WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #14


It's the next to the last preliminary bout and it doesn't get any easier. That's a testament to the quality of the writing & writers who have submitted their work to our contest. Let's do right by them and help spread the word so we can get them the attention they deserve.

Recap

WRiTE CLUB is a tournament-style competition that runs during the eight weeks prior to the DFW Conference (who is also a sponsor) and it provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win a host of prizes, topped off by a free admission to the following year’s conference. Our writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names and they'll be appearing in head-to-head in “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

Even though the contest is sponsored by DFW, anyone can vote (as long as you have a Google sign-in or verifiable email address), and when you do, we encourage you to leave a mini-critique for both writers. Oh, I forgot to mention that the voters have a chance to win a $60 Barnes and Noble gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed in a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize. And as an added incentive to keep readers coming back for more, we're upping the ante. Readers who place a vote in EVERY bout will have their names placed in a second hat and the name selected from that pool will win a $40 Barnes and Noble gift card. Double the chances of winning!

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 Wednesday, May 27th (noon central time). To help keep up with which bouts are open, you can follow along on the WRiTE CLUB Scoreboard updated right HERE.

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

A few more rules –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.
2) Although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.
3) Using any method (email, social media, text, etc) to solicit votes for a specific contestant will cause that contestant's immediate disqualification. It’s perfectly okay, in fact, it is encouraged to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!
4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Here come our contestants now!

Our first contestant in the ring today is Circle Slide representing the YA Speculative Contemporary genre.



That moment before wake and sleep. That beautiful time when people’s dreams paraded themselves in tumbling orbs of liquid images. A bubbling fantasy of pure enjoyment. Worlds contained in a single moment—gleaming, dewy droplets of pretend.

 

I called it the Land Between. Nothing was impossible in that Land. There, spina bifida didn’t tether me to forearm crutches or worse, a wheelchair. There I experienced things: wind whistling in my ears, slippery mud up to my ankles, and the glorious sun warming my skin. In the Land Between, I ran free, my limbs obeyed my brain, my joints moved with unabashed ease.

 

And another thing, there, I wasn’t a social outcast.

 

Most nights, I bounced from one person’s dream to another—a skipping stone in a tranquil pool. I’d keep to the edges of their imagination. People don’t appreciate you mucking about in their heads, but stay in the shadows, and you are golden.

 

Nearly all were the same, uninspiring snippets of their daily life—a pop quiz, the winning shot of a school basketball game, showing up naked in a crowded waiting room.

 

But last night something was different.

 

I’d settled in Birdie’s Land Between. She was my favorite, like a comfy sweatshirt—secure, warm, and snug. Maybe I preferred her dreams because her Land-Between was my first. I’ve relived every one of her birthday parties and witnessed her dreams change from toys to boys, all from a safe distance. Sometimes I searched for her in crowded places. If a girl with a tight ponytail walked by, I’d just know it was her. Except it never was. Which was a good thing, because meeting her in real life, would break my number-one, red letter rule, and I could never visit her again. I crossed that line once, and I would never do that again. 

 

But last night, while I lurked in the shadows, a shining broke through the boundaries of her dream. It rocketed across her fantasy in a blinding display.

 

She didn’t notice, but I did. A person appeared, like me, who wasn’t supposed to be there.

 

I saw a boy.

 

#

 

“Earth to Piper,” Toby, my seventeen-year-old brother, said as a rubber band stung my chest.

 

“Ouch.” I yawned. The afternoon sun warmed my cheek from the sunroom windows. I didn’t mean to fall asleep, but I had searched for the boy longer than I’d intended.

 

“Daydreaming again?” Toby was the opposite of me in every way, good looking, athletic, and charming. Somehow he avoided his embarrassing years altogether, whereas my awkward years pulled up a chair and snickered at me from the coroner of the room.

#############################################################################


On the other side of the ring, we have Luxor who is representing the Adult SciFi genre.


Main Star’s orange rays creep over the horizon to brighten the nursery. A baby fusses, bringing quick, whispered footsteps. Sedge turns to Nurser. The woman laughs and plucks the swaddled newborn from its incubator. But sharpness flays her geniality, Nurser’s luminous eyes dimmed.

“It’s good to be back after a few days off, Sedge. Demanding little things, aren’t they?”

Nurser carries the tiny being to an overstuffed rocking chair and places its head to her breast, while Sedge finishes diapering duties and gazes upon the newborns. One chews its fist and squeaks.

Only nine this week. Three boys, five girls.

One therm.

Sedge is therm, human yet sexless, nothing to physically denote male or female. Therm is Sedge’s gender, pronoun. Therm skin glows as iridescent emerald from mineral Earth, a vestigial reminder of the home they left long ago. Chlorophyll pumps through veins. Carbon dioxide is plentiful here.

“I wish—” Sedge says. Stops. Therm hates their voice, that of flowers singing on a craggy mountain.

Nurser watches therm. “Go on.”

“I wish my body to create. To nourish.” Sedge glances over their shoulder. “How do I … change? Gain this power?”

