A Moonlit Task, by Tom Hansen (11:49)

Today we see that some low-level irritants eventually fade into the background, while others only get louder with each occurrence.

What I gleaned about the story: Linda runs a small magic shop and in addition to selling trinkets and baubles, enjoys providing her customers with the things they don’t yet realize they need.

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Note: The scene opens with a wryly humorous confrontation between a shopkeeper and a couple of kids. Scared, the kids try to leave and bang into the door. There’s a nice detail about the kid’s face leaving a grease mark on the glass, but it then mentions that the grease mark is obscuring the store name, which is painted “on the other side” of the glass. This struck me as odd. In my experience, store signs are always painted on the inside of the glass, in reverse lettering. Is that not true elsewhere? I’ve always assumed it was done that way to keep both vandals and weather from defacing the sign. But since this may only be true for my very small pocket of the universe, I decided to let this detail slide.

WTF #1: Awkward wording

Analysis: Shortly after the sign quirk, I ran into: Her long gray braid whipped around to hang over one shoulder as the sound of a small wooden door banged close in the distance.

First off, that should have been “banged closed,” not “banged close.” But this corrected version would then yield a juxtaposition of two “-ed” verbs, which I find really awkward on the mental tongue, so I would probably have changed it to “banged shut.” Unfortunately, that’s now two distractions on the first page, so even though they’re minor, I’ve got to throw a flag.

Then, after doing so, I was no sooner back into the text when an odd sentence pairing presented itself: The shorter boy glared at his friend. Linda pointed at the squat boy in the front.

Had those sentences appeared in separate parts of the story, I’d have accepted them both without blinking, but presented together, they suggest a contrast to me and I found myself stopping to investigate. Which boy does the second sentence refer to? By citing one as “shorter” in the first sentence, but then using “squat” in the second, it raises the question of whether the two terms are indeed synonyms, or whether they are intended to indicate different boys.

In my vernacular, “squat” implies both short and fat, so it is not a simple drop-in replacement to indicate “the shorter boy” again. Is the “squat boy” the same as the “shorter boy”, or are they both short, but one is fat as well, and squat refers to him?

I’m honestly not looking for nits to pick. I quickly fell in love with the shopkeeper’s air of humorful menace and wanted to just slip into the story and be carried away, but I keep tripping over these little snags of unsmooth words.

The truly maddening part of all this is that the stumble came on an entirely unimportant passage. It makes not the slightest bit of difference which boy she pointed at. Had she just pointed to “the boys,” I’d have sailed on happily. And there’s something particularly irksome about tripping over a passage that didn’t even need to be there in the first place.

WTF #2: Accidental self-awareness

Analysis: Here’s another quirkiness of wording. Linda is the shopkeeper and she is just closing up when we get:

Linda paused at the alley door in the back to take one last look over her shop. Smells of the various herbs and reagents mingled together to create a mosaic of earthiness that grounded her in the here and now. This was her home. Was. She wasn’t sure what it would be after the big fight she’d had last night.

And here I get another maddening run-in with grammatical oddities. The narrator switches between the narrative voice and an internal monologue, but does not switch tenses accordingly. On the surface, the line, “This was her home,” could either be a narrative observation or an internal thought. But thoughts and speech are rendered in present tense, not past, so this must have been narration.

Clearly though, the single word, “Was,” represents Linda becoming self-consciously aware of the word she just used. The only problem is that she could not have done so. As a direct internal thought, she’d have expressed it as, “This is my home.” So there would never have been a “was” for her to repeat.

Consequently, the reading I took from this was that Linda was somehow hearing the voice of the narrator in her head, much like the protagonist and narrator in this fabulous clip:

And while it makes for a very entertaining short film, it was completely disruptive to my sense of immersion in the book.

WTF #3: Echoing headword fatigue

Analysis: Since page one, I’ve been encountering pairs and triples of echoing headwords, but never quite densely enough to trigger my tolerance. An isolated echoing pair happens from time to time, even in the most cautious prose, and these echoes were on paragraphs rather than sentences, so that too makes them less intrusive. But they were not rare enough for my sensitivity to die down between examples. As a result, each new echo re-inflamed that irritation, making them successively louder. Now I’ve reached a point where they became marginally more frequent, with three sets on one page, and I finally got chafed enough to throw a flag.

Final note: Overall, I thought the story that was being told had charm and an engaging style. I don’t know if that holds up, but if you are less attuned to the minor issues that tripped me up, you might want to give it a try and see for yourself. Any book that makes it past 10:00 these days is doing a number of things right.

Take the Pepsi Challenge: Want to know if my own writing measures up? Try the free sample on one of my books or short stories and decide for yourself.

Girl Fights Back, by Jacques Antoine (6:25)
Junk and Other Short Stories, by Duncan James (1:12)

About the author

Jefferson Smith is a Canadian fantasy author, as well as the founder, chief editor and resident proctologist of ImmerseOrDie. With a PhD in Computer Science and Creativity Systems compounded by a life spent exploring most art forms for fun and profit, he is underqualified in just about everything. That's why he writes.