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Author Topic: Pseudopod 267: Mentor  (Read 2380 times)
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« on: February 04, 2012, 02:11:52 AM »

Pseudopod 267: Mentor

By Sean Eads.
Sean has two novels coming out in 2012 - THE SURVIVORS is coming this fall from Lethe Press, and a suspense novel, TRIGGER POINT, coming in March from a new publisher called Musa Publishing. He also has a story upcoming in Bruce Bethke’s STUPEFYING STORIES from Rampant Loon Press

Read by Mark E. Phair, who last read “The Line” for Pseudopod.


“I recovered myself with difficulty. I was in my mentor’s house. I stood here uninvited but nevertheless I stood here. Understanding the opportunity, my attention burst outward in glances both rapid and greedy. I took in everything, finding the details of corners, seeking every scrap of intimate but banal information about the man. People might think this insane—I had after all worked closely with my mentor for a decade and a half, giving him my poems for his unsparing critiques, listening and agreeing to his thoughts on literature, attending his seminars and readings, making his friends my friends. I still was not good enough. I had never published anything but I kept at it. I was poor and I wrote about poverty. “You are poor,” my mentor would say, “but you have not suffered.” I was lonely and I wrote about loneliness. “Yes, you are lonely,” my mentor confirmed, “but loneliness is not suffering.” Gradually this became the sum of his critique. At the bottom of each returned poem he scribbled: “You still have not suffered.” I felt I would never understand. I looked about this room now as if it would tell me how to feel the anguish that clearly my mentor felt, the despair that made him so superior a poet. How could his kitchen tell me more about him than his verse, which was so confessional, so full of agony and torment, like a man imprisoned in his own flesh? What was knowledge of his plates and silverware in comparison? What could his dirty dishes tell me about his soul?”



Listen to this week's Pseudopod.
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« Reply #1 on: February 04, 2012, 12:52:03 PM »

The ending did take me by surprise, and it was a powerful ending for this story, but it seems a little out of character for the narrator.  I get the part about his unhealthy stalker relationship with the mentor (exemplified by his breaking into the house rather than asking someone who's more in the mentor's inner circle about who might be taking care of the cats), and we hear a fair amount about his shock and anger and even disillusionment when he discovers what his mentor has been doing all these years, but the story--as told--prepared me better for the student publishing the manuscripts as his own, or (better), leaving the dessicated body of Toy in the wheelchair to be buried as the mentor, chaining the mentor in some attic elsewhere, and forcing him to write poems that the student could take credit for.  This student shows a lot of initiative, reckless courage, aggression.  He was also capable of stepping back and making a judgement about whether the mentor was right or wrong.

The passive or masochistic solution (allowing himself to become Toy #2) doesn't fit his behavior up to that point.  I guess I'd have found it more plausible if he confided what he'd discovered to another student, and it was that individual who reacts in a different spirit altogether and steps forward as Toy #2.
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Rhio2k
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« Reply #2 on: February 05, 2012, 07:59:09 AM »

Horror...while this is a bit morbid, I'm still trying to find the horror. Maybe if Toy were some sort of man-eating creature that came to life upon having his manuscript picked up, like that creepy thing in Pan's Labyrinth, I could see that. I'm still hoping someday Pseudopod gets down to the old meat and potatoes like it used to: stories based on our fears instead of the acts of disturbed people, such as this one. One week just looking at the local news and you'll understand that loonies are everywhere, and that will jade you to stories like this. I miss the stories about the thing outside the window or in the closet. The boarding school where blood trails are found every other month in hallways when a student goes missing and howls are heard on the grounds after dark, the frantic phone call at night from a stranger with a welsh accent warning you that the cute black lab you took home, given to you by a strange little girl who said his name was "KooSHEE" is anything BUT a nice, safe dog. Stories about creatures that just fell into our reality from elsewhere, or elsewhen. I miss those type stories.
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Sgarre1
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« Reply #3 on: February 05, 2012, 10:29:17 AM »

You should enjoy the next two weeks, then 2 of the flash stories a month away, and then a number of others into the summer.  Monster & supernatural stories are harder to write well than people realize or credit, and so the number of usable submissions is less than one might think.
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JesseLivingston
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« Reply #4 on: February 05, 2012, 07:50:38 PM »

Horror...while this is a bit morbid, I'm still trying to find the horror. Maybe if Toy were some sort of man-eating creature that came to life upon having his manuscript picked up, like that creepy thing in Pan's Labyrinth, I could see that. I'm still hoping someday Pseudopod gets down to the old meat and potatoes like it used to: stories based on our fears instead of the acts of disturbed people, such as this one. One week just looking at the local news and you'll understand that loonies are everywhere, and that will jade you to stories like this. I miss the stories about the thing outside the window or in the closet. The boarding school where blood trails are found every other month in hallways when a student goes missing and howls are heard on the grounds after dark, the frantic phone call at night from a stranger with a welsh accent warning you that the cute black lab you took home, given to you by a strange little girl who said his name was "KooSHEE" is anything BUT a nice, safe dog. Stories about creatures that just fell into our reality from elsewhere, or elsewhen. I miss those type stories.

