WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Preliminaries - Round #5



We've come to the last bout of the week and today we reveal the ninth and tenth writers chosen to step into the ring. If you're arriving a little late to the contest I've recapped what is happening below and you can always check out previous bouts by visiting the Tournament Scorecard HERE This weekend is a perfect time to catch up.

WRiTE CLUB (sponsored by the DFW Conference) is tournament-style contest that runs during the eight weeks prior to the conference and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win free admission to next year’s conference (along with other prizes). Here’s the kicker—it’s all done anonymously. Writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names. The chosen (pre-decided by a group of twenty slush pile readers) are paired off to go head-to-head in daily “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Even though the contest is sponsored by DFW, anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the voters can win a $60 Barnes and Noble prize. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed into a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize.

How this works—two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples are waiting in the ring below. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) should read both entries and then vote by leaving a comment for the one that resonates with you the most. We also 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 I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Thursday, May 9th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. 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).

A few more 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 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.

That’s enough of the fine printlike the man says –





For the last bout of the week, we have Frazzled Father on one side of the ring representing the Flash Fiction genre.

Instructions on Baby-Care

I would not advise it, but if you happen to find yourself irrevocably in the position of having to care for one of the horrid things, there are a few techniques you should be aware of beforehand--

When you place your pointer finger on the structure protruding from its face and intone “bop!”, a small squealing sound will emerge. Now, you can either repeat the provoking action and achieve the desired effect again, or you can leave it alone in its highchair and go fix yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.

If you choose the latter, expect the following--
It will begin as a small squeaking noise. Then, like a train chugging closer, the screech will grow and grow until it is all you can hear. An abyss will swallow its face. If you peer in, you will see a black hole, and maybe a few cheerios.

An unfortunate design flaw, it carries no buttons or switches or even a “power-off” option. Proceed by trial and error.
           
Input: applesauce, milk, what they call a “binky
Pat its backside.
Analyze output.

After analyzation, you can calculate the material and quantity of the following input.

If none of the inputs succeed in plugging the contraption, you may have to switch tactics. The following method is not recommended if you can avoid it, in protection against dangers which will be addressed later. Proceed with caution.

Pick it up from the highchair, taking special care not to scrape the two chubby hot dogs dangling down from its center. Orient it in various positions and configurations until the sound ceases.

Don’t cradle it sideways, as you would a football, or else its lips will pucker into a tight “O” and it will look up expectantly at you, waiting for you, like a cow, to begin exporting milk.

Remember-- you are not a cow. You are not a milk factory.

If reconfiguring it does not work, you may need to make yourself into a popcorn popper, or a bouncy ball pit. Imagine a teakettle whistling on the stove, water particles steaming the glass top. Mimic the particles, bouncing up, up, up until the sound stops.

Eventually, you will have to transport it to Dreamland.

Stand with it in your arms, rocking side to side like a sumo wrestler preparing for battle. It might open and close its mouth as it is readying for sleep. You might look at it and suddenly notice its little button nose, its cheeks flushed pink, its tiny, fluttering eyelashes. It might reach up to grasp your finger, and you will look at the tiny digits curled around yours and think for a moment that when you return this one to its rightful owner, you might consider acquiring one of your own. Don’t-- this is the true danger, and if you choose to forgo this warning and travel down that path, there is no instruction manual which can assist you then. 
 #############################################################################


On the far side of the ring, we have Charlie St James who is representing the Paranormal Mystery genre.


“I have always played second fiddle to women like you.”
“I’m sorry you feel that way, Deb.”
I looked around the room at the others who were still frozen like deer, or just too narcotized by reality TV to realize that something bad was actually going to happen right in front of them.
Perhaps a more direct approach?
“Put the cake cutter down, Deb.”
“Already think you’re the boss around here, giving orders?” She waved the knife around as she gestured to the breakroom. “No, Cassy. I will not put the knife down.”
“You are going to hurt someone, Deb.”
“Not someone.”
She lunged at me and I ducked and used the only weapon I had on me. Chocolate cake.
I smashed it into her face, hoping for a distraction to get away, or that the sight of wasted cake would somehow unfreeze the others standing around the room like statues.
Being blinded by icing, she swung her long arms around and the edge of the cake server sliced my arm, drawing blood.
Who knew that cake servers were so sharp?
I stepped away from her, but she was quick, all those years of dance class she would tell me about over coffee, and she caught my arm.
I jabbed my plastic fork into her hand and she made a sound, something between a grunt and a howl, low and not exactly human.
She pulled her hand away and I had a clear shot for the door.
I darted toward the fluorescent of the hallway, but my foot slipped on the patch of chocolate icing, sending me crashing to my knees.
That was all the time she needed to recover. She threw herself on top of me and my chin hit the tile floor hard enough that I bit my inner cheek. The taste of blood filled my mouth.
She turned me over and I only had enough time to see the glow of green in her eye and the track of cake down her cheek before she rammed the cake server into my chest. I heard the thud as the hilt hit my ribs.
I’d never had to think about what being stabbed would feel like. Never lived a life where that was a possibility. Brain aneurysm in my sleep, maybe. Bus accident, maybe. But never being stabbed.
I really didn't think that Deb, even in this wide-eyed craziness, could manage the strength to get a Pampered Chef cake cutter through my rib cage and directly into my heart, but she did. Three times actually.
As I made a vain attempt to defend myself, my lungs pooled with blood and I couldn’t breathe. The track lighting grew a little dimmer and my arms grew heavy.
Deb sat on top of me, blood flecks mixing in with her faint freckles. The smile on her face slowly faded, as did the glow of green in that right half of her right eye.

Guess she really wanted that job in HR. 
 ##############################################################################


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.

Before we sign off today, I wanted to address the issue a few readers are having with not being able to post comments, or having those comments show up as UNKNOWN even though they have a Google Account.  There are several things at play here. First, if you are using the Safari or Chrome browsers they have a known problem with Blogger and you have two choices. Switch to Firefox as a browser (I've never had a problem using it), or change the setting on Safari as illustrated below.

The other problem is Blogger not recognizing you when adding a comment and therefore designating you as UNKNOWN. This could happen if the reader is a Blogger user themselves and they have not changed their settings since Google + went away.  To do this, follow these steps:

Go to Blogger dashboard.
SETTINGS
USER SETTINGS
Set User Profile = Blogger (instead of Google +)
Save


Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants. If you missed the first two bouts because of one of these issues, remember the bouts remain LIVE for a week so you can still go back and let your choice be known.

We’ll be back on Monday with bout #6. 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!


85 comments

  1. And we change up the pace today with two funnies!

    Frazzled Father: A very clever piece! Kudos for "instructions" and maintaining a manual-type approach blended with loads of humor, considering the "it" is a very complicated baby. I love your deconstruction of this multi-faceted being into a few simple "do this" and "don't do this" or "the result is this." One point of contention I have with the piece is your beginning stating "irrevocably," a key word I used to interpret that this is an Owner's Manual. At the end--which was my favorite part--you talk about "acquiring one of your own." This section is especially witty, but unfortunately, doesn't tie back to your beginning of "irrevocably." In fact, it refutes it. You still made me laugh. Thank you for that.

    Charlie St. James: A smooth, dark, humorous piece. Like Frazzled, so many clever details throughout... not just a cake server, but one from Pampered Chef! And the swift moves from Deb because of all those dance classes... I had to giggle. Although nicely written overall, it could have been tightened up in several places to add to the overall eeriness of, What the heck is going on here? while still maintaining its dark humor. But my biggest cringe came from the cliched opening line. If I had encountered this piece with that opening line in another platform, I would have skipped right over it and moved on.

    My vote: Frazzled Father

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  2. These are both brilliant--satirical, funny and very well written! Yet another difficult choice :). I'm voting in this bout for Frazzled Father, since the humor is spot on and the concept so much fun! Charlie St. James's piece had me with the last line (truly unexpected!) but I found the action a bit too "step by step" for the tension of the scene to truly come across.

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  3. My vote goes to Charlie, epic fight scene with dessert theme and a nice little quip at the end.

    Frazzled Father - I liked the idea of the piece, the instruction manual idea. I have a book very similar to the concept, however the word choice used grated on me and gave it a very negative tone of disgust toward the child. So that's a personal prefrence thing, but I personally don't respond well to depections of babies as "horrid things" and other words with negative conotations. If that's the tone you were going for, well done. If not, watch the decriptions you choose to use.

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  4. Frazzled Father: Very cute! Because you used technical terms to describe certain things - "structure protruding from it's face", I thought maybe your narrator was unfamiliar with earthly beings. I imagined an alien trying to give instructions to other aliens :)

    Also... "plugging the contraption", "pat its backside", "analyze output"...I loved those terms and wanted to see more of that treatment for other items throughout. For example docking station or feeding station instead of high chair (even if it's just a highly technical manual for humans)! Overall, very clever and made me giggle!

    Charlie St James: Oh no, girl fight! Or is it a fight between a girl and an android? I wanted you to tell me more about these women - and why? Who is Deb? Why do her eyes glow green? Maybe shorten your sentences toward the action at the end to really make the reader's heart race?

    Finally, did Deb's smile fade and the half glow in her eye fade because she died or did Cassy, who's lungs were filled with blood die? Just a bit more tightening, and you'll have a great fight scene. Good job!

    My vote on this round goes to Frazzled Father

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  5. Frazzled Father has my vote, despite the dubious use of the word 'export'. (Express? Extrude? I feel like there's a better one than either of those. The meaning comes across though, so maybe it's fine.) Charlie's entry would be a contender if the dialogue were a bit more polished, and the fight tightened up to allow more space for narrative.

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    1. Dispense! That's the word I was trying to remember.

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  6. Two fun pieces today, both which made me laugh. My vote goes to Charlie because this type of story is one I prefer, and I love the last line. The piece could use some tightening, but I didn’t see anything that wouldn’t be an easy fix.

    Frazzled Father—I thought your piece was cute and sprinkled with humor. In the end, it came down to personal preference, which is so subjective and I imagine a bit frustrating to hear. But job well done!

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  7. Good morning, Contestants! Congratulations on making to the ring!

    Frazzled Father
    What worked:
    My kid is 17 now, but I still remember the hazy, helpless feeling of having a new baby. You did a great job of conveying that feeling.

    What didn't work:
    An instruction manual was a bold choice, but ultimately didn't work for me because nothing really happens. The undercurrent of resentment and anger also didn't fit with the style of a manual.

    It made me sad that the father/writer of the manual doesn't like his own kid and refers to the baby as "it" and "horrid". Definitely not the kind of person who would write an instruction manual.

    The line "Remember--you are not a cow. You are not a milk factory" told me that this guy (the MC, I'm not making assumptions about the author) doesn't even respect his child's mother, or women in general. He's just vile. I love to hate a protagonist, but this protag has no redeeming qualities.

    Charlie St. James

    What Worked:

    This was a quick read that had me interested beginning to end.

    I loved that Cassy repeatedly used Deb's name, in an effort to ground her.

    What didn't work:
    I'm not sure why this is listed as Paranormal Mystery. The green light in Deb's eye wasn't enough for me to think paranormal. At first, I thought the green was just her eye color enhanced by the lights. At the end, as the light flashed off, I thought maybe Deb was an android or something.

    I really don't understand why nobody tried to intervene.

    My vote goes to Charlie St. James today, because Charlie told me a story that kept me engaged.

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  8. Close, but I have to give my vote to Charlie

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  9. Frazzled: Poor kid. The humor in this piece would have been stronger I think if it had maintained the clinical, dispassionate tone throughout. The voice of the first sentence reminded me of Jeeves-like English butler, gallantly pressing on in his spotless livery, but then it morphs into a (perhaps) non-human caregiver, with the "structure protruding..." what? The speaker doesn't know what noses and legs are, but does know highchairs and sandwiches? And by the time we get to "exporting milk" I realize he's just a human jerk. This inconsistency kept me from being as fully engaged as I hoped to be. The piece has lots of potential, though. I hope you keep polishing it up!

    Charlie: Kind of funny, but a bit more grounding with specifics in the opening sentences would have helped me understand this was a work environment instead of perhaps a baby shower or birthday party at someone's home. Perhaps: I looked around the breakroom at my colleagues who were still frozen like deer, or just too narcotized by sales reports... Let every word choice work for you as much as possible, doing double and triple duty.
    The tone starts off funny with some clever images: my only weapon, chocolate cake; wasted cake; stabbing her with a plastic fork, etc. so the shift to violence & gore felt a bit--abrupt & jarring. And the fact that no one else in the room reacted at all seems most implausible, without a word of explanation.
    If there's a paranormal element at play here, it needs emphasizing. Are the onlookers paralyzed somehow? Is the assailant possessed, an alien, etc? And as this seems part of a longer piece, I'm wondering how you're going to carry forward with dead mc. Does she become a ghost?


    Because I think the piece requires a bit less work to really shine, today's vote to Frazzled Father.

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  11. Well done writers on making the Top 30.

    Frazzled Father's entry was different in a number of ways... first the whole premise of a baby manual, and by taking a chance in writing in the 2nd POV, which can be very jarring, and bossy sounding. The 2nd POV did kind of work here, as it was used in the form of an instruction manual. I have seen this done before, and is one of the ways I think 2nd POV can work.

    Without the title, the first paragraph gives no clue as to what the "it" is, and I can't say I really enjoyed reading sentences that described a baby being a horrid thing etc, even in humor.

    Some of the words felt like the writer had tried to replace simpler words with something more lofty sounding, for example: intone (when talking about saying BOP) - these really didn't work for me, and actually had the opposite effect.

    I wondered about the mention of seeing Cheerios in the black hole of assumedly the baby's mouth when it was crying - I don't know that parents would feed a baby Cheerios, as wouldn't they be a choking hazard?

    I admire the writer for trying to write something different, and from a 2nd POV as it is taking a chance, but I think it perhaps would have worked better if it had not come across as being so vengeful sounding, even in humor.

    The second entry (not sure why this is Paranormal Mystery), is evenly matched I think. The story about the cake server being able to stab through flesh into someone's heart feels a bit far-fetched - most cake cutters that I have seen are rounded and it would be extremely difficult to do this (maybe Pampered Chef ones are different though!)

    One inconsistency that bugged me, is that at the beginning the writer mentions that Deb has the cake thrown in her face which results in it (her face) being covered with chocolate icing... then at the end we are told that Cassy can see freckles on Deb's face - not sure how that would be possible if she were smeared with icing? It is a small thing (that sort of felt like a big thing), as it jumped out at me.

    I liked that the writer gave names to their characters, so we as readers know who we are reading about. The idea to use chocolate cake as a story line is a fun idea, and brought to mind the entry last year about chocolate cake from Charlie St. James.

    As the pieces are so close, will need to re-read a couple more times, before casting my vote.

    Congrats again on making it through - you are both winners for accomplishing that!

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    1. Back as promised to cast my vote - after re-reading both several times, voting today for Frazzled Father

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  12. I greatly enjoyed the humor and fun visuals in both pieces, and I'd be very interested in reading Charlie St. James' full story. That said, my vote goes to Frazzled Father. It came down to sentence structure for me and FF's was clear, concise and created a subtext of urgency that corresponded well with the new dad concept.

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  13. I gotta give my vote to Frazzled Father. There was something that just tickled me about the voice in it.

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  14. Frazzled Father: Even flash fiction should have a beginning-middle-end, right? I just didn't see that in the baby instructions, and yes, I was also a little put-off on the negativity of your piece. I'm sure you were going for humor, but it didn't work on me. Sorry.

    Charlie St James: The beginning of this story seems interesting, but I sure would have liked knowing WHERE all this was happening. At first I thought it was a wedding, so it did confuse me a bit. And I did see a hint of paranormal, since the narrator didn't die from being stabbed. So what is she? Curious mind, here. I'd keep reading.

    My vote goes to Charlie St James

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  15. Frazzled Father
    What worked:
    I know there are those who poo-poo it, but I think submitting a piece in 2nd person was a risky choice, and you clearly impressed enough of the slush pile readers to be able to say it paid off. Humor is usually a risk too, since its so subjective. And in a world where procreation is considered a MUST DO, disliking babies gets you slapped with the "edgy" label. Kudos to your courage in stepping away from the norm in so many ways!
    What didn't:
    While I definitely see the humor in this piece, it always landed just a bit wrong. I think Dannie hit the nail on the head in her comment ... this guy seems to be disguising a general disdain for humanity under a thin veneer of funny in a way that doesn't feel intentional to the character because that hatred is never truly relevant to the plot.
    It's unclear whether this narrator is an angry teenager being forced to babysit an unwanted younger sibling or an alien being who is super grossed out by the human life cycle. Settling on one or the other and really committing could strengthen this piece.

    Charlie St. James
    What worked:
    Action! This piece was fast-paced, but easy to follow. It sucked me right along and I immediately felt concern for the characters even though I didn't exactly know what was going on. Like the narrator said, I could tell it was "something bad."
    What didn't:
    The paranormal element wasn't obvious enough to be worth the words it took up, although it is kind of necessary to make the death by cake server element believable.
    The references to office life were also unnecessarily distracting. Talking over coffee and competing over an HR job didn't add anything in my mind. I didn't need to know WHY they were fighting because you did a nice job making the fight exciting on its own.

    My vote goes to Charlie St. James for this round.

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  16. I enjoyed both stories and could read more of each. I vote for Frazzled Father. Charlie St. James can cut back on some unnecessary words, but was fun to read.

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  17. Frazzled Father's story was reminiscent of Mark Twain, and a good effort. But it just didn't work for me, and I cannot say why.

    Charlie St. James: I enjoyed it. The fight with chocolate cake and a Pampered Chef Cake Cutter was brilliant and entertaining. The only distraction was the glow of green in the eye mentioned twice. It was obviously important, but there was no explanation why.

    My vote go to Charlie St. James

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  18. What a nice change of pace into the slightly more absurd! This contest really does have everything.

    I love the "technical" writing style of Frazzled Father's piece. A few of the word choices threw me, and as one of the previous comments said finding a way to incorporate even more technical language would compound the humor, but nothing was distracting enough to pull me out of the piece.

    Charlie's piece starts a bit too abruptly for my tastes, especially with the reliance on cliche as an opener. In media res is great, but in this instance I think backing up a little more to include what set off the situation might make it easier to follow from the start.

    That said I love the voice and the attention to detail. Calling out the brand of the cake cutter as it is jammed in the narrator's chest is one of those deliciously absurd yet surprisingly human reactions, so for me that was the highlight of the piece.

    Both very strong, but my vote goes to Charlie by the width of a cake cutter.

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  19. Both pieces elicited a smile and wonder from me as I read them. My vote is for Frazzled Father because of the unique idea and clever humor.

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  20. Today's entries were funny and I enjoyed them, but my vote goes to Charlie St. James. I am almost always turned off whenever sarcasm about children veers into the nasty (ie horrid things). Thank you for sharing your work!

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  21. Loved the humor in both of these, although, tellingly, neither was actually entered under the "humor" genre. However, my vote goes to Frazzled Father. Anyone who's ever dealt with young children will understand the frustration and ambiguous feelings they can provoke. And at the end -- wow, a complete, sweet story arc compressed into 500 words.

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  22. I found both concepts and execution to be strong and enjoyed reading both. My vote goes to Charlie because of how the vivid details of the fight scene slowed things down in a dramatic way and made me want to take notes for the next time I have to write an action sequence! That said, I found Frazzled Father's piece to be hilarious!

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  23. Both stories were very humorous. Frazzled Father’s story reminded me of one of those Tex Avery “how to” cartoons

    Charlie St James’ peek inside corporate life had a great sarcastic tone.

    This was a very close one, but I am going with Charlie St. James.

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  24. my vote goes to Charlie St James. it was funny and well written, the first one was a little odd. left me a little flat. maybe they tried too hard. if it was supposed to be funny it failed for me.

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  25. I'll go for Charlie St James on this one. Guess it won't keep me away from chocolate cake, though ;)

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  26. My vote goes to Frazzled on this one. :)

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  27. My vote is for Charlie. Funny and creepy!

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  28. My vote goes to Charlie St. James.

    Frazzled Father's entry, while interesting left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Particularly the "milk factory" comment. The humor didn't land in the way I think the author intended.

    As for Charlie St. James I also didn't read it as humorous, more as horror especially as the MC is stabbed three times in the heart. But the writing did a much better job of drawing me in and keeping me interested. Well done on the fight scene.

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  29. I like that the two pieces facing off today are so different. It makes for a nice contrast. Both pieces had their charms, and both had some weaknesses. I'll start with Charlie St. James.
    The fight scene was good, the weapons clever, and the last line punchy and fun. Overall, the writing was to the point and solid, but I was bugged by the amount of -ly adverbs that did nothing to change the meaning of the verb. Something was ACTUALLY going to happen is the same thing as something was going to happen, and that's a wasted word, and one that sticks out like a broken finger. Also, twice with the word REALLY, which is one of the most overused and meaningless words in the English language. Also -- She lunged at me and I ducked and used the only weapon I had on me -- Why not cut the on me? It strengthens the sentence and saves you two words to deploy elsewhere. I know it sounds nitpicky, but with a 500 word limit, it's crucial that every one count, and every wasted word jumps off the page as a missed opportunity.
    Frazzled Father - The idea was clever, and the narrative style and the warning tone about the dangers of children didn't bother me as they did some who left earlier comments. For me, it was all about word choice. The first line set the story up to disappoint. -- I would not advise it, but if you happen to find yourself irrevocably in the position of having to care for one of the horrid things, there are a few techniques you should be aware of beforehand -- You start off in the first person, which gears the readers to believe they will be taking a trip with you, then you shift gears to a more instruction manual vibe, but with words like horrid and irrevocably you keep inserting yourself in, but at a safe distance. It's like you took a soft stance on this piece. If you want to make a warning statement about children, go all out, but you didn't.
    Also, the figurative language fell flat for me as well. Hot dogs for legs and a black hole for a mouth felt a little obvious, and at the same time incongruous for an instruction manual. Your last line may have been your strongest line, but for the word then at the end. Reading it out loud, the word hangs off the sentence and is once again incongruous with the voice of the piece. It was an attempt at something tricky, which deserves congratulations in itself, but it doesn't work on a few levels, which makes the humor fall flat.
    My vote is for Charlie St. James.

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  30. Both of these are so much fun. Voting for Frazzled because the whole thing was delightfully hilarious ("you are not a milk factory") yet managed to successfully switch into an outright adorable final paragraph without losing that humourous tone.
    That being said, Charlie's was so much fun as well. I am all for a messy fight of chocolate cake vs Pampered Chef serving knife! And the last line absolutely killed me. Well done to both writers on this one!

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  31. My vote is for Charlie St. James. I liked the mix of something terrible happening with the humor thrown in, and it was a good combo of dialogue and action.
    Frazzled was good and funny, I think it could be tightened up a little more and refined, but the concept and general tone were really funny.

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  32. Another interesting battle today. FrazzledFather, as a parent, I can totally get behind the idea of an instruction manual on how to care for a baby. It is a great idea. BUT it fails to really read as an instruction manual. Technical writing is designed to inherently lack emotion or opinion and this piece was dripping with it. I was not as offending by the negative tone as some of the other readers but I feel like it did impact the humor. Also, there was inconsistency in descriptions. In one place you refer to a nose as a 'protruding structure' but then later use the term nose. If you don't know the word for legs would you really know what a hot dog is? Or a sumo wrestler? I think you need to decide if the narrator knows these human terms or doesn't and then religiously adhere to that decision. Either come off as completely alien (or AI or whatever) or don't, but don't waffle back and forth. If you do that, I think this piece could be really funny.

    I started off a bit confused with Charlie's piece. I didn't know who was saying which lines so I wasn't sure who I was supposed to connect with. It eventually became clear but it took a few lines. After I figured out who was who, I liked that there was action and that there was something going on (not just the action but the reasons behind the action). That being said, there were a couple of things that didn't sit right with me. First off, the description of the action was too clinical and calm. Cassy is about to be killed by a coworker, she should be freaking out but I don't get a sense of that. Also, there were other coworkers there and they just stood by and watched Cassy get stabbed three times? That just does not work for me. The lack of paranormal elements in this sample doesn't really bother me, though. I assume it is an origin story for how Cassy becomes a ghost or something.

    But, at the end of the day, my vote goes to Charlie St. James.

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  33. Charlie St James got my vote on this round.

    Frazzled Father- satire is always a risky choice as it can be accepted by the room very differently from person to person. For me this was a miss, but that might be because I am a milk factory. If it had been more technical or mechanics focused all the way through like how it first appeared to be I might have been more on board.

    Charlie St James: I am always a sucker for a good fight scene. I thought the humor was very clever in this and the action was well balanced. The thing that struck me is that I didn’t feel this being paranormal at all? Maybe sci-fi, I felt like she was a cyborg or an android almost rather than anything paranormal. The dialogue works great here though.

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  34. Frazzled father has an excellent blend of humor and care here. I vote for his story!

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  35. Going with Charlie St James. The instruction manual just didn't grab me.
    I would like a little more character with the fight scene from Charlie. Bonus points for the Pampered Chef cake cutter as a deadly weapon.

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  36. It’s a toss-up here. There’s things I love and don’t love about both pieces. They’re both very different, while oddly similar at the same time.

    I have to say I loved Frazzle Father’s story more than I do Charlie St. James’, however I like Charlie’s writing a bit more.

    I think Frazzle Father’s was a bit choppy, but still keeping me engaged and smiling.

    Where as Charlie wrote very well, I just wasn’t necessarily sure what was going on in the background. If the people were frozen for a reason.

    Regardless, my vote is going to Frazzle Father, I really enjoyed your story 😊

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  37. Both pieces provided details on things very common in a humorous way. Unfortunately, both pieces had a number of technical issues that bothered me. Frazzled Father had a weak start that on initial read contradicted itself. Charlie St. James didn’t let me know who was who. Didn’t know who the characters were until over half way through.

    That being said: I loved Frazzled Father’s use of contemporary jargon to describe one of the “horrid things.” Charlie St. James provided great details of a fight scene that made what was a brutal and bloody scene into something humorous.

    I would love to read more from both of these authors. However, at some point, I have to pick the best of the two.

    My vote goes to Charlie St. James because he/she gave me a complete scene. In the end, I wanted more from Frazzled Father to wrap up the story. Felt as though I was left hanging.

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  38. Absolutely loved both but my vote has to go to frazzled simply because I so identified with the piece.

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  39. Fingers crossed that tis vote will actually post!

    Frazzled Father: Very original. The “you are not a cow. You are not a milk factory” has a Fight Club “You are not a beautiful, unique snowflake” rhythm that I like. I enjoyed tis piece.


    Charlie: I love your phrase “Narcotized by reality TV.” The story was a little hard for me to follow, however, as there were dialouge tags missing in crucial places.

    VOTE: FRAZZLED FATHER

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  40. Frazzled Father gets my vote. Humor that I related to as a parent.
    Charlie's seems to begin in the middle. I want to know more about why ....

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  41. Father πŸ˜†πŸ€£πŸ˜„πŸ˜…πŸ˜†πŸ˜‚ omg. When this year is over, I want to know what prompted this. Also, you owe me an asthma inhaler for making me laugh too hard.πŸ˜‰

    Thankfully, I'm fairing better than the mc in Charlie's story.

    Not crazy about opening with dialogue. But in such a small space, I see how it happens.

    Father has my vote today.

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  42. Frazzled Father: Though it was a little bit funny, this piece didn't really go anywhere for me.

    Charlie St. James: Also funny though I wish that the paranormal bit of the piece could be a little more apparent aside from the green glowing eyes. I thought the last line in the end was the clincher for me.

    My vote goes to Charlie St. James.

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  43. Frazzled Father is clever, but not really an narrative.
    Charlie St. James gets my vote because he tells a story, albeit a gruesome one. I'm looking at my own cake server with a little more respect now.

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  44. Frazzled Father on one side of the ring representing the Flash Fiction genre.
    Amusing opening and concept, but the style lacked a character to keep me hooked. I did finish it but wasn't wowed. Even shorter would be stronger and more focused. Still well done.

    Charlie St James who is representing the Paranormal Mystery genre.
    The tone was an immediate hook and I had to keep reading. The mix of dialogue, action-reaction, impassive onlookers, thoughts, and description flowed well. I nodded at the last line - promotion is a deadly motive. That green glow has to be a warning - but too late. The death thoughts feel too drawn out, and I expected more feelings. But almost there.

    My vote goes to Charlie St James.

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  45. In round 4, I was struck by how there was a common theme in both entries, but here, even though both adopt a humorous approach, I find it interesting how radically different the two pieces are -- in style, structure, approach, and subject manner. Yet both writers still manage to hold my interest and there are things I like in both submissions.

    Frazzled Father interjects humor into an instruction manual and I appreciate how challenging this can be. There are many elements that I can identify with, and I found myself smiling at several points.

    However, unfortunately, I think the overall attempt fell a bit flat, hampered by issues both technical and stylistic. The tone seemed to be going for snarky humor but too often degraded into bitterness -- "horrid," "cow," "milk factory," for example, are more insulting than spoofing, The 'instruction manual' approach was not maintained well enough, interspersed with first-person opinions and vague descriptions ("structure protruding," "contraption," "various positions," etc.).

    I also found the dangling em-dashes distracting (and I am normally very fond of em-dashes), and I think the sentence "After analyzation, you..." goes before the list of "Input: applesauce, milk,..." since the sentence ends with "the following input." And maybe "analysis" instead of "analyzation?"

    In contrast, the piece by Charlie St. James goes for a wholly different approach: An immediate scene, with action, dialogue, and drama, but still with elements of humor. Here, the telling is not aloof, but designed to pull the reader in and immerse them in the story, and it does a good job of it.

    Yes, there are a few things I think could be improved. I personally dislike a piece opening with unattributed dialogue -- it leaves the reader ungrounded in those vital first few words, working to answer the question of "who's speaking." instead of focusing on what the speaker is saying and how it ties into the story. I also wonder what the basic setting is -- the cake is a central element but why? Is it a birthday cake? Are the workers celebrating a retirement? Maybe the MC's promotion, since it might give Deb some sort of motivation?

    But besides some weakness in establishing the scene, I think Charlie does a good job of maintaining the flow of the story, and deftly balances the dark events against the quirky, humorous voice of the MC. Several story questions are raised and I'm curious to know what happens next -- despite the apparent impending death of the MC, I feel like there's more story still to be told here.

    So I give this round to Charlie.

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  46. Frazzled Father: I’m torn by your sample. I can’t decide if it’s really clever or your ‘humour’ just hasn’t worked for me.

    My initial reaction is if you read beyond the lines, so to speak, this could be addressing a number of factors/issues. Parenthood in its many guises is HARD and (speaking from personal experience,) it’s really difficult to dissociate yourself from being said parent. This line—‘Remember-- you are not a cow. You are not a milk factory...‘ makes me think you’re being clever and speaking to the ‘person,’ not the dad/mum and reminding them it’s okay to not be Mary Poppins today... your sample has me all conflicted Frazzled Father. BUT, it’s well written and if I take it as satire you’ve done your job. I think...

    Charlie St James: a delightful dance of words! You set the scene really well, I liked your use of dialogue to speed up the pace and the chocolate cake, well that made me LOL. But you used said cake so very well. Great sample, well done.

    But... my vote goes to Frazzled Father because I’m going to be thinking about this sample all day.

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    1. Just to say Frazzled Father I’m still thinking about your sample.

      ‘ ... you can leave it alone in its highchair and go fix yourself a peanut butter and jelly sandwich.’ Is telling said parent it’s okay to eat, baby can cry for a few minutes—go eat!

      ‘...Proceed by trial and error.’ Telling said parent again, you’re gonna’ get this wrong BUT it’s okay.

      ‘...You might look at it and suddenly notice its little button nose, its cheeks flushed pink, its tiny, fluttering eyelashes. It might reach up to grasp your finger, and you will look at the tiny digits curled around yours...’ Again, yes, you love this little bundle but today you’re on autopilot, THAT is okay.

      Frazzled Father I could rip this sample apart all day. But I think you’ve been very, very clever with your writing and my vote stays with you. Congrats!


      Delete
  47. Hmmm. I was uncomfortable with some of the assertions in Frazzled Father's piece. I know it was meant to be satirical humor, but in places it came across as just plain mean. Sorry, but it was a good story, just went too far. My vote goes to Charlie St. James, but I was confused about the "horror" designation. It didn't come across to me as horror, despite the green light in half of her eye.

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  48. Frazzled - the concept is great, but I really had to stop and think to make some of the connections here. On a personal level, I’m not a big fan of calling a baby “It,” and I struggled with the cow comment, even in satire. Nice ending, though!

    Charlie - nice start in the middle of the action, although maybe open with a non-dialogue sentence. I don’t know anything about either character. “Women like you” is unnecessarily vague. This excerpt also requires a lot of suspension of disbelief. Nobody in the room reacts at all? This cake-cutter murder is just over a job? But nice use of the setting - plastic fork, slipping in icing - to keep us grounded in the scene.

    I vote for Charlie this round.

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  49. My vote goes to Frazzled Father because it’s cute! Charlie did a great job, but the story just didn’t hold my interest.

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  50. The tone of both these pieces was great! I loved the humor in both of them. Frazzled Father spoke to the parent in me. When I had my first child, I felt overwhelmed and at a loss for what to do a lot of the time. Why doesn't parenthood come with a manual? A funny story that for sure.

    Charlie St. James had a great tone that pulled me into the story. It was witty and compelling. I never thought about being stabbed to death with a cake server either, but now I'll be thinking of it all day! I really must remember to be careful with those things. The descriptions were great, and the final line was perfect!

    My vote goes to Charlie, but I'd like to thank both authors for making me laugh. This was a great round!

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  51. Both these stories had humor going for them. My vote goes to Frazzled Father because of the descriptive writing and the whole baby thing is something I easily relate to.

    Charlie St. James - good job pulling the reader into the scene and I especially liked the action. But I was confused when she said the only weapon she had was chocolate cake then later on she had a plastic fork. Also, the last line didn't seem to fit the story quite right. Nice story overall.

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  52. I vote for Charlie St. James.

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  53. Neither of these really grabbed me.

    Charlie St. James could use a little tightening, as well as a few more details to really anchor me in the scene and the characters. For example, I'm not sure what the green light in the eye means.

    Frazzled Father's writing is crisp and voicey, but I found his attitude toward babies (and the act of breastfeeding) grossly offensive. If the author was going for humor, he missed the mark for me.

    I vote Charlie St. James.

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  54. I love both of them! Only someone with children could full appreciate Frazzeled's. As I read Both I knew this would be a tough choice. They are both great, but I have to go with Frazzeled because of Charlie's last line. If it wasn't there I may have gone a different direction.

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  55. With these two, I definitely pick Charlie St. James. Charlie St. James's sample was paced well, but I especially enjoyed the last line as it added humor into an otherwise very unhumorous and bloody situation.

    Frazzled Father's sample didn't grab me at all. I felt like the concept was really good, but the execution was lacking. It almost felt to me as if it was trying too hard to be funny, but it fell flat.

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  56. Had to think about these over the weekend--they both had endings with zing. Enjoyed them both. Congrats on making it to a bout!
    I'm taking Charlie St. James this time. The situation is hilarious, and the final line is just too, too much.
    I can relate to Frazzled Father. The baby falling asleep is very well described, made me go soft. The other piece just edged this one out.

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  57. This was honestly my toughest decision so far.

    Frazzled Father: I think any new parent can sympathize with the sense of being overwhelmed by the demands of a baby. Framing the story as an instruction manual may not be entirely original, but it's uncommon enough and a brave choice for this competition. I enjoyed a lot of the humor here (the deadpan instruction to say "bop" when touching the nose or to imitate a popcorn popper). The off-putting negative attitude toward the child was alleviated for me at the end as the baby was falling asleep, where the tenderness came out. On the other hand, much of the language missed its mark, because it was trying too hard to be technical ("analyzation") or simply didn't accurately describe what was happening (how will picking up the baby and rocking it help to "plug the contraption"?). Like others here, I don't know who would be writing this instruction manual or who its intended audience is. Initially I assumed it was for aliens or robots (who somehow don't know what noses are, but do know what Cheerios are). That doesn't fit with the admonishment at the end about wanting to have one of your own, so I'm confused.

    Charlie St James: Again, I enjoyed a lot of the humorous touches here: using the cake as a theme, the dance classes Deb talked about over coffee, naming the brand of the cake knife. The idea of a knife fight over who gets the promotion is funny itself, just a slight exaggeration over some of the confrontations I've seen. The drawbacks of this entry for me relate to being confused. I would have liked to have the setting a bit more grounded initially (like others here, I thought at first it was a wedding or birthday party or something like that). I can't imagine why nobody else in the room is reacting. I'm sure that the glowing green eye is important, but I don't know why. It's labeled as "Paranormal Mystery," so I'm sure there's a whole level happening here I just missed.

    After a lot of thought, I'm giving my vote to Charlie St James, because I just had more fun reading it.

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  58. Ha ha ha! As the current mother of a seventh month old (love being a milk factory at the moment but also equally looking forward to the end of that phase!), I have to vote for Frazzled Father!

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  59. Two more good entries, but Charlie St James gets my vote. Tight writing, the story moves along, and the ending was unexpected.
    Frazzled Father reminded me of one of those old fuzzy fax tropes that used to circulate between offices, maybe written by Sherlock himself, but it didn't quite finish with the polished zing I had hoped for.

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  60. Charlie St. James gets my vote. The writing could use some tightening in places. I'm not quite clear what's actually happening here: are other people there but frozen in time? Is the green light in the eye paranormal? Is the narrator frequenly reincarnated? Do the narrator and Deb have coffee to discuss Deb's dance history AFTER the narrator dies? I do love chocolate cake...

    Frazzled Father: This was a bold choice of genre; however, it didn't work for me. It seemed cliched with nothing particularly new or exciting to add. I also found the "voice" of the piece variable.

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  61. Frazzled Father takes my vote.
    I'm a sucker for twisty, weird explanations of normal things, and this piece feels very tight and well balanced as a singular story.
    In Charlie St. James' story, I wasn't drawn to the characters. The action and dialog were fast paced, intriguing and sucked me in, but the finish of the story fell a little flat for me. I liked the quip at the end, but I didn't feel like I cared that the MC was dying, or that Deb had won. I didn't have any questions that would haunt me about the story. I'm curious about the green eye, and I want to know the stakes, but because I don't the story doesn't stick as well.
    However, with those comments, there is also major chops to the moment of the cake being the only weapon. I laughed, and it was a delightful moment.
    I enjoyed both stories this round, thank you for your contributions.

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  62. I've gotta go with Frazzled Father on this one. I giggled throughout the piece. Great sideways glance at the life of caring for an infant!

    Charlie's story was also amusing but I wasn't expecting the violence and it put me off. Until then it felt a bit like an episode of The Office. Well done on that.

