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Returned

4.25.06

by Shawn P. Bailey

 

 

Hard rolls were first. His shift started at 6:30, hours after the first bakers. Before the cheesecakes and brownies and mousse and crème brulee, he had to bake hard rolls. Just flour, water, yeast, and salt. Inside the vast oven steel racks on a miniature ferris wheel circled past the flame again and again. Only in the minutes after he lifted the hard rolls from those racks, he preferred them to anything else he baked. Soon he would cut one open. It would exhale steam and the scent of the transformation of those four simple ingredients. Fresh bread. He would plunge a knife into the bucket of raspberry preserves and spread on his roll that syrupy seeded crimson suspension.

 

A day after baking they were barely edible. Two days and they were bread-colored stones. Right now he was pulling them out of the proving racks. They were fully raised; with a sharp knife he quickly cut an “x” in the top of each roll. There were over four thousand, a large number for a weekday. He would finish and deliver them and turn to tasks no less mechanical, even though more sophisticated food was involved. There was a large wedding luncheon today. Before noon he would pull the fifteen cheesecakes baked yesterday out of the freezer, glaze them, coat their sides with almond slivers, cut each one into sixteen identical pieces, plate them up, and prepare the sauce to be poured over them just before serving. Work like this gave Adam time to think.

 

He was not a baker. At least he would not be one roughly one month from now, when winter semester began. Two weeks ago he returned home from Argentina. He still worked for the church, but now he got ten dollars an hour plus overtime and fresh hard rolls. Adam was hired for the holiday rush. He worked twelve-hour shifts.

 

The Joseph Smith Memorial Building, elegant and staid, contained a chapel, genealogical research facilities, a theatre showing earnest public relations epics, a busy reception center, and two restaurants. Before its restoration, it was simply the Hotel Utah. Although situated directly in between the church office building and the temple, the Hotel Utah was somehow beyond the church’s jurisdiction. At least that’s the impression Adam got. The basement, the location of the bakery, still displayed evidence of the building’s first incarnation. Not only in the tile and mirrors that remained from the corner of a ballroom that now served as a staff cafeteria. But also in Marlin, the butcher who worked in the same commissary where he had hacked sides of beef into steaks for forty years before the Hotel Utah shut down. In passing comments, Marlin revealed to Adam the building’s secrets: call girls conducted regular business here and even during prohibition it was a reliable place to get a drink.

 

Marlin was disappointed that his prostitution and speak-easy references did not scandalize Adam. Two years in Buenos Aires had changed him. He knew from urbane families he taught that some connoisseurs preferred Argentinean wine to French. And he learned early on that missionaries are magnets to the drunks that populated the parks and buses. Adam also remembered the baptismal interview with the woman who was concerned about her job interfering with church activities. After dispensing with euphemisms completely unfamiliar to him, she understood that her baptism would have to be rescheduled. “Si,” Adam softly said, “esto es un problema.”

 

Now chopping frozen cheesecakes in half and half again with a large blade, handles on both ends, Adam was thinking about his homecoming.

 

Sitting on the stand, he watched intently as faces filled the chapel and half the overflow, the basketball court of his youth. But not all of them were familiar. A girl caught his eye and he considered the possibilities: new girl in the ward, college roommate to one of the neighbor girls, strange beauty drawn to appear—by forces unknown even to her—to honor his service to the kingdom. Adam glanced down at the handwritten talk clutched in his left hand and back at her. She was sitting next to uncle Dave. “Lindsey,” Adam told himself, revolted, amused. “Little cousin Lindsey.” He quickly forgave himself; her transformation over the past two years had been remarkable.

 

Jill was there too. He didn’t see her in the congregation, but she came to his parent’s house afterward. She approached him, attempted a hug, and called his talk inspiring. He was not entirely comfortable with her, he decided her presence was better than her absence, he was polite, they did not talk much. She sat with other girls from high school, some (like Jill) he had dated, some (like Jill) he had kissed. They looked at his mission pictures and talked (inaudible to him) while he shook neighbors’ and cousins’ hands and thanked them for coming. As he watched these girls from across the room, the social matrix of dorms and college wards and institute dances—the world they had occupied for the past two years—filled his mind. Acting distant today would not hurt him. It might even seem charming. But eventually, in that world, he would engage them or others like them.

Pages: 1 2 3 4 5 6 7

62 Responses to Returned

  1. Proud Daughter of Eve

    Wow. What an engaging story. I’ve never been on a mission but you made me feel nearly as disconnected and disoriented as Adam did! That’s powerful writing.

  2. William Morris

    I have been on a misssion, Proud. And I completely agree with your assessment of what Shawn has done here.

    This story stuck with me for at least a week after I read it. Not a lot of works do that. Part of it may be that I can relate to the general feeling (albeit none of the particulars); part of it may be that I’ve written a similar story.

    But I think more it has to do with the way that Shawn has structured the story. The flow of it really works. Having Adam working a temp job as a baker is just genius, imo.

    There is one thing that didn’t quite work for me. And I’m not sure why. But I felt like I needed just a bit more from Jill. I can’t at the moment say what. Sorry. But that was the only thing itching me after I finished reading the story.

    Well done, Shawn. I’m proud to have a fellow AMVer be part of our debut. Granted, I had a role in that, but we wouldn’t have led with this story if we didn’t feel that it struck the right chord in terms of tone, quality, subject, etc.

    That doesnt’ mean that we’re looking exclusively for LDS mission-related stories; it does mean that I think that Shawn has captured something unique and needed her and that I’m sorry that he beat me to the finish line. Although it also has motivated to revisit my own story that is in this vein.

  3. Ryan Bell

    Funny, I didn’t really read this story as dealing primarily with disconnection and disorientation. The feelings it invoked in me were the ones I had on returning home– of the scary, giddy anticipation of endless possibilities, romantic and otherwise. As such, I found it very rewarding and evocative. Nice writing, Shawn.

  4. hanna tycc

    Great story, I have found myself “trying and failing to have both”. By the way, the engagement ring goes on the LEFT ring finger.

  5. Steve Evans

    Shawn, how do you feel about the ending here? In some ways this is a bildungsroman, a growing-up story so the ending isn’t about resolution so much as evolution and facing the future; but still you have a lot of threads going on. Had you considered alternative endings, such as your protagonist running into the girl later in life?

  6. Elisabeth

    Great story! I agree with Steve – I thought that the girl in the lavender dress at the end was going to be Jill’s daughter. And it’s not clear why you say Jill suffered? The story’s tone was melancholy and wistful, but “suffering” is a bit harsh to end the story, I thought.

    Love the detail and description of the pastries – made me hungry for fresh baked rolls and cheesecake!

    P.S. typo: “waived” instead of waved on page 5.

  7. Steve Evans

    Gosh, Elisabeth, I sure don’t see any typo.

  8. Eric Russell

    I love it, man. I was feeling it, all the way through. And I think I liked the limited access to Jill, it kept her mysterious. Which I think she’s supposed to be – there but just out of reach.

  9. Jake Kelsey

    Shawn, I’m very impressed with your writing. Great story too! You certainly have talent. Good luck with future endeavors. I have no doubt that, before long, we’ll be seeing your name on the covers of best sellers.

