WRiTE CLUB 2018 - Playoff Bout #3


There are only six writers left and you know what that means? It's playoff time in WRiTE CLUB! Here is the third and final playoff match.

Our six writers will again enter the ring, this time against a new opponent, each brandishing a new 500 word writing samples. The bouts will be posted on Mon - Wed - Fri, with the voting remaining open as long as possible.  The voting for Playoff Round #1 closes at noon eTuesday,  May29th.

Here's a reminder of how everything works. Writing samples from two different writers, identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters, are competing against one another today. 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 winner of each contest is chosen by you...the reader.  Simply read each entry and leave your vote in the comment section below.

It is customary to leave a brief critique for 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.

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!

What's at stake here? Other than bragging rights, the winner also wins free admission to the 2019 DFW Writers Conference.



Your voting has an added significance because not only will the three 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.

Ready to help an aspiring writer make their mark?  It's time to introduce our contestants and get this party started.


Writer #1 is representing the Suspense genre. Please give a warm welcome back to Stella Sterling.


“Hello?” I croak.
“Oh… Did I wake you? It’s 9 a.m.”
“I know, Mom. I dropped Cara off at school, then came home for a nap. I was up all night watching over her. She had another… episode.”
“What that girl’s going through isn’t a god damn episode, Maggie. You should know; you went through the same thing when you were a girl.”
“No, I never—”
“You probably just don’t remember it because you were so young and it only happened a few times before I found a way to end it. Thank god for Oddo.”
“Mom, I’m not gonna run to some spiritualist hack just because my daughter’s having a rough patch.”
“A rough patch? Margaret, it’s been six months! How long are you gonna let the poor girl suffer?”
An hour later, I pull up in front of Oddo’s Oddities. When I enter the dim, cluttered space, I’m not sure what displeases me more:
The oppressive stink of incense.
Or the way Oddo immediately takes my hands in his.
“My dear Maggie.”
“Hi, Oddo. I came to see if you have something for—”
“Cara’s ‘night terrors.’” He winks. “Your mother called me earlier. I have just the thing for you.”
He leads me into a room filled with really quality merchandise (shrunken heads, cast iron cauldrons, etc.). He hands me a small box.
“Don’t open it until you need it. You won’t see these, but you will see them.”
“That makes no sense.”
He pats my forearm.
Later that night, I’m jarred awake by Cara’s wall-shaking scream. I yank open my nightstand drawer and pull out the box. I lift its lid. I stare in disbelief. “Th—there’s nothing in here!”
Another frenzied shriek permeates the house.
“I’m coming, baby!” I yell, scrambling off my bed.
The box falls to the floor. There’s a leaden thud, then a familiar metallic clattering across the hardwood.
Bullets.
I dash into my closet, jab at the safe’s buttons, and extract my gun. Sweat blossoms from every inch of my body as I crawl around, waving my hand over the floor until I locate some of the invisible bullets.
MOMMY!” Cara cries.
Struggling to load the gun, I shout, “Mommy’s coming!”
I pound down the hallway and explode into my daughter’s room. A black figure is crouched on Cara’s chest, pinning her shoulders to the mattress. Its mouth is pulled into a grotesque smile, viscous liquid dripping from its jagged teeth. Another creature pushes down on my daughter’s forehead with its veiny hands. When Cara emits another agonized howl, the hateful beasts take turns inhaling her outbreaths.
I shoot.
I shoot again.
Inky blood sprays across the room. With each putrid ounce that leaves them, the beasts shrink. I gather my trembling daughter into my arms.
“You’re safe now, baby,” I whisper, holding her close. “You’re safe.”
The creatures wither and moan until all that’s left of them are foul black pools.
********************************************************************************

Writer #2 represents the YA Dark Fantasy genre. Please welcome back to the arena I.N. Summer.


