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Devon Robbins's picture

Alchemy and Atrophy

By Devon Robbins in Arrest Us

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Description

Following a string of bad decisions, a man finds himself in a trauma center, sixty percent burned. Sometimes you learn the hard way that nothing beautiful lasts forever.

Comments

Matt A.'s picture
Matt A. June 17, 2014 - 10:34am

Devon, outstanding, very tight and polished. The non-linear structure you mentioned in the email didn't detract from this at all.

A lot worked for me here, it's a solid-thumbs up, so I'll go right into what didn't work and you can take what you like from this:

Tracers.

--I wasn't sure what this single word referred to. Tracers as in bullets, as a description? The next verb is "drifts" so if that's the case, they don't really match up.

From the time the cops call in the ambulance until the Detective Draper starts questioning him, things were just a little prolonged and I almost felt like skimming. Maybe you can just economize those passages to get to the "tension" of the detective's involvement.

On page 5 there's an extra line between "And why would this Jeremiah Page want to do this to you?" and the nurse knocking. The etra line imples a space of time, but this is happening back-to-back, right? Just an accidental line space, maybe?

The moon is the light of a police helicopter swaying in the distance.

--I wasn't sure how to take this line because later there is a mention of police and rescue vehicles. It's just disorienting as written--I wasn't sure if I was missing something.

Gold Cross SUV’s

--I don't know what these are. Just consider whether other readers may or may not, as well.

The only big picture issue I had is that it seems like the protagonist is some kind of domestic terrorist? That may be a hard sell in the sympathy department. Echoes of 9/11 and Oklahoma City. If that's the case, maybe you could let on just a little more as to why they're doing this, their motivations maybe in the form of how they've been fucked over in order to lead them to this. You've left a lot of ambiguity in this story, and it all works for me, but I feel like I need a little more empathy for this guy to close the loop.

Anyway, it may seem I wrote a lot more of what didn't work than did, but that's not the case. I've read a lot of your work in the past and I know you know how to take my feedback. Excellent story, one of the most techinically well written in this contest so far, IMO.

Good luck.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 17, 2014 - 11:20am

Thanks, Doug.

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine June 17, 2014 - 12:06pm

Powerful language and an engaging start. I actually recognize a passage of this from a forum you posted in a few months back. Glad to see it worked it's way into a finished piece. Your timing was excellent, something that can be troubling with short stories. Every section had enough time to fully develop without lingering and becoming stale. The style made the story a quick and exciting read. Thank you for posting. Great work.

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland June 18, 2014 - 4:41pm

Devon,

This is just really beautifully written. I could read prose like this all day long even if it didn’t tell a story at all.
 

Close your eyes, but the white light bleeds through the thin tissue. Orange and silver. The siren outside is a warm guitar, sliding through the high notes of a melody just for me. And I’m floating, in utero, sifting through burnt memories. Delicate pictures that, once touched, turn to ash. Jeremiah, smiling at me with his mouthful of broken teeth. And he’s laughing, holding my hand. Our skin melting together as he lights his cigarette with the burning fingertips.

There’s not a bit of driftwood in this entire graph and the story continues with the same fluidity throughout. The best crafted piece in terms of command on the language and mood I’ve read so far in the competition. Excellent job on that.


It is a little unclear what the narrator is selling/manufacturing. I came to the same conclusion as Doug, that it is some kind of bio-chemical used for terrorist warfare. I didn’t peg him or his lady to be activists, just capitalists.

If they have invested interest in what happens after they’ve delivered the goods(other than getting paid) then it would be worth mentioning. I think he just sells it because he knows how to make it. In the scheme of things it doesn’t make him any less of a terrorist if it’s used to terrorize. So you’ve got characters participating in some pretty big shit, and we need to care about their fate for the story to be successful.

For the most part I do. I think it’s mainly because of the structure. We get all the sympathetic almost stream of conscious perspective of a severely injured man, so you are able to spark the empathy in the front end before we know what he’s been up to.  By the time we find out what he’s been up to then we can think back and go yeah, he got what he deserved.

Honestly, I’ve got nothing really negative to say about this one and had to struggle just to find anything to improve. A tiny thing or two in the attached .doc.

Great Job, and Good luck.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 18, 2014 - 5:40pm

Thanks, Jonathan. Every little bit helps. I'm glad you liked it. 

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 22, 2014 - 9:21am

I liked this. It's tight and the gradual unravelling is excellent. I can really add much to the previous comments except I found the prose in the opening section more suited to third person, rather that first, however you covered that with a mention of out-of-body experience. Nice work.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 22, 2014 - 9:34am

Thanks Seb. I appreciate you taking a look. 

