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Chacron's picture

Everything Disappears

By Chacron in Arrest Us

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Description

A professional thief pays a visit to a billionaire couple, who have a secret they don't want him revealing. To get the contents of their home back, they have to atone for a criminal deal they tried to make sixteen years ago.

Comments

Devon Robbins's picture
Devon Robbins from Utah is reading The Least Of My Scars by Stephen Graham Jones June 19, 2014 - 1:54pm

Hey Chacron,

I had a hard time with this one. The piece is written fine technically, but the way it was presented— with first and second POV— was awkward for me. Maybe others will feel different about that.

Maybe the "letter" structure isn't the best way to deliver the story. Him explaining who he is to the couple didn't make sense. Why would he do that? We find out toward the end, but that made everything before it seem misleading. Again, others may feel different.

As far as the plot goes, I feel that there needs to be more tension toward the beginning. I was one third of the way through the story before I started to understand why this was happening. Then when the reveal comes, the stakes, to me, felt pretty low. I was expecting something really sinister to warrant someone losing everything they have, especially if they're billionaires. I wanted to like the story more than I did, but I think you can pull it off. 

I'm saving the up or down rating for now. It's not a thumbs up for me yet, but it isn't a thumbs down either.

I know this review sounds a bit harsh, but in no way am I trying to discourage you. I'd wait to hear back from a few others before digging back into it.

Hope this helps.

Devon

 

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 23, 2014 - 2:05am

Thanks for your time on this, and don't worry about it sounding harsh - I worry more when reviews give gushing praise. Besides, when I get to your story you'll get an honest opinion from me too. The other reviewers seem to agree with you on the payout at the end being a bit low, and I get that it wasn't really sinister, which is what some people might want. This story was a break from me doing 'sinister' if I'm honest about it, but perhaps it would fit in with my usual stuff more.

-C. 

big_old_dave's picture
big_old_dave from Watford, about 20 miles outside London, Uk June 20, 2014 - 6:01am

Hi Chacron,

Having had a go at doing a story with the "letter" structure I know how tricky this can be and I think you've done a good job here. I think there a few things that could help you here, if I'm barking up the wrong tree or have the wrong end of the stick please igonre :)

I think there are a few sections here that could be taken out or shortend to keep the reader focused on the theme of the story, for instance :

"Take a good look at the USA: they still have plenty of ways to make killing each other with guns legal, and to sue each other for millions over the most spurious of allegations, but even they are a nation where people mostly adhere to laws against each other. Although actually, they do in some ways, but think of it like this: a politician who ends up in the press after someone snaps him buying time with a prostitute can usually recover his reputation. Could a politician who got caught buying a child’s future do the same, do you think?
Look at us in the Great land of Britain too. Not so different, are we? Except for all that’s wrong with our society, we still only put monetary value on a person’s life and future in an indirect way. Not that I’m condoning that at all – in fact, there was a time when if someone said ‘Tell me a joke’ I would say ‘The West,’ but I don’t want to sound like an extremist or a terrorist. (Besides, The East are getting worse for that by the day as well.) I want to sound to like the person who wasn’t flattered at the idea of being worth a hundred grand."

this section is not really moving the story forward, it's a sidestep.

"Let’s get back to me on my beanbag, doing my little exercise in teaching myself German. (You must have liked that after all, given your ancestry. There was I thinking I’d put you off by reading a book written by a Marxist. The Caucasian Chalk Circle ends with a tug of war, in which two woman hold a child’s hands and use her as the rope. The one who wins the right to be the child’s mother is the one who lets go and refuses to pull. Did you know that?) That moment must have been glorious - you knew you’d found your fresh apple at last."

this bit as well made me a bit confused as before he mentions that he speaks japanese, Might be work cutting back on the reading matrial descriptions?

The start of this story really did bring me into the story, I liked the main character and the set up. I would have liked more time with the brother and the other children.

The other thing that intrested me was the mention of the history of the family and you mention-"began with the Nazis paying him for the locations of his absconded Jewish friends. I wondered where your family’s money first started, Eric and Tessa Rosenberg. Who might your ancestors have sent to a gas chamber?"

