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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #13

After today there are only two more preliminary bouts remaining. Who will be selected to step into the ring. Let's see who #25 and #26 are.


WRiTE CLUB is a tournament-style competition that runs during the eight weeks prior to the DFW Conference (who is also a sponsor) and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win a host of prizes, topped off by a free admission to the following year’s conference. Our writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names and they'll be appearing in head-to-head in “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Even though the contest is sponsored by DFW, anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the voters have a chance to win a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed in a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize. And as an added incentive to keep readers coming back for more, we're upping the ante. Readers who place a vote in EVERY bout will have their names placed in a second hat and the name selected from that pool will win a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card. Double the chances of winning!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, May 26th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

A few more rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.
2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.
3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!
4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Our first contestant in the ring today is Wink N.A. Smile representing the Adult Mystery genre.



Berlin 11:29

Unfurling bronze leaves.


Topeka 11:41

A tree etched in red.


Chiang Mai 11:57

The door opens.


The departure board just won’t stop scrolling, triggering the old images, and I’m gripping my coffee cup with both hands when the man across from me, the one I’ve been trying not to notice, leans forward. “You scared of flying?” My heart double-times. It’s partly nerves, of course, plus eight solid hours of caffeine, but mostly it’s the precise stubble on his jawline. His clear hazel eyes.


I shake my head. “Just stress. You know. Work.” That’s partly true - if I’d known travel would be part of the job, I’d never have taken it. Flying’s not the problem, though. It’s the airport, that blur of destinations you could fall right into. One wrong step and you’re in Minsk or Peru. And then leaves unfurl, a bronze door opens. The childhood nightmare I can never outgrow.


“What’s your gig?” he says.


I take a shaky sip of coffee, steady myself with roasted beans. “Risk management.” I can’t think of another thing to say, not here, and he turns back to Tracksmith Meter. His navy shirt reads “Rebooting . . ..” That’s exactly what I need right now. I could have been so many things without that door.


“Hey, could I trouble you?” It’s Hazel Eyes again, a girl in a pink flannel hat clinging to his hand.  “Could you watch my daughter a minute? I don’t want to leave her outside the lavatory.”


The girl smiles, too, and she’s missing a front tooth. I shouldn’t say yes to this, everyone would say I shouldn’t say yes, but between the two of them, I’m toast. I wave to the empty seat next to me. Coffee sloshes over my hand, and I hope he doesn’t notice. “Sure.”


He tweaks the girl’s hat. “Be good, Nina.” 


She bounces down, twisting a charm bracelet around her wrist. Unicorn, ice cream, roller skates.


“Hi Nina! I’m Sylvie.”




Crown, tree, moon.


“Are you on holiday?”




“Going to see family?” I’m trying too hard but somehow I can’t help it.


The girl turns huge grey eyes to mine. “We’re not here for that.”


“Got it. Waiting for someone.” Of course. Someone coiffed, without a coffee stain spreading up her sleeve.


“Kind of.” The charms circle again. Open book. Flame. Teardrop.


Either that’s an odd set of charms, or I don’t know kids at all. She looks up, slips a cold little hand into mine. “Hi, Dad.”


He’s back, dazzling as before, and he’s staring straight at me. “Ready, darling?”




In one motion, he links an arm through mine, pulls me to my feet.


“No! What? What are you – NO!”


People turn, gape, but already they’re too far away to help. Everything brightens, fades. Then he bends toward me, smelling like everywhere I’ve never been. “You’ll see.”


And he’s right. Because there at my fingertips, bronze leaves are falling from a red tree. The door opens.


On the other side of the ring, we have P. Baker who is representing the YA Contemporary genre.

The number one rule if you don’t want anyone to know that you’re pregnant: NEVER touch your stomach. Don’t rub it. Don’t check on the protrusion in the mirror. And never, ever rest your hand at the peak of the curve just above your belly button.

I can’t think of a worse place to be secretly pregnant than church camp. I had brought my baggiest t-shirts with me, or actually, the biggest shirts I could sneak out of my brother’s room, but it won’t make a lick of difference in a minute when they force me in the lake. A wet shirt will expose my swelling bomb.

