TWA #53 – Paint By Letters – JUDGEMENT!

TWA MAIN-01Literary friends and fiends, we’re gathered here today to crown a champion in the 53rd Writer’s Arena.

These authors were tasked with a messy job: to paint a story with words. They brushed, dabbed, mixed, and smeared their way into our hearts with a pair of excellent stories. Something tells me this round will be remembered for a while.

Danny Brophy shouldn’t be allowed near corpses in “Cerulean Blue.”

Ellie Ann wove a mythic tale in “Three Daughters Fight for the Secrets of Colors and One Earns it.”

I don’t envy the judges this week. Let’s see what they 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).

The saying goes that a picture is worth a thousand words, which suggests, among other things, that it can be very difficult to transfer the effects of one of the other arts into the realm of the written word. So of course, that’s the challenge we set for our Arena combatants this week, to explore the power of paint in their stories. And our competitors certainly rose to the challenge.

 

As is my custom, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my vote.

 

“Three Daughters Fight for the Secrets of Color and One Earns It” – Writing fairy tales is hard. Too much stylization, and the prose comes across as stilted, even condescending. Push the narrative too far towards realism, and the effect of a fairy tale evaporates like morning dew. Ellie Ann, with her practiced hand, hits just the right tone here. It’s hard not to think of stories that also get the tone right, such as Karen Lord’s Redemption in Indigo.

 

Certain story elements we’ve seen before in other fairy tales: the parent with three possible heirs, the three challenges, the holy fool. Yet they’re combined in such a charming fashion that the story feels archetypal. It already existed in some Platonic realm and Ellie Ann simply gave it voice. It feels complete, as if the author discovered it or translated it rather than created it from nothing.

 

Very well done.

 

“Cerulean Blue” – This story has a very…compressed feel for me, if that’s the word I want. We are caught up in Abby’s struggle to regain her ability to create. Her world has collapsed in on itself since Edward’s death, and the prose reflects that collapse. A delightful example of narrative structure reflecting tone, though at times I felt I lost the narrative thread in the twists and turns of Abby’s mind.

 

The sacrifice Abby’s grandmother makes fits the story perfectly, yet I can’t help but want a little more on the backstory of the two. Most grandparents will give up a lot for their grandchildren, but to give up one’s life so that your granddaughter might use your body as the ultimate canvas? I feel that there’s more to the story not on the page.

 

I also wonder — now that Abby has found her true medium, what will she do for an encore? New canvases drawn from the ranks of her fans? Avant-garde morticians hire her to beautify the dead? Still, a striking, if somewhat twisted, study of creativity and sacrifice for the sake of art.

 

While “Cerulean Blue” has moments of pure, macabre genius, I feel that this week I have to vote for the crystal clear storytelling of:

 

“Three Daughters Fight for the Secrets of Color and One Earns It,” by Ellie Ann.

 

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:

“Three Daughters Fight for the Secrets of Colors and One Earns It” – This story starts off simply enough (after the synopsis-long title) and seems to be headed down a path we’ve seen before, or is it?

 

Being introduced to the three daughters and seeing the differences between the two eldest and the youngest, free-spirited, girl I was pretty sure I knew where this was going. One mark of a great story, though, is the ability to walk you down a path you know well and still have you enjoy the trip. I enjoyed this story quite a lot, at least the first time through. More on that in a bit.

 

I loved the language used to describe the talents of the older girls. The dedication they both put into their craft was clear and I enjoyed the differences of their skills. The eldest studies to prepare for the tests, the second daughter is more of a hands on kind of girl. Months spent learning about a specific pigment contrasted beautifully against days where “dust and grit would fly everywhere and her hair would stand on end and no one would come within one-hundred feet of her.”

 

The youngest comes across as a little bit lazy in the first test. Like the party-goer who forgets to buy a gift until the day has arrived and then rushes out to find anything that will work, she waits until the last minute to fulfill her mother’s wishes. Luckily she stumbles upon exactly what she needs to win.

 

Test 2 follows much the same path, and again the procrastinator inadvertently provides the perfect solution.

