Oew wee. Now we’re having fun!

John Ramsey Miller

The following are either two front page submissions…
or perhaps one is a real submission and the other a spoof…
or perhaps both are real submissions…
After reading them both tell me which is the real submission
…or which is a spoof, or if both are one or the other.
And tell me why.
tell me what you think about them.
Make it short.
Make it long.
At some point I will post the fact of the matter.
I am doing this because it is the way I think this will be the best way to have some fun.
Plus I am a loss for words.

By Anonymous

It was a truly hot day. Rivers of stinky sweat ran from the killer’s armpits like thin clear soup that no sane person would want to put into a spoon. Of course, being on a deserted beach in south Florida as it was, there had been many hotter days, but not so many as a layman might imagine. His teeth were black crackly stumps, which probably accounted for his breath that was truly like rotting fish. The billowy clouds looked to the woman, who was lying on her back bleeding, like sweet fleecy sheep swimming across a river as seen from a good way up in the air, even though they were up in the sky.

“Oh, my, no, no, no,” she said in a dying whisper, blowing bubbles of blood as she spoke in a choked fearful rasp looking at the black handle of the butcher knife with a black handle that was erected out of her chest where he had left it. “I feel a little like Little Bo Peep.” She wondered which of the killer’s rusty eyes was actually looking at her lustily and fevered and which was looking somewhere else.

“I would not uv stobbed you, uf you wuz a mind to frisky with me instead of being all stuck-uppity. No all have ta run frum the poleeces and maybe be featured on America’s Most Wanted.”

Suddenly she started flipping around in the sand like a fish would if it was pulled out of the water. She jumped up onto her feet and jerked the knife out from her chest and waved it in the air in front of him like she was sending him a message with a signal flag that was dripping blood. Red blood spurted out of her many wounds the evil killer had made when he slammed the knife into to her beautiful body more than a dozen times, but probably less than fifteen she thought to herself, unable to count them in the horrible memory in her brain.

Fear filled the eye that was looking at her, the other looked out at the ocean on account of he was truly one walleyed, ugly, evil, stink-breathed man with huge wads of hair on his shoulders and a tattoo of a mermaid on his throat, and cut off shorts with the fringes all uneven like he’d bitten them off using his rotted teeth. And his feet had purple flip-flops on them, with toenails like walnut hulls.

With amazement, he said, “Holy God, gal. Won’t you never die? Give me at knife.”

“Not yet,” she said, surprised as he was that she wasn’t already dead yet from losing so much blood. The wounds really hurt and she was all swimmy headed. “Come a little closer, cooter face, and I’ll send you to Hell to shovel coal for the rest of all time.”

By Anonymous

29th June 2004 – Tuesday

Something gruesome had happened in Morecambe.

Stu read, ‘Happy Mount Drive Murders: Neighbours ignored smell. The bodies of murdered Morecambe business-man, Paul Guerrero, 52, and his wife Jean, 48, had lain undiscovered for several days despite the appalling smell coming from their five bedroom detached luxury home. Neighbour Cedric Farnham, 45, explained their reluctance to investigate stating, “Mr Guerrero was a very awkward neighbour. He once accused my son of revving his motorbike in an intimidating and racist manner.” Farnham eventually contacted the police …’

Stu was suddenly aware of his own smell. Calvin Klein’s Obsession for men, applied liberally fifteen minutes earlier after his morning shower. Stu wondered why body odour was so repulsive? What’s the evolutionary advantage of males having a body odour that repels females? He resolved to look it up on the Internet.

Lindy, Stu’s nineteen year old daughter, interrupted his thoughts. “I met a very nice lady at the salon yesterday.”

“Good.” The distraction made The Times suddenly unappealing – he’d save it for later. He folded the paper along its length, plopped it on the table next to his buttered toast and picked up The Echo turning to the lonely hearts section. He never seriously considered contacting anyone. He imagined the women casting these text shadows, pictured them and idly thought about the part he could play in satisfying their needs for companionship; a dance partner, a fellow gastronome, or maybe more.

“She’s renting the Round House.” Lindy tucked wayward blonde strands of hair behind her ears then poured her dad more tea.