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 22, 2014 - 3:24pm

Devon,

I really like the structure of this and found it incredibly fascinating. The only thing that kind of bugged me that I think someone else mentioned was the beginning. I felt like you spent a lot of time just sort of lingering on his wounds and everything instead of the story, which is a great one by the way. Not a big deal, obviously, but I kind of would've liked if there was a little less of that and maybe more of Jeremiah's revenge? What little you put in there with the flaming fingers and broken teeth was so cool that even just maybe a short paragraph with more of that would've made this even more awesome. Great job, though. Really cool stuff.

Aud.

Also, was he doing a sort of Robin Hood thing with the money he made from the explosives? Was that kind of the point of his and Marcy's morality argument?

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 23, 2014 - 6:59am

Thanks Aud. I'm glad you liked the story. The reason I spent more time on him reacting to his wounds in the beginning is because that was the best part for me to establish some sympathy for the character. There is a lot going on in a small space, and being that every section is told in present tense, I didn't want to use any backstory. Maybe I got caught up in trying to be elegant and graphic. 

What I was going for with the morality thing was to show a disconnect. I wanted to have the protagonist just cashing in, knowing that if these people weren't getting it from him, they would get it somewhere else.

Thanks again for taking a look.

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated June 24, 2014 - 3:38am

Devon,

Big thumbs up. I really enjoyed the story, enjoyed your poetic licence more though. The opening sequence is makes a burn victim sequence interesting. It could be considered over-written but the rhythm and imagery work so well! This is strong technique indeed. From a technical POV, this is some of the strongest I've read in the contest. Nicely done Sir.

Just a few things; you’ve split the chapters up into reverse order and dated them accordingly, I understand that this is for style, but it really doesn’t need it, I felt it made reading a little disjointed (I had to keep jumping back to make certain where I was in time if that makes sense?) and spoiled the natural flow you’ve created. Also the headers for each change, so you’ve got dates / time of year / season but all differ, stick with one for uniformity, eg, Spring or Summer, or use months / days. Is the exact time important? It’s only on one chapter.

I would re-arrange them so they run forwards, that probably sounds boring and safe, but this is strong writing and would not suffer because of it. It's been mentioned you linger on the intro / burn sequence, this is the strongest / most captivating part of the story. I thought this would’ve been a great way to end the story (yes it’s the ending but its at the beginning, you know what I mean lol), the protagonist in bed and then the police come into question him – end of story while he ponders that black haired flamenco dancer that’s suddenly beautiful.

Anyway, take it all with a pinch of salt, as I said, I really enjoyed it. Pass me a bottle Mr Jones!

All the best and best of luck

Mads

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 24, 2014 - 7:28am

Thanks Mads,

I'm glad you like the story. The jumping back and forth in time, while keeping the prose in present tense, was something that I worried wouldn't work. Therefore I might have overdone the two parts where Jeremiah is with the MC and Marcy. I thought that I needed to ground the reader in some way, because I already knew these were different times.

I wanted to challenge myself with this story and try a few new things. One of them was to start at the end, then have the story end at a point that could make you forget, just fot a moment, that you already know what happens to this guy. The other thing— why the dates are there— is I wanted to write a story about something big in the recent past that never happened. 

It was a fun story to write. Thanks again for your feedback

Devon

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On June 24, 2014 - 8:55pm

I really dig a lot of this. I especially liked the longer first "burn" section. However I do wonder if intercutting it with all the other events might give his suffering more impact. As it is, he's just a burn victim. It would be cool for the reader to get a mounting sense throughout of how/why he ended up like this.

Love this line because it needs no embellishment: "She angles my head back and takes pieces of me with her as she pulls her hands away."

The "Tracers" line does feel out of place. I don't think you'll lose anything if it wasn't there.

Careful about repeating words in the same sentence: "He wears a five o’clock shadow and eyes that shift from brown to black in the shadows." Maybe go with "salt-and-pepper stuble" on his face. Also, I would try to keep his dialogue to a minimum when he's first being interview in the hospital by Draper. One sentence you say that all his words come out as okay, but a few lines later he's asking complex questions. It feels a little too abrupt.

That's all I've got. There's wonderful descriptive language throughout. If your structure can be tightened some in terms of progression of events, you'll have yourself something ready for a journal.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 25, 2014 - 6:37am

Hey Dino,

Thanks for taking a look. I must have missed that shadows sentence. Repeating words makes the sentence feel gross in your mouth. A few people thought the burn section was too much. I think the whole story relies on how engaging that sequence is. Other than the quick mention of Jeremiah when he's in the ambulance, he is just a burn victim at that point, so I tried to just use engaging language to push the reader along.

I thought about cutting the section with Draper all together. I've never written a story with a stucture like this. Essentially, the reader already knows what happens and who did this to this guy. If you have any thoughts on tightening the structure a bit, that would be great.

Thanks again. 

