WRiTE CLUB 2019 - Semi-Final #2


Today is the 2nd and final WRiTE CLUB bout where the readers have a say in the outcome.  After these two bouts, it will be in the hands of the celebrity judges. But first, we need to decide who gets that opportunity.

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...Organized Confusion



“What do you call that one?” Nikki asked the old rancher standing next to her. She pointed at an enormous dark gray gelding watching from the depths of the muddy pasture. An electric shock of recognition zinged through her, although she'd never seen this particular horse before.

“You don't want that one, ma'am,” the man said around the wad of tobacco in his lip. “That one's trouble.” He spit a copper stream at the ground in emphasis.

*

Her father leaned back on the sofa, eyes hard, as Nikki fell silent. “Not in my house,” he said.

Her mother said nothing, only sat blinking with one hand over her mouth. Finally, she lowered her hand and smoothed at invisible wrinkles on her skirt.

“Nicolette, sweetheart …” She faltered. “What your father is trying to say—”

“I'm not trying to say anything, Marjorie. I'm saying it. If she wants to get up to that kind of—” He grimaced. “—filth, well, she's made her choice.”

“Dad—” Nikki wanted to take it back. After thirty-eight years, the weight of hiding had become unbearable, but she hadn't been prepared for this. She just wanted her parents to see the real her, the whole her.

Instead, he stood, looking past her. “You need to leave.”

“Daddy—”

“I'm not your Daddy. The daughter I raised would never break her mother's heart or disrespect God's laws in such a way. I don't know you.”

He left without making eye contact. She watched him walk heavily down the hall and out of sight. The bang of the screen door jolted her mother out of her paralysis. Like Nikki's father, she stood. Unlike him, she studied her daughter's face.

“I don't understand why you always have to cause such trouble, Nicolette,” she said.

*

Nikki walked the fence-line, mesmerized. She'd come looking for a new riding horse, but her mental list of requirements had evaporated at the first glimpse of rich coat and bold stance.

“What's his name?” she asked the rancher.

“He ain't got no name. Ain't gonna be here long enough to need one.”

At Nikki's questioning look, the man shrugged. “S'the way it is. Can't sell a horse won't let hisself be broke.”

She watched as the animal's velvet nose flared, reading the wind. Her heart thumped in time with his hooves as he galloped to the far end of the field. He slowed near a gnarled old tree and turned to look at her again.

The gelding held her gaze a moment before dropping his massive head to nibble at the grass. I see you, his eyes said. You don't have to let them break you, either.

“I'll take him,” Nikki said, surprising herself almost as much as the old man. All she knew was that she needed this horse and he needed her. They'd figure the rest out together. “I'll pick him up this afternoon.”
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Also welcome our second contestant...Sicaria



The hounds bay in the distance, their mournful cries shattering the quiet of the morning.
“Your red hair will give you an advantage,” Melody, my handmaid, says as she finishes coiling my tresses into elaborate braids.
I glance out the window. Across the manicured lawn, the brilliant autumn colors turn the forest into a kaleidoscope of reds, oranges, and yellows. A breeze carries with it the smell of woodsmoke and the promise of an early snow. “Perhaps.”
Melody grabs a makeup brush and draws swirls of brown on my face, followed by black. “Are you ready for the hunt?”
I swallow my fear. “Of course.” It’s the expected answer after I declared I would rather participate in the hunt to keep my land and my home instead of marry that imbecile, Lord Timothy. In the moment, it’d seemed the better choice.
My words don’t fool Melody. “It was the right choice, Lady Celeste.”
I almost laugh. It was an impulsive choice made by an impulsive girl. Father always said my inability to think before I speak would be the end of me. I bite my lip to stop the tears from falling. If he hadn’t died, my future would be secure.
Outside, the sound of men whooping and yelling races toward my window, and terror coils around me like a boa constrictor squeezing its prey.
“Do you think I’ll be fine?” My voice is barely a whisper.
The love in Melody’s eyes is reminiscent of my mother. “I’ve seen several hunts, and winning always comes down to being brave and smart. You’re both.”
“I’m not brave.”
“You are.” Melody sets down her brush and pulls me to my feet. “You’ll do well.”
“I wish I didn’t have to wear this.” I smooth my camouflage skirt with trembling hands.
Melody gives me a soft smile. “If only ladies could wear pants.”
“If only ladies didn’t have to fight for what’s rightfully theirs.” The bell tower chimes eight, and my breath quickens.
“Come.” Melody opens my door and ushers me downstairs and outside.
“I’ll see you in an hour?” Tears prick at my eyes as I look at Melody for reassurance.
“In an hour.” She kisses my cheek. “Now go.”
I lift my skirts and hurry across the lawn toward the forest. Near the edge, men on horses wait with their hounds.
“My lords.” I eye the five men on horseback. Lord Timothy glares at me when my gaze locks with his. My refusal cost him his honor, and if he wins, he gets that back along with my home and fortune. I lift my chin. He won’t win.
“You get a five minute lead,” says Lord Andrew. “If we don’t find you, then,” he waves his hand as though he doesn’t believe it’s a possibility, “you win. And if we do, well…”
I nod, determination mingling with fear to create a potent fire. They won’t find me—I refuse to die today.
Lord Chambers cocks an eyebrow. “You better start running.”
#################################################################################


