Saturday, July 12, 2008

The Friday Challenge Update

Yeah, I know, it's Saturday evening. I received a deadline surprise Friday morning ("You need what redone and checked back into the source tree by 5pm today so that manufacturing can rebuild the distro first thing Monday morning?"), followed by a line of heavy T-storms and tornadoes that moved through the area late Friday afternoon and evening and took us offline for a few hours. Then this morning there were other, more pressing priorities...

So here we are, on a clear but remarkably windy Saturday evening, trying to get caught up on a few weeks' backlog of the Friday Challenge. As you might remember, the 6/20/08 Friday Challenge was to come up with a carnival-related story, either true or fiction, and we received the following entries.

Bane submitted "Buck to the Future," a really disturbing and vividly realized true story of a bar fight between redneck townies and carnies. It's hard to describe fights realistically and well; most writers seem to fall into either the splattering corpuscle war-porn or adolescent wish-fulfillment heroic fantasy traps, neither of which comes close to describing what's really happened in the actual fights I've been in or seen. Contrariwise, in this story, Bane nails it absolutely dead-on right. Read it and learn the power of understatement.

Sean submitted the unforgettable "Lost Chapter From Stranger in a Strange Land," which in a just universe would be reprinted far and wide, photocopied and passed around at sci-fi conventions, or at least passed around the Internet as samizdat. Love Heinlein or hate him, this story is a scream.

Henry submitted "The Carnival," a dark and heart-grabbing little story straight out of The Book of Rod Serling. It bogs down in the final third — the two key characters get way too talky, which dilutes the emotional punch — but I think that with one more rewrite focused on tightening up the ending, this one could sell to a good market. Stay tuned.

Rigel Kent also submitted one titled "The Carnival," this one being an engaging little piece of magical realism with style out the wazoo. The problem I had with this one wasn't anything in the story; it's that it feels like it's the start of a story, and there's much more waiting to be told. You've snapped the picture, now develop it. What happens next?

KTown submitted "The Princess and The Carnie." This one is a really strong, really well-written story, that kind of fizzles out in the last paragraphs, leaving some enormous questions unanswered. I get the feeling KTown was rushing to get to a point he could call "The End" in time to make the Friday Challenge deadline, and this story would really benefit from serious further development. There is a much longer story that follows from this beginning — maybe even a novel — and I'd like to see it.

Finally, at the last possible moment and then some, Snowdog submitted an untitled opening scene from a much longer work. I like the start, as it's got a really nice vintage Ray Bradbury feel to it — and that may be the problem. I can readily see this one coming back from some editor with the note, "Too 1940s-ish, old hat," scribbled on the title page. Which, by the way, is not actually a problem; the first signs of editorial life I ever saw were those exact words scribbled on the title page of the first story I ever tried seriously to sell. I think this one has potential, but there's not enough there yet to tell where it's going.

Jumping ahead to the 6/27/08 Friday Challenge, the objective was to come up with a 4th of July and/or fireworks related story, and while there was no requirement that the story begin with the words, "Hold my beer and watch this," remarkably, 75% of the entrants chose to use those words or something like them. The contestants are:

Kremben, who wrote this delightful little piece of madness. We've been reading it out loud and laughing; Karen insists she's actually been at that family dinner, while I do remember once watching a fellow lift a car by the bumper so that his friend could change the tire. In fairness, though, it was only a Fiat.

Passin Through submitted this charming little tale of high school, kids, and firecrackers. I especially liked this line: "Her best friend Pat, proceeded to light matches. She wanted to see how close she could get to the fuse without lighting it. She misjudged and lit the fuse." Yep. Seen that happen. It's usually preceded by, "Trust me, I know what I'm doing," and anteceded by, "Oh @#*&^#$!!!!"

Ben-El has finally broken down and gotten his own blog, where he has posted his entry, "Long I Stood There," a fully developed and very strong story. I don't know what I have to say about this one besides that it's very nicely done. It takes a lot to make me care about characters I wouldn't actually like in real life, but this one does, and it works. There are some micro-writing things I would suggest changing if I was editing this for publication, and I'm sure our resident southron dialect coaches could help him out on a few particulars, but those are all just trivial word-dinks and not worth detailing right now. In sum, very nicely done.

By the way, Ben-El also posted the story in two Haloscan chunks: part one and part two. If you have trouble reading the story on his site, you can read it in Haloscan instead. Personally, the white Arial font on black background bugs the Hell out of my eyes, but my eyes probably have a lot more mileage on 'em than yours.

And speaking of Hell, Henry takes us into the realm of the divine with "Watch This!". I don't know what else I can say about this one except that if you haven't read it, go do so right now. I just re-read it again and I'm still snickering.

Now, as for this week's Friday Challenge, I'm going to follow up the lead inadvertently suggested by rycamor in this post and declare that this week's topic is global warming. (Or global cooling, or global climate change, or peak oil, or whatever the heck the Great Eco-BugBear Of Doom is this week.) We're looking for your best rant about ecological catastrophe, and to make this one special we're playing for an authentic vintage VHS copy of Captain Planet and the Planeteers, Episode 1, "A Hero For Earth." (Or, if that doesn't get you excited, the usual selection of your choice from behind Door #2.)

Seriously, though, how could you possible not want this?
"Gaia, Spirit of the Earth, send magic rings to five teenagers around the globe, allowing each of them to control an element of nature: Earth, Fire, Wind, Water, and Heart. And when these first "Planeteers" combine their powers, they summon Earth's greatest champion — Captain Planet! [A muy metrosexual superhero with blue skin and a green mullet. ~brb] Their first mission is to stop the piggish polluter, Hoggish Greedly, and his super-robotic oil rig from destroying a wildlife sanctuary."

Captain Planet.... David Colburn
Gaia.............. Whoopi Goldberg
Gi................ Janice Kawaye
Kwame............. LeVar Burton
Linka............. Kath Soucie
Ma-Ti............. Scott Menville
Wheeler........... Jerry Dedio
Hoggish Greedly... Edward Asner
Rigger............ John Ratzenberger

Got that? Back in 1990 these sanctimonious little @#$*&6ts stopped Hoggish Greedly and his super-robotic oil rig from destroying a wildlife sanctuary. And that is why unleaded gasoline is now four bucks a gallon.

Oh, that's right, I suppose you all want to know who won the last two Friday Challenges, don't you? Well, given the number of really strong entries, in the end we decided to drop back, punt, and pick category winners. And they are...

In the category of horrorshow realism w/krovvy, Bane, for "Buck to the Future." In the category of serious fiction, week 1, KTown, for "The Princess and The Carnie." In the category of serious fiction, week 2, Ben-El for "Long I Stood There," and finally, in the category of humor, Henry, for "Watch This!"

Winners may claim their prizes by emailing me, as usual. However, we've just gotten in a pile of new books that haven't made their way onto Door #2 list yet, so if you want the best selection, kindly wait until Monday.