Stu turned past the lonely hearts, scanning the rest of the paper.

Lindy forded over the lack of response. “Her name’s Brenda, she’s forty-eight, works for The Echo, ironically.”

The Echo also lost its appeal. Stu folded it and placed it on top of The Times. “I think you mean coincidentally.” He took a bite of toast then sipped his tea.

See what I mean.

48 thoughts on “Oew wee. Now we’re having fun!

  1. I fear #2 is the spoof because there’s an attempt to set up tension but the pacing is off.

    That leaves #1 to be the real thing, if either is. Reason? It’s too awful to be a spoof. And, dear lord, I fear I have encountered this writer before. He has not improved.

  2. I trashed Anton’s saggy eyelid ad, Miller. But after reading his post, I think he was the author of #1. I still can’t get ARM PIT soup out of my brain.

  3. Today’s entries really stink. I’m with Jordan- the armpit soup really got me, I think I need another bath now…..however bad this may sound and yes the first entry was excessively gross.. I would read the next page of story #1. As for # two? I just wanted the guy to go to work so it would be over.

  4. In the first submission it occurs to me that sweat doesn’t stink until it’s had time to ferment. And flip-flops seem out of character for a wall-eyed killer with plumes of hair on his shoulders.

  5. Chaco…you cracked me up. Thanks for the chuckle. Actually this post and all the comments started my Saturday, even Anton, saggy eye guy. Thanks.

  6. I disagree, John. I’ve seen that bug-eyed, backhaired, flipflopped guy before at a family reunion. Totally believable, with or without fermented sweat.

    I need coffee.

  7. working midnights in the emergency room all my life…i do believe one would be ‘swimmy headed’ with all the blood loss…however suffering a knife wound to the chest [you know, where the heart and lungs are]….pulling said knife out of the chest, would be sort of detrimental to one’s health….leaping to one’s feet, brandishing that knife defensively, would not be a feasible option. so, i was chuckling from the get-go….

  8. The first one, as has been said, is too horrible to be a spoof. That’s just wild imagination let loose through a pen with no discipline, is all that is.

    The second is too cold and deliberate to be anything but the work of a writer. There’s far too much “I shall” in it to be an accident. “I SHALL… mention this, but not finish it, and then I SHALL… go over here and do this, but not finish that, either.”

    If you don’t know that the 10mm box wrench is the thing you need, then there is no humor in reaching for everything but. You have to know the tools to write like the second one.

  9. I don’t know, guys…
    You’d have to know the rules to break so many of them in each of these submissions. Please, God, tell me that literary agents around the world are not subjected to writing such as this? No wonder they’re so hard to reach…
    These both are spoofs.

  10. If they’re both spoofs – what’s the point in this post?
    If either are not spoofs then you people are coming across as smug, disrespectful, bullying, unhelpful prigs.
    There’s nothing in any of your comments to help either of these people.
    I wish I knew what to say to them.
    Some of you do yet chose to mock.

  11. #1 is a bit earnest to be a spoof. The author’s trying a little too hard, I think. Going for shock images rather than letting the reader conjure them. But with some basic line editing, I think it has potential.
    #2 .. I don’t think so either. It’s a little slow and – assuming it’s a thriller – should not be used as page 1. This should be saved for after the hook, in my view.
    Also, I have to agree with Roddy to an extent. The mocking tone of the comments and the way this post has been presented helps no one – and I mean, no one.

  12. I am really glad I decided not to send my first page in!
    Inviting young writers to submit then use them to make yourselves look clever?
    I will no longer follow this blog nor will I read any of its authors again.

  13. JRM, why don’t you to tell us which is which and close out the discussion? I think it’s time to make like Seger and turn the page.

  14. I’m with Clare and Roddy at this point. On occasion this critique thread has been helpful, and heaven knows it has potential to be invaluable for aspiring writers.
    However, too often, this post as a good example, has become a place for the pros to show how superior they are and has degenerated into a place where they can bully others.
    And the response is always, “It’s a tough world, suck it up.”
    Which is kinda what bullies say.
    I suggest you either get back to critiquing or admit this is a pinata thread for whacking those less gifted.

