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garza
October 15th, 2014, 02:27 AM
'A strange birthday party for a ten-year-old,' one of the guests said to the boy's mother. 'Why are there no children?'

'My son has a problem making friends. He didn't know anyone to invite. He told me to invite my friends instead.'

'Does he ever go out and play with other children?'

'He lives with his books. He loves his books. I'm not allowed to touch them.'

'How very odd.'

'I worry about him sometimes.'

Half a dozen adults sat around the room, chatting with one another. On their laps were paper plates with slices of birthday cake and in their hands were plastic cups of over-sweetened drink mix.

The boy sat in a corner staring at the pages of a book. The book was one of his gifts. It was an old book, beautifully bound. The book had been a prized possession of an elderly man who sat across the room and who was pleased to see that amongst the games and toys, the boy appeared to appreciate the book better than any other gift.

'It's a first edition, second printing,' the man had explained to the boy. 'It was printed in 1911, the year I turned ten, and was given to me by my father. I gave it to my own son when he turned ten.'

'Why didn't he keep it?'

'He would've, if he'd lived. He loved reading it, but he died in Korea ten years ago in the same year you were born. I've been looking for a boy born that year to give it to.'

'What's it about?'

'Look at the title page,' the man said.

'The Travels of Marco Polo,' the boy read aloud. 'Who was Marco Polo?'

'A man who went with his father on a long journey many years ago. In those days few people travelled far from home. Marco Polo had many adventures along the way and wrote a book about what he saw and did. He wrote in Italian, and this is an English translation of that book.'

'Thank you sir. I'll keep it forever.'

The boy hugged the book to his chest, went to the corner, and began reading, or at least staring at the pages as he turned them.

When the guests were gone the boy helped his mother clear up. He gathered the paper plates and carried them to a wire basket in the back garden. On the next street children were playing in a park. Bits of the park could be seen In the spaces between houses. The shouts of the children were loud on the afternoon air.

Back in the house the boy gathered his gifts and carried them upstairs to his room. The games and toys he piled in a corner of his closet with other games and toys. He lay the book on a work table and used a box cutter and steel rule to extract all the text from the book, cutting out the page centres, leaving an empty shell. From the outside, with covers closed, the book appeared normal, a complete book. Inside, it was hollow, empty, useless.

The boy collected the wrapping paper from his gifts in the closet, mixed in the words cut from the book, and carried it all downstairs and out to the wire basket, stopping in the kitchen for matches. Paper plates, wrapping paper, and book scraps were jumbled together in the basket and a match applied.

Back in his room the boy raised his window a few inches. The scent of burning paper drifted into the room. In the park children played in the afternoon sunlight. They could not be seen from the window because of smoke from the burning paper. Occasionally their shouts could be heard through the half open window.

The boy hugged the shell of the book to his chest, leaned his forehead against the glass, and wept.

Plasticweld
October 15th, 2014, 02:46 AM
Interesting symbolism with the use of the book and the hollowed out pages. I appreciate your ability to show who is speaking in the dialog with out it being obvious and at the same time very clear. Thanks for sharing

Clepto
October 15th, 2014, 02:50 AM
Okay. That was not cool at all. I read this three times to see if I missed anything. Right now I really need to know what is going on.

Why is he cutting out the centers of the books?(I assume that's why he won't let his mom touch them.) Is he putting something in them? Please tell me! :)

If you couldn't tell by now, I enjoyed this piece. It drew me in wonderfully and had my undivided attention. It is very well written. My one and only issue with this story is that it ended! Great piece.

InkwellMachine
October 15th, 2014, 03:43 AM
One thing I enjoy as a reader is to be given loose threads and watch them tie together. I was expecting something of the sort here, and I got genuinely excited when they boy cut the center out of the book and burned the pages. I thought I could see where it was going, and that gave me some momentum--obviously, he was hiding something in the hollow books. So clever that he wouldn't let his mother touch them. That makes so much sense.

