Deathmatch 2017 – Round Two

Round Complete!

Round Two has 2 Matches:

What’s happened so far:

Back to the Lightning Round Results , Round One


Step One: Read the stories.
Step Two: Create a user account for comment and voting access.
Step Three: Vote for your favourite. Repeatedly. You can vote once every hour.
Step Four: Sound off in the comments. (Check out below for the commenter perks)

Like your favourite comments.

Liked Comments = greater voting power!

Bronze: 50 up-votes will earn commenters Bronze status, which means that their votes will count for 2.

Silver: 200 up-votes will earn commenters Silver status, and their votes will count for ???.

Gold: ??? up-votes will earn commenters Gold status, and their votes will count for ???.

Gold: 400 up-votes will earn commenters Gold status, and their votes will count for 5. – See more at:

Step Five: Blog, tweet, tell all your friends – help your favourite author win! #bpdeathmatch
Step Six: Repeat until Deathmatch Champion is crowned winner!

Click here for the extended description of Deathmatch rules and regulations. VOTE AND COMMENT! By registering an account you agree to be signed up for Broken Pencil’s newsletter. You can unsubscribe at any time.

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.

– See more at:


 In keeping with your warrior theme, A.G., here’s a short fragment from ‘The Ballad of the Round of Four’:

THE ROUND OF FOUR (Semi-Finals, Day 1)

“Welcome back, you weary warriors,
Bruised by battles fought and won
Bid farewell to fallen comrades
And with your chins up soldier on

Here at crest of mountain top
We enter now the Round of Four
Sit down to parley, rest our limbs,
And gently cede the tools of war(?)

I, for one, will happ’ly answer
All serious questions justly framed
Put to us from round this circle
About the ancient writing game

But let those here in council meet
And of these tales hold their debates
For we, the Tellers, cannot choose
Amongst them whose alone is great…”

(Actually, I think they are all pretty great, which is why this is really the week where I hope the other participants, not the authors, will take it upon themselves to make a case for the stories they prefer, with us cheering from the sidelines and interjecting when necessary.)

In any case… Once again, it begins. Good luck, scribes! 🙂” – P.D. Walter



By Vicky Savage

I am an artist, and a remarkably good one considering the conditions under which I’m forced to work. Mostly I create true-to-life drawings of the mountains where I grew up. They say I’m a genius at trees, at faithfully capturing dappled sunlight on their finely veined leaves, and recreating the mysterious dark fingers of lichen that clutch the throats of their craggy trunks. Though, I admit I struggle sometimes with the color of bark. Crayola doesn’t make a precise shade of bark brown, so I’m obliged to meld and merge various colors together until I get it just so.

Read on...

Sick To Death Of Stories

By P.D. Walter

The black leather biker jacket had been a gift from his ex-wife, Josephine. She gave it to Jake right
before she left him. At 16, their daughter Katie was old enough to decide who she wanted to stay
with. Now 26, she wondered if she’d made the wrong choice.

Read on...

I Want You Around

I Want You Around: True Tales of A Relationship in 10 Ramones Songs

By Rachel Rosenberg

I Wanna Be Your Boyfriend

When we met, I thought that you seemed sullen and you thought that I was a bitch.

It was a cold, shitty grey afternoon.

As all Great Love Stories begin.

Read on...

Failure to Cooperate

By Susan Read

I arrive for my second last scheduled day of work at, well, let’s call it Tarsucks.  This is only based on a true story, after all.  I don my green apron, punch in my seven-digit code, and get called to the back office before I can make myself an Americano.

In the crowded back room, four folding chairs are arranged in a semi-circle, three of them occupied by well-dressed, smiling people—a man, and two women.  A plastic cup of water and a pile of napkins sit on a desk beside my empty chair.

Read on...

147 Responses to “Deathmatch 2017 – Round Two”

  1. Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

    Good afternoon and congrats to the authors! Especially thank you to all who voted, a lot of you came through for me in a real pinch. Last night was a nail-biter, and I am taking some well needed time off from watching clocks and numbers. (Anyone else feeling like Desmond in the hatch?)

    Looking forward to starting fresh on here this week with healthy, respectful dialogue all around.

    I noticed my karma already being chipped back down below 200. I really hope this pettiness can come to an end this week. Let’s end this on a positive and productive note, shall we?

    I’d also like to say, if I disappear for a few days and my votes stall, it’s because WE ARE BURIED UNDER ALL THE SNOW. Please send shovels and salt. Oh and chips. Cheers!

    • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

      I am still planning to stay away from comments and voting for the most part, but I wanted to contribute to say that I agree about downvoting- it is a petty frustrating exercise I would rather stay away from. Susan, P.D., Vicky-we are awesome and don’t need to resort to such hijinks.

      • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

        Yay! Rachel, welcome back! Agreed! Personally, I am upvoting ANYONE who has ANYTHING nice to say about ANYONE or ANYTHING at this point!! (if only there was a mechanism for posting cat pictures. I’d upvote them too. And I’m not even that much of a cat person!) 🙂

        And even though I have indulged in a little whining about the process myself, I shall stop and would encourage others to do so. Bad mojo. Just keep upvoting the positive and the rising tide will lift all boats (and spirits). 🙂

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Absolutely right, Susan. As the name suggests, the karma system is there to REWARD positive contributions and PUNISH bad behaviour, not to punish success and frustrate people’s chances of winning.

      So… ANYONE ON HERE who has an interest in keeping things FAIR, you can help by up-voting the comments of those authors whose karma has fallen below 500 (after which, it doesn’t seem to have any further effect).

      And if the ‘community’ won’t do that for you, Susan, well, that’s what your supporters are for. 🙂

      • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

        I hear you and I mostly agree, but I really don’t expect my supporters to run searches through old message boards to feed me karma to combat an “attack”. I have had some help, but not nearly enough to contend with the bastards who wish to keep me down.

        I am just going to keep commenting with you all, enjoy the week, and let them keep knocking me down to 195 right before I vote. Hope someone feels good about that.


        • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

          195 right before you vote?!

          Is it just me or do you feel extra paranoid in this contest now. I have a strong Fox-Mulder-ian attitude about everyone and the potential wheels turning behind the scenes.

          • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

            Absolutely. And somehow I increased +500 while the web was down? While my story fell behind? My parents keep asking me to explain the odd voting patterns lol at one point I may have shouted, “What am I, God?”

            p.s. Rachel I think we should host a nightly news show together, just because of how good this would sound: “I’m Susan Read” “And I’m Rachel Rosenberg, Goodnight.”

            • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

              Susan, I would be very down for us to host a news program together. That does sound excellent.

              Also “What am I, God?” will be how I respond to patron questions for the rest of the day at work.

      • michaelr ( User Karma: 523 ) says:

        I agree with you both that there has been much pettiness so far. If you like what someone has to say, reward them. Otherwise just leave their Karma alone. All the people remaining in the competition have been respectful, except when pushed. It is heartening that such good stories remain. Each of your has your own talents and strengths.

    • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

      Hey – I have to say I actually don’t envy you this extra week of watching your karma turn to nothing over night (I watched that happen for days before I understood how important karma was – and being ignorant gives you a very low karma).

      I also wish people would lay off their double, triple, quadruple voting profiles, that should make everybody feel better about themselves whether they win or lose.

      And lastly, the participants who don’t really participate seem to have been rewarded – which I believe is a counter to the spirit of Deathmatch. Get out there and contribute – you’ve already made it!

      • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

        So true. You know, last week I made the mistake of thinking I could not read comments for a couple of days (I’d been grading exams and essays on top of everything else), and when I came back I was like Donald Glover returning with the pizza, discovering the darkest timeline. (insert gif here)

        Okay, it wasn’t that bad. But it was a LOT to sort through and it raised my anxiety… I think you mentioned, Hege, that it was a throw back to the early internet message board days. I had the same thought, and it took me back to some strange places and feelings. And that was all from the sidelines! I tell you it is a brave act to speak your mind on an unmoderated internet forum. And I applaud you all. And I can only do my best to keep up.

        Anyway so far we are off to a very warm and friendly Monday, hopefully the good vibe monsters grow and the chill spreads to all.

      • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

        Haha, good points. I don’t know if we envy ourselves! This is exhausting.

