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Hooper Triplett's picture

Grey Matter

By Hooper Triplett in Arrest Us

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A struggling psychotherapist helps a client figure out what happened to his missing lover, but at great risk to her sanity and well-being.


Tom Lydon's picture
Tom Lydon from Britain July 1, 2014 - 4:04am

I like the premise - the idea of a therapist going off-book and getting attached to one of her cases is interesting and has a lot of legs. Annabeth's character also shows a lot of promise - she obviously has her own demons, and it would have been great to see these expanded on a bit, or at least alluded to, in order to get an idea into what's driving her.

I had some problems with the character of Joseph - he doesn't feel worked through enough. His opening line - "My boyfriend... left me five weeks ago" - doesn't seem to fit with the situation, given the guy has apparently vanished without a trace. It seems like he should be more fixated on the disappearance, and the fact no-one believes him - otherwise he just sounds a bit narcissistic and self-absorbed.

Also, if Joseph's dad is a deputy - i.e. with law-enforcement connections - it seems odd for Joseph not to mention this up-front as well. Would his dad have got involved early - maybe been the conduit to the local police, but controlling the information he gives his son, to avoid suspicion? But it doesn't seem natural not to at least mention him further up the story.

I'm a bit split on the in media res opening - on the one hand the action is great, and pulls the reader in straight away, but on the other it limits the avenues for the story - we pretty much know it'll end in a blood-bath. Which is not a bad thing.

The fight itself I thought was good - it was exciting, full of peril. Two issues, one big one small: first, it doesn't seem realistic that the guy could keep on going like he did after having one eye destroyed by a glass bottle - or have the willpower and pain tolerance to remove the shards from his eye, and then carry on pretty much as normal. Second quibble is that things are a bit convenient for Annabeth in the basement - she doesn't have to work for many of her tools or openings.

The writing was good overall - I thought it might be a bit over-written, but it sort of fits with the character being a highly educated therapist. Some of it does read a bit like an essay, though. Oh, and "pantomath" - that one brought me up short. Given it isn't even in official dictionaries (apparently), I'd switch it out for a more common word.

One issue - the dad's speech towards the end was very exposition-y, and not particularly natural for a man in his situation to come out with pretty much unprompted all at once.

Overall, I enjoyed it - Annabeth is an interesting character, and an intriguing way of making bad decisions...

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 1, 2014 - 5:49pm

Thanks Tom - you've hit on many good points and concerns I had going in.  I would like another shot at the Deputy's dialogue at least.

Pantomath - an indulgence that I could have done without!

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 1, 2014 - 6:26am

Hey Hooper,

The story didn't really make sense to me. I didn't understand why— if the protagonist hated the client she was given— she would go sniffing around these people's lives like she did. I didn't get the motivation for it. Your whole story hinges on that motivation, and it's not there.

I like what you tried to do in the beginning, but there wasn't enough substance there to hold the reader. The reveal was a bit anticlimactic for me. It just felt constructed, maybe because I was having a hard time believing (or understanding) that the MC would be doing this. And I kept wondering why the father didn't handcuff her or something, being in his police gear. He could have just arrested her, then did what he wanted.

It sounds like a lot, but these things can be tightened up pretty easily.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 1, 2014 - 5:51pm

Thanks Devon for the read.  I think I'm trying to convey that Annabeth is unable to handle the routine stresses of her professional role - not about hating the clients, but being incapable of doing what she she should.  Thought a great deal about moving away from first person, and wonder if that would have been easier.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 1, 2014 - 8:12am


I think you have something here with Annabeth. Like Tom said, the idea of a therapist that can and does go off book to help her clients has legs, and I liked a lot of Annabeth's attitude. She's very relatable, and her interactions with Katarina made me like her even more.

That said, the story didn't fully work for me. Annabeth is good, and for me, your strongest moments was when she starts off looking for Wesley. I like that she has connections to the seedy side of the world. The problem is that you didn't get me to buy in that Annabeth would go through all this trouble for Wesley, a patient she had just met. Yeah, you tell us that her mind is wired differently, but I didn't feel like that was enough. There's also no inner conflict, and I think there's tons of potential for that. Show us her struggling with the decision to help, give us more of a glimpse into her head and what she's really thinking. Is it an obsession, in that she has to help people? Is it just so that she can get rid of Wesley faster?

