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WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Semi-Final #1

We're not messing around anymore! This journey began with 189 submissions and by the end of this week we will determine which two contestants will be submitting their 1,000-word writing sample to the panel of celebrity judges. In order to do that we must first hold a pair of semi-final bouts, and today is #1.

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

The voting for both of this week's bouts will close on Sunday, June 16th (noon central time).

Here once again 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

Welcome back to the ring our first contestant...IshYouNotIshMe

The car shuddered as the cop pushed Daddy against the hood. Mom screamed and hid her face behind her hands. Daddy caught my eye.
Take care of your mama and sister, his wink said.
I nodded and pulled Amy into my side. Her wide, scared eyes asked the question none of us could voice: Why?
We sat there, frozen from fear and cold, until long after the red and blue lights faded into the night. Snow, hard as sand, clicked softly against the windows and the car rocked every time a semi rumbled past.
“Mom,” I said through chattering teeth. “Amy’s cold. Can we go?”
Mom sighed heavily and scooted into Daddy’s spot. Her hands shook as she turned the key. Pat Benatar cautioned that love is a battlefield, but Mom cut her off.
“There’s nowhere to go; we were evicted.” Her voice slurred around sobs. She pulled onto the dark highway and headed down the mountain.
We slid into a booth at a Village Inn. Mom lit a cigarette and counted coins. “How am I supposed to bail him out?” she whispered through tears.
The waitress brought us a pancake face with scrambled egg hair and a bacon smile. Chocolate chip eyes tried to reassure me, but I didn’t need reassurance, I needed Daddy. And sleep.
My next memory is waking up on a couch in a strange apartment. Amy breathed heavily on the other end, and I pulled a scratchy army blanket over her. My bladder threatened to explode, but snooping would be rude, so I chased sleep again. Eventually, the waitress from Village Inn came out of a bedroom and showed me the bathroom. She asked if I was hungry. My stomach growled but I said no; she poured me a bowl of Lucky Charms anyway.
I don’t know how long we stayed, but it felt like weeks. Mom and the lady left every morning, cautioning us to say inside with the door locked. I occupied Amy with stories about what really happened to Daddy. He hadn’t been arrested, that was a cover. No, he was a spy on a mission to save the Queen of England. We just had to be brave until he came back.
When I saw Daddy again, he wasn’t a spy. He was in an orange jumpsuit, and the smeared glass between us didn’t hide his black eye. His swollen lip. Mom cried as she held the grimy phone to her ear. I longed to hear his voice, but she hogged all the time.
When he finally got out, Daddy wouldn’t talk about what happened. I’ve spent decades trying to untangle why they kept him so long. Tomorrow marks two years since he died, and I’ve been saving up for something to honor his memory. When the idea hit me, it felt as right as my favorite sweater. Tomorrow, I’ll bail out a stranger. And, maybe, I can save another kid a lifetime of unanswered questions.

And their most worthy opponent...give a hearty welcome to Ms. Sunnydale

Sadie took a long drag of New York City winter and blew it out in a wet, white cloud. She felt like one of the older girls, with their lit burners pressed between pink lips so the men noticed their mouths.
But Sadie would be noticed regardless. She had hair the color of a Kerry Bog Palomino, and the men in this town loved their ponies. Her brother took their bets down at the Fourth Ward pub, and she saw the hunger in their eyes whenever they got a good tip about a thoroughbred and chased it with gold coins.
A gentleman in a longtail coat stepped off the curb and stumbled. Sadie watched him correct himself and tug at his hem for balance. He didn’t need to come closer for her to smell the whiskey on his breath, but he came closer anyway. 
“Are you an angel?” he slurred.
“I can be, if that’s what you fancy.” Sadie clasped her hands in front of her skirts and looked up at him through blackened lashes. 
His lips curled in a lazy smile. “You’re a pretty one. I should like to take y’dancing.”
She laughed and it was an enchanted thing, like a hundred silver bells snagged on a harbor breeze. “I’ve not been taught proper dancing. I might step on your toes.”
“You won’t hurt me, darling.”
He offered her an unsteady arm, and the two walked together up Mulberry and into the guts of the Five Points. The man didn’t belong in that neighborhood but, like most highbrow merchants from upper Manhattan, he seemed to know it was where to get your fix of sin. The alcohol was copious, the brothels bursting, and there was always someone willing to do anything for your money.    
Music poured through open windows as they passed. Women sang siren songs with otherworldly lilts. The smell of pig entrails and horse dung didn’t faze Sadie anymore, but the man retched as the stench stirred the stagnant liquor in his belly.  
“Perhaps we should rest,” Sadie suggested. And so as not to make him feel weak, she added, “These boots hurt my poor feet.”
Approving the excuse and keen on playing savior, he tugged her into an alleyway where clothes dripped idly overhead and rotting stairs traversed the shadows between brick tenements. She pulled up her petticoat to perch on a low rung and noticed a familiar hunger flash across the man’s face. One that would feed her own.
She stiffened as he approached, flinched when he cupped her cheek. It would take more than fifteen years to train away those childish impulses.  
“Shh, that’s a good lass,” he said softly to her, as though gentling a wild colt.
But there was the trouble. Sadie was no one’s pony. And not even gambling man would have predicted it when she cracked the man’s nose with her skull and walked out of that alleyway a richer woman than she’d entered.
A good lass, indeed. 

