First Anniversary Episode, Part I (Guest Hosts: Christopher Moore and Alasdair Stuart)

The Roundtable Podcast, First Anniversary Episode pt I, with Christopher Moore, Alasdair Stuart, and Brion Humphrey So here we are, one year into our ongoing search for Literary Gold and we were wondering how we can celebrate.  The answer came from long-time fan Peter Ellis… workshop our OWN stories (thanks, Peter)!

We have the remarkable Christopher Moore – author of exquisite tales of satirical humor – returning to the Big Chair, and we wheel in a second Big Chair for our Special Co-Guest Host and veteran RTP Host Alasdair Stuart! With this astonishing Duo of Awesomeness we are primed for some epic story workshopping… of Brion’s story idea!!

Alasdair Stuart
Alasdair Stuart

Brion’s tale of a dystopian post-apocalyptic horror serves as a marvelous opportunity not only to explore a very cool story idea, but also to observe how two masters of their craft approach the same story terrain. The end result is an intricate tapestry of concept and perception woven densely with threads of Literary Gold. (and more writerly goodness will be found at Chris’s Showcase Episode AND you can check out Alasdair’s Showcase and Workshop Episodes as well)

PROMO: “Subversionby John Mierau

Anniversary Episode, pt I (Guest Hosts: Christopher Moore and Alasdair Stuart)

[caution: mature language and themes – listener discretion is advised]

Check out this and all our episodes on iTunes and on Stitcher Radio!

Of matters Moore and Stuart…

Christopher Moore:

Alasdair Stuart


And Brion, well…

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Comments (6)

So, the big question, “Is the ending too dark?”

I think, that depends on the question of what genre it is.
If this story is “Science Fantasy” then yes it is too dark.
If this story is “Horror” then it may not be too dark.

I am no expert (To be honest, I am not a fan of horror) but I seem to remember one of the past Guest Hosts who is a Horror writer said that what he liked about it was that in Horror the reader didn’t necessarily expect a happy ending.

My thought about the “zombie shooting gallery” the townsfolk think they are shooting zombies, but it is an illusion they are actually shooting the town council members.

I like the ambiguity where we don’t know if Xander is taking the children to “someplace better” or plans to add them to his zombie army.

I love the idea of the shooting gallery zombies really being the town elders. I was missing the real nefarious aspect to Xander that keeps him just this side of a second protagonist and this is exactly the kind of thing that he needed!

Great idea!

I think Brion had a great pitch going into this, and I didn’t see anything wrong with the ending at first. That said, I agree with the majority of what the podcasters said about the ending–It seems to be ending of a shorter story (which I think it work well as), and it doesn’t involve the protagonist’s agency enough (at least for my money).

If I read a whole novel which ended with nothing but a depressing defeat of a protagonist, who seemed like he couldn’t do anything the whole time, then I’d be annoyed. Passivity is a big problem for making the main character likable too. Unrelenting grimness and pain can also be problematic, because they can crush all hope out of me as a reader and leave me exhausted long before the ending.

So I ranted about the ending a little there. I love the ideas on the magic in the story. It feels… magical.

I like the story idea, but I have a few concerns. They’re linked, so I’m just don’t take my number to be anything other than me trying to be organized. (I listened to it yesterday and forget names easily, sorry.)

1) Of the three women in Brion’s pitch, two are killed to give the men motivation and one is a love interest that is to give one of the men further motivation. (Side note: I always feel a bit off when one character loses a close relationship and picks up another one without any hitch in a single story. Losing someone important to you is hard, it shouldn’t be easy to forget them and move on like that.)

2) The father-wife/son-girl was a little too on-the-nose for my tastes. If you play with the idea of family, then you might make the girl a younger male cousin. If the father was kicked out and the son was put with the mother’s family. If the son says “I’m going to be better than my dad and not let my family down,” then him trying to save a younger cousin (that looks up to him?) makes more sense. It also introduces explicit conflict between him and his father with a possible reconciliation with the understanding that even if you do everything you can, you can still lose someone you tried to save.

3) I agree with everything about action. During Brion’s pitch, it sounded like the son wasn’t really doing anything besides reacting. Even his power was something that just happened. He didn’t have to learn or grow to achieve any goals.

4) The state of the town was a bit in flux during the discussion. I think where you decide to go is coupled with that. (If the town’s a prison, it doesn’t really work to allow them to exile people.)

5) Possible twist: Can you do something so that Xander isn’t really Xander? I guess I’m just kind of bothered that you have an illusionist there and Xander wants the son gone even though the son’s presence doesn’t disturb the circus unless he actively does something. The first thought that came to mind is that the illusionist is really Xander’s wife and Xander is the one that died. She took up his persona to avenger him, as it were. Just an idea.

I liked the pitch, and I like the ending (shocking, I know). But I would really like the ending if it were completely ambiguous as to whether Xander is leading them away to some terrible fate, or to a much better one. Make it sort of a Lady and the Tiger, perhaps. You could do this easily by not giving the reader much information about the outside, and then raise the question: is there a better life out there? Yes, we’re more or less safe in New Hamlin, but we’re also subject to tyrannical decrees and pogroms and the like. What if the plague has changed? What if it’s not that bad, being a zombie? (Especially if the town always had food shortages, and the zombies don’t have food issues. BTW, do zombies eat? If so, what?) Is Xander taking revenge on the town that killed his love, or is he there to rescue all the kids from that sort of terrible oppression?

You could either leave it ambiguous, or use it as the lead-in to the next part of the story. I also thought the pitch sounded a bit short: especially if you don’t provide much in the way of world-building or back story, then this could just be the first part of a novel. The “ending” you have now is the point at which Issac takes agency and begins to explore the world with Xander, or tries to stop Xander and save the kids. (And save them from what? Nothing says his assumption about their danger is correct.)

I guess my point is, just because Xander steals the kids, it doesn’t mean that it’s necessarily a “depressing defeat” of Issac, depending on how Issac feels about it. Is the possiblity of a better life, or at least the chance to get away from the town that has mistreated him, worth the risk of infection to Issac? You don’t even have to answer whether or not it is, just whether or not the risk is worth it to Issac. If it is, you can totally end with him “running away with the circus” into the unknown.

And maybe he runs away with the circus and discovers the elders were right all along…

Of course, I love books where you don’t know who to root for, and where the antagonists sometimes win. *evil grin*

While I don’t do this for every episode, Since you are one of the creators I am going to let you know how I would “Classify” this story.

I will note that I am judging it based on the pitch at the start of the episode. So changes you decided to make based on the feedback you received could change things.

Genre: Horror
(As I said earlier, I think the protagonist having little to show at the ending makes it horror. If not for that I would call it “Science Fantasy” )
Setting: Post-Apocalyptic
Sub-Genre: Supernatural
Themes: Circus, Conspiracy, Zombies
Tone: YA, Distopia

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