WRiTE CLUB 2012 – Round 9


Peanut Buttercup becomes our sixth contestant to move onto the play-offs as the Round 6 victor, and those play-offs are scheduled to start in October!  He/She will join the other five winners continuing the battle for that ultimate prize.  His/Her opponent, Anya Harker, will have her piece returned to the pool for a chance at re-selection for a future bout, and as always writers who have battled once are welcome to submit a different piece if they so wish.

Confused about who’s in and whose out, you can check my WRiTE CLUB 2012 Results page for a breakdown of all the winners, along with a list of what rounds are still open for voting with links to all the writing samples.

I wanted to point out that there’s an interview of yours truly posted on both An Honest Lie site and Eric W. Trant's blog (Jr. Editor for An Honest Lie) ahead of my short story being published this fall. Stop by and check it out if you have time. J

Ready to tear your hair out trying to pick another winner?


Here are this week's randomly selected WRiTER's.

Standing in the far corner, weighing in at 497 words, please welcome to the ring……..Penelope Clearwater.

She took another sip of hot chocolate, savoring the rich taste before letting it slide down her throat.  It was almost gone.  She would have to leave when it was.  The waitress was already giving her dirty looks.  This cup had lasted thirty five minutes.  It wasn’t her record.  A soda had once lasted two hours.  Of course all the ice that melted had helped.

Rubbing a hand over her forehead she pulled the newspaper back towards her and perused the columns again.  Everyone wanted experience.  How could she get experience if she couldn’t get a job and she couldn’t get a job without experience?   She folded the paper up and slipped it into her jacket.  Tonight she would layer it under her thin jacket as insulation from the cold.

She took another sip.  Long since room temperature it was still sweet, coating her mouth as she watched the people around her; men in suits and ties, women eating muffins and sandwiches that made her mouth salivate and her fingers twitch to grab them.

Turning her back to the room she gazed out the picture window.  This wasn’t any better.  Now she could see The World.  The world she had longed to see only six months before.  The world that now was altogether too familiar.  A man hurried past, the collar of his thick jacket turned up against the wind.  She fingered her jacket; even with the newspaper it would be cold tonight.  And it was only October.

She followed the man in her mind.  She imagined him getting on the subway, relaxing on a bench in the overheated compartment.  Maybe he was going home, to a wife and children who would be happy to see him.  In her mind’s eye the wife looked a little like her mother.  She ached to follow him, to ask if she might stay with them, just one night. Just long enough for her to pretend she had a family again.

It wouldn’t work.  Most likely he would call the cops thinking she wanted to rob them while they slept.  And she couldn’t deal with the cops again.

She swallowed the last of the sludge.  The waitress, Betty by her name tag, heaved a sigh of relief. Unless she bought something else, Betty could ask her to leave.  And there was no money left.  Wishing she had even a nickel tip, she fumbled through her pockets and pulled out her gloves. They had more holes than fabric and smelled of rotten cabbage but they were better than nothing.

She would try again tomorrow.   She had heard someone was hiring over on Singer Ave. But it would be the same.  No one wanted to hire someone with no phone or address.  She walked towards the door, stumbling a little when the smell of fresh blueberry muffins reminded her she hadn’t  eaten since yesterday.  She pushed out the door and the cold pungent city air hit her like a brick.

She was home.

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And in the other corner, weighing in at 489 words, let me introduce to you ……..Doug Claremont.


Hen quietly closed the Apothecary door, and thanked the Gods – old and new – the shop had still been open. Hen had traded three rabbit's legs, two apples, and a loaf of bread, her week's ration for this potion.

Now she just had to make it home before curfew, when the claxon sounded to herald the Harvesters' arrival.

Looking at the sky, she took note of the color of the clouds, and the position of the sun as it moved towards the horizon. She figured she had an hour left; plenty of time to make it back under the bridge that was "home".

Hen looked up and down the market street, and found it was clear. All of the shops had closed up, and everyone had returned to their homes.

Keeping to the wall sand shadows, as she was accustomed, Hen hurried along the market street, dodging low hanging signs, and jumping crates. The streets stank at this time of night. Sewerage and rubbish piled up; rats scuttled in every dark corner.

