WRiTE CLUB 2020 – Preliminaries - Round #1



No damn virus is gonna keep this contest down!

The votes from our slush pile readers have been tallied and they have selected thirty to step into the ring against one another over the course of the next eight weeks. As usual, it was a tight race! 

Here is the inaugural WRiTE CLUB 2020 bout.

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

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

How this works—two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples are waiting in the ring below. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) should read both entries and then vote by leaving a comment for the one that resonates with you the most. We also ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest—FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, May 10th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

It’s that simple. The writing piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent. In case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote. I can do that because, like all of you, I do not know the real names of our contestants either (my wife processes all the submissions).

A few more rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough of the fine print…here we go!

On one side of the ring stands Brad Berry representing the Adult Fantasy genre.



Any other night, the cup warming Ollie's hands would have been too hot to hold, but tonight, it was all he could do to keep his hands from shaking. The small inn was full of small sounds, from the crackling of the hearth, to the murmurs of the guests, to the bubbling of drinks being poured and bottles being shelved. With his lips lowered to the rim of his glass, Ollie silently thanked the gods for the noise.

Two days, Ollie walked, from Averhall to the village of Languile. Two days of dark forests and winding roads, his only companion a maddening silence. The twigs underfoot refused to break despite the careless stumbling of his calloused feet. The animals had fallen into a muted mourning. The very breath of the world held still, careful not to disturb the tired autumn trees. Ollie could only reason that the stillness of the woods was some sort of divine punishment, meant to keep him focused on the atrocities he had so cowardly fled. And no matter how fast he ran, or how far he walked, nothing in the world sought to dull the horrors he had witnessed in Averhall.

The hulking monsters had not claimed Ollie's life, as they needlessly did with so many others, but the flashing of their blades still cut through his mind, their bellowing still seized his soul. The visions plagued him endlessly, an echo of the demons' sheer relentlessness. Nothing could take his thoughts from the carnage, rather, everything in sight sought to freshen the wounds.

The dirt path beaten between the oaks and pines reminded him of the beasts they rode. Obedient and unwavering, the great animals thundered through Averhall. Their curved hooves, bonded to arcs of iron, splintered everything in their charge.

The tatters that clung to his body, all that remained of his worldly possessions, served to remind him of the abominations the monsters commanded with voice alone. They looked like wolves, yet smaller, and instead of being less intimidating, the creatures had a mindlessness about them that augmented their ferocity. If anything, they seemed built for hunting and hunting alone. Ollie had crossed paths with a pack of the beasts as he slipped away, but luckily for him, they had been adequately distracted with a pile of sinew that once had been his neighbor.

Snapping back to the present, Ollie realized he had been staring unblinkingly into his cup. The reflection of his golden eyes and pointed ears clear in the still surface. His trance had been broken, he realized, by the sound of thunder in the distance. Continuous, tolling thunder, drawing ever closer. His breath caught in his throat. His aching legs started to tremble. And Ollie, once a proud, hopeful goblin, began to sob quietly as realization set in. He had not the strength to escape this time. Humans, atop their horses, and leading their hounds, had devoured Averhall. And the village of Languile was next.
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On the far side of the ring, we have MySquishy who is representing the Adult Horror genre.



I’d nodded off in the armchair again. Nina stood in front of me, little hands clutching my knees, a stuffed bear tucked tight under her arm. The embers in the fireplace sighed their last breaths. I must have been asleep for a while.

Gently, I set aside the book that had fallen over in my lap and brushed a dark curl out of my daughter’s face. “Another nightmare?”

Her eyes were bright and wild. “The one about the tall man dressed all in red. Even his eyes were red. He had fangs and he wanted me to follow him into the forest.”

My heart ached at her terror. “You know what to do, love.”

Nina nodded and opened the drawer of the end table, pulling out paper and crayons. I dropped to my knees and stoked the fire, urging the embers to rise.

This had been our tradition since Nina started having the nightmares. No matter how late, she would wake me and together we would banish her fears. Her father disapproved, but what did he know? His skills were homework and playtime and cooking. He could never stand guard against such intangible monsters. He didn’t understand why I couldn’t just tell our daughter to go back to bed.

The red crayon in Nina’s hand had worn nearly down to the nub. Most of the other colors in the box were untouched. Her long hair fell over her work in fierce concentration, the firelight casting harsh shadows on her young face. I watched her, mouthing silent supplications. Give her peace… leave us be…

Nina spent another few minutes on her drawing. She was a terrifyingly good little artist. The thick crayon had captured her nightmare’s angry eyes and empty, bottomless smile.

My nerves crackled with energy, but I pretended to yawn. “Ready?”

She folded her small hand into mine. “Yes, Momma.”

We each held a corner of the picture and pushed it into the fire. Flames curled around the edges, singeing and darkening. Then they began to eat their way upward. Nina and I let go at the same time, a practiced dance that no longer needed words. Together, we watched the flames consume her nightmare, the red crayon melting until it became formless and unthreatening.

“Okay, Nina.” I hugged her close and kissed her forehead. “Bedtime.”

Nina released a huge, contented sigh. “Goodnight. I love you.” She ambled back to her room, where she’d no doubt spend the rest of the night in peace.

