Deathmatch 2013 Quarterfinals Round 2

Deathmatch Moderator

Justin Ridgeway is an associate fiction editor at Broken Pencil. He writes fiction and journalism. He studies landscape architecture. He is a public art consultant. Ten years from now he expects to be found roaming the Mediterranean on a yacht with a helipad and welcoming on board friends including Bjork, Jay Z and Stephen Hawking.




Step One: Read the stories.
Step Two: Vote for your favourite. Repeatedly. You can vote once every hour.
Step Three: Sound off in the comments.
Step Four: Blog, tweet, tell all your friends – help your favourite author win!
Step Five: Repeat until an Ultimate Winner is declared and all others lie bleeding in the dust.

Click here for Deathmatch rules and regulations and for links to all the people and presses that have generously donated awesome prizes for our winner and runners-up.

Little Cooking Hands

by Chris Kuriata

Hey kids! Did you know you can make a ghost appear by baking a pizza? It’s true. Our easy recipe makes a mouth watering pizza AND summons the spirit of a departed soul! Serves 4.

You will need: 2 cup of flour, 1/4 tsp yeast, tomato sauce, cheese, pepperoni, olive oil, 1 photograph of a deceased person.

1) Roll your dough. Try and get it the size of a record album. If you don’t like round pizza you can make a square. Or if you are feeling creative, why not make a star shape?

Read on...

Cold Comfort

By Terri Favro

I found the first one spread-eagled on a sack of organic potatoes –– one of those dolls with a ring that you pull to make it baby-talk. Only, it didn’t look like a baby. Its skin was the colour of grubby Band-Aids, the body stitched into a tight-assed skirt with a flounced hem, like one of those dancers from Portugal or Greece or wherever. When I picked it up, the eyes floated open, glared at me, then snapped shut. I pulled the ring and a string zipped out like a fishing line.

But instead of going I love you mommy or change my diaper, a little voice said: After all we do for her, she turns into a goddamn Beatnik.

I dropped the doll and ran upstairs.

Read on...

122 Responses to “Deathmatch 2013 Quarterfinals Round 2”

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  4. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Well, it is nearly the last 24hrs of the Deatmatch, and I’m not sure I’ll be able to check in here until late tomorrow, having agreed to help sell fancy baby clothing at a flea market all day.

    So, this week’s comment section was bloodless, and absent of passion, at least compared to last week with its rape accusations. Terri blames the big football show. I’ll go along with that. Anything so I can refuse to accept responsiblity.

    BTW Chris, if it is a couple of years later and you are reading this; first of all, congratulations on not dying. Second, I hope you have an apartment of your own. Lastly, I hoped you saved some money instead of blowing it all at the OTB.

  5. Pundits have probably all headed down to Buffalo to stake out their spots at sports&wings bars where they can watch the Superbowl ads without being called upon to deconstruct fiction. Don’t blame the pundits (or their brethren, the burnt-out creatives), blame the timing.

  6. I see Justin is trying to lure me out of my jungle print filled lair with some trash talk. I detect a sneer in that voice. I gotta admit, I’ve been getting more action out of the ghost now following me on Twitter than the so-called pundits. Not sure where the prolonged postpartum depression comes in — Mommi’s a workaholic drug addict with an unfulfilled desire to be an ‘artiste’. She’s a Brie & Chablis jonesing to be an Urban Bohemian like poor old dead Duff. Postpartum’s got nothin’ to do with it, amigo.

  7. Justin Ridgeway (Moderator) says:

    The race does seem to be getting away from Kuriata unless there is a strong surge on Sunday night. Despite alienating the sought after ghost vote, Favro seems to have amassed a strong coalition, reaching out to burnt out ad creatives, prolonged postpartum-depressed moms, narcissistic therapists and teenage girls with a loose grip on reality. The pundits remain silent.

    • DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      Nice to see I received “Best Comment”. The ghost cookies made me smile. Were they in the stock folder or did someone whip them up specially??

      • DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        I like message boards with the ever handy “edit” function. The two question marks after “specially” is a typo. I don’t mean for it to read as though I’m hysterically anxious for the answer.

  8. A lynching? In an album of family photos? I say, first off, use it. (Although I guess there could be that ‘but it’s true, it’s my friend’s life’ thing…but you did mention it here.) I think you’ve hit on something though. I’d say you need to frame the piece, with something that holds the piece as it now is within it. Maybe kid seems something horrendous, or finds a photo of something horrendous — something very dark to contrast with the lightness of the Archie comic book instructions. I keep thinking of this short story by Lee Henderson (title forgotten right now) in which he wakes up one day and somehow he’s gone back to grade four. (Another movie reference — it’s what happens to Tom Hanks in “Big”.) That story could have been one long hallucination, you’re never sure, but the event frames this absurd thing that has happened to him, which he never questions, just rolls with. I started reading that story thinking it was just a rehash of “Big” and realizing something else was going on — that the time travel business was psychological not physical. Might be worth looking at that story…there’s something in it that might suggest something to you.

    • DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

      To be fair, it wasn’t pasted onto an album page inbetween the Xmas and vacation photos, but it was tucked into the album. I guess his parent’s thought, “Well, this where we keep all the other photos” so we might as well stick this random atrocity in there as well.

      His father was an antique dealer, so I imagine he came across it at some estate sale or something. This was all thirty years ago. When I slept over at his house, once his folks were alseep he’d pull out the photo for us to get frightened over. For sure, I’ll never forget it.

  9. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Though I won’t have to sweat making revisions to my story for the second round, I can’t help but wonder what revisions I would make. I like the story standing as a piece of filler from an old comic, but wouldn’t want to bloat it with additional steps.

    I find myself thinking about the photograph the child is supposed to use at the beginning of recipe. Specificly, I’m reminded of a horrible photo a friend showed me in his parent’s photo album in grade 4, showing the results of a lynching. This wasn’t one of those postcard reproductions, but the actual photo someone had taken. I can understand the historical value of something like that, but I can’t imagine keeping it in your house (let alone in the same book was the birthday and Xmas photos)

  10. Jerome says:

    I hope neither of these shorts haunt me … my dad’s daisy dukes haunt me. I can still count the change in his pockets. I refuse to vote for either, as it would encourage more of the same.

  11. Okay so you forced me to think: my story is about is survival. (Yet another Atwood reference.) We need our own myths so that we can be: happy, sane, ready to get up another day and face the cattle fattening pens at Yonge & Bloor. Books, movies, the Kardashians, saints, apparitions of Mary in pieces of toast. Something more than ordinary.

  12. As for context: Cold Comfort fits into the literary tradition of the unseen and imaginary (memory, religion, even playthings with talismanic powers) reflecting and acting upon the characters’ inner lives. Think Isabel Allende’s House of the Spirits. Or Marquez’s 1000 Years of Solitude. Maybe Gail Anderson Darghatz Cure for Death by Lightning. That’s the place I wanted Courtney to spring from, magic realistically. (If someone comes back and accuses of me comparing myself to Allende or Marquez I may have to summon the Ghostbusters.) But let’s face it…Canadian lit has never much cottoned to the magic realists. We’re such a blunty real bunch of readers and writers.

    • DM : Graeme Lottering says:

      I do agree with this. We have somehow got caught on the idea of ‘the beautiful ordinary’ in CanLit. To be honest, I’m sick of hearing how special someone’s stupid, boring life is. I mean, if we don’t start injecting an element of the imaginary, we might actually be creating a literary cannon that celebrates first-world-problem stories.

