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WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Cage Bout #1

Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE.

It was extremely tight, but last week the voters chose to SAVE these three contestants -

Blue Bonnet
Sydney Slayer

The contest started with 189 submissions from 132 writers and we've narrowed that down to 18 (fifteen 1st round winners + the three that were SAVED above). The DFW Conference is in less than four weeks and its time to get serious. That means - it's CAGE BOUT time!

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another, now it's THREE AT ONCE. The contestants will be using the same writing sample that allowed them to get this far, the only difference being that now they're up against new competitors. The readers/voters will have to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.

If you voted in the preliminary rounds, then there is no need to leave a critique with your vote this time, however, if this is your first time seeing these writers we do ask that you leave a brief critique 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-S), because of time restrictions the voting period will be staggered somewhat, so please pay attention to the dates posted. The voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, June 2nd (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent with a NEW WRITING SAMPLE

As always, in case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote.

Here are the voting guidelines –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Anyone can vote (even the contestants themselves), but 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 cause 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!

4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Like the man say's

Our contestants for this first cage bout (in random order) are -


I died long before the woods behind my house even existed, but I’ll never forget the relief that washed over me when my assignment came in. To this day, I don’t know how I landed a poltergeist gig, but you don’t question good fortune.

For generations, geisting was my sole purpose. Throwing stuff, stomping about in middle of night, and shrieking through the halls delighted me like a field of butterflies delights a toddler. Nothing compared to scaring teenagers, though. After teens lose their ability to see the unreal, their creativity evaporates. Actually, frightening them is a service. Two even became novelists when they grew up. Without me, their imaginations would have atrophied like an unused limb. But I’m no monster. I never bother little kids. Sure, I’ll float blocks or books around, maybe make a teddy bear dance, but nothing bad. Besides, littles love me. I don’t know why, but they always have. Do you know how hard it is to terrify someone who adores you? Same with pets. Cats never hiss when I come into the room and dogs follow me around like--well, like puppies.

The Kings were nothing like my previous families. The mother was a scrap of old fabric in the breeze. I could tell she used to be a force of nature, but now, it took everything she had not to crumble to dust and blow away. The twins were unnaturally quiet and helpful. Instead of running through the old farmhouse, shouting and claiming bedrooms like every kid before them, they carried boxes and stacked them evenly in the appropriate rooms. Their silent diligence creeped me out; this was not typical seven-year-old behavior. Their grey eyes held the shadows of countless storms, and I wondered what made them this way. Then, the father came in.

“Hurry up! The truck needs to be back in an hour and it’s still half full,” the barrel-chested man shouted. A cigarette dangled from the left corner of his mouth, and the only thing he carried was a sweating beer can. “If either of you breaks anything, you’ll both pay for it with your asses.”

“Yes, sir,” the twins chimed in unison. Dark fear shimmered around them, like a mirage on a street. I know that shimmer, I pull it from the living all the time. But the living aren’t supposed to pull it from each other.

The mother, small and deflated, threw open the drapes and pretended she was alone. Her fear-shimmer was even darker than her children’s.

Long-forgotten energy bubbled around me and a lightbulb exploded in the hallway. There isn’t much to be angry about when you’re not living, but this brute, threatening his kids and terrifying his wife, reminded me that anger and I go way back.

I tore the cigarette from his mouth and pressed it into his arm. Geisting isn’t my only purpose anymore. I will protect these kids--even if I have to kill their father to do it.

Contestant number two is Word Slinger

I dreamt of a life that didn’t include my self-centered, narcissistic older sister.
“Asmah, you have exactly five minutes then I’m leaving without you.” Khadijah yelled from downstairs.  “I assumed nerds like you didn’t care about their appearance.”
I clenched my fist but ignored her taunt, for now. One last glance at my reflection then I’d be ready; my dark washed Levis matched with a light grey tissue tee that hung almost to my mid-thigh. I wore my favorite hijab: a large, rectangular cotton one, big enough to wrap around my head twice.
I grabbed my back pack and bolted from my bedroom, my lavender sanctuary.
“Are you finally ready?” Khadijah stood, six years older than me, with her hands planted on her hips.
My eyes bulged but I held back the curse words lodged in my throat. “If you hadn’t taken forever in the bathroom, I wouldn’t be late to my last day of classes.” After finals next week, I’d finally be a high school senior.
“Now it’s my fault?” she screeched.
 “Look, I didn’t ask you to take me to school, Ma did.” I grabbed my navy blue Vans from the mat by the door and slipped them on.
“Both you and Ma need to understand, if Khalif proposes, then my days of chauffeuring you around are numbered. Ma and I are invited to lunch today with him and his mom. So today could be the day. I don’t have time for this.”
Her life would be defined by marriage; one pushed by our mother. I rolled my eyes as I slammed her car door shut. She glared out the window as she drove with Vivaldi playing in the background; the classical music, her potential mother-in-law’s favorite.
Khalif, her wealthy suitor, had become her only topic of conversation. He hadn’t even popped the question yet she acted like the wedding was tomorrow. The price you paid for being beautiful. We had been close when I was younger but the moment she got to high school and understood the power her looks gave her, our relationship suffered a direct hit.
Mom rejoiced in her oldest daughter’s beauty. I’d kill for her blemish-free skin and slender figure. Mom bragged to all the women at the mosque that Khadijah had graduated culinary school and now could prepare lavish feasts for her future husband and his family. She was on cloud nine that her eldest daughter had caught the eye of a rich attorney from a prominent Muslim family.
But I yearned for a different life; a career in the law like my dad.
To Mom, it didn’t matter I was in the running for next year’s valedictorian. I resisted my mom’s suggestions to think about what qualities were important for me in a husband. And once my sister married, I became the next target.
I could never compete with Khadijah, the Perfect, so I gave up and focused on school to fulfill my dreams not my mother’s delusions.

And finally number three is Griff N. Dorr

In the confusion of last night's escape, Mida hadn't really gotten a good look at the house, but eventually she found the stairs and headed down them. Faint sounds drew her around the corner to a narrow, cluttered kitchen.

Inside was an old man with wispy hair dyed in half a dozen colors. He lifted a ladle with a hand made of metal and wires, and stirred what smelled like some kind of bean soup. Mida's stomach growled.

The noise must have given her away, because the old man addressed her without looking up. "If you're going to sleep through breakfast, don't complain that you're hungry before lunch."

Mida tried not to look at the myriad fruits and vegetables piled on the counter. She was a stranger here; she had no right to ask for anything.

"I'm fine," she lied. "Is that woman ... er, Cipher here somewhere?"

"She'll be back." The old man finally turned, appraising her. He must have seen someone worth taking pity on, because he grabbed a green and red fruit and tossed it to her. "So you're the new kid. Mida, right? They call me Bitz. Don't bother asking why."

Mida bit the unfamiliar fruit, only to spit it out in disgust a moment latter. It tasted like pepper.

Bitz chuckled and handed her a paring knife. "Never had a mango before?"

"How does everybody know who I am?" Mida wondered, slicing open the mango. The fruit inside was orange, sticky, and much tastier than the peel.

Bitz shook his head. "A name, a face; that's not knowing someone. You want to know who a person is, you've got to see them at their worst. They gonna run, or fight? They gonna stand for something, or they all about what's in it for them?"

She wanted to ask Bitz which kind of person he was, but she had several far more urgent questions. For example, "Why did you let us in?"

There was no reason for Bitz to know the answer; he hadn't been there when Mida pounded on the strangely marked door last night. But Cipher must have filled him in.

"You mean what does Aegis want with you? Beats the heck outta me. I keep telling Cipher, one day her imaginary friend is gonna get someone killed."

Mida suppressed a sigh. "So you haven't met him either."

"No one's met Aegis. He, she, it, they—all speculation. Save me the pit," he added. "I'm growing them on the roof."

It occurred to Mida that Bitz was a lot like the mango in her hand. Bitter on the outside, but much more pleasant when you got past the surface.

She leaned forward. "So, why do they call you Bitz?"

The old man loomed suddenly, clacking the fingers of his prosthetic hand beneath her nose. With that crazy hair, he reminded her of a mad scientist. "Because," he said ominously, a twinkle in his eye, "that's all they ever found of my arm."

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

We’ll be back tomorrow with another cage bout. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. Congrats to all three for making it this far.
    My vote goes to WordSlinger

  2. Congratulations, Contestants! You should all be proud of yourselves for making it this far. Top 18 out of 189 is quite a feat!

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe

  3. This is an easy round - I only voted for one of these three entries in the first place, so clearly I like it better than the other two!

    I vote for Ishyounotishme.

  4. Congrats all three of you for making it this far! My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe.

  5. Congratulations, everyone!
    My vote today is for Griff n Dorr

  6. Oh this is so hard. I love all three.

  7. All excellent submissions! My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe.

    Also, I'm Lesley Handel ( Thanks!

  8. Interesting match up definitely let's you see the wide variety in the contest.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe.

  9. My vote goes to ishYouNotishMe. Of the three pieces, it's the one that ticks the most boxes for me ... efficient use of 500 word limit, compelling characters, interesting premise, and well-written. It doesn't hurt that it's also my favorite genre of the three.

  10. My vote goes to IshYouNotishMe. I enjoyed it the most and I'd definitely love to read more of this work.

  11. Griff N. Dore gets my vote today, but what a difficult contest!

  12. Congratulations to everyone for making it to the next round.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe

  13. Congratulations to all three!

    My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr. This one just keeps growing on me. :)

  14. Love all of these!!! My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr.

  15. Tough cage match, and congratulations to all three for making it to this point! I can see reasons to pick each of them, but I'm giving this one to Griff N. Dorr.

  16. IshYouNotIshMe is my vote. And while the voice was strong in Word Slinger's, and the character of Bitz was strong in Griff N. Dorr, they lacked in conflict and stakes.

  17. Loved it the first go-round. Still do.
    Vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe.

  18. That cage looks impressive as do these writers. But only one will fight on.
    My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr as I feel the next piece might be another tasty creation.

  19. 3 entries with different positive aspects. Since I missed the vote in the prelims, here's my feedback (broken into 3 comments for each entry):

    Fantastic opener! Really fun, intriguing hook.

    The teens aside is disjoint. The focus on the little kids is the cute relationship, which is great, but doesn't seem to track from the point of the previous segment which focuses on creativity. How does creativity enter into the following part? If it doesn't, why highlight it? Also, teens aren't important to the rest of the segment, so it behooves the sample to make a quick teens joke (2 sentences max) and get back to the point. E.g. "...delight a toddler. The best scares are teenagers. Their confidence that they are all grown up makes it so much sweeter when they run screaming to their parents. But my true favorites are little kids. I never bother them. Sure, I'll..." You can use the "screaming to their parents" bit to contrast relationships where kids trust their parents with the way the abusive father treats his kids later (sets up a nice foil).

    Some very strong lines, such as "Their silent diligence creeped me out" and "Their grey eyes held the shadows of countless storms."

    Is the "mirage on the street" supposed to evoke the heat waves you see when it's hot? If so, amend to "mirage on hot pavement," which has the added benefit of introducing extra sensory detail. If that's not what was meant, I'm not sure what this means. But love the concept of the fear-shimmer! Unique motif.

    The word "brute" really weakens the end for me. It's kind of a soft, higher-brow turn of phrase (makes me think of old silent films). I'd put something harsher, like "thug," "bully," or "asshole." Or go a bit more descriptive like "waste of breath," or "wretched excrement."

    Great concept! Love the refreshing take on the poltergeist tale. However, the description of the family and the abuse isn't refreshing. While there are certainly abusive relationships that play out like this, that's the majority of the type most media has focused on. Often, abusive relationships are sustained not because one person is so obviously horrible constantly, but because when it's good, it's really good. That's why abuse victims can convince themselves it's not so bad. Further, you can have an abused person who doesn't look at all like what we'd think of as a victim. Such a person might be super confident and proficient in their career, but because of a background of bad relationship models (e.g. with parents), that same empowered person in the workplace makes really meek decisions and puts up with crap to save a romantic relationship that is rotten, because there was no guide of what a healthy relationship is. I'd personally love to see more three-dimensional characters in abusive situations, rather than the flat roles of "abuser" and "abused." Hard to do when you're working in such a tight space and you want your audience to understand the stakes, but I think you can still achieve that by describing your characters differently and letting the actions ring as abusive. Then the end is darker, fitting as this is a twist on the evil poltergeist trope whereby those dark tendencies are being used to thwart a different evil. (Why else assign the job of poltergeist if the narrator doesn't in some way fit the really dark expectation of that role? As is, the ending is very knight in shining armor. Making the abuse more nuanced makes the poltergeist's actions darker and more complex.)

  20. Word Slinger
    Since color is emphasized in the rest of Asmah's appearance, I wonder what color her favorite hijab is. Eliminate the description of it being cotton and insert what it looks like. That's more important than the material (especially given her concern over looks).

    "Backpack" is one word.

    Khadijah waiting with her hands on her hips doesn't seem like the right posture for the attitude of the scene. I would expect her to be tossing her keys, leaning on a wall, or ignoring her sister and texting; actions that imply personal irritation and focus. Hands on hips implies too much attention on her sister and an air of maternal scolding, which doesn't jive with how Asmah treats her as being self-absorbed and uncaring.

    "My eyes bulged[,] but..." Missing a comma.

