To read this story or to participate in this writing event, you only need a free account.
You can Login with Facebook or create regular account
To find out what this event is about click here

Josh Zancan's picture

Everything Outside of the Silence

By Josh Zancan in Arrest Us

How It Rates

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


A bagman begins to panic when he loses contact with his accomplices.


Erik Carl Son's picture
Erik Carl Son from New England is reading Sunset and Sawdust by Joe Lansdale July 3, 2014 - 9:43am

The tag line drew me into your story. I loved the idea of watching someone begin to panice and become increasingly paranoid, however, the story does more telling than showing.

Some of you lines, "Wendy doesn’t know Franco.  Wendy knows me and I know Franco.  Neither one of us know how to get in touch with him." would work well if we got a real sense of the protaginist's mind. What senses are beginning to fire? Is he sweating, unable to eat, cool as ice, or overly atuned to every sound? I want to feel his panic and anxiety in the text. I want more stuff like this, "A man’s voice seeps through it in short, steady drones" and "The ring tone pushes into my abdomen and squeezes." Give the reader his nervous stomach.

You have the right idea in the short, choppy sentences, but I'd love to see more of the senses working overtime.

Again, I dug the idea behind the tale. There ain't no heist like a failed heist.


Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 4, 2014 - 2:25am

Thanks for taking the time to read and comment!  I think I may change the tagline - I didn't give it much thought when I uploaded, but I wanted any expectation to be more on the build to his delusion than the panic itself.  Although his paranoia does play into that, so I think your suggestions are still very relevant. (Would you recommend a tagline change? I want it to have a hook, but I also don't want to miss my own point.  I'm not great at writing my own taglines.)

Do you think I should omit the parts regarding the expostional aspects of the story, involving the heist, or would I be better of building the sensory stuff around that?  You actually hit the nail on the head when choosing the quote "Wendy doesn't know Franco..." because that, for me, was when I felt it got to be a little much.  One of the things I noticed before uploading (I thought the 30th was the last day so I just went ahead and posted), was that there was a lot of background stuff in the beginning and it took a little bit before I got on with it.

Love that you read it as a failed heist.  I had a different idea of how the heist went in my mind, but I didn't address it with any specificity because the heist itself wasn't really the focal point for me.  I figured the reader would connect the dots however they see fit. I had a few people read it before I posted it here, and there were a couple different takes on how the heist actually played out.  You were the first to see it as a failed heist (which surprised me).

Again, thanks so much for your insight! Very thoughtful and helpful.


Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures July 3, 2014 - 10:09am

The tag line also drew me in and I want to like this story but it's not quite there for me yet. As Erik stated before me, there is a lot of telling and not much doing. I think by turning things around and taking all the passive voiced stuff out and turning it into action would make a HUGE difference in this story and really give it the punch it needs.

You are totally on the right track with this, I love the short, confused, choppy sentences. Really gives the reader a feeling of the panic the narrator is feeling. And we only get bits of what happened, love that. 

Good luck to you!

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 4, 2014 - 5:20pm

Thanks for reading and commenting!

I'm glad the sentence structure gave you that feeling--that was my goal but I was a little curious as to how it would actually succeed.

I hear what you're saying about passive voices.  Going back through it, I found a bunch of places where I should absolutely have used the active voice.  Thanks for bringing this to my attention!

One thing I'd like your opinion on: There are times in the story where he considers hypothetical situations involving Wendy and the people at the front desk (such as "Wendy is sitting in a motel off Interstate 70...").  Do you think changing these parts to the active voice would cause the reader to think that these scenarios are actually happening?  Because I do want it to read in a more active manner, but I'm also hesitant to make a change based on principle if it doesn't serve the intent for that particular part of the story.  Does that make sense?  It seems to me, I should probably have a different voice in place to better distinguish his reality from his worries.  What do you think?

Juice Ica's picture
Juice Ica from Rhode Island is reading The Twelve by Justin Cronin & Beautiful Creatures July 8, 2014 - 9:32am

That is a great question and one I would wrestle with in terms of a story like this. It's tough because you do not want your readers to think you KNOW Wendy is waiting and I think that if it was switched over to an active voice that would cause confusion. I think that part of the story, specifically his worries, I would personally keep in a more passive voice and try to distinguish them by using italics perhaps. Stephen King employs that in a lot of his stories and it is quite effective. 

