Friday, June 30, 2006

JED's Boo in a paragraph

Link to Original Story: Boo in a Paragraph - JED

I'm not sure how actually spooky this is. I certainly intended it to be spooky though. It may come off as trying a little too hard (what with the coke can suicide and the killing everyone in your family kinda thing). Still, I'm pretty happy with it. It's hard to be frightening, really encapsulating the essence of surprise and fright that is "boo!", in just a paragraph. I don't think you need to know what the thing is, and I don't think you need to know what it's going to do to you. Sufficed to say, it's bad. Horribly, horribly bad. And beyond that you leave it up to the imagination of the reader, trusting that it's far more vivid than anything you could scrawl down on the page. That's a nice technique and is important with all stories – knowing when to let the reader take over. It's a bit hard for me since my natural inclination (as you may have noticed) is to write and write and write until every atom in the room has its own paragraph-long description. And on that note, I do think it would be fun to re-visit this universe sometime, explore exactly what is going on with my own imagination. Maybe save that for next Halloween.

JED had a very interesting idea with this one, and some very horror imagery (tearing your wrists on a coke can, anyone?) but I can’t say I’m the biggest fan of it. First of all, most of all, probably the main reason I’m not as thrilled with this one, is that the grammarian in me insists that this is two paragraphs. Moreover, I just don’t think I quite get it. In part, the nebulousness is the point, but I was still left a little bit confused. I must also say, it doesn’t really make me jump. I’d be interested to see where he could take the idea with a little more room, though; it intrigues me.

JP's Boo in a Paragraph

Link to Original Story: Boo in a Paragraph - JP

My girlfriend and I stayed up late one night watching an anthology series on AMC or something about the top 100 monster movie moments. It occurred to me, then, (with a little help from my muse) that the scariest part is the moment right before the monster leaps out, when the tension release has just happened and the boo moment is hanging in space just a second ahead, just a foot behind you. For an extra treat, read this immediately after reading JED’s. It’s eerie how well they go together.

To the point. Boogy boogy! It is VERY hard to encapsulate the essence of suprised fear in a single paragraph. It's hard to do it in a whole story. I think JP does a very good job at it by framing the mood and painting a visceral scene. You should feel the uncertainty, have questions about the nature of things. To me it should be more tactile than visual, helping your skin to crawl, just a little. And I think he's got his finger on the quickening of pulse.

JP's Tell-Tale Heart

Link to Original Story: Tell-Tale Heart - JP

This was a fun story to write—once you get the voice, it comes quickly. What’s most interesting to me is how JED and I went different directions with this pitch, and what parts of the original story we each kept or discarded. JED chose to emphasize the detail Poe placed in the set-up to the murder, where as I abandoned that element entirely, and focused on the narrator’s madness vs. his belief in his own sanity. Also interesting is how we tied the story into the substance of our narratives. Mine is sort of a sequel to the events in the Tell-Tale Heart, whereas in JED’s, Poe’s stories exist as written, to ominous consequence. The most difficult part of writing this one was thinking of some justification for having a heart on the mantel. Ultimately, I think it adds something to the story, though, an insight into the fact that the victim isn’t exactly the most normal person either.

I should also mention that this pitch was C’s idea. I was talking about horror to her and trying to explain how Poe did it in this story, and she said “well, why don’t you rewrite it?”

Leaving comments isn't always easy. Understand now that I like ALL of JPs stories. Mostly because he's a very good writer, but also partly because he's my friend and brother (awwwww) and I know how he thinks. So it's fun for me watching how he plays with the pitches regardless of what he does. Not to mention that I think his stories are the far superiors of mine any day of the week. Still, these comments wouldn't be that interesting, or honest, if all we did was suck up to each other all the time. I could say nice things all day, but eventually the warm fuzzies would fade away, and my words would become a boring and pointless drone. The good stuff has no meaning if that's all I put down. A critic can be a useful thing - if they're honest. So in the spirit of that, let me say that I really don't think this is JP's best story. He gets the voice down pat - it sounds very Poe-y. And the essence of Poe's original is definitely there. But I feel it is too confused and blurred to really get at the feeling of paranoia and rage that the original portrays. It's hard to figure out what is happening and why. Normally JP is the essence of clarity, but here I think he would have benefited from a more drawn out stage. A longer story could have racheted up the tension and given him ample time to expand/explore the plot line. On the other hand, I'm not sure that this story deviates enough from Poe. It almost seems like it hoves too closely to the original, simply adding in another heart. And I'm not sure that 2 is better than 1. I do like the idea of keeping Poe in the picture and I do like the idea of the paranoia as a contagion of sorts. But I bet if JP had it to do again he could do a more interesting job. So there.