The woman’s brow furrows. “You have power, Sedge. Of longevity, of strength. Your body is made for this planet. You’ll outlive me by—”

“I don’t want longevity,” Sedge cries, therm words a painful song, thorns on quarter notes. “I want meaning. I want—”

“Sedge, last week my husband died.”

“I’m so sorry. No one told me.”

“It’s this planet. I’ll be lucky to live long enough to see my children grown. You’ve lived, what, going on four centuries?”

Sedge stares through the window. “You’ve had a life, filled with”—Sedge’s hand sweeps toward the incubators—“joining together to make love, make life, grow life inside your body. You say I’ve lived four centuries.

“You’re wrong. I have only existed.” Sedge’s heart plummets, therm body all lines and hard angles. No curves. No softness.

“There are celibate males and females, Sedge, who never have those experiences. And others who want babies but can’t conceive. Still, they all die young.”

Sedge drops to therm knees at Nurser’s feet. “But they had choices. This body doesn’t let me choose. It gives me no desire. No passion.” Sedge lowers therm eyes to the floor. “I have cared for newborns for as long as I can remember. What good is existing for hundreds of years if I, too, cannot grow? Cannot go … beyond.”

“Do all therm feel as you do?”

“Do all women, all men, feel the same?”

The newborn suckles and tightens a lock of Nurser’s hair in its fist. “Of course not.”

I want more. Will you help?”

“Maybe I’m selfish, but I can’t imagine this world without you, Sedge.” Nurser’s eyes glisten. “For my children. And their children’s children. With your decision comes eventual death. Too quickly.”

Honeysuckle and rose waft in morning’s orange glow. “But what a glorious life before that moment.”

##############################################################################


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 for our last preliminary bout. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encourage them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!



41 comments

  1. Circle Slide - Good writing, feels like the words are well chosen. -- A skipping stone in a tranquil pool -- Some things could have been cut. -- And another thing, there, I wasn’t a social outcast -- I get why it's in there, but I think it's implied, or it could have been introduced more cleverly. Also, starting with sentence fragments can be risky. You want to show your readers you know the rules before you start breaking them.

    Luxor -- Nice quick intro into the scene, gets the readers boots on the ground quickly. Lot of explanation once you mention the word Therm. From then on, the story gets heavy-handed. It feels like you're trying to tell an allegory almost, but the whole thing was bogged down with explanation and terminology, and the dialog didn't feel smooth.

    Vote is for Circle Slide

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  2. Luxor, I found your premise interesting, and the setting up was good. You launched into the story, but then you felt the need to explain what "therm". The explanation part was fine, but when you started using it as an adjective it was confusing, and distracting (i.e. "I don’t want longevity,” Sedge cries, therm words a painful song, thorns on quarter notes.)
    If you can work on this idea, leave out the explanations, and incorporate them in a way that flows, I think this story has great potential.

    Circle Slide, I liked your piece. It's well written. Some of the elements felt a little bit predictable because I translated a book with a similiar idea, but then you surprised me with the boy showing up. For a greater impact on this forum, I think you could have left out the part after that. I felt pulled from the dream world, and it ruined a bit the suspense you had created before.

    My vote goes to Circle Slide.

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  3. Both entries created a world I was intrigued to enter. Circle Slide, I love how you step from the half-sleep many can relate to into dream-hopping. Great technique there. I do wonder if the story should end at the break, since I wasn't sure how the next lines related. I don't think Toby was the boy she saw in the dream (if so, I didn't make that connection), and then I was left with questions about plot direction at the end, rather than the questions "who is that boy and why is he there" that would make for a more unified ending. Either way, though, I want to find out what happens next!

    Luxor, I loved the line "Honeysuckle and rose waft in morning's orange glow," because it expresses the character's longing so well. Including more moments like this would, I think, make the piece stronger.

    My vote is for Circle Slide.

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  4. Oh my gosh! What wonderfully created worlds we've entered today.

    Circle Slide: Your descriptions and beautiful writing captured me and held me in the story. I'm a vivid dreamer, but to be able to visit others' dreams? Wow! Then to spy another person with the same abilities ... the plot thickens. This is a sure winner, I thought. But your last paragraph lost me and left me dangling. Was her brother the boy she spied in the dream? If so, that'd be cool, but the final sentence didn't even hint at that and felt anticlimatic, like the writing was cut off in the wrong spot. I'll reiterate how beautiful the writing and storytelling are previous to that glitch because it stands out in this contest.

    Luxor: Whoa. We're obviously on another planet, but there's enough familiar I can relate to. The writing is more straightforward, which gives me a feeling of this world. Then you introduce something we've never seen before. A third gender. Important details give us enough but leave us wanting more. And the dialog. Sedge states therm has no passion, but is obviously wrong. I love the moral dilemma between the two. This section really pulled me in. At first, I thought Sedge's reaction to the woman's husband dying was kinda blase. But after reading on to learn it's normal for men and women to die young, it made sense. You leave us with an open ending about Nurser's decision. Yet I still feel it's a complete story.

    My Vote: Luxor

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  5. Congratulations to both authors for having their work appear today!

