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WRiTE CLUB 2016 - Cage Bout #3

Three writers enter...but only one can move on!

You thought the voting was difficult before? It's time to take it up a notch. Winners from the previous three weeks of preliminary bouts have again been randomly matched, this time in groups of three, to do battle against different opponents using the same writing sample from their first round.  We will host five of these cage bouts this week (M-F).

Here's how it works. Writing samples from three different writers, identified only by the craftily selected pen names of the respective submitters, are competing against one another. The writing can be from any genre, any age group, taken either from a larger piece of work or simply a stand alone flash fiction. The focus is on the writing...not the writer...or its categorization. The two writing samples for each bout will be randomly matched and step into the ring for a chance to find out what they're made of.

The winner of each contest is chosen by you...the reader.  Simply read each entry and leave your vote in the comment section below.  Anyone can vote, as long as you have a Google ID or belong to Google Friend Connect. Anonymous voting is not allowed. If you haven't already done so in a previous round, it is customary to leave a brief critique of all the pieces. You see, the comments are where the true value of this contest makes itself known. Not only do the contestants gain valuable insight about their work from those remarks, but everybody can benefit from how each piece is received and what works...and what doesn't. Please remember to remain respectful with your comments. If you see an opportunity for improvement, make it known in the most positive way possible.

How do you choose a winner? What criteria should be used? The method by which you determine who to vote for is entirely up to you.  Which one resonates with you the most? Which one makes you want to read more? Which one demonstrates a total command of the English language and how it can be used to elicit emotion or paint a mental picture you can't stop staring at. There is no hard and fast way rules for determining a winner -- and that's exactly what the publishing world is like. But today you get to decide.  At stake is a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference and bragging rights.

Your voting takes on an added significance this week as not only will the five winners move onto to the next round, the submission that does not win their bout but tally's the most votes among the losers will move forward as a wildcard selection as well.

Hear that?

It's time to introduce our contestants and get this party started.

Writer #1 is representing the xYA Science Fiction genre with 441 words. Please give a warm welcome to Parchment Princess.

My brothers strapped me to the chair and swung my bound arm away from my body.  I closed my eyes, prepared for more broken fingers or a broken hand, and steeled myself from the pain.  What came, though, was much worse. 

I felt the blade cut through my skin and smelled my burning flesh.  My eyes snapped open to reveal my father carving up my arm with the fiery red tip of his penknife.  I squeezed my eyes shut again to block out the vision and bit my lip to keep from screaming.  The pain shot through my body, each cut of the knife another excruciating shock to my system.  Beads of sweat formed on my brow, and I felt bile rise in my throat.

I lasted two minutes before I released my first scream.  It startled me, the sound of my own blood-curdling cry, and it made me laugh.  My father, angered by my response, pressed harder.  I screamed again, the pain so intense I nearly passed out.  My parents were prepared for this.  My mother doused me in ice-cold water, and my eyes flew open to see my father still tattooing my bloody arm.

I closed my eyes and pictured Thomas’ sweet face.  “Please”, I silently prayed, “help me survive this.  Don’t let them break me.  There’s still so much I can do.”  Peacefulness washed over me, and I knew then what to do.  They could burn my book, but they couldn’t make me forget my favorite passages.  I started to recite them to myself, concentrating on the words instead of the pain.  I transported myself to a better time and place, using the words to guide me.

My father continued carving, whistling now, trying to drive me mad and take away my divine inner peace.  I allowed another scream to escape my lips before moving on to the next passage.

My father finally finished, and he set aside the knife.  He studied his work and nudged me, insisting I look at it too.  “Now,” he said calmly, “the motto you chose so long ago will serve as a reminder of who you really are.”

I read the still bloody, swollen words neatly carved on my inner arm.  Veni, Vidi, Vici.  They lined up perfectly with the infinity symbol, the mark of the New World Order, now carved on the palm of my hand.   It was the perfect punishment.  I could never outrun my past with it tattooed on the deadliest part of my body.

My father leaned in and whispered in my ear.  “My strong-willed Lydia, don’t ever forget who owns you.  Freedom is but an ancient folly.”


Writer #2 represents the Historical Women's Fiction genre with 499 words. Please welcome back into the arena Pen-Book.

The day I was sold I crouched at the doorway of my two-room mud house, knees pulled to my chest. It was only three hours past sunrise but the sweltering heat made it feel like noon. I shaded my eyes against the sun and searched the rutted path that passed by our door.

