Pyromaniacs 8

Welcome to the 8th episode of #Pyro! The rules are short and easy: your job is to read this story and critique it! Please remember our purpose is to HELP the writer, so (1) focus your comments on the story, not the writer; (2) try to address story elements specifically (WHAT works/doesn’t work, and WHY/HOW); (3) be honest but kind (imagine someone is giving you this feedback). Ad hominem or mean-spirited comments will be deleted. And now, here’s a story for your reading & critiquing pleasure, with many thanks to the writer who courageously volunteered it.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

Encendador. CC2.0 photo by Villegas Lillo.

Sold
Written by One of You 🙂

“Sell it.” Memaw Marilyn’s lavender eyebrow told us she wasn’t playing. That was hardly necessary; she never played. “For good this time. It’s a thing of excess.” Things of excess were worse than things of sentiment.

Tailfins twinkling, Pawpaw’s mint cream Chevy Bel Air sat beneath the elm tree. I peered into the back seat and found a tie crumpled on the leather.

“And you, young lady,” – Memaw’s eyes, a practical grey, pegged me—“need a more ladylike hobby than fussing over vehicles. Have you done anything with that cross stitch set I got you for Christmas?”

I chewed the sounds so I could give an honest answer and still avoid the whuppin, “Hmfmmfnahma’am.”

“When I was your age, I could cook, clean, and sew better than most women.”

Nine-year-old Memaw had wrinkles deep as canyons, I was sure.

“Anyway, it’s got to go. To an out-of-stater, this time.”

“Lot of good that’ll do,” Pawpaw Sonny mumbled under tobacco breath. He pulled a cowboy boot, half-singed, half-soaked, out of the fender.

“What’s that?”

“Nothing, Dear.”

Yesterday, he’d sold it to a mustachioed gentleman from Texas – a full two states over and down – with the same results. He knew better than to argue with a teacher, though.

“Frankie, check the glove compartment.”

“Frances!” Memaw threw her hands to the sky. “Lordy, Sonny, if you keep calling her a boy’s name, she’ll keep actin’ like one.”

She stomped toward the house while I slipped into the front seat and opened the box. Clean and unsigned, the title lay tucked inside the manual.  Pawpaw took it.

“What I can’t understand is why they don’t never ask for a refund,” he said, and then kick dust all the way to the barn.

I would’ve told him but he never could hide anything from Memaw. And if a car was a thing of excess, a dragon had to be a sin.

♣♣♣♣♣♣♣

QUESTIONS you may wish to address: 

  1. Does the first line catch your interest?
  2. How is pacing — does the story move smoothly from beginning to end?
  3. Does the dialogue sound realistic/natural? (If not, which lines?)
  4. Are the characters developed effectively within the confines of this piece? Are they realistic? Sympathetic/resonant?
  5. Is point-of-view clear and consistent? Is the voice unique, interesting, compelling? 
  6. Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?
  7. Is the plot clear and believable? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed?
  8. Does the story follow the rules of its genre? If not, were the rules broken well?
  9. Is language used well: does the story rely on cliches and too-common devices, or does the story contain striking imagery, colorful and vibrant descriptions, powerful metaphors?
  10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?
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7 thoughts on “Pyromaniacs 8

  1. 1. Does the first line catch your interest?

    Like the beseeching voice of a carnival barker demanding my time,
    I was quickly hooked and reeled in.

    2. How is pacing — does the story move smoothly from beginning to end?

    Even with three readings, the richness of the pacing, the flow, the depth, every read through is
    layered with additional riches.

    3. Does the dialogue sound realistic/natural? (If not, which lines?)

    There is a cadence to the dialogue, a magical transportation to a place just beyond my experience. Natural…yes.

    4. Are the characters developed effectively within the confines of this piece? Are they realistic? Sympathetic/resonant?

    In a beautifully rendered swishing of a few bits of dialogue and narrative, an entire universe unfolds.

    5. Is point-of-view clear and consistent? Is the voice unique, interesting, compelling?

    I may be repeating myself but the voices of Frankie and this collage of delicious characters are full and evocatively imagined.

