WRiTE CLUB 2018 - Bout #6


Before we kick-off week two of WRiTE CLUB I want to take time out for a mini-rant. Last week we received 282 votes, spanning all five bouts, for an average of 56 votes per bout. That is AWESOME! However, we received 132 writers submissions for this contest, and as of last night, the highest number of votes we've received for any single bout so far has been 73. Even if we assume that every one of the voters was also a contestant (which they aren't - but go with me here), that means roughly half of the people who entered the contest didn't think it was worth their time to come back and support their fellow writers. 

I believe that social media's role in helping aspiring writers get published is all about the Ying and Yang. It provides oodles of information, tips, referrals, and much more - but that also means we need to give back in anyway we can to keep the cycle going. This contest is just one example of that. The contestants who submitted a writing sample and stopped there...are all about the Ying only. You know who you are. Yes, it's hard picking one over the other, but the process is not much different than working with a quality critique partner. Time to step up and keep the cycle flowing! 

Rant over.  

Yesterday we raised the hand to our first winner. You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE, and remember, the bouts stay open for one week and some of the first weeks are still live.

Today we have for you the 6th of 15 bouts with a pair of contestants chomping at the bit to climb into that ring.  Here's a refresher in case you forgot how things work here.

Weeks ago the submission window opened for this year's contest where we asked anybody wishing to participate to submit a 500-word writing sample – using a pen name. The sample can be from any genre, flash fiction or something from a larger piece of work, basically, anything goes except that it cannot have been previously published or posted on the internet. All of the rules regarding how to submit can be found here. After the submission period closed, we had fifteen judges (we call them our slush pile readers) read all 181 submissions from 132 writers and once all the ballots were total we narrowed the 181 down to the 30 that will be stepping into the ring over the course of the next three weeks. Today is the first of those bouts.

How this works – two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples step into the ring. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) read both entries and vote for the one that resonates the most with you. We ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date it is posted to give as many people as possible to have a say. The voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, April 29th (noon central time).

It’s that simple. The piece that garnishes the most votes moves on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. Using a tournament style format, the 30 contestants will be whittled down to just 2, and the winner of that final bout will be announced at the DFW Writers Conference in Hurst TX June 9-10

In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

Oh yeah – for every bout that you vote in, your name (see rule #2 below) will be placed into a hat for a chance for a $40 Barnes and Noble Gift card that will be drawn after the contest concludes.

A few rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3)Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will result in that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough jibber-jabber…like the man say’s –




In the far corner, we have Martian Magnolia representing the Science Fiction genre.


I stumbled into the storage closet of an apartment. The only place on the entire space station that belonged to me. Bigger living quarters would have been nice, but I didn't have the credits to throw away on luxury. And after a sixteen-hour shift, as long as it had a bed, I didn't care.
The doorbell chimed.
I put the pillow over my head.
Chime.
For the love of Pete. I stretched my arm to hit the intercom. "What?"
A deep masculine voice, like a rough caress filtered through the speaker. "Beatrice."
Benedick. Station Commander Benedick. Just my luck. A double shift in the hell of the main generator compartment to be followed up by a visit from my ex. 
"Can I help you?"
"Where's Phillip?"
Doing something you'd rather not know about. "He's indisposed."
"How indisposed? It's urgent that I speak with him."
It's urgent that I get some sleep, too, so let's make sure you don't linger. I moaned. "Silk Ropes and body oil kind of indisposed. It could be a while."
The one good thing about having a failed relationship with the guy in charge was knowing how to push his buttons. He knew I'd never sleep with his brother. But it'd still make him madder than a wet cat to think about.
Before I settled into sleep, his fist pounded a tattoo on my door. "Open the damn door, Bea!"
I may have overplayed my hand. "Not on your life."
My digital unit chimed. "Senior Command Lock Override."
"What the hell?" I asked the six plus feet of ochre skinned perfection when his mahogany eyes bore into mine from the passageway. He could have at least broken out in lesions since our split. But no. Because the universe hated me.
"Where's Phillip?"
"He's not here."
"But you know where he is."
True. I smiled.
He glared at me. No, he wasn't glaring. Sixteen hours of sweat and grime and he stared at my mouth. With a look in his eyes that promised...No. That way lay dragons. And copious amounts of ice cream and tears.
His voice dropped to a purr. "You can tell me and spare yourself the trouble, or I'll find him and put you both on probation."
I snorted. "Good luck with that."
"You don't think I can?"
A chuckle escaped me. "I think it's more likely that I'll strip naked and do a jig in front of you than it is that you'll find Phillip in the next six hours."
His eyes softened and he leaned against the doorframe. "Care to make that a wager?"
My throat went dry. "What's in it for me?"
He smiled. "If I don't find him in the next six hours, I'll upgrade you to a suite, no extra credits required. But if I do, that jig better be a good."
Oh my. 
I stuck my hand out. "Deal."
He took it, only to raise it to his supple lips. "Deal."

Oh, Phillip, don't screw this up. 
*********************************************************************************

And in the near corner, we have BooksRgood4u representing the Short Story Realistic Fiction genre.