As the wind scratched against the boarded windows, I arranged my medical supplies next to the teacup with the severed finger. Needles and water, thread unraveled from blankets, and clean rags.
“This is the second time this week!” I exclaimed, picking up the finger. The first knuckle twitched when I touched it, then curled inward.
“I fell down again,” Galina mumbled, extending her arm across the table. She was in better condition than the other upyry in my family, and still had most of her hair and flesh.
“Be more careful. Keep losing fingers, and someday you won’t have any left.” I took her damaged hand in mine. Her skin was discolored and withered. Mine was a reminder of what hers had once been—smooth and still warm.
 “Can you make a pretty one this time?” she asked. “Like one of your rushnyky?”
 “Okay, but promise me you’ll try not to lose anything else.” I gently tapped a finger against her forehead. "You don't want me to reattach your head, do you?"
Galina giggled. "No."
She didn’t wince when the needle pricked her. I used a geometrical Nabor stitch, embroidering her skin in a delicate red lattice of interlocking lines and diamonds. No blood welled up. The liquid had long since evaporated in her veins.
“This will protect you,” I said, tying off the final knot. Nabor embroidery was said to act as a talisman against ill luck and the Unclean Force. Over the years, I had decorated the walls of our house with rushnyky I’d made using found linen. Some good must have come from the tapestries and their lucky embroidery, because the wilderness had yet to claim my family and me.
After snipping the tail of thread, I cleaned and dried Galina’s hand, then bandaged it. Later, I’d probably find the strips of velvet discarded on the floor, forgotten as she admired my embroidery.
When she flexed her reattached finger and laughed, I smiled. Just that raspy sound made all my effort worth it.
 “Thank you, Toma.” She curled her fingers to test them. “Will you come exploring?”
“I can’t. It’s too cold for me out there.”
“We can look for treasures.”
“Don’t you have enough of those?” I teased, gesturing at the array of objects lining the shelves along the wall. Jars filled with ceramic pipe stems and tarnished coins sat alongside bottles dredged from the mud, the glass so old that it had acquired an iridescent gleam.
 “Please, Toma.”
“Later, maybe, if it stops raining.”
Galina sighed, rising to her feet. A cold draft intruded through the door as she opened it, rustling the bundles of herbs and wild garlic nailed to the rafters and making me shiver.

“Don’t lose anything else!” I called after her as she closed the door. If she answered, a resounding thunder blast stole her words.
*********************************************************************************

Enjoying a pair of 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 #WRiTECLUBDFW.

Remember, this is WRiTE CLUB, where it’s not about the last man/woman standing, but who knocks the audience out!


29 comments

  1. Stella Sterling gets my vote. Smooth prose and, dang, invisible bullets!

    I.N.Summer's story seems super interesting, but the bits of exposition placed where they were pulled me out of the story. Both skilled writers, though!

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  2. Congrats to both for making it through! I enjoyed both writers in the first round and am a little dismayed to have to pick between the two of you now. Both writers have a strong grasp of the mechanics of writing. Both handle characters and dialogue well. Both stir up intrigue.

    But I.N. Summer has a little extra "something," like a fluttering of magic just beneath the surface. Summer draws the reader into a tiny, intimate moment in the characters' lives, and despite hints of horror, it felt warm, cozy, and lovely.

    There was so much to like in Stella's piece (the dialogue in particular), but three scene breaks prevented the kind of intimacy that I.N. Summer created. I think Stella would have done better to focus on one scene, adding details to draw the reader further in. Again, I hate that these two were paired against each other.

    Today's vote goes to I.N. Summer

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  3. Both of these are fantastic, but Stella wins my vote. The story is fantastic, reminds me of The Babadook (and that's a high compliment to the writer).

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  4. Hard to choose. The mother protecting her daughter or the kindly Toma stitching up zombies. Decisions, decisions. As a mother myself, I go with Stella Sterling.

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  5. I.N. Summer gets my vote for the writing style and for the intimate experience portrayed. There is clearly love and caring in the relationship between Toma and Galina, even though it's clear (without telling but by showing) that their circumstances are far from ideal. I love the way this piece makes the reader feel ensconced in a safe space, yet surrounded by swirling terrors. Also: kudos to I.N. Summer for having two totally different but equally compelling entries so far...both representing a gift for portraying the depths of human emotion without actually mentioning feelings.)

    Stella Sterling: I like how a full story is told in so few words. I found this story didn't draw me in; I wasn't invested in the emotions of the characters and couldn't feel it. I want to feel the exhaustion in the main character's voice when she talks to her mother, the desperation and frustration of having to go to Oddo, the fear and determination when she confronts the monsters, the love for her daughter when she gives reassurance. It's there under the surface, ready to be drawn out in a way that would make this story more intense. I also love the references indicating that this has happened before to the main character (familar sound of bullets, mother's comments)...but this leaves me wondering if there will be more "events" or if it is truly safe now.

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  6. Two new pieces from talented writers - it must be Christmas! StellaSterling presents every mom, ready to do the impossible to protect her little girl. The invisible bullets were an unexpected, perfect touch. Somehow, though, the story didn't quite pull me in. I was watching from the outside, distanced, and found myself thinking it through too much. Could someone really recognize bullets by sound while her daughter was screaming in the next room, and what if she hadn't spilled them, then what would happen to the girl? I.N.Summer pulled me right inside, feeling the quiet love between those two and the dark menace that surrounded them. I cast my vote for I.N.Summer.