I would do no such thing. I had to make sure the fire consumed every bit of the drawing, and even then I wouldn’t rest.

The problem was, I’d never told Nina about the man in red who’d years ago promised me a child if I promised him an unknown favor in return. Never described the fangs or heavy brows or deep-set eyes that Nina kept drawing, night after night, as he appeared in her dreams and begged her to follow him.
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Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detractions.

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

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

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


Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants.

We’ll be back tomorrow with bout #2. 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!


72 comments

  1. My vote is for MySquishy's adult horror.

    I love the premise of Brad Berry's adult fantasy - that humans/demons are relentlessly killing their way through the goblin villages; and the use of noise vs silence as a representation of trauma and emotions. I had to read it several times, though, to make any sense of it at all - perhaps a case of 'the curse of knowledge'? But it is interesting to experience humans as something new and unknown - what exactly are they capable of?

    MySquishy's premise is one with so many plot possibilities, and hints at several family issues. Does Dad suspect the truth? How long will this tug of war go on? Can Nina be trained to resist, alone? I like the intense description of Nina's work and the effective metaphors, eg 'a practised dance'. Also the hints at how long this has been going on, eg the coloured pencils being worn down.

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  2. I enjoy both of these entries. Both evoke the horror the main character is experiencing; the reader is drawn into the story and doesn’t learn the reason until the end. This is quite an accomplishment in ~500 words. My vote, though, goes to MySquishy. The writing is tight, a great example of “showing, not telling,” it’s a familiar trope (deal with the devil) but still fresh, and it makes me want to read on to see how it’s resolved (hopefully, good over evil).

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  3. Congratulations on making it through the slush pile, Brad Berry and MySquishy! Both of you are worthy contenders!

    Brad Berry: I loved all the sensory details in your piece. Starting with the sounds of the pub and working backwards to the silence of the forest, I wished for more sounds of destruction and horror as the monsters ravaged the village.

    You did a wonderful job of laying little hints that the beasts are humans without making it too obvious right away. I love your description of the horses, especially.

    With only 500 words to work with, word-choice and tight writing are essential, and I feel like this piece could have used a bit more tightening. For example, you used forms of the word "realize" three times in the final paragraph alone.

    Overall, you did a delightful job of painting a scene and making me care about someone without even knowing much about who they are. I hope you're as proud of yourself as I am of you! Huzzah!

    MySquishy: As a lifelong nightmare sufferer, I adore the idea that Mom stays awake every night to banish Nina's bad dreams. Something about the quality of your writing reminded me of A Quiet Place. There's a quiet tension and desperation that pulls me in and makes me want to listen carefully.

    The one part that pulled me out of that feeling was when the MC talks about her husband not understanding. I felt an undercurrent of hostility or impatience toward him that unraveled the cocoon of love you nestled us in. I wonder if you need to mention the father at all since he's not a character and he doesn't drive the story forward in any way.

    Good job on the ending. I honestly didn't see it coming, but when it came, it felt absolutely right.

    You both did an amazing job and absolutely deserve to be standing here today. Congratulations to both of you!

    My vote is for MySquishy.

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  4. I vote for MySquishy. The story pulled me in. Very well thought out. I love the idea of burning the nightmare in the fireplace.

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  5. Brad Berry - The writing is lovely and evocative and immediately drew me in. But the order of the storytelling threw me off and out of the story, just enough that I had to re-orient myself in place and time. The ending was perfect. I felt his horror and hopelessness. The surprise of humans as the monsters really hit me.

    MySquishy - The gender flip of the mother falling asleep in the chair confused me at first (my own bias playing into this), but then I so enjoyed the carry-through of the flip. We usually see fathers wanting to protect against evils known and unknown. That the mother naturally fills the role in this family had me reading on to find out why. The writing is tight. The storytelling, straightforward. Pacing, perfect, right until the end when we learn the truth. I want to read on.

    My Vote: MySquishy

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  6. Ooh, both are fascinating, and I want to know what happens next! Tough call, but voting for MySquishy.

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  7. Vote: MySquishy

    Oh. Wow. Ok, I loved both of them. BradBerry evoked the bone-deep fear of a traumatic experience that was inevitably going to kill the character. They created empathy for the character extremely well.

    MySquishy had the terror of a parent unsure if they can protect their child though. I want to know what happens next. The ending got an "oh, s**t..." reaction from me. Loved it. Great work to both authors!

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  8. Congratulations to both writers! I liked both pieces.
    Brad Berry's piece created a wonderful fantasy atmosphere. I loved the revelation that he was a goblin at the end.
    That said, and while I'm not a really fan of horror, I felt MySquishy's piece was tighter and led straight into the action, which is great when you have only 500 words.
    My vote goes to MySquishy.

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  9. My vote is for Mcsquishy.

    I enjoyed both pieces, but I liked the suspense in the second piece better. I think the first one might've been stronger if we hadn't gotten as many details about the attack that the character escaped. Leaving some of that horror to our imaginations would have enhanced it. I think Mcsquishy had a stronger suspense element

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  10. My vote: mysquishy

    The scene was set in just a few words and each one held a purpose. Left me wanting more. Loved this one.

