Deathmatch 2014 Quarterfinals Round 4


Deathmatch Moderator

Chase Baird is the 2012 Deathmatch winner and is looking forward to being part of the mayhem and madness again this year as a moderator. She has been published in Grain and won Freefall magazine’s fiction contest last December. She is currently at work on a novel and a restaurant blog and is always up for man vs food challenges.





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.

Previous Results: Round 1, Round 21, Round 3

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.

The Janitor Cometh

by R. Daniel Lester

“Manpower has tits,” said The Dusk.

Speed Demon popped the top on a fresh can of PBR. “I know,” he said, treading carefully. Once you got The Dusk started, particularly on this sensitive topic, it wasn’t easy to get him to stop.

“Pretty big ones, too.”

“Uh huh.”

Read on...

Make the Soup

by Sean Johnston

You build the factory. You make the soup the workers eat. You build a house about 20 minutes by bus from the factory. The bus route doesn’t matter to the story; all you need is 20 minutes from end to end. Those 20 minutes work either way, whether the line is crooked or straight. All you need are the facts:

A factory.

A house.

Read on...

240 Responses to “Deathmatch 2014 Quarterfinals Round 4”

  1. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Sean, Ryan, I am so happy I got your stories to moderate this round! You both were fantastic contributors to the discussion and it was great to have so many of the comments center on relevant critiques of the stories and literary topics.

    Sean, good luck with your new novel and your story collection. Your students are lucky to have you. And hopefully this contest got you some new readers.

    Ryan, congrats!! Good luck with the 24 hr re-write. I can’t wait to see the new draft. I will be around to see what happens and cheer you on. I had to do the 2 week straight semi / final combo so I’ll feel your pain on the boards. Not to mention the CAPTCHA’s haha!

    I’ve enjoyed both your writing – these stories and the stuff you’ve got online.


    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Thanks, Chase! You were a great moderator and champion of our stories. Appreciate the time, effort and good vibes.

      I’d also like to thank Sean and the other voters/readers/commenters for keeping me on my toes and providing great feedback. It was a singularly strange/exhilarating/nerve wracking experience which I won’t soon forget.

      Now, if I could just find a few thousand new friends so I don’t get destroyed in the next round.

  2. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ryan, glad to see you dishing the dirt with your oatmeal and blueberries. You’re solving a lot of CAPTCHA’s! I’m still waiting for details about the secret handshake. Hang in there guys…

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  3. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    No sign of Sean today, perhaps he is personifying Hemingway’s Iceberg Theory. It’s a good theory for all of us “writer-types” to take a look at. One of the questions I had in mind to ask Sean and Ryan earlier in the competition was what each had left out of his story.

    • Hi Chase. Thanks for the question.

      I leave out a lot of the description, of the Mayfair section of Saskatoon, for instance, or the father’s physical description. Also his own efforts to adjust to his new life, and the disconnection he feels with his son because of his own lack of education and his son’s physical fragility and intellect are things he doesn’t know how to nurture. He feels admiration and surprise when he sees some of the photos his son takes, and feels guilty that he has no money to help him with supplies, so that his son has to work at the school yearbook to have the ability to work on what he loves. He knows his son is uncomfortable at school. His son doesn’t know his father worries about these things and doesn’t know his father considers himself a simple man, and is self-conscious about his lack of education.

      That’s a bit, anyway.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Hey Chase. Yes, I must say my CAPTCHA skills are improving. And here I didn’t think those math classes in elementary were going to pay off.

      As for what I left out, if I had a bigger word limit I would have liked to get more in there about their back stories (personal and alter ego). But given the limit I just didn’t feel I had room considering everything else I needed to get to.

      And to get back to your question from yesterday, about the rewrite. I definitely learned some things from the comment board and took most of the feedback to heart. A lot resonated, particularly the stuff about Lady Carnage. I think she will come out more defined in the next draft.

      Keep me posted about the handshake. I can tell you for sure it’s not the one where you tickle the other person’s palm with your middle finger. Awkward moment.

  4. mookie says:

    Goodis! He’s a beast. From Nightfall. Also Aldo Ray at his finest in one of my favourite film adaptations.

    Time here at the end of this deathmatch seems to be, to borrow from Chandler, crawling by like a sick cockroach.

    Anyway, congrats to RDL and Sean. I don’t think I could have withstood half of the abuse to which you each have been subjected.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      A Chandler quote too, Mookie? You’re really showing me something here.

      One of my favourite Chandler lines is this one from The Long Goodbye: “He had a face like a collapsed lung.”

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    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      No, no, haven’t you learned anything here, freezappa? Art is not subjective at all. It’s what a small group of people say it is. Come on. And you’ll know you’re in the presence of someone who knows what art really is because there’s a special handshake and a code phrase of the week.

      This week, from what my spies tell me, it’s “The snowfall blanketed the woods surrounding the cabin like her last lover had covered her heart, willfully and completely.”

      Use it well.

      • mookie says:

        No, no, no, RDL, your spies have fouled it up. But I’ve got your back, so here’s the tip (I owe you for Deathmatch): “There was a moment of nothing. No thought, no motion, nothing. Then an attempt to reason it out. Then the realization that he couldn’t reason it out, it was too far away from him.”

        Note: this passage courtesy of my favourite work, from one of the noir authors you copped to earlier. Votes in the next round coming your way in recognition of your noir good taste, and if you can identify the author.

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          Nice quote. I’m going to say Goodis because it doesn’t sound Ellroy-ish. But maybe Higgins, though probably not because most of his stories are told in amazing waves of very realistic dialogue. Not sure about the novel, but Goodis’s Street of No Return recently made me want to (a) shower and (b) be a better writer. The Wounded and the Slain was also fantastic.

          As for more noir, checkout the websites Shotgun Honey and Out of the Gutter. Mostly flash fiction so it’s quick and dirty. A lot of great stuff. I’ve been fortunate enough to place a few pieces there as well.

  5. Nick says:

    As an IT-minded person myself, this website represents a form of literary criticism I can get behind. It seems that the key would be to proxy from sufficiently many IP addresses with a script that auto-clicks. Maybe I’ll enter with some “discovered” literature next time around. Please email me when you’re ready to go again. I have a stack of Nature abstracts which I think could be quite amusing.

    • mookie says:

      I tend to agree, Nick.

      The other key to victory is to write a short story about super heroes, and then to send a buttload of excessively imploratory tweets, hashtagging all relevant North American and international superhero-type places, knowing that even a marginal rate-of-return will destroy a small-town Can Lit short story with no comparable social networking pool from which to draw.

      Thanks brokenpencil for promoting/destroying CanLit! It’s a rare double.

      • R. Daniel Lester says:

        Mookie, Mookie. Mookie. I’m disappointed. You really shit the bed on this one. There’s almost so much wrong with your comment that I wasn’t going to bother (and it was well responded to by freezappa) but I had to get into the mix.

        First, to say that “Can Lit” is something that needs to be protected and sheltered is to already say it doesn’t deserve to compete with other literature. I think it does. Plus, I say if it’s written by a Canadian then it’s Can Lit. Just because all Canadians don’t want to write or read all the time about small towns (or whatever other ridiculous *gasp* cliches you think make up the Canadian experience) doesn’t make it less valid.

        Next, a “buttload of excessively imploratory tweets” as you described it is approximately, wait for it, six tweets. And “all relevant North American and international superhero type places”? Again, wait for it, six tweets. Oh, and there’s not a hashtag among them so you may want to get a fact checker next time. But it’s comforting/creepy to know you’re watching.