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  7. Stella, I like the concept, but (for me at least) the story felt a little rushed. Maybe 800 words were necessary to add in the proper emotion. And thus, I think you might have been better off giving us a scene from the above instead of the entire story.

    I.N. Summer, this was an interesting piece for me because I never read in this genre. So, while a couple things were lost on me, one thing that was super clear was the relationship between the two characters. Whether they were in space, a cave or a rocket ship 1,000 years in the future, these two characters had a special bond and you brought it out well.

    I'll cast my vote for I.N.Summer and congratulate both writers for surviving this long.

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  8. My note goes to I.N Summer for the intriguing nature of this well-written piece

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  9. Good piece for Stella Sterling with nice writing and sense of danger, but it needs more work. One thing I don't get is, if the MC has been watching over her daughter at night, then why hasn't she seen the figures torturing her daughter before? Why the sudden change of heart after rejecting her mother's idea to go to Oddo for help? I also think that knowing she'd dropped invisible bullets is a stretch -- she needs something besides sound to give her that clue. And the scene changes are problematic as well in a short piece. I agree the piece needs to be a little longer and more fleshed out.

    For I.N. Summer, however, this piece has everything right. Such emotional depth all shown to us with little or no telling involved. Great intriguing premise. Amazing literary voice. The twitching finger in a cup is so evocative. It all seems to foreshadow fantastical and moving things to come told with an exceptionally talented voice. Such a range this writer has shown us.

    My vote goes to I.N. Summer.

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  10. Beautiful, smooth writing for I.N.Summer, but for me personally, the piece felt static. Quite interesting, but not going anywhere.

    Stella Sterling packed a ton into her entry. It could definitely use more fleshing out, but what is there pulled me in and made me want to know more about the family's history and future with these creatures.

    My vote: Stella Sterling

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  11. My vote goes to I.N. Summer, but dang it was hard.
    I loved these stories! There's characters, hints of rich worlds, and lots of potential and questions to leave me pondering what's going to happen next.

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  12. My vote goes to I.N. Summer. I liked both pieces. Stella Starling packed a wallop of emotion but felt overly rushed. I.N. Summer beautifully depicted a tender relationship between her two characters without resorting to violence, although obviously violence is all around them.

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  13. Wow, these are both good. Stella Sterling told a tense tale and had me rooting for the protagonist. I.N. Summer told a story with great world building that made me want to know more about these characters and the world they inhabit. This is a close one, but my vote goes to I.N. Summer.

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  14. Stella Sterling ... An amazing story! Love it! Would keep reading if it were a book. You have my vote.

    I.N. Summer ... Very interesting. Lots of good lore here.

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  15. Definitely I.N.Summer--imaginative and intriguing prose.

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    1. Please delete. I'm posting as Sonya Doernberg.

      Delete
  16. Definitely I.N.Summer--imaginative and intriguing prose.

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  17. Both interesting and with cool, supernatural elements. The voice is similar in both. They almost sound like they could have come out of the same book. I'd have to vote for Stella as the storytelling was cleaner and the action was more concretely described from start to finish. No where did I have to stop and wonder what any of the references meant. Although the spectre leaning over her daughter does sound derivitive of Harry Potter's Dementors.

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  18. I'm not much of a fan of supernatural, but both of these stories were very intriguing. I was drawn into Stella's story more than IN Summer's. I like the overview of a mother protecting her child which seemed to be more dominant than the supernatural element. My vote goes to Stella.

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  19. As soon as I read 'An hour later' in Stella's story, it pulled me out, as it felt rushed for me as well. I do like the story and its premise but if it's compared to the scene in I.N. Summer's, that rhythm and the character interactions kept me in the story more. I found myself itching to know what all these unfamiliar terms are but since the story was carrying on so well, I could put it aside for the moment.
    Vote I.N. Summer.

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  20. My vote is for Stella Sterling

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  21. I had to look up the Russian folklore in I.N. Summer's piece. I would have liked a bit of that in the story itself, rather than just name dropping. Unless you are planning to sell this to the Russians, American readers will need more context.

    However, there was just too much going on for such a short piece in Stella's. I wasn't even sure where the fantasy came in until the very end, and it seemed to come out of left field.

    My vote goes to I.N. Summer.

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  22. My vote goes to Stella Stirling. My eyes were scanning rapidly through, not knowing what 'them' was. It's possibly a little too frenetic, and needs polishing, but there are stakes, and excitement and conflict, so all good.

    I.N. Summer was nicely written but it took me a few goes to work out what was happening and I didn't feel there was any tension or conflict, so possibly just a bad choice of excerpt.

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  23. Both were great pieces but Stella Sterling gets my vote because I was drawn in quicker.

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  24. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  25. Hope voting is still open -- voting for LN Summer!

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