  10. Kaimi

    A few line edits:

    “She told him about school, she was at the University of Utah, and the apartment downtown she shared with three other girls.” – sentence doesn’t work.

    ““Freak is right,” he said under his breath, embedding raspberries, one by one, in the last tart. He despised himself for sacrificing more than necessary, for being an emotional coward. You thought cutting ties would make you strong, he silently accused himself, but maybe you cut your own arm off with all that zeal. Forgiving himself, compressing that thought into an inert mass, he concluded: more connections, her letters, her interest, whatever it meant, might have made him stronger. ” – jump between third and second person is awkward.

    “It always struck him as funny. This is not how it will happen he told himself, envisioning himself walk out of a member’s house, arm around their daughter, companion a few steps behind, indignant or at least seething with jealousy.” – not clear what’s going on here. Past? Future? Subjunctive? Path not taken? I can figure it out, but it’s structured weird.

    ” She did not join the dancing clique, the pack of pretty girls who abused and manipulated each other when non-drill-team girls weren’t around to exclude.” – I don’t like the way this one ends.

    “A picture drew itself in Adam’s mind, each second it added more detail, textures and their implications came into focus. ” – too many commas, awkward.

    Okay, I’ve gotta run. More later, if I’ve got time.

  11. Kaimi

    I should have prefaced that by saying that I like the piece in general; I think it does a lot of good things. I like the ending; it reminds me of some other piece I can’t quite remember right now; but the sudden shift in tone, scope, and narroator omniscience, for one paragraph, is kind of cool.

    More later, time permitting.

  12. A reader

    The editors have already spoken in their comments policy, but I think this is a good time to point out how some comments are more helpful than others.

    For example, a comment along the lines of “I don’t like the way this ends” – is not particularly helpful. However, a comment along the lines of “I’m not sure what you mean here – are you’re talking about the drill team girls specifically, or are you making the point that Jill is generally liked by everyone – regardless of her associations with certain groups. If it’s the latter, could you add more context…..”

    I like this writers’ workshop format – whose purpose is for commenters to offer constructive advice (as the editors said). This format takes a bit of getting used to, because we’re often kind of sloppy in offering our opinions about how some piece of writing, art, etc., doesn’t quite fit with our personal style. Since the goal here is to help clarify and improve the quality of a piece of writing – comments explaining why we think a particular edit is appropriate are helpful, whereas comments saying “I just don’t get it” are generally not.

  13. Kaimi

    Hi reader,

    Good point – I was being short because I was on my way out the door.

    ”She did not join the dancing clique, the pack of pretty girls who abused and manipulated each other when non-drill-team girls weren’t around to exclude.” – I don’t like the way this one ends. –> you’ve got an explanatory phrase here, but (a) it goes on and on; it’s much longer than the sentence itself, and so it bogs you down with lengthy background description that’s not tied to any action, and (b) it ends with a verb, which as constructed is awkward. Thus, in two different respects, I don’t like how it ends. :)

    Last comment for a while, I’ve got to get some work done: This one may be just personal preference, but I thought the denouement (much of page 7) went on far too long. The conflict and climax comes at the announcement and the mission flashback, which was well done;; the story loses momentum, though, by dwelling too much on minutia between the climax and the last-sentence twist. I’d be interested to see if others disagree on this point, though – it may be just personal preference.

  14. William Morris

    Eric R:

    Interesting point about Jill. I can buy that.

    A reader:

    Thanks. I mostly agree and leave room for our contributors to have variable opinions. At the same time, we don’t want to exclude commenters who feel unable to offer their comments up in the “workshop mode.” Or in other words, yes, it’s better if commenters can explain why they are having a particular reaction, but they don’t need to do so using the language of literary review/criticism.

    Kaimi:

    I think the denoument works. In my opinion, any writer can write a decent climax. It’s what happens afterwards, how it gets processed that interests me most — and, of course, that there’s then this twist at the very end only makes it all the better.

    Personal preference probably has a lot to do with it. But personal taste is always derived from a set of values (aesthetic and otherwise) that are influenced by one’s experience with form — or something like that. I’m writing under the influence of Booth’s _The Company We Keep_ here, but my reading of it has been sadly intermittent and often interrupted so I’m bound to be sloppy in what I say.

    So where was I going?

    Right — at the same time, I’d like to explore this issue of endings as Popcorn Popping progresses. I have this bias that I think that Mormon audiences want and deserve some processing of action after the climax of the story, not necessarily something that’s wholly didactic, but perhaps something that shows how the protaganist works things out within his/her worldview. For some reason that seems more Mormon to me, more like how we experience life. But this is all rather speculative on my part.

    And I’m willing to be disabused of the notion.

  15. annegb

    Shawn, you broke my heart. I so dislike Jil. I also think I understand her a little, having just married off my sort of fickle daughter, who was writing to several missionaries, two I know felt badly that she got married. One I would have been absolutely thrilled to have as a son-in-law. I would have killed her if she’d acted like Jill.

    I think Kaimi’s points are good ones and would help you tighten up the story, the grammar, it’s good to set one’s ego aside at a time like this, and take good advice for what it is, learn from it rather than resent it and cease growing. Good writers step up, do the editing and come out with a better product. It’s part of the art.

    But for me, the grammar, the slight mistakes didn’t detract from your story (was it yours, by the way, or is it fiction–if it’s fiction, it’s some of the best LDS fiction I’ve read, I think most LDS fiction writers over write, they don’t write about the deep feelings, despair, and humilation, they try to set LDS stories up in spy chases or something and lose the emotion.).

    I was there for every second as I read and I’m grateful, if a little traumatized, for the reading.

    My heart just aches for the one boy who I know loved Sarah, and was completely worthy of her. I was the one who wrote him about her engagement, long story, it wasn’t a Dear John, he was wise as was Adam, nevertheless, it had to be a blow. Boy, was that a tricky letter to write, to get just the right amount of empathy without too much sympathy and keep it light, yet understanding. Darn that girl for not waiting. I like my son-in-law, but still.

    You did a wonderful job. There are so many mediocre LDS writers. You are not one of them. Thank you for sharing.

    Please write a sequel, so I can see if Adam ever makes it. I’d have Jill come crawling back (do you know how often married women decide they love the mssionary they DIDN’t wait for, after all, very awkward for every one.). And make it about feelings like you did this, not about events. Heck, I think you have a book in here. I’d buy it.

    Hey, off the subject, but nice touch you guys, the “welcome back, annegb” I’m sure it’s that way for Kaimi, etc. Classy, guys.

    William, I’d like to explore more of what you said at the end of yours. I’m so curious as to why most Mormon fiction doesn’t work, isn’t excellent. I’m not sure if I agree or disagree, because I don’t understand what you’re saying. Frankly, I don’t see much processing of action in Mormon novels. I see action, prayer, and, uh, what’s the word, exaltation and eternal life.

