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WRiTE CLUB 2016 - Bout #13

This is it...the last week of preliminary bouts and a chance for some of you to finally find out if your writing sample was picked out of the one-hundred seventy one submitted this year.  Needless to say, even those who are unable to claim victory in their match have nothing to hang their head about -- just getting into the ring was a feat in and of itself.

And kudo's to everyone who have helped drive interest in WRiTE CLUB these first two weeks.  Week 1 bouts averaged 67 votes/comments (a new record) and a total of 3400+ views.  WAY TO GO!! All of the winners have been posted on the WRiTE CLUB Scorecard and I'll continue to update it as we move through the contest. Unfortunately, voting has dropped off significantly during the second week, but there is still time to do something about that. Here's where I remind everyone that voting for every bout remains live for one week, so lets do everything we can to see that our 2nd week writers get the same amount of attention as the first.

For you newbies - here's a reminder of how this works. This is the 3rd and final week of daily bouts (M-F) between writing samples that are identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters. The writing can be from any genre, any age group, taken either from a larger piece of work or simply a stand alone flash fiction. The focus is on the writing...not the writer...or its categorization. The two writing samples for each bout will be randomly matched and step into the ring for a chance to find out what they're made of.

The winner of each contest is chosen by you...the reader.  Simply read each entry and leave your vote in the comment section below.  Anyone can vote, as long as you have a Google ID or belong to Google Friend Connect. Anonymous voting is not allowed. It is also customary to leave a brief critique of both pieces. You see, the comments are where the true value of this contest makes itself known. Not only do the contestants gain valuable insight about their work from those remarks, but everybody can benefit from how each piece is received and what works...and what doesn't. Please remember to remain respectful with your comments. If you see an opportunity for improvement, make it known in the most positive way possible.

How do you choose a winner? What criteria should be used? The method by which you determine who to vote for is entirely up to you.  Which one resonates with you the most? Which one makes you want to read more? Which one demonstrates a total command of the English language and how it can be used to elicit emotion or paint a mental picture you can't stop staring at. There is no hard and fast way rules for determining a winner -- and that's exactly what the publishing world is like. But today you get to decide.  At stake is a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference and some bragging rights.

The voting for this bout - Bout #13 - remains open until noon on Tuesday - March 29th.

That's the bell...and its trying to tell us something.

Let me introduce to you the contestants for this bout.  In the near corner, representing the Middle Grade Science Fiction genre with 496 words, welcome to the ring Bluebonnet.

Brenna figured she was crazy.
Not crazy like Ms. Morgenstein who collected anything ‘cat’ but had an eye-watering super sneezing fit around real ones. Also not crazy like Hairy Harry who slept on the park bench and drooled into his scraggly beard. More like a seeing things kind of crazy.
Because for half a second, that stray dog had looked like something else. Brenna sat on her porch, hugged her knees to her chest, and looked again.
The dog stared back at her, small with brown fur and big brown eyes. It wagged its tail and grinned a dog-slobbery grin almost like it was reassuring her that it was just a simple ordinary little dog. Or maybe it was laughing at her.
If she told her parents about the dog, they’d probably laugh, too. Not at Brenna, but with her, in a secret family-joke kind of way, because Brenna had what Dad called an over-active imagination.
As a really little kid Brenna used to make up all kinds of stories. Like she broke the vase to scare away burglars. Or she hadn’t washed behind her ears because the extra dirt helped her hear. Or she couldn’t clean her room because the mess confused the nightmares.
Mom said Brenna had to learn the difference between telling a story and telling a lie.
Brenna was almost twelve now and she’d grown out of all that make-believe nonsense. Well, mostly. Until today.
She glanced at the dog, and then away, because she didn’t want to see what she thought she saw. “I just imagined it,” she said out loud to convince herself it was true.
Baxter plopped down on the porch steps beside her. “Imagined what?”
Brenna twisted a strand of hair around her finger. Baxter’s make-believe talents were a close second to hers. It’s what made them friends. And what got them into heaps of trouble. But if anyone would understand, he would. “It’s that stray dog.”
Baxter nodded toward the grinning mongrel. “What about it?”
“Stare at it.”
“You’ll see.” Or maybe he won’t. Then what?
“You want me to have a starring contest with a dog?” He laughed.
Brenna didn’t. “I’m serious.”
“Fine,” he said with a humoring-her grin. Elbows on knees and chin cupped in his hands, he fixed his eyes on the dog. “Say ‘go.’”
But she didn’t have to.
Baxter quickly flinched and pulled back. “Whoa!” He rubbed his eyes. “What was that?”
Brenna leaned forward. “What’d you see?”
“You say first?”
The dog cocked its ears toward them.
Brenna twisted her hair tighter and tighter around her finger. “I saw a thing with narrow green eyes, blue spiked fur, and hands and feet instead of paws.”
The dog’s eyes narrowed.
Baxter nodded. “So are we seeing things?” he asked.
“Both of us? The same thing?” Brenna shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
The dog growled and crept toward them.
Baxter grabbed Brenna’s arm. “Maybe we better go inside,” he whispered.