Cletus raised a hand in greeting as the P.T. Barnum cab rolled into the Poughkeepsie station, the end of the line for many commuter trains to New York City.  Here, the trains would spend the night while Cletus and his team of train cleaners worked to ready them for the morning’s commute.  Cletus waited for the train to come to a complete stop before driving his tug of cleaning supplies beside the tracks, murmuring greetings to the Mark Twain and the Connecticut Yankee as he passed. 
Sometimes it worked out just right- the Washington Irving alongside the Ichabod Crane, the Henry Hudson pulling the Halfmoon.  A particularly cohesive lineup was guaranteed to make all stops on schedule, require less maintenance, and ensure passengers a smoother ride.
Cletus boarded the first car behind the engine, smiling. Good old P.T. always did love being the ringleader.  He also loved causing mischief, and today's particular mischief seemed to involve a spilled strawberry smoothie, a few hundred footprints, and the sticky finger-paintings of one resourceful young artist on the windows.  Cletus got to work, keeping up a steady conversation with the cab. 
In his nearly 30 years working for the railroad, Cletus had seen countless members of his crew come and go – some couldn’t handle the hard work and late hours, others used the position as a steppingstone to a long and successful career with the railroad.  Cletus trained them all, wished them well when they moved up or moved on, and welcomed the newcomers, but he never accepted a promotion himself. 
After finishing with the Barnum, he said his goodbyes and moved efficiently through the 6125 and the 6142 before boarding the Connecticut Yankee with a cheerful, "Hello, Hank!'  It was good that the Connecticut Yankee was lined up in the middle of the train, Hank Morgan always had trouble keeping dates and times straight, and a train with Hank at the head was sure to arrive off-schedule.  This bit of irony was surely not lost on the cab behind Hank, the Mark Twain. 
Saying farewell to Hank and Mark, Cletus made his way through several more anonymous cabs and the Ichabod Crane, collecting the hats that always seemed to be left behind by Ichabod's riders. 
He stopped for his first break when he reached the Eleanor Roosevelt- it wasn’t every day you got to dine with the First Lady to the World.  Eleanor’s cab was always the cleanest, commuters instinctively responding to the presence of a great lady. Even so, Cletus had the feeling that she didn't mind sharing a meal with a lowly train cleaner.

            And so it went - Writers, musicians, politicians, financiers, philanthropists and inventors - on and on until the sun rose over the Hudson River behind the station.  In 30 years, Cletus had been offered many promotions, and turned down every one. Sure, many jobs could beat the hours, the pay, or the work, but there was no job in the world that could beat the company. 
*********************************************************************************

Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point positives as well as detractions.


We’ll be back tomorrow with another bout.  See you then.


76 comments

  1. A fresh week kicks off, and two new hats come spinning into the ring : a snazzy, space-age cooling cap and — is that brown one a janitor’s cap, Jim ?

    True to form, Martian Magnolia and BooksRgood4u pull themselves up into the ring to recover their respective headgear. Both look tired, work-worn, but in excellent shape as the bell rings and the bout begins.

    The trade initial jabs, testing each other’s defences, and setting up their own routines with skillful setting and worldbuilding. The Martian Magnolia does an excellent job setting up a classic genre routine, swinging and spinning in true SF BJJ form. As for BooksRgood4u, he throws aside his broom and sets into a classic formal boxing stance — but with an enigmatic grin on his face, like the Mona Lisa might have if she was the one doing the night shift at Poughkeepsie station, instead of the MC.

    Martian Magnolia certainly beats BooksRgood4u to the punch in terms of tension — the MC wants to sleep the sleep of the just plain exhausted, and here’s this ex forcing her door open, with the threat of romantic hijinks ensuing. Okay. One thing, right off the bat, though, Jim. Is the 2nd character’s name really meant to be “Benedick”? Not “Benedict”? A bit on the nose, or perhaps other appendages, don’t you think? Especially when he seems to be present only as a plot device/eye candy for the MC — I would have liked to see some hint of character-building there, maybe with him referring to this as station security business, “this isn’t a joke Bea, X is at stake”. Something other than “It’s urgent I speak with him” and then straight into potential abuse of an executive override function, with serious legal ramifications I am sure, let alone the further abuse of authority with the housing bribery and clear grounds for a sexual harassment suit — not the sort of ammunition Mr Goodmember “Benedick” wants to be handing his ex on a silver platter, really. I noted a couple of jarring missteps along the way as well, capitalisation on “Silk Rope” for one, and especially the description of “Benedick” as “ochre skinned perfection” instead of “ochre-skinned perfection” — without the hyphen, I’m pretty sure you’re saying he’s been flayed, which would be taking the story in a whole different direction.

    Meanwhile, BooksRgood4u — and, indeed, 4allofus — carries on steadfast, without any earthshattering genre tension, but building a solid, charming world even, one punch at a time. The references in the fighting style are a little confusing at times — I wish my Americana lore was strong enough to know why Hank Morgan having trouble keeping time straight would seem ironic to Mark Twain — but it’s a good story that makes you want to look that sort of reference up, and share in the joke.

    Coming up to the end of the bout, Martian Magnolia wraps up with a strong technical flourish, building up a solid genre hook, even though some of the dialogue seems unnatural and a little forced (read "I think it's more likely that I'll strip naked and do a jig in front of you than it is that you'll find Phillip in the next six hours." out loud — nobody talks like that).

    But her blows don’t seem to hit home, BooksRgood4u sticking to a strong, simple defence, and content to score zinging little punches of his own whenever he sees an opening — exactly what he set out to do from the start of the round.

    At the bell, the scoreboard reads one point for BooksRgood4u!

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  2. Better storytelling in Martian Magnolia.

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  3. Martian Magnolia has an intriguing story, but aside from the conflict between her protagonist and Benedick not much else is done to keep readers interested. BooksRgood4u, on the other hand, makes an impressive effort to flesh out the setting but doesn't focus much on the plot.

    However, BooksRgood4u did better overall than Magnolia, in terms of characterisation (even the protagonist's anonymity reflects his lack of desire for prestige), setting and internal dialogue. My vote goes to BooksRgood4u.

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  4. Short and sweet today, my vote has to go to Magnolia, mostly due to the promise of a satisfying story as opposed to the day-in-the-life (though undoubtedly WELL-written) short story. I had to juggle which was the deciding factor, and though there are small little grammar problems present in Magnolia's, both had very tight storytelling. I just don't see myself wanting to read more about Book's world like I do Magnolia's.

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  5. Since I got a sense of story (and lots of conflict) from the first one and no idea what the story is about in the second (nothing happened to Cletus), Martian Magnolia gets my vote.

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  6. This was the toughest one for me yet. I throw my vote for BooksRgood4u.