I'd like more info on this, maybe they did have a connection to the Nazis, funding Oswad Mosley or somthing like that? Dig up more dirt on them.

As I mentioned at the start, writing a story in the shape of a letter is not and easy task, and I think you've done a good job here, just think possibly of trimming it a little. 

I've not inculded a line by line as I could'nt see any issues. 

It's a thumbs up from me mate, 

Dave

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 23, 2014 - 2:08am

Hi Dave,

Cheers for that. The first paragraph you've quoted can definitely go - I did wonder about it before I posted, but decided to leave it to the mercy of reviewers. Good call, I can dispense with it all too easily now. The second one you quote about the Nazi past will stay, due to others taking more interest in it.

Others agree with you that I've done pretty well with the letter format, so score one for me on that one. For what it's worth, reading that one of yours in the workshop that was in letter form was what made me think I've never tried it before, and that it might work with a couple of the ideas here, which are lifted from a novel I never finished. I got 60K out of it before I couldn't decide where to make it go and eventually abandoned it and used some ideas elsewhere, but I realised I liked this character's voice as a letter writer as soon as I tried it.

-C.

Aud Fontaine's picture
Aud Fontaine from the mountains is reading Catch-22. Since like, always. June 21, 2014 - 1:58pm

Chacron,

I'd first like to say that I really liked the whole idea of your story. I loved the idea of some guy stalking these people and plotting against them for years just for the satisfaction of finally sticking it to them. I really loved it. Truly. That said though, I have to admit that I was kind of disappointed in his reasoning. I can understand how warped what they did was but I don't think it warranted Scratch's intense reaction that I'm assuming boiled for years and years. Maybe if you added some more details like perhaps Scratch is somewhat unhinged or change the Rosenbergs' crime to something a little more drastic. I just feel like this story would have a lot more impact if the revenge felt more earned. I felt a little like he was overreacting when I really wanted to be behind him one hundred percent and relish his sweet revenge along with him. 

Honestly, I think if you just tweaked a few things here and there you would have a really cathartic, really fantastic story. Even as it is it was quite enjoyable, even if a little bit disappointing. Thanks for the fun read.

Aud.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 23, 2014 - 2:12am

Thanks for the review - there's definitely a pattern emerging here that the ideas I've used are good ones but something about the execution isn't there - namely that the payout just doesn't satisfy most people. I'll have to think a little more about the Rosenberg's backstory, and I like some of the suggestions I'm getting about it. If you have a story in this competition then I'll do my best to get to it before the end of July.

-C.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) June 22, 2014 - 5:07am

Kudos to you for tackling something a little different. Writing a whole story in the format of a letter is not at all easy, and there are many pitfalls you can make doing so. I actually think you have deftly avoided most of the pitfalls. The thing I love most about this, is the way you drip feed little details in at just the right time to take the story forward. There are levels to this one that I just think are superb. As soon as I thought I was getting a handle on what was going on, there was another morsel of information dropped in that made me rethink.

There is good use of tension here as well, and that is one of the major pitfalls of writing in this way. Given the story is a confessional of a sort, talking about (recent and not so recent) past events, it’s hard to build any tension. You build wonderfully well throughout the story though, leading us to the climax.

Unfortunately the climax is underwhelming. I kept waiting for some hideous crime to be revealed, some heinous act performed against Scratch. I wanted something that would really get me hating the Rosenbergs. I was all ready to hiss and boo. They tried to buy an orphan, rather than go down the official route. It’s not even clear why they did that, as there seems no reason they couldn’t have just gone down the official route and saved themselves the money. It would have had more impact had Wolfgang been tormented in some way by them, and it shows us how close Scratch was to a terrible existence.

As it is, his stalking of them, and robbing them blind, feels like overkill. His letter hints at a kind of mutually assured destruction were they to involve the police, but some remarks about buying stolen art, and trying to buy a poor orphan boy doesn’t really amount to much threat. I’m not sure I’d buy that there would be uproar in public opinion from it either. Stories can be spun just as will (if not better) in public opinion than they can in a courtroom. Scratch’s threat is lacking in claws. The biggest threat is one that appears to be groundless, in that he casts doubt onto how the Rosenbergs got their money. This would have an impact certainly, though not a huge one. If he had solid evidence that would be one thing, but vaguely threatening to make it up isn’t really strong enough.