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 Monday with the final 1,000 word battle. 

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!





70 comments

  1. Ooh these are both good! Voting for Organized Confusion.

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  2. Both entries are well written. I liked the way Organized Confusion built the tension, showing the conflict with the flash back. That said, I would have liked to see a bit more of a connection between Nikki and the stallion. The twist at the end of Sicaria's story surprised me. I was expecting something else all together. Either entry deserves to win, but I am going to cast my vote with Sicaria. Thanks for this contest this year, DL! It was fun! See you at the conference!

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  3. I like Sicaria. What a chilling reality.

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  4. Congratulations, Organized Confusion and Sicaria! You've both put out incredible work and deserve to have made it to the semi-finals!

    Organized Confusion: Wow! You know how to tug on the heartstrings. My heart broke for Nikki as her father disowned her while her mother stood idly by and then accused her of causing trouble. I wanted to take Nikki in my arms and tell her I'm her family now.

    As I mentioned in another story, I know nothing about horses, but your description of the gelding didn't leave me lacking. I was able to see the big, stubborn, beautiful, grey horse clearly. And, honestly, I sort of fell in love with it, too.

    Sicaria: Once again, you've given us an interesting story with an unexpected twist ending. You definitely excel at the twist endings! I did feel like I was missing information or context in the beginning, so I spent a good half of the words trying to suss out exactly what was going on and what the setting was. After the second read-through, I was left unsure why Celeste's red hair would give her an advantage. Was it meant to imply that there is lots of red foliage for her to hide in?

    This was a tough call for me, and in the end it comes down to ease of understanding the story. My final vote in WriteClub19 goes to Organized Confusion.

    Congratulations again, to both of you!

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  5. Excellent entries! Both descriptive and moving. I loved the ending of Sicaria's story. It was completely unexpected.

    While the ending for Organized Confusion was not a surprise, it was a tug at my heartstrings. I understand the draw and the need to save something from being forced to ruin.

    My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  6. Two excellent entries for the final bout!

    Organized Confusion did a great job with the tension and the flashback was well done - a tricky thing to do in this short form. I would have liked more depth to why *this* problem horse was her choice, other than he's trouble like she supposedly is. I needed more of a connection and parallel.

    Sicaria also did a wonderful job with building the tension. While I couldn't quite place the setting (modern names and a hunt of real people, but no pants for women - alternate reality, I'm guessing?), I did get a sense of how screwed up this society is and how a woman has to fight or give up. This told a story but left me wanting more too.

    My vote goes to Sicaria.

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  7. I enjoyed both stories quite a bit. My vote goes to Sicaria today.

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  8. Organized Confusion, great job with the emotion you managed to draw out in such a short piece! I really felt for your character and think you delivered a nuanced piece.

    OMG! Not even kidding, my jaw dropped at the end of Sicaria's piece. I was truly enjoying the story, thinking of a woman going on a hunt to secure her lands and feeling like the premise was pretty solid. Then BOOM! You really got me with that twist. I bow down to you, Sicaria. You have my vote and my respect!