        By the way, if anyone is living anywhere near a theatre that is playing ‘Toni Erdmann’, GO SEE IT, QUICK! It is a brilliant, bizarre, hilarious, profoundly original, profoundly strange German film (nominated for the best foreign language film Oscar) that – in a just world – would be up for Best Picture. It reminds us all how to be human. A much needed mental tonic for weary Deathmatchers! 🙂

        • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

          Ooo. I can recommend some movies, though these are older and more for if you are stuck inside voting:

          Kissing Jessica Stein (see: everything)
          Party Girl (one of my librarian inspirations)
          Velvet Goldmine (amazing music, Ewan McGregor/Jonathan Rhys Meyers smooching, rad costumes, pseudo-David Bowie biopic)

          Thanks for the recommendation, Peter. I love movies.

          Anyone else have any movie recs? For us sleepy, weary ones?

          • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

            Haha. As a David Bowie fan of long standing, I am genetically obligated to love ‘Velvet Goldmine’ (which I do). I think I have owned it on VHS and DVD! Haven’t seen the other two, but have heard about ‘Kissing Jessica Stein’ for years. (I think Jonathan Rhys Meyers should have been cast as Anakin Skywalker, instead of Hayden, BTW. But that’s another story…) 🙂

            • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

              I also owned Velvet Goldmine on VHS and DVD. In fact, I used to borrow it from the video store and not want to give it back, so on two occasions I racked up over $15 worth of fines for it. Jonathan Rhys Meyers should play every tortured character with questionable morals. Truth.

  2. Vicky Savage ( User Karma: 839 ) says:

    Greetings Fellow Gladiators: I find myself surprised and humbled to be in the Deathmatch semi-final round. I jumped out of the fray early in Round One because I felt the atmosphere going negative and decided my time might be better spent writing. Even though I told my supporters to stop voting for me, I guess some of them (and apparently others) made the decision to carry on. Despite what some may think, this was not a ploy by me to garner sympathy. But, I’d like to thank those intrepid voters who stuck by me anyway. I’m posting now because I feel it would be disrespectful to my fellow warriors not to acknowledge their hard-fought battles and contributions. Each and every one of the sixteen stories chosen to compete this year is worthy of winning. For better or worse, writing, like art, comes down to a matter of taste. Popular culture may have lapped up Fifty Shades of Grey, making E.L. James a zillionaire, but book snobs slammed it as poor literature (bet they read it anyway). Personally, I never cared much for the artwork of Salvador Dali, until I visited the Dali Museum in St. Petersburg and found out what a kick-ass guy he was. He dropped out of art school at a young age, declaring his instructors to be of insufficient caliber to grade his work. He was a mathematical wizard, but after migrating to the US he took a job designing greeting cards for Hallmark just to make ends meet. He never stopped practicing his craft, though. And some of his greatest masterpieces were produced when he was in his seventies. The man was a mad genius! And he taught me to look for the mad genius in everyone else—not only the writers and artists that speak to my soul. My sister (who couldn’t stay away from the Deathmatch comment board) told me that Rachel withdrew last round because of a dust-up with Chaos. Well, guess what—Chaos you’ve got that mad genius, buddy, in spades, but so does Rachel. I respect that quality in both of you. I hope Rachel’s advancement to the semi-finals has strengthened her confidence. Her voice is exceptional and her style distinctive. Writing is a tough gig, people, and everyone whose story was chosen to compete in this ego bruising, time-sucking, playground skirmish called a Deathmatch, has my everlasting esteem. Our stories may not be perfect, but they all have something unique to say, and that is the brilliance of what we do. P.D., my sister also told me you wrote a thoughtful review of “Fogger.” I thank you for that. You are a gentleman and a quality writer, and I’m honored to be pitted against you in this round (you’re already kicking my butt). Susan, congrats! You know I liked you from day one! Your story made me reevaluate where I’ll buy my lattés in the future. Lastly, Hege, you and “Mr. Jones” made an amazing showing in Round One. I understand the final vote tally was very close, and damn, you have a ton of loyal supporters! That should make you feel very good. You are a talented writer; keep up the good fight. To all of you I say, no matter what, don’t stop practicing your craft, and as Ray Bradbury advised, “Let the world burn through you. Throw the prism light, white hot, on paper.” Best of luck to everyone!

    • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

      Great to hear from you Vicky! You and Hege both have strong stories and unique voices–I’m glad I was introduced to them both. I am honestly thrilled that my story continues to garner support in my longstanding boycott of the Starbucks Corp. Though as I’ve said elsewhere, it’s easy enough (for now) in Cape Breton. Airports are a whole other can of will power..

      Best of luck to you in the future–I will look for you in the book aisles!

        • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

          Glad you’re back, Vicky. When I have some time, maybe I’ll do what Rob did and try to summarize my comments on the other 3 stories too.

          It’s late, I’ll have to respond properly tomorrow. But since it seems like it’s the three of us for now, maybe we should get our own conversation about writing going.

          Suggested / Possible Topics:
          1. Books on writing that have been useful to you
          2. Writer’s groups and what you have or haven’t learned from them
          3. Courses you’ve taken (and what you have or haven’t learned from them)
          4. Anything about process; how when where you like to write; how you approach bigger pieces (what are the biggest pieces you’ve written, etc.)
          5. Breaking into the biz, such as it is
          6. How whatever you do in your regular life does or does not aid your writing
          7. Self-publishing: the good, the bad, the ugly

          Sound off, scribes! This is a collective “you”, meaning, anyone who writes or is writing and wants to contribute to the dialogue. 🙂

          See y’all tomorrow. As Roy Batty says, “Time to sleep…”

          • Vicky Savage ( User Karma: 839 ) says:

            Hey P.D. brilliant ideas all! I have a few excellent writing books to recommend, and I have a bit of experience in self-publishing to share. I’m on a plane right now, but hope to have more time tomorrow. The website fiasco threw me off a little. Gotta roll with the punches, right?

            • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

              We wait with baited breath! Arrive safely. 🙂

              One I read recently, recommended by a writer friend, is Anne Lamott’s ‘Bird by Bird.’ It was quite different from the others I have read in that it focused very little on craft and more on the emotional side of writing: self-confidence and self-doubt, the need to be okay with writing ‘sh&%ty first drafts’, writer’s block (of course), dealing with professional jealousy, and the paranoid hypochondria that can overtake people who spend too much time alone at a desk!

              One cool technical tip she gives is the ABDCE ‘formula’ for short stories, where:
              A = action; something to arouse the reader’s curiosity, but which they don’t have enough context to fully interpret yet
              B = background; letting us in on who the characters are, and what was happening before the dramatic (or enigmatic) start of the story
              D = development of the characters so we know what they care about most
              C = Climax
              E = Ending, both of which should evolve organically out of A, B and D

              Haven’t tried it yet, but I bet a bunch of good short stories follow it almost instinctually.

              (And, really, Vicky, Peter is fine!) 🙂

    • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

      Vicky, hello. My mother told me about your kind words here so I thank you. I think you have always conducted yourself with grace and integrity and I’m glad to see you back.

  3. JesFletcher ( User Karma: 64 ) says:

    Congrats to the finalists. Rad. This was a messy competition. Honestly, I think you folks at brokenpencil might want to set up some guidelines for online behaviour if you haven’t already. I think it hurts the competition and the brokenpencil reputation to allow cruel & gratuitous insults to be hurled at contestants. Not cool. That isn’t why we write! Anyways. Congratulations to everyone who participated and to the four badasses who made it to the finals.

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      My guess would be that for each their own entirely legitimate reasons, Rachel and Vicky have basically stopped participating in the comments. So, maybe BP didn’t want to have 2 people competing against each other who weren’t going to post. Just a guess… What’s yours?

          • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

            Only the Russians will ever know for sure!!! 🙂

            Alright, Kchan, since you are such a pleasant player of this game, I give you (not that you asked for it!) an excerpt from a (perhaps overly didactic) DELETED scene from my (as yet unpublished; still hoping there!) novel, ‘Twilight of the Adults’. (Also for Wyatt, maker of fine tin-foil hats.)


            “No, but seriously,” Josh continued, relieved that she was not actually a wearer of tinfoil hats, “don’t these crazily convoluted conspiracy theories illustrate the fact that sometimes the world is actually much simpler than we think it is.”

            “But see,” Clarke said, “I would argue just the opposite. Superficially, they seem really complex. But actually conspiracy theories are wild oversimplifications. It’s too vague, too unsettling for most people to accept that in complex societies like ours, with many different institutions competing for control and influence, things can happen without any one actor seeking that result. The idea that we are not actually in control of much is intolerable.”

            “That we are not in control of the heat in here is intolerable,” Josh quipped. “It’s freezing.”

  4. Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

    Hello all,
    Quick thank you to everyone who voted for me last time. After having such a rough experience, it was very heartening to see so much support for me. I was very moved. And good luck to everyone back for this round!