      • I take Justin’s point though Cdn magic realists are few and far between — Atwood, I’d actually say sci fi rather but then we get back into that tedious classification crap. I’d include Darghatz on that list, I wish she published more. I know there’s been too much eating off each other’s plate in this Deathmatchian debate but I’m tired of ‘the ordinary’ too. I’d like bigger stories, more conflict. Something. Or ordinary stories that hiding roiling poisonous truths — good old Alice Munro could pull that off. All that repressed Gothic stuff. What were we talking about, again?

  13. Justin Ridgeway (Moderator) says:

    People (myself included) are not lacking imagination by using the term “ghosts”, they are just keeping things semantically simple, which, perhaps creates a little confusion. Cold Comfort is essentially an “imaginary friend” story. Or is it “third man”? (I hear the Stone’s “Mother’s Little Helper”). We need to be careful and use the proper terminology, don’t want to be ignorant of identity politics here. I mean, we are in Canada, right? It seems that “Little Cooking Hands” acknowledges that this is a “ghost positive space” (a lot of CC grants are going to ghosts – or is it the “life-deprived”? – these days.)

    Ghost, spirits, apparitions, imaginary friends or whatever. The construction of these sorts of elements are intended to play with our ideas about what constitutes reality and situate the fiction within a typology (i.e. magic realism or even whatever it is BEE does in American Psycho). When done well, these entities act symbolically, creating layers of meaning, emotion and narrative complexity, devising a channel between worlds – the real / physical and the more internal, psychological. They may fit within the context of a specific literary tradition. Or they may just be some pilfered M. Knight Shyamalan twist.

    • Mother’s little helper works just fine given Mommi is addicted to both painkillers and ‘Courtney’. (I won’t quote Stones again as long as you never use “topology” again.) Here’s the thing: a ghost is just a dead human with unfinished business. In Cold Comfort..the living people are the ones with the unfinished business. Their imaginary ‘construct’– Courtney — is their tool for dealing with problems in their lives. I think it’s exactly what we do when we write fiction– convince ourselves that these unreal characters are real because we have some need to tell this story. Capisce?

  14. There’s lack of imagination in this ‘ghost’ talk. If you can’t see them but you know what they’re like, they’re ghosts? Every fictional creation we think up must be a ghost. Every religious figure or god. You’re all showing a lack of imagination about the imagination.

  15. DM : Graeme Lottering says:

    I’m afraid Little Cooking Hands made me want to lose my pizza lunch. I mean, does this even count as a story?

    And Terri, nice try, but I suspect you’ve been spending too much time chatting with Chuck Palahniuk’s ghost. Yeah, I said ghost. I know he’s not dead, but I don’t care.

        • The ghost says:

          Last summer, I signed up for a Seniors Ghost Bus Tour. We met at a Walmart parking lot and drove to Chuck Palahniuk’s house. By day, we haunted his garden shed. At night, we all crammed into the shower to listen to him sing. It was glorious but a lot of the ghosts were very old and went to bed early. I stayed up late, banging on pipes, rearranging his cutlery and erasing his handwritten edits.

          I can tell you, the manuscripts in his night table are way more interesting than either of these stories. But, I think Chuck would vote for FAVRO. So, I’m voting for FAVRO – again.

  16. Justin Ridgeway (Moderator) says:

    Apparently my bio photo is very apropos of this round of comments; it is making me sleepy. The majority of the comments are from the two authors engaging in a literary banter like this is the Bloomsbury Group or something. Where are the haters? What, do I need to take this to the streets, throw an iPad in the hands of the homeless, people at CAMH and various detention facilities? This is a Death Match! Which should entail blood, extracted entrails, severely hurt feelings! I want a Roman Coliseum, a Golgotha, not a Parkdale Monday night knitting circle. These comments are like no booze or drugs or sex, just a plate of gluten-free, vegan scones. Since Biggie and Tupac things haven’t gotten way too tame… Do I blame Jack Layton for this?

    • Dunno Justin, Parkdale on a Monday night, bunch of people with big pointy knitting needles…could get pretty ugly. Now that’s an Urban Bohemian neighbourhood if ever there was one…Mommi would fit right in there, knitting needles and all.

