WRiTE CLUB 2016 - Bout#10



I've posted another winner on the WRiTE CLUB Scorecard and I'll continue to be update it as we move through the contest. Let me remind everyone that voting for each bout remains live for one week. That way there's always time to catch up on bouts you may have missed.

As we close out the second week of matches, the challenge becomes how do we keep interests high so people will continue coming back? For those of you who've been Tweeting (#WRiTECLUB2016) and/or updating Facebook - THANK YOU - but we need to continue stepping up our game.  Why? Because VOTING IS HARD and choosing between two quality writers is not easy, so after readers do it a couple of times they stop coming back because its uncomfortable facing a difficult choice. So why should we do it? Because in the end, the struggle...and the competition, makes us all better at our craft. And because at the end of it all maybe some aspiring writers will get the exposure they need.

Here's a reminder of how things work. This is the 2nd of three weeks of daily bouts (M-F) between writing samples that are identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters. Once we get through the preliminary skirmishes, then the playoffs will immediately follow.

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. At stake is a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference.

The voting for this bout - Bout #8 - remains open until noon on Thursday - March 24th.

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 Adult Women's Fiction genre with 500 words, welcome to the ring Adallae.

This was her favorite spot. We would circle the aquarium until Braxton and I were more interested in eating fish than observing them, and she would request to come to this room one last time before we left. I couldn’t understand why she loved to put her hands in that cold water and touch those odd creatures. But her eyes lit up every single time, just like those kids with their grandparents and their gift shop symbols of affection as they skipped out the front doors, already looking forward to when they’d get to come back.

She loved that place. And if I left her there, I could rest knowing I’d made her as happy as possible.

Reaching beneath my grey hoodie, I opened my purse and wrapped my hand around the tiny ceramic urn that held the remains of that beautiful little girl. I pushed off the lid, letting it fall to the bottom of my bag, and slid it from beneath my top. After glancing over my shoulder to be sure I hadn’t drawn anyone’s attention, I leaned forward and let some of the ashes fall into the tank. They settled on the surface, saturated, then slowly drifted to the bottom. I did it again, this time letting cold, dusty pieces of her fall through my fingers before they hit the water. 

I love you. And I’m sorry. I’m so sorry.

“Excuse me?” 

I froze at the commanding voice. Without turning, I knew it was the security guard. I could feel his height rise above me.

“What are you doing?” he demanded.

“Nothing.”

“You can’t put anything in there. What is that?”

I tried to slip my hand back underneath my hoodie, but he grabbed my arm and pulled, causing the urn to catch on the rim of the tank and flip out of my hand. Every cell in my body ceased function as it hit the ground.

It shattered.

Sharp shards and pieces of my heart spread like parts of a puzzle that would never be solved. The explosion of the ceramic pot was lost beneath an ear-piercing shriek as I watched her remains shower across the cement. 

What – what is that?” the guard asked again, stepping back as bits of ash fluttered across his shoe. His wide eyes scanned the floor.

“That’s my daughter, you fucking son of a bitch!”


My closed fist was on his chin before I realized what I was doing. Surprise dropped him back, but the actual impact had little effect. Obviously trained, he quickly regained his composure, and was able to secure my hands at my back before I could take another swing. My knees slammed to the floor, amid the dust, and I was too crippled with shock to fight back. Short puffs of my ragged breath, the continuation of my life, sent remnants of her death swirling away from me. I tried not to exhale. I tried not to exist. Though I was docile, the guard radioed for help.
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And in the far corner, representing the Adult Historical Womens Fiction genre with 499 words, also welcome to the ring Pen-Book.


The day I was sold I crouched at the doorway of my two-room mud house, knees pulled to my chest. It was only three hours past sunrise but the sweltering heat made it feel like noon. I shaded my eyes against the sun and searched the rutted path that passed by our door.