    Martian Magnolia grabbed my attention, and I would keep reading that book. BooksRgood4u had more interesting world building, but the pace was slower. Still, BooksRgood4u was more carefully crafted, and there was one line from Martian Magnolia that was bugging me, the "I asked the six plus feet" line, which was a little awkward. Still, I have no idea who's going to win this one when the voting is done. Great job to both!

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  7. Another tough match up! But I think ultimately BooksRgood4u gets my vote.

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  8. I was confused with both Martian Magnolia and BooksRgood4u. It seemed as if these stories are the beginning/middle parts to a bigger story which would explain the what, when, who, and how.

    I understand short stories can be hard especially using less than 500 words but in my opinion, there should be some type of storyline to follow and a clousure without leaving confusion and a lot of questions. I know most are preparing for the next round and the storyline may continue but there still needs to be a complete end the first time around.

    But since we must choose one, my vote goes to Martian Magnolia.

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  9. Gotta go with BookRGood4U if for no other reason than the mysterious beauty of a dedicated man doing simple work and taking great pride in his job. Sometimes we get hung up on expectations when we read, we are looking for what happens next at the cost of distraction from the words on the page. In this case, with some polish, this piece could be a beautiful vignette or set the stage for something yet unknown.

    That being said, Martian Magnolia has a way with dialogue and I am interested to learn more about what's happening here, but I'm turned off by the remnants of a relationship and the inappropriate banter between the superior officer and
    and a subordinate. While it's not a bad plot mechanism, it would be nice to see the relationship approached with more thoughtfulness and maturity.

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  10. These two entries are so different in tone but are both great in their own ways. Martian Magnolia seemed fun and full of intrigue. BooksRgood4u has a quiet tone that really captivated me. While both are great, I have to vote for BooksRgood4u.

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  11. Neither story here floats my boat at all, but Magnolia fails me on grounds where I have to admit I just don't like it (I would not put this in the sci-fi genre from what I've read here... it's straight-up harlequin romance that happens to be set in space, and it includes a couple of very awkward and grammatically incorrect phrases that took me right out of the story), whereas BooksRGood fails me more in the way that it's a well-written story which I am just not interested in.

    So I vote for BooksRgood as the better writing.

    But I really want to make one reference that will probably catch nobody at all. BooksRgood's story immediately and violently slammed a specific Mr. Show sketch in my head: the one in which Bob Odenkirk is a pool shark named Van Hammersley who is trying to make videos which educate through the medium of billiards. He picks up each pool ball in turn and says things like "Oh, and here's Marilyn Monroe, out for a night on the town!" before shooting them across the table in ways that apparently mean something only to him. It's funny, and it is so much like this story it hurts. Search "Van Hammersley" on Youtube!

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  12. Two excellent stories. The toughest choice yet. It's sad that only one can survive the bout. In the end, my vote goes to Martian Magnolia.

    Action. Tension (Benedick wants Phillip's location, MC doesn't want to give it up). Backstory (her ex). Mystery (Where was Phillip? What was he up to? Why was it a secret from his brother?). Clearly defined MC goal (get some sleep). All of that made me want more, in spite of some problems (the on-the-nose Benedick name, some cliches ('that way lay dragons'), an awkward sentence or two. I would definitely read the book.

    BooksRgood4u wrote a nice piece, a thoughtful, mood-inducing reverie describing the day-in-the-life of a modern day, erudite Everyman. Books appending the word 'cab' to P.T. Barnum in the first sentence, however, through me off right away. It may be the correct term, but I think the more common term would be 'car.' I think of cab applying to taxis and the driver's compartment of an 18-wheeler. Books also made me work a bit too hard in following all of his/her cultural references, which may be more of my problem rather than his/hers. Even so, it took me out of the story to ponder the identity of Hank Morgan - wasn't he in *MASH*, and the original Dragnet? (Sorry - that was Henry Morgan) It's been 50 years since I've read "A Connecticut Yankee, etc.", so I had to look up the tale's MC to be sure. I also had to look up Half Moon - again, my ignorance showing - maybe I would've known it was Henry Hudson's ship if I had been raised in NY or NJ - after growing up in MA I know the names of Columbus' ships off hand (Nina, Pinta, & Santa Maria), but not the name of Magellan's (Victoria - thanks, Google). Well crafted, but I had to think too much.

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  13. I have to agree with several sentiments above. While I enjoyed Magnolia's dialogue, there were several similes that made me cringe. Granted, I live in the camp of the less similes, the better. They feel lazy to me. I did like the subtle sci-fi references rather than a blatant in your face forced description.

    Initially, I found myself skimming BooksRGood waiting for a twist or some action. The second read through proved better once I was past the idea there needed to be a twist. Cletus is almost immediately likable and pushes us back to a simpler time. The scene description is vivid and I found myself enjoying it more the second pass.
    That second trip was enough to convince me to vote for: BooksRgood

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  14. Martian Magnolia gets my vote today!

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  15. Really enjoyed both entries, but Martian Magnolia gets my vote. I really wanted to know what would happen next!

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  16. Congratulations to both for making it into the bouts. Quite an accomplishment.

    Today, my vote goes to Martian Magnolia, who packed a whole lot of characterization--that kept me completely engaged--in his/her 500 words. I would definitely continue to read this book.

    BooksRgood4u's short story just didn't grab me. I was lost with the naming of the cars and after reading the comments above, realize there were significant reasons for the naming. Unfortunately, all it did was create confusion and distance me from the piece.

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  17. Both stories were unique with a solid voice and setting, but my vote goes to Martian Magnolia because I really wanted to know what happened next.

    Great job writers! Thanks for sharing.

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  18. Tough, tough call. If it strictly on writing, I'd have to go with BooksRgood4u. If it's on storytelling, my vote goes with Martian Magnolia.

    I think if Martian read the story out loud, they would find some instant changes to make. A couple sentences are super tough to slog through. Perhaps cut them into two or rephrase them. Also, a couple clichés (for the love of Pete, e.g.) could probably be worked on.

