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WRiTE CLUB 2016 - SemiFinal Bout 1

We are down to just four and we've come to your last chance to impact who will become this years WRiTE CLUB champ.  After this weeks bouts our two winners will stand before our celebrity judges with yet another 500 word sample, and then it will be on the judges shoulders to crown a new winner.

Several of you have asked or made mention of wanting to find out just who are these wonderful writers that you've been following over the course of several weeks. Apart from the two finalist...who are named when the competition concludes...revealing the identity of the writers is exclusively up to the contestants themselves. Shortly following the post where our champion is recognized, I will follow that up with a wrap-up in which I invite suggestions for improvements -- but also invite the contestants to remove their masks in the comment section if they choose to do so. I encourage everyone who is willing to step forward, but will not push. All 30 contestants deserve whatever recognition you can give them.  

This week, four writers will again enter the ring brandishing another new 500 word writing sample. The voting will remain open for both until noon central time on Sunday, April 17th.

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.  Anyone can vote, as long as you have a Google ID or belong to Google Friend Connect. Anonymous voting is not allowed. 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.

What's at stake here? Other than bragging rights, there's also a chance to win free admission to the 2017 DFW Writers Conference.

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 Flash Fiction genre with 482 words. Please give a warm welcome to BonsaiBabe.

"Girl! Get in here!" Amber pulled her into the warm glow of the party and leaned in to whisper, "He's here. Kitchen." She shoved a red plastic cup into Chandra's hand and disappeared into the crowd.

"Beer or booze?" someone asked. In response to Chandra's quizzical look he pointed to her cup, "Beer's in the living room and booze is in the kitchen."

"I guess that means I'm drinking beer tonight."

After filling her cup, she joined a group of slightly familiar faces—maybe from her Bio 101 lab—gathered in the hall. Chandra floated at the edge of their conversation, her attention focused on a voice coming from the kitchen.

"So there I am, knee deep in mud, and Sam's just laying on the gas."

Her heart thumped painfully in her ears. She knew that voice, that story. She had watched Jason flail in the mud trying to rescue Sam's truck. She watched him peel off his muddy clothes afterward, back in his apartment. That was the voice he used for telling stories and talking professors into extending deadlines; for coaxing her into staying for just one more drink. It was different from the voice he'd used later.

Don't be a cock-tease. You said you wanted to.

"Yo, Chan," Amber snapped her fingers. "Quit moping, girl. He's not worth it."

"I wasn't—"

"Yes, you were. Like you have been for weeks now. I don't know what happened between you two, but you've got to let it go." Amber held up her own plastic cup. "No time like the present. Come with me while I refill."

At first, she didn't see him. Then the crowd shifted and there he was, his arm carelessly across the shoulders of the girl standing next to him. Her breath caught in her chest as she recognized first the blouse, and then the girl, both of which should have been tucked away safely at home.

"What the hell, Jackie?" It came out louder than she intended. Jason's story cut off mid-sentence and his audience turned in unison.

Her sister's eyes went round with surprise. Then they narrowed. "You told Mom you were working."

"And you told her you were studying in your room," Chandra said. "I guess we're both liars." She tried to keep her voice light, keep her panic hidden. She stepped forward to take Jackie's arm.

Jason pushed one hand against Chandra's chest.

Quit squirming, bitch.

The pressure of it—his palm on her sternum, fingers against her collarbone—was too familiar. It felt like being pinned down on a dirty couch, dizzy and unable to breathe. It felt like shame. It felt like terror.

It felt like something her baby sister should never have to feel.

She grabbed Jason's middle finger and jerked it back, twisting. Her knee connected with his groin and he went down with a thud.

She looked at Jackie. "C'mon. We're going home now." 

Writer #2 represents the Science Fiction Short Story with 499 words. Please welcome back into the arena Helveticaw.

The LeSabre fishtailed across the virgin snow covering the employee parking lot behind Deluxe Cinemas. Dannie hit the brakes and steered hard right. The car slid diagonally across a couple of parking spots, the left rear tire bumping into the concrete curb.

She shifted into park and turned off the engine, her breathy giggles puffing out in white clouds as she opened the car door to the deep January chill. She pulled the duffle bag, with its bounty of clinking film cans, from the LeSabre's back seat and slammed the door shut, admiring the way the sound echoed over the empty lot and the dead highway in the distance. A layer of snow slid from the sign on the parking space, revealing a name: Martin Shoemaker, Mgr.

Dannie hefted the bag and headed for the employee entrance.

She would not wonder about Martin today. Today she would not think about his soft smile. Nor would she revisit the last time she saw him, standing on her parents' front porch, the question he came to ask never passing his lips. She'd wanted him to ask, and she hadn't. She'd been too aware of her parents, laid out in their bedroom at the back of the house, dreaming whatever dreams they chose, as the lights of their implants twinkled in the dark.

