WRiTE CLUB 2015 - Quarterfinals Bout #1

WRiTE CLUB is a writing community sensation sponsored by the DFWWriters Conference that is loosely based on the popular movie Fight Club.  There are numerous versions of this concept floating around the internet, but nothing like we do it here.  This unique approach embodies simple, good-natured competition, with lots and lots of fun sprinkled on top.
We started off with 171 entries, from which 40 were selected, and soon only six will remain.  (Just a reminder that voting for the 4way cage match remains open until 6PM today). Four will get the opportunity to move forward into the next week.  The voting for these quarter-final bouts will remain open until noon on Monday, July 13th at 6PM CST.  The first bout is today, followed by another on Thursday and the last one on Friday. Your task remains simple…read the submission below from each WRiTER carefully and leave your vote for the sample that resonates with you the most.  Please offer a mini-critique, if you have time.  After you vote, please blog/tweet/facebook/text/smoke signal everyone you know and get them to take part in the fun.

Here’s something else to keep in mind for this round...every vote counts. That’s because the contestant who doesn't win their bout…but garners the most votes amongst all of the other losers…will become a wildcard winner and still advance to the semi-finals.  
The winners will be posted after 6 PM on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard on July 13th and then the semi-finals will kick off the very next day on Tuesday July 14th. Winners of these quarter finals will need to have their next all new 500 word submission ready to go. Now is not the time to fall asleep at the wheel. :)
Good luck to all of the WRiTER’s!
In the near corner, please welcome back to the ring with a Women's Fiction piece at 500 words -- Cloudwatcher




Except for the few minutes I came by to dress for June’s funeral, I hadn’t been in my apartment since I was wheeled away on the stretcher. Glass and wine and blood decorated the floor and counters. Clean. I had to clean. Bleach and brush changed the evidence of my flirtation with death from bright to muddy red. If I couldn’t get it out, I could pack up and move. And, lose my deposit.

But, even though my bandaged wrist throbbed and I didn’t like the stains, I felt good. Good that I had cleaned up my life—at least a bit—over the last three days at Gina’s. Good that I wasn’t going to drink—at least not tonight. Good that I didn’t dread going to bed.

Maybe it was voices or strange, crackling sounds that woke me at three that morning, but something made me get up and look out the peephole. The concave portal distorted my view of two policemen in the breezeway but focused it on a woman and a man standing nose-to-nose inside my neighbor’s open door. Their hands were clenched and they spat insults at each other in Spanish—no, Portuguese. When the policemen separated the combatants, my sight-line cleared. I saw a crib.

Brown, curly hair and large, frightened eyes momentarily appeared above the railing, then dropped from my view. Her pitiful sounds weren’t as loud as the Portuguese cursing, the cops’ commands, or the radio transmissions, but I could hear them. They turned into howls of terror when the woman charged at the man and sent him and a broken lamp to the floor.

“Looks like an arrest. Send a female officer,” said one policeman into his radio. “And they have a child. Get ahold of CPS.”

My stomach dropped. Gina…Pete. Going against my life-long, isolationist instincts, I pulled open my door and stepped into the drama.

“Don’t call CPS! That woman’s not her mother! Her mother’s at work—she’s a nurse.”

“Standby.”

I didn’t wait for permission. I sidestepped the flailing arms and overturned furniture to get to her. Then, for the first time in my life, I picked up a child.

That she immediately wrapped herself around me and buried her face into my neck surprised me, but I didn’t show it. More than anything, I didn’t want them to take her. I might have elaborated the extent of our neighborly connection, but promised that her capable mother would be home soon. I showed them my driver’s license and my bar card. Why I thought being a lawyer qualified me to take care of a traumatized child, I don’t know. I hid my bandage with my sleeve.

“What’s her name?” the policeman asked.

My heart raced.

What IS her name? Her mother said it a dozen times the other morning. Why was I so snotty? Emily? No. God, please help me remember.

“Emma!”

The child lifted her head and smiled at me, then resumed her safe position under my chin.
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And in the far corner, making their own return to the ring with a Gothic Retelling at 496 words -- Blythe.




