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WRiTE CLUB 2014 - A Champion Crowned

The celebrity judges have spoken.  The winner of the 2014 version of WRiTE CLUB is:

Lord Codpiece

And now the moment many of who have been waiting for, the unveiling of just who our champion really is.  It is a pleasure to introduce to you Dan Koboldt…aka Lord Codpiece.  Dan writes in the fantasy & science fiction genres of speculative fiction. He is currently seeking publication for THE ROGUE RETRIEVAL, an adult science fiction novel about a Vegas stage magician who takes high-tech illusions of magic into a medieval world that has the real thing. He is also the host of #SFFpit, a twice-yearly Twitter pitching party for authors of sci-fi/fantasy who are seeking representation or publication. Dan's blog is located HERE.

Our runner up...Cocktail none other than AJ Vanderhorst.  AJ used to blog, where he became so famous that book publicists sent him Christmas presents. That site, with its cute ’90s homemade vibe, ran its course and was laid to rest. But with his new blog, hopefully there's a come-back in the making while he tries to leverage himself back into writing. Call me crazy, but based on his accomplishment here I think he's well on his way.

Here is some of the things our celebrity judges had to say about both writers work.

Margaret Bail:
I liked Lord Codpiece's--um--piece? best, so he has my vote. I don't really have any critique of it other than maybe to add a bit more specific description to make the reader feel like they're there. For instance, lines like "he wasn't as drunk as he seemed..." -- how does the narrator judge that? Was the guy staggering and slurring before but is steady and alert now?  Also, "the audience grew restless..."  How? Did the narrator hear someone shout "get on with it"? or how was the restlessness manifested?  Otherwise, the voice stood out, the character seemed quirky, jaunty, and clever, and I wanted to read more.

Critique of Cocktail Lion's piece: I don't read or rep MG, so I was already at a disadvantage. Therefore, all my critique this is very subjective. First off, I didn't connect with the character and wasn't able to sink into the sample at all.  His voice felt kind of flat. I also felt like there were too many logical problems. For instance, the line "the sound got closer, so did the smell." How does he know it got closer if he can't see it? The sound got louder and the smell got stronger, but how can he tell they got closer? Another nitpicky editorial thing--in the line "Now he was just making excuses to get back in bed, but it was too late for that" -- too late for making excuses? or too late for getting back into bed?  Also, I was confused by the monster. He says it's a lizard, which I didn't actually catch the first read-through because there are so many snake references, so I thought it was snake. Then it crouched and had claws, and acted like a cobra, so I had to reread and that's when I discovered it was a lizard. That's probably just my lazy reading, but all the mixed reptile descriptions were confusing. Anyway, these problems pulled me out of the story itself and made me start examining the writing.

Brittany Booker:
Both entries are really great. I've actually been debating for a while now. But ... I think Cocktail Lion stood out the most for me.

Cocktail Lion drew me in quickly and the pace kept me interested. I think the voice was spot on for MG which is something I admire in an author. Overall, the voice and pace of the novel is what put it in first place for me. My one piece of advice is that, even though he's basically alone, I would add some dialogue. But great job!

Lord Codpiece was entertaining. I felt the dialogue was spot on, and the imagery of the novel was very nice. The only thing I would suggest is something in that first paragraph that would grab the reader's attention quicker because the rest is great! Wonderful job!

Les Edgerton:
Cocktail Lion is my choice for first place between the two submissions. Lots of good things going on here, including a good grasp of story progression and originality in much of the description, i.e., “…his fingers knotted the sheets.” Nice! At the same time, metaphors comparing a cobra to a reptile don’t qualify as metaphor—a cobra is a reptile… The ending is a bit predictable but did manage to avoid melodramatics. It also shows a nice feel for developing tension. This should appeal to the target audience.

Lord Codpiece has some good things going on here. I have to confess I’m not a fan of O. Henryish, Twilight Zoneish endings like this, but the writing itself is very good and the writer understands story structure well.

Katie Grimm:
I'm casting my vote for Lord Codpiece.

Lord Codpiece Critique: The first 500 words here are doing exactly what they're supposed to - I already have a sense of the character's personality (AND I already like him), and I want to turn the page to find out what other schemes he has going.  The tone and voice are light, fun, and in line with the character and the scene - it's nice to get this consistency and synergy early on, and we end on a joke and a bit of a cliffhanger, which is perfect way to start. I will say I had a harder time imagining the setting (not to mention the time period and which queen we're dealing with).  I'm not sure if it will bog down the narrative to set the scene a little bit more, but consider fleshing it out here where you can (and I assume/hope you give us a bit more context in the next pages). Best of luck with the project and thanks for the look!

