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WRiTE CLUB 2013 – Bout 8

Congratulations to Gordon Holmes for winning bout #6.

Today is a bit of a milestone, the mid-way point of the preliminary rounds for WRiTE CLUB!  After today there will be just eight more matches over the next four weeks before we head into the play-offs, and I can already feel the anticipation…or maybe its dread…building! Here’s a reminder for all of our contestants still in the hunt…if you make it past the first playoff round you’ll be required to submit a NEW 500 word sample to compete with, so don’t wait until the last minute.

Let’s get right to it…shall we?

Making their way through the ropes is today’s first combatant.  Weighing in at 499 words representing the Literary genre, give it up for S. King.

Washing dishes is a simple task, almost mindless in fact. It’s where my mind goes during this necessary task that kills my soul. Susan said I should just stuff everything in the dishwasher, pop in a detergent pack, let the machine do all the work. She said I deserve a break. I say I don’t deserve shit. But that’s the way life is; never what you expect—or want. Daydreaming out the kitchen window while my wife works the evening shift at JC Penney’s—a perfume spritzer I think they’re called— doesn’t help. In the mornings she waits tables at the Waffle Shack on Main.

This evening I’m finishing up the breakfast dishes while tonight’s dinner simmers on the stove; a pork chop recipe I found on the internet. A Blue jay stares at me through the kitchen window. I wonder if it can think like I think. Does it have hopes and dreams like I used to? A train’s whistle blows somewhere in the distance. A picture of a conductor, all muscle with soot coated overalls, fills my mind. I imagine a calloused hand tugging at the whistle string and glance longingly where my left hand used to be. I don’t see it as a problem, though. Doing dishes with one hand is just like doing them with two, only slower.

At a quarter to nine Susan comes in with a mind bending array of perfumes following her into the kitchen. She kisses me on a scarred cheek, barely suppressing a yawn behind her tired smile, then eyes the pork chops with only mild interest. Mechanically, she lugs her plate to the table. I picture the conductor again, wondering if he has a wife to go home to, and two hands to hold her tight.

Susan says something to me, her voice barely audible over the sound of her fork sliding around her plate, pushing her pork chop from one side to the other. She wants me to call the electric company tomorrow and see if they’ll take a partial payment. She says she wants me to do it because I have a kind voice, but that’s not the real reason. I see the apprehension on her face when she tells me to mention to them that I’m a veteran. I half-smile and tell her I’ll see what I can do.  

When I can bear the sadness in her eyes no longer, I gather the dishes and take my familiar spot at the kitchen sink. There’s a stiff south breeze blowing across the back yard. The porch light elongates the shadow of a tattered rope swing hanging from our oak tree. It was there when we bought the house two years ago, three months before I went to Iraq. I never bothered to take it down, maybe thinking one day my own child might use it, but the baby-making equipment went with the hand.

The train’s whistle moans again. I wonder where the conductor is off to now.         


And in the other corner is their opponent who weighs in at 500 words and represents the YA Dystopian genre, let me introduce to you,  January Jones.

Blaze is already dead when I find him. My hand grazes the rough gatepost to check the latch, as my boot thuds against something I thought was just a shadow. He’s half buried in the snow, and I’m lucky I see him at all in the deep blue of an autumn twilight. In another hour the drifts will have completely covered him, hiding any evidence until the thaws of spring. Still, I have to look hard to see that there is evidence at all. The absence of blood doesn’t throw me. I know there are other ways to fell a beast.

I curse under my breath over forgotten mittens, as my bare fingers dive into the new and downy snow. Tucking dark strands of my long hair behind an ear with one hand, I find a rigid foot with the other. Then, breathing slowly to calm the sick feeling now rising, I begin dragging Blaze towards the house like a killed deer. My father will be sad to lose his favorite companion. He came to Pa as a puppy, fur all black and caramel, nose wet and dark like rain-soaked earth. At the thought of breaking the news, my stomach turns to stone. But as I walk in my slow trudge back to the house, fingers burning cold, dragging the weight behind me and trying not to stumble, my relief comes out in a puff. This time it’s only the dog. And I’m lucky for that, because next time it might be me buried lifeless in the snow.

Ours is the only house outside of the wall. Technically it’s part of the wall—the back of our stone cabin is built into our city’s great protection. And even though we tell ourselves that this makes our home safe, we live our lives jutting into that bleak space just before the forest, sticking out like a blemish on the face of Drosera.

