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  • Critical Collective: No Big Deal

    Rachel Marsh Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    The Critical Collective is an ongoing feature gives writers the chance to get brutally honest feedback on their writing. This the next Critical Collective author is Robert Kasch who has asked our Shortbreaders to look in detail at his story ‘No Big Deal’.

    To get involved in The Critical Collective read this month’s story on our Critical Collective Forum thread.

    If   you would like your story to be featured in the next Critical   Collective please email the story to rachel@shortbreadstories.com

    NO BIG DEAL

    It was just one mouse but at night I heard it as it scampered around the kitchen. The gnawing sounds would just make me wild with worry. I would jump out of bed and turn on the lights and just miss it each time as it disappeared in the shadows. It was this time it had gotten into the bread. O.K. little friend. You like bread. You got it.

    I know what you’re thinking: a grown man forty years old being afraid of a mouse. I mean forty- five but no matter. I disdain the little beasts. I thought I had it all planned out. To put an end to it. As you know I was far from right on that. This is what I did.

    I took down the seven bottles of prescriptions I take to mix up a little cocktail. I’m not sure what each one does but I overdosed on them twice and so I knew it would play hell on the mouse. When I say I overdosed don’t get the wrong idea. No big deal but once in a while I get these thoughts and well.. I guess it’s what the doctor was explaining to me. About the drugs I mean. They control my depression and psychotic breaks. Two are for panic attacks and the one in the big capsule is to control my schizophrenia. Borderline actually. No big deal.

    Anyway I took the concoction and put a dab of peanut butter to mix it all together and then took a pinch of wheat bread and rolled it all up.Finished, I put the ‘bread’ ball on the floor near the sink. I think that’s when I took two more xanax because of the case of nerves the whole thing brought on. I took a clonazepam too because they last longer. I remember getting sleepy and going back to bed. I must have dreamed of the mouse in bed with me because I woke up screaming. It’s no big deal because I wake up screaming a lot.

    I walked into the kitchen, more like stumbled into the kitchen, and turned on the lights. There he was, that hideous hairless tail still twitching. His body was still, eyes wide open and foaming from his mouth.I put away a couple of pills to calm down and scooped the thing up with two pieces of cardboard and took him out to the BBQ pit where I built a fire and laid the tiny body on the hot coals. I went back to bed but my hands and feet were shaking from the prescriptions I took earlier. It’s no big deal I do that alot. Take too many I mean.

    The trouble started when I examined the burnt out coals in the pit and the mouse was gone. No skeleton or anything.. I knew then that it had escaped somehow and would always be around. Always around and pissed.The thoughts came and went around and around in my head until I felt a migraine coming on. After about an hour of this I guess I took a double dose of everything because right before I passed out the mouse was coming in the door. When I woke up my doctor was right here in my hospital room and told me I would be here for awhile. Observation he said. No big deal. I’ve been here a few times. Kind of like it. Thing is: last night the mouse was at the foot of my bed. Honest. It followed me here. And if I could just be moved down the hall. You know. For awhile anyway.

    Man, if that thing gets in my bed and bites me I think I might go crazy.

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  • James McEwan Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Hi Robert , I missed this over the last week or so. I enjoyed reading it and decide it was a good example of a dramatic monologue by a self deceiving character. (unreliable author). The story starts with plausibility and the reader can associate with the character’s fears. Who doesn’t jump at the sight of a mouse in the kitchen? The story leads the reader (us) to realise we are dealing with an illness and our character wants us to believe him. It’s not him its the mouse that is making him mad, from them on we know the problem is actully his schizophrenia. We laugh at the end not out of pity but because we guessed right. It is a satisfying end for the reader because the perception of mice is not changed, we are reassured that they won’t be waiting for us at the bottom of the bed. We are safe, he is mad.

    I notice from other remarks that you may consider tightening up the narrative. So how could this be done? Your character is pulling the reader into his confidential world, he wants the reader to believe him. For instance he is addressing the mouse then jumps to speaking to the reader. This is not wrong but it can feel clumsy to read. Perhaps if you start the first paragraph talking to the reader (you) then anything that follows can flow smoothly.

    An aside: I would suggest your character changes his doctor, I believe his medication maybe the source of his schizophrenia. Clonazepam (Rivotril) in my experience is prescribed as an anticonvulsant to treat epilepsy, but I could be wrong..

    A fun read James.

  • Kate Smart Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    I’m going to stick my oar in again Robert, to give another perspective.  I don’t agree with Adam’s point about the over-use of ‘just’.  It didn’t jar with me at all, and I don’t think it was over-used.  I also disagree with his point about the sentence about the mouse scampering in the kitchen.  I thought the original was great and i would not change it.  It sounded to me like your own true voice.  You can fiddle about with things too much and then it kills the whole spirit of the thing.

    And a general point about the critical collective - I remember someone giving me what has turned out to be excellent advice, a few years ago.  Critics, they said, especially if they are also writers, want you either consciously or subconsciously, to write like them.  That idea inspired me and terrified me all at the same time. 

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  • Diane Dickson Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    So I left my little comment on the story page and then came here to tear it all apart.  Of course there is nothing to tear is there.  It is unusual, witty, and yet at the heart of it there is that little bit of discomfort because actually this person is lost in his own world of self delusion and confusion.  You even managed to introduce an air of mystery. (psst what did actually happen to the mouse - you can tell me it’s no big deal). 

