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Author Topic: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!  (Read 5629 times)

Offline ReadorDie

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ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« on: May 15, 2007, 12:08:34 PM »
Yes, the Lurker is posting!  He's back, and he's got a new trick:

Nay, not a review, but he wrote a story.  And he wants your critique.  As in actually telling me what's good and what's wrong with it.

Xylophone Blues (as Played on Kazoos)

1
Like most violinists, he was romantic and self-important, and like most Americans he was a dedicated underachiever.

   The violin is the irresponsible younger sister of the more grounded cello and the more geriatric bass.  Always sure to be a bad influence on the baby of the family, the ever-impressionable viola, it went backpacking through Europe with its uncle, the guitar.  There, it was kidnapped by gypsies.

   And God only knows what secrets it returned with.

2
Like most people who play the xylophone, he was utterly suicidal.  The mere knowledge that your instrument of choice is the marimba’s aphasic second cousin (three times removed from the piano and five from the organ) is enough to grim the features of even the most amiable musician, but when you play one for an orchestra…well, nothing short of pulling the plug seems a viable way out.

There are no sonatas written for the xylophone; no great symphonic suites made to echo off of its keys.  The author wonders why this is.

3
   It called itself the Albuquerque Philharmonic, but it was really little more than a dilapidated jazz band with a modest string section.  Somewhere in the humble theatre, a clinically depressed xylophonist clutched his mallets and attempted to ward off a quickly advancing headache.

   “If only,” he mused, “I had a kazoo.  I could set the pitch for the entire theatre.”

   The kazoo is the class clown of instruments; the one everyone loves to hate.  Everyone has some sort of relationship with it; everyone has played one at some point or another.  However, only fools form a true friendship with it because, as an instrument, it lacks finesse.  No talent required.  It’s a second to learn, a second to master, its flippancy no doubt caused by a bad relationship with its father, the harmonica.

   Like most class clowns, however, it is a one trick pony.  It can only play one note.  It’s not the only instrument afflicted so; the drums are much the same, able only to produce an endless string of Fs.  But, unlike the drums, the kazoo can hold its note, and so would be quite perfect for setting an orchestra’s pitch.  Isn’t that an image?  A stringy, sandy-haired man standing in front of the full orchestra, in all its mediocrity, bringing a kazoo to his lips and blowing.

   And the whole procession clamors to follow its lead.  An underachiever in the seat of power?  Oh well.  This is, after all, America.

4
   The violin, for all her frivolity, has a special talent.  She can be in two places at once, if she so chooses.  By placing your fingers on two separate strings and angling the bow just so, it is possible to be playing two notes at once.  The sound that results is quite the auditory spectacle, with a resonance not expected from so small an instrument.

   Technically, it’s called double-stopping.  And it is the bunion on the ass of Dorian White’s existence. “So?”

   “Your double-stops need work; you’re playing noticeably harder on one string than you are on the other.”

   “Lady, do you know how hard it is to play like-”

   “No, I don’t.  Now don’t interrupt.” She took a long drag off of her cigar and exhaled into his face. “Your slides are terrible, they sound about as shaky as your trills should.  I have, in my time, heard worse intonation, but that was from a five-year-old, and you have dabs of what appears to be white-out on the neck of your instrument.  You’re a disgrace to music and to the violin.  You’re also hired.”

   Wait… “What?”

   “I said you’re generally quite terrible.”

   “No, after that.”

   “Oh.  I said you’re hired.”

   “If I didn’t know better I’d say that you’re hiring me because I’m mediocre.”

   “Well, no.  But through blood, sweat, and tears you might get there someday.”

   Dorian fumed. “So it’s because I’m shit then.”

   “Exactly; and I know shit when I see it.  This, however, is a shit establishment; you’ll fit right in here.” The proprietor was an elderly woman of about seventy years who looked like she’d had a lemon wedge stuck in her mouth for at least thirty.  “You saw that nice young man who left before you?”

   “The blonde?”

   “Yes, he sat here and played me Vocalise; you know, that Rachmaninoff piece?  So beautiful I nearly cried.  I didn’t hire him though.  Too passionate; and furthermore he was actually good.  You played me the Can-Can and managed to mangle it.  Quite bland; and also technical garbage.  White trash runs at the sight of anything better than mediocre, though, and they’re my main audience.”

