I promised in the weekly writing update that I would post an update about the August Elegant Literature contest results, and you can probably infer from the title of this post that I was not published in the “killer instinct” issue. In retrospect, that should not be surprising, considering the story that I chose to submit. While a good story, with a lot of interesting elements and concepts explored in less than two thousand words, it is…strange. Not mainstream. I can well understand how someone not having the context and background with which I wrote it would find that it has trouble standing on its own. Fortunately, Dragon’s Hoard, my submission for September’s contest, is a bit more conventional.
We’re not here to talk about Dragon’s Hoard today, however – we’re here to talk about Executioner. Right around the time that the “killer instinct” prompt went live, I read a historical essay exploring why executioners always wore masks. Despite public executions often being a source of spectacle and entertainment, and even when the executions and punishments were themselves popular, the identity of the executioner was kept concealed. Why? Oughtn’t they have been akin to celebrities of their days?
Not so much. It turns out that, even in times when death was much closer, when public torture and execution was like a baseball game to which you took your kids for a fun afternoon activity, people were not comfortable with those who actually enacted those punishments. Thus, the executioner’s identity was kept concealed, that only the figure of the executioner would be subject to the strange mix of emotions his or her actions engendered, and not the individual behind the mask. It was fascinating and, combined with the Elegant Literature prompt about “killer instinct,” I knew I wanted to write a story about an executioner being unmasked.
How to frame such a story, though? To a modern context, this whole concept might seem bizarre, so I knew I needed an immersive, historical context, not an anachronistic fantasy world. Rather than choosing a specific place/time in Earth’s history, I opted for a fictional place vaguely inspired by the ancient Sumer of Gilgamesh’s day, and the Achaemenid Persian Empire. All of this would not make the story too out there, but it laid the groundwork for what ultimately made Executioner a niche story.
Because of the Gilgamesh inspiration, I decided to attempt to write the story in the same style as the Epic of Gilgamesh, and though I do not know for certain, I suspect that is where I lost my readers. If you have read the Epic of Gilgamesh, and know that’s what I’m trying to mimic, it works really well (I think). It’s evocative, interesting, and gives the piece an almost poetic feel. If you haven’t read Gilgamesh, though, and don’t know that I’m recreating a specific style, the writing will just seem weird. Maybe even annoyingly repetitive.
Don’t get me wrong: I’m not trying to say that people who read the story and don’t see what I’m trying to do with it are uncultured swine and incorrect in their judgements. In fact, they are absolutely right, and this story’s unapproachability is a major flaw. Stories should be able to stand on their own merits, independent of a background in ancient literature or lengthy author’s notes like this one to explain what is going on before you can enjoy them. Even if everything else about the story were perfect (which it is surely not), that would kill its chances of being popular fiction (see what I did there?).
This is one of those cases where the “art” of writing runs into the “science” of writing. The artistic side of writing would tell us to ignore all of these considerations about approachability and audience enjoyment and go ahead and write stories that no one will read because they are the way the story needs to be written. The science side of writing would ask us what the point of writing a story that no one will read because it’s not approachable is, and if that’s the kind of story we really want to be writing.
I still think this is a good story. It has a lot going on, especially for only two thousand words. It captures the idea about why executioners wore masks, it demonstrates how, in many of these civilizations, death was considered a byproduct of the punishment, not the punishment itself, and it works because it has a prose style that, if you know what’s going on, will throw you back in time by the very structure of the writing. And that’s why, even though it wasn’t accepted by Elegant Literature, I’m still publishing it here on IGC Publishing.
Now, I think I should stop before this author’s note/release post becomes longer than the story itself. Without further ado, I am proud to present Executioner. And I acknowledge that only a fraction of people will enjoy the story as much as I do.
Do you hear them? Do you smell the people gathered outside the city walls? Do you feel the ground tremble from their treads? Hear how they demand justice. Hear how they call for blood. Listen to their condemnations of the traitor being led upon the field. They cheer the masked Executioner who awaits those who betrayed the Queen of Kings.
The Queen’s Executioner wears white: white to show the blood of his victims, white to show the purity of judgement, white to show the glory of the Queen’s will imparted. Only his mask is black, to hide his identity. The first of the Traitor’s followers steps onto the clay and is forced to his knees. His hands and feet are bound, but his face is bare, that all may see. Forward the Executioner steps; he holds a wooden mallet and wooden stakes. When he is done, he wears red, to show justice done.
Click here to read the rest of Executioner
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