        Finally, using the internet (if indeed all those “excessive” hail mary tweets actually accomplished anything) to help win an internet-based contest seems like exactly the point, no matter what the subject of the story.

        End scene.

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          Okay, I guess you got me on the cliché thing. I just fired my fact checker. His name was Bob and he had mouths to feed. I hope you’re happy.

          As for the hail mary tweets based on theme, that was one foist upon me. I actually never would have tweeted about defending pop culture if my story had only been critiqued on the writing. But since others made it about that almost exclusively, I decided to run with it.

          But I’ve enjoyed our back-and-forth, Mookie. All’s fair in love and Deathmatch–except for what Sean was describing, re: the personal attacks on his website. Not cool.

        • mookie says:

          Yeah, I was just hoping a writing contest would be won on the merits of the writing. Your tweets asked for votes based on the theme, and you seem to be winning based on the theme, not on your story’s (significant!) merits.

          As far as off-topic research/digs go, I thought Dance Machine Jr. pretty much opened that up when he decided to look at Sean’s website, and then make fun of it. “Speaking of cliche, I like the banner on your website, Sean.” (Also: you know your twitter account is public, right, and that you entered an Internet contest? And that you’re all over @brokenpencilmag, which a lot of us are following?)

          Otherwise, I haven’t said anything to you, my dear friend and talented writer R. Daniel Lester, about cliches. You’re responding to critiques made by others, but not by me.

      • freezappa says:

        What I will miss most about your drivel Mookie, is its irrelevance. I love how it’s an even playing field for both writers, but since your favourite didn’t win, it’s destroying can-lit. Because you know, since RDL wrote about people wearing costumes, he’s no longer can-lit. Maybe sj should have chosen a story for a web-based contest on something more than “it was the write length at the right time.”
        Seriously, your most recent post is more ridiculous than last year’s “the only reason why usain bolt won, was because he ran faster.” You just ripped a guy for winning an internet contest because he used the internet. You just out-stupid yourself.

        • Peter Torsky says:

          I guess what a minority of us here were hoping for was that a guy would win a writing contest because he wrote a good story. I guess the internet won this round, though.

  6. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Happy Valentine’s Day everyone.

    It’s nice to see that Ryan and Sean are inspiring voters to both read some authors/stories they may not have been aware of and in some cases, try their hand at writing a short story. Snack choice can be crucial to the writing process too 😉

    It seems both Sean and Ryan are tiring of critiquing the other’s story though. Have either of you gleaned any information from the comment board that will directly infuence your re-write? No need for specifics (unless you care to share) but I’m wondering if anything really resonated with you.

  7. Not hypocritical at all. It’s directed at the story, but also, it’s not a criticism. One of the things the Janitor is about is how anonymity initially empowers, but ultimately prohibits honest engagement. So it’s a simple comparison to the same thing happening in internet comment threads everywhere.

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    • I think everything said made a ton of sense. But, think about this, suppose you added a little information? I
      am not saying your content isn’t good, however suppose you added a
      title that grabbed folk’s attention? I mean Broken Pencil Magazine
      Deathmatch 2014 Quarterfinals Round 4 is a little vanilla.
      You should look at Yahoo’s home page and watch how they create post titles to get
      people interested. You might add a video or a pic
      or two to get readers excited about everything’ve written. Just my opinion,
      it might bring your posts a little bit more interesting.

    • First of all I want to say terrific blog! I had a quick question which I’d like to ask if you don’t mind.
      I was curious to find out how you center yourself and clear your thoughts prior to writing.
      I’ve had a difficult time clearing my thoughts in getting my thoughts out.
      I do enjoy writing but it just seems like the first 10 to 15 minutes are usually wasted
      just trying to figure out how to begin. Any ideas or hints?

      Appreciate it!

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Wow, excellent question, Hot Breakfast Enthusiast. And a tough one that I’m not sure I’m qualified to answer. Let’s just say, I think it would be a show worth watching. And no matter what, I’d probably be rooting for Superman, though hopefully it would be PG and no crew members would get hurt, especially that Geordi Laforge. Love the glasses.

      However, for the record, let me say (in case the Can-Lit Police are watching) I would NEVER condone writing a story about such an event or daring to even mention it in a story that was trying to pass itself off as serious literature.

      On another note, what’s your poison, HBE? Pancakes? Eggs? Myself, I’m enjoying a bowl of oatmeal with blueberries at this very moment.

      • Hot Breakfast Enthusiast says:

        Wrong. Enterprise wins.

        Also the fact that so many people have so deeply internalized this concept of Canlit police is the reason it will always be third rate.


  8. R. Daniel Lester says:

    For me, it doesn’t get much better than peanut butter and jam on toast and a coffee. Cheesies are too messy. Orange powder all over the keyboard and such. But nice try.

  9. Hungry Harriet says:

    Sean and Ryan, what are your preferred snacks while writing?

    Picture Ryan as someone who goes for Hawkins Cheezies and green tea, and Sean as someone who chews on dried apple slices with a tall glass of water.

    Let’s see how close to the mark I came.

  10. Terry van Doesburg says:

    Yes, finally someone (Lindsay) who is here for the right reasons.

    To her questions, I would like to ask the authors: 1. What do you like best about your opponent’s story and why? 2. What do you dislike most about your opponent’s story and why?


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    • For me any kind of critique, if you also write, as Ryan and I do, often comes down to how you would write it if it were you. So what is interesting to me about Ryan’s story is the setup, where these people want alter-egos and want to do something good. It’s weakness, to me, is that it doesn’t reveal enough about what the characters are escaping. The juxtaposition would be interesting to me.

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  11. Lindsay Hopper says:

    Hi Sean and R. Daniel,

    I have a few questions for both of you.

    1) Why did you choose to submit this particular story? Do you feel it is your best or what elements are you especially fond of?
    2) Please tell us what is your favourite all-time short story
    3) What do you feel is a weakness in your writing that you are trying to address?
    4) What are your thoughts on facing off against Craig in the next round?
    5) What advice would you offer to someone who is just learning how to write short stories? I have never written one but I would like to try after reading some of the entries posted here. It seems like a fun length to work with.

    Thanks so much for your time!

    • Hi Lindsay

      Thanks for the questions, and sorry for the late reply. I am away from home and hate typing on my phone.

      1) This story is one that I’ve had around for a while and it was the right length. It’s not my best, no, but I always feel that way. I think it’s common — the one you really like is the one you’re working on right now. But I do like it.

      2) I can’t really name one all time favourite story, so here are a few: “The Evil Angel,” by Par Lagkervist; “See the Moon?” by Donald Barthelme; “How to Tell a True War Story” by Tim O’Brien; and almost every story by Flannery O’Connor, Alice Munro, and Grace Paley.

      3) I think every story has its own weaknesses and if mine fail it’s usually because I leave as much out as I can, so in walking that line I sometimes leave too much out. I am a big believer in Hemingway’s iceberg theory, at least for my own work, but I still love to read more ornate writing when it’s done well.

      4) I don’t really have many thoughts about that. The contest really has little to do with the stories, it seems, so who you face doesn’t seem to matter.

      5) My advice would be to jump right in, give your reader some credit and don’t explain things, just describe human situations and most gaps will be filled in by the reader’s imagination. And while you should obviously read all the short stories you can, you don’t need a real model – every new work is in a way a new answer to the question “What is a short story?”