JED's Tell-Tale Heart

Link to Original Story: Tell-Tale Heart - JED

Holy crap, this was fun to write. I mean, seriously, this may have been the single most fun-to-write story I've ever written. We should do this more often. I wonder what I could make of Crime and Punishment…knowing me it would probably end up involving care bears or something. Anyway, I loved writing in Poe's style. It's so distinct and so over-elaborately anachronistic that it's easy to get it into. Like putting on a nice comfortable overcoat you found in your grandparents' closet. And doing it as a dark comedy was that much better. I'm not sure how actually funny it was, and it sure as hell wasn't subtle, but it made me chuckle at my own cleverosity while writing it. The paranoid maniac who actually is having the universe conspire against him is neat, as is putting in all that homage to Poe. JP had one brilliant suggestion that I wish I had thought of: at the end we should have seen that the cross-stitch actually read "I love Poetry." That woulda been brilliant.

I really like JED’s take on the main theme, and the puns, or references, or whatever the heck you want to call them vary between clever and just plain absurd; either way, they left me smiling. I must say, however, he takes a little too long getting there. I was well past page one when I realized the story wasn’t meant to be serious, and then I just got confused up until the policemen showed up. It seems kind of disjointed that way; a seriousy-poe-y type beginning with a seriously jokey type end. The whole thing shouldn’t necessarily be a farce, but I definitely think the beginning could be smoothed over to make way for the punchlines. If this story were tightened and streamlined, it could be seriously fun. As it is, much like a watermelon blow-pop, you have to tough through a drawn-out beginning and confusing transition to get to the delicious bubble-gum finale.

JED's Ghost Story

Link to Original Story: Ghost Story - JED

When I first wrote this story I was proud of it. Then for a while, I wasn't. Now I'm proud of it again. Go figure. I liked this story for two main reasons: visual imagery and possible interpretation of context. After reading and re-reading I think that the imagery may be a bit over the top in spots; too tightly packed without enough space for anything other than pretty pretty reflection. But I still think it's got some nice phrasing and paints a vivid picture. As for the multiplicity of interpretations, that may just be something I see because I wrote it, but I really like it anyway. See, as I figure it you could see this story as the reflections and fears of either a) a man who is destined to become a ghost (as the narrator explicitly states, b) a man who already is a ghost (not his detachment from real life and think 6 th Sense) or c) a man who is crazy and thinks he's going to be a ghost and in retreating from life has turned himself into a living ghost. Don't ask me, 'cause I don't know. A little of each maybe, or something else altogether. At any rate, I thought it was a somewhat original take on the pitch.

I read JED’s comments on my Poe story and my version of this story before writing this, and I must say, it’s eerie how well our thoughts track, even when we don't like each other. Perhaps especially then, even. You see, on the Poe story, we both had fun producing a product that the other thought could have been better, and on this one, we both disliked the other’s work initially, then had it grow on us with re-reading. When I first read JED’s Ghost Story, I honestly thought it was one of his worst. I thought the introductory descriptions were overdone, the pacing was a bit tedious, and the whole point was a little strange and confusing. On re-reading, I don’t see any of that (well, the point is still strange, but I appreciate it much more). What brought on this dramatic change of heart? I have no idea; maybe I was expecting something different out a ghost story, and wasn’t prepared. Who can say? I still think this is a strange story, and I would like to see more of a supernatural element to it, instead of just reflective brooding, but I’ve been converted—I’m now a fan of this one. It’s very… overcast.

JP's Ghost Story

Link to Original Story: Ghost Story - JP

I’m not fond of this story—the first lesson in the fact that horror writing is hard. It’s an old-fashioned ghost story, but the scary parts are far too abbreviated. I really didn’t (don’t?) have the first idea how to build tension. Horror is a very visual and auditory medium, which is hard to convey in writing while still evoking the same responses. I always thought I’d be a great horror writer, but it turns out having horrific ideas and translating them to the page are two separate things. Hopefully, I’m getting better at that, and this is a story I’d like to approach from a different perspective later on. As for the meat of the story, I still think it’s pretty spooky, even if the writing doesn’t convey that. I frightened myself thinking about lying alone in a tent at night listening to the sound of chattering getting closer and closer.