  17. Gravitas says:

    As to the ghost issue: There’s another writer from a cold northern place. His name is Ibsen, and he considers ‘Ghosts’ to be some sort of syphilitic affliction from the past. Or the fruits of bad behaviour, something like that. So, if we throw chancres into the debate, does that offer something to wrestle with?

  18. I like this as a new story — the setting in particular — a Regina hotel where the hookers won’t go? Your boxer was definitely a junkie from the sound of it. Not enough magic realism in CDN stories (even though we’re being accused of being too CDN).

  19. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Thing that disappoints me the most about real life ghost stories is how easily they can be dismissed. It is almost impossible to find one with an air tight narrative.

    In 2009, I was living in Regina, Saskatchewan. Having just moved, I didn’t have a TV and wanted to watch the Oscars. I decided to get a room at The Plains, the filthy downtown hotel. The rugs were stained, escorts refused to service clients book there, and needle disposal boxes hung in the halls outside your room. But I could lodge there cheap, watch the Oscars and get to work on time in the morning.

    A little after turning the TV off, there was a rattling at my room door. It swung open, and a man entered into my room. I wasn’t immediately alarmed, I figured he must have the wrong room and would notice his mistake in a second. He had to have been a guest of the hotel, he was dressed only in a white undershirt and boxers.

    My vistor also looked very happy. He did a bit of a dance, moving his feet like a boxer as he made his way past me and into the bathroom. I waited a few moments for him to come out, then went to investigate, only to find the bathroom empty.

    Most likely I had fallen half asleep and dreamed the whole encounter, which is a shame because I liked seeing a ghost so at home and happy. When I tell people this story they sometimes ask if the door to the room was still open, but I don’t remember. However, in my journal, I noted that, “I was awake and anxious till daylight. Impossible to sleep.”

  20. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Well, Terri has made it clear she objects to the term “ghost” for Courtney. I’m generous to apply it to anything that isn’t really there, be it people, memories and inventions of the mind that become self-aware.

    Clearly, the true common theme binding our stories is baking! My pizza and Terri’s cookie orgy – why it’s almost as if we were copying off each other’s test.

    • The ghost says:

      You guys are being way too polite, in a charming Canadian way. Take the gloves off. I came to see literary cage fighting. You have to live before you die and become the ghost of a Death Match winning author. Grrr. Go get em’.

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    • Agreed! And childhood too. Regarding ghosts: you have to be alive before you’re dead (i.e. a ghost), and Courtney never lived. She’s an ‘imaginary friend’. Sometimes also called ‘a third man’ after the imaginary helper Shackleton thought he had with him when was shipwrecked in the Antarctic. When someone is under a lot of stress –including lonely kids, mountaineers, astronauts on space station, etc. — sometimes they imagine-up someone to help them. That’s what’s happening with Courtney…first Madison created her to relieve her loneliness, then Mommi co-opted her to relieve hers (and her guilt, loss, process of getting off drugs,etc.)

  21. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I posted a comment last night that might not be showing up, as I see it has a big tag reading “Your comment is awaiting moderation”. I’m not sure if it’s because I posted a link or maybe I got the math wrong.

  22. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    This afternoon I was trying to remember what inspired “Little Cooking Hands”. I wrote it at the end of November, around the time I found an old photo album of children. Looking at them stirred up the idea of basements and visitors in the night. I think it was the photo of this little girl in particular; there is something about the way her dress is overexposed, making her glow and the tilt of her head I find intriguing. She looked like she would be up for supernatural exploration. How she got into the kitchen, kicking the whole thing off with baking I don’t remember.

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  23. I’d like to see Little Cooking Hands as a spoken word piece. It would be great as a performance piece.

    Oh hell, once again — the math…a skill-testing question with every comment. Why can’t you ask for the B side of obscure rhythm and blues 45s or something?