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 Thursday with our second semi-final 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. IshYou: this has teasers of a great story, but we never learn exactly what’s going on. There’s a lot of breadth here, but not enough depth.

    Sunnydale: good job painting the atmosphere. Nice twist ending to make the piece unique.

    I vote for Sunnydale.

  2. For me, these two had the best descriptions of any of the stories yet. Especially IshYou, which gets my vote.

  3. What depth from both of these. I loved the writing tone and styles of both. I have to go with Sunnydale. IshYou left one or two too many unanswered questions that, in the end, hurt the piece.

  4. A good short story leaves you knowing less but hungering for more. Great job, both, but IshYouNotMe steals the show and gets my vote.

  5. I really liked both. Ish you left me wanting more and I related to the story. Sunnyvale you told the story well but I like the want of more. Ish you get my vote

  6. I'm voting for IshYou. It was very evocative and felt real.

  7. I vote for IshYouNotMe.
    Her story flows naturally and keeps me wanting more. I loved it!

    As for Sunnydale, i just did not feel the natural flow. There were words and a picture but it was not connecting together. As if trying too hard to make it work.

  8. There's something about IshYouNotIshMe's writing that draws me in and makes me feel part of it; strange really, because it's nothing I've ever been party to. By contrast, I feel Ms S is trying too hard. The lavish prose has been constructed with care, but it either distracts or sickens with what I can only describe as its own self-importance. Then Ms S drops that as she gets to the meat of the story - which is excellent, and with a good twist.

    But my vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe

  9. I vote for IshYou. It made me feel. Sunnydale felt disconnected and while they were beautiful words, I trouble paying attention as the words didn’t flow well.

  10. IshYouNotishMe get my vote. I felt detached from the narrator and wanted more about what he was feeling. However, IshYouNotishMe saved it in the end with the action. I would like to know more about the narrator. I feel IshYouNotishMe is just scratching the surface to a good character here.

    Ms. Sunnydale: Painted a great picture, but I wanted to know more about Sadie. Narrator sounded too distant, too distracted to let me know more about Sadie and her life. I loved the end - this was the start of something very interesting. I would like to read more about Sadie and her adventures surviving in New York.

  11. IshYou's story pulled me in and I felt like I was experiencing things alongside the kids.

    Ms. Sunnydale's writing is good, but it didn't have the same depth as the first to me.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe

  12. Ish -- I love what you're trying to do here, but your story felt like a lot of telling with very little emotion. I want to know more about how the MC feels about what's happening. I get glimpses of it through the MC's internal dialogue, but I feel like it could be a lot richer to pull me in more. The ending was a nice touch, but then led me to wondering if the MC's dad was guilty and spent years in jail because of that, or if the dad wasn't guilty, but spent years in jail waiting for trial, which pulled me out of the story a bit.

    Ms. Sunnydale -- I love your descriptions and thought you had some amazing turns of phrases ("She laughed and it was an enchanted thing, like a hundred silver bells snagged on a harbor breeze" was one of my favorites along with "clothes dripped idly overhead"). Also, I was drawn into your story enough to google what a Kerry Bog Palomino looked like. Great job!

    My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale

  13. They are both effective. Like how the second one ended, which wasn't expected. However, I like the more hopeful ending of the first one. IshYouNotIshMe gets my vote.

  14. Ms. Sunnydale gets my vote. I liked the little twist at the end.

  15. The twist at the end of Sunnydale's story was almost expected. I knew something different was going to happen, but I was disappointed when it turned out to be a robbery. Almost predictable. My vote goes once again to Ish. . . There were a lot of unanswered questions, but having the reader answer them keeps the reader engaged. I liked the story - it felt real.

  16. Two very worthy entries and a tough decision today. Powerful writing, both of you.

    While a moving story with a positive, hopeful ending, the tone of Ish's entry kept me at arm's length. Ms. Sunnydale's voice had me enchanted and the twist at the end of the scene was an unexpected bonus.

    Ms. Sunnydale.

    Huge congratulations to both contestants! Well done.

  17. Ishyounotishme gets my vote today. Both great stories but I had to reread parts of Ms.Sunnydale, didn't flow as well. Ishyounotishme had me questioning a lot of things, quilty? Why did he never talk about it? Where did mom go leaving the girls? I'd like to find out more.

  18. Sunnydale's gets my vote. IshYouNotIshMe does a good job of setting up a scene, but there's no payoff in the submission. Sunnydale sets up a scene and there is a payoff while leaving the reader wanting more.

  19. Holy wow! Congratulations, writers!


    You're telling this story at a bit of a distance, but that works for me. I feel like you're sharing this story with a friend or partner, and it's one you've gone over so many times in your own mind that you don't need to highlight every emotion you felt.

    You've interspersed wonderful details throughout. I know this is probably the 80s because of Pat Benatar and smoking is allowed in a restaurant.

    I wanted to know how the mom and kids ended up at the waitress's apartment and where her mom went every day. Was she looking for a job? Trying to get bail money? Going to church to pray for a miracle? But if Mom never told her, I suppose she wouldn't have answers to those questions. Still, as a curious reader, I wanted to know more.

    I love the ending. She found a way to make peace with not knowing what really happened, and that made me smile.

    Ms. Sunnydale:

    Your opening line is beautiful, but it was dampened by calling cigarettes "burners" in the second sentence. That's a bit of slang I've never heard. I was able to deduce its meaning easily enough, but it killed the high I got from your first sentence. I also wondered if the older girls really hold cigarettes between their lips to draw attention to their mouths, or if they're just sucking down nicotine.