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  11. This vote will not count as it is from an unknown source. If you do not have a Google account you can still vote by leaving your name and email address in the comment.

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  12. Congratulations to both of you for making it in! Both pieces were superb!

    Brad Berry -- I loved how, for a moment, I think your character has escaped. The sensory and imagery details are fantastic and there is something wonderfully chilling in the line about him escaping while they were busy with his neighbors sinew. Very well done!

    MySquishy -- I love how you set the scene to make it so lovely and cozy and how you show the love of a mother as she comforts her child. As I read this, I could imagine the mom helping her daughter with her nightmare and thought it was such a creative way to soothe a child. And then you get to the last paragraph and the twist! So expertly executed! Now I really want to know if there's more to burning the picture than meets the eye. Great job!

    It's a tough choice--both authors know how to wield to a pen effectively.

    My vote: MySquishy

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  13. Both pieces were very well written. I loved how Brad Berry described the silence. MySquishy did an excellent job of building suspense. I knew the mom was somehow involved in the girl's nightmares, so the resolution was satisfying. Vote goes to MySqiushy.

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    1. This is another vote that will not count. Although the contestants in WRiTE CLUB are anonymous, voting that way is not allowed.

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  14. My vote: mysquishy

    The scene was set in just a few words and each one held a purpose. Left me wanting more. Loved this one.

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  15. My vote: mysquishy

    This excerpt sucked me right in. I felt drawn in to the narrator and her bond with her child, and the reveal at the end sent shivers down my spine. It's creepy and well-written and made me want to keep reading! This was an excellent piece.

    Brad Berry's descriptions were gorgeous, but I felt a little distanced from the main character. Still, lots of world building in a very short excerpt. Well done!

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  16. My vote: My Squishy. Loved this piece, and it was so well written.

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  17. First of all, I want to congratulate both MySquishy and Brad Berry for making it into the ring. I genuinely enjoyed both stories.

    Brad Berry, your descriptions were beautiful. Your world building in so few words is amazing. I loved the reveal at the end.

    MySquishy, your piece was also well written. I think the part that I'm iffy on is your last paragraph. I loved the reveal...but I would have liked it to have been shown to me rather than told. But, again, I still loved it.

    My vote will go to Brad Berry.

    (In case it doesn't go through... I am Melissa Herman. DistractedWrite @ gmail.com)

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  18. Great first round battle!!
    I enjoyed both entries. Great premise in both and nice writing.
    #1 was filled with emotion and had me wondering. Loved the ending. #2 built really well - and the ending was tied in well.
    vote goes to #2

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  19. And off to fun start! :D It's very exciting to read these. Congrats to you both for making it in. Continuing my format from last year and splitting into 2 comments (so one for each critique):

    Brad Berry
    What a fun setup and twist! However, the moment "...their curved hooves, bonded to arcs of iron.." was mentioned, I knew the twist. I may not have called it at that point had I not also known this was Fantasy (though the setting of a inn is a bit of a dead giveaway what sort of Fantasy world this is, label withstanding). And it's not necessarily an issue knowing the twist in advance, if the entire story doesn't appear to rest on it. But that does seem to be the case here. So once I knew the twist, I was a little impatient getting to the end. That could have been avoided if less time were spent on trying to cleverly describe the attackers and more time was spent on Ollie's interactions within the inn, or, ironically, "humanizing" (goblinizing?^_~) those slain. There's not much to invest me in this character here, aside from his apparent trauma, so no emotional investment beyond answering "why the attack."

    Playing with Ollie thinking about his relationships to those lost, or interacting with other inn patrons, may also help obfuscate the twist by leading readers down other tried paths, such as Ollie somehow being responsible for the attack. I'd also point out that a lot of the power of this is inverting who we perceive as a monster (Aside: avoid the actual word "monsters" to keep that payoff strong). If we never see Ollie being less monstrous aside from just assuming he's human by default, then the impact of the twist relies purely on how the reader perceives the goblin stereotype, without actually forcing us to emotionally connect with that concept in a new way.

    This story overall would be much stronger in present tense. That would allow you to limit the focus to what Ollie perceives, what he hears and doesn't (love the play on quiet sounds at the start!), in a much more intimate way. It would also make his trauma more present, so keep the tension up. It'd be stronger in relaying his trauma to rely less on lovely, but heavy action/object descriptions, and more on him making simple motions/observing simple things within the inn and having that hearken back to the attack.

    Consider starting the attack with hounds set loose in advance, as the horse was a dead give away. For example, have Ollie, after opening on his travels a bit and the cup as you presently do, move his eyes away and spot a painting, and have him react poorly to it because it reminds him of the human's dogs. Describe it the same, but play with the contrast of whatever the painting depicts to how it makes Ollie react (is the painting depicting a dog in a joyful manner, so Ollie feels sick knowing what they can really do? Is it likewise dark, showing wolves hunting, and Ollie compares the human's beasts as being worse? Ugly and less refined? Etc...). You can have someone notice his consternation, then introduce a sympathetic interaction that way (to build that "human" connection I mentioned earlier). Use the setting of the inn as the window for slowly revealing hints of what he just escaped. That will feel more organic than Ollie choosing to obscurely remember things in bits in pieces just for the sake of delaying the twist.