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Hey Lindsay,

      1. I liked it and the length was about right. I’m fond of the dialogue.
      2. Tough one. Most recently the stories in Raymond Carver’s What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.
      3. This might be more process-related but my tendency to edit and refine in a first draft instead of writing out on the edge, pushing the story ahead.
      4. Bring it on. *gulp*
      5. Read a lot of ’em. Write a lot of ’em. Can’t go wrong with that combination. Yes, it’s a great length of story to work with. I love flash/postcard fiction as well.

      Thanks for asking.

    • freezappa says:

      Lindsay, I know you weren’t talking to me, but allow me to answer anyway.

      1) Why did you choose to submit this particular story? Do you feel it is your best or what elements are you especially fond of? Answer: I didn’t chose any story; I’m not even in the contest.
      2) Please tell us what is your favourite all-time short story Answer: “A Coon Hunter’s Noir” by Frank Bill is pretty amazing.
      3) What do you feel is a weakness in your writing that you are trying to address? Answer: I’m too nice.
      4) What are your thoughts on facing off against Craig in the next round? Answer: Lindsay, I already addressed this. I didn’t submit a story, I’m not in the contest.
      5) What advice would you offer to someone who is just learning how to write short stories? I have never written one but I would like to try after reading some of the entries posted here. It seems like a fun length to work with. Answer: Don’t waste too much time on the re-write. If you don’t have it your in your first attempt, you probably won’t get it.

      Thanks so much for your time!

  12. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    “Holy burple sardine Batman, quick, pass me the that can of Shark Repellent Bat Spray!” In fact, there was a whole collection of oceanic repellents bat sprays – Barracuda, Manta-Ray and even Whale (Craig Calhoun, your Avatar inspired this sidetrack).

    It’s a long week Sean and Ryan. I still wake up in a cold sweat tweeting #Deathmatch flames out my ass. And I had to do the next two rounds all in one go. Yikes!

    Really this has been a very civil board with some useful comments. If anyone was around in 2012, you know how depraved things can get. One of the years before that someone actually walked away from the final, just left the competition.

    The discussion of pop culture in literature is an interesting one. Though I fear we are all eventually moving towards existing in one big brain cloud collective once Google puts chips in our heads. I’ve also enjoyed hearing who Ryan and Sean draw their inspriation from.

    Only 3 more days to go! Keep smiling and if that doesn’t work, there’s always scotch.

    • mookie says:

      Did you chase “beer” to “Scotch”? I could have sworn i saw “beer” first, moderator chase baird, and I swear I’m not presently under the influence of either.

  13. Well, this bores me. I appreciate the comments from readers on both sides that are genuine and from people who have read the stories.

    What bores me is the insults, and the anonymous messages sent through my website that call me a “homo.” It’s not an insult. I don’t care. But I will check in tomorrow and do the bare minimum. This really is the worst kind of conversation to have, but it empowers small people in the same way the costumes seem to, so I guess that’s fitting.

    • Andrew Douglas says:

      Was the “costumes” remark a shot at R. Daniel Lester’s story? Because it seems kind of two-faced to complain about the smallness of commenters while side-swiping your opponent…

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        • Not hypocritical at all. It’s directed at the story, but also, it’s not a criticism. One of the things the Janitor is about is how anonymity initially empowers, but ultimately prohibits honest engagement. So it’s a simple comparison to the same thing happening in internet comment threads everywhere.

  14. Dave Currie says:

    I enjoyed your story a lot but I feel it lacked pop culture references. When I write stories, I really try to ground the audience with specific sentences harking back to 80s pop/rock ballads or really specific episodes of NYPD blue. When you get through the next round I think you should try that.

    • I will do it, Dave. I’ll sneak Mos Def’s appearance on NYPD Blue in there, with his serial mispronunciation of purple as burple. I am also trying to grow a Sipoweicz mustache, but I don’t know how to work that into the story.

      • R. Daniel Lester says:

        You guys have strange influences but, hey, whatever floats your boat. Me, I’m more ER and 60s soul. But who am I I to say what another writer should or shouldn’t be influenced by.

  15. Emily says:

    Speaking as someone who has inadvertently witnessed some weird sex games (dog costume, anyone?) in neighbouring apartments, as well as a lurkers and pervs peering out through curtained windows in search of excitement, I can say the blow-up doll scenario isn’t exactly a stretch.

  16. Death Matcher says:

    Make the Soup is unfathomably boring. I am sure many of the votes it has received are due to people feeling a sort of quiet poignancy that it desperately tries to evoke. Oooh, a factory and a beaten down father, how sad. Oooh, some soup and a dead mother, how sad. What an easy target, a young boy without a mother who feels sadness for his father. Surprised the boy didn’t have a dog that dies by point 14. Incredible that even while up against a story that sorta resembles Mystery Men it somehow manages to be even more cliche. This story lacks any substance in favour of a writing style that adds nothing but numbers.

    You seem like one of those people who needs to make every little thing a big deal. Did you add the numbers in last minute for an extra layer of ‘oooh, why’d he do that?’ And now as I check your latest blog entry where you call yourself a dilettante and wax-like-an-ass about your current studies. One quote stuck out, right after you namedrop something for your own benefit: “I have notes all over this book, and nothing intelligent to say right now, but it’s one of those challenging books that changes the way I approach both poetry and narrative, I think. I’m still trying to figure out how it works.” That’s exactly how this story comes off. You have a general idea of a feeling you want to evoke or a character you’d like to paint, but it’s obfuscated under layers of pretense and laziness.

    Another commenter mentioned that Thus Spake the Soup was ‘quiet and mysterious’ and ’emotionally potent’. Imagine footage of a man riding the bus. Try to stay awake. Now cut up the footage, add numbers, right brackets only and sad music and watch it again. Watch as it tugs at your heartstrings and covers its boring, meaningless core with a blanket of ’emotional potency’. Woe is this man and everything he lacks, doomed to ride the chariot of the proletariat to his assuredly terrible job at . Woe is reading this snoozer, and John Seanston trying his damnedest to rip apart the other story to deflect any attention his own would gather.

    At one point in the story it’s mentioned that the mother makes an amazing fresh soup. Maybe a Caribbean sweet potato soup. Then she dies and they’re left with no-name canned soup that the father heats up while his son feels bad about everything. This story is that bland, no name soup in literary form.

    • Terry van Doesburg says:

      This strikes me as inappropriate. While it is named a deathmatch, common courtesy and manners are still a factor that any civilized person should consider. It is not easy to put your work out there for all to read and your harsh words demonstrate that you have little respect for what courage that takes. Where is your work? Constructive criticism would be a better use of your time.


    • Well, anonymity makes people brave. I think you are right to prefer fan fiction that panders with fat jokes and blow up dolls. These costumed people are your people and I’m not. That’s okay for me. I understand that death is a cliche, but I don’t know how to avoid that one.

      • freezappa says:

        He may have been a dick about it, but the point he makes is valid. You can’t bloviate about the scourge of cliches while your story includes:
        1. The blue collar, factory worker
        2. Who’s a single parent
        3. Who lost there job and is having a tough go of it
        4. And the motherless child

        You didn’t develop any of those. They were just included to elicit sympathy. I really like the line about how unemployment does not help foster romance, but let’s not pretend your storey solely exists on the paper and in the imagination of the reader. It relies heavily on elements that have long been established.

      • John Seanston says:

        You and your stories wear fancy costumes and have frail, shitty bodies. Lester went for it and you released a story covered in vaseline, written on the back of a five minute blog post.