As she ran, the pathways became more labyrinthine, one wrong turn could send her in the opposite direction. A mistake she couldn't afford to make. The sun had set and soon the claxon would toll.

Weaving left, then right, Hen scuttled down alleyways, searching for the red door that would tell her she was on the right track. When it didn't appear, Hen knew she was lost.

In the distance the claxon knelled and Hen froze, paralysed by fear.

It wasn't until she heard the dreaded sound of giant footsteps thudding down the street, as forty tonnes of mobile machinery combed the area, that Hen sprang into action.

She turned on the spot, then ran in the opposite direction she'd come from. Hen skidded to a halt as she came to the marketplace once more. Outside the Apothecary stood a Harvester; the bronze body shined dully, as its searing search lamp swept the street.

The beacon shone in her direction, and she froze like a deer caught in the headlights. Hen had a second to scramble away before the Harvester homed in on her, and then lifting its inhuman legs, steam hissing from its valves, it trudged after her.

It was so close Hen could hear the gears turning. She was running on instinct, with no real idea where she was going. In a blur the red door passed her, and she knew she was nearly home.

Behind her, the slow, discordant sound of the Harvester's pulse ray resonated in the night. It announced death.

Hen reached the bridge, and slipped down the dirt track to the hovel that was her refuge. She hammered on the door until it sprang open, and she threw herself inside. She slammed the door shut, and fell back against it, breathing hard as the light of the searching Harvester swept through the gaps in the wood. She'd made it, she was home.



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Leave your vote for the winner of round 9 in the comments below, along with any sort of critique you would like to offer.  Please remind your friends to make a selection as well.  The voting will remain open for this round until noon Sunday. Remember, you can throw your pen name into the hat anytime during these last nine weeks by submitting your own 500 word sample.  Check out the rules by clicking on the badge below…then come out swinging!

Remember, here in WRiTE CLUB, it’s not about the last man/woman standing, it’s about who knocks the audience out!


61 comments

  1. ARGH! That was a tough round. They are both beautifully written - but I loved the desperation in the second one, so I'll vote for Doug Claremont :D

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  2. This was a tough one, both were great. I enjoyed the writing style in the first entry, it flowed and was almost flawless. But the story in the second pulled me in more. Plus, I have a weakness for anything slightly steampunkish which made me turn a blind eye to the cliché "froze like a deer caught in the headlights" and the "body shined dully" phrase which I don't know why sounds odd to me. My vote this time around goes to Doug though I wish I could have voted for both entries. Good job guys. (:

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  3. Oh I loved both of those, brilliant writing! I'm going to vote for Penelope Clearwater :)

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  4. Hey DL! I've missed a few posts since I've been on vacation. These were both really good (as usual) and clearly both writers know what they're doing. I'm voting for Penelope Clearwater tho, cuz it was such a smooth interesting read that I wanted to keep going. But props to Doug Claremont for a job well done!!!

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  5. Wow! Second "claxon" in the contest! And both stories end with "she was home"! Interesting. Loved the first one. Penelope Clearwater.

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  6. Penelope Clearwater. I enjoyed both pieces. The writing was excellent. Great job!

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  7. Tough one. Both are wonderful, but I must pick one. I vote for Doug Claremont.
    Great job to both writers!!

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  8. Brilliant writing in both of these but Penelope edges it!

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  9. Oh my gosh, this one is so tough! Doug's action pulled me in more, but there was something haunting and bittersweet and real about Penelope's that has me choosing her this morning. Great job to both of these entrants!

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  10. These pieces had some interesting similarities! They both had some excellent writing. I enjoyed many of the vivid images in Doug Claremont's piece, but ultimately I got lost trying to follow Hen's run through the streets. I didn't know why Hen didn't know the way home, if it was so important she be there before the claxon, and phrases like "then ran in the opposite direction she'd come from" were unclear to me. So, my vote goes to Penelope Clearwater because her piece was more polished. (Although I think Doug's piece only needs some tweaking to make it shine.)

