WRiTE CLUB 2016 - Bout #4


Time to lace up those gloves and put up some dukes!

During the coming weeks this blog will host 15 bouts (M-F) between writing samples that are identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters. The writing can be from any genre, any age group, taken either from a larger piece of work or simply a stand alone flash fiction. The focus is on the writing...not the writer...or its categorization. The two writing samples for each bout will be randomly matched and step into the ring for a chance to find out what they're made of.

The winner of each contest is chosen by you...the reader.  Simply read each entry and leave your vote in the comment section below.  Anyone can vote, as long as you have a Google ID or belong to Google Friend Connect. Anonymous voting is not allowed. It is also customary to leave a brief critique of both pieces. You see, the comments are where the true value of this contest makes itself known. Not only do the contestants gain valuable insight about their work from those remarks, but everybody can benefit from how each piece is received and what works...and what doesn't. Please remember to remain respectful with your comments. If you see an opportunity for improvement, make it known in the most positive way possible.

How do you choose a winner? What criteria should be used? The method by which you determine who to vote for is entirely up to you.  Which one resonates with you the most? Which one makes you want to read more? Which one demonstrates a total command of the English language and how it can be used to elicit emotion or paint a mental picture you can't stop staring at. There is no hard and fast way rules for determining a winner -- and that's exactly what the publishing world is like. But today you get to decide.

The voting for each bout will remain open for one week, so even though a new bout will be posted every day, you don't miss out on anything if you miss a few days.  You can always catch up on several bouts at once if you so desire.  Once the voting period ends and the votes have been tabulated, the results will be posted HERE, on the WRiTE CLUB scorecard. After we make it through the 15 preliminary bouts, then the winners will have to continue on through cage matches, then play-offs, until there are only two left with a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference.

The voting for this bout - Bout #4 - remains open until noon on Wednesday - March 16th.

That's the bell...and its trying to tell us something.


Let me introduce to you the contestants for this bout.  In the near corner, representing the YA Historical Fantasy genre with 449 words, welcome to the ring Graham Marshall.




Jump. The word slips from between the stones in the wall, carries on the wind, and brushes my ear. I have no reason to argue.
I let go of the trees trunk with one hand, hike my skirts around my knees, dig in my heels and lean forward. If the desired result is to catch the wall with my hands, the goal is to get at least my head over it.
I coil. I exhale.
I propel forward.
For a few blessed, terrible moments I hang in the air with the wind whipping at my cheeks and rustling in my skirts. I dont know if Ill catch myself or not, so I lunge with every ounce of energy I have and pray for the abrasive burn of weather-exposed stone on my palms.
My fingernails break. Its the skin at my wrists, far more delicate than that of my hands, that screams as the topmost layer of skin is scraped away. Strength musters from reserves I wasnt aware of and I grasp the top of the wall as hard as I can, press my palms into its surface and lift myself upward. I heave one leg over and straddle the wall like a horse.
The entire borough is visible from my vantage point. The tavern is thumpin and when the wind turns just right the strain of stringed instruments reaches my ears. Women in red wimples welcome staggering men into a building with two floors and no windows, a repetitive clang! reverberates from deep inside the smithys shop, and in the center of town a beggar hangs shivering in the stocks.
All of the houses are boarded up with tendrils of smoke drifting up into the sky from the centers of their roofs. Neighborhoods radiate from the square like rays from the sun, set in odd angles and breaking off into the occasional cul de sac. There are no street lights lining the narrow roads, only the glow of a fire slipping from between the gaps in their shutters. In the far corner, candlelight flickers through stained glass set in the walls of a tiny chapel.
It reminds me of those little light up villages old ladies nestle into pillow stuffing on their book cases every Christmas. There is something vulnerable about the scene, cozy with the way the buildings are piled on top of one another like a litter of puppies. Maybe its the warmth in the windows or the scent of burning firewood, but there is something about the town that begs me inside and bids me welcome.
I swing my other leg over, roll onto my stomach, and drop onto the sloppy, mud-slick street below.
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And in the far corner, representing the YA Contemporary genre with 499 words, also welcome to the ring Ann Mcknight.




At 5:43 pm Emmaline Frazier's young life is cut short in a tragic car accident. Her mother, Justine, and younger sister, Birdy, survive her.
This is as far as I get in my imaginary obituary. I repeat it on a loop, changing the time as each minute ticks by. She dies at 5:44, at 5:45, at 5:46, at 5:47.

Each minute I survive is a victory against my stepfather. I consider opening the door and jumping, but Birdy clings to my hand and I can’t leave her alone. I don't tell her it will be okay, because I may be a crap sister, but I'm no liar. My silence is one of self-preservation. I’ve learned it does no good to sob loudly and beg for our lives. It only feeds his crazy. Our tears and fear: the anti lithium.