But the ending ultimately let me down. I'd like to think you knew exactly what you were doing. The outcome was so ambiguous and difficult to decipher in comparison to the question you were posing ("what's he hiding in the books?") that I feel pretty safe in assuming that you were crunched for space and had to condense the ending into something simple and artsy.The other possibility is that you were trying to leave the ending ambiguous so that you could employ subtlety and reward the reader for reading into your story a little deeper. But that's not satisfying when the question is so bold.

Fine otherwise, though.

garza
October 15th, 2014, 12:05 PM
Thanks everyone for the comments. This story was intended for the current LM Challenge, but I lost track of time and overshot the deadline.

Plasticweld - The hollow book represents how the boy sees himself - a paper shell, hollow and useless. He weeps at the end for the loss of something he loved.

Clepto - Thank you. The story was written to fit the 650 word LM limit.

InkwellMachine - The boy hid nothing in his book. He destroyed the part of the book he loved so that the book would be like himself, a shell, looking normal on the outside but empty. We can assume that all his books were similarly eviscerated and that he wept over the self-inflicted loss each time. Each element of the story - his Mother's comments, his declaration that he will treasure the book, the cutting of the pages, the fire that destroyed them, the children playing at a distance, the smoke that obscured them, the glass that separated them from the boy, the smell of the smoke confirming the death of the book - was intended to define the boy as he saw himself - hollow, empty, useless.

apple
October 15th, 2014, 03:37 PM
You captured a mood very well in this story. And you accomplished it by using very little emotion, almost robotic,and sparse action. I could feel the emptiness, and yet I was able to read between the lines at the heaviness this boy carried. At first I thought that this was a very sophisticated 'awareness" for a little boy the have, but then I thought about myself as a child and the little rituals and the always defining loneliness I felt (even though I wasn't alone) I didn't know why, but I would be overcome with a longing for "something". I enjoyed your story very much, Garza. Very well written.

Firemajic
October 15th, 2014, 03:59 PM
I was instantly entranced, this is the type of book that I would love to read. I wish there had been more...thanks for sharing. Peace...Jul

InkwellMachine
October 15th, 2014, 08:41 PM
InkwellMachine - The boy hid nothing in his book. He destroyed the part of the book he loved so that the book would be like himself, a shell, looking normal on the outside but empty. We can assume that all his books were similarly eviscerated and that he wept over the self-inflicted loss each time. Each element of the story - his Mother's comments, his declaration that he will treasure the book, the cutting of the pages, the fire that destroyed them, the children playing at a distance, the smoke that obscured them, the glass that separated them from the boy, the smell of the smoke confirming the death of the book - was intended to define the boy as he saw himself - hollow, empty, useless.So the boy was just making a poetic statement. Maybe I'm just not into poetry the way that I should be, but that seems kind of strange to me. Not strange in a "wow, this behavior is really fascinating" sort of way, but strange in that I found myself thinking "there must be a logical explanation for this weirdness." How many ten-year-olds do you know that would destroy their own possessions to make a poetic statement? It's a reflection on his psyche, sure, but this is less than 1,000 words--we need to spend much more of the time in the boy's head to be sympathetic toward that sort of behavior. Right now it's just kind of a weird thing that he does, and all you give us in the way of guidance is some tears at the end. It seems like an easy out.

Sorry to be harsh. You asked for commentary, and that's all I'm trying to provide. The prose is written very well, and it does draw the reader in. It just doesn't feel very rewarding.

W.Goepner
October 15th, 2014, 10:29 PM
So the boy was just making a poetic statement. Maybe I'm just not into poetry the way that I should be, but that seems kind of strange to me. Not strange in a "wow, this behavior is really fascinating" sort of way, but strange in that I found myself thinking "there must be a logical explanation for this weirdness." How many ten-year-olds do you know that would destroy their own possessions to make a poetic statement? It's a reflection on his psyche, sure, but this is less than 1,000 words--we need to spend much more of the time in the boy's head to be sympathetic toward that sort of behavior. Right now it's just kind of a weird thing that he does, and all you give us in the way of guidance is some tears at the end. It seems like an easy out.