My hands trembled, causing the flame of my candle to dip and shiver. The passage's shadows smothered everything but the sickly flame and the light seeping beneath the cold glass of the one-way mirror. Impatience engulfed my body as I stared into the mirror, my own eye reflected in a lurid yellow smear. I could not count how many times I had coaxed aside the glass and slipped into the Opéra’s sumptuous interior, yet tonight I paced like a pensive little boy, eyes on the dressing room door.

She should be here by now.

 I envisioned her traversing the opulent corridors, face flushed as men wrestled carnations into her arms and crowed their adoration. Those bastards saw nothing but a glimmer in the vast ocean of her being, a solitary twinkle on a resplendent diamond's back. They did not see her pace before each performance or whisper tearfully to her late father's portrait as I saw her do. Above all else, those buffoons knew nothing of the eleven years that I guided her from beyond her mirror, helping her coax angel's melodies from her mewling childish treble. That night, I stood in the shadows of my box, watching as she made her début, face shining as the audience clambered to their feet. She had done it at last, and it would be despicable of me to remain distant during her painstakingly earned triumph.

At long last, the door skittered open. She drifted, dreamy-eyed, into the room, her slave mistress's gown foaming around her. Captivated, I watched as she deposited a puddle of carnations onto her dressing table, smiling to herself. Straightening, she lifted her head and gazed into the mirror, obliviously meeting my gaze.

I ran a finger over my masked cheek, tracing the rotted flesh beneath the linen. Would she still regard me with such innocent adoration if she knew what horrors lurked beneath my mask? I did not wish to corrupt her spirit with my wretchedness, yet it was high time that I became a substantial presence in her life.

"Brava," I crooned, my reflected eye flashing. "You were extraordinary, my child."

She blushed. "Monsieur! You are too kind!"

She would say otherwise if she knew of the corpses in the attic, I thought. Out loud, I purred, "Are you quite available this evening, ma fée?"

 “I should think so, monsieur.” She smiled demurely. “I am forever in your debt!”

Perspiration dampened my glove as I slid aside the mirror, my gaze lingering on hers. Rapture clouded her eyes as she drifted towards me, her tapered fingers seeking my ruined ones.

The locked door rattled behind her.

My candle’s haggard light soaked her face, illuminating the sudden terror in her eyes.

“Do not be afraid,” I said softly. “It is I, your teacher!”

She blinked at me, hypnotized. “My…teacher…”

Urgent fists pounded the door. Christine!”

So sorry, poor boy, I thought, guiding my muse into the gloom, but mademoiselle has chosen her master tonight!
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No, the choice is not easy...but if it were, this wouldn't be WRiTE CLUB...where the audience gets clobbered!

32 comments

  1. Both well-written. Congratulations to both for making it to the Quarterfinals.
    I vote for Cloudwatcher. I liked the style and the story. Felt like I knew the character by the end of 500 words. Blythe's submission was too wordy for my tastes. Too Phantom of the Opera-esque.

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  2. Boy I've been away for a bit but these bouts have gotten even more difficult. Which is hard to believe...
    I am also voting for Cloudwatcher. Both were excellent, but Cloudwatcher's left me wondering what happens next, and I just didn't get into Blythe's that much.

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  4. Cloudwatcher gets my vote.

    Both were great! But it came down to little things. For example in Blythe's passage the second sentence "passage's shadows smothered " is difficult to get through.

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  5. Best of luck to everyone!

    My choice: Cloudwatcher.

    Heather

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  6. My vote goes to Blythe. I loved the language and voice. Cloudwatcher had a great story and voice, too, but I found too many misplaced commas. Blythe's was crisper and cleaner, leading me to like it just a slight bit more overall.

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  7. I have to go with Cloudwatcher. I wasn't exactly sure everything that had gone down in the event that led to the bandaged wrist. I liked the emotion in the scene to help the crying baby. The author sucked me in and I wanted more. Good job!

    Even though there were some very pretty phrases in Blythe's work, it just wasn't the piece for me.

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  8. I really liked both of these entries a lot. My vote if for Blythe.