  15. I went to a wedding last night and forgot to post the answers. The first one was a spoof, the second may be, but was submitted without detail.

    We do find very good work in some of the submissions. Some are truly bad. That is just the way it is. Those of you who say you aren’t reading this blog any longer won’t see this anyway and I will miss your input and participation so much. I can’t help but wonder if one of you sent in DAMAGED. Tell me it was a spoof.

  16. Interesting. I was so wrong. I thought the first was a young person writing in a style like Manga is to Disney. If that makes sense.
    But as a reader (I didn’t write it btw): what is wrong with the ‘damaged’ one? Nothing jumped out at me to say it was badly written. Am I just an ignorant reader? or are there some writer type secrets I don’t know about?
    As the submitter has not come forward to say it is a spoof – can you enlighten me?
    Otherwise, this blog entry becomes pointless and, frankly, a little sinister.
    Or, if you are lost for words, that doesn’t say much for you as a critiquer / writer, does it.
    I’ll be interested in your response – or lack thereof.

  17. Is it better to send an inferior manuscript page to an agent or a publisher than have it criticized (perhaps harshly) by people who will see it the same way an agent will. If these submissions can be fixed, they should be. Some of them probably can’t be, and what seems cruel here is nothing in comparison to having it rejected over and over without the author knowing what is happening. Maybe it is better to not know?

    Maybe we shouldn’t ask for submissions. If we are not doing anyone any good, we shouldn’t. Like I’ve said before, it’s a hot kitchen we cook in.

  18. “Without the author knowing what is happening” is a key phrase.
    (I didnt write either of these btw)
    No one has said why the non-spoof(?) entry should be held aloft for derision and mockery. Tell him/her what’s wrong with it.
    Just how helpful to the author do you think saying “it’s rubbish” is?
    But keep on justifying your behaviour if you wish.
    It seems there’s nothing to learn here.

  19. I agree with Muzzer – I didn’t write #2 either – I’d like to be told exactly what’s wrong with it to see if what I think is wrong with it is correct.
    Incidentally – I’m getting emails of critical posts that don’t seem to appear on the blog. Strange that ..

  20. In Marine bootcamp the Drill Instructors scream and yell and berate to no end in the beginning. The reason for this behaviour was not to make a person feel incapable, rather it was for that young recruit to prove he was capable by constantly improving (and to weed out those who truly were incapable…some folks are simply not meant to be in certain jobs). At the end of the 1st month the yelling decreases significantly as the skill level increases. By the end of the 2nd month, there is little yelling unless a person made a really dumb mistake. By graduation respect is the norm, because those numbskull idiots who started the process had earned the title and were no longer worthless scumbags who barely deserved the right to breath the air made free by warrior blood…they had acheived their goal and earned a place in Valhalla.

    The thing to keep in mind about this blog is that here you can get the ignorance out before the DI (publishers/agents/et al) runs you out of the park. And with these critiques you can even do it anonymously so that the only person who has to know it was you who screwed up is you.

    Unless of course you get all whiney and personal about it…then we can kinda guess.

  21. What is right with it? No action beyond buttering toast. Could it be a thriller? I think it reads like the opening of a Cozy Mystery. Not badly written perhaps, and the author may have a future. What do you think is right about it/ wrong with it?

  22. This isn’t a place to come for compliments unless you deserve them. I’m not a cheerleader for every man or woman with a computer and a first page to something they think is a novel and which may or may not be.

  23. No one’s saying this is a place for cheerleading, but everyone knows this is a place for professional (or professional-SOUNDING) critiques. You have written a poor piece in mockery of another piece and then basically just said, “It’s bad.” That’s not much of a critique. It’s amateurish, like something a fourth grader would write. “It was just bad.” No illustrations of why it’s bad. I think it’s you, John Miller, who’s proven you can’t write. You and the others who have given no clear, mature, helpful feedback. I didn’t write this entry by the way, and I’ll keep reading this blog because many of the other authors continue to give helpful feedback, but this post was a downer.

