Thursday, February 5, 2015


You all rocked the pants off that special challenge! Second person can be so tricky, but you all made it work! Rock on! If you missed any of the entries, go read them here. Now let's read what the judge had to say:

I’m delighted all of you opted to do the special challenge! Several used the second person for the narrative and others as the addressee for a first person narrative.  What I tend to get from second person is an off-putting intimacy. The first time it caught me was in the very disturbing "Pizza Night" by Laurie Channer.

Diving right in…

Michael Simko - This one sent me scrambling after the relevant quotes. First or Second Timothy? I’m thinking Second for the suffering and not being ashamed about it. The second person narrative gives it an appropriately confessional feel.
The mystery of "she" in the first paragraph grabbed me: Is she a lover, a child, a malfunctioning pleasure bot? I’m usually not a fan of "punchline" tales, but this one made me walk back that aversion. The initial horror that the drunk narrator may be about to lose all my sympathy by engaging in something non-consensual is overturned on the last line to riotous effect. I went right back to the beginning and read it again. What makes the whole thing effective is that all the evidence is there from the beginning and the misdirection never feels like "cheating".

Jamie Hershberger - The horrifying image painted at the start made for a great grab. The creepiness of the second person narration works really well here. The image of him throwing himself around the house made me think of Fight Club (never a bad thing).  The story prepares us well for the resounding note of denial. This guy is all about denial. Some of my favorite lines: "your most recent transgression surfaces in your memory like a bloated corpse in a flooding graveyard" (hits a great tone and carries a lot of guilt) "aware of your pulse, telegraphing a psychotic “S.O.S” to your limbs".

Lauren Greene - Instant tragedy. What a sad little story. Stillbirth produces such a visceral response. It’s hard to come up with a situation more tragic than having an eagerly-awaited pregnancy end like that—and yet it is a heart-rending reality for so many people. I found the mention of being wrapped in a blanket and placed in the mother’s arms anyway particularly devastating. The inclusion of the brother at the funeral (who doesn’t quite comprehend what is happening) was touching.

Holly Geely - Painful and hilarious. Another misdirection. Love the humor sprinkled throughout. The MC’s self-deprecating voice, his/her honesty, made me withhold my judgment (oh, did you really fall off the wagon for a dude??). Instead I agonized with the MC even though I had no idea what the real source of discomfort was (the right conditions of sheer boredom can bring on varying shades of rhinocerae). His/her crush is genuine and endearing. The second reading is just as fun—if not more so—than the first. The evidence is there, but it’s my own expectations/biases that do most of the misleading.

Geoff Lepard - Very poetic—the use of second person as form of address gives this one a sense of intimacy, which by the end makes total sense.  Fine descriptive language throughout (appropriate for a "bookish loner"). Some of my favorite bits: the boxer imagery, setting the stage for a destructive relationship;  the "prescient resistance" of the knuckle; the grin "curdling on your lips"; the line about holding the hand, wiping the brow exposed so much. I love how the use of first person and addressee veils the genders of the players, revealing that a dysfunctional relationship is an equal-opportunity dynamic. The change at the end left me conflicted (in the right way) as she seems to enjoy the assumption of power in the relationship just a little too much.

Stella - First person address of second person, but we don’t get the first person until the second half—so very well crafted. The effect lured me to align my sympathies with the "you", figuring she was the MC, and enjoy her frankness; the flashback with the aunties sealed the deal (that tidbit had me like the "everyone else" of the tale, giggling and astounded by the guile). Then, the shift over to the first person, the poor best friend, yanked the carpet out from under me (as I’m sure the narrator suffered to a greater degree). So much here in so few words, and you make it seem effortless. 

@clivetern -  "You" as the addressee (lover, spouse) for the first person. My favorite line: "The wash from the ship was still strong enough to pluck your chador, fluttering it like the flags that hung from Kharoum Tower" The detail here places us in a specific setting while moving the plot along: Sudan in the future, and our MC is in trouble with the law. My curiosity was further tugged as I hadn’t heard of female muezzins (a detail that made me think this was a more tolerant future). This tale feels like a fragment from a longer piece as there is a lot moving under the surface here, the mystery from the very beginning as to what exactly is "different", what they’re doing in a hangar, why the MC is slated for death, the missing arms suggesting she’d run afoul of the law before, the list of names (the number 64 made me think she was a Daoist—64 guardians of the parts of the body, some of which would "dwindle" if she lost her arms—and they might be executed for heresy). The repetition of the initial line, with its dire turn, closes this one off nicely. This certainly left me hungry for more.

Erin Blake - Another fun misdirection. That very first line has a hint of the reality: "Embers continued to eat at the walls…" and does the "from scratch" at the end of the paragraph, but I bought the misdirection completely. That is some clever word-craft, there. I loved discovering on second reading that the parental feelings dovetail perfectly with the feelings of someone trying to be a "good leader" (oh, yes, that’s it exactly). Yes, the delegating, the accepting responsibility, the having to rearrange to make up for mistakes—the superimposition gives this a lot of punch, especially the struggle to stay optimistic despite "casualties".  Meanwhile, the descriptive language makes this one breathe.

Rose Ketring - First person narrative addressing a parental "you". The MC sounds like it could be an imaginative kid with some delightfully freakish sheep nightmares, a kid who has entered a new stage of mental development that s/he can perceive him/herself as being an active participant in this thing called sleep and whose imagination takes seemingly innocuous suggestions to horrifying lengths? But then the unfamiliarity with sleep makes it just as likely that this is an alien entity with an instructive "you"). And yet the final line turns the table—whether parent or instructor, the addressee becomes the monster.

Special Challenge Champion: Stella Kate’s short and sweet "Home Truths" for the clever use of addressee who turns out to be the impact character rather than the main character.

Grand Champion: Holly Geely’s "Have Another" for an MC that tugged on my sympathies even when I suspected s/he deserved his/her agony.

Whew! Now, I'm off to make dinner. Thanks again for the venue and the opportunity to judge.

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