    BooksRgood tells a wonderful tale, but unless you're as well-versed in literature as the author, you're going to miss an awful lot. Many of the references were fun, but a couple of additional clues to help the reader along would have been a nice touch. As much as the writing stood out, I don't think this is a story and I get the sense it's delivered as being a complete story.

    Tough call, but since I'd continue reading Martian Magnolia, I'll go with that as the winner.

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  19. Martian Magnolia-Bit confused at the beginning. I thought she was actually in a random closet not in her own apartment on the ship and was trying to figure out how she could fit a bed in a closet. Lots of modern phrases and terms used. Not sure how far into the future this is supposed to be/alternate reality? Consider changing up the phrases (slang terms change fairly frequently, think: rad, far out, groovy and that's only been a couple decades) and make it unique to your novel. The way someone says something/their actions/facial expressions/movements impart whether that is a curse word, a term of endearment, etc. in context. Seemed more like romance in a scifi setting than scifi, especially with the BSDM references and being naked. Pretty sure even with their personal history, that a lowly crewmate who works as a greasemonkey would not speak to their commanding officer in such a provocative and disrespectful manner. Military is all about respecting the brass. I am intrigued about where Philip is and why she knows and his own brother does not. Seems like all crewmembers would have some sort of tracking device either implanted or part of their uniform or other communication device where he could easily and quickly be located by the ship's computer.

    BooksRgood4u-Not sure about the term "train cleaners". Wouldn't they just call themselves cleaners? After that a lot of name dropping from books. I didn't get all the references and wasn't 100% if he was talking to the people (Mark Twain? PT Barnum?) or to the railcars (and I'm super confused why the railcars are named?? Are they decorated/painted to look like the person or something? Is this a thing as someone who lives in a non-rail city I don't know?), which is equally weird. Personification of railcars is spec fic beyond what I can handle. :(

    Neither one would be something I would pick up to read normally, but Martian Magnolia edged out BooksRgood4u just because it left me wanting to know more about the world and what Phillip was up to. Vote goes to Martian Magnolia today.

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  20. I enjoyed both of these story clips. Excellent writing by both of you. I'm giving my vote to Martian, though, because the plot line moves. BooksR does a great job world building and setting up the character's normal day and this clip would be a great start to a novel, but I'd have to read the synopsis on the back of the book to figure out what I'm supposed to expect out of this book as I can't really tell from what was given here. I know what to expect from Martian and I know the plot will move. Great job to you both, though!

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  21. The choice today is not an easy one!

    Martian Magnolia comes in swinging with a great opening, though the initial energy tapers by the end, dragged down by dialogue. Still the description pulls you in!

    BooksRgood4u does an excellent job of painting a scene as well, a glimpse in a life. Lots of references brought small bursts of joy. But even with great prose, it lacked a punch for story.

    Going to give my vote today to Martian Magnolia!

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  22. Kudos to both for making it in!

    Martian - While the first read-through was plenty entertaining, and your dialogue was snappy and the banter was enjoyable, a closer look had me asking more questions than I think I ought to. First off, while there's clearly sexual chemistry between Benedick and Beatrice, I'm struggling to figure out what their relationship is. There's romance in their past, but he's also her commanding officer, but he also thinks she's now doing his brother but he's more interested in playing games with her? She's stuck in a tiny closet space but she's manipulating him with Philip as her cohort into... what? I'm completely tangled on motivations between the two. Also, I think you're missing a word at the end of Benedick's last line "That jig better be a good (one?)." Overall, I found it plenty entertaining, but the characterisation had me cringing in a few places.

    BooksRGood4u - You've done a spectacular job landing us in Cletus' head and world-building solely through his eyes. It's a quiet piece, but it's indicative of the mood: he cleans train cars overnight. The voice, too, is incredibly well done. One area that can be easily changed to really make this piece sing, however, is to replace at least half of the 'Cletus' usage with just the 'he/his' pronoun. We're aware that 'everyone else' (i.e, all named 'characters') in the story are train cars, and therefore inanimate objects, even if he doesn't see them that way. By giving us a more personal pronoun to use instead of 'Cletus' every time, it makes it just that little bit more intimate; and, in a piece already chockers with names, it'll help streamline it a lot.

    But, since I have to vote one way or the other...
    ... I vote BooksRGood4u.

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  23. Both writers should feel very proud to have made it to the top 30!

    Martian Magnolia- This sounds like a great space, action mixed with romance story. Hey it's space so we have to have some sort of sexual tension right? I wanted to know what was going on with Phillip so the hook worked. I would definitely read the rest of the story if given the opportunity. One note on the dialogue- To a trained eye, I get the sense that some of the phrasing can be distracting. However to the average book consumer I don't think it is that noticeable. I'm probably a good beta case for getting a good sense of what the average reader might see. Reading for pleasure, rather than editing, triggers a different part of my brain. When in high information consumption mode I am not really bothered by some of the other items noted by other readers. I just wanted to add that note so that you get a sense of how someone might feel about the story outside of any of the smaller items pointed out by others.


    BooksRgood4u- Loved the uniqueness of this piece. Cletus has a story to tell. I want to know what drives this man to want to spend his life with these trains. This guy sees the world in a different way than most. This makes him very intriguing and you want to spend time with Cletus in his world. You just get the feeling you will learn something important about life if you hang with Cletus long enough.

    Due solely to personal preference I vote for BooksRgood4u, as I have heard stories like Magolia's before but I've not run into many story's like that of Cletus so I want to hear more about him.

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  24. Martian Magnolia gets my vote. I would be careful of the cliches coming up, though of course in a Shakespeare retelling, well, you can't actually be completely original.

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  25. Martian Magnolia was clear and the story presented in the sample was easybto follow. However, I found the story itself very cliche.

    I like the idea in Books' piece, but it was very difficult to follow. The idea that riders behavior reflected the car they rode in is also pretty cool.