    Kerry Bog Palomino. I know nothing about horses, so I was at disadvantage there. In fact, I thought a palomino was a 2-toned, mottled horse, so I spent the story trying to suss out if Sadie had a bad dye job or if she looked like a young Cruella De Vil. After reading, I did a google search and realized I was confusing pinto for palomino. And boy, did I feel foolish! When describing someone by comparing them to something else, make sure you pick something everyone can easily picture.

    The description of her laugh was beautiful, but it didn't quite work. Up to that point, we've been in a 3rd person close POV, but describing her laughter pulls us out and into a 3rd person omniscient POV.

    You did a bang up job with the man's dialogue. Just enough slur to convey his drunkenness without going over the top with it.

    I felt like the story goes back into 3rd close after the laughter and we're again seeing things in relation to Sadie. But we lose that perspective when we find out he approves of her excuse and wants to be a savior.

    Both pieces are so good, and I hope you're both proud of a good way not that passive aggressive way!

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe today.

  20. These were both very good but my vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale. I loved how the seeming victim turned out to not to be.

  21. Both well done. Y vote has to go to Ishyounotishme simply because it left me wanting. Ms. Sunnydale well written but concluded with a solid answer as to who she is.

  22. IshYouNotIshMe gets my vote today. But my congrats to all the writers. I've so enjoyed reading your work!

  23. Oof. Ish, you got me immediately and kept my attention the whole time. In a short amount of words I was sucked into the story and feeling the emotions with the characters. So many questions but ones that reeled me in and didn’t set me off on a tangent of “what’s and who’s”. I want to know more!
    Ms. S, I like the way you described the drunk man. Not over the top and not a caricature. I like that Sadie was aware of how the men were and how they thought and played them to her best advantage. I like that in the end she took no crap from him but it did feel slightly expected that she robbed him. Sadie’s story felt like it could be complete with this finished snapshot of one girls life.
    Two great stories but my vote goes to IshYou again! Great storyline, great characters that I want to know more about and I want good things for. Congratulations to you both for making it so far!

  24. I really like these both.

    IshYou: I definitely felt like there was a missing piece in going from the diner to the waitress's house. I can picture that as the "I'm just a kid along for the ride" kind of thing where the child doesn't really know what all is going on, so we aren't told either, but it still left me wondering what kind of interaction happened that could get a stranger to take them in. The description of the initial scene really drew me in though.

    Sunnydale: There are some great descriptive moments in here, but I'll second something I saw in other comments: I'm not sure the cause exactly, but it didn't really flow for me. I found myself going back and rereading bits to figure out what was happening. For example, it says there are stairs, then she is perching on a low rung... rung of what? Ladders have rungs, not stairs. I think this was sort of fire escape type technology? I'm still not actually sure. I did like the story overall, it just felt like the description - which was great - was getting in the way of comprehension and story.

    All in all, I give it to IshYouNotIshMe.

  25. My vote is for IshYou. While both stories are good, I feel like Ms. Sunnydale has been done. Ish is more original and that always gets my vote.

  26. ishYouNotishMe
    What works:
    Your word choice and the details you chose to highlight (the song on the radio, the Lucky Charms, the black eye behind smeared glass) create a gritty, realistic sense of place and time.
    I love the subtle compassion represented by the waitress who takes in a family of strangers, and I can relate to the sense of responsibility the MC has for her younger sibling.
    This story takes me out of my own experiences and gives me a new perspective on the world. I particularly like how the MC takes a glimmer of hope and fans it to spread it to others.

    What doesn't:
    In telling the story through the limited perspective of the young MC, there is more distance than I like.
    I'm not sure about the very last paragraph. I love the concept - she grows up and wants to do what she can to prevent other kids from going through what she went through - but the jump in time and voice is abrupt.

    Ms. Sunnydale
    What works:
    I like how you've blended the everyday horror with the supernatural.
    Sadie's ability to "play" her marks reveals a lot about what she's been through without having to say it.
    Some great lines and beautifully evocative word choice. I particularly like how you used equine-based language (MC's hair color, "calming a colt", "nobody's pony") at the beginning and the end.

    What didn't:
    I disliked the slang "burners".
    The equine-based language disappears in the middle. I'd have liked to see that layered throughout for consistency, although I understand it was a fine line to walk ... it could have gotten heavy-handed very easily.
    Although this story is well told, it's a familiar story with nothing really new to it.

    Both of these pieces are well-written and I hope both authors are incredibly proud of how far they've come. It's difficult to have to choose just one, but my vote goes to ishYouNotishMe.

  27. Great story crafting all around. I love how they both explore so much about women, poverty, and powerlessness. IshYouNotMe has my vote but it was a tough call to make. My congratulations to both for the work they put into these stories.

    Lesley Handel (

  28. This comment has been removed by the author.

  29. A big fan of both these writers, so here goes...

    IshYou: You pulled me into scene immediately and I could feel the despair. "My next memory..." pulled me out a bit, but you recovered nicely. But the next paragraph to the end was all telling. Which disappointed me. I wanted to know more. Kudos, though, for the references to the Pat Benatar song and Mom smoking in the diner, which gives us a good time frame. Otherwise, it felt as though you skimmed the story surface, the ending rushed and not as cohesive as I would have liked. I get that the dad didn't want to talk about his experience, but it would have helped to know how it affected the family or the narrator in particular, so then we get the *heart* of the story and *why* the narrator feels compelled to bail out an anonymous dad. Without that, I feel cheated.

