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Valerie

1.4.21 Valerie The Peony (no tags) 1185 wc

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Here is my post for the week. It is a draft 1.5 (lightly edited for clarity). Any and all feedback welcome, but I have two areas in particular I’d love to have addressed. 

1. Length: I literally wrote this last week. It is a weird length. I had set out to write a flash but it got a bit long winded.  Does the length work for you? Should I chop chop chop and make it a flash? Or should I flesh it out? AKA: are you wanting more, less or is it just right?

2. As you read, what do you feel like, if anything, the Peony represents? What is it’s role in the story? (I’ve placed what I’m going for at the end of the manuscript because: spoilers.)

Again, thanks everyone!

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General Thoughts

I didn't have any real line by line thoughts. It flowed fairly well and had some great human touches and voice. I think the part where they talk about how humans versus aliens smell could be cut to keep the flow going. The ending...there was a lot of great build up and I felt let down by the ending. I think it lacked punch. It probably just needs a bit more emotional resonance, or maybe something a bit more...hmmm, like ah hah!

I did not get the symbolism of the peonies at all. I was much more interested in Myrtle and her emotional evolution, and was waiting for her to be more proactive with family about the peonies. I was also hoping the plant tech would give her a bit more to go on. 

I think with some tweaks this would be a great flash piece. There are definitely areas that can be cut, where the narrative wanders, and I think the end could be tighter. Her taking a red flower back was a nice touch, and I'd like to see more emotions tied to that, I think.

Nice work, and nice first sub! 

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I also don't have much lbl stuff for this one. I could tell the mc was an old woman just by reading her name, which made me smile. My one grammar thing is that I think extra-terrestrial could just be extraterrestrial. And I had to look up what chuffed meant.

I personally think that the aliens probably don't exist, but that is just me. 

I think this read more like a flash fiction, but was just a bit too lengthy. The detail about the alien smelling through their fingers was interesting, but I'm not sure what it added to the story. 

I'm not great with poetry or symbolism, so the thing about the peony kinda just flew over my head. Afterwards, I can kind of see what you mean about it reflecting her experience, but personally i would rather have something a little more concrete with something this short. Like maybe "M accepted that the aliens were real. the next day, the flower bloomed." But, ya know, better than that. 

Anyways, I thought this was a very sweet, introspective piece! Even though it could probably be just a little shorter, I thought the length was good. The writing was smooth and it was easy to read. Good work! 

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Posted (edited)

Hey, Valerie, really pleased to be reading your writing for the first time. Encountering a new voice is always exciting :) 

(page 1)

- Excellent first line, really good. I've got a character, I know something about her, I know there's an ET, and there's something of a mystery, because they left something behind (What is it? Why did they leave it?). Oh, and they have left, for some reason, so there is another question. That is a really strong first line, IMO.

- "Amid the red shoots" - GAH!!! War of the Worlds!! (I'm joking. Nothing wrong with having red shoots, of course. This was what popped into my head.

- End of page one: Very easy to read. Smooth style. I get a good amount of character voice, which is nice, and plenty has happened already, so, for a short, I'm content with the pace so far.

- One slightly odd note that made me pause: "slammed the receiver back on the hook". This seems to contradict M's cheery sign-off, at least I read it as cheery, which maybe was wrong. But, in the next couple of lines, M is all grins with her daughter. So, what was she angry about?

(page 2)

- I don't know what an extension office is.......oh, wait, I guess we'd call it a distract office, or an area office. So, it's the local department of the DoAg?

- Hang on though, as we go into an montage scene where time goes by, it was said earlier that the alien had come 'again'. It was only mentioned once, and now I'm starting to feel like some knowledge the character--or indeed both characters--have is being withheld from me. This seems rather like cheating. I'll be a bit cross if some kind of surprise connected to the original appearance is sprung on me at the end.

- "wondered if this night they would come" - Again, as in the third time?

- "all the way back to their first visit" - Okay, it's out in the open now. So, is it only the once that they left a flower? I presume so, or she'd have spilled some detail about the first time.

- "They came once the year she turned 60. Then they did not come again until she was 72" - I would have these as text. They stick out like a sore thumb as numerals, especially in a sort so short. And having them as 'sixty' and 'seventy-two' doesn't even add to word count :) 

- "looking at the blooms" - Oh, this was a bit anticlimactic. I was expecting the blooms to be a big reveal, Fair enough. We read one.

- "as if...make way for them" - What an excellent line. As a gardener, I really appreciate this. Very evocative.