And in the far corner, representing the YA Fantasy genre with 495 words, also welcome to the ring Carlyle Conner.

I can’t afford record albums, not on my meager lawn mowing and paper route wages. Eight hard earned bucks is excessive when I have to stretch and skimp to make sure my hicksville hometown doesn’t get sucked into a black vortex or suffer a biblical-level smiting.  Singles on the other hand are cheap and deliver some wicked cool spell casting material. A good 45 gets you two songs and maybe a jacket sleeve with dope artwork. That means any old single won’t do. I have to find just the right mix of songs and imagery to support my spells. This has required some experimentation, so far with mixed results.

Take the Rolling Stones’ ‘Start Me Up’ 45.  The title and song drips with potency. Couple that with an animal leg stuffed in a high-heeled shoe on the sleeve and you get some potent mana. So I concocted a spell to stop the curse in old man Pruitt’s apple orchard. It completely backfired. A record should have the opposite effect spun backwards. ‘Start Me Up’ becomes ‘Shut Me Down’. Well it did just that and quite a bit more. The blight instantly ended. But the apples rotted and overnight the trees withered and died. Then these chitinous creepies arrived; looking like something straight out of Lovecraft with 10 appendages and dozens of eyes. Feeding on the roots, they mutated into more sinister creatures. Using the B Side I recast the spell causing the soil to rejuvenate and the creepies to hibernate. I am still working on a spell to exterminate them.

Now back to my experimentation. The sleeve to ELO’s ‘Shine A Little Love’ shows a boy, maybe my age, from Arabia or the like. He is clutching this neon glowing talisman, Simon game, whatever; call it a source of mana. And the song is cool beans too I grant you that. But the B Side, that’s some far out stuff. ‘The Jungle’ is steeped in mysticism, and contains rhythmic chants in a secret language. Which is too dangerous to carelessly use in magic. You know, like in that book, “The Lord of the Rings”, when Gandalf refuses to read Frodo the glowing elvish words on the ring…Anyway, what is opposite of jungle? Something man-made I reckon. A truck is man-made. And when mom’s car got repossessed, I whipped up a spell to get grandpa’s old abandoned truck running. For over a decade it had been rusting away beyond hope. I plugged in the extension cord, sat the turntable needle down on the record, spun it backwards and cast my spell. Lighting the jacket on fire completed it.  There was a blinding shimmer of light, lots of smoke and what I can only describe as both the loudest belch and smelliest fart I ever experienced. When the smoke cleared, there sat grandpa’s truck, shiny like new in a neon glow. But you have to sing the secret language chant to operate it. “Chooka chooka hoo lalie.”

Enjoying two talented writers at work is only part of the price of admission, now it’s up to you to decide who moves forward.  Read both pieces, choose the one you feel is superior, then say so in the comments below and provide a mini-critique for each.

Enjoy the rest of your week, but not before you tell all of your friends to stop by and make a selection as well.  Tweet about it, and if you do please use the hashtag #WRiTECLUB2016. Tell everyone about WRiTE CLUB, where it’s not about the last man/woman standing, but who knocks the audience out!


  1. My vote goes to Bluebonnet.
    Bluebonnet – Brenna is cute and likeable. I did get confused when Baxter was introduced. I wasn’t sure if he was the dog or an imaginary friend. I liked your voice but the story itself feels as if it has been told many times unless you have a twist we didn’t get to read in this segment.

    Carlyle – Sorry but I couldn’t follow the story. Most likely my issue because I’m not a reader of Fantasy. I thought you were writing in a future time period but some of the language (wicked cool, dope) would date you to present day and not the future. Same with the reference to use of cars with his Mom’s car being repossessed.

    Congrats to both of you!