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  9. I think Organized Confusion conveyed emotion very well.
    I enjoyed the rhythm of the writing in Sicaria.

    I vote for Sicaria.

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  10. Oh crumbs. How to decide. I felt completely at home with the choice of horse in the first one, but slightly jolted by the 'flashback', which might only have been a few hours...days? How much relevance did it have to the instant bond with the horse? Two stories in one, and both intriguing, but I havent 'got' the connection.
    The second, again, well into the story, but many questions left hanging, including why the red hair, and why not just wear the pants anyway, under the skirt, then lose the skirt? But I'm not so emotionally connected with it.
    Two really great excerpts, and I'd love to read the complete book of either but....
    I'm voting for Organised Confusion.

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  11. Both were really well written. Organised Confusion's story was a little abrupt with the transition to the flashback. Sicaria's story feels like a lot packed into a small amount of words and was very well written.

    My vote goes to Sicaria

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  12. These are always so difficult! I want to follow through on both stories and know how they end, and it's very difficult to choose, but I'm voting for Organized Confusion based on the writing style as much as the content.

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  13. Both excellent stories that left me cheering the protagonist. My vote goes to Organized Confusion. Really though, excellent writing all around.

    Lesley Handel (lesleyhandel@gmail.com)

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  14. Wow, both excellent pieces!

    OC: great job packing lots of emotion into this short piece. It feels disjointed, bouncing between scenes. Do these two events occur close together? As nice as the ending it, I knew what would happen almost immediately. It’s similar to your opponent’s piece in the initial bouts, where the MC chooses an animal in which she sees herself.

    Sicaria: I think I know what’s going on, and then the ending delivers a giant gut punch. Creepy and effective! Rereading this piece is like reading a new story for the first time.

    I vote for Sicaria, for surprising me with a unique ending.

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  15. I vote for Organized Confusion. I like the theme quite a bit

    Comment for Sicaria: I liked your ending, but had trouble getting into the writing earlier in the story

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  16. I had issues with the first story. Organized confusion was extravagant with words. Rewording here and there, was an opportunity lost for more information about the characters. Also, I was surprised that Nicolette was 38 years old, and still living in her parent's house. And I did not like how she wanted to take back her words, after being courageous. It was a good story that could have been told more efficiently.

    The second story was well written, more imagery, with an intriguing plot, making me wish there was more. The only change I would suggest would be to have the brave woman say verbally to the hunters, "I refuse to die today" instead of just thinking it.

    Congratulations to both writers. My vote goes to Sicaria.

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  17. I'm really pulling for the girl in the last one. My vote goes to Sicaria.

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  18. Two more well-written stories. I had to go back and read them both again and it was still tough.
    My vote goes to Organized Confusion

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  19. Organized Confusion needed one line of clarity. While I'm pretty sure I "get" it, I would have liked to be sure of that. By the end, I still had the lingering question.

    My vote goes to Sicaria today. I followed the story all the way through without lingering doubt that I missed something.

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  20. Congratulations to both writers for earning spots in the semi-finals!

    Organized Confusion: I LOVED your previous entries, and I like what you attempted here, but I'm not sure the flashback in the middle of such a short piece works for me. It disrupted the flow a little too much, jarring me into and out of the story. I also felt like the writing could have been tighter and more immersive.

    Sicaria: YA fantasy... You found my weakness. There's a lot here that is common in YA fantasy, but what makes this fresh for me is that Celeste isn't the typical strong female protagonist. Sure, she stood up to the system, but she's regretting it now, and her fear and uncertainty come through beautifully, as does the love she feels for her deceased parents and for Melody. I think her NOT speaking "I refuse to die today," is more in keeping with the turmoil she feels going into a challenge she might well lose. I appreciate how you've brought sound and scent to the scene and given the reader insight into Celeste's thoughts and emotions.

    I'm going with Sicaria today. Best wishes to you both!

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  21. My vote today is for Sicaria. Both pieces are really done but Sicaria's is just wonderful. In this short snippet, I got a ton of characterization, a good idea of the stakes here, and an exciting set up. Great job!

