PART ONE: WHERE THE BURNS BEGIN   “Bitterness is like cancer. It eats upon the host. But anger is like fire. It burns it all clean.” —Maya Angelou     ...

Overall



First: I literally just tabbed over to Inkstained, clicked on the first thing I saw (i.e. the most recent thing posted, and decided to read/review that. It happened to be yours. So it's in your best interest not to expect this quick a response to something you've posted.

Second: As someone with past experience with self-harm, this was something I didn't want to read. As soon as I realized what it was about, what was going to happen, I didn't want to read it anymore -- but I did anyway. I couldn't stop reading it. That is a testament to you, as a writer.

Third: I also happen to be someone who was involved in a serious auto accident, so I tend to be fairly critical of such accounts, perhaps unfairly so. However, I found your description of events acceptable at its worst, and this is also a testament to you.

But enough about me. From the first, your imagery sunk its hooks in me and wouldn't let me go. Your first sentence is stunning in its simplicity and its perfection. Everything about the introduction of Will's character is stunning. Your descriptions are poetic while at the same time not drifting off into the land of the overly flowery. This is good. This is also why certain bits, such as the description of the pain from cutting as "knife-like" fell groaningly flat. Having only read a few hundred words of your prose at that point, I already knew to expect better from you.

The pacing and flow of the story from seeing the accident to flashbacks of his own is quite well done. Regarding the accident itself, I'd like to caution that if he "woke up" in the hospital, that implies he lost consciousness. Typically people in a coma or semi-comatose state will not remember the event upon waking, or understand where they are or why for quite some time. This is a fairly difficult thing to convey in a story and it's understandably something you (as well as most writers) gloss over if it's detail not crucial to the story -- so I had no problem with that. But I'm not sure he'd have had the awareness immediately upon waking to have asked the question he did to the nurse, especially since most such patients are given quite a lot of psychoactive and other drugs at the hospital. I'd suggest expanding time a bit in that section, if only by reference (a few hours might not be long enough, but saying it was the next day could be fine).

The bit with the dialogue could use some work. For example, it's not necessary to drop "she asked" when you've ended a quote with a question mark. The question mark literally says that the speaker is asking something, and it's unnecessary to tell the reader who asked the question when there are only two people involved. Additionally, see if you can unpack some of those adjectives and dialogue tags. A word like "bluntly," to pull one example, may be unnecessary entirely, but if you want to add a cue to the reader that your speaker is changing his tone, consider indicating a change in body language (he stiffens, he leans forward, etc.) to show the reader his bluntness rather than simply telling them this was how he said what he said. The other problem with adverbs describing a manner of speech after the fact is that they pull the attentive reader out of the story, forcing them to read the line again in the way you've described. Better to indicate this before hand so they know how the words are being said and don't have to re-tune. Another little bit I'd mention there -- you write:

Keahi arched one eyebrow. “Yours?” she inquired, her melodic voice rising and falling rhythmically in pitch.

Perhaps it's possible for these sort of vocal acrobatics to be rendered in a single syllable, but to my mind (and ear) this description of Keahi's voice would be better placed after a line in which she'd spoken several words, if not a full sentence. It's virtually impossible to say a single word with a single syllable "rhythmically."

Overall, this was a beautiful and gripping read. Thank you for sharing it.


Frenetic fireflies glinted behind her eyes that summer. I didn't know what had changed her, but she swung her arms freely, wore loose hemp bracelets with colored beads, drew wild ...

Overall



I've read this piece several times and each time I read it I love it more. Your language and imagery is so beautiful, and you've adapted poetic elements of language well into a prose piece. Too often I see attempts at poetic prose come off more purple and ostentatious than eloquent; you don't make that mistake.

I feel strongly that this piece could be published somewhere. There are two moments that took me out a bit, and I think looking back at them might improve it all the more.

First:

I backtracked, stepped quietly away, but sometimes when she looks me in the eyes and asks me where the thunder's gone I wonder whether she heard me breathing behind her, then.

In the next paragraph she's dead, so in keeping with the flow, it makes more sense (to me) to have this in past tense as well, rather than switching to present tense. At any rate, it took me out a bit because I was wondering when the time was the narrator was relating, given the story preceding and following.

Next:

This I learned after her death, after that summer, when the boy came up to the funeral podium holding a battered piece of paper that held only aimless sketches of her eyes and crumpled against it.

This struck me as a little too omnipotent for your otherwise entirely human narrator. I pulled this sentence out mainly because in the sentence preceding, the narrator says he only learned this at this time. It's the detail of what the paper contained that had me wondering how he would know. How did the narrator come to pull all this together? It closes a bit too quickly, with the narrator knowing a little more than he should, and it does a disservice to the rich detail of the rest of the piece. A couple of sentences to explain how he came to know what he knew, in an organic way that flows with the rest of the story, would bring the last paragraph in line with the rest of it.

