I'm so excited that we had so many great stories this week! If you missed reading any of them, go here to catch up - you don't want to miss them! Without further ado, here's what the judge had to say (Thanks, Rebekah!):
Comments: I'm not sure why I thought of fire from the sky--maybe something to do with our planet's recent tragedies, or maybe a general lack of sleep. In any event, fire fell in my head and I could not stop it. What a pleasure it was diving deep into your stories of raging flames of all colors and textures. So many charred villages! (And let's not forget the llamas.) Thank you for taking the time to build worlds and craft characters here at FTT. Your time and talents are so appreciated.
Story comments (in the order of submission):
Jess West: I LOVED the concept of a "fire caller." Even before I discovered what you meant, I knew I wanted to be one. The world-building here knocked my socks off with its vibrancy: a people nourished by flames, and a novice fire caller for whom things seem to be going very wrong. A totally compelling read.
Emily Karn: Like Jess's fire caller, a Fire Lord is a magnificent and thoroughly enjoyable concept. Hugh reminded me a bit of Montag from Fahrenheit 451 in his hatred of and obsession with fire--becoming a fireman after such a horrific childhood trauma. I especially appreciated the way you carried his secret through the story until its violent and surprising unveiling at the end.
Pratibha: What a powerful and sophisticated contrast between the opening's angry dragonfire and the quiet peace of the yellow flowers. As Jess commented, it's a story almost seen in periphery, and it needs an extra reading or two to sift through the MC's pain/fear to what's really going on (and I love stories that make you work a bit. It's like Alison Crutchley's (@AccidentoBizaro) advice in her interview last week at #SixtySeconds: "Find all the bits that make it obvious what’s going on in your story, and cut them"). And the twist was spectacular, in one blow both solving and unraveling the story.
Caitlin: Having a beloved sister myself, I'm a sucker for sister tales (yes, I therefore think "Frozen" must be one of the best movies of all time), and "Pure" was no exception. The magic here was wonderful and interesting, and what gorgeous dueling parallels between the water and fire magics, the pure and impure hearts, and the two sisters. Wrenching that final opposition into a love triangle was a masterful step (or misstep, I suppose; poor Moira). Loved, LOVED the last line's echo of the opening; what a satisfying if awful ending.
Casey Rose: This story is both gorgeous and painful. The dancing fireflies' inner light served as a powerful metaphor for the MC's own inner fiery demons. How I hoped that the abused girl would not follow in her mother's evil ways but alas, I hoped in vain. We are not told just how she begins to cause fire from the sky herself, but we can guess. The tale is both tragic and angering, because it's all too possible, and the horrors are all too real. Beautifully and powerfully written.
Stella: What FABULOUS and memorable character, the pathological liar whose poison oozed from childhood. The name she chose for her new life is of course reminiscent (and contrasting) of the equally disturbed and frightening mother/son pair in Psycho. That her nemesis turned out to be her own son is satisfying on many levels, as well as his inability to truly defeat her. I love how you've left the ending vague: are they dead together (is the world safe?), or does the supernatural tone of the final lines mean they will together wreak their horrors on the world? Either way is terrifying. Great job.
M.T.: Wonderful, wonderful use of voice here. I almost didn't care what the plot was, the story was just so darn readable. But of course then the plot itself hurtles through the air at breakneck speed, taking the reader with it. You twisted the prompt on its head by planting your MC right in the fire itself. The falling angels and squad of "smoke jumpers" combine into an action-packed story of rescues, near misses, and death, for one explosive ride. I'm not one who normally pictures stories as movies--but in this case, its pacing and tone were instantly visual. And loud. Loved it.
Jeffrey: SPACE BUGS!!!! Like Mary's story, this one was instantly visual. There is something universally compelling about heroic defiance, and this one captures that moment of intelligent, brave, all-or-nothing rebellion perfectly. Shades of the Alamo, I thought, in which the heroes, knowing death is imminent, stand firm, and take many of the enemy along with them. Who doesn't want to meet death in such a way, "backs straight, heads up and eyes wide open"? Fantastic world-building, smooth and effective character development, and a glorious end. This story has it all.
JM: HUGE props for being the only writer to take advantage of swapping the fire for something else. And not just anything else: llamas! I laughed out loud at this one, and at the thought process that must have led up to it. "She said we could swap the fire out... FINE, I'm going to swap it for the craziest possible thing!" While Jeffrey's story bore shades of the Alamo, this one felt very Douglas Adams to me (falling whales and potted plants in space? Why not!). This story simply bursts with hilarious images: llamas body-slamming the train, masked would-be heroes sidling alongside outside the cars just because, and the loud, clear tones of betrayal at the end. "It's a trap!" Too funny. A great read.
JUDGE'S CHALLENGE CHAMPION:
Pratibha. I've seen a lot of twists done badly (here's looking at YOU, Hans in "Frozen"--WORST TWIST EVER; totally out of the blue and incongruous and unsupported)--but this one was sophisticated and marvelous. Yes, it flipped the story on its head because it shifts the story in a totally different direction. But it's not effective just because it's unexpected. It's effective because it complicates the story in the best kind of way; it's an ending, but instead of closing the story, it flings the plot wide open. It's the kind of twist that demands a rereading, or even a re-rereading. Really well done.
Stella. For a disturbing, creative, memorable, strongly written piece of horror. And I don't even like horror!
Jeffrey. Great story. Great writing. I'd love to read more about this heroic character, the Tainted Lands, and the Evil Space Bugs, and what happened next. The story is familiarly dystopian and sci-fi, but you take it in a direction all your own. As the MC, Chelik is really well drawn, and the conflict surrounding him is unrolled with excellent pacing and innovation. Excellent job!