The other girls are all out waiting for me on the wooden platform. If I wanted to sit directly under the blistering sun and just look at the water, I could stay on the shore, thank you very much. But you’ve never experienced peer pressure until you’ve said no to your church friends.

“Daisy! Get your booty out here,” Rebecca calls for the tenth time. I block the sun with my hand to see her on the platform. Her pink swimsuit is a glitch in the brown East Texas lake. Other campers shriek and laugh in the water around the queen’s waterlogged throne. I shift between feet, rocks and twigs stabbing at the soles.

The counselor puts a hand on my shoulder and hits me with the toothy white smile of a TV evangelist. “You can make it!”


“I’m coming! Christ,” I mutter. The counselor clears her throat. “Uh, just praying…” I shrink away from her and wade into the water. It's the temperature of a warm bath, but it feels nice on my sun-crisped skin.

I swim out to the platform and hoist myself onto the wooden deck. The girls cheer as I right myself. Rebecca hugs me, pulls away and stares down at the wet shirt clinging to my round belly. My throat tightens. She sees. The queen of the Good Christian Girls, notorious spy for the parents of us sinners. The plum-sized fate in my gut suddenly weighs a thousand pounds.

She turns back to the shore and starts the peer pressure campaign over again on some other girl. I pull the fabric away from my skin. How could she not have seen? To me, it’s so obvious, a neon sign on my stomach growing brighter every second. A swelling tumor, a parasite consuming my whole body. As glaring as Hester Prynne's letter A. But to her, I’m an extra, shrinking into the background of her personal movie set.


Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

Before we sign off I wanted to address the issue a few readers are having with not being able to post comments, or having those comments show up as UNKNOWN even though they have a Google Account.  There are several things at play here. First, if you are using the Safari or Chrome browsers they have a known problem with Blogger and you have two choices. Switch to Firefox as a browser (I've never had a problem using it), or change the setting on Safari as illustrated below.

The other problem is Blogger not recognizing you when adding a comment and therefore designating you as UNKNOWN. This could happen if the reader is a Blogger user themselves and they have not changed their settings since Google + went away.  To do this, follow these steps:

Go to Blogger dashboard.
Set User Profile = Blogger (instead of Google +)

Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants. If you missed the first two bouts because of one of these issues, remember the bouts remain LIVE for a week so you can still go back and let your choice be known.

We’ll be back tomorrow for another preliminary bout. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. Well done both of you.
    Very different themes, but both written well.
    P.B think your piece is written for the right age range, so well done. Think young girls will relate to the pressures and fears highlighted in your writin.
    W&S I like the way that your protagonist has such an intense fear of doors, that hints back to her past. This intrigues me as to whether it is just her phobia, or is something else going on? Would be the piece I would follow. So for that reason I vote for you WINK N SMILE, but well done both entries.

  2. Wow. Outstanding writing by both contenders today. Not making it easy on us.

    Wink N.A. Smile: The writing is so clean, so tight, I had to read it twice because all the nuggets are there. I just didn't catch them on the first read-through. My only beef is with you placing your entry into the Adult Mystery category. The second narrative paragraph sounds like something from a V. A. Schwab novel, specifically Shades of Magic, which is fantasy. Oh, well. I still loved the piece because I want to follow Sylvie through the door.

    P. Baker - The writing is descriptive, the narrative smooth and easy to follow. I instantly connect with Daisy. The judgey Rebeccas of the world are all too real, their self-appointed thrones sitting way above others, so I feel every moment of Daisy's apprehension. You had me all the way to the end. I wish you had carried the throne theme or royalty into that last sentence because suddenly mixing metaphors, to "her (using Rebecca's name here would have been more powerful) personal movie set" was a big disappointment. Otherwise, super-strong storytelling.

    My Vote: Wink N.A. Smile

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  4. Congratulations, authors! These are two well-written pieces.

    Wink N.A. Smile, your story is intriguing, and I want to know what happens to Sylvie. I had to reread the beginning, as it wasn't clear to me, but once I caught on, you had me. I liked the descriptions, the dialogue, and all the subtle hints that something ominous is about to happen. I loved the repetitive use of three one-word sentences. It helped to get into the head of the narrator.

    P. Baker - You know how to portrait teenage girls! I loved all the internal and external drama, how her inner dilemmas were mirrored on the action.