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On June 25, 2014 - 8:59am

I still think if you intercut the ambulance segment with the history of the bombing and Draper, it could still work. Also, the reveal could be that either Jeremiah did it, or him in cahoots with the girl. Either way, I would make it so that your MC doesn't tell Draper, opting to keep it a secret and implying that once he gets out of the hospital (if he ever does), that it'll be a revenge story. It's a damn good motivator for recovery. I imagine the scene when he finally tracks her down in Brazil or wherever, and she doesn't recognize him because of his burns. Actually, I smell a novel now...:)

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 25, 2014 - 9:07am

The burn passage was actually the first page of a new novel. I was struggling with coming up with a new idea for the competition because this character had rooted himself in my brain. I just super condensed the idea. I would like to expand it. 

I'm torn on the part with Draper. I think it is probably the weakest part. Really all that it does for the story is have him tell Draper who did it, which the reader already knows.

On a different note, I'll let you outline a novel for me anytime. :)

Dino Parenti's picture
Dino Parenti from Los Angeles is reading Everything He Gets His Hands On June 25, 2014 - 9:51am

I think if you feel you need to drop Draper, then drop him. I've done that with characters who've given me problems. You really don't need him. Keep all of your MC's present-day moments at the burned out cabin and the ambulance, and intercut with past events. (Maybe put Draper in the ambo with him--a cop who's been trying to break the bombing case, and suspects your MC but has no solid evidence yet.)

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 25, 2014 - 10:25am

You're an idea machine.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations June 26, 2014 - 4:17pm

Hey Devon,

Strongest story I've read so far, both in style and substance. Well done!

Strong start. I think you can work the "difficulty speaking" angle in the interview with Draper. (Use minimum number of words. "Lawyer." instead of “I want to talk to a lawyer.”, say.

Small oddity in giving the month, year and time, but not the date?

Mostly your word choices are very good, but things like this "The car stops and the transfer of momentum pushes my eyes open." are writerly, but not in a good way - no-one would say that, and it isn't "true". "The car stops and the sudden lurch snaps me awake" :  that I could believe.

Good use of time changes - a difficult thing to get right. Though having finished, I have a few questions :

1) Why burn the money? Guilt? If so, work it in. (And if so, why now, almost a year later?)

2) Did Jeremiah in fact survive (Jeremiah, smiling at me with his mouthful of broken teeth), and was it he who burns the cabin? And where is he now?

3) 2) If the plan is to get rid of these two, then why not put off giving them the money, the Ids? Can you make it a "we're not going anywhere until..." sort of standoff? Maybe even that they feel safer as it's "two against one" until the second car arrives?

Also, a suggestion: Have Draper mention there's possible evidence of arson. (Petrol cans, something?) This then explains more his interest, his "anyone want to hurt you" question, etc.

Liam

 

 

 

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 28, 2014 - 10:17am

Thanks Liam. I appreciate you taking a look and I'm glad you liked the story.

As far as your questions, I left out reasoning for him burning the money so the reader could draw their own conclusion. In my head, it was that everything fell apart, and he didn't even care to have it anymore.

Jeremiah was the guy who burned the cabin. He's probably nursing his blistered fingertips. 

The scene where Marcy runs, I left it a little ambiguous on purpose. Maybe they weren't going to take them out at all. Maybe they were going to get transferred into the other car and taken somewhere. There was nothing in the story that definitively stated that they were in danger, just intimidating hints like the gun in his hand and not letting the MC out of the car. Bad decisions in the heat of the moment. 

I wanted the reader to not know what was going on in that scene, because the MC who is telling the story didn't know what was happening. I wanted it to be a hectic chain of events, but not confusing.

Thanks again for your time. 

YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom June 29, 2014 - 10:41am

I really enjoyed resding this piece. I loved the restraint regarding the plot, events etc., letting the resder fill in the blanks-- it contrasted very well and effectively with the immersive prose. Your description of the burns especially is fantastic,not too verbose but still almost poetic. 'new thick skin' especially stood out to me.

only criticism i might have echoes other comments about the draper scene. i was unsure why the protag would tell draper page's name so easily, then ask for a lawyer. especially as you set him up as defiant towards draper with the question about the gun. aside from that brilliant writing. if it is the beginning of a novel id love to read more!

 

Tom

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 30, 2014 - 3:24am

Thanks Tom. I'm glad you liked it.

Hooper Triplett's picture
Hooper Triplett from Tucson, AZ is reading Fever Pitch June 30, 2014 - 7:48pm

Really detailed descriptions and solid stage-setting.  Enjoyed the writing, which I think got more smooth and natural feeling as I read.  It does read like a writer talking, and less like a "regular" person.  From that aspect I appreciated the craft, but didn't buy into the first person narration.

