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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #2

This year's contest is off to an exhilarating start and I'm happy to keep the ball rolling.

Here's a recap in case the contest has escaped your notice before now, WRiTE CLUB (sponsored by the DFW Conference) is tournament-style contest that runs during the eight weeks prior to the conference and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win free admission to next year’s conference (along with other prizes). Here’s the kicker—it’s all done anonymously. Writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names. The chosen (pre-decided by a group of twenty slush pile readers) are paired off to go head-to-head in daily “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 can win a $60 Barnes and Noble prize. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed into a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize.

How this works—two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples are waiting in the ring below. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) should read both entries and then vote by leaving a comment for the one that resonates with you the most. We also ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest—FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

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 Monday, May 11th (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) This is more of a suggestion than a rule - but cast your vote before you read other voter comments. Don't let yourself be swayed by the opinion of others.

That’s enough of the fine print. Let's get to it.

On one side of the ring stands Amber Guity representing the Adult Thriller genre.

Meet me at the corner of Weston and Hardison at 7 pm.  If you call the police, she dies.  If you don’t come alone, she dies.  If you don’t show, she dies.


The note was tucked under the windshield wiper blade and was written on the back of sales ad from the grocery store next door.  Shannon looked around, her pulse pounding.  Who was “she”?  Her mother was dead, she had four brothers, and no kids.  The parking lot was busy as customers came and went, oblivious to her and the note.  She checked her watch:  6:27. “Damn.”  That didn’t give her much time to make it across town, especially if she hit traffic.  She still didn’t know who “she” was, but she had to find out.


Shannon checked her watch again, she had to hurry.  “Damn,” she said again before getting into her car and closing the door.  She backed out of the parking lot and merged into the traffic.  She was lucky, at this time of day, the traffic was moving in the opposite direction.  She darted in and out of traffic trying to do so without bringing too much attention on herself.


She squealed into the parking lot of an abandoned gas station at Weston and Hardison with three minutes to spare.  Hers was the only car there; maybe it was a prank.  She started calling Mark, let him know what was going on, but if they were watching, they might kill her.  Whoever “her” was.  Instead, she stuffed her phone into her pocked and got out of the car.  She paced nervously around the car, never getting too far from the vehicle. 


With a quick glance around confirming she was still alone, she pulled the phone from her pocket and scrolled through her contact’s list, looking for any woman’s name to jump out at her; nothing did.


At 6:59, she was still alone.  “Damn.”  This was a damn joke, it had to be.  The heat rose up her neck and face and she clenched her fists until her nails bit into the tender flesh on her palms.  “Shit!”  Whoever was playing this joke on her was going to pay for this.


Shannon reached for the door handle just as a big truck came squealing into the parking lot and slid to a halt behind her car, blocking her in; gravel sprayed onto the bumper of her car.  Two masked men jumped out of the car and rushed her.  She bit back a scream.  If she screamed, they might not just kill she, but kill her, too. 


“What do you want?”  Shannon asked.


One of the men peeled off his mask.  “Who the hell are you?”


“Shannon.  I got this note on my car.”  She handed the man the note from her pocket.


“Damn it, Jim.  You tagged the wrong car.  Sorry ma’am.”


The two men jumped in their truck and drove off, spraying more gravel as they went.


On the far side of the ring, we have A. Lynne Smithee who is representing the Adult Suspense genre.

Nose for Trouble


Grandma used to tell me if you go looking for trouble, you're sure to find it. The same goes with death. It's all around us, pervading every layer of soil with remnants of every plant and animal that ever lived in this forest. Their scents remain like ghosts, revenants that linger and throw the dogs off their mark.

"Got something, girl?" I ask Gracie.

 A German shorthaired pointer, Gracie's been with me since she was two. Nothing can distract her when we’re on the job. The thing that separates her from other K-9s is we've never made a game out of it. Gracie seems to take it seriously, to almost dread that moment before she finds what she's looking for and she gives the sign.

 She looks at me with eyes too human for a dog, wags her stub of a tail, then bounds over a small log and pushes deeper into the forest. This isn't the first time something has caught Gracie's interest. Maybe it's the constant rain making it worse, the water seeping into everything and bringing the smell of rot to the surface.

 I hope we'll get lucky, that we'll leave without finding her and all this will amount to is a day in the forest with my dog. Grandma had a saying for that, too: pray for sunshine, but bring a raincoat. Water slides off the hood of my slicker in tiny cascades. At least I got that much right.

 Gracie darts forward and I almost lose sight of her. She's onto something. A cold breath of dread tickles my neck and sends a frisson through me as sure as if that rainwater had gone down my shirt. I break into a run.

 The brush is thicker up ahead. Gracie's upper body disappears into a clump of ferns at the base of a fallen pine. That stub-tail continues to flag back and forth like a prison searchlight.

 Hope swells in me when my dog emerges from the plants. She looks back as if to tell me to keep up, then clambers around the fallen pine. The clouds overhead shift to let the sun wink down on us. Coruscating light turns the raindrops into tiny individual kaleidoscopes. I gape at the sight until I remember something else Grandma used to say: hope is your heart's way of denying what your mind already knows.

 At the top of a small mound, Gracie has gone still. The tail's patrol is finished, now locked skyward. The muscles in her shoulders are bunched tight as coiled springs. Her nose hovers an inch from a patch of tar-black earth.

 "Good girl," I tell her, then give her the sign to stand down.