Not another soul stirred in the settlement except for the few pariah dogs, their ribs sticking out, rooting in the ditches. This time of the day mothers should be squatting at their stoves rolling dough into bread. Children should be chasing after each other. Instead, a quick wind kicked up rattling leaves, and scorching dust bit into my skin. Famine, the same one that had reduced us from a land-owning family to paupers, had turned houses brimming with people into empty shells. In my fifteen summers on this earth, I’d never seen a dry season such as this.

Didi?”

I turned to my little brother, who squatted in my thin shadow. Once chubby, with cheeks bulging like ripe pomegranates, he was nothing but skin and bones now. I tried to swallow the knot in my throat but couldn’t muster up enough spit. “What is it, Hanuma?”

“I want bread.”

Bapu will find us some.” I pressed a hand to my hollow stomach. “Do you want to hear how Lord Hanuman mistook the sun god for a fruit and gobbled him up?” I had told him this story many times before and it always made him smile. He shivered and made no reply.

Exposed as we were to heat, our bodies should’ve been dripping sweat. However, my brother’s bare back and my blouse were dry as wheat husk. I gathered him close and scooted back inside the doorway, pebbles scratching the backs of my thighs through my worn skirt.

I looked up at a commotion a few yards away. A wake of vultures rose over the top of the banyan tree as though something had disturbed their feeding frenzy. Probably starved mongrels, demanding their share of the dead flesh. I hugged my brother tighter as a shiver that began in my toes spread through my body. I shuddered at the memory of the news Bapu brought home each evening: women were selling themselves as slaves in the bazaar. Daughters were driven into brothels for a fistful of grains.

Hanuma’s body convulsed in my lap and went limp.

“Hold on, ladla. I’ll find food.” Laying him on the floor, I stepped inside the house. With each footstep the packed-mud surface of the floor flaked off. Just like my dry skin. I sighed. The name Sundari, which meant, “the beautiful one,” hovered over me now like a lie.


My mother sat in the kitchen, one hand at her back and the other on her bulging stomach. I waited a few beats, hoping Maa would notice me, but she continued to stare at the wall. She wasn’t going to waste what little energy she had on a mere girl child.
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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.

Enjoy your weekend, but not before you tell all of your friends to stop by and make a selection as well.  Tweet about it, and if you do please use the hashtag #WRiTECLUB2016. Tell everyone about WRiTE CLUB, where it’s not about the last man/woman standing, but who knocks the audience out!





44 comments

  1. My vote is going to Adallae today.

    Both stories were wrenching and sad. Both were well-written in different ways. It's a very hard choice. I was able to connect more with Adallae's writing, but Pen-Book did a splendid job as well with description.

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  2. Tough call for me on this one but my vote goes to: Pen-Book.
    Pen-Book – Your first sentence was a great hook! Your comparison description of Didi’s brother created a wonderful visual. All three of the characters you introduced to us were well-done. In very few words I felt I knew them. I found your sentence with the leaves stopped the flow. I would move it after the sentence describing the famine.

    Adellae – Your story was not as tight and some of the reference errors pulled me out of what would have been a powerful story. Your first sentence was great and your reference to “this place” let me know the speaker was at that location. However, a few sentences later, you refer to the location several times as “that place/there.” I think you could have edited out the first paragraph descriptions of the parents (I’m assuming) getting hungry for fish and the gift shop purchases. Keep it focused on the child. I was also confused with the description that the child put her hand in the aquarium to touch the fish. Unless this child is a teenager, seems like a young child would not be tall enough to reach into the aquarium. Especially when you later describe your narrator trying to get the ashes into the tank. This story has the potential for greatness!

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  3. Man, this is a really tough call. I would easily continue reading both of these stories. The writing is fantastic and you really get to know the characters and their plight. In the end though I think I'll have to go with Pen Book. You have a great voice and a nice flow and I found myself hooked almost immediately.

    Adallae's entry felt a little too much like she was gearing up for the big reveal and TADA I'm sprinkling the ashes of my daughter in the tank. I would've liked to see a little more sadness and remorse leading up to it. She was really sorry about something but what? Even if you couldn't indicate in the 500 word limit, I think you could make more of an indication about the daughter no longer being able to go back to the aquarium because of her etc.

