Three writers enter...but only one can move on!
You thought the voting was difficult before? It's time to take it up a notch. Winners from the previous three weeks of preliminary bouts have again been randomly matched, this time in groups of three, to do battle against different opponents using the same writing sample from their first round. We will host five of these cage bouts this week (M-F).
Here's how it works. Writing samples from three different writers, identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters, are competing against one another. 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. If you haven't already done so in a previous round, it is customary to leave a brief critique of all the 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. At stake is a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference and bragging rights.
Your voting takes on an added significance this week as not only will the five winners move onto to the next round, the submission that does not win their bout but tally's the most votes among the losers will move forward as a wildcard selection as well.
It's time to introduce our contestants and get this party started.
Writer #1 is representing the YA Dark Fantasy genre with 450 words. Please give a warm welcome to The Night Songstress.
The fake cabinet collapses after a few quick kicks. As I adjust to the darkness, I see a little girl, maybe eight or nine, with her eyes and lips sewn shut, tucked in between makeshift walls. Some of her blond hair, drenched in sweat, is caught in between the strings.
She’s screaming so hard now that the threads are ripping her delicate, smooth face.
I wish I can call for help, but I can’t. Not when there’s a chance that the cops are after me. Prison is still worse than what I need to do to save her from this agony, so I run to the kitchen and rummage through the drawers until I find a small pair of scissors and a knife.
Returning to the room, I take a deep breath to quiet my nausea. “Hold still. I’m going to cut the threads.”
She stops moving. I pull her out from behind the cabinet. Her chest heaves as she sits motionless on the floor. That’s when I notice all of her tiny fingernails are ripped off. I try not to think too much about the pain she’s in as I set to work.
I have to fix this myself.
The lips are the easiest, so I start there. I slip the tip of the scissor under each looped thread and snip them one by one. The pinprick-sized holes bleed as the coarse thread pulls against her skin right before each cut.
Still unable to see, she turns her head to face me and finds my arm with her small, scabbed fingers.
“My eyes,” she says.
Her soft, angelic voice frightens me even more, but I keep mine steady.
“Lie down. I’ll take care of it.”
Placing one hand on her forehead to steady her, I wedge the scissor’s blade underneath the strands tying her upper lids to her cheeks and make one defiant cut. She waits until I release them from her other eye before she begins to pull the loosened strings out herself. I gag at the sight and turn away just in time to see a familiar black mist.
The same mist that seared my skin weeks ago. The same thing that changed what I am.
I throw myself over the girl. “Cover your eyes and mouth!”
The acidic mist sears my back as I hold my breath and duck my head.
The skin on my back sizzles. I can’t make out left from right, up from down, as I try to withstand the burn and ignore the strange laughter.
Still on the ground, protecting her, I open my eyes.
The smoke has dissipated.
But the laughter continues.
A horrible, sick laughter.
It’s coming from underneath me.
Writer #2 represents the Chick Lit genre with 498 words. Please welcome back into the arena Arcadia.
For my fiftieth birthday, I got divorce papers and a colonoscopy. Not in that order. Phil reasoned that after a pleasant slumber, I’d be more agreeable to him shacking up with a Zumba instructor and clearing out the bank accounts. The process server called me ma’am. A year later, given the choice between a refreshing nap and Phil, I’d still choose the former.
Speaking of, that looks like him coming around the corner in the deli aisle.
Shit. I fish out my phone and text my daughter, Casey.
Dad is in grocery store! WHAT DO I DO?
She replies, Um, say hi to the turd maybe?
Fat chance. I take stock of the situation. I’m wearing coffee-stained sweat pants and a T-shirt that introduces me as the “Menopause Avenger.” Casey made me the shirt as a post divorce gag gift. The sweat pants I purchased with Bealls Bucks, bequeathed by my aunt when she went back north for the summer. My ensemble reeks of attitude and old lady. And I have in-between hair, not quite long enough to cut into the style that my hairdresser claims will make me look like Kaley Cuoco’s hotter, older sister.
The lady cooking at the Apron Meals station thrusts a plastic cup filled with creamy penne pasta in front of me. Brightly colored recipe cards for mushroom penne alfredo festoon the faux kitchen set up.
“Sample? It’s delicious and only takes fifteen minutes to make.”