    Ms. Sunnydale: I loved the language and the story. It pulled me in from the beginning, put me in the setting, kept me wondering what would happen next, and made me care about this character. You hit the disparity between the classes with an economy of words. Well done. And that twist... Loved it.

    My vote: Ms. Sunnydale

  30. My vote is for Ms. Sunnydale.

  31. My vote is for Ms. Sunnydale. It felt the more complete of the two.

    IshYouNotIshMe -- I couldn't get into the story. I felt it needed more explanation about what was going on for me to start caring.

  32. I'm impressed by the quality of the writing that has got these two guys here. As a scribbler, I congratulate them for their creativity. I wonder how little time these writers had to create these pieces, given when the result of the previous round was announced. A tough call - unless they were prepared. But I'm still impressed.

    IshYouNotIshMe - an opening that says 'mystery' so my genre. I felt swept along, despite a few choppy bits - and 'say' instead of 'stay'. I liked the pay-it-forward ending even though the time jumps felt abrupt. I also wasn't sure what country we were in - at times the US as with 'Lucky Charms' and the police lights; but then Queen of England made me wonder. I was left with 'unanswered questions'.

    Ms. Sunnydale - an intriguing opening with some crafted phrases. Lots of details create a world and a time that intrigues me - by the end, I guessed a past century. The tale kept me hooked throughout, enjoying the language, the weaving of threads to paint a complete picture and character, Sadie. Great ending that tricked me.

    Ms. Sunnydale earns my vote with some gorgeous writing.

  33. Ms. Sunnydale gets my vote.

    ishyou's: Some descriptions knocked me out of the story, unfortunately there was one in the first sentence, "the car shuddered." I had no idea what that meant. There was a lot of good writing, but the end was unsatisfactory. Bailing out a total stranger is a horribly dangerous idea.

    Ms. Sunnydale wrote a good story, and I especially loved the first sentence. Beautiful style. You have been one of my consistent favorites.

  34. My vote: Ms. Sunnydale very good prose.

  35. Congratulations to both writers for making it so far!

    IshYou did a good job evoking the wide-eyed confusion of a child that doesn't understand what's going on around her. But I think it was taken too far - there are too many unanswered questions, leaving me confused instead of wanting more. Also, there are bits that are either inaccurate or deeply confusing about how the criminal justice system is working here which pulled me right out of the story.

    Sunnydale did a lovely job with the imagery, and I liked the equine theme (although maybe too deep with the specific kind of palomino). I was a little confused on the setting until petticoats were mentioned towards the end, but I'm a sucker for a tough as nails lady that survives by what means she's got.

    My vote is for Sunnydale.

  36. I enjoyed both pieces - both strong writers with intriuging stories!!
    The one line in #2 about the laugh being enchanted threw me off just a bit. With the rest being from Sadie's perspective, it seemed out of place.
    My vote goes to Ish today

  37. Both entries are solidly written and both writers deserve to have made it this far, but if I'm honest, neither piece really wowed me today.

    IshYou: For me, there were some voice issues in this piece that made it difficult to age the protagonist. There was a bit of childishness to the voice, but it wasn't consistent. In the opening paragraphs, the narrator is young enough to refer to the father as "Daddy" (but Mom isn't "Mommy" or "Mama", which seemed odd), but old enough for Daddy to expect him/her to take care of the mother and sister. When I learned that the narrator was sharing a memory decades later the voice - and the use of Daddy - felt even more off. I know you're capable of delivering a stellar voice--you've done it twice--but this piece left me disconnected to the narrator.

    Ms. Sunnydale: Your previous entries drew me in with a strong, immediate connection to the narrator and a rich sense of place. This third person omniscient point of view delivers a lot of setting but little personal connection to the characters.

    It is entirely possible that I'm having an off day as a reader, so I hope neither of you will be too discouraged by my feedback. Each of you impressed me with previous entries, and I have no doubt either of you could wow me again.

    Today's vote goes to Sunnydale, simply because it felt a little more consistent/cohesive in terms of voice and tone.

  38. IshYouNotIshMe - This is a better entry than the last one, but the story itself doesn't hang together all that well. The tense changes and time gaps seem unnecessary. You've got a 500-word story, keep it all in the here and now. The snow description -- Snow, hard as sand, clicked -- starts off brilliant, but then -- softly against the windows -- That ruined the description. Also, the story leans on -ly adverbs. Softly, finally, heavily (twice) and really, which is a sin to use in fiction. And that ending is ridiculous. I know plausibility isn't a must in fiction but if anyone told me they were going to bail a stranger out of jail, well, I'd think it was time for an intervention.

    Ms. Sunnydale -- The story wasn't as good as the last two entries, but the writing is still solid. The descriptions and figurative language do a great job of setting the scene. The ending fell a little flat for me, but it doesn't matter. The writing is the best in the competition, bar none.

    Ms. Sunnydale gets my vote.

  39. Both of these pieces are REALLY well done and it's very hard for me to choose just one. This is what "they" mean when "they" talk about voice. These pieces drip with voice. It's incredible, so hats off to both writers!

    In the end, my vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe. I FELT more with this piece. It conveyed a sense of longing, a sense of childhood lost, of poverty, and hard times, and it made my heart hurt.