    Another concern: Given how long, and weighty his descriptions are, it doesn't seem like 2 days is appropriate. "The visions plagued him endlessly, an echo of the demons' sheer relentlessness," makes it sound like at least 2 weeks have passed. That to me is "relentless." So I'd consider having him be on the run much longer than he has, or else be more careful about word choice not feeling too forceful, which comes off hyperbolic.

    Love the concept! I really think you can push the inn setting to your advantage and underscore the main theme in a great one-two gut-punch :)

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  20. WRiTECLUB 2020 is off to a fantastic start! Both of these pieces are well written, and I love how each offers a twist on a familiar story.

    Brad Berry's troll intrigued me slightly more than MySquishy's mother of a bargained-for child, and the writing was rich and immersive, with several lovely phrases that I wanted to reread just for the sound of them. That said, the reveal of the troll's identity leaves a bit to be desired in that it presents several cliches (the protagonist suddenly snapping back to the present, the author revealing the character's physical description through a reflection, slightly overused physical cues for fear, and overuse of "he realized.") These things aren't a death knell, though. The writing up until that last paragraph was fantastic.

    MySquishy didn't capture me quite as much as Brad Berry, but MySquishy has a clean, simple style that's pleasant to read and develops a good scene that promises increasing tension. On any other day, I'd probably find myself voting for MySquishy, and even now, I regret I can't send both through. But I have to pick one...

    Brad Berry has today's vote.

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  21. MySquishy
    Normally, I'm not a huge fan of first-person, but I think that really works very well here with the story content. It really helps the reader connect right away with Nina and want to care for her. I also think it's a smart choice given the story scene in opening on a sense of disorientation and intrigue in a very organic manner. So bravo there!

    Double bravos on including some refreshing non-stereotypes. "His skills were homework and playtime and cooking." Loved dad getting a call out for cooking (and enforcing dad's being involved is a good strength to have) and the story of comfort being from mom's perspective.

    Also, some great description: "The embers in the fireplace sighed their last breaths." Not only is this wonderful imagery, the choice of "sighed" melds well with the reveal that this ritual has happened several times before. Plays off the "parent not mad at the kid, but a bit put out that they keep having nightmares" scenario many parents deal with. At the same time, that emotional linkage there, which I think is brilliant in its relatability, works against the emotional shift in this story.

    Personally, I did not like the twist. And not so much for what it was, but because of the hard emotional tone change. The opening scene is very cozy, intimate, and concerned. It plays off the helplessness a caring parent often feels for their child when they can't immediately make something better. But the towards the end, the mother's reactions completely break with that: "My nerves crackled with energy, but I pretended to yawn." This makes her sound like she's gearing up for a fight.

    "I had to make sure the fire consumed every bit of the drawing, and even then I wouldn’t rest." This comes off sounding determined, rather than desperate.

    And the entire last paragraph feels very removed and kind of like, "Hmm, well that's a bit odd," rather than a parent freaking out over the safety of their child. That, combined with the mother appearing irritated that her husband "doesn't understand" makes the mom come off as kind of not really all that concerned herself and self-absorbed? If she's really frightened/worries, why is she hiding this info from her husband? If this has been going on a long time, why is she not doing anything to try and prevent the dude from taking her kid? If the fire is the means of doing this, we the reader need to understand that. Right now, it comes off like this is really only meant to comfort Nina, not actually protect her, so the mom ends up seeming a bit delusional to me as though she is someone just sort of hoping her potentially bad decisions don't come back on her, but she's not actually doing anything to correct it. Energy-wise, she's prepared to fight... but then does nothing. The 500 word restriction is intense! And I'm sure a lot of this would be alleviated with more breathing room, but to me, the emotional change is too abrupt. I guess I also react poorly to it because the initial tone is so strong at pulling you in.

    I would also say in a piece this short that starts off feeling so relatable, I would avoid giving the man red eyes. This piece, until the end, feels very grounded in reality. Having a stranger after your kid is a very real fear many parents have. So to play on that, just have the man wear red. That's unique and interesting enough to have him stand out (and leave you room to introduce other supernatural qualities later) without making him feel too cartoon-y out of the gate, diminishing some of the tension built.

    Vote to MySquishy (GREAT name, btw) this round. The story is super intriguing! I want to know more. It moves seamlessly and, while I again don't like the emotional about face, I can't deny that there's is a very strong sense of emotional weight here, which makes it engaging.

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  22. I vote for MySquishy. Great tension and character building in such a short space of time. The bond between mother and daughter feels real, and the subtle disdain she has for her husband is palpable.

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  23. WRiTE CLUB kicks off 2020 with a bang. I enjoyed both works, reading through without pausing and looking for more.

    By a narrow margin, I am voting Team MySquishy here, but feel Brad Berry has a strong shot for wildcard. I think there were a few extraneous words in Brad's submission that could have been replaced and used elsewhere to invoke a bit more horror as it felt fantasy to me. Given these are often small segments, it could easily shift in the next 50 words. I did enjoy the ease in which we saw the character's hopelessness at the end. That was pure art.