 I make the call and sit on the fallen pine. She licks my face, then looks at me with those baleful caramel eyes, eyes that remind me of my grandmother. I scratch at her ears and we wait together for the forensic team to arrive.


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

Before we sign off today, 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.

We’ll be back tomorrow with bout #3. 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. Two solid entries again!

    Amber, you kept me on edge from beginning to end...and honestly, I'm worried about who "she" is and what is going to happen to her. I think this could be tightened a little more. There's a missing comma "...sorry, ma'am" and a choice of preposition that I didn't quite like, but I really enjoyed this story.

    A. Lynne, I liked your story, too. You've done a wonderful job with the setting. I think my issue with it may be all the references to grandma. In a longer piece, I might feel that the four references were great, but in this one, I just feel that they took away from the suspense.

    My vote is for Amber Guity.

  2. Smithee's Nose for Trouble gets my vote.

    Although I had to backtrack to realize the main character was looking for a body all along, I liked the ending. I also liked the way the grandmother was weaved into the experience -- although, the genre choice doesn't fit in my mind. I did want to know what was going to happen, but the relationship between dog and owner was more interesting to me than the events entangling them.

    With Amber Guity's piece, I found myself lost in a lot of "shes" and "hers." I also wanted more than an oops at the end -- and maybe that's because it didn't seem believable to me that the crooks would just leave her alone after their mistake.

    Congrats to you both for making the top 30!

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  4. Two great pieces again!

    Amber Guity's piece made me laugh at the end - what a great twist! It was tense and mysterious, and I kept waiting for the "who is she?" reveal, but the ending threw a total curveball. I'd love to see if the main character decides to become involved in thwarting these inept kidnappers.

    Smithee's excerpt was really well written. I love a good dog/human bond. I wasn't sure, though, what exactly was happening, whether the victim they were searching for was someone they knew or if they were working for the police. A tiny bit more clarity would have pulled me into the narrative more. Overall very nice piece, though.

    My vote goes to Amber Guity.

  5. I like A Lynne's piece, but I wasn't exactly sure what the context was for the search. Police tracking maybe? I guess the clue was it being called K-9, but I didn't pick up on that the first read.

    Amber's was good. I kept trying to think of all the "she's" that it could possibly be... pet maybe??? I never dreamed that it might just be a mistake. Great twist ending

    My vote goes to Amber Guilty.

  6. Ouch, another toughie. Both have me really wondering what's going to happen. The first made me laugh, too! Voting for Amber Guity.

  7. Amber: the writing can be tightened up quite a bit. The kidnappers’ note could be just a dozen words and still get its point across. Terse writing would also amp up the tension. I struggled with why anyone would simply obey the note, especially without understanding it. “Traffic” is used in three sentences in a row. Shannon muses repeatedly that she doesn’t know who “she” is, and she says “damn” a lot. With so few words to work with, this uses up a lot of space. Amusing twist at the end.

    Lynne: way to set the tone with the first paragraph. I kept waiting for the grandmother to play into the story itself, or for something more to happen. This must be part of a larger piece, but even so I wanted to see a bit of payoff in the 500 words. There’s almost no info on the narrator, other than they’re a search and rescue worker who loves their grandma. The dog’s eyes looking like grandma’s also threw me off.

    I vote for Lynne because this feels like a more tightly written, atmospheric sample.

  8. I liked both stories, but my vote goes to Amber Guilty. The first paragraph hooked me and the tension never let up. I'd like to find out what happens next.

    And while I liked the dog story, I just didn't feel the emotional tug.

  9. Amber--I really like how you set up this piece with the note and the MC's confusion over who "she" is. I would have preferred if there was at least a few "shes" it could've been for the MC (even a pet) because, without it, I figured out the twist rather quickly. I think the writing could be tightened up a bit more, and I found the continual use of the word "damn" distracting. I did like that they tagged the wrong car and wonder if they've done it before.

    Lynne--I love the scene you set up, but I found myself wanting more. Who is the MC looking for? Is there some kind of connection between the victim and the MC, or has this routine become more rote than the MC would like to admit. I think a few lines about this would've really drawn the reader in (and, since I know you're on a strict word limit, I'd suggest replacing the second grandma story with this info). You had some wonderful turns of phrases though, and I enjoyed the atmosphere you created.

    My vote: A. Lynne

  10. The first piece had me hooked right away. The premise was clever. There were a couple of grammatical errors, so one more read through should have been done before sending. And the end was problematic. It was unlikely the main character would have been left alive after seeing the face of one of the criminals and hearing the other called by name. Great beginning, but the end fell flat.

    In the second story, I loved the relationship between handler and dog. Especially the way she feels when looking into the dog's "too human eyes." Also, memories of the grandmother gave me insight into the main character. I imagined a woman expressing sadness at the discovery of a dead body. Even the dog feels her sadness at the end, and I felt it too. Great story. My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee.

  11. Amber: A good story that held my interest throughout. The comedic ending was a nice twist, though I felt it didn't fall into the "thriller" category. Unfortunately, the writing and errors (pocked instead of pocket, among others) had me cringing. Too much repetition (damn, she, her) and too many cliches (she squealed into the parking lot, the bad guys' truck came squealing into the parking lot, and somebody was going to pay for this). Tighten up the writing, eliminate cliches, and this story will sing.

    Lynne: The story is quiet yet captivating, subtly weaving undercurrents of tension through beautiful and efficient writing. I love the references back to her grandmother, her wisdom, their bond, and the bond she now has with Gracie. My only letdown came at the end. I wish the piece had evoked more emotion from the narrator with such a sad outcome. Still. Between the two entries, the flow of overall story and writing came out on top for me.

