Critique Salon

This is a public page.
Any work posted here is available to anyone browsing the blog.

Simply put, if we want to get better at writing, we simply have to do a heck of a lot of it–writing, that is! We have to put pen to paper, or keystrokes on a blank digital page. We have to produce something, no matter the quantity or quality of it. Worrying about value comes later, but all writing starts with the act itself and should not be interrupted by thoughts soliciting our doubt.

Quality, however, makes a writer’s career. It pays our bills or becomes that nice supplemental income we have to worry about come Income Tax Return time. This page, and the community that has access to this page, is here to evaluate your writing based on its quality–how good it is. Apologies if it sounds harsh, if it suddenly fills you with doubt, but how else could you learn if you’re doing anything worthwhile? Relax, though. Rest easy in your confidence that if you’ve been picked as an Author of the Society, you are “good enough” to pass muster. That is, if you put in at least a little bit of effort into your craft!

General Guidelines:

  • Only one short story, chapter, or writing sample will be submitted here at any time.
  • It should be no longer than 5,000 words, plus or minus 200 words for completion’s sake.
  • Submitted stories will be posted for thirty days and then a new piece of work will go up.
  • Use the “Leave a Reply” box below to leave your public critiques.

For those submitting your work for critique:

  • Please submit reasonably “finished” work whenever possible… Unfinished work is best considered in the “Private Section”!
  • Expect a reasonable “delay” between when you post your work and when you receive a critique.
  • Try very hard to never take anything personally… You asked for someone’s opinion, now you have it. Plain and simple.
  • Thank your critics, they are your best teachers in this craft.

For those critiquing a writer’s submission:

  • At all times, strive to be “constructive” when expressing your opinions. We all would prefer to do without emotional bruising, here.
  • Reply to a critique as promptly as it is reasonable for you. We understand you have lives, but these are our babies you’re reading! 🙂
  • Any replies containing uncalled-for, offensive language (especially directed at the writers personally) will not be approved.
  • Write at least one sentence in each of these fields: FIRST IMPRESSIONS, CHARACTERS, SETTING, PLOT, GRAMMAR/SPELLING, OTHER CONCERNS
  • Thank you for your critique! Live long and prosper!

For your critique:

Come on! Rip it apart!

The face looked molded to precisely fit the mask. The old man and the old mask–united in perpetual agreement of each other, no quarrels, no question as to who hid who, or why. The thing just was, and I could not think of a question to ask as Mr. Rodriguez walked by, tugging at one end and jiggling the other. He then walked through the door, and the frayed seams of the mask, by the hairline, seemed to melt into his skin. The late afternoon blaze came up defeated against built-in spectacles. I cringed, three feet inside a dark house.

He paused in midstride. Turned about and walked back inside, rummaging through the mess of old newspapers and coke bottle caps. I walked behind the conspicuous column that marked out the dining area from the living room and let it shield my face. The brightness stung my eyes even as refractions.

He collected a disjointed pile of junk, sometimes from way before my birth. There were rarities dating back to 2003–more than fifty years old and losing any gloss of what might have once been affluence. How Mr. Rodriguez got a hold of them, I could not guess and he never told me. Perhaps he dug them up from his time as a university Professor, or perhaps he pirated them online. Collection of recyclable, raw materials was forbidden after the law passed ten years ago.

“Too little too late, son,” Mr. Rodriguez said then, when we heard the news.

Mr. Rodriguez found what he was looking for—another doodad—and nodded to me casually. He closed the door after himself, and I heard his junk-mobile rattle away to the store. Not that I was watching the ‘toons flickering on and off the holotv. It foreshadowed the new VR machines through bad dialogue and researched product placement. They gather dust on bleached shelves, and some even melt in the intense heat. No one bothers with fiction when reality is about to break loose from a dope-fiend’s nightmare, taking all along, kicking and screaming and boiling to our death.

A short journey through a litter of junk lands me on the couch, stable of American furniture since ancient cathode-ray tubes pretended to be entertainment, and Presidents sweat a bucket for every lie on national television. There are the faint shadows of undeveloped heroes—mouthpieces regurgitating unintelligible jargon at a new generation. Sights, sounds and colors, mixing into a fantasy now easily outstripped by what plays on the news. China, Spain and southern France, east of the Andes in South America, basically all of Africa is a wondering dune-land of high winds and collapsing dreams. Carcasses of civilization littering an empty landscape. The frame reels away and half of the South Pole never freezes, and Canada is verdant green year-round. They grow olives now, and grapes. They grow tumbleweed and sage-grass in the Burnt Toast—our former basket.

He says his two children–Maria and Carlos–work for the government now, and do not even drop a call. Maybe their mobiles have been updated so many times that it is no longer compatible with the old communication ports, but he’ll never admit to that. No need to cut the kids some slack. The government isn’t busy spinning lies to knit a crumbling Union back together. So I get to spend time with him. And in return, I get all his collections, learn the old ways.

Besides, my own parents always work. Mother working with burnt patients she doubts will ever recover, dispensing some sort of chemical comfort before they move up to the cancer ward and begin with the needles and serums. When she gets home she doesn’t cook and reeks of hospital smell–of flesh and chemicals. Father is one of those “city people” Mr. Rodriguez tells me slaves day in and out, pouring their entire lives and souls into meaningless script and computer programs so that the city will function for another day. But I’ve heard mom and pa’ at late at night when they get home, fighting about what he has to do to keep the job.

