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WRiTE CLUB 2018 / Semi-Final Bout #1

This is it! Your last chance to impact who will become this year’s WRiTE CLUB champ. After this round, we turn things over to our celebrity judges.  Whoever you choose as our two finalists, they will get to stand before our celebrity judges with a 1000-word sample, and then it will be on them to crown a new winner.

Several of you have asked or made mention of wanting to find out just who these wonderful writers are that you've been following over the course of weeks. Apart from the two finalist...who are named when the competition concludes...revealing the identity of the contestants is exclusively up to the contestants themselves. Shortly following the post where our champion is recognized, I will follow that up with a wrap-up in which I invite suggestions for improvements -- but also invite our writers to remove their masks if they choose to do so. I encourage everyone who is willing to step forward and do just that, but we will not push. All 30 contestants deserve whatever recognition you can give them.  

This week, four writers will again enter the ring brandishing another new 500 word writing sample. The voting will remain open for both until noon central time on Sunday, June 3rd.

Here's a reminder of how everything works. Writing samples from two different writers, identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters, are competing against one another today. The writing can be from any genre, any age group, taken either from a larger piece of work or simply a standalone flash fiction. The focus is on the writing...not the writer...or its categorization.

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 leave your name and email address. Anonymous voting is not allowed. It is customary to leave a brief critique for all the 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 are 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.

What's at stake here? Other than bragging rights, there's also a chance to win a couple of gift cards and free admission to the 2019 DFW Writers Conference.

Ready to help an aspiring writer make their mark?  It's time to introduce our contestants and get this party started.

Our first contestant steps forward representing the YA Contemporary genre. Please give a hearty WRiTE CLUB welcome to MarlaWriter.

I shove my trumpet into my locker and slam the door. There’s forty-five minutes left until math class, so I pace in front of the locked music room to wait out my exile. The sky is gray although the air is warm—Grams would’ve called it earthquake weather.
            In the quad, some freshmen who used to hang out with Sophie huddle together, shooting glances at me. One of the boys with saggy pants and a shitty haircut jerks his head and arms around, then doubles over clutching his stomach. The whole group is cracking up. With another glance toward me, he makes a face, pulling one side down so his mouth hangs crooked.
            Something in me snaps and then I’m towering over him, staring down his stupid carnival-grin. I swing and my fist cracks as I strike his jaw. Two fingers explode in fiery pain and lightning bolts shoot up my arm and my shoulder.
            He falls into some girls and they all tumble to the ground, a tangle of legs and backpacks. He tries to stand and steps on one of the girl’s hair. She shouts. I pull him up by his hoodie so we’re standing forehead to forehead. My eyes fix on his, daring him to go on. Muscles and bone scream in my right arm.
            “Get off me,” he says, spraying blood and spit. I slam him into the pavement.
My whole body shakes, humming with tension. The girls hug each other, wiping tears and smoothing hair. He clamors to his feet clutching his elbow. My chest heaves and my heart pounds, the metallic taste of his blood sours my mouth. I spit, too.
I cradle my aching hand. Good thing I’m suspended from band, because there’s no way I can play now. With one last glare, I start toward the bathroom to rinse the blood spatter from my face and hand.
            Bella is there, mouth open and wild-eyed, staring at me like I’m a stranger. Like our last four years together never happened.
            “What is wrong with you?” She looks different. I blink. If anyone should be on my side, it’s her.
            “He was making fun of Sophie.”
            “So? Since when do you get in fights?” Shaking her head, she looks at the sky and lets out big sigh. “This isn’t you.” She reaches for me but I step back. Tears run down her cheeks.
            “So? Really?” The air thickens and fresh rage blurs the edges of my eyesight. “Whatever.” I spew as much venom at her as I can. Instead of the bathroom, I rush to my truck. I need to get away from here. From her. From everything.
            I step off the curb into the parking lot and a meaty hand grasps my shoulder, sending shock waves down my injured arm. My stomach flips—I’m going to vomit.

            “Where do you think you’re going?” A large, bearded man in a yellow safety vest jerks his thumb toward the office. “School’s that way.”

Contestant number two represents the Sci-Fi Romance genre this time. Please welcome back Peter Pen.

Dani was in Lipton’s Arcade playing Space Invaders, right where I knew she’d be. We used to come here almost every afternoon back in high school.

“What are you doing here, Dave?” She didn’t look up as I approached, just pushed at her glasses and continued blasting aliens. “You said this place is for kids.”

I winced, remembering my words. She’d wanted to spend her twenty-third birthday here, but I’d been dating Laurel, who hated video games.

“I need your advice.”

“So now the guy with superhuman strength needs me?” She jammed the joystick left and blasted a UFO. “This about Laurel?”