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  22. Holy hell Sicaria for the win! Definitely did not see it going into the "Most dangerous game territory." Saw it more as a classic english countryside setting. Still could be but yes please definitely want to read more.

    For Organized confusion I enjoyed the scene between parents and child it felt raw and real, but when the story transitioned back and forth I kept wanting to go back to the moment she chose to face her parents.

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  23. My vote goes to Organized Confusion. Am a sucker for girl/pony stories -- even when girl & pony are all grown up!

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  24. And a final semi-final cheer for two worthy contenders - including the 'mystery' competitor.

    Organised Confusion -your opening grabs this grizzled retired equestrian journalist and the next scene intrigues me. Good use of dialogue exchanges to paint character. From the memory scene back to buying the geldings - clever, although some readers will be thrown; those that believe in breaking people and horses. I'm glad that the 'unbroken' Nikki gets to build a bond with the horse. And I've seen it happen. What has she done that she's hidden? I have an idea and want to know for sure. A moving story told in an unconventional way. More, please.

    Sicaria - first two paras set the scene clearly and hook me. Then more colour and smells are added to the sounds - good use of the senses. And more colour. The unexpected looms with Celeste's fears. I don't expect a normal hunt - and the camouflage skirt confirms it. Tension. Determination. And a cliffhanger ending. You have me more than hooked. I need to know what happens next. How 'smart' is Lady Celeste? What sort of society is this that has such hunts?

    This is going to be the toughest choice yet as both pieces leave me wanting to know what happens next. Both are well written and deserve to be in the final. It's not just the horses and the hidden 'filth' but the previous samples that earn Organised Confusion my vote. Sorry deserving wildcard.

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  25. I vote Sicaria. The dialogue is natural and the writing superb. Thanks for a good read!

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    Replies
    1. My name is Bethanie Gellerman - it didn't sign my name as I voted, but I am voting for Sicaria.

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    2. My email address is bethanie.megan@yahoo.com

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  26. Organized Confusion gets my vote. A pony that 'sees me' is a winner every time. Well done to both.

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  27. Congrats to both of you for making it this far. My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  28. Congrats to both semi-finalists for getting this far!

    Organized Confusion: I've loved your work in the past. There are parts of today's entry I also love, but some I didn't. My first point of confusion was her "familiarity" of the horse with never seeing it before. Then to immediately slip into the flashback made me think I missed something. The flashback was well-written and certainly tugged at my heartstrings, but I didn't understand what it had to do with the horse until you segued back to the present. Then it made sense. You captured the essence of the character and her decision beautifully, although nothing surprising. I only wish I could have followed along more smoothly at the beginning.

    Sicaria: Kudos for beautiful writing, a smooth story from beginning to end, tension built well from the start, and employing more senses than just sight or hearing. Watch the cliches, though. I have to say I figured out the twist when Melody talks about being brave. Still loved it when I reached the end. I also love how you give us a character who is scared yet still willing to fight for what's hers. I'd love to know how Lady Celeste fares in the end.

    My vote: Sicaria

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  29. Both of these entries are wonderful. I'm a huge fan of horses, so it was really nice to read an entry that focused on both a woman and a horse (and the ones who are often overlooked...) with Organized Confusion's entry.

    But Sicaria pulled me in the way I love a good story to pull me in - without asking me if I wanted to come along for the ride. What a story! I am hands down in love with it and I really, really, really want to read more. I kinda want to read the whole thing. Sicaria, please tell me you're querying this one to agents. Great voice!

    My vote - Sicaria.

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  30. Organized Confusion - The subtlety of the storytelling is a huge plus. I like the way you make the reader aware of the situation without spelling it out. The horse is a classic representation of freedom, but it didn't feel trope-y to me. Good writing overall. The only thing I didn't like was the chapter breaks. Five hundred words broken into three parts is a little much. It would have been nicer to keep the flow all the way through.

