WEbook Interviews our May Challenge Winner - Grafiksad


For May's challenge, we asked you to use the first line of your favourite novel, and turn it into a completely different story... 

Not only did this give us a huge pool of material for our challengers to work with, but it also meant that our judges were awash in a variety of brilliantly executed genres, topics, approaches and storylines, with each author being able to write with a springboard of personalised inspiration, and in their preferred genre to boot - a surefire recipe for excellent fiction!
Needless to say, picking the winning six entries was a tough job; so tough in fact, that our judges felt they had to include two honourable mentions in this month's announcement. 

Taking this challenge as a starting point, the success that so many authors saw with their challenge entires shows how as an author you can use the writing you know and love, and perhaps already take inspiration from, to help craft your own original fiction. Riding the motivational wave that great books kindle, can help you take the first step on your literary journey. 

It's interesting to note that many of the entries we received did not hinge their entire stories on the opening line. 

In real terms, this means that although the original inspiration for a story may have come from Oliver TwistFahrenheit 415, or, The Princess Bride, and its comforting presence at the beginning the story may help to keep the author motivated, it's likely that you'll be able to replace this line with something original after a while; something that fits your story better

Using a writing trick like this to help get you started with that short story, novel or poem you've been thinking about for ages can be a real confidence booster. So what are you waiting for? Even if you didn't manage to get an entry into May's Challenge, you can always use this trick to get you started on a story of your own. 

Today, we're going to be chatting to the winner of our May Challenge: First Line Imitations, grafiksad about his winning entry Alexandra Penworthy.

But before we do, here's a run down of the runner up entries in our May Challenge...

 Ender's Game by Sprayoncrayon • Bestiary by BZAlixandre • 
With honourable mentions going to... 

Congratulations to everyone who entered the challenge last month! 

Moving on to this month, our June Challenge, LIGHTS, CAMERA, ACTION! has just closed, and our new challenge for July, Twisted Tales has just opened - so get your writing on and maybe you could be our next winner!

Christian Cote, otherwise known as grafiksad, is a transplanted Michigander artist, cartoonist and graphic designer. 

He made San Diego his home with his wife and daughter in 1978 and hasn't left. Married for forty years to a beautiful woman, and fine artist, Nancy, they share a daughter Jennifer, a graphic designer, and Adam, a fine artist.
Chris started writing somewhat seriously, upon joining WEbook in 2010. He admittedly fits writing in, between work and other artistic pursuits, however lately, he has become literarily obsessed and sleeps with a very soft, heated keyboard.

Chris has been a fine artist and graphic designer for forty five years and has owned his own company since 1980. Some of Christian's fine art can be viewed at grafiksad.deviantart.com. His cartoon strips, 'Crabbels' and 'Gumpers' are not currently in publication. Stay tuned at Crabbels.com. It's coming, okay.

Chris' likes are anything that doesn't require effort, and he is an absolute 'demon' playing Texas Hold 'em.

WEbook: Congratulations on winning our May Challenge: First Line Imitations, Chris! 
As a story, Alexandra Penworthy relies heavily upon the readers' own powers of deduction and their ability to 'read between the lines' to properly understand many of elements in your story that are alluded to. 

For example, if the reader is able to successfully deduce the inferred meaning in the line, '... worn down by the proliferate prodding of one Juan Carrousso, it was on her third Rolfing that she rolled.'; then the sentence towards the end of the piece, 'As the third development was announced to the gallery, the initial anxiety was replaced with revere and rounds of the finest Scotch malt.', becomes a much more comedic element of the story, than if the initial inference was missed or overlooked. 

This is a very challenging style of writing to get right. All too often it can keep readers in the dark. 

How did you get the balance between confusion and understanding to work so well in your story, especially when its success hangs in the balance? 

grafiksad: Easy, not everyone is going to get it. 

In the first draft, I am constantly pushing things over the top with only a modest regard for clarity. When I post that stuff, the most common comment is “Whaaat?” and people ask me if I will sell them some drugs. You know who you are!

I go back and add hints to help make things clearer. The line, “the donor was carefully selected according to attributes deemed indistinguishable from his own.” and “she relented and announced formally, there were indeed, three heartbeats.” were added to strike that balance. That said, you can't be afraid to let things go. If it barely makes sense to me, that may be as close as I am going to get, communication wise. I'm not being arrogant, that's just how you get edgy.

In a movie for example, there might be some stuff I might not get. I don't look down at Quentin Tarantino and think 'Jeez, that was stupid'. I think, "Oh okay, this person knows a lot of shit and if he thinks that works, maybe I'll try that too." I get curious... "what did he mean by that?"

I give my readers a lot of leeway. They have to carry some of the load. That also gives them a lot of freedom. I very rarely describe my characters. You choose what they look like. Besides, if you pay attention, after a while, the things they do will lead you to what they look like - you stereotype, you!
Also, I virtually never tell readers what a character is thinking. That's because it isn't really what the character is thinking, it is what the author is thinking. A lot of times the author is more or less actually telling the reader, this is the way you should think. Maybe I will write a story and everyplace where I would have the character think something, I will just leave it blank, and the reader can write in their own thoughts as to what the character is thinking. I think sometimes authors condescend and that makes them feel good. La, Di, Da. Then again, I don't write for the younger crowd... so. 

Oops, come to think of it, they actually may be the least likely to have the wool pulled over their eyes. You see what I did there? SAVE! Hey, nobody cares what I think... at least they shouldn't anyway. Pay more attention to what my characters do. Those assholes! 
As far as 'success hanging in the balance', let me quote my old photography prof. “Be prolific, it's probably the only way you are ever going to make it.”  'Shotgun' approach? “Thumbs up, sir!”