Wonder how much research into treatment/triage of burn wounds you did.  I'm having some difficulty accepting his ability to speak and with clarity so soon.  If his jeans are melted into his skin and 61% of his body is burnt, concern about infection would be so great that literal barriers to visitors would be present.  Perhaps because so much space is used in those scenes, I'm having trouble letting going of those types of details?

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 30, 2014 - 10:48pm

Hey Hooper,

Thanks for taking a look. I did research burn care pretty thoroughly. The beginning is pretty much exactly how an EMS crew would handle a victim in the MC's condition. The barriers you mention would be the actual gauze. The gauze is usually treated with antimicrobials and has to be changed every two hours or so. Antibiotics would be administered intravenously along with fluids and pain medication.

I tried to plant the seed in the reader's head that he had trouble speaking without chopping his dialogue. He would likely have enough pain medication that it wouldn't hurt him to speak, but it would be hard. But I guess it didn't work.

Is there anything else you didn't like about the story?

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb July 1, 2014 - 12:05pm

Hi Devon,

Rather like you did with my entry, I had to do a lot of thinking about this one. First read through, I wasn't that impressed, and I think that was part of the problem: the whole thing feels like you're trying to impress people with how good your craft is. Don't get me wrong, it IS good. I'm not going to do an LBL on this one because there's really no need for it in terms of grammar editing, and I wouldn't change your sentence structures either, but back to the point: this does feel highly stylised, and therefore feels like what it is: an entry in a competition that's aimed at other writers.

You describe pain pretty well. This put me in mind of a scene I wrote myself where I went through every description for pain I possibly had, and all the similes that would match as well.  What I always do is cut down the comaritive language a little and keep it to the descriptions I love that also add something. I'd recommend the same here: cut out some of the comparrison stuff (although definitely not all of it) and save some of those similes for another time, because they are ALL really good, but I feel like there's too much. You're more poetic than visceral here as well, and I'm not sure it suits the situation your character's in. At least you've got the camera pointed at what's going to make the audience uncomfortable (hat tip to Ketchum's craft essay for that idea - it's the best thing I've learned from this site). It's like shock happening in slow motion, and although it's written in present tense it's like he's had time to reflect on it already. I actually wonder if you should try past tense narrative with this.

The human element in this story was completely missing to me. I didn't care about any of these guys. Granted I'm not always sure what it is that makes me care about a character; it's a really inexact science, and I think about the other entries and feel stuck for examples. Here's one thing I do tend to prefer: you have your character possibly moments from death right at the start of the story, in a well-crafted action scene that involves me in something dramatic straight away, but I know nothing about the person involved. Again, this is a criticism I never had until I did something similar myself and got this moment where I thought 'My protagonist is bleeding to death but who's going to give a shit besides me when I've presented no reason for them to do so?' 

I like the idea of starting where you did and getting into backstory about how he came to be there, and the mystery behind who Jeremiah is, but I would at least add some sort of clue about who the narrator is and what kind of person he is at the start. I could be just a couple of one liners, or have him think about Marcy earlier, or perhaps have some reflective atonement for the guilt over the bomb thing...

...and does he actually feel that way about it, by the way? Here I think lies another problem: I don't get any emotion from this guy about that past one way or another until right at the very end when he's thinking about Marcy and how he hopes she got away. The scene where they debate morality seems obvious, and just as I was hoping to get something deeper from it, it stops.

You've left the ending somewhat open to interpretation about whether the narrator started the fire himself, and (correct me if I've missed something) whether Jeremiah really is still alive, or some sort of ghost either literally or figuratively. I don't really like any of that, but I admit that's really down to personal preference again. I like closure, and it takes a lot to impress me with an open ending.

I like the idea with the bombing and the 'once more and we're out of this' idea. That's where I think the heart of this story is and it could do with drawing out more. The double level where he gets blown up himself in the end? Great! Love it, that fits.

All through the second read of this story I felt kind of bi-polar: one minute I was criticising like mad and the next minute I did get to something I really liked. In conclusion then this is a thumbs up, partly to be fair because I've given the benefit of the doubt to a couple of others. Plus, you don't get a draft this polished and considered as this on unless you've put a lot of effort and practice into writing in general, and that's why I'm thinking that if I looked at any of your other stuff (and I'd like to at some point) then I daresay I'm going to end up thinking that this story isn't your best stuff by a long way. Sorry if that sounds like a backhanded compliment, and hope some of my comments might have helped.

-C.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 2, 2014 - 9:04am

Big thumbs up from me on this one. Very well written piece that hold the attention from start to finish. You could certainly accuse it of being overwritten in parts, but when the prose is this good, why quibble?