Not another soul stirred in the settlement except for the few pariah dogs, their ribs sticking out, rooting in the ditches. This time of the day mothers should be squatting at their stoves rolling dough into bread. Children should be chasing after each other. Instead, a quick wind kicked up rattling leaves, and scorching dust bit into my skin. Famine, the same one that had reduced us from a land-owning family to paupers, had turned houses brimming with people into empty shells. In my fifteen summers on this earth, I’d never seen a dry season such as this.


I turned to my little brother, who squatted in my thin shadow. Once chubby, with cheeks bulging like ripe pomegranates, he was nothing but skin and bones now. I tried to swallow the knot in my throat but couldn’t muster up enough spit. “What is it, Hanuma?”

“I want bread.”

Bapu will find us some.” I pressed a hand to my hollow stomach. “Do you want to hear how Lord Hanuman mistook the sun god for a fruit and gobbled him up?” I had told him this story many times before and it always made him smile. He shivered and made no reply.

Exposed as we were to heat, our bodies should’ve been dripping sweat. However, my brother’s bare back and my blouse were dry as wheat husk. I gathered him close and scooted back inside the doorway, pebbles scratching the backs of my thighs through my worn skirt.

I looked up at a commotion a few yards away. A wake of vultures rose over the top of the banyan tree as though something had disturbed their feeding frenzy. Probably starved mongrels, demanding their share of the dead flesh. I hugged my brother tighter as a shiver that began in my toes spread through my body. I shuddered at the memory of the news Bapu brought home each evening: women were selling themselves as slaves in the bazaar. Daughters were driven into brothels for a fistful of grains.

Hanuma’s body convulsed in my lap and went limp.

“Hold on, ladla. I’ll find food.” Laying him on the floor, I stepped inside the house. With each footstep the packed-mud surface of the floor flaked off. Just like my dry skin. I sighed. The name Sundari, which meant, “the beautiful one,” hovered over me now like a lie.

My mother sat in the kitchen, one hand at her back and the other on her bulging stomach. I waited a few beats, hoping Maa would notice me, but she continued to stare at the wall. She wasn’t going to waste what little energy she had on a mere girl child.


Our third and final writer  represents the Adult Thriller genre with 500 words. Please also welcome back into the arena Hunley.

#Why doesn’t the Army ever ask a soldier how he feels about small enclosed spaces like this Humvee I’m riding shotgun in? Maybe nobody thinks of Humvees as small, but pack in four sweaty guys, three of us loaded with seventy pounds of combat gear, and even a Humvee gets cramped.

A medic asked me one time, “You don’t have claustrophobia, do you, Jones?” And when I told him there was probably something for that in all the shots he’d given me, he laughed. But being ugly doesn’t mean I’m stupid. I looked it up. Claustrophobia: an abnormal fear of being in an enclosed or confined place. So no, I don’t have claustrophobia. I just don’t like confined places. That’s not the same as being afraid of them. I’m not afraid of dog shit either. I just don’t like stepping in it.

It’s not making me any happier now to have a platoon leader in the back of our Humvee babbling about how when he gets out of here he wants to go up in a spaceship. If he can come up with the money, that is, which seems pretty unlikely considering he works for the U.S. Army. Me, I’m thinking the last thing I’d ever want to do is get into a spaceship, which sounds pretty much like a Humvee that gets blasted into orbit. I’ve seen Humvees blasted into orbit. It’s not a nice sight.

“How about you, Jones?” he asks.

“Not me. When I get out, I plan to keep both feet on the ground.”

“There’s the infantry for you.” That’s our driver. He’s detailed to us from Cavalry, and we know what they’re like. “I get out of here, I want to get me a convertible. Put the top down, find a nice stretch of road where I can really lay down some rubber.”

He steers the Humvee around a crater in this excuse for a road we’re on, full of craters so big they can probably see them from space. Maybe the PL can point them out to the other astronauts when he’s in his spaceship.

“Do they have air conditioning in spaceships?” I say. “Better than this, I mean?” The mucky heat in the Humvee is making my scars itch.

“Hell, yeah,” the PL says. “C-cool as you want it. And get this, n-no gravity. You’re carrying zero weight.”

“No, sir. Low-grav. Not the same as no-grav.” The driver’s got to put in his two-bits.

“Didn’t I s-say that?” Chastain, the PL asks. “Didn’t I just f-fucking say that?”

He didn’t used to stutter. Like he didn’t used to have memory lapses. Like his hands didn’t use to shake. I don’t have to look at him to know the boom badge on his helmet registers two hits. That little photonic tag changes color for every episode of blast force you’ve been exposed to. Sometimes it only takes one hit to scramble a soldier’s brain, and Chastain’s up for his third strike.