“I punched her new boyfriend.”

She threw me a surprised glance then went back to playing. “So you’ve graduated from fighting purse-stealers to girlfriend-stealers?”

“Dani, please. How do I get her back?”

Her jaw clenched, and her finger paused over the fire button. In her hesitation an alien passed through her defenses. She swatted the joystick at the game over screen and turned to face me in a whirl of bushy black hair. “Fine. You want best friend advice or news column advice?”

I glanced at her Space Invaders t-shirt, faded from years of wear. Like the arcade, she hadn’t changed. But our friendship had. Ever since Laurel. “Best friend advice.”

She raised her eyebrows, giving me a chance to back out. When I insisted, she said, “Forget about Laurel.”

I huffed. “That doesn’t help.”

“Let me guess. Boyfriend’s a meathead with obnoxious tattoos?”

“How did you—”

“Because that’s Laurel’s type.”

I frowned, trying to understand. “What is?”

“Jerks.” She gestured at me.

“Hey, Ronnie’s the jerk, not me.”

“Exactly. You just pretend to be one.”

I tried to form a response, but nothing came out.

“That’s why you said arcades are for kids.” Her eyes were now ringed with red. She wiped at tears with her shirt sleeve. “And it’s why you don’t hang out with me anymore.”

Stunned silence.

“Do you know why I wore this shirt almost every day in high school?” She sniffed, eyes slanted toward her initials flashing on the high score screen. “I wanted those kids to know they could call me a nerd and shoot spitballs at my ugly hair, but they’d never, ever change me.” She refocused on me, fire behind her tears. “Best friend advice. You’re not strong because you fly around stopping crime to make a show. You’re strong when you stand up for what’s right. Even when that means letting go of someone you…love.” She suddenly looked away, a blush blooming across her freckled cheeks.

A few heartbeats and it clicked into place. “Dani, I had no idea.”

She laughed, wiping away a tear. “That’s ‘cause you’re stupid, Dave.”

I grinned. I’d missed her playful insults. Then something inside me shifted, as if her words had flipped a switch in my core. “I’m sorry. I’ve got a lot to fix.” I stepped closer and she looked up. “Can I buy your next game?”

She smiled.

There are no wildcards or saves this time. It's win or go home. Which will it be? As always, please honor these writers by offering a brief critique, and be respectful.

What contest is it where the audience gets clobbered?

Tell all your friends.



  1. My vote goes to MarlaWriter. I would change up some of the pronouns for the boy—there are a lot of he/his, which can get repetitive, so maybe change some to “the boy” or give him a nickname like “Bad Haircut.” Overall, it was really tense and had me wondering who Sophie is and what happened to her.

    Peter Pan, you have writing talent, so dont he discouraged that you didn’t get my vote. But I could see where you were going from the beginning—which was my (very subjective) problem. I wanted to be surprised. And we heard about the superhero powers, but we didn’t experience it, so instead of a story we are involved in, this is just a conversation where someone tells us about the action. You know how to show—I could see that in the way you described the emotions in the characters by their movements, which was great. I just wish you had shown us the actions of the characters (i.e. show MC punch the boyfriend, or show him use his superpowers.)

    Good for both of you for putting your work out there, Congrats for making it this far, and good luck!

  2. Both stories have really good grasping affect. Both make me want to know more. I think the one I want to continue reading the most is Dave's story. So my vote goes to Peter Pen

  3. Peter Pan. The tense coupled with first person felt odd in the first one.

  4. Peter Pan gets my vote for making me feel Dani's pain. Felt like a "Some Kind of Wonderful" story.

  5. Peter Pen for the least this time...

  6. My vote is for Marla Writer, it drew me in more.
    -Jennifer Kinzler

  7. My vote is for MarlaWriter. I can definitely feel his rage as he sees people making fun of his sister and just kind of snapping. The scene was tense and kept my hooked.

  8. Both of these are strong entries. MarlaWriter's piece left me feeling rage too, and I could understand why the narrator behaved in that way. Violence may not be the answer, but it still felt satisfying to read. In Peter Pen's entry, I got a good feel for the history that Dave and Dani share. It also felt authentic to me. This is a tough choice, but for the way the interaction played out, I have to vote for Peter Pen on this one.

  9. I vote for Marla Writer as I really felt the rage. The voice of the teen felt authentic to me, as opposed to Peter Pan's, "Dani, I had no idea." I just can't imagine a teenage boy saying that.

  10. MarlaWriter has some great imagery and lots of emotion. I don't know the characters or the backstory, but I "get" what's going on. It feels real. I like the Dani character in Peter Pen's story. But Marla gets my vote.