As I plod back towards our modest home, I eye the forest. The depths are still, as if they have frozen just as I’ve tried to catch them coming for me. The fog of my gray breath hangs between us. I search into the webs of bare branches, but only darkness stares back. A chill that has nothing to do with the weather sweeps through my body, and I pull my gaze away. I’d rather live on the inside, but my father’s job doesn’t afford that luxury. The sentinels are the strength, but the gatekeeper is the steward. My father’s shifts are long and unheralded. But he helps keeps the city safe, which is valiant enough for me.

I drop Blaze on the porch, his leg falling with a thud. The sound makes the stone in my stomach churn. My numb hands push wearily against the steel reinforcements of our heavy cabin door. Fire glow greets me as I breathe in the familiar smells of mulled cider and stewing meat. Shedding my worn leather boots, I cross the threshold.


As with every WRiTE CLUB bout, anyone can vote for their favorite writing sample…just make sure to sign up on the Linky Tool located HERE first.

As were fond of saying, at WRiTE CLUB it’s not about the last man/woman standing, it’s about who knocks the audience out!


  1. Again, I apologize that I don't have time this week to leave extensive feedback. I really loved the feel, flow, and character of both of these stories. But I'm going to vote for January Jones because the setting so intrigues me. (My only comment today is for her/him: try adjusting your paragraph length for more impact. The flow works when you read it aloud, but it can be hard to read that number of similar block paragraphs.)

  2. Dang! I loved both of these, but the first one left me wanting more, so I'm going to vote for S. King.

  3. My vote is for January Jones this week :) Don't have time to leave more feedback, but loved the premise!

  4. Loved both of these, but S. King really pulled at my heart strings.

  5. They are both well-written and powerful. But that last line in S King's piece wins it for me.

  6. My vote is for S. King,

    however, both were truly worthy!

    I will say the January Jones piece reminded me a bit of The Village, maybe not a fair comparison because it wasn't a favorite movie, but that's the way it struck me when reading it.

    Great job - both writers!

  7. My vote is for #1! S. King's piece, with the melancholy voice, is really intriguing to me and makes me wonder where the story will go.

  8. Both pieces are great.
    My vote goes to S. King.

  9. My vote is for January Jones.

    I think both pieces need to watch their paragraph length. Both were large chunks of exposition with no dialogue or shorter paragraphs to break them up. Visually, they're not very appealing.

    King starts by saying that washing dishes is a mindless task, and then spends the rest of the 500 words with the character, more or less, washing dishes. So if the character thinks its mindless then I don't know how I, as the reader, should feel about reading about washing dishes. But that said, the language was good and it had a melancholy air about it, which was nice, but just not to my taste.

    For January i liked the physical descriptions of the snow, though i think sometimes there are a few too many. It was hard to stay focused with each paragraph and sentence being roughly the same length, but i'm definitely curious as to what's going on and would keep reading.

  10. Both pieces were well written and I liked them both. S. King and January Jones deserve kudos for their great work.

    January Jones provided sensory details that sparked the reader's imagination. The dark and cold, snowy setting also helped to heighten fear and suspense. Who or what killed the dog? Why was there no blood? And would she be next? I definitely wanted to know more.

    S. King's piece, on the other hand, was more character-driven. The writer did a great job conveying the veteran's emotional pain and suffering. But I wasn't driven to read further because there wasn't really anything going on.

    My vote goes to January Jones.

    Suzanne @ Times Squared

  11. my vote goes to JANUARY JONES.

    Both pieces were very well written. I am more compelled to want to read on with January's piece- Suzanne above echoed my thoughts here.

    S. King's piece was strong, but i found myself a little bored. Nothing happened, there was no indication that something was GOING to happen, so i don't feel like i need to read on.

  12. Both of these pieces were excellent. Very tough decision here. Honestly, I would like to allow both of them to move forward. There have been bouts where I didn't like either piece all that much and it seems unfair to have two pieces that should move forward paired against one another, but this is how it is.

    That said, I am voting for S. King simply because it hit me harder on an emotional level. The quality of writing in both was superb!