    Squishy brought the strong twist ending giving the Twilight Zone feel and horror of the unknown, letting the reader's mind ponder the deal and what the Red man wants. I do think Red is a bit cliche, but if we're talking devil it falls into lore, so I totally get it, but that might have been the other thing to push it to the next level for me and that's about as nitpicky as it gets because the entry from solid start to finish.

    Kudos to both entrants. You both should be proud of your work!

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  24. BradBerry's story was original and well thought out, but his presentation was more tell than show. The first line did not grab me, but the second line did. Good job writing an entertaining story.

    There was a lot going on in this 500 word story. In the first paragraph the reader is told twice that the mother fell asleep in her chair. And in the last paragraph, "The problem was" is not necessary--a waste of words.

    I enjoy horror, and this had good atmosphere. Well done!

    My vote goes to MySquishy.

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  25. Dang this is hard, which is a credit to the writers. I definitely think that even if neither of you makes it to the finals, finish these stories and get them published. I would even suggest self-publishing them as e-books. There is a market for these tales. I would read both.

    Brad Berry
    I like this story and the twist. I would definitely want to know more about little Ollie. My only nit is the repetitive use of ‘realized’ in the last paragraph was off-putting. Another pass of review/edit probably would have caught it. Maybe if you read it out loud to yourself you would have realized what had happened.

    Mcsquishy
    This was a nice set up for a horror story with what seems to Rumpelstiltskin-eque character. I did find it a little odd that after having established this nice, loving nuclear family, dad is suddenly a doubter. It is definitely a discordant note. That took me out of the story for a moment as I puzzled over it.

    My vote is going to Brad Berry and in support of little Ollie.

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  26. I think for this first round, my vote will go to BradBerry. Both of these excerpts were excellent. The imagery was clear and the writing was sharp. But BradBerry's scene was classic fantasy while still fresh and interesting and I'm always a sucker for fresh fantasy. My Squishy was really good but it just did not quite evoke the same emotional reaction in me.

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  27. Good job to both writers. This was a great start to the contest. I think both pieces did a fine job with imagery and making me feel engaged.

    I am voting for Mcsquishy, because I thought it the more original story.

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  28. I enjoyed both pieces! Got chills from MySquishy though so they got my vote! Poor Nina.

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    1. Oh! It's doing the Unknown thing. I'm tara.roquemore@gmail.com

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  29. Hard to choose just one. Both were well written and left me wanting more of the story! Well done, BradBerry and My Squishy!

    My vote goes to My Squishy! Good luck!

    lindsey.tidmore1976@gmail.com

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  30. My vote goes to My Squishy. Well written and terrifying!

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  31. Both of these were strong, but I think I'm going to vote for Brad Berry.

    Critiques:

    #1:

    I thought overall the prose was strong in Berry's piece, with a few standout lines that had a pleasing lyricism to them (e.g. "the small inn was full of small sounds").

    There were a few awkward spots that took me out of Ollie's POV--Ollie comes off as intensely traumatized, for instance, and it therefore reads as a little unlikely for him to refer to his neighbour's body as "a pile of sinew that had once been his neighbor." It just felt like the authorial voice was coming through a bit more there than Ollie's was in that line, and in a few other places. Something simpler like "neighbour's body" or "neighbour's corpse" would have perhaps worked better there--just a matter of balancing the rich description with some simpler phrasing here and there so that the particularly striking moments really pop.

    # MySquishy:

    This was a fun piece! I was impressed by how much the author packed into only five hundred words. The story felt complete (actually, both stories did). However, I did feel like it was a story I'd seen before (esp. in movie form), and I found the concluding paragraph a little abrupt. I suspect this last wasn't the author's fault at all, and that it's just the nature of the contest--needing to summarize a larger story very quickly. That said, the prose clipped along beautifully and neatly. The ratio of description to dialogue was great.

    These were two impressive entries!

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  32. Brad Berry - Nice idea but it gets off to a slow start. The first paragraph doesn't feel like the right starting place, and the double use of passive voice and the repetition of the word small felt more like accidents than intentional choices. I like the descriptions, but the writing leans too hard on adverbs and adjectives. Nouns and verbs should drive these sentences. Good twist at the end, but too much of the story depends on backstory, so the reader is familiar with Averhall, so -- Languile was next -- has no context and emotion attached to it.

    MySquishy - Good job setting the scene, and an excellent job creating atmosphere and an original story in only 500 words. Some of those 500 would have been better served setting up the ending. -- My heart ached at her terror. -- stands out. Nothing wrong with the line, on its own, but something that shows the mother's fear along with the heartache would foreshadow what she knows of the figure in red. Also, some words could have been better used to show the bond between mother and child. The whole section about the father could have been left out, especially considering the end. That would have allowed a lot more room for mother/daughter exchange or visceral feeling of the mother. Other than that, great effort.
    One thing both entries could have benefited a great deal from would be use of some literary devices or figurative language. Out of a thousand words, there's one metaphor, MySquishy's -- a practiced dance that no longer needed words -- A good metaphor or simile will help pull readers into your world.
    Vote goes to MySquishy.

