Saturday, October 15, 2011

Slash/Backslash 3.0 Reviews - Part Two

Here are the rest of the reviews from the Host's Choice awards from Slash/Backslash 3.0. Check out what they have to say.

A Light Exists in Spring
First Place, Slash/Backslash 3.0
Review by Conversed

I was delighted to be asked to help judge this year’s SlashBackslash contest. I was also a little worried. On the plus side I got to discuss nearly fifty new slash stories with people just as excited and as interested as me, where normally I keep my slashing pleasure pretty private. This contest added a human element to my reading that was an absolute gift.

However, I was concerned.

Who was I to judge other people’s contributions?

That worry made me turn each story over and over in my head, like a newly-minted penny. I was intent on seeing both sides to each entry—what the author might have intended to convey, compared to what the reader came away with—and that responsibility weighed heavily. When I read brilliant entries like Legacy of the Spirit Warrior or Crude Oil I wondered how on earth we would be able to come to a decision.

Then I read shoefreak37’s Edward and Mike Newton story, A Light Exists in Spring, and I stopped worrying.

Just like a shiny new penny, A Light Exists in Spring is a story with two sides which shoefreak37 neatly reveals by exploring common concepts such as time and thought. Time, in this story, ticks away at two different speeds. Edward—always a contradiction—speeds to Mike’s side in his hour of need, then immediately highlights how time means something different to his kind.

“He is the face of a clock, unchanging as the seconds, minutes and hours constantly shift.”

This line almost slipped past me on first reading. Then I thought about Edward and about what time meant to him, and I agreed. Yes. He lives through long, slow decades while remaining curiously static. As devices go it was simply clever and cleverly simple.

shoefreak37 adds another layer, describing the Volturi guard:

“They walk in slow motion, drawing out the moments, fully taking advantage of their immortality. No reason to hurry. Not when they have been and will be existing for hundreds of years to come.

Unlike the human they are housing in the dankest part of Volterra. The human whose heartbeats have decidedly been numbered.”

Poor Mike. Captured by Aro and held against his will, we quickly grasp that time means something different for him through the words that he writes:

He begins each page like this:

I am Mike Newton. I sometimes wish I were taller so I could slam dunk a basketball. My hair is blond. My birthday is in _ days. I will live to turn twenty.”

Mike tells us, right from the start, that he wishes he had more time. His journaled words are written lightly, as if scribbled with a too-faint pencil, but have tremendous impact. The author does a great job of letting Mike express himself in an authentic still-a-teen way, neatly counterpointing Edward’s more considered opinion:

“The thoughts he took for simple were only crafted that way. Mike is like a clear, blue sky in the Olympic Peninsula or the bridge of a song. Different and welcome.”

Their thought processes make this story for me. The canon elements of each character are clear and true and lovely. Edward is a committed husband and father. He is also vampire. Mike is right at the start of his adult life. He’s so aware of being close to losing everything he didn’t even know he held dear that he writes down his memories, before they are lost forever.

When Mike lists what he wants to remember about being human—about the people that matter to him—my eyes well.

I sit with them both in that dank, dimly-lit room hidden away in Volterra, watching Edward’s black impassive stare as he listens hungrily to Mike’s thoughts, and I have to wipe away tears. Again.

Edward is right. Futility does smell stronger there.

The other side of the coin, when it comes to their thought processes, is that we get to glimpse light amongst the shadows, and this is why I loved this story. Mike flipped that shiny penny so that it caught the light, making me blink. I didn’t care which way up it landed. In fact I forgot I was reading slash, right up until I was really reading slash. Its description was natural, unhurried and reflected Mike and Edward perfectly, describing redemption through loving, making memories worth eavesdropping on, or committing to tiny scraps of folded paper.

“Mike wonders if by doing this, it has only made the pain of loss worse. Edward wonders the same thing.”

The ending to this story is brilliantly simple and utterly believable. I felt like I’d read a hundred perfect words rather than close to ten thousand. I could easily have read ten thousand more. All I can do is put shoefreak37 on author alert and hope that she writes another story with qualities like A Light Exists in Spring.

I might have to practice my patience. Maybe I can learn from Edward’s example.

“But he will wait. He is the face of a clock.”

Until then I’ll wallow in all the other amazing SlashBackslash entries for a while.


PS. It wasn’t just me who gave this story top marks. Capricorn75 did too, commenting that the storyline was simply fantastic and that she loved the characterizations. Avioleta suggested that even the canon detailing of having Bella and Ness at home didn’t detract from the utter charm of this story, and I have to agree. It simply added to the pathos. TheLadyinGrey enjoyed the characterization employed, as well as the neat spin on vampire gifts.

I think we all agreed that this was a story that captivated us as we read, building at a steadily measured pace until it reached a pitch-perfect ending.