  11. I enjoyed both and thought the writing was strong.

    With Peter Pen, ultimately I felt no connection with the MC. I don't know why he lost Laurel nor why he wants her back. I need to see something deeper, something else at play that grabs me and pulls me in. Dani was great, though.

    With MarlaWriter, I felt the rage and pent-up anger. As awful as it sounds, I rooted for him to hit the kid for making fun of the disabled sister. MarlaWriter pulled me all the way through and left me wanting more.

    My vote: MarlaWriter

  12. Peter Pen. It feels tighter, better word use, etc.

  13. There is a lot to like in both these pieces. I have been a fan of both Peter Pen and MarlaWriter all along, so this is hard. But for the sheer emotion of the piece and the continuity of the scene, my vote this round goes to MarlaWriter.

  14. I like both pieces, but I have to give my vote to Peter Pen. It was a close call, but in the end Peter Pen's motivation-reaction units made a little more linear sense. MarlaWriter inspired rage like it should, but not until the end when I could put the puzzle together. With one or two lines moved up front it would have sucked me in emotionally a bit sooner and it would definitely have turned the tide.

  15. This is purely a matter of personal preference, but in this contest, I tend to prefer pieces that offer a range of emotion and leave me with a sense of having been somewhere. It's hard to describe, but I want to feel like I've been on an emotional journey with the protagonist. That can be difficult to accomplish in 500 words, which is why, if you're submitting an excerpt from a novel, you might need to tweak some things to make it work in the limited space of this contest in order to get my vote.

    Marla Writer's piece was solid, but it only presented one emotion - and pretty much one level of that emotion. The protagonist's rage is well-depicted, if a little overdone for this short of a space. In a longer piece, I'm sure we would have seen some emotional fluctuation. We've seen it in the author's previous pieces, but this 500 word sample didn't quite deliver for me. It felt like one big fight scene, with little to anchor the action to a sympathetic character. In a larger work, I doubt it would come across the same way because you would have developed that character and taken the reader through a series of plot points to get to THIS point.

    Peter Pen's piece was cleaner, with more emotional variation. The emotions weren't as dramatic as Marla's, but there were distinct ups and downs throughout the piece, like several gently rocking waves versus one great tsunami. While a little predictable - superhero encounters best friend who's secretly in love with him, but will settle for being his sidekick/confidante - it felt appropriate to the genre and I'm curious about how this relationship will develop. Most importantly, I feel like I've been somewhere with these characters... and might have a good time continuing on with them.

    Marla Writer has been strong in the past, maybe even stronger than Peter Pen. Both of today's contestants are solid, but Peter Pen has something today that I just didn't feel in Marla's offering.

    Peter Pen has my vote.

  16. My vote goes to MarlaWriter.

    While both pieces were well-written, MarlaWriter's piece had an emotional depth and power. MarlaWriter starts with strong word choices reflecting anger (shoved, slammed, earthquake), carries that emotional weight through the piece, and ends with a bit of a teaser. I appreciate the way the anger is carried through the whole scene, with changing focus (locker door, punching the boy, Bella, and maybe even the adult at the end), coupled with confusion/impulsivity/lack of intention, capturing a depth of human experience. I believe this piece works better as a part of the whole, based on MarlaWriter's earlier Write Club entries; as a stand-alone piece, there are parts that require more explanation--some of this could possibly have been fine-tuned for the sake of the contest format.

    I found Peter Pen's piece to be choppy, with less emotional depth. The story is good (superpowers versus figuring out relationships), but I find I just don't care about the main character. I find him to be whiney and self-centered and not particularly likeable, which perhaps is the point; unfortunately, this doesn't make me want to read more. I also didn't feel immersed in the scene like I did with MarlaWriter--and an arcade can be an immersive experience with lights, sounds, and atmosphere used in the writing to involve the reader and show settings and emotions in a more vivid manner. Again, the piece works better as a follow-up to Peter Pen's previous pieces rather than as a stand-alone piece.

  17. Hard choice as I like both pieces, but I like the writing a bit better in Peter Pen's, so that one gets my vote.

  18. I've complained before when the two choices are from very different categories, about how hard it is to compare apples and avocados. This time, they're similar in many ways, and guess what - it's just as hard to choose! They are both strong, and show the author's ability to depict emotional interactions with depth and subtlety. They are both clips from longer works, but Marla Writer's snip suffers more from this; without the larger context, I didn't connect quite as well with what was going on. Peter Pen's snip feels more complete as is. That's why I've decided to go with Peter Pen.

  19. Peter Pen gets my vote yet again! Both stories draw me in, but I want to keep reading more about Dave.


    This was a tough one because both samples are really good and make me want to keep reading more.

    But my vote goes to MarlaWriter, because I could just FEEL the frustration as he snaps.

