TWA 86 – UFOs – JUDGEMENT! – Special Guest Judge Mignon Fogarty aka Grammar Girl

TWA 86 Judgement-01Monday has flown in on unknown ships looking to experiment and probe us all. Monday also brings another round of The Writer’s Arena to a close.

Unidentified Flying Objects have taken on many forms throughout our history. Some people saw them as flaming chariots in the sky, others as angels of portentous fortune. In modern times we hope that these strange flying machines are a glimpse at another space faring culture. The digital age has blurred the lines between a real encounter and CGI, making the question of what these objects are so much muddier. One thing is for sure, you will be having an encounter in the Arena.

Let’s see how our authors took on the subject.

Albert Berg took us to the trenches in “Maconochie Man.”

Donald Uitvlugt looked into the depths with “The Lights of the Wasashe Springs.”

Grammar GirlOur first judge is a very special guest, and no doubt a familiar name if you are a writer. Grammar Girl herself, Mignon Fogarty weighs in.

New York Times bestselling author Mignon Fogarty is best known by her online persona, Grammar Girl.

Mignon is the creator and host of the Grammar Girl podcast and the founder of Quick and Dirty Tips, which began as a podcasting network and is now, in partnership with Macmillan Holdings, also a large content website, newsletter publisher, and book publisher.

Mignon is the author of seven books about language, including Grammar Girl’s Quick and Dirty Tips for Better Writing. She has been featured in the New York Times, BusinessWeek, the Washington Post, USA Today, CNN.com, and more, and she has appeared as a guest expert on the Oprah Winfrey Show and the Today Show. She is on the Writers Board for National Novel Writing Month.

She is also the Donald W. Reynolds Chair of Media Entrepreneurship in the Reynolds School of Journalism at the University of Nevada, Reno. She hates the phrase grammar nazi, loves the word kerfuffle, and explains the difference between affect and effect at least once a week.

UFOs are such a common theme in science fiction literature that it was interesting to see the prompt encouraging writers to approach it from a fresh perspective.

Maconochie Man” by Albert Berg was filled with vivid descriptions of both the internal and external world. Both the cow dream sequence and the burning man seemed to be attempts at rich symbolism. Although there were some typos and punctuation errors, I enjoyed reading the story because of the overall quality of the language. “Richness” is a word that keeps coming to mind.

In the end, however, I was disappointed that a mystery had been introduced (the burning man) and not resolved, and it seemed like it was only there to meet the UFO criteria laid out in the prompt.

The Lights of Wasashe Springs” by Donald Uitvlugt had a clear story line that was illuminated by the history anecdotes interspersed throughout the narrative. The tales of sickness and wars resolved by the lights helped guide the reader toward the final resolution. I particularly liked how these elements were tied together between the one paragraph that ended “Those two tribes never fought again,” and the next paragraph that began “We’d like a room for two.”

The unlikeability of the protagonist made this story less enjoyable to read, but the UFO elements were much more integral to this story than they were to the other story.

My vote for the winner is “The Lights of Wasashe Springs.”

There’s one vote for Donald, let’s see if Rich Alix agrees.

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:

UFO. Unidentified Flying Object. Simple enough, right? In theory, it could be anything, cow, plate, bird, we just don’t know. In practice, though, there is really only one source of UFOs: Aliens. Friendly or fixing for a fight, these far flung fellows have been frequent favorites of futuristic fiction for fifty plus years. How did they fit in to our stories this week? Let’s see:

 

“The Lights of Wasashe Springs” by Donald Uitvlugt –  I like the way that the motel brochure is interwoven with the story here. We get a little more history about the place as we go along and it slowly turns from opportunistic tourist trap to a place with some genuine mystery.

 

The couple who are the story’s main (and just about only) characters are written well. Brett comes across as pretty strait-laced and wound fairly tight, while Lily comes across somehow more simple and innocent. It is fitting that she be the one who chooses the trip to Wasashe Springs. We are convinced that she is just too gullible and has been taken in by a scam. Convinced by Brett mostly, in his job as narrator. It is only when they speak to the desk clerk that we start to think she might be right.

 

Speaking of the clerk. That was my favorite part of the entire story. Brett’s expectations and the descriptions of the office had me completely sold on the idea that this was just a motel looking to squeeze a few more dollars out of a worn out story and a warm pond. Then the clerk gives them a money back guarantee, and suddenly I am not so sure. That one action turns the clerk from a charlatan to a caretaker of the springs.

 

The part of the story I had a little issue with was the scene in the water. I was confused how he knew Lily was in the water, it almost felt like I skipped a sentence in there. Then the whole lights/dark thing in the water had me confused a bit also. He first talks about how dark it was, then it gets lighter while he was under water. This makes me think the lights showed up while he was down there, until Lily asks if he saw them which makes me think the lights are what caused her to fall in. It’s probably just me, but I had to read it a couple times to place everything.

 

All in all a great entry this week and I am a sucker for stories where skeptics are proven wrong.

 

“Maconochie Man” by Albert Berg – World War I. In many ways that was the ultimate low point for our global civilization. So much death and hardship endured by untrained teens who haven’t even had the chance to live yet for reasons none of them really cared about. It’s hard to even imagine.

 

Setting a UFO story against such a backdrop seemed a little strange at first but more on that in a bit.

 

I loved the first few paragraphs of this story. The descriptions of the stew, his general health, the little oddities like the horror of loose teeth, and the fact that tomorrow he would die. Time and again throughout this story, James makes decisions based, at least in part, on him knowing he would die tomorrow. I kinda thought he was crazy or paranoid until he tells us what the plan was for tomorrow, then I agreed.

 

The arrival of the floating, glowing man causes both sides of this skirmish to stop and take stock of the situation. Fearful that the other side has developed a horrible new weapon, each force takes turns shooting at it to no effect. Once the floating man doesn’t retaliate and doesn’t move he becomes just part of the background, or a passive observer, as the war takes center stage again.

 

The final assault that James has been dreading was well done. The descriptions of the noise and confusion of the battlefield combined with the insignificance and futility of being a single soldier in such a place as that had hooked.

 

The ending is the only ending that would fit this story and yet I still felt sad for James.

 

The issue I have with this story is the UFO. To me, the UFO in this story is not really part of the story. In my mind, it serves to contrast the horrors of war against the unknown. A giant, indestructible man appears in the sky and within a few hours he is forgotten and the plans to destroy each other go ahead on schedule. Strong commentary on war and mankind in general, but not really a UFO story.

 

Two tales this week, with two vastly different UFOs, but no aliens. Darn. Still a couple of very well written stories, just as I have come to expect from these authors. In the end, one of those stories just seemed to fit the prompt a little better. My vote goes to “The Lights of Wasashe Springs” by Donald Uitvlugt.

 

There you have it folks! A solid win for Mr. Donald Uitvlugt. Not only did he win Battle 86 of The Writer’s Arena, he also became a father during his prompt. Against all odds and the stress of being a first time father, Donald endured and won over the formidable Albert Berg.

Let’s see if the audience agrees.

A very close victory in the polls but that is a sweep for Donald! You will be seeing him defend his title in The Writer’s Arena in the coming months so get ready for more stories from Donald.

Come back tomorrow to see a pair of stories from Alicia Aringdale and Tony Southcotte!

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