Enjoying three talented writers at work is only part of the price of admission, now it’s up to you to decide who moves forward.  Read both pieces, choose the one you feel is superior, then say so in the comments below and provide a mini-critique for each if you haven't already done so.

Please tell all of your friends to stop by and make a selection as well.  Tweet about it, and if you do please use the hashtag #WRiTECLUB2016.

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


  1. This comment has been removed by the author.

  2. My vote to Hunley as well! All three were great works.

  3. My vote goes to Parchment Princess. All three are good, but I only need more of that one.

  4. Not gonnna lie, I'm pretty disappointed that we had to vote for the same entries all over again. It would have made more sense to get a fresh new piece. I don't think the writers are having a fair shot. I'm also noticing a trend, because these are old entries, there aren't any comments (just votes) which in my opinion, isn't helpful at all. Hopefully next year, it'll be different!

    I vote Pen-book.

    1. Deeba - while you are certainly welcome to your opinion concerning how the contest should operate, I can tell you that using the same piece in this round is all about giving the writers a "fair shot". Maybe the writer won their first bout against a less than stellar opponent that they were randomly paired with, how would the same piece do against stiffer competition? The contest tries to thin out the herd before introducing a new material. Also, since there are three writers in the ring this round (due to time constraints), asking readers to read and critique three new pieces becomes burdensome, which is the reason there are fewer critiques because most everyone has already left one in the earlier round.

      As I do every year, at the end of the contest I'll give everyone the opportunity to suggest improvements for the next year, so I hope you'll be back then.

    2. This comment has been removed by the author.

    3. For what it's worth, I like the structure as is so far.

    4. Yeah, that makes a lot of sense now that I think about it. I feel better knowing that new material will come soon but in manageable quantities!

  5. Hunley, for great voice and a story I want to keep reading.

  6. Compelling writing from all three.
    I vote for Pen-Book. The first sentence drew my interest best. The emerging storyline and quality writing kept it there.

  7. Parchment Princess: This is an excellent set-up. I like my sci-fi to throw me into a new world and let me figure things out as I go and this piece definitely does that. It's a little darker than what I'd expect for YA, but I don't mind that much as long as there's a purpose to the darkness.

    Pen-Book: This piece still breaks my heart. It's well written, and it seems like the kind of story that could be very meaningful and influential. I'm just not sure I'd be able to sit through a whole book at this level of despair.

    Hunley: The humor in this piece really stands out, humor being something that was rare in these rounds. The dialogue is great, but I think the rest of it could be more showing and less telling.

    My vote goes to Parchment Princess. It's the story I'd be most likely to read first of these three. Well done, everyone!

  8. This just gets harder every day! Congrats to all three, all so well written and provocative in different ways. Today for me is a genre and voice preference. I will go with Hunley, the primary reason being that is it the book I'd be more likely to keep reading.

  9. Great writing from three talented people. Very tough choice. But my vote goes to Hunley.

  10. Wow, this was tough. All three entries drew me in. I really felt for the girl in the second entry, so I'm voting for Pen-Book. BTW, what a cool idea for a writing contest! I'm off to tweet about it.

  11. Gee whiz, I don't know. Parchment Princess or Pen-Book. They're both really descriptive.

    Okay, Parchment Princess. No good reason to make it above Pen-Book, just a coin toss!

  12. I'm going with Hunley again. Like the narrator's voice. (Also must admit, I'm hesitant about meeting characters while they're being tortured or abused.)

  13. Hunley, hands down. This is one of my faves. Voicy, voicy!

    Parchment: I couldn't put my finger on what bothered me, until I went back to read just the first 2-3 words of each paragraph. Your scene is compelling, but the transitions are choppy. A more varied sentence / paragraph structure would strengthen your prose.

    Pen-Book: A very close second. As with the first round, there are some internal hurdles about the scene itself (not the writing) that trip me up. I wish 2 could go forward today.

  14. Hunley gets my vote again this round. The voice is strong and the dialog works so well. Great job.

  15. Pen-Book. My favourite of the competition thus far. I love the way this piece uses language and writing style to create an entire world view, including mythology, family relationships, character, setting, mood, and story in so few words. This reads like a book I'd want to read, a book that could win literary prizes. Great work.

    1. I've already reviewed the others, but in view of previous poster's comments about not reviewing again, here goes my reasoning in voting:

      Parchment Princess: This is a powerful scene, but it's one scene that leaves gaps in my imagination and understanding of what's happening and why. Clearly, there's a world created here, but it's not developed much for the reader in this piece. This is a teaser of what could be a great story.