  13. This is another close bout for me.

    S. King's piece is melancholy and wistful. There are a few minor quibbles like a stray capitalized "Blue jay", but I don't really have many issues with the mechanics. I like the voice, and the exchange about having him calling the electric company since he's a vet is subtle and has excellent emotional impact. The mood is set really well, but the story lacks any hint of direction -- for the most part it's all interior introspection. Still, the character is compelling and very sympathetic, and I would certainly read on to find out what's going to happen to him (but something does need to happen soon, or there really isn't much of a story to hold the reader's interest).

    January Jones gives a setting that reminds me of The Game of Thrones, with the wall and the imposing forest amid the harsh winter. The loss of the dog and the questions aroused are gripping enough to keep me reading, but unlike S. King's piece, here I have little sense of our MC other than a little about (his? her?) economic situation and the fact that (he? she?) has a father who has now lost his favorite dog. The mechanics of the piece are fairly decent, but some breakup of the adjective-laden sentences might be effective, and I'd suggest a little more grounding in the character before any further world-building.

    But as I said in regard to both -- I'd keep reading each of them. So, well done to both authors! However, I can only vote for one, so I'm going with S. King. I'm usually not one for introspection and inner rumination, but here it's done with a great deal of characterization, and I felt much more connected to the unnamed dish-washing daydreamer than I did with the unnamed dead-dog dragger.

    And an interesting (well, at least to me) aside: Last year, I noticed that I tended to vote for the entries that eventually became winners of the bouts. I think it was something nearing as high as 90%. But so far this year, I've only voted for two entries that have actually won their rounds. I don't know if that's just a statistical anomaly, or the fact that many of these rounds have been very close in voting, or perhaps a sign that my tastes are drifting away from those of everyone else. But in the meantime, writers, please don't take my vote for you as an omen of impending defeat. "Gah! He voted for me! I'm doomed!"

    1. Chris, I feel as if I'm trending away from everyone too. ;)

  14. S. King gets my vote.

    This was a hard bout (ah, but I guess they've all been that way!). Still. I wasn't especially thrilled with the character/voice in the first piece (it's rather depressing), but the writing is better than the second, so that's why it got my vote.

    The second piece was interesting, but too many body parts are creating the action (e.g. "my hand grazes" and "my bare fingers dive") instead of the character.

  15. I vote January
    The writing capabilities of both were about evenly matched as far as I'm concerned. But I'm not really into feel-bad stories.
    S. King, it sounded more like genre fiction than literary fiction. From what I understand about literary fiction, it dazzles with every sentence. There's no room for phrases like "mind bending". Find your weakest sentences and think of ways to say them that have never been used.
    January, you tell us Blaze is dead... and then you find Blaze. However you do it, this should be reversed. But if I could offer one suggestion it would be get a good grasp on your character's voice. Would she really think:
    "My father will be sad to lose his favorite companion."
    If she cares at all about father, she'd express this with more emotion. Despite that the character's stomach makes several figurative transmutations, I'm not feeling enough pain over her father's dead companion. Dropped on the porch with a thud?

  16. These are well written pieces. Both are clear, readable, and create emotion in the reader; the best sign of quality writing. I like the structure of S. King's piece a little more than the structure of January's, and that is the only reason I'm choosing to vote for S. King.

  17. King's appeared monotone in writing with no emotional pull. It talks about the conductor but I get no emotion from the character. It's a numbness and would have been stronger If emotions were written in.

    January had me lost after awhile with the over descriptions and really not getting what the middle of the story meant or what it had to do with the dog so it appeared as extra when that space could have been used to maybe tell more of a closing.

    Vote king

  18. Once again I'm not entirely enamored of either piece. But at the end of the day, I felt King's writing was stronger and conveyed more emotion. So I vote for King.

  19. I found this the hardest choice yet as I felt I could have voted for either piece. The first tinged with melancholy, I could see him standing at that sink washing the dishes with one hand. I felt something of the character, his appearance and demeanor, but not so much of what the story would unfold into. The second obviously some harsh dystopian world. I felt there was some good description of the world and the scene was being set for what was to come, yet I felt a little removed from the main character. I felt she was female from the description of long hair but I wasn't totally sure. Also no dialogue in either piece, maybe that was intentional in the first but there were two characters so an exchange of words between the husband and wife might have broken it up a little. But that is just my opinion. Great work both of you I wish you well.

    My vote January Jones.

  20. Both stories are interesting concepts. However, I felt drawn into the first story, and cared about what happened to this couple. I didn't get a connection with the second story. I wasn't emotionally invested. I vote for S. King.