    Circle Slide: I appreciated a chance at a POV that's different from the standard. The idea of slipping into other people's dreams is an intriguing one, and your descriptions of this experience are fluid and compelling. I really want to know what happened the last time she visited the dreams of someone she'd met. I agree with others that the sudden snap at the break was disconcerting. If this led into a longer work, with some more context, it would probably work better.

    Luxor: You've done a nice job with the world-building, giving me the sense of humans trying to adapt to a world where they don't belong. The word "therm" sometimes confused me, being used sometimes as the label for the gender and sometimes as a pronoun. In general, the writing is solid, though sometimes not as clear as it could be. For instance, in the first paragraph I'm not sure what is meant by saying "sharpness flays her geniality." While Sedge states his desire to become female strongly, the dialogue came across to me as somewhat stilted, with him telling us how he felt instead of showing it to us through internalization.

    While both stories have a lot of potential, I'm going to have to vote for Circle Slide.

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  6. Vote: Circle Slide

    This was a tough one. I think ultimately, both stories were a bit too on the nose for me, but Circle Slide has some beautiful language at the beginning that nudged it just over the finish line for me.

    Circle Slide: I'm always a bit wary of stories that frame disability as something that needs to be escaped from. That said, I thought the dream element was fun, and you did a good job teasing the backstory in a way that made me want to read on to find out what happened previously.

    As mentioned in my comment above, you have some beautiful language in there, but just be careful of overwriting in your work. You want to be sparing, I think, for the most part, so that the really great lines and descriptions pop. Watch out, also, for comma splices.

    This skewed a little too sentimental for me, but I thought it was the better out of the two.

    Luxor: As a queer SFF writers, I wanted to love this one, but it was just too didactic and on the nose for me. It felt like the issue of the piece was more important than character or story. Simultaneously, as a queer person, I found it a bit reductionist to have a story in which there is an alien race with a biological third sex, who then wants to trade that for the limited gender/sex binary of most human cultures.

    I thought your beginning was strong, and your writing is solid at a technical level. Ultimately though, the narrative was too focused on having a message, and I found that the message itself was rather muddied.

    Using they/them as the pronoun, I think, might have strengthened the piece (you slip into this usage anyway), and would have made reading a little less awkward.

    I think you show a lot of promise as a writer, to be clear, and apologies if this came off too harshly.

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  7. Circle Slide - I love the premise of your story and my only real critique is the ending--I feel like it could've landed more of a punch than it did. I would've liked to see your MC search for the boy, maybe give a hint about who he is (someone your MC recognizes, an enemy, etc.).

    Luxor - I love the way you explore the way we view others and how we often view them as having more advantages than us. I enjoyed the way you explored this idea and Sedge and I'm curious about how the change comes about in the end. I also want to know if the traditional (for lack of a better word) humans desire to be Therm.

    My vote: Luxor

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  8. Circle Slide gets my vote on this one.

    Both pieces have interesting premises and explore an alternate reality of sorts. Both employ some lovely, lyrical use of language and imagery.

    I concur with some of the previous comments that Circle Slide could have ended that entry at the break, or strung out the hunt through dreams to find the other dream walker. And, where might that go, I wonder?! Some minor edits are needed, but this is a strong entry.

    Luxor's piece was hard to follow and took more than one reading to settle into the other world, not get hung up on terminology (e.g., the use of "therm" as noun and also adjective), and focus on the intent. I would argue that Sedge, in fact, demonstrates quite a bit of passion. I think this piece could be be strengthened by carefully cutting or reworking the "telling" aspects (always a risk in world building). I enjoyed the characterizations and the story, but it was a lot of work.

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  9. Circle Slide- I like the premise and how it is a variation of dream-walker stories. The MC’s disability is established as a trait and potential plot point without it becoming the defining characteristic of the character. I will admit the first sentence doesn’t make sense to me. I don’t think there can be a moment that is before both waking-up and sleeping. I wonder if you meant to use the word ‘between’.

    Luxor- I liked the beginning. It was a nice way to establish the basic universe your story inhabits without doing a massive info dump. It has a nice tone and really sets the scene. My issue is following the introduction of a third gender, the story abruptly becomes clunky with the characters and plot taking a back seat to the message you want to send.

    My vote goes for Circle Slide.

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  10. Both stories were well written and original.

    My vote goes to Circle Side, as the dream hopping was the more interesting story for me.

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  11. Circle Slide has my vote today.

    Circle Slide: The opening paragraph drew me in with its lyrical style, and I appreciated the slow, subtle way the character and her (assuming Piper is a girl) gift of dream-hopping was revealed. "And another thing, there, I wasn’t a social outcast," disrupted the dreamy quality of the piece, so I'd work on that line. Either add "I wasn't a social outcast" to the end of the previous paragraph or cut it altogether and work it subtly in elsewhere. I agree with others who found the scene break at the end disruptive. If you're submitting excerpts from a novel, watch where you're making the cuts. Scenes that are complete in themselves, with just enough intrigue to make readers want more, tend to work better than submissions with scene breaks, especially ones as jarringly different as the scenes you offered. That said, I liked the concept and you have a way with words that left me wanting more.