        • Craig Davidson says:

          Sean, dude, don’t ever put yourself through any of this again. It’s brutal. You’ve gotta deal with some real turds it seems like … at least you put your real name behind what you’ve got to say. A lot of this other stuff, these anonymous bombthrowers, man, it’s depressing to read. It’s not what you got into writing for, and it doesn’t help anything. I’m not sure this platform, the way this whole thing is administrated and what it encourages, is all that helpful anyway. I mean, I like both these stories. They both offer something really interesting, both pursuing their own creative vector. All the stuff in the comments below the stories, however, just makes me sad. You and Daniel don’t seem well-served by this at all. Sorry to see what’s happening here—unless this is what’s supposed to happen, in which case I’m still sorry because I don’t see it being good for anyone’s development as a writer or a human being.

  17. Inquiring Minds says:


    We want to know how R. Daniel constructed such a believable scence with the neighbours who pay to watch blowup doll sex. Does empirical research play a role in your writing process?

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      That one’s pure imagination, Inquiring Minds.

      I live in an apartment with a view of train tracks and water and can’t see any neighbours from the window. Although some weird shit does go on in the alley underneath us.

      And to reverse engineer this even further I knew that Speed Demon would jump out of the van before I had that scene and I also knew he was going to jump partly to look cool but mostly because his ego was bruised and he wanted to feel manly. I saw The Janitor as kind of a lonely guy so I didn’t want another person to be involved. And the neighbour watching, well, that gave me the solution for why The Janitor could have some cash that he didn’t make mopping floors. Plus, it’s kinda creepy.

      Thanks for asking…

      …unless it was “believable”–sorry, but I’m getting blurry eyed and can’t tell anymore–and in that case insert another zing here about something or other that you would find vaguely, but not too insulting.

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          Ouch. Sorry to hear that.

          And you do know that’s a picture of Batman in your photo, right? Just warning you, they’re a little sensitive about such things ’round here.

      • R. Daniel Lester says:

        Oops, that response was supposed to have the following under the first line:

        *insert obligatory zing here about my perceived lack thereof of the same in John Seanston’s or Sean Johnston’s or Jean Sohnston’s or whatever the hell we’re all calling each other now’s story–I’m zinged out for today*

        Way to go, Lester. Zing, indeed.

    • I love that short story, and while mine takes a bit of the same approach, hers is more about variation and showing a similar story from different angles, so mine doesn’t really do that. What I love about that story most though is its ending, where it says something like a what and a what and a what is easy, now try how and why. Those questions are much more important to me than what happens (which is how our two stories differ; I feel like the events in mine are less important than the response to them, whereas the Janitor is more of a picaresque with its list of events).

      • Terry van Doesburg says:

        Thank you for a generous response here, Sean. I agree there are some similar things happeneing but I like how you go in another direction. I noticed that you are very irritated by some of the remarks but rest assured that there are some readers on the boards who are actually interested in a unique chance to engage with authors on their work. Quite an interesting forum for discussion if people would use it as such.

        I am interested in reading more stories by you. Where can I find them?


        • Terry van Doesburg says:

          Hello Sean,

          I will look forward to reading more of your writing. Thank you for getting back to me. I expect to see your name in print for years to come.


        • Thanks for the interest, Terry. I have a collection coming out in the fall, not titled yet, and my first collection came out a while ago. It’s called A Day Does Not Go By. There is a story called “How Blue,” up at the Danforth Review site, too.

  18. Grace frodelgnem says:

    Make the soup was the clear winner. I don’t understand the numbers as being “pretentious” and rather write that off as someone who didn’t understand the purpose of them. I was free to use my imagination and choose one option that seemed the most palatable as the reason for the mother’s absence, the sons’s perception of his father’s solitude and the boy’s longing for something more. A search for an explanation was in my opinion, more of a journey the writer invited the reader to embark on, rather than force an ending that ultimately leaves you feeling like you’ve read it before. If you are looking for an entertaining read, wouldn’t you rather one that permits you to shape the story as you see fit, given your own experience?

      • mookie says:

        R. Daniel Lester, just deathmatch kidding about your name!
        I’d write more, but I’m in the middle of Battle Royale. Shamefully, I hadn’t heard of it, so thanks for the tip.

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          No outside-world worries, Mookster. I figured as much. Besides, “Mookie” would be a terrible name for a hangnail. Now, “George” that’s a winner. #wockawockawocka

          Wait, this isn’t Twitter? Shit.

          And you’re definitely welcome for the Battle Royale tip. Enjoy. It’s pretty awesome.

          Part of me really wants to advance now just to get the chance to stick a Grace Paley reference into the story (that’s right, I’ll go for the bonus points). I’ll check her work out regardless but it’d be a fun challenge.

      • R. Daniel Lester says:

        Well, Terry, I wouldn’t count any story out at any time. Make the Soup has fans and wouldn’t be here if the BP brain trust didn’t deem it worthy. But judging from the other 2014 Deathmatch rounds, leads are fragile and gaps easily erased. That being said, it’s more than the votes, it’s the constant emailingtweetingfacebookingmessagingcommentingetc that gets nerve wracking. Sure, it’s fun and novel and in service of a competition I respect but it’s still outside of my norm.

        And to add fuel to the gut fire, if I do make it out of this round I will face Craig Calhoun’s “The Idiot Without a Coat On” and that story is a beast. Dude got 7608 votes. And a lot of them were mine.

  19. Roxanna Bennett says:

    A moment of silence for HMV and sparkly vampires.
    Sean, why would R. Daniel Lester (seriously dude that name is a mouthful) NOT count movies and TV as influences when writing for the page? Aren’t all mediums used to tell a story? Isn’t that the work of literature, to impart narrative? I disagree with your idea that literature is not part of pop culture. Of course it is. A novel influences the popular cultural landscape the same way a film or television series would. I’m taking personal exception to the idea that a story written about super-heroes does not have literary references. When a graphic novel wins a Pulitzer it kind of puts it in the same realm as books without pictures.

    • mookie says:

      I’ll take a crack at this one: John Seanstone’s (whoever came up with that in round two is brilliant) story requires no outside knowledge of mass-mediated pop culture for it to function. R. Vampire Lestat’s story assumes its readers are fascinated with the popular, and leaves them stranded if they’re not.

      To the extent that pop culture is produced as commodity (ephemera intended to entertain and vanish), stories that pin themselves too closely to the need for readers to be current on tropes and jokes en route to Trivial Pursuit, seem like they’re rushing headlong into a culture that you could argue needs critiquing more than embracing. I think you could argue that literature might aspire to wanting to provide a function beyond intertextual in-jokes. On the other hand…

      I think you could also argue that Daniel Nestor is subverting the genre, speaking to A New Generation, bringing the short story back to life. Like a vampire. Or a zombie. Like how HMV will rise again, and rule us all in the future.

      In which case, I’m certain Sean Johnston’s (timeless) work will occupy all of the prime retail space. Which is why I’m still voting for soup.

  20. George Mengledorf says:

    I grew up reading comics because the TV was black and white and the good shows seemed few and far between. I liked Super Heroes, although Sgt Rock was my first favourite,and still enjoy Wolverine and the gang on the screen or otherwise.

    As such, I enjoyed your story Ryan but it left me wanting more while Sean’s did not.