    Vote: A. Lynne Smithee

  12. A. Lynne Smithee weaved a pleasant scene together. The relationship between handler and dog and the actual events taking place were well intertwined. I also enjoyed the description.
    Amber has potential, but seemed rushed to me. I think it could have benefited from a couple of extra revisions. 

    My vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee

  13. Well done bout two entries. Evenly matched writing ability and flow.
    I like both and each had their merits and weaker points.
    amber this was great but could have been better left hanging, waiting for more.
    Overall I feel the more original piece is the unresolved A.Lynne, so that gets my vote.

  14. Congratulations, writers!

    Amber Guilty: I love the twist at the end. There's just something about the idea of bumbling kidnappers that tickles me. My main bit of feedback for this piece is that the writing isn't as tight as I'd expect in such a short piece. The repetitive use of words like "damn" and "squealed" made this story feel as though it were written in a bit of a rush.

    A. Lynn Smithee: This piece is delightful and full of atmosphere. I caught on right away that Gracie was a working dog looking for a body, but knowing that's what was going on in no way detracted from the discovery at the end. I really don't have any critiques for you.

    My vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee.

  15. Congratulations to both authors!

    My vote goes to A. Lynne. I loved all the sensory details on this piece. The fact that she's looking for a dead body but doesn't want to find one also got me curious to know more. You also managed to convey a lot about her relationships- the dog, the grandmother - in a short piece. Well done!

    As for Amber's piece I would have liked to know more about the internal thoughts and emotions that prompted the main character to go to the parking lot. She seemed more reactive than active. That said, I felt curious to know who "she" was.

  16. ARGH! I hate making decisions.
    AmberGuity - interesting premise. I felt like she was a tiny bit too casual in her response - I would love more heart pounding or general freak out, but you sucker-punched me in the end and I even chuckled out loud.
    A.Lynne Smithee - your imagery is captivating. I do think there might be opportunity to increase the tension early on, but the interaction between the dog and handler was very nice and I read effortlessly.
    My vote is for A. Lynne Smithee

  17. Amber Guity -- nice idea, but too much passive voice. I was "was-ed" to death.
    A. Lynne Smithee -- a solid scene. Still could use tightening, but it works.
    My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee.

  18. My vote: A. Lynn Smithee

    While I did enjoy both stories immensly, the end of Amber's piece left me feeling a little let down. The story had a nice tension build, only to be dismissed by joke/mistake. Sigh. Unfortunately, that's what lost it for me. Had this been listed as a comedy, sure, maybe, but it took away the "thrill". I would also have liked to have seen more discriptive/figurative language. I think the only one i saw was "Squealed into the parking lot". A tough task to pull off in a mere 500 words, though. Still loved the story, up until that final "twist"

    Smithee: This one had me from the start. The atmosphere was painted in such a way i could almost taste the scent of decay in the woods. Nicely done. Additionally, i felt a little sad, picturing the woman (at least in my head it was a woman, tho the author doesn't state one way or the other) waiting with her dog, looking at a dead body. The setting tied to that scene was the perfect amount of sad, and resolve.

  19. My vote is for A. Lynn Smithee

    This story was full of clear and concise imagery. I could smell the decomposing plant matter and damp dirt of the woods. I sometimes find present tense writing difficult to immerse myself in but this was not the case here. My opinion, one too many references to what grandma used to say and there were a couple times I felt the author got wordy - sometimes simpler words are better.

  20. My vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee. Lovely writing that uses all the senses to embed us in the scene, and really great, subtle character building through the character's thoughts and memories.

    I liked the premise of Amber's piece, but the number of typos and grammar errors kept dragging me from the story, as did the repeated words and passive voice.

  21. Amber Guity’s ending had me laugh out loud. It seemed something out of Donald Westlake’s lighter crime stories. (I could see Dortmunder and Kelp as the thieves at the end). I can see why some people might not like the twist, but that is a matter of taste. The twist was a good payoff for the built-up suspense. I have no idea where the story is going, but the twist gives a payoff for having read that far, which is something I feel is necessary for a contest limited to 500 words.
    My only issue: the use of the pronoun she was a bit excessive. There are two individuals for whom it is being used and it gets a little confusing as to which person it is used for. This might have been one of the few times where the main character should have been referred to by her name instead of a pronoun.

    A Lynne Smithee’s piece did a good job of setting up the situation and giving some insight into the narrator. (And Kudos for the nom de plume). The narrator is fleshed out some and we get an idea of what she deems to be important. The downside to the 500-word limit imposed on the writers can be seen here. I don’t really know what the story is about. It could be about the narrator (and what we’ve read is just another day in her life) or it could be the search for a killer. The ending has no payoff.

    At the end of the day, my vote goes to Amber Guity.

  22. Another great match. Amber's story was instantly captivating for me. I can understand wanted to prevent a death even if you do not know who is being threatened. However, there was some distracting word repetition (damn, traffic, joke). But my main problem was the twist at the end. Sure, it was unexpected. But the kidnapper (the criminal threatening to kill someone), takes off his mask and uses his partner's first name, and then apologizes to the main character and just leaves?

    A. Lynn Smithee's piece really provided a sense of atmosphere. And even though it was just the MC and the dog, you got a good sense of that character.

    For these reasons, my vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee.

