Deathmatch 2015 Quarterfinals Round 2


Round 1

Deathmatch Moderator

Alison Lang PhotoAlison Lang was a teenage werewolf who grew up to be the editor of Broken Pencil Magazine. She also writes about horror stuff for Rue Morgue, music stuff for Exclaim! and book stuff for the Quill & Quire. In her downtime she writes crappy dystopic fiction and sings in a cowpunk band.






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. VOTE AND COMMENT BELOW! By commenting you agree to be signed up for Broken Pencil’s newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time.

Chicken and Bits

By Aerin Fogel

I had a sister right up until I was 32, when she publicly disowned me on The Tonight Show with flared nostrils. Her band, The Baby BooBoos, was on the show: a four-girl effort combining the disturbance of Phil Spector with the paranoia of Robert Fripp. It worked because you couldn’t really hear how bad they were. Growing up, our cat was named Jay Leno because of his chin.

Read on...

The Bombay Blossom

By Scott MacAulay

A table at the Bombay Blossom on a Friday required a reservation, so Mickey phoned early in the week. The woman who took his reservation was disappointed it was for one.

“So, you’d like a table for one on a Friday night at 8pm. Am I right?” Her tone was accusatory.

Read on...

57 Responses to “Deathmatch 2015 Quarterfinals Round 2”

  1. Husky Voiced Angel says:

    I embrace the total weirdness of the narrator in Chicken and Bits and loved that about this story SO MUCH. But The Bombay Blossom stays with me longer. Everything about it hits the right note, from the dialogue to the little observations (like how Johnny sounds truly sad about the narrator’s mother). It was sad and touching, and utterly believable. So BB gets my vote.

    Well that was satisfying. Good job authors, I needed those rising story arcs in my life tonight…. ughhhhhhhhhh YEAH

  2. Alison Lang (Moderator) ( User Karma: 12 ) says:

    So it’s the final afternoon of Round 2….it was a great, dare I say CLASSY round. Aerin and Scott are pretty close, within 100 votes of each other with Aerin leading. Wondering if the gap will close before midnight? Keep poking and nudging your pals to vote, and best of luck to our two talented competitors as we edge towards the end. Your stories are both excellent and I’m looking forward to see which one of you moves ahead to the finals. Godspeed!

  3. Laraine says:

    Scott, I am sitting at home with The Citizen I open to a picture of a woman in a little dress perfect for that winter get away. The price tag is $6,995 . Tomorrow I will go to church on Somerset St. where the reality of your story will be so obvious and I will wonder, how many nice meals would that amount of money buy for people who can only dream of such a treat? Great story!

  4. Jackie says:

    Hey, Scott!

    I´m anthropologist living in South America and found your story so compelling! Then I noticed you are a sociologist… LOL

    Some people like it postmodern-is-not-for-all, others prefer the right to have a good dinner alone on a Friday night. I belong to this species, and my vote is for you!

    Good luck,


  5. Sean V says:

    Do html tags work in here? Also, I’m still thinking about the dissimilar styles of both stories, not in terms of which style is more compelling or effective, but of how both styles seem to speak to authorial intentions. Perhaps one way to questionify this notion would be to ask whether or not the authors are concerned with readers getting THE “purpose” or “message” of their stories. I.E. would either writer care if a reader was to misread the “meaning” of the story, such as believing that “The Bombay Blossom” is about the inherent immorality of “low class” people, or that “Chickens and Bits” is about the self-inflicted woes of a member of the flippant and egocentric Y generation…

    • Aerin Fogel says:

      i like this question. i used to think about it a lot when i was a young and hopeful philosophy major. ultimately i think a story is not about one person handing The Truth to another. more, it is like a bridge. it is what connects one person’s perspective with another. i punch this story out through my unique viewing lens, and the reader views it through their unique lens. so instead of there being a right or wrong read to the story, each person breathes their own life into it. i hope there is meaning in there that i never considered or intended. i hope it is a bridge. i hope it is a chalkboard where everyone can hack at their own ideas. and ultimately i hope to challenge some of those ideas and ideals with the story, and have some of my own challenged through the response of the readers.

  6. Jonathan Valelly ( User Karma: 81 ) says:

    You have eaten
    the onion crackers
    that were in
    the office

    and I
    wasn’t really
    saving them
    for anything

    I forgive you.
    They must have been delicious
    so dry
    and so salty

  7. Alison Lang (Moderator) ( User Karma: 12 ) says:

    I can attest that Jonathan does eat beef jerky sometimes. I am also snacking on onion crackers he left in the office yesterday (thanks Jonathan!)