In lieu of screaming, I bite the inside of my cheek, pinch the skin along my thighs, and keep my mouth shut. He hugs the curves, swerving dangerously close to the sheer drop where only a flimsy, metal barrier stands between the Pacific Ocean and us.

Occasionally the back end of our Honda Civic smacks the metal with a dull thud and shudders, our car fishtailing into traffic, cars honking, people swearing. Hank occasionally strokes the thick chestnut waves of Mom’s hair, smiling with love at her, not seeing her fear.
           
“Love you so much babe.” He blows her a kiss.
           
“Love you too,” she whispers.
           
“Have you ever seen such a gorgeous day?” he shouts. He throws back his head and laughs.

I hate his laugh. It reminds me of a hyena ready to tear open its prey.

“Hey Em.” His eyes collide with mine. “You scared?”

“No sir,” I say. I hate him more than I’ve ever hated anything. My hatred scares me almost as much as dying in this hideous pea green, tin can of a car.

“You sure girl? You look kind of scared. Should I pull over?”

“No sir.” If he pulls over it will be worse. He will make me pay in another way.

“Well, okay then.” He laughs, enjoying my misery.

Birdy picks this time to whisper, “I have to potty.”

“What’s that little bird?” he yells, like she's ever going to tell him. Birdy never talks to him, her little birdy heart too delicate.

“She has to pee,” I say.

“Piss out the window.” He laughs like he’s told the funniest joke ever.

I wish his bladder would explode and he would die of sepsis.

“Okay little bird, let’s pull over here and you can go in the bushes.”

She looks at me, her sea glass eyes taking up most of her face. She is all chubby cheeks and eyes. If she were any cuter I might puke, but I love her anyway. “I don’t want to pee in bushes,” she mouths to me. Her distress turns her cheeks into blotchy red maps of misery.

“You don’t have a choice,” I whisper.


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Enjoying two talented writers at work is only part of the price of admission, now it’s up to you to decide who moves forward.  Read both pieces, choose the one you feel is superior, then say so in the comments below and provide a mini-critique for each.

Now go tell all of your friends to stop by and make a selection as well.  If you intend to Tweet about this, please use the hashtag #WRiTECLUB2016. Tell everybody about WRiTE CLUB, where it’s not about the last man/woman standing, but who knocks the audience out!







65 comments

  1. Ann McNight for me. Really powerful writing

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  2. Graham, nice voice. I love the imagery. But I thought the description of the jump too complex, killing some of the suspense.

    I vote for yours, Ann. I think the puking line for the sister's cuteness can go because I think it takes from the image you'd painted. Maybe just one mention too much on the laugh. Could've gone with something else to see. But well done. LOVE the voice.

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  3. Ann Mcknight gets my vote. There's so much tension! It's a very powerful story for 499 words.

    Graham Marshall didn't hold me as much. Congratulations to both of you on making it in.

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  4. Ann's story was paced well, and was easy to visualize - though an uncomfortable scene. The beginning imaginary obituary with changing times really caught my attention.

    Graham Marshall has superfluous words, and never seemed to grab my attention. I did like "buildings are piled on top of one another like a litter of puppies".

    Voting Ann McNight.

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  5. Wow! McKnight gets my vote. You conveyed the suppressed fear and built the tension through a great choice of words. Well done! I would pay to read the rest of this story. I’m confident we will soon be reading your published works.

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  6. Ann McKnight gets my vote today.

    We're thrown right into the action and immediately feel the fear and desperation of a family in the grip of an abusive husband and stepfather. This sounds like a heart wrenching story that I could be invested in when the mood strikes. Brava to you :)

    Graham, I feel there is way too much tell in your entry. You start with the character leaping from a building to another without telling us why then spend the rest of the time describing the city. I'd like to know what her motivation is. You also have extra words that really don't need to be there like a "building with two floors and no windows" could be two-story windowless building." You get the same description but free up four extra words. Also straddle like a horse isn't necessary as the word straddle already conveys the movement.

    So long story short (too late), tighten things up a bit and put us closer to where the story begins and you've got it. Keep on writing and good luck :)

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  7. Wow, this is a tough one. My personal taste would lead me more to read Graham's book than Ann's if I picked them up in a store (I'm a little burned out on contemporary YA featuring abuse issues) but judging strictly from the writing, the ability to set the scene, the conflict and putting us right in the protagonist's place, I have to give the nod to Ann. I did love the houses stacked up like puppies line in Graham's piece, and I'm very intrigued by the women in red whimples in the windowless house, but I thought there were some wasted words that could have been cut to make room for something else- like the jumping off the tree sequence, where I spent more time trying to visualize what she was actually doing than getting into the story.