    It's a difficult choice, but my vote goes to Wink N.A. Smile

  5. Vote: P. Baker

    Wink: The writing here is some of the best so far. I love your opening.

    Overall though, I found the piece confusing. At the end it read more like a fantasy (maybe portal fantasy?) rather than mystery. I would have liked just slightly more grounding (too much would take away from the sense of magic, but a little more would have given me something to hold on to). Even little things, like where they're sitting (I was picturing at first a coffee place near the flight cancellation boards, then when I re-read, ordinary airport seats) just because of the coffee spill and how close the characters would have to be together for that to happen. Then when the father goes to the bathroom, it was unclear to me if he was leaving his daughter *by* the bathroom, or for it, etc.

    More significantly though, despite how intriguing the mystery of the door is, it felt unnatural that the MC wouldn't eventually state somehow what that referred to. The weird behaviour of father and daughter was so interesting, but I was unclear at the end if they were trying to kidnap the MC to an alternate world, or just kidnap her (seems like the worst place to do it, if so).

    I just really wanted to fall in love with this because the writing is great in so many places, but I ended up confused.

    A few notes:

    "Flying’s not the problem, though. " - Would recommend cutting "though" (I tend to use this as a crutch word, also, but usually you can cut and the sentence is more powerful and flows better. I think that's the case here.

    In the same paragraph you have a lot of short sentences. I'm not bothered by the fragments, since it's such a tight POV, but I think combining a few would make the paragraph flow more smoothly and create more variety. The lines about Peru and the leaves, for instance, seem like strong candidates to me.

    " a girl in a pink flannel hat clinging to his hand. " - Because your subject is the girl with hazel eyes, the "his" tripped me up at first. Just make it very clear you're talking about the man she's been chatting with.

    Baker: YA contemporary is pretty much the opposite of the genres I gravitate to, but this was very well done. The voice was strong, but specific, and even though I've never been in that situation, I felt for the protagonist. Your writing was strong and seemed to fit the age.

    Great work!

  6. Wow, congrats, contestants! I thoroughly enjoyed both of today's stories.

    I had a tough time getting into yours. The departure/arrival times didn't clue me in that this was an airport. Instead I thought they were locations around the world where something happens that interconnects all of them. The sentences under the times were intriguing, but they still didn't give me any context.

    As someone who legit has a phobia of airports, I really connected with your narrator's apprehension, but even after two reads, I couldn't get to the nugget of what her anxiety was about or how the leaves, red door, and tress all circle back to the story as a whole.

    In a post 9/11 world, the premise of this story just doesn't hold water anymore. In the eighties or nineties, sure but not now. There is just so much security and the question about whether they were there to pick someone up wouldn't happen now unless they were at baggage claim since non-flying guests aren't allowed at the gates anymore. The man and Nina wouldn't be able to get the MC on a plane without a ticket for her, and the minute she yelled out for help, security would be on it.

    If this story takes place decades ago, we need something to clue us into the time-period.

    P. Baker:
    This story was so tightly written and relatable. Not everyone has been pregnant at church camp, but everyone's known people like Rebecca, has had a secret to keep, and felt peer pressure.

    I actually really loved the "Personal movie set" line. I also adored the line about Rebecca's pink swimsuit.

    The only thing I stumbled with was the reference to The Scarlet Letter. It was an great reference, but I wondered how old Daisy was and if she read it at school or if she read it on her own. My kid just finished high school and took Honor's English all the way through, and he was never assigned The Scarlet Letter. But that doesn't mean Daisy didn't read it herself, especially since she's pregnant and living in an strict culture. That one reference took me out of the story for just a moment, but not so much that I'd suggest entirely removing it.

    Again, both pieces are solidly written and you both deserve to be standing here today.

    My vote goes to P. Baker.

  7. "Entamaphobia" was new to me, but Wink N. A. Smile's entry deftly evokes Sylvie's fear of going through that figurative door. This piece improves with each reading. The spare use of language is an excellent device, and the evolving nature of Nina's charms really made me think because they seem so purposeful. Yet, where this story is going is still a mystery -- that said, l agree that this felt more like a fantasy to me than a mystery. A minor point, for sure.