This really feels like an idea for a longer piece than a short story. The revelation of Joseph's dad being the killer comes really fast, and his about turn didn't work for me. One minute, he's proud of Joseph and being all fatherly, and the next he's ranting and raving about Wesley. There's not enough build to make it seem natural. Maybe introduce the father early on, let the reader get to know him, and then when he shows up again, that's when he goes all 180. I also didn't quite get why he would attack Annabeth. Wouldn't it have been smarter to just let her go? It's not like she had any proof.

The fight scene is good. It's quick enough that you don't let the reader grow bored, but detailed enough that you paint a nice, vivid picture. I think a lot of your dialogue is good too, mostly when Annabeth and Katarina are talking. For me, the begining and end didn't really work for separate reasons.

The beginning is definitely a nice hook, but because you move away from it, you are risking that the reader is just going to want to get back to that moment, and not really focus on anything else. I didn't have that happened to me, but I'm not sure if you lose much by removing that scene. If you do want to keep it, I would suggest taking out this line:

This story begins earlier with the reluctant realization that I might be the worst therapist in the world.

Or more especifically, 'this story begins' part. It doesn't add to the story at all, and makes the rest of the sentence too passive.

The ending is kinda similar, where you gloss over a lot of detail to try to quickly wrap up the story. It feels like you realized you were coming to the word limit and tried to end things quickly. What happened to Joseph? It's kinda weird the entire story is started by him, yet we never see him again.


I hope some of this helped. I really did like Annette, and would be happy to reread a second pass of this, or maybe something in which you're not tied down by a word limit. As with these things, this is just my opinion. Take what helps, disregard the rest.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 1, 2014 - 5:55pm

Thanks Hector - really appreciate the time and review.  Very helpful.

I think I was too wedded to the hook at the beginning, and could have thought of something else.  I think many of the stories submitted so far have struggled with a strong start, so I probably overcompensated.  It made tying the front and back an additional challenge.

Dad's dialogue is a problem - agreed.

What to do with Joseph?  I considered bring him back at the conclusion, but to do what was the question I couldn't answer.

I think as a character Annabeth can work, but I need a simple tighter tale to tell.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 1, 2014 - 7:46pm

Made a few tweaks.

Joe P's picture
Joe P from Brainerd, MN is reading Wheel of Time July 3, 2014 - 4:38am

I liked his one. Your characters really pop to life and have depth.  I loved the narrator's flaws and compulsion. Why was she so fixated on this one client? This brought me through the whole story and kept me entertained along the way. I have to say, I wasn't completely satisfied at the end. Does she have a relative who's struggled with being excepted as a homosexual? Has a sister been in a relationship and was suddenly abandoned? What about this case in particular consumes your narrator when she obviously doesn't care that much about her other clients? Sure, her boss wants her to focus on this case, but it seems like there's something more.
Also, your narrator has some issues going on, and we never find out what those are.  I like you closing line about us "not paying attention," but I don't think I have a good understand of who she is yet. Maybe I wasn't paying attention, because I'm still not sure what motivates her to read books instead of doing other things. If you can show me her motives and why she is the way she is, then the ending will really punch.
Sometimes your flow clunks a little. I recommend reading and re-reading and reading it aloud to find where you can smooth out some passages. Any passage where you pause or need to start over, re-write. I know this helps me.
But like I said, this was fun and entertaining. Keep writing and it will only get better!

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 3, 2014 - 7:09pm

Thanks Joe - appreciate the encouragement and positive feedback.  I have a lot of work to do!