    This was a tough call. Both writers did a fantastic job.

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  8. I vote for Graham.

    Ann has some clever lines (particularly "She dies at 5:44, at 5:45, at 5:46, at 5:47..." and "I wish his bladder would explode and he would die of sepsis"), but there is a lot of action and speech without characterization within the given text. We know Emmaline doesn't like her stepfather, that perhaps he's on medication of some sort, but he did this and that and at some point it became a list and less of a character. Particularly for what feels like a novel opening scene, I would like to see a bit more grounding for a character that is going to do Bad Things, which makes those things even more realistic and horrible within the voice of the story.

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  9. Graham get my vote by far! I was left wanting to know what happens next!!!

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  10. Graham - as soon as I read your piece it was my favorite of the week so far! I was almost right there with you on the jump part but then totally with you on the imagery. Very unfortunate to get matched up against McKnight though!

    McKnight gets my vote. I thought that piece was practically flawless. Very powerful. Gets a lot of information across effectively with emotion and tension... Great stuff! These were my fave two pieces so far. Sucks to have to pick one.

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  11. Another tough one. Both very rich in description, emotionally engaging - and a bit confusing - in equal amounts.

    Marshall: Good sensory description of (what I thought was) a village pre-Industrial Revolution at least, if not medieval. "Wimples" "smithy" "tavern" smoke through roofs (are they burning? - no, they just lack chimneys) and the beggar in the stocks all draw the reader to make other assumptions about the setting - both place and period. Then, when you say "no street-lights" and the image of miniature Christmas villages on bookcases, that evokes something much more contemporary, and we as yet have no basis on how to reconcile the two.

    McKnight: It wasn't until halfway through the 4th paragraph that I realized this potentially fatal accident hasn't actually happened - and might not. I saw the two sisters clinging to each other in a wrecked car, and it pulled me out of the story to have to to get to the real picture. The abusive step-father and weak-willed mom need more fleshing out to not have them feel like cliches. Hard to do with the word limit.

    Graham Marshall gets my vote.



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    1. AM: comment should read "to have to rewind..."

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  12. My vote goes to Graham.

    This is one of those matches where I kind of wish we could put two through to the next round. Congratulations to both writers for submitting complete, polished scenes that leave the reader wondering what's next. You both came ready to fight, and as a reader, I sincerely appreciate that.

    Graham - I was a little confused about when this happens. Skirts, wimples, and the wall give it a Medieval/Renaissance feel, but then you threw in the Christmas village thing, which feels very modern. This piece could be tightened up a bit, but I felt right on the edge of... something... with the narrator. Writing felt polished and a bit poetic. Good job.

    McKnight - Good tension and pretty clean writing. (You might want to check how often you've typed "Birdy" and "bird.") Believability is paramount, though, and I have a few nagging doubts. First of all, it wasn't entirely clear what sort of abuse this man inflicts, besides terrifying his passengers. The big issue, though, is that even though Em, who loves her sister, knows that Evil Stepdad does Bad Things when he has to pull over, she tells Evil Stepdad that Birdy has to pee. Basically, she's just fed her precious baby sister to the wolf. That said, I can see why this resonates so much with readers.

    Good job and good luck to both!

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  13. Ann GMV.

    Graham: While the imagery was beautiful, I didn't go anywhere. And though these are only samples, I would still like for something to happen. I have no idea why your MC had to jump into this town rather than walk through a gate, why it's at night, or what happens if she's caught. These things I think would have given some danger to the beauty and made me care more for your character. (Also, I didn't really jive with the puppies comparison.)

    Ann: I picked your piece many for the more connection I felt for your MC. That being said, there were some dialogue bits I felt were over done and could be toned back some, like when he throws his head back and laughs after saying have you ever seen such a gorgeous day. I get that he's insane, but it feels like here would be a great time to show off an insane grin and just splits his face in half. The other thing that I would revisit is in the midst of this terrifying drive, she likens her fear of dying to the fear of dying in the pea green car. If that's just her personality, ignore me! My favorite line though, and the one that clenched it for me, was: Our tears and fear: the anti lithium.

    Well done.

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  14. SO hard to choose. I thought both stories were amazingly well-written but in the end Emmaline's voice is what drew me in. My vote goes to Ann McKnight.

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  15. This is so tough! But my vote is for Ann McKnight.

    Graham: your word choices were amazing for setting the scene, but I too felt like the pacing dragged a bit with a smidge of over description, gorgeous as it was. If you trim, we could get a little more progress in the opening and answers to questions that are burning up my mind, like why she has to jump onto the wall, etc.