    P. Baker, my favorite part of this entry is the use of metaphor: "The plum-sized fate in my gut ..." is my favorite of the references to Daisy's growing pregnancy, each of which demonstrates this is not a blessed event (how could it be for one so young, as Daisy appears to be?). The awkwardness and frustration of a teen ill-equipped to deal with the ruthless peer pressure of that age is well-drawn.

    So, this all makes it very very hard to choose, great job both of you. But as I sit on these and reflect, I'm swinging my vote to Wink N. A. Smile.

  8. Two more excellent entries today! Congratulations to both writers.

    Wink N.A. Smile: This one pulled me right in, despite leaving so many questions unanswered. I had to Google the title: Entamaphobia, the fear of doors. I desperately want to read the rest of the story, to know who Sylvie is, what it means for her to be drawn through doors. The only thing I disagree with is the genre, which feels much closer to fantasy than mystery.

    P. Baker: The opening line is terrific, pulling me right into Daisy's personal terror that's brightened by a her pragmatic perspective. I love the ending that so perfectly encompasses twin teenage concepts: everyone is looking at me, and nobody pays attention to me.

    With no other reason to pick one excellent story over the other, I'm going with Wink N.A. Smile because fantasy/mystery is more my genre than YA.

  9. Wink N.A. Smile -- This piece was well-written and intriguing. Good setup, but maybe a little too vague. It's full of tension and conflict, but in a way that only lets us see the fear and not what's behind it. Also, decent imagery, but not a singe piece of figurative language. You'd think a story that uses the imagery to spark fear would be full of similes and metaphors to draw us in.

    P.Baker -- Nice job getting the conflict across right away. Solid writing, except for the dialog. I love that you use a few metaphors, like the bomb, or the plum-sized fate, to describe her shame. My favorite line was -- As glaring as Hester Prynne's letter A -- Good job.

    Vote is for P. Baker

  10. Wink — I love the imagery in your piece and the way your words flow—your writing is beautiful. I had to look up the meaning of Entamaphobia, and while I love learning something new, I wasn’t sure what her fear of doors had to do with the story or the imagery connected to each departure time (although, from reading other comments, I seem to be in the minority here). I did love how you turned this into a possible kidnapping and I immediately got images of her being sold into the sex trade or something equally awful and would love to know what happens next.

    P. Baker - I also love your use of language and your story. I want to know what happens next as well. I’m hoping Rebecca turns out to be sympathetic and I’d love to see these two become friends.

    I loved both stories and today’s decision is a tough one.

    My vote: P. Baker

  11. I'm voting for Wink today. I was completely drawn in by Sylvie's fear and the twist at the end was quite delicious. I'd read further to find out why that door is so traumatic and how she came to lose herself so much.

    P. Baker, there are some beautiful lines in there, but overall I felt the narrator was telling us too much, rather than letting us see the situation through her eyes.

  12. Both of these pieces have their charms.

    Wink drew me right in and left me wanting more. I advise a little more description to anchor the reader in the story. At one point, I wondered if they'd moved to the restrooms, and I wasn't quite sure where the little girl came from (she seemed to appear out of nowhere) or how Hazel Eyes managed to pull the narrator out of her seat. The bottom line, though, is that I really liked the atmosphere in this piece and I want to know more about every single character's past, present, and future.

    P. Baker offers much that is relatable and I felt sympathy for the main character, but not enough sympathy. Everything felt a little too distant and Rebecca and the other girls came off as a little stereotypical to me. If this is an excerpt, you might have already worked out these issues in the longer work, but if not, I suggest going deeper with your characters and being careful in future WRITE CLUB submissions if you get through this round. Let the reader get to know Daisy intimately and be careful not to let Rebecca fall victim to cliche.

    My vote is for Wink.

  13. The first piece has many confusing parts (which can be easily fixed), but overall, I could probably read on. Especially if this was marked as a supernatural or paranormal mystery, or even horror, instead of mystery. This is more than a mystery. To me, a mystery starts with a dead body. It's what you expect in that genre.

    The second piece reads like a lot of other pieces I've read. Nothing really original here to hook me to read further.

    Wink N.A. Smile gets my vote.

  14. My Vote: Wink

    As for critique, my thoughts have been expressed in above comments, touching on everything for both pieces.