Children in the neighborhood rarely come out to play since the sun is murder, now. There are almost no shadows, and very few trees to hide under and catch your breath. Besides, those face masks feel like a skinned cat and catch a bad whiff if you break out a sweat.

It’s been getting worse. There isn’t even hope the grass will grow—not the old stuff from the laboratories, and perhaps not even the new one they keep promising. The sun will kill that too, like fun and afterschool.

I’ve made it a habit to come here every day afterschool—another thin veil we wear for the sake of normalcy. No one is sure how much longer that will last, since it is simply a health hazard, and the government hasn’t yet come up with the promised sun-protection kit for school-aged children. One day, Mr. Rodriguez says, they will have to shut it down permanently, since not that many parents will be willing to send their kids to get sunburnt, or perhaps the teachers will just stop coming, or the air conditioning systems will give up and quit.

Classes were cancelled early in the morning today, only two hours after they had started. Mrs. Prolle shook her head as the Principal tried very hard to contain her panic. I could read her face like history books: they’d talked about this, feared it, and prayed. Everyone prayed and no one got anything for their bother. Before, the old man said, they’d prayed for gains in standardized test performance. Now they just keep us busy and a few teachers bother to entertain. What good is learning about the snow caps of Mount Everest if they all melted? Why bother knowing your rights this day and age? Dissidents beware—and wear your masks always. So I came to Mr. Rodriguez’s house. He was watching the broadcasts as I came in, and did not budge even when the harsh sunlight was let in. I began to worry–he rarely watched holotv.

“Sit down Mikey,” was all he said as I stood by the door, staring in disbelief and concern, wondering if I should have instead gone home. I sat down at the other ancient armchair, minding sharp bottlecaps.

A raspberry-skinned woman spoke into a microphone while parched yellow dust blew around her:

“As the magnetic field continues to fade, scientists have finally ended their silence and talked to the media about impending events. The brighter sunlight we’ve been experiencing for the past ten years is directly caused by the final collapse of the globe’s magnetic field–a process that started hundreds of years ago, but which had not received adequate publicity due to government hush-ups worldwide…”

Evidence of past sunburns clear above the brow of her left eye, snaking around her eye to her cheek, forming almost a circle.

“Due to the fading magnetic field, which is fading at a much faster rate than previously expected when the news were first made public, an excessive amount of sunlight is filtering through the atmosphere. Government officials, after their worldwide broadcast this morning, warned all people outside to return to their homes immediately and find shelter there. However, top scientists say that not even this will serve in the long run, since increased radioactivity could cause irreversible damage to not only our environment, but the very structures we live in–“

“Bah! I knew it! Idiots, trying to cover it up! I knew it!” Spat out Mr. Rodriguez after turning off the holotv.

“What’s happening?”

“It’s the end of this world, boy.”

There was nothing I could say to that. No ideas came to my mind, however imaginative I may have been thought of previously. I could not move, and I realized that I should have gone home. Maybe mother would have been there, perhaps even father. I looked around at the old confines of Mr. Rodriguez’s apartment and thought there was no worse way to die, than among these unfulfilled stories of the past—truncated at last by catastrophic myopia. I cried, and Mr. Rodriguez did his best to console me.

Then he went to the store to fetch something. I sit by the naïve holotv and wonder if he’ll even make it back, and even then, what for?

There is a knock on the door. But not a knock the way that knuckles against steel-insulated doors sounds. It is a knock of something big crashing against metal. A thud. I fidget with my mask and gloves. The knob is very hot, but I fear for old Mr. Rodriguez, who knew it was coming all along. The door swings wide and the blinding sunlight punishes uncovered eyes. I try a curse but manage a loud gasp, not even a scream. The heat sucks air out of starved lungs like an insubstantial soccerpunch.

Darkness is a soothing concept at first, but troubling with open eyes. Blistering heat turns to paradox and cold numbness takes away the burning. Flesh smolders. I reach up and touch the lids, but they’re not there, and there is something sizzling. A leaking orb slithering down red-shocked cheeks. I scream at the realization, cover my bleeding eyes with blistering hands.

Pay no mind to the burnt, crippled figure stumbling into the living room holding something in his hands. It gurgles, lifting the heat-resistance case with patches of plastic molded into space-shuttle foam. It grunts and collapses just as I collapse in time to hear words bubbling up from his throat.

“They still charged… for this junk… -ing bastards!”

The floor is sizzling now, catching on to the news that the world caught fire. My gloves melt, punishing flesh, not badly enough to rupture blood vessels, but stinging all the way back to a hypnotized caveman with a burning stick.

“.. take it, put it on… Use it!”

Vocal chords shut, but Why? I would ask him why. Crippled hands work to handle the object he is thrusting into them.

“Use it!” He croaks out and flaps to the skillet floor.

Object in hand, I scramble away from the dead body, his words echoing: “It’s the end of the world, boy. It’s the end of the world. It’s the end of the world!”

The box opens as my crisped hand rips at it. The pain! The sleek surface of the headset–I’ve always wanted one of these…

I place it on my head–but my parents couldn’t buy me one. He must have spent a lot…

I push the start button and the box comes online.

What good this will do? It is the end of the world!

Bliss is the momentary release from all ties that bind the mind to its reality. Bliss is the echo of forgiveness, rumbling down the mountain in soft, ephemeral whispers—haunting dialects of the dead. But bliss is always temporary, and even the flesh within the metal box burns. Perhaps it will remain as an ancient smudge of ash.