“I’ll be in tomorrow then.” Dorian stood up to leave and had almost made it to the door before the old woman spoke. “Dorian White, huh?  Well.  I’m sure with you around we’ll have a ‘Wilde’ time!” Then she laughed, her beef-jerky face suddenly a very alive cow.

Drat.  And he had so hoped that he would get through one job interview without anyone bringing it up.

5

   Suicide was hardly a new thought to Benjamin.  He was, after all, a xylophonist, and people insisted on calling him Benji.

   He had tried slitting his wrists after his girlfriend left him (just the most recent on a long list of failures) but she had burst in at the last second, saying she would take him back.  He was already working through the second wrist.

   She broke up with him again at the hospital.  He tried telling the nurse the wrong blood type when asked for the transfusion, but he was “The universal recipient,” his nurse, Sherry, explained. “We could’ve given you any type of blood and your body wouldn’t have rejected it.”

   “Why couldn’t I be O-?  Then any old blood would’ve killed me.”

   “I dunno, kid.  Maybe you’re just unlucky.” Said Sherry, as she punctured his arm for the fifth time. “Can’t find the goddamned vein…Hey, look on the bright side!  Maybe the person who donated your blood had AIDS.”

   “Don’t they check for that?”      

   “Well, yes.  But if you’re going to be realistic I’m going to stop trying to cheer you up.” He felt her pull the needle out and looked down at his arm.  A dark hematoma, like a great grape-juice stain on his arm, began to spread.   “Damn, your veins are set deep.  Move your hand around a little!”

   So, as he stood on top of the Albuquerque Orchestra Theatre, he wasn’t really afraid. “Sure, this is just a converted two-story apartment building.  Sure, it’ll probably just hurt like hell.  Maybe I’ll land on my neck.”

   Look back at what you know about Benji.  Does he seem that lucky?

   Yeah, I didn’t think so.

6
   Realism is a philosophical dead-end simply because real life is perceived so differently by everyone.  One man’s pain is another man’s pleasure, one man’s trash another’s treasure.  The other trouble with realism is that realists, by and large, are just closeted pessimists.  They claim that they aren’t viewing the world in the worst possible light, simply because they’re viewing it, at least in their minds, realistically.

   Now, it might be argued that we live in the worst of all possible worlds, but the author likes to think that the existence of butterscotch crumpets disproves that.  After all, who wants to live in a world without crumpets?

   The lesson here is that pessimism isn’t so much a way of life as it is a bad mood, and that pessimists who pretend to be realists should be shot.

   Dorian generally considered himself to be an optimist, which might explain why he didn’t expect a man to land on his head as he walked out of the theatre.  Though what was even less expected than that was what he saw right before he blacked out: a pair of xylophone mallets dropping out of the sky, headed directly towards his face.

Offline Tamashii

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Re: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« Reply #1 on: May 20, 2007, 12:27:56 AM »
You know it when you've written something excellent. And you don't post it on our forums for no reason! Good job, many kudos. See, I was not wrong when I said you were a good writer oh two or so years ago. The narration is impeccable, the ability to weave the story from three separate parts into something plausible (enjoyable, too) is incredibly admirable. How long did this take?

The vocabulary is brilliant and thus the diction really defines the tone of humor. The subject matter and its approach is all just brilliant. And again, the narration is only something someone as talented as yourself can pull off.

I saw a cliche or two, but that can be forgiven. I would really like a more solid link between the very last paragraph and part 6. If you can relate realism to the story in the last paragraph, the conclusion would be nothing short of genius. Also, even though the personification of the instruments is interesting, if you give it meaning, the story will read better.

The use of the "author voice" is awkward. It feels out of place, despite the story being quirky itself. Either omit it, or rephrase it. What's wrong with using "I"?

Is there an overall message or theme? Or is this just a fun read? What are your intentions?

Tweak the little parts, because all that's really wrong is a couple of little spots.

Overall, splendid work.