Sorry to be harsh. You asked for commentary, and that's all I'm trying to provide. The prose is written very well, and it does draw the reader in. It just doesn't feel very rewarding.

I personally do not know any ten-year-old that would destroy a book as Garza has described. BUT, Look at the children that destroy a doll, or toy solder. Children will display themselves in a innumerable amount of ways. Sadly, like this kid the parents never know about the issues because they do not take the time to pry into the lives of their children. They take the privacy privilege to extreme, letting the child wander about the issues within. Garza has described this with a clarity and certainty that is scary.

I was drawn in to this piece with a need to see more and a better understanding of this boy and how he turns out. At ten years old this child is not beyond help. I also am at a loss at the end. Knowing that the word limit was 650 words for this piece it is very well written and would have been within the top scorers. I am sorry you missed the deadline.

InkwellMachine
October 15th, 2014, 11:42 PM
I personally do not know any ten-year-old that would destroy a book as Garza has described. BUT, Look at the children that destroy a doll, or toy solder. Children will display themselves in a innumerable amount of ways. Sadly, like this kid the parents never know about the issues because they do not take the time to pry into the lives of their children. They take the privacy privilege to extreme, letting the child wander about the issues within. Garza has described this with a clarity and certainty that is scary.

I was drawn in to this piece with a need to see more and a better understanding of this boy and how he turns out. At ten years old this child is not beyond help. I also am at a loss at the end. Knowing that the word limit was 650 words for this piece it is very well written and would have been within the top scorers. I am sorry you missed the deadline.Don't get me wrong. I like the piece, I just don't think it was very effective. It's got merits in plenty of other places--especially in sensory detail. But I don't want to do a psychoanalysis on a character I have almost no connection to. The story could be a statement about how the world is and how sad it is that some children have... ambiguous emotional/social problems? I don't know. Didn't provide enough guidance for me as a reader.

garza
October 16th, 2014, 12:44 AM
InkwellMachine - There is no poetic statement. The boy destroyed something he loved and at the end wept over the loss - very straightforward. Many children destroy what hey love the most when overcome by loneliness and feelings of worthlessness.

I never venture into a character's head. I report what a character does and says, report what goes on around him that he may or many not notice, but never do I tell what a character may be thinking.

W.Goepner - The boy obviously needs help. The mother's level of concern can be seen in her comment that, 'Sometimes I worry about him.'

This is one of the few stories I've planned from the beginning to fit within the 650 word limit. There was little editing in the process. The final line edit I had planned never happened. When I looked at the clock and saw I'd missed the deadline, I uploaded the text as it stood.

InkwellMachine
October 16th, 2014, 01:12 AM
I'm not trying to argue with you about your intentions in writing the piece. You may have meant to convey any number of things. I'm only telling you the effect it had on me as a reader, which is to say that it seemed less involved with that actual character than with the poetry of comparing the child to an empty book.

While that's all well and good, you set up a scenario where the subject (the child) is providing his own poetic narrative, implying to the unwitting reader that the child is somehow directly involved in the overarching message. It all seems very deliberate. He doesn't have to think about removing the pages from the book or burning them, he just does it. He's done this before. He's used to it. We can only assume he knows what he's doing, and that's more than we know as readers.

Don't feel like I'm telling you how to write. I'm not. I'm also not trying to be offensive. Like I said, these are just my impressions. Take them for what they're worth.

MousePot
October 16th, 2014, 02:33 AM
Hey garza

What an interesting story, lovely tone, intriguing premise, and on a personal note, I love the vagueness of the ending, though as I said that is just my own opinion ^^

Only one tiny thing, I was a little confused about the characters positions before and during the conversation between the old gent and the boy (you tell us he's on the opposite side of the room with the boy reading, and then they go straight to talking)

But loved the story, and looking forward to reading more!

garza
October 16th, 2014, 03:15 AM
InkwellMachine - I've no idea what a 'poetic narrative' is, but I suspect it's some sort of art thing with which I'd have nought to do, not being an artist. Thank you, though, for your interesting comments.