  5. Rob Onofrey ( User Karma: 1004 ) says:

    Good luck, everyone! I just wanted to give a re-cap of my comments (with some additional notes) on each of the remaining stories:

    1) “Sick to Death of Stories” The story that took me down! Peter, you did a fantastic job creating authentic characters. I really enjoyed the screenplay excerpts as a device. Initially I was feeling that the jump from Katie and Jake’s conversation to the second script excerpt might have been too abrupt, but I think we know enough about these characters that the abruptness of that and the ending isn’t too vague and works in making the reader make their own guesses. Despite that, I think I may have liked a bit more on what Katie was planning on doing after leaving, but your story works marvelously without it. Not only that, but your supporters are a force to be reckoned with!

    2) “Fogger” Wow. I love how creepy this story is. You nailed it, Vicky. And it’s so relatable; those restaurant crayons are just that awful. This is a spine-chilling story that is written in a simple style apt for the narrator. Off all the stories remaining, this is definitely the darkest. And it works so well.

    3) “Failure to Cooperate” is a story full of character. Your main character felt very real to me, but I wish the story was longer to show us what happened after leaving the coffee shop. But maybe not, the story is tight and snappy as is. And if you’re like any writer I know, I’m sure you considered it anyway.

    4) “I Want You Around” is a love story structured in vignettes, and I love vignettes. It’s a brisk read, but a full experience. I will say that the song titles didn’t really affect my reading. A deeper knowledge of The Ramones might change that, but I’m somebody who really only knows their biggest hits and not much else about the band so take that with a grain of salt.

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Hey, Rob — Thanks so much for doing this! Let me be the first to encourage the other Round One authors to do the same, as I imagine there will be (new) people visiting and voting in this round who won’t have the time or patience to comb through the Round One comments to find all this stuff.

      Great to have you back in the conversation! Should we keep the zany questions going? 🙂

      • Rob Onofrey ( User Karma: 1004 ) says:

        Sure! If you were in Neo’s situation, red pill or blue pill? My instincts say red pill and that’s most likely what I’d go for because it would be so much more badass, but blue pill is so warm and inviting.

        • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

          There’s a saying in Improv, ‘Those who say yes are rewarded with adventure. Those who say no are rewarded with safety.’ I am right on the fence, tilting ever so slightly over to the red.

          ‘The Matrix’ is one of those series I didn’t really get on board with until the second chapter, which turned a lot of people off. The first film didn’t grab me as it should have, maybe because the Star Wars comparisons didn’t work for me, and I saw it with someone who hated sci-fi, so I felt terrible for having dragged him to it. He just squirmed for 2 hours.

          But with ‘Reloaded’ I kind of ‘got’ the Matrix aesthetic, and – even though it’s a flawed movie (that silly rave scene has got to go!) – it does have a lot of fun stuff in it, and it helped me appreciate, in retrospect, the superiority and originality of the first one. I thought the Duracell scene was just ridiculous. But now it’s the cheese-factor that I enjoy about it; it’s so preposterous and yet so entertaining! And all the film references, Metropolis, Batman, BladeRunner, Hong Kong action movies, and of course the mythological overlay of the Hero’s Journey.

          So, it’s not a zany question but how do you think should the series have ended?

          (This is not my answer, but…) to me, the problem was that like all action movies it rests on the premise that there is no problem that cannot be solved by punching the right guy (or, in this case, the right machines) in the face! But there is no action-oriented solution to what the Matrix is. If you destroy the machines and shut it down, all you have is millions of people in pink tubes of goo needing months of rehab, like Neo did. That’s not a way to end a movie! So they went for the “peace between man and machine” ending, which satisfied no one.

          What do you think? Is there a credible, satisfying way to end that story with action?

          • Rob Onofrey ( User Karma: 1004 ) says:

            Interesting. I actually haven’t seen the second or third one since they came out, so they’re kind of foggy in my memory. But you’re right, it is a difficult story to end with action, though I would need to see those again to formulate my own ending. But I get the sense that the Wachowskis painted themselves into a corner plot wise. The war needed a winner though. Even if it wasn’t the good guys.

            • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

              I think you’re right about them painting themselves into a corner and needing someone to win. I would have like to have seen more of the Architect (is that what he was called?) at the end of ‘Reloaded’. They just sort of dropped his role. I thought at least part of the big final battle should have been inside whatever part of the Matrix he dwells in, that kind of stark white ‘2001’-esque room with furniture and blindingly bright walls. Maybe there was some way they could have taken over the Matrix and given the ‘users’ inside real freedom, without physically liberating them all from the pods right away. Like uploading some sort of code so that everyone would understand they were in the Matrix, but that they had true free will inside it. That might have felt more satisfying. And would have created a crazy world where everyone can fly, jump, etc. I don’t know. Anyway, It’s fun to speculate… 🙂

  6. P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

    CONGRATULATIONS Rachel, Vicky & Susan! We survived!

    Rob, Kaitlin, Hege & Rob, you fought hard against some epic comebacks! Some of those races were agonizingly close! I can’t imagine how you must have been feeling as midnight approached. 🙁

    Now you’re like the master-less Samurai (or A.G. P’s Aztecs?) set loose to find a different path to glory, as each of you surely will. Remember, a writer never gives up but rather leaves editors begging for submission(s)!! 😉

    And now you have karma to burn or to bestow as potential Queen- or Kingmakers, so use those points wisely! Don’t be too hasty to slit our illuminated throats, pulverize and consume our bony shadows, or leave us sitting out unprotected to bake helplessly in the sun. And – of course – we’re still waiting for the final report of Chekhov’s gun!!

    Thanks for sharing your amazing stories and going on this will ride with us. All the best! 🙂

  7. Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

    Today I am finally tackling the long-promised critiques of remaining stories. Off the top I would like to say, I mean you No Shade. I think you are all fine writers and wonderful people. But as the two who are currently poised to move forward to the final, Rachel and Peter, I want to give you as honest and detailed a response to your stories as I can. I wish both of you all the success in the world.

    OK, starting with! Our most active Deathmatch participant, P.D. Walter and “Sick to Death of Stories”.

    I admit this was a difficult story for me to get into, and I didn’t want to write anything about it before I could explain why. What it boils down to, I’ve determined, is an inability to empathize with, relate to, or even like any of the characters. Of course much of this characterization is intentional, because Katie is going to change the narrative/rewrite the ending. However this proclamation is inconsistent with Katie’s actions: she leaves her boyfriend with a ‘note’, and she disappears with his child. Now again, this might be on purpose, but it leaves me with zero sense of anyone’s humanity. And I think/hope that is not the point of the story.

    A few specifics on where characterization might be improved:

    The first paragraph: Katie is the third person mentioned, and so it frankly took me a while to accept her as the protagonist. Actually after thorough re-reading, I think this could be helped by simply moving up the line of action “Her dad was limping through another physiotherapy session”. If that sentence is first, I know this story is from Katie’s perspective and it’s about her relationship with her father. It’s just a bit less muddy.

    Katie’s first thoughts, then, are rather disparaging towards her father and/or “oldsters”, and she comes across as a bit of a selfish brat. Of course, this is before I know WHY she resents her father, but still it is another strike against the girl before I know her.

    “She looked forward to the last of these visits.” For a split second I forgot he was in physio, thought he was in an old folk’s home, and thought she was waiting for him to die. Now that’s partly my goldfish’d reader brain, but it’s a) kinda funny, and b) worth knowing as the writer, I think, that this confusion is possible.

    “Josephine had waited tables to hold the family together… Katie found herself waiting those same tables and struggling to pay those same bills her mother refused to pay.” These statements seem inconsistent. Josephine holding the family together included paying bills, right? So, she “refused to pay” when she left him? I don’t know if “refused to pay” feels like a strange way to refer to leaving a bad relationship, or why I can’t make peace with this paragraph. Perhaps in comparison to Katie’s memories of adoring her father, this just seems a bit dismissive of her mother’s position. I get that Katie stepped into her mother’s role, but I spend the rest of the story trying to understand why.

    I don’t mean to dwell on the negative; there is a lot to like about this story. I love the formatting break-up and the script as a plot device. There are some beautiful, descriptive lines: “She’d adored him, thought he looked like Odin with his big scratchy beard, seated on his throne, guitar in his lap, in a halo of blue smoke.“ Which almost—almost—breathe humanity into these pathetic souls.

    The good news is, I think these souls are ripe for salvation. Wouldn’t take much, just some adjustments to help us understand and relate to them a bit better.