I tend to talk the most about pieces that impact me the most. You did an amazing job with this, it's a truly beautiful piece.



My take on Holden's timeless question... written for a "migrations" assignment

1
Overall



From reading your summary, I know the inspiration and purpose of this piece, and of course the identity of the "young man" mentioned in the first stanza. I'd like to say I'd've known without having such a summary, but I'm not sure that's true -- although I'm quite familiar with the book, it would take me on a sharp day to pick that reference out. That's not a critique -- I think you alluded to it well, although you might question for yourself whether you want to invoke it to a greater extent, and perhaps consider threading other nods through the rest of the poem to strengthen the tie to the source of inspiration.

I love the last stanza. My first thought upon reading it was "Wow. This poem made me think a great deal more than I thought it would." That turnaround from a rather simple query to a more profound philosophical quandary is a good one -- and also turns back on the assumptions made about the narrator of the poem asking such a seemingly simple question. In that way, the opening and the closing book-end the poem quite nicely.

The piece might gain impact if you gave your little duckling a gender, especially since everything else in the poem is gendered (up to and including that little duckling's "brothers"). It would automatically make him (or her!) more relatable, more sympathetic. Is it important that we sympathize/empathize with the little duckling? That's a question for you to decide, but in my view given the turn of the last stanza it's important for the reader to feel some sense of relation there. It actually adds a lot more than I even suspected it would. Wonderful work.

Overall, an enjoyable read. I always appreciate a good narrative poem and you've pulled this one off well.


A man and a woman try to survive.

1
Overall



Overall, this is a well-paced piece of flash fiction. You mention in your author's note that you're taking a new spin on an old theme -- the problem was I had to read the second half through again to really figure out that spin. I thoroughly appreciate when such elements are more subtle as opposed to laid out flat, so I liked the way it developed on that score, but it was perhaps a touch too subtle.

I would like it a lot more if it were written in past rather than present tense. In some places (e.g. "I take one more abrupt step before she falls") present tense really seems labored and strained. I wanted it to be in past tense so badly I actually started reading it in past tense by the second paragraph or so, and it helped the reading. So there's that.

Your dialogue is crisp and realistic, with the exception of one bit of confusion:

“I’m sorry, dear." I reach down and offer my hand, then pull her up quickly. “I’m just a little stressed. This doesn’t happen every day."
    “No kidding. I keep asking myself what was in my drink." I reach out and grab the shoe from her hand, studying it for a crease, something to tell me I could just rip it off.

Here, it seems clear Dani is the one saying "No kidding ....," especially given the paragraph break which would indicate a change of speaker. However, Jake takes the action next, which can pull the reader out to back-track and figure out who the speaker is. Normally when you only have two characters, a lot of dialogue tags are unnecessary (and you've done a great job of leaving them out when they're unneeded), but this is one instance where a simple "she said" would have made a world of difference. Observe:

“I’m sorry, dear." I reached down and offered my hand, pulling her to her feet. “I’m just a little stressed. This doesn’t happen every day."
    “No kidding. I keep asking myself what was in my drink," she said. I reached out and grabbed the shoe from her hand, studying it for a crease, something to tell me I could just rip it off.

You lean on similes a little too much in the beginning for my taste -- and it's a good thing to keep in mind, especially with pop culture references, that if somebody isn't familiar with what you're talking about the entire image is going to be lost on them. Pop culture references also can have the tendency to date a piece, although I can tell that sort of thing wasn't really a concern in this piece, nor should it have been.

Final note: In the sentence "It must have been five minutes I watched her bounce across the shrinking span from one to another to another, pushing one back a foot, another, a few inches, and another, and another." I got stuck on "shrinking span." Everything before was so vivid, I was having a hard time picturing the span to which your narrator referred and exactly how or why it was shrinking. It may be as simple as a poor choice of words, or could be something that could do with a little further explication.

All in all, though, it was a thoroughly enjoyable and gripping read.


Vulnerability in pain, a stubborn woman allows herself to be comforted by an overwhelming man.

Overall



I confess I've read this at least 5 times and I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. On the one hand, the fact that I've read it 5 times tells me I like reading it; on the other, I'm still not entirely sure how I feel about it. There's something about it, though. You've got something here, and it took me several reads to pin-point what was off-key about it.

