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WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Playoff Bout #1

Reminder - Cage Bouts 3-6 are still taking your votes. Please make those your next stop if you've not voted there yet.

We are now (or soon will be) down to just six contestants and it's time to see how they match up with ALL NEW MATERIAL.

There will be three bouts this week (Mon-Wed-Fri) and pay special attention to when voting ends because a staggered timeline will be used again. Speaking of voting, it has a special significance during the playoffs because in addition to three winners advancing to the semi-finals, a fourth Wildcard winner will also be selected. How is the WC chosen? It will be the loser that had garnered the most votes among all three losers. So every vote counts - win or lose.

We do ask that you leave a brief critique for all of our contestants because that is one of the real values of this contest – FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

The voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, June 9th (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the semi-final round where they’ll face a different opponent with another 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

Please welcome back into the ring, with all new material - 


“Look,” Jordan said around a mouthful of pumpkin ravioli. “It’s not that I don’t want to play Happy Family with you, but there’s a lot you don’t know about me.”
I swallowed down half my Malbec before topping it off again. “It’s whatever, Jordi. I shouldn’t have even asked. Let’s just enjoy dinner, okay?”
“I want this so much, Neil.” He reached across the table and took my hand in his. “But you don’t know what you’re walking into.”
“What don’t I know? Are you secretly straight? Are you in some vitamin selling cult? Help me understand.” I rubbed small circles on Jordan’s always-cold hand and waited for him to say something.
“Remember that old cooking competition, Teflon Tantrums?” His voice wobbled and he squeezed his eyes tight.
“The one where kids cooked outrageous shit? What about it?”
“I was on it.” He grimaced and pushed his ravioli away.
I choked back a laugh with another swig of wine. “Bullshit. You can’t even cook.”
“Actually, I cooked well enough to win the show and a boatload of cash.”
“Is this some kind of joke?” I pulled my hand away and leaned back in my chair. “If it’s true, you’ve been lying about not knowing how to cook all along. What the hell?”
“Oh, God. Please don’t be mad.”
“I’m not mad, I’m confused.”
Jordi took a deep breath and pressed his lips together. He seemed to shrink in front of me as the waiter cleared our half-eaten dinners.

“My mother was the Pageant Mom of cooking. By the time I was six, I could make a pie from scratch. My childhood sucked, and that fucking show was just the ganache on the cake.”
“Your mother taught you how to cook when you were little, and it ruined your life? I don’t understand.”
“Of course you don’t. Nobody does, that’s why I don’t talk about it. Can you imagine the pressure of cooking an entire holiday meal for fifteen when you’re only eleven? Or having to make your own three-tiered birthday cake? I would have given anything for her to just make me a boxed cake like a regular mother.” He spit words like venom. “And God help me if I didn’t show a hundred fancy skills. Sugar work, piping, mirror glaze.” Jordi blotted his eyes with his napkin and reigned himself in.
“After graduation, I ran far away, changed my name, and never looked back. But I can’t outrun her. I didn’t lie, Neil, I literally cannot cook. Cooking throws me right back into her kitchen where she still screams at me. Man up! Whip harder! Stop. Your. Crying!  When I cook, I still see lasagna dripping off the walls because the sauce was too garlicky.”
I slid into his booth and wrapped my arms around his shivering body. “Baby,” I kissed the top of his head. “As long as I’m around, you’ll never have to cook again. I adore you. Marry me.”

Our second contestant is Sicaria

A single black curl bobs on the doll’s ancient porcelain head. One. Two. Three bobs. A shift in the air. The curtain flutters. Pale moonlight dances across the floor, reaching for me, wanting me.
I slip my hand under my pillow, searching for the small packet hidden there. I can’t find it. Keeping one eye on the doll, which is blissfully still at the moment, I lift my pillow with practiced steadiness. The pills are gone. Did Mom find them? Did she suspect I was doing drugs after I told her what was happening, convinced I was making it all up to get attention? Or did IT take them? Can it do that?
A picture frame wobbles on my dresser, almost falls, and then steadies as though an invisible hand caught it. Tears prick my eyes as I scan the floor for the pills. Addicted at fifteen—every girl’s dream. But I need to sleep. It’s been weeks since this started. Or maybe days. I’m losing count.
A faded stuffed bear topples off a pile of childish junk destined for Goodwill. I swallow a cry as it crawls back to the top like a spider claiming its web. Gripping my comforter, I pull it to my chin, shaking beneath its thick warmth. “I’m not making this up.” I choke on the words.
And then it comes. The soft, singsong voice that worms its way into my bones and is getting harder and harder to resist.
Come with me, it whispers. I shake my head.
Come with me. More insistent this time.
A whimper escapes my lips. “No.”
A feather-light touch on my hand, icy, compelling. Please.
It’s never said please before.
Come and play. Loneliness and hope flit around the words. I should play with it. Keep it company. I swing my legs over the side of the bed, toes brushing against the thick patterned rug.
Come and play. Laughter skips through the room, bright and tinkling.
I stand, the rug now freshly mown grass beneath my feet, the sweet smell of spring filling the air. Velvet wisps of fog curl around me, beckoning, glowing in the light which now filters through my second-story window, chasing away the night.
I grasp the small, translucent hand reaching toward me and take a step.
Misty haze swirls around me like a cozy blanket, enveloping me, smothering me.
“Maddie! What are you doing!” Mom’s voice is muffled, distant.
Shadows creep around the window frame, stealing the light, stealing me.
Play with me.
“No,” I whisper, reaching back, back toward safety, back toward Mom.
Now!  I dig my feet into the ground, one hand pulled toward the fading light still seeping through the window, the other flailing as I struggle to find something, anything to grab. My fingers graze Mom’s. One last desperate yank. The light vanishes, and I lie huddled in Mom’s lap.
A threat, a promise, rings in my ear. Tomorrow.