    It was done very convincingly and the flow felt natural and seemed to me to fit your character and his rather off to the side view of his over medicated life extremely well.  Even the rather open ending seemed to me to be spot on because of course there is no comfort for this poor chap is there, now that the mouse is or isn’t gone (hmm now he sounds like Schrodinger’s mouse) there will be something else won’t there.  You see in this tiny piece you have made this man very real to me and that is impressive.  Go away and find something I can pull to pieces - go on…

  • Adam West Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    Hi Robert - although this is quite short piece to comment on it could nevertheless be argued that in short fiction - in particular, childrens’ stories - every word counts, so here goes.

    As a whole I enjoyed the story. I was both gratified reading and when I finished reading. Satisfied by the conclusion if you like and how it related to what had gone before (which is of huge importance IMHO).

    From the off the gradual reveal of the MC’s state of mind was handled skilfully. At each turn we learned more and in interesting ways that dod not feel like exposition. The seven prescriptions (at age 45) alerted me quite early to his likely health problems but might not have set everyone’s alarm bells ringing,

    The battle between man and beast is a classic tale that writers will return too time and again because although an uneven contest from time to time beast gets the better of man and I think we are sometimes cheering for him. It all depends. Here, we naturally felt sympathy for the man but at the same time I could not help but feel sympathetic towards the mouse, because it was well, only a mouse! Whether we care or have sympathy for or loathe the protagonists is 95% of what keeps us reading - so on that count you score a hit with both ‘characters’.

    With regards the writing I agree with Kate about tightening up. Although first person tends towards less correct or formal writing it can get messy if it mirrors too closely our speech or thought patterns.

    The sentences that struck me as in need of an edit were largely at the beginning of the story. As it progressed the writing felt cleaner. The sentences to consider were for instance:

    It was just one mouse but at night I heard it as it scampered around the kitchen. The gnawing sounds would just make me wild with worry.

    There is nothing wrong with this sentence. And yet a number of alternative structures come to mind you could have gone with.

    It was only a mouse. One mouse. But at night when I heard it scamper around the kitchen those awful gnawing sounds it made drove me wild with worry.

    Granted some folk would baulk at beginning a sentence with a conjunction ( but or and for instance) but writers do it all the time. There are of course many other structures/edits you could have opted for. I felt however that the opening sentences were weak by comparison to the remainder. Also the repetition of just (an adverb I often use the find option in my wordprocessor in order to weed out its use) stood out somewhat.

    A point that Editors stress to writers is allow breathing space for readers to take in and appreciate a certain fact or allow the reader a moment to smile or laugh at some little incident and not conversely to immediately draw the readers attention away to something else pehaps of less interest. There is I believe one good example in this story that struck me as I read (rather than a read through afterwards) that fits this bill.

    I know what you’re thinking: a grown man forty years old being afraid of a mouse. I mean forty- five but no matter.

    The first sentence is perfect. Simple and yet effective. The MC is making excuses for himself and feels foolish - I got that - it tells us quite a bit more about him. I would suggest you should then cut to a new paragraph and get rid of the following sentence, which is weaker by comparison, doesn’t really say or add much and diverts/divides our attention when I don’t think that was what you intended. The reverse can be true of course and this sort of subtle diversion can be employed to lead the reader astray.

    Editors suggest writers writers identify passages of their writing which really ‘sing’ to them and aim to live up to those passages by consistently attaining that standard throughout. Examples of some of the passages that I found really sang to me (interesting to see if you agree?) include:

    The trouble started when I examined the burnt out coals in the pit and the mouse was gone. No skeleton or anything. I knew then that it had escaped somehow and would always be around. Always around and pissed.

    ~~~

    There he was, that hideous hairless tail still twitching. His body was still, eyes wide open and foaming from his mouth.I put away a couple of pills to calm down and scooped the thing up with two pieces of cardboard and took him out to the BBQ pit where I built a fire and laid the tiny body on the hot coals.

    ~~~

    After about an hour of this I guess I took a double dose of everything because right before I passed out the mouse was coming in the door. When I woke up my doctor was right here in my hospital room and told me I would be here for awhile. Observation he said. No big deal. I’ve been here a few times. Kind of like it. Thing is: last night the mouse was at the foot of my bed. Honest. It followed me here. And if I could just be moved down the hall. You know. For awhile anyway.

    Thank you for submitting your writing here, Robert - it is tough to give folk permission to dissect your work and I hope some of my views/thoughts are helpful. If not ignore or disagree, I don’t mind.

    Start a forum thread - as you mentioned - if you ever want to gather opinion or gauge reaction or whatever - I’m sure there will be a few of us happy to take part.

    ATB for now, Sir

    Adam

  • Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    I see nothing to critisize about this, either! I quite liked it. It was very well written and a good story.

  • Kate Smart Guest Editor
    Posted 3 years ago Please login or join to Reply

    You know what Robert I cannot find it in myself to criticise this at all!  I really liked it and can’t see anything amiss or an improvement that could be made.  I liked the whole tone of it very much.  The only TINY thing is, you could go over it again yourself and tighten it up a tiny tiny bit, but it’s minimal really.