  2. My vote is for Bluebonnet.

    What swayed my vote was the eventual action/interaction Bluebonnet had in their piece. Brenna became significantly more interesting when she was interacting with Baxter. While it's good to have a view into Brenna's thoughts, the first half was just that and it felt very dense to me.

    Carlyle, it was very difficult to follow your piece because of the three big blocks of text. I needed something to break it up or have something happen. The overall piece felt very bogged down. I didn't really get a sense of the scene you were trying to paint.

  3. My vote goes to Bluebonnet.

    Carlyle Conner has an interesting concept, and I would enjoy reading a longer piece with magic coming from single records. But as it is, it's difficult for me to follow what's going on with the huge paragraph blocks.

    Bluebonnet's story is creepy, drew me in immediately, and I've written things like this before, so I'm eager to see where Bluebonnet would take it.

  4. I don't have much to say today.

    Bluebonnet: Brenna is adorable. You could tighten a few places, maybe provide a better introduction for Baxter (so we know right away that he's a friend and not the dog or a brother). Overall, it was a smooth, easy read with an age-appropriate tone.

    Carlyle Connor: I was completely lost in this piece. I'm not sure there's much plot in all this backstory of music and spells and blights. The concept might be interesting, but this piece didn't work at all for me.

    Bluebonnet gets my vote.

  5. Bluebonnet today--sorry I don't have time to leave a critique!

  6. Bluebonnet for me. I read a lot of MG, and the voice seemed just right to me. My only hiccup came with the bit of telling at "Like she broke the vase to scare away burglars." I had to read it twice before I understood that Brenna was saying she'd made up the burglars to explain the broken vase.

    I'm intrigued by the kind of magic Carlyle Connor envisions, but I suspect the story might actually start a bit later,. The backstory and world-building are interesting, but it would help to see a hint of whatever quest or peril or need will propel the story.

    Also I can't quite place myself in time here--we seem to be talking about vinyl singles, and about earning $8 mowing lawns and paper routes, which made me think we could be going as far back as the 1950's. But the Stones and ELO come later, and words like "wicked" and "dope" sound 21st century.

  7. Both are intriguing but definitely voting for Bluebonnet. I want to know what happens next!

  8. Oh, Bluebonnet! So very much Bluebonnet! I love this story and have got to get more of it. The voice was right for the age, I agree with Susan that there was a pothole to trip over with the list of past transgressions, but otherwise a solid piece.

    I am a historian, I write historical, and I spend hours researching the perfect details for my characters. Carlyle shut me right down with "dope." Nothing puts off readers than throwing a Chevy in the Middle Ages, and the language in this piece turned me right off. There was also a good bit of telling going on here, but I love the premise! I can see this little portable turn table wizard in the orchard so clearly and the truck spell could be developed into a larger piece just with that one incident. Great concept, but please spend more time in research and this will be wonderful. I want to see how the town interacts with him and responds to his magic (how does he explain the truck???).

  9. I vote Bluebonnet.

    Carlyle's piece was just solid exposition. I think it sounded like a far more interesting premise, and a great thing to be writing about, but I need to read a STORY about that, not an explanation of the concept. It was basically a fictional essay. Or maybe Cliff's Notes.

  10. Bluebonnet for me, 100%. I got into the story immediately and would definitely read more!

    The other piece did not pull me in, and did not read like a story in the YA category at all. With YA fantasy, it's important to pull the reader into the action as soon as possible.

  11. Bluebonnet: I like the voice but you need to consider the "dog". Why would it just sit there being discovered as not a dog. If it ran off then a single possible view of its real form would be acceptable and probably forgotten. To sit there and have it confirmed, since it seems to be inteligent and hostile doesn't make sense. Remember it understands what she's saying.

    Carlyle Conner: Sounds like you're tring your hand at a Geekomancy fanfic. Not terrible but you don't let us know anything. With next to zero funds, his ability to experiment with this craft, seemingly new to him and with items that are consumable, is next to impossible. Also we don't see any accountability for what happens, just a funny outcome. This sounds more like narritave worldbuilding in a notebook than part of a story.

    The vote today goes to Bluebonnet

  12. This comment has been removed by the author.

  13. Bluebonnet: I used to teach 5th grade and I can totally see my students getting into this story. The characters were fun and the conflict promises to be action-packed. This passage is crammed full of incomplete sentences, though. While I can fully appreciate flaunting grammatical rules as a way to develop tone and pacing ... it makes me crazy to see it done in middle grade writing (most middle grade readers are still learning how to use grammar correctly). That's just a personal pet-peeve, though.

