Workshop Episode 27 (Guest Host: Rachel Swirsky)

The Roundtable Podcast, Workshop Episode 27, with Rachel Swirsky and Ryan StevensonRachel Swirsky‘s literary works are elegant and lyrical creations that stir the mind and the heart. Really… it’s like tasting your favorite food for the very first time. Which is why we’re so excited to have her back in the Big Chair to help workshop a story offered up by Guest Writer Ryan Stevenson. You may have heard Ryan workshop this story of life, afterlife, and mid-life on the Dead Robots’ Society episode #209 (a podcast he once co-hosted with distinction and honor) and now we get an opportunity to play in his literary sandbox for a while. Many paths are trod, many ideas fostered, and much gold for everyone! (and make the time to listen to Rachel’s Showcase Episode, too!)

PROMO: Scrolls” by Paul Elard Cooley

Workshop Episode 27 (Guest Host: Rachel Swirsky)

[caution: mature language – listener discretion is advised]

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Comments (6)

Here are my thoughts on this story.

Let’s start talking about the Mid Life. There are two types of souls in Mid Life: The Pinned and those in denial. Those in denial can move on but don’t want to. Those who are Pinned cannot move on and so because it is denied to them will eventually want what they can’t have. As souls spend time in Mid Life they slowly lose potency, so the Pinned hope that whatever is holding them back will let them go before they become too weak to move on. If a soul stays too long they become a shade preying on new potent souls to feed on their potency. Some of the Pinned choose to “shepherd” the newly deceased; teaching them how to avoid the shades, and encourage them move on before they are caught by the shades or become too weak.

On Earth a character I will refer to as “The Killer” is planning on killing “Person X” for revenge. During the attempt, Michelle ends up in the wrong place at the wrong time and is killed, Person X goes into a coma.

Story opens, Michelle appears in Mid Life, and Charlie offers to act as her shepherd. Michelle is in denial and doesn’t want to move on.

The Killer on Earth feels remorse for killing Michelle because she was not the intended target; he forces her soul back into her own body. (How does he know to do that? You might ask. The Killer is a pinned soul who came back to Earth hoping that getting revenge on Person X would free them and allow them to move on. But save that reveal for the end.)

In Mid Life Michelle disappears, yet clearly she did not move on (no I don’t know why it is clear she didn’t move on, I leave that to the author.) After about a day Charlie notices that there are fewer souls about and the sounds of traffic have gone away, Mid Life is becoming a (forgive the pun) ghost town. Charlie realizes that the way Michelle left is draining the potency of Mid Life itself and that those who are pinned are doomed unless he stops it. (This is the ticking clock.)

(While souls can sometimes gather together enough potency to push a soul from Mid Life back to Earth, Pulling a soul back to Earth from the Earth side is a different process, and because it was done by another dead soul (the Killer) the energy to do it had to come from somewhere else. That is why Mid Life is being drained. That is also why this doesn’t happen more, because how often would a dead soul on Earth try to bring another dead soul back to life?)

So with the help of some other souls Charlie enters the body of someone in a coma, specifically Person X. Now Charlie needs to convince Michelle that she’s not meant to be on Earth, while the Killer still wants to kill Person X whose body Charlie is using. By the way, whatever the reason is that the Killer wants revenge, Person X is guilty.

Oh and Charlie does have one other choice. He thinks he knows why he is Pinned, it is because his daughter Rebecca won’t let him go. If he convinces his daughter to let him go then he doesn’t need Mid Life anymore he can move on. So he can save himself, or he can stop the ticking clock on Mid Life, and save the remaining Pinned souls, at the cost of Michelle’s life.

As a final note I don’t care what Brion says “All of Me” where Lilly Tomlin becomes a spirit who enters Steve Martin’s body, is a great movie.

Thanks for the feedback. I used to work in a movie store, and I remember having to force myself to watch “All of Me”. Mainly because I wasn’t a Lilly Tomlin fan. But still, I don’t remember hating it. 🙂

As for your ideas, they’re very interesting. I’m worried about the “convenience” of it, but I have to give it some thought. The Killer is always going to be the character that makes me pause and think the hardest, as a motivation for murder / malicious physical harm on another person is difficult for me to write without making it “mustache-twirling villainy”. I consider what some people do in the heat of the moment, and I wonder if perhaps that’s not a good angle to take. Sort of a hybrid of what was discussed in the show; perhaps it wasn’t her brother who killed her but rather, as you noted, someone else. Someone who didn’t mean it, and may not necessarily be able to live with the consequences. So much so that they take drastic action to bring her back.

Just gotta be careful I don’t go all “Whoopi Goldberg / Patrick Swayze” on this …

Cheers, thanks for the comment!


This does sound like a fantastic story. The characters were all interesting and sympathetic in their own way.

I had some trouble picturing the mid life. It sounded like a waiting area for spirits to realize they are dead. If they don’t come to that conclusion quickly, the shades torture them until they figure it out.

Given it is such a dreary place, I had a hard time understanding Charlie’s motivation to to save it. It would be plausible if the mid life had a functioning society worth fighting for or people understood why they had to put up with it.

I guess I’m saying that the stakes were not clear to me.

Training people who have suffered brain injuries to use atrophied limbs is an established field of physical and occupational therapies. You have some research ahead of you, but it could make for fascinating character development.

That’s a really good point, and one that I’m going to take into consideration. Motivation is always such a lynch-pin attribute for a character, and one that I dwell on quite a bit. That said, I find myself often considering “the good of others” as a noble and valued motivation for a character to take such actions. In Charlie’s case, that’s how I’ve seen it.

