Thursday, March 10, 2016


Another quality post brought to you by Steve!

Hey, everybody!  It's time for another installment of "Eek! Put Some Pages Up For Criteek!"  In case you don't remember the deal, you can check out Jonathan's original post including the rules.  But long story short, you hereby have my permission to shred/praise/toss/tout/completely rewrite the first two pages of my horror Work in Progress, contracted with Sinister Grin Press, THE HEMATOPHAGES. Happy reading. And be gentle!


            “What is your greatest weakness as a researcher?”
            It’s a stupid question.  One that’s been asked at job interviews since time immemorial.  Briefly, the image of a protosapient Neanderthal in a pantsuit made from leopardhide comes into my mind, asking an applicant what her greatest weakness as a mammoth hunter is.
            I take a deep breath.  The air is oxygen-rich.  Richer than we keep it on Ryloft.  That’s good.  That’s to my advantage.  My pupils are dilated.  My senses are sharp.
            I refocus on the question.  The creaky old cowshit question, old as the hills.
            The purpose of this question is to turn it around and reveal a secret strength.
            “Truth be told, I’ve found that there are times when I become too obsessive about my work.  Burning the midnight oil.  Sometimes when I get too wrapped up in a research project I can end up neglecting my personal relationships, leisure time, and, yes, even hygiene.  I don’t smell too bad right now, do I?”
            Everyone chuckles.  Work humor.  The joke wouldn’t even elicit a smile with real human beings.  At the office, it brings the house down.  Something inoffensive enough to laugh at.
            The next woman on the panel clears a rather unpleasant clog of mucus from her throat to refocus our attention.  I realize I’ve forgotten every single one of their names.  I think this one is the Equal Opportunity Representative.
            “Tell me, Dr. Ambroziak, as a counterpoint, what is your greatest strength?”
            I’m not a doctor.  I should probably have corrected her.  But I didn’t. 
            Was that part of the test?  Should I have corrected her?  Were they probing for assertiveness?
            No, by the five sets of dull glassy eyes staring back at me I can tell they’re not pulling any flashy corporation nouveau tricks out of their collective sleeve on me.  They (or just the EO rep) had probably just misread my resumé.
            The purpose of this question is to show restraint, that you’re humble and a team player, and not a braggart.
            “My greatest strength?” I repeat, trailing off as though I’d never given the matter any thought.  I re-cross my legs so that they are reversed.  The panel is staring at me, sympathizing.  Make them wait much longer and I’ll seem like a dummy.  But wait just long enough to feel like I’m really digging deep.  I exhale painfully.
            “Well, if I had to pick something I suppose my greatest strength is that I’m wise enough to know my own limitations.  I know when to ask for help, whether from my supervisor or my peers.  I’m not the sort of person who’s going to get in over her head and then keep pretending like I can swim my way out of it.  Of course, you all know the story about the mice and the bucket.”
            The panelists exchanged glances with each other.
            “The mice and the…bucket?” the EO rep asked tentatively.
            “You’ve not heard?  I thought everyone that old chestnut.”  I looked from face to face.  Blank.  “Well, you see, one day two mice fell into a bucket of milk.  The first one couldn’t scrabble up over the side, so she gave up and drowned.  But the second one kept paddling and paddling and eventually she churned the milk into butter and then just walked right out.  The point is never give up and never quit trying.”
            The low murmur that followed was like a symphony of mild acclaim.  So far I’d been asked four questions, and so far I’d knocked all four out of the park.  There were five panelists and if I knew anything about interviews that meant the last one was coming.
            “Are you ready for the final question?”
            I nod.
            “What is the meaning of life?”
            I’m not taken aback.  Thank God they haven’t strayed from the script in the slightest.  This is just Corporate Interviewing 101.  Not a single one of them has put a second of thought into their questions, and every single one has an objectively “correct” answer.  I’d be surprised if they hadn’t come from a pre-made list.
            The “spoiler” question.  The purpose of this or any other spoiler is to judge whether I’m easily confused or thrown off my game.  The answer doesn’t matter.  Just answer confidently, as though they had asked you about your education or qualifications.
            Without missing a beat, I say, “The meaning of life is to persist.”


Kimberly G. Giarratano said...

God, I love this. Every word. I'm a crappy critiquer. Where's the rest? Send it to me.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Pshaw! You're probably just buttering me up to babysit your kids.

Mary Fan said...

cool story bro

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Cool comment, bro.

Mary Fan said...

cool punctuation bro

Jonathan Schramm said...

Strong work, sir! Love the internal dialogue, this guy is really smooth. Mid-interview is a great place to start and raises a lot of compelling questions. Who is this guy? What position is he applying for? Who are his interviewers. Definitely makes me want to keep reading.

I did catch a small edit. I think there's a word missing in this second sentence of dialogue: "You've not heard? I thought everyone that old chestnut.” Probably meant, "I thought everyone had heard that old chestnut" er something.

Also, the Ryloft reference. I'm guessing this guy is an alien? If so, I would love to hear one or two more references to that, just 'cause I did that sort of stuff.

Love it otherwise! Thanks for sharing.

Stephen Kozeniewski said...


Carrie Beckort said...

Great start! Brings me back to my interviewing days, both when I was being interviewed and when I did the interviewing. I used to always hate the 'strengths and weaknesses' questions. In college I had determined that if one more interviewer asked me what my greatest weakness was I was going to say ice cream. Just my luck I got a job before I got the chance!

One thing I noticed that hasn't been mentioned already is this section:
"I’m not a doctor. I should probably have corrected her. But I didn’t."

The tense seems off to me in the last two sentences. Maybe it should be, "... I should probably correct her. But I don't."

The other thing that stood out to me was that I didn't realize the narrator was a 'she' until almost the end of this. Not that it matters, I'm just not sure why I assumed the person being interviewed was male, but I did and it kind of threw me a bit at the line "I’m not the sort of person who’s going to get in over her head and then keep pretending like I can swim my way out of it."

Great work!

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Thank you kindly, sir! The main character is indeed an alien in the sense that she's from another planet, though human. You've also identified another issue which Carrie pointed out - it's not clear the MC is female apparently at first. I thought the leg crossing was a dead giveaway. Thanks for the input!

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Thanks, Carrie! I think you're right about switching tenses and I think I did it more than once. I knew that was going to be an issue which was partially why I posted this excerpt to get a feel for which people liked more. Yeah, I'm not sure how to make it more obvious earlier on that the MC is female but I'll figure something out.

Unknown said...

L.O.V.E. I.T. Mostly because it's intriguing ... It makes me want to know what the what. The gender thing might be resolved if when called a doctor she says something like: "I'm not a doctor. A Mrs or Miss, maybe, but I couldn't save a guy having a heart attack on a Ryloft airstrip." And maybe when she crosses her legs, you hint at a really good reason for it. Maybe a feminine one. Hey, but what the heck do I know. :) (Yikes, this comment could be embarrassing, considering my tag.)

Stephen Kozeniewski said...

Honestly, I thought the leg crossing thing was a dead giveaway. Men don't cross their legs.

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