NYCM Feedback, Dissected

The Results

Delighted to see that I placed third in my heat overall for horror, hide and seek, and a tax collector. The original story in full can be found on my previous post, here.

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WHAT THE JUDGES LIKED ABOUT YOUR STORY

{1909}  The dialogue in this story sets a great hectic, fast pace. The premise itself is chilling. The imagery of the shiny black shoes in the closet isn’t one I’ll be forgetting any time soon. I loved the ending. 

Thank Christ somebody thought the premise was at least chilling. This is the first horror thing I’ve ever written, and it’s fucking impossible to tell if something you write is scary. Like trying to tickle yourself. Just doesn’t work like that.

{1827}  I liked pretty much everything about the story.  Caitlin is a well developed character and we really feel for her, both when she’s in the closet with the monster and also for how she feels inferior to the other kids. Her fear and insecurities feel genuine for someone her age.

I was essentially Caitlin at age ten. I had deep slumber party anxiety issues. More than one of my peer reviewers assumed the girls were in their teens, which… I’m not sure how or why this happened.

Also, the monster itself was great because it was so odd. There was a weirdness to what this thing seemed to want, the whole thing where it keeps asking her if she had fun and how he was owed for that was very creepy and unique. I also thought it was great how the gift bag showed up many years later, at the end. 

This person gets me.

{1761}  The description of the mayhem of a girls’ slumber party is on-point.  Having the dialogue propel the action in the closet works very well. 

I don’t think this person gets me.

WHAT THE JUDGES FEEL NEEDS WORK

{1909}  I was a little unclear on the situation with the gift bag. I understand that Andrea stole Caitlyn’s bag, but why did that mean that Me would cut off Andrea’s hair? It would help to have some clarification about what Me wants, and why a braid would appease Me. 

Yeah, it’s my fault that this is a little vague. I didn’t want to kneecap the scariness of this story by explaining everything (the next judge seems to understand that). Note that in the following explanation, I refer to Me as “he” for the sake of simplicity, but in the story itself, I skated around pronouns because I wanted aspects of Me to be invisible. He’s very clearly male, but wanted to say that without saying it. (Nobody noticed, which is just as well.)

In my thought process, Me is a demon, a “tax collector” on the fun that children have at parties. The idea is that all of us have been visited by Me. If you met him in person, you don’t remember him, but the lasting effects are there (Caitlin’s distaste for Santa Claus/the Tooth Fairy; the recalling of physical sensations associated with Me’s presence). If you’re clearly having fun and have something worth taking, something of yours is collected without you noticing. Hence, all the girls at both parties losing things (a pillow, a scrunchie, a necklace, a tooth). As long as Me gets something of value, he doesn’t harm anybody. Most of the time, his job is very easy.

But he’s encountered Caitlin, a girl with nothing to her name. Perhaps there’s some kind of misunderstanding. Me is reasonable; he talks to the girl to clarify that she is both having fun (she is not, but she claimed that she was) and that she has something to offer him so he can collect what he is owed. He thinks she’s lying–children can be fickle, after all. And when it’s clear she isn’t, he tries to reason with her. Didn’t she get a gift bag? Everyone else did. But no, he learns that this girl Andrea Wells has thrown off the balance by stealing Caitlin’s. But still, Me has a job to do. He can’t leave Caitlin Hansen without some kind of deal made. So he measures the value of a secret, and Caitlin adds–unknowingly–to the value of it, promising that she’ll never, ever tell anyone the secret–cross her heart and hope to die.

On top of that, Andrea Wells by her deception has had a bit more fun than everyone else. And she’s going home with Caitlin’s gift bag, so Me justifies that he gets to collect a little bit more from her. And he’s not exactly happy that Andrea’s meddling has made him go through all this work with Caitlin. So he goes a little further and inflicts some trauma by cutting off one of her precious pigtails. By doing this, too, he shows that he’s sympathetic to Caitlin–she claimed she was having fun when she really wasn’t. He still needs to collect on that, so the least he can do is try and balance the books by absolutely traumatizing the girl that made Caitlin so unhappy in the first place. That will make her happy, right?

{1827}  Nothing really stands out to me as needing much work. If I had to nitpick, maybe the thing about the tooth fairy toward the end was a little distracting in the sense that, because the monster was so good, throwing in a tooth fairy mention made me wonder if the monster was somehow supposed to be a tooth fairy type of thing, and that would make it less appealing in terms of weirdness. The complete unknown is always scarier than things we’re already aware of. 

This is a nitpick by the reviewer’s own admission, so I’m not going to really address it, except to say that I agree–the complete unknown is always scarier than things we’re aware of. My intentions of mentioning the tooth fairy were to put it in the mind of the reader that despite Caitlin not remembering her encounter with Me, the effects were still there, deep down. But yeah, I think I could scrap that to make things a little tighter.

{1761}  The stakes needed to be higher in this story.  What’s on the line for Caitlin?  Horror stories usually have life-and-death stakes.

I was right, this person doesn’t get me. “Cross my heart and hope to die” wasn’t life-or-death enough for this guy. Some people in my peer group called the ending ambiguous, but… Caitlin breaks her promise to Me, making it worthless. The tax collector has come to collect.

She’s toast, folks.

One last thing…

I started Round 2, but got bogged down by work. Six hours before deadline, my writer brain–which had already written 19k words in the previous three days–just hit the fucking brakes. I couldn’t write another word. I gave up, and have felt like absolute trash ever since. But I was just too burnt out. Still am!

 

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