    Sicaria - Good verb choice most of the time. So many of the stories in this year's competition relied on "to be" verbs (is, was, etc.) but this story is full of real action verbs.-- Sound races, Melody grabs and draws, I swallow, tears prick -- There are a couple lines that could have been left on the cutting room floor -- Lord Timothy glares at me when my gaze locks with his. -- is the most glaring, pun intended. And -- I nod -- characters need to stop nodding. When you've only got a few hundred words to play with, these stick out.

    My vote is for Sicaria

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  31. These two pieces about strong women really spoke to me. Organized Confusion used story structure to help us see the struggles of our protagonist and how they have impacted her. Sicaria did an excellent job of setting up high stakes and making the reader want to cheer for the narrator. They're both great, but for some reason I cannot fully explain, I feel I must vote for Organized Confusion today.

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  32. My vote goes to Sicaria. The piece intrigued me the more out of the two.

    Organized Confusion -- I felt I wanted more information to really be invested in the character.

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  33. Both are winners in my opinion, but Organised Confusion crossed the line a fraction sooner than Sicaria. X

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  34. Ohhhh, man--another pair of wonderful pieces, another incredibly difficult choice!!! Organized Confusion's prose drew me in right away, along with the compelling dynamics among the characters--Nikki's parents, the rancher, the horse. It's incredible how you've created a fleshed out, sympathetic scene in a short passage. Very, very well done!!!! And Sicaria, wow--you've created a suspenseful, taut situation that left me desperate for more!!!! That last line, especially...

    Soooo...it's Sicaria for me by a nose. Congratulations to you both, and I know I'll be seeing you both in print!!!!

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  35. These are both really well written pieces, but there's one thing that just ruins Sicaria's story for me: it had me all the way up until she arrives where the men are. I had no problem clearly understanding the situation she was in from all the clues... but then at that point it switches into complete telling and literally just states what is going on, not even through dialogue or description, but just simply stating it. That just ruined it for me. To be clear, I'm not saying it's terrible (the rest of it is very well written, and if it had just ended before that part, I would have a very tough decision), but it certainly brings it down below the quality of OrganizedConfusion's piece which lets you figure out the metaphor for yourself, and has a tight emotional arc.

    So I vote for OrganizedConfusion today.

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  36. My vote is for Organized Confusion. The story is once again of a real life issue; something that could be anybody's life. I followed the arc of Sicaria's tale but felt little connection to the main character.

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  37. Organized Confusion confused me with the abrupt shift to the flashback. While it tells us much about the character, a softer transition would have kept me from being pulled out of the story.

    Sicaria - WOW! I want the whole story now!

    My vote is for Sicaria.

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  38. Gosh...I start to vote for one entry and then I re-read both and change my mind - and then I do it again! These are really good.

    Sicaria - I could see the future of your piece - the girl with flame colored hair running into the autumn trees, hopefully outsmarting her hunters. Loved the twist.

    Organized Confusion: I didn't catch the flashback at first and was, well, confused. Re-reading it I really liked it and felt for the horse as well as Nikki. SO glad they found each other.

    I was going to vote for Sicaria at first...that twist had me...BUT I think I am going for the horse. The description of the gelding accepting the girl was touching.

    My vote goes to Organized Confusion. Great job writers!

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  39. Both of these were excellent but I was caught off guard by the abrupt switch to a flashback in Organized Confusion's piece. Like someone else stated, if the transition had been smoother, I would not have been pulled out of the story and would have enjoyed it a little more.

    Sicaria's story was right up my alley, a stubborn woman determined to get what is rightfully hers.

    My vote goes to Sicaria.

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  40. My vote goes to Organized Confusion!

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  41. Excellent writing in both. I really can't find any fault in either one, so my gut decides this one....Sicaria.

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  42. Both are great. The twist in the second... I have to know more! My vote is for Sicaria.

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  43. Congratulations to both writers on an outstanding achievement.

    Organized Confusion’s piece had so much going for it, so many threads to weave together and how they are connected. Unfortunately, the story telling left me a bit confused on what was happening with the jumping.

    My vote goes to Sicaria for a story a would love to see more of. A lot of set up ent into this piece, a great building block for more to come.

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  44. Organized Confusion -- This has the makings of a modern classic.