    I’m thinking a bit about the “sad surprise” ending that Jonathan mentioned too. Bombay uses this in the more traditional sense, but Aerin’s ending left me feeling pretty melancholy, too, in a more (pardon my french) fucked-up way. Maybe we can coin the literary term “fucked-up surprise?” “Fucked-up flummox”? At any rate, both very effective. I often struggle with endings in my own writing – making them emotionally resonant, but interesting, and not cheesy, but not deadening either – and I admire what you’ve both done here.

    My favorite examples of authors who nail sad/weird-feeling endings: Flannery O’Connor, Andre Dubus, Mary Gaitskill, Ray Bradbury, Jennifer Egan….anyone got others?

    • Aerin Fogel says:

      i am snacking on an apple! i think ‘fucked-up surprise’ is a great genre name. endings are the hardest part of the story to write. i love a story that really cracks someone open, and have found that there is more for the reader to chew on if you don’t try and sew them back up at the end of it. i can only hope that readers look for their own ways to sew things up.
      denis johnson and barry hannah are also masters of the devastating short! willa cather too if you’re in it for the long haul, and she’s got an eye for dignity like ‘Bombay.’

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  8. Jonathan Valelly ( User Karma: 81 ) says:

    Two very different schools of writing here.

    Chicken and Bits is somewhat postmodern, bizarre, the narrator charmingly misanthropic and the points of entry ranging from pop culture puppetry to the humorous banality of the family as a site of conflict. It’s weird, maybe intentionally clunky, and that feels good.

    The Bombay Blossom is more evenly paced and more precisely written, drawing on a more well-trodden tradition of the North American working class short story, which I find often uses the “sad surprise” as its punch. It touches upon the way class is not just a way of describing our income, it’s also got cultural baggage. Rather than being something we are, class — like most identity categories — is something we do.

    This is a matter of taste, really, and I tend to go for the weird — plus, I feel like Aerin’s story has more fight in it to go forward into future rounds.

    Chicken and Bits, you got me!

    • Scott MacAulay says:

      I like your description of my story, Jonathan. I happen to be a sociologist who has had hard times, so my writing can’t help but lean toward social realism with well-honed images, with, I hope, some east coast humour and wit—I’m a Cape Bretoner— thrown in. You are right about taste–though I trust that’s not code for the well-trodden of us can’t see the true literary value of things not so conventional. I’m a fan of Chicken and Bits. Likewise, I trust postmodern leaning minds are able peak around the corner to see what straightforward story telling still has to offer

    • Aerin Fogel says:

      thanks for the vote of confidence jonathan!
      weird is definitely my cup of tea as well. i also hoped to clutter the map with misanthropy and banality in such a way that it exposed the character’s simultaneous lack of awareness, and broken psyche. as if she is constantly on the verge of waking up through challenge after challenge, yet instead of taking hold of the reins she goes back to sleep. metaphorically speaking of course. though she probably does go back to sleep quite a bit.

  9. sara ( User Karma: 416 ) says:

    I should add that the closure could be open-ended! I am not the type of reader who needs firm closure. I am just interested in whether sister = lover = rock or if there is something more interesting about the familial severing of ties.

  10. Laurie says:

    Scott, endings are particularly important to me. They can really make or break a story. Your line “Tonight I got served, Johnny.” is a definite winner with me 🙂

  11. sara ( User Karma: 416 ) says:

    I have been voting for “Chicken and Bits,” but there is something about the rock that bothers me. It seems that the rock is really central to the story, but the detail/imagery around the rock is a bit confusing. I like what Aerin says above about this just being “real human life,” but there does seem to be a tripping-up and then a shedding-of-ties with both the lover and the rock. But where does the sister fit in? Is she a tie that cannot really be broken? I guess I’d just like more closure with that part of the story, and I feel like the rock-lover connection could be a way to do it.

    • Aerin Fogel says:

      hi sara! thank you for this thoughtful pondering. to be reductionist, the rock is stability in this character’s life. and so her sporadic and fraught relationship with it mirrors that of her relationship with stability itself. stone is the most immovable substance in the natural world, and multiplies and dissolves at an imperceptible, agonizing speed. were she to slow down enough to become stable, to multiply and dissolve with the strength and nourishment of the mineral kingdom, she would likely come apart altogether. in fact, you’ve just given me an idea for my next story 😉
      her fascination with it also reflects her desire for something as essential as minerals are to our bodies. and while she believes she can shed ties with her sister and cling to the fragments of a relationship, it is actually the opposite. she is connected to her sister like the minerals of the earth whether or not she admits it, and so that theme continues to surface for her. perhaps if she had stuck with the rock long enough and through the mess and out the other side, she might have found closure.

