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Zack McCormack's picture

A Christmas Story

By Zack McCormack in Arrest Us

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Once you have read this story, please make sure you rate it by clicking the thumbs above. Then take a few minutes to give the author a helpful critique! We're all here for fun but let's try to help each other too.

Description

A dark homage to a classic film, our protagonist struggles to cope with his past as constant thoughts of persecution accompany the holiday season. 

Comments

Mary Vasiliou's picture
Mary Vasiliou July 2, 2014 - 3:02pm

A very intreging tale, extremely witty. I found myself needing to reread to fully appreciate the author's writng . It leaves you wanting to know more.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 3, 2014 - 7:46am

Thanks for the comment! Glad you liked it!

kjm4colts's picture
kjm4colts from Michigan is reading Life by Keith Richards July 2, 2014 - 3:31pm

disturbingly well written....would like to read more from this author

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 3, 2014 - 7:46am

I appreciate the sentiment!

Casey Hicks's picture
Casey Hicks from Brooklyn, NY is reading American Gods by Neil Gaiman July 9, 2014 - 7:36pm

Spooky homage! I really love the voice in this. You built up the madness so well without having to insist throughout that your narrator was disturbed. I thought it had fantastic momentum, and the frame story around the Santa shooting worked well for me.

In fact, the only real suggestion I have is to proofread. There were a few typos that caught my attention and gently jarred me out of the story for a second, but you won me back over. Well done and good luck!

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 11, 2014 - 11:25am

Thank you so much for reading it! I really do appreciate any feedback people are willing to give and I'm glad you liked the story! Proofreading is definitely a fair criticism. Unfortunately, I discovered this contest a little late into the game so I put together the story in a rather quick manner. Thanks again!

Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures July 10, 2014 - 9:09am

I liked the story - the idea of basing it around A Christmas Story was a stroke of brilliance! I'll never watch that movie the same way again.

I would say, watch the typo's, definetly proofread and I guess my one (possibly dumb) question was where did the gun come from? But honestly, I don't think it matters all that much. I hate having everything spelled out for me so a little ambiguity is great. 

Great job, I felt the madness descending around him and loved it!

Good luck in the challenge.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 11, 2014 - 11:30am

Thank you very much for taking the time to read it! Looking back on it now there are a few grammatical things I would have changed so I do agree more attention to detail in terms of proofreading could be an area of improvement. As far as how the gun is obtained, if you wish to have some of the ambiguity removed, is that he is the one who who stole it from the sleeping security guard at the begginning of the story. Trying to go for a lot of parallels between his current situation and his past, this was meant to mimick how he stole his dad's handgun while his dad was sleeping. Once again thanks for reading my submission! 

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 12, 2014 - 3:02am

I thought this started off really strong, but moved too fast for me to appreciate the pay off. I like what you did with the murdering santa, the false prophet connection etc, and this paragraph was amazing: 

"Such sentiments are echoed over the next hour as we are warned from Matthew, in the form of a sock puppet, to beware of false prophets that come in sheep’s clothing but inwardly are ravenous wolves. We are cautioned by John, the stick figure, who instructs us not to believe in every spirit, as many are not from God and are false prophets out in the world. Finally, God’s word is laid down in Deuteronomy, as well as in glue covered with sparkles, that those who speak in God’s name when not commanded to shall die."

Perfectly captures the tweeness and sentimentality surrounding modern religion, and contrasts well with the gravity of religious subject matter. The voice is brilliantly cynical, and the set up at the mental institution is nicely paced, I really liked the usage of game shows and their integration into the narrative. 

My main problem is that I felt the main characters motivations for murder were too sudden and too much of a reversal : he sees church like a prison but from one sunday school lesson becomes evangelicallly obsessed with the false prophet idea. I get theyre unhinged but theyre the mainharacter and in first person: I would expect from this form more of an insight into how their mind works. Obviously the homicidal tendencies arent normal, nor are their rationalizations, but it just didnt really fit well that such a religiously sceptical or cynical kid would suddenly become obsessed with the false propphets. I would maybe have liked more backstory or character development so I can better see, if not understand, the complexity of motivation for the character--especially because the pay off and murder scene are so nicely done. 

Again theres a similar problem with the final scene -- we dont spend enough time with the charact nor follow the conflicting emotions and battle that leads to suicide to make it seem like a real big thing at the end. 