    Martian Magnolia gets my vote because of the clear storytelling.

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  26. Today's vote goes to BooksRgood4u!

    Martian Magnoila's piece just made me feel uncomfortable. I felt like I was reading space erotica, and I wasn't expecting that in the least. I've nothing against erotica--hell I used to self-publish erotica under a pen name, so I'm all for sexual tension and people getting it on--even on a space station. But there were also phrases that confused me or felt almost painfully contrived, such as "his fist pounded a tattoo on my door" or "'What the hell?' I asked the six plus feet of ochre skinned perfection when his mahogany eyes bore into mine from the passageway." These turns of phrase pulled me out of the story and I found myself wondering how I would have written them differently, which is always a sign that I’m about to give up on a book or story I’m reading.

    BooksRgood4u's piece was slow, but a good slow. A lingering slow that doesn't rush to expose itself to you. I'm curious to find out more about Cletus and why he's chosen to stay on this solitary, humble, stepping stone of a path instead of accepting promotions. I’m willing to bet Cletus has quite a story and there’s a real reason he’s chosen this life.

    Congratulations to both of you for making the top 30!

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  27. So, I can't resist a Shakespeare twist!

    Martian Magnolia gets my vote.

    JoAnne Turner
    joanneturnerwrites@gmail.com

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  28. Martian Magnolia: Love this! Love the character, how much info we get about the other characters in such a short space, the setting, the idea. Martian definitely gets my vote.

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  29. Neither of these was even remotely to my taste, so bearing that in mind...

    Martian Magnolia:
    +
    A quick snappy read, apart from the odd clunkier sentence.
    Some banter provided some amusement.
    Quick conflict between the 2 characters drove the scene on.
    World building was quick and gave me a good idea of where we were.
    I liked the wet cat simile, not one I know and certainly vivid - made me smile.
    -
    It feels cheesy (obviously based on MAAN, a favourite), but feels like the porn version!
    The potential power abuse, to modern eyes, was a bit jarring in what felt like an otherwise lighthearted piece.
    There's not quite enough scene info to determine that she has entered the room and then gone to bed (in my head she had just entered the room, so the jump to pillow was jarring). Similarly it's not clear that Benedick has gone quiet allowing Beatrice to settle, before he disturbs her again. That jarred me.
    - Ochre skin, mahogany eyes that bore into you is overblown, feels like a fanfic cliche.
    - Dialogue too stiff in places.
    - I think the paragraphing could be improved for emphasis, pacing, and to help the dialogue flow.
    - Whilst she was covering for Philip, I didn't get a clear sense of why it was important, so the larger stakes were missing.

    BooksRgood4u
    A very unusual piece.
    +
    Liked the early hint that made me wonder why he didn't want to leave his trains.
    The feel of the MC was carefully built, and I got quite a good image of him emotionally (although not physically).
    Writing technically more competent.

    -
    As a Brit who is not so well read up on American classics, I was utterly bewildered by what felt like an extended in-joke.
    No tension (except me skimming down wondering where the action started).
    It's a very long internal monologue, could do with some dialogue, but I guess that wouldn't be the point of the piece.
    Where were the stakes?
    Whilst I could appreciate it technically, I found it boring.

    Very close decision. I like the mad premise of Much Ado set in a space station but if I picked this up the writing would need some work to make me continue. The trains story is technically better, but not sure I'd bother reading because this kind of quiet introspection isn't my taste, but the overall mood from the story is a kind of long-lasting aftertaste I quite like.

    Overall: BooksRgood4u

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  30. BooksRgood4u: The writing is delicious. Magical. But the story is confusing. It's like there should be more, that I'm missing something. Or maybe the story is so amazing it floated right on past my pea brain to an audience who can relish all it has to offer. Unfortunately, that audience doesn't include me because I completely missed the point. And that's the most important question to ask in any story: what is the point?

    Martian Magnolia: Even with all the flaws others have stated above, this story held my interest. It raised questions that make me want to read on to find the answers. I want to know what in Sam Hill Phillip is doing. What is the history between Beatrice and her commanding officer? Though the part about sleeping in a storage closet in an apartment confused me. And the closet has its own door chime? How did the commander get into the apartment to begin with? Whose apartment is it? A cleaner beginning would help.

    Pros and cons to both entries, yet congratulations are due for making it this far.

    My vote: Martian Magnolia

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  31. My vote is going to go to Martian Magnolia. I'm not a fan of sci-fi, but this worked a little bit better for me, in that there's some romance, some mystery, and what I think could be a fun story.

    BooksRgood4u: I'm going to agree that your writing is beautiful and definitely the prettier of today's entries...but I can't say it grabbed me.

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  32. Martian Magnolia gets my vote. Although I wondered why someone as tired as the narrator didn't just tell her boss/ex where his brother was and get some sleep, the interplay was amusing and left me with a final question. Although I liked the description BooksRgood4u's piece and the personalization of the train cars, there wasn't a story arc. No conflict, no character development. Sorry.

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  33. Martian Magnolia had me at silk ropes and body oil. Science Fiction seems to have gotten steamier since the last time I read any.

    However, my vote goes to BooksRgood4u because the story intrigued me and struck me as more original in its story line.

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  34. Martian Magnolia's character interaction piqued my interest a bit more than the lovely literary prose of BooksRGood4U. I vote for Martian Magnolia this round.

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  35. Martian Magnolia
    I enjoyed the premise of the story and what is taking place. I did appreciate the wit(a few times over the top and lost me though) but the story felt rushed. Six plus feet, ochre skinned, mahogany eyes is a bit too much for one sentence. I had no clue what this meant: That way lay dragons. And copious amounts of ice cream and tears. The best line was the closing line for me.

    BooksRgood4u
    The story of an old man falling in love with his job and the trains he tends to is sweet and gives it a feel of a simple time. I just really wanted to know why. What made him name them and how were the names chosen? Does it have to do with the streets the trains stop at? If so, this is not obvious to the reader who doesn't know anything about these trains/streets etc.