  24. Thing is, this post wasted everybody’s time. The first opening would have been hilarious if you had posted it honestly as a spoof, but instead you scared us with the possibility that whoever wrote it was in earnest. Had that been the case, the author would not have been nearly ready to benefit from even the most constructive criticism here; he would have needed to spend several years reading and studying before he could possibly improve.

    The second opening is much better, but still needs a tremendous amount of work. As you pointed out, it seems more like the opening page of a mystery than a thriller. If the author is trying to write a thriller, he needs to scrap this page completely and write something far more gripping. If it is a mystery, there is still an awful lot of work to do. Mysteries can have slower starts than thrillers, but they are still obliged to make us care about the characters and not to load us with too many disparate elements (what do we care about this nice lady renting the Round House, whatever that is, when two horrible murders have just been committed?) so that we feel like we don’t know what’s going on.

    But having first warned us that one or both excerpts might be spoofs, and having posted the heinous spoof first, you made it difficult to regard this second excerpt seriously. Had it been a better written opening, it might have done all right, but at best it is in need of complete revision.

    If you wanted us to critique a poorly written opening seriously, why did you claim that it might be a spoof and post it after a genuine spoof?

    Also, all of the other first pages I’ve read on this blog have been competently written. I assumed that in order to get critiqued here, you had to write a fairly strong opening that needed work, not one that needed a complete overhaul or possibly to be jettisoned and a new one written. Was I mistaken? Are we going to spend our time here explaining Fiction 101 to people who haven’t done their own homework?

    The second opening might have gotten more serious critique had you not said it might be a spoof. If you didn’t want it mocked, why did you set it up to be mocked? Now the author has missed his chance at serious review here, gotten very little constructive criticism and a lot of mockery, and he probably stopped reading the comments on this post after the first few.

  25. OK, having read the post about 20 times by now, I think I can see where the biggest problem is. Stu is supposed to be an absent-minded professor type, and we’re supposed to enjoy his wandering thoughts. Handled better, this would be very enjoyable. Problem is, they wander too much, and the newspaper article gets us expecting blood and guts and then suddenly we have this benignly whimsical POV character.

    Ditch the newspaper article. Tell us what Stu thought as he read it, how he imagined the neighbors discussing whether or not to call the police over the “appalling” smell. (Most newspapers would not use the word “appalling”.) Then as Stu turns past the personal ads, let one of them catch his eye – “BALLROOM DANCING FOODIE SEEKS SAME” – and engage in a fleeting, one-sentence fantasy about answering it and what might develop.

    Since Stu’s thoughts are not with his daughter, we feel like she’s an irrelevant distraction, but I assume that it’s important that he has a daughter and that a nice lady has moved into the Round House. So let’s see more of Stu’s habits of thought applied to them. When his daughter speaks, let him muse on what she would have been like had she been born in ancient Rome, or something equally whimsical. When she mentions the Round House, let him daydream about that house and its presumably distinctive shape.

    All said, if the author of that opening is still reading, if you need this much help, I am sorry but you’re not ready. Spend the next two years studying the best and worst mystery novels you can find like they had the meaning of life between their lines. Read every single book your public library has about how to write. Then, get the outline of this story out of your desk drawer and start all over.

  26. I see my post pointing out that JRM has wasted our time by telling us that a spoof might be real and an apparently real page might be a spoof – and then whining that after he told us that a real opening might be a spoof, we didn’t take it seriously – has been deleted.

    Which makes me wonder: how useful is this site to writers if the comments get deleted? I was going to send mine in next week, but I’m not sure it’s worth the bother now.

  27. Sorry, Jane Doe. I didn’t delete it, the admin must have done that since I cannot delete other than my own comments. It must not have been seen as not so very helpful by someone other than me.

  28. I was away from the internet this weekend, so am therefore responding to this post late. Apologies for that.

    It’s a terrifying thing to put your writing out for critique. We offer the opportunity to do it anonymously, but still, criticism is always difficult to take. And since we Kill Zone bloggers are all different people, we take different approaches. We hail from different personal and political backgrounds. In many ways, that’s what makes a group blog a richer experience overall. We don’t always agree with each others’ posts, or each others’ stances on many things. Which is an important point to take into consideration as our readers. I’ve entered two pieces of writing for critiquing here. Both had their proponents and their critics. And I have to say that if I’d submitted the first page of the first novel that I sent out to agents a decade ago, the criticism would likely (and deservedly) been scathing. The reason why ask for just the first page is because that’s the one that makes or breaks your novels chances with agents and editors –and hopefully, down the road, readers. The ultimate question is always is there enough here to keep them turning pages?