    Ann: Your voice was very clear, as was the sense of characters. There is a clear sense of foreboding when it comes to the step father.

    Great job to both authors!

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  16. This is just too hard today. Yesterday was so hard to vote because neither piece was my cup of tea and today is hard to vote because I love them both!

    Graham- I want to know more! I am left wanting more and with so many questions. Why is she outside the wall? At first I thought this was going to be a story with other children all climbing the tree and getting over the wall, but then I realized she is alone and daring enough to do this without the element of peer pressure. Now I like this character even more because she is so independent. The imagery was beautiful and I saw the picture in my mind so clearly. This is such an accomplishment is so few words. I would read this for pleasure and it was a pleasure to read. Huge kudos to you!

    McKnight- This short piece packed in so much emotion in so few words. The obituary countdown was a bit melodramatic for me, but for a YA teen angst is the name of the game so it works. I did like the protectiveness the main character expressed for her sister. I felt for the girls so much and wished a horrible death for the step-dad right along with her. I liked the foreshadowing in the line "Birdy never talks to him, her little birdy heart too delicate." Whoa- so will the obituary be for the little sister instead of the big sister? Wow. So much in so few words.

    UGH! How I wish I could vote for both today! (Especially after the gore fest that was Round #3.)

    Graham- you get my vote just because this is my favorite piece of the competition so far (but know that I have changed my vote about fifteen times before posting this because they are both that good).

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  17. Thank you both for sharing your writing.

    Graham Marshall: There's a balancing act to describing a location so that your reader is seeing what they need to see without boring them with too many details. The scene you painted with your words was beautiful and gave me a strong sense of where without pushing me to the "yeah, yeah, I get it" point. You have several sentences that follow the same "A, B, and C" pattern. While there is nothing wrong with them, I was distracted by the repetitive rhythm of the sentences. You used several phrases that I especially enjoyed, though: "the abrasive burn of weather-exposed stone on my palms" and "the buildings are piled on top of one another like a litter of puppies" in particular. At first, I was put off by her use of the word "thumpin" but once the later comparison of the town to a "light up village" makes me think that your MC is not from the same time period as this quaint village.

    Ann McKnight: The immediate transition from "oh, someone died" to "oh, someone wishes they were dead" was unique and definitely caught my attention. You quickly established Emmaline as a strong, relatable character. I don't feel the same about her step-father. Yes, he's scary and unpleasant, but there's no consistency between how to treats the mother, the older daughter and the younger daughter. Is he delusional (doesn't realize mom is scared) or sadistic (enjoying Emmaline's fear)? The strength of your character development with Emmaline leads me to trust that you develop the step-father's character as strongly later in the story. I particularly like the phrases "sea glass eyes" and "His eyes collide with mine."

    I vote for Ann McKnight.

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  18. It was Ann Mcknight all the way for me.

    Graham: I am sure many will argue against this, nevertheless, in my humble opinion you overdid it with the set up of the scene. I'd rather get drip fed the scene and not have it all thrown at me at once. I found myself wanting to skip over the heavy description of the place wanting to get just a hint of what the heck is this character's motivation and what it was leading up to. On the plus side, some of the imagery is amazing. In the end I just felt like all I got was a jumping person and a description of a place. Not enough to keep me wanting more for now.

    Ann Mcknight - Wowee! You nailed it. I was right there in the car with these kids. I felt their agony, fear, frustration. The stepfather started to irritate me immediately. Good job in bringing emotion out of me. The only part I didn't like was 'not seeing her fear.' I'm sure this dirtbag knows exactly the fear he is causing out of all passengers. All these types are the same. Must keep everyone beneath them and afraid. He might pretend he doesn't see but they know. It's what keeps them going. Anyway, just my opinion. It's the only unbelievable part for me. Everything else was top notch! Congrats.

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  19. Great writing from both entries.

    Graham: Although the detail was good, the jump took too long. I loved your description of the town, but wasn't sure of the conflict. Great writing. I definitely wanted to read more.

    Ann McKnight: Loved the beginning. Great tension! I would have liked to know that they were in a car sooner.

    My vote: Ann McKnight

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  20. In Ann McKnight's entry, I love the tension and the way the story moves. I knew much more by the end of the excerpt than I did at the beginning. Loved the direction, the conflict, the power of the emotion in this scene. I want to read on.

    Graham Marshall's action is good and I was fairly clear what was happening throughout but it was heading down a more literary path with no room for tie-ins. I am also wondering what on earth your MC is doing and I like the setting so I want to read on. Nice work.