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 on Wednesday with our second playoff 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. Oh, man...this contest just gets harder and harder! These are extraordinarily good--both passages are fluidly written and convey scene and emotion so well! IshYouNotIsMe beautifully conveyed the tender dynamic between Jordan and Neil, and the pathos and humor in the passage made for an incredibly compelling read. Sicaria's piece was likewise amazing--the slow, creeping buildup of terror, the MC's desperation and fear, the delicate atmospheric touches, all left me wanting more!!! I want so badly to vote for both, because I was so drawn into the worlds created by the authors. In the end, it's IshYouNotIsMe by a nose because I loved the chemistry between the characters and want to know what happens between them. Congratulations to both of you!!!!!

  2. Both such great entries! I love the dialogue and interaction in IshYou’s piece, it’s very well done, and I love the creepiness and word use in Sicaria’s piece. I’m going to go with Sicaria today.

  3. Wow. Both stories left me a bit breathless. Excellent work, both of you. Congratulations for making it this far. Now I have to vote. This is hard. IshYouNotIsMe, you wowed me with the emotional build, the story of the kids cooking show will make me look at those shows a bit differently. Sicaria, your story scared me. The way you built the tension is so real. I loved both stories, but have to go with IshYouNotIsMe today.

  4. Both are well written. Ish had me a little confused at the beginning like I missed a great big conversation but that resolved itself by the end.

    Sicaria's piece grabbed me and pulled me in. The imagery was spot on and I could see everything that was happening and feel it as well.

    Good job up both of you. My vote goes to Sicaria.

  5. Like Buddy the Elf says: "Congratulations, you did it!" Congrats Ish and Sicaria, for making the top 6!

    You did a wonderful job of showing me Neil and Jordan's relationship. I could feel the love and trust they have for each other, and I hope Jordan never spoke to his awful Momster again.

    This was a slow-burn that somehow felt much longer than 500 words. I was a bit confused at first. Was I reading a mental illness story? A supernatural story? An addiction story? I know a great deal about both mental illness and addiction, and I've also battled a voice whispering evil things at me.

    I decided this is a mental illness/addiction story, and you lost me at the whispering voice. The voice can be seductive and can sound so reasonable, but it never gently coaxes, invites me to play, or says please. Of course, one person's evil whisper doesn't have to sound just like another's, but in the end, it just didn't feel quite true to me, thanks to my own asshole voice, I guess.

    IshYouNotIshMe gets my vote today, but both pieces are incredible.

  6. Both excellent contenders. Congratulations on making it this far!

    IshYouNotIshMe: The relationship between Neil and Jordan is wonderfully portrayed. This piece is humorous, yet tender, oozing with personality, and so very original...until the last paragraph, which, to me, seems uncharacteristically generic. The dialogue "Baby... as long as I'm around, you'll never have to cook again..." doesn't quite fit with Neil's previous style of speech. I really enjoyed the bulk of this story, but after such original, lively writing, that last paragraph came as a letdown. I would have liked the personality that pervaded the rest of the piece to have shown up in the closing.

    Sicaria: I'm not a big fan of horror, but you brought every child's bedtime fears to life. Tension and voice remained steady throughout.

    It's a close call today, and unfortunately, it comes down to that one paragraph. Though I might have trouble sleeping tonight, my vote goes to Sicaria.

    Again, good job to both of you!

  7. ishYouNotishMe
    What worked:
    You establish the setting and characters through dialogue without making it feel stilted or forced. Great efficiency with your words, allowing you to really tell the whole story very quickly. The relationship between Jordan and Neil feels real and relatable.
    What didn't:
    I ... I kinda love everything about this piece. There's nothing I'd change.

    What worked:
    Great, creepy description. The teddy bear spider-crawling its way to the top of the pile?? I'm very sure my brain tucked that imagery away to torture me with during some future nightmare. The lure of the lonely spirit and the literal and figurative anchor her mother provides are played against each other very well.
    What didn't:
    You've also managed to get a lot into your 500 words, but the backstory about the pills feels a tiny bit forced. In a longer piece you'd have had more time to show us her struggles with the pills rather than telling us about them.

    My vote goes to ishYouNotishMe, but it was a very close call. Both of these pieces are excellent and I hope to see them somewhere in the real world someday!

  8. Congrats to both writers! These are both great!
    Ish: The dialogue in your piece is great - I learned things about each character with each new piece of dialogue, but it never felt like "telling" and it was very natural.
    Sicaria: Super creepy. I loved the descriptors - like the carpet being freshly mowed grass. I didn't know what was happening necessarily but it didn't matter - I was pulled into the story and wanted to keep reading. I found myself reading faster and faster and felt a shiver at the end. Just excellent storytelling.
    Sicaria gets my vote today.