She is plump, with rosy cheeks and blond poodle hair. The crinkles around her eyes suggest she’s smiled a lot.
“No… I, look, I need to hide under your cooktop,” I say. The please hangs in the air, unsaid and, as it turns out, unnecessary. She puts the cup down.
“Who’s bothering you, honey? I’ll call the manager,” she says, grabbing a rolling pin. It looks to be there just for show, since the entire meal comes out of a box, but Granny clutches it like she’s clobbered a few creeps in her day.
“Look, here’s the deal. My ex-husband is here and he can’t see me like this. I’m seven pounds away from fitting into my aspirational wardrobe and I have in-between hair.”
She nods. “Duck under here, sweetie. I’ll let you know when he’s gone.”
I abandon my cart and dive behind the table skirt seconds before Phil rounds the corner with Trixie. That’s what I call her, at least. I think her name is Trina. Or Tricia. Or maybe Marge.
Granny dangles a cup of creamy goodness in front of the curtain split, but I swat it away. My aspirational wardrobe is waiting, although rolling around naked in a tub of fettuccine alfredo would hit the spot right about now.
“Some dummy left her purse in her cart,” Trixie says as they walk toward the deli, where she will probably purchase overpriced organic chicken.
Then my custom ringtone goes off, Casey yelling, “Hey Mom! Pick up!”
Granny whispers, “I think they’re on to you.”
Our third and final writer represents the Middle Grade Science Fiction genre with 496 words. Please also welcome back into the arena Bluebonnet.
Brenna figured she was crazy.
Not crazy like Ms. Morgenstein who collected anything ‘cat’ but had an eye-watering super sneezing fit around real ones. Also not crazy like Hairy Harry who slept on the park bench and drooled into his scraggly beard. More like a seeing things kind of crazy.
Because for half a second, that stray dog had looked like something else. Brenna sat on her porch, hugged her knees to her chest, and looked again.
The dog stared back at her, small with brown fur and big brown eyes. It wagged its tail and grinned a dog-slobbery grin almost like it was reassuring her that it was just a simple ordinary little dog. Or maybe it was laughing at her.
If she told her parents about the dog, they’d probably laugh, too. Not at Brenna, but with her, in a secret family-joke kind of way, because Brenna had what Dad called an over-active imagination.
As a really little kid Brenna used to make up all kinds of stories. Like she broke the vase to scare away burglars. Or she hadn’t washed behind her ears because the extra dirt helped her hear. Or she couldn’t clean her room because the mess confused the nightmares.
Mom said Brenna had to learn the difference between telling a story and telling a lie.
Brenna was almost twelve now and she’d grown out of all that make-believe nonsense. Well, mostly. Until today.
She glanced at the dog, and then away, because she didn’t want to see what she thought she saw. “I just imagined it,” she said out loud to convince herself it was true.
Baxter plopped down on the porch steps beside her. “Imagined what?”
Brenna twisted a strand of hair around her finger. Baxter’s make-believe talents were a close second to hers. It’s what made them friends. And what got them into heaps of trouble. But if anyone would understand, he would. “It’s that stray dog.”
Baxter nodded toward the grinning mongrel. “What about it?”
“Stare at it.”
“You’ll see.” Or maybe he won’t. Then what?
“You want me to have a starring contest with a dog?” He laughed.
Brenna didn’t. “I’m serious.”
“Fine,” he said with a humoring-her grin. Elbows on knees and chin cupped in his hands, he fixed his eyes on the dog. “Say ‘go.’”
But she didn’t have to.
Baxter quickly flinched and pulled back. “Whoa!” He rubbed his eyes. “What was that?”
Brenna leaned forward. “What’d you see?”
“You say first?”
The dog cocked its ears toward them.
Brenna twisted her hair tighter and tighter around her finger. “I saw a thing with narrow green eyes, blue spiked fur, and hands and feet instead of paws.”
The dog’s eyes narrowed.
Baxter nodded. “So are we seeing things?” he asked.
“Both of us? The same thing?” Brenna shook her head. “I don’t think so.”
The dog growled and crept toward them.Baxter grabbed Brenna’s arm. “Maybe we better go inside,” he whispered.
Enjoying three 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 if you haven't already done so.
Please 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.
Remember, this is WRiTE CLUB, where it’s not about the last man/woman standing, but who knocks the audience out!