    Brava to you both, these are some great entries :)

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  4. Another well-matched pair of MCs, both introduced at a tragic turning-point, both (or so it seems) about to become captives.

    Both MCs hook my sympathy (and the child in each scene does, as well). The sense of place is wonderfully drawn in both samples.

    The reason I'm giving the match to Adellae today is twofold. First is the tantalizing "I'm so sorry." What did this obviously loving woman do? Of course I want to find out.

    The second reason is because, despite being in large part about a remembered child, forward action predominates.

    In Pen-Book's opening, Didi's situation is a huge hook, but, hooky as the first sentence is, it also takes a lot of mystery out of what is going to happen. And then, in only a few paragraphs we are told that Didi already knows that girls are being sold.

    So, to this reader at least, the story loses some tension at that point. I already know she's going to be sold. And now I know why girls are sold. I see that Didi has had time to think about this threat--it's not a shock or surprise to her. I wonder whether it would be possible to show, rather than tell, the moment when Didi learns that girls are being sold?

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  5. Another well-matched pair of MCs, both introduced at a tragic turning-point, both (or so it seems) about to become captives.

    Both MCs hook my sympathy (and the child in each scene does, as well). The sense of place is wonderfully drawn in both samples.

    The reason I'm giving the match to Adellae today is twofold. First is the tantalizing "I'm so sorry." What did this obviously loving woman do? Of course I want to find out.

    The second reason is because, despite being in large part about a remembered child, forward action predominates.

    In Pen-Book's opening, Didi's situation is a huge hook, but, hooky as the first sentence is, it also takes a lot of mystery out of what is going to happen. And then, in only a few paragraphs we are told that Didi already knows that girls are being sold.

    So, to this reader at least, the story loses some tension at that point. I already know she's going to be sold. And now I know why girls are sold. I see that Didi has had time to think about this threat--it's not a shock or surprise to her. I wonder whether it would be possible to show, rather than tell, the moment when Didi learns that girls are being sold?

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  6. Both pieces were exquisite. Loved the pathos in both. I am going with Pen-book as I like reading diverse voices.

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  7. Really enjoys both, but in th me one book gets my vote- the voice and writing just overall appealed to me a bit more

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    1. Auto correct fail- pen book gets my vote, I meant

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  8. Pen-Book gets my vote.

    I can't say I'd continue reading either piece, though. They were both depressing.

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  9. Pen-Book gets my vote.

    Adallae: I was a bit confused (maybe this was just me?) with the first paragraph--there is a switching back and forth from present to past and back to present that was hard for me to follow. It's an intriguing start to a story, though.

    Pen-Book: The voice, the setting, the details all captured me and fit the languor and desperation of the narrator. Of course the narrator knows girls are being sold--but does she know that she is to be sold that day or does she make the choice to sell herself to fulfill her promise to get food for her brother? I'd be happy to read more.

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  10. Ad's story, was written as a short story I feel like. I don't see this story as going anywhere. It's meant to be over. However, I really think this would have been a WAY more emotionally connecting story if you cut the part about the security guard catching her. If you cut that she was caught, you could have spent more words on the depth of the prestory of how she got to this moment.

    My vote goes to PenBook. I wouldn't keep reading this story, but I felt like I was in that little hut with her. I was a little pissed the mom was pregnant when her other two kids were starving. And if the mom only cared about the boys, why is the son also starving? The more I think about it, the more holes I see, but I'm still voting here anyway!

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  11. These are both excellent pieces of writing. They're some of my favorites in terms of actual use of language. It's very hard to pick a winner based on the skill exhibited, but the fact that Adallae's story actually offends me makes me go with Pen-Book. I don't have a lot of empathy for somebody who's honoring their daughter by killing fish (especially since her daughter would clearly not have wanted that). There are a lot of protagonists in this contest who are downright bad people!

    As to a comment above about whether her daughter could reach inside the tank, most public aquariums have specific tanks that are built for kids to touch the fish inside, usually stingrays or sharks. They're very low and shallow, and the fish swim by and you can put your hands in to feel their scales. It usually is the kid's favorite part, in my experience!