    6. Is the story mostly free of grammatical/punctuation errors?

    Seems fine to me.

    7. Is the plot clear and believable? Are there any plot holes that need to be addressed?

    Absolutely no holes in this fabulous tale.

    8. Does the story follow the rules of its genre? If not, were the rules broken well?

    Not even knowing the rules of most genres, and probably not caring a whole lot about them even if I knew them, I would venture to guess that whatever the rules are for whatever genre this story falls into, I would venture that all of the necessary rules are followed and all of the unnecessary ones are creatively broken.

    9. Is language used well: does the story rely on cliches and too-common devices, or does the story contain striking imagery, colorful and vibrant descriptions, powerful metaphors?

    Original, vibrant language rules here. A little rural southern downhome talking with just a tad of fantasy mystery-speak. I may not get “dragons” but there is no denying they work well in the world of commerce.

    10. Does the last line effectively conclude the story?

    Yes…but questions still linger…like smoke from the memory of a long forgotten cigarette moment drifting up and over a long-ago lost love.
    Great story, loved everything about it.

  2. How are we supposed to critique something that doesn’t have any weaknesses–no, I take that back, the weakness is that it didn’t go on longer so I could more deeply immerse myself in the language and the characters.
    Okay, okay, one nit: at first I thought PawPaw might be dead and only the MC could see him (and thus the cause of the returned vehicle)–until MeMaw responded directly to him.

  3. I think this is a fantastic story containing wonderful language and dialogue. Right from those lavender eyebrows, I was completely hooked. This writer is obviously very talented. I think the only aspect of the piece that I do not completely warm to- and I know this is highly controversial on this site- is the dragon twist. I know this is totally subjective, but I was looking for a darker ending. I think such a good, strong story deserves a stronger conclusion. However, I can only hope,some day, to aspire to this standard of writing- so what do I know?!

  4. Hey there, Author of Sold!

    I absolutely loved the twist at the end, but I’m a bit unclear on the car/dragon thing. Is the car a sort of dragon transformer type thing? That’s what I imagine, that every time they sell this car, it eventually transforms into a dragon and the new owners bring it right back. Which brings up a question: Wouldn’t they say something to Memaw? Or to the police? The boot from the fender is a clue that the car/dragon eats the new owner, so I’m happy to go with that as an answer to my question. A bit of clarification on the point of the car being a dragon would help out a lot. Maybe a loose scale drops from the rear fender as they pull the boot from it, just another little hint so the reader can be certain of what, at this moment, I only suspect. And that’s if I’m correct. 🙂

    A couple of things stood out for me as “off”, so I’ll pop those in right quick.

    1- With regard to this line: “Memaw Marilyn’s lavender eyebrow told us she wasn’t playing.”
    The descriptive word “lavender” doesn’t convey a mannerism. I mean, her eyebrow doesn’t turn lavender when she’s serious, does it? So what I’d suggest here is a descriptive word that conveys emotion, specifically of the “oh, crap, she’s not playing” variety. A raised eyebrow, a furrowed eyebrow, a twitching eyebrow, any of these would do. I know they’re all terribly cliche (bad recommendations, sorry, I know you can do better 🙂 ), but the descriptive word “lavender” doesn’t convey severity, which is what you need it to do in this instance. Her lavender eyebrow is lavender regardless of her mood.

    2- RE: “…lady,” – Memaw’s eyes, a practical grey, pegged me—“need…”
    You’re inserting a dialogue tag, a perfectly timed and descriptive one at that, that also acts as a natural pause in Memaw’s line and directs the reader’s attention to Frankie/Francis (the PoV character). You don’t need the additional dashes to signal a pause, you’ve done this beautifully with the dialogue tag alone and anything else is superfluous. Commas work just fine here. 🙂
    “…lady,” Memaw’s eyes, a practical grey, pegged me, “need…”

    I laughed out loud at this line: “Nine-year-old Memaw had wrinkles deep as canyons, I was sure.” Lots of personality conveyed with this line, for BOTH characters. Brilliant. Love it.

