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Thread: "I Feel the West in You" (From the short-story competition)

  1. #1
    Registered User davoarid's Avatar
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    "I Feel the West in You" (From the short-story competition)

    After my stunning last place finish in our short-story competition (http://www.online-literature.com/for...d.php?t=19897), I decided to post my story here to get some feedback. Excessive and unadulterated praise preferred, though I'll accept criticism as well.




    “I never told you about my grandmother, did I?”

    Kira looked up from her plate. “Possibly. Which grandmother?”

    “Maternal—my mother’s mother,” Leo replied.

    “By ‘mother’ do you mean your biological mother or your step-mother?”

    “Ah, I see. Welcome to the 21st century,” he said. “No, I mean my biological maternal grandmother. I never told you what happened to her.”

    “No you didn’t, but I’d asked about your mother,” Kira protested, “not your grandmother, biological maternal or otherwise.”

    “True, but to know one you must know the other. Well, anyway, they grew up in the center of Boston,” he started, “so the whole family was brought up in that environment, you know, which is probably only a small step below mine in your eyes,”

    Kira smirked. “You know I don’t care about that, Leo,” she said.

    “But we both know who does care about it, don’t we?” Leo began. Upon seeing the look in her eyes, he reversed himself: “But let’s try to get through a meal without allowing your father’s divine presence to interfere.”

    “I think that would be best,” she answered curtly. “How are your eggs?” she asked, after an uncomfortable pause.

    “I’m starting to wish I’d ordered something else. This isn’t what I thought it was going to be,” he said, leaning for a sip of water. At that moment their waiter stopped by to ask how their meal was, with Leo brushing him off nonchalantly, which elicited a chuckle from Kira.

    “Anyway, according to my mother, that great tradition of yours was always just a big hassle for her—and not just because it was always three hours long and spoken in Latin. My mom just never really got into it. The way she tells it, the day she turned eighteen and moved out of the house simply meant that she no longer had to eat fish on Friday. But there was one story, a story she only told me once, that always struck a chord with me. It may have just been nothing, but, in my mind, it was this incident involving my grandmother,” he said, reaching for the water pitcher, “that most shaped her future beliefs.

    “Now, you’re more familiar with this than I, but every week my mom’s entire family would load into their station wagon and,” Leo cleared his throat, “you know, do their thing.”

    “Oh Leo, must we speak in euphemisms?” Kira said, laughing. “My God, it’s not that disgusting!”

    “Sorry. It’s so strange, but for some reason I’ve always felt uncomfortable about the topic. Particularly in front of you, which is strange because… you know, we talk about it all the time. But anyway, this routine went on for years and years. After it was over, they’d all head out to a seafood restaurant. And this was real, New England seafood—not this North Dakota faux-seafood. My mom always said that even today she’d put up with three hours of boredom every Sunday if it meant she could taste fresh lobster again.

    “Anyway, this was all fine and dandy until one week—Ma never said how old she was, but probably around eleven or so—until one week, when her mother didn’t enter the church with them. Her dad drove up to the church, parked in the driveway, the whole family got out of the station wagon, but her mother hopped back in and drove around until the services were over.

    “When it first started, all the kids—you know, my mom and two uncles—asked what was going on, but they never got an answer. I never got a chance to meet him, but, from what I’ve heard about him, my grand-father was a pretty direct guy—a former veteran with a deep, booming voice which could end any discussion. So talks with him never went anywhere.

    “So, this routine continued until my Mom turned eighteen and moved out of the house—it might have even kept going after that, who knows. But right before my mom finally left, her mother had a private talk with her and explained the whole situation.”

    Leo leaned back, picking through his omelet, which was now cold. “Apparently,” he began, “after the birth of my grandmother’s youngest child—Uncle Andrei—there were some kind of complications—I don’t remember what it was exactly, something with her glands—but, whatever it was, her doctor told her that having another child could seriously endanger her health. Now—”

    “Hypothyroidism?” Kira interrupted.

    “I’m not sure,” Leo said, shrugging his shoulders. “Anyway, it’s not really important. To make a long story short, my grandmother had to start taking birth control pills, and somehow the secret got out, and,” he stammered, searching for the words, “and that’s why she had to go shopping every Sunday morning.” He pushed his plate away and took another sip from his glass.

    Kira looked at Leo’s long face. In the entire course of their relationship, she’d never known Leo to tell a story just for the sake of telling it. For him, everything in life—from Kafka to Willy Wonka to everyday actions and conversations—reflected some bigger themes than first showed up at first glance. At first she thought he was kidding, but she had gradually started to see that he was deadly serious. It was simultaneously his most endearing trait and most detracting flaw—sometimes she just wanted to talk to him.