      • sara ( User Karma: 416 ) says:

        Oh, I really like that account of the rock / the events in the story, and I see it now! I wonder if more could be done to bring it out – not heavy-handedly or anything – but maybe more could be done before or during the scene in which she finds the rock. Right now, it’s just like, Gillespie really gets her, and then she’s bored and finds a rock. Maybe she could be still upset about her sister when she finds it or something like that.

        Anyway, thanks for your clarification – I like your story even more now!

  12. Scott MacAulay says:

    I’ve enjoyed the comments thus far. The reality of writing is one never quite knows the response one will get. I encourage more voters to comment though. Don’t just click and leave us!

      • Scott MacAulay says:

        Thanks, Ry. I’m glad you see beauty in it. On the streets, in the hidden places (hidden to many people) there is beauty. Yes, it “looks” ugly, “sounds” vulgar @ times, but gestures of kindness such as Johnny giving his jacket, Mickey Flagon’s defiant snub at soup kitchen culture, Johnny’s sweet dreams when he know where the jacket’s been, demonstrate the humanity universal.

    • Scott MacAulay says:

      Thank you Barclay: The voice, the feel, the smell, the taste of rooming house/soup kitchen life can be hard, even painful to get across on the page. But I hope I got something of the humour–dry through it be–across as well. I’ve found humans to have an incredible capacity for humour not matter what situation they are describing. Empathy can be accessed through all the emotions and senses.

  13. Daybo says:

    These two pieces are so different from one another that we seem to be voting between two genres rather than two stories. The vote will say more about us, I think, than it will about “Bombay Blossom” and “Chicken and Bits.” That said, my vote goes to the former. The odd blend of sadness and playfulness in “Bombay Blossom” hooked me.

    • Jonathan Valelly ( User Karma: 81 ) says:

      Remember that this is the “all-genre throwdown” edition of Deathmatch. Soon we’ll be pitting poetry against comics, fiction against non-fiction. This is just the start!

  14. Alison Lang (Moderator) ( User Karma: 12 ) says:

    Really love the descriptions of food in both stories….Bombay Blossom is particularly rapturous. But I can taste everything in Chicken and Bits too. Question to both writers: how does food in your stories relate back to your central characters? what does it say about them?

    • Aerin Fogel says:

      i like this question. my character turns to food when there’s something bubblng up that she wants to stuff back down. and her food choices reflect an empty and vapid environment, and larger culture as a whole. junk food is like her life raft that she’s grabbing onto so she doesn’t have to acknowledge murky waters. that being said, i have never personally deep fried any peas, but i imagine they are quite delicious. would someone please let me know if they feel inspired to give it a go?

      • chris Rae says:

        Yes Aerin they are delicious when flash fried. You leave them in the oil only briefly so the skin becomes crisp and the inside is warmed. Sea salt to finish.
        Parsley spigs also take on an entirely different character when prepared this way

    • Scott says:

      Food is central as an experience of temporary decadence in another wise bland world of soup kitchen food: canned soup, Kraft dinner, canned beans and wieners, canned stew. The smell, too. Nothing takes you out of yourself, your situation than beautifully aromatic food. Your nose clears. Your eyes see colours you’ve never imagined. The main character is away from rooming house alley, away even from Liverpool. I hope for a moment is in Bombay.

  15. Luna says:

    I didn’t really get Aerin’s story. It feels like those modern art pieces that’s just like a twisted piece of copper and you have to read the little explanation below it to understand it. There’s just so much quirkiness crammed together I’m confused as to what it is all pointing towards. Deep fried peas, a pet rock bathed with cooking oil, stealing flamingos from your neighbours when you’re bored, that cherry blossom analogy. It’s just a bit overwhelming. Is there a little explanation plaque you would place below your story, Aerin?

    Scott’s story was well-written and precise but it was about a guy eating Indian food. Scott, why is Indian food relevant to you? Why do you think the world needs your story? This is not meant as an intimidating question because I genuinely want to know. It was so precise and well-written, there’s got to be a strong drive behind it.

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    • Scott says:

      Luna: The story is not really about a man eating curry. To me, it’s a story close to the street in which real people struggle for dignity any ways they can. Here we have a “dine and dash” from a fine Indian restaurant, though the main character places $10 in the server’s hand. Here we have Johnny back at the rooming house vicariously slipping in to better dreams because his jacket was in the presence of true service and had done his friend a good deed.

      I played with calling the story “Johnny” at one point. The story is fiction, of course, but in my heart I don’t think of it that way. It’s about dignity.

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      • chris Rae says:

        It was difficult to discern the script and then I thought could make out the words normal human life. I didn{t see the plaque but the words were there and this is just to thank the artist for her confirmation. I enjoyed the story very much and submitted a vote for it. If I were to descibe it in a word the word would be refreshing.

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