    It is easy for me to pass judgement as I am not a writer and have not spent the time and energy writers have learning their craft. Consequently, I have no real/constructive thoughts on how your story could have been improved Ryan; that can certainly be left for your consideration should you wish.

    I do thank you both for sharing

  21. Here’s a long one, replying to multiple things:

    No, the question about you reading was not meant as a jab at all. It gets to the heart of the problem. Why are your influences movies and television when you are writing for the page?

    Your chum zappa is speaking to part of the problem too, and this is why I ask you both to work harder. If you find the numbers distracting, discard them. Use your imagination. I had a legitimate strategy in mind and it was simple, though it may have failed. The boy begins numbering possible explanations for his current situation. He is alone at a keyboard and thinking of himself in the third person, trying to understand his sad situation. As he progresses his comments are about his life in general, outside of his main problem, which is missing his dead mother, or missing a mother. He feels awfully alone. The form the story takes affects its telling, and I am not sure it works yet either, but to dismiss it solely because of its structure is easy.

    The reason I wonder about literary influences is because it is quite clear to me who mine are, and this is a story that is attempting what I admire most about Grace Paley’s short fiction, while also attempting to use a structure that Donald Barthelme uses in his fantastic short story “The Glass Mountain” (which, by the way, might be helpful for you to read as it addresses some of the same issues as your story, I think), but I wanted to integrate the numbers into the story more than he did.

    Anyway, it may or may not work, but what I don’t understand is dismissing it as “pretentious.” This gets to the heart of the problem that both of our quite different audiences seem to have; though yours seems to privilege pop culture over literature, it is equally exclusive as what might be deemed pretentious. I have seen this kind of pretension work the other way, at poetry readings, where learned members of the audience politely chuckle at each allusion so that the other listeners know they are in on the joke. Your pop culture references, to my mind, work in the same way.

    But the worst part about both approaches is they lead to anti-intellectualism, which tends to discourage ambition. Ambitious work often fails. I have failed many times, but I still want to consider myself and my work as in a conversation with the masters of the short story form. What I don’t understand is writing short stories that are meant to be read as conversation with a completely different medium. It is too close to fan fiction for me.

    I think there is something wrong with this pairing, as some have mentioned, simply because of our different approaches. But my critiques of your story are (although I do try to throw in the odd insult and joke) meant to improve your story as I see it. Obviously I am not the final authority. But, our stories are actually quite similar in content. At its heart, if I read your story correctly, both of our stories are about alienation, though yours is about an adult and mine is about a child. To me the culture of fandom seems an excellent vehicle for this kind of story, and maybe it requires a certain amount of in-joking or influences on the sleeve, etc., though to my mind it does not. What it reminds me of is Robert Coover’s novel about a Walter Mitty type who lives entirely to move the world of his dice-driven baseball simulation game further, though the difference is your characters are more involved, obviously, in their fantasy life. Another area of potential, to me, is your main character’s search for a villain, but its resolution is too tidy for me, and is also hidden from him, because he doesn’t know the villain is a woman interested in him, actually.

    Anyway, what is disturbing to me is the idea that fiction must have as its model other forms. It exists on the page, and if you use the page without as many references to an outside world, you give room for the reader’s imagination to work, and, ideally, that is how you include people who may otherwise be excluded.

    It’s an odd exercise, this contest. I don’t really care about the votes, but I do like discussion of fiction, and what bothers me about the number of people who cite movies and TV as influences on their written work is that it doesn’t take place only here. We celebrate this kind of work in our country, and it hurts my feelings. That’s why people like Sean Virgo and Douglas Glover are less known than they should be, but a novel that uses clichés and is written as a novelization of a movie even though the movie is only theoretical is celebrated and nominated for Canada Reads almost before it’s released.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      But seriously, Sean, I think you make some excellent points here. And I think we both knew what we were in for and have been giving good Deathmatch.

      For me, I’ve always been influenced by pop culture. It’s not the only or the last influence but it’s there. I’m a product of my environment and that includes everything from Percival Everett (everyone should read more of this guy, in my opinion) to Raymond Carver to Stephen King to Breaking Bad to Girl Talk to vapid reality TV and so on and so forth ad infinitum. I don’t write in a bubble.

      Plus, I think if literature only wants to fuck itself, then sure it’s fun and satisfying and the in-jokes are phenomenal, but it’s never going to grow and change and pick up new recruits along the way. Literature should reflect the times it exists in and we live in a world with a million different influences being beamed right to the little screens we all keep in our pockets and take to bed and into the bathroom.

      Sure, I may be “guilty” of choosing this story for this competition because of its wide, scattershot nature, its use of trope, but I would have written it anyway and generally do have eclectic influences. Speaking to something that the general population may be more familiar with, if it draws people in and shows them something they haven’t seen or tells it in way they haven’t read is a valid form of expression, me thinks. It’s all in the spin. Now, whether I accomplished this with The Janitor Cometh is, clearly, up for debate. After all, a simple word like “potato” and we figured out two ways to say it.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Free Zappa:

      Run, we’ve been made. The jig is up. There’s a go bag in the trunk of a ’76 Monte Carlo in stall 8, 2nd floor, long term airport parking. The key is on top of the concrete rafter behind the car. Best to limit our contact from now on. Use Saul as a cut-out.

    • freezappa says:

      oh my god – there is more drama in this response than your entire story. How do you know what his influences are? More importantly, why does that matter?
      I appreciate your view of writing and what it means to you and what you hope to get out of it. But to be sad or bothered because the medium / industry doesn’t always fit your template? If that’s what writing is to you, a way to get to that place, then yeah, it’s a little careerist and it’s a little square and it’s a little sad 😉
      It’s like this is becoming the literary argument of “DJs aren’t musicians and their music isn’t valid….”

  22. Carly Greer says:

    I suppose we are here to vote on the stories, so Make the Soup can chalk up another from me. But if we are voting on the authors, have to say R. Daniel comes across as a funny and likeable guy and Sean just seems kind of boring and ungracious and douchy.

    But again we are here to vote for the stories.

  23. freezappa says:

    @George Mengledorf –

    All you numerologists are saying the numbers add because they add and the story is subtle and nuanced in its subtle nuances.

    This isn’t the best choice of story for a format like this, and I’m sure Mr. Johnson has worthier material in his canon.

    I’m on the internet reading short stories between work. I want to be entertained. Maybe if I was curled up by the fire on a rainy day, I’d choose something more subtle. And if I was suffering from insomnia, I’d choose Make the Soup 😉

    • George Mengledorf says:

      If you only want to be entertained why are you bothering to read? There are numerous entertainments on the internet for you to while away your time at work. I hear kittens are found in various poses and scenarios.

      • freezappa says:

        1sorry 2 my bad 3 i honestly thought it was ok to read for entertainment 4 i didn’t know i was breaking the rules 5 to be fair, the instructions to “rules of reading” were pretty boring and i gave up half-way through 6 plus i saw a kitten playing with a ball of yarn 8A who can pass that up, am I right 7 please kind sir, please tell me the appropriate reasons to read, so i may never make this egregious error again 8 reading for pleasure – i’m embarrassed for even saying it now 9 i’m such a fool π

  24. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    It’s anyone’s game at this point. Happy to see the board looking more like a proper Deathmatch, the big words are coming out.