    My vote for creativity is for BookRgood4u

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  36. Martian Magnolia gets my vote. Even though I didn’t really get the motivation behind Bea and Benedick’s dialogue (or maybe I do and just want it to be about more than the promise of sex, lol), I wanted to keep reading and that gets a plus in my book.

    BooksRGood4U - I enjoyed your descriptions of the train cars but I didn’t really bond with Cletus. Maybe he just likes train better than people, but he came across as a lonely old man and there wasn’t anything else in the story to bring more flavor to his character.

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  37. Magnolia didn't capture me. The storyline could be good but the short snippet only made me annoyed at the MC. Why are you working for your ex? If unable to not work for him, why do you just let him barge into your room? Unless you want him to....In which case this is just him playing games and her playing games to give them something to do on a spaceship and I'm bored waiting to find out why this is sci-fi. I was intrigued by Phillip though...a story about a starship playboy/bedhopper finding a "you were an okay lay but I've had better-- now get out" woman that he then has to prove himself would be fun reading.

    Books* was a slow read until I got into it. You'd have to know something about the referenced personalities to get the most out of it. I don't for some but I enjoyed the main character and liked reading about the everyday man verses the self-inflicted drama of most stories. Also the story reminded me of my sister. She's worked in menial jobs for decades and names things like the fork lift, copier, conveyor belt, etc at her job sites, then tells me stories about them. I don't know if I could read this as a 150+ page book but as a short story it would hit the spot.

    My vote is for BooksRgood4u.

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  38. Cletus seems a likeable character, but I'm not sure where the story is going...or if it's meant to go anywhere as the last lines seem to wrap up the story. The repetition of the name is hard to get past, but I understand the pull to use it more often than needed. (My CP calls me on it all the time.)

    There is more conflict in the first entry, but I don't know much about the characters, so there isn't much investment for me to keep reading. Overall, Magnolia gets my vote.

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  39. My vote is for Martian Magnolia!

    The conflict drew me in right away. I'd like to have a little more feel for the characters and setting, but I would keep reading.

    The second story had beautiful writing, but didn't draw me in like the first.

    -Jennifer Kinzler astrosbatgirl@sbcglobal.net

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  40. I vote for Magnolia. In short order, I could picture the setting, got a taste of the protagonist's sarcastic sense of humor, understood the conflict between the protagonist and the commander, and was left with 2 hanging questions: where's Phillip, and what is he doing that's so important that Bea's covering for him? I must echo the comments of a previous reviewer, though, and say that at points the prose falters, such as the awkward line: "What the hell?" I asked the six plus feet of ochre skinned perfection when his mahogany eyes bore into mine from the passageway.

    BooksRgood4u, on the other hand, had lovely prose and a gentle tone and pace, but I didn't quite understand it. It's probably a story with a slow burn, and if I kept reading, I might enjoy it more, but in the short segment, I have to vote for Magnolia.

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  41. Magnolia: Loved the tension and interaction between the characters...and got a taste of the setting and stakes. And now I’d really like to know where Phillip is, so mission accomplished!

    BooksRGood4U has a unique voice, but I think the prose could be a little tighter—cut filler words—and while I enjoyed the feel of the history of the trains, I’m thinking “train cleaner” is not an actual term? I think Coach Attendant is the proper title. Overall nice writing, but I have to give the win to Magnolia.

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  42. Martian Magnolia gets my vote!

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  43. Congrats to both writers for making it to the ring!

    To be honest, neither piece really grabbed me today. So much of my critique is wholly subjective, so before I continue, I encourage each author to take my feedback with the proverbial grain of salt. What I found "meh" might make another reader squeal with delight.

    Magnolia had some humor and snappy dialogue, as well as a clear setting and ample tension. However, I felt Mag relied too heavily on sexual tantalization. In places, I couldn't tell if I was in a sci-fi adventure or a romance novel (see: "the six plus feet of ochre skinned perfection when his mahogany eyes bore into mine from the passageway"). On a technical level, the piece could have used another polish.

    BooksRGood4U presents a well-crafted piece in which the setting is as much a character as the protagonist. What I found lacking was any real plot. As a story, it falls flat. I actually stopped reading the first time through, but came back at a quieter moment to give it a closer read. For a snapshot of life, the piece does its job. It's not my cup of tea, but neither are a lot of the American short stories we assign to our high school students, and I suspect plot wasn't the point of this piece. I believe the author did exactly what he/she set out to do, which was to bring the reader intimately close to the character, fulling immersing the reader in that time and that place. Ultimately, that is why we write. So, even though I'm not keen to keep cleaning train cars...

    My vote goes to BooksRGood.

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  44. Nice work for both of you and congrats for making it into the bouts.

    There are things I enjoyed about both pieces: Martian Magnolia's was more fun and made me want to read further; BooksRgood4u's explored new, quiet, more literary territory. But I agree with someone above that Martian's ocher-skinned line threw me. Ocher is not a color I associate with skin. And with "Books" I found the logistics confusing, whether he was roaming from train to train or car to car. Also a lot of repetition. It could be tightened to leave room for something to happen.

    Ultimately, although I liked the writing style, I can't vote for BooksRgood4u because I don't feel it delivered a story or even a set-up for one, just some description.

    My vote goes to Martian Magnolia because it piqued my interest and made me want to read more.

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  45. BooksRGood4u vs Martian Magnolia ...

    Martian Magnolia threw you into the middle of something. Feels like an opening more than a middle of a chapter scene. Feeling of antagonistic battle between the characters leads me to think it will escalate. Not sure I want to follow.

    BooksRGood4u sets the screen about Cletus and his daily job. The descriptions draw the scene and draw you into his world to let you attempt to join his journey. I want to know more.

    Vote for BooksRGood

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  46. I vote for Booksrgood4u. Congrats to both!