    Luxor: This was hard to get into. First of all, "But sharpness flays her geniality, Nurser’s luminous eyes dimmed" is grammatically off, and I had a hard time getting back into the story after being thrown by that line. As others mentioned, you spend a long time explaining what therm are. This sentence--Therm skin glows as iridescent emerald from mineral Earth, a vestigial reminder of the home they left long ago--tells me therm came from Earth, but I'm only guessing the first half of the sentence means "Therm skin glows as iridescent AS emerald..." Overall, this line and a few others leave me feeling like clarity was sacrificed for eloquence. (And it IS eloquent. Now make it eloquent AND clear!) I might adjust to therm as a noun and pronoun, but as others have mentioned, you alternate between "therm" and "their." I found "their" much easier to read than "therm," in part because it's already familiar to me but also because my brain was trying to determine if therm was acting as noun or pronoun. Sedge felt melodramatic to me, crying and falling on their knees. I apologize if I'm being harsh...I do think there's an interesting concept here, especially if Sedge isn't seeking death, as others have guessed, but an opportunity to raise a child, possibly the therm. This has potential, but I think sometimes as writers, we pour all our emotion into a piece... and then we need to go back and figure out just how much of that emotion needs to remain to strike the notes in the reader's ear. For me, eloquent language that didn't quite make sense combined with a melodramatic main character was too much. Simple and subtle go a long way.

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  12. My vote goes to Circle Slide today. I didn't particularly like either piece, but this one was easier to understand and didn't seem to be trying quite so hard to push its message. I don't like the concept that disability is something that needs to be escaped from and I found the switch to a new scene for just a few lines both confusing and jarring. Especially since I felt like the new scene was from the POV of the girl whose dream had been invaded. But I could be wrong...

    Luxor, there was a lot to like about your piece, but it felt very on the nose. Some of the writing was gorgeous while some was clunky. I felt like the message of the piece was more important than the characters and story and this didn't help. The confusion over the word 'therm' being used in different ways made reading more challenging than it needed to be. It's important to be consistent with pronoun use.

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  13. Lots to like in both of these pieces. Both conecpts are intriguing and I would read more. Well done
    My vote goes to Circle Slide because I connected more to the character.

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  14. Congratulations on getting through writers, for that you are winners.

    Neither story particularly grabbed me. I had been really hoping to read some entries that fell into the genre of mystery, crime or humor through the contest, something we've seen hardly any of.

    Circle, your entry has some nice lines in it, but I felt the entire opening paragraph could be dropped as basically you use it to tell readers what to expect. Just show us instead. An opening needs to grab with interest rather than spell out what is coming, and I would put a book back on a shelf for telling me what to expect.

    I felt the large gaps between your paragraphs affected how I read your story - there is too much space, but this of course is an easy fix. If you proceed, I would advise checking your formatting so there is not so much unnecessary scrolling between paragraphs.

    I liked the overall idea of your story, but wonder about making a disability read like it is something negative; something they are trying to escape from. Why is a person with spina bifida considered a social outcast? Don't like the feeling that implies.

    You do have some very nice sentences though, and i think with better formatting to eliminate the huge gaps, rethinking your opening to get rid of telling us what is coming, and treating the MC's disability in a different light, the story has a lot of potential.

    Luxor, I am sorry to say that Sci Fi is probably my least favorite genre, I simply don't like reading it. So that puts you at a bit of an unfair disadvantage. However, wanting to be as fair as I can with my vote, I read your story as if it was a genre I enjoyed.

    Part of why I dislike Sci-Fi so much, is because it is often filled with so many author created words I get lost. While I was able to follow your piece, I had the same issues with words that technically don't exist. Names, and your intro of a word to describe a third gender, read almost like a foreign language, and i find that hard to enjoy.

    You do have a very interesting premise, and I imagine for Sci Fi fans it is likely a fascinating read. I have to say your closing line was wonderful, really did enjoy that, and your formatting made reading your piece a lot easier than the first entry.

    This is a tough choice as like many other rounds the writing here feels equally matched, each piece with similar amounts of strengths and weaknesses, neither totally outshining the other.

    This may be an unfair way to decide, but I have to pick one of you to flow forward, and other than a coin toss not sure how to select this round. My vote goes to Circle Slide as their entry is closer to a genre I would choose to read.

    Good luck to you both.

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  15. Interesting bout today. Two totally unique pieces. Yay!

    In the first piece, though, I think it starts rather slow. Probably isn't starting at the right spot. Something needs to happen to hook the reader quickly. More action instead, maybe.

    In the second piece, I got a little thrown from the pronoun "therm." Only one is used? Sometimes "therm" is used when it sounded like "their" should be used instead. Other than that, it's an interesting story and I would continue reading. I just hope that in the end Sedge comes to embrace what they are instead of wanting to be like someone else.

    My vote goes to Luxor.

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  16. Congratulations, writers!

    Circle Slide:
    I'm always down for a good dream-hopping story. Others have already given the same feedback I would: Please be super careful when framing disability as something that must be escaped, especially if you don't have the same diagnosis as Piper. It could read as ableist, which I'm sure you don't intend.