And a final, minor point: I was unsure whether the disorder was dissassociative identity (multiple personality) disorder or schizophrenia: from what I understand schizophrenia is much more paranoiacand would feature less lucidity for the main character: it felt like diss. ID disorder to me. But then I only have surface knowledge of psychoanalysis so I might be wrong. Just something to look into for more research.

Sorry for the long critique its just I enjoyed the story, loved the central hook, voice and tension,its all very well written and the narration was engaging: I just think the plot and character development needs a bit of work and then itd be a *really* good story: I just felt it fell apart a little with character motivations. thanks for the read

Tom

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 14, 2014 - 5:59am

Tom thanks so much for taking the time to read my story and leave a thorough review! I really do appreciate it. I'm glad you enjoyed it for the most part and certainly don't disagree with your criticisms, character development could be improved at points. I can definitely see where you're coming from with the motivational aspect for the murder as looking back I can see how that seems a little forced. For the ending portion, I was trying to tie in the game suggestion of having people review their life with a gun in the room serve as the basis for justifying the final scene but perhaps some more detail into that regard would also be beneficial. This is really my first story so you live and learn. 

For your last point, this was another thing that came across my mind and from my knowledge, albeit admittedly limited, in ID there are many personalities but they generally are unaware of the other presence of other personalities. Because of this I didn't think it would work as well to call it ID. Schizophrenia is an extremely broad disease with multiple symptoms, auditory halucinations being the most common, so while I do agree that the lucidity of such hallucinations most likely isn't to the degree presented in the story, I guess I felt it a safer to call it schizophrenia. More research should probably be done into this though.

Regardless, thank you again for the read and leaving thoughtful feedback!

Zack

Jolly Rodger's picture
Jolly Rodger July 12, 2014 - 6:32am

Really enjoyed the read. I agree with the above comments to an extent that more time could be put into character development/ proofreading but overall I thought it was a very innovative narrative and an excellent read. 

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 14, 2014 - 5:42am

Thanks so much for taking the time to read it! Glad you enjoyed it.

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. July 13, 2014 - 5:43pm

Zack,

Maybe I'm sick but this, to me, is by far the funniest story I've read in the competition and I've read a fuckton of stories at this point. Seriously. I laughed out loud once or twice and I pretty much never do that. Laughing hurts my face. Well done. Really.

I think one of the most fun aspects about your story is the way it kind of echoes one of my favorite episodes of Boondocks. I don't know if you've ever seen that show but there's an episode in the first season that's a lot like this that I think you'll get a kick out of. I've never seen the original Christmas Story but the Boondocks similarities more than made up for that. I agree that this could do with a little proofreading and refining but the overall idea is insanely awesome and you handle it with just the right amount of snark. The only real complaint I have is on the schizophrenia front. I feel that what with the mental institution setting and his obvious disturbed tendencies you actually pointing out that he hears a "narrator" cheapens it a little bit. What I mean to say, is that it's so blatantly obvious that this dude is schiz that you don't have to mention there being a voice at all. If anything, I think it would've been better if you'd just used italics or something to let us know when the voice was talking to him. It'd have a more chilling effect and would put us right there, in the mind of the protagonist. Let the narrator actually be a character that lives entirely in his head. Let the narrator harass him and the reader. Let us be confused with him. I actually knew a schizophrenic once so I know the single most horrifying thing about the disorder is not being able to distinguish reality from your sick mind. If you submerge the reader in that situation then you'll definitely put yourself in a much more powerful position.This might also give you more room to remind us about the gun. I like how you utilized the whole Chekov's Gun thing (kinda literally) but so much happens between then and the end that I forgot completely about it and had to stop and think "where did he get that?" which kind of broke up the wonderful flow you got going there at the end. If you just dropped in maybe one sentence about the lack of security to remind us it'd be much more smooth. In my opinion. As a whole though, this story was rock solid. I enjoyed it immensely. Kudos.

Aud.

http://www.videoweed.es/file/7a04750c5a7ec

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 14, 2014 - 6:11am

Thanks so much for the review Aud! Glad you were into the humor and I used to watch the Boondocks pretty frequently! I'm not sure if I've seen the episode you're referring to (I'm about the watch the episode you posted) but that show is hilarious. Well until Aaron McGruder left.

I appreciate the feedback as well and I can certainly see where you're coming from. Being the first story I've really written, I was unsure of how obvious/ subtle to make things so getting feedback in that regard is welcomed. In future edits I will try to balance the two to a better degree. 

Thanks again Aud! 

Zack

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 14, 2014 - 6:34am

Update: Loved the episode. I hadn't seen it before but definitely see some parallels between that and my story. 