    By not much, I choose Ann McKnight.

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  21. My vote is for Graham. I'm dying to know what happens next!

    Ann, I kept wondering why no one had called the cops on this guy's erratic driving. I kept thinking about that rather than the story itself.

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  22. Ann gets my vote.
    Wow, really had to WORK for this one! Black text on a black background.

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  23. Ann McKnight gets my vote. Very good visuals.
    As for Graham's--I'd much rather know WHY the person had to jump than read 449 words of the jump itself.

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  24. I vote for Ann McKnight. I liked the narrator's voice, the pacing, the imagery, the writing, and the emotional tension. The first line is great, too.

    Graham's work has excellent imagery, but the characterization was lacking. The narrator's voice tells me nothing about her motives or interests. The description of the village, while vivid, doesn't help me understand what is going on here or what might be significant. I was confused about the time period, too, but perhaps the rest of the story clarifies this. I'm voting on the 500-ish words, though, not on the teasers about what might be written about in a larger work.

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  25. Both strong pieces, but my vote goes to Ann McNight.

    I was really pulled in and want to follow this mc, so determined! Tony note: the word "puke" toward the end felt off-voice.

    And a tiny note on Graham: "straddle the wall like a horse" should be straddle the wall like it's a horse. (As is, I was trying to picture a horse straddling a wall.)

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  26. Ann's also appareared black on my screen as well. Had to highlight it all to read it. I vote for hers anyway.

    Grahams did nothing for me. The jump description wasnt clear "digging in ny herls" made me think she was on the ground even though shes leaping to a wall. I too thought the Christmas Village reference pulled me out of the story.

    Anns I really didnt get sucked into either. It took a bit past the time changes for me to care. I thought Em was wroting a novel or something where she's choosing when the character died. I also thought it was a folly that Em doesnt want the car to stop, but a second later tells crazy man her sister has to pee. I would have thought she'd whisper "just hold it, birdy".

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  27. Man, this is a tough one! After taking some time to think about these entries, I've decided to give Ann Mcknight my vote. Graham Marshall's prose was stunning and atmospheric, but the strong teenage voice and precarious family dynamics in Ann's tip the scale for me.

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  28. Tough one. Both are well done and while I could nitpick each for minor things, there was nothing that really distracted me from the stories. Again, YA is not my favorite genre...

    Ann McKnight - the tension is palpable. The pacing could be tighter, and some phrasing is a bit awkward. But the family dynamic stands out.

    Graham Marshall - stunning imagery without a lot of excess, which is nice. That said, there are some bits that are confusing (clarified elsewhere perhaps) and I didn't feel that this scene really went anywhere, it was just setting. Beautiful setting.

    Still, if I had these two in front of me, I'd be more likely to keep reading Graham Marshall's piece than Ann McKnight's. Totally a personal thing - I'm not into angry teens and abusive stepparents.

    My completely subjective vote: Graham Marshall.

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  29. These are two beautiful pieces of writing, but ultimately my vote goes to Ann McKnight. As a whole, her piece was more exciting. I do think I would enjoy reading more from Graham in the future, though.

    I will say this to Ann: if you'd wanted to twist the knife more, you could have portrayed the mother as adoring this jerk and willingly blind to the peril she was putting her children in. In so short a piece, this might have worked better for me, because I would have spent less time wondering why she was allowing this to happen to her kids.

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  30. Two YA contenders duking it out. Both are heavy weights and I enjoyed them both. Solid entries. But Ann gets the win for me. I was TERRIFIED at what might happen next. An amazing thing to accomplish in <= 500 words. The one nit I have is I need to know more about how mother is reacting to all this. Graham's story is equally compelling, and maybe would have won against another contestant. I like it, it's just that Ann's was stronger. The nit I had against graham was I really didn't get a full measured sense of the borough. Maybe fewer descriptives of it that carried more weight? Both were good, but Ann best utilized the 500 words.

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  31. Wow, some great writing here for both!
    More meat in Ann's, and was rooting for the big sister, so that's my vote - Ann McNight
    nice job, people!

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  32. Man, this is hard, both are really good.

    Graham, I liked the description, the story has great potential, but I will have to go with previous posters that it was missing the conflict/engaging action/circumstance that would have drawn us into the time and place you so carefully wrought.

    Even though I'm not a fan of abuser stories, the writing of Ann's piece was so well done, that I was right with her, wanting to smack that guy. Fear, confusion, bordering on despair. I got it.

    My vote goes to Ann, but I would ask DL to consider Graham as a wildcard in the next round. Both deserve to advance, especially compared to some previous day's entries.

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  33. My vote in this round goes to Graham Marshall.