  16. S. P. Bailey

    Thank you, Proud Daughter of Eve, William, Ryan, Hanna, Elisabeth, Eric, Jake, Kaimi, and Anne for your kind words. Your approval is gratifying, particularly so because I am a callow beginner. It also seems somewhat remarkable. Wallace Stegner wrote: “[t]he man who publishes a book is a man with a sending set but no receiver, broadcasting messages into space without ever knowing whether they have reached any ears. He writes his name and corks it into a bottle that he sets afloat on the ocean in the hope that some pen pal, somewhere, on whatever unpredictable coast, will find it. He drops a feather into the Grand Canyon and stands expectantly, waiting for the crash.”

    Of course, I have only written a simple short story. But the principle is the same. If my story appeared in another venue, a conventional literary journal for example, I would have been that guy, listening intently for the impact of my humble feather. Instead, I got instant feedback. And much to my relief, most of it positive—and from people I respect! It almost feels like cheating. Perhaps some dead writer who obtained approval but never knew it presently shakes his spirit head and mutters “no fair.”

    On the other hand, being that guy is not all bad. Exposing your work to others is scary enough when they don’t have a ready forum with which to eviscerate you or it. Or when they do have a forum, but it is limited to desks pulled into a circle in some undergraduate or MFA workshop. It only occurred to me after a few comments were posted how ugly things might get. Sure those people were kind, but won’t that only provoke the others? Is there an exercise, I wondered, that builds instantly thick skin? After a few minutes of fretting, my mind responded: perhaps this is it.

    Anyway, this is an exciting venture. It was my pleasure (and momentary terror) to go first. Thank you, William, Steve, and Brian for putting the site together. Even appreciating the risks involved, I certainly hope others will submit themselves and their work to Popcorn Popping.

  17. S. P. Bailey

    William:
    Thank you again. Your statement that the story stuck with you is a great compliment. And I am glad that you liked that Adam was a temporary baker. Adam’s job reveals his approximate class background and his mission-bred facility for hard work. Perhaps more significantly, I tried to use it as the concrete-world core of the story: I was going for a sort of counterpoint between his memories and thoughts and the much more visual and tangible details of his daily labor.

    Regarding Jill, Eric essentially said it. Much of the story’s tension, I think, comes from Adam’s mixed feelings about Jill. The narrator generally sees from Adam’s perspective and only reveals Jill through him or his interactions with her. This, I hope, puts the reader in Adam’s place as the story unfolds and heightens the drama. More access to Jill, I am afraid, would have let some of the air out.

    On the other hand, I also wish there was more of Jill in the story. The trick would have been making that happen without deflating the tension or resorting to jarring narrative shifts (like a sudden jump into her mind after spending considerable time in Adam’s).

  18. S. P. Bailey

    Ryan:
    Again thanks. It is good to hear from you. I hope all is well. I was going for both disorientation and anticipation, so I am glad that you picked up on the latter.

  19. S. P. Bailey

    Steve:
    Writing a story, I always eventually ask myself: how does this end? All beginnings and endings, of course, are arbitrary. Something always comes before and after. Forgive the legal analogy (this is probably a little arcane) but I think of causation and proximate cause: legally relevant causes of an injury make up only a small subset of the injury’s factual causes. An arbitrary line must be drawn. Attempting to draw such lines around a story, I ask myself questions like: What is this really about? What seems plausible or natural? Even if I am not going that far, does a wedding, funeral, or the possibility of either lie down the road? And so forth.

    Anyway, yes, I did consider other endings. The option of Adam and Jill encountering each other much later was never really attractive to me, though. I think that these people (people like Adam and Jill) usually die to each other. Even if they do meet later on, they don’t know each other any more. So the real drama in this situation plays out silently as each makes peace with the idea of the other person and their shared history.

  20. S. P. Bailey

    Elisabeth:
    I have been thinking about the word “suffered” as I used it. I think all art is about suffering in a sense. The question is what kind: sacrifice, surviving change, failure, being victimized, bearing guilt? I was trying to evoke a mild form of suffering—people swallowing the idea of growing up, opening one door and closing others, losing dear friends in the process. Perhaps a word other than “suffered” would have worked, but then I wonder whether it would have been strong enough.

  21. S. P. Bailey

    Kaimi:
    I think the sentences you point out work in the way that they are intended to. The most elegant construction is often inappropriate to the moment. Generally the sentences you called awkward come from descriptions of Adam’s thoughts. Accordingly, those sentences have a slightly more raw, developing, not-yet-neatly-organized quality. It is subtle, of course. More prominently incoherent mental rambling would have been gimmicky and distracting from the story.

    Another possible response (since your comments appear to support more than one plausible reading): if you are making a stylistic point (i.e., you would have written the same sentences differently as matter of personal style), I suppose that is interesting as far as it goes.

    Another response: I will re-read the sentences you pointed out (as well as the rest of the story) in a month or so when I have got some distance from it all. Perhaps I will come to agree with you that those (and many other sections) require revision.

    Regarding denouement, well, as my story probably shows, I tend to agree with William. Depicting characters making sense of what happened—the aftermath of the so-called climax—interests me more than leading them to some crucial moment and then promptly pulling the plug. This is particularly so in this story: if the story hadn’t done so much to show Adam trying to make sense of things before the turning point, it might have been a stretch to suddenly delve into that. But without doing some of that (and it is only a couple of paragraphs afterall!), this story would have seemed incomplete to me.

  22. S. P. Bailey

    Annegb
    Thank you. I was secretly hoping that you would read my story and comment. I am glad that the story aroused strong feelings. But please forgive Jill. Both Jill and Adam wanted to hold on to each other and still open new doors. She just had the guts to take this a higher level. And something not stated explicitly in the story (I could not make it work in a satisfying way) is the possibility that Jill did what she did to give Adam one last chance to step up and tell her he loved her. Of course, he didn’t. He couldn’t break up an engagement with only a meager promise (maybe someday, after I have had the chance to explore the world of possibilities before me, you and I might find that we are meant for each other).

    One thing I find fascinating is how people pour their experiences into art, giving it unique and personal meaning. To what extent did the experiences you mentioned color your reading?

    Your statement that women often decide they love the one they didn’t choose is interesting. I recently heard a true story along those lines: the protagonist abandoned spouse and children for a high school flame. I have my hunches about how that might end up. There probably is good in fiction in that.

    To answer your question, the story is decidedly fiction. Much of it is drawn from personal experiences and observation. All fiction is more or less. But things are patched together, dramatically distorted, single characters are composites of several people, and much is simply made up. In short, if I told Oprah my story was true-to-life memoir, I would be lying. She would be forced to humiliate me like that one guy.

  23. annegb

    Yeah, Shawn, you and me could be the Mormon “The Graduate.” Belly laughing now and it’s a substantial belly.

    I actually love James Frey. I think he’s kick butt writer and he has my vote if he ever runs against Oprah. Joseph Smith’s memoirs would be a case in point.

    You asked to what extent did my experiences color my reading. It filled me with guilt that Sarah had taken these fragile hearts and trashed them I’ve always missed her old boyfriends, loved them, and felt sorry for them when they broke up. I pine. And her old sad boyfriends, they are legion. I think probably my wrenching realization of the fragility of my own son just leaves me completely biased.

    For instance, I never thought, “well, stupid, grab her hand and tell her you have feelings!” I’m sort of having an “aha!” moment about that one.