  23. I really liked both stories. In A. Lynn's story I wanted more information, like was she searching on her own or was she working with a police department? I felt there is more to the references to the grandmother that just couldn't be covered in such a short story. It was very well written.

    Amber Guity had me from the start. I loved the twist at the end! I felt for her as she rushed to try and save some woman not even knowing who the woman was.

    My vote goes to Amber Guity

  24. Congrats to both authors for making it into the first round! My vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee.

    Amber Guity: This could be a really funny scenario... or the setup for a genuine thriller, but it needs work. On the technical level, there are several run-on sentences, missing commas, passive voice ("the note was tucked... and was written..."), and at least one word left out ("the back of sales ad"). As far as developmental issues, I didn't connect with this protagonist enough to understand her motivations or to care very much what happened to her. It felt distant and mechanical, and because I wasn't invested in the character, the ending failed to deliver the impact the author intended. I'd like to see this entry revised to go deeper into Shannon's point of view in order to connect the reader to the story. I don't even know why Shannon went to the gas station. Is she a naive girl, a secret agent type, a selfless heroine, a plucky adventure-seeker? Who she is will alter the whole feel and direction of the story, and without that crucial bit of information, I just can't invest.

    A. Lynn Smithee: Wow. This entry is full of atmosphere, voice, character, tension, and foreshadowing. From the first line, I was in the forest with Gracie and her handler, and I got a lot of insights into their personalities even as the tension increased toward the climax. This piece is incredibly well crafted. Each of Grandma's sayings fit perfectly into the story. On that note, there's a saying in the WRiTECLUB world: Make every word count.... and that's exactly what A. Lynne Smithee has done. Good job!

  25. Reading both of these entries was entertaining. I enjoyed the suspense factor in each one. I loved the dog at work in A. Lynne's submission. I felt a desire to know more about what they were searching for and why. Amber's submission was a fantastic twist of mistaken identity, which makes me want to learn more about "she"! Thank you for a wonderful read! Hard to choose just 1!
    My vote goes to A Lynne Smithee!

  26. My vote goes to A. Lynn Smithee. Nice writing in both pieces, but Amber Guity's completely threw me out when an MC with no apparent experience in handling a dangerous situation. What did she hope to accomplish? Didn't the kidnappers even bother to check the license plate of the car they stuck their ransom (or whatever) note to? Then they charge in, and in front of a potential witness, TEAR OFF THEIR MASKS!!! However, before writing all these characters off as too dumb to live, I suggest repurposing this sample as the zany comedy caper it apparently wants to be.

    A. Lynn Smithee, on the other hand, provided a plausible premise for the second piece. Nice bond, voice, and tension. Yay! B

    BTW, am still having trouble posting, so if Blogger doesn't recognize my profile, I'm Melissa Embry,

  27. My vote goes to Smithee as it felt like more of a complete story. I could feel the tension and the connection between the partners.

    Amber, your piece was well done, and the twist at the end actually made me *gigglesnort* in my office. I'm not sure that's what you were going for, but it could be a fun comedy!

    Confirming My vote goes to Smithee, with kudos for Amber.

  28. Amber Guity - I can't help but wonder if it's one of those weird things where rich people pay to get kidnapped. That's funny that the note was on the wrong car. Good piece. You have my vote because I want to see where this goes, and if this were a book I would read on.

    A. Lynne Smithee - "Coruscating light turns the raindrops into tiny individual kaleidoscopes." There's a sentence you don't read everyday. You have a real flare for imagery. This was a close one for me.

  29. Two more great entries. Congratulations!

    I enjoyed the tension of Amber's submission and I was really curious about who “she” might be. But the writing could use a bit more tightening. The typos, repetitions and technical problems kept throwing me out of the narrative. I didn't get a strong feeling of who Shannon was and why she was risking herself for a stranger. The twist ending might have been stronger if we got to see how Shannon reacted to it. Doh!

    Nose for Trouble was also tense, suspenseful and kept me engaged to the end. The writing was strong and flowed well and I liked the device of using the grandmother’s quotes throughout, though maybe one less would have been better. I connected with the MC and got a pretty good feel for what kind of person s/he was. I also really enjoyed the descriptions of Gracie and the relationship between human and dog. My only complaint is that I felt a bit let down at the end. I wanted to get just a tiny peak at what that darn dog found, and a small hint about where this might go next.

    My vote is for A. Lynn Smithee.

  30. My vote is for. A Lynn Smithee.

    For Amber Guilty.
    The story reads well but I feel like there could be more of a sense of urgency in the words used. Also, if the guy unmasked himself I feel like they’d still take Shannon captive because she could identify them and report them to authorities. I did like that they were pissed that they tagged the wrong car. It lightened the mood a little and gave the impression that the bad guys were bad at being villains.

    A.Lynn Smithee

    I really like the colorful vocabulary. It might be a little complex depending on your audiences vocabulary. I’m a bit confused about the grandmothers purpose in the story other than to be a bit cliche about her sayings.

  31. Today is a great example how important every one of the 500 words is in this contest because a few words is usually all that separates two solid entries (he says with too many words).

    In the end, A. Lynn Smithee used all 500 a tad better than Amber Guity. A little less repetition, a cleaner grammatical presentation, and smoother flow put it over the top for me. Also, I felt it fit the genre better.

    A. Lynn Smithee gets my vote

    I was hooked initially on the first, but it was difficult to get past the MC's motivation for going. With proper motivation, I think this could win, but curiosity is too much of a stretch in my humble opinion. With a plausible she (or multiple plausible shes) it might have what it takes to go to the next level.