      Hunley: Again, one scene with little action. Love the dialogue and character development, but nothing happens and I'm not sure what is supposed to happen next exactly or why I should care.

      Pen-Book: Full scene, some action (although mainly in the MC's psyche rather than external), clear relationships, and it's clear that the setting, relationships, and writing are moving towards a particular outcome. The piece is purposeful. Even though the outcome is obvious (the first paragraph tells us what will happen), the piece shows the progress towards that outcome in a beautiful way.

  16. Hunley gets my vote, but by an extremely narrow margin. All these are well written, and I would keep reading every one of them. I went with Hunley because the topic - which is bleak - was done with humor and the description had me identifying with the MC. Superb writing.
    Pen-Book: I loved your piece so much. Your writing is beautifully descriptive, and I wish you could also move on. Parchment: I love your description of how your MC dealt with pain, it rang true and I wanted to read more. I hope this gets made into a book one day because I would love to read it. It reminded me of the Deliruim series by Lauren Oliver. I could easily have voted for any one of you - all of the writing was great.

  17. I'm completely okay with either of these making it to the next round as all three are superb.
    I vote for Parchment Princess as it was the one that caused intrigue all the way through and I need to know why this scene is happening.

  18. My vote goes to Pen-Book. This was the one I wanted to read more of, even though the other two were also well done.

    Congrats to all!

  19. My vote goes to Parchment Princess because it held my attention the best. I couldn't read it fast enough to learn what was going to happen next.

  20. I'm going with Pen-Book for personal tastes, really. All three are well-crafted.

    Parchment Princess was good, but it took a while for me to realize the MC was getting tatooed. And Hunley had some great gritty humor, but I didn't feel the Adult Thriller feeling that I've come to expect from the genre.

    But really, the vote just came down to my personal preferences.

  21. Another really tough round! Hunley gets my vote, for high-quality voice and characterization.

  22. This is REALLY hard. It's 3 samples of feels!
    Pen-book for me.

  23. Parchment Princess for me. I have to know what's happening with this story beyond these 441 words!

  24. This one is so hard, but I vote for Hunley by a nose.

  25. Wow! It's weird how much a new match-up of stories can make a difference. In the past I voted for Parchment Princess because the torture scene (although way over the top for my taste) was appropriately difficult to read. And in the past I voted against Hunley (because of the lack of plot and the uncertainty of why spaceships were being mentioned). But now, weighing these two against each other, I have this to say:

    I vote Hunley. Pretty happily, too! Good luck!

  26. Penbook gets my vote. Hunley is a close second.

  27. Hunley gets my vote. Still my favorite piece in the competition!

  28. 3 good stories, but Hunley gets my vote once more.

  29. Parchment Princess gets my vote, though I enjoyed all three.

  30. My vote goes to Pen Brook, even though it's not even a genre I would normally read so... wow, amazing job!!!!! I almost voted for Hunley... such a close call. I had to walk away and then come back and think "what stuck with me the most?"

    All three submission have good writing - syntax, structure, grammar, etc. So this comes down to personal taste, how often I stopped to think about what I was reading vs. how quickly I became immersed into that story, and how much I simply enjoyed reading the story.

    My only issue with any of these is with the Parchment Princess one... It got a little bit confusing along the way and I couldn't figure out if her arm was getting chopped off until the end when I realized she was "just" getting a tattoo.

  31. Parchment Princess for me. It grabbed my attention better than the others and made me want to keep reading more than the other two did.

  32. I still love Hunley. I hope this is a book, and I want to see it published.

  33. Parchment Princess: Great description of a terrifying situation. I want to find out why this is happening, what the family dynamic is, and whatever happened to freedom. This is the kind of stuff that makes me want to read more, and that's what it's really all about. My only question is, how did her brother swing her arm if it was bound?

    Pen Book: High quality descriptive writing, but the story itself is too depressing for my taste, and I would not be interested in continuing it. The repeated use of italicized, unfamiliar words, many without explanation, is off-putting to me, but that may just be me.

    Hunley: I don't understand the attraction. This was definitely my third favorite of this round. The writing needs a lot of polishing, and I haven't seen this many Humvees since I ran the motor pool at Fort Polk. That being said, I would like to read more of this story, because I do find the characters interesting.

    My vote is for Parchment Princess.

  34. Is it okay to change my vote? After reading these yet again I am realizing that Pen-book's piece feels most powerful to me; most penetrating. It's so tough, They're all very good. My first vote was for Hunley if I am required to keep it but if a change is allowed I now prefer Pen-book please.




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