  21. My vote is for S. King. There's so much tragedy in this piece yet I just can't stop reading.

  22. Surprisingly, my vote is for S. King as well. I'm only surprised because the second one is more of a genre I generally go for between the two, but the writing was more engaging and had more emotion to it. It felt like a lot more happened than in the second excerpt.

  23. The dawning horror is there in both of these pieces and I think both handle it very well. I like the understatement of #1. It adds to the shock and pathos of these lives.

    I'm not much of a dystopian reader, but #2 was well done.

    It was a hard call, but I'm going with #1

  24. Hmmmmmm...I'm going to have to vote for January Jones this week, mainly because it seemed to have a strong feeling of going somewhere. I always like to feel as if the writing has left me on a path leading somewhere but it has to give me something intriguing to make me walk farther.

    While S. King's writing was good, I felt I was dropped on a path that didn't hint to any impending excitement or intriguing situation in the near future. And while there was obvious tension between the couple, I didn't feel as though the MC's wife's personality had been built up enough to give me a further interest in the couple.

    The entry from January Jones--being equally well-written--also left me curious as to what killed the dog and wondering what will happen when the MC brings the dead dog to her father.

  25. These are both very similar in that they cover a LOT of back story with bits of info. delivered along the way. The writing is smooth in both, though I can't say either one really pulled me into the character's emotion or plight, but I did like the drifting thoughts in S.King's piece as well as it coming full circle to the conductor, so I'm voting for #1 today.

    One nitpick for January - you don't need the commas before "as" in the first sentence of each of the first two paragraphs (sorry if someone's already said that). I thought the dead dog made a nice intro to the piece, and the world you've started to build here sounds interesting. S.King only won my vote by the slightest of hairs.

  26. S. King's piece grabbed my emotions. I got a really good feel for who these people were and what they were dealing with. The first part of it wandered a bit and had me wondering if anything was going to happen, but the last few paragraphs made me feel deeply for the wife working hard to make ends meet and the damaged veteran bravely trying to go on with his life. At first, with all the talk about train conductors, I thought it might be a post WWII story and was surprised when he mentioned Iraq.

    I like January Jones's piece but small things kept throwing me out of the narrative. Like why would she go out in the snow without her hat and gloves? What kind of dog and how big is it? And I thought she was dragging the dog so she couldn't drop it on the porch. Some of the description threw me. I had to read it over several times to figure out what it meant. I think mostly I wasn't drawn in by the voice and that's a subjective thing.

    I vote for S. King

  27. S. King's entry explores many issues and I thing with some tweaking, it could be fantastic. Also needing a little tweaking, January Jones's entry drew me right in. Because it would be the one I'd pick up and read, I'm voting January Jones. Both were great entries!

  28. My vote is for S. King. You actually made my heart ache..

  29. Both were great. I felt emotion with S. King's piece, so it is my number one choice ;)

  30. I thought both were well-written. The first gave me a good sense of character and the second a good sense of scene/place. Maybe what was intended by both writers? It's tough to choose, but I'm going to go with character and choose S. King.

    Good job both!

  31. I really like the introspection of S. King. Such sadness, such loss - and not just the hand or the baby making equipment. This scene is complete with the emotional content, the implied backstory, and a hint of present issues. This character speaks to me on many levels. I'd almost rather just see this one concept and not speculate on all the future life issues. An excellent flash fiction that draws my sympathies. The writing flows well, the forward progress steady. I really like it; and the possibility that something major is about to disrupt all this complicity. I could read on, or be satisfied with this excerpt. Well done.

    The only critique I'll offer on S King (and isn't considered in my voting) because I feel this is publish ready (as a flash fiction) is that the last line doesn't work for me. Its a great line; but the dinner has been cooked and eaten, time has passed, and it seems the same train whistle as earlier while doing breakfast dishes and the dinner was still cooking. As I said, I like the line, and it is a great ending for the excerpt, or transition into a next chapter; but perhaps it could be either a memory of the earlier whistle, or he hears another whistle.

    For January Jones excerpt: That first line is a spot on hook. I love identifying with the victim, knowing there is a special connection to the POV character, and that a tragedy has occurred and a mystery is present. Well done on that excellent first line. However; the next line, the continuing paragraph, isn't about Blaze, or the relationship between POV character and Blaze. It steps back and shows POV character (I'm getting a feminine vibe so I'll say she/her) entering the scene and then discovering the body. The forward progress of this concept feels info dumpy.