    The boy I really liked, for instance, he waited too long, if he’d said a word to Sarah before he left, that would have made a difference. She started writing to him a few months before he came home, he wrote back enthusiastically, but not romantically and in the meantime Nick came along, and swept her off her feet. She didn’t do to this young missionary what Jill did.

    But well, it sort of broke my heart to know that he came looking for her after he got home from his mission only to find out she’d been engaged a week.

    I think what you’re talking about with Kaimi is breaking the rules. I’m a rule breaker myself. I had an English teacher tell us to be rule breakers. Kent Haruf, a favorite of mine, for instance, never uses quotes to distinguish conversation. I’m thinking Frank McCourt does the same thing (as does my hero, James Frey). I think you are wise to give yourself some time and look it over again. I have to do that myself. Also I have a sister who is a Nazi and I submit my work to her. She can’t write, but she can punctuate. A really good way to break the rules, I believe is to use incomplete sentences. Like, let me think. “I thought. And thought. Gave up and gave it to God.” That’s not quite incomplete but you get the drift.

    Boy, I would love to see this evolve and lengthen into a book. I keep begging LDS writers to tell the real story. It can be done without vulgarity, but also without the fake sunshiny quality.

    Totally beside the point, but you can have this profound thought for your book, I’ve seen it done, but not deeply. There’s a sort of false intimacy that builds when people write to one another (not like on blogging or e-mail, that isn’t false at all). For instance, I wrote to several guys in Vietnam and we poured out our hearts to one another, but when they came home, neither of us, in each circumstance, could make that go beyond the most perfunctory hellos.

    One guy I wrote to for a year and when he came home, we avoided each other like the plague! I think the same thing can happen with missionaries. I know I write to a lot of them and they come home and we don’t speak much. Some I’ve known since children and of course, we hug and laugh and talk. But as often, I’m writing out of a sense of duty to boys I’ve never even spoken to, and if they write back, once they come home, we have nothing to say. I’m cordial and welcoming, but it’s very uncomfortable.

    I love how you went against the grain with this. It’s so untraditional for LDS fiction, you know, Orson Scott Card and Douglas Thayer have wonderful short stories in this vein. I’d hold you up against them any day.

    And lastly, I have to add, as I would the story of Septimus, who I mourn as a potential son-in-law, although I must disappoint you all when I announce that I think my wild child has met her soul mate and it wasn’t that 52 year old dirty old man who chased us around the boat to Ensenada.

  24. Christopher Bigelow

    I overall enjoyed reading the story and found the situation intriguing.

    I think the structure is problematic, with most of the story consisting of flashback and rumination in a setting that, while somewhat interesting, isn’t essential to the central drama or as a controlling symbol. It felt to me like the main reason he’s a baker is to give him something reasonably interesting to do while he fills in all that back story in his head. I’ve always been taught to avoid scenes that are essentially just a character sitting and thinking, especially when much of the thinking comes across as an info dump about the character’s history. There’s something artificial and drama-draining about this. I would think twice about doing it even in the middle of a novel, let alone the whole first freakin’ two-thirds of a short story.

    I would rewrite to start right off with a vivid, unfolding-in-the-present-moment encounter with Jill, with the story taking place in real time right before our eyes and ears. You could find better ways to fill in absolutely essential, economical snatches of the back story; you could do a LOT with dialogue between Adam and Jill, for instance. You could be a lot more creative about how in-the-moment detail reveals the back story. “She was wearing the same blue shirt that she’d worn on their last date before his departure,” stuff like that that reveals back story while keeping us in the present moment. Keep repeating to yourself as you write: “Stay in the moment, stay in the moment,” especially when you want to have the character start reliving his past in his own head. A few “show, don’t tell” mantras would be good too.

    At most, in a story of this size and with this plot, I think you could have one little intermediary scene of him working in the bakery, and even then it needs more dramatic purpose. Perhaps he could discuss with his coworker what happened with Jill the night before.

    Anyway, this is a good start, an interesting treatment that could be dramatized into a really sharp short story.

  25. Darlene Young

    I think this is an interesting story with a lot of potential. Your strengths are in making us feel what it is like to be freshly home, and understand the swirl of thoughts and emotions that a young man encounters at that stage in life. I felt the portrayal of his thoughts about Jill was realistic, and I felt for him at the moment of the engagement announcement.

    I agree with Chris, however, that the bulk of the story needs to be tightened up. There is a large amount of extraeneous detail. A short story should be taut with nothing that detracts. There are little wanderings of thoughts that, though realistic to how people think, don’t contribute to the drive of the story. You could benefit from a thorough analysis of the action and pacing in the story. It’s sometimes hard to keep track of what is happening in the present point of view, and what is flashback or rumination and memory.

    There are also numerous grammatical mistakes, vague and misleading sentences, and overall wordiness that separate me from the action and the punch of the story. I feel there is potential for great power here, but I did not feel the power of the story as I read—instead I felt sort of numbly removed by a layer of language. A really, thorough edit and tightening could do wonders for this story.

    In order to give you some specific ideas of the kinds of language issues that seem to be a general problem throughout, I edited the first page and then the last three paragraphs as an editor does. I’d be happy to send you the document that I made these changes in, if you’d like to see specifics. But I think that you might not want to analyze specific usage yet, but instead concentrate on getting a tighter structure. That might solve a lot of your vague language problems.

  26. S. P. Bailey

    Christopher and Darlene:
    Thanks for your responses. No doubt I have a lot to learn. And certainly my story can be improved. Still, your comments together provide a sort of catologue of fiction workshop orthodoxies. No doubt following your advice would make my story look more like what MFA programs all over the country crank out in reams. But would it make it better? Apparently you think so. I’m not sure.

    For example, I don’t see the baking job as extraneous at all. The story is about change and coping with it. A temporary job between mission and college is emblematic of change—it is the physical manifestation of a transition period. Likewise, translating thought sequences into action and dialogue might bring the story into compliance with certain notions of what makes a proper story, but it would mangle what the story is going for: a portrayal not of surface action or people talking, but of rumination, processing change. Incidentally, fiction is probably the best artistic medium for the portrayal of such things. Why should a fiction writer limit himself to the tools available to screenwriters (i.e., action and dialogue)? Finally, the “numbing layer of language” claim sounds like a stylistic quibble. It may be true that I am not a blindingly brilliant stylist, but that is stating the obvious. Equally obvious is the claim that some people simply will not like what little style I do bring to my writing. Apparently Darlene is one of them. That doesn’t really bother me.

    Don’t get me wrong, I am not dismissing your critiques. On the contrary, I am thinking about them seriously. But I am wary and, I think, not without good reason.

    (I would be delighted, Darlene, so see your edit. Please send it to shawnpbailey [at] gmail [dot] com. While you are at it, please send your list of “numerous grammatical mistakes.” That was a bold claim to make without citng examples; my inner grammar pedant, which usually serves me well, is intrigued.)

  27. a random mom

    Christopher,

    I am not a writer but I strongly disagree. Do you never reflect back on your own life, important people/events, and conversations? Besides that you have been told not to do it, what is wrong with internal narrative? The repetitive manual labor of a baker provides a lot of time for mental activity unrelated to “the moment.” What would you have Adam doing mentally during all of this time?

