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Public Reviews
Review by allenalien
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Hi willielinn,

I usually do longer, more formal reviews, but I think I'll save that for when you post the rest of this story. That's a hint. I'd like to read more about this character. For now I'll just give you my impressions.

I like what you've done.You've skillfully created a visual scene that is easy to imagine. Great choice of adjectives in every description. Clean, concise writing with a good mix of long and short sentences.

Very atmospheric. I can feel the rain, smell the dirty streets, sense the poverty. I've never been to Costa Rica and never seen a barrio, but I now have a good idea of what it is to walk through one.

I don't have any real criticisms, other than that you left me hanging, wanting to know more. But that's good.

Oh, I guess I should find something negative to comment on. I always find that totally positive reviews are gratifying, but don't help me much to develop.
1 - Punctuation:
a) "The smell of poverty is pervasive and in the rain; Lomas smells like a dirty, wet dog." Great sentence, but I think you need "The smell of poverty is pervasive, and in the rain Lomas smells like a dirty, wet dog."
b) "garbage washes down the gutters plugging the few drain grates" - need a comma between 'gutters' and 'plugging' or a minor sentence rearrangement.
c) "electrified wire these fences" - same deal, needs a comma between 'wire' and 'these'.
Anyway, punctuation is a job for your editor, and it doesn't detract from your piece.

2 - A couple of spelling mistakes. I'll let you find them.

2 - I wasn't sure what bothered me about "It occurs to me, not for the first time, that life often sucks." Then it occurred to me *Smile* . Your character is so well-spoken and observant of life that I would expect a line with a bit more of a philosophical tone. The line seems a tiny bit out of synch with the rest of the character's persona. There are certainly a lot of interesting ways to say that "life sucks."

3 - You've got the color nailed. Now you need to get into some action between characters and some dialog. That will really flesh it out and draw the reader in.

Let me address the questions you asked.
You definitely have an aptitude for writing, to put it mildly. You caught my interest in the first two paragraphs, and I'm not a patient reader. I start a lot of pieces here and give up in the first five minutes. I only comment to an author if I see something that pulls me in.
You should definitely continue screaming therapeutically. On to a word document. And when you're done, post it here for all of us to hear.

Maybe we just come from similar places and that's why your writing gets to me so easily. I'm almost your age, live in a place that starts with 'C', have been a million places and done two million things to make a living, started writing in public relatively recently and have a wife for a first critic and editor. However, she does speak English, so I guess maybe she is a harsher critic than your wife.

Again, very good scene, and I would really like to see what you develop this into. Please continue with this story. And others.

I gave you a 4.5, because only Ian Rankin, Roddy Doyle, Tom Robbins, Barbara Kingsolver and Dennis Lehane get 5.0. Maybe a few others.

allenalien aka Jeff

Review of The Cold Trail  
Review by allenalien
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
I read your story The Cold Trail. I liked it a lot, and I've reviewed it at your request.

*Check2* Overall Impression:
I'm absolutely impressed that you managed to work a Shakespearean reference into a western tale. Good on you!! Overall, I really liked this story. Explosive beginning, powerful ending, and it kept me wondering throughout what had happened to bring on this situation and how it would work out. It had kind of an 'inevitability of fate' kind of flavor. I think that's why I found the Shakespeare reference so apt; the characters were like players that had to play out the story. There was no escape for them. One of the better stories I've read here.

*Check2* Plot:
I'm not sure I understand the premise entirely. I know that Andrew has taken an oath to kill Ken Moffet, apparently because Moffet and "the boys" had come after Andrew for something he had done to them and had harmed Andrew's kin Eliza in retribution. Is this kind of a Hatfield and McCoy feud situation where each family is sworn to do violence to the other family even if they don't want to? If so, I like it a lot. But I think you might need to drop a couple more clues earlier on. Either that or I'm a bit of a dimbulb, which is entirely possible. Either way, the story is obviously a slice out of time where the reader has to use some intuition and imagination to figure it out. I like that too; I like to be challenged when I read.

*Check2* Style and Voice:
Very well done. Lots of colorful description where it was needed. No excess detail. Stayed in the Old West mode perfectly.

*Check2* Scene/Setting:
I had to run to the fridge for a beer to wash the dust out of my mouth! I could see the bar and the dry desert country vividly. Louis Lamour couldn't have gotten the ambience any better.

*Check2* Characters:
Perfect. The hard-bitten ranchers, tough as leather. But they weren't one-dimensional. It seemed they might be, but you slowly let their emotions and humanity rise to the surface through the tale.