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 17, 2014 - 4:16am

Like it. Nice to see schitzophrenia being used correctly as well. There were a couple of typos but that's about it. Good stuff.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 20, 2014 - 6:29pm

Thanks for the read! I'm glad to hear you liked it!

Zack

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 17, 2014 - 11:39pm

I like the premise of this one; it certainly brought a smile to my face. It reminds me in a way of that scene in Dogma where they kill all the execs of Not-Disney for idolatry. The idea of Santa as a false prophet is very amusing, and you deal with that concept very well.

Like Tom, I thought the protagonists leap to murder was a little jolting. You do a good job at the start of building sense of place and in showing that the protagonist is ill, but that doesn’t come across when we delve back into the past. He comes across as a normal kid, not particularly wanting to be at Sunday School. To latch onto this one topic, and to take it to next step, becomes a stretch. You have space in the word count to play with. A little more digging into how his illness would affect him back then would be good.

I have mixed feelings on the ending. It’s neat, and you bring back the gun really well, but I’m not sure it adds that much to the overall story. It’s almost too neat. We don’t know the character well enough to get into his mindset, so the suicide comes out of the blue. The reasons for it as well, admitting to the voice in his head, is weak. Who has he told? Us? Is this being written down? You allude to a recording at one stage, but unless I’ve missed something, it’s not really clear. I’m guessing it’s a reference to his game show idea, and he’s just lived through the truth of his life too often, and he’s not going to win this round. That’s fine, but then having the voice claim revenge because he’s told someone about the narrator, that’s unnecessary.

Overall, it’s certainly a solid thumbs up from me. Great concept, well executed, with just a couple of quibbles. Best of luck with this.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 20, 2014 - 6:39pm

Thanks so much for the read Adam! I definitely can see where you are coming from and appreciate the feedback. In future edits I will try to provide a little more background to Ralphie and give the ending some work. 


Zack

EscherTO's picture
EscherTO from Toronto is reading Freedom by Jonathan Franzen July 21, 2014 - 8:06am

Great story Zack, definite thumbs up,

Smart idea and excellent implementation of it, always good to have some comedy interspersed with the brutal. Wrapped up neatly as well. Definitely ended with a bang.

Look forward to reading more of your stuff. 

Cheers,

Graeme

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 22, 2014 - 5:45pm

Thanks for the read Graeme and glad to hear you liked it! 

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated July 22, 2014 - 6:14am

Zack,

I enjoyed your story, witty and contemplative.

Few questions:

The flashback narration, is this a flashback scene or a memory? It’s written like it starts like a flashback but the language is distinctly written as a memory, ie an adult commenting on what has happened opposed to what he was thinking while being a child? Does that make sense? I can’t imagine a child calling themselves a coward for not telling the truth to their Sunday school teacher they all feel like captives. Also “Immediately, my curiosity is peaked” – how many kids talk like this? Good line if its from an adult, not so much from a kid.

The incident with Santa, the argument for the voice felt a little flawed but played for laughs (and I did find this funny), but judging by the ponderings you use earlier on regarding the nature of the universe and stars (the MC seems educated even though he’s been locked up in a house with rubber walls for most of his life), perhaps this could be expanded on for an even bigger pay off. The leap from saying Santa is a false prophet to the shooting is again played for laughs, with a lighter touch, this could’ve been even funnier. Less is more, I would’ve laughed louder if I didn’t know he had his dad’s gun in his pocket, so when asked what he wants for xmas, the surprise is on everyone, not just the Santa.

As first drafts go, this is strong, I like your writing style, it reads very well indeed. Another pass or two and I think you’ll have something shining absolutely brilliantly.

The BB Gun references made me smile, I was waiting for a someone’s eye to get shot out lol. 

This is a solid thumbs up, thanks for the laughter and all the best with the contest.

Mads

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 22, 2014 - 5:58pm

Hey Mads! Thanks so much for taking the time to read and I appreciate the feedback.

In terms of your questions, I intended the portion of the story that referenced his past to be more of a memory told from the narrator's perspective. In the movie, you always hear his much more articulate, older self recant various instances or comment on current situations which was what I was trying to go for. Like a memory told from the viewpoint of the entity responsible for the auditory hallucinations though having input from the child protagonist as well. I can see what you're saying and I don't know if that clears it up at all for you. 

I agree some of the Santa parts could be reworked a little. I had a slight inclination it felt a little rushed which has been the sentiment expressed by others. Thanks again for reading it!