Fair enough. I like those stories, too. They might be classified as supernatural, a subset of Horror. This story seems like a different subset of Horror—the "tale of madness," like Poe used to write. I thought there was plenty of horror in it, especially when the student showed his willingness to participate in the mentor's depraved scheme. Everyone turned out to be worse than they seemed, except maybe Toy, who was too pathetic and abused to really have a personality. Ech. Gives me the shivers just thinking about it.
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Jesse Livingston
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« Reply #5 on: February 06, 2012, 09:51:59 AM »

This was definitely horror to me, as Jesse said, more in the style of a Poe tale than some others.  Which is fine with me because I like Poe.

Interesting that this played so near "A Study in Flesh and Mind" which had some common roots in the myth that "art is suffering".  By saying it's a myth, I'm not saying that suffering can't produce great art, only that suffering need not be necessary for great art.  All that myth really accomplishes is convincing artists that they need to torture themselves.

Anyway, I enjoyed this story a lot.  I hadn't quite seen the ending coming, though I feel like I should have.  It got really interesting when I realized what the mentor had meant about his student not suffering much.  When I'd originally seen it I'd thought the mentor was being a hypocrite and I wondered what he thought he had endured that was really so terrible, but that wasn't what he was saying at all.  He has someone else to suffer FOR HIM, and that's how his work gets to be so compelling.

I didn't think the ending was out of character at all.  He's shown his lack of boundaries and obsession by breaking into the house in the first place, and when he finally realizes that Toy is the source of the fiction, he does not think "That poor creature!" or "My mentor is a sadist, and worse, a plagiarist!" he thinks "That should have been me!"  So in the end, he puts himself into the role that he desires so much, even though it's completely insane to do so. 

Rationally, even for an unbalanced individual, it might make more sense to do what the story seems to lead you to believe, that the mentor will become the new Toy.  After all, the mentor had the best of both worlds, being able to take the credit for the work without suffering himself.  But I would not accuse this narrator of being rational.  Besides being completely insane, he is also an idealist in an odd sort of way:  He doesn't want to be SEEN as being the best (as many would be satisfied with), he wants to BE the best.
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« Reply #6 on: February 06, 2012, 05:20:12 PM »

Hi everyone! Thanks for the comments so far. I appreciate anyone who takes the time to support Pseudopod (first and foremost), and of course I love hearing feedback on my own story. I'll try to contribute to this thread in any way I can. Thanks again.
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MuseofChaos
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« Reply #7 on: February 08, 2012, 05:21:01 PM »

Oh I LOVED this!  The narrator did an excellent job of capturing the combination of narcissistic artiste and bored college kid. And I can't help but wonder who was more in control - the Mentor, or Toy? The Mentor seemed  so reluctant to be taken upstairs, and I just don't feel it's from guilt his secret has been revealed.  We don't know the cause of that accident, after all - what if the Mentor wanted to escape the twisted relationship with attempted suicide?
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« Reply #8 on: February 13, 2012, 12:07:18 PM »

Oh I LOVED this!  The narrator did an excellent job of capturing the combination of narcissistic artiste and bored college kid. And I can't help but wonder who was more in control - the Mentor, or Toy? The Mentor seemed  so reluctant to be taken upstairs, and I just don't feel it's from guilt his secret has been revealed.  We don't know the cause of that accident, after all - what if the Mentor wanted to escape the twisted relationship with attempted suicide?

I got the impression that the mentor was so reluctant because he thought that he would be the one chained (not just out of guilt, but of fear for his own future fate).  I don't think he can even fathom the thought that his student might choose to become the next Toy.
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« Reply #9 on: February 14, 2012, 10:55:15 AM »

I got the impression that the mentor was so reluctant because he thought that he would be the one chained (not just out of guilt, but of fear for his own future fate).  I don't think he can even fathom the thought that his student might choose to become the next Toy.

