Monday, October 15, 2007

Workshop: The smoothie

Although I'm not such a huge fan of her blog (too saccharine for me, and way too concerned with ephemera, but that's not to say there's no place for a bit of fun in this sad old world, and I do read it from time to time, and when Paula is into an issue, her writing is fine; and in any case, she has a great eye, always noticing), I'm a big fan of Paula's writing. She's light and sharp in about equal measure, and that's not easy. She is, as I've mentioned before, wasting her time with romantic fiction. She writes far too well, and is far too observant for it. I'd love to see her write a comedy of manners, and if she ever does, I hope she'll let me read and comment on it, because I'd love to see her in print.

The smoothie is pretty good. On the one hand, you'll swear you've read it before; and on the other, you just won't be able to think where. Maybe it treads a bit too close to the cliche line, but I think Paula's style is always to do that. She's familiar enough to drag you in, but just sharp and clever enough to be engaging for the more serious reader. It's like a hug with teeth. You can decide for yourself whether that's something you like.


The Smoothie

They were arguing again, the sounds bouncing in from the living room
and making shadows on the bedroom walls.


I think that sounds making shadows is too much of a stretch. If you mean the parents cast shadows, okay, but you didn't say that.

She pushed back the blankets,
grabbed Bashley the bunny, and crept into the kitchen.


One thing I do like in writing is economy (which will not surprise anyone who's read any of these workshop pieces, nor anyone who reads my blog, I should think). Here I think Paula has quite neatly introduced her main character. We know already she's a small girl (the comforting toy tells us) -- and we've filled in that it's her parents who are fighting.

Bashley said he
was hungry, so she stood on a chair to reach the fruit bowl. Dropped
the mushy brown bananas into the blender. Added a scoop of vanilla ice
cream and pressed the button.



I love the lack of an agent in those two sentences. It echoes a recipe, of course, and that's a really nice touch.

The whir drowned out the voices a
little.


Well no. It drowned them out or it didn't.

She added the rest of the ice cream, some orange juice, and an
apple. Turned up the blender's speed, but could still hear them. She
threw in slices of bread and the leftover chicken thing Daddy had said
was shit.


Nice touch. I wonder whether she knows what something being "shit" means. But it doesn't matter. Kids catalogue that sort of thing, and throw it back at you.

Literally, in this case.

Milk, cookies, and beer. The blender spat out a torrent of
smelly banana beer goo that splattered over the stove.


Two things here: first, I don't think you need to tell us that the good is "smelly". If you do feel you must, find a better word, one that really turns the stomach. Reeking springs to mind. Fetid. Second, I would ditch "that splattered" and add in "the counter and" so that it reads "spat out a torrent of fetid banana beer goo over the counter and stove", because it's not clear why a blender would spew goo over the stove.

She tossed in Mommy's calendar with the checkmarks on the days she
stayed late to do inventory. There were lots of checkmarks this month.


A nice piece of dramatic irony. The kid doubtless has no idea why the checkmarks, but we of course do.

They all disappeared into the stinky gray ooze.


Because you are writing this in omniscient voice, you should prefer "stinking" to "stinky". Also, I think the goo would be brown. Apart from anything else, it should be the colour of shit.

Bashley laughed as it
overflowed like lava


I'd just say "flowed" here. No big reason; it's just that it's obviously overflowing, just as lava overflows the vent.

spreading across the counter and swallowing up
the telephone. She held him tight and climbed on top of the
refrigerator as the goop flooded the floor.


You should use a comma before "and" because that's the American way.

Gaping maws materialized
out of the mess, devouring the table and chairs as the blender
shrieked and whined, vomiting out more.


I don't like "gaping maws" because it is such a stock phrase. And I'd much prefer an amorphous mess, so that the parents are surprised by their fate.

Her parents stood in the doorway and screamed.

"What are you doing up there?"

"Turn that goddamned thing off!"

She rested her chin on top of Bashley's soft head as the smoothie
swirled around their feet, making them slip and fall. Her father tried
to pull up her mother, but it was too late. The tsunami was starving
now and its eager claws pulled them under, their bodies disappearing
into the roaring wave, becoming the wave.


See, I think that works without maws. The "claws" are easily visualised as peaks of goo.

And then it was quiet.



Yuk. I have to say, I loved it. My suggestions are entirely minor because I don't think this sort of piece is really helped by overthinking it.

I repost the whole story below. The copyright remains with the author, whose moral right to be identified as the author I affirm by attaching her name.