    So, vote Pen-Book.

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  12. My vote goes to Pen-Book. Evocative writing, sympathetic main character. (Yes, I pity Adallae's MC, but getting in a fist fight over your child's ashes, really?) My problem with both stories is seeing the protagonists at their lowest point is so depressing, it's hard to imagine continuing to read further.

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  13. I vote Pen-Book. This was a beautifully descriptive piece. The word picture painted is heart wrenching and, although it's hard to read, I wanted to know what happens to this poor girl.

    Adallae - I didn't believe your character for some reason. I know grief often is masked by anger, but the writing didn't convey that to me. I think your writing is good, but you need to rethink some of your word choices and descriptive elements.

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  14. My vote is for Adallae. I love the way the scene was painted. Lots of emotion

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  15. Pen-Book's entry is better than a similar story I read recently from a Nobel Prize winner. So that's an easy vote.

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  16. Adallae: The this place/left her there threw me - as did the initial confusion about who Braxton was. It's ok to say "my daughter" and "touch tank" in the first sentence. But when she decides to empty the ashes here, and through the fight with the security guard it felt almost--farcical, which I'm sure wasn't what you were going for. I understand that grief makes people act in strange ways, but this mom's sorrow & anguish just didn't come through. It felt like you were trying too hard.

    Pen-Book: Evocative description. I can feel myself part of the scene, but because it's so description-heavy, we don't get Sundari's emotions. I want to know what's in her head more than what's under her thighs. She knows she's being sold - today... there's emotional gold to mine there, but you kept the description superficial. Lots of shivering / shuddering / convulsing too. I was lost when she went into their house to find food, when there isn't any. And if there is, why not send the brother since he's more likely to get it?

    Voting for Pen-Book today, because I think the entry is a few steps closer to achieving what the author intended.

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  17. The stories are both powerful and worthy. Adallae, I understand the character perfectly. Her motivation, her state of mind, her anger, her pain. It's really only the purse that indicates mother, isn't it? So I suppose that could be the father. Either way, you have my vote.

    Pen-book, your story was also great. But where it was building to something happening, Adallae's story had stuff actually happening. No right or wrong in that, but it's how I picked.

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  18. Adallae, the emoitions at the end just didn't ring true for me. She knows she's doing something she shouldn't, sneeaking around in the first place. I just don't see her assulting a guard.
    Pen Book, this all sounds like setting. She's hot and hungry. Fortunately I can believe it and it's consistent in tone.
    Vote - Pen Book

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  19. My vote goes to Adallae. “That’s my daughter, you fucking son of a bitch!” made me laugh out loud even though I don't think laughter is what you were going for...

    Pen-book - your story flowed easily and I was drawn to Didi. Would definitely read more.

    Both stories were very good so this was a difficult choice.

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  20. Adallae- An excellent piece with wonderful, raw emotion. I could feel it when the knees hit the floor. Well done.

    Pen-Book- Bravo. A difficult story. You brought the setting to life. I give you my vote.

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  21. Adallae: On my first reading, I really loved this. "Sharp shards and pieces of my heart scattered like a puzzle that would never be solved," was a beautiful line. On a second, more critical read, it didn't hold up as well as I'd hoped. The piece might benefit from a little more work to get the reader deeper into the mother's mind and to make the action flow a little more smoothly. In some places, the emotions seemed a little mechanical and the punch was a bit out of place. I'd rather have seen her cry or punch the chest instead of the chin, like she was beating on his chest in grief rather than assaulting him. I'd also suggest that she put only a pinch in the tank. I wasn't offended by that part of the story, because obviously she's not doing this maliciously, but I did wonder how the ashes would upset the balance of the ecosystem. If she spent so much time at the aquarium, she would have known this. I think she'd risk a pinch to honor Braxton, but take the rest to the ocean or some other special place.

