If’n you be missing my cadence, it be pirate week in the arena. We’ve filled the ring with sea water, loaded the cannons, swabbed all poop decks, and readied the other clichés for postin’.
Before we get started make sure you read the stories.
Danny Brophy finds what the real treasure is in “A Darker Shade of the Earth.”
Jordan Rutherford sails into a dark place with “Wrathsin’s Wrath.”
Let’s see what our judges have to say.
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. 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 http://haikufiction.blogspot.com or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).
Ah, the first day of spring, when birds are singing, the trees are budding and the thoughts of young men everywhere turn to? Pirates!
A great theme for the Arena this week, and a marvelous pair of stories. I’m struck yet again how the prompts can evoke similar themes and motifs from vastly different writers. Both stories deal with cursed treasure and ghosts of the past, but in such radically different ways.
As is my custom, I’m going to give a few comments on both stories before moving to my vote.
“Wrathsin’s Wrath” – There’s a lot to like here. The rich details of the world, the fascinating notion of a pirate’s curse carrying on into the present day. And the villain of the piece is spot on.
But I wonder if might have been a stronger story if it started where Ralph met Chip. The tale up to that point strikes me more as an exercise in thesaurus use than contributing anything fundamental to the store. I’m also not sure the opening helps me like Ralph as a character; he’s a bit of a slob who’s not very good at his job. His one redeeming quality seems to be that he really and truly cares for his fiancée. Perhaps introduce Mariah earlier?
I feel that if I cared more for Ralph as a human being, I feel more strongly about his falling victim to the curse.
“A Darker Shade of the Earth” – There is a delicious bizarre quality to this story that enjoy, once the reader makes the commitment to bask in the sheer WTF-ery of the story. Is Crogan alive or dead? Is he truly sailing the seas alone but for the revenants of those he killed? Or is he in a padded cell somewhere humming sea shanties under his breath while the events of the story play out in his mind. It doesn’t really matter.
What the story does so well is immerse the reader into the Captain’s madness. We feel what he feels, the good, the bad, and the nauseating. In spite of being told that Crogan sails alone, we the readers in fact sail the fever dream with him. What glorious insanity!
A pirate’s curse brought into the present day and laid on our doorsteps versus a flying Dutchman cursed to sail forever the seas of his own sins. In the end, I will vote for the story which had the greater emotional impact on me as a reader. And for me this week, that story was:
“A Darker Shade of the Earth” by Danny Brophy.
“Wrathsin’s Wrath” – The beginning of this story is wonderful. The foreboding way that Ralph’s patrol area is described, you can feel the tension building and all he is doing is walking on the beach. Even the surf “crept” up the shore and “receded lethargically” This beach is full of death.
The Chip character was a good way to bring in the Wrathsin story and make it current, not just a legend. Unfortunately it also brings up an issue I have with this story. The legend of Wrathsin seems to be a little too real, a little too prevalent in his society for Ralph to dismiss it so casually. He knows that Chip found gold and lost his son, he thinks about “the tragic pattern of those who were actually lucky enough to find one of Wrathsin’s gold nuggets” and tries to come up with another explanation but doesn’t seem to be able to convince himself. As soon as he finds the gold though, he never once worries. Would have liked to see a little bit more from him on that front.
The bus scene was well done, I liked the old woman character, how over the top she was and how Wrathsin even appears to her just to tell her to be quiet. I would have liked to know more about her. Why does she know so much?
The ending brings up the other issue I have. Wrathsin took Mariah and, honestly, I didn’t care. I am not sure Ralph did either. Him screaming in agony and dropping the nugget is the only sign he has a conscience at all. I feel like he will get over her and live like a king. Even if he doesn’t, it won’t matter because I feel no empathy for Ralph. In this story he doesn’t exhibit any endearing qualities or really any reason to side with him.
That being said, there were some really good parts of this story. The descriptions of everything were fantastic, things were fleshed out in ways that really put me in the scenes. I just think the story needs a little more character development.
“A Darker Shade of the Earth” – I wasn’t really sure of this story after the first paragraph; blood on a dagger is just gutting a fish not murdering a man, the fish is rare but we don’t know why, and Crogan’s whiskey is described as gooey.
Thankfully, things got much better after that. Much better.
I loved the idea of a pirate making his living on the sea but steadfastly refusing to learn and use nautical terms. Seems like the most frivolous act of rebellion and very much like a pirate.
The fact that Crogan sets aside his dinner even though he knows it will take a while for the other ship to meet him and instead busies himself checking ropes and sails that were fine was a nice subtle cue of what to expect in his visitor, of how nervous he his to meet them.
Then we get introduced to Cully and learn what kind of story we are in. The matter of fact way in which Cully’s slashed throat is revealed only adds to the shock. I almost missed it the first time I read it and had to read the sentence again to make sure I read it right.
The idea of a murderer being haunted by the spirits or visions of those he killed is not a new idea, but it is handled very well here. The way that Crogan reacts to them shows you that he has been living with them for a while now and is rarely affected by them.
When the other ship arrives things get awful and wonderful at the same time. We think at first that he is only upset that his old ship is here, then its the captain, then we get the reveal that the captain was his daughter and we see Crogan really disturbed for a change. The interaction between Zann and Crogan may be my favorite part of the story.
The idea that the ship has returned to take Crogan to the afterlife (such as it is, a place of darkness) is great and the way that the visions/spirits of crew and craft are at once ethereal and also solid gives us the idea that Crogan is wavering between realms.
I really loved the ending. Crogan visits, either physically or in his head, the place he stored all he truly treasured. When he gets there this time, there is no gold, no jewels, just the bones of his lost love and the darkness waiting for him. Beautiful.
It may seem obvious from what I wrote above, but this was a tough decision for me this week. In the end I went with the story that both fully embraced the prompt and gave me something I could never have expected, and that was “A Darker Shade of the Earth” by Danny Brophy
Well, it looks like we have a clear decision from the judges, but I think our audience might disagree! Let’s look at the votes:
We’ve never seen so many votes in a single round! Thank you to all of our awesome readers for making sure you made your voice heard. Because of how the arena works, the audience vote only changes the voting if there isn’t a unanimous judge’s decision. Take heart Jordan, you wrote an amazing story and the people loved it. Sometimes our judges disagree with our readers. You are the people’s champion this week.
Also, a huge congratulations to Danny Brophy, winner by split decision!
Perhaps there should be a rematch in the future?
The Writer’s Arena is heading into its off week, but be sure to check back for some posts. We’ll have another Q and A, and hopefully some other fun. Joseph will be back in the arena next against our very own judge Donald Uitvlugt!