This week in the arena we are dealing with the rapid expansion of gases through an outburst of energy. That’s right, things are getting explosive in here. Our authors were tasked to write a story that included a bomb. No, not a bomb like Pluto Nash, but a real physical explosive device.
Who will win the battle of the explosions? Let’s take a look.
Albert Berg watched the clock in “Seconds Remaining.”
Lu Whitley looks for trouble in “Suspicion.”
Which story will the judges pick?
Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our first judge this week. On top of being the current TWA Champion, 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).
This week’s prompt was a lot like Alfred Hitchcock’s proverbial bomb under the table. We know that the explosion is coming, but we don’t know how or when or why. The two combatants this week placed their charges carefully and waited. Which story created the bigger bang? Let’s find out.
As usual, I’m going to comment briefly on the two stories before moving on to my general remarks.
“Suspicion” – A bomb has been set in a public space, creating a sense of heightened distrust in the city. Is it a terrorist attack? The plot of doomsday cult? We find out that, no, this is the work of a single man moved to act from an ancient motive: unrequited love.
Yet although the story, in one sense at any rate, unfolds without any surprises, I still found it to be a very striking tale. Our journey as readers is not a race against time to stop the explosion, but a journey into the mind of the person who would plot such terrible destruction. The commonplace motivation taken to such devastating extremes makes the story, for me as a reader, at least, a moving meditation on the banality of evil.
“Seconds Remaining” – I’ve come to expect the unexpected from Al, so I was delighted to read his tale told in reverse. We have a meditation here as well, but I think a meditation on making every second count since we don’t know which moment will be our last. A very welcome reminder, and a topic, I think I can safely say, that recurs often in Al’s story.
Yet I wonder if, perhaps, the extreme situation undercuts what I at least see to be the theme of the story. The dad has this great epiphany, but we know already from the very beginning of the story that it is too little, too late. Fate causes this personality-shifting epiphany to mean nothing. Real life can certainly be like that, but I don’t always want to be reminded of that fact in the fiction I read.
Two very strong stories this week. In the end I am going to cast my vote simply for the tale that I enjoyed just a little bit more. For me this week, that story was
“Suspicion” by Lu Whitley.
BOOOM!!! Nothing like an explosion to get your attention. Nobody ever misses a bomb going off or even a balloon popping. The sudden noise, the potential destruction… How did our authors harness the power? Let’s see:
“Suspicion” by Lu Whitley – I love the beginning of this story. The little details surrounding the mundane act of buying an ice cream cone really put you right there. I am pretty sure I have been waited on by that girl before, actually, but not for strawberry, I am a chocolate man myself.
Good use of the radio announcement to set the stage for the main thrust of the story. Gives us all the details we need in a nice seamless way. Nice touch with our narrator thinking about looking like a creeper and having to leave before the police are called, only to have them knock on his window to chat.
There were a few parts of the story that were left intentionally (I think) fuzzy. Our narrator has no name, neither does the city, all of the street names are generic and unremarkable, there are touches of small town (anyone not born here) and big city (downtown, numbered streets); the first time through I found it a little annoying. I kept thinking I forgot a detail when it was actually never given. The second time through I understood why. This could happen anywhere.
The drive through the city was full of little misdirections and pondering that belied the narrator’s true intention. When he called in the tip I thought he might get caught up in a hostage situation or something. Boy was I wrong.
The reveal was done so well here that I missed it the first time. I read the line “Would it be the last song I ever heard?” and thought I must have been reading too fast. I went back, read it again and then felt the slow dawning roll over me. I was fooled, completely. The actual explosion and his narration of it was very well written and came as the cherry on top of a beautiful story.
“Seconds Remaining” by Albert Berg – “0 seconds remaining.” That is a line, something like “The End”, that you hardly expect to find as the opening line of your story. When it came from Mr Berg I knew I was in for a ride.
“10 seconds remaining” At this point my mind immediately jumped to the movie Memento and I mean that as a compliment in every sense. This story does an excellent job of slowly expanding the focus and showing us, little by little, just what this story is about.
As we go further and further back, and as the story gets clearer and clearer, my heart started to sink. This man I saw get destroyed in the first paragraph started to mean something to me. As a father myself there is often this worry; am I the best father I can be. Most of the time you really have no idea, you just have to try your best and keep going. If you ever answer that question with a no, that has to be the worst feeling, and you try to fix it as soon as possible. Micheal does just that, risking client and career to show his daughter that she means something to him. Except, we already know he never makes it…
It was hard to read the last couple of paragraphs in this story. I didn’t want to like Michael any more than I did. HE WAS GOING TO DIE!! I couldn’t get attached to him. Thankfully, this story wasn’t quite long enough to put me fully on Micheal’s side. Too little too late was an easy epitaph to slap on him. If it had been longer though, if Mr Berg had another couple thousand words to use, I have no doubt I would have found some dust in my eye by the end of this one.
It is remarkable, and 100% due to the talent of the author, that I came to feel as much for him as I did in such a short time. My heart still feels heavy just thinking about it.
Two strong authors with two solid stories this week. Though they approached the explosion from opposite sides (in more way than one) they both nailed the prompt in ways I never imagined. My choice this week was not an easy one, but in the end I had to vote for the story that I wanted to read again as soon as I was finished, that story is “Suspicion” by Lu Whitley
Boom! With the judge’s decision Lu Whitley has won the Battle of the Bombs! With less than three days from start to finish, this is quite a feat!
Let’s see what our audience has to say.
This is a landslide victory for Lu Whitley! Congratulations Lu! We look forward to seeing you in The Writer’s Arena Tournament later this year. You might actually have a normal writing period this time!
Stay tuned for next week as Tony Southcotte takes on our first Australian writer, Mark Bryk! It’ll be fun in the sun, guaranteed.
If you can’t wait until next week for more arena action, why not check out our first anthology? It’s pretty, it’s awesome, and it is pretty awesome. Get it from Amazon now!