*Check2* Dialog:
I really liked it. You let the characters tell as much of the story as you could. It was realistic, letting the interactions show the tension between the main characters and reveal their relationship. I can't suggest any improvements here.

*Check2* Grammar and Mechanics:
Something in your style struck me as odd while I was reading. The story would flow along smoothly, and then it would stumble and lose pace. It happened several times. Your images and prose are so strong and definite that it took a while and a bit of re-reading before I could figure it out. It is your use of what I think are called nominative absolutes. One of the recent newsletters described a nominative absolute as a clause structure that's missing all or part of the verb. There are some places where they occur several times in a row. Examples are:
          1 - The iron gray mare stood head down pulling at tufts of short prairie grass.
          Suggestion: The iron gray mare dropped her head and tore off tufts of prairie grass.

          2 - The storm, lasting less than an hour, had little rain . . .
          Suggestion: The storm spent itself in less than an hour and only managed a few desultory spatters of rain, but . . .

          3 - Jack worried that Ken could have turned south, heading into Mexico
          Suggestion: Jack worried that Ken could have veered south toward Mexico.

          4 - Jack, his feet solid on the floor, stood abruptly, the table bouncing on its side before him.
          Suggestion: Jack planted his feet planted solidly on the floor. He sprang up abruptly and knocked the table noisily on to its side.

I don't entirely agree with the newsletter that these types of speech should never be used, but I think you'll agree that you can make your prose more powerful and active by avoiding them where you can. Passive phrases slow the story down.

I don't know if the next example is a nominative absolute, but I think you can make the image stronger by making the "doer" the person rather than the body parts:
          Their eyes fell on Jack and, without a word, their hands dropped to their guns.
          Suggestion: They suddenly noticed Jack and immediately slapped their hands on their guns. No one spoke.

*Check2* Suggestions:
          Repetition: Usage of 'on his feet' twice in successive sentences.
          Suggestion: ". . . behind Ken Moffet before his balance was steady enough to stay in the saddle.

          Description: "The underneath sides of the clouds to the west were turning red-orange as the sun dropped low toward the horizon."
          Suggestion: "The setting sun painted the high clouds red-orange as it dropped toward the horizon."
Just a little more descriptive, making the sun the doer.

Sorry I couldn't be more critical. *BigSmile* I hope you take my suggestions above with a grain of salt. They are just my personal observations and in no way indicate any fault with your story. We all have our own styles and writing preferences. You have a lot of talent. I'd like read more of your work and would be glad for you to wade through more of mine with a critical eye.

Sorry for taking so long to respond with this review. I've been crazy busy and I've promised myself to never give less than 100% effort in my reviews. I've given you 4.5 stars because 5 implies perfection, and the perfect story has not been written yet.

Thanks again for this story. Keep up the great work!

Take care,
allenalien aka Jeff
Review of The Gift  
Review by allenalien
Rated: 18+ | (4.5)
Nasty!!!! But good. Sorry for the short non-review; I just wanted to say I liked the edginess.
Review of Cal  
Review by allenalien
Rated: E | (5.0)
Hi Jerry,

"Cal" was intriguing. You captured the hillbilly vernacular perfectly; your narrator was spot on. I can see him and hear his voice; you brought him alive in a few short sentences. You managed to create a picture of this quaint old-time village and its inhabitants just from the scene in Johnston's store and references to an apple orchard and a dike and pumpkins. Grannie is a great character. She really doesn't do anything in the story, but we're left with the impression that she is one powerful woman, not to be crossed. We can imagine all sorts of things about her that you don't mention. But I want to read more about what's going on here!! You have some colorful, believable characters and the beginnings of a great mystery. You should fill this out into at least a short story. I'll be upset if you don't.

I like that you provided a lean powerful story and left any conclusions up to the reader. You got in, said your piece, and got out, leaving us with a great finishing line and a desire to know more about this Grannie woman and what Cal may have done to get her upset.

Great work! Keep it up. I'm putting you on my list of favorites. I'm counting on you to keep me entertained. I'm going to have to resist the temptation to steal some of your ideas.

allenalien aka Jeff
Review of The Epiphany  
Review by allenalien
Rated: E | (4.5)
Hi Tim,

I just read your story "The Epiphany." I like it a lot too. Interesting that we both chose journeys across this amazing continent as our characters' paths to finding meaning in their lives, meaning that was already there for the taking.

