COHORT : PROCESSES : Reader V. Writer

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B. McFarland ( a reader) and M.F. McAuliffe ( a writer) engage each other in a discussion about  her COHORT submission : The Last Afternoon of the War. You can read the story right here on Red Lemonade.


I like how the absence of men is never addressed, a missing cohort. Where are the men? Was there absence by design? 

The men are mostly off at the war, which Rose and Mona are ignoring. And being encouraged to ignore.


Discuss the loudspeakers.  Is this science-fiction? What would you say to the suggestion of more loudspeaker interruptions? Why is the 2nd loudspeaker about temperatures and volcanoes?


There is a science-fictional element to this. Not hard science fiction; it’s more like absurdity rendered as SF.


I don’t want the announcements to interrupt the trip. They are where the characters (& the reader have been going) to the end of what turns out to be the last afternoon of the war. That loudspeakers in the main street would have been one of the first constructions in a state of war makes sense to me. (There are elements here of stories of World War 2, memories of Enid Blyton graphic stories for Very Young Children, an early movie version of 1984 – all sorts of apocalyptic scenarios & stylized bits of this and that, mixed and cherry-picked from.)          


The  2nd  loudspeaker : Because if the sky is falling (announcement 1) the ground will also open up. Haven’t you found this to be so?


Several of my comments on the Red Lemonade site, deal with specific choice of words and repetitive phrasing. Talk a little bit about how a writer responds to a reader who engages your story in this manner. 


It depends. Sometimes I’m irritated because I have usually been very careful about what I have done, and have probably put more thought into that particular word-choice than the reader has. Sometimes I find my naturally dreadful typing has reproduced itself despite my best effort to apply reproductive restrictions. (You think evolution isn’t the natural tendency of things? Consider the humble typo.) Sometimes the reader is very exact about what he/she is having trouble with, and why, and I can see the problem, and change the text – anything from a single word to (oh no!) a complete restructure. Sometimes as soon as someone even begins to point in the general direction of a boo-boo I see it and scream, How could I have done that?


Mona and Rose and Marguerrite, Irene, Maureen and Giselle, so many women with so much going on. The disparity and variety of names is jarring.


The fact that this isn’t an introduction to a novel actually intensifies your point. This is a short story. The reader should at least know where heesh is, or know that being kept in the dark is a deliberate strategy on the writer’s part, which will pay off in some form of… enjoyment / delight.



But most importantly, it becomes difficult to form an emotional attachment or bond with them. The women are not fleshed out. Perhaps reducing the number of characters would bridge this?


Part of the difficulty is that the story isn't about its plot - it's about a mindset. Rose and Mona and their cohorts do state and re-state the obvious, reiterate what has already been suggested, do almost feel something, kind of see something else, reduce the bloody/body to the inanimate, in order not to have to do direct battle with the limits on their lives and circumstances. 

The herky-jerkiness of the piece - Rose's and Mona's internal dialogues - embodies their mindset: nothing can be followed to its logical conclusion; there. All thoughts must be reined in before they leap the fence, as it were.

The corollary of all this careful control is to ignore the uttermost catastrophe in order to maintain efficacy in one tiny sphere. In the cases of Rose and Mona and their cohort (sociologically speaking), that sphere is the family, managing their children – particularly their daughters – into acceptable lives. Rose and Mona are both faced, actually, with Mrs. Bennett’s problem.

Reducing the number of characters by itself won’t achieve what needs to be done. We need this many characters, with their surrounding situations, to get the sense of a cohort of female function(s) in those very marital circs.

The story does need trimming. However, it has to be trimmed exceedingly carefully if it's to retain its life and gentle humor. In terms of trimming I will look at the section you mention, just before the first loudspeaker announcement.In terms of clarifying, I think the section about dinner in the hills with Maureen and her family can smoothed into the narrative with a very small amount of explanation.