    Both pieces were strong. Ann made me feel, but Graham made me curious. It was a hard choice!

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  34. I vote for Ann Mcknight

    Graham Marshall

    I’m going to type what I feel as I’m reading in the first paragraph then I’ll summarize in the second.

    “Brushes my ear” was a little strange. I don’t really understand the action going on in the second paragraph. Writing is getting kind of heavy with stuff like “abrasive burn” and “weather-exposed”. I mean, I’m getting kind of lost because there’s this intense description of a jump but I’m not sure why I’m supposed to care about this jump. Tavern is thumpin’? You’re describing a bunch of stuff and most of it is fine but I’m not feeling engaged at all.

    I think a lot of the writing is promising, but I didn’t feel very engaged. I had trouble visualizing the beginning and the second half felt like a description of a village but I didn’t really know what was going on.

    Ann Mcknight

    I’m going to type what I feel as I’m reading in the first paragraph then I’ll summarize in the second.

    “Is cut short” vs “was cut short”? Even though it’s going along with the time, it still feels kind of weird for an obituary. OK, I like the line about “victory against my stepfather.” I also like “I don’t tell her it will be OK… I’m not lair.” I also like “the anti lithium,” especially because I’m a psychiatrist. I would question why he would beat his kids off lithium. Maybe he gets manic and gets wasted or maybe his manic episodes are irritable mood rather than elevated. I don’t know. Maybe lithium is for something else, like antidepressant augmentation. Those are my psychiatrist thoughts right now. I’ll shut up and keep going. OK, so we’re seeing risk taking behavior. That’s consistent with mania. I like the ending.

    This was good. I would keep reading. I like what you did here. There’s a good scene, good dialogue, good tension. I’d be really careful to make his behavior consistent with whatever his diagnosis is, and I’m kind of interested in why the mother seems so cool with this guy. If he’s bipolar, his behavior would be drastically different based on what kind of episode he’s having, so I’d imagine that there’d be some uncertainty on the mother’s part. That’s my only issue and it may be a non-issue because I’m only reading a few hundred words. Good job.

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    1. I did an article on bipolar disorder for Dan Koboldt's Science in Sci-Fi series. Here's the link if interested:

      http://dankoboldt.com/bipolar-disorder-writers/

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  35. Wow. Both of these entries are very strong! I wish both writers could move to the next round!

    Graham Marshall: Your descriptions are gorgeous. I adore your use of language. The jump was vivid, the skinned wrists and the little town beautifully evoked. I admit I found the passage a bit confusing: who is this jumping person? Is the voice she hears at the beginning real or? Is the town real or? It's good to create questions for your reader, but I felt a bit antsy with the number of questions your passage created for me. I would have liked to know what motivated the jump, even if it were merely hinted at.

    Ann McKnight, WOW. The tension you've created in this little scene is palpable. I found your pov character's fear just so gut-wrenching, the family politics hideously clear in this one moment. The first line didn't work for me--I found it a bit difficult to sort out relative to the paragraphs that followed. Overall, the situation seems a bit familiar. I'd like to know what is unique or unusual enough about this particular (messed up) family, or this particular protagonist, to warrant a story.

    Because in the end, wall jumping young ladies always win my heart, my vote is for Graham Marshall.

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  36. My vote goes to Ann McKnight.

    To Graham Marshall: I love that you chose to write a period piece. They are my favorite and I was delighted to wake this morning and read it. I truly do want to know more about the MC. Where you really lost me was in the way you presented me with description. I wanted to see the village through the eyes of your MC, not in a narration dump. While you have painted a beautiful picture it would have resonated stronger if it was active. I bring this up because it is something I am personally struggling with in my own writing. I feel challenging myself to switch into active description has really deepened my work. I think you are very talented and your work has promise. This is the first YA I have seen I would happily hand my daughter, thank you for that!

    To Ann McKnight: Beautiful, strong work. You should be very proud. I wanted to hug those girls and push the dad out of the car. Digging deep for constructive comments, the biggest thing I saw was that you have some repetitive word choices. The two that really got me where hate and scared. There was absolutely nothing wrong with the usage, but varying the phrases can add a touch more depth. A simple switch to something like loathed on one of her thoughts. Or frightened or anxious instead of scared.

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  37. I would read Graham's over Ann's for entirely personal reasons, but they're both compelling.

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  38. My vote is for Graham. The opening lines with the jump pulled me in right away. I did think the description of the town was too long, but there are some great images.

    For Ann, I liked the tension, but the opening was unclear, so it took a bit to get into the story.