(page 3)

- Oh, wait, she's talking about the aliens? Ooh, there's nothing to show the reader that she's not referring to the flowers in the previous line.

- "branch-like limbs" - need a hyphen here.

- "just pay attention and treat things nicely, they become beautiful" - Hmm, so things can't be beautiful without human intervention? This line is somewhat unclear, I think, unless that is the meaning intended.

(page 4)

- "Humans noses strange to us" - is there a missing word here? The alien does not appear to have been using alien-speak to date.

Overall 

(1) - Length: I thought the story felt natural at that length. Certainly, I wouldn't make it any longer. I think it's simplicity is part of its charm. Flash fiction is up to 1,000 words, right? So, the story is 1,205 (excluding the notes at the end). I think you could maybe get this down to 1,000 without breaking it.

In fact, err :unsure: I've taken the liberty of trying an edit and got down to 998 words. I love this sort of challenge. I appreciate this was not asked for, so I won't send it to you unless you want to see it. (And promise not to send a murder-bot in the post.)

(2) - "Were you able to get that from the reading?" - Err, no. BUT, please take into account that I am not great at spotting allegory like that, in anything. A better test will be if the others get it.

(3) - "Was it too in your face (I feel like I made it too in your face.)" - See Answer (2).

Edited by Robinski
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5 hours ago, kais said:

I think the part where they talk about how humans versus aliens smell could be cut to keep the flow going.

Yes, I agree but actually did not cut that to get to 998 words, although I didn't feel the smell bit added anything, and actually jiggered with the pacing. If you did cut the smell bit, you could perhaps introduce some surprise with the ending, which was not all that surprising, as @kais said, since I feel like 84% of alien encounter stories end up with someone sailing away with them. (I mean, even the Styx song :rolleyes: ).

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This was a nice short read! I love the dialogue and content, there is a lot of great stuff in here, but there isn’t enough description to keep me grounded, imo. Usually with pieces as short as this, I expect every line to be meaningful and have more of an emotional impact, and I feel like some of that was missing here. Maybe it was just that the pacing was a little too quick for my liking, but I felt like there should be more (not length wise, emotion wise).  

 

I got that she was a wacky/creative older woman from the way she spoke with her daughter and I enjoyed that quite a bit. She seemed open minded and curious about the world and it was sweet. The way her daughter talked to her made me feel like maybe the daughter and everyone else saw her as senile, which was kind of sad because it reminded me of someone suffering from dementia. That, or it's kind of like how older people are like children in many ways, and usually adults don’t believe when their children see bizarre things, but in this story the daughter doesn't believe her mom. Her daughter dismisses her mom’s imagination and wants to focus on boring adult stuff like taxes.

 

I also got the message that the older woman meeting the alien at the end was like her meeting death and accepting that it's her time to move on. So I feel like maybe her obsession with the peony took away the opportunity to have her own experiences… or something like that. I’m obviously not good with symbolism. Unless… she literally got abducted by aliens… which is also cool… :)

 

ORRR the peony was the symbol for her bad experiences that shaped the way she lived because she wasn't able to get over them and that's why she is sad about it at the end when the alien grim reaper has come to take her away. Maybe she wished that she could have been there for her daughter more?

 

16 minutes ago, Robinski said:
6 hours ago, kais said:

General Thoughts

I think the part where they talk about how humans versus aliens smell could be cut to keep the flow going.

Yes, I agree but actually did not cut that to get to 998 words, although I didn't feel the smell bit added anything, and actually jiggered with the pacing. If you did cut the smell bit, you could perhaps introduce some surprise with the ending, which was not all that surprising, as @kais said, since I feel like 84% of alien encounter stories end up with someone sailing away with them. (I mean, even the Styx song :rolleyes: ).

 

I thought smell bit enforced the idea that she still has curiosity in the way a child does (I could be wrong though). Maybe it can be cut down a bit but it didn't feel too out of place for me.

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Hi Valerie,

Congrats on your first sub!

I had very little in the way of line-by-line edits. The prose was solid and easy to read and I had a good sense of character all the way through.

The thing I tripped up on most was the relationship between M and her daughter. The daughter seems quite alarmed when M starts talking about being visited by aliens, which is reasonable, but maybe not enough to actually do anything about it (“should I come down?”) which struck me as a little weird. The conversation doesn’t seem that tense on M’s side, but then she “slams” the receiver down as if she’s angry. Little details like this can be hugely helpful but here I’m getting just enough to make me feel like I’m missing something.