    Ms. Sunnydale did a wonderful job of storytelling, but in the end, I just wasn't as pulled in as I was with IshYouNotIshMe.

  40. I vote for Ms Sunnydale! Tight writing and I like the creepiness at the end

    I liked Ish's previous entries a little more than this one - it read like a first draft and I just don't love the emotional aspect, although I quite liked the ending

  41. I vote for IshYouNotIshMe's story.
    It hit me in a painful way for so few words.

  42. Voting for IshYouNotIshMe. I really want to know what's going on!

  43. Going with IshYou on this pair. Great look at the world through a child's eyes. Little details that work and only a few that don't.
    Sunnydale has a solid period feeling piece but a few descriptions took me out of it - the hair the color of a Kerry Bog Palimino is a great detail, but is that blonde? Redhead? I need a frame of reference to get the metaphor. That made me stop and took me out of the read.

  44. And another two fantastic entries and very worthy contenders for the final crown!!!! IshYou I loved the attention to small detail, the way you created a full story in a short passage, and the sense of bewilderment and loss of your young protagonist. Ms.Sunnydale, your language is unparalleled--beautiful, flowing prose and a wonderful evocation of old New York City history!!!! It's Ms.Sunnydale for me this time round--I was completely drawn in to the situation you created and I desperately want to read more!!!! Congrats to both of you--you should both feel incredibly proud of your amazing work!!!!

  45. I vote for IshYouNotIshMe today.

    Both pieces tell a story well.

    As a UK reader there were a couple of bits in both stories that I had to look up as I had no knowledge of them (Pat Benatar/IshYouNotIshMe) and (Kerry Bog Palomino/Ms.Sunnydale).

  46. Sunnydale, I loved the first bit about inhaling the city. Your piece was intriguing and I enjoyed the twist at the end.
    My vote today goes to IshYouNotIshMe... I really want answers!! You left us wanting more and I keenly felt the pain of your POV character. Very well done.

    Congratulations to you both!

  47. IshYouNotIshMe gets my vote :) the story was very relatable. Heat wrenching, left me wanting more.

  48. Great stories, thank you both for the great reads.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe.

    Sunnydale I love the intro and I get a feeling this takes place in the past. I know the Five Points by the history books and Gangs of New York, but the setting never felt nailed down for me. The way people dress, spoke, or how the city didn't have skyscrapers, etc. these and many other details would have put me in the appropriate time period. As it stands though I couldn't quite nail it down.

  49. IshYouNotIshMe - Your entry was great! The child pov is well done. I want to know more to the point that I felt that payoff wasn't quite there.

    Sunnydale- I loved the twist! I did have to look up the Palomino for a visual though.
    My vote goes to Sunnydale.

  50. Both pieces very well done. IshYouNotIsMe - I thought the point of view was authentic. The worry and uncertainty was very affecting. I was not clear about why the father was arrested, but I suppose a child might well not know. Sunnydale - I loved the descriptions and atmosphere. The twist ending made me laugh! I was quite relieved! My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale.

  51. Ishnotyouishme, I feel like you gave us a complete story here. I would love to have more of this world, but this is 100% a complete story. There’s nothing missing.

    There are details missing, to be sure, but that is because our narrator doesn’t know those details, so we can’t know those details. And that’s different from something missing in the story. I am intrigued as to how Mom worked out staying with the waitress, but that’s not something the narrator knows, so I have to be content with not knowing. I love her decision to bail someone else out at the end, in honor of her father. In honor of what she went through as a child.

    Ms. Sunnydale, you did a great job your world building (most important aspect for me!) although to be fair, until you mentioned Manhattan, I was reading it with an English accent. Possibly because of the horse racing bit. I don’t know exactly why I put those two together, but I do.

    You have some great descriptions, and a lovely surprise ending. Who wouldn’t want to hit the man over the head rather than sleeping with him?

    My vote is going to Ishnotyouishme, for bringing me a different story that I haven’t read before.

    Great job to you both, and congratulations on making it so far!

  52. I vote for IshYouNotIshMe. I was sucked in and wanted more. Ms Sunnydale's story had some good descriptions but I felt removed from what was happening.

  53. Both good pieces but I felt a bit of a let down at the end of Ish's piece. I felt there should have been a little bit more build up, it kinda felt like an afterthought. A little more fleshing out would have been perfect.

    Sunnydale told a good story with a great twist at the end. I could visualize the entire story and loved the sauciness of the main character.

    My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale

  54. I vote for Sunnydale. I understood what was going on the whole time, and I liked the twist at the end.

    I had too many questions by the time I finished Ish's piece.

  55. YouIshNotMe has my vote.
    This story is haunting and resonates, even with the distance of the narrator from the action. I'd have liked to get an inkling of whether or not the father was guilty, or of how the son would decide who to bail out, but not having that information lends the story a different strength on its own.
    Ms Sunnydale had very strong character and setting, but I wasn't sure of the stakes. Why was she doing this, what happens if she fails, etc. I think that would have made the piece hit me harder. Otherwise, I enjoyed the imagery and vividness of the story.

  56. Congratulations to IshYouNotIshMe and Ms. Sunnydale for making it to the semi-finals!

    And I definitely enjoy getting to read another round of submissions from our talented semifinalists.