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  39. My vote is for Graham. I'm left wanting to know what happens next. The story surrounding the little bit I read feels like the unfolding of a map, with many different possible routes and destinations. My imagination immediate went wild with all of the possible story paths. On the other hand, Ann's story felt like a very isolated event; one of which I don't think I want to know the ending of. While both stories were well written, Ann's was too triggering.

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  40. Wow! Anne's piece is really suspenseful and compelling. Maybe its just because I know fear but it really grabbed my attention. Graham's piece is fantastic too, the description is really great though maybe a bit too detailed? Kills a little of the suspense. My voice goes to Anne.

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  41. Vote: Mcknight

    Gramham: Repetitive words/phrases or imaginary can often work well in/for a story. Unfortunately, I don't think it works well when -I- is involved. Usually with 1st POV it can be easy to get stuck into a rut of I did this, I did this, and in the end it almost becomes like reading a list and is very telling, rather than showing. I wish I knew more about her skirts, that might sound weird, but she seems to get over that wall really easily when in my mind she's in poofy skirts. I mean, I have a hard time with one without stepping on it. How can she let go of them and still manage not to get them tangled and such? The first sentence confuses me a bit, it brings an element to the story that seems otherworldly but isn't really followed through with, and I'm not sure if that's really the case anyways? I love the descriptions and picture you paint of the town but from one paragraph to the next they are conflicting. The first paragraph of the town has a beggar (how does she even know its a beggar?), stocks, a whore house and boarded up houses and the next it builds it up as a cozy village, a pile of puppies. In the end, I just couldn't get behind the story.


    Mcknight: I find this piece engaging, I get a sense of anxiety and concern for the safety of the characters, though I wish I had a better sense of how old Em was and because I have questions regarding her age, I wonder if she would even know what sepsis is? The descriptive phrases are used sparingly but the ones used are really great. I have a very clear picture of Birdy in my mind, the car and where they are driving. Em's emotions are very palpable and I think you did a great job bringing them to life.

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  42. Oh, what a difficult choice! Great writing!! If I have to pick only one (and I do)...

    I vote for Graham Marshall.

    Ann McKnight - Excellent tension! The anti-lithium part didn't flow well to me. I had to read it twice to get it. If she's holding Birdy's hand, I'd think she'd be holding on with the other hand rather than pinching her thigh. Ultimately, I don't think it plausible that stepdad could bounce off guardrails into traffic and keep driving. Too many things to go wrong. Otherwise, a fantastic piece of writing! Congrats & thanks for sharing!

    Graham Marshall - Who told her to jump? Why is she jumping? Where is she going? I want these questions answered. Lovely writing! I suggest losing the "Christmas village" reference because it pulled me out of the story (too modern) and give the reader a focus - one particular place, person, smell, or sound that really draws the narrator's (and our) attention. Make us want to investigate one thing rather than the whole village. Fantastic descriptions! Congrats & thank you for sharing!

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  43. Oh.... A tough one. Both pieces are outstanding. Graham's has lovely prose and somehow communicated the genre perfectly. I have no idea what is happening, but the language impressed me.

    When I started reading Ann's piece, I thought I'd have an easy choice. Some of the dialogue didn't seem natural, and it put me off. But by the end, I was so touched by the sister bond, and by Birdy's perfect fragility. Ann didn't just make it even. She won my vote.

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  44. Ann Mcknight gets my vote. Ann's writing flows better and draws the reader in.

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  45. The omniscient POV of Graham's confused me as to what is going on in this scene. Too much, too soon.

    Likewise, McNight has too much going on, too abstract to attach the characters.

    Of the two, I vote McNight.

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  46. Ann gets my vote.

    Graham: You have some nice prose here, but there was some repetition in the writing that felt like it was supposed to be stylistic but didn't work quite as well as I think you wanted it to. I also just didn't find the piece itself particularly intriguing.

    Ann: You have a beautiful writing style and Emmaline's voice drew me in. That said, the dialogue could use a little bit of work.

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  47. I vote for Ann

    This one was tough, with not much to choose between them. Both well-written and engaging. Ann gets it because of the misdirection – to begin with it seemed like an abduction, then turned out to be just a family car trip. There was an element of risk in getting that to work, and that deserves to be rewarded.

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  48. Graham: The world you seem to be building is intriguing, but you faced tough competition.

    I vote for Ann because it's a dark event told in a slanted light--this MC is threatened, but far from defeated. I liked the twists at the beginning; I liked thinking first that she was dead, then deciding an accident had happened, and then settling into the reality--this tells me that this story won't let me relax for a minute.