Give them real skeletons in the cupboard. Make Scratch’s job harder than just having once recorded a conversation. I want these people to be utterly despicable. You don’t necessarily have to go the whole hog and make them Fred and Rose West, but certainly give them nefarious crimes that he’s discovered. His vendetta against them is weak as it stands. My suggestion would be for him to remember the name and then when he accidentally discovers something big, he decides to get a little payback for them thinking he could be bought like a slave.

This is still very much a thumbs up from me. I’m a sucker for people trying something a bit different, and I do think you do it very well. 90% of this works pretty darned well, and getting that percentage up will be a doddle for you I’d say. I’ve attached an LBL with comments I made while I was going along, so you’ll have an idea of what I was thinking while I was reading. Hope it helps. Best of luck with this one.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 23, 2014 - 2:37am

Hi Adam, 

Great review, and I'm pleased you liked this so much. It's true I was playing the 'try something different' card and you were definitely a reader I was hoping that would appeal to. I wanted my entry to be the sort of thing you might not usually find in a crime competition and these ideas came back into my head after years (as I said in an above comment, they're from an unfinished novel I tried 4 years ago.) If I'm honest, I wasn't really hoping for this story to be a winner - it's nothing like a lot of the ones in the 'Hot Stories' section, or the ones I've given high praise to as a reviewer. What I was more interested in was effectively using the competition as a workshop. I'm willing to take stick from anyone who says that's not the idea, so there we have it.

On that note then, I very much like your comments. Particularly:

Give them real skeletons in the cupboard. Make Scratch’s job harder than just having once recorded a conversation. I want these people to be utterly despicable. You don’t necessarily have to go the whole hog and make them Fred and Rose West, but certainly give them nefarious crimes that he’s discovered. His vendetta against them is weak as it stands. My suggestion would be for him to remember the name and then when he accidentally discovers something big, he decides to get a little payback for them thinking he could be bought like a slave.

There's something quite film-like about the idea of Scratch seeing some big news about the Rosenbergs, having perhaps forgotten about them for years, and getting that surprise memory that leads him to the crime. I'm going to go for a redraft based on that idea, although I doubt I'm going to get it done before the end of the competition - I'm hella busy with getting my novel up to eBook launch standard right now and writing this entry was a break. (If anyone else reads that comment then please DON'T hold off giving me suggestions just because I might not use them yet - there's plenty more I can do with this story besides enter it here!)

The Fred and Rose West reference rang a bell with me because they are one of many couples who went through my thoughts back when I first created the Rosenbergs, and was trying to decide what level of fucked up they should operate on. I guess all reviewers are right here in that I didn't up the stakes enough in that regard. What I was actually going for was a story that said more about Scratch than it did about his adversaries - namely that he was willing to go to such great lengths to steal from someone when their crime against him really wasn't that serious, and what mattered wasn't the severity of the crime but how personally he took it. I guess this line doesn't really have as much impact as it should, on reflection. In my original 60K with him, Scratch did far worse than steal from people, so perhaps they should do far worse to him to begin with. This has rekindled my interest in him as a character - educated, polite, well read, intelligent, and a long way from morally sound. It seems I'm on the verge of finally getting these ideas to go somewhere, so thanks for the thumbs up and I'll drop you a line if another version of this ever goes up.

-C.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) June 23, 2014 - 3:32am

I’ve pretty much been treating this like a workshop anyway. Quite a few stories have been changed and improved since initial posting, and I think treating it like a workshop is the healthiest approach. I certainly dug the fresh approach, and if it doesn’t quite work yet, it shows it has enough about it to get there. I was even telling someone off line about how well the story drops details at just the right time.

You could take this one of two ways. Either you need to up the sociopathic tendencies shown by Scratch (hard to do in a letter format), so we get that he’s doing this for little reason; or you make the Rosenbergs more monstrous. Whichever way you go definitely let me know as and when the next draft is done. I’d happily give it another read.