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  11. Two similar but very different stories for this round. Both give us women looking for a home, and I couldn't help but smile at how they both ended with the same line -- "she was home".

    But I must admit I had difficulty in choosing this round.

    Both do some things well, but both have some issues, and to me it's interesting to me to see the contrasts.

    Penelope's piece does a very good job of setting the mood, and the writing is very evocative at times. The scene is a bit derivative -- the poor homeless person lingering over a tiny morsel in a diner is a very familiar one. But I was still pulled in and I couldn't help but sympathize with the character. However, there are some things that also keep me at a distance. For one thing, why not name her? It really helps the reader connect with her. In addition, the pacing is very slow -- she's dawdling in a diner and being introspective. Also, even though it's all introspection, not much is revealed to anchor the drama. I'm at a loss as to why she 'longed' to see 'The World' or why she no longer has a family. I couldn't help but wonder -- Why not simply go back home? Give me a hint of the stakes involved here and strengthen the drama with something that lets me identify with the reasons for her decision to come to 'The World.' Let me know what her motivation is. Also, the threats are minimized -- mainly the cold and a bit of hunger. There's a passing reference to the police, but there's really very little to emphasize the stakes and the risks she's facing.

    On the other hand, Doug gives us significant events, fast pacing, and an obvious threat. I'm not sure what exactly the Harvesters are, but it's clear they are something to be feared and avoided. This world (magical and steam-punkish, it seems) is interesting, and I'm curious as to what the potion is and why Hen wanted it (and just having Hen named makes it easier connect with her). Although we're still in the early stages, this feels like a unique story. However, I found this story to be written significantly less smoothly than Penelope's. The first sentence made me think she was entering the Apothecary, leading to confusion with all the 'hads' happening here. I'm assuming it's just a misplaced space, but "wall sand shadows" made me pause to go, "oh, wait: 'walls and shadows'?" The "deer in the headlights" cliche threw me -- does this world have headlights? The "in a blur, the red door passed her" suggests the the door was moving, not Hen. There are more, but you get my point.

    For me, what this bout ultimately comes down to is this:

    Penelope's is better writing; Doug's is better story-telling.

    Frankly, as a reader, I'm more interested in finding out how Hen fares in her world than how the unnamed homeless girl does in hers, but since WRiTE Club is a 'Writing' contest, I feel I'm obligated to vote for Penelope.

    So Penelope gets my vote.

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    1. I just wanted to mention to you something I read of DL's regarding spacing... I think the spacing errors occur sometimes during transition from the writer's submission to this blog and so it is not (necessarily) the fault of the writer.
      However, despite having known that, until I read your comment, I too was confused by "wall sand shadows"

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    2. You know, I actually hesitated about mentioning the "wall sand shadows" for just that reason, but I then I told myself that the spacing issues mentioned were all related to paragraph and line spacing: Line Returns not getting recognized correctly, mainly.

      So a misplaced space within a sentence that jumbles two words didn't seem like it was the same issues, especially when it resulted in two words that spell-check wouldn't have flagged as errors.

      Of course, if this IS the same issue as in the line spacing glitch, then I certainly am willing to unpick this nit. Still, I think there are more than enough other examples that my vote has to remain the same.

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  12. OK DL, "randomly chosen" eh?
    Anyway,
    My vote goes to Doug Claremont. Both entries were good (and I don't say that often) but a fantasy element gave Doug the edge for me. (fantasy, steampunk, sci-fi, whatever it may turn out to be)
    Penelope, I like the introspective view from someone so close but somehow so distant. I'm curious as to why The World was capitalized the way it was. I honestly can't think of any real complaints... You've done well. Against 90 percent of what I've read so far, I would have voted for you. Writing style and ease were your strong points. Content was what hurt it for me.
    Doug, content was able to carry your story over despite the occasional flaw. I like the name Hen. It's original. I like Apothecaries and maze like inner-cities (despite that I prefer more visual descriptions). I like the idea of rations... Except "three rabbit's legs, two apples and a loaf" is kind of funny to me for some reason. I want to know more about the Harvester.
    I think "like a deer in the headlight" is your opportunity to world build. In a section about huge robots chasing a girl, "deer in the headlights" is a cop-out. Would her go-to comparison really be a deer? A powerful simile (or metaphor or analogy) is a fragile thing and it helps characterize the protagonist. Pulled off correctly it is familiar enough for us to understand but foreign enough to express her individuality... If that makes any sense. The deer bit was definitely familiar enough (too much).
    Anyway, I would read on. Well done.
    PS, "searing search lamp swept the street" is like a tongue twister. Say it out loud a couple of times if you don't believe me.

