ASIM pre-slush workshop post #8

Here is the eighth of the submissions, posted here in no particular order. Please remember that this is the opinion of one editor. There will be others who agree, but there will also be those who disagree. In the end, what you do with your story is up to you; it’s your call.

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Original text:

The Sneeze Hound

Shawn Pavlovsky pulled his mail from the box, hoping Mr. Tadwill had responded with an update on his model ship. A freshly crushed lilac petal was stuck to the top piece – a sweet scent.

Shawn sneezed.

Facing the mirror, Shawn saw two loose sacks of skin, wrinkled, with mismatched nipples that both pointed downward. Age-spotted hands rose to cup each breast, pushing them upwards and inwards. The old woman hummed off-key through cracked lips as she prodded her breasts into different positions, then released them to pick up the pamphlet on the counter. Dropping onto the toilet seat, she flipped the pamphlet open and looked at the series of breast implant before and after pictures as she started to piss.

Shawn’s nose was smashed into the tile flooring, his mail scattered beneath him. Mrs. Herringbone again, he thought, shivering in disgust. He started to push himself up.

“Stay still,” a woman yelled.

He heard heels clicking down the stairs.

“You’ve had a bad fall. When I found you, you were unresponsive. The cell reception here’s atrocious, so I ran upstairs to try to find someone to call 911. No, stop! You could be badly injured.”

Shawn pushed himself up onto his hands and knees, then stood up and turned towards the woman. She appeared to be in her late twenties, and pretty despite the blue streaks in her hair. “I’m fine. I have these epileptic fits sometimes. Once the seizure wears off, it takes me awhile to regain consciousness.” It wasn’t true, but it was a lie he had told often. He wanted to pick up his mail, but the petal might cause him to sneeze again, and he didn’t want to have a second episode in front of her. He didn’t want to have a second episode at all.

Editor’s comment:

Technically, there is little wrong with this piece. It also creates a good question: why does Shawn have fits and what does it mean?

I’m wondering if the mention of Mr Tadwill and models in the first sentence is needed. It sets me off on the wrong foot, but thinking that this is going to be a story about models and all the while the fit is happening, there’s a little annoying voice in the back of my mind that keeps going ‘but what about the models?’. I think it would be better to raise the subject of models at a spot where you can actually elaborate. No big deal.

OK, now we come to my problem with this piece: the eew factor. Honestly, I don’t think anyone would like to know how many slush submissions pass my computer screen where I feel compelled to wash the screen afterwards. Guts, blood and vomit, all in the first few paragraphs. An old, wrinkled woman squishing her breasts and peeing isn’t by far the worst thing I’ve seen, but I am going eew in my mind. Meanwhile, I know nothing about this character so don’t yet feel any sympathy towards him. This combination of the absence of redeeming features for Shawn, and his vision, makes me wonder why he has to see this toilet scene in particular. It then combines with the mention of the neighbour as ‘pretty despite having blue streaks in her hair’ and my red flags are up. I’m wondering whose judgement this is. I think the story had better make it clear that it’s Shawn’s judgment that older women are gross and people with blue streaks in their hair are ugly. In which case, I won’t have any sympathy for him, because he’s sounding like an opinionated you-know-what.

I think it would be safer to allow the reader to gain sympathy for Shawn first before starting on the gross scenes. Personally, I would change the vision to something more benign, and ideally something that raises a question or two related to the plot. I would concentrate on the vision and the mystery. It seems this is a story about sneezing. Develop that right from the beginning. You don’t really want the slush readers to be icked out before they get to the plot.

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3 comments on “ASIM pre-slush workshop post #8

  1. Personally, I had to re-read the first half to understand that he was having a fit. There was no transition between “Shawn sneezed” and what came next, which threw me for a loop. I even thought for a moment that perhaps the section had been uploaded incorrectly. As a reader, I don’t want to feel lost within the first three paragraphs; it’s a turn off, even more so than the naked old lady having a piss.

    Easy fix, though.

    Just one reader’s opinion, of course.

    • Oops, that was totally due to an error by the site administrator, aka. me, for forgetting to put that section in italics. My bad! Fixed now.

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