Tuesday, July 26, 2011

Now what do you really think?

Part 1

(photo courtesy of The Clarity of Night blog by Jason Evans)

Here's my entry from the Clarity of Night "Elemental" contest. I received lots of lovely feedback, but now what I'm looking for is constructive criticism, anywhere from premise to POV to plot to language use. What are its shortcomings? What could be improved?

For instance, I know I used basic, direct language and sentence structure. Could it/should it have been more poetic? More complex in structure?

Here's another...At least one commenter noticed that I didn't clearly identify the narrator's gender. That was deliberate (and I could explain, if anyone cares), but does that work for you? Would it have been more effective if you knew the narrator was male?

Yet another...There are jumps that might leave the reader unclear about shifts in time and location. Problem?


by Precie

Without warning, the world ended in fire.

Or, at least, there was no warning for my people.

Mother correcting my brother's penmanship before school. Father ordering me to get a haunch of beef from the refrigerator to prepare for the lunch rush.

The lights go out. The ground bucks and waves. Massive slabs of meat buffet me as I try to dodge the barbed hooks clanging around me.

Even after the earth settles, the electricity does not return. When I finally find the door, it does not give. I have no way to tell how much time passes, how much time I spend screaming, pounding at the door. No way to tell how much of the fluid on my hands is blood or tears or excretion, as the smells combine with the rotting carcasses surrounding me.

“You were one of the lucky ones,” I am told over and over by rescuers, by doctors, by other survivors.

I do not feel lucky. How can such an endless nightmare be lucky? Almost nothing is left standing. Ashen remains blend into the rubble.

The emperor will not let this cowardly strike on innocents go unpunished. He will rain an answering fire on our enemies.

I do my part. The Red Cross nurses, foreign and incomprehensible, smile as I sprinkle the oleander blossoms on their desk and lay out the meager feast I have concocted from their rations. They will be the first to burn, from the inside out.


Part 2

(Photo courtesy of http://www.agriviet.com/)

Here's some explication...backstory about a few of my choices, if you will.

  • "without warning"--The first two lines were important to me because that's how the bombing started. Although the US put wheels in motion to inform Japan that the bombing would happen, there were glitches and ultimately no warning was given, certainly not to the people of Hiroshima.
  • oleander--Oleander is poisonous when injested (blossoms, bark, any part of it), but that wasn't the reason I chose it for the story. Initially, the food was poisoned in some unspecified way. BUT...oleander was the first flower to rebloom after the bombing. It wasn't until the spring of 1946. So my timing is a little off...since I intended this to be closer to the actual bombing. Some evergreen trees were only burned in parts, but I don't know if any delicate oleander blossoms would have survived. Anywhooo, you don't need me to spiral into this subject. Just wanted you to know what the oleander meant to me.
Thanks very much for reading.  And thanks in advance for any responses.


  1. Precie, your background notes clear some things up. I like your notes on the oleander. It's nice to see the extra thought you put into this piece.

    I do want to preface this next part by saying that I nitpicking.

    The problem for me with this piece is that it's not specific enough. Without you telling me, I would not have made the connection to wartime Japan (e.g. the abundance of meat and a "lunch rush" during a time of economic hardship, the presence of the father during wartime, etc.). The "before" felt too normal, too intact, too peaceful. I had mentally set this in contemporary Libya or Iraq/Afghanistan.

    I also don't have a clear sense of the narrator and why I should care about him/her before disaster strikes. So the tension that should be there to keep me reading to find out "what happens next" just isn't as taut as I would like it to be.

    This line tripped me up: "The emperor will not let this cowardly strike on innocents go unpunished. He will rain an answering fire on our enemies." It just didn't fit with the rest of the story. It felt like something cut from a propaganda pamphlet (cowardly strike, innocents)...though maybe that sense of indoctrination was the point?

    I may be completely off base, but it feels like the message you wanted to send about war impeded your storytelling.

    The final paragraph is just spot on. It gives us a sense of the narrator, we know exactly where he is, and there's a built-in tension with the impending poisoning of the nurses. That is a specific moment about a specific person doing a specific action. I'm interested. Tell me more!

    I like the repeated structure of these two lines (i.e. positive incident, negative qualification): "Even after the earth settles, the electricity does not return. When I finally find the door, it does not give." It gives the piece a nice rhythm. Similarly, "The lights go out. ... I do not feel lucky. ... I do my part," also works.

    You have an excellent vocabulary and it shows. I think, however, that your strongest moments are the ones in which you are using smaller, simpler words.

    I hope this is what you were looking for. Job well done.

  2. Cat--YES! Nitpicking was exactly what I wanted! Thank you for such a careful analysis! I wasn't sure I provided enough context at the beginning. And I did intentionally use overtones of propaganda but wasn't pleased with the repetitiveness. Thank you again!!

  3. Precie, I am late in getting here, but I wanted to thank you for your nice comments on my piece at CoN. They meant a lot.

    I also wanted to tell you that this was one of my favorite entries. It is so gorgeously told. It is actually the third paragraph that made me "fall for" this one. The everyday details. They are perfect and humanizing, and the juxtaposition with something as devastating as the bomb being dropped is so powerful.

    I think the last paragraph is perfect pov. Of course she wants revenge and though it is somewhat unexpected after the "I do my part" (you think she is going to help the victims) it's just such a great ending.

    You did so much in such a short space. I really love it.

  4. JAZ--Thank you for visiting! I appreciate your response!