Cocktail Lion Critique: The first 500 words here do a good job of establishing a scene and Conley and his brothers as characters with distinct personalities, but I'm not sure who the protagonist is going to be because it seems that Conley is eaten (or at least captured) by the lizard at the end since he's "too slow" like his brothers. This gives me a little bit of pause as the reader because I'd rather stick with Conley. Going back to the beginning, it seems he's been awake for a while since he's looking at dents in the ceiling as if he's trying to fall back asleep. However, if the big lizard really ate all of his brothers, wouldn't he have heard them if he was awake or been awoken by their screams? At least he should awake suddenly and notice he's covered in sweat from the open window.  Also watch for consistency in voice and perhaps give us less of Conley's inner monologue. If you're going to use 3rd person limited perspective (which it is except for the omniscient line he was "too slow" at the end) instead of 1st person, there's a way to give us access to Conley's thoughts without giving the exact lines of internal dialogue sprinkled in - I always warn against it because too many of these thoughts make the narrative clunky and often leads to too much telling rather than showing. Best of luck with the project and thanks for the look!

Candace Havens:
This was actually really difficult. I liked them both for different reasons. It seems wrong to pick one over the other but I'm going with Lord Codpiece. It was funny, which always wins over scary with me.

But they were both well written and tight. I just like the unexpected turn of events of Lord Codpiece.

Mark Hough:
My vote is for Lord Codpiece.

Lord Codpiece,

Congratulations on getting to the final round! I found your entry entertaining and light...almost too light. 

While the scene did move along at a good pace, I wish a little more of the MC's voice was found in the narrator.  The benefit of writing first person is that the MC is also the Narrator--a great advantage if the MC is an interesting character but a trial if the MC doesn't have a distinct storyteller's way of thinking and seeing the world. I felt the MC here was just a little thin--like an actor without enough costume to be completely engaging and believable.

That said, I've no doubt you'll be able to remedy this as your submission already shows a natural understanding of flow and pacing.

Cocktail Lion,

Congratulations at getting to the final of Write Club!

Your entry puzzled me a bit. It seemed to tip toe at the edge of a thriller-esque without fully committing to the genre. I felt there were times where the tension was building only to be released by a  teasing thought of the MC.  I also had a hard time placing the MC's age--sometimes it felt 14 while other times it seemed to have the distracted mind of an 8-year-old.

I'd also look at each sentence here and see how many are doing "double duty".  To really wordsmith a passage you've got to make sure a sentence gets more across than just info or just the plot moving along.  How many sentences are also getting across the unique voice of the MC...or the subtle details of the setting...or infusing the passage with a subconscious feeling of dread? There are sooo many ways to get the same info across while giving the reader secondary info or feelings.

Lydia Kang:
My choice is the one by Lord Codpiece.

The MG by Cocktail Lion was definitely entertaining and had the great element of suspense, but at times the voice seemed a little to old for MG. MG voice is notoriously hard to nail down! At one point, I was pulled out of the story by "The sound got closer. So did the smell." Smells don't get closer, they grow stronger. ;)  So it was issues like these that showed this one needed a few more rounds of revision. But the idea was fun and exciting and I think it has so much potential!

The sample by Lord Codpiece has a nice consistent voice; great world-building even within such a short piece of writing; great suspense, energy, and flow. The language was spot on and well-crafted. Descriptions such as "He was a grim-faced man of middling years, his beard tinged with grey" were tidy, yet full of information and allowed the reader to paint a picture with an economy of words. Also, the idea of fake pox spots? I love that! So this one got my vote!

Jonathan Maberry:
My favorite of the two is the one by Cocktail Lion. No title for the work was provided.

The opening was interesting enough to make me want to read on.

That opening also suggested a quirkiness to the protagonist.

It’s a nice piece of flash fiction with a satisfying (if painful) ending.

Overall it shows promise, and I’d encourage this writer to take a swing at a longer piece.

One thing, however: even though I liked the opening line, the sentence borders of having too much to say. Consider breaking it into short fragmented sentences. This creates narrative ‘beats’ that can sell both the quirkiness of the character and the progression of the story.

Sarah Negovetich:
Wow, this was a really hard pick. I felt both pieces were classic examples of their genre and did a great job pulling me in as a reader right from the start. Both pieces also did a fantastic job of creating an emotion packed setting.

In the end, I have to give the win to Lord Codpiece. Both were great so I had to get nitpicky to choose a winner. I felt that the voice in Cocktail Lion's piece felt a bit forced at times. Nothing major, but these pieces were so evenly matched I had to get down into the nitty gritty!

Congrats to both authors on a job well done!

Tiana Smith:
My vote goes to Lord Codpiece. I also read the previous entries - not sure if we were supposed to or not (if not, oops?), but overall Lord Codpiece's writing samples grabbed my attention more and kept me interested. The subject matter, the voice and pacing of Lord Codpiece's writing was spot on in all of the samples. I liked Cocktail Lion's last entry, but my interest wasn't as high for the other entries.