  9. I appreciate the writing style of both stories and think they were done well, but the 2nd story lost me at the sleeping pills. Things were super creepy, the chills, touches, etc., not knowing if the doll/voice/bad thing had taken the pills - if I was being visited by a frightening presence that nobody believed me about and it was in my bedroom at night and I suspected it could physically move/touch things, I wouldn't even try to sleep in that room, let alone a medicated sleep that I can't easily pull myself out of. The scene was otherwise very well set, but I couldn't connect to the MC when her actions made so little sense to me.

    The first story ending with a proposal was a little too much too soon, but with a 500 word limit, I can't say I wouldn't have done the same. The pageant mom of cooking was an interesting twist, and I really like how Jordan explained that "I can't cook" is quite literally his truth, not a simple refusal to learn/use cooking skills.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe today. Both writers are obviously very skilled, I just had a much easier time relating to the thought processes of the characters in one story versus the other.

  10. Both are so good! Congratulations to you both.
    I just loved the first piece...It was intimate and entertaining, and reading it felt like brain candy. I would love to spend more time with your characters.

    Sicaria's piece was excellent, too! It was creepy and scary, an interesting premise, but it didn't pull me in quite as tightly.

    My vote is for IshYouNotishMe

  11. Congratulations to both of you!!

    I love the relationship between the two characters in IshYouNotIshMe's story.

    I love the imagery in Sicaria's piece although I too was left a bit confused about whether it was about addiction/mental illness/children's nightmares/supernatural.

    My vote today is for IshYouNotIshMe. Great job both of you!

  12. I vote for IshYouNotishMe today.

    It reads like such a great slice of modern life. Unique take on competition and reality TV show culture, too. As written, I was grounded quickly and understood what was going on immediately.

    For Sicaria, I struggled to understand what was happening. Half-way into the five hundred words, I understood, but with only 500 words, that's too far to go without that solid understanding of situation.

    For this minor issue, IshYouNotishMe beats out Sicaria today.

  13. My vote goes to IshYouNotishMe today. :)

  14. Eek! So hard!
    Both pieces are strong, compelling, and emotional - in very different ways.
    I had to read them again to help me make a decision, and they still both gave me a wonderful emotional punch.
    My vote will go to Sicaria today in a very close battle. Thanks for sharing these stories with us

  15. My vote is for Sicaria - very effective piece.

  16. My vote goes to Sicaria. Ish is good but it took me a little bit to find the flow of the story. Sicaria was a slow build of tension that had me right from the start.

  17. My vote goes to Sicaria. very creepy

  18. IshYou: good start in the middle of a scene. I can’t really feel Jordan’s emotion about the horrible cooking show. Sweet ending! I really like these characters and am already rooting for them.

    Sicaria: different piece, but the same chills! Ultimately, I’m not sure if Maddie is hallucinating or if the toys really are coming to life, which adds a ton of creepiness to the piece.

    I vote for Sicaria because I really want to know what happens next. Great job to both!!

  19. Felt IshYouNotishMe had a richer, more thoughtful story. Struggled a little with accepting Sicaria's repetitive use of "A" as a determiner, at least for a story this short ("A single ... A picture ... A faded ... A whimper ... A feather-light ... A threat ..."). A vote for IshYouNotishMe

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  21. Both were good reads, but I loved the suspense in Sicaria! It left me wanting more and to know what happens next. My vote goes to Sicaria

  22. WOW! Wish we could vote for both! However, though I loved the story and tenderness of Ish's piece, the suspense of Sicaria's gets my vote today.

  23. IshYouNotIsMe - I was confused by the opening but then got swept along by the dialogue. I could also relate to the food - as a fan of cooking programmes. Sorry Jordi. The premise is great with a neat ending. Full marks for the LGQBT angle. There were a few phrases that didn't work - and a use of tense not working. Good piece but not up to the expected standard in previous rounds. You're chopped.

    Sicaria - your opening grabs me. Words and phrases weave images. The scares grow - the mix of reality and the supernaural. Your style 'worms its way into my bones'. I'm glad it's day here. I'm unsure as each sentence unfolds where this is going. And the last line suggests more - and I want to know. But I'm scared of what is out there. Powerful. You play with language and perhaps break rules, but I like your writing.

    My vote is for Sicaria.

  24. The first story confused me. There were elements that should have been funny, but there was no humor. Some of the dialog was sarcastic, such as the "playing Happy Family" remark, and the main character pulling back with "Whatever...I shouldn't have even asked." It was as though the two characters were almost strangers, and so the happy ending was a surprise.

    I enjoyed the creepiness of Sicaria's story. But the doll, being called to "come and play," the main character thinking she should go play with it, seemed like someone much younger. Then she turns out to be fifteen, and on drugs. Seems like the age of the girl was out of sync with other elements of the story.

    But there was a lot to like, it was well written, and my vote goes to Sicaria.