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  47. I had a difficult time with both stories. The Martin Magnolia story left me confused and not sure what was happening. Science Fiction is not my cuppa, but I didn't really see any Science Fiction in the story - maybe I missed it. As for the Books story, it was pretty slow, but good imagery. I probably wouldn't read either one for more info, but will give my vote to BooksRGood just because the writing was more compelling. Nice job for both writers, but Books gets my vote.

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  48. Martian Magnolia - enjoyed the humor and liked the sci-fi feel of it.
    BooksRGood4u - a nice snapshot into the life of Cletus and the trains. I liked how each car had it's own name and character so to speak.
    My vote is for BooksRGood4u!

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  49. Again, both story excerpts are pretty darn great. "Martian Magnolia" has believable dialogue and concise writing. I cringed at "supple lips" as that feels like a cliche to me. The space felt like it actually existed. In "BooksRgood4u" I wish there was more "showing." I appreciate and enjoy the literary allusions. All that being said, I vote for "BooksRgood4u" because I felt more like I started to see Cletus as an actual person that I'd want to know more about.

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  50. First, this is not a voting comment. I voted yesterday and don't want to change. However, I'd like to tell BooksRgood4u that, given the intriguing premise and lovely writing, all it would have taken to flip my vote would have been adding "until (fill in the blank)" or something similar to the end of the piece (hoping there is more to it). OK, and a tad of action/human interaction on the part of Cletus. And maybe a smidge less setting.

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  51. I liked Martian because of the quick banter dialog which was easy to read and follow. I missed the Much Ado reference until I saw others comments. Ultimately my vote goes to BooksRGood because of Cletus. He is a character who is loyal and faithful. Seemingly a bit of an underdog and of course I must root for him.

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  52. I liked both stories for different reasons. Martian had snappy dialog and moved fast. I didn't like the premise too much and the name reminded too much of the Divergence series (fan fiction idea but not). BooksRGood4u caught my attention because I happened to know a few of the trains in the story. Although a slower paced thoughtful piece, I found it original and mood setting.

    My vote goes to BooksRgood4u.

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  53. My vote goes to Booksrgood4u.
    Martian Magnolia: I started out liking the voice, and I think I would continue if the only plot we got to see wasn’t filled with so much romantic tension. Maybe a little hint of why she was protecting Philip would have really rounded this out. I’m intrigued to learn more about their spaceship.
    Booksrgood4u: someone above commented calling Cletus an underdog-and I think this is what makes the story so compelling. The slice of everyday life is refreshing, especially of someone who believes that he is making a difference in the little things he does every day.
    1221bookworm
    Fantasywordcraft.wordpress.com

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  54. Thank you both for sharing with us. Martian Magnolia: I love your use of humor. I want to know why Bea is protecting Phillip and what she does for a living. It reminded me a bit of the book Artimis.

    BooksRgood4U: Your story started out quiet. The voice was little, gentle and soothing. It drew me in quite unexpectedly. I will admit that the end made me a bit blue. I want to more about Cletus and his quiet life cleaning train cars. He captured me with his way of seeing the world.

    My vote goes to booksRgood4U.

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  55. Martain was good, felt like traditional sci-fi. Has my vote.

    BooksRGood, I feel like I'd need to do research to properly enjoy this story. I just don't know enough about the railroad. Unless those were metaphors? It's probably a great story for someone with knowledge about things, so when I say, "it's not you it's me," I mean it.

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  56. Martian Magnolia: The writing needs some polishing. The story is there, yet it's too brisk, with not much to captivate me. I also found the sexual tension excessive and overdone.

    BooksRgood4U: I loved the voice of this story. The writing was also much more polished, creating a little gem.

    My vote is for BooksRgood4U.

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  57. Oh this is a tough one.
    Martian Magnolia is probably one that I would read as a novel, but I did like the way BooksRgood4U was written. I think I'm going to have to go with quality here, and give my vote to BooksRgood4U. It was well written and gave the reader a very likable character to follow.

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  58. I vote for Martian Magnolia. Tight writing. Things were moving along, and I like chemistry.


    I found a bit more tell, not show than I prefer in BooksRGood4U’s piece.

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  59. I really enjoyed Martian Magnolia’s easy hand with the romance in a short piece, and I wanted to read more. You had me hooked on the bet (and where Phillip is!). I liked the concept for BooksRgood4u but was missing the emotional connection to the character in the midst of all the description. Martian Magnolia for me.

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  60. Martian Magnolia gives us some great sexual tension on a space ship between people with old-timey names. I loved the needling that Beatrice dishes out and all of her internal dialogue about her old flame. I'm also curious about where Phillip actually is.

    BooksRGood4You has written an engaging and relaxing piece that I wish I could have read even more of. I liked the idea of the characters hanging out with the authors, as well as the specific literary references (like Hank Morgan being bad at keeping up with the time).

    My vote goes to Martian Magnolia because I LOVE scifi romcoms and this seemed like a great example of the genre.

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  61. I'm voting for BooksRgoof4u for having good flow. Very easy to read.

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  62. Martian seemed just a bit tighter to me so gets my vote.

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  63. These were very different submissions though I enjoyed both. Normally between two pieces like this, I would lean toward the one that showed some plot. But while Martian's story looks interesting, BooksRgood4u did a really nice job with the setting and voice. I think I'd go with Books on this one. (Ergh... tough choices)

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  64. Damn. This is tough one. My first instinct was to go with Magnolia, but after a second read I'm not sure. Each has small issues, keeping them on a level playing field. Magolia's is more action and consequence while BooksRgood4u's is more about establishing a feeling. I think in the end I'm more impressed that BooksRgood4u could build that richness into 500 words, so my vote goes to BooksRgood4u.

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  65. My vote goes for: Martian Magnolia

    Martian Magnolia: I really enjoyed some snips of your writing, but I stumbled a lot over the structure of your sentences. It was evocative enough for me to draw me in, but the bits prose that seemed a little too fancy drew me out and some of the structures made me stumble. Altogether, though, I really enjoyed the interplay between your two characters, especially because of the tension between two ex's.