A Light Exists in Spring was our unanimous, well deserved winning entry.

If You Send for Me
Second Place, Slash/Backslash 3.0
Review by avioleta

For me, MizzHyde’sIf You Send for Me” is perfection.

It captivated me, it put a spell on me, it made me ache, it made me cry, and it made me want.

I loved it to bits.

MizzHyde’s writing is clean and precise. It’s emotional.  It’s breathtaking, and it’s beautiful.  One of the shortest entries in the contest (a mere 4,121 words according to FFn), “If You Send for Me” is also one of the most powerful.

As Conversed said: “Gorgeous. The spare style allowed the underlying emotion to shine though. This story stayed with me for days.”

I couldn’t agree more.  I’ve got this story bookmarked on both my computer and my phone, and I’m not sure I’ll ever tire of reading it.

If You Send for Me” begins at a window.

Seth waits.

Here I am again.
It's that time of night and I'm waiting … It's just past ten o'clock so it'll be any minute now. My eyes keep flicking to the window, watching for the bright yellow square lighting up his room, that will tell me he's arrived.
I try to relax but it's futile … I feel the familiar tightness of anticipation somewhere between my chest and throat. Ten past ten.
Any minute now.
I catch the change of light in my peripheral vision and I'm standing and moving to the window in seconds … When he first appears it is such a relief. The day may be ending, but it feels like it's just begun.
Here we are again, playing the same old game.
The anticipation builds again; it's almost worse, half choking me, making my heart beat fast. He knows I'm watching him, he must know. I'm always here, waiting for him.

Every night (weeknights only, Sunday through Thursday), Seth waits at the window.  From his shabby apartment, he can see into posh condo across the narrow alleyway.  And, every night, he waits for the man to appear.

The voyeuristic aspect of this story is taboo, and it is beautifully, enticingly rendered.

MizzHyde conveys more sexuality, more desire, and more raw emotion in a simple press of fingers against a windowpane than many writers are able to do in entire sex scenes.

He walks towards his window and I am his mirror, being pulled towards him until only the glass and the narrow street in between us keep us apart. We smile widely as we acknowledge the next phase of the game, where we stop pretending that we don't know why we're here. He raises one hand and touches his fingertips to the window. We nod to each other, silently agreeing that we both like what we see.    

Seth’s not entirely sure how their “game” began, but it’s been going on for weeks, for months, and it’s all he can think about.

Sometimes this is as far as we get. Sometimes we just stop and stare. It took weeks to even get to this stage, after he noticed me watching him. I'd been embarrassed to be caught staring, but he hadn't looked away. The next night I'd switched all my lights off and he'd stood in front of the window, peering into the darkness, trying to catch sight of me. Over the next few nights we'd exchanged a lot of stares, a lot of smiles. The next week I took my shirt off. The week after that he did the same. This strange silent relationship slowly escalated day by day, until it was all I could think about, every waking hour and most sleeping ones as well.

But Seth wants more.

He’s never met this man.  He’s never spoken to him or touched his skin (he doesn’t even know his name), but he knows he loves him.  And the emotion is so visceral, so clear, and so real, that you can’t help but want what Seth wants, need what Seth needs.

Here we are again. I feel the passion rising slowly, so slowly. Everything about him is about waiting. The anticipation I felt waiting for him to arrive has given way to a different kind of waiting, wondering if tonight will be different, if he'll give me some sign, if he'll beckon to me, send for me to come to him. I love our distant encounters, I think about nothing else most days, but as more time passes I know I'm hoping for more. I want to share my dreams with him, I want to touch his skin, not just imagine it, I want someone to finally call my own. I want him.

But the man doesn’t send for him.

Instead, he hesitates, looks through the window once more, and lets the drapes fall closed.

Well then, until tomorrow night.

But tomorrow night Seth has to work.  He doesn’t usually work weekends, and he rarely waits tables, but the boss called in a favor, and he can’t say no.  So Seth puts on his “polite face” and serves Champagne and Hors d'oeuvres to his “least favorite kind of people.”

Tonight's event is some charity dinner … wealthy, arrogant idiots, assuaging their guilt over having so much by giving away some small amount that will be insignificant to their lives.

And then he sees him.

It's him. It's the man from the window.
He's smiling and thanking everyone for coming. He's talking smoothly, cracking witty jokes, prompting ripples of laughter around the tables. He's totally relaxed, like he's done this a thousand times before … He's so damn perfect, his smile lighting up his eyes, speaking without notes, never stumbling over his words.
Confident, powerful, mesmerizing.
I want him so badly, it's overwhelming. I resolve in that moment, that I'm not going to wait anymore.
So Seth asks another waiter who the man is, determined that next time he stands at the window, the man will send for him.

But instead, his entire world falls apart.

