In A Time Past by J. E. Deegan


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Post February 21, 2010, 12:09:42 PM

In A Time Past by J. E. Deegan

A very poignant story with a human touch. A young girl, Cleo, finds that her goodness transcends wickedness and death, and drives out the evil that has chosen another girl, Rebecca, as its host.

The dog, Joe, the orphanage, Miss Kelsey, and Rebecca, all came to life as I read the story, which is unusual since this story tells much more than shows. Yet, with little action and mostly interior thoughts, it did manage to hold my interest better than I thought it would after reading the intro.

I like the intro to grab my attention more than this one did---it barely worked for me.

Good use of words in this one. From beginning to end all sentences were balanced well, and at no point was I lost or confused by the progression of the story. It was easy to read, yet not simple.

I liked it. I’ll give it a ‘Good Rating’ but you must remember I’m not into these kinds of poignant stories much.

I like action, unimaginable monsters or space aliens, or the old mad-scientists who builds something in his lab that eats him, finally, then breaks out to find more humans.

I find in this story all the elements needed for good story-telling---maybe a little showing and more sensory inputs but that is not carved in stone, as far as I’m concerned.

Good one :wink:
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Post February 23, 2010, 01:22:22 PM

In A Time Past by J. E. Deegan


While I can’t say that I’m a big fan of regular, straightforward ghost stories, I do have to say that I enjoyed this one.

Not so much in the present, but in the past, the characters have certainly made some sort of progress. It was an interesting progression from present to past. Perhaps, this is a little unlikely that every year they relive their lives, but then again, these are ghosts. Maybe that’s all they ever do. Who knows?

This story is a little better than a lot of fantasy, inasmuch as it is more about people than the cool, fantastic things that happen to them.

Structurally, the story was sound. There were a few little problems, and most can be summed-up with this quote:

Halfway to the house she saw a women step onto the porch and wipe her hands on her apron. The woman put a hand above her eyes, stared across the yard for a moment then hurried down the steps and onto the road.


First, there’s the woman/women thing. It’s a very easy mistake to make, spellcheck won’t catch it, and it’s also very easy to correct.

Farm your story out to someone who doesn’t already know what it’s supposed to say, and they’ll see it, first time. The writer can read-over and miss this kind of thing time after time.

The second problem with this is a little harder to define. As writers, we need to try NOT to say the same term twice in two successive sentences. It’s bulky, it’s inelegant, and it interrupts the flow of the story. After identifying her as ‘the woman’ (assuming it was spelled correctly, the first time), why not just use ‘she?’

This happens quite a few times in the story. It’s my only major quibble with it.

This is one of those stories, however, that is saved by the content of it. It’s that good. For all the mystery and Irish lore and borderline Wiccan/Witchcraft, the power of the tale drives it.

I almost hate to say this, but sometimes. . . .barely. . .the quality of the story outweighs some problems on the production side. It’s one of those things that amateurs (like me, like most of us) like to point-to when we are critiqued on style.

“But you still understood the story, right? My story is so good that it transcends all the work of actually spelling and saying things correctly!”

Nonsense!

Get the mechanics right and then your story can stand or fall on its own.

It is never good to take the reader ‘out of the story’ due to poor editing or grammar or linguistic improprieties. These things can be fixed, with effort from the author. The story, of course, is a different matter.

Well, this story did transcend the mechanics. I was misty-eyed at the end.

Good job, thumbs up, huzzah, Mr. Deegan.

Bill Wolfe
"I am Susan Ivanova. . . .I am the Right Hand of Vengence. . .I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."
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Post February 24, 2010, 09:22:34 AM