  25. Both stories are well-written. My only criticism with the first is that IshYouNotishMe made me feel like I had to catch up to what was going on, and had to read it through twice before I understood the story. Sicaria, your name should be "SCARE-ia", because thanks to you now I will not sleep tonight. Sicaria gets my vote. Well done!

    1. Anonymous votes are not permitted, and as such this vote will not be counted.

  26. Wow tough tough call. See both have open ended endings. We don't know if Jordan says yes. We don't know if the doll will one day win.

    Both have great atmosphere and fantastic pacing.

    My vote goes for IshYouNotishMe because that moment of vulnerability, confession, and all of it followed by acceptance was beautifully done and I want to see both of them happy.

  27. Both of these pieces are fabulous and in two very different ways. IshYouNotIshMe starts off with a delightful exchange between two lovers, one that doesn't seem real and yet somehow manages to capture the moment.

    Sicaria captures the essence of creepy and though I'm not normally a reader of horror, this had me on the edge of my seat. For this reason, Sicaria gets my vote. I could read a whole book about what happened in this short piece and I'm dying to find out more!

  28. I vote for IshYouNotIshMe. This one was tough! Ish's story was tight the whole way through; Sicaria's piece, while I loved the creepiness, got off to a wobbly start for me. I'd love to see a second draft of Siciaria's in the future!

  29. Ish - Like so many of the stories that made the top thirty, absolutely no figurative language used. Big missed opportunity in a story that's all character. Metaphor and simile are great ways to help us view your characters as you see them, otherwise they're only a real as their dialog, which was just okay.
    Sicaria - You did use language to bring out your characters and the atmosphere, and for that you get my vote. Good, solid writing, but I thought the story wasn't as compelling as your first entry.


  30. I like these both, but I will vote for IshYouNotIshMe. What's weird is I have considered writing a similar story before - when watching MasterChef Jr., I spent a while wondering what the life of a former child cooking star was like (a very oddly specific issue!), 10-20 years down the road.

  31. Loved reading these fresh pieces. Ish, the diversity of your entries is really impressive. I was a big fan of your ghostly guardian, so the fact that you transitioned so smoothly to contemporary was a great feat. Authentic language and subtle humor seems to be your strong suit. (And I would bet you had to chop a more satisfying conclusion to stay within 500 words...?)

    Sicaria, I loved your first entry SO much, so I had high expectations for this one! The plot was definitely gripping, though I was pulled out occasionally by some clunky phrasing, ex:

    - "...steadies as though an invisible hand caught it" / maybe: "steadies as though caught by an invisible hand"
    - "...worms its way into my bones and is getting harder and harder to resist." / maybe "...and gets harder and harder to resist" or split into two sentences.

    I'm going to vote Ish for this one but am inspired by both!

  32. My vote goes to Sicaria. I enjoyed the creepiness of the piece, though it didn't really get my attention enough to want to read more. Honestly I enjoyed Sicaria's first piece much more.

    IshYouNotIshMe -- I just couldn't get into it. I found it hard to really understand and sympathize with Jordan's problems with cooking. Plus, I really enjoyed the supernatural element of your first piece, and found the shift to contemporary with this piece disappointing.

  33. My vote for Sicaria. I was on the edge of my seat reading this story.

  34. Both great stories but the creepiness of Sicaria's stayed with me. I might have to sleep with a night light on tonight LOL! My vote is for Sicaria!

  35. These two authors had my favorite stories from the first round. I like both of these entries, but the chills I felt while reading Sicaria's piece outweighed the emotion I had with IshYouNotIshMe's piece. Sicaria has my vote.

  36. Hard to choose--I like both very much--but I'll go with Sicaria.

  37. My vote is for Sicaria. The piece was emotional, atmospheric, scary and then pulled back from the brink by a mother's love for her child.

  38. IshYouNotIsMe gets my vote today. The story pulled me in and left me wanting more.
    I had a hard time following the story written by Sicaria. I couldn't figure out what was going on.

  39. Both of these submissions are seemingly part of larger pieces.

    This some hurts IshYouNotMe’s entry. The tonal change halfway through is so abrupt that it pulled me out of the story. Siciaria’s entry doesn’t have that issue. It is building up suspense and horror from the get go. It makes the reader want to know what the deal is with the dolls. Are they alive or is this all in Maddie’s mind?


    My vote is going for Ish’s. The absolutely absurd turn the entry takes is the kind of stories I really enjoy.

  40. I liked the first one the best. I was able to follow. I vote IshYouNotIshMe.

  41. Sicaria's piece grabbed me from the get-go, so that one gets my vote.

  42. Voting for IshYouNotIsMe this time.

  43. Ish: Well-sketched characters & deep emotion. I'd like to have seen the scene play out somewhere "other" than a restaurant... It can be a bit off-putting to focus too many beats on chewing, swallowing. A personal taste--ahem--thing for me. Thank you for putting the necessary backstory into dialogue, letting Jordi tell his own story. Neil's last comment felt a wee bit trite... more interiority there perhaps?

    Sicaria: Dolls? A crawling teddy bear? You've nailed the creepy mood - but why would anyone sleep in that room, especially with the aid of pills? That logic just didn't hold for me. I had a difficult time investing in this character. Are her issues due to mental illness, drugs, the paranormal or some combination of all three? This piece didn't hold together for me through its entirety as strongly as did your first entry.

    Today's vote to Ish Not You

    Well done, both, for making it this far!

  44. Yay for new stories! COngrats to both for making it this far.

    IshYou - I love the back and forth of these two and you had me rooting for them from the start. I felt like the conversation flowed well and it didn't feel like a quick "last week on..." recap. I really enjoyed the description of the Mom, it was well fleshed out and really gave me an idea of what Jordi endured. Great job!

    Sicaria, some good creepy descriptors and an interesting premise but I felt very lost through reading it and had to re-read it a couple of times to kind of get the hang of what was going on. Addicted to pills so they're hallucinating? Hallucinating so they take pills to try to sleep? Not hallucinating but using pills to sleep through scary stuff? Then why not sleep somewhere else? I'd like to read more and see where it's going.

    My vote is for IshYou again because I love the relationship you've crafted in 500 short words and I want to know more.

  45. Congratulations to the first two playoff contenders! You've have made it through three waves of elimination (initial slush, prelims, and cage matches) to reach this point, so you should be very proud. And the quality of the writing shows in these two new submissions -- well done!

    IshYou's new entry is a smooth read, propelled by in-the-moment dialogue. The writer does an excellent job of inserting the reader directly into the situation and revealing the details of the story through the conversation, without it seeming false or contrived merely to get backstory in. The emotional and dramatic elements are also prominent, again -- revealed through the natural flow of the dialogue. There are enough details inserted to get a good grasp of the setting and the mood ("around a mouthful of pumpkin ravioli", "Jordan's ever-cold hand", the waiter clearing the "half-eaten dinners") without the author resorting to a wordy, obtrusive, prose that screams, "Hey, lookit me! I'm writing!"

    But I do think the story situation feels a little unbalanced -- I get some conflicting messages about Jordan's avoidance of cooking. On one level, it presents that discovering Jordan can cook when he'd said he couldn't merits nothing more than a shrug, so Neil's "that's OK, you don't have to cook" response seems appropriate while Jordan appears to be overly dramatic. But on another -- more important -- level, Jordan has just revealed that he was emotionally abused and tormented for years by a domineering, violent mother who threw lasagna against the walls if it wasn't perfect, and Neil merely agrees to co-dependently ignore it rather than discussing it further, suggesting counselling, etc. I also think the decision to use Neil as the first-person MC is odd -- to me, this scene seems more about Jordan than Neil, so as a reader, I'd rather have had it play out from within Jordan's emotional POV. But perhaps writing sample is from a larger work, and it is more of Neil's story in that context.

    Sicaria also presents a well-written case of childhood trauma, but here the tormentor is some sort of ethereal force instead of a tyrannical mother, and we're experiencing the events in real time instead of having them discussed years later over dinner. Scarlia's writing is also much more focused on imagery and actively trying to cultivate emotions within the reader, rather than letting the context and events of the scene do the work of telling the story. There are many staccato one or two word sentences and a bevy of adjectives meant to emphasize the events in the story. But this piece is also written from the first-person POV of Maddie, so the reader can take much of the language and descriptions as Maddie's, so it works from that perspective and helps it feel less like overwriting.

    The premise is interesting, the tone is creepy, and the piece arouses curiosity in the reader as to what is behind the voice and the movement of the objects in the room -- are they really moving or is Maddie only imagining they are? How reliable is Maddie's perspective?

    As for story itself, I find myself more intrigued by what Maddie is going through than what Neil
    and Jordan are, and I would be more likely to learn more about her over them. But I've tried to be consistent in my voting this year in Write Club as much as possible, and I've tried to vote for the sample with best writing, choosing it over the better story when the competition is close. And it is very close today.

    I tend to think that the "best" writing is usually that which is almost invisible -- it allows the reader to be totally absorbed into the story without calling attention to the prose itself. I feel that description best belongs to IshYou in this round -- their scene was immersive and well-constructed and the dialogue was realistic and did a great job of revealing the story.

    So I give the edge to Ish in this Playoff round.

  46. Tough choice, but going for Sicaria. The dialog in IshYouNotIsMe is great, but I was attracted more to Sicaria.

  47. My vote goes to IshYouNotIsMe. Good dialogue and interesting conversation. Felt like the marriage proposal was a bit much, but I liked the story overall.

    Sicaria – I enjoyed this but some bits left me confused. Was the porcelain doll in the beginning the source of the voice/ghost? What kind of pills is she addicted to? Internal questions took me out of the story, but that’s just my view. I would keep reading.

  48. Nice job to both!! I'm usually not a fan of anything creepy, but Sicaria just pulled me in. I'm going with Sicaria.

  49. My vote goes to Sicaria this time. Great, creepy atmosphere. The detail about the teddy bear climbing up was fantastic. Maybe slightly trite with the whispers - ghosts always seem to say the same thing - but it didn't destroy the mood.

    IshYouNotIsMe did a great job - I loved the description of the pageant mom. I took several beats to figure out if there was a punchline coming though, because the idea of forced cooking perfection seemed a little comical. The last line was a little jarring and sudden.

    Great job to both!

