My dear KariAnn,
This, I am afraid, will appear to be a rather scathing review for a rather delightful story.
Because that's what they are: a scathing review, and a delightful story.
You, my dear authoress, have done something that very few other writers have been able to do: extract the essense of your own experience to add to the realism of the story and to breathe life into your characters, so that they are not cardboard one-dimensional excuses for the writer's latests causes, but are real, breathing, human (or not) people who live and want and have jobs and concerns about their reputations and still can hope for Mr. Perfect, even if he's beyond dreaming about ... even if he's sitting right across from you at a little table at a bar where nude sunbathers a few feet away don't even cause him to look away from you.
But, and you've heard this from me via private communication, but here it is in all its raw ugliness that I cannot dress up with pretty words:
Two things about Shore Leave that I find that detract from your otherwise wonderfully and well-written story.
1. Samuil says that Alexandra is the one he is looking for, out of the millions he's been with. Fine. Alexandra determines why he is NOT looking for another "babe" lounging about so temptingly, but she never asks the fundamental question your story poses. Why her? She doesn't know, it appears. It appears you know. Does the reader know from your story?
Maybe she is not interested in finding out, and you know, because she is you? It appears that way. You draw from your service experience -- very well -- in this story, but you do not convey why Samuil would pick you or this girl. Wouldn't that be a question you'd like to ask the (literal) man-of-your-dreams? I asked that, but I got no answer in this story.
2. The ending.
Oh, God, the ending. 99% of your story I was deep, deep into to the wonder of your universe, and then the ending ...
... was, as the Filipinos say, so bitin, as to make me wonder if I should cry.
Your ending wasn't an ending, it was an "all stop" from a flank bell.
Where was the confrontation between Alexandra and Samuil. "So, Samuil, I'm pregnant, what if they want to do DNA tests? What do I tell them?" The whole conflict, even if it would be a happy one, between our two characters ...? You don't have it because ...?
Certainly, there are stories that end with "and I found out I was pregnant." Can't think of any off the top of my head, but if you were to read a story that ended that way, how would you feel?
You argue your work is not art, I counter argue that you treat it as such. Your loving attention to the characters and the interactions is beautiful and not something much seen in fan-fiction. So, with an ending like that, which really isn't an ending, you leave poor Alexandra hanging on the news why? You've treated her with such respect up to that point, and Samuil is sure of this result, but did you give him his say to voice his reaction? And what will he offer, or not offer, given this news? Is he a rake and scoundrel or will he be an upstanding incubus given Alexandra's news?
Those are my two "derogatory" points. Are they my personal opinions? I think not. A story has some basic elements to it. A story has a beginning, middle and ending. Yours is well-written and captivating, but it's really more a fragment, given the beginning (why Alexandra of all the women in the world) and its ending (or not-ending, as I view it). So it is a wonderfully well-written middle, and I'm sure you had the beginning and ending well-thought out in your mind, I just wish it was communicated to the reader as well.
But for a fragment, oh! what a fragment it is, for when you breathe through your characters, we breathe with them. Alexandra's wry observation about the JO's making eyes at her, calling it improper, but knowing it's improper because it happens on every ship, it happens at every duty station, but it's not going to happen to her. Samuil's burning and STEADY devotion to a woman who pulls into port and he meets at a hotel bar. Their first lovemaking that you do not revel in every detail but leave as a recollected dream with the bite-mark to prove that it was more than just.
What did you just do? You did what Steph didn't: you faded to black giving Alexandra and Samuil their moment, but then the recollection didn't leave us high and dry (as certain other works have). We felt the soreness between her/our legs and trembled with understanding and a little bit of heat and a little bit of fear when we/she examined her shoulder and saw the bruise. We/she walked back up that gangplank, every step hurting, every step wanting us to turn right around and run back into Samuil's arms, but every step firming our resolve to do our duty (WHY? Oh, WHY!) and not go AWOL and do what's right, even though she/we want to have that happy ending right now, not the mundane details of reviewing the oiler's logs and standing watch and stupid 1 in 3s and then daywatch after a dogwatch. Ugh!
See what you've done? You've pulled in your experiences, but they are experiences of a mature person, not the "Oh, I sososoosoooosoosooo love that smexy Edward," but the experiences of "yes, there's that, but this is life, and I've got a job to do, and there's more to it and you can't be happy just going on a lark, there are consequences that I'm not willing to pay."
Now, I know that this was a contest submission, so you were limited in what you could write and how much, but that, I'm afraid, still is an injustice to your story. This material is too good to be limited by word count, or, if it must be so limited, then I think it must be a different story told differently to fit inside those limits, and not be hobbled by them. Wallace Stevens wrote the universe in thirteen short verses. The artiste uses what is available to her.
Or the artiste says, "I refuse to be limited to this, my story transcends this."
Because your story does.
Now, let's talk about your story and you for a second.
I've read the reviews you gave the other contestants.
You, my dear lady, are a Lady of the First Class. To say that you are humbled and honored to be competing with others with a story of this calibre? That you read the other pieces and found not something to be jealous of, but instead found something to admire? I was going to deduct three points from this story (no beginning, no ending, no raison for Samuil to pick this particular girl), but I give you back one point for you standing head and shoulders above the mass of reviews that I've read.
You are a model of good form for all reviewers to follow, and this promising fragment is a model for all authors to glean something (characterisation, observation, experience) from.
I would say, karmatically, that the way you've behaved so well to others will reward you in other ways, but I see you've won the Twific indie for your other story (In Pursuit of Normalcy putting your story right besides Cowboys and Indians, for goodness sake), so I must now say that you will continue to be awarded. Goodness is the reward for goodness, and you, again, are a model of that epigram.
Thank you creating and researching and living and then sharing this little universe of Alexandra and Samuil's. I wish this little universe was a bit bigger, but I am none-the-less grateful for having caught a glimpse of it.
Wow, I intended to respond to this a long time ago, but I got busy with life, and it got pushed to the bottom of my inbox. Anyway, poor excuse, so I apologize for that.
First of all, I feel the need to say that in no way did I find your review to be scathing or derogatory. In fact, I found it to be just the opposite.
On the subject of the "derogatory" points that you made - I totally agree. It did end abruptly, there was no discussion about why Samuil chose Alexandra, and there was no confrontation when she found out she was pregnant. I totally agree that this story would've been much better with all those elements, but unfortunately, I was indeed limited to 5,000 words as per the contest rules. Now, my average IPoN chap is at least 6,000 words, so I really struggled with telling a story under such restrictions.
I found myself having to go back and delete entire paragraphs devoted to character development and background information on the characters, and by the time I got to the end, I'd already deleted everything I felt I could possibly delete and keep the elements that I wanted.
So. Yes. I realize my story would've been better with all those things that you mentioned. :)
Now, when I'm through with IPoN, I intend to work on something that I can try to get published. I haven't decided if this particular storyline may be something I'd be interested in elaborating on or not, but it's definitely a possibility.
Thank you for reading and for your flattering comments, and I appreciate that you thought I behaved with class towards the other contest entrants. :)