    1. Ashley - first, thank you for the vote. It means a lot to me and both our contestants. Secondly, there have been a lot of thoughts expressed in the comments above - but which ones do you agree with? Get my point? When I go over comments from my critique partners I'll sometimes disregard a suggestion that I might not agree with, but if I hear that same suggestion from multiple CP's, then that gets my attention. Repetition has value. Remember that.

  15. Congratulations!
    Each had strengths and weakness in different areas, in my humble opinion.
    Wink - I felt the anxiety as I read. You did a great job communicating that. The brevity of some of the lines added to that tone. I did have a bit of a hard time with the symbolism at the end which confused the story line for me. I wanted to really get it, but I didn't quite.
    P. Baker - You definitely captured what runs through a teenage girl's head! The idea of a secretly pregnant girl at church camp made it all the more interesting. The issues of self-image being grossly inflated is brought to light, too. It read well, and wasn't confusing.

    This one has been the hardest to decide. Clear strengths in both, clear weaknesses in both.

    Ultimately, I'm voting for Wink because I feel like you took some risks and I admire that.

  16. The first piece had an interesting start with what reminded me of haiku. Not haiku, but it came to mind. I had to wonder, by the way the man calls her darling, what was real and what was imagination, and it became confusing.

    The second piece: I like the reference to Hester Prynne. The dialogue needed more work. But over all the writing was good.

    My vote goes to P. Baker

  17. Wink: this seems so interesting, but I don’t really know what’s going on. In a longer piece, you’re probably building up a good mystery. Here, however, some questions really need to be answered within the 500 words or you risk losing the reader. It strains credulity that the narrator thinks they can end up on the wrong continent, with today’s tech/security, or that the man is cool with a stranger watching his kid while he uses the restroom - and she agrees. I think I’d really like this story. I just need a little more info to understand it.

    Baker: not a new concept, but I like your writing style. The characters and setting sound just right for this genre. I expected more conflict within the piece - there’s no payoff to the narrator’s fear of being noticed. But I’d read on to see what happens next.

    I vote for Baker. Congrats to both!

  18. Wink N.A. Smile -- I'm not entirely sure of the setting. I'd like a bit more of the sounds, smell, and feel of the place. Hard to do in 500 words. It's interesting though.

    P. Baker -- Excellent setting. I can feel for the character. You've filled me with questions about why she's there, if she wants to be pregnant and how she got in that state, and what will happen next. It's a great hook and the perfect opening for a YA story. You get my vote and I hope you'll send this whole thing for publishing one day.

  19. Y'all are making this REALLY hard on us. These are two of the stronger pieces we've seen, in my opinion, pitted against each other.

    Wink, I love a short story with subtleties and hidden meanings that you have to unfold and chip away at, and you gave us some hearty breadcrumbs to follow in this one (the leaves, the tree, the girl's charm bracelet, the reference in the title... which I did have to google.) The whole time, I felt I was walking the line between anxiety and normalcy, and between reality and alternate. I really enjoyed seeing that play out into the last scene, and thought the language was vivid and economical.

    P. Baker, a really charming excerpt! The voice and the humor were well-executed and offered an appropriate levity to what I imagine would be a pretty heavy issue for a teenager. Daisy's sense of disconnection from the baby and her fear of social ostracization felt believable. I'm rooting for her already. I did feel that the observation about Rebecca at the end shifted the plot away from Daisy and smothered the tension completely, but I understand that might have been a matter of wordcount restriction.

    Hard decision, but I'm voting for Wink because the piece was a bit more ambitious, and I find my brain keeps drifting back to it!

  20. Congratulations on making it this far writers. You are both winners.

    The submissions feel evenly matched and both have strengths and weaknesses. Neither appealed to me that much (was hoping for a mystery in the first entry, but don't think that is the correct genre for this piece) and YA is not my cup of tea.

    Wink - I think you have a stronger writing style, and your story felt more unique, but honestly even after thinking about it all day (I read both this morning), I still don't fully understand what I read. Your opening is much too vague I think. Not sure if the numbers refer to times/ gate numbers in the airport, or something else, so from the get go I was confused. More so as I read, and unfortunately despite your ability to create some well written sentences, I just don't understand the story - for me it hopped all over the place, and I never felt entirely sure what I was reading.