    So…looking at this second piece, I see what is generally speaking the most common mistake. There might be a story here. The first sentence, taken by itself, is very compelling. Unfortunately, the context that it drifts into, a man reading the newspaper and engaging in a throwaway conversation with his daughter, immediately loses me. I see where the writer is trying to build up the characters, and show their relationship. I’m not entirely clear on why the daughter is mentioning this woman she met–is it as a potential love interest for her father? Clearly there’s some strange underlying tension in their relationship. But the overall sense that I get is that this is wheel-spinning, dialogue just to fill pages. It needs to be far more concise. If there is tension, it needs to be made much clearer. The metaphors need work (particularly bits like, “text shadows,” were confusing.)

    When the most interesting part of the page is a fictional newspaper excerpt, so much so that I wish I could continue reading that article in its entirety, the writer has failed. Again, this is just one page. It’s possible that two more into the manuscript, things pick up. But sadly, by that point, the agent has already dumped it back on to the slush pile.

    By and large our goal here is to help. And it’s important to remember that each and every writer on this blog has been in exactly this position. We’ve all written things we wish we could take back. Most of us probably have embarrassing early work (let’s call it “regrettature) taking up space in a hard drive or desk drawer somewhere. In my personal experience, the only success has come from being brave enough to discard things and move ahead without losing hope. To abandon chapters and entire manuscripts when the roar of criticism was deafening. To always aspire to write something better the next time. There are chunks of every single one of my books that I’d love to have a “do-over” on. And I’d say to the author of this piece to take it as a learning experience. Don’t give up. All of us have written unsalvageable pages. But I sincerely hope that you’ll try again, and consider resubmitting in the future.

  29. Hm. If it’s whoever controls the whole blog, not just one blogger, that makes this blog pretty much useless for aspiring writers looking for feedback. Guess there’s no point in continuing to follow it.

  30. I know that Jane Doe is no longer following us here, so this won’t help her much, but conspiracy theories aside, it takes extraordinary circumstances for a post to be deleted from this blog, and those circumstances have nothing to do with silencing the opinions of our readers.

    As a blog administrator, I was concerned enough by Jane Doe’s accusations to break my long-standing policy of ignoring anonymous accusations and do some digging.

    It turns out that Blogger has recently installed automatic spam software which, for reasons known only to the spam software, tagged her comments, along with 34 others from many weeks back, as spam. I have restored hers, plus three others from my dear friend John Miller’s post on Saturday.

    Those who see the slinging of warrantless accusations as a form of intellectually honest communication owe us all an apology, though I don’t expect that one will appear. Such are the ethical and moral compasses of anonymous dart-throwers.

    Next time, given all the good that my colleagues and I have tried to do through this blog over the years–and the countless rants we’ve launched regarding the evils of censorship–how about cutting us a little freaking slack next time?

    Miller’s post posits, “Now we’re having fun!” Actually, no. Not even a little.

    John Gilstrap

  31. I am new here too but I wanted to say spoof or no spoof, there are people out there who are writing exactly the kind of thing you see in the first submission. They are pouring their hearts and souls into writing. Some of them will take good, tactful advice and work and re-work their stories and get better, even if it is at a snail’s pace. It is probably harder to know where to start to help that person than it is to start your own story but if someone can improve their writing with good criticism, wouldn’t you try to help them?

