Feb 1, 2013

WRiTE CLUB - Skirmish #6

Here I am again, offering a chance in the ring for the writers who submitted an anonymous sample of their work to WRiTE CLUB 2012, but weren’t lucky enough to be chosen to compete. There are no prizes to be won, or further advancement beyond this one bout, but as all of the other contestants have discovered before them -- there is still plenty to be gained…and learned. I will post one of these skirmishes each week until I run out of contestants.

This week it's Mystery Maven's turn in the ring.  Here is their 302 word submission.

Enrique squinted into the glare from the streetlight that haloed the man at the entrance to the alley. Hunger had driven the boy to the Dumpster behind the fast food restaurant, hoping for a scrap of something edible. The scrape of a footfall against concrete had drawn his attention to the man. Now the man just stood there, silent. Enrique could not make out any details of the man's appearance. He was just a black silhouette in front of the light. "You the manager of this joint?"Enrique nodded to the back door of the restaurant.

The man didn't respond, so Enrique clambered down from the Dumpster."I'll just leave, then. Didn't take nothing."

There was a slight problem, though. Leaving meant that Enrique would have to go past the man in the mouth of the alley. The man still had not moved. Had not spoken. And Enrique's street smarts had alarms going off like clarion bells in his head. He had not survived his 12 years, the last three on the streets, without a good alarm system. Today that system was telling him this dark, quiet man, was a greater danger than the Los Zetas that had tried to take this territory from the Bloods. The fact that the Zetas had succeeded indicated just how strong and dangerous they were.

But at least with a rival gang, one knew the dangers to look for. How to be safe. Enrique did not have that same assurance facing this quiet stranger.

"Just let me pass, Mister," Enrique said, taking a hesitant step, then hating himself for being hesitant. That was a sign of weakness he couldn't afford.   

He squared his shoulders and took another step. He'd just brush on by this guy and be done with it.

That was the last step Enrique ever took.


And in the other corner, checking in with 499 words, is TaggerFinn.

Scape clenched the cuff of his sleeve and crashed his elbow through the glass. He grinned back at us from within his hoodie and dropped his backpack through the window. The cans clanked as they hit. With a quick dive, Scape slipped into the opening.

Rox balanced on the handrail next, kicking the jagged glass teeth with her boot. She squatted in the windowsill. I glanced down the deserted street, and willed the beam of my flashlight to shove her through.

“Hurry the fuck up, Rox.”

She wiggled her ass, flipped me the bird, then disappeared into the dark.

I hoisted myself up, took one last look around, then dropped onto the broken glass inside. The shards crunched beneath our boots as we searched the lobby with our lights. Old plaster walls left to chip and crack. A mosaic swan set in the floor—logo of the foundry that once used the building.

“Hope there aren’t any fucking hobos,” Rox said.

Scape sniffed the air. “No piss or smoke. Just mold and metal.”

“This joint is virgin,” I said.

Rox unzipped her backpack, whipped out a can, and shook it. “Not anymore.” She tagged her sinewy MINX on the plaster.

“Quit dicking,” Scape said. “We’ve got serious shit to do.”

We zipped up the stairs, hooking the handrail at each landing to whip around and keep climbing. We raced up the twisted flights until the steps ran out. Rox kicked open the steel door.

The top floor was one massive-ass room. Floor-to-ceiling windows covered the far wall. All that remained of the clangs and sweat and steel was busted worktables, scattered debris, and stagnant puddles from the leaky roof.

We all saw its magnificence: a blank wall stretching from the doorway to the far corner.

“Fuck yeah,” Scape said.

I rummaged through the junk and fished out hunks of scrap to chock our flashlights. Angling them just right, the three beams converged on the old plaster. Dry. Grungy white. Untouched. Perfect.

Scape slipped his bandana over his nose, then scrolled a finger over his iPod. He was ready.

The rattling marbles added their own layer to the music streaming into the space. Scape saturated the plaster with large sweeping arcs: hints of curved hills, blocks of green fading to feathered edges. Haunting trees sprouted with a few masterful strokes.

Rox added her two-fisted can rattling and hip thrusting to the beat. “He’s gonna be tall and sleek. Tight pants. Dark. Silver eyes.”

“When are your characters not dark?” I said. “That damn Circus Demon scared the shit out me.”