    3- Regarding this bit:

    “Frankie, check the glove compartment.”

    “Frances!” Memaw threw her hands to the sky. “Lordy, Sonny, if you keep calling her a boy’s name, she’ll keep actin’ like one.”

    I wasn’t sure who Frankie was or who Frances was, or that they were the same person, until the next line of dialogue, “Lordy, Sonny…” I would actually suggest a couple of things to clarify who’s who.

    3a. “Sell it, Sonny.” (Add in Pawpaw’s name right from the start, and then make it clear who Memaw is addressing in that next line, the one with the lavender eyebrow, make it clear Sonny is Pawpaw and not the PoV character.)
    3b. “Her name is Frances!” (There’s nothing wrong with stating this simply and plainly. 🙂 )
    3c. Before Pawpaw Sonny addresses her, show him gesturing to the car while avoiding Memaw’s eyes (or something, just a suggestion). Something that shows who he’s talking to. We don’t know the PoV character is Frankie/Frances, and we don’t know Memaw’s name. The reader’s attention is on him from the previous paragraph, so we can reasonably assume this is his line, but the motion would solidify that and, at the same time, show that he’s addressing the PoV character, and not Memaw.

    4- Re: “Pawpaw took it.”
    Consider, “I handed it to Pawpaw.” His position relative to her is unclear. This simple change has a subtle way of “moving” Frankie over to Pawpaw.

    5- Re: “then kick dust”
    “kick” should be “kicked”

    6- Regarding this bit and with reference to my original point (not numbered):

    “What I can’t understand is why they don’t never ask for a refund,” he said, and then kicked dust all the way to the barn.

    This is a great opportunity to answer one other question I had. The question: “How does he think the car gets back to them if he doesn’t know it’s a dragon?” Pawpaw Sonny told us they don’t ask for a refund, but he didn’t say if they showed up with the car at all. Another subtle hint here would be great. Maybe he’s mumbling as he walks away. Consider adding something along the lines of,

    “What I can’t understand is why they don’t never ask for a refund,” he said, and then mumbled all the way to the barn. “Don’t even bother sticking around, just drop it off in the middle of the night and high tail it outta town.”

    Just one final hint to show that they can’t ask for a refund and you’re golden.

    And that’s all I have! 😀 Hope it helps.

    Best wishes,

    ~ Jess (West1Jess)

  5. The story was fantastic. The language and accent was so new to me. I really enjoyed it, it was like I was there. Please please expand the story. I love the chevy/dragon. Well done, I can’t find anything to critique about.

  6. I enjoyed this story very much. It’s of a genre I could never reproduce, and it provides me a sense that I’m listening in to a real family. I would agree with the other comments–this could be longer, and I’d enjoy hearing more! The dragon comment is comes a bit out of the blue, and perhaps you might hint at it earlier in the story. For instance, can you describe the car’s color with a different phrase? Are the tail fins reminiscent of a dragon some how? Given the impression I get of Frankie, perhaps another term other than dragon would deepen our insights in the character. Thank you for allowing me to comment, and to enjoy your work!

  7. I’m going to jump in here and play pedant over the em-dash: your instincts were right that you would use an em-dash for the mention of MeMaw’s eyes within the flow of her speech [NB: this is according to the Chicago Manual of Style, so I wouldn’t say WestJess is wrong; I just want to point out that you aren’t either].

    If a sentence without a speech tag (like “she said/quipped/snapped…”) appears within a spoken sentence, you would use em-dashes rather than commas. Thus, you’d want:

    “And you, young lady”–Memaw’s eyes, a practical grey, pegged me—“need a more ladylike hobby than fussing over vehicles.

    Notice, you would not use a comma after lady, and no spaces.

    But wait! If MeMaw actually stops talking at that moment to fix Frankie with her practical grey eyes, the dashes would go inside the quotation marks and a space would follow them:

    “And you, young lady–” Memaw’s eyes, a practical grey, pegged me “–need a more ladylike hobby than fussing over vehicles.

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