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    1. As this is anonymous, the vote will not count.

      Delete
  63. Voting for Frazzled Father for the quirky humor.

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  64. I vote for Charlie as I wanted to know what happened next. Was the last line the end of the story? I couldn't be sure.

    I liked Frazzled Father, but it read more like a humorous essay than fiction. I prefer fiction.

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  65. My vote for this round goes to Frazzled Father - thank you both for sharing your work!

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  66. I vote for Charlie, but this was a tough one, as they both made me laugh. Ultimately, Frazzled didn't give me a lot of plot and some tonal/word choice inconsistencies had me wondering if the narrator was a stressed out dad or an alien mimicking a babysitter on earth. Charlie's had a consistent ridiculousness that amused me, and details that I appreciated about the fight itself. Great job to both.

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  67. Whew. What a roller coaster ride of a week. Congratulations to the both of you for arriving at your destination!

    Frazzled Father’s piece had me laughing at the premise! Trying to explain such an overly complicated endeavor as taking care of a baby is quite the overwhelming task. There was a bit of clunkiness in some of the sentences, but overall a fun piece.

    Charlie St James’s piece has a lot of suspense going. Right away we jump into the middle of an argument, and have to discover who is in the right. Unfortunately, our poor narrator doesn’t get very far, and his untimely demise is an unexpected ending to the piece.

    My vote goes to Frazzled Father for taking the everyday and making it humorous.

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  68. I enjoyed the humorous how to manual approach in Frazzled Father’s piece, but did not care for the “you are not a cow” comment. It struck me as harsh. Something softer like “you are not equipped for this” would have been more appealing. I enjoyed the fight scene involving a Pampered Chef cake server in the Charlie St James piece. Charlie St. James gets my vote.

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  69. Voting for the Charlie St. James piece for tension, conflict, character, and plot. Frazzled Father's piece was just too problematic to be appealing.

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  70. I vote for Frazzled Father - I enjoyed the unexpected and fun approach.

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  71. My vote is for Frazzled Father, for the clever imagery and twist at the end.

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  72. My vote is for Charlie St James. Good: I want to know what started the fight and how the character survives (if she does) Bad: I didn't know who was saying what in the beginning. Tags would be nice. Also hinting at the possession earlier in the piece would make this more paranormal.

    For Frazzled Father, I actually like satire but this lacked consistency in genre, POV, tone, and characterization. Many have already said in detail what's not great about the piece so I won't.

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  73. I'm so torn. I feel more emotionally connected to the humor in Frazzled Father's piece, but I think Charlie's is, overall, the more competently-written of the two.

    Ultimately, I'm still giving my vote to Frazzled. I feel as though the concept and execution is more clear and present here, whereas with Charlie's, I'm not sure where the story started our where it's going. Because I'm not fully connecting from a more base, conceptual standpoint, FreakedF wind.

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    1. That should say, "Frazzled wins" at the end. Something in Blogger mobile loves to mess up what I've typed.

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  74. Not a fan at all of Frazzled Father, sorry. Trying too hard to be clever. Charlie St. James had me hooked right away. What was the green in her eye? Envy of the HR job? Was she possessed, does she have remorse, just how sharp are those plastic cake cutters? Charlie has my vote.

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  75. Frazzled Father - Clever idea and a really unique take to it. I think it delved a little too deeply into mechanical thinking and it pulled me out when I was trying to understand what each bit of description meant, but overall I really enjoyed it.

    Charlie St James - Well damn. That sucked me right in. Aside from having to re-read the first two lines to orientate myself at the very start, I couldn't look away. Definitely wasn't expecting Cassie to actually get caught! It left me with questions, but the kind that make me want to read on to find out more...which is the point, I suppose.

    Vote goes to Charlie St James!!

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  76. Frazzled Father - Talk about the woe of parenthood. Or of watching a baby. I wonder what the comments would be if the context included the gender of the narrator? "You are not a milk factory." That, maybe, and only maybe, implies a male. But how would the story sit with readers if it were one of those pre-teen girls from the news who have been forced into parenthood-- one who perhaps hoped to be a scientist-- and is giving the baby up for adoption? Or is just a foster parent looking after a baby for a short time while a real parent is in court? Maybe it's a baby sitter? I feel like this could take several turns. Maybe it's just someone who was never taught about childcare. But maybe it isn't. Not knowing makes it difficult for me to form an opinion.

    Charlie St James- I'm laughing at murder. I mean, there's something you just don't see every day. You get my vote.

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  77. My vote is for Charlie St James.

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  78. Frazzled father: that was amazing, hilarious, and reminded me of those alien cartoons. I love the whole idea of the instruction manual for non milk producing parents. I love the way that the baby was portrayed. I am assuming that it was intended for a human audience rather than an alien audience because of the human-centric references, but besides that ambiguity I absolutely loved it.

    Charlie St. James: wowzers. It made me think about what would happen if Angela from The Office suddenly went knife crazy. I like how the conflict was introduced in the first line, and I like how the weapon was a cake cutter. I wanted a little bit more information about the protagonist so that I could feel like I was more in their POV. All I need is a sentence or two, just a beat, on the outset to orient me before the office battle begins. Is it wrong that you made me hungry for sheet cake?

    I loved both, but since this is a democracy, my vote goes to the Frazzled Father

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  79. I thought both were really good, among the best so far.

    Charlie St. James's piece had some great insight into someone trying to make sense of a sudden and unusual situation. It was a good scene, but, due to the 500-word limit, left some questions about the motivation for the attack. The sentence at the end can't do that. It would have to come earlier.

    Frazzled Father's piece is well written and has the advantage of being a complete piece, so can take control of the whole experience in 500 words.

    My vote is for Frazzled Father.

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