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated June 23, 2014 - 4:55am

Chacron,

I enjoyed this story and the style reminded me immediately of Alan Bennett (Talking Heads). I think the approach to the story is a little over ambitious for it to be told via letter format, it’s a very long letter indeed and the words don’t always feel like written word sometimes instead reading like articulate thoughts eg when he decides to charge them per year, then its per month and double the amount? As a gag it works, but this isn’t a joke piece, it’s a serious tale of revenge. Unless it’s meant to be tongue-in-cheek macabre?

Choosing the letter format is bold, I don’t think this tale benefits from it. The story could have worked just as well have been a pre-recorded message, video diary or email to the yuppies. The letter makes an interesting story more passive as we only have one side to the story. If the letter was broken up with genuine action / reaction to the letter (from the antagonists) opposed to Scatch making their predictions for them, it would add depth.

There’s also the issue of the letter itself, who’s reading it? Did Scratch just finish writing it and is reading it back to himself? It needs to be in the hands of the victims for proper impact. You can argue that they’re reading the letter, but it’s not obvious.

Your craft makes the story compelling but the reason for vengeance I found a little weak, my interpretation is Scratch has revenge on yuppies (I’m calling them yuppies cos they feel like 80s excess types) because they bought him (and another kid who was also happy to turn on his adopted parents?) and he’s made an outstanding life for himself anyway and decides to bother them because of? You have to seriously hate to do what he has done - he’s attempting to ruin their lives by taking away the only thing of merit they can relate to, money and material things. Does the motive fit his actions? I think motive can be enhanced quite easily. I think the reader needs to be rooting for Scratch to make this more satisfying.

I don’t want my comments to sound negative, there is genuinely good craft here and I think a few simple changes could really elevate the story to another level.

I gave you a thumbs up in case you’re wondering. The craft is worth it, this style is difficult and I think you nail it from a technical POV, but the story just needs a few tweaks to bring it all together.

All the best and happy writing

Mads

 

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 27, 2014 - 5:09am

Thanks for the review. Along with some of the others, you call the letter format into question. Truth is I'm probably going to stick with it, but some of your other comments about tweaking it and giving it something different are good ones - the motives I do think need a bit of a re-working. I disagree that you have to hate what he's done, but that's just me.

And as for the suggestion of making this an email, forgive me an all-out rant: email format is the pits, and I've already said as much to one other writer in this contest who opened a story with one. I don't even use email excerpts as a narrative break, I HATE the damn things. If someone is reading an email, I describe whats in it in the narrative and NEVER show the email itself. The most deserved ripping I ever got from a reviewer on here involved me introducing a character through a computer using a social network site, which is perhaps the only thing worse than using emails to the same effect. Perhaps it's just because there's so much email shit in 50 Shades of Grey that I associate it with bad writing....thanks, I enjoyed saying all that!

-C.

madsmaddox's picture
madsmaddox from Berkshire is reading Fated June 30, 2014 - 1:29am

Chacron,

if I was in your position, I wouldn’t change the letter format either lol (a lot of people also liked the letter format, what’s life without balance?).This piece would translate perfectly to radio / spoken word btw.

I will always forgive a rant that is eloquent and funny. Good that you got that out of your system, that sort of bugbear can fester and turn into something else lol. I just used email as an example of modern communication, had this been set a hundred years ago I probably would’ve suggested a recorded gramophone message. I haven’t read 50 Shades of Grey, not really my sort of thing, the press for it reminds me of the mid 80s when everyone was harping on about 9 and half weeks.

Best of luck with the contest and also thanks for your help on the Quiet Detective, I’ve finished and uploaded the final draft. You’ll recognise your moments of inspiration should you choose to re-read.

All the best


Mads

Jonathan Riley's picture
Jonathan Riley from Memphis, Tennessee is reading Flashover by Gordon Highland June 23, 2014 - 3:22pm

Tommy,

I enjoyed this. I've read all the other comments and Adam pretty much said everything I was thinking when he got to his follow up comment.

For me, I think the reason the Rosenbergs were offering money for Scratch was so that K would consider splitting up the twins. He wouldn't let one go without the other so they thought for the right amount he may. And that's what really pisses Scratch off. Not that they wanted to buy him, but they were willing to pay so much for him, so that they didn't have to take his brother too.

Even still it's not enough motive for pure revenge, which is why when I read it I totally felt the angle you mentioned you were attacking. It's more of a testament to Scratch's character than the Rosenburgs.