Thanks, MousePot. At the end we assume, though the narrator does not say, that the boy sees and smells the smoke from the burning paper and weeps for the loss of something he loved. As for the conversation with the old man, it was a flashback introduced in the pluperfect.

InkwellMachine
October 16th, 2014, 04:45 AM
InkwellMachine - I've no idea what a 'poetic narrative' is, but I suspect it's some sort of art thing with which I'd have nought to do, not being an artist. Thank you, though, for your interesting comments. No problem. Also, "poetic narrative" isn't a scientific term or anything. I attached an adjective to a noun. It's exactly what it sounds like--a narrative that is poetic. Also, don't sell yourself short. Whether you like it or not, if you write for any reason other than communication/necessity, you're an artist.

garza
October 16th, 2014, 11:44 AM
Not selling myself short - not atall. I'm a craftsman and very proud of the craft which has given me a good living all my life so I've never had to look for a job.

Thanks for explaining 'poetic narrative', presumably defined as prose with poetic elements as opposed to narrative poetry.

Apple has described my style as 'almost robotic', which is quite accurate. In all my stories the POV is the fly on the wall; seeing and hearing everything but emotionally detached. The fly on the wall cannot see inside a character's head, thus can do no more than report what the character says and does. Only what is essential to the telling of the story is provided. The pivotal character is the old man who has carefully preserved the book for some 50 years and who stands as a reference point for the boy, who almost immediately sets about destroying the book in a way that appears premeditated and familiar.

The fly on the wall can see the boy's tears, but it's for the reader to discover their cause.

Gargh
October 16th, 2014, 12:21 PM
I didn't understand it until I read your explanation. Then I got it, and liked it, but wonder if the reason I didn't get it the first time was that the fly on the wall didn't observe enough details for me to understand or know the character? Or perhaps not the salient details that would allow me personally to connect to it?

On the third reading (after reading your explanation) I found it a little strange that he was so concerned about keeping his hollowed books private. His behaviour at the outset, indicates that he doesn't care if his mother thinks he's strange and lonely, having no friends to invite to his party. But then he hides his process of matching the books to his empty self from her, like he's ashamed. Maybe I'm applying an adult's logic to a child's process?

It's certainly thought-provoking!

garza
October 16th, 2014, 03:05 PM
Thank you for giving my story a third reading. In the National Assembly a Third Reading signifies passage of a bill, so I appreciate your persistence. And thank you for you final comment that the story is 'though provoking'.

We don't know how much the boy cared about what his mother thought, or whether he wanted a party. We have only her word that he suggested she invite her friends to the party. That's hearsay, inadmissible in court. In the context of the story we can take it or leave it.

Thank you

Apple Ice
October 19th, 2014, 02:07 PM
Hello Garza, intriguing piece.

The initial dialogue between the Mother and man seems a little unrealistic to me. I think it might benefit from a bit of a re-working. Other than that I found everything to be sound.

garza
October 19th, 2014, 02:57 PM
Thanks much, Apple Ice. The response to this piece has exceeded my expectations.

What I wanted to show in that initial dialogue was a mother who cared for her son, but did not understand him. That she cared for him is shown by her willingness to organise the party at all. That she does not understand him is shown by her comment that 'sometimes' she worries about him, instead of being very concerned that he never goes out and plays with other children and has no one his own age that he cares enough about to invite to his party. The comment by the guest that the boy's conduct is 'odd' is, to say the least, an understatement. Neither appear to realise the extent of the boy's problem.

HumanYoYo
October 28th, 2014, 06:22 AM
Heartbreaking.
The restrained prose is so effective and appropriate to the theme. At first I thought he was going to hide something in the book, but with the last line I understood it was more of a reflection of the way the boy feels.
I would read a book with this style of writing, definitely.

garza
October 28th, 2014, 08:36 PM
Human Yo Yo - I've only now noticed your post. Thank you very much. Especially appreciated is your statement that you would read a book written in this style. My agent and two publishers hope that many people will feel as you do.

fpak
December 15th, 2014, 07:01 AM
This is a late comment but I have been searching over the forum for someone who writes like this. It reminds me of Hemingway. And you are a journalist just like he was. Of course. :)

I like your writing style. It's simple and unpretentious.