I liked your premise. It’s kind of a morality / karma’s a bitch tale, where the guy whose activities result in the deaths of many ultimately gets what is coming to him. I’ll admit that given his terrorist links, it is pretty hard to sympathise with the guy, but I kind of liked that twist. When the story starts the guy is so close to death and in such terrible pain that it is impossible not to feel sympathy, and then you sweep the rug out from under our feet. To have sympathy for someone hurt is human, but should the sympathy remain when he’s partially responsible for the deaths of so many?

I love the little conversation he has with Marcy on the morality of it. These acts are going to happen anyway, and somebody is getting paid, why not them? That’s the crux of it. He’s a self-centred, callous douchebag. One of the (very small) gripes I had was that we never really get to explore that relationship between Jacob and Marcy. It looks to be the one redeeming factor for him (other than burning the money which doesn’t have the symbolic impact I think you were looking for), this love between them, if indeed it is love which isn’t explicit. He saves himself at the end with little obvious thought as to her fate; it’s likely those in the second car would have pursued her.

I note Mads suggested running this in order. I agree that the jumping around makes this a disjointed read at times, and a more linear tale would be easier. I’d suggest the opposite though. Re-order this Memento style. Start with the sequence with Draper. We’d know that he was burned over 60% of his body, and obvious victim, so why does he want a lawyer? Then you get the section with him just after the burning. Then you have him burning the money. Every time you go back it adds a layer of intrigue. You could have the conversation on morality almost completely out of context, so we know what he’s doing is wrong, but we don’t know what. Our sympathy is beginning to waver, and then comes the revelation that they are providing chemicals/bombs/whatever for terrorist activities. It would completely turn the tale on its head.

I’d be interested to see how you take this, if you decide to change it at all. If not, then rest assured it’s a very good story, and one I particularly enjoyed. Best of luck with the contest.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 2, 2014 - 7:30pm

Thanks for the review Adam. I'm glad you liked the story. Once got going, I realised that sympathy for the main character was pretty much out of the question. I just figured I had to keep the pace fast enough that it wouldn't matter much. That first burn section was my only real shot at making you feel for him.

The structure is the thing that I feared my kill the piece. But I guess it worked out. I like the idea of going at it memento style. The beginning, up until the point in the hospital, was the opening of a new novel. The premise was the same, but I just super condensed the idea and showed only the important bits. This is only the second short I've written since I finished my book.

If I'm one of the lucky ones who wins, I'll probably leave it as it stands. If not, the memento things is a pretty good idea.

Thanks again for the review. Good luck with your story also.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 2, 2014 - 7:30pm

double post

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch July 3, 2014 - 9:25am

Devon,

Easy thumbs up for me on this one. Really, really enjoyed it. Like others have said, your writing is incredibly strong, and for the most part it makes the story even better. I really liked the scenes between Jacob and Marcy. There's so much tension imbedded into these scenes right from the start, a feeling of desperation that I think works extremely well.

Others have commented that it's a bit of a slow beginning, and I agree. I think it starts off well, but it feels overwritten. A lot of the lines taken by themselves are beautifully written, but when you add them up, they start striking me as overkill, and don't really allow the story to breath as much as the other sections do. Take the first bit:

By the time the officers arrive, the fire has punched a hole in the roof of the cabin. Flames dance around inside the black smoke, coughing out embers as if newborn stars. A dog barks somewhere in the distance. Violent and hard-hearted. And I keep waiting, for the strength to pull myself out of the snow. To see myself in third person, a ghost, stepping away from my burned and battered body.
Pain can only grow to a certain point before it disappears. Then it’s only there when you move. When the charred strip of muscle in your tricep tears as you try to reach out to a passing officer.
He tells me to stay still, his hand hovering over my chest, afraid to touch the blisters.
“Is there anyone else inside?”
The snow beneath me has turned to ice now, as if lying on a bed of broken glass. The officer repeats the question. I try to answer, but I can’t breathe. Don’t have the capacity to form words. Just primitive murmurings of pain in different shapes and shades.

Like I said, by themselves all the bolded bits are nice lines, but they just feel like too much to me. They remind me that this is a story, that a writer put those in there, and I rather that the scene itself carries me along.

I do think you can cut a lot of the start when he's laying in the snow. It doesn't really add much at the end, and gets you to the more interesting part-his conversatin with the detective.

Generally, I'm not a fan of flashbacks in short stories, and I do admit to groaning when this one did it, mostly because part of me had been expecting it, but at the same time had been impressed by how long you stuck with the 'present' day. I really liked the way you did the conversation with the detective, and was hungry to see more.

That said, I really, really dug the story you provided us through those flashbacks. Here, it feels like you had the right balance of description, action and mood, and the story was better for it.

I would like to see Marcy developed a tad more. We see her at her weakest, and also when she's pensive, but I also want to see what makes Jacob love her. Show us more like the Barcelona moment, so that we get Jacob's pain afterwards.