Making them more henious and him uncovering that would be an excellent route to take. Justify his revenge.

But also reaproaching your original plan could be really great as well. I'm not sure the letter format suits that route. See I'd need to see more of what he's done. I'd need scenes of his OCD/psychopathic behavior as it grows. See he's this devious little kid who aspires to be a master deviever and theif. So you could totally make the Rosenbergs the complete opposite. Maybe they didn't do anything but be rich and show interest in him. And he remembered them, so as he grew into this mastermind he always remembered that they were going to be his first big get. Ofcourse if he can't blackmail them he'd have to find a better way to steal from them. But as Adam mentioned, if he does blackmail them, he needs better evidence of worse crimes. Even with the recording, if you have Billions you can make stuff like that go away pretty easily. I;d love to see Scratch in action. Using his status as a world renound interpreter to really get into places full of riches so he can case the places and do his magic. I'd like to see him talk other languages. So yeah, if you really want us to get the best of Scratch you may have to Scratch the letter format. But it is a well written letter. So if you can keep it, up the steaks a bit more, or as mentioned above how about a video or tape recording of his own.

Another thing about the letter format were the breaks. THere aren't breaks in letters so when the first one happened I imagined you switched out. Which could be an option. Keep the letter continuous or you could have a series of letters. You could show their reaction to them, or what he's doing when he isn't writing. Or you can just have him send letter after letter. Date them, he gets more anxious as he doesn't get a response. So you can insert that he knows where they've been and what they've been doing. You can make him really irritated, and have the letters get angrier. All just options.

Okay, so I've attacked it enough.
What I really liked was the character of Scratch. His intelligence, likability, his jobs, the way he writes the letter. All great. I loved the twin brother. Would love to know more about him. Would love to know more about why he loved the institution so much as well. I really like the whole revenge aspect of it. That's the same type of stuff that makes television shows such as Revenge, and House of Cards so compelling. But I also like the conman/art theif nature of it as well, and think the story could work just as well without a revenge theme. It could really go either way.

But yeah, overall, really good job on a difficult format. Hope I haven't confused you more than help you but there are definitley several ways this one could be improved and I can't really decide that for you, I just hope I've provided you with enough to help you decide. Thumbs up for me on this one. Can't wait to see where you go with it.

--JR--

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 24, 2014 - 11:44am

I like this a lot, unique and innovative. I did spot a couple of things that you may want to address, but obviously you can completely ignore them if you want! You mentioned, after pointing out the asthma thing, that the couple could afford your insurance - NHS? Although they are rich so they may have chosen to go private. You also said about smartphones 16 years ago - is this a future-set story or did you mean a 1999-era mobile phone, which were far from smart? Finally, you said about dinner with someone from the IRS. If the couple are British residents (that's how I read it, that this was their permanent home despite jetting off wherever) it would be HMRC, or you could just say dinner with the taxman. Anyway, that's my notes. I liked it throughout, including the ending, although it felt a little sudden and short after the great descriptive lengths before it. Nice story, and I love the letter style.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 27, 2014 - 5:14am

Hi Seb and thanks for the review,

You mentioned, after pointing out the asthma thing, that the couple could afford your insurance - NHS?

This is me being deliberately cynical. This story is set a certain time into the future (deliberately left obscure, and perhaps set up with the idea that Britain doesn't, to me knowledge, have orphanages either, so someone down the timeline has brought them back) and the way I see it in real life is that if we continue down the road we're on with the NHS then it's basically fucked - everyone's going to have insurance and we'll end up with a USA style system where private companies and big investors run the show. This isn't an issue especially relevant to the story, just a little poke I wanted to have at the real life system in a subtle way. Glad someone got some of the way to spotting it.

Good call on the HMRC though - it would be them and not the IRS. I'll put that down to having to visit both organisations' web pages myself recently for real life reasons and just mixing them up when I got back to fiction.

-C.

Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK June 27, 2014 - 6:12am

Yeah I wasn't sure about the health insurance thing, but coupled with the smartphone reference that now makes sense. Anyway I really liked this, especially the whole epistolary concept being turned on it's head.