At first read I was ready to launch into the almost-purple prose aspect of it – and I still feel some of the descriptions (e.g. "Light as a petal, his comment brushes against the whirring white light in her vision, a soothing cerulean, entirely opaque") are rather over-the-top – more pretty writing for pretty's sake than words that tell us anything about what's going on in the story. But I came to realize that the lengthy, plodding descriptions were deliberate. Given the context, actually, I'm going to advise something I don't think I ever have – there should be more. Fuck, when you have a migraine you feel like you can hear a cat's footsteps on carpet (and it's really loud and painful). It should be that minutely detailed. You got the part about her hearing the ice clinking, the focus on that – but how did it make her feel? What was she thinking? Was she trying to avoid the ice clinking, or was that particular sound somehow soothing?

What I'm getting at with these questions is part of that thing that I figured out was bothering me after several reads: almost the entire piece is written in passive voice (I write in passive voice). "She winces, her shoulders jerking, and her head gives a sharp throb." This is active voice. Active voice is good because it keeps the piece moving and keeps the reader engaged. "Her eyes are shut tight ..." is the first instance passive voice rears its head. I'd look back at any sentence where you used a "to be" verb and question who's actually doing the action. If possible, re-engineer the sentence with that focus. In some cases (such as the one I just quoted), the "to be" verb may not even be needed. "Shut" is also a verb. "Her eyes shut tight" could work, though I'd advise a stronger verb given the beautiful word choice of the piece as a whole.

I think much of it could be more raw, though. It maybe doesn't need such pretty words. There's nothing pretty about a migraine.

You captured a loving and tender moment, though, and I enjoyed reading it.


Some people remember past events when they smell a certain food or perfume. Some associate memories with the songs they played over and over again. Others remember their lives as ...

3
Overall



Revision Update: I love it. And I do think it's wise to leave "the color of" in the last sentence of each paragraph, since those are things not commonly associated with a color. Also, I didn't mention it in the last, but I do love the turnaround with "grey," how the meaning changes from the beginning to the end. I believe I've decided my favorite color is orange – it almost feels like a fulcrum for the piece, and everything in that paragraph is so vivid, it's like movies are playing in my mind as I imagine it. Really, everything about this just makes me smile.

 

First of all, this is such a beautiful little piece, and I love your author's note. When I happen to see prompts (though I don't "use" them, and I suspect you don't either) and get any sort of burst of inspiration from them at all, this is normally the sort of thing that happens.

There's so much imagery with this, but at the same time it's not overpowering. The "story" is still there, and it reads almost like poetry. Clearly, with the set-up given in the italicized beginning, that's exactly what this piece should do: tell a story through images – more specifically, through color. That you encourage the reader to imagine the story behind the images while at the same time giving a clear progression of events is masterful. I could write novels in my head from this one piece, and that is certainly a tribute to you as a writer, that you've painted everything so vividly (err ... no pun intended).

There's really only one thing I would suggest to improve this piece, and I almost hesitate to mention it because it was clearly intentional. The repetition of "is the color of" becomes monotonous to me. Whether you were intending that tone is the reason for the almost-hesitation on my part, but if it was an intentional focus, that focus is misdirected in a piece of this length.

Given the italicized intro, I feel the entire piece would be stronger, and have more impact, if you lost all the repetitions of "the color of" entirely. Your readers know that grey, pink, yellow, orange, etc., are colors – you don't need to repeat that fact. Repetition is good; needless repetition can be mind-numbing. I'd make those colors own the imagery they represent in the mind. Green is moss growing under the shed door. Grey is the foggy sky at 5 in the morning. I don't want to be dictatorial about it, but I read it through a second time mentally omitting all instances of "the color of" and it made for a much stronger piece.

Not that it isn't a beautiful work as it stands. I really enjoyed reading this.


This is the first chapter of a novel I've recently started working on.

Overall



I'm not sure how much of this novel you've got planned out, or what you intend to do with it, but I will say this much: this chapter, although it has some rough bits here and there, does precisely what a first chapter should do. I don't know what audience you have in mind for this work, but it reads very YA to me (note, that's not remotely an insult). You have characters who are teenagers, still live with their families, etc., and it's told from the point of view of a high school student. Overall (and again, no idea where you're going with this), it would probably be best suited if aimed at younger readers – which really means don't change a thing at all, because there's nothing about this that seems inappropriate or out of place for that market.

Obviously if I'm talking about market right off the bat I think you've got something here. Yes, fantasy's been done, people with magic who live in the "real world" have been done as well, but it's not as if you're copying J.K. Rowling here (and it's not as if J.K. Rowling never copied anybody else). I like the universality of this. Your background explanations are quite good. In some places they might get a bit heavy with detail (such as the part where you're explaining the language in the books), especially for a first chapter, but none of the information is unnecessary.