    The line spacing doesn't help, as it creates too big of a pause between paragraphs. I think if you can edit it to make the opening more clear (for those who may not figure out the meanings of the numbers and few words), and work on a better flow throughout, the piece would be a winner. Also, would suggest rethinking the genre as it does not read like mystery at all, which I was really hoping for, as it's a genre I love to read.

    P.Baker, your piece is fairly well written, but again it is not my chosen genre to read. I felt the strength in your piece was the opening, but would lose the word typed in ALL CAPS. Let the reader work out what needs stressing by showing us, rather than shouting at us.

    I was able to follow your story clearly, but it does feel a little cliche-ish in parts. To improve your piece, I would echo what others have said, and that is to work on making the reader care more towards Daisy, she doesn't have a lot of depth as it is right now, and work on trying to make the cliche characters and scenes more original.

    Also, just my opinion, but I think unless a story has a very good reason to finish way short of the allotted word count, it is a mistake to end it with so many words unused. You could have used the extra words to create more emotion.

    As much as I think WInk is the better writer in this round, I can't really vote for a story I just don't understand, and sadly I don't get their piece.

    Vote this round is for P.Baker, but please consider using all the words allotted if you should go forward.

  21. My vote is for P.Baker!

    For Wink I like the imagery you had with the doors, also learned a new type of phobia thank you for that, I think you conveyed the character's anxiety and fears very well. That being said I didn't understand the source of the fear, was it a single event, just a recurring nightmare, or is the combination of bronze leaves and red tree particularly symbolic? Given the airport setting I wasn't sure if the ending was in the character's head or physically happened.

    For P.Baker you had me from the first to the last paragraph, the way she saw reality and was so fearful of everyone seeing the obvious to realizing that those around her are clueless because of her insignificance. The amount of peer pressure that her social circle exerts is also relatable, as for anything that threw me I suppose the father's identity. The feel I got was that it was someone from her circles and possibly someone at the camp or someone who would usually be there, but that's all speculation.

  22. 😉 The lack of dialog tags made my head spin. I'm weird like that.

    👨‍🍳🍞 A hidden 🤰 at 💒⛺! Wow. Okay, I'm hooked. 🎣 You get my vote.

  23. Both very interesting submissions.
    Wink- I’m not sure this a mystery as it has more of a fantasy feel. The imagery is much more of that genre. I will admit to being very confused as to what was happening. I’m not sure when this is supposed to take place. In our post 9/11 world, I doubt this could occur. I am unfamiliar with what Tracksmith Meter and I had to stop and look it up. It appears to be a magazine for runners/joggers. You might be better off just saying the man was reading a running mag unless the brand is vital to the story. All that being said, I would still like to know what happens beyond the submission length.
    P. Baker- You do a wonderful job of setting the mean girls feel that Daisy is up against and her own perception of how the world sees her while also allowing the reader to know that may not be how others see her. It was very crisp writing. As I’ve noted in other reviews, I’m outside the YA age bracket so I don’t think I would read a full length version of this story. But for the purposes of this round, you had a better submission.

    My vote is for P. Baker

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  25. My vote is for Baker this round. I instantly connected with this story, having been both sinner and camper, as well as counselor for several church camp adventures. I also think it is well written and has a comfortable flow. I felt the trepidation of the MC and don't we all know that Rebecca girl? Thank you for the trip back in time. Great job!

    Wink, I honestly was lost from the beginning of this piece. I originally thought the MC was a man for some reason and finding out it was a woman was distracting. In such a short piece, I want to know what the story is about and I was held at arm's length instead. All the breaks prevented any kind of flow from being able to develop. This was just too vague and chopped up for me to enjoy.

  26. Congratulations to both of you!
    Wink, I enjoyed your piece. I wanted to go through the door. When he reached down and linked his arm through hers I was hooked and wanted more. It was probably intended for mystery purposes, but I was a little confused for a while and your piece does feel a little more like fantasy than mystery. But it was a fun read!
    P. Baker, wow! I loved it! I truly felt for Daisy. What a difficult plight for a young teenage girl. I felt almost like I was back at church camp swimming. I wasn’t a pregnant teen, but I was certainly an awkward one. I Think this story would resonate with any young girl. You had many great lines too: “a wet shirt will expose my swelling bomb.” Great job by both writers, but my vote goes to P. Baker this time.