    Carlyle Conner: I absolutely LOVE this premise and it's different from anything I've read before. Unfortunately, I don't think you've found the right tone for this story yet. Maybe these situations need to be told in present tense with dialogue of some kind? Or maybe third person? I just know that the blocks of exposition turn a fascinating concept into tedious reading. I hope that you experiment with this idea a bit because I would LOVE to read a book about a music-wielding wizard.

    My vote goes to Bluebonnet.

  14. My vote goes to Bluebonnet. The ending is what hooked me and I would love to read more about the weird dog.

    Carlyle Conner - I got lost in your story, and not it a good way. I'm not familiar with the song references so I felt like I was missing something. Good imagery describing the spells though.

  15. Vote: Bluebonnet. I was intrigued by the end and wanted to know more. I enjoyed your characters and the premise.

    Carlyle Conner: I agree with most of the other readers. It started slow and I had a hard time getting into it because it felt like exposition. But I like your premise.

  16. Bluebonnet had strong writing and a fun setup.

    Carlyle Conner: wow! I was immediately intrigued by the references to records and the bright, engaging voice. I like how you quickly set a scene of realistically-grounded poverty that makes the magical part terribly believable. And I LOVE the premise of the record-anchored magic, and how it all works! So unique and amazing!

    Carlyle Conner gets my vote!

  17. Bluebonnet: I found your premise really intriguing. I want to know more about Brenna and Baxter and that mysterious (alien?) bug dog! The idea that your main character is different because she's imaginative could have been a bit of a cliché, but having her prove her difference by actually SEEING something that is difficult to notice...YES! My only critique is that Baxter seemed to materialize out of nowhere in the scene. You could set it up by having him already there (reading a book? otherwise preoccupied?) or showing him approaching.

    Carlyle Conner: The premise of your piece is so, so strong! I adore it. I think you need to approach telling the story in a different way? Right now, it reads more like a summary. You're not sitting us in the action. Any one of the anecdotes you tell here could be a whole chapter in and of itself. Because it's YA, too, I think your readers might need more background or something on the bands you're talking about. Keep us immersed in the moment by moment events of the story, as they unfold. I really do love the idea of mojo performed by vinyl. LOVE. I wonder if it has to be YA? I could see this premise working equally well as adult fiction. If it's YA, I think you'd need to go into some detail about how your protagonist came by all this knowledge of music, and how they discovered the world of vinyl in the first place?

    My vote is for Bluebonnet.

  18. Bluebonnet does it - and well! Good character voices, set up, backstory without bogging down the tale.

    Carlyle Conner has an interesting premise, but it's too scattered. It also seems to have trouble finding a voice. For a YA to jump from "Eight hard earned buck [are] excessive" to "dope" and "far out" is jolting.

  19. Hi Don - Bluebonnet definitely .. totally drew me in .. cheers Hilary

  20. Vote: Bluebonnet.

    Blue: The piece flowed well, was interesting and Brenna was a likeable, cute character but I did feel she read younger than 12 at first. Maybe because it sounded to me that she was mistaking homeless people for crazy? Or maybe he was crazy, we only get her impression of him. I do agree with another person about the dog not wanting to be found out but then again, what's kind of threat does two 12 year old's really present?

    Carlyle: I love the idea and the premise of the piece. It sounds like it'll make a great story but I think what was presented is backstory. It didn't have a storyline for me to follow. I actually got lost by the 3rd sentence. I don't think it was due to the blocks of text but more-so the language that was being used. I'm not sure who the Protagnist is, or how old. Unfortunately, I'm not music literate, so music jargon threw me off and I'm still not certain if 45 is a reference to 45 dollars or if that is actually a music term. I think what bothered me most about the piece, if the reference use to other stories. The creatures were like Lovecraft's, the dangers of language in magic were like Lord of the Rings. For me, doing stuff like that summons up images of those peoples work. I'm no longer invested in the piece because I'm thinking of how cool LotR or Lovecraft is. Instead of using these as a way to describe the creatures and magic, I think it would be beneficial to have a clear description of the creatures/magic so it wasn't necessary to conjure up other peoples work to do it.

  21. Both plot lines show a lot of potential, but I vote for Bluebonnet. I can see the unconditional love and trust between Brenna and Baxter even in this short piece, and that kind of friendship is precious.

    Carlyle, because there was no interaction with another character, it was hard to get into the story. It might have helped to break up the episodes into smaller paragraphs.