    Some of your phrasing was a little off. That first sentence, in particular, tripped me up as I wondered if it was a typo and you meant "between" rather than "before".

    If most of the dreams she's sneaking into are boring, I wonder why she keeps going? It seems like if she's looking to escape and have adventures, sitting through dreams about quizzes wouldn't satisfy her. Wouldn't she just bounce out of those dreams and into a more exciting one? I know you said that Birdie's In Between Land was the most comfortable, but I really don't understand why or what she actually gets out of her nocturnal peeping.

    This is super nit-picky, but it kind of bothered me that both girls in the story had an association with birds. Also, the name Birdie makes me wonder how old that dreamer is. It sounds like a nickname for someone in their seventies, but I doubt Piper would be into hopping into an elderly woman's dreams.

    There is so much to admire here, too. A concept I find interesting and a lot of beautiful language.


    Luxor:
    This piece took me several reads before I found the rhythm, and I'm really torn between liking and not liking it. I have so many questions about the science of it. What causes therm to be born to begin with? If they are sexless, how are the genes that give them these characteristics passed on? How often are therm born? One this week at least. Therm live for hundreds of years, so how are they prepared for living a life in which everyone they love dies? Or do they not feel love? Are Therm essentially Vulcans like Spock? If they are unable to feel love or deep emotion, how do parents feel when their child is born a therm?

    Sedge says he feels no passion, but his passion for wanting to grow and sustain life contradicts that notion.

    Are all wet-nurses called Nurser? If so, Sedge is the special one because at least therm has a name. If not, I recommend changing Nurser's name. A woman is more than her occupation.

    Aside from the awkwardness of using therm throughout, the thing that turns me off this piece the most is Sedge's passionate insistence that the only life worth living is one in which you have children. I understand that this is Sedge's deepest desire and thought process, but it still really bothered me. There are an infinite number of ways to live worthwhile life, and having children absolutely doesn't have to be one of them. I would assume that after 400 years, Sedge would have grown to understand this.

    I think this is an interesting story and with some re-working it can be amazeballs, it's just not quite there yet.


    My vote goes to Circle Slide.


    I'm giving my vote to Circle Slide this time around.

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    Replies
    1. Blah. I really should type these comments up in a document and the paste them into the comment field. Please disregard the repeat vote.

      Delete
  17. Circle: I think your first sentence should say between, not before. And the last sentence - corner, not coroner 🙂 It’s repetitive that the narrator sees a person who isn’t supposed to be there, and the next paragraph is “I saw a boy.” You may want to cut a sentence so we don’t read the same reveal twice. Echoing other reviews, the section break and new scene are jarring. I would love if the dreamer weren’t an outcast, because disabled characters are too frequently shown as such. Unless this is ownvoices, you may want to reconsider.

    Luxor: what a great concept. So much emotion in this short space! I wish more were going on here than a conversation. There’s no action, and everything is told instead of shown. At first I thought Sedge was the alien, because how can a human live for 400 years? The dialogue also doesn’t sound human at all. While Sedge’s passion to feel more is wonderful, I’d be cautious about implying their only goal is creating babies. Fantastic concept and emotion, but the piece feels too mechanical for me to get fully invested.

    Lots to love in both pieces, but I vote for Circle. Great job to both!

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  18. Wow! These both took us on a trip! I had a little trouble following both of them, mostly because the environments they were tackling had so much to share in so little time.

    Circle Slide - I immediately thought about rearranging a few things in the first six sentences. I totally get the idea of beginning the piece the way you did, but, hear me out, what if you said:

    "I called it the Land Between. That moment before wake and sleep. That beautiful time when people’s dreams paraded themselves in tumbling orbs of liquid images. A bubbling fantasy of pure enjoyment. Worlds contained in a single moment—gleaming, dewy droplets of pretend. Nothing was impossible in that Land."

    Just a thought. Great job on the concept. Your imagery was beautiful. Dream-hopping is an intriguing idea, especially for someone who has physical limitations.

    Luxor -It took me a minute to understand what was goin gon, but your imagery struck me. I am super-intrigued by the idea of chlorophyll in this sentient being and this being's fascination with humanity. It's a twist on the idea of AI desiring human qualities. You conveyed a clear set of images, even if the concept was a little hard to grasp at first.

    Outstanding job both of you! I give my nod to Luxor.

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  19. Nice work -- congratulations to both writers. I liked the ability of Circle's character to enter into other dreams (and with a character who sounded thoroughly YA!). But after a lot of back and forth, my vote goes to Luxor for the intriguing concept, with a character I could compare to Martha Wells' Murderbot. Admittedly, I had problems with some of the word choices -- Sharpness flayed the Nurser's geniality? Also unsure whether Sedge's choice is to become a sexual human or simply to commit suicide. Therm's decision may dismay asexual human readers.

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  20. Circle Slide -- This story grew on me as I read. I like the premise. And there's good foreshadowing.

    Luxor -- This feels more like a complete story. Leaving the reader to contemplate. I enjoyed it very much. I'm grateful to have gotten to read it.

    But I long to read more from Circle Slide. And that only happens if the writer goes to another round. So my vote goes there to fuel that desire.