    Here’s what I would say to this person (just taking the first paragraph): there is too much going on in terms of description. You don’t always need a simile (or metaphor)to drive your point home so drop the soup thing. Also the rivers of sweat will tell us it’s a hot day so you can drop that first sentence as well. I’m not sure who you’re referring to when you say layman. Are we supposed to infer that the narrator is someone familiar with Florida weather? If all you’re trying to accomplish is telling the reader that it’s hot and the story is taking place on a deserted beach in South Florida you can do that with far fewer words. The black crackly stumps–again, too much. You could use one of those things black or crackly but you don’t need both. It loses its impact the more words you use. Also I am not sure crackly is a word, I’d check that out. Drop the which accounted for–you should vary your sentence length and shorten some of what you’ve got here. Something like: His teeth were black stumps. His breath smelled like rotting fish. You don’t need all the trulys–they slow the pace of the narrative and bog it down. The billowy clouds looked to the woman–are the clouds looking at the woman or is the woman looking at the clouds? Since she is laying on her back, I assume that you meant to say she was looking at them. Again, too many descriptive words about the clouds and a little too much time devoted to them. The reflection part of the description bogs the narrative down.

    What I would suggest is something like this:

    The South Florida heat made rivers of sweat run from the killer’s armpits. His teeth were black stumps. His breath smelled like rotting fish. Bleeding, the woman lay on her back, eyes fixed upward at the fleecy clouds floating across the sky.

    Then I would say that the writer needs more here–what is the killer doing? Is he standing over her? Is he looking around to make sure no one sees? (there you could work in the deserted beach part) Whose point of view are you going for? The woman or the killer?

    I would ask the writer to re-work the next few paragraphs with the above items and sample in mind and see if they could get the hang of it. Then I would go back a couple of more times and work on different issues (like the passive voice stuff (was lying, started flipping, layering in emotion rather than straight description, i.e. what the characters are FEELING, not only what is happening).

    In terms of the outlandish woman pulling the knife out of her chest, etc. I would tell the writer that he/she might lose the reader there. It is not entirely believable–dramatic, certainly but I would caution against losing credibility as an author. Perhaps it could be toned down a bit.

    Also in terms of dialect/accent in the dialogue I would say it slows things down, the reader would spend too much time trying to follow it and you’d lose them. I would simply suggest stating whatever you were going for: “He had a thick INSERT TYPE OF ACCENT HERE accent”. Or “His dialect suggested he was from INSERT WHERE”

    This is not something that would get better in one revision but if I had to give advice to someone who had written it in earnest, those are the things I would say.

  32. An analogy, if you will:

    TKZ’s John Ramsey Miller is like Simon on American Idol. He’s tough and very hard on submissions, but if you offer something worthy and can get past his seemingly extra critical eye, then you probably have what it takes to succeed in this business. Anything less and you’re probably not ready.

  33. oh please, Daniel! — just as soon as I can stop laughing here, I will offer a serious rebuttal to your position —

    He has trashed every entry he’s critiqued, and always from the position of “well hey, publishing a tough world” —

    really? and nothing else is as tough? these people have all skated through life? gimme a break here — I stopped reading way back on one of his first reviews, when my comment was deleted from this blog-saying exactly that about his so called critiquing —

    when you feel free to call an anonymous author “lazy”, you’ve egregiously over-stepped!

    as an anonymous entry, they have no way of knowing if this is somebody’s very first entry, and , the critique should be about the mechanics, content, flow, etc., and not the self-perceived jedi-mind psychic abilities of the person offering that critique —

    and in a subsequent post, someone pointed out the some critique are lacking and instead simply a bashing, I would most definitely concur-holding someone’s work up (and possibly their first work)for public ridicule offers nothing constructive, and in no manner, constitutes “a critique” – that method and manner of so called critiquing leaves no question to others reading, as to why it was done, and in particularl, when the actions are consistent

    sheesh, I happened to come back this week, hoping they were done with this, but clearly, my hiatus is not over yet

    and to whomever remarked about “the anonymous intellectuals” it has nothing to do with wishing to remain anonymous, and is only about not wanting to bother to register


  34. Christy,
    There’s something about your address that Blogger doesn’t like. It shunted your latest post over to spam, just as it did your previous one(s). I’ve restored it. The only reason I knew to check was because I got an email notification that you’d posted, but then I saw it wasn’t actually in the comments. Not sure what’s poking the spam gremlins, but I wanted you to know.

    John Gilstrap

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