The first time I read this story, I didn't really like it that much. But now I like it much more. I initially thought that the core idea, the ghostly chattering teeth was great, but I hated the way the story was told. I thought it was too campy, too cliche. Now I think that it went right over my head. See, campy is the point. The whole thing is supposed to sound like a campfire story from the last century. And JP nails that voice right on the head. That doesn't mean that I love the story in and of itself. The campfire genre is very constrained and more than a little predictable. But the point of this game is to stretch yourself, to let yourself inhabit genres and voices you might not normally explore. JP does that very well here. And he also manages to come up with an original spook to flesh it out. Even if you don't neccesarily enjoy a story, that kind of competence and professionalism has to be admired.

JP's Moses

Link to Original Story: Moses - JP

Like the previous story, this one is a last minute special, and hasn’t been edited either—I hadn’t even read it until just before writing this comment. JED likes this story, and on a second reading, it’s better than I thought it was, but I still consider it a failure. I think the idea is a sound one, maybe even a beautiful one, but I waited far too long to actually write it, and the execution is a little lacking. There are two parts, two paragraphs I like. The first one is when Aaron is being led into the chamber and it juxtaposes the church service and the execution so that the two become one event. I wish I could have written the entire story in that same style, but it was difficult to keep up; at least at six thirty on a Saturday night, with a very hungry C subtly asking to be fed and why the hell I hadn’t written it earlier. The second part I like is the actual execution—if I rewrite this story, I’ll keep that paragraph.

JED says thusly:

JED's Moses

Link to Original Story: Moses - JED

Okay, let me start by saying that I know this is wrong. It's bad. Not just in a literary way (which I freely admit to) but bad in a moral and societal way. This story is not healthy. That said, I had to write it. Couldn't help it. Got it stuck in my head and couldn't get it out. Oh, I tried other ideas, but nothing good came to me. Like this story was a massive er…poo…clogging the pipes of my mind. I had to plunge it out before I could think straight again. And isn't that a wonderful visual image. On the plus side it was fun to write. Not that it was clever or insightful or anything, but it was fun in a lame high school dork, TV sitcom writer way. I'm probably going to racist hell where I'll have to play spades with Hitler and hearts with some other horrible racist dude. I can't think of anyone right now. Dammit.

JP says thusly:

JED's Superhero Origin

Link to Original Story: Superhero Origin - JED

When I first wrote this story, I liked it. I thought it was clever and film noire-y. Reading it now, I think it's crap. Hard to understand, vague, and pretentious. But let me say this in my defense – it is HARD to come up with a unique superhero origin. I mean, there are like 50 million superheros and they all have origins. Doing something original is tough. Think of all the things that are already taken: alien, industrial/scientific accident, mutation, cosmic zap, magic amulet, predestination, built by the government, intentional design, etc, etc. All done. Not all done well, mind you, but all done. The same goes for superpowers; nothing you can write that isn't already written. And in retrospect I wish I had just stuck to formula. Noble of me to attempt to break new ground, but I think it falls on its face. The dialogue was okay, if a little pompous at times. The mood was alright. In general, it isn't my worst, but it isn't my best either.

JP says thusly:

JP's Superhero Origin

Link to Original Story: Superhero Origin - JP

JED points out that in areas, it’s difficult to tell whether the characters are saying what they would actually say or what tv and movies have told us they would say. That’s certainly true to an extent. I lived in a very poor, predominantly black neighborhood in Charleston for a year, and I’ve tried to base this on those experiences, but at times, the stereotype was difficult to escape. This story was definitely written at the last possible minute, and lacks editing. I have no idea how I would turn this character into a real superhero, but I look forward to trying.

I actually started writing a very different story for this pitch, but was only three paragraphs into it when I realized it was untenable, in part because the history of Scotland refused to conform itself to my ideas of what it ought to have been.

JED says thusly:

JED's Song to Story

Link to Original Story: Song to Story - JED

First thing I noticed, the damn narrative voice changes. It goes from being an adult reminiscing to a child remembering recent events. It isn't jarring but it bothers me nonetheless. So, in case you don't know this story is based on the lyrics of "Through the Door" by Toad the Wet Sprocket. This isn't my favorite song in the whole world, though I am a TWS fan. I chose it because it's obviously telling a story, and I think I always wanted to know what that story was. The phoenix idea came to me smack dab out of the middle of nowhere, and to be honest I love it. It's weird, I think it's creative, and it's damn fun. I did a little phoenix research online and found out that they were rumored to build nests of cinnamon and other spices. Details like that are fun to toss in, just to give the story a little more substance. Again, I think it rushed at the end, but at this point we were still sticking fairly close to the 2 page limit, so I'll cut myself a little slack there.