In a time past

It’s difficult to know where to start, so let’s start at the beginning. I’m with Megawatts – I don’t believe the intro works. I’d like to see some action. For instance: instead of saying “some people say…” why not show kids running past the graveyard because they’ve seen the ghosts before and they don’t want to get caught by them. Or have teenagers at the graveyard on a dare, when Cleo floats up and begins her rounds. The 1st sentence is too long, specifically. I would cut and paste “near a once-great house…” later in the paragraph. I don’t like the phrase “some would say” – it’s too stagnant, and is used over and over again throughout the piece. Perhaps instead of “some citizens” the author could put, “skeptical souls around Haileyville, Kansas will tell you…” This would also bring it into the present.
Which brings us to our next problem - there are three time periods represented in this piece: now, the late 1800s, and ‘a long time ago in King Mulmarth’s time’. The main hitch with this is going back and forth between the present and the past.
“She looked fondly at the markers and again recalled the summer day in 1888 when…” “Then, as she always did when they were reunited, she recalled…” “She pulled Joe to her chest as memory took her back…” I just don’t like it. It’s too floaty. I’d rather see the beginning at the graveyard, the 1888 story in one straight shot, and then the King story told between Joe and Cleo. OR have a live child wonder into the graveyard and not be afraid of the ghosts and have Cleo and Rebecca tell their stories to the child. Or have a person collecting genealogical information, researching the gothic house where her ancestor (one of the children who escaped) lived for a while. At the end, the researcher could come past the fields and see the wisps seemingly playing together.
I’m taking the time to critique because this story is worth the read, but could be better with some action verbs included. There’s too much sitting and remembering.
There is also too many grandiose statements – for my taste. “What happened next can only be explained in a realm beyond human understanding.” Please! “With an insight that few have…” Those sentences could be cut completely and the sentences around it would convey the emotions. Don’t tell the reader how they should be elated by the sheer awesomeness of the situation.
Halfway through: more ‘some believe’s. A few paragraphs later – “seeing it conveyed Cleo deep into the past…to a night in mid-March of 1892.” Too much going back and forth.
I LOVE the paragraph about the rain that begins, “The sequence of light and sound kept repeating as the storm moved ever closer.” It’s so detailed, I can see the rain scene being played out.
I’d like to see a little more of Miss Kelsey’s ancestry shown in her style of dress, or the way she wears her hair, or her dialect.
Good ending.
Since the house is on fire - at least let us warm ourselves.
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Post February 24, 2010, 10:07:05 AM

In A Time Past by J. E. Deegan

I agree with Michele that there were structural and plot difficulties with this story. It's kind of what I meant by:

Bill_Wolfe wrote:Not so much in the present, but in the past, the characters have certainly made some sort of progress.

But there are always a blue million ways to write a story. Maybe this one is better, maybe that.

For me, the thing that worked for In A Time Past was the content. It--somehow--seemed to supercede the problems with it.

Yeah, I would have liked to see a lot of the things that bottomdweller talks about. They would have made for a much better tale, overall. But for every thing she mentions, there are at least fifty other ways to do it that are just as good.

Somehow, and despite the problems with it, it worked.

How the heck did he do that?

Don't know, to tell the truth. I'm just trying to point it out, and to try and stress that this is NOT the way to write a story.

Most of our stuff will not pass the test that this one did.

It's a little like the first Harry Potter. It shouldn't have worked, but it did.

Weird, huh?


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Post February 24, 2010, 10:54:41 AM

In a time past

Bill liked this story better than I did, but that's just a difference in taste.
I will say the thing I liked the best was the amount of research about the town and the building that it seems the author did. For instance - I liked the part about the man who bought up the land for the railroad. People really were doing that while the Intercontinental was being laid.
I tend to be more visually oriented, and, if I view this in my mind as a movie, it doesn't play well. I just would like to see more conversation, more showing and less telling. Personal taste, nothing more.
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Post February 24, 2010, 11:46:47 AM

Re: In a time past

bottomdweller wrote:Bill liked this story better than I did, but that's just a difference in taste.
I will say the thing I liked the best was the amount of research about the town and the building that it seems the author did. For instance - I liked the part about the man who bought up the land for the railroad. People really were doing that while the Intercontinental was being laid.
I tend to be more visually oriented, and, if I view this in my mind as a movie, it doesn't play well. I just would like to see more conversation, more showing and less telling. Personal taste, nothing more.



Bottomdweller,

Agreed and agreed and agreed.

But look how much we've commented on this story.

I would kill for this much feedback for one of my stories. (Okay, I wouldn't kill anyone I know. . .but random killings take a lot of the sting out of it.)

There's something there, with all the faults.

No?