  27. Huh. Two stories dealing with discomfort and uncertainty in very different ways.

    Wink N.A. Smile
    Entamaphobia -- points for teaching me a new word! Phobias are always such fascinating topics and I hadn't run across this one before. The title is necessary and adds to this piece. Bravo!

    "The departure board just won’t stop scrolling..." Are the times at the start meant to be departure times? Or are they meant to be paralleling important time increments to whatever her past trauma is? I'm a bit thrown off because the times are really very odd if literal departure times. But if your intention is to have that stick out as clever foreshadowing later in a longer piece, I think it's effective. Just not effective on its own here, per se. If that's not the intent, pick more common departure times, like 11:30.

    "...then leaves unfurl, a bronze door opens..." It throws me off to see bronze describing something other than the leaves this time (especially since the bronze is back by the leaves again later). I'm not sure if this is intentional to show she's jumbling the memory in her head, or it was a mistake and you meant to say "a red door opens" here. We don't get any sense of what bronze means to her in this short sample, so I'd err on the side of removing this second "bronze." Have "leaves unfurl, a door opens" only.

    “Hey, could I trouble you?”
    This feels off from a pacing standpoint since she just finished talking to him and the story makes a point to say he goes back to his magazine. He reads his magazine, she makes the remark on his shirt, then suddenly, he's talking again. I think we either need to get a more clear sense that she spaced out reading his shirt, or else she needs to think about something else first. Or, have the dad check his watch first. Something to indicate he realizes he needs to use the restroom now before take-off.

    "Unicorn, ice cream, roller skates." I feel really dumb, but I did not at all get that she was noting the charms on the bracelet in the first read through. I think since the images of the leaves, red tree, and door are introduced without context, I assumed these words were just more disconnected thoughts/images in her mind. I actually thought, as more images were listed, she was reciting what she got in a tarot reading (I realize the first three items don't match that, but the later ones do and tarot seems like a tonal fit for this piece, so my brain just went with it). For readers like me, it might help to be a bit more obvious in connecting those images to the narrator; e.g. "She bounces down, and I stare at the charm bracelet she twists about her wrist."

    “Hi[,] Nina!" Missing comma of address.

    I'm not sure how I feel about Nina having a tree charm. Again, some of these feel like tarot images, but other really don't. So the repeated tree just kind of feels misplaced, like it has no deeper meaning. I want these charms to mean something, but right now, they don't feel like they do. The last 6 are super odd and seem like they have meaning by that virtue. But the first three are so expected and common place that it feels disjoint. Either give Nina all cutesy charms, except for maybe one noticeable weird one that you can use to highlight your theme, or else ax the 3 cutesy ones entirely so we're clued in that we should be paying closer attention to what these may mean in regards to the theme.

    Also, does she need 9? Maybe that's meant to be a magical number reference (3-3-3), but for such a short piece, I think fewer charms would let you put some easing details for the pacing/setting elsewhere.

    "I’m trying too hard[,] but somehow I can’t help it."

    If the narrator concludes they are waiting for someone, wouldn't it make sense for the board they are sitting next to at the start to be for arrivals?

    This reads SO smoothly! I genuinely delighted in doing so.

  28. P. Baker
    The opening paragraph is really strong! But I'm not sure it makes sense here. It implies that other people have already found out that she is pregnant. Yet the piece is about her very much trying to hide that she is. Most teenagers aren't the best about thinking through actions and learn most by trial and error. So for her to open on that, I'm left wondering, "Well, how do these camp people not know? Hasn't word gotten around?" I guess in my head, church camp goers would be from a smaller community with someone who'd know so-and-so and already have spread the news.

    Frankly, it's a stronger first sentence to just open on paragraph 2.

    Love the detail about sneaking shirts from her brother. Feels very realistic and adds character dimension in context.

    " swelling bomb." Hmm. Something about pregnancy being described as a bomb here just feels off to me. It doesn't feel like a genuine way for her to think about her own pregnancy. I think that's because she's so desperate to hide it and a bomb is super explosive. I'd think in her own mind, she'd want to ignore it and minimize it as much as possible until it couldn't be avoided. THEN she'd go to the opposite extreme and overblow it in her head because her emotions seem so huge. Calling it a "plum-sized fate" later better fits with the notion that she's trying to ignore it herself. So I'd keep all descriptions in line with that mindset.

