Saturday, March 19, 2011

Sword & Sorceress 2011

It's that time of year again: I prepare to charge up the submission shores of Sword & Sorceress. This year, submissions are limited to two (assuming the first is rejected within the submissions window) ... and I am breaking my brain trying to figure out which stories best fit the style of the anthology. The combination of trying to categorize and identify my own style versus assessing what I've found in stories by others maddens me. I've never been very good at it. I certainly don't have a gut-level feel for it.

I have read three Sword & Sorceress anthologies: XVII, XXI (the first one edited by someone other than Bradley) and XXIV, edited by the reigning red pen, Elisabeth Waters. So I've encountered a fairly wide range of the stories selected. The most significant feature is that the stories have a strong bias towards female narrators - though not exclusively. A majority, but not a distinct majority, feature warriors and battles. Others involve quests, puzzles, and quieter adventures. Though personal battles rather than global stakes - usually considered a defining feature between sword and sorcery and high fantasy - predominate, some of the stories involve princesses, kingdoms, the fate of the world, etc ... which sort of stretches the point of calling it "Sword & Sorceress," to me. Conclusion: it's not just for swashbucklers and fight scenes (and better for it).

At present, my definite contender is:

Stolen Moments: Mantisia, an unusual child who ages a year in a day, stows away with an adult friend when he goes to pay a mysterious debt. I do have concerns that this story might be a bit experimental (gah, that word!) for Sword & Sorceress: it's in first person POV with each scene narrated "immediately" - so that it starts with a (albiet precocious) seven year old narrator and vocabulary and progresses throughout. However, my favorite stories in XXIV were the ones that tread different paths in regards to setting, and I think (hope!) this would have a similar kind of interest. Seven thousand words. Ouch.

The other three are wrangling around with each other:

Kept Woman: An assassin assigned must pose as one of thirty-some royal brides, but how will she react when she develops feelings for the first among their number? Story also comes in around 7k; I know longer tales are handicapped, and I'm reluctant to submit two in that range. This is one of my older stories, too, though believe me it'll get a thorough polish ...
Note Taking: Among a people where music is language, Ecca is handicapped by her lack of pitch ... but this unassuming servant girl may be the only one who can break the language barrier with a foreign people. I think the feel of this one is on the right track, but - and this is a big but - there is no magic in this setting. At all. I don't think I've seen a secondary world sans magic in any of the anthologies. For me, this is a short story - 5k.
Dancing Day: A group of young teleporters who lose their abilities upon maturity must keep the traditions of their conquered city alive ... but how can one dance the Silver Tree with no instruments to play? (Look, Lindsey is obsessing about music!) I can't put my finger on what makes me uncertain about this one. Well, length, at least - yet another story in the 7k range. Unfortunately, that seems to be my sweet spot for length.

As an aside, I did have this whole problem figured out - but the original story I had intended to set aside for story #2 sold. (Well, good news bad news ...) So back to the drawing board!

Anyone who has experience with Sword & Sorceress and is better at eyeballing, I would love some advice. Currently my plan is to bang my head against a wall until I hurt myself and do some divination with the blood.

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