Cocktail Lion - The pacing of this was excellent. I loved how the fun middle grade voice came through, and how the reader gradually realizes that something much more sinister is going on. A few grammatical things stood out to me, but overall, it's pretty polished and well-written.

Lord Codpiece - I love the dialogue. The witty retorts instantly made me like your main character. The voice really makes this piece stand out. I love the setting and premise behind this scene.

Thanks to both of you (and everyone else who entered WRiTE CLUB) for submitting your writing samples. It's very brave of you to put your work out there, and it was a tough decision!

"Tex" Thompson:
Needless to say, there's plenty to like about both pieces.  I love the voice in Cocktail Lion's sample: it's tough to do suspense without losing that essential preteen mindset, but lines like "Don't be a baby" / "Enough babies in the family already" accomplish that masterfully.  For me, the biggest challenge with this piece was just suspension of disbelief: the ending raises a lot of logistical questions (did it really eat the other three boys, and if so, how would it have room for a fourth, and if not, what did it do with them instead, and would it really have come in to the room to take the three of them, then gone out again, then come back in for Conley, and who opened the window in the first place?)  This makes it a harder sell as a standalone piece - but as skillful as the writing is, I have no doubt that the story as a whole answers every one of those questions.

With that said, my vote has to go to Lord Codpiece (now there's a sentence I've been waiting a lifetime to write!)  Even in this tiny 500-word canvas, I'm completely sold on the narrator's character: it's clear that he's a master-class scoundrel, and the writing style complements that perfectly.  The conflict is wonderfully executed: even though the duel itself is of no consequence to the narrator, his anxiety to get out before his pick pocketing is found out, and the danger of discovery if one of his trinkets falls out or makes a noise adds great tension through the whole scene.  Big props for economy of style, too: just one mention of "glue" is enough for us to understand the trick at the end, without overselling the punch line.  It's clear that this writer has great command of both the macro-level story elements and the micro-level language skills needed to present them effectively, and I couldn't be more impressed.

And there you have it.  Congratulations to both of our finalist, and a virtual high-five to Dan for becoming the fourth member of an elite club - WRiTE CLUB champ.

I want to thank all 167 contestants who submitted their work for scrutiny this year, everyone who blogged, Tweeted, updated their Facebook status, or did whatever they could to spread the word about WRiTE CLUB so we could provide the exposure to these writers they so richly deserve, and finally I want to thank my wife Kim -- without who's support this contest would be impossible.

I'll be back Wednesday with a final few words and a 2014 wrap up.  See you then. 

WRiTE CLUB 2014 - The Finals

Here we are.  Two writers...but only one crown. Who will make an impression on the judges and be left standing?

Let me start off by congratulating not only Lord Codpiece and Cocktail Lion for surviving fourteen weeks of grueling competition and landing here in the final round, but every single writer who was brave enough to submit an entry to my contest deserves a tip of the hat as well.  This is the part of WRiTE CLUB where...if you so desire...the masks come off.  I encourage everybody (except our finalist) to use the comments below to let us see who the person behind the pen name is.  I know there are a lot of fans who really want to find out more about you and your writing story.

I've already emailed our two finalist new 500 word writing sample to our panel of judges (forgot who they were? check out the list HERE) and I'll post the results, along with any critiques they provide, next Monday (Sept. 29th).  But that doesn't mean you don't get a say.  I've also posted their pieces below so you can have one final chance to vote.  If by some remarkable chance our judges come up with a split decision, your votes in the comments below will decide the tie-breaker.

I will be back on the Wednesday (Oct. ) after announcing the winner to post some takeaways from this season's WRiTE CLUB, and I'll also be asking for recommendations for what you'd like to see be different for next year. Make sure you stop by for that.

And now...for one last time this year....

In this corner, welcome to the ring our first finalist.....Lord Codpiece. Here are links to his/her original entry, his 2nd submission, and the edited 2nd.

I never fight a duel unless there’s profit involved, but the palace guards brooked no argument. They escorted me right to the torchlit green outside her majesty’s ballroom. Little Lord Peyton waited there, with a smirk on his pudgy face. Guests had crowded onto the balcony to watch. They lined the rail in their peacock finery, still unaware that I’d purloined most of their coins and jewelry.

The guard-captain took me aside. He was a grim-faced man of middling years, his beard tinged with grey. “I hope you know what you’re doing,” he said.

“That makes two of us,” I said.

He handed me a sword, a rapier with a sweeping hilt. The balance felt right. The smooth leather handle spoke of use.

“Yours?” I asked.

“I’ll be needing it back, after,” he said.

“Of course. Thank you, captain.”