    Ish, I have to compliment you on the diversity of entries and characters you've shared with us -- a protective poltergeist, a romantic gay pre-marriage dinner, and now a heartfelt story of a mother and her children struggling to make ends meet while the father is in jail. And yet, despite the wide range of situations, I see a common theme of children at the mercy of their parents. The poltergeist vows to defend the kids from their abusive father; Jordan tells Neil about his domineering, violent mother who forced him to go onto those cooking shows; and now the young un-named MC struggles with the changes forced because her (his?) father was in jail, they were evicted, and the mother couldn't support them on her own.

    I liked the emotional impact of this story and how easily it was to relate to the plight of the family. I also like how the MC wants to do something positive in the present to somehow help out other kids who might be in the same situation. The voice is solid and there are some nice insertions of descriptive elements to boost the emotional content of the scene -- the shudder of the car, the mention of Pat Benatar, the pancake face, the scratchy blanket, the smeared glass, etc.

    But I also think it unfortunately suffers from the general distance of the narrative. This story is all relayed with disjointed jumps in time and too much telling, all from the POV of the memory of an unnamed child who was not informed of the details of what was happening. It may also be because of word-length constraints, but the final paragraph in particular feels rushed and forced, jumping to the present day and leaving a lot of loose ends. The final line even laments the "unanswered questions." While they may be a part of life, they tended to hurt the story.

    It might have been much more effective to simply stay in one point in time and dive a little deeper into that particular moment, giving the reader a clearer understanding of what was happening. For example, even the basic situation as to why the father was put in jail is a mystery -- was he an innocent victim of false imprisonment wrongly taken from his family, or was he justly arrested due to crimes he committed out of his own free will and thus the primary cause of why he wan't there for them? As a reader I can sympathize in either case with the plight of the child who is thrust into circumstances beyond their control, but it would help the emotional impact of the story to know the background of those circumstances. For example, knoiwing the reasons behind the father's arrest would weight to the MC's later-life decision to bail out someone else -- does (s)he see it as trying to fight a corrupt system, or trying to help a criminal on the wrong path turn his life around by reminding him of how much his family depends on him?

    Similarly, it would help to have a clearer picture of the MC -- there's no name or any indication of age or if the MC is male or female. It doesn't really matter in terms of what is happening in the story, but it does help the reader connect to the MC, the same as it has more impact when telling a friend what happened to "my older sister Sue" versus what happened to "someone."

    1. (Reply split for length)

      Ms. Sunnydale's third entry continues her tradition of creating scenes built around memorable central characters -- Steadfaster Jossana in her post-apocalyptic tale of star-crossed lovers, the first-person POV character in the church meeting the mob boss to talk about a missing brother, and now Sadie as she preys on an unsuspecting drunk gentleman. I also enjoyed the wide variety of settings Sunnydale has presented -- future, present, and now past.

      Sadie's scene has some very nice characterization and does a good job of placing me in her world. The emphasis on horses and horse references help set the time of the story. The use of specific street names also gives it an authentic, "you-are-there" feel (and yes, I'm showing my age with the Walter Cronkite TV show reference). But this always requires solid research -- get it wrong and someone will definitely point it out.

      I stumbled a bit over "burner" as a slang term for a cigarette, I assume? I've neer heard it before, and a quick internet search doesn't find it as a historical slang term, either. A person who's attended multiple Burning Man festivals, yes -- but I don't believe that's what Ms Sunnydale was going for. That's a danger of using slang: Hopefully they can get it from context, but you can't always assume the reader knows the term.

      The ending of the piece is surprising, but not in a completely radical way -- the jump from prostitute to mugger is not that huge of one, after all. And the last line is also missing an "a" ("not even 'a' gambling man"). But still, it is presented very effectively and gets me much more interested in Sadie. I would definitely keep reading.

      Congratulations once again to both semi-finalists! I have definitely enjoyed all your work. But in this bout, I have to give the edge to Ms. Sunnydale.

  57. My vote today goes to Ms. Sunnydale. I liked the bait and switch at the end and I definitely got a good idea of Sadie. I also really liked the descriptions of the man, the setting, and the other prostitutes. Ish, good job but there was some tense switching that threw me off. I also felt like we didn't find out enough about the characters to care about them.

  58. Hard to vote on this round in particular, especially as it is for a place in the final, as both entries felt slightly underwhelming, and a bit disappointing, if I am totally honest.

    The first entry for me felt somewhat rough, with quite a few errors including a tense shift mid-way that completely threw me out of the story. In addition, we had this nameless ageless MC, which is hard to become attached too, as I know nothing about them… I have no clue who they are, how old they are, only that they have a sister, a mother and a father.

    The age, we can presume is that of a child, but how old? There are many inconsistencies no matter how we as a reader decide to age them... on one hand if the child is young, they would definitely not use vocabulary like shuddered or say that their bladder is threatening to explode (not sure even an adult would say that).

    If they are an older child, it is unlikely they would refer to their parents as daddy and mama, and not know some of the things they questioned throughout the story. There are other inconsistencies too throughout, which made the writing feel very much like an unedited first draft.

    I didn’t really think the ending was plausible either. Not trying to be harsh, but this is for a place in the final, so really the writing and story needs to be as flawless as possible for such a coveted place.

    The second entry I actually started reading, left and then had to come back. It is not really a genre I choose to read, and I did have to force myself a bit because of this (not the writer’s fault, but rather my genre preference as a reader). A couple of lines in this reminded me of an earlier entry actually.

    The story again felt a bit rushed, and left me with many questions. I did not feel very engaged in the story, but again that is more likely my preference as a reader.