    Maybe BP should have a grammar CAPTCHA instead of simple math…

  25. George Mengledorf says:

    I just think that if Ryan finds having folks call him Ryan instead of R.D. or Daniel a little complicated…

    I just hope Ryan and Robert have not peaked at this point and sincerely hope Ryan, Robert, R. Daniel and The Dusk continue on their seemingly intertwined journey

  26. Renn says:

    Make the Soup proves how simplicity can be powerful. It carries on emotion without gagging you with it. It holds way more of an impact compared to The Janitor Cometh, and it does so without all the fancy bells and whistles many writers think they need in order to be effective. Forget about the numbering and whether or not it is a useful technique, that is irrelevant to the success of the story. In my opinion, the success is found in the execution of a simple story being able to show the complexity of human emotion/experience and how that emotion/experience can follow an individual through life. I enjoyed it. My vote is for Make the Soup.

      • Renn says:

        There is a huge difference between a story relying on bells and whistles because it has nothing to say and lacks substance or originality, and something like Make the Soup where a bell or whistle (such as using numbers) is only supplementary to a larger societal critique. In the case that you took away the numbering in Make the Soup, the story would still stand up on its own. Stories that replace substance with bells and whistles are the issue – I’m not impressed with a story unless it actually has something to say.

  27. mookie says:

    The Janitor Cometh seems written by the semi-literate, for the semi-literate. It’ll certainly be more popular than Make the Soup. I guess that’s why I don’t really get this pairing. I think that the flashy subject matter and conventionality of the former will always beat a writer trying to do something original with some nuance.

    But that doesn’t tell me anything I didn’t already know. Stupid pairing.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:


      I’ll have you know that I’ve been doin’ the book learnin’ for several years now and nearly got through a whole book just last week. One day, I hope to find out what happened between Bella and that pale, moody dude.

      And as for my fans, those poor, dumb bastards have it tough enough without you insulting them too.

      For shame, Mookie. For shame.

      • mookie says:

        Your story seems to require fluency in pop cultural texts, more than literary. I guess that’s where I was getting my “semi” from. But hey, if others are getting theirs from your story…

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          Done deal, Mookie. Pleasure doing business with you.

          And you’re bang on with the influences on my novel (there were others, like Bret Easton Ellis’s Glamorama, which I mentioned somewhere today in this mazelike comment board). The only change I’ll need to make is to substitute Battle Royale (novel first, film second) for Hunger Games. I worked on Die, Famous! from 2007-2009 and had no idea what the hell Hunger Games really was back then, except for it being the book I noticed getting prime cashier real estate at the HMV in downtown Vancouver.

          Oh, giant HMV in the middle of downtown, with all your physical copies of things. Miss you. *pours out a little liquor*

        • mookie says:

          R. Daniel Lester, I’ll take you up on it: if you win how about you throw in one of the literary references in Sean’s response (extra votes for Grace Paley). Also: what about a gratuitous The Running Man (story or film)reference, since your novel sounds like a combination of it, The Hunger Games, and The Truman Show (None of those are bad things).

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          In this case, you’re probably right. But I didn’t see “story must contain literary references” in the Deathmatch submission guidelines. Personally, I would find a world where the paint of one art form isn’t supposed to mix with the paint of another to be a very dull one indeed.

          However, just for you, Mookie, if I make it to the next round, I’ll add a literary reference to the rewrite. How’s that for diplomacy?

  28. CC says:

    “Make the Soup” is the clear winner here. Carefully crafted, layered, and tightly written. “The Janitor Cometh” seems to be written in service to its trendy subject; its goal seems to be to win friends rather than be a great story.

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  29. George Mengledorf says:

    The Janitor Cometh is a simple read and I am sorry but where is this bomb drop? There is nothing particularly surprising about the story, it just goes along with a little turn at the end.

    Make the Soup, however, is something of a Zen Koan with subtlety woven into the journey.

    And making fun of the use of numbers from 1-21 is a rather facile criticism similar to calling someone fat because one has little else to say.

    Sure enough, my votes go to Make the Soup

    • freezappa says:

      what if you’re calling someone fat because they are fat? How else would you broach the subject?
      and how is it facile criticism? Please tell me, where is the complexities of the numbered sequence? Because it ended on an odd number? Because it went in sequence? You know, numerically? Or because it had no bearing on the story? You take away the numbers, you take away the pretension. But you’re still left with a glorified short story.

        • George Mengledorf says:

          Mr Zappa, when looking simply at the numbers you are looking simply at the story. I did not mean the numbers are irrelevant or useless, I meant you can’t seem to see the story and are confused by a change in structure

        • freezappa says:

          No, the numbers are beside the paragraphs.
          If they are “beside the point,” than why even include them? Would you like “The Janitor Cometh” more if it included such nuanced use of smiley faces and superhero logos in between logos?
          And we agree, it is a simple criticism. Not sure what your point is. But then I’m not as lurned as you.

  30. freezappa says:

    It’s tough slinging these comments. Because your story wasn’t complete shit. The part, where you described the red hair against the pale skin, that was the one part where I felt I wasn’t completely wasting my time. Even it it was a cliche.

    • freezappa says:

      1. I don’t see it either.

      2. They say cliches are like a box of chocolates – you always know what you’re gonna get.

      4. I forget what my point was.

      3. See what I did there? Now that’s interesting.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Sure, this story wears its influences on its sleeve. If the same were to be said for Make the Soup I can only assume that Farmers Almanac you read once really left an impression.

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        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          Well, Sean, I’m a little disappointed. I was hoping for a nicely crafted zinger in return. Oh well.

          Hell, yeah, I read. There’s a reason my photo has a bookshelf in it. I wouldn’t be a writer if I wasn’t a reader first and foremost.

          Lately, George V. Higgins, David Goodis, James Ellroy – noir phase.

          All time influences (and I’m looking at my bookcase now) would include, but not be limited to: Kurt Vonnegut, Richard Brautigan, Hunter S. Thompson, Margaret Atwood, Charles Bukowski, Douglas Coupland, Bret Easton Ellis, Jonathan Lethem.

          Waiting on deck, Thomas Pynchon.

    • freezappa says:

      Fist you stole Sesame Street’s number scheme, now you respond with lyrics stolen from NIN. Where’s the line?
      In a previous post, you asked how you could insert a surprise that wasn’t supported by the previous story. My suggestion would be “interest.” If all of the sudden the story became interesting, I would have been blown away.

  31. Roxanna Bennett says:

    Was it “What the shit?” Although a lot of the dialogue is so funny it could have been lifted right out of Archer (I mean that in the nicest possible way). Also, if you’re a Venture Bros. fan, the idea of the Chosen Few looking for a copy paper thief reminds me of that amazing episode where The Monarch destroys an entire office only to find he has the wrong address. But I seriously digress, I am a chick who loves comics, especially superhero comics, and I totally loved ‘The Janitor Cometh.’ I’ve read it twice now. I agree the use of the word ‘mousey’ is kind of cliche but I loved the twist ending, I loved that they both know she could totally kick his ass. I thought this was really polished, clever, with lots of nods to things that are issues in typical superhero stories (racism, sexism, nerdism). It kind of reminded me of The Tick, which is never a bad thing.

    ‘Make the Soup’ is good but I found the numbering/list format distracting and off-putting. There are some very lovely lines and evocative scenes but the prop of the list detracted somewhat from the story.

  32. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Deathmatch is much more civil this year – at least so far – then again it’s only Tuesday. Sean, how are you feeling after your bottle of Nyquil, better today? Ryan, ready to “pow” “blam” and “zap” any 2D comments headed your way?

    Maybe we’ll hear from some of your competition.