If they ever woke up, they would need her. Even if they never did, she could help prolong their lives. She could hope.

The employee entrance to Deluxe Cinemas, like the front door, was unlocked, the way she'd left it.
No one was going to try to break in. There was no one.

It was warm in the lobby. When she hit the switches, the lights in the vaulted ceiling flickered on, illuminating the ripe orange walls, the plush blue carpets. The power was still on.

She would not think about Martin, and his northern log cabin, and his gas generator and solar cells, and the wool tartan blanket he was probably tucked under right now. She would not think about sharing that blanket through this long, quiet winter.

Today was movie day. Maybe the last movie day.

Her fingers lingered on the film can's label after she set up the first reel: The Fray. Early reviews—the only reviews there'd been time for—called it the pinnacle of the superhero genre. She couldn't wait to see it. She wouldn't have to wait much longer.

On the drive back to her parents' house, she snapped her fingers as Sinatra crooned over the LeSabre's totally decent stereo system. Fred had been a crappy neighbour, always judging the state of their yard and the state of neighbourhood, but he had great taste in cars, and pretty good taste in music.

Fred had held out longer than most of the neighbours when the switch happened, but he'd gone over in the end, to that shiny utopia Dannie couldn't access. He hadn't warned her or apologized; he'd just installed the implant, and gone.

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 #WRiTECLUB2016.

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


  1. Wow, this is feeling like a semi-final alright. I like both of these. It's a little disconcerting choosing between pieces where one feels like a contained piece and the other an excerpt. Apples and oranges...

    I find Bonsai's piece works and I suspect would fare extremely well against flash fiction (which I have very little experience with). I clearly understand everything that is going on (and has gone on). Not that reading "it felt like shame, it felt like terror" made me sense any shame or terror because it's not subtle enough. It doesn't engage my mind to draw my own conclusions.

    I will vote for Helveticaw for drawing me deeper below the surface of the story with more description and subtlety. This piece has more *stuff* in it and has me feeling intrigued and asking questions.

  2. My vote goes to BonsaiBabe.

    BonsaiBabe: Clear writing, easy-to-follow story that fits the genre. It is a bit cliched and predictable; I would prefer more originality. I like the clarity, emotions, awkwardness of the situation, and the way you shift back and forth smoothly between flashbacks and the present.

    Helveticaw: I like the writing; there's clearly a complex story here. Unfortunately, I wasn't captured by this piece. I'm left with more questions than answers--and to me, these questions feel like plot holes (no one around, yet electricity available and car has gas?), rather than story development. This piece has set up a story, but hasn't told a story yet; I can't really tell if anything has happened in this piece nor can I discern the emotions or character of the MC.

  3. Helveticaw gets my vote today. I'm intrigued by the story, and if the point is to make the reader keep reading to get answers, then I'm in.

    It took a couple of re reads to Bonsai's piece early on to figure out who was what and where, but the story telling was tight and well-paced.

  4. How to choose? How to choose?

    BonsaiBabe, for more immediacy in the handling of exposition?
    Helveticaw, for the more original and intriguing concept?
    BonsaiBabe, for the skill and speed in which the scene plays out, introducing a number of characters and laying out the whole set up without confusing me?

    . . . Yep, I'm voting for BonsaiBabe, because even though we've seen these tropes before (guy who thinks you asked for it; younger sister repeating MC's mistakes), she works them out so completely and skilfully in this short passage.

    And I can't forget that in the first round, BonsaiBabe really wowed me. So that plays into this vote.

  5. How to choose? How to choose?

    BonsaiBabe, for more immediacy in the handling of exposition?
    Helveticaw, for the more original and intriguing concept?
    BonsaiBabe, for the skill and speed in which the scene plays out, introducing a number of characters and laying out the whole set up without confusing me?

    . . . Yep, I'm voting for BonsaiBabe, because even though we've seen these tropes before (guy who thinks you asked for it; younger sister repeating MC's mistakes), she works them out so completely and skilfully in this short passage.

    And I can't forget that in the first round, BonsaiBabe really wowed me. So that plays into this vote.

  6. Voting Helveticaw because I liked the story more and it made me feel deep "wow" emotions. I liked the delivery of the worldbuilding: slowly, piecemeal until we have the big picture. I was invited to ask more questions, but didn't mind not having direct answers because I love semi-ambiguous endings, especially in spec fic. This really reminded me of the tone and pacing of a lot of older 70s era sci fi. And I was left wondering what I'd do were I in the MC's position.

    The story is introspective, with the action happening internally instead of externally. This is something that's not often appreciated in modern storytelling (on the page or on the screen) unless it's also inclusive of punchy physical action.

    BonsaiBabe's piece has tight writing and pacing which made it easy to read. But the story felt like it was pandering and cliche with no new spin/twist.