    • Don’t worry you couldn’t be touching the keys or doing those math questions if you didn’t exist! The math is slowing me down, I can tell you. Simple arithmetic on three hours sleep.

      Getting back to the stories: I like the idea of Little Cooking Hands positioned as full-on satire of the earnest language of kids shows, ads, magazines etc…balancing light and dark. Although this language sounds a bit retro…that’s why I read it and thought of retro Kraft TV ads.

      • DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        I imagined the recipe being written around the mid to late 1960s, thinking of the pre-teen “junior reporters” who sent in pathetic “articles” about mundane subjects such as bird feeders or their new bicycle to be published in “Archie” comic books. “Archie” ranked the children’s work, awarding three dollars to the best piece, one dollar to third best (though once I saw a fourth place that won 75 cents. I always thought of how excited these kids must have been, receving a letter in the mail with a cheque from the Archie company, back when you’d actually mail out a cheque for a dollar. It was probably the first “grown up mail” they ever received.

  24. One other thing about the ending…the truth hits courtney like a ton of bricks. It was a deliberate decision not to trail off into ambiguity or leave subtle hints for the reader to figure out or to try to present two possible endings (a la “Life of Pi”). Not an attempt to be condescending but rather to make you feel the way Courtney does. Like she’s been erased.

  25. Given that we’re sleep-deprived (thanks for noticing) we’re probably having a hard time thinking up suitably literary epithets. I might be able to self-apply ‘crankypants’ right about now,. And yeah, life/work goes on with occasional Deathmatchian outbursts.

  26. Justin Ridgeway (Moderator) says:

    It is worth noting that the writers have posted comments at 2am, after 3am and well into the early morning hours, only to continue sometime around 11am. Are they not sleeping? Do they not have jobs or other occupations? How does one think straight. Quite well, apparently. Both writers (and the other commenters for that matter) have been putting forth very thoughtful analysis of the two works. The criticism is constructive, focused on the craft of story-telling. Which is nice and all, but where are the slander, the name-calling?

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  27. Good question about voice. Courtney’s voice is both Madison’s and Mommi’s. So sometimes she talks like a roughly 18, 19 year old, sometimes she talks like a 50 year old marketing junkie. She’s internalized both of them. And the ending; no apologies. I want stories to have them. I can’t stand ones that end in total ambiguity with someone having a cigarette and going into a snowstorm. I wanted to commit to the story having an absolute conclusion. OH shit, I can’t remember enough math for the skill testing question now…

    • Mikael says:

      I’m not saying you don’t need an ending, I’m just saying it felt very “and now let me sum up the moral and theme of this story.” Why not have her just disappear? Why do you have to explain it?

      • Emily ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        Yeah, I also gotta agree. It would have had more resonance if the story ended after her realization about why the bus never stopped for her. Everything after that is like adding too much water to a jug of orange juice.

      • DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        That was my thought as well. The writing in “Cold Comfort” is quite poetic and gives you a lot of information visually, but loses that grace during the big reveal, when Courtney begins speaking to the audience, almost to make sure we get what has happened.

        It’s like the ending of “The Sixth Sense”, only instead of the audience seeing Bruce Willis invisible in various scenes and putting it together themselves he’s a ghost, Bruce Willis is melodramticly holding his hands to his head and saying, “Oh dear God! I’m dead! I’ve been dead this whole time and didn’t know it, that’s why my wife doesn’t love me any more!”

        I think the ending would be more effective if you can reveal all the information about her true state of existence within an active scene, and lose Courtney’s clunky “My life – if you can call it that…” speech.

        • Mikael says:

          Chris: I agree. For most of the story, I really felt like I was figuring things out, that the story wasn’t handing me information like a baby, but the end is the exact opposite. After all that cool buildup, the last few lines fall totally flat.