He looks at me in surprise and asks if I've been living under a rock.
“That's Carlisle Cullen,” he whispers back. “He's some kind of multi-millionaire. Him and his wife set up the charity for their dead kid or something.”
I'm not sure I can breathe … I don't care that he's rich. I don't care why he's here. The same words ring in my head, over and over again.
His wife.
And it’s all Seth can do to make it out of the ballroom before he breaks down.

I cried on the floor of the restroom right along with him.

If You Send for Me” ends at a window.

Once again (after everything) Seth waits for the man to appear.  And the emotion is so gut wrenching, so intense it cuts like a blade.   It’s enough to slice you open (to rip your heart clean out) because now we know that Seth will never truly have him.

But still he waits.

Any minute now.


The Tutor”
Third Place, Slash/Backslash 3.0
Review by theladyingrey42

I cannot tell a lie. By the time I got to The Tutor by buildmeapyramid, I was starting to get the contest judge equivalent of road eyes. I was still loving the slashy goodness, but after so many amazing stories, I was having to work to stay focused and catch all the nuances of them.  

And then this story came along. And my eyes snapped wide open.

What I love most about The Tutor is the visceral language and the way it sucks you in immediately with an intense, dark tone that's at once sensual and foreboding. I dare you not to be affected by the first few lines:


Pools of gold-flecked emerald, like empty caverns with no light to breach the darkness.

I can feel them caressing, burning through the back of my head, and it takes everything I have not to twist my entire body around and stare back, to discover what makes his eyes feel so hot on my skin.

The tension just ramps up from there as buildmeapyramid builds the layers of this story, dropping clues about what is at its heart a fairly simple situation, but which, when told like this, becomes a minefield of loyalties, devotion and lust.

Our narrator, a young, na├»ve Seth is working as a tutor in the Cullen household. On the surface, Mr. and Mrs. Cullen seem to have it all – a lovely home, two beautiful children and the resources to hire a full-time, live-in tutor. But deep down we can see that all is not well. We don't get to see the intricacies of Edward and Bella's marriage, but we can see the polite neglect and the intensity of Edward's secret desires.

And we see Bella. As the author warns before the story gets going, this is not a fic for the faint of heart, and the glimpses we get of Bella's heartbreak are what give the story the dark edge that really twists the knife.

Her voice catches, and I can't help but take a step forward and reach out to touch her shoulder.

She looks up at me, tears glimmering in those pretty brown eyes—so like Jane's, and Alec's—and I hate myself for wanting anything that could even remotely hurt her more than she already is hurting. I'm a monster. "Mrs. Cullen," I whisper, "I'm . . ." Sorry. For what happened. For whatever you've been through. For the grief and the loss and the past and the future. "I'm gonna go ask Bree if she can bring us some coffee."

Her smile is weak and frail when she lowers her head back to the garden bed. "Alright. Thank you, Seth."

"No problem, Mrs. Cullen." I set down the shears and walk away before I say something stupid, like I understand what she's going through or I wish her husband didn't hate her.

It's almost enough to make you want Seth to be good. Almost.

It's almost enough to make Seth decide to be good. Almost.

Did I mention that this is a story about lust?

"You've been distracted lately, Mr. Clearwater." I can't keep my body from shuddering when I hear that gruff, lust-laced English voice so close. No more than a few feet separate us; if I turned—


I squeeze my eyes shut, praying that he doesn't notice my shaking, fisted hands at my sides as I whisper, "I'm sorry, Mr. Cullen."

"No need to apologize." I can feel him shift, take a slow, silent step, and he's just behind me, his breath hot and rough on my neck. My heart pounds. Lips. I feel lips, the heat of them ghosting my skin as he adds, "I know you can't help it."

I want to feign ignorance, to claim that I don't know what he's talking about, but I know better than to lie to Mr. Cullen. He does know. And more importantly, I think he likes it. He likes the power he has over me; he likes the thought that someday soon I won't be able to help myself around him. And he doesn't seem to care that our attraction will end in the destruction of a family.

And when his hot lips skim the side of my neck, I can't find it in me to care either.

The push and pull of what Seth wants and the conflict he feels about being a homewrecker carry the story forward in a rush of pure emotion that captivated our judges. Capricorn75 said, "Love how much this piece made me FEEL." Avioleta echoed, "The emotion was lovely and angsty (I do so hate myself when I want them to cheat)."

Best of all, buildmeapyramid doesn't pull any punches, giving us an ending that leaves something to the imagination, yet also brings the piece 100% full circle.

I'd also like to point out that The Tutor is a scant  5,216 words, according to FFn, proving once and for that when it comes to word count, size doesn't matter, and it's all in the skill of the person wielding those words.


In summary, buildmeapyramid's The Tutor is lovely, dark bit of highly emotive writing. It's not always an easy read, but it is profoundly worthwhile.


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