    “Then I imagine you must be pleased with their actions,” she began cautiously. “If that hadn’t happened, your mother may have kept the faith and taught it to you as a child.”

    Leo shook his head. “You’re completely missing the point, Kira. Just because that action led to positive results for me fifty years later in no way makes it okay. In real life, the ends don’t justify the means—Job’s family is still dead, even if his relationship with God has strengthened because of it. Christianity made my grandmother a social pariah, excluding her from the community. Nothing can justify that.”

    “Leo, it wasn’t Christianity that did that,” she explained didactically. “It was a few bigots at a small Catholic Church in Boston who did it. You can’t blame an entire ideology for the actions of a few. Hitler was a vegetarian and Stalin was an atheist, but those ideologies are no more responsible for those individuals’ atrocities than Christianity is responsible for your grandmother’s treatment back then. You know what I mean?”

    Leo shook his head. “No, Kira, you’re mistaken. Look, I have no doubt that there were a lot of members of that church who felt my grandmother was treated unjustly, Christians who felt that using,” he lowered his voice, “birth control isn’t always a sin. My grand-father, for example. And, uh,” he paused, trying to muster as much tact as possible for his next words, “obviously you don’t think it is either. But the reason no one spoke out against it was because the church’s actions had their root in Catholic dogma—to protest her exclusion would be to run contrary to the church and, by extension, Christianity as a whole.”

    “No!” exclaimed Kira, loudly enough to cause the elderly couple in the next table to glance over at them. “The reason none of those Christians spoke up is because none of them had any courage, Leo. We don’t all stone Mary Magdalene; true Christians stand up and protest real injustices, even if it means going against the church or against the community.”

    Leo sat, chewing on an ice cube. “Is that so?” he asked.

    “Yes,” she answered immediately.

    “And you’re a ‘true Christian,’ right?”

    “Yes.”

    Leo reached over the table, and took hold of her hands, and looked her directly in the eye. “Then introduce me to your father.”

    “What are you trying to prove Leo?” she asked, successfully holding her resolve. “Do you really think that will accomplish anything?”

    Leo laughed, “Oh, it absolutely will. I’m not a fool, Kira. You’ve kept our relationship a secret from him, because you don’t want him to castigate you from the pulpit every Sunday for dating a heathen. So, introduce me to him, right after lunch.”

    “Is that what you think I’m afraid of?”

    Leo gave her a curious look. “Isn’t it?”

    “You think this whole thing has been because I’ve feared criticism from my father? Leo, if my father learns about you, he will disown me.”

    Leo gave her a derisive look. “You’re being melodramatic.”

    “Yes, and you’re being naïve and idealistic. You fail to understand how serious these consequences are for me, Leo. Every member of my family,” she said, “every sister, every aunt, every cousin—has dated a churchgoing Christian. And yet you think that if I tell my father that my boyfriend is one of the most notorious and practically evangelical atheists in the entire town, he’ll just shrug his shoulders and casually joke about it?”

    After taking a deep breath, Leo began. “Well, Kira, then I guess the problem is very simple.”

    Kira thought about it for a moment. “You can’t make me choose between you and my father, Leo. I won’t,” she protested.

    Leo looked at the clock. 11:35. “Kira, you knew this relationship couldn’t have a happy ending. You knew you would one day have to choose between the two of us. Our love can’t,” he started, but caught himself. He’d never said the word before. “Our relationship just can’t coexist with your father’s—your father’s bigotry masquerading as faith.”

    But it only took one look at her face for Leo to see that he’d made a mistake. “I’m sorry, Leo,” Kira said to him, her voice strong and not broken. “I’m sorry. We could have transcended this whole thing if not for your selfishness. In you I once saw freedom. But now I see only chaos,” she said, getting up. “Good-by.”

    Then Leo kissed Kira and began to weep aloud.

    But Kira was gone. And she would never come back.

    Leo sat back down and drank from the chalice. “Nietzsche was right,” he thought to himself. “The only true Christian really did die on the cross.”
    "A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral." -Leo Tolstoy

  2. #2
    Just another nerd RobinHood3000's Avatar
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    No offense, davoarid, but I thought that your story exhibits some of the habits of inexperienced writers. You rely a lot on narration as opposed to action to tell your story, and although there are exceptions, "show, don't tell" is still an important maxim to follow. For example, when you say Leo "gave Kira a derisive look," it may work better if you describe something specific that Leo does to his face to look derisive. It brings the reader more deeply into the story if they feel like they can get to know the characters, rather than being told what the characters' emotions are up front. Just a thought.