Bill Wolfe.
"I am Susan Ivanova. . . .I am the Right Hand of Vengence. . .I am Death Incarnate, and the last living thing that you are ever going to see. God sent me."
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Post February 24, 2010, 01:08:57 PM

In times past

I definately agree. If I don't like a story, I won't go into detailed critique. It's not worth my time. I can see the author revising this and expanding it into a novel or screenplay or something. Perhaps a novella, with lots of details about Miss Kelsey and heartland scenes. There's a lot of potential in this story. By being so specific, I'm trying to help make it better by giving the author options.
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Post February 24, 2010, 02:13:56 PM

Overall, I thought the story okay, but the time shifts distracted me. *Really* distracted me. As soon as I settled into the narrative, a flashback or forward would jar me. You need to know when and when not to break up the continuity of the story. Think of casting a spell in which your drawing in the reader. Disrupt the incantation at your peril.

Another distraction was Justin West. He turned out to be a red herring. He could have been summed up into a couple sentences but the lengthy section on his history hinted at something far grander, especially with his mysterious disappearance. I never forgot about him and was disappointed that he disappeared (in the story, that is).

I also thought the use of Celtic mythology toward the end introduced improperly. It seemed to come out of nowhere. Perhaps a bit more foreshadowing would have laid the foundations a bit better. In addition, the magical powder seemed a tad too convenient. I assume it not infinite? Was happens when it eventually runs out? Does it turn the story into a tragedy?

Unlike some of the others, I didn't mind the introduction. I thought it captured the colloquialism of the story setting. Made it seem like a period piece.

The author has some natural skill. Here's my favorite tidbit:

A powerful rush of cool wind swept across the yard, bending the trees and sawing their leaves angrily against each other. Next a vanguard of rain arrived, thin silver missiles that punctured the dry earth like darts. The wind grew stronger; it tore through the rain, shredding it and blindly scrambling it in all directions.


Great use of imagery and metaphors. Good stuff.
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Post February 24, 2010, 04:16:23 PM

I think Jamie and I are basically on the same page here. I was thinking another way to introduce the Celtic Mythology was through the character of Miss Kelsey – make her more of an Irish shaman type to foreshadow the coming king story. What was her clan called? What part of Ireland or Scotland were her ancestors from?
I too thought the time shifts were distracting. In Gone with the Wind, Scarlett says something at the first to introduce the story, but then it’s in one time period. Hitchcock did something similar with a story about an estate that eventually burned to the ground. A Christmas Carol moves back and forth in time, but he has the ghosts of past present and future to converse with, so as to carry the reader with them.
Jamie quoted the same splice of story as his favorite also. Nice word-smithing.
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Post February 28, 2010, 09:30:23 PM

In a Time Past

Many thanks to those who commented on In a Time Past. It was quite fascinating to read the diverse opinions offered. If anyone has questions about the story they'd like answered, just let me know. Keep up the good work, Aphelion.
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Post March 03, 2010, 07:29:07 PM

I finished this story last and thought I'd throw in my two cents.

I agree with some of the positive and some of the negative comments made by others about this story, but a few of the constructive points seem critical to me and I'll emphasize those: first, more showing, less telling. We need to see the action first hand, and experience it as a reader. Telling becomes boring and has much less impact. It seems to me that the relationship between Cleo and Rebecca is the central one in the story. One is good while the other is bad. I didn't feel this was shown enough in the story. The way it is described, it seems like it should have been much more dramatic. Miss Kelsey says one was "white" and the other "black". (I'm not sure that was a good authorial choice. Why is evil always "black?" I think it's a tired stereotype.) Based on Miss Kelsey's description Rebecca should have been killing small animals for the fun of it. But she just seems like a spoiled bully, not the arch-nemesis of a "white" spirit. Why not have us experience the event where Rebecca broke her ankle, rather than have the narrator tell us how it happened? Show it to us in present tense, use dialogue. Let the reader realize how evil Rebecca is by experiencing her actions and hearing her words. That would make the ending of the story much more worthwhile.

Secondly, Jaimie has a good point about Justin West. This is almost a story within a story, which is fine if it contributes to the greater story, but I don't think it does in this case. It really has no impact on the events of the central story at all. So I'd cut it out.

Thirdly, I also had problems with the way magic was introduced into the story. It needs more examples earlier in the story, that are real. It needs to be more explicit.


On a side note:
I have to disagree with Bill and Michele a little about which stories we choose to comment on. There are some very good stories and poems here that I can't really think of anything constructive to say about, but I liked them a lot. But a story or poem with a few flaws can generate a lot of discussion.

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