But with that being said, I think the central image of the story is a bit heavy handed. I get it; the boy hollows out books because he himself is empty. The theme could have been treated with more subtlety. As such the work feels like less of a story and more of an elaborate symbol.

Otherwise I appreciate your adherence to the iceberg theory and how you show instead of telling.

I have a read also read some of your other works and am looking forward to reading future stories from you. :)

You mentioned that you have two publishers. So I'm guessing you might have so some books out?

garza
December 15th, 2014, 01:34 PM
fpak - Thank you so much for your comments. This was originally written fo the LM fiction competition, which has a 650 word limit, but there is yet the need for complete short story construction. There is little room for subtlety in character development. Flash fiction is like a still photograph as opposed to a movie. Consider Hemingway's 'A Clean Well Lighted Place'. Try putting that in 650 words.

fpak
December 16th, 2014, 09:56 PM
fpak - Thank you so much for your comments. This was originally written fo the LM fiction competition, which has a 650 word limit, but there is yet the need for complete short story construction. There is little room for subtlety in character development. Flash fiction is like a still photograph as opposed to a movie. Consider Hemingway's 'A Clean Well Lighted Place'. Try putting that in 650 words.

I get what you're saying.

That's my favourite short story by the way. And funnily enough, what is brilliant about it is how he's managed to talk about so much with so little. I'm sure there are writers who have attempted novels to try and do the same thing as that story.

garza
December 18th, 2014, 03:43 AM
fpak - 'Paper Boy' is my personal favourite of all the flash fiction I've written, and I've written bunches over the years since I started trying to write fiction. The story works the way I wanted it to. Often when I go back and read a fiction story I've written I'm disappointed. Not so with this one.

The style used here is the style I've used in a sketchbook that should be out next Summer. There are 42 sketches averaging two thousand words each. They are dialogue heavy, as is most of my writing, but hopefully they will work as well as this bit of flash fiction with its minimum amount of dialogue. There is a minimum amount of description and almost no narrative in the sketches. My goal was to have the reader clearly see the characters and the setting with little or no description, and to follow the action without wasting words on narrative.

I believe that in ten years 80 thousand words will be considered excessive and that 40 thousand words will be the new standard for novels.

fpak
December 19th, 2014, 03:02 PM
fpak - 'Paper Boy' is my personal favourite of all the flash fiction I've written, and I've written bunches over the years since I started trying to write fiction. The story works the way I wanted it to. Often when I go back and read a fiction story I've written I'm disappointed. Not so with this one.

The style used here is the style I've used in a sketchbook that should be out next Summer. There are 42 sketches averaging two thousand words each. They are dialogue heavy, as is most of my writing, but hopefully they will work as well as this bit of flash fiction with its minimum amount of dialogue. There is a minimum amount of description and almost no narrative in the sketches. My goal was to have the reader clearly see the characters and the setting with little or no description, and to follow the action without wasting words on narrative.

I believe that in ten years 80 thousand words will be considered excessive and that 40 thousand words will be the new standard for novels.

My short stories are generally very, very short and I have occasionally tread flash fiction territory with 500 to 600 words. I understand what you mean when you say it is a photograph. there really isn't time in a short story.

To look at it pragmatically, it is surprising how much easier a few hundred more words make it.

Oh, what are you calling your sketchbook?

I have been reading a few of your stories including "The Lion sleeps tonight" and I look forward to reading the next work you put up here.

garza
December 19th, 2014, 09:45 PM
The sketchbook is called Sketches from the Life of Paul but that may have to be changed. The book tells the story of a young white missionary sent to Belize by his church in Mississippi. He loses his faith but is rescued and converted by a Creole girl named Sandy, short for Sandra. Sandy teaches him all about sex and white rum and he ends up owning a bar. The publisher is afraid people may buy the book thinking they are buying biography of Paul the Apostle.