  28. William Morris

    I’d like to applaud everyone. What a successful conversation!

    An especial thanks to Chris and Darlene for not shying away from engaging in some heavy-duty criticism and to Shawn for the equanimous response.

    “Still, your comments together provide a sort of catologue of fiction workshop orthodoxies. No doubt following your advice would make my story look more like what MFA programs all over the country crank out in reams. But would it make it better? Apparently you think so. I’m not sure.”

    I think this is an important issue. I’m not sure where I stand — hard to say without seeing the story that Darlene and Chris would have “Returned” be. But I hope that we all can continue exploring this idea — both via discussion and example (actual published work).

    It seems to me that Mormon narrative art should diverge in some ways from prevailing styles.

    At the same time, such divergence shouldn’t be an excuse for sloppy work — as it has sometimes been in the Mormon publishing world.

    I know that I’ve already begun to think about a few of my stories differently because of what’s happened so far on Popcorn Popping.

  29. Steve Evans

    William, I agree entirely. The mark of a great artist is in transcending form and following it, too; so while I agree with Chris’ and Darlene’s ideas on a conceptual basis, I don’t believe that we need be slaves to stylistic tradition — not that anyone’s saying so.

  30. Darlene Young

    I’ll send my first page and last three paragraphs edit to you via e-mail (they’re on my other computer). But just for a sample, here’s my edit of page two. Once again, I am providing these examples only because you asked. I don’t like to point out all the grammatical mistakes in a work because, if a story is strong, a good editor can clean them up for you. Your job is to just tell the story well, in language that pulls the reader in and moves the story along. Many of the grammatical mistakes disappear when you concentrate on creating an active voice with good pacing to the action.

    Also, I’m not sure it’s appropriate to point out little things like this here. I’m still not sure what this forum is for. William, could you elaborate a little more on what you would like to see happening here, and on what you’re looking for in terms of publication? It’s strange to me to have a piece “published” and then treat it as if it weren’t finished. I’m assuming that when you publish a piece here, you are putting your own stamp on it, saying, in essence, that you, as editor, feel that the piece is finished, and a good sample of LDS literature. I’m not saying that this particular story is NOT finished and a good example–but the comments before mine made me think that it is OK to assume that the work is “in progress.”

    Thus I assume that you see this site more as a writer’s workshop than a publication. Is that the case?

    Here are my suggestions for language corrections from page two only:

    Replaying the sound of their voices in his mind,
    Vague antecedent for “their.” (See previous sentence.)

    Adam remembered that those who approached him that day
    Should be “who had approached him had mostly limited themselves.” Check tense.

    Wanting reporting
    Two “-ing” words in a row is a little vague. “Reporting” is dangling. Maybe “Wanting more information?”

    A few asked what was next.
    Should be the same format as the preceding sentence. “A few asked, ‘What’s next?’”

    “What adjustment?” he wanted to ask, “after
    Comma splice.

    But he held back, he smiled,
    Comma splice

    practice polygamy
    Should be “practiced” to match tense with the rest of the sentence.

    People not only invited him into their homes to eat or talk about religion.
    Sentence fragment.

    people he gave priesthood blessings or visited in the hospital.
    Should have a “to” in there somewhere.

    Adam was promptly called to serve as the Snow Removal Crew One Leader upon his return. Under his watch, snow was shoveled and sidewalks salted on the first and third Sunday of each winter month.
    Here’s a good example of the vague pacing of the story. I thought maybe you were moving on to things that happened on another day, but a few paragraphs down from here we see that he is still in the bakery. If you switch the verb tense to “had been promptly called,” then we know that we haven’t left the scene of the action (although we also have a passive sentence to deal with).

    His home ward elder’s quorum was populated by balding men in their late thirties and forties; men just hanging on, hoping to advance to the higher quorum for social reasons if nothing else.
    Semicolon should be a colon.

    Although very good, the recipe was useless to him beyond the bakery; twenty pounds of flour, twenty pounds of sugar, ten pounds of lard, and so on.
    Semicolon should be a colon.

    After the brownies and other items on the restaurants’ dessert menus, eleven hours and forty minutes after starting,
    The first phrase should be a clause: “After finishing the brownies . . .”

    He was looking forward to their reception.
    Vague antecedent (see previous sentence).

    He deposited his gift in the pile,
    Give the reader a clue that you have jumped forward in time.

  31. S. P. Bailey

    Darlene:
    First, you raise an interesting question. I consider my story essentially finished, although I certainly might improve it for another incarnation. For what it’s worth, I thought I was getting a publication when my story was accepted, not simply a very public and permanent workshopping. I did, however, know there would be comments as on other blogs. All things considered, I am trying to be good sport.

    Second, are these the “grammatical mistakes” and “vague and misleading sentences” mentioned in your earier comment? Most of your examples involve stylistic decisions, not mere grammatical ineptitude. I do dry formality and absolutely unambiguous antecedents and transitions all day at work (I am an attorney). I was going for something different, something a little more interesting.

  32. Brian G

    Uh, let me just jump in right now and valiently try to change the subject.

    Does anyone like that TV show LOST? I sure do. How about DANCING WITH THE STARS? Gotta love that. That freestyle round last season. Marvelous.

    Seriously, all this talk of punctuation and grammar is making me afraid to publish something here and I’m supposedly one of the editors.

    Shawn and Darlene, I think your exchange brings up some valid points. We need to clarify our comments policy, and writers need to understand more clearly what kind of response they might get.

    We ask everyone to bear with us as we find our way. This is only our second day. I hope no writers and artists out there, besides me, will be scared to submit now. If I don’t submit anything you won’t be missing out, believe me.

    Shawn, we will forever appreciate your bravery in going first.

    I personally think that sentence level suggestions should be avoided for the most part. If given at all, they should definitely be given privately. (It’s very selfish of me to want things this way because one time Eugene England pointed out a comma splice in one of my sentences in front of the whole class, and although I like to think he chose me as an example because he thought I was tough and could handle it, I secretly fear it was just because there was a comma splice in my sentence. I’ve never quite recovered from it. I was just a kid.)

    I’m hoping we can thrash out a policy behind the scenes and make a statement before our next issue.

    And also what do you guys think is really going on on that island?

  33. Eric Russell

    “If I don’t submit anything you won’t be missing out, believe me.”

    Whatever. But I agree with everything else Brian said.

    At the same time, I really enjoy the discussion of what is objectively “good writing” vs. stylistic preferences because, for all the literature I’ve studied myself, it’s something that I still don’t think I have a firm grasp on. And I hope that the pieces that are published here will be used as examples of things that are or are not good writing and why. Even if we don’t come to any definite conclusions, it’s a great learning experience for us all. But I think it will indeed require a certain thickness of skin. My applause to all those who are willing to put themselves out here.

  34. Brian G

    Hah. That’s why I love, Eric Russell. He’s always ready to call me on a little bit of b.s. But it worked perfectly, the subject has already changed to something I like much better. Me!