    The writing in the second entry did feel as though it had more depth than the first entry, though again I felt it was a bit disappointing for the semi-final and was not left with a “wow" feeling after reading either of these.

    As a vote has to be cast, I will give it to Ms. Sunnydale as I felt of the two pieces it was a better example of the two in the craft of writing.

  59. This is some stiff competition indeed! IshYouNotIshMe's entry felt so real and heart wrenching. Being a child and going through a situation like that has to be extremely difficult, and this piece did a fantastic job of capturing that.

    Ms. Sunnydale did a wonderful job of setting the scene, and the unexpected twist at the end was great.

    My vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe, but both deserve high praise!

  60. Both great, my vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale.

  61. Excellent, both of them!

    IshYou created a strong story with powerful descriptions, but when I got to the end, it felt like an introduction to a larger, more powerful story that would be even more interesting to read.

    Ms. Sunnydale took me back in time and created an intense worry for this seemingly compliant child prostitute. Yet, when I read the last bit, I was surprised and delighted to cheer on Sadie. A great and unexpected twist.

    Both are lovely, powerful pieces. My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale for the nice surprise at the end.

  62. My vote this round goes to IshYou! I love the character and how easily you pulled me into their life. Love the end and how they decide to try to help another.
    Ms. Sunnydale, like the story but I didn’t feel there was enough clues to what time it was taking place in so I was changing the picture in my head a few times trying to get it right. The horse analogy could have worked for me if it was a more common breed, as it is I was immediately pulled out if the story as my brain searched fit the appropriate look and came up with nothing. Since it seemed to be an important comparison it should be easy for most people to get quickly.
    Congratulations to
    You both for making it here!

  63. Sunnydale, the concept is interesting but there was too much "pretty prose" for my liking and it kept pulling me out of the story. While somewhat satisfying that the MC did something other than what we were lead to believe would be the most likely outcome it fell flat that she just ended up robbing him. I was hoping for something different and a bit more.
    IshYouNotIshMe, I really enjoyed this story and felt like we were brought along nicely on this persons journey. I want to know what happened with the MC's father, what he was accused of and was it true or not but I understand that the MC doesn't know so it makes sense that we don't get that closure since they don't.
    Congrats to you both for getting to this point! My vote goes to IshYou, overall I like this story more and think that the writing is better.

  64. Congratulations! What a wonderful achievement.

    My vote is for IshYouNotIshMe A lot of background and story built into such a short piece. One thing that did throw me off was not knowing enough about the narrator - some hint on whether they were a boy or girl would have been helpful.

    Ms. Sunnydale’s story had such detail and descriptions that I could feel I was there. Unfortunately, I didn’t feel enough of a connection at the end to keep me in the world. Still an extremely close call.

  65. IshYouNotIshMe -- Very emotional and powerful. Though I wish it were more active instead of telling us a memory. Still, I was moved.

    Ms. Sunnydale -- An interesting twist at the end. Vivid setting.

    Both are good, and worthy of being in this round. IshYouNotIshMe moved me more, so that's my vote.

  66. My vote goes to Ms. Sunnydale because of the twist at the end :)

  67. IshYouNotIshMe -- I've never been so quickly and thoroughly transported by something so short.

  68. Voting for Ms. Sunnydale! The writing in this piece is just tighter than Ish's.

  69. Voting for Ms. Sunnydale.

    I struggled with this one, as they seemed evenly matched.

    IshYouNotIshMe: I liked your piece, but the lack of transitions with the long time line got to me. I do like that you tell a complete story here, with a long story arc and a sense of fullness.

    Sunnydale: The descriptiveness of this piece is great. It's a dark story, a bit cliched in some ways. A bit more editing might polish this more.

  70. I spent quite some time trying to decide on this one. Both were strong page turners. My vote is for IshYouNotMe because that story had a bit more tension consistently throughout, although both of these stories were top notch!

  71. I can see why both of these writers have made it this far! Both have really vivid imagery that pull you in, and both have an air of mystery about them. Ms. Sunnydale just didn't quite give me enough story to understand the MC, the abruptness of the ending threw me off, so my vote goes to IshYouNotIshMe. The way the story reads, it's really easy to see it through the eyes of the MC.

  72. my vote: IshYouNotMe. After reading them both, I have to say both are well written and grab my attention. IshYouNotMe seems more cohesive. Both are worthy contenders. Good reads :)

  73. Breaking my feedback into 2 comments (1 for each entry):

    Opening on an interesting and dramatic scenario!

    "Mom screamed and hid her face behind her hands." This action doesn't really work for me. Is she actually yelling a word? If not, just screaming then hiding her face is very odd and feels overly dramatic just to emphasize the tension of the situation rather than as an action someone would really take. Is this arrest expected (doesn't sound like it due to the line about "Amy")? Why is she not trying to talk to the cops? Why is she not trying to talk to her husband? If she knew the arrest was coming, I could she her screaming and hitting the steering wheel in frustration. If she didn't, it's weird that she wouldn't try to ask for info, intervene, or, if she's too scared to intervene or knows that won't end well, why scream to draw attention? I don't get this reaction.

    "Snow, hard as sand, clicked softly against the windows and the car rocked every time a semi rumbled past." Fantastic imagery and appeal to visual, auditory, and sense of feel, all in one!

    Wonderful details indicating timeframe (smoking in a restaurant, Pat Benatar, etc...).