Your descriptions get a bit thick in places as well. The description of Kyle, for example, would have more impact if broken up over the course of the meeting: brief description as the narrator first sees him, then noticing little things as they continue to speak. That really reflects more how people typically see people anyway – they notice little things as they continue interacting, they don't take everything in all at once. And block descriptions do take your reader away from the action. Breaking them up would put the action of the story front and center.

You've got some little grammatical things here and there, proofreading issues, but they don't distract and I'm not your copy editor.

Your dialogue is quite realistic overall and flows well, but it does seem a bit forced or stiff in places. This could be fixed by adding a little more ... small talk, if you will, here and there. Sometimes it seemed more like the dialogue was leading the plot rather than the other way around. The only other thing I'd mention re: characterization is the fact that your narrator seems to contradict herself in several places, for example saying it didn't seem like they were going anywhere right after she's expressed an interest in continuing the conversation. Obviously it's alright for her to be of two minds about making new friends (if that's the case), but you've got to let the reader know that she's aware of it (e.g., by saying "on the one hand, I ... but on the other"), otherwise there's a huge disconnect on the part of the reader. Really that was the only thing that took me out of my reading of it, the few places where I stopped and went "wait, do you want him here or not?"

Sorry for the sub-standard quality of this review and the utter vagueness of it all, I assume you know what I'm talking about because after all you did write the piece, and it's 3 a.m. But I really wanted to review this piece; I've read it several times since you posted it and had it in my "read later" queue to review.

In case I didn't make this clear, I do really want to read the rest of this story. Congratulations, you've got that page-turner quality in this – at least for me based on what I've read so far.


I drew a picture of a skylineChicago, LA, London, Beijing, Abottsvilledoesn’t matter wherebut I drew a picture of a skylinewith the scrapers and the smogwith the legs drawn tight to ...

Overall



There's so much I love about this piece. Overall, your enjambments really enable the flow of the poem and encourage the reader to keep moving, but the breaks are deliberate enough that it doesn't simply feel like a paragraph with line breaks, as free verse often can.

In terms of basic form, I want to say that the double-spaced lines don't work for me generally, and they don't do you any favors here (shift+enter will single-space, if you weren't aware). Given you set off the final two lines, breaking the body of the poem into stanzas could really improve this piece. For example, I'd place the first stanza break between "like an extra layer of cloth and bones" and "it was a geometric outline" and generally follow that pattern of introducing a stanza break where a new thought begins, just as you'd place a paragraph break in prose. In the alternative, choosing to use set stanzas (e.g., 5 lines per) and breaking the poem accordingly would also be good for this particular poem, as it flows like thoughts and its pieces overlay each other.

My main issue is with the extraneous verbiage. You're not writing a prose piece; you are, in fact, writing a poem – and it's a good one. You've got some wonderful images that are just weighted down. Part of the beauty of poetry lies in its efficiency – that you can say so much with so little. Articles (especially indefinite ones), conjunctions, and even many pronouns are unnecessary and can clog a poem. I should probably just give you an example of what I mean instead of continuing to say little with much.

Here's your start, with edits (because frankly I'm a better "editor" than I am a "reviewer," so I'm falling into my comfort zone):

I drew a picture of a skyline [–]

Chicago, LA, London, Beijing, Abottsville

doesn’t matter where

but I drew a picture of a skyline

with the scrapers and the smog

with the legs drawn[*] tight to her chest

like they might hold everything in

like an extra layer of cloth and bones[**]

*I'm not sure about the echo here, of the picture being drawn and the legs being drawn. It might suit the metaphor (which is excellent, by the way) to use a different word for the latter, something like "pulled." Despite this I still like the "drawn-up legs" later on, and I'd keep that, I'm just not sure about the two so close together. At the same time, it could work if the piece were formatted differently, depending on how that came to pass.

**I'd consider flipping the order of these two lines, something like "an extra layer of cloth and bones/that might hold everything in"

The only other thing I'd recommend would be punctuation. You use it here and there and then abandon it. Punctuation marks mean things and in my mind mean more in poetry than they do in prose. Good punctuation can stand in for a lot of these extraneous words, giving the words themselves more meaning and intent. A comma can be an "and," a full-stop can be a "but" or an "or," etc.

The imagery of this poem is simply breath-taking, and that final stanza wraps it up perfectly. I'd tinker only to the extent I think the word "echo" works better with "against" than "among." Overall, a quite compelling poem.


Overall



Hmm. I wanted to like this, I really did, because I was taken by the title. As someone who often has trouble with really gripping titles, when I see a good one I tend to err on the side of believing the piece that follows beneath will be amazing. Sometimes I am disappointed – and to be frank, this was one of those times.