    Cloudwatcher - Confused by the beginning. Wasn't sure if he had just beat his wife to death or what. But things become much clearer once the cops get there. I love the line, "Then, for the first time in my life, I picked up a child." But if he had just been responsible for his wife's death, I wasn't so sure that the child going with him, instead of CPS, was a good idea. Or maybe his wife just happened to die and he had been drinking himself into a stupor in his kitchen to kill that pain, and cut himself, accidently or deliberately, on the wine glass. As I say, I was confused.

    Blythe - the voice is very strong and the development was smooth. I was a bit put off by him choosing her debut night as the night to reveal his horrifying rotting flesh under the bandages. It seemed pretty selfish after years of care and devotion and assistance to get her to this night of her own acclaim for her talents. But the writing is very polished and interesting.

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  9. I vote for Cloudwatcher.

    In Cloudwatcher's piece, I really liked the clean, straightforward writing style. The content itself was a bit confusing. First of all, the first two paragraphs are disjointed from what follows. You can begin reading at the start of paragraph 3 and not miss a thing, except maybe the small reference to his bandaged wrist later on. Why do I care that he just tried to commit suicide and what bearing does that have on what follows? I didn't see a connection. And who are Gina and Pete? The neighbors fighting? The parents of the child? And what's his motivation for getting involved? If this is just a caretaker and the mother is simply at work, everything will be fine. They aren't going to "take" the child. It feels contrived just to get him to take care of a child. So, the bottom line is I followed the action in the scene just fine, but I thought the motivations of the MC didn't ring true.

    In Blythe's piece, I don't know. There are too many adjectives and adverbs for my taste, and their onslaught dilutes images that I really did enjoy, such as the flame dipping and shivering at the beginning. This writer has a great gift for evocative phrasing, but it's less effective when it's overused. For instance, the cold glass of a one-way mirror. Isn't a one-way mirror just a mirror? As for the storytelling, I kind of felt like I was tiptoeing along the periphery of understanding, barely hanging on. I don't like to spell everything out, either, but I had a hard time feeling grounded in the scene and the characters and their connection to each other.

    Congrats to both writers on making it to the quarterfinals!

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  10. Cloudwatcher for me. I want to read more of this story. Blythe's piece is beautiful, but it feels overwritten and the language is almost self-conscious as a result.

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  11. Not another vote; just additional comment. I didn't read the main character as being male in the Cloudwatcher piece. Interesting when I re-read as male. More interesting to think of a female attorney who has never picked up a child. Either way, I still vote for Cloudwatcher.

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  12. Cloudwatcher - I think your story is more original than Blythe's, but I was really confused by the unclear relationships between the characters. Who was June? How did she die? Why did the mc slit his/her wrists? Is the mc male of female? Are the neighbors Pete and Gina, or Pete and someone else? If not, who are Pete and Gina and what do they have to do with the Portuguese couple, and why exactly did the main character step in? It's good to raise a few questions, but this piece raised too many for character-related questions for me to pay much attention to the important question of what's at stake. I also don't really like sentences starting with conjunctions.

    Blythe - This piece might have the stronger writing (I'm really not sure at this point...), but it's laden with over description and flowery language. Pare it down. Not everything needs a rare adjective. I was also taken out of the story by the modern-feeling expression "it was high time," and the last line felt contrived. My biggest issue with this piece is that if you want to mess with a classic like The Phantom of the Opera - especially if you're going to assume the Phantom's point of view - you have to shatter the chandelier, metaphorically speaking. Your reader, assuming they've read the original book and not just munched popcorn through the movie - needs to feel the ghastliness of the Phantom. Seriously, the dude is a genius, premeditative creep of the highest order. I don't want to read a retelling that lacks the deeply disturbing element of the Phantom's twisted psyche.

    I'm having a really hard time choosing today, but I'm going with Cloudwatcher because I think some of the issues I mentioned might be cleared up in a larger piece. I thought I'd vote for Blythe, but unfortunately, the more I've thought about it, the less I can get around a depiction of the Phantom that doesn't mesh with my preconceived image of him. It shouldn't matter, but it does. The risk of working with established characters...

    So Cloudwatcher has my vote.