    Sicaria -- At first it didn't feel like my kind of genre. Then the twist at the end, where she's the fox of the hunt, that got my attention. I would read more of this.

    I enjoyed both of these. I'd read both of them as books. It's a very hard decision, but I'm voting Organized Confusion.

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  45. My vote goes to Sicaria because I totally did not see that story coming!

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  46. Both writings were well written but I am voting for Sicaria. Congratulations to both of you for making it this far!!! :D

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  47. Both very good. My vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  48. My vote is for Organised Confusion.

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  49. Wow. Another tough choice.

    OrgCon felt relevant and real, but the flashback, though heartbreaking, pulled me out of the moment. That section felt rushed for such an emotionally weighty scene.

    Sicaria's voice is spot on, and the twist won me over, again.

    Today's vote Sicaria.

    Congrats again to all four finalists.

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  50. Voting for Sicaria on this one.

    I think I liked the story from OC more, but the writing from Sicaria felt more polished.

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  51. I am going to cast my vote with Sicaria. the story was tight had a great twist. i want to see the hunt.
    the first story was too disjointed like excerpts from two different books.

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  52. Sicaria gets my vote today.

    But both stories took me on a ride and I want to hear more!

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  53. Both are great stories, but my vote is for Organized Confusion.

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  54. I love both of these.
    My vote goes to Sicaria.
    I love the strength of character in organized confusion's story, and the promise of redemption, growth, and self acceptance.
    In Sicaria's piece I have a sense of stakes, story, and character. The comparison between the leaves and her hair is vivid, and I'm left questioning who will triumph.

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  55. Congratulations to the last two semi-finalists for making it through to this point! And I also congratulate you both on giving me one of the toughest WriteClub decisions I've had to make in this last bout based on reader feedback! I've thought about this one for couple of days and now have to rush to get my vote in -- and I apologize for the brevity of this post, but I wanted to be sure to get it in while I have a chance to.

    Organized Confusion, you've done a fabulous job this competition in filling your pieces with tons of emotion and you've done it again here. I feel both sympathy and connection with Nikki. I think squeezing it in under the word-limit made the flashback seem a little more disjointed than it could have been, but it did a good job of filling in the backstory of Nikki and gave weight to her attraction to the horse. It did seem kind of odd that Nikki was 38 in it, instead of say 18, but the domination of the parents and their attitudes clearly had extended well into Nikki's adulthood. I also get get Nikki's attraction to the horse, and I like how the rancher's attitudes toward it kind of echo Nikki's father's dismissal of her. All-in-all, I think this was a very effective and cleanly-written story.

    Sicaria's piece is also effective and cleanly-written. Compared to their creepy prior submissions, this piece seemed much more sedate until that final realization that Lady Celeste is to be the prey in the hunt. This submission does a great job of engaging the reader and pulling them in, clearly presenting the characters and situation, and excellently world-building while still moving the scene forward. I'm a little fuzzy as to why her red hair gives her an advantage, but by the end of the story I'm fully hooked and eager to keep reading.

    Both deserve to advance, but since I can only vote for one, I pick Sicaria. I feel like they did a better job of overall characterization, scene-setting, and most importantly -- establishing and then escalating the tension and drama in their piece.

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  56. This is a hard round as both pieces of writing in this semi-final round feel stronger that the two in the previous round. It is unfortunate they got paired against one another, as I feel both would likely have gone forward to the final if they had been split-up.

    Both pieces had strengths and weaknesses.

    The story in OC's entry felt fresh and unique, but I did feel the flashback interrupted the flow somewhat, but then again it needs to a little so we as readers sit up and take notice of what is being told to us. The use of a horse to portray the woman and the woman the horse, I felt was clever and as mentioned earlier, a unique way to tell this tale.
    The ending was satisfying, and while it lacked any type of suspense or twist, it does feel like a nicely rounded piece of writing.