I liked how there's a bit of ambiguity to whether it really was Jeremiah that did this or not. Obviously based on your comments he was, but I don't think story does a great job pointing to him. I also don't think it's a problem, but others might feel differently.

Great, morose ending , and the flames moment circle us back to both the beginning and Marcy's Barcelona. Awesome way to tie it all in.

 

 

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 3, 2014 - 7:56pm

Thanks Hector. I'm glad you liked the story. This is all subjective. A lot of the things you liked are things that others weren't that fond of. Appreciate your thoughts on it.

I'll get to yours tonight.

Thanks again.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 3, 2014 - 7:56pm

Thanks Hector. I'm glad you liked the story. This is all subjective. A lot of the things you liked are things that others weren't that fond of. Appreciate your thoughts on it.

I'll get to yours tonight.

Thanks again.

Jason Choi's picture
Jason Choi from Hong Kong is reading The Goldfinch July 3, 2014 - 4:04pm

Hi Devon,

Since many people have commented on the characters and specific scenes, I would like to offer a comment on the writing.

First off, I really like the structure of whydunnit as opposed to whodunnit. Asking the question "why did Jeremiah Page did what he did" is a much more interesting story than the cliché "who burnt the protagonist".

I am also a big fan of your fragmented style. While not enjoyed by everyone and definitely not pulled off successfully by everyone without appearing pretentious, I think your command of this style is superb. There are incidences in which this fragmented language is unwarranted (e.g. "The sun sinks into the hillside. Taking it’s warmth with it." should be one description, also note the minor grammatical error). I think as a writer this is the question you have to consider - how to remain consistent with your style and preserve the delightfully jaded voice but at the same time not overdo it. For the most part it gives a sense of starkness to the prose - think McCarthy (e.g. "Bright white flash. The percussion expands and rushes back to its origin") - I would even say it's noir-ish and fits with your story quite nicely! But again, I think it only works when you're describing different parts of a whole in fragments.

Lastly, a short note on some beautiful lines:
"Close your eyes, but the white light bleeds through the thin tissue."
"I close my eyes and the world doesn’t wait for me to open them again."
Lines such as these, as much as I hate the word, are vivid. Words like "bleed" are unexpected and offer a fresh imagery for readers.

Great work overall! Can't wait to read more from you - I can't emphasize how much I like styles such as yours. Would appreciate a critique on my story too, if you don't mind!

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 3, 2014 - 7:59pm

Hey Jason,

Thanks for taking the time and giving some good thoughts on the story. The fragmented style is a thing that I picked up reading. It really stood out to me and I found that it has become part of my voice.

The McCarthy reference is pretty flattering, also.

Thanks again for the read.

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk July 4, 2014 - 7:38am

Hi Devon, 

I really liked the way this thing was put together, in a russian doll\memento way. Really made me want to get to the end as see what happened at the start of the story. 

The real thing I liked was what was left off the the table, the full details of the bombing, the main characters past, and also what happended to the girl. 

A thumbs up from me mate, great stuff.

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 4, 2014 - 7:49am

Thanks, Dave. I wanted to try something different for the contest. I'm glad you liked it.

Jay Parekh's picture
Jay Parekh is reading Fight Club July 4, 2014 - 11:19am

I havent read the other comments so I dunno if anyone has mentioned these points, but here goes:

Certain parts kept bringing me out of the narrative because of the tenses and the pov because they felt inconsistent. 

For example:

The first time when Jacob tells Draper about Jeremiah, Jacob narrates in detail how Draper writes the name on his pad, circles it twice, cutting the hook of the J etc. It broke the narrative because I immediately asked myself how Jacob would know this minute detail, lying in bed with 60% burns in front of Draper. The next paragraph starts with "The nurse knocks on the door and lets herself in". This is small point but in first person present tense I would have liked to have read that as "Theres a knock on the door. It's the nurse and she lets herself in" or something along those lines.  Of course that's just me, and I dont have any training of anykind, but thats just what sounds right to me. The way it's written now assumes a certain level of omniscience on the part of Jacob which he doesnt have, atleast as far as the plot is concerned.

Now that I've got that out of the way I just have to say that the plot is fantastic! I liked the way the story centres around why Jeremiah did what he did, and doesnt really linger too much into the specifics of the events leading up to them meeting Jeremiah or the actual fire. It leaves that to the audiences imagination, which would normally be a problem, but the way you've written the story, it doesnt really matter. That is a skillful feat in itself.

Overall, you've got something great on your hands and a few edits here and there is all you need to make this a masterpiece!

 

Sidenote: If you have the time pls read my story  - http://litreactor.com/events/arrest-us/que-sera-sera

I've only had 3 reads and 2 comments so far (both positive), so I am really looking for more eyeballs here and I am very curious to know what other ppl will say.

Thanks!