He grunted. “Don’t thank me yet.”

He stalked to the middle of the green. I followed, wincing at the soft metallic clinks from my pockets.

Lord Peyton’s son looked like a brawler. It said something about a man when he brought his own sword to the queen’s gala. He wasn’t as drunk as he’d seemed when he challenged me, either. Now he conferred with his father, while the audience grew restless. Soon enough, someone would notice an empty purse or a missing necklace. I had to move this along.

“Are you ready, m’lord?” I asked. “Or did you need a kiss from mother, too?”

He snarled, and came for me.

The guard-captain stepped between us. “Her majesty wishes the duel to end at first blood. I’ll have your word on it.”

“Agreed,” I said.

“Fine,” said young Peyton. His eyes promised murder.

He lunged for me the moment the other men stepped aside.

I parried. The impact nearly shook a diamond pendant out of my sleeve-pocket. “Thanks for the warning, m’lord,” I said.

He attacked again, thrusting for the heart. I dodged aside. Parry. Riposte. He left me several openings; I could have skewered him like a mutton roast. But if I did, I’d face even more scrutiny.

We scuffled again, locked blades. He threw a shoulder into me.

I stumbled back, clutching my chest. “You got me!”

He stopped his advance. “What?”

“You’ve drawn my blood, sir.”

“I did not!”

I lifted my shirt’s collar and peeked beneath. “Yes, indeed. Masterfully done, m’lord.” I bowed. “Victory is yours.”

“Let me see it!” He marched over and ripped my shirt open.

Then he stared, while the color drained from his face. Dozens of sickly-red pustules covered my torso, glistening in the torchlight.

“Blood plague!” he rasped. He turned and ran.

Everyone else fled, too. The balcony crowd surged away from the rail. Men shouted, women screamed as they trampled one another to get back inside.

I re-buttoned my shirt. A couple of the pustules came loose; I’d have to find better glue. I collected Peyton’s fine sword from where he’d dropped it, and slipped out into the night.

And in the far corner our other finalist, let me re-introduce.... Cocktail Lion. Here are links to his/her original entry, his 2nd entry, and the edited 2nd entry.

Conley was deciding whether a dent in the ceiling resembled an alligator or an amoeba when he noticed the draft. The window had definitely been shut when his dad hugged him goodnight, air conditioner humming and rattling outside. Now a warm summer breeze flowed over his top bunk, making his forehead sticky.

Someone had opened a window. And what smelled so strong, like the zoo?

Conley sat up. Outside, something hard scratched the side of the house, and his fingers knotted the sheets.

Scritch, scritch, scritch. The sound got closer. So did the smell. Conley ran his hands through his messy brown hair. A week of exploration had barely put a dent in the brick houses secrets, but hed be ok with less mystery and intrigue after sunset. Not that he had a choice.

Dont be a baby, Conley told himself. Enough babies in the family already.

He eased himself down his bunks ladder and crouched, motionless. He was a secret agent, unseen, unheard, unaahh! He jumped as the scritch, scritch sound started and stopped.

Probably one of his moms apple trees, blowing in the wind.

Now he was just making excuses to get back in bed, but it was too late for that. No sleep for him until he closed the windowthe creepy scritch-scritching window. Conley rubbed his freckled nose. Oh man. Wyatt was a little punk, but he would love this. Maybe he should accidentally wake up Wyatt

He glanced at the bunk below his, but Wyatt was missing. Conley scanned the double-decker beds on the opposite wall. Rumpled sheets, both those bunks empty too. Maybe Wyatt Super Eight Hoss was trying to scare his big brother; it wouldnt be the first time. But his little brothers were never this coordinated in their trickery.

Conley frowned and slid to the window.

Pretend youre a spy, darkness is your friend. And this is just a drilla spooky missing-brothers drill. He took a deep breath and leaned out. Hot air washed over his face and he wrinkled his nose. Ugh, gross. He finally placed the smell. It was the dry, fishy smell of the zoos reptile house.

Two eyes snapped open under the window, yellow-green headlights with vertical pupils. Conley yelled and threw himself back as a ten-foot lizard slithered through and crouched in his bedroom.

Oh wow, much bigger than a crocodile, more snakily-shaped.

Black claws sunk into the hardwood floor. Jet-black scales coated the beast, lines of crimson running down its back and belly. Its mouth curved in a menacing smile. Conley froze, hand on the door knob. How could he distract it?

Quick as a cobra, the reptile arched its long neck toward him.

Oh no. Secret agents dont get trapped like this. Wheres my backup?

The smiling jaws paused a foot from his face…then the smile became very, very toothy. Conley turned to run. But like his brothers, he was too slow.

Has anybody forgotten the WRiTE CLUB motto?  It’s not about the last man/woman standing, it’s about who knocks the audience out!



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