  32. I'm going to cast my vote for Amber Guity today. The piece here is tense and the ending is a great turn for it to take. I could have done with perhaps a bit more weight behind what was going on, but overall I thought the buildup/payoff line was really well done!

    A. Lynne Smithee's piece was niece and atmospheric, but it ultimately fell a bit flat for me just because I wasn't sure there the atmosphere really paid off in the end. It very much felt like something that was part of a larger piece, which I suspect is really good, but that didn't come across strongly here.

  33. I enjoyed both entries, and both put me right into the scene.

    Amber, I believed the protagonist's motivation for going, since she wonders if she's overlooked someone (and she seems like a caring person), but I think having a few concrete possibilities would ramp up the tension.

    A. Lynne Smithee, your descriptions of the setting were gorgeous, contrasting well with the sense of growing dread, and you convey so much emotion through the narrator's descriptions of her dog. I wasn't able to guess how this one would end until the sentence about hope.

    My vote is for A. Lynne Smithee.

  34. I thought both of these were solid and had some great points in their favour. Ultimately, I'm going to vote for Amber (though it was a narrow choice for me).

    I enjoyed the punchline of Amber's, which actually made me chuckle. I did think the prose could have been sharpened here and there. Stronger verbs would have helped elevate it a little for me, to match the fun concept.

    Lynne's was solid too (like I said, this was a tough choice). In many ways these entries felt like tonal opposites, which only made the choice harder. I like what Lynne was going for here with the rich prose, and the emphasis on character. That said, there was some awkward phrasing and word choice that pulled me out of the piece (e.g. "pervading" feels like it's interrupting the flow--maybe try "permeating"?). This seems like the beginning of something very strong, and if it were a novel I'd read on.

  35. Smithee has my vote!

    I enjoyed your descriptions. They flowed well without taking me out of the story.

  36. Amber Guity was a fun read! The end made me giggle and surprised me. In the beginning and middle the suspense was building and I wanted to see who “she” was and couldn’t help but place myself in the main character’s position. I did find that reading the same cuss word over and over made the entry a little less believable or maybe just a little too much maybe. But this entry is great!
    Lynne Smithee, was very good. You felt as though you were there at times: (The clouds overhead shift to let the sun wink down on us.) I did find so many references to the Grandmother unnecessary. The first two references were good and creative and all that the piece needed.
    My vote is Amber Guity!

  37. I've said it before, I'm a fan of the surprise ending, so my vote is for Amber.

    Lynne-- I think this is a great piece, and it reads as an excerpt from a much bigger body of work. I would love to see this is a much longer piece about their journey together. My problem with it, was there was too much "back story" I felt I needed to know, and there just isn't room in 500 words to give me that.

  38. If I were to pick up the first piece with ADULT THRILLER stamped on it, I wouldn't expect to see Dumb and Dumber inside the pages. So either the genre should be changed or the story. I was disappointed because my expectations weren't met. And I saw absolutely no motivation as to why the MC would risk her life for someone else.

    The second piece was a bit on the slow side, and I would have liked to have seen a little more conflict, but I was able to visualize Gracie all through the piece. And once I realized Gracie was a K9, I figured out the motivation, which was valid. A Lynne Smithee gets my vote.

  39. This was a tough call for me, as both entries are very strong. Amber Guity's incompetent crook story was intriguing from the beginning with a nice twist at the end, though I thought of the possibility that the note was on the wrong car right off. The writing didn't feel tight enough to me. For example, she notes how tight time is immediately, then the next paragraph begins with her noting how she has to hurry. Pruning some unnecessary repetition like that would have left more space to elaborate on who the MC is. Why is she the type of person to instantly decide to take the risky step of going to a deserted place to meet people who've threatened murder when there's not a single female person or animal in her circle? I'm not saying people wouldn't do this, but didn't get a sense of why this particular person would do this.

    A. Lynne Smithee's story could have benefited from some additional context from the beginning. I spent quite a while wondering if the MC was just someone with a dog who liked to find interesting things in the forest, or even an evil-doer looking for a place to hind a body or something like that. Knowing up front that this was an official search dog on the case would have let me settle more thoroughly into the story. Cutting back just a bit on the references to grandma would have made enough space for this tiny bit of additional context.

    My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee, though it wasn't an easy choice.

  40. Congrats on getting through - that in itself makes you both winners.

    On starting to read Amber's entry my heart began pounding, the tension was high with a fantastic opening. Unfortunately as I read on this feeling faded. Partly due to spelling errors, a missed word, and repetitive use of language. It reads slightly rushed, and with the stakes and quality of writing so high in this contest, these little faux pas can make or break an entry.

    While the premise started out strong, I felt it lost something towards the middle and the ending for me was a little too fetched. That being said, a slight re-think of the plot and a good edit for errors and a few of the word choices, this could be a really strong entry. Well done.

    A. Lynn Smithee's entry definitely checked all the sensory detail boxes, and I very much enjoyed reading about a dog and her handler. The use of grandma to inject some backstory worked, but in such a short piece I do think perhaps a little less grandma would have made the parts shared even more effective. I would have liked a hint as to where the story was leading (feel this is likely part of a larger piece of work) as the ending does feel a bit flat ending where it does.

    Also, just a nit-picky thing but the fallen pine was mentioned three times. Finding a different way to describe it might be something to think about to lessen the repetitiveness of it.