I hope this helps a little bit!



Scott MacDonald's picture
Scott MacDonald from UK is reading Perfidia July 4, 2014 - 2:45pm

Hey Josh,

I loved this man.  It was dripping with noir; deeply damaged protaganist, half living in a fantasy world.  The topple over with the bourbon into raw panic was well placed.  I really liked the way you played with the readers expectations, making them think the worst (the train crash, for example) then turning it on it's head.  I thought your short sentences hit the mark.  I could almost hear this being read out by Tom Waits (If you're not familiar with Tom's work, check out "What's He Building in There?", which will probably be on YouTube, to see where I'm coming from on this).  In a lesser way, there was something about this that also called to mind Hunter S Thompson (maybe it was the trashed hotel room that he couldn't remember trashing).

I have a number of  ideas of what led him there, and I think that maybe it's probably best left to the reader to sort it out...however, I've got to ask, in your mind, was Wendy ever with him on this venture?  Was there ever anyone ever going to be waiting on that phone?  How long has he actually been carrying that diamond (is it really a diamond? I'm almost picturing that it's a glass stopper from a whisky decanter).  I might be totally off track on all this, but I thought that maybe there was a deeper damage to that character than is first obvious.

Anyhoo, it's up to you if you want to give hints to your thinking, but suffice to say I really enjoyed this.  A pretty unique entry from the others I've read in the comp so far.

Many thanks for a good read.


Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 6, 2014 - 5:42am


Thanks so much for your kind words.  I'm glad you enjoyed it!  It's very encouraging.

I'm a big Tom Waits fan, although I never thought about it being read in his voice.  I'll have to go back through it and read it with him in mind.  I actually picked bourbon as the liquor in the story partially because of the song Jockey Full of Bourbon.

As far as what was actually going on, a character that plummels to that mental depth has a lot of issues at play and is already an emotionally damaged individual, so you're right-on there.  I have my own backstory leading up to everything and my own explanations for all that happened in the hotel room, but I do think it's best left to the reader to sort out.  It's always more fun that way, I think (for both myself and the reader). But to answer your questions: Wendy was never physically with him in Kansas City, there was never any man on the other end of the number, and the diamond wasn't real.  The timeline is reliable, though.  

I really like your idea about the decanter stopper.  That isn't what I had in mind, but that thought process puts a different spin on the story for me.  Very interesting take on it.

Thanks again for your awesome review, and for taking the time to read in the first place.



YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 11, 2014 - 12:29pm

This was great. Very Georges Simenon, following the broken murderer rather than the Private dick. Worked for me. Only point of confusion was the bit at the end with Wendy -- is the woman intended to be Wendy or is it an hallucination from the MC's broken state? I couldn't work it out -- if it is Wendy I might have liked the things she says to him at the door to be less ambiguous, hinting that she knows him and all.

Aside from that I liked it, it starts with general confusin and unwraps details carefully and well. The voice you establish is strong and broken, very nice. Nice tension running through it, and I like how the man on the other side of the wall collapses into the MC -- as it's not central to the story it's a nice added touch. The setting and feel reminded me a little of the film Barton Fink; claustrophobic and macabre. 

Regarding the showing and not telling, I'm in two minds. I like stories that manage to pull off telling well and I think you mostly did this with the singular voice and their increasing paranoia and panic. You s*how* the characters degeneration by him *telling* us about what he's doing. It worked for me. 

Overall very tense and well written story, it's hard to pull so much off using a singular stream-of-consciousness(ish) perspective. Thumbs up!


Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 17, 2014 - 8:59am

Thanks so much for reading and for your review!  

Barton Fink is one of my favorite movies.  The setting was coincidental, but when I was trying to figure out the best way to approach the story, I turned to that movie for guidance on how to build tension in a room where nothing much happens.  The one direct thing that I got from it was the idea for the guy on the other side of the wall.  I had already planned on there being a neighbor who made noise, but didn't know where to go with it.  Then I thought about the scene where Barton hears Charlie make a lot of noise from the other room - I was like "well if that happened to my character, he'd be too paranoid to call the front desk", and then took it from there.  The claustrophobic atmosphere of the film was what I was trying to emulate the most, so the fact that you brought it up is very rewarding.  Thank you.