    I did like how the setting mimics Her personality - cold, buried in politics, a world in need of warmth and stability. Regardless of the placement of this excerpt in the continuing novel, my suggestions is to stick with Blaze in the first paragraph. She nearly trips over his half buried corpse, describe the connection to her father and herself, and then add in the tidbits about the community. This excerpt is trying too hard to set up a world. While it is commendable to build a world through action, I think the main focus in this scene should be on developing MC empathy (even one who is cold and potentially unlikeable) as opposed to showing the politics of the world.

    My best compliment for both excerpts is that the 1st person POV characters are not mechanical. I'm not a fan of 1st because every thought/movement is about the POV character: I think, I move, I walk, I undress, I see, I hear, etc.

    All things considered, my vote goes to S King for character empathy and progressive flow.

    January; I had a lot of confusion with this this excerpt, and lack of empathy with the MC had nothing to do with my decision. I like that you are starting with a high maintenance character. I'm not certain that you meant to introduce such a character however, the characterization could be a lack of editing. I'd like to advise you stick with this intense character, and de-escalate her through the action plot. A female Byronic Hero is hard to portray, but for a template I'd suggest watching Under World, and pay attention to Selena's passions and motivations.


  32. This is a tough choice. I vote for January Jones.

    January - I admire anyone who can world build to a believable level and I thought your piece was well done in that respect. At times the description felt a little heavy handed. If some of that was replaced with deeper characterization it would feel more well rounded.

    S.King - Your piece was powerful. The emotional content was palpable and realistic. The only issue I had was that my interest started to dwindle about half way through.

  33. My vote goes to S. King for an extremely smooth excerpt that reached me on an emotional level, even though this is not a genre that I would usually read. Excellently done!

    The January Jones piece has potential, but I found the narrative to have too much description and excess adjectives. Almost every noun is accompanied by an adjective. The text would be cleaner and more riveting if a careful scalpel trimmed out what was unnecessary. If this is supposed to be a stark, harsh world, the narrative should complement that, I think.

  34. My vote goes to January Jones. I really liked the setting of the scene here, and I couldn't help but think of the Wall in Game of Thrones.

  35. Please, please, please don't make me choose. These were such great pieces with so very much to like about both. In the end I'm voting for S. King because I was shocked first by the missing hand and then by the missing manhood. But the shock was so well done I didn't feel the writer cheated to make that effect.

    Truly both pieces deserve to go on and I would like to read more from each of them. Great job.

  36. My vote is for S. King. I felt that scene so vividly. :-)

  37. January Jones this round.

    WRiTE CLUB is difficult this year. Both of these entries are satisfying to read, and I wanted to read more of both, but I found myself champing at the bit to read more of January's. I liked the MC's combination of sympathy and stoicism. It seems true to the world January Jones is showing us. My only complaint is, the MC's house has a porch? "Let's go sit on the porch and have a cup of mulled cider until the horrid monsters come out." It's not like you can light a citronella candle, or something.

    S. King's offering is very well-written, and I loved the courtesy the couple extend to one another in spite of a tragic situation. For me, however, that was also the problem. Here's a man who has been devastated at so many levels and the only struggle appears to be not thinking about stuff and if he does think about stuff then he tries not to think about stuff some more. Susan did not feel quite right to me, either. "When I can bear the sadness in her eyes no longer" as an objective observation by the MC felt a little heavy-handed and marred the flow of the scene for me. Ironically, she would have been more real to me if S. King had just left that phrase out.

    The writing in both corners: terrific. Once again, a tough, tough round.

  38. My vote goes to S.KING.

    I really liked the writing style in this piece. I feel connected to the character. King has conveyed a sense of despair without completely disclosing the reason for it. The impact at the end is strong. I felt a sense of character for the MC and his wife, with a minimum of description.

    January Jones's piece held a certain amount of emotional impact and I was able to visualize a lot in the scene, but what it lacked for me was a sense of character. The only possible clue to the sex of the MC was the longer hair and for me that could be either male or female, While I felt the writing was good, it could have been stronger if I felt more connected to the character.

  39. Hmm, this is a toughie... January Jones, I'll go with.




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