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  33. MySquishy gets my vote. I think I was drawn into the creepy way the mother is so calm in the midst of the danger/horror, especially as the reality of the situation seeps in. I wanted Brad Berry's goblin to be more goblin-y so I could believe in him, but I did like the idea as a whole. There were also some repeated words that distracted me -- they may have been there for emphasis, but in the long run I was looking at them instead of being pulled into the story.

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  34. A close contest but my vote goes to MySquishy.

    Brad Berry - The first sentence did a good job drawing in the reader and creating some sympathy for the character. There were good details in the scene where Ollie is fleeing Averhall. The silence of the forest makes a good contrast for the destruction he's lived through. However, this piece had a bit too much telling and not enough showing. It might have benefited from some dialogue at the beginning, maybe between Ollie and the innkeeper. This would also serve to flesh out the character of Ollie some more, and make him a more relatable character. Also, I was a bit confused as to where he was at the beginning, I wasn't certain he was at an inn in Languile. I did like the twist at the end, goblins are usually the bad guys, so it was interesting to see them as the protagonist.

    My Squishy - The voice in the story makes for a sympathetic character, the reader feels protective of her and the child, so the reader feels the danger illustrated by the man in red. Good way to introduce the characters and create sympathy for them. The worn down crayon makes it clear this is an ongoing threat, and we feel the tension as the mom has to deal with it again. Interesting conflict with the husband, I'd read more of this story to see how that works out. And if it isn't addressed again I'd wonder why the author mentioned it in the first place.
    The hook at the end was a little bit expected, but still surprising. Because the author prepared us for it with the way the red crayon was worn down, it didn't feel out of place to hear the back story.

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  35. I'm going to vote for Brad Berry.

    Though there are a few slips in the descriptions, I think that overall it's a really evocative and interesting that hints at doing something very interesting with its genre, and I was left wanting to read more of it. That said, I think the last paragraph revelation probably needs to be worked on a little--it was pretty clear that the monsters were humans, so the revelation didn't feel particularly revelatory to me.

    I also thought MySquishy's work was very well done, and the writing was very clean and readable. But, and this is purely personal preference, I wanted it to be more surprising than it was at the end.

    Both entries were very well done, though, congratulations to both of them!

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    1. Oops, sorry for the technical issue! This was me.

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  36. Brad: nice atmospheric writing. At first I wasn’t sure if Ollie was in a bar reminiscing the entire time, or if his flight occurred during the story. He seems not to know the names of the wolflike beasts, but then he acknowledges they’re hounds. This comes off authorial, and takes me out of Ollie’s head a little. I like the revelation and tension at the end. Also love the play on Bradbury in your pen name 🙂

    Squishy: evocative and well-paced, with a nice twisty ending. I’m already invested in the characters within this short space.

    I vote for MySquishy. Great job to both!

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  37. Congratulations to both of you for being chosen as finalists.

    I liked both of these stories and for me it was a narrow choice. I liked the twist at the end of Brad Berry's story. Who are the monster monsters? There were some intriguing descriptions. But the narrative was a little hard for me to follow in places and some of the writing felt awkward.

    The writing in MySquishy's story flowed better and drew me in. I connected with the characters and related to what they were experiencing.

    My vote is for MySquishy.

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  38. Congrats to both writers here in the first bout! Both of these pieces were on my voting sheet and I'm very happy to see these both here.

    Brad Berry- One of the reasons I was drawn to this piece was your ability to world build in such a short amount of time. Your descriptions are atmospheric and I cared about the little goblin quickly. The ending is the best part of the piece and is the most gripping. That being said... the order of the story telling pulled me out a bit. This whole story should have been written in the present tense as well to strengthen the voice.

    Squishy- This is one of those WriteClub entries that I wonder if this was written as a stand alone or taken from something larger. As a partial, this makes a poignant opening but as a horror short it's lacking for me.

    At the end of the day, Bradberry picks up my vote.

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  39. Both of these writers did an excellent job. The world building is really strong. But the second one gave me chills at the end.

    My vote is for MySquishy.

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  40. It was neck and neck for me down to the last paragraphs, then the problem was "the problem was" line. A slight bobble in voice by MySquishy. Brad Berry stuck the landing.

    My hanging chad will be counted for Brad Berry.

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  41. Brad Berry, I felt this narrator's grief and exhaustion, and I really liked the twist at the end of your piece.

    MySquishy, I enjoyed the spare prose that created an evocative scene, and I wanted to read more. So many questions about what will happen next!

    My vote is for MySquishy.

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  42. This comment has been removed by the author.

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  43. Both were good. MySquishy has my vote.

    Brad Berry I imagine would sell well to the Fantasy audience, as it reads like many of those classic books sound.

    But MySquishy was more entertaining for me to read. It felt a little like a fairy-tale retelling where Rumpelstiltskin was promised a baby for a favor but the mother eventually gets out of it.

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  44. MySquishy (nice Finding Nemo reference) has my vote because anyone could end up being the villain here. Maybe mom is evil, maybe Nina is, or perhaps it's the obvious choice with the red and fangs. I love the crayon descriptions.

    Brad, I guess the villain depends on the point of view, as it usually does with battles. It was good, just not as gripping for me, personally.

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  45. This is an amazing start to Write Club. It took a while to decide but my vote goes to MySquishy.

    BradBerry did some excellent worldbuilding, hooked me with empathy for the character's trauma and aversion to silence, and ultimately I loved that we were seeing a story from the Goblin's perspective. After mulling it over this one felt a lot like a prologue to the larger story, which works for fantasy/epic fantasy. It also gave me the distinct impression the character was going to die. I would definitely keep reading the novel.

    MySquishy was a "Wow didn't see that one coming." of an ending. There is so much here that is conveyed: family dynamic, hints of the supernatural, the shared trauma of choices made in the past, and how the mother and daughter both depend on their nightly ritual for some measure of peace. I loved the visuals of the man in red, his features though make me wonder demon or vampire? The fangs, the dreams, etc. if it is one or the other more clarity on what he is? Unless it is a mystery in the plot? Basically want to read more to find out.

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  46. I'm not a fan of Adult Horror or Fantasy, but both pieces were very well written and pulled me in. They were also very visual and great starts to a novel.

    It was a difficult choice but my vote goes to MySquishy.

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  47. Well done to you both for kicking off this year.
    Great job, each had it's merits and weaknesses.
    I think overall Brad Berry was less predictable, so that gets my vote.

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  48. Congratulations to both Brad Berry & MySquishy for bringing their A Game!
    This was really hard - both were good for different reasons. I'm going with MySquishy because of the way it flowed. I'm not really even a horror gal, but it really moved me through the scene.

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  49. My vote is for MySquishy.

    Brad Berry's entry was interesting and full of vivid imagery and I enjoyed the twist of the monsters being the humans and the goblin's contemplation and sadness at the inevitable annihilation of his homeland. Some of the wording, however, was distracting and pulled me out of the story.

    MySquishy's entry was right up my alley and I felt it was extremely well written. It pulled me in right away and kept me engaged. It had a fluidity that made it easy to read. The only thing that threw me was the fact that it was the mother speaking and you expect it to be the father that fell asleep in the chair but I actually found this a pleasant surprise so, even though it threw me, it was not in a negative way.
    Bravo to both!

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  50. My vote goes to MySquishy. While I enjoyed reading both pieces, Brad Berry's was mostly backstory, and "telling" rather than showing. The writer may have chosen to use exposition rather than writing in scene to be sure the piece ended with the big reveal of the character's species. However, this could have been done in other ways just as easily, while keeping readers more engaged. And then there were the clichés of a high fantasy character in a bar/inn/tavern/pub, etc., not to mention describing his appearance by gazing at his own reflection. All easily fixed, so don't give up!

    MySquishy, on the other hand, was immediate, in the moment, and chock full of voice - both from the child and mom. Yay! (BTW, if there's a problem posting my comments, I'm Melissa Embry, melissaembry01@gmail.com.

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  51. My vote is for MrSquishy.

    Brad Berry - this story is hard to feel engaged in. I don’t have much to pull my interest. I do want to know more about Ollie. More description about his appearance than his eyes and ears. Overall a good story I liked that you were able to flash back, it was fairly easy to follow present vs past.

    For MrSquishy. This story pulled me in almost immediately. It flows well and has a nice poetic nature to it. I would like to know more about the deal the mother made.

    Best of luck to both of you!

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  52. As I was first reading Brad Berry my first thoughts were of Lord of the Rings. Some similarities to me. Very enjoyable. I like Lord of the Rings. Then at the end my heart is sad for Ollie because you know his end is coming near. I wish you could have given Ollie a little more hope, lol.

    Never underestimate a mom's love for her child!! Well done! Both were very good. I really enjoyed MySquishy.

    My vote: MySquishy

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    1. Unknown-⬆️ Wendy Tidmore
      whatawinniewoman@gmail.com

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  53. I have to vote for Brad Berry because I found his descriptors more immersing. It didn't take long for me to believe that this man was in the grips of a traumatic episode. A more ambitious limit on perspective, too, helped to edge his out in my mind. Excited to see this contest continue!

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    1. This vote will not count as it is anonymous.

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  54. Tanya Tittle May 5th, 2020 at 11:54 PM

    Brad Berry had beautiful, poetic and very descriptive writing:The very breath of the world held still, careful not to disturb the tired autumn trees.
    This piece was gripping in that we find out that “Ollie” is a goblin and the humans are considered the monsters. How perfect to get a description of Ollie as he looks into the coffee. I found myself pulling for Ollie and wanting to read more. My vote is for Brad Berry.
    MrSquishy is very well written and the twist or surprise near the end about the Mother’s promise of an unknown favor was very intriguing. Both of these entries were great and really made me want more.

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  55. Two great pieces, congrats to you both. Both of you had compelling writing and left me wanting more. I would vote for both if I could, but I'm a fan of surprise endings, so because of that, MySquishy gets my vote

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  56. The first piece is all retrospection. I would have much rather read about the man's encounter than ruminate about it. Such a wonderful opportunity to show some action and it was wasted.

    The second piece has a nice creepiness to it. I would have liked to have Nina call her Momma at the beginning (when she woke her) so I would picture the person a female instead of male. Otherwise, I enjoyed this piece a lot. MySquishy gets my vote.