Hector Acosta's picture
Hector Acosta from Dallas is reading Fletch June 26, 2014 - 7:40pm

Chacron,

I have to admit that unfortunately the story didn't really click with me. LIke others have said, the idea itself has some merit, and I grew to like Scratch himself, but the execution left me flat.

The main reason for this is that I didn't feel like having the story be told via a letter really did much. Like someone else already pointed out, I thought it hurt it more, because the story immediately becomes more passive. There's really no tension or anything that really makes me want to see how this will end-the worse that can happen to Scratch is that his letter gets torn.

It also really didn't feel like a letter that anyone would write. There's too many parts where I felt like it was obvious this was a writer telling a story, rather than a character sitting down and writing a letter.  Bit like the opening line:

Welcome home from your holiday in Monaco. I hope you had a good time, because I certainly did. That’s why your entire mansion in deepest rural Berkshire is now completely empty.

Why would Scratch feel the need to mention where the mansion is (you also mention deep berkshire a few paragraphs below)? This feels like it's more for the audience sake than anyone elses.

Same with:

I’ve really enjoyed your money over the last decade. Or rather, officially, I’ve enjoyed a number of Japanese businessmen paying me handsomely for my services. I am the finest western translator currently living in Japan; my clients and I are never short of enough funds to eat at Sukiyabashi Jiro while we discuss all kinds of business. The banks never question my bonuses, because they eat the finest in sushi with me too, and it does help that I pay taxes the legal and honest way. Everything declared. Transparent.

I know the argument can be made that Scratch is simply bragging and wants to rub it in their faces how successful he is, but at some point the story started to drag with all these type of details. Especially because there's very little dialogue, the story is simply a lot of telling.

Like I said, I like the idea of the story, but I'm not sure a letter is the way to tackle it. In order for me to buy the story, I have to buy the bond between Dylan and Scratch, and the letter structure doesnt really let me do that.

Regarding whether the punishment meets the crime, I idn't have any issues with it, though it does seem like Scratch builds it up to be something darker and worse than it really is. I would pull back a bit on those moments and mentions about the police, and just do the reveal at the end.

I hope some of this helps. Take whatever you find useful and disregard the rest.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb June 27, 2014 - 5:00am

You destroyed my 100% Rating! I'll KILL YOU!

Haha, just kidding! I just really wanted to have a pretend Goodreads Moment. In seriousness, I respect the honesty of your review. You're right about the letter reading like it's someone writing a story - always one of the pitfalls of the letter format. As for the bonding between Dylan and Scratch goes, I did a lot of that in the original 60k I wrote with these guys, and would have liked to have included more (Dylan was actually the main character in the original version), but it was a sacrifice I made for keeping within the word count. Perhaps if I cut other things and replaced them with that instead it might improve this. This is the same sort of thing I had with my Teleport Us entry - I used a few ideas from an unfinished novel and wound up wondering if the novel form was actually better. I can't see myself getting this story started as a novel again - I prefer these ideas short, but I'm willing to admit the letter form (which I probably will keep) needs a slightly different approach.

-C.

Dan J. Fiore's picture
Dan J. Fiore from Pittsburgh is reading too many things at once July 1, 2014 - 4:49am

Chacron,

First of all, kudos for really going ambitious on this one. Second person isn't easy, especially in the epistolary form, so really--kudos. I actually really loved this story. It maybe took me a page or two to really get hypnotized by the prose and lose myself in the second person narrative, but once I did, I was enjoying it thoroughly. 

That said, I think there are maybe a few areas where the story itself could use some work. Because you've got the form down (which is the trickiest part), but there are maybe a few flaws with the bones behind it. 

I've read others above who said they felt the narrator's motivations didn't connect with them enough. I'd have to agree. I kept waiting for something a little more sinister to transpire rather than the couple trying to buy the narrator and not his brother. I feel like this might be an important element in a theme you're exploring, so I don't want to suggest changing it if you feel it's pivotal. Instead, consider the possibilities beyond that action. What aftermath could that action have caused? You mention the narrator's brother teaches and is now a semi-Olympian? I feel like that's an opportunity for you to change things up and give us more insight into why the narrator's doing this. Instead of making him somewhat successful, what if overhearing the couple discussing how little they wanted him lead the kid down this dark path of self-destruction and self-hatred? This in turn can become the key motivation for your narrator's revenge. The couple destroyed his brother's life rather than essentially just hurting his feelings. That was really the main thing that took me out of the story--wondering why this guys spent his whole life trying to screw over these two people. I think it's an easy tweak to make, and it'll really make us care for the narrator more and put us in his corner. 