The Smoothie

They were arguing again, the sounds bouncing in from the living room
and making shadows on the bedroom walls. She pushed back the blankets,
grabbed Bashley the bunny, and crept into the kitchen. Bashley said he
was hungry, so she stood on a chair to reach the fruit bowl. Dropped
the mushy brown bananas into the blender. Added a scoop of vanilla ice
cream and pressed the button. The whir drowned out the voices a
little. She added the rest of the ice cream, some orange juice, and an
apple. Turned up the blender's speed, but could still hear them. She
threw in slices of bread and the leftover chicken thing Daddy had said
was shit. Milk, cookies, and beer. The blender spat out a torrent of
smelly banana beer goo that splattered over the stove.

She tossed in Mommy's calendar with the checkmarks on the days she
stayed late to do inventory. There were lots of checkmarks this month.
They all disappeared into the stinky gray ooze. Bashley laughed as it
overflowed like lava, spreading across the counter and swallowing up
the telephone. She held him tight and climbed on top of the
refrigerator as the goop flooded the floor. Gaping maws materialized
out of the mess, devouring the table and chairs as the blender
shrieked and whined, vomiting out more.

Her parents stood in the doorway and screamed.

"What are you doing up there?"

"Turn that goddamned thing off!"

She rested her chin on top of Bashley's soft head as the smoothie
swirled around their feet, making them slip and fall. Her father tried
to pull up her mother, but it was too late. The tsunami was starving
now and its eager claws pulled them under, their bodies disappearing
into the roaring wave, becoming the wave.

And then it was quiet.

Paula Light 2006

14 Comments:

Anonymous Arleen said...

2 things, just because I'm in a contrary mood.

1. Stinky and smelly are exactly the words a child who still carries around a stuffed animal would think. "Amorphous mess" sounds like Dr Zen, not a child.

2. The goop could be gray. Once the calendar went in, the ink would have seen to that. But I like the idea of it being brown like shit better.

October 15, 2007 at 10:24 PM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

Contrary comment 3. Why is writing romantic fiction a waste of her talent if that's what she enjoys writing? She could raise the bar on the genre and give people higher expectations.

October 15, 2007 at 10:27 PM  
Anonymous Paula Light said...

Thanks, Z. Much appreciated. And I have taken the advice from you and Grapes and gone back to literary fiction. I would love to send you my WIP in a couple months and see what you think.

Arleen, I've given up the romance writing. I don't know how to raise the bar if I have to stick to the formula to get published. I thought my stuff was good relative to the genre, but still it never really rises above what I like to call "secretary porn."

October 15, 2007 at 11:30 PM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

still it never really rises above what I like to call "secretary porn."

LOL! Okay, as long as you're doing what you enjoy.

October 16, 2007 at 10:29 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Arleen, to answer your points:

1/ The story is clearly written from a narrator's point of view, not the child's.
2/ You are picturing a large calendar with no pictures. But Mommy's calendar is far more likely to be illustrated, particularly if it is large. So it will not make the goo grey.

October 16, 2007 at 10:33 AM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

You are picturing a large calendar with no pictures.

No, I wasn't.

October 16, 2007 at 10:41 AM  
Anonymous Anonymous said...

Then you are wrong. Cheers.

October 16, 2007 at 10:44 AM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

[g] I think I'm going to have to perform an experiment.

October 16, 2007 at 1:02 PM  
Anonymous Dr Zen said...

me 2. I'm going to invite my mother-in-law round for a smoothie. Nyak nyak nyak nyak.

October 16, 2007 at 1:05 PM  
Anonymous Arleen said...

LOL! But what a mess to clean up after.

October 16, 2007 at 1:12 PM  
Anonymous Father Luke said...

I've given up the romance writing.

Not being one of your regular
readers, I would never have guessed
that you write romance.

So, this was a fun read, with some
pathos.

But this was a stretch for you. To
which I should say really cool, you
know?

Thanks for a nice read.

- -
Yours,
Father Luke

October 16, 2007 at 3:29 PM  
Anonymous Paula Light said...

Thank you, FL.

October 17, 2007 at 6:52 AM  
Anonymous Don said...

Interesting technique, to present the critique with excerpts first, then the submission. Back at WS1 I would read the submission, then go up for the critique. But this time I read it your way and it worked just fine to have your thoughts in mind during the first read.

This was a fine short story, with the line invisibly blurred between it being a fantasy or a child's dream.

October 18, 2007 at 10:02 PM  
Anonymous Looney said...

Och! I lurved the story. And, as always, Zen's comments were en pointe and illuminating.

It reminded me of part of my childhood...

October 24, 2007 at 1:39 PM  

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