What I gleaned about the stories: Between one breath and the next, the world can shift from innocence to horror.
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Note: This is a short story collection, so the rules are slightly different from standard Immerse or Die: instead of reading on every time I lose immersion, I stop reading that story and move onto the next one. As usual, I stop reading after the third WTF.
Analysis: When the protagonist of the first story was a child, they made a squid-monster out of modelling clay and called it Tentacles (pronounced like Hercules). The clever pun immediately suggested they are probably smart or funny.
Similar little touches of language dot the remaining stories.
Analysis: The first story opens with a character talking about being with their girlfriend, which – there being no other clues – made me think of a young man. A few sentences later, the character mentioned their husband. For an instant, this threw me; however, before I’d left the story completely, I remembered American English uses “girlfriend” for all friends who are girls rather than just people you are dating, so didn’t charge a WTF for the momentary stumble.
Several stories later, another married woman mentioned a girlfriend. This time I parsed it as “friend who is female” and continued without a blip; only to discover a few paragraphs later that her husband didn’t care that she had a girlfriend and probably wouldn’t care if she had a boyfriend too.
My mind immediately leapt back to the first story: if this use of girlfriend was sexual, was the last one as well? I recalled nothing in the first story that suggested it was anything more than a female friend.
Realising I’d stopped thinking about the story I was reading, I moved on.
Analysis: Apart from the girlfriend niggle, I found the voice of each story was strong enough that I knew not only whether it was fantasy, modern, or sci-fi within the first paragraph, but that I had a good feel for the narrator’s age, gender, surroundings, and other factors needed to build a nuanced setting for events.
Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Download one of these free short stories, in the format of your choice, and decide for yourself.