Have to admit, this isn’t my favorite piece. JED gets points for going with a song I wouldn’t have thought of (though I, too, am a big Toad fan), and major bonus points for accurate detail into the phoenix myth. Also, I think the voice is well done, though perhaps a little sophisticated for the boy’s age. But overall, this one fell a little flat to me. It tracks very closely with the song, almost to the point where it doesn’t add much new, and what was really original here, the phoenix, was a little confusing. I do like that David was blind, and the phoenix gave him sight, but only for that single second. If this story were developed a lot more, I think it could be a winner—I can just imagine a Henson-esque phoenix, like from the old Storyteller series (if you haven’t seen it, go find it now), and vivid descriptions of the dusty old house, the neighborhood; oh yes, there is potential here. More interaction with the phoenix would be cool, though it would depart from the song. But in its current form, it needs work. Still, all told, whenever Glen Philips sang “Through the door, what do I see?” I always wanted to scream, “I don’t friggin’ know! Tell me!” Now, I no longer have to do that.:

JP's Song to Story

Link to Original Story: Song to Story - JP

For those unfamiliar with the song, this is based off of “The Stolen Child,” by the Waterboys, which is itself the Yeats poem of the same name set to music. Though the poem is about liberating a child from the sorrows of the human world to the joys of a magical realm, I always thought there was an element of sadness to it; “he’ll hear no more the lowing of the calves on the cold hillside,” I think personifies that sense of loss that is embedded somehow in the words and in the music the Waterboys added. It took me a while to come up with this idea, but when it came, I was possessed to write it… I just suddenly got the image of the boy underwater, bubbles trailing from his mouth, reaching out to a smiling fairy. This is probably the saddest piece I’ve ever written, and to me, it’s very haunting. I’m still not sure that the ending isn’t too abrupt, but I have difficulty wading back through the emotions involved to fix it. Maybe that’s the sign of an amateur.

JED says thusly:

JED's Sex

Link to Original Story: Sex - JED

It's actually been awhile since I wrote this. Almost a whole week! Things have been busy (or so I pretend) and so I've been working more on writing the next story than thinking about the last one. So, I just re-read it, and unsurprisingly was both embarrassed and pleased. First off I should say that JP really seemed to like this one. I think the idea was creative, and I'll give myself a clap on the back for it. The only down side is that it's more about lust than sex, but in the end I think that's okay. I also like the character of the narrator, there's something more interesting in his subtle lust than the overt lust Odysseus describes. And it was fun for me to do a bit of a fantasy. This is the first one I've done yet, and I'm proud of myself for holding out so long. That all said, I think its tone is melodramatic and stilted. Too grandiose and too awkward at the same time. Some of the sentences sound very "senior year in high school." And of course it seems rushed – I think he should have talked more about what he did before and after the sirens. In general it's not bad, though I do think it's a showcase for my limitations as much as my abilities.

I’m writing this note well down the road from when this story was written, and it’s still one of my favorites, from either of us. Sure, there’s a little graphic homosexual handjobbery going on, but that’s not the point. First of all, the story is just well-written, from start to finish. To me, the writing evokes the mood of a sky growing dark with clouds, but without rain. Second of all, it’s a fascinating take on the Odysseus myth, making what is, in reality, a fairly small aspect of the story, and allowing it to escape its confines; I love the idea that something relatively minor and trivial can be the incident that everything later revolves around. Also, both of the characters here, Odysseus himself and the narrator, are extremely complex and realistic characters. It’s not often that characters make so much of themselves known in such a small space. Finally, JED creates a powerful meditation on the nature of lust, the unbridled burning nature that drives men past the point of insanity, even when every fiber of them strains to resist. Odysseus, not the Sirens, is lust personified. He returned to his life, and he lived as best he could, but that base instinct is always there beneath the surface, screaming to get out. I think that’s true of many of us, and it’s a testament to our rationality and civilization that we don’t let it out more often.

JP's Sex

Link to Original Story: Sex - JP

This was kind of a cop-out for the pitch, but I like the way it turned out. Actually, it was a cop-out all around, because the idea wasn’t new; I’d been working on the idea for a story called Noir for some time now, and this is just a scene from the much larger story. I still plan on writing Noir, and I hope I can work this into it substantially unchanged. JED likes the contrast between the filthiness of the city and the purity of the sex; I tend to agree. The dream segment is intended to be highly visual in the overlay of Rual on the sex scene, and I hope I succeeded in that. Some of Rual’s comments were intended to interplay with the action, but I was amazed at how well even the ones I didn’t intend to actually still did. I like the present tense voice, but I wonder if it can be sustained through a much longer story… maybe the narrative should be broken up so that Ben only tells parts of it.

