In all combat sports there comes a bout that really means something. The type that when you read about it being scheduled you get a chill that runs down your spine, a little dopamine rush for the incredible violence that awaits.
This is one of those bouts. Danny Brophy and Thomas Mays have built this up, torn at each other online, trained, edited, drank, and went head to head in every way they could.
The result is The Writer’s Arena 37.
Danny Brophy stepped into the ring with “White River Roses.”
Thomas A. Mays responded with “Primum Proditione”
This bout went the distance, so let’s see who gets their hand raised.
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).
After all the hype, after all the mud has been slung, it comes down to this. The stories. The deliciously self-referential Duel duel.
One of the things I found most interesting about the stories is how similar they are. And I’m not talking about the whale in the tutu. Both duels feature male and female opponents. Both stories create situations where the cause of the duel is not personal but written into the history of the story world. And both stories feature protagonists who act in such a way to subvert the social norms that created the duel.
All in all, I was pleasantly surprised by this week’s stories. As is my custom, I’m going to make a few comments on the two stories before giving my vote.
“Primum Proditione” – There’s a lot to like in this story. I like the way the mythological basis of the story was carried into the present day. I love the name Mason Farmer, perfect in so many ways. I think the emotional tones of Farmer’s journey are hit just right. I love who the villain is. I love the aliases of the dead man, and I think that this story has the better use of the whale in the tutu.
Unfortunately, I did have some difficulties with the story. I don’t feel that the calling card for Farmer or the dueling pistol in his hand was ever adequately explained. I don’t think I really got into the antagonist’s head in a way that really made sense. The timing of the text message has me very confused as well. There were enough inconsistences that I didn’t feel I could really enjoy the story as much as I wanted to.
(Also, and I apologize if this is being overly pedantic, but unless my Latin has totally left me and the dictionary I consulted is wrong, I believe that the title and the fatal text message should be “Proditio Prima”…)
“White River Roses” – This story was so very unexpected for me. It builds slow, luxuriating in the world creation. I was not expecting this sort of fantasy world from the author. But the story at its heart is not about the fantasy world, but about the people within it. A father and mother, a sister and brother.
Each is exquisitely painted, each trapped in their own pain — except for the mother, who is dead. Yet her loss is a gaping wound in the hearts of the other characters, an emptiness that echoes loudly throughout the story. Much like real life, what isn’t said is often as important as what is said.
There is very little action in the story until the very end, but even that I think fits the point of the tale. I think for perhaps the first (or given the title, maybe the second) time in her life, Junie is making a choice that is completely her own. One not bound by social convention or duty. One that is all her.
And as her father tells her, she has a knack of knowing the right decision. Well done.
Two very different tales, yet with a similar moral: duels are not the answer to anything. One needs to find a way beyond a society that finds duels necessary. The protagonists in both stories move beyond expectation in surprising but very satisfying ways. For me, though, the story that most touched my heart this week was:
“White River Roses” by Danny Brophy.
Hype is dangerous. How often have we been let down by the very thing that we have been teased and tantalized with for weeks, months or years? After everything that led up to this battle, I was really nervous to read these stories. I shouldn’t have been. Let’s see how they lived up to the hype.
“Primum Poditione” – Excellent opening. A flurry of action sprinkled with references and foreshadowing of things to come. We have no idea who our narrator is or who he is dueling but it’s got me excited to read the story in just a few sentences.
I really enjoyed the scene at the medical examiner’s office. More hints about legends and some mysterious family history. Mason is definitely uneasy, but trying to work though his anxiety and ignore everything pointing towards his past. I love that the whale in the tutu (excellent handling of the side bet here, Mr. Mays) is what sends him running off. I felt as confused as Steph and Brad and that worked so well.
Our introduction to Emma was good, but if there was a part of this story I think could use some more work it is here. Mason says he is not very religious, and dismisses this story as myth or legend but somehow has the entire Cain and Abel story memorized down to original spellings. I almost buy this as just something that has been pounded into him his whole life but it comes across more like a big info dump in the end. Emma tips her hand here a little bit too but I completely missed it the first time through. She is just a little too emphatic about Cain getting off easy.
The actual duel was fantastic. The way things get set up, the building of tension as Mason prepares to take his place in family history, the reveal of his adversary; everything was well done. I appreciated the speed with which the duel was resolved, it seemed more realistic that way.
Our challenger brought a strong story this week that fit the prompt perfectly.
“White River Roses” – I wasn’t really sure about this story after the first couple of paragraphs. “The blood of a family. That is the only blood worth spilling.” What the hell is going on here.
The info-dump is handled very well here, an old man launching into a story that he has told everyone before feels normal.
I loved how the character of the mother plays a pretty big part in this story but is only present as a faint outline of an arm in a painting and an empty room untouched since her death.
Some very delicious foreshadowing about Junie’s intuition, decision making abilities and ruthlessness following those decisions.
The contrast between the two combatants was great, and I really enjoyed how most of the differences were pointed out by Junie. She demonstrates her abilities by how well she reads her brother. She knows he has a unique view on the world they live in and she can see the value of that view. She even goes so far as to wish that they could forget the duel and both survive, she would lead and he would learn more.
Jona works very well as a character. He comes across as wise beyond his years and compassionate. It was an interesting note in the story that fathers and daughters seem closer as do mothers and sons and how that has influenced this family’s dynamics.
The story about the roses is wonderful. Jona could have saved himself a lot of trouble by letting her go, but can’t just stand by and watch her die. His instinct is to rescue her and doesn’t think twice. The talk about dying for trivial things or things that matter and the way that Mr. Brophy laced it into the beginning of the duel may have been my favorite part of this story.
The ending of this story was very well done. Her thoughts intertwined with the action and her decision was near perfection.
This is one of those weeks where we were given two absolutely amazing stories. Even as I sat down to write this verdict I wasn’t sure which story I was going to vote for. It is only by writing this that I came to realize which story I liked better. One story had a larger impact on me and that story was:
“White River Roses” by Danny Brophy.
And the winner of TWA 37 is Danny Brophy! Congratulations Danny! You took on one hell of a competitor in Thomas Mays and emerged victorious.
Let’s take a moment to look at the popular vote:
The popular vote has gone to Danny as well!
We’d like to take a moment to thank Thomas Mays for joining us this week. This has been one of the best rounds we’ve had to date, and your press conference will go down as one of the funniest moments in our short history.
This fight has drawn to a close, and so has The Writer’s Arena. We are taking a quick week off to spray down the walls and clear out some loose body parts, but we will bring you a few fun posts in the coming days. Be sure to check it out!
We will return to action May 4th as Joseph Devon takes on Lilith Morgan.