  35. Kaimi

    Shawn,

    I don’t think that anyone is saying that it’s never okay to break the rules. Rather, let me suggest that if rules are being broken, it should be with a purpose. Some of my discomfort (and perhaps others’) with your use of language may come because the language seems to break with norms in a way that doesn’t seem (on its face) clearly connected to a thought-out purpose. In places that Darlene points out (if I can be sol bold as to build on her comment), or in places like I pointed out earlier — the first-person-to-third-person-to-first-person jump in the “freak is right” paragraph, for example — the use of language sometimes looks sloppy, rather than intentional. (Not that these can’t be explained, but they don’t on their face seem to be planned deviations).

    This isn’t to say that I’m a perfect writer (I’m not) or that I’m a perfect editor (I’m not). Also, this isn’t meant as a personal critique of you. I have great respect for your courage in subjecting your work to the darts and arrows of the hoi polloi — yes, that’s me — and even greater respect for your willingness to go first.

    As a final disclaimer, this comment certainly isn’t meant (Brian, Steve) as an auto-da-fe for principles of literary orthodoxy. Long live rule breakers everywhere.

    Yet, all that said, shouldn’t one take-away point here be: “Wow. Two (three?) seperate readers have been sufficiently put off by the use of language in the story that they wish to focus first on that element.”

    Whether or not you see your use of language as a conscious and intentional act of rule-breaking tied to some storytelling purpose, it doesn’t (to this reader) come across that way. And at present, your language use — for at least some segment of your readership — adds obstacles (as Darlene puts it, layers) which from the reading experience.

    Now if you’re willing to make that trade-off, that’s fine. But know going in that some segment of your readership is going to see your language use as sloppy, and that for them, it’s going to detract from their read of your story. You may the trade-off is acceptable because others will enjoy your use of language — and if so, by all means make the trade-off. It’s your story, and only you know how it can best be told. But this is a writer’s workshop of sorts — and I would be remiss as a commenter not to point out the potential disadvantages of some of your linguistic choices.

  36. Anon

    One suggestion: can we make (and follow) a rule not to use words like “sloppy”?? Perhaps if we were dealing with hardened veterans of writing workshops that kind of negative characterisation would be appropriate, but I, being a sensitive and insecure soul, would feel defensive and upset if someone called my carefully chosen words “sloppy” (sloppy though they may be).

    I don’t think we need to walk on eggshells, and maybe I’m way out in left field here, but since both writers have expressed apprehension about putting their work out there, I think we could try to use more sensitive characterisations, and choose our language carefully when providing feedback so as not to discourage others from participating.

    By the way, I don’t think Shawn should necessarily draw conclusions about his writing from the people here commenting first on his choice of language and sentence construction. I think some personalities focus on details that may or may not be relevant over others. For example, in a 100 page report, one person will immediately hone in on the fact that the person’s name is spelled incorrectly to the exclusion of understanding the message and context of the report itself. That’s not to say sentence by sentence edits aren’t important, but, clearly, they shouldn’t take precedence over other more substantive critcisms.

  37. Kaimi

    Mr. Anon,

    Let’s be real — this is a writer’s workshop, and we’re not supposed to talk about Shawn’s use of language?

    Brian writes in his comment to Rosalynde:

    “I think good writers need criticism even more than bad writers. It’s certainly harder for them to find it, and seeing as [Shawn] is a good writer, I think this could be improved.”

    That’s my purpose here as a commenter. Should Shawn draw conclusions about my reaction to his language? Absolutely. I’m a reader, aren’t I?

    Now, should my own reaction be some sort of trump card? No, of course not. To the extent that others say that the language helped them along, that’s a piece of evidence in the other direction. I may be an outlier. But I can respond as one reader, and say that his use of language did not help me along.

    Brian tells Rosalynde in his comment that her language “is at times a barrier and/or shield between you and your audience.” I’m telling Shawn the same thing.

    I’m not claiming a perfect critical eye; my criticism can certainly be disputed on the merits. But I strongly disagree with your mocking implication that any decision to focus on a writer’s language is a decision to dwell on useless and inconsequential minutia. Language is a writer’s lifeblood, and is absolutely one proper focus in the discussion.

  38. a random mom

    Kaimi, How do you know Anon is a Mr?

  39. Anon

    My comment was not to say we shouldn’t address language use, but it was about the approach and tone of the feedback given to the writers here. I think words like “sloppy” are too negative. Maybe it’s perfectly fine to talk this way to someone in real life about their work, but I don’t think nuances and context translate very well electronically. Of course, you are all free to disagree! Carry on, carry on.

  40. a random mom

    Perhaps commenters should think of this more of a book group than a writers group. I enjoy the discussions of tone, theme, characters, and Mormon influence in the work. When you get microscopically pedantic it is alienating. I would like to hear more from non-English majors. Did you enjoy this story or were you indifferent to it? Could you relate in some way? What emotions did it invoke?

    The rest of this stuff about the direction of popcorn popping will work itself out in time. In the meantime, don’t make it an academically elitist forum.

  41. Steve Evans

    All,

    While our site certainly bridges a new territory somewhere between publication and workshop, we’re not quite either and we need to find our appropriate place along that spectrum. But no matter how we all come down on the proper subject matter of comment here, one thing is certain: we need to respect and admire those willing to put their necks out there and publish. I liked Shawn’s story — I helped prepare it for publication — but it’s not perfect, nor should it need to be for our purposes here.

    Does that mean that all publications here should be open to line edits and comma placement remarks? I am not sure. Perhaps we are best off, at least until we find more sure footing, to direct our remarks on conceptual, structural and general bases. In other words, have some respect for the author and sympathy to opening up a piece of literature to global and immediate scrutiny.

  42. Rosalynde

    What I like about this story most is the way it subverts the common Mormon understanding of the mission as a rite-of-passage into adult Mormon masculinity. Adam’s mission sets him aground not as a man in the world of men, but as an overgrown adolescent in an emasculating liminal world (the bakery in the basement of the JSMB): his mission doesn’t guarantee his maturation as a man, it suspends (a wonderful word that appears at several key points) it. For a while Adam seems headed for another sort of male rite-of-passage—”knocking socks”–or, perhaps, for the Mormon female’s rite-of-passage, marriage. But neither of these passages open, either, and Adam is left again preparing the wedding feast for another bridegroom.

    In the end, maybe it’s the most sacred of Mormon rites-of-passage, the temple endowment, that works on Adam (note the name). Am I the only one who detected resonances between temple worship and Adam’s bakery job: unusual white clothing, remote location, ritual actions, importance of exactness in detail, preparation for a climactic wedding feast? And it’s the memory of the bakery/temple, in the form of the cheesecake, that prompts the embrace of redemption at the end—a typically Mormon redemptive conclusion—when Adam is able to understand and, one senses, forgive Jill.

  43. Darlene Young

    I posted the line edits against my better judgment (as I said in my post) and actually tried to erase them after I posted–but I can’t figure out how to edit a post. I absolutely agree with Brian that this is not the place for line edits. I provided them because I was requested to–not only requested, but practically dared. I felt some animosity and rose to the bait to defend myself. I apologize for that. I wish I hadn’t done it.

    I’m extremely impressed with Shawn’s nerve in posting a story here and then having to read comments from the general public. (Maybe he didn’t know that was going to happen–if so, he’s all the more deserving of sympathy and respect.)