    PeterPan, great sample. SciFi's not my thing, which is where this lost me a bit, but really good writing.

  21. Tough, tough choice, but my vote must go to Peter Pen today. Congratulations to both of you, this is one hell of an accomplishment.

  22. I am voting for PeterPen. I just really want more of this story. Marla, yours is great, too. For me it just came down to preference.

  23. PeterPen for me, but you'll have to step it up if you get through to the finals, this passage seemed a little too predictable.

  24. Both of these felt forced for me this time.
    For MarlaWriter the emotion was too told "Something in me snaps", "with tension" etc. I did love the imagery in the first paragraph and the development at the end.
    PeterPen's story is going way too fast for my taste. He has a new chapter of his life every 500 words. The revelation/realization that best friend is in love with him, again super fast and felt a bit cliche. That being said, it has kept me interested.
    Vote is for Peter Pen.

  25. Really hard decision.

    Marla Writer had some good power verbs, it raised lots of questions for me about why was who and why he was angry, in a good way, but it was very dramatic and slightly over blown. I'd like to see some other emotional reactions in there, either through internal monologue or internal sensation. There's too much anger. What else would they be thinking/feeling?

    PeterPen was quieter, which I liked, a more measured pace. My interest definitely picked up at the hint that this girl fancied him, but the revelation and resolution was just too quick, with insufficient internal reaction - monologue or feeling. If you have a romance string it out as long as you reasonably can. Don't resolve it in the same scene it's revealed. A real alternative to Lauren could be quite a nice hook/subplot, wherever you're going with this, but here It think you could have wasted an opportunity to draw the reader on.

    Overall... Marla Writer, mainly because the romance in PeterPen just moved too quickly.

  26. Peter Pen had me up until the sugar sweet and unrealistic ending.

    Therefore I vote Marla Writer. I felt empathy for the brother coming to grips with great loss.

  27. I'm voting for PeterPen. Very good flow. Dave's attitude switched a little fast at the end, but I was invested enough to care.

  28. First off, a million votes for D L Hammons for doing this because it is so brilliant and fun. These are both interesting. I think I was a little more pulled into Marla's story but I commend both for good stories.

  29. MarlaWriter... I can really see this. It feels so honest, so real. You have my vote.

    Peter Pen ... I liked it until the end. The Dani character felt strong and well done, and then it fell apart for me right at the end, the last line. Maybe the next few words would fix that but you ran out of space? I don't know. I just want Dave to have to work for it more now that this other option has been revealed. It really is the last two words that are swinging my vote.

  30. Peter Pen wins this one. Nice range of emotions and tension through this 500 words.

  31. That was a tough choice! Peter Pen for me, but barely. :)

  32. I didn't connect to either of these this time. I guess it's one of those "you can't make everyone happy 100% of the time" deals, but I felt like both writers could've given more especially given their past work.

    That being said, I'm going to have to go with Marla's entry. While I loved Peter's work in the past, there wasn't enough scifi for it to represent the genre. Again, I liked Peter's work before, so maybe I just had too high of expectations for this round?

    Congrats on getting this far though! So close!!

  33. MarlaWriter gets my vote. No idea who Sophie is or what happened to her that requires drama in the school yard, but I enjoyed the tension and the writing was tight.

    Peter Pen - yours was good too but the ending just seemed too pat. I wanted Dani to give him the advice, then dismiss him accordingly and make him put in more effort to win back her trust. Just saying.

  34. Such a tough choice now. But, I still have to go with Peter Pen!

  35. I am always so impressed by the work that gets entered. So hard to choose. I vote for Peter Pen!

  36. Vote for MarlaWriter. The emotion in this sample drew me in more than Peter Pan's piece.

  37. I could happily vote for both. Might have to flip a coin ;-)

    Today, my vote lands on MarlaWriter

  38. My vote goes to Peter Pen.
    I found myself getting lost in the choreography of what was happening in MarlaWriter's story, and that tripped me up. I feel like it's leading up to some great emotional turmoil and release though, which is awesome.
    For Peter Pen, I'm feeling a little flipped back and forth, as if I'm remembering correctly this is a continuation of previous storylines. If they were submitted in chronological order, we have a good guy, a bad guy, and then a good guy again, which I'm not sure I understand in these small pieces. I'm also hesitant for Dani to forgive so quickly and easily, especially if she saw him turn into a jerk while pining for Laurel. I'd love to see more development of the women characters in these stories.

  39. My vote goes to Marla Writer. Both were solidly written pieces, but I felt that Dani's purpose for even being there was just to prop up the MC, for whom she has unrequited feelings. Maybe it's because I'm a billion years old, but I'm just tired of the "girls exist to fawn over dudes" and "girls dig jerks" themes.




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