Working as a First Reader isn’t difficult. I read, I evaluate, I offer a constructive critique, and usually, I reject. I can’t speak to the rest of the editorial process at Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores, but when it comes to my part in the submission process the choice of how to rate a story and whether or not to recommend it to the editors for publication has always been fairly straightforward.
In my last Fantasy reading period, there was one story in particular that stood out to me above all of the others. My Heart is a Prayer by Ryan Row, was recently published by Cosmic Roots. I’ll be discussing it here with the permission of both the author and the editors.
My Heart is a Prayer is the story of two alchemists, husband and wife, who, out of grief for their dead son and through a combination of weird science and sorcery, are inspired to craft a sort of steampunk/magic Frankenstein as an outlet to relieve their sorrow. What made the story most endearing to me was that it was told from the creature’s perspective as it slowly took shape, becoming more aware of it’s human creators and their feelings and expressing a character arc of it’s own. The soul of the creature is revealed to the reader to be that of a demon, ancient beyond the alchemists’ knowledge, powerful, evil, and of undefined but malevolent intention. I won’t spoil the ending here, but I will suggest that it would be well worth the reader’s while to obtain a subscription to Cosmic Roots and Eldritch Shores in order to read the story in it’s entirety.
So lets get down to brass tacks. What made this story stand out above all the others of that reading period for me? For starters, Row’s prose is as beautiful as it is sad. The whole thing left me with the feeling of having read an epic poem. It’s pacing is flawless, gradually building the scene, adding atmospheric details a bit at a time, and revealing the tragic backstory behind the motivation of the alchemists. The blending of weird science and magic was equally well thought out, intricately detailed, and gave fascinating hints at a culture of mystical practitioners already in being in this fictional world. Most important to me was how Row treated the Creation. It’s true essence was alluded to so subtly at first, and exposed in it’s entirety only as it assumed it’s final form. It evoked a genuine sense of wonder in me, accompanied by horror at the notion of what would become of it’s creators once they finally succeeded in bringing it to life.
If I could ask the reader to take anything away from all of this, it would be that good speculative fiction, hell, good writing of any kind, is a craft. My Heart is a Prayer was magnificently crafted from start to finish, and so lovingly polished that it almost glowed. These are the hallmarks of a thoughtful, experienced writer in any genre. According to the bibliography on his website, Row has an impressive publication history under his belt stretching back several years, as well as a Writers of the Future Award. This shouldn’t discourage less experienced writers from trying to get published in markets like Cosmic Roots. On the contrary, it offers an example and sets a standard. We all start somewhere. Like any craft, writing takes time and effort to hone. That time and effort spent will eventually show through, and the result will be something amazing.