I also feel like you could cut this story down a good bit without losing too much of what's there. My hunch is you could cut about 25% to even 40% of it and have a much tighter, smoother story. I'd just go through sentence-by-sentence and ask yourself whether what you have is something the story really 100% needs. Sometimes the time you've spent on the nuanced detail of the narrator's dealing and whatnot muddy the story. A few times I was a little confused by the complicated way he makes money or the vast geographical hopping the family has done. It's a lot to take in throughout one story and I'd caution you to be careful you're not letting unimportant details bog down the revenge tale at the story's heart.

Beyond that, like I said, I loved it. I personally thought you pulled off something that's very difficult to do (I've been trying to write an epistolary story for two years now and keep failing), so bravo. Great job and good luck!

-Dan

 

mattymillard's picture
mattymillard from Wolverhampton, England is reading Curse of the Wolf Girl - Martin Millar July 10, 2014 - 1:51pm

Hey Tommy,

I really like the whole concept of this, and the fact that he's been storing up these secrets and plotting for years. I love the letter vengeance part of it too, and think that it is a great way to deliver the news both for him and for the story. I do think that it is too long for this to be all letter though, it gets a bit ranty and a bit samey in style after a while.

I'd like to see it changed up a bit. Maybe start with some real life things instead of explanations - like his brother encouraging him in sports after he's been laughed at, and an actual theft of a painting he carried out. All of these things that have been happening in real life could be explained (as events to get to know the main character as a person, his thieving and upbringing, his donations and vulnerabilities - but without any of the "reveal" stuff), and then they go away on holiday. On returning they walk into an empty house and find this letter on the mantlepiece. I do think it would be a lot easier to identify with the characters if there was some actual dialogue and action in there.

It's a really cool concept though and the whole intertwining mesh of lies has been well thought through and it really works. Would love to see you have a good go at this one!

Hopefully I have given you some things to think about! Nice work,

Matty

 

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep July 15, 2014 - 10:16am

Hey, well done with this one.

The letter motif. Ah yes, a good way to be use 1st and (sort of) 2nd person all at the same time. It's a litte more freeing that pure 2nd person, which prescribes what the "you" is doing. I have zero problems with telling the story from this perspective, and here it worked for me. It really lends to the hopelessness of the recipient's situation, since everything's already happened; there's nothing they can do about it except fall to their knees and read about what's been done to them.

Suggestions/Comments:

- I'd go through and check for instances where you're clearly telling the reader something instead of the narrator telling victims something. "My name is Jack Murphy, but everyone calls me Scratch."

- Somebody has to be well-read/educated/pop-culture aware to understand all the references your narrator uses. Nothing a Google search on my part didn't resolve for the ones I didn't immediately get. You know your your writing style and your audience. :)

- I guess people still write letters, and it is *probably* the best way to send a notice like this and not be tracked. I sorta picture this thing all hand-written, old-school-like. Still, I wonder what other ways this sort of thing might've been done. A person as psychopathic as our narrator...would he deliver this all in person...or at least where he could see the faces of his victims? Just typing out loud here.

I enjoyed the story. I certainly didn't know what I was getting into when I started! Thanks for sharing this.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb July 16, 2014 - 10:31am

Hi Ethan, thanks for the review,

I read it this morning before work and the comment that stayed with me all day was the one about how the narrator was psychopathic. Personally I've never thought of him that way, but it's interesting that to you he came acrross like that. Yes he's a criminal but as he himself alludes to in his description on himself, he's more the Oceans 11 kind of thief, perhaps a little more vindictive though. I did remember some earlier work I did with him where he said 'But at least I never killed anyone.' Thanks for reminding me about that,

I read your story today at work, but I'll need a few more days to think before I put a review up.

-C.