    But now I speak of a royal “we” who I have no business representing, so please, PDWalterfan32, let me know why I’m wrong! Or Peter, feel free to disagree/disregard my opinions. Just offering my 2 or 20 cents

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Hi, Susan,

      Thank you so much for this detailed critique. No hard feelings at all. It’s the kind of feedback I would expect to receive in a well-run writer’s group, which is what this contest – at its best – can be.

      Also, you are the only person to subject my story to such a lengthy critique in these 2 1/2 weeks, so thanks for taking the time to do it.

      I don’t have time to respond in detail today, but I will try to tomorrow.

      Hang in there! You and Rachel are neck and neck! It’s a nailbiter!! 🙂

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Okay, Susan, here’s an (even lengthier!) response to your lengthy critique, for which – again – I am very grateful. There’s been very little detailed discussion of my story, positive or negative, so I’m happy to get into it. 🙂

      As Stephen King says, the wrong response to criticism is to try to ‘defend’ your story and fight off the useful opportunities for improvement that criticism provides. I didn’t have a chance to workshop this piece with anyone before I submitted it, so it’s really just a polished first draft. It doubtless would have improved if I’d had a chance to run it by a few perceptive readers (like yourself!) first, and I can think of lots of ways to improve it now. But… it’s a bit late for that! 🙂

      I agree, with you, actually, that the most difficult part of the story for readers will be the characters. They are not the most sympathetic people in the world, and they are all a bit stuck in their lives. You describe them as “pathetic” ( 😉 ) – I’ll take that in the literary sense of eliciting pathos, or deserving our pity. Only Katie really makes a conscious choice to change her situation, and it’s not at all clear that walking out on her boyfriend when she is pregnant is the best decision she can make. But it’s the only thing she knows how to do, the only solution she’s had modelled for her (because that’s what her mother did to her).

      A few small ‘technical’ points before we get back to the big themes.

      I take your point about starting the story with Katie if she is meant to be the protagonist, which she obviously is. I wanted to start with the leather jacket as a gift, because the story also ends with a gift – with a very different emotional and symbolic charge – so I liked the parallelism of beginning and ending with a gift. I thought of making the jacket a gift from Katie to her dad, but I didn’t think it made sense – why would she give him a motorcycle jacket if she didn’t want to see him riding a motorcycle at 61? From his ex-wife, however, it’s a sign of how she indulged his ego and his fantasies, to a point, and then just couldn’t put up with it anymore. In any case, Katie has become the focus by the end of that first very short paragraph, and she is the “she” of the next few paragraphs, so I trusted the reader to gather that she was the main character.

      But, yes, the opening is a little rocky, because it jumps around from present to past, past perfect to past simple, and thus, may confuse the reader temporarily about what the present moment is – which, as you note, is Katie and her dad in a physiotherapy session. So, yes, it might have been best to start there and then move to the backstory after that context had been more clearly established.

      The line about “oldsters rotting in the rehab ward” has gotten a little bit of scorn (shade?) from other visitors here. This is a tricky thing when you are writing in 3rd person, because it’s not always clear if it is an omniscient, God-like narrator, or a limited narrator who more or less shares the point-of-view of one of the characters, i.e. Katie.

      In my head, however, Jake is the one who views the other elderly people in the rehab ward in this contemptuous, fearful way, because he is clinging to his youth – the jacket and the motorbiking being the obvious symbols of that – and is not ready to be consigned to the old folks home. But this is an abrupt shift – from something close to Katie’s perspective to Jake’s perspective – so I could have made that more clear. (A woman in my writer’s group, who is often accused of this herself, calls this “head jumping” – moving in and out of different perspectives while in 3rd person.) So definitely room for improvement there! 🙂

      You noted some brief confusion about whether the cafeteria scene is in the rehab facility or a nursing home. I can’t say you were ‘wrong’ to imagine the one context instead of the other, but it is made clear before the end of this short paragraph that it is the rehab facility. Maybe I should have said it sooner? Again, I trusted the reader to assume it was the same context in which we last encountered Jake.

      You note a kind of verbal inconsistency in this line:

      “Josephine had waited tables to hold the family together… Katie found herself waiting those same tables and struggling to pay those same bills her mother refused to pay.”

      Yes, perhaps there is a surface-level inconsistency here. I could have made my meaning more clear by saying “the bills she refused to pay ANYMORE” or “that she had decided, FINALLY, she wasn’t going to pay anymore” or “keep paying” (etc.). But I trusted the reader to understand that’s what I meant. Obviously, holding the family together means paying the bills, since they’re the same ones Katie is now paying.

      Rob noted the rather abrupt jump from the second rehab scene (in the cafeteria) to the second screenplay fragment. If I’d had another 1000 words to play with, I might have had a scene where Katie is leaving the rehab hospital and is asked about the arrangements for Jake’s release. Naturally, they might want to send him home with her, or have her stay with him, as he will need help at home. But she gives an ambivalent response. This would foreshadow her abandonment of him in the end, and also make him appear more vulnerable, instead of just kind of thoughtless and self-absorbed, and thus, deserving her scorn rather than her sympathy.


      So, to get back to the big picture stuff, again, I agree that the characters are either somewhat unsympathetic or possibly lacking dimension. A harsh reading would say that the characters are all clichés: the long-suffering (surrogate) wife; the self-absorbed and destructive artist/musician; the oblivious, thoughtless boyfriend; even the somewhat mercenary psychotherapist. They may seem a bit one-dimensional, and thus, to encourage a superficial reading of the story as: hard-done-by girl achieves moral triumph by walking away from uncaring, thoughtless men. (Boring!)

      A subtler reading might be, a girl who is emotionally and intellectually stunted by the life situation in which she finds herself fails to see the people around her in their full humanity, and their real care and concern for her – however ineptly expressed (they are men, after all!) – and makes the only choice that has been modeled for her (abandoning them) to ends that we will never see but can probably predict will not go well, at least initially. Maybe she’ll find her footing later, but long after this story comes to its end.

      Where is the evidence for this subtler reading in the story? At the risk of opening the backstage door and showing the audience the dressing room: we can assume that Nick writes the first section of screenplay, which would indicate that he understands his girlfriend and how she sees him (and herself) a lot better than she ever explicitly gives him credit for. And, of course, in the final section of the story, he’s trying to step up and be the partner she wants him to be, but it’s too late. The scene that she has written for him (the second screenplay fragment) doubles as her goodbye note. (I assume this is what you meant by saying she leaves a note, because the word ‘note’ never appears in the story.)

      If she comes off as ‘bratty’ (as you say) because she is impatient with her father and “looks forward to the last of these [rehab] sessions”, I guess it depends on (a) how much you think it is fair – of her – to blame her father for being in the hospital in the first place (i.e. by making the questionable decision to take up motorcycling at his age), and (b) how much sympathy you are willing to extend to her because of the fundamentals of her situation: that she’s been a caregiver and supporter to him since she was 16 at the expense of getting her own life started, and that he doesn’t seem to acknowledge this sacrifice of hers.

      Furthermore, there is a kind of sadness to the fact that she wants to support Nick in his ambitions, but because of the experience with her father, she is probably not the right person to be supporting an artist of any kind. Which gets at – to me – the biggest problem with the story, which is that, as the protagonist, we don’t really know what Katie DOES want for herself. We get that her father’s – and to some extent her boyfriend’s – dreams have crowded out her own, but what are her dreams? Does she want to be some kind of artist herself? Does she even want to be a mother, or is that something else she’s just kind of fallen into? We never learn this, and if we did, then maybe we could get more excited about seeing her move toward her own goals, which is the positive charge of an otherwise very equivocal ending.

      When you write a novel you end up knowing the characters much better than the reader likely will, because you have to go deep into their background, a lot of which ends up on the cutting room floor. In a short story, you are kind of sketching, because of the constraints of time and space, trusting the reader to fill it in and flesh it out. So you might NOT know any more about the characters than the reader does. (Maybe this is Alice Munro’s gift: she knows the characters in her short stories as well as a novelist does, but she leaves most of that information offstage, merely hinting at deeper pasts and motives.)

      Several of the writers here chose to give us just one character (Vicky, Kaitlin, Wyatt) and to really get inside their heads, which is very effective. Or, as in your story, it is basically one character facing one very clear existential situation: survival. Very contained; very focused. Perhaps I have too many significant characters (4 or 5) and too much plot for such a short story. (I have been accused of this with other pieces too!! 😉 )

      As I wrote in the lightning round, the story started from the title, actually, and a frustration with certain bedrock story structures and meanings – good guys prevailing, bad guys being punished, the morality of stories always coming down in the same way, etc. Once you’ve unearthed those structures, it makes it hard to see any story as doing anything really new. At best, you can try to distract the reader from noticing the ‘bones’ of the story, which are fundamentally the same going back thousands of years.