    Again, two very well matched entries, but due to the fact that the piece felt more polished and had less errors, plus I can't resist any story with a well-loved dog, my vote will go to A. Lynn Smithee.

    Well done again both and good luck.

  41. My vote is for A. Lynn Smithee. the story was tight, the writing exciting and emotional. the first story was predictable, and the grammar and spelling mistakes took me out of the story repeatedly.

  42. My vote is for Amber Guity. The story was interesting and the end surprising. I wanted to find out who 'she' was.

    I enjoyed A. Lynn Smithee's story too, but the multiple references to grandma's sayings was starting to wear a little thin. Also, some backstory on who she was looking for and if she was associated with the police or a search team would be helpful.

  43. Good reads with very different vibes, my vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee.

    For Amber Guity, which definitely made me smile and laugh, I like the premise of this story. Person's life is interrupted by a crime but turns out the criminals made a mistake? There's room for comedy, suspense, drama, etc. tons of potential! The ending is great because it is so human that I can see it happening. A few points that tripped me was the focus on traffic, as an obstacle it makes sense, but in one moment she fears it, and then as she's driving it's all going the opposite way which leaves me wondering how or why was there fear? Maybe because they get mentioned so close together, about 2-3 sentences apart. I wish we'd gotten more time with the robbers. Did they have bumper stickers, gunrack, music playing, etc. more time/details with them would have pulled me more into the story.

    For A. Lynne Smithee this pulled me in and kept me there, I liked how the character retained wisdom from childhood/family while doing a grim task. It shows a degree of optimism or what's important to them. The lead up to the tree with the light, rain, and kaleidoscopes was a visualization treat. The bond between the character and K9 was also heartwarming for kindness they show each other, and because they both convey determination to do their job well. One thing I wanted more of was the German short haired pointer's appearance. Did a quick google search and they are gorgeous dogs with a wide variety of patterns. 500 words is easy to run out on, but giving Gracie distinct colors or features helps attachments form.

  44. My vote is for A. Lynne Smithee. Here’s my input:

    Amber Guity:
    I love the comedy at the end of this piece! Ultimately, I had trouble believing a woman would drive off someplace like that without cause beyond a note on her car though I might believe it if I knew more about her.
    A. Lynne Smithee:
    I really, really enjoyed reading this piece! I think you do a lovely job building the sense of dread the protagonist feels. I like the contrast of the dog’s innocence with the grisly job it must perform.

  45. My vote is for A. Lynne Smithee.
    Amber Guilty - It's a fun piece, read fast, and was exciting. I took some issue with the dialog (blame Aaron Sorkin's Masterclass commercial) and the plausibility at the end left me a little confused.
    A. Lynne Smithee - Nice use of analogy. Would have liked a reaction or something to show the protagonists emotional state at the find.

  46. Another difficult round, so congratulations to both writers!

    Amber, you started us off with a bang. What a great concept. I loved the fact that this all resolved in a fumbled crime by bumbling criminals, but I can't say I felt that genre all the way through. Without a humorous thread carried from start to finish, the end felt like a bit of a throwaway on an intended thriller (and if humor was the objective with the repeated "shit" lines, it didn't quite work for me).

    A. Lynne, great sense of scene and stakes. I was really invested in the story, the relationship between dog and owner, and how the search would resolve. The grandmother-isms were an interesting convention, but unless we were searching for the grandmother herself, it felt a little overdone if only because it pulled momentum from the plot. I also questioned the protagonist's motives when she said "I hope we'll get lucky, that we'll leave without finding her." I wanted to interpret that as her wishing for a peaceful resolution but, without much context, it could also read as her not wanting to solve the crime.

    My vote ultimately goes to A. Lynn Smithee for a well-written scene and a good dose of backstory.

  47. (Attempt 3- my Internet timed out. Please delete any duplicates and accept my apologies.)

    Amber gets my vote. I can see that happening to me. 🤣

  48. Both were nice stories, but the winner to me is A Lynne Smithee.

    Amber Guity’s story was funny and engaging, but I agree with other comments that the ending felt unbelievable and flat. I think pulling off the ending Amber went for would have been impossible with only 500 words, so credit to the author for a noble effort.

    A Lynne Smithee’s Story, however, felt perfectly paced and realized. Writing to 500 words is challenging, and often feels like an exercise in what you can’t tell rather than what you can. Building an atmosphere eats precious words, and I thought this was handled with precision. Using the grandmother’s adages to tell us about your main character was brilliant. Using phrases like “throws the dogs off the scent” and “nothing can distract her when we’re on the job” let the reader know what’s going on without spelling it out, the very essence of ‘show, don’t tell’.
    Lastly, I want to commend the voice in Nose For Trouble. As an amateur writer I’ve always found first-person, and especially present tense, challenging to write and distracting to read. I think it was done very well here, and adds to the ambiance and mystery, as if we are on a path to discovery with the MC instead of reading about it after the fact. Great choice, great execution.

    1. Apologies, forgot my info.

      Dan Johnson

  49. Amber Guity... nice story. Smithee... I like your writing. I vote for Smithee.

  50. My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee

    Amber Guilty – Good job starting the story in the middle of the action. However, the reader doesn’t get to know the main character and why she responds the way she does to the note. Why is she so curious and frightened at the same time? A small clue as to why Shannon would race off would help to create sympathy for Shannon and increase the tension in the story. As is, we don’t know what the stakes are for Shannon. She’s told us herself that she has no clue who the note references.
    The twist at the end is amusing, but perhaps could have been built up a bit more by including the kidnapper’s perspective. And why does the one man take off his mask? Can’t Shannon then identify him? The apology rings a little false too, why are there polite kidnappers?
    This piece had great action verbs and good description – lots of showing and very little telling. The pace was also just right, we feel the urgency as Shannon drives to the site and then waits for the kidnappers to arrive. It is difficult to capture everything in just 500 words, and the author did a good job overall with that.