    I myself haven’t decided if I am that gutsy. I have no problem being published (I have many times), nor do I have a problem sharing some work-in-progress for critique with a writer’s group. However, I hold it as a necessity to be able to SELECT who is allowed to critique my unfinished work, and also select when and how I seek their opinions. I do this because I have had too many experiences in writer’s groups in which the members do not reach consensus on what makes a good or successful work. I am not a helpful critic of Shawn’s work because we obviously have different definitions of what works in a story. (See his comment about what MFA programs “crank out in reams.”) For that reason, he would not be a good critic for me. And for that reason, I am hesitant, after what has happened here, to post work here. (Either the work I post is finished–in which case I do not want to hear any suggestions–or it is unfinished but the comments will most likely be unhelpful because they come from someone with different goals than I have.)

  44. S. P. Bailey

    Darlene:
    I was requested to–not only requested, but practically dared.”

    My exact words were: “I would be delighted … [t]o see your edit. Please send it to shawnpbailey [at] gmail [dot] com. While you are at it, please send your list of ‘numerous grammatical mistakes…” Far from daring you to post them, I was merely asking that, along with your edit of page 1, you also include in your email to me examples of the numerous flaws you claimed to have found.

    No hostility was intended. I have tried to acknowledge where I stand (a callow beginner, a writer with much to learn, etc., etc.). And despite the impression my mildly defensive responses to criticism above might suggest (certainly not all of my story’s shortcomings were “stylistic decisions”), I can appreciate the value of a detailed and unyielding edit at the sentence level. I just don’t think this site exists to elevate such edits (and authors’ responses to them) to a spectator sport.

  45. Darlene Young

    You’re right. You did ask me to send them all to you in an e-mail. I was in a hurry and feeling defensive. I shouldn’t have posted them publicly. I deeply regret it. Please forgive me.

  46. Christopher Bigelow

    Responding to:

    >>

    I could see how my fairly rapidly typed comments would imply that I think there’s never a place for internal narrative. That is far from how I feel. I have a fair amount of internal narrative and flashback in a novel I just finished. However, internal narrative must be EARNED by enough drama, because it’s inherently at least one step removed from real drama. And it needs to blended in more carefully and creatively than having a character sit and think about it (or think about it while rolling dough; that’s a LITTLE more interesting than just someone sitting, but not much). I’d say you’d need at least two parts in-the-moment drama for each part internal narrative, and the drama’s got to hook us FIRST, especially in a short story. Sure, there’s exceptions in the hands of extremely skilled or experimental writers, but I saw this story treatment as suffering from the lack of a more workable ratio of drama vs. reflection. At a minimum, I’d strive to at least reverse this ratio in your story.

    This commenter asks what I would have Adam do during all his hours spent at the bakery. My answer is, I don’t care what he does at work for long stretches of time, because it’s not a dramatic setting, at least not as currently employed in the story. It’s somewhat interesting to know what he does for work and to maybe see a glimpse of him baking in a more dramatic setting, but it just doesn’t work to use the bakery as a frame upon which to hang the big info dump about his past. As a reader, I just don’t care enough about the bakery setting or situation for it to play such a big role in the story. (And the story starts so slow, almost novelistically in the 19th century fashion; we gotta be gripped in the central drama/conflict much faster, from line 1.)

    I do have a lot of college training in creative writing, but I see what I’m saying as just basic storytelling 101.

  47. S. P. Bailey

    Darlene: apology accepted.

  48. Christopher Bigelow

    Oops, forgot my warm fuzzy: I just wanted to affirm that there’s enough of interest and value in this story that it’s definitely worth taking the time to type some comments… Plus it’s fun to take a strong informed position and see if anyone can talk me out of it.

  49. S. P. Bailey

    Christopher:
    I do understand what you are saying. You want more gripping drama and you don’t find it in the bakery. Fine. I have written and will write other stories. Some of them I hope will do other things—less rumination, more drama along the lines of what you like. As far as this story goes, I think you simply misread or underestimate the significance of the bakery. For example, Rosalynde picked up on things that most others so far have entirely missed.

  50. Christopher Bigelow

    You know, if you still like and stand by your story after others have taken their shots at it, I think that’s great. I’m going through the same process right now on getting feedback, which I have to decide either to accept or reject, and if I decide to reject it, I have to come up with a rationale as to why, and that makes me stronger and more informed about my own identity, intents, and approaches as a writer. So if I’ve helped perform that service for you, great!

    And I have to admit I’m a terrible reader of poetry or anything like unto it, although I do love figurative language in fiction, metaphors and similes that pop right out at you and aren’t a mystery or puzzle to parse out. I like writing where the writer does most all the work for me and dazzles me, not so much the stuff where I have to try to figure it out or go Easter egg hunting. I like to sit back and have my eggs served to me as breakfast in bed. That’s why my favorite authors are the mainstream literary guys like Updike, Roth, and Bellow who know how to serve up both the engrossing dramatic storytelling and the fantastic descriptions, characters, inner life, figurative language, etc.

    Also, I’m a MUCH less effective reader online than in print, so if I missed deeper, symbolic stuff in your story–parts of which I admit I skimmed, due to the online format and my lack of dramatic engagement–then just look at me as a test case for how your writing came across to one kind of reader…

  51. S. P. Bailey

    Christopher:
    I appreciate what you are saying. I make the same kinds of “rewards offered per unit of reading effort expended” calculations when choosing what to read. So thanks for taking the time to read and think about my story. And give me several years before making any more comparisons between me and the likes of Updike, Roth, and Bellow. It only seems fair.

  52. a random mom

    Christopher, 3:32pm

    I respectfully but strongly disagree. Thanks for responding to my question,even if the answer was what I thought it would be.

  53. Christopher Bigelow

    I didn’t compare you to those big guys, just remarked why I like them! But I do hope we get Mormon ones that good sometime…

  54. S. P. Bailey

    Rosalynde observes that the story “subverts the common Mormon understanding of the mission as a rite-of-passage into adult Mormon masculinity.” I think this is right.

    She continues: “Adam’s mission sets him aground not as a man in the world of men, but as an overgrown adolescent in an emasculating liminal world (the bakery in the basement of the JSMB): his mission doesn’t guarantee his maturation as a man, it suspends … it.”

    I would alter this somewhat. Adam is not entirely an “overgrown adolescent.” He has returned with some gravitas, a weight behind his eyes earned preaching the gospel and ministering (having people “uncover[] to him their gaping wounds, the aftermath of bad decisions, broken relationships, diseases they could not afford to treat,” trying to comfort these people, give them blessings, visit them in the hospital.) And what is more grown-up than digging in and working hard at an unglamourous job? Compared to many 21-year old men (I am aware of many who play video games all day—men who still live off their parents, who for some reason bankroll such seemingly pointless lives), Adam is mature.

    Still, Rosalynde is right: Adam’s passage into masculinity has been suspended. He has been expelled from a place where he did not confront big rites of passage, a place where he could enjoy them as possibilities. Put to work baking and shovelling snow, seen as a freak needing to tone down religious zeal, the spiritual maturation of his mission goes unappreciated, unused. And he is a stranger to both his former and future selves: full adolescence is not an option and growing into masculinity will be painful. That is the challenge of being returned.