I'm originally from Mississippi and I've spent the last 20 years in Belize, so the dialogue was easy to write.

A limit of 650 words puts a lot of pressure on a writer to pack in everything that's needed. Double that and you don't have so much stress. Go to five thousand words and it's like a big empty playground wit plenty of room to properly develop your characters. On the other hand, there's a lot of pleasure in finding out how much impact a few words can have.

W.Goepner
December 20th, 2014, 07:34 AM
A limit of 650 words puts a lot of pressure on a writer to pack in everything that's needed. Double that and you don't have so much stress. Go to five thousand words and it's like a big empty playground wit plenty of room to properly develop your characters. On the other hand, there's a lot of pleasure in finding out how much impact a few words can have.

Now I knew I had a reason to respect you Garza.

As I am not a very good short story writer, Yet. I enjoy the challenge to shove a concept into a small space. My entry for the November CO fiction competition is one I thoroughly enjoyed writing. Though I placed fifth out of five it is one of my better scores.

It is like they state in the intro area of the forums, when critiquing do not use cryptic or short responses. "Wow" or "Eew", how are those helpful to the writer? The same thing when writing a short. The challenge is how well can you draw in and envelop the reader within 650 words.

garza
December 21st, 2014, 01:37 AM
'Paper Boy' is unusual in that more words are used for description and narration than is usual in my writing. I find that the most efficient use of words is in dialogue. That's why some of my flash fiction is pure dialogue with no words wasted on description or narration. Circumstance plus the personality of the boy did not allow for as much dialogue as usual. Still, the story did achieve the effect I was seeking.

The number and nature of the responses to the story have been a bit of a surprise. All the kind words are much appreciated.

drumzii
January 8th, 2015, 07:45 PM
Solid piece of writing, in my opinion. Kept me reading till the end. I also agree with the comment that the piece was thought provoking. A fascinating base for a story. Would definatly like to see more!

All in all I found it was an easy read and unlike others, I found the ending to be really good - even if you did run out of time.

thebookdesigncompany
January 24th, 2015, 12:27 AM
I enjoyed it, and I think it's great symbolism - a hollow book for a hollow boy. Although, if you could increase the word count I might add something at the beginning to really solidify the idea that he feels empty. Right now we just have his mother saying he likes to read a lot, and that he doesn't have many friends. I don't think those are necessarily strong enough to portray that he is "empty".

It was beautifully written though, thank you.

MHarding53
March 6th, 2015, 04:07 AM
Bravo! I am chilled to the bone! I got this right away and it left me with a ghostly feeling deep in my heart. Why would he cut out the words? Why would he do this to such a valuable book? Why didn't he hide some treasure within the hollowed out book. Why did he weep over it in the end. Hollow! Hollow was the book and the friendless boy. Kindred spirits yet spiritless. I got it right away. What does that say about the writer? What also does it say about me? There does need to be a very tiny bit connecting the Old man looking at the lonely boy across the room, and the beginning of the conversation between the two. I have one last bit for you to ponder. Suppose the very last word of your story was 'Hollow'?

sailorguitar
July 5th, 2015, 10:31 AM
Very good. I can hear your accent and I think it skews the story, from my point of view. I wonder what it's like for a British person to read an American writer. I'm not sure the language should be standardized, but I tended to hear your accent more than the story and it distracted me from the story. But a good tale nonetheless.

Olly Buckle
July 5th, 2015, 12:20 PM
On the next street children were playing in a park. Bits of the park could be seen In the spaces between houses. The shouts of the children were loud on the afternoon air.
'Carried on the air' is such a common cliche that 'loud' stopped me and made me think, 'between the houses' means it is a house and the street width away, maybe 'were clear' is more appropriate, too far for children to be loud. They are also a bit short and choppy sentences at this point, the capitalised 'In' makes me think you have been editing.
How about losing the obvious stuff, like you can see through spaces and repeating 'children', and getting it all in one sentence like this?

"On the next street children were playing in a park, bits of which could be seen between the houses, their shouts loud on the afternoon air."

Nits, the symbolism, the said and the unsaid, excellent.