JED says thusly:

JP's Dog Days of Summer

Link to Original Story: Dog Days of Summer - JP

This story started off as a matter-of-fact reflection by a middle-aged werewolf. I still think that would make a good story, especially after getting JED’s input and ideas, and maybe I’ll write that someday. When I finally sat down to write the story, though, I felt like I didn’t want another matter of fact reflective story like I wrote for Memory Garden, so I decided to try and write a cartoon instead. This is what emerged. JED views it as a prologue to the much longer story of Leo and Tam’s past with Mikah. I prefer to think of it as the start to a new story, though I haven’t yet figured out what. I still wonder if I should have discussed what the characters are.

JED says thusly:

JED's Dog Days of Summer

Link of Original Story: Dog Days of Summer - JED

Well, I tried something different this time. Several somethings different, actually. I knew fairly quickly that I didn't want to write anything that was a play on words, nothing about real dogs, or anything like that. Sooo that left me with trying to encapsulate some of the actual feeling of the "dog days of summer." Seeing as how I was writing this DURING the dog days my inspiration was right at hand. And the idea to use a conversation between JP and myself came to me pretty quickly. I also thought it might be a good chance for me to do some cathartic writing. I'm really nervous about being a postdoc (what if I suck, what if it sucks, what if nothing interesting happens, what if they figure out I'm an idiot, etc, etc). So I figured what the hell, go for ultra-realistic. I also wanted to do something different as far as writing style. I'd been thinking about some sort of film noir kinda thing, but that really wouldn't work with this pitch. So I settled on having it be almost entirely dialog. For the record, that is not easy to do. You have to establish characters with at least somewhat separable identities and maintain an image in the reader's mind without ever actually describing the scene. It is not something at which I excel (especially given that I don't like writing dialog at all). So I cheated a little and let myself put in one line of description at the end of each section. I don't actually like this story very much, but that doesn't mean that I think it's bad. It doesn't suck, it's just, not my taste. I think the dialog itself came out better than I hoped, fairly real, and not too stereotyped. As JP pointed out, neither of the characters is too extreme, they seem fairly similar, though at different stages of life. I like that. I'm not sure the story has much resolution, but I hope that I threw in enough random imagery that a reader might see something smarter than what I intended ("Ah, the crab is like that guy, and the heron is like the other guy, see? And the stick is like this metaphorical representation of existential angst, dig?"). Anyway, I hope it's not so personal that it becomes meaningless to anyone other than he and I; I tried to keep the characters fairly nondescript on purpose. JP had two excellent points: 1) don't put apostrophes after "summers" and "Sundays" (I could have punched myself in the mouth for that one, stupid, stupid, stupid) and 2) The last descriptive wandered perilously close to narrative voice. This story shouldn't have a narrator, so the descriptives should be written without verbal inflection – otherwise they sound too 3 rd persony. I cheated a little and fixed it with his suggestion (a comma and an and). Oh well, shoot me.

JP says thusly:

JED's Memory Garden

Link to Original Story: Memory Garden - JED

This story is the exact opposite of last weeks story. Or on second thought, it's not. Like last week I waited to the last minute to work on this. I put it off until noon Friday, mostly because I was able to come up with excuses, and convince myself that there was plenty of time left (this is a disturbing pattern in my life). While I was working I was thinking of a couple of ideas – Alzheimer's, family bibles, memorial gardens, etc. But I didn't even have a precise theme until the last minute. The first thing that came to me was the first sentence. And I think I wanted it to be in first person because JP does so well with voice – partly to show him that I could do it, but mostly to prove to myself that I could do it. But I ended up being pretty fortunate in that it just flowed. I sat down to write and the story just unrolled itself like a red carpet. I really like it. I like the integrated themes of bible and memory loss. I like the overt garden metaphor and the flashbacks. It might not be the best story but I'm really quite happy with the way it turned out. Again, I went over and then had to cut it back, but I think so long as it's just a little over, that method works well. The only thing I'm not crazy about is the last sentence or too – bit cheesy. JP and I discussed how it's interesting to "find your place" when reading these stories. In the beginning he wasn't certain who the narrator was, thinking her to be a little girl, then a young woman, and finally realizing that she was an elderly woman with Alzheimer's. I think that could work against you because you could end up spending too much time trying to find your place and miss some of the theme and beauty in the first couple of paragraphs. But it isn't always a bad thing, the feeling of everything snapping into view can be very pleasing. Like a lot else, I guess you just have to balance one against the other. JP and I also agree that it's neat to see the extended world of the stories. I hope (and think) that anyone who reads this can see that this is only one part of the character's lives and stories. For instance, Henry is a big part of the main character's life, though he isn't the point of this story.

JP says thusly: