A Different Approach - Swoon Reads

One of my blogging/writer friends introduced me to an interesting path to possible publication and after careful deliberation, I've decided to give it a try.  The site is called Swoon Reads and its business model revolves around the concept that readers should be the ones to help decide which books deserve a chance at a traditional publishing contract. The site is exclusive to YA, but all sort of genres are represented.

In that spirit, my novel PRICK (link below) is up for review until Aug. 31st and although to date it has been added to lots of reading lists, the rating/reviews have been slow to come. I'd appreciate anyone reading this please take the time to give it a read and leave an honest rating/review.

Thanks in advance! :)


Reasons Why This One Is - IT!

Let’s recap.

Over the course of the past nine years, I’ve written four novels and a half dozen short stories. Of the novels, two are Suspense/Mysteries for adults, one a YA Horror, and one a YA Suspense/Mystery. I’ve queried/pitched all four books, although I’ll openly admit that querying the first one was a HUGE mistake. The YA Horror book (MOVING FEAR) landed me an agent, but she was unable to sell it to a publisher and as it turns out she wasn’t a very good agent and has since left the business.

I was certain that the last one I wrote (PRICK – YA Suspense/Mystery) was going to be the one that I finally broke through with. It had a killer plot (personal opinion of course) that I felt was extremely marketable, it was prime for a trilogy, and all my CP’s and Beta readers said it was the best thing I had written so far. It garnered me plenty of FULLS when I queried/pitched it, and even some back-and-forth feedback from one high-profile agent, but ultimately it has gone nowhere.

While I was twiddling my thumbs waiting for feedback from the prospective agent, I began playing with an idea I’d come up with way back when I first started writing. It was an idea for a book that started out as a simple ghost story that morphed into much more than that, transitioning from the paranormal to straight-forward sci-fi. At the time I tucked the concept away because, to be frank, I didn’t feel like I could do the story justice. Although I put it on the shelf, it has always been there, marinating in the recesses of my mind. I’d occasionally bring it out to examine it -- but didn’t have the confidence to do anything more than that.

Now is the right time.

After tweaking the plot to be told from a YA POV, APOLLO’S GHOST started pouring out of me like blood from a head wound. I’m usually a heavy plotter, spending weeks outlining a manuscript before typing the first word, but this time I’m plotting and writing simultaneously, the urge to tell this story is so strong. The characters are so vivid to me and the story is both timely and relevant.

This is going to be IT!

How can I be so confident? Because one way or another, I’ve decided this will decide my fate as a writer.

If this book fails to get the attention I’ve struggled to achieve, then I will take that as a sign that mainstream publishing isn’t interested in my particular style of writing. Writing is a passion, no doubt, but it is also HARD WORK that consumes hours and hours of time, and I cannot afford to throw away what I have left on something that nobody, besides friends and family, is interested in.

But DL” -- you are saying to yourself -- “if your writing is improving with every book, as you’d expect, then if you keep writing you’ll eventually reach a point where somebody will notice.” That probably is true, but with a full-time job and active family life, it is difficult to continue to steal time for a maybe. I figure ten years – which is what it will be by the time I find out if AG strikes a chord – will be enough to decide. “There are always indie publishers or self-publishing you can pursue.” I’ve queried the small publishers as well, with the same result, and self-publishing doesn’t really appeal to me.

Like I said, this is IT.

For those of you still following along…I’ll keep you updated. 

WRiTE CLUB 2018 - The Winners POV

Something that is becoming a bit of a tradition here at WRiTE CLUB is having the winner recap their experience throughout the contest, all the way up until the moment they hear their name called out on the stage during the DFW Conference. Here with his take on what it's like to claim the ultimate prize, is ADEN POLYDOROS.  

I learned about Write Club while searching for agent pitch contests, as I was currently looking for a literary agent at the time. I had never heard about the contest until then, and once I read about the premise, I was excited to enter. It seemed like a fun change from querying and I loved the whole concept of it. I had several different pieces that I was considering submitting. Since contestants had the opportunity to submit twice, I eventually decided to go with a flash-fiction piece and my favorite excerpt from the YA dark fantasy piece I was querying.

All throughout the waiting period, I was filled with tension. When the judges posted hints on Twitter about their picks, I couldn’t stop wondering if they were talking about my entry.

When the 30 contestants were announced, I was ecstatic. I had made it in with my flash fiction piece!

During the first round, I found myself repeatedly refreshing my entry page to see if there were new votes. I kept a tally sheet for myself, calculating the odds. The other contestant was a worthy opponent, and with the vote count rather close, was concerned that it would make it to the next round. Even after winning the first round, I didn’t allow my win to go to my head. I knew that my entry would have to win the cage bout, outmatching two other opponents, before I could test my merit with a new 500-word sample.

The cage bout was even more intimidating, with my flash fiction piece being pitted against two other winners of previous rounds. Votes would be sparser in this round than the earlier rounds, and every vote counted. I decided that keeping a running tally was unhealthy and deleted my spreadsheet. I tried to focus on revising my manuscript, but I couldn’t help checking into the contest every now and then. On the final day, I promised not to look at the page until after the deadline. I had won, defeating the two other worthy contestants!

Realizing that I had won filled me with a whole different anxiety as I racked my brain for what to enter next. I played with a few possible excerpts before deciding to enter the first 500 words of my YA dark fantasy. I figured it would be a good way to get readers’ opinions on the start of the novel, and also allow me to fix any problems they might spot.

When I read the other contestant’s piece, I was troubled. They had a strong excerpt with the same dark fantasy vibes that I was going for in my piece. Even worse, their entry had a satisfying conclusion, while mine was only the first two pages of a much larger work. This round felt even closer than the two that had come before it, and as the round deadline drew near, I fell back into my old habit of refreshing the contest page repeatedly. Hoping to boost my confidence, I began searching for another excerpt to use if I won the next round. On the day of the deadline, I was practically glued to DL’s website, counting down the minutes. I had come so far, it would be so disappointing to lose now.

After narrowly scraping by in the third round, I knew I’d have to bring something good to the table for the fourth round. Since voters seemed to like my piece from my YA fantasy, I decided to use another excerpt from that novel. I wanted to bring in another monster than the one on the first page, so I chose the excerpt that introduces a golem.

In the semi-finals, I was pitted against the contestant from my first round. They made the brave decision to use a dialogue-only excerpt, which I thought was creative and a unique change from their previous excerpts. I kept track of the votes in this round, but not as religiously as I had done in previous rounds. The constant anxiety of wondering if I would get to the finals was beginning to drain on me, and I decided that no matter what happened, I should be proud that I got as far as I did.

That being said, when I made it to the finals, I couldn’t help but feel a slight dread, knowing I wouldn’t be able to check who was winning. The votes were kept secret from us until the last day, and although readers were able to comment and vote on the entry they thought would win, it was no guarantee that the one with the most comments would be the winner.

I wasn’t able to attend the FDW conference this year, but a friend of mine promised to videotape the winner announcement for me. I felt shocked when I saw the video and realized that I had won. I had tried to keep my excitement down throughout the contest to avoid disappointment, but to actually win—I had never expected that. It was immensely gratifying to know that I had won, that strangers had enjoyed my writing and voted for it. I am so grateful that I had the opportunity to participate in Write Club this year, and I think that it provides such a wonderful learning environment for readers. I can’t wait to participate in future years as a judge!

I want to thank Aden for taking the time to do this for me...and really for anybody who might be interested in entering the contest next year.  Getting tips from previous winners never hurts!

WRITE CLUB 2018 - Slushpile Scores

Everyone wanted to know how everyone who entered WRiTE CLUB this year fared in the eyes of the Slushpile judges...so here it is. I hesitate to post this as it can be demoralizing to find out your submission received zero votes, but one of the things that make WRiTE CLUB so popular is the feedback, and sometimes it isn't pretty.

At the top of this post is the list of the 30 contestants who made it into the ring along with the number of judge votes they each received. As you can see, nobody received votes from all fifteen of the judges. In fact, the writers who drew the most votes didn't even make it to the finals! Both of our finalists got a nod from less than half (or less) of the judges. A perfect example of how making it into the ring is one thing, but what you do when you're there could be something entirely different.

Below are the scores of everyone else. An interesting note -- Lisa Dunn (our 2015 champion) -- didn't get selected for the ring the year prior. I've seen countless examples of writers who miss out one year and find success in following years. As I've it said all along, the competition is fierce and sometimes fickle, but that is the subjective nature the publishing industry deals in.

So what's the moral of this story? Don't give up! If you missed out this year, keep working on your craft and give it a whirl again next year.  A new group of judges is assembled each year, and maybe next year one of the pieces you submit will be their cup of tea!

If you're interested in receiving an email just before the 2019 version of WRiTE CLUB kicks-off, then leave your name and email address on the Linky Tool below. In the meantime, keep on writing!

WRiTE CLUB 2018 - A Champion Crowned

If you haven’t been following along on Twitter, we crowned our WRiTE CLUB champion for 2018 at the DFW Conference Saturday.  As it is every year, the conference was A BLAST and very informative at the same time. If you've ever considered going to a writers conference, you need to give DFW some serious consideration!

During the lunch break Saturday I announced that I.N. Summer, who is really Aden Polydoros (@AdenPolydoros), was our winner. Aden took home a $100 Barnes and Noble gift card and FREE ADMISSION TO THE CONFERENCE IN 2019.  Congrats again, Aden!

The runner-up was Peter Pen, who is Mike Hilton (@5HourNinja) in the real world, and he won a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card as well as a $75 Amazon card.

Others winners were A.E. McCauley (2nd from right below), who won a $40 gift card for being the random voter selected, Dannie Olguin (far right) and Wanda Woodworth (2nd from left) who each won DFW t-shirts for taking part in the contest and being present at the conference

Here’s a recap of the WRiTE CLUB stats for 2018 (all of which were records).

132 writers entered 181 submissions
1400+ vote/critiques from 253 different readers
Avg of 50 votes per bout
28,000 pageviews
The #WRITECLUBDFW hashtag on Twitter received 90,000 impressions

Now, this is the point in the contest where contestants have been given the opportunity the take off their masks and reveal their true identity. This is totally optional, but we encourage people to do so because there are readers who are really interested in your work and would like to follow your writing journey. If you are so willing, feel free to do so in the comments below.

I also want to ask for any suggestions for improving the contest and increasing participation. WRiTE CLUB is constantly evolving and I want to make it the best contest possible for writers.  Your input helps me make that happen.

One last thing, if you want to be alerted via email when the 2019 contest is about to begin, signup on the linky tool below and I will make that happen. (If you signed up for the email at the DFW Conference, you do not need to do it here.)

Thank you to everyone for making WRiTE CLUB such a wonderful success this year! See you again next year. 

WRiTE CLUB 2018 - The Finals

Here we are, finally. After seven weeks of lively competition and knuckle-gnawing tension, we've chosen the writers skilled enough to step into the ring one last time and be judged by our celebrity panel. But before we ring the bell and the words start flying, let's remind everybody what's at stake.

Prize #1 - the WRiTE CLUB Champion — announced during the DFW Conference this coming weekend will receive a three-chapter critique of their work by several of the judges – be designated as a celebrity judge for all future contests, and – provided FREE ADMISSION TO THE 2019 DFW CONFERENCE IN DALLAS.  That is a $450 value and an experience that cannot be missed! Oh yeah, in addition the winner will also receive a $100 Barnes and Noble gift card.

Prize #2 - the first runner-up will receive a $75 Amazon gift card AND a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card! Not too shabby for 2nd place.

Also let me remind everyone about the other prizes we'll be awarding this weekend.
Prize #3 - Every visitor to a WRiTE CLUB bout during who left a vote/critique will have his/her name thrown in a hat. One slip for every bout voted on. Prior to this round, we've received 1390 votes. This coming weekend we will draw one name out of that hat and that person will receive a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card! Yes…we value our readers/voters as well.

Prize #4 – We will hold prize drawings for anyone who entered the contest, along with our slushpile readers, that are present at the DFW Conference. A few lucky winners will receive a free DFW Conference T-shirt. Make sure you stop by the WRiTE CLUB display table at the conference and let us know you’re there.

Do I need to remind you who is on the celebrity panel deciding our writer's fate this year? Sure I do.

First and foremost, the six previous WRiTE CLUB winners -

             Solange Hommel
             Lisa Dunn
             Dan Koboldt
             Tex Thompson
             Mark Hough
             Tiana Smith

Alex Grecian is an American author of short fiction, novels, comic books, and graphic novels.

His most notable works include long-running and critically acclaimed graphic novel series Proof, which NPR named one of the best books of 2009, and the novels in the Scotland Yard’s Murder Squad: THE YARD, THE BLACK COUNTRY, THE DEVIL’S WORKSHOP, THE HARVEST MAN, and LOST AND GONE FOREVER. His latest, THE SAINT OF WOLVES AND BUTCHERS, a chilling contemporary thriller about an enigmatic hunter on the trail of a Nazi who has secretly continued his devilish work here in America.

Alex has been nominated for the Strand Award for Best Debut Novel for The Yard, the Dilys Award for The Black Country, and the Barry Award for Best First Novel for The Yard. He was also the recipient of the Kansas Notable Book Award from the State Library of Kansas for The Yard, The Black Country, and The Devil’s Workshop.

Kimberly Derting is the author of the award-winning THE BODY FINDER series, THE PLEDGE trilogy, THE TAKING trilogy, and UNDRESSED (her first book in The Men Of West Beach series). Her books have been translated into 15 languages, and both THE BODY FINDER and THE PLEDGE were YALSA Best Fiction for Young Adults selections.
Kimberly lives in the Pacific Northwest where the gloomy weather is ideal for writing anything dark and creepy. Her three beautiful (and often mouthy) children serve as an endless source of inspiration and frequently find the things they say buried in the pages of their mother's books, or on Twitter for the world to see.

Angela Marsons is the author of the Amazon Bestselling DI Kim Stone series – SILENT SCREAM, EVIL GAMES, LOST GIRLS, PLAY DEAD, BLOOD LINES, DEAD SOULS, and BROKEN BONES. Her books have sold more than 2 million in 2 years.

She lives in the Black Country with her partner, their cheeky Golden Retriever and a swearing parrot.

After years of writing relationship-based stories (THE FORGOTTEN WOMAN and DEAR MOTHER) Angela turned to Crime, fictionally speaking of course, and developed a character that refused to go away.

She is signed to Bookouture.com for a total of 16 books in the Kim Stone series and her books have been translated into more than 20 languages.

Her last three books – BLOOD LINES, DEAD SOULS, and BROKEN BONES - reached the #1 spot on Amazon on pre-orders alone.

Julie Dao is a proud Vietnamese-American who was born in upstate New York and then was raised amidst the fields and sloping mountains of New England. Her awesome debut novel FOREST OF A THOUSAND LANTERNS is the Wrath and the Dawn meets Snow White and the Huntsman in this dark and mystical East Asian fantasy re-imagining of The Evil Queen legend about one peasant girl’s quest to become Empress. FOATL has already garnished the following awards: Fall 2017 Junior Library Guild Selection, New York Public Library’s 2017 Best Books For Teens, ALA Booklist’s 2017 Top 10 First Novels For Youth, and starred reviews from Booklist and Publishers Weekly.

Julie went to college to become a doctor, but (go figure) came out ready to pursue her passion for creative writing. She is greatly influenced by the work of Jane Austen, J.K. Rowling, Maggie Stiefvater, Jhumpa Lahiri, Neil Gaiman, and Laini Taylor. Julie lives in New England.

Something else that makes Julie so special…she was a previous contestant in WRiTE CLUB (can you believe she didn’t win).  Follow Julie on Twitter @jules_writes.

Sarah Ahiers has an MFA in Writing for Children and Young Adults from Hamline University and lives in Minnesota with her dogs and a house full of critters. She has a collection of steampunk hats and when she’s not writing she fills her time with good games, good food, good friends and good family.

Sarah’s debut novel, ASSASSIN’S HEART (HarperTeen, February 2nd, 2016) is a Young Adult Fantasy that was a finalist for the 2017 Minnesota Book Award. Her follow up, THIEF'S CUNNING was released last June to critical praise as well.

Sarah is represented by Mollie Glick of Creative Artists Agency.


Kevin has experience in virtually every aspect of kids’ media. He started his career at Sesame Workshop: first in television and then in the toy group working on Sing & Snore Ernie, Rock & Roll Elmo and more award-winning toys. For six years he was in charge of business development and brands at KIDZ BOP earning 5 GOLD records. He cut his teeth in publishing while overseeing publisher relations for NOOK Kids — Barnes & Noble’s foray into digital picture books. Kevin left B&N to become Vice President of Consumer Brands & Products at Houghton Mifflin Harcourt, overseeing development and marketing for Carmen Sandiego, Oregon Trail, and their new venture Go Math! Academy. In December 2014, he became a full-time literary agent under the tutelage of the legendary Charlotte Sheedy. He recently completed a long-term consulting gig with edtech start-up littleBits.


Uwe is a Full Member of the AAR (Association of Authors' Representatives). He is interested in all kinds of non-fiction and fiction. In non-fiction, he is completely open to any project, from Memoir, Pop Culture, and Health to How-to, Gardening, History and everything in between, including non-fiction for children. In Children's fiction, he is looking for YA, and MG. In adult fiction, his tastes trend towards Women's Fiction, Psychological Suspense, and Mysteries.  As an immigrant to the USA himself, he is always eager to bring projects from underrepresented voices into the world. So surprise him, his tastes are eclectic, and he may just love what you wrote!


Lauren is an Associate Literary Agent with a background in literary scouting and editorial consulting. She has a sharp editorial eye, and is passionate about author advocacy. Lauren is seeking Middle Grade and Young Adult fiction, as well as select Adult fiction and non-fiction. Whatever the age category or genre, Lauren is passionate about finding diverse and underrepresented voices.


Now that we've gotten all that out of the way, let's get to it. Everyone can continue to leave their own selections in the comment section below, and even though they won't have any bearing in deciding the champion, they will be counted towards winning a prize.

First up, presenting an all-new 1,000-word sample of their work is Peter Pen. If you're interested in reading Peter's earlier submissions, you can do that HERE, HERE, and HERE. This time the sample is representing the Science Fiction Romance genre.

Superhuman strength and invincibility doesn’t prepare you for a call from your ex-girlfriend.

I froze in my apartment entryway, staring at Laurel’s name on my phone for a full ten seconds before I answered.

“Dave, I need you.” She was crying.

“Are you okay?” Panic spiked through me. “I lost my powers, so call the police if you—”

“No, I—I’m sorry, I heard about that,” she said between sobs. “I’m not in danger, I just need to talk to you. Please come over?”

A breath caught in my throat. I’d waited so long for this call. For her to finally invite me back into her life. “Okay,” was all I could say.

“Hurry.” She ended the call.

I quickly ordered an Uber, then remembered I was taking Dani out to dinner tonight. I chewed my lip. Should I call her? Tell her we’d need to reschedule? No. I couldn’t. How could I tell my best friend I was blowing off our first date for my ex?

By the time the Uber arrived, I’d convinced myself I would just swing by Laurel’s see what she needed, and then go to dinner. After all, I still needed to apologize for punching her new boyfriend when I’d had super strength.

Car rides were still super weird after being able to fly for so long, but fifteen minutes later I was hurrying up her porch.

Before I could knock, the door swung open to reveal Laurel, mascara running down her cheeks.

“What’s wrong?” I instinctively reached out.

“I’m so glad you’re here.” She collapsed into my arms, sobbing. “I broke up with Ronnie. Dave, you were right, he was such a jerk.”

My mouth opened and closed a few times. “Y-yeah, he was.” I winced. Trying to recover, I said, “But I was a jerk, too. I shouldn’t have punched him. And I shouldn’t have tried to get back with you after you moved on. I’m really sorry, Laurel.”

She lifted her head, leaving a tear-soaked spot on my shirt. “No, I’m sorry. He was totally wrong for me. You’re the guy I want.”

My heart raced as her words settled in. “What are you saying?”

She sniffled. “I thought I wanted guys like Ronnie, but I was wrong. You...” Her eyes traced my face. “You’ve always been there for me. You’ve always been what I need.”

I smiled, hardly able to believe what was happening. I’d waited so long to hear those words. But something wasn’t right. Some nagging memory scratched at my brain.

Then it hit me.


“Who?” She gave me a confused look.

“Logan Porter. You gave me this same speech right after you broke up with him in college.”

She frowned. “That was like six years ago. It was completely different.”

I shook my head. “No. Logan was a jerk. You broke up and swore off guys like him. You told me you needed someone like me. Someone nice.”

She stepped back with a look of indignation, and for the first time I felt no need to close the distance between us.

I took a deep breath, finding a strength I’d never known even when I’d had superpowers. “I don’t want to be your nice guy reprieve from dating Ronnie’s and Logan’s. I deserve to be someone’s first choice.”

She let out an incredulous huff, then crossed her arms and shrugged sharply. “Fine. Good luck finding someone else.”

Her insult only confirmed that I’d made the right call.

Laurel wasn’t the girl for me.

Dani was. Always had been.

With a respectful nod, I turned to leave, but stiffened at Ronnie’s huge frame stomping through the open door.

“Laurel, I won’t let you—” His eyes widened in rage at the sight of me. “You back to steal her?” he blustered, throwing his shoulders back and getting in my face. His breath smelled of alcohol.

“Ronnie, go home, you’re drunk,” said Laurel nervously.

He growled, and I moved just in time to avoid his punch. Without my superpowers, he could easily break my jaw.

“Run, Dave!” Laurel yelled.

But I refused. If I couldn’t stand up for myself without super strength, I didn’t deserve to have it.

He grabbed me, twisting me into some kind of MMA arm bar. I cried out, sure my elbow was going to snap.

“Stop!” Laurel tried to pry his steely grip off me, but he shoved her to the floor.

I watched her fall, and in that split second noticed he was watching her too, his eyes flashing proud like every bully from my past. My nostrils flared.

Distracted, his grip loosened. Now was my chance.

I twisted, breaking free and throwing my first ever non-superpowered punch. My knuckles connected to his TMJ with a solid crack, and he tumbled to the floor, out cold.

Panting, I stared at the felled giant, my fist trembling.

“Dave!” Laurel scrambled to my side, then recoiled when she touched me. She covered her mouth, and I followed her pointing finger toward the blue glow of my skin.

“What the…” My feet were hovering above the floor, too. I couldn’t believe it. My powers had come back.

Dr. Patel had said my lightning-induced energetic field began collapsing the day I’d punched Ronnie in anger, like I’d somehow blocked it. Had I finally broken through?

You’re strong when you stand up for what’s right, Dani’s voice echoed.

I alighted in front of Laurel. “Are you okay?”

“I’m fine.” She threw up her hands like she’d had enough. “Just get out. I’m calling the cops.”

“I’ll handle it.” I heaved Ronnie onto a superpowered shoulder and went outside. “The police station’s on my way anyway.”

I checked my watch. I’d overcome a major insecurity, gotten my powers back, and would still make my dinner reservation. Not a bad night.

“Where are you going?” Laurel demanded.

“I’ve got a date.” With that, I flew off my ex’s porch, and for the first time I didn’t look back.

Next up, also presenting an all-new 1,000-word sample of their work, is I.N. Summer. If you're interested in reading Summer's earlier submissions, you can do that HERE, HERE, and HERE. This time the sample is representing the Gothic genre.

It was one long summer, and the land was in drought. As the crops shriveled in the blistering heat and farmers’ coffers drained as dry as the earth they tilled, Poppa prospered. Guilty-faced men paid him in crumpled dollars bristling from dirt-encrusted coffee tins. Women, with sun-squinted eyes and leathery lips puckered in revulsion, offered him antique jewelry or old silver. Those who didn’t have money or heirlooms gave him jarred fruit and shambling goats, firewood and furniture, whatever he’d accept for his services.
Poppa’s kitchen was a dingy space overrun with dirty dishes and peeling green wallpaper. A bowl lamp hung askew from the ceiling, the glass shade encrusted with dust and dead insects. In places, the scuffed linoleum floor had peeled up or bubbled. The only light came from the lamp above and dusk pressing against the window.
Poppa rummaged through drawers, scattering mismatched silverware in search of his dowsing rod. He retrieved a pair of twine-wrapped wires from amid the forks and spoons, and left the kitchen.
In the foyer, he grabbed his straw hat from the coatrack and wiggled his feet into his boots. When he opened the screen door, his dog raced out between his legs. The pup rolled over, exposing her stomach and panting eagerly, begging for a belly rub or a scratch behind the ears.
“Enough, sweet girl. I’m not gon’ pet ya.”
 He stepped onto the front porch and raised a hand to his face, squinting. The sun beat down hard as ever, and he had a long walk ahead of him, but he wanted to be back before dark.
The fields went wrong after sunset. The ground was haunted, and from beneath the dirt, something goaded him to join it.
As Poppa and his dog walked along the dirt road, the breeze brought the sweet scents of sundried alfalfa and tobacco. And rot. Always rot. Even in his younger years, before his hair grew long and grizzled, always the musky odor of something dead and buried, wherever he went. No changing that. It was just another part of the job.
There always had to be a sacrifice.
Passing the skeletal remains of an old barn, a low chanting joined the buzz of flies and the rumble of a distant engine.
 “Shut up,” he whispered, his hands trembling. “Just shut up.”
Even though the voice grew louder, the words remained indistinct and guttural, as if spoken through a mouthful of blood.
As they reached Mister Leland’s place, the little mutt stopped and whined. Her ears drew back, and her tail curled between her legs.
Poppa clucked under his breath and nudged the dog with the toe of his boot. “Let’s get this over and done with, sweet girl.”
The dog whimpered but followed.
As he walked, he held the dowsing rod out before him. The last three inches of wire were bent into right angles. Although no wind blew, and his grip remained light and steady, the two wires drifted apart, then together. Sometimes the two ends would touch, and he turned in the direction they pointed.
He allowed the wires to guide him past the hayrick, past the barn with its blistered paint and staring windows, past the grazing cattle. He reached the stump where Mister Leland butchered chickens. Dried blood made a dark stain in the soil. Though the fields surrounding him were parched and yellowed, green grass formed a thick, glossy fringe around the base of the stump.
He walked for another twenty strides before the dowsing rod began to thrum in arrhythmical pulses. The wires swept together and guided him to an area in the earth where no plants grew, at the very edge of Mister Leland’s property.
Using his toe, he drew a line in the dirt. As the vibrations softened and the rods changed directions, he continued dragging his foot. Soon, he had made a rudimentary circle about eight feet in diameter. His dog stood at the outskirts of the circle, watching him with beady eyes ringed by brown discharge. Accusing eyes.
With a cluck of his tongue, he shook his head and stepped outside the circle. “It’s gonna be a big ‘un, sweet girl.”
But some sacrifices always were.
Mister Leland was standing on his porch when Poppa came from the fields. He was a short, squinty fellow with the same shape and coloring as a raw pork chop. When he saw Poppa coming, he crossed himself.
“What’s it going to be, Poppa? How bad? A calf?”
 “Nay, bigger, I’m afeared.”
Leland’s eyebrows rose. His pit bull face twisted in a grimace. “Two?”
“Animals ain’t gon’ do it.”
“Sheee-it.” Leland winced, drawing the swearword out in a long, bitter groan. “What did you do when you had to?”
 Poppa thought about his fields, never dry, never dead, not anymore, not even in the scorching heat of summer. Then he thought about the thing with the woman’s face and said, “There’s a rest stop ‘long the intra-state. Ya know the place. With them nice women and them runaway chil’run.”
Leland nodded.
“Ya go there, ya find a young’un. Boy, girl, it don’t matter. The dirt loves ‘em just the same.”
“Shit,” Leland repeated, this time in a voice cracked and weary. “You sure a cow won’t do? Not three or four?”
“Not all the cows in the world’ll do a thang for yer field. Yer corn’ll die, yer wheat’ll die, and then ya will be left with nuh’thang.” He swung his head back the way he came. “Drew a circle for ya out there. Mark it with chalk or stones afore the breeze blows it away.”
“There’s got to be another way,” Leland said.
“Well, there ain’t.” Poppa turned and started walking for the road. He stopped at the mailbox and looked back.
Leland was just a silhouette.
“Bury ‘em good,” Poppa called. “Bury ‘em deep."


As you can see, our celebrity panel has its work cut out for it.

Make sure you come back next week when we'll be announcing the winner, as well as pulling the masks off both of our finalists. It will also be a chance for any of our other competitors to remove their masks (if they chose to do so), because they've certainly made some fans.

WRiTE CLUB 2018 / Semi-Final Bout #2

This is it! Your last chance to impact who will become this year’s WRiTE CLUB champ. After this round, we turn things over to our celebrity judges.  Whoever you choose as our two finalists, they will get to stand before our celebrity judges with a 1000-word sample, and then it will be on them to crown a new winner.

Several of you have asked or made mention of wanting to find out just who these wonderful writers are that you've been following over the course of weeks. Apart from the two finalist...who are named when the competition concludes...revealing the identity of the contestants 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 our writers to remove their masks if they choose to do so. I encourage everyone who is willing to step forward and do just that, but we 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, June 3rd.

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 standalone 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 leave your name and email address. 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 are 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 a couple of gift cards and free admission to the 2019 DFW Writers Conference.

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

Our first contestant steps forward representing the YA Dark Fantasy genre, please give a hearty WRiTE CLUB welcome to I.N. Summer.

Slats of sunlight fell through the attic’s blinds, illuminating crates, old scrolls, and a massive figure chained to the floor. Shrouded in a soiled sheet, the figure resembled a human but three times larger. Chains tethered its gangly limbs, while iron stakes pinned it down.
“Is that a person?” I whispered as Vanya hurried past me.
“No, just the shape of one.” Vanya fell to his knees in front of the motionless form, grasping at the chains. Although his voice remained steady, his hands trembled as he inserted key after key into the locks, trying to find the right ones. “Can you remove the stakes, Toma?”
“What is it?”
“A golem.”
“What’s that?”
“No time to explain. Just remove the stakes!”
I seized the spike nearest to me and yanked it free from the underlying wood, grunting in effort.
“Thirty years ago, the Old Quarter was almost destroyed during another massacre,” Vanya said, tossing a lock aside. “My grandfather made the golem using clay from the Vesna River. He had the same gift as me, but he was even more powerful—he couldn’t just make things grow, he could give life to them. Even when they had none to begin withHe created the golem to protect everyone, but after getting its first taste for blood, it began going after the same people it was supposed to defend.”
Click, clack, clunk. The steady metallic tinkling of locks and chains striking wood. As the final chain spread across the floorboards like an uncoiling serpent, Vanya yanked off the shroud.
A noble face frozen in indifference, long limbs, sexless form. The golem’s eyes were open and without irises, lips parted to reveal a sliver of darkness.
Vanya turned to me. By the second, the color drained from his face. “Once it’s over, if I can’t control it… if I hurt innocent people… aim for its forehead. Or mine.”
An unnatural silence fell over the room as Vanya stood and embraced the sitting golem. Even at his full height, he had to stand on his tiptoes to kiss the lifeless lips. No, not to kiss. To breathe into them.
At first all I heard was our hoarse breathing, then the floorboards creaked as the golem twitched. Stirred. As its arms encircled Vanya, its mouth widened to expose a black hollow.
“Don’t hesitate,” Vanya whispered. “If I can’t come back, shoot to kill. No matter—”
His words were lost beneath the resounding crash of the golem toppling down upon him.
“Vanya!” I shouted, rushing forward to push the figure off of him. Too heavy. All I could see of Vanya was a boot trapped beneath the golem’s torso—then, as the golem shifted, nothing at all.
The golem lumbered onto its hands and knees and shouldered me aside, sending me staggering into a stack of crates. It tottered to its feet, its belly as bloated as a tick’s.

Where Vanya had been, the ring of keys was all that remained.

Contestant number two is representing the Romance genre this time. Please welcome back Wingsong.

“John! Did you get it? Can I see?”
“Of course I got it, Becca. And no, you can’t. Tommy’s gonna see it first. Eat your salad.”
“Ugh, the salads are terrible here. Come on. Let me see.”
“What do you expect? It's a corporate cafeteria. And no, Becca.”
“But you have terrible taste. Take some sisterly advice and let me see.”
“I’m serious. The only good taste you’ve ever had is falling for Tommy. But otherwise…”
“Fine. Here.”
“I should have gotten a ring, shouldn’t I? Or is it too plain? I shoulda saved up more.”
“What? No. It’s beautiful. And he wouldn’t be able to wear a ring in his workshop anyway.”
“It’s just a dumb gold chain.”
“No, seriously, Becca. He’s a certified genius. He’d built and sold three companies by the time he was 25. I didn’t even graduate college till I was 27.”
“Hey, stop talking about my brother that way! You were a little busy, oh I don’t know, fighting for your country. Give yourself some credit. You own your own business too. Have you thought how you’ll ask him?”
“Dinner? Or is that too overdone?”
“As long as it’s an actual dinner out, suits and everything, and not a ‘Netflix and chill’ thing.”
“This is going to go so badly. He’ll never say yes.”
“Not if you don’t ask. Come over tonight, we can talk outfits.”
“Oh no. I’m not going to be primped and prepped by my baby sister.”
“Come on, you wouldn’t go to a job interview in sweats, would you?”
“No, Becca”
“Fine. Ask Tommy just as you are, then.”
“Ask me what?”
“And that would be my cue. Bye John. See you tonight.”
“Bye Becca. No, you won’t.”
“Very interesting. What was that about?”
“You know, you have a truly awful poker face. It was definitely something.”
“No, really. Just Becca giving me a hard time. How’s your day been?”
“So busy. I wanna go back to regular people hours.”
“Working all night and getting up at 3pm?”
“Shut up. I hate being a grown up. Don’t think I don't see you sneaking that box off the table mister. What is it?”
“Nothing. Stop jumping, you idiot, you’ll hurt yourself!”
“Don’t hold it over your head, then! What are we, five? Ha! Victory is mine!”
“Jesus, be careful.”
“What do we have here? Oh.”
“It’s beautiful, John. Someone’s gonna be real lucky.”
“Someone? It’s for you, you doofus.”
“It is? Well, of course it is. People give me presents all the time. Jewelry, well, that might be a little different, but, no, no, I like it. Stop trying to take it back, it’s mine!”
“No. Mine! Back off! Back! Security! Right, you’re my security. I’d like to report an attempted theft. Stop laughing, we have a serious jewelry thief here. Totally serious. Stop smiling.”
“Yes, John?”

There are no wildcards or saves this time. It's win or go home. Which will it be? As always, please honor these writers by offering a brief critique, and be respectful.

What contest is it where the audience gets clobbered?

Tell all your friends.




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