I don’t think this is the type of piece that needs to end with a big bang (so to speak) but the end isn’t quite doing it for me yet, I think because I don’t have a strong enough sense of what M is leaving behind. Is this bittersweet, a sacrifice to get something she wants? Is it a triumphant departure? What is it that she’s actually getting out of running off with the aliens? You don’t necessarily need to answer all those questions, of course, or do so explicitly, but those are some ideas for things that might increase the emotional resonance of the ending.

Question 1: I didn’t have an issue with the length, per se. It didn’t feel like it went on too long. That said, it certainly feels like an appropriate story for flash, and you may have better luck placing if you can wrangle it into a flash-appropriate word count. I think it is possible to pare the length back without losing too much content. I’d be inclined to take a good hard look at the dialogue as a first option for condensing, if that’s the route you decide to go.

On questions 2/3: I actually didn’t read any of the questions until after I’d read the full piece and encountered your explanation of the symbolism at the end, so I think I ended up colouring my thoughts a little too much to have a helpful opinion here. That said: I don’t think the messaging is too in-your-face (it rarely is).


 

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Similar thoughts to the others on this one. I also think it doesn't have quite enough punch (as it is) for a flash piece, even if it's cut down. Every sentence really needs to mean a lot in a flash piece.This was a decent short story, and could probably be expanded to be 3k or so, if you wanted. I think you'd really have to double down on the emotion for it to be a flash piece.

On the symbolism, no, didn't get that at all. I was expecting the peonies to be the sign of the aliens, or an alien child, or some sign of how no one believed her (because it was possible imagined?). I think for the peony to function as M's experiences, you'd really need to focus on that in the story. Expanding this to 3k or so would give you space to do that, and explore her relationship with her daughter more, and how that contrasts with her relationship with the aliens. I'd also like some more information on all the other times the visited, as is says they came when she was 60 and 72, but implied the used to come a lot more.

I think is a good story in this, but I'll agree it's a weird length. It could go longer or shorter, depending on what you want to do with it.

 

Notes while reading:

pg 2: "office thinks it is a mutant peony."
--so did she dig it up? Later it seems it's still growing in the garden. She could have replanted it, but there'd have been some trauma to the plant.

pg 2: "But the older she got, the less and less they visited"
--this part's a bit confusing. Did they used to come a lot before she was 60? Why does the list start there, if they've come a lot before then?

pg 2: "She felt, rather than saw, them."
--I see from the next paragraph that this refers to the alien, but here it seems like it's referring to the peony.

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I enjoyed reading this.  Like someone above said, I love how the name immediately implies a certain character, and carries it through.  I had sort of paused there and gone "Is this a little old lady? Please let it be a little old lady."  Maybe little old ladies are more common in short fiction, but I feel like I don't see enough of them in the books I read. 

The writing was smooth, and gave us a good sense of a fun character.  

The "Righty-O" line confused me a little, though I think I was too caught off guard by end of the call to really register the slamming of the receiver that other people noticed.  I don't think I've ever ended a phone call with any member of my family that quickly.  I'm more used to the sort of call where you say good-bye half a dozen times then get sidetracked by what so-and-so has been up to recently before you can actually hang up.  Other families are likely more efficient about that sort of thing, though. 

I don't have too many thoughts about the length, since I haven't read much short fiction in quite a while, and am horrible at writing it.  I honestly had to look up the cut-off for flash fiction when I saw people referencing it. 

I didn't get the peonies to experiences connection before the spoiler, but had leaned toward the question of whether the aliens are actually real and she's choosing to go with them or if it's a metaphor for being ready for death. If I were to push that thought further, I might have eventually gotten to the peonies representing her life's work or memories. Taking some part of it with her to whatever is beyond and leaving some of them there for others. 

Thanks for sharing! Looking forward to reading more of your writing.

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Agreed with the above on many fronts. Smooth read overall.

Didn't get the symbolism with the peonies but honestly I don't think I needed to. I'm more interested in the large-scale character dynamics. If symbols play a role in that then fine but I don't see them as the end all be all. Which leads into my point about the main thing I was missing from this story being details of her mundane life. There's something compelling about an old lady living alone (?) who ends up chatting with aliens (real or imagined) as a way of dealing with the isolation and loneliness (which hits different during the pandemic, I must say). If that's the dynamic the story wants to focus on, I think we need more about the loneliness in her mundane life, and how aliens bridge that gap to the point of her wanting to leave with them. Right now the decision seems sudden to me, but if the story is explicit about there being nothing for her on Earth then it makes more sense. 

This is all assuming the dynamic I've identified is one the story wants me to be focusing on. If not, I need a bit more guidance on what I should have been looking at instead. 