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  13. Cloudwatcher gets my vote.

    I enjoyed both. They were both well written, but Blythe's work twisted my reading flow at times due to the overwriting.

    Congrats to the both of you!

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  14. My vote is for Blythe.

    Each of these has a main character with some form of corruption. And it isn’t glamor that’s going to redeem either one.

    The setting in the opera is more focused, at least within the excerpt—and it has a mirror to stand for the unknown influences that come into play in lives that make it through where it seemed they couldn’t.

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  15. Voting for Cloudwatcher.

    Although Blythe's piece left curiosity (bodies in the attic!), I couldn't vote for it. I'm not a fan of this writing style, but it was done nicely. Cloudwatcher pulled me into the scene--I became the MC.

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  17. Cloudwatcher - Interesting. The ending is strong. The character certainly changes, which isn't easy in 500 words.

    Blythe- "Gothic Retelling" - Wow, I didn't even know that was a genre! I thought it was beautifully done, and a very bold choice. You get my vote.

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  18. I enjoyed both. Blythe's made me want to share with my friends. Cloudwatcher was good, and I'd read more. This is a tough call for me. I think I'll vote Cloudwatcher.

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  19. Voting for Blythe.

    I think the language is very suitable for the sort of story it is -- a gothic tale. I did question "puddle of roses" and "the audience clambored to their feet" but overall the language is perfect for the time, setting, and atmosphere of the story.The narrative was structured well, and what was going on was pretty clear.

    What threw me way off in Cloudwatcher's piece was the mention of "June's funeral," which made me think the narrator was coming home to an apartment that no longer had June in it and had been avoiding coming home for several days because of that. I thought both June and the narrator, who had been hauled away on a stretcher, had been in the same car accident or something. Can't tell if the narrator is male or female, and I don't see a good reason not to be forthcoming about that.The vagueness is distracting since it is hard to picture the narrator at all.

    Also confused about Gina and Pete. Is this the couple arguing across the hall? If not, why does she/he call their names? But the narrator had stayed at Gina's. Is Gina really the kid's mom and the narrator is buying time to keep the child there by saying that that woman is some nurse, not the mother? Just too many points of confusion.

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  20. Cloudwatcher. It was the more emotionally gripping of the two.

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  21. I vote for Blythe. I don't usually like to read re-tellings of famous stories, but I think this one is done very well. Nice progression to the plot.

    Cloudwatcher's was also an interesting story. I think it needs more work, especially on clarity.

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  22. I like Blythe. I'm a sucker for a good retelling!

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  23. My vote goes to Blythe. Some comments on both:

    In Cloudwatcher's entry there is a monumental turning point, picking up that child, but it is positioned in the midst of so many dire happenings and frenetic side-plots that it is hard to envision how the central story will ultimately connect to any of them.

    Blythe's language fits the luxurious setting and stands a good chance of revealing as much of the risk of corruption in a teacher-student situation as the original story did.

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  24. Cloudwatcher. Sorry, I would comment further but I'm pecking this out on my phone.

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  25. Cloudwatcher gets my vote. The writing immediately grabbed me and I could totally envision the scene and felt compassion toward the baby and the mc. Well done!

    Blythe is nicely written but words like sumptuous, opulent, rapture etc...don't show me anything specific. It's more 'telling' than 'showing' even if they are pretty words. Good luck to you both!

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  26. Retelling a familiar tale is difficult. Although Blythe has an interesting take on this, I found it difficult. Cloudwatcher gets my vote, because it caught my attention. It leaves lots of questions, but I like the characterization and I want to read more to see where this goes.

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  27. I'm voting for Cloudwatcher. The story left me wanting more!!

    Blythe had a little too much elaboration for my taste.

    Congrats to both writers for making it this far!

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  28. Cloudwatcher get my vote this time.

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  29. I agree with other comments that the Cloudwatcher's MC (identity and motivation) is confusing - I assumed a suicidal female attorney, but that isn't clear. I feel there is a lot of potential. Though Blythe did stay true to the Gothic style, I'm not a fan of re-writing other authors' characters. My vote has to go to to Cloudwatcher today.

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