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  21. My vote is for Circle Slide.
    I liked the concept here about dream-hopping as, apparently, I have never come across it before. The imagery in the opening was wonderful. It felt dreamy. I did feel the mention of Spina Bifida was gratuitous but maybe this is part of a larger work that brings that into light as a more significant part of this character. Overall, I enjoyed reading this and would read more. I do agree with others regarding the ending feeling disconnected but, again, maybe it would make sense if this is a larger work and we were able to read on. Good job!
    Luxor, I am not really a SciFi/Fantasy type of reader but I was intrigued by this story. Unfortunately, you lost me when you, as others have stated, began using "therm" where you could have used "their" or "them". I didn't get the any of the wishing-to-be-another-sex vibe that was mentioned but more of a desire to have a child/be a parent. Don't we all wish we could do something that we just can't (or is that just me)? Great job with the story but the writing just needs some tightening up. If I hadn't had to work so hard reading this, I could have really enjoyed it.

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  22. Luxor reminds me of a movie I saw with a girl who was raised in a bunker by a robot. The other humans were all unborn in pods and the robot only let one alive at a time. But the girl got out and there were other people. Idk. Anyway, that's what this reminded me of. Has potential.
    BUT

    ⭕↘️ is my kind of story. You get my vote. This is my groove.

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  23. Well done both writers getting through.
    Today is difficult because neither piece really appealed, the second piece lost me totally and for that reason I give my vote to CIRCLE SLIDE.

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  24. Wow, both conceptually ambitious stories with unique POVs.

    Circle Slide, I love how you drop us into this world very naturally and plant seeds for future moral conflict (like Piper's "number one, red letter rule" that he's broken before). This establishes the stakes for what seems like an otherwise lovely gift. I'm a bit confused as to what the gift really entails... You set it up like Piper has control and freedom in the Land Between, but then it seems like he's just a bystander, observing whatever dreams people happen to have. Also, the climax of this scene with the intruder hits a little off for me. The line "I saw a boy" makes it seem like the fact that it's a boy is the shocking part, when really it's the fact that the boy is also a dream walker, and in the same mind as Piper. And since you tell us that in the preceding paragraph, the line comes off as redundant.

    Luxor, your opening image is also striking--a nursery in space/on an alien planet seems unique to me, a novice SFF reader. The writing was beautiful, but I had a hard time swallowing a few of those rich lines and metaphors. I can't conceptualize what "flowers singing on a craggy mountain" would sound like to begin with, so comparing it to a voice was difficult to wrap my brain around, and a few others point out that "sharpness flays her geniality" didn't accomplish what you wanted it to. Don't let the words run away with the plot. I respect what you were trying to do with the therm reference, but was more concerned about the treatment of Therm as a different gender when your description of therm biology made therm sound like a different species. I'd just caution you about dehumanizing (literally) issues of nonbinary gender identity.

    My vote falls to Circle Slide for this one!

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  25. My vote goes for Circle Slide!

    For Circle slide loved the terminology, character resourcefulness, and freedom it gives them. The story also flowed logically spending as much time where they felt the most freedom, and how reality literally snapped them out of it. One thing that ocurred to me is we didn't get to see what the person did in the shadows of dreams. Are they able to create things in those shadows or just use what's already there? The hook at the end of the story also had me 50/50 on one hand definitely makes me want to read more on the but on the other we could spend more time with the character.

    For Luxor on premise alone this was fascinating, the idea that human evolution is affected by a new environment, that the results can affect the longevity, gender identity, etc. Is all great, but personally the word therm stuck out for me. Mostly because it's the prefix for words like thermos or thermometer and again in context it made sense to use it in place of traditional pronouns, but still stuck out for me. Additionally if therm have been alive for hundreds of years, why wouldn't they develop their own forms of intimacy or come up with their own societal rituals to imitate or replace their human ancestors? It seems odd that if Sedge has fellow therms they wouldn't develop something over so long a time.

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  26. My vote is for circle slide. I think you could've found a better place to end the story, but I really like the premise and would love to see what happens next!

    Luxor, I agree with several previous posts that your story got a little bogged down in explanation. And I also felt, as a nonbinary person, that this concept of the 'therm' people is.... I can't quite put my finger on it, but I did not care for it. I agree with steerpike, who said it feels 'reductionist to have a story in which there is an alien race with a biological third sex, who then wants to trade that for the limited gender/sex binary of most human cultures.'
    It seems like you are using biological sex and gender identity interchangeably, and they are not the same thing. If you're going to write a story in this day and age that plays with gender (or biological sex), you have got to know the difference. Maybe it was not your intention, but it makes me feel like you think my gender identity is equal to being 'sexless'. I would highly suggest that you rethink the whole premise.

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  27. Congratulations to both writers for their entries.

    Circle Slide: What an interesting concept to walk through others dreams. I liked the hint of time that the discussion with her brother brought up - maybe she is visiting someone who is halfway around the world and is asleep during the protagonist’s day. I would just clear up at the beginning that the Land Between she is discussing is other’s dreams and not her own.