For a start, there seems to be an awful lot of words missing – words that caused me to have to read a sentence or paragraph back again to figure out what you were trying to convey, and that really hurt the flow. One such example of many: "I used to think the rain as the city’s tears." It should read "I used to think of the rain as the city's tears," if you intend to keep that construction. If I go by your tags, I'd be led to assume this was a free-write – which is fine. But there's a thing about free-writes: they only start out that way. When you're in the zone and you're just streaming something it's great, but you've got to go back and make it intelligible after the fact if you intend it to go anywhere beyond a notebook or computer screen.

The other issue is the lack of consistency regarding verb tense. To take an example: "And when I make that decision, I saw the chains retract to the heavens." Clearly, you should use "made" instead of "make," as your sentence is in past tense. But I think you really need to decide a more cohesive tense in which to seat this piece and use it throughout, rather than randomly moving about. Flipping tenses makes a story difficult to follow and in this particular case it's not necessary as you have a fairly straight-forward chronological story.

You have quite a bit of foreshadowing that doesn't really add anything to the piece. Things like this: "It was a strange day, but not the strangest" followed by "this would have been a fairly uneventful day, but that wasn’t to last" do a lot of telling, but in the end, your strangest day doesn't really seem all that strange, because you have this bizarre thing with the windmills and your description of the day following seems run-of-the-mill (no pun intended) in comparison.

To be honest, the windmills kinda put me off. I get what you were trying to do: what's the most bizarre thing I can think of? That's not nearly as strange as feeling at home in a new place I've never lived before. But the windmills, as they are, just seem like a cheap plot point to me, and there's no real resolution – they came, said something about Don Quixote, response, it's over. Very anti-climactic. And they're still there. That makes no sense. If such a thing happened to me, I daresay that'd be stranger than the fact I felt at home in a place I'd never lived. It just seems a bit over-reaching.

The bit about the chains, though – I loved that image. That really resonated. I don't know what more you do with it, but that's a good thought, the idea of these chains tethering you(?) somehow to these places – the thing about wanting to take them with you but thinking if you did you wouldn't get very far? That's great, because it's true. As Thomas Wolfe wrote, "you can't go home again," and you can't really take it with you either.

In summary, clean up the grammar, keep the chains, lose the windmills. This was an interesting read and you've got some good ideas floating through it.


Overall



This was such a fun thing to read. It flows fairly quickly while still carrying quite a bit of description and inner monologue – normally pieces like that seem to move more slowly, but this bounced along just as it should. Descriptions were enough to get the point across without being too much. I despise sci-fi/fantasy work that over-explains the world – I feel much more comfortable where things are just mentioned, as though you should just accept them. In this piece, I feel you got a good grip on that balance. You told me about their "super" powers, but there wasn't any sort of back-story as to how they got them or what happened, and for this story I think that's a perfect balance.

It's a great little vignette of three people trying to hide secrets from each other – although I did wonder, if none of them knew, or if only the psychic knew (because of course he would). Do Jade and Tucker know about each other? It seemed evident neither of them knew about Aikin – and then they did. Or maybe they didn't.

The ending tied up a bit too neatly for my taste. Of course Aikin knew about the other two, as I mentioned before, but it all seemed to come together too cleanly in the end, with them just accepting and with little surprise or fanfare. That was what made me question if the others knew anything about the others – like, Jade and Tucker knew about each other but thought Aikin didn't know, Aikin knew about all of them but thought they didn't know he knew, etc. I mean, they have to be pretending for somebody ... if they're pretending for the world at large, the ending when Aikin lifts the appliance with his mind doesn't really work. And if he can lift things with his mind, then why is he asking anyone to help him move at all? And why these two? I guess this flows into the idea of keeping up "normal" appearances, but the beginning, where Jade's covering her entire body with clothing isn't questioned because she might have scars from the accident ... that's why I bring it up. I realize that in stories like this sometimes it's just better not to question such things.

That little neat ending was the only thing about this that threw me off. In terms of the action of the story, it was a resolution without a conflict. Whatever happened both immediately before and immediately after the "we should be superheroes" blurt – because something more than what you've given had to have happened – should definitely be included in the story. I just don't feel like people as "real" as you've made these three to be, who obviously have devoted a lot of energy to "keeping up appearances," would just flip on a dime to "oh, yeah, we should be superheroes because obviously we all have superpowers and that's awesome."

Overall, like I said, I really enjoyed reading this. I was smiling the whole time. It kind of reminded me of "X-Men First Class" – and I thought that was a fun movie, so that's a good thing.