Saturday, January 22, 2011

Showdown at The Sharp Angle

Recently, eighty-three souls gathered for a showdown at The Sharp Angle. When the dust had settled, only Audrey Lockwood would walk away with the Grand Prize. (Congratulations, Audrey!!!) The rest of us had lots of fun doing what we enjoy -- writing! -- and gained valuable insights from Lydia Sharp's critiques, so everybody won in her "The Awesome" contest (Thank you, Lydia!!!).

The Herscher Project was well represented in the contest. Along with my own entry, Lydia and Joe also judged entries by Patricia M. D'Angelo, Jamie A. Hughes, Neil Foster, Cecily Webster, and Louise Hughes . For those first 500ish words of a retooled version of her tHP#19 work, Louise earned a Sharp Angle Honorable Mention. (Congratulations, Louise!!!)

My entry for Lydia's "The Awesome" contest consisted of the first 11 paragraphs of Something Less, a piece I co-authored with another tHP member for tHP#14. Since this was a segment of the story that I wrote, and is representative of my own words and style, Lydia allowed its inclusion in the competition. The following is Lydia's critique of my entry. Her comments are shown in red.

First Chapter Critique Contest, Entry #54
Author: Jim Bowers
Genre: Post-Apocalyptic

Thanks so much for entering the contest!

Gull — Spring 2633
The old man lay in the sun surrounded by a small gathering of soulchanters. His time was near, he knew, and their soft song was a comfort. Here, where he’d begged to be taken, the warmth of the sun was a gentle embrace and the breeze a light, loving caress.
Gull counted twenty-eight summers since his birth. Not many lived to his venerable age and he was famous for being the oldest warrior to have lived in his small town for many decades. The scourge of the ancients, the pain at times unbearable, ravaged his body. The disease was incurable, and this final battle he would lose. Fate would deny him the swift and honorable death of a true warrior. He would die in agony, succumbing at last to this cancer, this slayer of the weak that gnawed at him from within.
Tara, his only daughter, stood by in silence. The Passing of Elders was a common rite, and even though she was barely ten years into her life, Tara had come to know and understand death. She accepted it as a natural and undeniable fact. Life was unkind and its greatest cruelties, she knew, would come in the deaths of those she loved.
Come to me, Tara,” demanded her father, and she obeyed. Gesturing with a hand made weak by his battle with the disease, the old warrior said, “Sit here in the grass beside me and recite the histories. In return, I shall tell you of life.”
"Yes, Father."
She knelt in the grass and tenderly took his hand. He rewarded her obedience with a weak smile. “If you wish to become one of The Wise, you must learn, and quickly. There is much to know and so little time to learn. Now, tell me…”
The soulchanters’ song became quieter still, and Tara began her recitation. She repeated the ancient histories as she had learned them. She told of the Age of Sin, the Day of the Great Burning, the Cold Years. Gull listened, refusing to allow his pain to mar these last few hours with his daughter. Tara had learned many of the histories that she would need to know. She would, in a few short years, be expected to teach these histories and more to her own apprentice so that the mistakes of the ancients would never be repeated.
"Water. Just a few swallows,” he said after she had finished the tellings.
"I cannot, Father. You know the law… water is too precious for the dying."
"Yes. That is true. But the day my father died he had water. I did without my ration.” Tara bowed her head and felt the flush of embarrassment warming her cheeks. “Today I have no son to give me water."
It was law that the dying would no longer receive a water ration, but no laws prevented a person from doing what they wished with their own ration. She fumbled for her small canteen as she staggered through a clumsy apology. She unscrewed the aluminum cap and offered the canteen to him.

I honestly don't have any suggestions here. Your writing is clean, fluid, and easy to digest. I'm not a huge fan of the omniscient point of view (it's too distant for my taste), but I think it works for your story. In just a few hundred words you've piqued my interest with some intriguing story elements. Very nicely done.
Thanks again, and good luck with this!

Wednesday, January 19, 2011


Story by Steve Doyle.  Performance by members of StoryTellersOnline.
Cast of Characters
First Twin............Bridgette Fritz
Second Twin.......Ben Fritz
Ms. Flaherty........Malin Larsson

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

Like Rain on Spring Leaves

My name is Charlie.

Charlie Martin.

It’s raining.

It’s April. The 3rd of April.

That much I know, but I don’t know why I’m here or what I was thinking just a few minutes ago.