    Luxor: I think your discussion of what others see in others lives is so subjective - we see what we think is the benefit of their lives. I also loved your point that there is beauty and purpose to love and connection. I actually think you would have been better off describing the therm - some of the descriptions of the voice distract from the progression of the story.

    My vote is for Luxor.

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    Replies
    1. Just wanted to +1 that last comment to Circle Slide. On first read, I was also thrown off with the shift to Piper watching other's dreams, rather than speaking of her own. The style of the beginning of the piece has the quality of making greater statements about a universal experience, but filtered through how an individual feels about them (think the opening of Fight Club), so I assumed Piper was speaking about how she dreams, not about her experiencing OTHERS dreams. We need a stronger transition, or else rethink that pulled-back, general statement style of the first paragraph.

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  28. I like the idea of dream hopping and I was satisfied with circle slide, until I realized that what I thought was an ending was only a page break. But it still gets my vote.

    Luxor has an interesting concept and a third sex is interesting, but I don't know if I'd continue reading a story in a world where a baby is only considered, "A demanding little thing."

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  29. Man! This was one of the match-ups I most considered before deciding on my vote.

    Circle Slide
    The opening paragraph has some very lovely description (e.g. "gleaming, dewy droplets of pretend.")! But, personally, I think it's too much. If you want to keep the impact strong and focus us on a single sense of dreaming, remove one of the sentences. In particular, this is the weakest: "A bubbling fantasy of pure enjoyment." It comes off hyperbolic and, as someone else has pointed out, it doesn't mesh well with the later reveal that Piper is bored by most dreamers.

    "...and the glorious sun warming my skin." Love the appeal to different sensations in this sentence as a whole! However, this part feels lessened by the later sentence "The afternoon sun warmed my cheek from the sunroom windows." The first sentence is supposed to emphasize what's so wonderful about the Land Between for Piper, what sensations she/he (it's unclear to me if Piper is female or male, as I've heard that name used for both sexes. I'm assuming female?) can experience there that she can't often experience otherwise. But if we see her wake later with the sunlight warming her skin, then how is this special in the Land Between? For that matter, how is the wind in ears special? The slippery mud makes sense since the potential for a wheelchair was mentioned, but the other two sensations are ones she already experiences. Consider swapping the other two for something really unique (and it could be because of where she lives, not her disability, e.g. experiencing snow if she lives somewhere hot, or walking along a volcano). Or else maybe use this as a character detail reveal indicating that feeling the sunlight just happens to be her favorite sensation.

    As an aside, I appreciate that this story forced me to look up and learn about spina bifida! Had never heard of it before. Added an interesting element for me.

    "And another thing, there, I wasn’t a social outcast." I agree with someone else that I'd rather be shown this than told it. Especially as it is so close to the spina bifida mention. Anyone who is different can experience this, sure, but I'd rather connect to Piper as a character first, and see how the Land Between makes her feel, than focus foremost on her "othering." I do believe that is an important topic that tends to be inescapable for folks with more severe disabilities, but I'd rather see that used as a backdrop to help me sympathize/challenge my thinking, rather then put it upfront as though it defines Piper.

    "...a skipping stone in a tranquil pool." A lot of the initial description is how great dreams are. So it throws me off when Piper reveals "Nearly all were the same, uninspiring snippets." If Piper initially found the Land Between amazing and new, but it loses its luster over time, we need to have some sort of transition to that. As is, the writing comes off disjoint.

    I may be the minority, but the Birdie paragraph makes me very uncomfortable and despise Piper. This part especially: "...and witnessed her dreams change from toys to boys, all from a safe distance." Piper is already enacting a HUGE invasion of privacy. It doesn't matter that the people she spies on may not know. I don't know about you, but when I started dreaming in puberty, some of those dreams got graphic. It makes me shudder to imagine another person seeing that. Piper to me comes off as a pathetic stalker, rather than at all likeable or sympathetic. She acts like she has a right to watch people. And it's made worse by the fact that she actively looks for this girl. Ew.

    I really wish instead of the end we got, we went into what happened the one time she sought someone out in real life. That's VERY intriguing! That may be intentionally put off as a big reveal in a larger work, but in this short sample, I think moving it up would have been awesome!

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  30. Luxor
    Scifi! Way to represent as the lone entry this year :D

    "Main Star’s orange rays..." I had to pause a bit here, but once I realized this was a potential indicator for this planet having multiple suns, I thought this was a really great detail! I think it'd help smooth the setting to reinforce this later in the piece by mentioning one of the other stars (maybe the quality of light from a given direction is a different color).

    Like others, I didn't get the geniality line. Further, I didn't understand the entire line including the "Nurser’s luminous eyes dimmed." Given how Sedge feels envious about procreating, I think this paragraph is stronger just ending on the previous line.

    "One chews its fist and squeaks." This is such a delightful detail! Definitely easy to imagine and inspires "awww" feelings as it's very relatable baby behavior.