          Terri: I think the fact that she’s not real hits the readers like a ton of bricks already. Why do you need to hold our hand with Courtney’s interpretation of it? When she said “Like everything else that came out of the cold room, I had helped my family get through a long, hard winter,” I felt myself think “Well, duh.” It just feels kind of condescending is all I’m saying.

        • Courtney can’t “act”…she has no physical ability to do anything (which is why you’ll never see her actually, say, eating for example). Her sudden realization of self is her epiphany. It hits her like a ton of bricks. So,to be honest to what that experience would be like, it has to drop on a reader that way too.

  28. Mikael says:

    “Cold Comfort” does a good job of setting the surroundings (driveway saints, cellar room) and keeping me wanting more (setting up the doll at the beginning and what not). There’s also a few nice allusions to beatnik culture and what nots. What bothered me, though, was voice. Your narrator, from what I can tell, can’t really be that old if she was invented by a girl who just went to college. So why does she know words like “psycho-demographic cluster” and “Urban Bohemian”? Is it because Madison is well-read? Then why does Courtney talk like a valley girl sometimes and an academic at others? I guess this is sort of a commentary on beatniks and even hipsters (oh god let’s not argue about hipsters again), but I don’t think it really came through. I’d love to see, if that’s what you’re going for, this idea of beatniks language come through a bit more.

    Also, the end was heavy-handed as all hell. Pulled me out of it a bit.

  29. Mikael says:

    “Little Cooking Hands” is quick and it’s cute. That’s the point and it does it well. It’s easy to get pulled into the second person address and the random “if you are _____, you should not do this recipe” parts keeps it light. I agree with Terri that the narrative is hard to find, but it’s there. It starts out innocently making a pizza then moves onto a conflict with a ghost. I do hope that, in the revision, Chris will maybe try to make the arc a bit clearer because it sort of gets buried a bit. Why not make it more specific? Why not use a particular case (Jamie’s Dad’s resurrection) and mix it in with your directions so we get a sense of the specific (i.e. something relateable and interesting) and not just the broad?

    • Hey hey hey, revisions??!! — let’s not get ahead of ourselves! “Little Cooking Hands” is light — tool light; the true storyline is hidden. It could still be funny but with more of a gut punch if it had a narrative arc. It’s more writing exercise than narrative. Also, I don’t see an ending. Just a punch line.

    • Terri says:

      “Cooking Hands” is kind of a script — a monologue — a standup routine with a rimshot ending.The old Kraft kitchens spot — with the “operators are standing by” in Tonawanda. Cuter than hell! Cuter than a bucketful of kittens. But is it a story? Nyuh uh.

      • DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        “Little Cooking Hands” may be an unconventional narrative (a recipe in an old children’s magazine), but it is most certainly story. We have two lead characters – the writer of a pizza recipe and a young child (preferably right handed, female named Sharon or Sara or Shelly). We have a series of events, during which it becomes highly suspect our narrator (the recipe writer) is reliable. The deeper into the recipe we read the more we suspect the child is being duped. Set up for something horrible to happen when the being (which hardly sounds like a “ghost”) arrives.

        And what of this “escape hatch” little pizza that will send a troubling visitor away? Is that even true? Is the recipe writer giving the children a sporting chance, or is it setting up something even more horrific?

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      Hah. There’s a terrible joke I could make given the quality of folk who seem to know Queenston street well these days. Actually, I guess it isn’t really a joke, just crass inneundo.

  30. DM : Chris Kuriata ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Reading the opening of “Cold Comfort” filled with my with glee. Creepy old doll with bad attitude and jar words, I was sure by the end of the story it would be chasing our girl around with a big knife. How sad when Chatty Cathy was set down. The story becoming more “Haunting of Hill House” than “Trilogy of Terror”. I guess it all depends on who you’d rather read; Shirley Jackson or Richard Matheson.

    But I can’t not love any story that mentions the Shaw Festival. I demand more local settings in my fiction!

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