TWA #5 – Soul for Sale – JUDGEMENT DAY!

5-judgeOur warrior writers have fought admirably, but ultimately only one can emerge victorious. Our esteemed judges have sifted through the carnage and rendered their decisions. So here we go, TWA #5 – Soul to Sell Judgement Day.

If you haven’t already, check out David Webb’s Going Cheap and Tony Southcotte’s Frozen Chosin.

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our guest 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.)

Wow. Again I’m really impressed by the level of talent evidenced by our TWA authors. The length of the stories, for one. (I really need to up my game, should I ever again enter the sands of the Arena.) They met the historical aspect of the challenge in interesting ways. This is a tough one.

Frozen Chosin – I like a lot of things about this story. The narrator is a very sympathetic character, fighting in a war that is all too often forgotten. (Though the story does call to mind pleasant days watching MASH with my family.) I like the frozen setting, calling up Dante’s Inferno in a very subtle way. And I love the unique depiction of the devil as Legion.

I’m not sure the title does as much as it could to sell the story (so to speak). And as Joseph Devon has noted, it does take a while to get to the deal. And I would have liked to have seen the emotional consequences of the deal more strongly. I suspect that the main character is now living a hell of mediocrity on earth – a dead-end job, a loveless, perfunctory marriage, ungrateful kids – but I think the story would have been stronger if those consequences had been spelled out more.

Going Cheap – Another solid tale. I like how the time jumps are handled in the story, though I wish the first period could have been established a little earlier. (Fun to think of an age when fifty quid was a lot of money.) I love the devil as Rex Harrison – I keep seeing Henry Higgins from My Fair Lady. What’s not to like about a homburg-and-spats-wearing devil? And I really like how Adam uses the position provided by his deal to try to help other people. Even if they might perceive it as “ruining” their lives. I also love the small glimpse into hell, including the shift in narrative style.

The start is a little slow, and I’m not sure what the emphasis on Adam’s Jewishness adds to the story. It doesn’t seem to matter much in the payoff. (Are you thinking of the rabbinical principal: he who saves a life, it’s as if he saved the whole nation?) I’m not really sure I like Adam as a character at the beginning, though he becomes stronger as he goes along. The ending also feels a little compressed to me. Perhaps there could be more about the emptiness of Adam’s life of success? I wonder if the story would have been stronger told more in flashback, or with someone asking Adam how he rose to prominence.

In the end, there can be only one. I have to go with the story that evoked the greatest emotional resonances in me. And that would be Frozen Chosin.

Rich Alix is our first 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 is his judgment:

Another fine showing from both authors this week. As a reader I celebrate the quality of the short stories presented thus far, as a judge I dread having to choose between them. But that is what I am here for, so let’s go:

Going Cheap – David Webb:   I liked the way the character is introduced in this story. You can really get a feel for how ambitious Adam is (good biblical name there to do battle with the devil) and just how much he wants to look the part of a successful businessman. He comes across as earnest and trustworthy right off and allows us to bond with him before he has his encounter.
The depiction of the devil in this story was excellent, I loved how he was portrayed as a wealthy gentleman just slightly out of touch with the times. To me this provided a pleasant contradiction to the power that we know he has, and that Adam gets a small but potent taste of.
I also enjoyed the slight twist to the story provided by the possibility of being released from the contract by passing it to someone else. That nestled in so well with the idea of reality TV that I missed the connection until Rex pointed it out. Adam having to crush the young people’s hopes in order to keep them away from Rex was a real bittersweet moment, but the only way he could salvage something good from this situation. Adam knows that he will never win, knows he will never avoid what is coming, but he can choose who will bear the burden.
I could have gone for more interaction between Rex and Adam in the later section, but under the circumstances I can forgive the somewhat abbreviated ending. As it is, it’s a fine story. Well done.
Frozen Chosin – Tony Southcotte:  First let me commend Tony on getting his story back within the era specified in the prompt. If I hadn’t seen his tweet I would have had no idea.
This story has a very authentic feel to it, I was able to put myself right into the story and nothing seemed out of place. Our protagonist Marcus had a real innocence about him that shone out against the background of war. The can of pumpkin was a beautiful way to reveal that to us. That he would give up a treat so great that his “body shuddered with how fantastic it was” to a boy he can’t even talk to and to whom he owes absolutely nothing speaks volumes.
The devil character is this story is definitely more of the showy variety, demonstrating his power in a multitude of ways, and it works for me as a way to reveal the strength that is inside Marcus as well. That strength is on full display when he later agrees to the deal not for himself but for the mother and child. The scene when the devil and he make the deal is very well written and an original take on sealing the contract.
However, I’m not 100% sure I liked the way this story ended. I felt the section with him older lessened his sacrifice to a point and took something away from the story as a whole. That he went on to live a full life  seems to be unusual for someone who dealt with the devil. This story reminded me a lot of a Twilight Zone story or something like that and I did enjoy it very much.
A judges job is never easy. I had to look beyond the writing this time and at the stories as a whole to make my decision, ultimately choosing the story that felt more cohesive, more finished.  This week I am awarding my vote to David Webb.
There you have it folks, a split decision! It is now up to our mass of loyal and discerning readers to choose a champion. Let’s look at the breakdown:
Tony Southcotte got 2 votes.
David Webb got 1 vote.
Tony might have gotten his clock cleaned today if all the comments would have contained votes. This time, he narrowly escapes with the victory!
The winner of the 5th TWA contest is Tony Southcotte!

On a side note, we are paying our authors a base level rate at the moment, but if you really enjoyed their story and want to help us make sure these awesome people get paid, please donate below. 75% goes to the author, the rest goes to keeping this place up and running.




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5 Comments

  1. I’m glad I’m not the only one who had a very difficult time deciding for whom to cast their vote. This was a hard fought battle, and though only one author claims the victory, and both should be equally proud of their efforts, the real winners are all the readers for whom these stories were so rich and engaging.

    Great stuff. And congratulations, Mr. Southcotte.

  2. It’s really hard to look on this as anything other than a win/win situation.

    No, I didn’t get as many votes as Tony but on the other hand I did get some very astute comments from readers and judges alike, all of which are going to help me become a better writer. Plus, I had a blast writing and revising my story.

    And if that wasn’t enough (oh god, I sound like an infomercial) I’ll be back to read and comment on other people’s stories in the future.

    Who knows, I might be asked back to compete again.

    • I couldn’t agree more. The tentative nature of the voting shows that this was hard fought. Especially with the number of readers vs the number of commenters.

      I had a much harder time writing this than I anticipated. It’s hard to find an original or unique angle on the contest. I read your story and I knew I would be in for a rough week.

      We would definitely love to have you back. We’ll let a bit of time go by so that we can get some new blood, but you’ve definitely earned a spot here.

  3. I think this may be one of the best, unexpected outcomes of TWA — the creation of a community of writers. I look forward to reading a lot more great stuff from all the combatants!

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