    Asmah telling Khadijah that Ma is the one who told her to take her to school sounds stilted. It's the old "let me tell you what you already know so the audience knows something" trap. Just have her end on "I didn't ask you to take me to school." Then let Khadijah introduce that their mother asked. "Yeah? Well, Ma did. Until Khalif proposes, I'm stuck chauffeuring you. But those days are numbered..." That setup works better for your characters because if Khadijah is self-absorbed, she would assume Khalif will propose; no if about it. Also works better with the line about her acting like the wedding being tomorrow later.

    GREAT detail with the Vivaldi. Wonderful way to show how serious her sister is about getting what she wants while also buying totally into the cultural expectations.

    "...popped the question[,] yet she..." Missing comma.

    "...when I was younger[,] but the moment she got..." Another missing comma.

    This is an interesting piece dealing with a really important topic. I like how this is approached with more complexity than the typical "family expects this, narrator wants to define their own life" mold. Asmah wants to be a lawyer, but is envious of her sister. She doesn't want to be forced into marriage, but laments that she's not gushed over for being beautiful so as to attract a suitor. She's not fully removed from the context she grew up in. Those contradictions are true to life, and it's refreshing to see someone try to capture that.

    However, the way the story is presently written, those conflicts aren't coming across as super intentional. Asmah is a bit all over the place and the author doesn't appear aware of the story focus. This could be alleviated if Asmah either has more self-awareness of her conflicting feelings, or if she is more assertive of what she wants, succumbing to defensive anger when confronted with her envy, vanity, etc... without reflecting on it. I think that's where the disconnect is happening: She explains her envy, her sister's beauty, her mother's attention very matter-of-fact, which would imply she should see the contradiction in her desires, but she doesn't ever comment on that. If she's not aware of it, she shouldn't be able to so rationally describe these things.

    In my experience when folks believe something that either they don't agree with on some level or don't know why their culture believes it but it's a characteristic of their identify, anything perceived as challenging that thing often results in knee-jerk frustration, rather than factual introspection. So I'd love to see more of that behavior here to make it apparent that these complexities are being explored, which will really distinguish this piece.

  21. Griff N. Dorr
    Love the description of Bitz! His wispy, multi-colored hair is a super strong and unique character detail. Your writing makes it very easy to see the scene.

    " got to see them at their worst." I know what you're going for with the following lines, but describing someone as at their worst doesn't quite jive with the questions Bitz asks. It's more getting at "you got to see someone when the going gets tough," or when they are in a crisis. At their worst to me implies they are already reacting negatively, so the options with more fortitude Bitz gives (fighting and/or standing for something) clash with that mental paradigm. It should be the situation that tests people given those reactions.

    Change the "Why did you let us in?" to "Why did Cipher let us in?" Then you can throw out the part about Bitz not knowing and Cipher telling him. The question itself will imply that she thinks Cipher told him, or he knows, and save you space for more character detail/relevant description.

    Delightful ending!

    This was really hard as I feel like Griff N. Dorr has the most well-written, tightest crafted piece, but the sample doesn't reveal anything new or different (beyond Bitz's enjoyable characterization). I'm sure there is something here that is really compelling, but the sample itself comes off as a bit generic YA sci-fi. So I'm casting my vote to IshYouNotIshMe because that had most original idea. Push yourself to write less expected, more dimensional characters to match that brilliant premise!

  22. It’s such a close match between the three, but my vote goes to Giff N. Dorr this time as I am interested in the story. I have the strongest desire to keep reading.

    As much as I love IshNotYou, the words “For Example” throw me out of the story a bit.

    For Word Slinger, I looooove this piece, but I want to like/care for the main character more than I do by the end of the 500 words.

  23. My vote is for Griff N. Dorr.

  24. I really love all three of these and their stories are so different from each other. That said, my vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe. I just loved the idea of a protective poltergeist.

  25. Tough choice! As torn as I am, I ultimately have to cast my vote for Griff N. Dorr.

  26. I vote for Griff N Dorr. It was the best of the three in terms of overall writing, and the pacing of the scene was perfect.

  27. Cage bouts, yay! It's nice to revisit the stories again and adds a new dimension to the stores when reading them beside the stories they're in this cage bout with. My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr :D Still an awesome story

  28. I vote for Griff N. Dorr for this round. The scene flowed well, and the back and forth dialog was well done.

  29. I'm torn. Seriously torn. But Griff N. Dorr is the one I'd honestly buy if it were a book.

  30. Man. I voted for all three in each of their bouts, so I have to congratulate everyone again for getting through.

    But since I have to pick one, I’m going to go with Griff N. Dorr as a fun opening on a story.