    Sicaria's piece was in my opinion his/her best entry so far - I was not overly impressed with their earlier entries, but this one definitely felt more polished and had more depth than their other two submissions. I was confused as to how the red hair would aid the MC in alluding the huntsmen, as it almost feels as it if would do the opposite. Red hair seems to be a constant in Sicaria's entries I noticed :)
    I was not particularly surprised by the ending - the camouflage skirt gave it away, along with the make-up being applied in the first part of the story. But still the ending felt satisfactory, however I think the five minutes of lead time for someone on foot hoping to outrun men on horses with hounds in tow might as well be no lead. There would be no possibly way for anyone with a five minute lead to outrun horses. 30 minutes would have been more believable if she were to have any chance at survival.

    My biggest problem with Sicaria's piece is that we have no clues at all as to where or when this is taking place. At first we are lead to believe it is perhaps some time centuries ago, but the names of the women used and then mention of a camo-skirt ruins that theory. If it is set in some other fantasy world, then I think we need to be grounded there.

    Other than that, the piece was fairly well written.

    Again this is so hard and I wish both could go through, as both really feel like they are the strongest two entries of the four that are left.

    It is almost a coin toss here for me. I will have to base my vote on the three entries they each submitted, and when doing that, I think Organized Confusion had the three stronger entries throughout the contest.

    My long-winded vote goes to Organized Confusion.

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  57. Excellent stories!! I loved the time period piece but organized confusion gets my vote for creating such an emotional charge! Excellent job done by both!!!

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  58. Sicaria has my vote on this one. Such a wonderful command of the world they’ve created.

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  59. Both stories left me wanting to read more. Great job. I feel if organized confusion would have been better if you could have used more words. I didn't understand why her parents disowned her. I love the connection with the horse. In the story by sicaria I didn't understand the reference to her hair color and wasn't sure of the time frame. My vote goes to sicaria this time.

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  60. My vote goes to Organized Confusion - the dialogue works really well and it drew me into the story immediately. Definitely want to read more.

    Sicaria - congrats on making it to the semis! I liked this story, especially the end. The early parts were a bit slow though - not much was happening and I didn't get any feeling for Lady Celeste. But would've have kept reading to see the outcome of the chase.

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  61. Organized Confusion
    "She pointed at an enormous dark gray gelding watching from the depths of the muddy pasture." This isn't a bad sentence, but it does border on unwieldy. You probably want to avoid such heavy sentences right off the bat. May think about breaking the description throughout the story (do we need to know the pasture is muddy right now in conjunction with the horse, for example? Could that come later when describing the rancher flicking some off his boot? Or when the horse runs?).

    I have zero issue with the flashback. To me, it fit in perfectly, flowed well, and created the backbone for the story. Without it, the metaphor of the unbroken horse would have no place. I do think folks who aren't looking for a deeper meaning will definitely find it jarring as it disrupts the scene and smooth plot (folks looking for a deeper meaning may feel this, too, but I think it's not as big of a deal for that crowd since a lot of literary works weave in flashbacks like this). This piece strikes me as literary, so I was expecting those kinds of structures/devices.

    It's a bit ambiguous as to whether Nikki revealed she is a lesbian, or if she is transgender. I'm not really sure it matters: The story captures the emotion of feeling like you have to lie about yourself or be ostracized and the heartbreak when your own family does choose to reject you rather than love you. But if you wanted to emphasize one of these experiences in particular, we probably need another hint or two to identify the precise one.

    “I don't understand why you always have to cause such trouble, Nicolette,” she said. Strongest line in the story, IMO! It's so emotionally wrenching. It beautifully, and unfortunately, expresses how a lot of folks when presented with a reality they don't understand because they haven't lived it choose to believe the person whose reality it is is just choosing to be that way, as though on a whim. So crushing.

    I do also wonder why Nikki is still living with her parents. I actually find it refreshing to depict a character in that situation, as it does for sure happen. So bravo on showcasing a less explored scenario! However, why she is still there I think really impacts how to interpret her character and the situation. If she's there to help take care of her parents, out of moral obligation, or because they were super close prior to her revelation, that brings a new weight to the rejection and gives us insight into who is she. If she's still there because she grew up in a place with low prospects for women, or her family was super negative and domineering, then I need some more insight as to how she goes from a potentially stunted mindset to busting out and buying her own horse (being forced out at that age with that background would be exhilarating, but also terrifying and potentially emotionally crippling). I think we need to get an idea of the why and then the piece needs to evolve based on the new dimension that provides.

