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WRiTE CLUB 2018 - Bout #8

Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE, and remember, the bouts stay open for one week and some of the first weeks are still live.

Today is the 8th of 15 bouts with a pair of contestants ready to climb into the ring.  Here's a refresher of what's going on, in case you forgot how things work here.

Weeks ago the submission window opened for this year's contest where we asked anybody wishing to participate to submit a 500-word writing sample – using a pen name. The sample can be from any genre, flash fiction or something from a larger piece of work, basically, anything goes except that it cannot have been previously published or posted on the internet. All of the rules regarding how to submit can be found here. After the submission period closed, we had fifteen judges (we call them our slush pile readers) read all 181 submissions from 132 writers and once all the ballots were total we narrowed the 181 down to the 30 that will be stepping into the ring over the course of the next three weeks. Today is the first of those bouts.

How this works – two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples step into the ring. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) read both entries and vote for the one that resonates the most with you. We ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date it is posted to give as many people as possible to have a say. The voting for today’s bout will close on Tuesday, May 1st (noon central time).

It’s that simple. The piece that garnishes the most votes moves on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. Using a tournament style format, the 30 contestants will be whittled down to just 2, and the winner of that final bout will be announced at the DFW Writers Conference in Hurst TX June 9-10

In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

Oh yeah – for every bout that you vote in, your name (see rule #2 below) will be placed into a hat for a chance for a $40 Barnes and Noble Gift card that will be drawn after the contest concludes.

A few rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3)Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will result in that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough jibber-jabber…like the man say’s –

In the far corner, we have Elvis Pugsley representing the Short Story genre.

Out beside the gas pumps in the hot West Texas sun, I was ass-deep in the station wagon’s engine. There was such a wealth of problems I had to start alphabetically, and work my way through. I was up to ‘D’, for ‘Distributor’, when I rapped my knuckles good on that engine block and let fly with enough cussing to have a sailor sanding his ears down.
“Mr. Hoskins, you use a lot of bad words.”
I hadn't heard little Monica come up behind me, and considered just shooting myself but figgered that’d be more traumatizing to her than my language had been.
“Yes I do, and neither you nor your brother should ever, ever talk the way I do,” I told her as I backed out, banged my head against the hood, and damn near had to chew my tongue off to keep from spewing even more profanity.
“Mama’s teaching me to speak good… speak right…”
As I turned around I saw her face screwing up for tears while she searched for the correct word.
“Try ‘speak well’, angel.”
“Mama’s teaching me to speak well… yes sir, that’s it,” she said, as the threat of tears disappeared. She smiled a shy little smile at me and toddled off.
I was leaning back, smiling myself at the sight of her… and wondering if a merciful God’d ever forgive me enough to trust me with such a treasure, when I heard her Mama clearing her throat behind me.
“Don’t worry, Mr. Hoskins. She’s heard much worse.”
I turned to face her.
“Now I suspect you’re fibbing, Mrs. Carswell. I been around rough talk all my life. I know how I sound.”
She smiled, and for a second I could see the beautiful young woman she’d been before life had beaten her down like a long-hair freak at a honky-tonk..
“Well, maybe I was fibbing, just a bit… but you and Mrs. Hoskins have been so kind… I guess as far as I’m concerned, as far as we’re all concerned, you can do no wrong.”
I winced a little inside, thinking about all that she and her family didn’t know… all they’d never know.
She took my hands, dirty and greasy, in hers, and squeezed them.
“Thank you, Mr. Hoskins… for everything.”
She went to chase down her toddling treasure, and I got back to work on giving them a way to make Phoenix.
They were tearfully grateful for clean, soft beds, and meals while I fixed their car… but the floodgates were well and truly opened the next morning when we forced a thousand dollars on them, telling them it was a ‘loan’.
Watching Ed and Kathy’s reactions, I knew they’d find a way to repay it, make it a real loan instead of a disguised gift, soon as they could. Made me feel good… made Renee feel good… like maybe we wasn’t just predators, taking from the fat and the criminal.


And in the near corner, we have Jett Jaguar representing the Short Story genre.

The great fish, whose name is a melody days long, broods in the depths. The frigid current chills his pain. All the creatures marvel at his song, and weep.

The fish follows the sailing ships of the land walkers. He drives away any of his kind who seek to breach the ships’ hulls. They sense regret clinging to him like remora.

The fish nudges the woman’s body. Her golden hair billows about her head. Her skin is pale like moonlight and swells from her bones. The sea has rinsed the color from her face. Her eyes stare without sight, and her lips part without words. The fish mourns.

The woman stands on the beach, gazing out over the sea. She does not play. The shaggy four-legs prods her feet. The fish watches and is terrified. After many days, she walks into the water. The fish has grown too great to swim over the reef to push her back to the shore.

The fish finds the copper-haired man among debris from the ship.  His coverings drag his body into the depths. The fish fears for the one he loves.

The land walkers sail to hunt the tuna, the mackerel, the hake, all those creatures the great fish and his kind must eat. He feels anger at their intrusion and the hunger of his kind, and attacks their ship. The men fall into the sea, dragged downward by their heavy coverings. The fish feels unease, but this puzzles him.
The woman and a man with copper hair play on the beach. They throw sticks to shaggy four-legs, splash water at each other, chase seagulls away.  She chooses seashells, and he washes them in the surf.  Later, their bodies lie together in the sand. The fish watches them and feels joy.

The fish hunts cuttlefish in the tidal pools. He grows.

The fish watches the woman play on the beach. She throws sticks to a shaggy four-legs, chases seagulls into the sky, gathers seashells and washes them in the surf. She sits by the water, dragging a stick through the sand.  She gazes out over the water with her eyes far away.  The fish loves her.

The tiny fish flees a cuttlefish with angry dark stripes and waving tentacles. He is foolish for swimming in the shallow pool, so close to shore. Just as the beast strikes, a woman with golden hair plucks him from its grasp. She holds him in her palm and speaks to him:
“Oh, you are a fine fellow. Do not fear, little one. You will grow to be great and mighty, and all the creatures of the sea will harken to your song and marvel.”

The fish feels wonder, and believes.

Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point positives as well as detractions.

We’ll be back tomorrow with another bout.  See you then.


  1. Quite a treat we’ve got here in the ring today, Jim: Elvis Pugsley, with his down-home, honky-tonk brawler style, against Jett jaguar and his darting, experimental, retro-chronological (see, I’m being experimental with words too !) martial arts. Tried and true versus brand spanking new — and I can’t wait to see how it pans out.

    *DING* !

    Off the bell, Elvis flexes his narrative muscles, and puts them to excellent effect, with very effective and colourful character and worldbuilding. Everything works, from the slick reveal of MC personality traits to the judicious sprinkling of profanity and the natural-feeling similes.

    He’s got excellent form, Jim, and Jaguar takes a pounding. He’ll certainly be feeling that — in the future, I guess? Because, as the immediately intriguing number scheme reveals, we’re starting at the end here, with a clear, poetic, yet for the time being baffling situation. I’ve always found this sort of structure a little fishy (hurrdeehurr), but it’s such a short, fluid read that the eye gets drawn on towards the next (or, in fact, previous) station, as if by the same “frigid current” Jaguar describes.

    Throughout the bout, Elvis continues strong, building multiple, fleshed-out and relatable characters in very few words, with clear, effective voice. Once again, it comes right down to the bell, Jim, where the only flaw in Elvis’ routine rears its unfortunate head: the final line just states that the MC and his wife are “predators, taking from the fat and the criminal”. Up till then, we had vague hints that the MC has done bad things in his life, sure. But turning into Robin Hood, suddenly? It’s jarring, and not particularly believable for the character as designed. Just how many “fat and criminal” are there around the Hoskins’ parts for them to despoil, and even more importantly, how could they possibly do so? It doesn’t feel so much like a hook that keeps me guessing, and wanting to read more, as a complete story shift in the last few words that breaks credibility.

    Meanwhile, after taking his lumps all throughout the bout, but also giving back his own swings at key moments, Jaguar finishes/starts with a beautiful, mounting flourish. The feels are real, just like the dramatic irony of the “marvel” announced by the woman and revealed in its true nature from the start of the story, as presented to us.

    Wow. This one is going to come down to personal preference, Jim, but for this commentator — and I’m very surprised to be saying this— the endings swing it in favour of Jett Jaguar!

  2. While Jett Jaguar may not be the typical style of story for me, I enjoyed every ounce of it. There many be many fish in the sea, but today, Jett's entry is the fish for me. The unique approach (very Memento) works.
    Elvis posted a solid entry. I felt a few minor details were forced. I can understand how they are needed, but it created an awkward moment or two. The long-haired freak simile fell flat for me. Unfortunately, Jett put up a near perfect entry, so it's nit-picky details like this for me that make the difference.
    Overall, both entries are fantastic, and both writers display talent and a love for words. Well done!

  3. I vote for Elvis. Out of all the stories I've seen so far in this competition, I felt his had the best flow and readability, nice mix of literary writing and plot-driving momentum. Very well done.

  4. Honestly, I liked them both, but I think I liked Elvis a little bit more. So many tough calls!

  5. I vote for Jett Jaguar.
    Elvis can write, no doubt. The narrative flow was great, and I liked the little hint about their secret intentions at the end. However, I would have liked the piece to have a little more subtext. With the exception the end of the piece, it felt like Elvis laid out too much for me and didn't leave me a lot to wonder about. The lack of subtext made the piece lack tension.
    Jett Jaguar's work is weird and evocative, and I mean "weird" as a compliment. She creates mood beautifully, and although I'm not entirely sure what happened, I was okay with that. Tension was there, and voice.

  6. Solid entries today, so let's get right to it.

    Elvis hooked me from the start with the worldbuilding, but his precise grammar when he replied to the little girl the first time felt disingenuous and unlikely against the tone of the story. Strike 1, but he pulled me back in until the very end. The buildup led me to believe he had lived this truly awful life and now had penance to pay. Then we learn ... predators ... taking from the fat and criminal? Nope. Nope. Nope. I was so rooting for you, Elvis.

    Which brings me to Jett. Visually interesting right off the bat. And yet. A risk taker, this Jett, because I moved in cautiously. Then the prose of 10 alone pierced my heart. I read on, all the way through. And read it again bottom to top. Oh my ever-lovin' mahi mahi.

    Elvis, you put up one heck of a fight in this round, but ...

    My vote goes to Jett Jaguar, all day long.

  7. For me, there wasn't anything wrong with "Elvis Pugsley" but I couldn't get into it.

    "Jett Jaguar" was slightly confusing but intriguing.

    My vote is for "Jett Jaguar."

  8. I very much want to know what happens in Elvis's piece. Very cool way to end it. On the negative side, the build up was cliche and way too wordy. Makes me want to skim along to find the good bits. That being said I think this writer did a very good job of showing vs. telling. Cull some of those words and I would absolutely read this.

    Had to read Jaguar's twice, but once I understood it I loved it. Good use of words, tight writing. Compelling and emotional with not an ounce of telling.

    I vote for Jett Jaguar

  9. I was pulled a little more into Elvis Pugsley, so that's where my vote is for today!

  10. My vote is for Elvis.

    This one was really tough. While the imagery in Jett's was beautiful and unique, I felt Elvis' voice really leapt off the page.
    -Jennifer Kinzler

  11. All I can say is "wow"! I see why both of these pieces made it into the bouts and I wish they weren't pitted against each other and forcing me to choose.

    From the start, Elvis Pugsley's piece sucked me in. I loved the main character. I loved the flow of the story.

    I went into Jet Jaguar's piece with great doubt. The format initially put me off, but as I read, I understood where the author was going and completely got sucked into the narrative and all the emotion the writing evoked. This line "The sea has rinsed the color from her face." ... perfection, sheer perfection.

    Both writers are truly gifted. There was no knock out in today's bout and comes down to points scored in the emotional impact ... my vote goes to Jet Jaguar.

  12. Elvis Pugsley's story makes me curious about the dark history of the main characters that is hinted at. It was an enjoyable read. However, I love, love, LOVE the reverse chronological story telling of Jett Jaguar's very accomplished piece. I actually read it twice just for the sheer pleasure of it. My vote goes to Jett Jaguar.

  13. My vote is going to Elvis on this one. While the writing and unique format of Jett's piece was interesting, I found myself getting lost and not at all interested. Both are well done, but Elvis stood out for me the most.

  14. Of course these two had to face off against each other. I absolutely love both of them. Elvis wrote a story with great voice and a compelling character. Jett gave us something with a unique structure and premise that was beautifully written. My vote ultimately goes to Jett Jaguar, but it was a tough call to make.

  15. Jet Jaquar does a marvelous job creating poetic prose to paint a vivid picture with only a few words. I want to read more.

    Elivis wonderfully captures that slow twang of an old Texas story teller and provides just a hint of mystery that intrigues.

    It's hard to say one is better than the other, but I'm casting my vote for Elvis. There's just too much mystery there to ignore.

  16. Elvis Pugley had good characterization and was fun and easy to follow, but it is not an origingal story by any means.

    Wow to Jett Jaguar! I loved the originality of the piece as well as the reverse chronology. The visuals created by your words took me to the ocean.

    My vote goes to Jett Jaguar.

  17. These two short stories couldn’t be more different from each other and yet they were both awesome. I’m not usually a fan of the type of prose in Jett’s story, but I was so rooting for that fish. Jett did an excellent job making the reader care. But Elvis’ story wins for me because I want to know why he thinks he’s a predator.

    My vote is for Elvis, but both were great.

  18. Elvis Pugsley - awesome nickname, definitely made me smile :)
    I felt that Elvis' entry was very strong - until the last paragraph. Who are Ed and Kathy? I wish I knew more about that or had that more fleshed out in the story. The last paragraph didn't flow with the rest of the story.
    Jett Jaguar - very cool with writing a story in the perspective of a fish.
    Both were really great, I'm going to go with Elvis Pugsley on this one.

  19. The last line of Elvis Pugsley really got me wondering, nice little touch there at the end. I was interested in the characters and what the Hoskins’ situation is. But Jett Jaguar was so beautifully written, it won me over. The unique formatting was interesting (loved the reversal of the timeline), and I loved the description. Beautiful and sad. Jett Jaguar wins my vote.

  20. Elvis Pugsley's story was endearing. I love the pen name and love the characters even more. I really want to know what their secrets are. They were characterized very clearly and I'd love to read the rest of the story.

    Jett Jaguar's story was so innovative and interesting. It answered my questions as I read. Why dies the fish care? Oh. How is this his fault? Oh. Didn't the fishermen deserve it (from his perspective)? Oh. This one will stick with me.

    Jett Jaguar gets my vote.

  21. Elvis gets my vote, uh-huh-huh! Sorry :P

    Both good though.

  22. Elvis Pugsley's soulful story pulled at my heart. Jett Jaguar's piece seemed a little out of order but was clever.
    Jett Jaguar for the win!

  23. Tough call. My vote goes to Jett Jaguar by a nose!

  24. Congratulations to our two contenders! Each wove a creative tale with rich characterization.

    Elvis Pugsley had a good, strong drawl, but the punctuation was a bit off, which distracted me, and the dialect might have gone a tad too far. (A little goes a long way). I really felt like this piece could have been tighter, which would have allowed the writer to provide a little more detail in that last paragraph. The characterization is good, though. Well done!

    Jett Jaguar, the format is intriguing and the writing well-polished. I can tell you've worked to bring these words together in this order to create this emotion, if that makes sense. Personally, I found the "The fish felt...." lines a bit jarring - I'd rather have concluded the fish's feelings myself - but I see why you chose to do that.

    Both pieces had their merit, but based on the clarity of writing, I'm going with Jett Jaguar today.

  25. Jett Jaguars style was different but I didn’t feel pulled into the story. I have a bit harder time when stories follow this rhythm: Subject, verb, direct object. Throw in a few adjectives. Repeat. There were some very nice nouns, verbs, and adjectives… just not my cup of tea… So this is totally based on opinion and not quality of writing.

    Voice wins today for me with Elvis.
    One point for Elvis Pugsley

  26. Oooh, difficult choice here. I very much enjoyed both, and they're so different.

    Elvis Pugsley:
    Loved the voice! Really good feel for the man, so good characterisation. Great hook at the end, made me REALLY want to read on and see what going to happen, what their secret is!

    I'm not sure Monica's dialogue quite rings true for a toddler (I have kids that age). The honky-tonk comparison went straight over my head, but probably only because I'm British. I have literally no clue what that line means. I think you could cut "thinking about..." and put it directly instead, ...there was so much she and her family didn't know.

    When she takes his hands the "in hers" is redundant, and would make a much more power sentence if you left it out.

    Jeff Jaguar:
    Unusual structure, clever. I was dubious at first, but actually once I started to work out what was happening, I really wanted to read on/back to find out what happened before. Loved the "shaggy-four legs". Your description of the dead woman is absolutely fantastic.

    I too felt the filter words "felt" etc distanced me from the fish. I wonder if it would still work if you expressed it more directly. I kind of get why - the fish is watching, interested, but these strange creatures have no connection to him, so it gives the impression he swimming about, which is nice, but meant I didn't get so invested in the fish. When I read about a fish pov, I want to feel like a fish. Also would like to feel more of the fish's character.

    So... very very close decision. Elvis I loved but Monica's dialogue didn't feel right, and Jeff I loved but I didn't feel fishy enough. I really can't decide this one. I'm going to go with Jett Jaguar for the cleverness and that wonderful dead woman description, but I'm really sorry Elvis, I would definitely read this!

    1. Meaning that I'd definitely read your book too, Elvis.

  27. I vote for Elvis because I could understand the story. I wanted to know what the secret was giving me a desire to read more.

    I didn't understand Jett's. I read it through 3 times and still remained confused.

  28. Man, this was a tough call! Both stories were really well done. Elvis had wonderful character development that made me feel like I was there in the story. Jaguar's story was magical in the way it flowed and I loved how something so simple (saving the baby creature) meant so much.

    I agree with what others said that the ending of story #1 (where Elvis states that they are predators) didn't seem to fit into the rest of the story very well, but despite that, I'm giving my vote to Elvis just out of personal preferences as the characters are well developed enough that I would be likely to read more of it. Great job to both writers!

  29. Both these stories are great, and the choosing a winner is difficult.

    Elvis wrote a nice scene, a day in the life of ordinary folks. He seemed to try too hard with his fires of speech, however - "sanding his ears down", "face screwing up for tears", "like a long-hair freak at a honky-tonk" and "taking from the fat and the criminal". The MCs' language and speech patterns were internally inconsistent, making it impossible to get a handle on him as a character. Word choices like "ass-deep", "rapped", "figgered", and "we wasn't" were all compatible, but jarred with the likes of "traumatizing", "spewing...profanity", "speak well", and disguised gift". I questioned the likelihood of a country mechanic, regardless of his generosity, being able and/or willing to gift total strangers $1,000--and on top of that, the seemingly wholesome family actually accepting the gift.

    Jett destroyed the boundaries of conventional story telling with his/her inverted chronology. I caught on after only a few sections, and the technique aroused my curiosity and made me pay attention to the story. I'll wager I wasn't the only one who read it again backwards for a different effect. Section 8's description of the woman's body was exquisite. All that being said, I had a few issues with the piece. The MC must be a whale ("All creatures marvel at his song"), but Jett insists on labeling him as a fish. It bothered me the whole way through, wondering if I had got the phyla wrong, and waiting for the clarification which never appeared. A few other phrases were problematic or their allusion was lost on me: In Section 10, the fish's name " a melody days long" - if I'm supposed to get the MC's name or species from this, I didn't; In Section 7, "The fish watches and is terrified" - why was he terrified? At that point the woman is on the beach with her dog - how was he to know her intentions?; in Section 5, the ship is wrecked, the men fall into the sea, and the MC "...feels unease, but this puzzles him." I don't get why the fish has either of these reactions; and finally, in Section 1, "The fish feels wonder, and believes." - is this the fish's initial thought at first consciousness? If so, what does he believe, or believe in?

    I have to call the bout in Jett's favor, for strength of imagery and boldness of innovation.

    1. That should be, "...figures of speech...", not "...fires of speech..." -- sorry

  30. Elvis Pugsley-"to make Phoenix" make it TO Phoenix??? "long-hair freak at a honky-tonk.." not sure about that simile or what a long-hair freak is? should also be a long-haired freak. Also, double period at end of sentence. "the fat and the criminal" a specific fat criminal or just fat people and criminals??? weird wording. I like the hints that maybe he's not such a good guy. Overall voice is good and I would like some more tension added possibly around the travelers (if they will be back later in the story) or the criminals the MC is speaking of. As a short story there can be a "ticking clock" in the background...what is the central conflict--does he fleece bad guys and one of them is onto him or suspects something? Does he launder money and needs that $1000 he gave them for the criminals? etc etc.

    Jett Jaguar-spec fic, not really my thing. I liked the reverse timeline where he fulfilled his destiny with his mighty song at the beginning (end?) of the story so it came full circle. Very creative!

    Both were well written.

    My vote today goes to Elvis, I would read more.

  31. My vote goes to Elvis Pugsley. Both stories are billed as "short stories," which doesn't mean they're complete as is. Elvis Pugsley's version seems more like a scene setting up the rest of the story, and then tied off too fast. But I could see it as an opening scene, with an interesting main character who has plenty of room to change! I loved the language of Jett Jaguar, and kept asking myself if I was turning it down just because of its unconventional structure. All in all, though, it felt more like an outline than a complete story.

  32. Another close one. Congrats to both of you for getting into the bout and for your work. You both show talent and promise.

    I liked Jett Jaguar's fish story, but found the numbering and possible reverse order (which I'm not even sure of because it seemed a little out of order whether going backwards or forwards) just made for confusion. I do love the idea of the big fish having a conscience though, and a certain love for the humans. But there was also confusion in some of the writing, esp. with pronouns at the end. Not sure which human picked up which kind of fish, for instance. It would be satisfying to think that the girl's love gave the fish a conscience, but I'm not totally clear if that's what happened.

    For Elvis Pugsley, I loved the MC and his character flaws. I thought his relationship with the traveler's needed more fleshing out -- did he invite them in to fleece them and then decide not to, or was he a kind of Robin Hood who stole from the rich so he could help the poor? Adding in the traveling woman's husband and the MC's wife at the end seemed like an unneeded addition of extra characters who don't serve much story purpose that I could see. The husband only brings up more questions -- if there are two adults getting helped, why isn't at least one of them helping the MC fix the car? Don't really need all that in such a short piece. It would be better to use the words to give us a clearer idea what kind of badness the MC has on his conscience.

    But once again I will go with my heartstrings and cast my vote for Elvis Pugsley.

  33. I vote for Jett Jaguar for the unique reverse story structure and unusual use of a fish's POV. To be able to pull off two such tricky feats and do it so well in one story is fantastic.

  34. My vote is for Jett.

    Loved the story. Loved how it went from now to when he was initially saved by the woman who now lay dead in the water. The only complaint I have is fish is both plural and singular so I was confused for a minute by who was doing what: The other fish that are referenced or the "giant" fish when you stated "the fish".

    Elvis was a good story but it felt like forced intrigue. The last part about "like maybe we wasn’t just predators, taking from the fat and the criminal." and the lady not thinking him and his wife nice people seemed forced. Most people love the "robin hood" character who does for the downtrodden, weak or poor (not me personally..only the criminal part depending on the crime). But I enjoyed the writing and his response to the little girl (who talks really well for a toddling toddler).

  35. I enjoyed Elvis' piece the most, so he gets my vote.

  36. I don't usually like out of order stories, but Jett wrote this one simply and beautifully.

    I liked the characters of Eliv's piece, but the tone shifted to dramatically in such a short piece.

    My vote goes to Jett Jaguar.

    JoAnne Turner

  37. Jett Jaguar. WOW. Beautiful story.

    I liked the premise of Elvis' but the filtered language pulled me out of the story a bit. For example, instead of saying "I turned to face her," a simple "I faced her" let's the reader feel the motion more...if that makes sense. I always search my MSs for "I heard, saw, felt, turned..." because I'm always writing filters into my first drafts!

    Congrats to all for putting your work out into the world. This is NEVER easy!

    1. That's a great tip Deborah! I do the same - once spent an entire summer holiday searching my MS for a list of about 30 words that were passive or filter words.

  38. Elvis Pugsley Vs Jett Jaguar.

    Read each one multiple times. I was intrigued by both.

    Elvis made me rethink what might be ahead of the players in the story.

    Jett made me stop and think.

    Jett gets my vote.

  39. I’m having a tough time choosing, I really liked both pieces. I liked the characters and the hint at the end of Elvis’. I liked the format of Jett’s and the fact that it told an entire story in 500 words. I also read It frontwards and backwards, and it made sense both ways, which was unique.

    I’m going to vote for Jett for sheer uniqueness, but this has definitely been the toughest choice for me yet.

    Thank you both so much for sharing!!

  40. This one was tough because they’re both so good! Congrats to you both.

    Elvis Pugsley - your writing was vivid and flowed perfectly (despite a couple of typos here and there). You put me into the scene with ease and I was invested in the story from the start. But the ending fell flat and it felt like you were floundering for the right words. Endings are hard though, so keep at it and I’m sure you’ll get it just right.

    Jett Jaguar - wow! I loved it and I’m in awe of your style. Beautiful writing that just gets better the more you read it. You get my vote and a standing ovation to boot!

  41. Both had excellent writing, and I’m not usually a short story person, but wow, Jett Jaguar takes this one for me.

    Elvis-you had lovely writing and your characterization pulled me in; but a few small things detracted from your story. As someone else mentioned, the ending felt rushed (which, with a word limit, can happen.) But I also got thrown by the little girl, who worried over the word well, which is something a 3-5 year old might do, but toddled away, which is really more like a 1 year old. I also got a little pulled out when he wondered if God would ever be able to forgive him enough to have such a treasure, because I got caught up in, did he mean he wanted to be her Dad? And thought it would be a romance until he mentioned the woman’s husband and his wife. All of that said, the language, the believable colloquialisms, and the question of what he needed to be forgiven for are all things that drew me in, and I would have bet my vote would be for your piece before I read the second. Nice work.

    Jett-I loved this piece so much. The reverse-chronological order had me reading twice, which would normally turn me off. But the story was so lovely, so sweet, and so well-written that it only drew me in. Truly exceptional work.

  42. Elvis: This piece is solid and well-done. I agree with the other voters about the ending being too jarring and some of the language being inconsistent. This would have had my vote on another day, against another entry.

    Jett: This piece is amazing. Your writing forces the reader to slow down and pay attention to each word. The reverse chronological order was initially confusing, but I do love it both for the novelty and because it works. I re-read the piece backwards (1 to 10, rather than 10 to 1)--while this helps with the plot line, the reverse order certainly adds to the beauty and feel of the piece.

    My vote is for Jett.

  43. Vote: Jett Jaguar

    This was hard. When I first read the piece by Elvis I was intrigued. He created a scene that gave me questions I wanted answered. I needed to know how these people came to be together and I thought there was no way his competitor could beat it. Then Jett came along with an unusual story style. I was still skeptical, but read on. By the end of it, though, the emotions Jett evoked, along with the picture painted...I was floored.

    If I picked up these in a library, I would have put down Jett's too soon because the writing style isn't one that immediately grabs me. However, the story is just so beautiful and heartbreaking that having read the whole thing, it came down to almost a coin toss between the two competitors. In the end, I had to go with Jett because of the resonance of the piece. On a different day, against a different competitor, Elvis would have been a shoe-in for sure, though.

  44. Two strong entries head to head again today.

    Elvis: I loved the dry, dusty, salty voice here and the way it contrasted with the youngster, the mom, his wife. I struggled to get a handle on the child's age, though. And the Robin-Hood ending felt a bit rushed, especially with plenty of filter words that could have been cut to allow a smoother transition.

    Jett: This one hit me hard. Way to break the bounds of convention without coming off as gimmicky. Beautiful language throughout, emotionally dense. Excellent work.

    Today's vote to Jett Jaguar.

  45. I admire Jett for the attempt because that's super hard to pull off. Unfortunately, here's why I don't think you did--the premise that gets set up in reverse (which occurs at the end instead of the beginning because of the unique format) doesn't get the payoff that's promised. Meaning: somehow you need a twist that the reverse of the expected will happen. A saves B even though B is natural enemy. Why would that happen? The backwards story will reveal it. But here, the backwards story reveals ... kinda what you'd expect. Maybe it's only me, but that was my main issue with it.

    I thought Elvis played the characters really well. I could picture the scene, and your deft word choices worked well also. I would have liked a hint or a clue during the opening section that made the ending line pay off better, so I could go back and say "Oh, yeah, now I see how I could have read that earlier bit." Instead, the ending comes as a shock, which can be okay, but just not as strong.

    Bottom line, I'm going with Elvis, but I'd like to see a change to make the ending work stronger.

  46. My vote has to go to Jett.

    As soon as I saw the structure I was immediately thinking "Oh no." But reading it, then understanding it by the third section I was sucked in. You made me sit up and pay attention to every single word. It is a beautiful thing to read forwards and backwards, and I must say I do tend to have a bit of a bias for the new and strange. This paid off for me and I'll probably be thinking about it for days.

    Elvis, I loved the imagery, the characterizations, the mannerisms, all of it. I knew these characters instantly. You did a fantastic job and I really wish these two hadn't been pitted against each other because they are both amazing.

  47. This one's a tough call for me, but my vote goes to: Jett Jaguar.

    Elvis: I liked your writing, very easy read, bread and butter style. But it wasn't enough to draw me in and keep me around.

    Jett Jaguar: This piece was very interesting. My biggest critique is to say that your pieces needs some clarity T.L.C. I got what you were going for, and I understood it, but it didn't leave me with the right kind of questions.

  48. "Elvis Pugsley" is emotional and "Jett Jaguar" is creative in the structure and POV. Difficult to put these two very different stories against one another. The characters in "Elvis Pugsley" are believable and realistic. I am going to vote for "Elvis Pugsley" for the one reason that "fish" was too generic for such a specific story.

  49. This is another tough choice, with two solid entries. Pugsley's characters were deftly drawn and the setting pulled me in. On the other hand, I kept waiting for a payoff. what was in Hoskins's past that he felt guilty about? What dark secret did he hide? The ending didn't fulfill that promise. It was too vague. How could they be stealing from the fat and criminal out in the boondocks where they seem to be? And if he's feeling so guilty about it, why keep doing it? It took me a beat or two to get into Jett Jaguar's reverse story, but once I understood what was going on it completely worked for me. The language was poetic and evocative, and the story, by the time I got to the end and then read it from bottom to top, really tugged at me. I have to vote for Jett Jaguar.

  50. Elvis has a clear voice. The end makes me want to read more.

    Jett, there's just something about this that hits me. I really like it.

    I'm torn because I like both for different reasons. I think I'm going to vote for Elvis though, because I'm hoping for the next part (where as I feel like Jett's is perfectly complete, and while I'd like to read another, idk, this is the coin I flipped I guess).

  51. Two formidable entries for this round!

    Elvis Pugsley does an amazing job with voice and characters.

    Jett Jaguar pushes against the conventions of storytelling and pulls it off briliantly.

    Jett Jaguar gets my vote for this one!

  52. I really enjoyed reading Elvis' piece. I think it's been the most engaging I've read so far. The characters were developed incredibly well in just 500 words, and I'd definitely consider reading more. The last two paragraphs of the piece were awkward to me, somehow, telling too much and yet also too little somehow.
    I had to read Jett's entry twice before I felt like I mostly understood it. The creative format is interesting, but the story didn't particularly grip me.
    My vote goes to Elvis.

  53. Jett Jaguar - I love it when writing makes me feel like I just had an aha moment. Right around the fourth stance(7) I understood this was in reverse order. After I finished, I re-read in reverse or non-reverse(whatever, you know what I mean) and it was even more beautiful. I understood the sequence perfectly. The guilt the fish feels for having killed the husband and thereby causing the woman’s sorrow and ultimately her suicide is poignant and unique.

    Elvis Pugsley- I like the combined humor and creepiness of this piece. Left me wanting to know what the heck the Hoskins are up to. I did not have a single suggestion for changing it. Luck of the draw though that it would be paired against Jett Jaguar really.

    My vote is for Jett Jaguar.

  54. Jett Jaguar your story was more of a narrative poem. It was interesting. Elvis Pugsley contrasted a sweet child against a feisty female character and it worked. I liked it! My vote goes to Elvis Pugsley.

  55. Elvis Pugsley... Good character interaction and development.

    Jett Jaguar... At first I thought it was just okay. Then I noticed the numbers and read it bottom to top. (1 to 10) I don't know for certain if that was your intention, but it's certainly clever if it was, because it made me like your entry more and won you my vote.

  56. Kudos to both for making it into the competition! Both of these entries were phenomenal! It was so hard to choose!

    Elvis - I loved this so, so much! The usage of voice in the internal narration is just subtle enough to really put us inside the POV char's head and give it a homespun feel ("God'd", "figgered", etc). Since I must point out a little picky error, you did accidentally put a double period at the end of "honky-tonk..". (Or perhaps it was an unfinished ellipsis; either way, just a small punctuation error).

    Jett - About the time I got down to number 7, I realised that the story was going in reverse order, and I was incredibly excited to reread the story backwards in order to see the true order of events/progression of emotion. I immediately did so after finishing, and I loved it. That said, after letting it sit for a while, it did leave something of a gimmicky aftertaste in my mouth. It's fine since it's a short story (heaven knows this trick wouldn't work with anything longer), but it would up pulling me out of the story about halfway through because I was already looking forward to the end to immediate re-reverse it, if that makes sense. It's a gamble, and it's done very well, and it... sorta paid off? Kinda? It's hard to say. It's probably right up some peoples alley, but it was only partially up mine.

    That said, since I have to cast a vote...
    ... I vote for Elvis Pugsley.

  57. Elvis: Good characterization.

    Jett: Interesting structure.

    Vote for Elvis.

  58. This one comes down to pure personal preference! Both stories were great and this was the hardest round yet for me to pick a winner. I’ve debated for days and finally decided I am going to throw my vote to Jett Jaguar simply due to the slick style move. Telling the story backwards was very slick and made you stand out!

  59. This is definitely a personal preference matter. I liked the build up in Elvis' entry. It gave me all the backstory I needed without going overboard, showed me the connection between the characters, and topped it off with intrigue at the end. Very solid.

    Jett... well I honestly tried and tried to read the whole thing but I couldn't. I've no doubt that what he wrote was amazing for the style, and kudos for the brave style choice, but I couldn't get past 8. Just not my vibe.

    For that reason, my vote goes to Elvis.

  60. Wow, I'm quite impressed with both of these. Elvis' language is easy and natural to the point where you forget you're reading and are just in the story, and you want to know what he's hiding. It had such a nice flow, I thought for sure there was no contest with whatever came next. The only half-false moment might be when the mechanic-type corrects Monica's grammar, since he's obviously not so concerned about perfect sentence structure or diction, according to the way the author writes his thoughts.

    Then I read Jett Jaguar's piece. And although it's a strange bit told from the POV of a fish, it's lyrical and beautiful and mysterious, and I don't know if I even care if this is the full story or if there is more, because I was so taken away by looking out of the water at the goings-on along the shore. Have to give my vote to Jett Jaguar for that. Also, my son is a Godzilla fan so I actually know who Jet Jaguar is, and I get the cool Asian mythical feel that goes along with this writing. I can almost see this playing out in Anime, fins swirling in the water like a Betta fish's.

    Go, Jett Jaguar, Go!! ;)

  61. As much of a fan of literary fiction and experimental methods as I am, I have to mark points off on Jett Jaguar because there was waaaay too much telling. "The fish loved her" doesn't evoke any emotion in me or tell me why or how the fish loves her. If the telling had captured my imagination enough, I'd be able to ignore it, but it didn't.

    Elvis has great characterization, but the last 2 paragraphs are a rushed summary. I'm not sure if that's just how it is in the story or if it was tied-up quickly to hit the 500 word mark.

    Either way, easy choice : Elvis.

  62. This was a close one for me.
    I'm going to have to go with Elvis, simply because I liked the character, but if I may make one critique. There were a few "voice" changes in it for me that made me wonder if the way the writer talked was getting in the way of Hoskins' West Texas tone. I'm all for a character that sounds like their region, especially in first person, but make sure you stay consistent with your word choices.

    That being said, I did like it. Maybe I'm partial to this piece, as a Texas girl myself, but it was a fun read.

    Jaguar, I have to agree with some of the other comments and say while I like that you took a risk, it missed the mark for me. It wasn't bad at all, it just didn't resonate with me as a reader. It would be interesting to see you hone this style and put out an anthology of works similar to this, but as is, I didn't connect with it right now. Best of luck in the future!

  63. My vote goes to Jett Jaguar.
    Elvis Pugsley: Bonus points for the pen name! I was really interested in the down home feel of this piece. I wanted to become invested. And I was. If I had to critique writing, it probably could be a little tighter so that the hint at the end could have had a little more info. The switch to first names was a little awkward, but gave it a really personal touch which I enjoyed.
    Jett Jaguar: I have to admit, when I saw the numerals for the paragraphs, my first thought was it was poetry and I probably wasn’t going to like it. However, that was truly not the case. With a beautiful reverse timeline, we see the difference a little love and attention can give.
    Congratulations to both!

  64. My vote goes to Jett Jaguar.
    I like the character built in Elvis Pugsley, but there's some ambiguity about whether or not the point of view character is a good guy or a bad guy. For me, I feel like it would be stronger is that was more clearly set up, in either direction.
    As for Jett Jaguar, I had to go back and forth a couple times to really solidify in my mind that it was in direct reverse order, rather than somewhat sporadic, but otherwise I really like the poetic and simplistic angle this took to tell a story.

  65. I've had to read Jett's entry several times to wrap myself around the format. It's interesting and the fantastical element of a fish falling helplessly in love with a human is kind of sweet. The more I read it, the more I liked it.

    However, the story unfolding in Elvis's entry held my attention a little better. Simple and straight forward, though a bit cluttered. With a little cleaning up, it could really go somewhere.

    All that being said, even though it's unconventional, my vote has to go to Jett Jaguar.

  66. I'm voting for Jett Jaguar. They manage to tell a story in a unique way and still make it easy and fun to follow.




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