    (And by the way, can I say I wish I had come up with the Pen Name WordSlinger? Very cool!).

  31. Congratulations for getting to this round!

    My vote is for IshYouNotIshMe today.

  32. Congratulations to all three! All very good. My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr

  33. My vote is for IshYouNotIshMe - one of my favorites from the competition.

  34. My vote goes for IshYouNotIshMe. Even though the negative phrasing in the first paragraph made it a little tricky for me to follow, the other two lacked a clear sense of conflict or forward progress.

  35. My vote is for IshYouNotIshMe.

  36. I like all three but only one feels like a complete thought/concept and not a part of a longer whole piece.

    My vote is for IshYouNotIshMe

  37. My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr

  38. Griff N. Dorr

    While the piece lacked stakes, Bitz drew me in and created a world to envision. I wanted to keep reading.

    As for Ish and Slinger, I still like the pieces, but I feel it takes too long to get to the main conflict.

  39. I vote for Griff N. Dor. Very hard to choose. Griff's piece sucked me in the most and I really wanted more. I really like the idea of Ish's, but the sudden escalation at the end put me off for some reason. I liked wordslinger's too but didn't quite connect with the protagonist.

  40. My vote goes to Griff N. Dorr. A fine example that intriguing action doesn't need to be violent. Nice character development and a killer last line!

  41. Nice work, everyone!

    But, my vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe

  42. My vote is for Griff N. Dor.

    I enjoyed all three of the bits, but that was my favorite.

    For Ishnotyouishme: I’m very intrigued by the idea of the littles and cats and dogs being friendly with your poltergeist. But the story fell flat because there wasn’t a concept of time of when the last family moved in. When was their time period?

    For Word Slinger: Family drama can be interesting, if done right. This seems like every single ugly duckling story I’ve ever read though, just with a Muslim background, (And I’ve read a few of those too.) Spice it up, what makes your story stand out?

    For Griff N. Dor: I love world building, and you did a good job. Now give us more. More character details, more action, more reason to keep reading. I could definitely see the narrow, crowded kitchen, the metal and wire hand, and even though you only barely mentioned it, the rooftop garden on the worn down house. So we’re in a run down house, someone is running, someone is maybe not real — but needs the girl on the run?? I’m gonna need answers!

  43. I enjoyed all three stories, but the story by IshNotYouIshMe gets my vote. I was hooked from the get-go and left wanting more.

  44. I'm voting for IshYouNoticeMe, but great work, all three of you!

  45. My vote is for IshNotYouIshMe. The idea of a story from the poltergists Pov is brilliant! And you really pulled me in. I want to read more.

    I also enjoyed Griff N. Dorr's plot and world building. Maybe something a little more enticing at the beginning to reel me in.

    Word Slinger- I actually was the kind of teenager your MC is, so I identify with her. I think it just needs to maybe have more tone or setting elements at the very beginning that make it pop.

  46. Ooh, this is tough. Voting for IshYouNotIshMe!

  47. Great job to all three for getting through to the next round!! Today I'm throwing my towel to Ishyouishme.

  48. This was such a hard bout to judge. All three have something great about them.

    But ultimately my vote goes to Word Slinger.

  49. Oof, tough call, but I vote IshYou for this one. It came down to promising storyline and a great voice. I immediately connect with the ghostly MC and love this dynamic where he becomes the protector rather than the antagonist. This sets us up from some good conflict--between the family and the ghost's 'employer'.

    Word Slinger's piece has all the makings of a strong YA, but the older sister's character felt too one-dimensional/forced to me--if Asmah's mother and Khadijah really are as insensitive as they're made to seem here, then it's at risk of becoming a protagonist pity party.

    Griff, I love the world-building you were able to create with this excerpt! In the end, I wasn't sure what I should be feeling as the reader--is Mida truly in danger or are we dealing with some kind of friendly figment, particularly since Bitz seems so nonchalant about it? If that's where the story is heading, I'd suggest raising the stakes.

    Congrats to all three for making it this far!

  50. My vote this round is ishyounotishme.

  51. Voting of Ishyounotishme because this is the one I would want to read more of.

  52. IshYouNotIshMe still got me shook! Love it. You have my vote easily.

  53. Congratulations to all three for making it this far! While I enjoyed all three stories there is one that stands out in my mind because of the flow, story and overall feel. This round my vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe!

  54. This comment has been removed by the author.

    1. I'm sorry, but anonymous votes are not permitted.

  55. My vote is for IshYouNotIshMe

  56. I think I've commented on all of these before. I'll vote for Ish on this one as an interesting setup. I'd read more.




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