  22. Bluebonnet is the better of these two in my opinion. It's labeled Sci-Fi, so I'm assuming the dog is an alien, but it could easily turn out to be magical realism, with some hidden superpowers in kids with "overactive imaginations." In any case, I connected to the characters, felt grounded in the setting, and was wanting to read on.

    I didn't choose Carlyle because, while I loved the concept of using records to create magic, the device was too dated. Words and phrases set the story in the 1960's or 1970's, but there isn't anything to connect the main character to teenagers of today. To many YA readers of today, an album is something you buy on iTunes, a single is one song (usually 99 cents each), and records are those black flat circles you see in thrift stores. I suggest either pulling the story into the present and show us how the main character discovers the device or create a problem/goal for the main character that teens of 21st Century can relate to.

  23. Sorry to vote and run but getting ready for the holiday.

    Bluebonnet for me.

  24. I vote for Bluebonnet. I found the story cohesive and the atmosphere eerie.

    For Carlyle, while I appreciated the idea of playing records backwards to generate magic spells based on song reversals, I didn't buy into the 1960s-70s voice.

  25. Bluebonnet gets my vote. Cute story. There were a few grammar issues and I think less about her feeling crazy and more interaction with Baxter would make it even better.
    Carlyle you have a brilliant idea here. You need to figure out a way to tell this story in a different way. Magic realism is something agents seem to really want on mswl. Maybe tell the story with mc who discovers the songs he plays casts spells? Or simply adding another character immediately for your mc to play off of. Keep going with it- this could be great and the only reason you didn't get my vote was all the telling.

  26. This is really really tough. I feel like Carlyle's story is going somewhere more interesting to me, plot-wise and even the character sounds more interesting to me but unfortunately the narrative occasionally slipped into something that sounded a little bit like essay and it's really not a major complaint but I have to go with Bluebonnet whose simple story was just easy and comfortable to read; a little more engaging in style. Sincere compliments to both of you though. I hope Carlyle's story gets edited and completed.

  27. Bluebonnet. Without a doubt. It held my attention much more.

    I wasn't aware that 45s were big with the young adult crowd. Interesting story all the same.

  28. My vote is for Bluebonnet.

    Carlyle Conner: it was way too much going on and on about the same thing without anything really happening. Sorry. The paragraphs are too long and too much mushed into each. However, as part of a bigger piece, with this part split up and interspersed, it would likely hold people's attention better.

    Bluebonnet's story held my attention well. Good job. The only thing I thought was too forced was the ending with the dog obviously understanding the conversation. Might be more intriguing if the dog only hints at understanding like the narrowing eyes and not the growling and moving toward them.

  29. Bluebonnet for my vote by a hair.

    I loved Carlyle Conner's concept - maybe that dates me, but assuming the story occurs in 70's or early 80's (or somewhere that's stuck in that time, although not sure if teens used 'dope' as an adjective during that timeframe) I thought spinning 45's for spells was hysterical. The writing needed to be polished a little though - perhaps with smoother transitions. For example, "It completely backfired. A record should have the opposite effect spun backwards." These two sentences together threw my reading off. There could have been a paragraph break or something like, "You see, a record should have..."

    Bluebonnet - the flow/writing looked perfect for middle grade and pulled me into the story, however I immediately thought 'been there, done that' with the concept (two kids seeing something that no one else can). I might think differently if I knew what happened after the dog crept towards them, but you've only got 500 words so I gave it the benefit of the doubt.

  30. voting for bluebonnet b/c sounds like one of my teens and how active her imagination is so i can relate quite well.

    Carlyle- interesting premise but appears more of an outline with some details filled in via blocks of text rather than a story. Would love to actually read the story in it's entirity, b/c i'm sure it'd not be near as confusing as to why those specific records were chosen.

  31. Bluebonnet- I think this story works well as Middle Grade Sci-fi. I want to know what the dog is. You got my attention and held on to it.
    Carlyle Conner- Maybe it's the 3 blocks of paragraphs with nothing to break them up. I don't know. It was an all right story, but I wasn't especially sucked into it.

    Bluebonnet gets my vote.

  32. My vote is for Bluebonnet. I really like the main character, and her closeness to her friend. I want to know more. Carlyle, this could be a good story, but this part didn't pull me in. Congrats to you both!

  33. Bluebonnet: You get my vote. I can see a King-esque horror developing here. Great work.

    Carlyle: Interesting premise, but it needs polish.




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