Another aspect of my comments dealt with becoming disengaged and losing interest in the story. Specifically, the extended Rose and Mona section before the loudspeaker announcements "drifts", perhaps this section could be shortened? 


I have a feeling you are right about this. The story does go slack. Not much is being added, & at some length. There is a second spot where the slack can be eliminated, and I think that will help a lot.



The variety, disquiet and multiplicity of the women characters tinges my interest to continue reading a little. From a larger perspective— what is the point of the story?  Would you want to introduce a larger cast of characters to hint at the broadness of the tale or is it better to lock in the reader with more fervent and simplistic style?



This was & is a short story with some structural problems.


The closure is that Marguerite did not seem to have what it took to be married. The story illustrates what it took to be married — i.e., at the end the sky is literally falling, the ground is opening up, and Mona is still only determined to find a way to manage her daughter.

I took the idea of the tram-ride from the prologue to a White novel. But as I said earlier, that was all I took from the White book, and I didn't even realize I'd done that until after I'd finished the story.

There are also touches of Monty Python & Edna Everidge in these characters — or, rather, these are somewhat similar characters to some of those who Eric Idle & Barry Humphries satirized. My reasons are slightly different from theirs, less sheerly jeering, more understanding, and, ultimately, more genuinely accusatory, with more real basis. (Despite the relative gentleness of the story.)


I like how Mona touches on the various ongoing life of the city, but it rambles on a bit and does not seem attached to the earlier part. I want some sense of completeness or at least interaction with the piece as a whole.


 Will trim.It’s a question of alluding to the history of the city/war without having to elucidate it – firstly, because this is a short story, a gentle satire, and the backdrop is a tissue of lies, and, secondly, because the focus of the story is the way Rose & Mona and their cohorts think.


Maybe Mona and Rose need to be flushed out more as characters?


This is gentle satire. The form and concept require them to be types. You don't need an emotional attachment to them. You just need to recognize them, smile at them being captured on paper, and then pass on.


Would you be willing to transform this opening chapter into a more cohesive and close-looped short story? And deepen the interconnections with the multiple women characters to expose more of the alliances and group-think?


Will trim.  I understand your frustration, but the story is a bubble, a souffle – it can only take so much heavy structural re-adjustment. The tone will move – and what was good will disappear altogether.


I wonder if the sections "that wander off" only just need to be tightened up?


One went to fat camp; the other to liposuction.


I think 'it feels like an intro to a novel' is my way of expressing the lack of connection I feel for the artistic argument for the expressionistic/consciousness flow of it I get..... I wonder if my sense of unconnectedness to it is purely a male thing ( I am perhaps too focused on clear-cut and rational explorations..?)


No. That reaction to that degree points to problems in the text. I suspect trimming / tightening / editing will fix the piece and allay that reaction, but the only way to find if that is true is to trim the piece and see if it works better then.

It’s hard to say until you can react to a second draft. The ideal reader in ideal circustmstances comes to a text with no expectation, competely open… But no one has the time or money for that, which is why convers and blurbs are what they are. So: if trimming the piece doesn’t remove the unclarity of its tone & take, then we might have to add one of those awful, well, subtitles you supposed they were, though Ralph always said perfection didn’t need them.


Expose the cohort more.


I suspect this is one of those cases where trimming will do what lengthening won’t. It’s odd how deceptive these problems can be. The 2 main reasons something doesn’t work are that the something is too short, or that it isn’t long enough. Often what seems to be wrong is the opposite of what is really wrong. (And sometimes the thing is just misconceived altogether. I put those away as fast as I can, and let the filing cabinet rumble shut.)

In the end I left most of the last section alone: Marguerite in the cake-shop needs her own story – she is also part of the cohort in the sense that she was expected to join, but didn’t (i.e. she never married). She is the third character who gets more than implied characterization, and that seems to me the minimum number for a cohort. And besides, the war is ending, and we need a cinemascope closeup of the show.