Hills like white what-the-heck?
Each of these were delicious tales, thick with chewy prose. Loved them all and thank you for sharing!
Chuck, out of curiosity, how do you select which stories to read? Do you read the first line or two and get hooked or do you throw the printed-out stories up in the air and then pluck one at random before it hits the ground?
Ok, I’m just going to make individual comments as I read each of these.
Neil -- Your description makes me jealous. I enjoyed the way you depicted the church and then lead us to actions of the “bad boy” with different girls, revealing behaviors that contradict a persona put on by an authority figure. I especially liked how the character relayed that it’s so much more satisfying to break the rules with someone who’s not supposed to be breaking them. Someone who is perceived as someone who can do no wrong. That’s so often how things unfold in real life.
This line in particular was my favorite: “The body and blood of Derek, which will be given up. . . for me. Amen.” Any time a story has a play on something like that I really enjoy it. And for me personally that line, and many other elements, was relatable since I grew up in a Catholic family.
Allison -- The world you have going on here seems to be something epic and the number of layers that are there to depict are really tough to do (I’m working on something similar). Huge props for you taking on a story on that level. The part where you depict the birds dying, followed by dogs, and then going to humans gave me a great sense of how things escalated and how that world began to slowly tear away at the seams.
My favorite line: “Your home fills at night with the sound of gasping instead of snores.” That’s a perfect way of illustrating how life went from being peaceful into being a nightmare. I love that it’s physical. In my head it made me ‘hear’ those two noises as I read that.
Neil -- "where they waterboard babies into the faith..." -- I loved that line. Clever, creative, funny, and creates the juxtaposition/conflict of images and emotions. I love that kind of stuff in a sentence.
I can't remember what grade I was in when we read "Hills Like White Elephants," 6th grade in 1976 was the earliest possible. No student figured it out, but the teacher told us it was about an abortion. This was in the 70's, taught like abortion is normal and bad people try to stop abortions. We have to let innocent people get abortions.
By 1973, we had all seen a photo of a human baby in the fetal position, in the womb, in Life magazine, I think. There was an odd family, a few houses down the street. I only saw the mother once in my life, though their son was seen in school, he was rarely playing in the neighborhood with us. The one time I saw this mother, she was in her nurse uniform, walking up to get permission from my mom to show us in real life, in a petri dish in her hand, a real life example of the Life magazine photo. She had a real human baby in the fetal position, fully formed at the same stage seen in the Life magazine photo. We third grade boys and all were impressed by the science. We did not realize that this is a dead baby from an abortion. We just said wow, no judgment of right or wrong. None of us knew right from wrong.
Erik - Your character has a really strong voice and it’s kept uniform throughout the piece. That can be hard to do and it’s something I’m still working on. I did have some trouble following the story. I think I need it to link thoughts and events together more. I definitely get the sense that this person is in the armed forces and has had a variety of experiences and travels from that, which brings me to...
My favorite line: “Remind yourself to be thankful for the good things in life like rainbows and donkey shows.” I used to live in Seoul, South Korea. During part of my time there I lived in Suwon, just north of Osan Air Force Base. You would hear jets flying low over the city all day. My parents could even hear the engines through the walls when I talked to them on Skype. We’d go out drinking and often would run into various people in the Army, Navy, Marines, Air Force, etc. A lot of them would joke about donkey shows. And many times they would make jokes about ‘ping pong shows’ they saw in Southeast Asia. This voicing in the character is really good and it reminded me so much of the conversations I had with folks with that type of background.
First off, what an honor to have my mentor read anything that I’ve written. Chuck, you are the reason (over 20 years ago) that I ever took a creative writing course in community college. I’m humbled beyond measure, as giddy as a teenage girl on prom night, and quite possibly semi-erect.
Moving right along…
This is the fifth “episode” of a project I’m working on, entitled: Chronicles of a BarFly.
I say episode in quotations, because I wasn’t sure if “chapter” was appropriate. My intention was/is to release the story under as a serialized novel, for a few reasons.
First off, I have no idea what am doing. Consequently, the appeal of not having to adhere to any sort of chronological implications or specific settings was appealing (yet surprising challenging, I’ve come to learn.) The acts are meant to be (semi)cohesive and interconnected, but also act able to act independent of one another as their own “episode.”
The erratic nature of the story, the fragmented sentences, quick chops, are my attempt at mimicking the thought process of a fractured mind, as it slowly loses its grip on what real, and what’s not. I went for a 2nd person POV for the immersive aspects allowing the reader to dive as deep as they feel comfortable doing, without getting squeamish. There is definitely sensitive subject matter and a fuck ton of dick jokes.
All that said, I’m trying to take readers along for the ride, in real time, as shit hits the fan (this is a work of fiction, officer 👐🏻)
As for the ominous implications Amd undertones… we’ll. You’ll just have to wait and see. (Insert evil laugh track made by dead people. A Nod to you, Chuck. 👊🏻)
It is still a work in progress, and I’m currently rewriting the newest episodes, as well as re writing all previous scenes, in an effort to provide a bit more clarity. What limited feedback I have received, alluded to the reader being lost, as well.