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. July 3, 2014 - 3:55pm


Overall I liked this story. I loved your opening and closing lines, liked Annabeth and your writing style is enviable. However, like the others, I simply couldn't get on board with Annabeth's reasons for the investigation. The investigation itself is so much fun that I kind of forgot about that and figured it'd be cleared up by the end but was sorely disappointed when it wasn't. I can understand how she'd want some form of closure to help her with her job but going to those lengths really don't seem necessary. Maybe if there was more of her and Joseph it'd make more sense. She could either have like, extreme empathy for him since they both suffer from sleep deprivation or maybe if we knew more about her past it could be that her own life problems parallel his. These are just suggestions. The only other thing that didn't feel quite right was how suddenly the dad turned on her. I feel like that's another scene that could do with a little more drawing out. It could've been a very tense point in your story. I can see though how you might've had to rush these to fit under the word count but it still would've been nice to have a little more information. In the end though, none of the problems mattered that much because it was a pretty rad story. Kudos.


Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 3, 2014 - 7:11pm

Thanks much Aud for taking the time to read and give some feedback.  I have to agree 100% that pacing is a problem.  There are obviously other things that need work, but I suspect I'm trying to cram too much into too little space.

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated July 10, 2014 - 2:32am

Hooper Tripplett,

as the story is, it has a lot of potential, previous comments have already pointed out the issues which are easily rectified, as first drafts go, this has direction, its just lacking that polish. One thing, the rhythms you use can sometimes be disjointed. Sometimes the sentence structure flows absolutely perfectly but other times, well, its almost like a guitar solo that goes on just a bit too long if that makes sense? Easily remedied, just read it out aloud and edit accordingly, I hope this doesnt sound patronising because its certainly not intended.

I gave this a thumbs up because it doesnt deserve a thumbs down (and not voting is such a cop out) and you've certainly got the writing ability to make this shine.

Good luck with the contest.

All the best


Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 10, 2014 - 6:30pm

Guitar solo too long - makes perfect sense to me.  I'm striving for something that sounds like natural speech and thought, and the temptation to add a written flourish can be considerable!

Thanks Mad!

Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures July 10, 2014 - 11:38am

What else can I say that hasn't already been addressed by other readers? Not much! I liked this story but the issues others have found with it, I also found with it. 

I'll simply state that this is a good start to what could be a very intriguing and excellent story. It was paced well and I liked the characters. The interactions between Annabeth and Katrina were great, I found their dialogue to be really crisp and realistic. 

I think a bit more backstory on Annabeth would help us understand why she is having such a freak out and a bit more detail on Joseph would help even more, but that pesky word count does get in the way.

Regardless, your story has a lot of fine potential, good luck to you!

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 10, 2014 - 6:27pm

Thanks Juice - appreciate the kind words and feedback.  Again, just cramming too much into 5000 words.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 14, 2014 - 6:12am

I liked this one, it’s a good concept, but it does seem to be an earlyish draft. That’s good in a way, because the potential shines through even at this stage.

I like the idea of the therapist getting sucked into this mystery, though I’d echo other comments that you need to close off the motivation a little first. I think that a lot of Annabeth’s backstory is irrelevant in a story of this length. We don’t need to have that relationship with the boss to serve the story. We don’t need to know that she’s the worst therapist in the world. If you cut that out, you can build more on the fact that she becomes obsessive about cases involving no closure. Maybe hint to a similar case in her past, and certainly don’t have her becoming so involved after just one session with Joe.

I don’t think you make the most of her job at the moment. She could be anyone loosely connected to Joe at the moment. The father tells her everything with minimal probing. I’d also have liked to have seen her try and talk her way out of the situation before violence ensues. It would make the most of her occupation.

The action later on feels oddly passive to me. There’s no urgency in the fight considering she is desperately trying to stay alive. Look at each of the sentences and think about if there is any way you can add urgency. For example, “After a couple attempts to get inside my flailing arms and legs, he finally lowered his shoulders and bloodied face, and plowed into my already bruised midsection driving me against the wall and knocking the breath out of me. “ Maybe consider shortening this – “He brushed away my flailing arms and drove his shoulder into my gut.” Shorter, terser sentence structure is needed.

Solid thumbs up from me. Good luck with this one.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 16, 2014 - 6:58pm

Hey Adam - much thanks for taking the time to read it and give feedback.


Totally agree with you about motivation - even to me it feels like a 45 RPM record played at 78 RPM.  Can I get your thoughts about whether the challenges with showing Annabeth's thinking/motivation can be reworked in this 5000 word limit?  Or does the story need more space to do so? 