I can’t even recall how I got here. Just moments ago, I found myself sitting in this cemetery on a cold stone bench flanked by two small shrubs. This dreary rain has soaked everything in sight and driven away anyone who might have reasons to be here. Anyone except me, I guess, and I’ve apparently forgotten my own reasons.

I don’t remember when the rain began, either, but I’ve been watching it patter against the fresh green leaves of the bush to my left. Perhaps watching isn’t what I mean, because today I am actually seeing the rain. The water pools clean and clear on a leaf, rushes away in a miniature stream, cascades over the paper-thin edge, and then disappears-lost among all the less ambitious drops.

It should disturb me, I suppose, that my memory has abandoned me in the here and now. Yet, somehow, it doesn’t. The grey blanket of the sky is comforting in its peculiar way. Spring ought to be a bright and cheerful reawakening of life-but without the rain, there would be no hope of rebirth. So, in its dour manner, the rain gives affirmation that life goes on. Thinking of it in those terms dissipates some of the gloominess.

My hair is soaked, plastered coolly to my scalp, and I realize rainwater has trickled down past the neckline of my overcoat. The back of my shirt now clings wetly to my body and a tiny rivulet tickles me occasionally as it scurries to find a new path to the small of my back. The seat of my trousers is probably just as wet, but the cold stone I am sitting on has sufficiently numbed that part of my anatomy. Numbed to the point that I can no longer tell. I glance around and find that I have either misplaced or entirely forgotten my umbrella. Well, not that having it would do much good at this point.

Listening intently, I hear the tap-tap tap of rainfall on the leaves, a syncopated rhythm to entice all living things to join in the dance of spring renewed. Oddly, those drops hurling themselves headlong onto the thin fabric of my black overcoat call less audible attention to themselves. I strain to capture other sounds, but my ears have attuned themselves to the rain and it is all that my mind will register.

The lower half of my trousers, unprotected by my overcoat, are soaked through. My socks, too, are becoming drenched. Droplets still bead on the coal-black sheen of my shoes, but inside them I feel the dampness working its way toward my toes.

I wonder, since I can’t seem to remember, how long I’ve been here on this bench. Long enough to get wet. Yes, I realize, that isn’t much help. Wet is wet is wet. Once you get that way, it’s all the same. It isn’t that important, after all, but it would be nice to know. It would be more comforting to have a few simple points of reference.

I watch as a pale silver-blue Ford creeps down the lane and rolls sedately to a halt. I am thankful that the smell of car exhaust is far-removed. The rain has washed away much of the stench of industry. The smell of new verdant growth and youthful, sweet blossoms fills the air.

The car is parked not far from here. Headstones, in neat rows, stand in the lush, healthy grass separating my bench from the car. I watch as a woman emerges and opens her umbrella. Beneath her unbuttoned raincoat I can see she’s wearing blue. I’ve always liked blue.

Her heels make it difficult to walk on the softening lawn of the cemetery, but she manages. As the woman nears, recognition washes over my senses. Mary Beth!

But why would she come here? How could she know she would find me here?

Then suddenly, the presence of Mary Beth reminds me why I came to this place. And that this is not a bench at all. Like rain on spring leaves, her tears fall and become lost among the less heartfelt droplets. She bends down and places a simple bouquet on the polished grey stone.

“You know, Charlie,” she whispers, “it always hurts more when it rains on the third of April.”

©2000 James K Bowers

Friday, January 14, 2011

117 Minutes

Are we are better off not knowing what lies in the future? The question lurked in my mind, haunted me even as we tested the device on Chauncey, our chronorat. We placed him on the pad, fired up the grid, then, with a faint crackle like sizzling bacon, he vanished into our future. After an absence of exactly 117 minutes, the unalterable temporal displacement limit, Chauncey reappeared on the pad.

A week following that initial test, celebratory cheers erupted in the lab as the prior week's Chauncey popped in. Soon Chauncey's jumps became routine, though it sometimes seemed wrong that occasionally it meant there were two of him.

That was three years, Chauncey's official retirement, and several of my own 117-minute jumps, ago.

This morning I dropped off my six-year-old son at school.

Now, in the darkened streets of Detroit, sixty years from this morning, I hurry to meet my great-grandson.

The house is dark, but the address matches. I knock, wait. Knock again.

The door opens. An angry young man with gold eyeshadow and dyed skin growls, “Yo, turkleroid, wrong building ya got.”

“Jensen Reeves?”

“Yeah. Too bad,” he says. He pulls his pistol and fires.

©2010 James K Bowers / 200 words