But here’s the thing…
…that’s kind of the point. 🤓🤐⏳
If anyone is interested I’ll leave a link below to the rest of the episodes, right here on Substack. Might be worth noting that I obviously have no professional background in writing, other than writing all my life, and picking up what I can here and there (along with the aforementioned CC extracurricular endeavors.) Which is why, again, that this is such an amazing opportunity and experience. I’ve always written , never really felt like a choice… rather, a reflex of sorts. Or a response…
Instinctual to a point. Anyhoo, I realized a little late in life that my only choice is the quality of my work. Which I why I have sought out the best in the craft to learn from. You guys. And Professor P, of course. Aside from another blizzard, I’ll be there on Thursday. I feel so incredibly blessed…
Thanks for any and all feedback. You can’t hurt my feelings. Unless you say my cat is ugly. But dont go there, bro. I’m cereal.
That link 👇
(Also worth noting that in my mind, I’ve never written a lick of poetry. And that word was used two times to describe my stuff.
Fuck yea! 💪🏼🤙🏼
"Hills Like White Elephants" became one of my favorite short stories. Much like you, I didn't know the characters were talking about abortion until someone told me! Repeatedly. But for me, I love when a writer can be subtle like that. Talk about something without talking about something. It rings more true because a lot of time, for a lot of us, we tend to teeter around the issue. One of my favorite writing tools is subtext, but it's tricky.
If clarity is king, how do you manage subtext while still keeping the dullest reader aboard, so they ultimately complete the puzzle and feel euphoric?
Before I forget, let me put this here. In the Fight Club movie, there was a scene where Ed Norton's character was sitting at this big table during a business meeting. This scene took place after the club became a thing. And...I remember someone starts talking and Ed Norton bares his teeth and shows this businessman how stained his teeth are with blood. And I loved that so much, it's one of the few things that I remembered because it was so shockingly odd. The juxtaposition between this formal, proper meeting with the animalistic teeth bearing gesture.
Was that something you had in the book?
Neil, some notes from a former proofreader for Catholic bulletins:
• Mass, referring to the weekly event, is always capitalized. I get that there's an irreverent swing in the narrator's telling, it's a table then an altar, baptismal fountain vs. font, but you capitalized Stations of the Cross correctly so Mass would feel consistent.
• The Stations. I'm having a hard time seeing a whole catechism class dragged through them in a hallway. Need room to make the kids kneel at each one, plus being placed around a larger space really drags the process out.
• If this story has more of itself to tell, Perpetual Adoration would really throw a wrench in things. Can't feed the gooey thing properly if Domenica is there kneeling before the monstrance on her 2-3am shift. Just a thought.
Overall, good read, would read more.
Thanks Chuck and all for the great feedback! Intention-wise: This started as a flash fiction piece for Cemetery Gates and that month's theme of 'Confession' (Not selected, btw). The editor for 96th of October liked it, but didn't like where it previously ended (the narrator alone in that confession booth, waiting). So Chuck it pains me that it was so transparent to you that the ending was an afterthought. I appreciate the tools you're suggesting to settle into the scene a little more - it's a common problem of mine to hustle along quickly so I don't squander ppl's attention. I'm trying to develop that instinct of knowing where I can let off the gas. Any insight you can offer on sussing out those moments to 'quiet down' I'm 100% here for it! (Allison and Erik: I'll be in the comments below with feedback on your excellent stories.)
“Ask me about irony: finally, peace among humans, and a handgun for every one of them.”
Love the shit out of this. Sorry, where are my manners?
Where were we…
Oh, okay so is the (alien invasion?) just a clever ruse, to show how scary PEOPLE are/in contrast to actual monsters?
Also… is the ambiguity of the narrator a starting point or is it THE voice. Either way, it has authority and the pacing handled quite nicely, I think.
But I also think adult nap time should be a mandatory type thing, and that’s it’s total bullshit they don’t hand out free kittens to everyone that buys a taco on a Tuesday…
“The hopeful think they’re breeding. I think they must be mourning.”
I’m of the opinion that everybody copes somehow…
I love discovering new (coping mechanisms?) that exist.
Either by my own relative circumstances or by learning about other’s stories/life’s/revelations/instilled beliefs etc.;
Perhaps showing the fundamentally flawed, perceived moral /intellectual superiority, standing blindly, righteous in their convictions as THE truth. Anyhoo, I’m wondering if that’s a thing?
Maybe, as a way to show that Dunning/Krueger shitshow manifest in real time? And with actual life/death consequences?
I’m intrigued. Definitely looking forward to reading more.
Thanks for sharing, well done. 💪🏼
And again, pleasure to meet you.
The stories didn't have any dialogue and had to much narration. We have to have characters and you have to make us care none of the stories did so.
I really enjoyed all the different ideas Neil's story laid out. A line that particularly stood out to me was "Parked in the shadows, my fingernail scraping dried coffee off the edge of the driver’s side door night after night, I watched." This specific detail about the coffee anchored me right in the setting. Those are the kinds of lines I love to create while writing.
The story as a whole was like a mass of stars. I think each part of the piece stood out in their own right, but I had a difficult time seeing the entire constellation. Perhaps, there were some details I overlooked while reading, but it may help (at least me) if the reader had a clearer idea of where they were and what was going on at the outset.