I like the way you contrast the emptiness and futility that Jeremiah feels with his complicated, materialistic life in California to the excitement and joy that he remembers from the pure simplicity of his beginnings in New York. And I like the way you show that a man can regain that innocence by simply accepting what is and being aware every moment. Very Zen, in a way. A powerful realisation.

I like the way your story starts by creating a heavy mood of depression and desperation in Jeremiah, then by the end of the story he is contented and peaceful and light. The mood change is tangible. Well done!

I think you'll give all of us entrants a run for our money. Good luck in the contest!

Keep up the great work.

allenalien aka Jeff
Review of Heatstroke  
Review by allenalien
Rated: 13+ | (4.5)
Good little vignette of your day in Pompeii. Kind of a travelogue with a twist. I liked it.

It was short and to the point, which is good, but contained enough descriptive detail to be interesting. In fact I could just about see the heat haze shimmering over the ruins and feel the uncomfortable heat.

I wasn't sure what the point of your story was for a while. I got that the day was a disappointment after all the effort to get there, but I didn't know where you were going with it. Then you made the smooth transition from feeling heatstruck and irritated to letting your imagination take you back to the "event." I liked that. You kind of misled us then hit us with a vivid image of dying in the volcanic eruption. Great stuff!

Coming back to the present with a humorous anecdote of your matchmaking nerdy guide was a good way to end it. I thought you may have painted yourself into a corner but you managed to pull off a good solid ending. Somehow it doesn't make me want to visit Pompeii on a hot summer day though.

Your vocabulary was good, your descriptions and imagery excellent. There were some punctuation problems, but nothing a good editor couldn't straighten out easily.

At the end I'm still not sure if you were wanting the reader to come away with anything other than a sense of amusement at your adventure. Which is fine with me. As I say, I liked it and would read more of your writing any time.

Keep up the good work, and I hope your next vacation is more enjoyable. *Smile*

Review by allenalien
Rated: E | (4.5)
Hi BScholl,

I'm not usually a fan of religious stories, but I read your story as more spiritual than religious. I liked it.

The plot was uncomplicated but interesting, though I had to read it a couple of times to get the chronology straight in my mind and figure out what had actually happened. That's not necessarily a failure in your writing; it may be that I was trying to enforce a linear timeline on your story and became confused when I lost track. A minor issue, just something to consider for us simpler readers. *Wink*

I'll get my quibbles out of the way early, before I tell you more of what I liked.
1 - It wasn't clear why Maggie/Ruth waited so long to thank Hank. There seemed to be some importance attached to her timing, and maybe you could have developed this a little. Or maybe you did and I missed it. It would add force to the story.

2 - You squeaked narrowly inside the bounds of credibility that Hank wouldn't have noticed it was 72 years ago, by having it be dark out and everything covered in snow. But you'd think there would have been more cars or people that would have given it away. I'll give you this one though, because it's OK to suspend disbelief as long as it's not crucial to the story.

3 - I liked the overall flow of your story. But I would have liked you to reach out and grab me with the first paragraph. I wouldn't presume to change your story, but maybe some kind of tempting hook about the mysterious or wondrous event that was about to happen to Hank would pique our interest a bit more. Once you got moving though, there was no problem. You had us going.

4 - You introduced the character Eve, but didn't really use her. Probably OK, because she is Hank's wife. But she isn't really germane to the story, other than to establish that Hank has been married for 27 years. You could have given her a couple of lines to elucidate Hank's character or at least to add to the story. Minor issue, though.

These are all minor things. I always like to offer some criticism; after all the perfect story has not yet been written.

What I liked:
1 - Your descriptive parts are excellent. I could see the back room vividly. I could smell the wood smoke and feel the tang in the air when Hank opened the door for young Maggie.

2 - You used your setting very well. After describing it so well, you had your characters inhabiting it naturally. I could see Hank talking to Maggie and wandering about the dim warm room while she gulped down the food. You had me feeling hungry when he gave her the sandwich.

3 - You used vocabulary well. I liked your word choices. You used the right words for each situation and refrained from just showing off that you know a lot of big words, a failing that yours truly is working on in my writing. The descriptions and metaphors were never forced. I would make a humble suggestion though, just to please me. I like surprising or unusual metaphors, old ideas dressed up in new clothes. It adds color and pokes the reader. Just my preference though, not really a criticism.

4 - I liked the ending. It brought the story to a full circle and ended it neatly without having to belabor your point. You didn't end with a platitude or a serving of morals. You just told the story.

Full marks for getting the attention of an irreverent old agnostic like me. I like your writing. Keep it up and I'll keep reading it!!

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