  7. I am voting for Helveticaw. I want to know more. Why would people willingly take the implants? Why can't the MC? I was left with enough questions that I need to know more.

    BonsaiBabe gave a very common story a nice twist with the ending. I struggled to vote today because your writing was tight and well paced. Good job.

  8. Congratulations to both Bonsaibabe and Helveticaw!

    It was hard to make a decision between these two strong entries, but I finally decided to go with Helveticaw's.

    Bonsaibabe's piece is more immediate, and I can appreciate Chandra's struggle, but the situation didn't present anything novel to me.

    I had to read Helveticaw's piece twice before I was grounded in it enough to want to know more (the choppy exposition created some distance), but the creativity of the concept is what made me vote for this piece.

  9. What a tough decision! I liked Bonsai Babe's piece because it told a full story, with a twist, from beginning to end and that's satisfying., even if the story isn't a new one.

    I liked Helveticlaw's piece because it made me want to read more because it left me with so many questions.

    I think I have to vote Helveticlaw for language and style, even though the piece didn't give the same sense of satisfaction.

  10. My vote is for Helvetica. I read the story earlier then returned just now to get a better understanding of it. I am now curious to know more, although the story did not fully grab my attention in the beginning.

    Bonsaibabe is nicely written but too predictable.

  11. Bonsai Babe grabbed me more. Helveticlaw has a nice atmosphere, but throwing Fred in at the end for no apparent reason was jarring.

  12. My vote is for Bonsai Babe. It drew me in from the start and kept me into it until the end, whereas I found my mind drifting with Helveticlaw's piece. Both stories were very good!

  13. Wow, this is really a tough one here towards the end! These are two of my favorite writers we've had, and two really great excerpts. I actually have to echo some comments I see above mine, I had many of the exact same reactions:
    - BonsaiBabe seems like a stereotypical situation, not something new, but really well rendered in terms of writing, description and pace. I truly feel the party around me as I read. I'm there.
    - I also like that BonsaiBabe is actually the whole story. That gives a little edge over these excerpts we've been reading.
    - Helveticaw also had great writing. There are some wonderful descriptions in there.
    - Helveticaw threw in Fred at the end and it took a second to fit him into my brain and understand how he related to anything.
    - Helveticaw I found my mind drifting. I would not have mentioned that at all, except apparently it's a thing as it happened to someone above too! I think maybe it was just too... floaty? Like too much information is being held back (even simple things like just hinting at the question to be asked). The story we get to read in this excerpt is "park at the theater and watch a movie, drive home." Not interesting at all. The questions do catch my interest, but the actual action I'm reading doesn't. Obviously the background behind it is interesting, and I bet the story as a whole is. I do want to know more.

    I think Helveticaw has the better story behind it. I want to read the rest of it for sure. But in the immediate, just looking at the excerpt we get... I have to vote for Bonsaibabe by a nose hair (not even the whole nose!), for slightly better writing (not that I can raise any clear complaints about Helveticaw other than Fred!).

    A great round today!

  14. Oooh, this is so hard. I don't usually have too hard a time picking, but today I am, so I commend you both. I'm going to go with Bonsai Babe. Helveticaw was great, I'm just giving Bonsai Babe the edge because it was a complete, cohesive scene, and the reader is in the middle of it. Just a bit too much back story in Helveticaw - might work in a longer piece, but not 500 words. And having Martin and Fred both mentioned in such a short piece threw me off slightly. Only slightly - it was a great piece. I had to find something to pick a winner. Nice job, guys!

  15. Both good. BonsaiBabe held my attention more. There was a lot of emotion in this, a sense of urgency. I like it and it has my vote.

    Helveticaw reminds me of the Last Man On Earth show, kind of. It also reminds me of a story I read last year. It's good, but I wanted there to be just a little something more.

    1. I enjoy BonsaiBabe's piece even more now since the correction/ updates. Still has my vote.

  16. I'm going to have to go with BonsaiBabe because Helveticaw had too many sentences that were trying to do too much. I also felt lost in that snippet of story.

  17. BonsaiBabe because I can imagine the scene and see it playing out.

    I was less taken with the 'story' of Helveticaw.

    My vote is decided on personal preference only - both pieces are good quality writing.

  18. Bonsai Babe felt like wish-fulfillment writing to me. It would have been better if the MC hadn't had such an effortless time taking the bad guy down. That it was also her sister seemed a little too coincidental. I think, given what the MC had been through, any young girl could have provoked a similar reaction. Then we could have enjoyed the added layer of the MC struggling over whether to get involved before breaking and tearing into the guy. I will say there is some good writing here, just, in my opinion, some cliched choices.

    I liked Helveticaw's MC and her sense of encroaching loneliness in a future that was leaving her behind. For me, this was an easy choice. Vote: Helveticaw.