But I have given consideration to some more depth from that perspective. Specifically, I’m thinking of how we as humans allow ourselves to fall into routines, and how we become comfortable with life in whatever form we know it. To mix that up and change things is usually more difficult than the outcome itself. While that’s a general statement at best, I’m wondering if saving the Mid Life is Charlie’s goal because “it’s the world he’s known the longest, and the one he’s become comfortable with” is the right thing to do.

I’m going to dwell on this a bit. You bring up a great point. Thanks!


I love this, can’t wait to read it!!!

Before I get into comments, let me state that I like writing dark, tragic endings for my characters. (I don’t always, but I do enjoy it a lot.) I love playing with “the ends justify the means” and “no good deed goes unpunished” and the idea that doing “the right thing” sometimes has horrible consequences.

That said…

I like the idea of Michelle having been killed accidently by someone who cared about her and resurrected her with the best of intentions. I also like the idea of Michelle not wanting to die again. She was not in the Mid Life for very long, so even if there is something really awful about the shades getting people to pass on rather than passing on naturally or with help from the pinned souls, Michelle might not see much difference between the different ways of moving on. After all, if you’re going to end up in the After Life anyway, what does it matter how you get there? So if all the shades are doing is forcing people through faster, well, that’s not so bad.

Character arc question: by the end of the story, does Charlie become more noble or less? Is he a better person, or a worse person?

Maybe Charlie is jealous of Michelle, since she goes back and he’s stuck there? Maybe he thinks he’s doing this for the noble reasons, but in the back of his head it becomes sort of a vendetta or competition. Or maybe he’s been in the Mid Life so long that he’s gotten sort of stuck in the mindset of “this is how this is supposed to work,” and her violation of that gets really under his skin. And he starts making decisions with that sort of dark emotion guiding him–he steals a body, breaking the rules himself to “right the balance;” he convinces his child that he’s not dead to buy more time; he willingly inflicts damage on his host in pursuit of his goal (I LOVE the “you’re killing me faster” idea); and in the end, finally, kills Michelle. And maybe, in falling so far, is consumed by that negativity, that break with humanity, and becomes a shade himself.

I like the idea of him falling partly because I just like that sort of thing, and partly because it would be a fun inversion of Christopher Pike’s “Remember Me.”

On a different note, if Michelle and Charlie had some time to talk in the Mid Life, and he told her about being stuck and about his child, Michelle might think it a nice thing to do for Charlie to seek out his child and convince them that Charlie is really dead, not knowing that Charlie is coming after her and wants more time. (As opposed to doing this as a way to get Charlie off her back, which could also be fun.)

Maybe Michelle does convince the child that Charlie is dead, and they discover Charlie has created a new tether for himself–Michelle. Or possibly Charlie’s host.

I play with the more-than-one-soul-in-a-body thing myself, and it’s a lot of fun. You’ll have to think of why Charlie’s soul can animate his host but the native soul can’t. (I would love to have a worldbuilding episode some time where there’s a bunch of authors and all we do is help each other world build…count me in if you ever decide to do something like that.) But what about Charlie’s connection to the host is different than the native soul’s? Is Charlie’s usurpation of the host weakening the native soul’s connection?

Regarding how Michelle is resurrected: I’m on the side of not a lot of magic, if any. Maybe instead of Michelle being some sort of messiah, her brother (or whatever) is? Although that gets a bit close to religion, and I think you wanted to avoid that. But she isn’t the important one, which might rankle. Or maybe it is belief, maybe she died in such a way that she might have been able to survive on her own, but didn’t, but her brother was right there and his belief was so strong that it pulled her back. Like in the movies where people scream “you can’t die! I love you!” and then the deceased wake back up again.

I want Charlie to have a personal stake in fixing this issue, not just “to save the Mid Life” or something huge like that. And at the same time, I want the stakes for the Mid Life to be BIG. Just avoiding suffering for the other souls, that’s not big enough. I’m not so sure about the souls becoming shades so easily… Also, if the Mid Life begins to vanish as the souls move on in larger numbers, is the actual natural state of things to not have a Mid Life? I mean, is the fact that there is a Mid Life actually an imbalance? Are souls supposed to move on without hitting the Mid Life at all? One assumes that’s what happens to the ones not in denial. So maybe it would be a good thing if there were no Mid Life and no souls populating it.

When you think about it, people have near-death experiences fairly often, more often now than in the past because we can medically bring people back who should, by rights, have stayed dead. (This makes you question at what point, exactly, is one dead-dead?) So is Michelle’s resurrection that unusual? Or what about it is unusual? What are the consequences for the people who’ve had near-death experiences? Or is it only a problem for those who would’ve gone to the Mid Life? Maybe Michelle would’ve ended up being a pinned soul, at least for a time, rather than being someone who was in denial.

What are the consequences for Charlie’s breaking the rules? In possessing the host body, does he become something else? No longer just a pinned spirit, but something more worldly? A ghost or a ghoul or a demon or something? Can he go back to the Mid Life after leaving it in such a fashion?

Ok, I’ll stop now. Too much fun, must get back to the day job.

Another fantastic episode! Also, it was really cool to hear Ryan come one as I miss him when I listen to The Dead Robots Society podcast 🙂 But wow, so many awesome ideas being thrown around and the topics brought up by this story are insanely fascinating. The gold is glimmering!

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