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  13. Wow. For me this is the toughest one yet. I love the way the 2 pieces echoed each other in ways as well - very randomly cool! I would read on with both pieces. I liked the steampunky feel of the 2nd, but the MC in the first pulled me in a little more so, my vote will go to #1

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  14. Tough round. I liked the first one very much, but I was distracted by the use of "she." I didn't quite connect because I never got a name. If it had been written in first person I think it would be quite powerful.

    The second one pulled me in right away. I have a name, a person I can relate to. Plus I want to know what happens next, how the world got into such a state. So my vote is with Doug.

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  15. Tough choice! My vote goes to Penelope though, because I felt for her character just a tiny bit more. Great job to both writers!

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  16. Interesting how today's theme is coming home! My vote will go to Penelope Clearwater because I felt that the writing was stronger. I really got a sense of the character's wistful longing to belong somewhere, anywhere, to a niche of the world instead of to the world itself. Loved it and sympathized with her immediately.

    In the second piece, I felt that I couldn't connect with the story as well. I get the sense that maybe this is a dystopian society (what with the mention of the ration sizes and the curfew and the Harvesters - some form of police/authority?) but the setting didn't pull me in.

    So it's #1 for me this week.

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  17. it was a close match, but penelope came out on top!

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  18. Those were both so good! I loved them both. I wanted to know what happened to both the characters . . .
    If I have to choose I'm going to go with Penelope.

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  19. Doug Claremont gets my vote.

    It is interesting when two randomly picked pieces one by Claremont and one by Clearwater, both dealing with lost females looking for home come up together. Ah, the probability of chance.

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  20. Penelope Clearwater gets my vote. Yes, the MC's name would have been nice, but not really necessary (at least for me). Whereas in the 2nd piece, Hen is listed so many times, it was kind of annoying.

    Both stories were intriguing, but I went with the piece that flowed better (for me, anyway).

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  21. Penelope gets my vote. I wanted to find out how her MC lost her family and got to be in this situation.
    Doug's was very interesting, but it just didn't flow as well for me, I had to reread it to picture the scene.

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  22. Funny how two randomly selected pieces can end so similarly ... :) My vote goes to Penelope Clearwater. I felt more of a connection to the character and cared more what happened to her.

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  23. I loved Penelope Clearwater's. I'd read a novel by her.

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  24. My vote is for Penelope - I really liked your piece. You drew me right into your mc's dilemma. Great beginning contrasting the voluptuous taste and feel of chocolate with her normal hardscrabble life. Still, since the first few sentences are so very important - you might want to rework the passive ones. By that I mean objects act of their own volition (A cup had lasted 35 minutes, A soda had lasted...), plus those two are too similar in structure. Replace with something like: She took tiny sips of her soda, making it last two hours. Also rework 3rd sentence - it's awkward to end with "was." For general smoothing throughout, I suggest you do a search and destroy for excess "was," "that," "had" and their allies. 3rd para, 2nd sentence need comma after temperature (yes, I am getting nit-picky). The only other tiny thing is I'd rather hear some dialogue between the mc and waitress instead of just thoughts and descriptions. Maybe some kind of "You finished with that?" right before the mc takes her last sip.

    Doug - I think you might have started in the wrong place. There is so much action and zillions of new concepts (dystopian steampunk?) right off the bat that I didn't have a chance to absorb any of it, much less develop sympathy for the mc. What about starting in the shop? Then there would still be something going on letting the reader know the stakes, but you could unfold your world and mc. When I am confronted by this issue in my own writing, I reread the first few pages of Pullman's THE GOLDEN COMPASS for inspiration.