    "Can't sell a horse won't let hisself be broke." LOVE the more subtle parallel here implying that Nikki can no longer be sold on the family culture that keeps her closeted.

    Not sure how they can lock gazes if the horse genuinely galloped away. A gallop is freaky fast and covers a lot of ground. Sooo, doubt the rancher and Nikki would be able to see his eyes in any sort of detail. Maybe if he ran, then came closer? Or a canter might be more believable. Changes the tone a bit, but that might work as a cantor is a bit easier and would exude confidence (which Nikki needs after such a rejection), rather than wildness (we already get that with the unbroken comment). Could also lock gazes first, then gallop away, and from stop to look and toss his head, then continue.

    Personally, I don't like the horse's internalization. But I bet people will be split on that.

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  62. Sicaria
    "...mournful cries..." Why mournful? This strikes me as cliche and I don't understand the choice to use that description and not something that would reflect Celeste's fear or the aggression of the situation.

    I got that that the red hair as an advantage due to the fall landscape. Hard to be sure if this really does help, though, because we don't know what type of trees are there. Lots of species of trees don't have low branches, so the red hair would still stick out. Mentioning the type of forest might help clarify this.

    "...she finishes coiling my tresses into elaborate braids..." This description feels a bit off since the action of braiding is interweaving, not coiling.

    Lovely description of the landscape! Very strong element of the piece.

    Bit weird that Melody asks "Are you ready for the hunt?” That's what she's clearly helping her prepare for. It comes off as stilted for the dialogue itself because the characters both know the context. It's more natural just for her to say "Are you ready?" Or, in keeping with the time period feel, "Are you prepared?"

    "In the moment, it’d seemed the better choice.
    My words don’t fool Melody. “It was the right choice, Lady Celeste.”"

    The re-emphasize of the choice and it being better or right feels a bit clunky. I'd just axe the "In the moment" line. Especially as we get the "impulsive" choice line next. Just bunch of "choice" back-to-back and beating the reader a bit too much with how we should feel about it.

    "... like a boa constrictor squeezing its prey." This piece seems to be set somewhere several hundred years ago in Europe. For her to reference a boa constrictor feels very off. They aren't native to the Europe and the zoo system didn't come around until 1847. It's possible a wealthier noble would have visited somewhere or had a visit from someone who mentioned/showed off a boa, but it's a bit of a stretch and I'm doubtful Celeste is that high up in society if she has no other relatives to shield her. You could go with a mythical creature that folks were superstitious about in that timeframe, or just a generic "snake squeezing."

    “Do you think I’ll be fine?” I'm not super sure, but I think the meaning of fine here may be pretty modern. If you look at the etymology, I don't see a mention of it being used in that way so long ago. Maybe "Do you think I'll succeed?" Or "Do you think I'll come out hale?" would fit better.

    “I’ve seen several hunts, and winning..." This is really intriguing! The story initially feels like her asking to be part of the hunt is super unique. But this implies it's not. Further, it indicates that women do succeed, if not often, than not rarely. I'd love to see more hints/know more about the outcome and why more women aren't working to change the system once they secure their power.

    "...camouflage skirt..." Another anachronism. Camo didn't come about until 1916, which comes off way too modern for the rest of the story setting.

    Given the sexism on display in this society and that we're dealing with nobles, shocked that this isn't more of a spectacle with an audience.

    Definitely seems like an alternate reality given Melody's line about hunts being a known option. However, the sample also harkens to a specific timeframe but has details that don't mesh with that. If it's alternate in more ways than the hunt tradition, we need to know why (how does it help the story message?) and in what other major ways besides seemingly unintentional anachronism.

    I also like that Celeste is very human in her reactions. Bravo! Although, in 3 stories now, you've always shown women to be vulnerable/victims. Why? Would love to have seen a man be the one placed in an unequal position.

    Going with OrganizedConfusion for my final vote. The writing is tighter and scene elements more clear. But props to both!

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  63. Another couple of great entries! This bout my vote goes to OrganizedConfusion, I really felt for the MC and want to know more about her life and story.

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