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  49. Vote: Ann Mcknight
    Graham Marshall, I enjoyed the visual of the town, however I didn't have any sense of why I should care about such a detailed description of a jump. Not that the description was bad-it sounded like a long, scary jump-but why would she take that risk? Was she starving? Did she love the thrill? Was someone chasing her? While I realize this is an excerpt, her motivation for the jump should have materialized in at least a small way either as she agonized over it or immediately after.

    Ann Mcknight - I felt the tension alongside the action. The bad dad did seem a bit cliche with throwing back his head to laugh, but maybe that's the point? I would have liked reactions that gave me more depth to his character, perhaps with the mom as well, although I know you had a word limit. Not sure the age of the protagonist, or the history, but reading this sentence I immediately think she's older and an avid medical reader: "I wish his bladder would explode and he would die of sepsis." Not sure how many young adults know what sepsis is.

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  50. Ann Mcknight - wow! I felt the tension growing and roiling in my gut. I have to admit that I didn't like the opening two lines, but I finally got them with the third line and the tension mounted quickly and stayed there.

    Graham - I needed to know why she jumped. I just really needed to know that. I think that would have changed the whole scene for me.

    Vote: Ann Mcknight

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  51. Once again, a great bout with two stories that are very well written. Each one invokes a strong, yet different, response. It was a very tough choice, but my vote goes to Graham.

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  52. Vote: Ann McKnight.

    Just on the basis of what's going on: nothing is going on in the first story. I mean, the situation of climbing a tree and jumping a wall to get into a town indicates that something probably IS going on, but this excerpt isn't about it. All we get in the excerpt is a wall jump and looking at a town. That's not compelling on its own, so I have to say I think your choice of what to excerpt was the big failure here, not the writing itself! When I think about so many novels I've read with long boring descriptions of towns (why do I need to know the specific layout, Peter Straub?! Just tell me where the characters are going, I'll believe you that they can get there!), I think this stands out as a really well-done description. It lets you have the feel of the village without boring you with the specifics you'll never need.

    When held up against the second story, which is an incredibly tense scenario, I can only go with the second one! They are both well-written.

    In both stories I have one VERY specific thing that I think should be changed, though it's just my opinion. In the first one, "thumpin'" was not okay to me at all. Perhaps if the whole piece had been written with a country twang it would've worked, but in that otherwise normal paragraph, it just jumped me right out of the story.

    In the second story, "between the Pacific Ocean and us" just really needed to be "between us and the Pacific Ocean". I know of no rule that says so, I just know that it isn't right in my gut!

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  53. Not wild about either of these. Both are fairly enigmatic towards the reader. I lean toward Ann McKnight, however.

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  54. I liked Graham Marshall's style and setting. I wanted to know what the character was doing and why. She sounded as if she were a displaced modern girl stuck in a historical or fantasy realm. The opening paragraph didn't work for me, though, and I had to read it a couple times to grasp what the situation was. The piece as a whole definitely felt like a portion of a much larger work and doesn't stand on its own due to its lack of clear conflict. Overall, this would be a story I would be more likely to read in longer form of the two.

    Ann McKnight's piece had very strong voice and some great one liners. The opening paragraph was strong, but I became confused right afterward and didn't realize the girls were in a car. I thought something much more sinister was happening, and was relieved to find out it wasn't the case. The step-father felt like an over drawn caricature, as did the mannequin mother. But the girls were great and the tension was high.

    This is a really close match up!

    Judging only by the samples, I vote for Ann McKnight.

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  55. Ann McKnight's writing grabs me! So far, that's my favorite of all I've read in this year's competition.

    Graham Marshall's story was also good, but a bit harder for me to follow, especially the jump scene.

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  56. My vote goes to Ann McKnight. The overall writing, MC, voice, tension etc...really draws me to this piece. I felt like I was there in the moment. I also think you realistically portrayed the psychological nature of the stepfather. Really powerful writing.

    Graham, your story was well written, it just didn't grab me as much as Ann's did.

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  57. I vote for Ann McKnight.

    While Graham Marshall's genre is something I love reading, the issue with 500 word pieces (and I know it makes it unfair) is finding the balance between world building and pacing. I love being transported to other worlds, especially twists on historical BUT the issue with limited word count is grabbing the attention of your reader and then taking them on the ride of their life. Maybe this was the wrong opening for Graham, I would have liked to have read what happened after she jumped.

    McKnight gave us action, peppered in with the right amount of narration. While it's not my cup of tea genre wise, at the end, I really felt like I knew more about the situation.

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  58. My vote is for Ann McKnight. There was too much detail and world building in Graham's piece and I didn't have any sense of where we were heading, or why. I am also not a descriptive reader and tend to skip over sections like this when reading.

    The tension and scene setting were done really well and I was right there in the car with them.

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