    Pen Book: If I'm honest, I wan't that moved on the first read. The narrator felt detached, and I had a hard time connecting. Appreciation came with the second read. Of course she's detached... look at her life! The writing was clean and layered and I loved how details were woven in seamlessly. The only thing I would suggest is to play with the first line a bit. "The day I was sold...." is a strong statement, but it's also a major spoiler. If you were going for a literary effect, it falls flat being completed by the mundane statement that the narrator sat outside her house like she probably did every single day. I wonder how it would work to open with something along the lines of "X number of rupees buys a handful of grain," and have her scoop up a handful of dirt and let it fall between her fingers or something physical and symbolic... Or to start "In the days when daughters were sold for a handful of grain, (so you're not telling us up front that THIS girl was sold), I crouched..." and reiterate the "handful of grain" thought in the later paragraph when she remembers her father's news reports. I don't know... You could do a lot with that handful of grain idea. It would be a great thread to tie the whole scene - a handful of grain, a girl, a handful of grain, and everything is dust - together. I may be the only one who has any issue with your opening line, but I feel like a little tweaking could take that line out of this world. All that said, the writing was lovely, and I'm glad I took a second read. Good work!

    Pen Book gets my vote.

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  22. Both were good stories, but my vote goes to Adallae. I felt for the main character and what she's going through, and I want to know what happened to her family. I didn't really connect with the main character in Pen-Book's piece, and there were some grammatical errors that slowed down the story a little. Maybe I would connect more with the character with a larger sample of the story.

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  23. My vote is for Pen-Book. Lovely descriptives but haunting and sad. Very well done.

    In Adallae--I had trouble with the first paragraph. Trying to picture unknown mc plus Baxter who I never hear about again plus who this is about, but then I'm picturing strange kids and their grandparents. I don't know what I'm supposed to be focussed on. Just put me in the aquarium, a fully realized memory of when the daughter is alive. Does she have to climb on a stool to reach into the touch tank? Was she gentle? Did she prefer sea cucumbers or horseshoe crabs or skimming the rough skin along the back of the (pick a fish) that constantly circled the perimeter of the tank? Did the water seep into the folded up sleeves of her blouse? Did her arm get goose pimples when she finally pulled it away? Was the salt smell repugnant or nicely familiar to the mc? I want all of that! Make this place SO real and important that's it's obvious the mc MUST go back to slip her to this favorite place, ash by ash and tear by tear. And then... do we need to pull away so abruptly with the guard? That feels too comical, too physical in what needs to emotional.

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  24. I vote for pen-book, though I don't think I'd continue reading either story, the subject matter is just a little too dark for me.

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  25. Adallae, I was confused by the opening of your piece, specifically by the lack of mention of what creatures are in the tank your MC is looking at. This question semi-obsessed me through the rest of the piece, to the point where I really wondered what impact putting ashes in the water would have on...whatever it was in there. The entire situation was strange enough that I really struggled to connect to the MC. Generally speaking being specific is a good idea, I feel that going into weird territory requires some more justification so I can understand where the character is coming from.

    Pen-book, the situation you're describing is very, very harsh and unrelenting, and you paint it extremely well. I find it difficult to offer critique because I'm sure this level of suffering goes on in the world and there isn't much hope within situations like these, but I'll try? Like with some of the other super harsh entries we've had, I would have liked to see a bit more particularity in your character. I want a reason to root for her beyond basic human compassion for someone who is suffering. Some spark of humanity. I LOVE that she offers to tell her brother a story--that's amazing--I wonder if you could offer some reason why she chooses that particular story, or what it is about her that makes her have this impulse? (On a gruesome and possibly tasteless side note, is it okay to offer food to someone who is convulsing? I have no idea, but it seems counterintuitive.)

    My vote is for Pen-book.

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  26. My vote today is for Pen-Book.

    I would not be likely to read on with either piece, even though they are both well written. I connected more with Didi and her plight than a mother trying to scatter ashes in a public aquarium, which I found distasteful. Sorry, but I wouldn't want to visit an aquarium with some unknown child's ashes floating around in the water.