Ethan Cooper's picture
Ethan Cooper from Longview, TX is reading The Kill Room, Heart-Shaped Box, Dr. Sleep July 16, 2014 - 9:25pm

I'd definitely say there is a sense of justice to his actions--there's a good amount of scale-balancing in his exacted vengeance. He's giving them what he thinks they deserve. I'm pondering now exactly how much psychopathy (maybe not a lot...but some?) one has to have to convince themselves that actions such as his are justified. I think what mostly got me was how he knew he was going to do something even as a young kid. He carried that from the moment he met them.

Maybe it was the letter. It's kinda like listening to the 3rd act rant from a villlian (in a good way!). I can't put my finger on any specific story at this moment, but I think of movies with villians who have "reasonable" (in their minds) motivations for exacting vengenace. I suspect my mind just took that and ran with it.

I'm always amazed at how different intent and perception can be.

Cmangano's picture
Cmangano from Maine July 18, 2014 - 12:56pm

Nicely done. I read this like a classic mystery, getting little bits of information as I read to bring the whole story together. I've always appreciated the fact that intelligence creates the best villains in fiction and in reality. You develop Scratch thoroughly as that calculating, devious villain, ,maybe villain is the wrong word here. Con artist? Despite engaging tone and great use of language, I had a hard time getting hooked in the beginning of your story. I'm not exactly sure why,as I think it's very well written and interesting through out. Around the time you started to explain their meeting at the orphanage I really got into it and read intently from then on.

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb July 19, 2014 - 8:37am

Thanks for the read; I'm glad this worked so well for you. From the sounds of it, the parts that engaged you most were the ones I liked writing most, which is always good to know.

Liam Hogan's picture
Liam Hogan from Earth is reading Hugo Nominations July 19, 2014 - 7:19am

Hi Chacron,

There's no problems starting this with a letter, there's a big problem continuing that way; (especially with "scene break" indicators?) scribbling down your inner thoughts to people you're blackmailing? I'd suggest maybe starting and ending in the letter, perhaps even dipping in (marking the passages in italics) but keep it quite terse. THis is the longest blackmail letter ever... 

I'm not really convinced on Eric's choice on who he wants to adopt. You mention reading - but he's not pretty, healthy, well dressed. What really sways them? Not the enimatic smile, surely? Maybe a short dialogue?

I'm sorry, for all you might think you've explained it, but this doesn't seem the worlds worst crime, for such an elaborate and expensive revenge.

Hedge fund professionals wouldn't sell infertility stories to the papers. They MIGHT sell adopting/charity stories, and infertility MIGHT come up, but it'd be discrete, and not pinned to one of them.

All Dylan could do was swear in it, because (that was all) Emilio had taught him, - nice line. I've suggested a small tweak, but it's a nice contrast to his bookish ways.

Twin, or identical twin? I assume just twin...

Marathon's an older athlete game. 21 is unlikely to be age at which you hit olympic standard. Maybe make him an all-rounder - decathlon, or given privilege, modern penthalon? A little unfair to destroy his olympic chances, it almost seems like someone out there doesn't like him...

You have the opportunity of explaining where the thieving begins, in the orphanage, and why. But instead he's already an accomplished thief - who also seems to know that the Rosenbergs are coming and will want to adopt him. On a return visit, i'd believe...

Nice enough ending that Wolfgang helped the thievery. Perhaps some remark on how much he cost to bribe, compared to what the Rosenbergs paid. But - inheritance? Would Wolfgang ruin his chances of getting it all?

Minor issues : (including grammer/typo's that really shouldn't make it to submission stage...)

I’ve pretty well circled the globe in residences. -?

the composure Danny Ocean - "of"?

how they money he founded his empire on - "the"?

Liam

Chacron's picture
Chacron from England, South Coast is reading Fool's Assassin by Robin Hobb July 19, 2014 - 8:42am

Hi Liam, thanks for the review. Fair enough call on the believability issue with the hedge fund managers and the story they sold. I went for something slightly off the wall rather than what was strictly believable. This story had a more fun feel to it than most of the stuff I write; I didn't really worry too much about whether a scenario like this would ever actually happen (I doubt it would.) Anyhow, thanks for the honesty; I never do manage to get likes from everyone.