    Your dialogue also feels a bit iffy - nothing wrong, really, but I feel like it could be more natural. Although I have to admit, dialogue is hard to master - many people don't even get around to figure out how to speak effectively, let along write effectively about speaking.

    Still, I like your choice of subject, and the story arc is rather well-done, I thought. For the length, you do a fairly good job of establishing immediate conflict, and resolving it at the end. And as Pensive said, you finished well. If you don't mind my asking, does this story come from firsthand experience?
    Por una cabeza
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    Qué importa perderme
    Mil veces la vida
    Para qué vivir

  3. #3
    Metamorphosing Pensive's Avatar
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    I am not really good when it comes to be a critic. Well, there was nothing in the story which made me want to critisize as well. So I will go with the praise.

    It was overall very good. I actually liked your writing style. Dialogues were good, description of events was excellent.

    Kira looked at Leo’s long face. In the entire course of their relationship, she’d never known Leo to tell a story just for the sake of telling it. For him, everything in life—from Kafka to Willy Wonka to everyday actions and conversations—reflected some bigger themes than first showed up at first glance. At first she thought he was kidding, but she had gradually started to see that he was deadly serious. It was simultaneously his most endearing trait and most detracting flaw—sometimes she just wanted to talk to him.
    And, most of all: I liked your choice of subject (as Robin has said) and the way you ended the story really gripped me.

    I’m sorry. We could have transcended this whole thing if not for your selfishness. In you I once saw freedom. But now I see only chaos,” she said, getting up. “Good-by.”
    Leo sat back down and drank from the chalice. “Nietzsche was right,” he thought to himself. “The only true Christian really did die on the cross.”

    Good work! Keep on writing!
    I sang of leaves, of leaves of gold, and leaves of gold there grew.

  4. #4
    Registered User davoarid's Avatar
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    Quote Originally Posted by RobinHood3000 View Post
    No offense, davoarid, but I thought that your story exhibits some of the habits of inexperienced writers. You rely a lot on narration as opposed to action to tell your story, and although there are exceptions, "show, don't tell" is still an important maxim to follow. For example, when you say Leo "gave Kira a derisive look," it may work better if you describe something specific that Leo does to his face to look derisive. It brings the reader more deeply into the story if they feel like they can get to know the characters, rather than being told what the characters' emotions are up front. Just a thought.
    I remember reading somewhere that "one action is worth a thousand adjectives." I know what you're saying, and I guess I just couldn't follow my own advice very well. (And yes, I'm a very inexperienced writer. )

    Your dialogue also feels a bit iffy - nothing wrong, really, but I feel like it could be more natural. Although I have to admit, dialogue is hard to master - many people don't even get around to figure out how to speak effectively, let along write effectively about speaking.
    My chief literary influence is Ayn Rand...so my dialogue was doomed from the start! But no, I was actually trying to follow her advice on crafting dialogue: Selectively choose only the parts of the conversation that are philosophically relevant; the words that reveal the characters' true motivations. I wasn't striving for realism at all--it was based on a true event, and I tried interpreting it the way I believed Rand would have. Obviously I failed, or I'd have thousands of robots at my disposal by now.

    I'd also like to point out that you're in full agreement with the 8 editors who rejected my story.
    "A man can live and be healthy without killing animals for food; therefore, if he eats meat he participates in taking animal life merely for the sake of his appetite. And to act so is immoral." -Leo Tolstoy

  5. #5
    Memsahib Madhuri's Avatar
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    I have only good things to say about your story. I loved the subject, and I really like the way you conveyed your message. The transition from the story he was trying to tell and then coming to the point was so nicely done.
    Charms strike the sight, but merit wins the soul.

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  6. #6
    Not politically correct Pendragon's Avatar
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    Smile

    Your story was fine, and everything I saw wrong someone has already mentioned. For me, the dialogue was stilted, sort of robotic, not really what people would say to each other in a real conversation. The ending was good, as everyone agrees, maybe a bit of reasoning as to why Leo comes to that conclusion might help, but don't smother the ending. All in all, a good read.

    PS. Don’t worry about eight rejections. Many great writers had as many as 30 before a story sold that proved to be a classic! Hang in there!
    Some of us laugh
    Some of us cry
    Some of us smoke
    Some of us lie
    But it's all just the way
    that we cope with our lives...

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