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 17, 2014 - 12:17am

I think it can be done within the current limits. You'd need either to show that this disappearance resonated in some way with her backstory (a disappearing loved one), and/or that she has been sucked into a client's life before. It doesn't need to be heavy exposition. You could drop the odd hint here and there.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 17, 2014 - 6:14pm

Thanks Adam!

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 16, 2014 - 6:14am

Very stylish, but the detached narration (although great) seemed at odds with the character of a therapist who feels too much empathy. The motivations didn't quite fit in places, but I liked the tiny mistake that caught out the killer being subtle and just dropped into a speech. However, the killer then goes from loving father who was saving his son from what he believes is a bad thing, to being a brutal killer and possible potential rapist. There's some good work, excellent prose, but it still feels like it needs more thinking through.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 16, 2014 - 6:53pm

Thanks Seb for the time and comments.  I need to figure out how to demonstrate her cognitive dissonance in the first person narrative.  How do I show that she's burnt out and if she doesn't distance herself from her clients, she's going to burst into figurative flames.  The first-person narrative makes it tricky.  I think I can do it, but this story probably needs more than 5000 words for the reader to get a better grasp of just how weak she is.

Would love your thoughts on that.  Can it be done as a short story, or is this better suited for a quasi-novella?

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 16, 2014 - 11:39pm

I think it can work as a short story, just perhaps needs another thousand words to do so. I would keep the narration style as it is and remove the bit about her feeling too much empathy. She's up all night because she's burnt out and she thinks about her clients because she has nothing else to do, not because she can't switch off the empathy. Then it works, plus it gives her motivation for snooping on her cases at night - she's bored. Boredom can push people into doing truly odd things. As for the killer, when he slips up perhaps detail the moment when he freezes, realising he's been caught. Describe the change in his face, Jekyll to Hyde, showing his excuse was literally just that, and excuse. With her profession she should be able to see through his charade anyway. That's my take, I think it's nearly there.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch July 17, 2014 - 6:14pm

Makes sense - thanks Seb.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 21, 2014 - 8:03am

Hi Hooper,

I'm afraid this one didn't really grab me. The twist such as it is, that Joseph's dad murdered Wesley, isn't particularly well integrated, he tells her as much, after his appearance late in the show. Her hunt for him becomes pretty much irrelevant. And the escape is a little too easy when you compare a state trooper to a tater-top eating shrink. Plus, a state trooper would probably work out a better way of getting rid of the body. 

I'm not particularly enamoured by your shrink's voice, there's some plodding description of other cases, of how bad she is - none of which is particularly relevant to the story, and I'm not sure the language you have is particularly convincing, I want a few medical terms that help me believe this is a professional.

Ditto the "gay" aspects. The father who is proud of his son regardless, the bath houses, all of this is a bit stereotypical, and I'm not getting a sense of feeling any of it.

Some other read-through comments.

The right corner of his mouth was upturned in malicious grin. - meaning that this character is only about the narrator, because if he was his own characer at all, he wouldn't be grinning or about to enjoy what comes next with a broken beer bottle in his eye.

For that matter, she can slash at him, but to knowingly stab in one eye, that's a little accurate for a heat of a moment response...?

Equal parts of my misfiring brain pled - an uncommon variant of "pleaded"? Ugly though even if valid.

It doesn't take 11 years to work out you're the worst in the world at something.

My version reads as un-indented, which does make it more difficult to pick out paragraph breaks.

They're sharing the tater tots. So she can't really criticise Annabeth for eating them?

After 5 weeks, it wouldn't only be Joseph worried about Wesley being missing.

Section with Tiny is a bit long,and her calling him Sugar seems a bit odd. Plus, she approached after Tiny had said to Dennis that she was first, does she need to still approach?

The free afternoon, go straight to the murderer bit is probably what makes this story too simple. And really, this is conflict in proxy until she gets captured, you say she's going to get fixated by a case, but never why this case when she has a half dozen already on the go. I wonder why the shrink has to be a female at all? You might make it a lot better if he's male, and if so, the deputy might be viewing her/him as - well is this one a keeper? Or does he join the other one in the basement? Plus, it might explain why he's intrigued, plus he might have a better time cruising the streets / bath houses.