    Lynne Smithee – The scene is set right from the start, good job with descriptive language to make the reader feel they are right there with the characters. Weaving the description of the dog into sentences with action creates a perfect balance of showing and telling. The reader can see the little dog searching the forest, and we know ahead of time this is serious business. There’s a tension there because the reader knows this is not a mere hike in the forest, the mention of revenants in the first paragraph is great foreshadowing.
    Grandma’s saying in the first sentence is a good foreshadowing of the events, but the word “trouble” is a little off in the tone of the piece. It seems like the character is completing her job as a search crew member, so more like looking for sorrow. It will be troubling for sure if they find a corpse, but not really “trouble” as in there won’t be consequences for the searcher and her dog.
    The first mention of Grandma gives the reader some insight into the main character, she is a person who values tradition and family. Good job fleshing out the character in a small space. However, the second, third, and fourth mention of Grandma are a bit jarring and draw the reader out of the scene. Maybe just one at the end – the quote about hope would fit well because the main character knows by then what they will find. The description comparing the dog’s eyes to the grandmother seems odd, but maybe it’s just me.
    Overall a nice 500 word scene that introduces the characters with action and great descriptive language.

  51. Both held my interest and I want to know more!
    Guilty. Grabbed me immediately, but left me disappointed.
    Smithee. While I felt there were too many references to Grandma in a piece this short this is more the type of story I would read. I vote for Smithee.

  52. My vote goes to A.Lynne Smithee.

    Amber Guity - This is a very amusing case of mistaken identity, and I laughed at the reveal. I can’t decide whether to take it at face value or worry about its logic. I don’t think I would drive off to meet who-knows-whom on the basis of a vague scrawled demand on my windscreen, and if I were the kidnappers I’m not sure I’d leave a witness. At face value it has some nice suspense, is cleanly written and has a funny reveal. 500 words doesn’t leave much room for subtlety in a full story, and this one focuses on the practicalities of getting to the venue on time. I like the general premise, so I think this has the potential to be a far deeper study of how one decides to take such a risky trip. Personal experiences/guilts would drive the decision and the tension, with the payoff being that it was entirely unnecessary - all the emotional wrangling wasted - because the kidnappers are idiots.

    A.Lynne Smithee - I do enjoy a story that seems to run on two levels - in this case a pleasant run-out with your dog, with a side-order of turning up dead bodies. A win-win, one might say. I was a little confused by Grandma, who seems to figure a lot for no apparent reason. I did start to wonder if she was the dead body. I’m also puzzled by the narrator’s view of their job: should they feel ‘cold breaths of dread’ and be reminded of their grandma? That sounds an exhausting career choice. Small stuff: 1) As a gardener I take offence at the idea of a smell of ‘rot’ - forests are full of pure, sweet compost smells… 2) The word ‘coruscating’ pulled me out of the story because I couldn’t remember what it meant and had to look it up. 3) ‘Baleful’ is an odd choice of word for a faithful dog. I think this could be a fine exploration of the dichotomy of searching for death in the midst of life. Because I enjoyed the general aim of the story, the highly sensory language and the narrative flow I vote for this one.

  53. Congratulations to both writers!

    Amber Guity: A lot of tension and suspense in so few words! You built in a lot of confusion and distraction with the traffic interrupting her thoughts. I felt a bit like she suffered from protagonist syndrome in that her actions moved the story along instead of following the logical path of a regular person.

    A. Lynne Smithee: I enjoyed the references to Grandma’s anecdotes - I think we all wish we’d had that Grandma in our life. There was an air of dread at finding what they were looking for that was nearly palpable. I almost felt the dog might actually be Grandma’s spirit by a few words at the end. My one suggestion would be to let us know if the protagonist is with the police or sort of an amateur sleuth.

    My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee.

  54. My vote is for A.Lynne Smythee. I like the description and suspense. The suspense in the first piece felt a little forced for me

  55. I enjoyed the suspense of Amber's piece, especially the tension Shannon felt as she was waiting for 7:00. However, I didn't feel I really understood her character enough to care about her. I was mainly mildly curious. I also had trouble getting through the grammar errors - quite a few commas splices - and some wordings that I wanted to be more concise.

    My vote goes to A. Lynne Smithee. I love the dog, and I felt like I was right there with the narrator as she faced what she knew she would find, even as she wished she wouldn't.

  56. Interesting match-up.

    Amber Guity
    LOVE the absurdist humor! The concept is delightful, and I don't need to understand Shannon's deeper motivations, nor am I bothered by the lack of "realism" of the hostage takers showing their faces and being polite. That, to me, is part of the hilarious "life is strange" comedy. I can see where people are coming from with the genre, though. I assume thriller was used without humor to try and keep the ending a surprise. However, folks tend not to like it if they go in expecting one thing, then get something drastically different. So best to include humor in the genre (e.g. comedic thriller).

    Aside from missing an 'a', the first sentence in paragraph two feels unwieldy. Break it up. End after "wiper blade," then you can give some more detail about how the note is written or what the ad is. This could be a way to insert some more characterization for the hostage takers, or add more humor (e.g. a buy one, get one free deal. Shannon thought there was a warning in that).