Offline royal crown

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Re: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« Reply #2 on: May 20, 2007, 01:13:25 AM »
Hm, while I don't want to sound overly critical or rude, since I have very little my way in terms of writing talent for short stories and the like, I think that this is an OK draft but could be a bit better. It's definitely good, but the point was hard to discern until the end. The problem lies inherently in the 6th paragraph - there really shouldn't be a sixth paragraph, because that very same message you're trying to extend to the reader should already be implemented into your writing. The way you have it now makes the story feel awkward because the underlying point, instead of being weaved in throughout the story, was instead tacked on the end. The best kind of essay is one where the reader should be able to reach the conclusion without that ending paragraph - make it subtle and avoid being too overt, again for awkwardness sake; however, the point should be able to be extracted.

I kind of critiqued this like an essay, because it felt more like an essay than a short story - not a bad thing, just what I got from it. Tell me if what I said didn't make sense, because I have a tendency to do that - it's definitely good writing though.

Offline Tamashii

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Re: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« Reply #3 on: May 20, 2007, 02:19:34 PM »
I can't see a very solid message for the story (not that it really needs one, it is just a story, if that was the intention). I did like the optimism/pessimism ordeal, which does reflect back to the characters, however, once again, I need more (or less) about that realism. Which brings me to...

Royal crown, I am an advocate for dynamic writing and I cannot stand idly by while you suggest to ReadorDie a more formulaic approach to writing. Note firstly that this is an short story and short stories can be free of many conventions that hold true for novels, such as "building towards a general purpose/theme/idea." In that this story is chaotic is exactly what makes it innovative. He does weave some of his underlying idea throughout the story; we can clearly see that the Xylophonist is a pessimist. We can also see that other characters have a pessimist or optimist mindset: the interviewer and the old lady. But it is because the underlying idea is completely unexpected, that no one looks for it. Nonetheless, ReadorDie does manage to link almost everything together magically in that last paragraph. Admirable. However, that is characterization and does not feel like an underlying "point" as it says "Character A is an optimist, Character B is a pessimist" instead of pessimism and optimism work together to blah blah blah. Does every story need to really have a "big message?" Well, that's up to ReadorDie.

One issue, though, is that I am not convinced that Dorian is an optimist since he's an underachiever. Work this out, imo!

Offline royal crown

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Re: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« Reply #4 on: May 20, 2007, 05:00:22 PM »
I wasn't trying to suggest any sort of formulaic writing style onto the story; sorry if I came off sounding like I did. I do think that all writing should have a point, but by that I simply mean to write with intent - which is inherent to good writing. That being said I think that RoD did have intent in writing, but because it was overt in the end it felt cliche.

As for his "big message," well, it was stated directly:

"The lesson here is that pessimism isn’t so much a way of life as it is a bad mood, and that pessimists who pretend to be realists should be shot."

I just think it would come off as more natural if that thesis, if you will, was integrated into the story. I'm not trying to attack it, and I actually think the story is quite good, but I'm just throwing up some things as a basis for improvement.

But yeah, I'm not saying that all stories should have a "big message," nor am I criticizing the story for a lack of one. I'm saying that the point, if integrated a bit more, would make the story flow more. Since this is a critique, it should be apparent that what I say is IMHO, and only IMO. I'm just offering a suggestion.

Offline Tamashii

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Re: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« Reply #5 on: May 21, 2007, 06:44:33 PM »
All right; however, I should not have come across as implicating you attacking anything, just that I disagreed with the ideology behind your comments.

"The lesson here is that pessimism isn’t so much a way of life as it is a bad mood, and that pessimists who pretend to be realists should be shot."

Yeah I didn't really buy that.

Offline Kuma

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Re: ZOMG ReadorDie's BACK!
« Reply #6 on: May 21, 2007, 08:25:48 PM »
Bravo sir!, Bravo.  An excellent story.  It reminded me of some of Neil Gaiman's short stories, and had you slid it into Fragile Things and told me he wrote it, I would never doubt it.  I found the last paragraph quite insightful, and not at all unnecessary.  As much as I love trying to figure out what an author was trying to convey, sometimes I just want to hear it straight from the horses mouth.  I think paragraph 6 was a nice touch.
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