As for the bit at the end, it isn't Wendy, just a hotel clerk.  You're actually the second person to ask me about this (and since I've only had six commenters thus far, maybe it wasn't as clear-cut as I thought).  For me it's obvious, but only because I wrote it.  But I'm curious as to how it would change the understanding of the story if it definitely were Wendy.  

I agree with your view on the show/tell rule.  Showing is a great guideline, but with some stories it just wouldn't make as much sense.  I felt that showing, in the traditional sense, too much here would shift the character's viewpoint a little too far to the objective (that being said, I did like the first commenters suggestion about a little more insight into the senses, but even that I would only take so far).

Thanks again for taking the time read and review.  Very much appreciated!


YouAreNotASlave's picture
YouAreNotASlave from Birmingham United Kingdom July 17, 2014 - 1:56pm

haha, glad i clocked the barton finkness of it, its a great feeling to convey exactly the sort of thing you wanted. i did the same with the movie brick to inform/inspire my story and its drawn that comparison, well chuffed. i was edging towards the woman at the end not being wendy because she was talking like a hotel clerk, but then i thought her being on the run she might have acted like one so as not to arouse suspicion. think maybe i was following the paranoia off the narrator too much, but more clarity is always good! but yeah, again, well done for the story! 

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 18, 2014 - 1:49pm

Following his paranoia is understandable.  It's sort of a risk I knew I was taking in making only parts of the story "real" with no substantial indication of what was or wasn't, but I wanted to focus solely on his perception.

I haven't seen Brick yet.  It's on my Netflix instant queue, but based on what I know about it from descriptions and friends that have recommended it, everytime I pass it I'm like "Agh, I don't know if I want something that heavy right now."  

Thanks again.  I WILL get to your story before the review time closes.  Right now I'm throwing some attention to the stories that only have a couple votes.  I feel wanting with my story at six votes, so I can't imagine how it is for the writers who only have two or three at this point.

Adam Jenkins's picture
Adam Jenkins from Bracknell, England is reading RCX Magazine (Issue 1 coming soon) July 12, 2014 - 7:48am

I liked this one. I found it a little hard to get into at first, but it soon swallowed me up. I’ll add to the comparisons and say I found this a little reminiscent of Philip K Dick. The descent into madness is really well done, and I didn’t have a clue what was real and what was imagined.

I’d say that the beginning could do with being a little clearer. Your protagonist is clearly already losing it / lost it right from the go, but I thought maybe a smoother opening sliding would help the reader get into the story immediately. The first paragraph in perfect, but the second is already not making sense, and you risk losing the reader doing it that way. It took me until about the top of page two to get what you were doing, though that might just be me.

The more passive narrative worked for me, where perhaps what is being said is a product of the imagination rather than the truth. Perhaps certain parts could have been a little more active, but it sounds like you’ve spotted those already.

Solid thumbs up from me.

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 17, 2014 - 9:28am

Thanks for reading and for your feedback!

I understand what you're saying about the beginning.  I had a little mixed feelings about it for a couple of reasons, one of which was what you brought up.  On one hand, due to the psyche of the character, I wanted the reader to be confused at first and figure out his mental state as it went on, but on the other hand, I didn't want the reader feeling totally lost or alienated.  It's a tricky balance.  In the end, I decided to just go with his distorted perspective, take the risk, and hope for the best.  I also took some outside factors for granted, namely banking on the readers' desire to understand and in turn keep reading - not totally reliable, but it was a rationalization that made me feel better about it when the contest deadline rolled around.  I'm sure there is a way to have the same effect I'm going for while also being a bit clearer, but I'm just not there yet.

Thanks again for your comments!


Seb's picture
Seb from Thanet, Kent, UK July 15, 2014 - 3:14am

Well that was brutal. Like it, nice one.

Josh Zancan's picture
Josh Zancan from Crofton, MD is reading East of Eden by John Steinbeck July 17, 2014 - 9:29am

Thanks, Seb!