  50. Both are really well done and interesting. My vote goes for Sicaria. The voice is so eerie and mysterious.

  51. IshYouNotIsMe - I liked how revealing the piece is about both characters and I liked the little twist about the cook who doesn't cook. However, I thought it was a little incomplete for me.

    Sicaria - A slightly predictable story line but the tone of the piece was creepy enough to pull me in and by the end of it, I truly wanted to read more.

    My vote this playoff goes to Sicaria.

  52. Sicaria, I found the story hard to follow and the constant wondering what was happening brought me out of the story rather than bringing me further in. I like the idea but it just fell short of really capturing my attention.
    IshYou, the story took a little bit to get rolling but I like the background and characters and I’d like to see what happens next.
    My vote is for IshYou!

  53. These are both wonderful! So hard to choose. Loved the dialog, the idea of a cooking show pageant mom, and the romantic happy ending of IshYouNotIsMe. Completely drawn in by the menace and creeping horror of Sicaria. My vote goes to Sicaria.

  54. Ish: “Vitamin selling cult?” I love it. All the lols. Great work setting up background. It’s a nice Italian restaurant. Dinner half eaten. Neil asked a Very Important Question.

    And then we come in.

    A cooking show pageant mom? The horror!

    Sicaria: I like your attempt at bringing us a scary bedtime story. But seems like you confused mental illness/drug abuse with a horror story. Which one is it? The pills threw me off.

    My vote is for Ishnotyouishme!

  55. Ish: Great natural dialogue that brought me right in to the story. Since you start with Jordan addressing his reluctance of playing "happy family" it would make me think they just discussed marriage. So maybe instead of the last line wrapping it up in a nice little bow with a marriage proposal, you could have Neil ponder Jordan's abusive mother and make a statement addressing that? At this point, I don't think Jordan will say yes.

    Sicaria: Another good creepy story. I think you can remove two complete sentences. Those starting with "A picture frame wobbles..." and "A faded stuffed bear topples..."and the story will flow better. Both of those setups made me pause. Your opening line "A single black curl bobs..." was excellent, and enough.

    They are both really good and congrats to you both for making the long haul. I think I have to vote for IshYou on this round purely because I did not think about the prose while reading the scene.

    But, I've loved both of your entries, Sicaria, and would read both of those books! :)

  56. Both outstanding pieces, so into the nitty gritty...

    Ish: So much to love about this. The dialog and revelations felt natural and pulled me in, the segues smooth, just enough humor to pop. Your premise of a Pageant Mom of cooking shows is fresh. And the fact he won the show, he's that good, but now cannot cook... The wrapup tie-in back to the beginning is perfect, letting the reader in on the unwritten discussion that occurred beforehand. Nothing tripped me up or stopped me while reading, except now I want to know Jordan's answer.

    Sicaria: The overall tone is super creepy, the imagery captured beautifully. Well done there. But a couple of things didn't mesh in the story: Maddie believes her mother found the pills and took them, that Maddie is an attention-seeker. Yet the concerned mother portrayed at the end of the piece doesn't jive with that earlier picture we're given. Speaking of the end, Maddie ends up "huddled up in Mom's lap." I pictured a small child and it threw me off, so went back to check Maddie's age. Fifteen. Too big, I would think, for this to happen. Without these inconsistencies, you would have had my vote.

    My vote: IshYouNotIshMe

  57. My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe. Maybe it's a reaction to everything going on in the world, but I'm in the mood for upbeat endings. And pumpkin ravioli!

  58. This was hard to decide:

    ishYouNotIsMe - Light, fun, romantic, and at the same time serious. Loved the “ganache on the cake” line. It’s perfect for the piece. Kind of, but doesn’t quiet, make up for the confusion I got over Jordan/Jordie. Also thought that Jordon using the line “play Happy Family” was too light considering the seriousness of the situation.

    Sicaria - Loved the teddy bear crawling scene. Not only did it turn this into a spooky story, the fact that it was in a pile of childish things being let go gives good insight into age/maturity level of narrator. Made her believable.

    Having a hard time deciding which is best, but I must if either is to move on. I hope to read more by both these folkd. My vote today goes to ishYouNotIsMe. It’s a new, fresh idea. I’ve joked that the kids on these cooking shows are the new pageant kids, but you’re writing about it.

  59. I love the characters in IshYouNotIshMe's story. My vote goes to them.

  60. IshYouNotIsMe gets my vote! Coherent story and endearing characters.

  61. Ish, love the “vitamin selling cult” and the background of the character. I want to know what happens with these two and I want to know more about Jordan’s childhood.
    Sicaria, I like the slightly creepy vibe of the story but it’s left me confused after a couple readings as to whether it’s supposed to be a horror story, an addiction story, a psychological thriller or a ghost/demon story and that kept me thinking too much rather than going along for the ride.

    I vote for IshYou this round!

  62. Both are excellent, but I'll have to go with IshYouNotIsMe

  63. This comment has been removed by the author.

  64. I think that Ish’s piece was well thought out and that it really showed the character’s feelings and thoughts but on the other hand I felt that it could have been better organized. Also, in a few places it was a tad bit confusing at first read. I do like it though.

    Sicaria was pretty amazing too. I think it should’ve shown more setting—like how late was it or was it raining—those are details that would have added to the story and visual effects. But I love the creepiness of it all and how it gets you wondering what will happen “tomorrow”!

    Great job to you both for marking it to playoffs!
    But my vote goes to Sicaria :D Good luck!

  65. IshYouNotIsMe gets my vote. In the end that is the story that I wanted to know more about the characters and where the story goes.
    Nice job to both of you.

  66. Re-posting my comment with my name fixed.

    I love Sicaria’s story because of the detail and because it has a creepy storyline, which is awesome. I also love the descriptions they use. My vote goes to Sicaria.

  67. I am definitely voting for Sicaria in this one. I'm enamored with the way they are able to transform the world so effectively in only a few lines, while also evoking real emotion.

    While IshYouNotIsMe's writing was also very creative, I found the ending to be a bit tropish for my taste. The surprise proposal (which appears to play into the first line) after one of the characters spells out a terrible, yet creatively so, childhood issue.

    To be fair, this is where Sicaria shines for me - surprising me every time.

  68. I'm voting for IshNotYou mostly because I was disappointed when it ended and wanted to know the rest of the story!

  69. Oh, my, these are both so good! I'm *almost* randomly picking Sicaria because I'm a horror fan, and I hate cooking shows. But then - the characters in Ish's story do too, don't they? No, it's Sicaria. But it's damned close.

  70. Sicaria gets my vote.
    The world, feel, and imagery in this one sold it for me.
    For YouIshNotMe, I enjoyed the story and I like the premise. I didn't have a good feel for stakes between them, the stakes of the story about the cooking, and it seemed as if there were history and inside things I didn't know about them that threw me. It took me a second to figure out who was speaking and how many were speaking as well. I think this has a lot of potential.
    Thank you for sharing more stories!

  71. Ooh, this is so difficult! IshYouNotIshMe has done a very good job of creating an engaging dynamic between two characters we've just met. I want to know more about them and how they got to be where they are.

    Sicaria did a great job of building up a creepy atmosphere and a sense of dread. Horror can be a difficult genre to do well, but Sicaria is clearly capable of doing amazing things with it!

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe today, but it was a close call. Excellent pieces from two very talented writers!

  72. Congratulations to both writers.

    IshYouNotIshMe’s piece threw you right into the middle of the scene, and you almost instantly knew what was going on. My heart broke at his pain and at his inability to be understood.

    Sicaria’s piece built up a lot of tension - with a lot of creepy, unanswered questions.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe.

  73. Breaking my feedback into 2 (one for each entry):

    These characters are a lot more dynamic and unexpected than your original entry. Bravo! Glad to see that maturation of writing here. The underpinning of an abusive task-master mother in regards to forcing her son to cook is certainly one I have never seen before. Unique ideas are a definite strength of yours.

    The pumpkin ravioli sets the foundation for the food focus. Pumpkin is also a unique flavor, so props on picking a food item that would evoke a sense of taste.

    "“It’s not that I don’t want to play Happy Family with you, but there’s a lot you don’t know about me.” This line works on its own, but in the context of the rest of the subject matter and reveal, it feels out of place. Jordan has a heavy reason for not wanting to get married, but this reaction comes off as very flippant. It doesn't mesh well with the emotional outpouring later. It doesn't even follow very well with his next line where he earnestly says he wants it so much. If marriage and the relationship are things he is serious about, why would he trivialize them with terminology like "play Happy Family," but then try to appeal to Neil that he's taking this seriously?

    "Are you secretly straight? Are you in some vitamin selling cult?" The latter line is humorous and full of character! The first comes off as a cheap way to emphasize that this is a gay couple. And it's a weird accusation because why would a straight guy pretend to be gay to the point of marriage proposals? If you want to tread the same kind of idea without putting up the "They're two dudes!" neon sign, you might have Neil ask if Jordan has another family he sneaks off to. Same basic question and incredulous humor without outright questioning his gayness. Or, if you want to keep it so there's zero question that these are two men, have him ask if his family has a problem with it. Jordan's not going to suddenly be not gay at this point. But his family having an issue may not be something they've discussed. That may be a nice segue into "No, my mom doesn't care I'm gay, but...."

    "Teflon Tantrums." I have a hard time imagining a show meant to be a child's competition with that title. The trashy reality kid's shows that do exist put the focus on the crazy parents, typically (e.g Dance Moms, not Dance Kids). Given that Neil doesn't automatically assume Jordan's been abused, I don't get the sense that the show depicted the parents' poor behavior. So if Neil doesn't immediately assume Jordan may have parent issues, pick a name that's not so evocative of that kind of TV show.

    “If it’s true, you’ve been lying about not knowing how to cook all along. What the hell?” Sounds stilted. Try, "So you've been lying about not knowing how to cook? What the hell?" "If it's true" is too removed. Also, why would Neil get so angry about that and dismiss "Wait, you were on TV? And you won a ton of money?!" Unless cooking is really important to their relationship in some way, I have no idea who would focus on that and not the other stuff. Jordan should at least make a comment to that effect (maybe in an attempt to put off explaining his situation).