  55. Tom

    I’m not much of a literature person, so take this however you want to.

    I thought Adam was a very well-drawn, very true character. To me, that alone is a great accomplishment.

    I initially thought Jill was not believable. No way would an engaged, or almost engaged, girl come on that strong to her former boyfriend. But thinking a little more I realized that the coming on strong thing was Adam’s interpretation of her behavior. To a recently returned missionary who hasn’t had physical contact with a real girl in years a touch on the back and arm from a pretty girl is electric and is subject to all kinds of misinterpretation. Jill probably had no idea how powerful her touch was. About the “knock your socks off” thing, I wonder if she was oblivious to the effect she was having on him or if she was trying to drive him crazy. Maybe it would serve him right for being overzealous.

    Still, I don’t know how likely it is that a serious boyfriend would not get mentioned in their first reunion.

    I would love to hear Jill’s side of the story. There’s your next story, Shawn. If you can convincingly get inside her head and tell her story, you’ll have my vote for genius of the year.

  56. Kaimi

    Shawn,

    I apologize if my comments were too critical. I hope you know by now that I’m a fan of your work. I linked your AMV announcement, and I typically like your blogging.

    Personally, I tend to like detailed feedback – I find it to be helpful. However, I don’t know if my feedback here was helpful or not. If it was embarrassing or otherwise unhelpful, I apologize. (It probably didn’t help that I’ve been out of town with limited access to computer, and so my comments have been more hurried than normal – another reason I should have been (but wasn’t) particularly cautious in commenting).

    Brian, Steve, et al,

    Looks like whatever the evolving social norms are around here, I probably violated them. Sorry, guys – didn’t mean to cause contention. Carry on.

  57. annegb

    Kaimi, you should have been a fly on the wall when I took on that other writers blog.

    I like detailed feedback as well. About the only thing that insults me is when others are offended “gasp” when I cuss. I don’t know why that sets me off, but it does almost every time, my friends have to slap me around a lot because they don’t like it, that’s for sure.

    I mean my face to face friends.

    But my hardest teachers and critics have been my best helpers when it comes to writing.

    I personally liked the baker part, but I liked what Christopher and Darlene had to say as well. I think maybe with Kaimi’s suggestions, those were parts where I thought , “huh?, oh well, what happens next?” It didn’t diminish my enjoyment of the reading, but it could be made tighter.

    I completely agree with Tom, I want to hear the rest of the story.

    Christopher, I did the same thing on the other blog, and boy were they ready to burn me in effigy. I think you have good omments, but as I read yours, I realized how hard it is to see someone else’s telling of a story, I don’t know if I can say it in words. It was like you had a story and it was different from Shawn’s. I can see now how my comments and suggestions over there could be confusing, because I was confused by yours. And I did the exact same thing “you could say this and this and tell it this way and….”

    On the other hand, my best English teacher did the same thing and I would struggle with it and try to understand and edit and make it better, and damn, every time it was.

    On the still other hand, be true to yourself, Shawn, these are your babies.

    Kaimi, I don’t see you as starting anything negative. It seems what’s expected on a writers blog.

  58. john f.

    At first I thought that there was too much of the autobiographical in this and it bothered me that you would use the name Adam rather than simply own to it and use your own name. But then I realized that, whether there is an element of the autobiographical in this piece or not, it still performs the work that is most important by drawing in those with similar experiences and educating those without such. Essentially, I realized it was unfair to be critical of the veiled autobiographical nature when it could just as easily have been a story about my own return.

    A different aspect of the coming of age motif struck me in this story. Having just spent two years at hard labor preaching the Gospel with all the difficulties that entails, and with the near total consecration that it demands of those who properly discharge that duty; Adam encounters the balding middle-aged members of his Elders Quorum just holding on. These are people, who, as Adam soberly realizes, would certainly be branch presidents in “the mission field” but who are working on the snow removal crew (what more mundane calling could there possibly be?) twice a month instead. These men are presumably also aware of their own leadership potential and yet, one could guess, many of them have not done their hometeaching in months. And yet, they are perhaps indignant that they are still in the Elders Quorum. Adam sees that their interest in Church service is perhaps based on the wrong priorities; moreover, he is confronted with what post-mission membership in the Church can mean to any who let the “zeal” die off. Is Adam better off by consciously diminishing his freakishness to fit into the post-mission world? Most of us would agree that he is; but something seems to whisper to Adam that this is not the case. He subconsciously tries to hold on to that fire, as we all do, when remembering his experiences in the mission field and in realizing that his returned status is not the haven he thought it would be when he found some solace in the field dwelling on it.

    Thus, in addition to the disconnection and anticipation noted by Ryan and Shawn, I sensed a certain disillusionment that is par for the course, and very well done.

    Thank you for this story.

  59. john f.

    oops, that was a terribly written comment. ah, what are the busy to do?

  60. S. P. Bailey

    John: I’m glad that you liked the story and particularly glad that you appreciated the disillusionment thread.

  61. joan

    Hey Shawn and all,
    I am coming in on this at the end and found it fascinating to read your story and then follow the secondary drama story line created by all the comments.( Now that could be a story in itself. Perhaps I will consider writing a story as itt makes its’ journey, twisting and turning in the setting of a writers workshop, weaving in the personalities and conflicts of the anonymous peers reviewing it as it unfolds. Hey, I like it already. It has possibilities.)

    I liked your story and was intrigued by your voice and style because it is both very similar and yet very different from my own writing. I have 2 boys just recently home from missions and from talking with them and their feelings and similar experiences in the months after their returns, I have no doubt that they could relate to your characters’ feelings. Maybe a reader thinks they would have had to have been as it seems that those who relate to your story the best, perhaps have been through something similar. But as we all know, a good story can touch us without our having to have had a similar experience. In fact, most of us read for the joy of experiencing events and feelings we may not have otherwise. That is what is so fabulous about reading, it stretches us mentally, emotionally and intellectually and exposed us to opportunities to think and feel in ways that we may not have in our day to day lives.
    I have been in several college and online writing workshops and have straddled that fine line that demands a writer be so dedicated to their story to be able to write it, yet at the same time, be able to detach just enough to consider useful suggestions and make changes without losing their unique voice. People forget how a writer ponders every word, restructures every sentence to best say what they are feeling and wanting to portray and know the frustration of not being able to resonate with every reader. It takes time, practice and courage to submit to peers and still come out feeling strong and passionate and true to your story, but that too, is part of the writers journey. If we wrote only with a specific audience in mind, we would be shackled and narrowminded. A prolific writer once said that he writes the story he has to tell and lets the story find it’s own readers. I found value in almost all of the comments and commend you for your skills and resolve and hope that you have sifted through them and bravely taken that which will enrich your future efforts. May we all continue to write with passion and learn with grace as Shawn has demonstrated here.

  62. Popcorn Popping » Blog Archive » Return

    [...] it takes place in the the recent-RM time frame similar to those found in S.P. Bailey’s story Returned and Anneke Majors recently-posted What Are You Waiting [...]