 

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 4, 2014 - 3:39pm

Thanks Jay. I'll make sure to get to your story.

kevymetal's picture
kevymetal from Halifax, NS July 5, 2014 - 7:41am

I'm reluctant to write anything other than "SO GOOD" on this, but I know that's frowned upon, so I'll try to offer something more substantial. 

As you already know, I'm a big fan of non-linear structure and letting things unfold and having a reader figure things out for themselves and you do that really, really well. 

I also like the ambiguity of the protagonist saying Jeremiah did this to him, since it could go two ways and you don't say straight out which way. 

I liked this line in particular: "Her grip strangles my fingers. Bunching them together, ready to break them. As if my hand were constructed with the fragile bones of a baby bird." Beautiful.

Suggestions for improvement: none. Your story is gripping and elegant and a delight to read. 

So I guess I have nothing substantial to offer. My bad. 

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 5, 2014 - 10:13am

Well, I appreciate the kind words. Thanks for taking a look. Glad you liked it.

RhysWare's picture
RhysWare from Worcester, England is reading The Warriors July 6, 2014 - 10:27am

Hi Devon,


I really enjoyed this. I love the fragmented style, and the beginning kept me hooked.


I have a couple of minor problems with the story and they’re pretty much the same as others. The beginning paragraph did feel like it would be better suited for a third person style, and I was quite surprised when it turned out to be first person. The writing can be a little elaborate, but I don’t see that as a bad thing at all, and in regards to a statement made by another user, I don’t think you should change your style if you were aiming this at a mass audience. It’s definitely a strong piece of your story, and so well done for that.


Draper cutting off the hook of the J also confused me at first. It’s an interesting, stylized little touch, but something I’d say doesn’t really work as I had to reorganise the placing of the room in my mind once I’d read it.


Contrary to another reviewer, I would say I really loved the ambiguity of it. In terms of sympathy for the character, I wasn’t too concerned with it. I found myself a fan of him from the beginning, and the same with Marcy. I don’t really like the idea of giving a reason for the selling of the explosives other than the want of money. A lot of the time it seems writers try to shoehorn alternative reasons for the characters to do what they do, and I would argue that’s become a cliché in itself. Money is a good enough reason for your characters, and so it’s a good enough reason for me.


I feel like I’ve just regurgitated views from other readers, so apologies for that. But I do understand what you were saying with the piece, and I think what you left out certainly doesn’t have to be put in. Too many readers want to be spoon fed details that dilute the story, and you’ve got a perfect balance of details and ambiguity.


I’d say this is a definite candidate for winner.


Rhys

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 6, 2014 - 1:41pm

Thanks Rhys. The ambiguity is probably my favorite thing about the story. Glad you liked the story.

mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar July 8, 2014 - 6:50am

Hi Devon,

First things first - you really do have a way with words! In terms of the settings, actions, emotions and interactions of the characters, I thought this was spot on. In fact there was only one phrase in the whole piece that I felt didn't quite work for me (as casual as a thief).

I loved the structure of it - starting with him being taken to hospital and questioned really built the suspense and made me keen to know what had happened. Unlike others, I felt the dates was good, both in terms of giving the reader a natural break and in giving some clarity on timeline.

The only criticism I would have is that I didn't feel that I knew enough about the characters to really care for them. Who are Marcy and Jacob? Why are they creating explosives? Although the story was so well written that it made me empathise with them, it felt a bit wrong doing so without knowing their back story. They clearly want to move away desperately, but why was doing this their only option?

I'm assuming that Marcy didn't get away? She'd have been able to find Jacob otherwise as she knew his new identity?

I think it needs an extra section to give some extra perspective, but overall I enjoyed it - a thumbs up!

Matty

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones July 8, 2014 - 8:51am

Thanks Matty. 

I didn't take a lot of time showing who the characters were. The situation wasn't one that you could easily sympathize with without getting into the cliches and watering down the story with backstory. Essentially the story is all backstory other than the beginning, but I think trying to work in actual back story would have ended up being confusing with the already odd structure.

Really, this was just a get rich quick scheme. It wasn't their only option. They were doing this because he knew how, and it paid well if you didn't pay attention to your conscience. 

And no, Marcy didn't make it. 

Thanks for taking a look and I'm glad you liked it.

Damon Lytton's picture
Damon Lytton from Augusta, Kansas is reading Alexander Hamilton by Ron Chernow July 10, 2014 - 11:09am

Okay Devon,

I just re-read your story and finally feel confident that I can give a decent review. Your prose is beautiful and incredibly stylistic. The first time I read it I didn't love the structure but it bothered me less this time around. I think I was just reading too fast last time.

Now I understand that you weren't worried about sympathy for the MC after it's revealed what he's done but my problem with comes up later. I can take the bomb-making - it's not easy to sympathize with that kind of character but I can do it - but what I can't take is him driving away to save himself instead of going to save Marcy. It's not like they're in a city. They're in the desert. If the SUV doesn't catch up to her she'll likely die after a couple days anyway. That's where I lost all sympathy for the MC. Just a little effort from him on that front would have been nice.