“I painted him in chains didn’t I? Just worry about walling the edges in, Border Boy. We don’t need another fuck up.”

“My damn black ran out. It was too thin in one sorry spot.”

The sweet smell of aerosol and pigment filtered through my bandana as I laid down the border. This time it needed to be solid enough to imprison Rox’s creation when he drew his first breath.


What do you think? Which one resonates with you the most? Why? Leave your vote (and a brief critique if you have time) in the comments below.

See you back here at the ring again next week!



  1. Tough choice - they're both really good! I'm going to have to vote for Mystery Maven, though - love the tension!

  2. Both are very well written. The characters come through the text nicely. Mystery Maven's connected with me more; the ending was intriguing and dark.

  3. Mystery Maven grabbed my attention immediately and kept it all the way.

  4. I'd have to go with Mystery Maven - since the first piece had my confused at first.

  5. Hmmm... going against the sudden grain. TaggerFinn. :)

  6. Second one, although the shift in point of view was a little awkward.

    1. I liked the tension in Mystery Maven but not the voice. It was too formal, too educated for the POV of a 12 year old street kid. TaggerFinn drew me in. I didn't see the POV issue Alex referred to. My vote goes to TaggerFinn.

  7. Definitely Tagger, so many possibilities...

  8. I liked both! The first one is intriguing - I like the boy & his street smarts. I'd suggest switching up the order of the 1st paragraph though - start with Enrique climbing in the dumpster then seeing the guy. I think it might be more natural.

    The 2nd piece is intriguing too - love the idea of the images coming to life and the border keeping them in. My suggestion here would be to ensure the MCs are likeable - they're interesting and entertaining so far, but I'm not sure I like them yet (if that makes sense!) :)

  9. They are both awesome. I think my vote goes to TaggerFinn.

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  11. Intriguing entries this week.
    I liked the dark feel, and immediate conflict with Mystery Maven's entry. I do agree with what's been said about the dialogue in Mystery Maven's piece. It didn't feel quite real enough to give me a sense of time, place, or history for Enrique. Patricia Lee Gouch (Editor at Philomel for many, many years) once said (and I'm paraphrasing) that dialogue should be so unique to each character that you could not mistake one for another. I think a lot of this uniqueness with Enrique could be accomplished with better word choice and unique dialogue structure.
    The other thing you might want to look as is working in the history of the feud between the two gangs in a slightly less jarring way. It feels a little forced.

    TaggerFinn's entry I liked, quite a bit . Unfortunately it had a similar issue in regards to dialogue. Here, the steady use of profanity feels more like an attempt to force personality into dialogue but due to overuse the voices wind up being hard to distinguish. I've heard the argument many times by writers who use heavy profanity that "this is how teenagers speak." The problem is by using these words to often they either jar and turn readers away or--in the case of other readers--the steady use of profanity makes the words lose their meaning and impact. Both of these scenarios negate the purpose of overusing strong words. Worse still, overuse of these words can deceive the writer into thinking they've created unique, true-to-life dialogue.

    It's an interesting thing, being a writer. Our job is to make mere words feel real and often that means we must forgo reality to do this. I've read some absolutely loathsome characters whose reek could be smelt through the pages--and while I'd normally be repelled by them in person, the author portrayed them in an artful way that may not have been true to life but still made me read on. Amazing.

    All that said, I'd vote for TaggerFinn.

  12. My vote is for Mystery Maven. It read a little slow, but the second one wasn't real clear at the beginning so I had to go back and reread it.

  13. Both of these are very well-written, and I enjoyed them both. It's a tough call, but I have to go with the second one because it is fresh and surprising, and hints at all kinds of chilling possibilities.

  14. Mystery Maven had me all the way until the last line. If the one character we were introduced to died, what was the point of reading more? I kinda liked that kid - which is good, because that meant the writing was solid enough to make me feel that way with such a short piece. But I hadn't noticed until I read the other comments that he does speak much older than his years, especially a kid who's been on the streets since he was nine.

    TaggerFinn had some great lines, especially some of the description. The rattling marbles is one example of the great descriptions that really pulled me in. I wish I had more of a feel for the story. It could go in so many ways - they are caught, they find/witness something they shouldn't have. I guess I wish I had a clue what direction the story was heading.

    Good job both of you!