Re: Child, Maiden, Woman, Crone

As a perpetrator of clunky writing (and I’m sure you can find examples in my recent posts), I wondered if there was some joke when I read the first paragraph of “Child, Maiden, Woman, Crone,” by Terry Bramlett.

The music filled the valley as Johnny Nobles coerced the strings on his Gibson. He ended the song with a flourish and sat still, eyes closed. The March sun warmed the rock he used as his stage. He waited for applause, but the new corn stood silent.

The sentences don’t stick together. They’re all about the same length. Things seem to appear out of nowhere. I kept stopping to pick them apart.

And on and on. There are some decent passages, but mostly the clunkiness persists, not to mention wooden dialogue and vague descriptions. It doesn’t help when I find bad lines I’ve written myself:

He looked into her eyes and found compassion.

If stuff like this gets published and nominated for an award, what am I failing to see?

Anyway. Deep breath. The story. Johnny used to be a singer, but it didn’t work out, so he went back to his grandfather’s farm. There he meets Changing Woman, though she tells him to call her Natalie. And there’s a guest appearance by Kokopelli, just to spice things up.

While Natalie’s appearance fits Changing Woman, mirroring the growth and harvest of the corn in Johnny’s fields, she acts more like Graves’s White Goddess, inspiring Johnny to write a new song. There’s an interesting passage describing how he worked on the melody. Of course it turns out to be good enough to get him work as a musician again, and of course Natalie pushes him to enjoy his good fortune.

It’s all so nice, I had to reread the story to decide what he did to deserve her favors. His half-Navaho grandfather was also a musician and her lover. Johnny played in the corn fields as a child. After trying to make it as a musician, he returns to the same fields. Basically, Johnny put himself into the right place to receive a goddess’s grace.

Not very satisfying.

Tomorrow: It has to get better from here.


3 thoughts on “Re: Child, Maiden, Woman, Crone

  1. “If stuff like this gets published and nominated for an award, what am I failing to see?”

    May I use this as my tagline? Fully attributed, of course.

    About 8 years ago, I read a copy of The Magazine of Fantasy and Science Fiction. I finished one story in particular and said, “Damn! If that shit can get published, then I can sure as hell give this writing thing a try.”

    I’m writing this because, that story, which I hated and could not believe it was published in a professional magazine and bought by an editor of Gordon van Gelder’s staure, inspired me to send my writing out so that people could reject them for a long while, then be bought by editors and be read by readers, some of whom are writers, who then finish reading the story and say, “If stuff like this gets published and nominated for an award, what am I failing to see?”

    It’s a “long, strange trip” indeed, Deadheads. Sorry you did not like the story, but I’m hoping you will use this as an opportunity to spur you on to writing and submitting, just like a similar incident did for me.

    My bests to you and much luck and success in writing.


    Terry Bramlett

  2. Thank you for writing! I’m shocked to be noticed. I do hope you’re kidding about the tagline; it’s not exactly the nicest thing I’ve ever written. Also the fact that this story was published and enjoyed and nominated makes it pretty obvious that mine is a minority opinion. Nevertheless, it is the way I feel.

    I think I reacted so strongly to this story because I saw my own flaws in it, and things I beat up on my fellow apprentice writers for. It makes me wonder if I’m worrying about the wrong things.

    Again, thank you for taking the time to write, and best of luck to you in the Nebulas.

  3. Of the two snippets you highlighted, the first is simply an example of weak writing (plus see below, which also applies). Each sentence, as you point out, has about the same rhythm as a brick falling to the ground. The final sentence is probably the tallest midget here.

    The second highlight is a textbook example of the old “show don’t tell” cliche. In this case, the author should probably have spent the time to show us /what/ he saw and found in her eyes. “Compassion” is one of those words that when you really come down to it describes nothing. It’s the author’s job to do the explaining in a case like this. Not provide this kind of soft shorthand.

    Of course, not having read the story, it’s possible that both of these passages actually work well in context. But isolated like this…yeah, not so good.

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