    "She still didn’t know..." Don't need "still." Shannon hasn't done much to figure out who "she" is.

    The double-check of the watch is unnecessary. Yes, there are intervening sentences, but Shannon psychically takes no action. She checks her watch, thinks, "that's not much time" and checks again. Time will not have changed , so this is forced and slows down the narrative. Maybe if she uses her phone to check the current traffic situation and realizes it's bad, then that could keep the action logical and make her double "damn" not also feel so artificially repetitious. (Or maybe the ad is for something Shannon enjoys and she hesitates, thinking about getting 50% off guacamole, before going save whoever this is and deciding "I'll be back for you, guac!").

    "Traffic" is repeated 3 times in paragraph three. It's confusing because first she merges into traffic, but then the traffic is going the opposite way, yet she is darting in and out of traffic. I'm having a hard time understanding just how many cars there actually are and what her expectation of the amount of cars there is.

    Would like to see more of Shannon exploring the gas station/thinking through the situation when she arrives. The setting is interesting, and her adrenaline is high going in, so would love to see more description and her taking in the location before immediately jumping to "this is a prank."

    "...they might kill her. Whoever “her” was." This first line ruins this later line: "they might not just kill she, but kill her, too." If the unknown hostage had only been referred to as "she" throughout, the second line works. However, changing it up with the "her" line makes the second weak in that it muddies how this unknown person is referred to and diminishes the "she/her" play on words (especially as that's emphasized). Rethink that first section. Some rewording may help, e.g. instead of "they might kill her," "...going on, but Shannon didn't want to get anyone killed if they were watching"). Or, maybe she gets here and realizes her phone only has 3% left.

    The double her referring to two different subjects may also be part of what contributes to some readers' confusion. I didn't have an issue understanding. However, I have gotten slammed for nebulous subjects in my own writing before. One thing you can do to alleviate confusion is change your unknown hostage to a "he." Then it makes clear that Shannon is "she" and any "hes" up to the hostage takers arriving are this unknown victim.

    Both cars "squeal" into the parking lot. Makes the description less unique and story choppy. There's a lot of repetition overall, and it doesn't come off as intentional.

    Great last line!

  57. A. Lynne Smithee
    Some excellent descriptions and a rather unique vignette. This story flows well.

    I knew right away what the scene was by the mention of the K-9s and death. Could be because I'm a true crime fan. You could probably work in a few details to give folks more hints if they aren't as familiar. For example, although it's interesting for Gracie to be a German shorthaird pointer, people might better grasp her job function as a police dog if she's a bloodhound or German shepherd. (I spent WAY too much time looking up what breeds are most often used as police dogs and the German shorthaird pointer didn't really come up. In a longer piece, Gracie's uniqueness would be a great character trait. In a short piece, might be better to make her a dog more associated with police work, or else, add a line about that. Maybe Gracie's the only German shorthaird pointer in the jurisdiction.)

    Too many grandma references. And it is odd that Gracie's eyes remind the narrator of grandma. Not sure how the dog and grandma are related. If it was that the narrator loves and both guide her, that didn't come across very seamlessly. I kept expecting this piece to be more literary and tie the narrator's relationship to her grandma into the action of finding the murder victim in some deeper way; e.g. finding the dead body is a metaphor for the narrator dealing with her own grandma's passing. With the heightened prose, focus on grandma, and simple plot, it just seemed like the purpose would be that relationship and using the backdrop as the mechanism to explore that. But at the end, it really just seems like grandma's sayings are nice saying, nothing more. So dial back on grandma.

    "...we've never made a game out of it." Great, grounding character detail! However, it feels like this, along with the assertion that Gracie dreads finding bodies, is immediately contradicted. Gracie "wags her stub of a tail" then bounds off with great energy. She's darting and "That stub-tail continues to flag back and forth like a prison searchlight." While that description is AWESOME (super unique, reinforces the true crime element of the story, etc...), it doesn't mesh with the idea that Gracie is dreading finding someone. Her tail wagging and desire for the narrator to "keep up" makes her sound excited and eager. Her licking the narrator's face, while meant to show the camaraderie, also undermines the idea that Gracie feels the heavy nature of their work. Maybe if Gracie rests her head in the narrator's lap that would be an affectionate action that matches better.

    "Water slides off the hood of my slicker in tiny cascades." Nice, sensory detail! However, I'm having a hard time understanding the weather. This makes it sound like it's raining heavily. But this "Coruscating light turns the raindrops into tiny individual kaleidoscopes," makes it sound like it's lightly drizzling (I mean, if you can see individual raindrops, can't be coming down too heavily).

    "The tail's patrol is finished, now locked skyward." Wonderful visual and great callback to the other earlier tail description!

    The piece does very well to evoke a melancholy, somber and poignant atmosphere. But overall, I"m not sure what the emotional weight is meant to be. The title sounds very dime store thriller, or nostalgically uplifting, which is not remotely what the story leaves you with. The relationship with Gracie seems warm and enduring, but the actual work and ending image feels more like a commentary on the brevity and isolation of anonymous life. The grandma references come off as light-hearted recollections. It ends up feeling like a lot of beautifully written ideas without any clear intent.

    This one is tough as I think Smithee's is better written, but Guity's is more entertaining and emotionally complete. I'm going with Amber Guity because absurdist humor is my jam.




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