      So, what I am proudest of in the story is the way the unusual structural element of the two screenplay fragments interspersed with the more conventional fiction, and the (rather late) decision NOT to make the character names the same in both parts, enables the screenplay fragments to obliquely comment on the main story.

      When the therapist asks ‘Karen’ (i.e. Katie) if ‘Jason’ (i.e. Nick) knows she is pregnant, the scene goes:

      How does Jason feel about that?

      Karen’s eyes fall, guiltily.

      He doesn’t know.

      If this is Katie writing it, and Nick reading it – as both a scene in his script AND her goodbye letter – that is the one little acknowledgement Katie offers that she is doing something probably very hurtful, maybe even wrong, and that she knows it, but that she also doesn’t know what else to do, which gives the line “It was the best gift she could ever have given him” (hopefully) a poignant double meaning. And, like the gift of the leather jacket that begins the story, it is both tied into the dreams and self-concept of the person receiving it, and a prelude to that persons abandonment.

      The scene in his script is a gift, but leaving him is also (a bittersweet) gift, because she probably is not the right person to be supporting another artist. At least not where she’s at in her life right now. Maybe in a few years. Maybe after she’s had time to figure out who she is, what she wants, outside the orbit of her claustrophobic family of origin, and the pressure to support the dreams of others. I would hope that for her, and maybe then she can come back and let him be a father to that child.

      Again, there’s only so much you can do or imply in 2000 words, and my hope was that some of those possibilities would light up in the imaginations of the readers, given the trail of bread crumbs I have laid out for them. That’s what I was hoping the story might make people feel anyway, and from the amount of support it has garnered from people who know me only through the story, I gather that it has.

      Is it the best story in the competition? It’s not for me to say, but no – maybe it’s not. (The best story might very well already have been eliminated – also not for me to say.) Is it the best story I have written? No, certainly not. It was the one that best fit the constraints and format of this competition. But if the competition is about giving a boost to an ‘indie’ writer who is struggling to break through, I think it shows as much potential as any of them. And any of us would be very fortunate to ‘win’ – it’s just unfortunate there can only be one. 🙁

      Thanks for listening. 🙂

  8. Vicky Savage ( User Karma: 839 ) says:

    Aloha Fellow Gladiators! Okay, at the risk of being accused of not having my head in the game, I confess I spent nearly the entirety of yesterday trekking to the west coast of the U.S. and then across the Pacific so my husband and I could join my sister and brother-in-law in celebrating their anniversary by hiking some of the most awesome trails in the world! I awoke this morning in a place of such staggering beauty that James Michener spent nearly a thousand pages extolling its riches. Hard not to be enchanted by the land where Puff the Magic Dragon lived by the sea, right? Which is my way of saying that, temporarily at least, you will not find me where I should be cramped over my computer like a question mark composing eloquent prose to counter the inspirational speeches (and prodigious lead) of Tornoto’s favorite son, and my talented rival, P.D. Walter. Rather I’ve succumbed once again to the siren song of adventure and will be searching for Bali Hai (or maybe just Gilligan’s Island), because let’s face it, I unlike some of my fictional characters, am only human! But my friends, I leave you with the words of one famous non-human: “I’ll be back.”

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Haha. I don’t know about “favourite son”, but if I had a choice between trekking in Hawaii(!!!) and hanging out on this message board, I would be strapping my hiking boots on but quick. Which is to say, you’ve succeeded in making us all terribly jealous, Vicky! 😉

      Fortunately, it is supposed to be a balmy +10 degrees c in Toronto this weekend, so we’d all do well to get outside and enjoy it. 🙂

      As for the game that remains afoot, you’ve had incredible comebacks two Sundays running, so no one is counting you out – I’m sure – least of all me! I suspect we’ll see another stellar performance and it’ll be a nail-biting finish. Like Arnie, you’ve got steel under your skin! 😉

      Enjoy your holiday. 🙂

  9. Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

    Oh hi! I was watching Twitter and Email to see when this would be back up… Neither told me though, I just heard from a voter who could vote again. When did you all get back on the site? I’m afraid I’ve fallen quite far back, but like the rest of you, I’ve enjoyed the break! Also any word on what happened?

    • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

      Just saw the post above with the answers. Sorry/not/sorry, I wish we had been contacted directly (or even indirectly) about this. So unprofessional.
      Also sorry/not/sorry this is not a glowingly positive shiny comment. I was all on board that train guys, I really was, but I’m just tired. Will try to motivate myself to return with good feedback on the remaining stories. That was my goal this week and it still is. It’s not you guys, after all..
      This is just like a bad relationship I can’t figure out… Oh, we had beautiful times together, BP, but you keep breaking my heart late at night and we don’t communicate like we used to…

      • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

        I think the professionalization of writing is part of a broader professionalization and specialization of “everything.”
        I have nothing against MFA programs, and would like to find the time to do one. I have a Certificate in Creative writing from the UofT school of continuing studies, and it has been invaluable to me (even if not all teachers have been a good fit). I’ve learned how to deal with critique, how to pay attention to every sentence, how to read well and in a way that feeds my writing.

        I also disagree that MFAs are necessary to get published by certain journals. In my fiction writing group no one has an MFA and almost everybody has been published in university-based journals (Malahat, Fiddlehead, J Journal, Antigonish, Sycamore Review). The problem of diversity is a problem many literary journals are dealing with right now (I know of TNQ and Room) and I think that problem is more complex than saying “fuck MFAs” – which I feel does not address the real issues.

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

    Man, honestly the quarter finals results took a few turns I didn’t expect. Some more deserved than others and I’ll leave it at that.

    Let’s gooooo round two!!!!

    And, I must make the obligatory mention that anybody having login troubles or voting troubles should email me at — I can help you out. I got the goods. The goodest goods!

    Love you, mean it,

  11. Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

    I Want You Around, by Rachel Rosenberg

    This story managed to grab my attention (amongst the HERD last weekend) with its frenetic energy and frantic pace that mimics both 80’s punk music and the euphoria of early, infatuated love. However, this particularly captivating format insists that you limit what you say, and sometimes I would say it feels as though you haven’t said enough.

    Similar to my thoughts on Peter’s story, I had trouble relating to these characters. Being sarcastic and cynical, I think, is a very difficult thing to relate in writing. Holden Caulfield was an asshole too, but we spend enough time with him in Catcher in the Rye that it allows us to understand (sort of, arguably, depends who you ask) why. Note: I don’t have a big solution to this, and I’ve received similar criticism of my own characters. New topic: How do we make our assholes appealing? (Come on, BP, that deserves top comment!)

    A couple of specific notes:

    “Today Your Love, Tomorrow the World” — I don’t really get the purpose of this section. It reads like a list of places travelled to, saying nothing of the places themselves, or even the experience of travelling. It just fell a bit flat for me.

    “I’d hug my computer at night like it was my friend, the lifeline I had to friends and family across the ocean”. I really like this, but I wonder if there is a more powerful metaphor about technology and relationships here, that gets softened somehow by the use of simile. Does that make sense? I just wonder if the metaphor could go a step further, I guess.

    On a general note, I feel that – especially given the short (flash?) format – the writing could be tightened up in places. “London is the sort of place where people need to work constantly to live. Medical school is the kind of school where people need to study constantly to pass.” Maybe the repetition here is intentional, trying to show the grind of London, but the sentences just read a bit clunky.

    The story’s sections, as snapshots of the relationship, create moments of great imagery (tapping crumbs like ashes), but do they show us enough of the couple to make us care for them or in the end hurt for them? I suspect that a little more information—a snippet of a conversation, or simply more of these photo-like images—would help me to know and understand these people better.

    Finally, I have to say that this line really stuck in my craw: “Departures is easily the saddest place in the world.” I assume the hyperbole is on purpose, (maybe even a Post-modernization of Romanticism’s Pathetic Fallacy?) but as a sentiment, as a line in a story, it doesn’t sell. It even potentially undercuts the speaker’s genuine pain and emotion. Maybe because you doubled down on it –“easily the saddest”–this just suddenly makes the narrator seem naive and self-absorbed. Are we all naive and self-absorbed when we’re in love? Damn straight. But, I don’t know, I think there is a way to capture that “world is ending” feeling a bit differently, in a way that will not jar from the story’s purpose, or turn people off of your character before she flies away.

    Those are all my notes! I really do admire this story’s style and spirit. Honoured to be in the ring with you, Ms Rosenberg.

    • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

      Hiya Susan,

      Thank you so much for this detailed and thoughtful critique. It looks like you are kicking my ass, so soon you shall be rocking and rolling with P.D. in the final round. If I lose, I plan to not go on the computer for a week- in honour of you and PD I promise to live the life you two cannot live!

      I appreciate all of those comments, you bring a bunch of great points to consider.
      I’m not going to reply to each one, just because I think everyone’s reading of a story if different and who am I to inflict my intentions on your reading? You do bring up a lot to consider, and I am excited to consider it when I go forward in life with this story.

  12. P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

    To MFA or not to MFA?

    I thought I might open up a (potentially) controversial topic today – the credentialization/professionalization of creative writing and whether it’s a good or bad thing for aspiring writers and publishing in general.

    Chekhov was a doctor. Franz Kafka and Wallace Stevens worked for insurance agencies. Conrad was a sailor. None of them went to creative writing schools.

    Now, it seems, without an MFA under your belt, it is next to impossible to get access to publication in university-based journals, an agent, or ultimately a book deal – unless you are writing some variant of ‘50 Shades of Grey’ (not that there’s anything wrong with that, just that – presumably – we don’t want all successful writing to be of that type).

    Getting a master’s degree in something as impractical as ‘creative writing’ is arguably a huge privilege, and thus, will tend to be accessible only to more privileged segments of the society. Writer, activist and – yes – creative writing teacher Sarah Schulman, who works with predominantly lot of low-income students of colour, levels exactly this charge against the exclusivity of MFAs and the channels to publication that they control. She argues in her book ‘The Gentrification of the Mind’ that this credentialing system tends to produce a similar kind of writing – books about books by people who spend most of their time in and around universities – and narrows the range of voices we get to hear.

    On the other hand, creative writing programs provide a lot of good teaching jobs to writers, and thus – arguably – make writing careers a viable option for more writers.

    What do you think? Is the credentialization of creative writing something we should be worried about, resist, or embrace? Or is it just an inevitable aspect of the maturation of the publishing industry – good, bad or otherwise?

    Would love to hear from people who have been through creative writing programs of various kinds, MFAs or otherwise.

    • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

      Interesting topic, Peter! I almost went to Concordia for an MFA, I’d applied to a bunch of programs, but I ended up choosing a plain old MA in ‘Literatures of Modernity’ at Ryerson, which was offering an internship instead of a thesis option. I thought this could be my big break, lol, or at least baby step into the industry. Interestingly, I had wanted to intern at BP, but they talked me into going to the Walrus. I worked with some amazing journalists and got to interview John MacFarlane about the future of print media.. it was cool!
      Did the Walrus offer me a job? (Google Walrus unpaid interns if you don’t know the answer)… I don’t regret my time there, and I loved the academic philosophically-bent program at Ryerson.

      my point? I don’t think education is ever wasted if you apply yourself and enjoy what you do. Does an MFA, or MA, open up teaching jobs? It hasn’t for me! My friend who is 10 years younger got a 3 year BA and is already teaching full-time because French. I might get my first contract when I’m 40. If I’m lucky. But I’m one of the best subs around, because I love learning and teaching and even–gasp–“Millenials”, and I am happy doing what I do.

      As to what the MFA does to/for creativity in writing, I really can’t speak to that, but I can speak to academia’s general bent towards Guidelines and Formulas. I was working on Donna Haraway-inspired cyborg theory, and I had a professor who kept insisting that my paper on Haraway and Battlestar Galactica could not be “both a close reading and a theory paper”… and I kept saying, but that’s sort of the whole POINT of cyborg theory, that nothing is a complete whole. Everything is everything! She wouldn’t have it, I couldn’t get my paper published, and I thought (again) to Hell with academia

      Also as a teacher it is so strange to watch the education model changing, as it were, backwards. We would NEVER lecture students daily in a classroom anymore, but that is exactly what they’re expected to be prepared for in university. The system makes no sense and needs fixing from all sides.

      Man, you got me on a real ramble there. Sorry this is stuff I have worked through and thought about a LOT. And still do. But I think for my next degree I’m gonna go law. #KnowYourRights

      • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

        Also I was not aware of these realities of publishing… does an MFA really help that much? I just figured one day I’d write a book so good, the world would beg me to print it. That said I don’t know enough about publishing and that is a huge reason I wanted to enter this contest, as I imagine is true, to some degree, for all of us

        • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

          My impression is – and it’s just an impression – that the CONTACTS you make by doing an MFA help get you onto a conveyor belt toward publication. There are sooooo many aspiring writers and, in truth, so many outlets for new writing these days, that it is part of the process of filtering people out. How do you get a book deal without an agent, which is just as difficult as finding a publisher? One answer is to do an MFA, get in good with the profs, and have them work their connections in the publishing industry for you.

          (Again, this is just my impression as to how it works. I don’t actually know. All my published writer friends are small press people, without MFAs, who either had another platform first – like being in a band, or being an activist – or who had personal connections at small presses.)

          But Hege makes some excellent points, like that it is part of a general specialization/professionalization of our whole society. I didn’t mean to say “f&%$ MFAs” – that’s why I presented PROS and CONS of the argument – but, as in other realms, if one applicant has a high school diploma, and one has an MFA, and a personal recommendation from a prof, who are you going to be more likely to publish?

          • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

            If you want to make contacts, participating or volunteering at literary festivals can be a great investment. I’ve been to both Fold in Brampton and Wild Writers in Waterloo, and you really do encounter a lot of people, some of them useful for your writing “career” (whatever that means – I made $500 from my writing last year – is that a career). Also workshops, like the French River one in Northern Ontario or Banff can be great

    • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

      I think the professionalization of writing is part of a broader professionalization and specialization of “everything.”
      I have nothing against MFA programs, and would like to find the time to do one. I have a Certificate in Creative writing from the UofT school of continuing studies, and it has been invaluable to me (even if not all teachers have been a good fit). I’ve learned how to deal with critique, how to pay attention to every sentence, how to read well and in a way that feeds my writing.

      I also disagree that MFAs are necessary to get published by certain journals. In my fiction writing group no one has an MFA and almost everybody has been published in university-based journals (Malahat, Fiddlehead, J Journal, Antigonish, Sycamore Review). The problem of diversity is a problem many literary journals are dealing with right now (I know of TNQ and Room) and I think that problem is more complex than saying “fuck MFAs” – which I feel does not address the real issues.

      • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

        Thanks for weighing in. Good to hear that people are still getting published at the university journals without MFAs. I think that’s true of one of my writing groups too, though some have certainly done those mentorship programs that Humber offers (where they pair you with an established author, etc.). There are also some literary outlets and contests SPECIFICALLY for people without MFAs (like ‘Glass Mountain’), which – to me – indirectly testifies to their importance.

        As for representation and diversity, yes, I think there are meaningful efforts going on. And it’s hardly a problem unique to publishing.

        As for the narrowing of voices we get to hear due to professionalization, a similar argument was made about journalism by Michael Parenti, that whereas it used to be a working class profession that you learned on the job, close to the people and concerns you were reporting about, now journalists have graduate degrees and are more familiar with the world of the corporate and political class they report on than the workers and regular folk whose voice they are supposed to be. Whether that produces a systematic bias in reporting is hard to say. These ideas go back to before twitter and blogs and everything sort of democratized – but also destroyed? – journalism(?)

        Anyway, like everything else (teaching, etc.) there are more and more people with credentials and no jobs to absorb them, as journalists are being laid off in droves, so maybe it’s a moot point(?) 🙁

        • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

          I did a Creative Writing undergrad, and I absolutely agree it’s less what you learn and more who you meet. It does feel like most people who publish are shiny and new out of an MFA, but I feel so done with school I can’t be bothered. Also, you know, bills.

          • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

            To clarify, it’s not that I didn’t learn anything, it’s just that the learning felt secondary. I had a lovely time working with many excellent writers, but there was a definite emphasis on contacts too. I was Editor in Chief of the lit journal for a year, I learnt a lot from that. That was one of the most rewarding experiences for sure.

            • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

              Cool. Thanks for sharing. It never really occurred to me to do a degree in creative writing, and I didn’t get in to the one undergrad course I applied to. (It took me long enough to get my English lit B.A.! And I didn’t have the money for another degree.) But also I watched a friend do a Master’s in Creative Writing, and I feel like it discouraged her to some extent. Being in there with all those creative people makes the competitive aspect of it more immediately present, and (ironic given the present context) I don’t know if I could write well under that kind of pressure. I mean, we all wrote our stories for this thing separately and, we didn’t know who we were competing against, so you’re only really competing against yourself to do your best work, which is how it should be.

              • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

                I enjoyed the writing inspiration of it, and I loved getting a wide variety of people’s feedback. Unfortunately, it’s a very subjective type of subject to grade people on, which is flawed. It has also taken the pure joy out of writing and made it more of a job, for better or worse I hear other people’s feedback when I write. It has made me better, but I don’t love it as strongly as before my degree.

                • Susan Read ( User Karma: 1412 ) says:

                  “If you want to ruin something you love, take it up professionally.” – Someone somewhere

                  Actually a young professor I TA’d for at Ryerson gave me this very sage advice. He was teaching without a PhD, and had no plan for one, because he watched all of his friends become consumed and ultimately tortured by subjects they had once loved. He said, Whatever you love to do, do that for yourself and no one else. Then find a way to pay the bills.

                  I think it’s a nice, more nuanced, updated version of “follow your passion”.

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      BTW, we never voted on who has the coolest or most evocative author photo, but I cast my vote for you, Mr. Chekhov. That beard has a karma all its own!! 🙂

      • Wyatt McRae ( User Karma: 1020 ) says:

        Unfortunately it is a karma that has taken on a more Buddhist slant. The beard has since been shorn twice and thusly reincarnated twice. First as a wicked set of mutton chops (that actually had a hanging length), and now exist as a mustache, goatee, sideburns combo.

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      In keeping with your warrior theme, A.G., here’s a short fragment from ‘The Ballad of the Round of Four’:

      THE ROUND OF FOUR (Semi-Finals, Day 1)

      “Welcome back, you weary warriors,
      Bruised by battles fought and won
      Bid farewell to fallen comrades
      And with your chins up soldier on

      Here at crest of mountain top
      We enter now the Round of Four
      Sit down to parley, rest our limbs,
      And gently cede the tools of war(?)

      I, for one, will happ’ly answer
      All serious questions justly framed
      Put to us from round this circle
      About the ancient writing game

      But let those here in council meet
      And of these tales hold their debates
      For we, the Tellers, cannot choose
      Amongst them whose alone is great…”

      (Actually, I think they are all pretty great, which is why this is really the week where I hope the other participants, not the authors, will take it upon themselves to make a case for the stories they prefer, with us cheering from the sidelines and interjecting when necessary.)

      In any case… Once again, it begins. Good luck, scribes! 🙂

  13. P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

    BTW, WHOEVER IS VOTING DOWN HEGE’S KARMA, it really ought to stop. It’s not kind, it serves no purpose, and it just perpetuates a bad atmosphere.

    Hege is one of very few authors from previous rounds who continues to participate and make contributions to the discussions. So, let’s try to finish this thing with some grace and good cheer.

    Please and Thank You. 🙂

    –The Illustrious Committee To End Mischievous Downvoting (aka Up With People!)

  14. mitchandarlo ( User Karma: 228 ) says:

    Picked up my free ish of BP at the Rennie Hotel & Post Office today. (Traffic was a disarrrster!) Rec’d two copies: one for me and one for Arlo. Nicely played BP. Now I am starting to wonder if maybe Arlo (aka the exiled Duke of Milan) is real.

    I’ll get back to you on that.

    Thanks! – M

    P.S. – A toast to Stuart McLean tonight. “To him, to hell with me!”

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Nice. The McLean tribute is a classy touch. Has been really interesting to hear some of his old radio docs on CBC the past few days, especially as they shade into his later storytelling style. Bittersweet. 🙁 🙂 🙁 🙂

      Poor you, you have TWO copies of that horrible BP cover of Trump getting his eyes gouged out? Whatever will you do with them? 😉

          • mitchandarlo ( User Karma: 228 ) says:

            Please! Get your mind out of the gutter. (A joke aimed at magazine people and advertising studs.)

            But, OK.

            Masthead trembling with anticipation,
            Arlo (the creepy one)

        • mitchandarlo ( User Karma: 228 ) says:

          I know they are saddle-stitched, but the range of puns/inappropriate comments concerning saddles were not really in my wheelhouse and Arlo is out, so I went with that.

          • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

            Like 🙂

            Maybe something to do with saddle? Saddle, leather, his face is like leather… I don’t know. I can’t stitch it together. But maybe Dr. Voltala from ‘The Illuminated Throat’ could! 🙂

      • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

        BTW, no offence meant to Patrick Sparrow, BP’s talented cover artist. Just that we probably all have more Trump than we want in your lives right now, and an image of him on our coffee tables – however creatively mangled – is not exactly ZEN!! 😉

        • mitchandarlo ( User Karma: 228 ) says:

          The cover art puts would-be Trumps in Canada on notice. As HN states on pg 15, “we do have a duty,” and the cover captures that essence. (A call to pencils?) I’m gonna interpret “we” as the whole creative economy and I know my old advertising friends in Charlotte and NYC and San Fran would love that cover; love it with a capital Fuck, yeah! (Arlo is a fan, and I suspect Hazel will be too, in a few years.)

  15. mitchandarlo ( User Karma: 228 ) says:

    Hi! On the topic of “appropriate behaviour”, I just want to say that it could be a singular treat to be way offside on purpose and live outside of ourselves a bit; to say, like a boxer, “it feels good to hit and it feels good to be able to take a hit.” I think it would be hilarious, cathartic fun to see a prim, young, figuratively 98-pound MFA come off as a half-drunk, loutish vulgarian in a seedy bar. (“Mama needs wine!”) In my unpopular viewpoint, this would fit with the intentionally wobbly voting process and the offbeat storylines. Face it, there are a lot of writing contests where good manners count. I personally did not have the skill required to ignite much sharp repartee (I tried) but that should not disqualify the concept. Would I have been smarter to pose more gallantly for the scouts in the stands? Sure, but I’ve spent too much time doing that in church basements and with blockhead bosses and customers. (Haven’t you?) Havoc, within prescribed bounds and in the spirit of “Bawdy George” (an old Seinfeld reference) is OK and may allow us all to receive some honest, from the gut, critical commentary on our writing. Something we can all use more than genteel kudos and bonne chance platitudes.

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Actually, Mitchell (& Hege), I agree with you! You are absolutely right – it is really hard to get (and give) good feedback. (Ask any teacher or heart-broken student.) But have you not participated in face-to-face writers’ groups and found them just as tense, difficult, and sometimes acrimonious? Sharing your writing – particularly with strangers – is an extremely vulnerable thing to do in a PRIVATE setting. Here, it’s happening in a PUBLIC setting, where nobody knows – or has any reason to trust – each other, and anyone can come in and smash up the furniture whenever they want to. 🙁

      Also, the Internet in the age of the CEOTUS (Chief Executive of the United States) is not exactly a safe place for either PLAYFUL or SERIOUS conversation, particularly if you belong to any number of vulnerable identity groups (women, LGBTQ, people of colour, etc.) for obvious reasons.

      So, you can appreciate people being a bit tentative in their posts, especially after what we saw last week.

      The 98-pound MFA cutting loose is a great and hilarious image ( 🙂 ), but humour is all about context, and if we don’t know this person from Adam (or Eve), all we will see is the appalling behaviour of the “half-drunk, loutish vulgarian” – and do well to avoid her! Comedy depends on an agreement between the performer and the audience to view each other as ‘playmates’ – that is, consenting equals of a sort – and that in turn depends on a level of trust that is not necessarily available in a space like this.

      I didn’t know what to expect from this competition, and if I’d read the comments from past years, maybe I wouldn’t have participated. But, like a lot of people here (I gather), I signed up because I saw it as a reasonably good chance to ‘break through’ after years of grinding away without much uptake.

      I did, actually, expect there to be some good-natured trading of (absurd, impersonal) insults, etc., and I prepared a few(!!). But once I got in here, there was no one I wanted to insult, and others went so far over the top with it, that I certainly didn’t want to throw my dumb jokes onto that collective pyre of spoiled goodwill.

      But maybe (as Louis C.K. says, “But maybe….”) …maybe we do need an outlet here for silly put-downs. So, here are a few of my orphans, for what they are worth. 🙂

      “Your prose is so flowery that Prince called and wants all his purple back.”

      “Your writing is so slow it rivals warm milk and the Weather Channel for curing insomnia.”

      “Your command of tone is so ham-handed it makes Kenny Rogers’ facelift look subtle!”

      “Your characters are so lifeless and inauthentic they make JarJar Binks seem like a really well-executed characterization of a young, naïve alien just trying to live down an undeserved reputation for clumsiness.”