I see this as one of the trends developing in newer horror stories - the idea of multiple, equally valid interpreted endings.  I really enjoy it because it encourages you as a reader to interact with the story, using your own personal experience and expectations to draw your own conclusion. For me in a lot of cases, it makes the ending simultaneously more horrible and more resolved than another ending I wouldn't have connected with emotionally.  Neat stuff.  :-)
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« Reply #10 on: February 14, 2012, 06:17:33 PM »

These responses really intrigue me. I do strive for uncertainty and ambiguity - helps keep people engaged, especially if they're inclined to be active interpreters rather than passive readers. I wasn't thinking about the ambiguity of the mentor's accident. I think it's a plausible hypothesis, MuseofChaos, and a valid inference from the story. Through this message board, I've discovered a potential layer of meaning to the story that hadn't occurred to me, and what writer doesn't value that? Again, my thanks to everyone who's spent their time with the story and took a moment to post their thoughts.
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« Reply #11 on: February 15, 2012, 09:37:55 AM »

These responses really intrigue me. I do strive for uncertainty and ambiguity - helps keep people engaged, especially if they're inclined to be active interpreters rather than passive readers. I wasn't thinking about the ambiguity of the mentor's accident. I think it's a plausible hypothesis, MuseofChaos, and a valid inference from the story. Through this message board, I've discovered a potential layer of meaning to the story that hadn't occurred to me, and what writer doesn't value that? Again, my thanks to everyone who's spent their time with the story and took a moment to post their thoughts.

That's one of the coolest parts of writing, when someone draws an interpretation from your words that hadn't occurred to you.  It makes you feel like the story has a life of its own.  Smiley
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« Reply #12 on: February 22, 2012, 04:52:11 AM »

Best one I've heard in a while. Although I have to put my hand up and say I'm a bit too dense to fully get what Al was saying about it at the end, in one listening anyway.

The thing I got wondering about, and since we got the author here, was how the story came about. It was mentioned in the beginning bio that the author did workshops with such n such Hugo award winner... and I was imagining that workshop leader says, for an exercise write a story about me. The author comes up with this story and the workshop leader is both very freaked, and impressed.
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Sean Eads
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« Reply #13 on: March 02, 2012, 04:55:43 PM »

Thanks, Yaksox. There was a bit of biography involved in the development and inspiration of the story. I workshop my stuff regularly in a small writer's group led by Ed Bryant. He's won the Nebula Award, but I don't think he's won the Hugo. Ed's in his mid-60s and has a few health issues, and he took particularly sick last summer. I won't go into all of the particulars, but he was in the middle of downsizing his house at the time, and to help out I offered to store some boxes for him. A lot of these were books, but some were vintage toys and collectibles. I had put them in this attic storage space I have.

Around this time, I saw an ad for a new anthology themed around attic toys, and I started thinking of the toys I'd taken in. And I thought wouldn't it be interesting if Ed had some sort of possessed toy or voodoo doll or Puppetmaster-type thing that was really sinister and I was storing it completely unaware of the danger to me. The voodoo doll aspect led me to remember a story of Ed's that I've always liked, called "Styx and Bones," which definitely has its kinky elements. The idea of the stored toys and the sexual politics of "Styx and Bones" cross-pollinated as inspirations, and I decided to make a literal, flesh and blood Toy in the attic. The narrator's obsession with his mentor definitely doesn't reflect me, but I was somewhat spoofing my own ambitions to be published. Otherwise, I can happily report I have no interested in suffering quite this dramatically for my art. I suppose I would dress in a gimp suit and let someone thrash me if it meant getting published by Simon & Schuster. Well, by Penguin at any rate . . .
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yaksox
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« Reply #14 on: March 03, 2012, 06:54:28 AM »

I suppose I would dress in a gimp suit and let someone thrash me if it meant getting published by Simon & Schuster. Well, by Penguin at any rate . . .

Lol, there's probably a mid-level selections editor somewhere out there reading this and salivating _right now_.

Anyway, awesome. Thanks for letting us behind the curtain. I know there's plenty of writers who don't like to reveal inspiration or process but I find it almost as interesting as the end product.
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« Reply #15 on: March 03, 2012, 12:58:01 PM »

This was a good story, and did pretty well in print. But the reader really elevated this one capturing the obsession of the narrator, as well as the audio presentation capturing the well crafted and parceled out tension. This was a really good pick and PseudoPod and the author should be proud of this PseudoPod original publication.

The ending surprised me, and on a second experience through the story showed me the signposts pointing to that ending. Good craftsmanship.
« Last Edit: March 03, 2012, 12:59:43 PM by Fenrix » Logged

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