    "But you’ve never experienced peer pressure until you’ve said no to your church friends." GREAT line! However, given this, I'd like to see it more. We don't actually see any peer pressure (or what Daisy perceives as peer pressure; teenagers are great as unreliable narrators in these circumstances) from her friends. Just Rebecca (clearly NOT her friend) and the counselor. Given that line, I think it's better to substitute the counselor for her actual friends.

    "Her pink swimsuit is a glitch..." A cool description, but I don't get the sense that Daisy is into programming/computers, so this seems at odds as a way for her to think. Maybe she is a programmer and we just don't see that here. In which case, this would work.

    "...Christ,” I mutter. The counselor clears her throat. “Uh, just praying…”
    HAHA! This is such clever characterization and fun dialog!

    For something so big as being a pregnant teen trying to hide it, I really think we have to see the peer pressure to understand why she swims out. I'm inclined to believe she'd be more likely to make up a super lame excuse, commit to it, then feel awful and stupid the whole time (when really everyone else just shrugs and forgets about it) than have her agree to swim when she's convinced it will reveal her situation. Removing that intro paragraph could give you the room to explore this pressure more.

    "’s so obvious, a neon sign on my stomach growing brighter every second. A swelling tumor, a parasite consuming my whole body. As glaring as Hester Prynne's letter A." While a teenager would likely be this repetitive, it's not a great read. Drop one of these lines.

    The last line was really a letdown for me. Personally, I don't see how Rebecca is at all self-absorbed? I actually read her ignoring Daisy's situation after reading about how much she was afraid it would come out as Rebecca being kind. She doesn't seem at all demanding, except through Daisy's kind of weak say-so with the throne lines. So the last line doesn't feel deserved. And makes me dislike Daisy, but root for Rebecca.

    Casting my vote for Wink. This felt much more literary to me than mystery. I liked that it got me thinking! And you are fantastic about inserting just the right detail (e.g. "mostly it’s the precise stubble on his jawline," "slips a cold little hand into mine"). Your work is a joy and I crave more of it!

  29. I could relate to Daisy's misery and my vote is for P.Baker.

    Winks story had a lot going on, but I was confused and unsure what was happening.

  30. Congratulations to both writers!

    Wink N. A. Smile: The end really picked up, with the sudden kidnapping of the protagonist. There was a lot of buildup to get there, probably works in a longer piece, but maybe needed to be a bit condensed here. The hints at what her job is were intriguing, but I would have liked to follow it to find out the answer.

    P. Baker: Great imagery on the results of peer pressure. After all the buildup that Rebecca was going to find out, it was a bit of a let down that she didn’t say anything. Maybe in a longer piece, she confronts Daisy later, so here you might just hint at that, a whispered comment that she noticed might have given a bigger emotional payoff for the reader.

    My vote goes to Wink N. A. Smile.

  31. Nice job. Both reads solid. I like the mystery and less-conventional delivery and structure of Wink N.A. Smile. Wink gets my vote.

  32. Congratulations, writers, both of these stories are winners.

    Wink N.A. Smile, I love the feeling of mystery and possibility you’ve created here. I can imagine this story going in exciting, intriguing directions. At first, I thought she was traveling to different locations without leaving the airport, and that would have been cool. Loved the twist at the end.

    But it took me a few readings to get the full picture of what was going on. It seemed you were being intentionally vague and more clarity would have pulled us into the story quicker. A few more details to ground us in the setting would help, where she is sitting, what people are doing and where they are in relation to each other. The repetition of nouns felt choppy and doesn’t pack as much of a punch, since we have no context.

    P. Baker, your story is well written and relatable. Great descriptions and figurative language. I can feel Daisy’s discomfort, the sun on her skin, hear the playful cries of the kids in the water. Also, great tension throughout as Daisy wonders if she’ll be found out.

    Though I think Wink’s story has great potential, my vote is for P. Baker.

  33. P. Baker, great images that put the reader right in the scene.

    My vote is for Wink N.A. Smile, because I am curious about where the story will go next!

  34. Hard to choose between these 2. Both left me with wanting to know what happens next.

    Voting for Wink N.A. Smile




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