    Nice detail with the bladder threatening to explode. But how old is this child? Doesn't sound like she (or he) is old enough to ask questions and get an idea of what's really going on, which to me would mean they'd be more likely to have an accident waiting for the restroom. If the kid is more fidgeting constantly trying to avoid an accident and the waitress notices and shows them the restroom in short order that fits a bit better with a younger kid whose bladder is stressed.

    Why aren't the kids in school? If the dad is arrested in the winter, even if they are on a Christmas break, shouldn't school start back up before weeks pass? Unless they are somewhere super north where snow is present longer. The timeline and place throw me off and I have to wonder why neither woman is trying to ensure the kids' education isn't disrupted. I get maybe trying to avoid this to keep the super short story focused on a few scenes, but then it needs to be happening in the summer or some time that aligns so it makes sense that school is off the table.

    "He hadn’t been arrested, that was a cover. No, he was a spy..." This isn't as strong as just leading right into "He was a spy. He had been working for the CIA to save the Queen..." Put more of your word count towards the vivid imaginings the kid is coming up with. Re-explaining that the dad hadn't really been arrested is unnecessary, slows down the narrative, wastes words that could be spent on amping up the stories being told, and makes the narrator sound a lot older, which doesn't jive with the other details leading up to this point.

    Interesting detail with the mom hogging all the time. Helps show she does not have her stuff together and is pretty selfish. Could help explain why she doesn't bother to put the kids in school, but I still think the waitress should push that point, at least.

    Love the ending! But it doesn't feel deserved. This story doesn't seem to focus on the actual relationship between the kid and dad very much, nor shows real, fundamental hardship of how this arrest affected the family. If the ending were "tomorrow, I'll look for a family who needs a place while they get back on their feet," that feels more fitting since so much of this is spent spending time at the waitress's and her act of kindness is unique. It's also odd that this story is being told from an adult perspective, but doesn't carry the reflection an adult would have in re-telling it (no earlier wondering or commentary an adult would have throughout "I never did learn the waitress's name," "My mother always struggled to keep a job," etc...). There's no focus on a single unifying emotion to build to that conclusion.

  74. This comment has been removed by the author.

  75. (Accidentally got some feedback for Sicaria at the end of this comment mixed in. Fixed now)

    Ms. Sunnydale
    Fantastic opening line! Very evocative, unique way to describe the action and establishes tone and location.

    Had no idea what "burners" were. If this is genuine slang from the timeframe, that's not a bad thing. But if it's just a word to sound old-timey without evidence backing up its usage, then axe it.

    Kerry Bog Palominos seem to have some color variation from what I've seen Googling. So not sure this is a super clear description. I'm cool with her being specific since it backs that she has horse knowledge. But you might want to add some hints around this to help readers out who have no idea what this looks like. "Her light hair the color of Kerry Bog Palominos attracted the men who loved their ponies" or something to that effect. That at least establishes her hair as being lighter in color.

    So I know it's totally intentional to make the whole situation feel squeazy with men comparing women to horses, but it's weird that Sadie herself accepts that comparison without disdain given that she robs the guy at the end. She's drawing the parallel to herself. Weird. She can notice that the men seem to draw that conclusion, but she shouldn't just off-handedly draw it herself like it's expected and normal.

    The tone of the piece really does seem to support, rather than challenge or circumvent the grossness of the behavior on display. The line "She laughed and it was an enchanted thing, like a hundred silver bells snagged on a harbor breeze" in particular fits perfectly with the view of how the men here objectify the women. Again, I get this is an attempt to make the twist at the end more shocking, but then the story is hollow. You can still have the story challenge and be from Sadie's viewpoint where the reality clearly doesn't match this man's fantasy, then have a good twist; e.g. "She forced a laugh, trying for something that sounded dainty and poetic, like hundreds of silver bells snagged on a harbor breeze, or whatever other ridiculously charming notion a man like him would expect. By his smile, she supposed she succeeded." Right now, the story wants to be gritty and have the air of this is expected horribleness, but it's comes off as a male perspective underscoring that same viewpoint it's allegedly showcasing as seedy.

    "...into the guts of the Five Points. " Great description and way to establish timeframe and setting!

    Why is she bothering to rob someone if her brother works at the race tracks? That would seem like a pretty good gig in those days. This is all written as though she has to do these things for money, rather than choosing to to pay the rotten men back, so it's odd.

    Great job highlighting the wretched smells! Good, visceral appeal to sense of smell.

    “Perhaps we should rest,” Sadie suggested. And so as not to make him feel weak, she added, “These boots hurt my poor feet.” This is more in line with the tone that stays in Sadie's perspective, challenges what's going on, and doesn't feed into the objectification.

    Glad this didn't turn into urban fantasy with her as a vampire or succubus. That's where I thought it was going. Keeping it in the realm of realism was a good call. However, because this story doesn't work to challenge the tone throughout and has lines that buy into it, I don't know what the point is beyond shock value. It feels very much in line with early male writer's attempts at "female empowerment," (e.g. comic books where the women throw down but are drawn in super suggestive poses. See the Hawkeye Initiative).

    Going with IshYou. Less expected and had a better, focused message we haven't seen so much.

  76. Both stories were great! Hard to choose but my vote goes to Ms. Sunnyvale for drawing me into the scene and the twist at the end.

    IshYouNotishMe - I found your story to be very relatable but the ending felt a bit forced. Good job pulling at my heartstrings though.




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