TWA Tournament Round IV: Neighbors – JUDGEMENT

twat-ii-round-2-main-judgement-01As the leaves turn colored and a chill creeps up during the night, we watch as autumn settles over the arena floor. With this judgement, the quarterfinal round of The Writer’s Arena Tournament comes to a close. One author will fall, the other will move on to glory in the second tier.

Neighbors have always been a tricky business. If you are lucky they are kind and gracious. Most of the good ones even remember to keep their yard clean and give you warning when they have a party. Bad neighbors are a plague on the consciousness, you just never know what they might be up to. This week we tasked Hannah and Donald to write stories about their neighbors.

Hannah Newell returns to the arena with “Alone.”

Donald Uitvlugt defends his title with “Good Neighbors.”

Let’s see what our judges have to say.

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 are his thoughts:

Neighbors. Unless you live out in the middle of nowhere, you have them. Apartments, houses, condos, they are full of neighbors. Some can be best friends while others are your worst enemies. How did out authors treat the people next door? Let’s find out:

 

“Good Neighbors” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt –  The title seemed a little too straightforward and, as the Arena has proven time and again, you can never take things at face value so I was wary going in.
I enjoyed the interaction between Tate and his wife, Abby. The conversations about the neighbor next door, Mrs Dorsey, seem vary natural and well written. I liked how spells and witchcraft were worked in without a pause.
When we actually meet Mrs. Dorsey, we see her in all her “crazy” glory. I know that if I found an 83 year old women crouched behind a dumpster I’d be thinking she had some issues even before I saw the good china bowls full of milk and bread. Then comes the Good Neighbors mention…
I love stories that blend our normal, modern world with the rich fantasy world of the fey. As soon as she started talking about the Fair Folk, I got excited.
From there on out, the signs of the Otherworld were plain to see. A woman weeping in the laundry room was surely connected, as was the cat drinking the offerings of milk, and when Abby goes missing there was really only one place she could have gone.
I liked the way that Mrs Dorsey wants to help but knows she can only do so much. A guide and a portal are all that she can offer.
It was a nice touch that in the land of the Fairy Folk love has powers that it does not have here. Tate is able to find his wife just by thinking about her, and when he challenges the King Under the Mountain his love is all he has to try and break the spell that holds her, well, and her love for him as it turns out.
That was a nice turnabout there at the end, that Tate doesn’t really save her, she more saves herself with his prompting.
The only issue I may have had with the story is the pacing. The first part builds nice and slow but once Abby leaves it’s a race to the end. Not sure if that was intentional or not, but a little more in the Otherworld before we got to the cave would have been nice.
All in all a great story and one that meets the prompt on more than one level.
“Alone” by Hannah Newell –  “I had a slowly rolling metal ball in my gut” may be one of the oddest opening lines I have seen here and yet it describes perfectly the feeling it is trying to convey. Add the spikes and the fact that it never ends and you know this person is in hell.
When we find out that the cause of this personal torment is another person it makes us wonder what they have done. When we find out that they have done nothing but show up over and over, I was intrigued.
There is one part to this story that I wish was slightly different. The “mimicked me word-for-word” line is a little too dead on. It kind of spoils the secret too soon. I think it could have built a little more before we started getting the hints like that or the same clothing, same mug, same makeup. It would have helped us to step into her shoes a little more and feel the paranoia more before we realized that our narrator has some serious issues.
That being said, I do like the idea of someone not recognizing themselves so much that they think it is another person. Being constantly followed by someone would quickly lead most of us down a dark path.
It is interesting that our narrator was able to work through it all and come out accepting of her constant companion, even if it came at the cost of all other relationships.
There is a really neat idea here, and one that needs more exploration. I wish I had another thousand words to read.
Still an inspired entry to the arena.
The Arena sparks so many great ideas in so many authors, I am truly privileged to get to read them all. This week we had two stories with wonderful inspiration, but unfortunately, sometimes the constraints of the Arena doesn’t allow for that inspiration to develop fully. This week my vote goes to the story that seemed more complete, more developed. That story is Good Neighbors” by Donald Jacob Uitvlugt 

Our next judge is Kevin Veldman is an eternally-aspiring writer and the editor and co-host of the comic book comedy podcast “The ComicNoobs Show” which is available on Soundcloud (https://soundcloud.com/comicnoobspodcast), iTunes (https://itunes.apple.com/us/podcast/comic-noobs/id1042622248) and most podcast apps. You can usually find Kevin posting nonsense and comicbook or sci-fi articles on Twitter @comicnoobsshow. One day he’ll publish some stories, but not until he learns to write better.

Neighbors can be lifelong friends, complete strangers, objects of longing or scorn. Thrown together by chance, they become a part of your life. This is a great subject for The Tournament and both contestants brought it this week.

 

First up, “Good Neighbors” by Donald Uitvlugt:

 

I love stories where mundane apartment life suddenly goes supernatural, and this story delivered on that in a big way. With no time wasted on unnecessary details, I felt like I knew the setting perfectly. With very few words wasted, the author is able to conjure the image of a mid-range apartment building and everything that entails.

 

Then the setting gets strange. Then, even stranger. The tunnel that Tate is led through to the “other side” and the whole “elsewhere” setting were set up with just enough detail to let you know what everything is like, while letting the readers’ imaginations draw it perfectly. The feast setting was fantastical enough to be exciting, but not so wild that it is hard to picture.

 

I immediately liked all of the characters, especially the point-of-view character Tate. I love that everyone had a distinct personality in so short a piece. Even that cat had its own personality. Since I have to critique, I think when Abby is explaining about fairies, etc. It felt a bit more like a lecture or a lesson than a conversation. That said, I think the way that Tate was finally able to save Abby was a great, unique twist.

 

Next up, “Alone” by Hannah Newell

 

This story packs a punch for being so short. The author is able to evoke feelings and imagery with perfect metaphors. Using the slowly rolling metal ball from the first sentence sets a vivid tone and mood for this story that definitely colored the way felt while I read.

 

I loved the way the story went from an eerie, supernatural feel to a somewhat more psychological one as it progressed, and I slowly realized that the main character was talking about his/her reflection as an antagonist. I can think of at least a few different interpretations for that, and the story made me reflect (sorry for the pun) on the meaning behind it, which is about the highest praise I can offer.

 

My biggest problem with this story is that it was almost too short. I wish there had been some kind of action in the story or maybe a stronger declaration at the end. While I felt like just a little bit more could have been more satisfying, this story definitely left me wanting more.

 

Since I have to decide, “Alone” gets my vote as the winner this week. This was a tough decision and I went back and forth a few times, but in the end I had to go with the story that left me thinking about it more, and the more I tried to interpret the ending of “Alone,” the more I liked the story.

A split decision! This means that we go to the votes. Let’s take a look at the poll.

It looks like Donald Uitvlugt has won a stunningly close finish! Take heart Hannah, it was a very close fight and came down to the wire. One vote. Remember folks, every vote counts, whether it is in the arena or in a presidential race. Our friend Donald Uitvlugt won this won, will another Donald win in a bigger vote?

Congratulations to all of our first round winners. The Arena Regulars got mauled. Flat out blanked. Their watch is over until the new year. The tournament will endure, and Lu Whitley, Thomas Mays, David Webb, and Donald Uitvlugt will fight for that sweet arena trophy. Check back soon as the next round is just over the horizon.

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