Other than that I really enjoyed this one. Keep cracking away.

Dylan Mackey's picture
Dylan Mackey from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Wake Up Dead by Roger Smith July 17, 2014 - 12:43pm

I gave a thumbs up - to echo Chacron, it does seem highly-polished and stylized, but I don't find issue with that. In fact, I like writers who can tell any kind of story with language that has a flourish. If you can weave dark material with poetic strands, then you can keep almost any reader engaged.

I was a little confused at the outset with the dates not corresponding, but I figured it out soon enough.

Good luck to you with this submission.

Thuggish's picture
Thuggish from Vegas is reading Day of the Jackal July 23, 2014 - 9:54pm

I just read it, so this is kind of top-of-the-head.

I'll start with the obvious good- phenomenal story. Please make it into a novella or novel. More on this later.

Random things I liked:

"Fingertips touching between his knees, relaxed" SUCH a good little image.

Somewhere out there, a child is going to bed hungry. A family is losing their home. A daughter is dancing away her dignity for a stack of singles and a mother is waiting for her son’s body to come back from the war- Another great image. Pulls you away from the happenings of the story just enough to get this strange perspective, but rich with the images in my mind.

Real quick- the room for improvement. First, and it's taken me a while to realize, but your style, which I LOVE, sometimes makes me impatient and a little irritated. I think I just figured out why. Take the opening sequence, last paragraph: "The siren outside is a warm guitar."

For some reason, it's getting a little redundant right at that point, and I think it's the to-be verbs you hear about in writing advice articles. We're mulling on this little point where he's burned and being put in a hospital, which is fine, but right there I had this reaction like I was too frustrated, not in a good way, thinking "God, come on already!" This is half compliment, because I'm already so drawn in that I want more, but at the same time, it felt like we weren't getting on with it. Like it wasn't moving. Call me crazy, but as simple as change as "the siren becomes a warm guitar" might have made all the difference.

Another example: "The moon is the light of a police helicopter" I may be nitpicky, just seems like this sentence could be a bit better. 

Maybe I am crazy.

Other than that, the end was a little short of fulfilling all the promises. I want more resolution, not necessarily story-wise, but what happened-wise. A little more explanation, maybe come back to the present, a few less questions left hanging. In fact, it wasn't until reading reviews that I realized he'd left Marcy to her own fate. Short story, so I guess you have to keep the word count down, but a little more explanation would be nice. It's not that I don't like the fragmented style, I just want more fragments to piece it together.

But that only leads me to my final request- make it into a book! Seriously, I'd buy it. Signed copy. It was that engaging, and just plain that good. So that's my advice- write it up!

Kristi's picture
Kristi from Connecticut is reading Anything I can get my hands on! July 24, 2014 - 4:43am

Hey Devon,


Just wanted to leave you a few comments, all good. Over all I loved it, thumbs up!!

I too could read your prose all day! You have a really great way of making average, obscure, and mundane things in life fascinating. Your writing never shies away from the ugly things, instead it presents them in both dark and beautiful always that captivates your audience!

I like that your writing gets in your face and makes you read it. The staccato and poetic style makes you take your time, and find a rhythm to get all the little nuances down. It's not something you can skim or rush through and appreciate.

I've never read anything that was out of sequence before so that was a new one for me... after I read it, I read it  “backwards” just to make sure I didn't miss anything and that it made sense to me. The only downfall for me.


It left me wanting more, which means I was engaged and invested. I know it’s a short story but it was over a little abruptly. I'd love to read an expanded version!

Dan J. Fiore's picture
Dan J. Fiore from Pittsburgh is reading too many things at once July 27, 2014 - 5:31pm

This was really great. Structured perfectly to keep the reader hooked the whole way through. Beautifully paced with fantastic detail throughout. One hell of a story. 

 

I'd find it hard to point out any flaws with the stor itself. I'd maybe suggest looking at the moment just before he drives off with Jeremiah's car. I think the ending where your narrator images she also got away might be more powerful if we see him debating whether to go after her and the SUV. Consider showing us this moral delema right after he's just aided a bombing for money. It's an interesting situaution and I'd be very curious to see your narrator's thought process and feelings leading up to him driving off without her. It might also help to add some thoughts of his when he sees the damage his work has done on the skyscraper. Does he feel anything? Nothing at all? Whatever the case I'd be curious to find out and I think it would perfectly set up that crossroads he finds himself at just after.

That all said, I truly thought this was great work and a definite frontrunner in my book. Huge thumbs up. 

Apologies it took so long for me to get around to reading it. I'm very glad I did. Good job and good luck!