 

Test 3 is when things take a turn. There is a cruelty in the mother that bubbles to the surface here. To ask so much of her daughters shows us that she values what she will share with the worthy child more than any skill they already possess. The only thing more amazing than that is that all three daughters participate. It is here that the youngest shows us that her devotion and dedication to her “craft” is no less than that of her sisters, it is just that her craft is life itself. I found this wonderful. The idea that you can embrace the simple act of living with as much passion and zeal as is found in the great artists is beautiful

 

The issues I had with this story are not issues with the writing. They arose during subsequent readings and are more to do with the story itself. Maybe it is my fault for reading through so superficially the first time, but there is a lot going on below the surface here. I am not a fan of the mother now at all. That cruelty that I first found in the third test started to show up everywhere.

 

She sets her children out to perform a single task and “Whoever succeeds shall earn the secrets of color.” Yet when her youngest, a girl so handicapped and simple-minded that “No one believed she could even make a cake, much less make her way in the wide wide world,” Mother comes up with a second task rather than award the prize.

 

Test 2 again follows much the same, the feeble child wins and is denied the prize, this time after her siblings have begged for another chance.

 

It is only after the third test, in which the third daughter goes as far as to slit her own wrists to gain her mother’s attention and approval, that she is accepted and declared the winner.

 

This bothered me. I am torn over the climax of this story. On one hand, I love the nobility inherent in the youngest’s willingness to sacrifice herself for the sake of her art and her family but on the other hand I am disturbed by the message that if you follow your own path you will never be taken seriously and will be largely ignored no matter how much you succeed.

 

I may not know if I like it or not, but there is no denying the fact that only a great story can get you thinking like this.

 

“Cerulean Blue” by Danny Brophy –  This was a beautiful story. I have to get that out there. Mr Brophy at his best can create a snapshot of life that feels as real as Monday morning. That skill is on display this week for sure.

 

There is a great dynamic here between Abby and her Grammie. You can feel the years of love between them and you can feel the tension created by the (mostly) unspoken elephants of cancer and Abby’s creative block.

 

I liked how the “Edward incident” is hinted at for a while before we find out exactly what happened.  I thought it was a lover who left her, maybe even died. Then I thought it might be a dead child. I never would have guessed what really happened. When we do get the actual story, it somehow comes across as quirky and artistic instead of messed up. I’m not sure if I read “Artist paints obsessed fan’s dead body after suicide” in the newspaper I would feel the same.

 

After I finished the story I came to a realization. Grammie knew she was dying that day. I got the feeling that they didn’t talk about Edward but she brought it up in order to try and force Abby through it. She pokes and prods and curses enough to get Abby worked up so that when the inevitable does happen, Abby is ready to do what she has to.

 

I am assuming, although it doesn’t come right out and say it, that the legal issues Grammie had to deal with are to allow Abby to paint her body after she’s gone without a problem.

 

There is a horror story in here somewhere where the artist can only paint on human skin and kills for their canvases. I am glad this story didn’t go there.

 

There is a jumble of emotions in this story and that makes it feel very real. Sadness, relief, excitement, anxiety; Abby is dealing with a lot and her painting will get her through it.

 

This might be my favorite of Mr. Brophy’s arena entries, something just resonated with me and I love when a story does that. Thank you.

 

Now comes the tough part. How do I pick between these two? On one hand I have an incredible tale that seems like part myth, part fable. On the other hand I have a wonderful, realistic portrait of the life of a painter and her dying grandmother. Larger than life vs slice of life. Tough call. I had a really hard time resolving my feelings about this battle and, in the end, I simply had to go with the story I enjoyed more and that story is “Cerulean Blue” by Danny Brophy

 

A split decision! You all know what this means, we’re going to the audience vote!

 

 

Ellie Ann wins it with a dominant vote from the audience! Congratulations Ellie! Thanks again for stepping into The Writer’s Arena. Remember folks, you can find her book The Silver Sickle online and in bookstores.

 

Be sure to come back tomorrow, as we aren’t taking our usual break. No, thus begins The Writer’s Arena Championship Tournament! Joseph Devon goes head to head with Lu Whitley!

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