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  57. Two solid entries that start this year's competition off to a strong beginning. Well done to you both! My vote goes to Mr. Squishy's adult horror. It created an intense atmosphere of love and desperation, grounded in precise visual details. I could have used a bit more from other senses, such as hearing the fire crackle or smelling the smoke from the burning paper, but that's a minor quibble. Brad Berry's fantasy was an intriguing look at the tropes of the genre from the other side, which was fun, but I kept getting confused and having to re-read passages to understand what was happening. I thought he was describing just two types of creatures and kept trying to figure out whether the large iron-shod monsters were directing the smaller snarling ones or vice versa, before the end where I finally realized a third type was directing both.

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  58. Congratulations to you both on entering the ring. That in itself makes you both winners.

    I enjoyed reading both stories, and choosing who to help go forward is not an easy task.

    Brad Berry's entry, filled with well thought out descriptions, enabled Ollie's world to come alive in my mind as i read. I loved the little guy and would root for him as this story progressed.

    MySquishy accomplished an entire story in 500 words, which is no easy feat, and again I could see the scene play out, with characters that felt quite real.

    Hard to pick a winner, as they writing is very evenly matched. In this instance, I felt the ending of MySquishy's entry was just a bit predictable, and for that reason I give my vote to BradBerry.

    Well done both and good luck.

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  59. BradBerry's story was original and well thought out, but his presentation was more tell than show. The first line did not grab me, but the second line did. Good job writing an entertaining story.

    There was a lot going on in this 500 word story. In the first paragraph the reader is told twice that the mother fell asleep in her chair. And in the last paragraph, "The problem was" is not necessary--a waste of words.

    I enjoy horror, and this had good atmosphere. Well done!

    My vote goes to MySquishy.

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  60. Both strong pieces. My vote goes to MySquishy. Here’s my input:

    Brad Berry:
    Ollie is a vulnerable, approachable protagonist. I felt for him. However, I found the twist familiar and it didn’t impact me. For me, this submission would have been stronger had Ollie referred to the monsters as humans all the way through and they arrived at the inn halfway through the submission. Then we would have not only seen how the human incursion affected Ollie but also gotten a reaction from the customers at the inn. Nevertheless, well done!
    MySquishy:
    I found the mother/child bond easy to relate to and I think this submission had a more effective tension build than the first, which is why it got my vote. I did wonder if the author has considered replacing the mother’s thoughts about the father disapproving with the father checking in on the two of them and the mother quickly hiding the drawing. That way the reader could draw their own conclusions about the father’s disapproval instead of being directly informed. Very nice submission indeed!

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  61. My Vote is for MySquishy.
    The fantasy story was good but I'm a sucker for a horror story.
    I felt a connection between mother and daughter. The ritualistic nature of the drawing and burning felt creepy too.

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  62. The writing caliber this year is OFF.THE.CHARTS. I had a hard time deciding between these pieces because they both had incredible strengths. Brad, your writing and world-building was lush and spot-on for commercial fantasy. Squishy, your focus on plot made the story read smooth and evoke the nostalgia of a classic fairy tale.

    To nitpick...

    Brad, you kick things off by taking us really deep into a memory, so it was hard to find footing. I'd suggest backing us up to the silent forest and taking us to inn so the reader is more invested in Ollie's journey and grounded in the plot. It's a show-don't-tell argument.

    Squishy, I think my qualm here is that there is such a clear divide between Good and Evil. We know exactly what the mother is thinking and where she stands with this man in red. I'd love to see this in either 3rd person to create some distance or to get some more dimension for the mother that makes her a little less reliable. There's obviously some character flaw that made her strike this bargain, and I want to get a taste of that.

    My vote goes to Brad Berry on the basis of originality and worldbuilding. But this was a teeny margin! Great job to both!

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  63. Both enjoyable. I vote for MySquishy - lovely prose.

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  64. More.... Brad Berry: you're unlucky to have met such great competition in the first round.

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  65. Congratulations to both writers! Great start!

    Brad Berry: I liked the sense of impending doom, and your use of different senses to tell the story. I also liked how you hinted at his species through the reflection in the cup. I felt with Ollie his despair that he was no longer safe. My one suggestion is that goblins being wiped out was a bit heavy handed for such a short piece, but completely understand the hint toward a larger story.

    MySquisy: I was almost afraid to read your entry as I am not a Horror fan - but I was pleasantly surprised. It starts warm and cozy, and even the beginning of our understanding about Nina’s nightmares didn’t make me too scared (yet!). I liked the twist on the ending - how this promised favor is going to be extracted from Nina, and what burning the picture does to this enemies power. My one suggestion is to hint more at what Dad knows.

    My vote: Brad Berry.

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  66. My vote is for MySquisy. Both stories are solid each a kind of horror in their own way, making your pulse race. I loved the Brad Berry story. The description of the horror and fear felt by this fantasy character comes through clearly. In a different match it likely would have won my vote. In this instance the pace of the MySquisy story was faster, the tension stronger and most important the topic tapped into a basic human experience; nightmares. The winning punch was the double hook placed at the end of the story teasing us with wanting to know more about the mysterious deal made years earlier by mom.

    Congrats to you both! Just making it into the battle is a huge accomplishment!

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