    BooksRGood4u: Your writing is very smooth, and in a lot of places it flourishes, but I'm wondering if you might be able to move the portion about his only company truly being the trains earlier? I'll be honest, I really enjoyed how to seamlessly showed us this fact by the way he's named them all and how each trains has a personality he is aware of. But I wasn't drawn into your character enough for me to care. Maybe it was the lack of tension, I don't know. Make the premise for your story stronger and you would have had my vote easy.

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  66. Magnolia: Shakespeare on a space station? Yes, please. I loved the voice here, though parts of the dialogue felt stilted and "six feet of ochre-skinned perfection" a tad over the top. Wry humor will serve you best; avoid the burlesque. Loved, loved the dragons, ice cream, tears. That's the tone to strike.

    BooksRGood: Quiet, pensive. The language is well-matched to mood and character, but it did feel like an extended inside joke. Risky to assume a well-read audience. Watch your repetition: three "trains" in the second line, and twice mentioning Cletus' declining any promotions. I suspect this would have been a much stronger competitor had Cletus spoken to us himself.

    Today's vote to Magnolia.

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  67. Enjoyed both passages. Martian Magnolia intrigued me with relationships past and maybe future -- I wanted more. BooksRgood4u captured the tedium and the enjoyment of the job. I'm a science fiction gal; but, my vote goes to BooksRgood4u. Better writing. Not trite.

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  68. My vote goes to Cletus and his famous friends. How clever to write a story about what could be considered mundane and make it interesting and come to life. I have often seen names of famous people on the sides of trains, but I never really paid attention, I will from now on. In Martin Magnolia I felt like Benedict was a bully and Bea taunted him to be more so. I would not continue reading a book like this it makes me too uncomfortable.

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  69. I vote for Cletus even though not a lot happened in it. While there was tension in Martin Magnolia, the descriptions of both characters pulled me out of the story.

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  70. My vote goes to Martian Magnolia.
    I really liked the descriptions, beauty, and majesty of the object characters in BooksRgood4u. The downfall was for me that there was some bits of description that confused me. I wasn't sure if we were looking at trains, taxi cabs, people, etc.
    In Martian Magnolia, I would have liked to have a sense of stakes and obstacles. But there was a good sense of story elements.

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  71. Both of these have their flaws.
    Martian Magnolia's seems to be an okay start, but there were some awkwardly-written sections and I wasn't a huge fan of the relationship between Beatrice and Benedick. I don't think I would have kept reading, solely on the grounds that I don't like relationships that only go (or appear to only go) skin-deep.
    BooksRgood4you's immediately caught my attention, as someone who enjoys literary references. I haven't read the majority of the things mentioned, but I'm familiar enough with literature that I recognized nearly all of them. However, it was rather confusing at first when Cletus referred to the cars and I thought he was referring to the actual people (I was really excited to see P.T. Barnum and Mark Twain and all the other folks). Not a lot happened, but if this were the start of a story I'd stick it out for at least the first chapter, and almost certainly more if the plot started to pick up.
    My vote goes to BooksRgood4you.

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  72. I enjoyed the character's dialogue in Martian Magnolia's story. I didn't think it was over the top sexual or anything - in fact, I believe something deeper lies in the exchange between the characters that we don't know yet. And, I like sci-fi.

    BooksRgood4u - great descriptive piece, however, I am not quite sure what's going on without rereading it. I don't particularly like to reread a page to understand it. I reread because I enjoy it. Yet, I know there's something more to your story, too. I love realistic fiction but there's got to be a HOOK. especially in the beginning to get me to read more. My vote goes to - Martian Magnolia today.

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  73. Martian Magnolia... Other than the location, I'm not sure what makes this Sci-fi? But maybe it has to do with where Phillip is? It's an okay story. A few more details or something probably would have pulled me in. Nice use of the proverbial ticking-clock though. That was woven in well and is something of which to be proud.

    BooksRgood4u... This feels like it comes from Readers Digest or some similar magazine. Seems to come from the heart. So you have my vote.

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  74. Martian Magnolia created a nice sense of sci-fi isolation that felt a little reminiscent of The Fifth Element and Bladerunner, which is an engaging way to start. I did get a little distracted by descriptors that seemed out of place in this context, e.g., the protag lives in this confined, minimal space but is suddenly comparing her ex to ochre and mahoghany and there's references to ice cream and supple lips-- all in this one small writing sample. I'd like to see this passage stick to one mood: either she's in a sh@tty, unluxurious world and is snarky and frustrated, or she's lost in lush thoughts and pretty daydreams about how beautiful this guy is... who's banging in her door and she supposedly hates. She what I mean? It's a little incongruous.

    Even with that, I'm still going to vote for Martian, because the author obviously has terrific story telling skills and a nice way with dialog, and I think the things I mentioned above are an easy fix. I was interested in where the conflict and the plot was going. Also (again trying not to be influenced by other comments so not sure if this was brought up 8 times), if all that "Phillip" and "Benedick" business is a veiled reference to Philip K. Dick, I see what you did there, and I love it.

    The BooksRgood4U is a solid piece of writing as well, but it feels more like an essay or maybe a Garrison Keillor type of piece as opposed to a self-contained short story, because the passage is mostly in one character's mind, without any outside action in the physical sense. And although I get the metaphor of the trains being companions to this MC, in my "short story reader" brain, when you mention people's names like Mark and Hank, I'm going to somehow be looking for an actual person to be introduced into the story, and it nags at the back of my mind as I'm reading when that doesn't pan out, and the people involved are inanimate objects instead. In more of an essay type of context, this might play better as you're not subconsciously waiting for the narration to bring in another human being, you know? In general, though, the piece ends wonderfully with a sense of warmth and belonging, even though the protag isn't surrounded by any other real people. Which is a good trick.

    Vote for Martian M., but thank you both for your talents!

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