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  25. This one was tough for me! Penelope's writing style was slightly better, and her story was good enough for me to want to keep reading, but it didn't grab me in an omg-i-have-to-know-what-happens-next sort of way. It needs more of a hook.

    Doug's writing could use a bit of editing (watch your commas and passive voice) but I thought the story was much better, and much more my kind of thing.

    Overall, I think Doug's hooked me more, so he gets my vote. Both were really good, though!

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  26. They are both good, but Clearwater's piece was the better writing. Clearwater

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  27. These were both really excellent, and I'm not just saying that. Great job, guys! And an interesting common thread between the two...

    I'm torn, but going with Penelope. I almost always choose fantasy over normal stuff, but Penelope's kind of haunted me. So it's that emotional suckerpunch that edged that one ahead for me. Though I would definitely read on to see what the deal was with Doug's. I love the idea of the Harvester. Very creepy. Good luck, both of you!

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  28. I really liked both, but my vote goes to Penelope Clearwater.

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  29. I'm going to go with #2 (Doug) this time.

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  30. I enjoyed them both, but Penelope Clearwater's made me want to know when the book comes out.

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  31. I didn't particularly like either of these. Penelope Clearwater seems to have embraced every possible cliche, and didn't use any of them interestingly. This wasn't a story about a homeless person in the pit of despair, but a writer who patched together some images and doused them in pathos.

    Doug Claremont needs to lay off "had." I tried not to let it bother me, but it just threw everything off. I also didn't like "Hen" as a name. I kept thinking poultry. I realize I can sound petty, especially compared to how everyone else reacts to these efforts, but I just keep hoping that the writing samples will be better than they are.

    Ideally, I wouldn't have to vote for either of these. But since Claremont was less painful. So I vote that way.

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    1. I presume you are being honest in order to be helpful to the writers but I don't think it would cost you much to remember that there are people and not just pseudonyms on the receiving end of your comments.

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  32. My vote goes to Doug. Good job to both of you. :)

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  33. My vote in this round goes to Penelope. But it was a frustrating decision.

    I felt that both writers held back. Or, maybe that's not the best way to describe it. Both pieces felt unfinished. (And yes I know they are just snippets). But unfinished as in not polished. I don't read the comments from others before commenting so maybe it's been said before...but for a homeless person the voice is a bit passive. It was hard to get invested in the character. I really Wanted to care. The writing was smooth. But it lacked that connection to the mc.

    Doug's simply needs some editing. It read more like a first draft to me. The overuse of the mc's name was distracting. I have a hard time buying that she would get lost going home in this situation. So that was a bit frustrating.

    Thank you both for being brave enough to submit! Not easy!

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  34. Both of these were excellent but I'm going with Penelope. Doug's story definitely caught me but I felt more connection with Penelope's character and I'm a character driven reader.

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  35. DL, I was on vacation when the Write Club began so I've just now signed up and made made first comment. If joining late is against the rules, my apologies and delete my comment/vote.

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  36. Congrats on your short story, DL. And I enjoyed learning more about you in the interview.

    This grows more and more difficult. Sometimes I can't vote at all. This week, again, they're both superior pieces of writing. But if I'm forced to choose, I'll have to go with Doug. Even though the cliche of the deer in the headlights bothered me, I wanted to keep reading.

    Penelope's story was lovely, very descriptive, rich in sensory details. There's nothing wrong with her writing at all! It's great. That's why this is so bleeping difficult! But it may be too quiet and I found it harder to connect with the character. So for me, it wasn't as compelling.

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  37. My vote is for Penelope Clearwater. I could feel her sadness and desperation

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  38. I'm voting for Doug Claremont on this one.

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  39. Didn't any bad writers enter this contest??? I hate having to make such tough choices.

    Weird they both ended with the same phrase. While I think it had a good stark shock effect in the first piece, in the second it struck me as unnecessary, since we knew that's where Hen was heading the whole time.