      (Feel free to contribute your own. They can’t be any WORSE! 🙂 )

      • mitchandarlo ( User Karma: 228 ) says:


        I will add that trying to be edgy, sarcastic, nasty but not tear-inducing and all the while attempting to maintain your own fragile pretensions (as you poke at others) is EXHAUSTING. I think that’s why Arlo naps so much. That and the heroin.

        In the end, it’s just easier to be nice. Grandma was right. Marge Simpson too.

        Cheers and good luck.

    • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

      I agree, at least to a point, there should be some leeway for being bold and direct.

      And personally I feel better about receiving an honest, even if negative critique/comment, as that tells me someone actually took the time to look more deeply into my text. Sometimes the on-the-surface niceness is just a sign you’re being ignored or dismissed.

      And maybe someone could post a warning on top of the deathmatch page: You are not your text, whatever is said about the text is not a criticism of you.

  16. P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:


    Here’s another question for the authors (or anyone else who wants to weigh in):

    Have you read and what do you think about the various books and systems of basic plots that are out there? (Like Christopher Booker’s ‘The Seven Basic Plot’, Ronald Tobias’s ’20 Master Plots’, or Blake Snyder’s ‘Save the Cat’.) Do you find them useful, or are they a distraction from telling really innovative new stories? Have you ever written a story directly inspired by a basic or classical plot structure? How did it work out?

  17. pdwalterfan1 ( User Karma: 1 ) says:

    P.D., you are a tough one to beat!! All of the Susan Read and Rachel Rosenberg fans better start voting for ‘Fogger’ every time they vote, or one of those ladies may soon be competing against you!!

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Still no sign of this mysterious ‘pdwalterfan1’ who shows his/her loyalty to me by throwing support to Vicky… curiouser and curiouser…

      Well, while we await his/her return, perhaps another poem:


      “Long is the road that we must run
      Out here in the blistering desert sun
      Dodging lizards and miserable puns
      And knocking down sign posts just for fun

      The list of dangers grows ever long
      Check off bombs and check off guns
      With lab-grown fingers sewn right on
      And bony shadows to tag along

      Tossed into the dusty gorge of Death
      Where no wind blows from East or West
      And spying opposite the Very One —
      You call their bluff, but no one comes…”

      (cue the forlorn whistling of Old West theme music that precedes a duel) 😉

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Vicky, it’s official – the favourite son I may not be, but I do have ONE fan who is willing to go on record! (Wish I knew who they were 🙁 ) Do you want to run the fan club, pdwalterfan1? 😉

      Perhaps you’d like to share with the world what about my story brought you over to official fandom? (Unless you’re just a Fandom Menace? <–there's one for all the avid punsters on this site!!) 😉

      And, yes, they should vote for 'Fogger' if they wanna knock me out – it's a great story. And Vicky is the comeback Queen! So this weekend will be TENSE! ……….

  18. Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

    Since the lizards have been out again – I thought I’d try to appease them with a poem:

    There’s a mighty lizard swarm,
    Out at night, but keeping warm,
    -downvoting to their hearts delight,
    Anything they see as slight,
    or opposition to their might.

    Their keepers, on the other hand
    Pretend to be a different brand
    And never touched a thing unpure
    Of that you can be utterly sure
    Forget you think you saw a spoor

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

    Hey guys,

    Just a bit of explanation – our hosting site decided to do repairs on the hardware hosting our site without any warning or consultation with us. Little did they know that LIVES ARE ON THE LINE?!!! Yesterday was pretttttty stressful and I must say I appreciate how civil and understanding and patient everyone was with us!

    Anyway, it was as frustrating for us as it is for you. Luckily, the site and votes restored pretty well. Any questions or concerns can be directed to me at

    Hugs and love and also DEATH

  20. Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

    Clearly the pettiness endures. If Wyatt’s comments of good luck and my wish that the best writing may win (and neither one is in the contest anymore) are downvoted, the only explanation is that someone clearly is on some kind of a campaign.

    • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

      Hi, Hege!

      Thanks for helping get this off to a good start (and to Wyatt, Kaitlin & Rob too). I take your point about the lingering pettiness. As I said above – personally, I am upvoting ANY positive contribution, regardless of who makes it. But, in fairness, I can easily see people looking at yours and Wyatt’s giant karma scores and saying, ‘Nah, they don’t need any more points. They’re good!’ (Such is the fate of fallen warriors.) 🙁

      That said, I would love to see a meaningful conversation about the merits of the various stories develop here, but I don’t feel like it’s our place – as the authors – to lead that. Nor do I think any of us wants to engage in an “I’m the more deserving winner because…” sort of an argument, because we saw how quickly that becomes acrimonious.

      So…I think we’re all kind of waiting for a more meaningful conversation to begin.

      Along those lines, here’s A QUESTION FOR THE SCRIBES (and whoever else wants to weigh in):

      Jonathan Franzen says, ‘To write fiction you have to want to spend a lot of time with people who don’t exist’. So, which of your own characters – in these stories or others – is your favourite, and how did you feel when you finished writing their tale? Any plans to continue their story somewhere (or sometime) else?

      • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

        BTW, the above question was meant to encourage any writer on the site to talk about their own process of growing attached to and (eventually) having to say goodbye to their characters.

        Hege, where did the girls in your story come from? Did you grow attached to them? Were you sorry to have to let them go at the end? I’m curious. I could easily see them filling a longer story with their slightly morbid adventures. (And Tim Burton could make the movie!) 🙂

        I was thinking about this today because I took the welcome hiatus from Deathmatch to work on a new piece, and it is just in that sweet spot where the characters are starting to come to life, I’m growing attached to them and am excited to see where their story goes. For me, that is one of the greatest pleasures of writing fiction, and that was my interpretation of Franzen’s ‘people who don’t exist comment’. (I don’t hold with the “the characters take over and write the story themselves” idea, however; that strikes me as close to superstition.) But if you’ve invested them with dimension and complexity and empathy, you do grow very fond of them, and can almost hear them cheering you on in the background, saying, “C’mon, hurry up and finish our story! We wanna see how it ends too!!”

        To me, that’s one of the greatest motivators, and greatest satisfactions, of finishing a substantial piece of writing. As sad as it is to have to let the characters go. 🙂

        • Rachel Rosenberg ( User Karma: 980 ) says:

          PD, I would probably say that my favourite characters are the ones from my as-yet-un published novel. Since I primarily write short stories (sometimes flash length), it isn’t long enough to bond. In my novel though, which I spent multiple years writing, editing, rewriting, etc, there was a real sadness when I was reaching the end.

        • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

          The inspiration for the characters in TVL Mr. Jones came from having spent a lot of time with teenage girls (two daughters with lots of friends). I often found the sudden turn of a mood, and the quick shifts from sweet to bad. intriguing (and it also let me work through my own memories of adolescence and recognize the same in myself).

          Personally, I find it rather exhausting to spend time in the head of adolescents people, because I have to confront so many of the awful thoughts I had myself at that age), so no, I’m not sure I’d like to write a prequel or sequel to the story.

          I’m usually inspired to write neither by plot, nor by character, but by a the feeling of something intangible that doesn’t have a name yet, but which requires a voice.

          Robert Frost once said about poetry, “A poem begins as a lump in the throat, a sense of wrong, a homesickness, a lovesickness” and though I no longer write poetry, the impetus to write comes from the same spot (even in a dark and twisted tale like TVLMJ).

          • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

            Thanks for sharing this, Hege. Yeah, it’s amazing how being around younger people can remind you of all of that swamp of stuff, good and bad. It is remarkably difficult to remember what it was like to be that age without those triggers. (Maybe a good reason to hang onto one’s old diaries?) 😉

            The Frost quote is great. I hadn’t seen that before. “A lump in the throat” indeed. 🙂

      • Hege Lepri ( User Karma: 864 ) says:

        Firstly, as far as the pettiness goes – I don’t need more karma at all, as I’m no longer in the contest, but the downvoting affects the hierarchical organization of themes in the discussion and therefore the quality of the debate.

        Secondly (though Franzen clearly had a lot of characters in his writing that bore a striking resemble to real people in his milieu) among the stories in the semifinals (not my own), I probably find Fogger most intriguing, also because I feel the story ended where it was getting interesting. What does Fogger do next? Merely adapting and pretending to fit in doesn’t seem to fit with the personality. So I’d like to spend more time with Fogger.

        • P.D. Walter ( User Karma: 1453 ) says:

          Nice. I hope Vicky sees your comment whenever (and wherever) her plane lands. It is an intriguing story, and I too wondered how long the Fogger can stay in that old folks home. 🙂

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