WEbook:  This stylistic structure you have applied to the story is interspersed with descriptions that have a distinct sci-fi feel to them.
Take for example your juxtaposition of luxury and technology, 'Enjoyed from the comfort of the Fertilization Lounge...' along with the development of this to allow for people to view the fertilisation process, and place bets on the winning swimmers.  

By sending us into the future and then grounding us in reality with identifiable behaviour, your story remains believable, yet with an otherworldly feel about it. 
Were you actively trying to replicate this style of writing, or was it a connection that you hadn't considered when writing the piece? 

grafiksad: Let me first acknowledge my appreciation, style wise, to the guy that narrated Oliver Twist for Charles Dickens. For a style of writing, he had that real sense of aloof interest that I was looking for in a narrator. I read the first couple pages of his work in Oliver Twist and I thought, "Yeah, that's my guy!”. 

So I stole him. 

Fortunately, he hadn't really done anything since being under contract for Disney in the early sixties. You might remember him in that cartoon where Goofy and the gang are in the future and everything they do goes south. His was some of the best sardonic play-by-play animation commentating of that decade. “Look out little fella, that might backfire on... yeah, that's gonna hurt!” After a few questions about how Reagan managed to become president, and a cup of coffee, he got to work and was done in a couple hours.
The whole idea for this sub, was born out of Oliver Twist itself. When I read the first few pages I thought – I get it, the kid is poor, he doesn't get enough to eat, and he copes. The directive in the challenge said, and I'm paraphrasing, 'make us forget the original story'. Piece of cake, perfect formula, whatever Oliver Twist is, do the opposite. If you are trying to make sense of the first line, the easiest way is to take it literally. I learned this from reading some of the other subs. “Call me Ishmael!” 'Well, he must own a dog right? Dog story!' Not!

Now, you have a story concerning someone's birth and in an 'anti-Twist' it's about rich people, (there it is, the twist), not poor people, and by golly, they have problems, just like little Oliver. The 'in vitro' was simply the literal, go-to vehicle. And rich people, well, luxurious, over-the-top, that's just what they do.

I love the Fertilization Lounge and predict it will replace off-track betting by 2020. See, it's not really sci-fi. You think it is, but it's really in the 'We won't bother with doing that until we can figure out how to make a shit load of money on it' category. I would like my cut please!  

WEbook:  In your story there is a juxtaposition of an external and public face of perfection with a privately debauched identity in your MC, making the character both duplicitous and two dimensional. This is a great device to keep the reader engaged with characters and interested in the story. 
Have you based this construction on the phenomenon of celebrity / tabloid exposé, especially in light of the monied background and social hobnobbing of Alexandra, or have your perhaps based the character on someone you know? Or something else? 

grafiksad: The main character is based on a concept I know to be true. No matter how hard people try to balloon themselves up into the stratosphere, we all have to deflate at least once a day. Well, most of us try at least. “Lookout, incoming!” We are all fallible. If you don't believe me read today's political headlines. The monkey's are clawing their way to the top of the tree, but no matter how hard they try to make it look effortless, they're still slippin' on those banana peels. We all eat bananas. 

Yes you do. Liar!

The name Alexandra Penworthy, is as close as I dared come to Alexandra Wentworth, comedian and George Shephanopoulos's wife. I have always thought she had the most upscale American waspish name you couldn't buy. Even she thinks she does. I know this to be true thanks to Jerry Seinfeld and Comedians in Cars Getting Coffee. I don't think (my) Alexandra is debauched, just that Christopher isn't really giving her a reason not to 'roll'. Roll was simply the first word I thought of, that went with Rolf, which is the only massage term I have ever heard of.

Alexandra's whole existence is pretty much summed up by her mother in the hospital room.  “C'est la vie sweetheart, you're the one with the money.” 

Hey, when you have a lot of money... fuck all, right? (Nod to my Aussie friends.)    

WEbook:  Your story is very funny - comedic writing is something that's difficult to master. Any tips for other writers hoping to be able to achieve a similar effect in their stories? 
grafiksad:  Being funny requires a commitment. It's like being a Jedi. You're not a Jedi if you have a lightsaber mounted above the mantelpiece. You have to carry it with you, on your hip and twice a week you have to go into a bar and annihilate a bunch of people. Really fuck them up, and you can't be afraid. You can't value yourself more than your next witty comment or offhand quip. Not everyone is going to get everything you say. You, aren't going to understand everything you say.  

Writing a funny story requires that same commitment. I don't think you can start out not writing a funny story and end up with one. It's not accidental. I have a lot of trouble writing a story that is not funny. As I said, it requires a commitment (well for me it's more of a playground) and as such, like in the Academy Awards, that means you probably aren't going to win many challenges. I say this because you need to face reality, Missy! 

The winner for Best Picture, hasn't been a comedy since Charlie Chaplin got drunk and someone left the camera running. It's not a criticism, it should be that way... unless you are one of those people that finds 'Schindler's List' quirky, funny is for the few, and for the moment. That's okay... like a rare SNL skit maybe. 

Look at the bright side, remember, writing funny means never having to go to awards ceremonies.
Okay, maybe just one. “Thumbs up, sir!”

WEbook: Thanks for taking the time to talk to us Chris, we're looking forwards to seeing more of your hilariously wacky entries over the coming months.

Our June Challenge has opened today, this month we're challenging you to twist your story in an expected way... Get your entries in before the 1st August to be in with a chance of winning!

Happy writing!

The WEbook Team

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  1. Would like to hear from a couple of you about the role humor, as a take, plays in the competitions. You know who you are!


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