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  27. Those were two very well written samples! Adallae, I really liked your setup of the desperate, grief-stricken mother breaking the law to set her child at peace. It was so deeply horrifying when the urn broke, like some fundamental line of the universe had been crossed, and you got the sense it could never be un-crossed. Tons of emotion here for a short piece. Nice work.

    Pen-Book, this sample shone in so many ways. Great descriptions to convey visuals and tone, good character building. I like the addition of the little mythology story, to show that even their religion is a mirror of their own dire circumstances. We learn a lot about the culture in this sample without info dumping, and we circle the horror of the slave sale just enough to make the point sink in. It felt so ominous to me. I love how the desperation of the people was also mirrored in the animals.

    My vote goes to Pen-Book, because every piece of this sample (setting, description, tone, writing, character, tension) was perfectly pulled off. It's a photo finish, though, because Adallae was very good as well.

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  28. Oh, my - no choosing between these two powerful pieces. Well done to both!

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  29. Pen-Book has my vote. The story seem more realistic to me.

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  30. Adallae gets my vote. But this was a difficult decision. Ultimately, I decided too much was happening in Pen-book's entry for my taste which resulted in my attention being pulled in too many different directions.

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  31. Adallae gets my vote. My breath caught in my throat when the urn broke. The writing painted the picture and didn't pull me out of the moment.

    Although Pen was pretty good, I felt left out of the scene. I didn't connect with the character as much as I did with Adellae.

    Again, a really difficult round.

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  32. my vote is for adallae
    Though both pieces had issues, and described vivid scenes, Adallae produced more emotion for me.
    With Pen-Book, I never connected with Didi and her plight. I think because of the opening line. I kept waiting to get to the point where she was sold. As I kept reading, and became confused by multiple names, waiting to get back to that. The more I read the more it seemed to just be about someone going to die of starvation.

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  33. Oh man, oh man. This one was hard. Both filled with great emotion. I wanted to know about what happens next in both. I had to go with which one I absolutely needed to know more. It was the first line of Pen-Book that did it for me. I know the child was sold in the end and I figured we would find out more details about that in the next entry.

    My vote is for Pen-Book.

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  34. Adallae gets my vote. Both pieces were very well-written and poignant.

    Pen-Book - A beautifully written piece, but I was confused from the first sentence. If she'd been sold, why was she with her family? Perhaps she would be sold later? The confusion kept me from getting into the story. Otherwise, it was excellent.

    Adallae - Heartbreaking. Very vivid description and emotion. Well done.

    Thanks to you both for sharing your work and congratulations for making it past the slushpile.

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  35. My vote goes to Pen-Book.

    Both pieces were compelling and well-written, however, Pen-Book's opening line drew me immediately into the story and then kept my interest throughout.

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  36. My vote goes to Pen-Book. I almost didn't vote in this round because I was having such a difficult time deciding. Both stories are heart-wrenching and stand out from the other entries so far. After several days of pondering and re-reading, I find myself wondering more about the girl in Pen-Book's piece than the mother in Adallae's, and that's what I'm going to base my vote on. However, I would happily read the rest of both stories.

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  37. This is such a difficult decision! Both of these pieces are so poignant and well-crafted, but I have to go with Adallae today. It simply boils down to me having the tiniest preference for Adallae's writing style over Pen-Book's, and that is the reason for my vote.

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  38. Pen-book has my vote, but barely. The stories tugged equally at my emotions. However I preferred the voice of Pen-book over Adallae, and I questioned the reaction after the urn hit the floor. The shock yes, but the cursing and hitting the guard so quickly seemed off - I didn't sense that hidden anger in the character from what was provided.

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  39. Voting for Pen-Book.
    I liked Adallae's piece, but I'm so, so tired of ash-filled urns falling everywhere. People use it on tv, in movies, in books... Sorry! That's not a real critique, I know, just a personal bugbear.

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  40. I'm voting for Adallae. What a heart-wrenching opening! I would definitely read on.

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  41. I vote for Pen-book. The rhythm and flow and description are all captivating. Very easy to read!

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