    I give the slight edge to Penelope, probably because it sounds more like my type of story than because of anything lacking in Doug's piece. I also think Doug faced a greater challenge in trying to introduce us to a strange environment with fantasy elements in just 500 words, but I bet his world comes alive after reading a whole chapter or two. Well done to you both.

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  40. These were both quite good and I was very intrigued by the second piece and the harvester which sounded wonderfully menacing but I have to choose Penelope's piece. I got the feeling that 'she' was more alone which made me want to find out what happens next.

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  41. Love the world envoked in the second one but found the plot a bit confusing - why does she head one way and then double back? If she has an hour or more, how does curfew come so quickly? Why doesn't she know where her home is? On the other hand, if this was an opening scene, I'd definitely read on to find out more!

    Voting for Penelope Clearwater (go Ravenclaw!).

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  42. Penelope. She has the stronger voice, better description and gives us enough information to form some sort of attachment to the character. The last line caught my attention and I want to know what it means.

    Hen (I've been doing the Fairy Tale blog-hop so my first thought was The Little Red Hen) is running. And running. And running. By this point I should feel some connection to the character. Give us some information other than just telling us she's afraid--her heartbeat, her breathing, looking for any kind of shelter. When people are afraid they tend to run less evenly, constantly look back over their shoulders. Give us the character rather than just the setting. The setting is well crafted, particularly the Harvester, but I want that same level of detail on the character.

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  43. My vote goes to Penelope Clearwater.

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  44. For me this was the toughest yet! I enjoyed both of these pieces and congratulate both authors. My vote is going to piece 1 Penelope as I found myself warming to the character and it left me wanting to know more.

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  45. Penelope pulled me in and I found myself feeling each sip, the hunger, everything. Brilliant 497 words.

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  46. Loved number one, but number two had a bang up start. Guess I'll go with 1. So hard to choose.

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  47. Penelope Clearwater's story kept me interested throughout. She gets my vote.

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  48. My vote goes for Penelope. To me, it made sense that the homeless woman had no name. Isn't that how most of society views them? As nameless and faceless? Maybe the fact that I've worked with the homeless, I have a lot of empathy for this character. The piece evokes feelings in me, so I've gotta vote for it. Great job!

    On Doug's piece, I fear I'm out of step. You call a character Hen, and I'm thinking chicken. (Must be from reading so many books to my grandchildren.)

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  49. Wow, the comment above Susan's sounds pretty bitter. Dude needs a beer or something.

    Anyway, it was a tough call. Both are well-written. I'd have to vote for Penelope because her character sucked me in a bit more than Hen. Although I'm curious to know what happens to Hen.

    I'd actually like to read more of both of these stories.

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  50. Penelope pulled me in more, so I vote for #1.

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  51. Pretty awesome that both pieces ended with the same phrase. Both really drew me, but the voice and my sympathy for the POV character has me voting for Penelope.

    :-)

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  52. I'll go with Doug Claremont this round. Both contestants exhibit the same prowess in prose but Doug held my attention.

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  53. These are both excellent entries, as everyone has said. But I think Penelope's writing was little smoother. I felt a stronger connection to the character, with or without a name.

    I liked Doug's story, but I really wanted to be in Hen's head more, so I could understand why she was afraid of the Harvesters, why she was getting so lost and how she managed to reason her way out of it.

    I think this is going to be a close one. My vote goes to Penelope.

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  54. Doug Claremont - the story drew me in.

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  55. I think these were both good pieces of writing, though I don't feel a great deal of excitement over either one. But I do feel excitement over when the random draw results in samples with parallels! It's just so cool when that happens.

    I'm voting for Penelope because the writing was smoother. I stumbled a few times on Doug's story - like at the end of the second sentence, and here: "curfew, when the claxon sounded" - I think rewording to "curfew, when the claxon would sound" would avoid confusion, because the first time I read I thought the claxon was sounding right then. Just little stuff like that. But Hen is an awesome name. The only place I stumbled on Penelope's story was when the hot chocolate was called sludge. Other references to it made it sound like the drinker was enjoying it - "savoring the rich taste" and "sweet" - but who enjoys sludge?

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