    " I don’t understand.”
    “Of course you don’t. Nobody does..." Since Neil just said "I'm confused," this is a bit repetitive. Ax "I don't understand," and amend Jordan's line to, "You don't get it. Nobody..."

    While this is an emotional situation, the last few paragraphs teeter a bit into melodrama. Dial it back. For example, "He spit words like venom," should be something else or just axed. The rhetorical questions Jordan asks already carry the emotion well. Him being nervous, then angry, then crying and Neil rushing to hug him in such a short span of time is a bit much.

    Love the exploration of Jordan being emotionally incapable of cooking. Gut-wrenching and rings real!

  74. Sicaria
    Some really strong descriptions here, such as "Pale moonlight dances across the floor, reaching for me, wanting me."

    I got a strong "Head Full of Ghosts" vibe from this piece. That's a fantastic novel that treads similar ground of "Is this real? Is the girl mentally disturbed?" So not knowing if Maddie is hallucinating, this is the fall-out of addiction or mental illness, or a genuine haunting doesn't bother me. I actually think playing with all those elements makes this more intriguing and sets up a longer piece to dabble in themes deeper than on-the-surface horror.

    If Maddie is taking pills to sleep and aware of her addiction, I would love to see her try to convince herself more that this can be ignored. If she's a teen who has decided her only out is sleeping pills because no one else is taking this seriously, she should probably doubt herself. I think the piece would resonate more and feel more urgent if Maddie feels this way. If she doesn't, then I agree with other readers: why not just sleep elsewhere? If she's confident in herself, then that type of person wouldn't just accept the situation like Maddie has. Or, at the least, she should think she can handle it, which she doesn't, so there's a mismatch here in her character.

    "Or did IT take them? Can it do that?" It's unfair, but I would avoid any sort of "IT" capitalization or calling the doll "it" given the movie adaptation of Stephen King's IT came out not too long ago with part 2 on the way. You've got a kid tormented with child-like objects and parents who don't believe it's happening/can't see it. Right now, that's sounding a bit derivative. At least, in this small piece.

    The "Come with me" entreaty works and is creepy. But the "Come and play," does not. First, it also feels derivative (though more The Shining now) and the horror is lost because now it's not personal. Yeah, 15 year-olds do still "play" but not typically with dolls, and not in the sense that the doll is asking for. So either make Maddie younger for this to work, or else stick with a more adult or personal tone. If Maddie has a secret place she likes to go that no one knows about, the doll can ask her to go there with her. If she made up a fantasy-land when younger to deal with her issues, the doll can say it can take her to it. That gets the child-like element in there without losing the personal edge or ignoring Maddie's present age.

    If Maddie otherwise loves children and volunteers to watch them, that may be another way to get the "come play" to work (she can lose where she is and see the doll as a kid she is especially fond of watching). But otherwise, no 15 year-old girl is going to think, "Yeah! Cuz you asked, I should play with you, little thing."

    "It’s never said please before." Great detail! That feels fresh, but I'd like to see more of how the doll is changing its tactics then. Calling attention to this is a good hook, but then seems to go nowhere. What else is different about this particular time that is more compelling than previous attempts?

    Along the same lines, the ending isn't as strong for me because I don't know how this night is more of an escalation or horrific as compared to previous nights. Some of that is because this is such a short amount of time to build tension. Given that, I think it would be strong to end with the mother's reaction rather than the threat of this continuing. It's been happening for long enough for her to be addicted and this episode doesn't seem especially flesh-crawling. And I'm guessing this is the first time the mom starts to understand how serious this is. So the last image should be on her.

    Giving this round to IshYouNotIsMe. The dialogue is a bit stilted, but your characters are much more dimensional than your first entry. Would love to see how else your writing improves in such a short amount of time!

  75. Both entries are well written and interesting.

    Ish- I enjoyed the character dynamic between Jordy and Neil.

    Sicaria gets my vote for getting that creepy vibe just right.

  76. IshYouNotIsMe - It could easily be present tense, which seems like it would help. The story idea is good. There's pain in there that's tangible. You get my vote.

    Sicaria - Good work getting the reader into the scene. I like the level of intensity.

  77. ishYouNotishMe grabs my vote on this one. Contemporary just isn’t a genre I usually read but the scene build, character development, and dialogue here just kicks ass. Loved it.

    Sicaria, I liked the creep factor of yours and the intensity set by the scene is awesome for me. I feel like you needed a larger word limit to do all the things you tried to do which is not an insult, trust me I get it.

  78. Both stories are great! My vote goes to Sicaria simply because I love a good scary story!

    1. I'm sure you just forgot, but you have already voted in this round.

  79. These are such contrasting pieces. That, in itself, makes this a difficult decision. Both were well written. In the end I vote for Sicaria. It left me wanting more and asking more questions.

    1. I'm sure you just forgot, but you have already voted in this round.

  80. I'm going with Sicaria. Both were excelenet scenes, but the fantastical elements in Sciaria's story made me feel things, where IshYOu, gave me a sense of being an outsider looking in. Great work from both.

  81. I have to go with IshNotYouIshMe.

    The dialogue pulled me right into the story and I loved the backstory about Teflon Tantrums.

    Sicaria’s story was good, but left me confused. Is this a suicide attempt or addiction or both?




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