    You are both prolific writers who have novels as well as many short stories under your belts, what are your least favorite parts of the writing process? How are you feeling about a 24 hr story edit?

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    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      I’d say my least favourite part of the writing process is the moment when the page is blank, just before I give a go at the first line. It’s wide open, pure potential. Which is a little scary. At this point I usually have an idea what the story is and where I want it to go (the “feel” of it) but I can get easily frustrated at this point if I can’t get a flow going. It’s like I can see the house I want to build in my head but I’m looking at the pile of wood and nails on the ground and I’m tired and it’s hot outside and I just say to myself, Do I really need a house? But I find if I plug away at it, slowly but surely, the structure will come together (and sometimes not–my computer is a graveyard of stories killed before their time, though some for good reasons). Once I have a framework that’s when it gets very interesting. The juice, shall they say.

      For example, The Janitor Cometh started out under another title about 2 1/2 years ago. I knew I wanted to write a story about some idiots dressing up as fake superheroes and getting into mischief (and I had the scene with The Dusk and Speed Demon talking about man boobs) but I couldn’t crack the code on it for the longest time. Stopped and started on it many times since. But in early December, when I decided to enter the 2014 Deathmatch (my third attempt), I figured it could be an appropriate entry and it finally gelled.

      And a 24-hr edit is a bit daunting. On one hand, I would want to stay true to my original vision and not risk throwing the baby out with the bath water (another saying I don’t really want to know the origin of–poor kid). I think in such a short time period there’s a chance of trying to do too much. On the other hand, I wouldn’t want to do too little, to not honour the positive and negative feedback that the story received and really look at the story from an outside perspective to see where the weak points are and what could be better.

      And I absolutely agree with Sean about entering contests. I love the set response time. What I also love is the deadline. A ticking clock often gets my construction crew working double-time.

      Thanks for the good questions, Chase.

      • DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

        Thanks to you both for the great answers! I agree with you and Sean about contest time frames and deadlines. Ryan, I saw Bret Easton Ellis on your reading list, I just finished reading American Psycho and Less Than Zero. This week I’m reading Bradley Somer’s Imperfections.

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          Nice. Less Than Zero gets me every time. Still resonates. And it blows me away that he wrote that in/right out of college. Try the “sequel,” Imperial Bedrooms. And–ooh–Glamorama. Has the king of all idiots as a narrator. That one was a big influence on my novel, Die, Famous! (including the main character’s name).

          After all, as Picasso apparently said, “Good artists copy, great artists steal.”

          *Not that I’m a “great” artist, but I’m tryin’.

    • I’m fine. Thanks for asking. I’ll be ready for more Nyquil in a few hours.

      I like editing stories quickly, so that’s no problem. Time is always hard to find, so I am used to working quickly. As for my least favourite part of writing, I’m not sure. I like most of it. If you do it regularly you don’t really get stuck, though there are times when it seems easier than other days. Probably the part I like least is sending things out — I don’t mind rejections, but I hate waiting a long time for them. That’s why recently I have entered contests more, because there is a set period of time to wait.

  33. Recessive Gene says:

    Where are all the comments for this round? Aren’t people able to discuss the work? I am wondering about the authors as well, let’s make this a participation nation

  34. Innocent bystander says:

    Make the Soup wins this round for me. It is quiet and mysterious. The writing is carefully controlled. And the story is emotionally potent for something so short. I was honestly moved by the end of it. I think it’s a great piece of fiction.

    The Janitor didn’t do much for me. The world is already saturated with so much super hero stuff. This story didn’t add anything new to the game and I think the humor was pretty immature.

    But I haven’t agreed with any winner in this entire deathmatch yet.

  35. Andrew says:

    I am not a writer by trade. Never claimed to be, but I do enjoy a good book and more than that a good short story. Both were good pieces of work and I must say that both authors show talent. That said, I must agree with Erica in that I too enjoyed the “bomb drop” ending of The Janitor Cometh and I definitely did not see it coming. This story had it all: action, laughter, romance, fantasy and reality.

    I found Make the Soup a bit dry for my taste (no pun intended). It lacked any real action and for a story so short, my interest tended to fade throughout. I think the author should be a bit more open minded too. As noted above – art is subjective. That said, I am not a writer, so please take my criticism with a grain of salt. At the end of the day, the voters will have the final say.

  36. Salmon says:

    Hello gentlemen and good luck deathmatching. So let’s get straight to it.

    R. Daniel, your story is almost certainly going to alienate a lot of women (and men who aren’t keen on sexism). The ONE female character has to be wearing a leather catsuit, and she barely ever uses her voice. Coincidentally, the other notable female presence in the story– a blowup sex doll– also doesn’t have a voice. Although we find out at the end of the story that LC is in love with TD, it doesn’t seem to matter at all because TD’s needs and wants come first and she is essentially only a stock character meant to serve his purposes (as is the blowup doll). I don’t feel it’s a bomb drop as others have said, I feel it’s just a “who cares?” because we get back to focusing on the main character after that brief aside that, unsurprisingly, belittles her appearance and whittles her back down to the size of some background detail. Add to this the overall sexist language and the clever details of characterization you bestow mostly on the men, and it seems pretty disappointing. The cliches never get turned on their head for me at all, just being reinforced more and more. It was NOT my cup of tea (or can of PBR?) and you lost any chance to win my vote in depicting women so brutally throughout your story. Your ear for believable dialogue is very sharp and some of the characterization details made me laugh out loud. You seem like a clever writer so it is disappointing that you couldn’t do more to freshen up the tired cliches. Why isn’t Lady Carnage the leader of this group and the main character be the background dude in accounting?

    Sean, I adored the humanity of Make the Soup. You have a way of bringing forward lots of the small truths about life, and in a very short space, you helped shape a picture of the life for the boy and the father as they try to move forward, in stilts and turns, after the death of the mother. The loyalty and love and grief and strangeness at welcoming someone into her place is painted beautifully. Also loved the ending and cared about what happened to them. I didn’t understand (and this comment should be massively helpful to the author, haha) why they were drinking out of plastic cups at home on the couch. That one detail (how nitpicky) made me see them sitting there, drinking from red plastic cups like you buy in the summer. Also wasn’t crazy about the title, although yes, there’s the preparation of making the soup or the life and then eating/living and you don’t exactly plan not to eat the soup you’ve made… all the elements being thrown into a pot that you have to deal with. Curious to hear the author comment on this choice of title.

    My votes are going to Make the Soup.

    I would love to hear from the authors as it’s a nice chance to learn more about your perspectives and personalities.

    • Thanks for the comments. Not sure about the cups. I didn’t think they might be taken for disposable cups; I meant more tupperware or some other kind of hard plastic cup, where the sound of the ice in the cup is different from in glass, where it’s kind of dulled. Like nothing has been redone, really, and maybe there’s orange shag carpet on the floor. The boy listens to Not Fragile by BTO on headphones, maybe in quadraphonic sound from an 8-track.

      It’s hot in there sometimes.

      • Recessive Gene says:

        Good observation DMJ but I think Salmon is totally right, after all there is no reason to believe that’s the only cliche that would be subverted. Although ya, it is a possibility that the doll is male, it is only a possibility and we can easily assume from everything else that the doll is female. If the author wanted to subvert this, the possibility should have been made definite.

