The temptations of Friday’s song are in the air and another week in The Writer’s Arena draws to a close. Resist the call for just a little longer and you will know the winner of our 35th battle.
This week was all about songs. No, not the Peter Gabriel, White Stripes, or Weird Al kind, but the type of songs that lead ships into the rocks and the hearts of men astray. Our authors were tasked to lure you in with a Siren Song, and they both took it very different ways.
Tom Leins sings you a story with “Someday My Blues Will Cover This Town.”
Albert Berg set his tune with “The Birds and the Trees.”
Let’s see what our judges had 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).
Another wonderful week here at The Writer’s Arena, though it’s taking me a bit to get used to being back on this side of the bench…
There. Now I’m good.
Songs touch us at such a deep level. There’s something so powerful about combining words with music. Something haunting. All the wonderful directions this prompt could have gone — and then the writers go and take the prompt down roads I never suspected they would.
Other commenters have noted how different the two stories are this week, but what I find interesting is that there are points of similarity as well. Both stories deal with old entities reflecting on their place in the present of the stories. Both stories use a version of a narration-within-narration technique. Both have world-weary narrators.
But tales do take us to such completely different places. As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.
“Someday My Blues Will Cover This Town” – There’s something so…delicious about a well-written noir story. A texture you get, like biting into a perfectly cooked steak. This story has that in spades. The hard-boiled investigator who is dragged into a mission against his will and who will do the right thing, eventually, no matter the personal cost. The femme fatale, here with a beauty that is literally otherworldly. A cast of supporting characters so sleazy you want to take a shower after you finish reading.
This story hits so many right notes for me. I love the hints we get both of the Paignton Noir world and of the Wila’s past. I wish for the sake of the prompt that there perhaps were more of the song in the tale. I didn’t quite feel as haunted by the Wila as the narrator was, and I think it would be a stronger story if I had been. The ending is a bit too compressed for my personal tastes. But that’s not necessarily a bad thing. I definitely want to read more Paignton Noir; would definitely not want to live there.
“The Birds and the Trees” – In spite of the points of comparison I drew earlier, this is such a radically different story from its competition. It’s very hard to hit the fairy tale voice without sounding…condescending. There’s a novel by a very famous author that I’ve not been able to get into after two tries to read because his efforts at writing a fairy tale feel to me like he’s talking down to the reader.
I get none of that feeling at all with Al’s story. It’s a true delight to read, reminding me to some extent of the nested stories of Catherynne Valente’s Orphan’s Tales. I’m a sucker for such narrative techniques, especially when used well as they are here. The song becomes a story becomes a song.
The tale isn’t perfect. I wish for further depths, or at least a third iteration. It would be nice to see the relation between the oak and the original tree spelled out. And yet, at its heart, this story has the feel of a tale that has always existed…
So I’m left with a difficult decision: a noir tale with a glimmer of hope for a fey creature trying to make her way in a confusing modern world, versus a timeless fairy tale haunted by the ending that must come to all things. A delightful problem to have. But I do have to make a decision.
The story that moved me most this week is:
“The Birds and the Trees” by Albert Berg.
“Music has charms to soothe a savage breast” Songs can change your mood and brighten your day or send you spiraling into despair. How did our stories sing this week? Let’s see:
“Someday My Blues Will Cover This Town” by Tom Leins – What an opening paragraph. Pow! Right off the bat (no pun intended). And its not even lunchtime. Such a great understated line “It’s 11am”.
Uh oh, this is a PI story. I’m not usually a big fan of the noire detective type stories… but this one. It’s over the top for sure, but it works.
The scene where we meet Wojtek is good, we know exactly who we are dealing with and gives us an idea of what our hero will face.
The Dirty Lemon. The Southern Sulphuric Soul Revue. I love the names in this story. The way that Wila just walks up and starts to sing and the effect it has on the people around her are wonderful. This is what I was expecting from this prompt and I am not disappointed. I got the idea that the band may have been caught up and playing something beyond them as well. Not sure if this was intended but it works either way.
I liked that a being as powerful as Wila could feel threatened by Wojtek enough to take matters into her own hands and tear his group apart. To me, it worked to make her seem even more powerful that she knew she wasn’t invincible.
The ending was very well done. Our hero chose to pick his battles and saw that she wasn’t truly a threat to him.
“The Birds and the Trees” by Albert Berg – I liked the way this story starts. I don’t mean “once upon a time”, although that is a great way to announce what kind of story this is, but the bird landing on the tree and having a conversation.
I enjoyed the childlike approach of the bird and the contrast with the “wise old oak”. The way the bird kept interrupting and disbelieving that the tree was once bird food.
The parable that the oak tells was good. I liked the idea of growing too big and forgetting what it was to struggle. I am not sure about the king character. I don’t know what I am supposed to learn from him other than there is always someone out there ready to destroy you. Which is pretty dark, even for a parable. I did think the touch of the men taking the birds back with them and the song spreading was very nice. It lent a melancholy feel to the story. That bittersweet feeling that even though the tree, the king and all that they were are destroyed in the end, the song remains. I can take solace in that.
Both stories this week were very well written and really had very few faults. In the end my decision came down to the prompt itself. One story embraced the spirit of the prompt a bit more and that story was: “Someday My Blues Will Cover This Town” by Tom Leins
A split decision! For those who are long time readers of the arena, this may not be a surprise. Rich and Donald have a very hard time picking when both stories are so well done. The good news is, the responsibility falls to you, the reader and vote to decide. Let’s see how the voting turned out.
Tom Leins is the winner of TWA #35! Congratulations Tom! This week the crown heads back to Britain. That was a fantastic story and another great week of stories in the arena.
Next week we will take the contest deep into the earth. Stop by on Monday to see the next prompt!