  19. I read both pieces yesterday and couldn't decide. They are both excellent. This morning, my vote goes to Bonsai Babe because that's the story that stuck in my mind.

  20. Voting for BonsaiBabe.

    Bonsaibabe's story was more immediate and held my attention. I was really confused by who was speaking and where they were. I think the first line needs to say "Amber pulled CHANDRA" not "her". I had no idea who "her" was and then CHandra's name was dropped...

    Helveticaw has a beautiful sounding story, but it took three attempts for me to feel grounded in that story. And then I had to think about what I read and realize that not much was really happening. It was all internal, which I normally enjoy.. but for some reason, not this time. And then that last part about Fred just completely through me off.

  21. Both are well written, so I have to be nit-picky with my choice.

    BonsaiBabe gets my vote mainly because nothing jarred me from the story.

    Helviticaw - I was intrigued, but then got thrown out of the story with the huge time break (last two paragraphs) with no proper transition. Why even bother showing the trip to the theatre if nothing was going to happen there?

  22. Congrats to both writers for coming this far! Both stories are excellent and you are to be commended. Now, to the vote:

    I really loved Helveticaw's piece today. BonsaiBabe was well written, but I simply didn't enjoy the story. It came down to personal preference as both were so good.

    I vote for Helveticaw.

  23. My vote is to Bonsaibabe. This story held my attention and put me in the room more than Helveticaw's did.

  24. BB: Not the most original of situations, but clean, tight, and well-told. Not over-loaded with exposition, skillful management of the flashback pieces.

    H: Subjective, yes, but this sample felt like you were deliberately keeping this reader at arms-length. Sometimes, questions heighten curiosity; here, the effect felt stand-offish. Keeping secrets. Dribbling out clues. Teasing. I'm not expressing this well, but it unfortunately did not lead to a desire to keep reading. I had a hard time making this post-apoc-ish situation hold together logically, and I know no more of Dannie's personality or character at the end than I did at the beginning.

    BonsaiBabe gets the nod today.

    Congrats to both on making it this far. Well done.

  25. My vote goes to BonsaiBabe because it feels very complete, but HOLY COW NUGGETS IT WAS HARD TO CHOOSE! Nice job to you both! You were my favorites.

  26. BonsaiBabe has vote. It feels ready and good. Helveticaw needs a little something yet.

    1. * my vote
      And the vote of Angry Orchard green apple...

  27. Vote: Bonsai.

    The story might have been a bit stereotypical but the writing style kept me grounded and I kept reading. I really enjoyed the emotion of the piece and the ending.

    Helvitcaw: I floated, like others my mind drifted from the piece, it was 500 words and I almost skimmed some of them. I had to read the first sentence several times: "The LeSabre fishtailed across the virgin snow covering the employee parking lot behind Deluxe Cinemas." I think there's a lot of detail there and it's a bit of an overload. It could probably be written with half the words and still have the same impact. I found the premise behind the story very interesting and I'd like to read more, I just don't know if I'd be able too.

  28. BonsaiBabe, definitely. Story made me feel all squicky - as intended, I assume! I'd definitely keep reading.

  29. BonsaiBabe gets my vote. Two great pieces that I thoroughly enjoyed, but I was pulled out of Helveticaw a few times.

  30. This comment has been removed by the author.

  31. I'm voting for Helveticaw. I felt like it was a more interesting storyline, and it drew me in.

  32. Helveticaw gets my vote. I thought it was more descriptive and engaging. Makes me want to read more.

  33. Again, wanted to say congrats to the finalists. What an amazing accomplishment and all of the writers that made it to this round should be very, very proud! Thank you for entertaining us every week.

    This bout and the other one both share similarities in the "action" vs "internal monologue" style. While I love getting into the MC's head, I am not sure it works well for a 500 piece submission to not have any action or an ending of some sort. I can tolerate a predictable ending more than I can tolerate no ending or a fuzzy beginning and ending.

    With that being said, my vote goes to BonsaiBabe!

  34. This comment has been removed by the author.

  35. Two really good pieces of writing! It was difficult for me to chooses because they are so different. BonsaiBabe's piece was well developed and the story flowed nicely. It was easy to read and I liked the twist at the end. It required a little more effort to follow Helveticaw's. It sounds like an interesting story and left me wanting to know more.

    For me it just came down to personal preference. I vote for BonsaiBabe.

  36. I like first one more. This piece kept me going through the end. I could barely make it halfway through the second piece without rereading it a few times and the style was too complicated for me.

    Voting for Bonsai!

  37. My vote goes to BonsaiBabe. The story was set up nicely and I felt like an I was on the fringes of the party.

  38. Both are great, but my vote goes to Helveticaw. Interesting story, and I want to know more.




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