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On 1/4/2021 at 9:58 AM, Valerie said:

1. Length: I literally wrote this last week. It is a weird length. I had set out to write a flash but it got a bit long winded.  Does the length work for you? Should I chop chop chop and make it a flash? Or should I flesh it out? AKA: are you wanting more, less or is it just right?

This would make a great flash piece! If you could get it to be just under 1,000 words, that would be perfect.  There are markets for pieces like this at it's current length, but you would have more opporturnities if it were under 1,000. Daily Science Fiction takes stuff up to 1500 words, but Flash Fiction Online caps it at 1,000.

 I enjoyed the voice and the character, but I  think it would be okay to trim around some of the interaction with the aliens. That was interesting, but I don't think it was all necessary for the character's arc. I got the impression the arc was about her realizing these aliens seemed to care more about her than her own family, so she chose to go to their world when they offered to show her. At least, that was what I took away from the one reading. 

The dialogue veered into a slightly different theme, I think. However, if that dialogue was one of your favorite parts, you probably could adjust the rest to fit more with it.  
It might also be possible to trim words with a line edit and some restructuring of sentences if you also want to shorten in. 

 

On 1/4/2021 at 9:58 AM, Valerie said:

2. As you read, what do you feel like, if anything, the Peony represents? What is it’s role in the story? (I’ve placed what I’m going for at the end of the manuscript because: spoilers.)

Before I read your note, I was seeing the Peony more as M and being a human who didn't fit or wasn't believed more than just as her experiences with them, but your explanation of it does make sense now that I've read it.

I don't think it was too in your face. 

 

I do agree with the others that the end didn't have enough punch. When it comes to flash, I think it is important for the piece to have a strong ending. 

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Very pleasant to read! It felt a little long, but not enough that I was bored or skimming. 

For the symbolism, the flower read to me as a mirror of the socially neglected MC herself, considered a 'mutation' or 'blighted' until given time and attention to bloom. I thought this was driven home by the garden analogy. 

My only line by line catch was:

"They came once the year she turned sixty." It feels like something is missing for clarity there.

A nice piece of scifi, thanks for sharing!

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Thank you everyone for such thoughtful feedback! 
I am going to cut/ paste it all into my document via liner notes. 
I wasn’t sure what to do with this piece and now feel that I have a good game plan: shorten to flash levels (will probably cut about 1/3-1/2 of it and then modify ending for more punch.) 

My biggest worry with my writing is that it only makes sense to me and thus is a hot mess. So, I was surprised and pleased to see that there were so few line by lines. 

Anyway- thanks again. You made me very happy and gave me lots of ideas on moving forward and things to mull on.

Now to go work on my latest story about space pirates! 

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Am late, sorry.

Thoughts as I go:

Pg 1. I love the name, especially the surname. I'm not sure why. But I love it.

Pg 1, "creaky knees" Do we have an old protagonist? I am so down for an old protagonist.

Pg 1, " the extra-terrestrial had left behind." This must happen often, because this entire thing says "no big deal, let's see what ET dropped off today for Grandma."

Pg 1, " your therapist figured out your alien friend" I am thoroughly enjoying this.

Pg 2, "She felt, rather than saw, them" Curious to see how you feel flowers.

Pg 2, "the extra-terrestrial said." Oh, feel the alien.

Pg 3, "We don’t have natural blue peonies Earth." We don't? I know nothing about peonies. Especially since I have apparently been spending the last three pages picturing pansies *facepalm*

Pg 5, "Question 3- no that you’ve read the piece." What? Oh, wait, I'm no longer in the story. Whoops. Man, that was confusing as all get out for a moment. 

 

Overall:

I actually really liked this. It felt like, for me, a nice little short story about an old woman and an allegory for death. Except Cool Grandma doesn't die, not sir, she just goes off to another dimension. As for peony symbolism...all symbolism goes over my head so I'm not a good judge of character. I still don't get why the color yellow is so important in The Great Gatsby, for heavens sake. 

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13 hours ago, Valerie said:

My biggest worry with my writing is that it only makes sense to me and thus is a hot mess. So, I was surprised and pleased to see that there were so few line by lines.

My LBL comments are still available if you want the file :) 

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@Robinski oh, yes! If you have line by lines I’d love them! I’m here to improve. It is a first draft- but still nice to know whete things don’t flow or make sense.

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2 hours ago, Valerie said:

@Robinski oh, yes! If you have line by lines I’d love them! I’m here to improve. It is a first draft- but still nice to know whete things don’t flow or make sense.

Cool beans. Will reply to your submission email within the next hour.

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