Zack

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow July 23, 2014 - 7:15pm

Hi Zack,

Let me just begin by saying that I fucking hate A Christmas Story.  "The Answer is Hitler, A Christmas Story and Bono."  Beep-beep.  "What are the top three worst creations on Earth?"  Ding-ding.  Now that that's out of the way, I can say that this wasn't a bad story.  Well-written prose and some decent characterization, though I could have used a bit more tension between the narrator and the MC.

Maybe it is just that I hate that cursed movie, but I don't think you needed to use it.  This story could exist without it and I'm not sure why you decided to do it other than the game-show title at the end (which didn't entirely work for me).  But make of that what you will because I am very biased when it comes to that stupid motion picture that for some reason gets an entire day dedicated to its dross.

Almost all of that criticism is levelled at the movie and not your story, which I found was actually pretty good.  Enough for a thumbs up.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 24, 2014 - 12:44pm

hahah well I appreciate the honesty Damon. Though I've shed some of my Hoosier ties, some things are too indoctrinated I suppose. I'm from a town nearby where the movie is supposed to take place so I will admit to bias as well.


As far as why I included the ties to the movie in general, I felt it enabled an easier means of incorporating humor into an otherwise dark story. There were a number of other references made to the story besides the ending but to each his own. I appreciate the feedback and the thumbs up.

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 26, 2014 - 12:27pm

Such a great story. Interesting and morbid adaptation to the "old classic" I thought you had perfect control of language and successfully kept your MC's alternate personality logical. I thought that the justification of the murder was written very well, when it could have easily fallen into the realm of silliness or parody. I really enjoyed the way you handled the internal conversation as well. I hadn't thought about the name of your story or it's connection, but I immediately picked up on the layers of clothing and thought it was just a coincidence. I have nothing in the way of advice. Great job again. Good luck.

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 27, 2014 - 2:48pm

Thanks so much for reading my story! I'm glad to hear that you enjoyed it!

_JohnUtah's picture
_JohnUtah from Texas is reading True Story: Murder, Memoir, Mea Culpa July 28, 2014 - 7:54pm

Zack,

Fantastic story man, thank you so much for writing it! As others have alluded to of course the proofreading part, yada, yada, yada. But aside from that, the writing was fantastic, well developed character and excellent for a short story. It might just be me, but I like the idea of finding away to distinguish the "narrator" in his head from his everyday ramblings. But that's just a thought. Once again, great work man I enjoyed reading it.

Utah

Zack McCormack's picture
Zack McCormack from Indianapolis, IN is reading Empire of the Sun July 29, 2014 - 1:04pm

Thanks so much Utah! I'm glad to hear you liked the story and I appreciate the feedback. Thanks for taking the time to read it.

Zack

Tim Hennessy's picture
Tim Hennessy July 30, 2014 - 8:10am

Zach,


You have an interesting premise and it was an entertaining read. The strength of this story is the more of the direct Christmas Story revisit and your heightened take on the already skewed world with the movie. The current day moments could actually be reduced or in someway tied in more to the world of The Christmas Story. Since Jean Shepard based Christmas Story on his own life and was the movie’s narrator you could work an interesting meta-angle or if nothing else flesh out the latter day Ralphie with some aspects of Shepard’s life and work that could help with his mental state. He has a number of books worth checking out.

As other’s mentioned, further research into the aspects of his mental condition will better help you consistently depict them in future drafts.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 31, 2014 - 3:30pm

Hey Zach,

I enjoyed the story, enough to give it two thumbs up, and I think with a bit of reworking it can really pop.

I really liked the beginning, I think you have a really strong narrator, a great scene, and a really interesting setting. In fact, I was digging the voice so much that I was dissapointed when we got the flashback. To be honest, it made everything that came before it seem a bit less important, because clearly the big focus was on the flashback itself.

I couldn't really get in all the way with the flashback. The scene moves too fast, and I was never too sure if we're supposed to be seeing this from the point of view of the nine year old, or from the pov of a fifty-nine year old retelling the story. Is too immediate to be just a memory, but the voice strikes me too old and cynical for a nine year old.

I wasn't a fan of the ending, because it didn't felt earnd, and it felt sort of like the easy way out. Plus it opened the question of how exactly he got the gun?

I think you have two potentially great stories here- either you could focus on him killing Santa due to voices/the false god thing, or you can focus on a man haunted by his past. But the way you meshed both in together sort of weakens the story slightly.

Hope this helped.