  37. I suppose the thing that bugs me most about the Janitor Cometh is its clichés. Even the title, or the assumption that sex is in and of itself subversive or interesting in a way that other things are not. Then a penis size joke, then the description of Lady Carnage as “mousey,” like in the classic Hollywood version of a story where a woman is “mousey” until suddenly she removes her glasses and is revealed as beautiful. The Blue Ribbon beer as a marker of membership in the working class . . . it’s all very broad strokes, a list of things meant to mean exactly what they say and no more.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Well, sorry I asked. Wait a minute, I didn’t.

      And while Make the Soup may be charting new territory in literature, taking the numbers 1-21 where they’ve never been before, all the while never lowering itself to use a cliché, for me you forgot one key ingredient: the entertainment.

      There, I said it. Are you happy now, Deathmatch? You’ve ruined me.

  38. Erica says:

    I kind of like the bomb drop in The Janitor Cometh. To me the story is about Dusk/Robert’s inability to connect with reality and his desperate reliance on the fantasy world he created for life satisfaction.

    People/friends are trying to connect with him in reality, through the fantasy world, but eventually give up when he won’t come out of the fantasy world. The one person who sticks out his fantasy world is also the one person who wants to connect with him in reality the most, and at the end of the story, he makes her promise that won’t ever happen.

    I think that’s all interesting, and it’s an entertaining story, though I think a little more focus on Robert and his character’s backstory (both Robert’s and his invented origin story for Dusk) would make the story stronger. I think that making the story more clearly about that one character, would avoid the question “What is it meant to do? It makes no sense … Presumably this means the story was supposed to be about Lady Carnage but you hid that from us on purpose?”

  39. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    I am considering donning an alternate identity or several to add some posts. What is going on with you peeps on the interwebs? I know it’s Monday, but someone must remember how to post. These stories deserve some comment.

    Sean, are your students lurking? R. Daniel supporters – do you want to hear only the sounds of gloves against flesh in an empty arena, or are you hoping to catch a few squeaks of cowgirl latex if you’re silent.

    Both stories are great reads, though as noted, very different, but maybe you should consider changing the titles, neither really screams, “read me!” to the blood hungry trolls.

    Sean, I read the excerpt from “The Whole Show” – it made me want to read more and also made me curious about your choice of story for Deathmatch. Did you consider adding more second person later in the story to bring the reader back to it? You use it well.

    R. Daniel (or is it just Daniel?) I am off to read more of your work now… Love your opening line.

    • Chase: Thanks for reading the excerpt. I am not sure why I chose this story other than it was one I had around that was the right length. I didn’t really consider going back to the second person at the end, no. I wanted to end with the kid and the new woman in his father’s life, where the beginning is the narrator.

      It’s snowy here, and a holiday, so I expect people are on the ski hills.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Actually, call me Ryan. I know, it’s a little confusing.

      I’ll consider the story title, for sure. I liked the dual meaning of “Cometh” given that it sounds a bit like a cheesy comic book title from a 1970’s issue of Spiderman and fits the real-life situation we find The Janitor in. Maybe we need some, shall I say, “completion” to the act to tie it in better. Or I could change it. Hmm. Food for thought.

    • What the fuck did you just fucking say about me, you little bitch? I’ll have you know I graduated top of my class in the Navy Seals, and I’ve been involved in numerous secret raids on Al-Quaeda, and I have over 300 confirmed kills. I am trained in gor says:


    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Jeez, I’m an idiot. You’re absolutely right. And I read that over about a thousand times before sending it to BP but never caught it. Should I make it to the next round, there’s the first thing I will change.

      Good catch. Thanks.

  40. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Way to go for the jugular, boys. Excellent start to the critiquing. Now if we could just wake up the rest of this West Coast board…

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Exactly what I was thinking, Chase. We need the audience cheers and jeers. Otherwise it’s just the two of us slugging it out in an empty arena. Fascinating at first, but eventually quiet, very quiet, and the sounds of the gloves against flesh become a little weird.

  41. Hi Daniel and Chase

    I’m glad to have read all these stories. There are some good ones.

    I have to say, though, Daniel, I thought your story has mostly set up and then a rushed ending. We have no time at all to care about Lady Carnage; it doesn’t really matter that her love for the main character must go unspoken since we only learned of that love a couple of paragraphs earlier. It feels as if you haven’t really found the true ending yet.

    (Might as well start with a comment on the story before the discussion degenerates, eh?)

    • Emily says:

      I loved The Janitor Cometh. Refreshingly hilarious, with a neat ending. Seems like a fully formed short story as is… Wondering if the author has thought about what he might do if a rewrite is needed, if that’s going to be a challenge?

      • R. Daniel Lester says:

        Thanks, Emily. As far as a rewrite goes, I haven’t looked that far ahead yet. I sense it’s going to be a tough go.

        However, there are definitely a few little things I would change, should I make it that far. As for bigger stuff, I’m hoping the feedback (positive and negative) that the story receives will get the ideas flowing. After all, there’s more than one way to skin a cat.

        (Which, by the way, is a pretty creepy saying and I’m not sure I need the origin story on that one.)

        At this point, though, I think that the general structure of my story will not change. Controversial late bomb drop and all.

    • R. Daniel Lester says:

      Sure, that’s one way of looking at it, Sean. Which is the beauty of art-it’s entirely subjective. One man’s rushed ending is another’s intentional late-in-the-game bomb drop.

      • What is it meant to do? It makes no sense. It’s the same as having a character wake up and tell us it was all a dream. Even the best stories with these “bomb drops” (though I am not a fan of them, myself) give us a hint. Presumably this means the story was supposed to be about Lady Carnage but you hid that from us on purpose?

        The story has a lot of potential, as a few movies about similar setups have shown, but it’s too busy and there is nothing preceding the ending to make it matter to the reader emotionally. I think a better story would be the origin story of any of the characters. For instance, though it seems implausible that a person might finance a hobby by selling stolen office supplies, it seems like an interesting premise — these are all pathetic characters who presumably came to this point by a series of understandable, and small, decisions, and that would be interesting to explore. Right now, I don’t feel like I know any of them except who I thought was the main character and he just seems like an asshole, though he, also, got there somehow, and the root causes of his problem would be really interesting to read about.

        • R. Daniel Lester says:

          The same as the ol’ “it’s all a dream” cop-out? Them’s fightin’ words. I think you’re so far off you’d need a compass and a week’s supply of water to get back to reality. What the dream thing does is say what you just read/watched/experienced didn’t actually happen. Negation. The audience feels cheated.

          On the other hand, learning late in the story that Lady Carnage has a big ol’ lady boner for The Dusk doesn’t negate anything. What happened, happened. It just says you can look at this situation in a different way now (and wonder what might happen in the future). It explains why she sticks around even though The Dusk is a total arrogant a-hole.

          For me, your story, though interesting in structure, doesn’t invite me in. I want to get inside but where are the doors? I’m more of a story consumer/creator than a great critic but I’m having trouble with this one.

          Pretty sure that’s why the mad scientists at BP threw us together in the same beaker and turned on the bunsen burner – two completely different stories/styles/influences.

  42. Scurvy Jack says:

    Set the sails and man the cannons matte, it’s time for slinging some lead!
    aargh………….and one word of warning for ya or you’ll walk the plank, there be no
    pooping on the the poop during this here battle.

    The treasure will be found.

  43. DM Moderator Chase Baird ( User Karma: 0 ) says:

    Ominously quiet as round 4 begins.. but with PBR, blow up dolls and public transit, it’s only a matter of time before someone is calling for the shark repellant bat-spray. Looking forward to a great round R.Daniel and Sean.

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