TWA #80 – Magicians – JUDGEMENT!

TWA 80 judgement-01Fireworks, BBQ, flags, and beers. We’re heading back to work after one of the best holiday weekends Americans get to celebrate, and it is time to dispense a literary smackdown.

This week we set the illusion and made some magic. Whether it be actual spells or tricks of the trade, magicians have captured the hearts of audiences for centuries. Their tricks border on the unbelievable, the fantastical, and sometimes outright feats of strength and agility that test the boundaries of human capability. Houdini, Blaine, and countless others have performed acts of wizardry and illusion that will be remembered for ages.

Let’s see where our authors took this prompt.

D.M. Slate had her assistant bring in “Impractical Magic.”

Eric Petty went old school with “Brigid, of Lightning.”

Let the judgement commence!

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).

Every week we lucky readers get the opportunity to read magical stories here in the Arena. New worlds are conjured in front of our eyes and we are charmed by clever patter and delightful misdirection. We are privileged to witness magicians every week, so this week’s theme really hits home.


You know what we do as judges: brief comments on the two stories before giving my vote.



“Brigid, of Lightning” – There’s so much this story has going right for it, at least for me as a reader. I cut my teeth as a speculative fiction reader on the works of Ray Bradbury, and Mr. Petty evokes that mid-American unspecified 1950’s world so cleanly. The quirkiness of the characters for me as a reader evokes the book The Circus of Dr. Lao and to a lesser extent, the cult classic film, Freaks. There are flashes of details here that paint such a rich world, and I love stories that take us behind the scenes as this one does here.


Yet I feel like the deliciously quirky components tend to overshadow the story. There are so many characters thrown us as readers that I never really felt emotionally attached to any one of them. I think if Mr. Petty had chosen one viewpoint character and stuck to him as the story unfolded, he would have wound up with a much stronger story.


As it stands, for me the heart of the story gets lost in the bright lights of the midway.



“Impractical Magic” – A desperate young man, forced to choose between following his dream and taking his place in the family trade. Brad’s dilemma is a very understandable one. I as a reader can see how easily he could have spent a little money here and a little there and wound up in the disastrous straits he finds himself. He doesn’t want to be a doctor any way, so he can talk himself into breaking the ethical code and engage in the theft.


I was hoping for the magic to play a little bit more of a role in the heist (perhaps a la Now You See Me), though it is there. I think that would have put the story over the top for me. As it stands, everything feels a bit rushed at the end. I like the twist of the ending, but I wish we had more space to see how events would play out from there.


A flawed but solid entry.



Two very different stories this week. Both of them have charm for me, but both of them have flaws as well. In the end, I’m going to cast my vote for the story that made the most emotional connection with me as a reader. And for me, this week, that story was:


“Impractical Magic” by D. M. Slate.


Rich Alix is our second judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here are his thoughts:

Magic. That one word brings to mind so many things, from giant spectacular illusions to wizards battling in a fantasy story to the subtle slight of hand in a card trick. It inspires children (and our own inner children) to suspend disbelief and delight in a world of wonder. What storytelling magic did our authors conjure this week? Let’s see:


“Brigid, of Lightning” – This story starts off with an iconic scene. The travelling circus setting up in the American plains.


I loved the language used in this story. The frequent appearance of elaborate and ostensibly superfluous verbage allows us a glimpse inside the world of the showman. Everything is intended to dazzle, confuse, and confound the simpleton into giving up his hard earned cash.


The descriptions here are especially vivid and detailed. Almost to a fault. When combined with the “big words” the descriptions seem to slow down the tale quite a bit. This isn’t necessarily a bad thing, it really depends on how you follow it up.


I enjoyed the “transformation” of Anteros into Oxyrhynchus, going from a thoughtful, quiet man into a barker of some skill. The descriptions of the card tricks was quite nice as well.


I had a hard time deciding exactly when this story takes place, and if it weren’t for the music included in it I might not have been able to, so thank you for that.


The climax of the story here is where I have the biggest problem. A seemingly random and very public murder happens and we are completely left hanging. The reveal about his relationship to Herrod serves as the only resolution we get and it explains almost nothing. I understand that :the show must go on” but this is too much.



“Impractical Magic” by D.M Slate – Early morning drinking is one of those activities that has no happy root. Especially vodka out of a styrofoam cup in your bedroom. Not a good habit for a future doctor to get into, but then again he never wanted to be a doctor anyway….


This is familiar territory it seems. There have been many tales told of children attending school for what their parents want and not to chase their own dreams. In Brad’s case, he wants nothing more than to be a stage magician. He even goes as far to spend his tuition check on an audition for a reality tv show. When that doesn’t pan out, what is he to do?


I like how the entire situation is revealed to us in Brad’s head. It feels like he is thinking things over and remembering how he got into trouble to begin with. This method is used again when we learn about his plan for the cash and it works well there too.


The actual “heist” may be my least favorite part of the story. I liked the inclusion of the magic trick as the distraction for the nurses, though I am still wondering why they didn’t question the random flowers. Or why nobody questions the guy taking a bag out of the morgue. I just think there needed to be a little bit of trouble during the theft to heighten the tension some.


I am also confused as to why there is a market for dead peoples organs. I would think the shelf life on them would be expired by the time it gets to the morgue and through an autopsy.


The reveal at the end was unexpected, but doesn’t really serve a purpose here. We don’t know his dad at all so why wouldn’t he be in the black market organ trade? This story feels like Chapter 1 of a novella. We need more backstory to make it really shocking. I would like to read more though to find out why and what happens next.



Another week in the arena, and another decision to make. I am a little surprised that neither author chose to believe in real magic this week. I was expecting some of the supernatural for sure but the arena deals in the unexpected almost exclusively. Both stories had their strong points and weak (and both could use another couple thousand words I think) but I did enjoy each of them for what they were. My vote this week goes to the story that seems more complete. That story is “Impractical Magic” by D.M Slate.


There you have it folks! D.M. Slate has won the judge’s decision and is the winner of TWA 80! Congratulations Mrs. Slate!

Let’s see if our audience agrees.

Take heart, Eric. You won the popular vote over a very game D.M. Slate. With the judge’s decision being conclusive D.M. Slate is the official winner.

The arena is taking a week to spruce up the joint. Join us next week for a coffee laden tale between Joseph Devon and Michael Landry!

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