids too much detail in the flashbacks, quickly describing only the senses and feelings needed as each narrative moves along at a brisk pace. Usually when I reach a flashback in a work, my eyes roll up, but I appreciated the memories in this work. Each memory works to build up this character and how he came to the current suicidal situation.

The could-use-improvement:

I hope I don’t spoil anything here. I’ll just say that the final punch fell a little flat for me. Even though I read it slowly, it took me a second and third read to see how the ending worked for this piece. I was looking for a structure that said “Our protagonist has done this, this, and this, so here’s the unexpected result”. The end is somewhat unexpected, but I didn’t feel it was strong enough compared to the disturbing flashbacks used to reach it.

My takeaway:

Without using too many adjectives, the author managed to paint meaningful, yet quick-moving flashback sequences. My writing could benefit if I adapt some of the descriptive narrative used in Seven Seconds.

BJ Neblett can be found on the web at bjneblett.com and bjneblett.blogspot.com.

Seven Seconds appears in eFiction Vol. 6, No. 4 (July 2015).

Buy the magazine at Amazon.

Buy the magazine at Barnes & Noble.