    "...nothing to physically denote male or female." So this line for me encapsulates what I struggle most with for this piece. And that's the idea that the main physical differentiator for males vs females is genitalia. I hate that, because that's what is often used as justification for sexualizing female characters--to emphasize they are female (though by that logic, I don't get why more male characters don't have huge bulges in their pants). There are other physical differences, such as the shape of bones. Women, for example, have differently shaped lower vertebrae and have more bend in the spine, which is what prevents them from falling over when pregnant. They also tend to have wider hips and more rounded shoulders. The type of fat our bodies store is different. Brow shape tends to be different. So I personally have a very hard time understanding this description as anything other than Sedge has no genitals.

    I'd expect, if Sedge is plant-based, that therm's body would actually have rather wholly unique characteristics. Perhaps elongated limbs to support a different type of vein system. Or different skin texture. Lesser muscle mass (plants don't move, so that makes sense to me, that therms would be more akin to sloths). Details like these would enhance the reality of this world and make it unique.

    On the note of uniqueness, I have seen the humans as plant-like before. There are a couple of anime that play with this concept (Knights of Sidonia and Trigun are examples with different takes on the idea). This is why to me it's especially important to underscore those environmental and genetic differences, as well as societal impacts, to stand out. There's some of that at play, with the reveal therm are long-lived and unable to procreate (though considering plants DO reproduce, I don't get why therm can't. But that's beside the point, I suppose). But how does that impact society as a whole? Do therm hold more political power? How are they produced? Why? How often? Are they there to try and lower the carbon dioxide for the others? If so, why aren't there more therm so the other people don't die young? If I don't understand this context, then it's hard to relate to therm's dilemma and how therm has come to feel this way. (And writing that, yeah, they/their is better for the pronoun. Less confusing and improved flow.)

    "..flowers singing on a craggy mountain." Agreed on this being confusing. Nice image, but we're talking about sound, so I have no clue what therm's voice sounds like.

    "..therm words a painful song, thorns on quarter notes." Now this description I get and is wonderfully evocative! The quarter notes relate to music and the thorns make it sound pained and discordant. Bravo!

    As someone who doesn't want kids, I also agree the end of this feels reductionist and close-minded. It needs to be more clear that this is wholly personal to Sedge and why.

    Super tough call. Going with Circle Slide. There appears to be more possibilities for where the story can go.

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    Replies
    1. As an add-on to the personal to Sedge point, I think this "Do all women, all men, feel the same?" was an attempt at that. However, so much of the first part of the piece is hammering in the difference of the entire therm gender, that this small segment at the end doesn't do enough to cut from the idea that the entire purpose of the piece is, "What if you couldn't have children? How horrible!" Sedge also doesn't approach their emotions from a place of awareness; they don't acknowledge how this is personal and intimate to them. So that's where I think the misstep is. Nurser's counter points do nothing to impact Sedge and have no emotion, so they come off as after-thoughts. If Sedge paused, actually considered, and struggled with those points before responding further, that would help enforce that this is a personal experience and does not disparage those who cannot reproduce, do not want to reproduce, did reproduce, but lost their children, and doesn't imply the purpose of life IS to reproduce.

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  31. My vote goes to Luxor.

    I'm fascinated by dream walking, and love the idea that one person in particular has dreams that are cozy. But creating this gift as an escape put a little cloud over the fun.

    Luxor I was intrigued by your planet and different species of people. The You Always Want What You Can't Have is a strong theme here. You got my vote because I want to know where your scifi goes.

    Tara.roquemore@gmail.com

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  32. Congratulations to both writers!

    Circle Slide - The dream concept was interesting, sort of a super power and a way for the narrator to experience other things. The story has potential for an interesting arc, and the main character can certainly change by the end of the complete story/novel. The author hints at complications - meeting the dreamer in real life, and then the introduction of "a boy" into the dream. The first part of the piece set up the premise well, but then the second part, with the addition of the brother, was jarring and took me out of the story. The "voice" in the piece also changed, became lighter, and didn't match the seriousness and hint of tragedy in the first part. Overall I was hooked by the story and would love to read more of this character.

    Luxor - What an intriguing concept, another world where humans have evolved into plant-like creatures. A couple of things drew me out of the story - the use of the word "therm" as adjective and noun, and the use of present tense. The first could be a problem with the story, the second is just my own subjective view. Great job with world building in just this small scene. The descriptions allow the reader to visualize the setting and the characters. The dialogue, however, seemed a little forced at points, as though the characters were speaking just to tell the reader what the author wanted them to know. A good piece with interesting characters and a good set-up for the rest of the story, we have Sedge's desire to change and you've left it open so the reader knows there will be conflict regarding this decision.

    My vote goes to Circle Slide in this round.

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  33. Great job, writers. These are both unique stories with interesting points of view and you’ve made it nearly impossible to pick one. Hope you’re proud of yourselves.

    Beautiful imagery and language in Circle Slides’s story, except for the opening paragraph, which is awkward and confused me. It reads like someone waxing poetic about dreams in general, which is not unique. I would advise losing the first paragraph and starting with the second. If needed, you could incorporate descriptions from the first paragraph later on.

    I was drawn in and became more intrigued as I read. But I didn’t realize until halfway through the story that she was talking about experiencing other people’s dreams. I think you should have made that clear in the beginning. Introducing the brother at the end is jarring and I wish you could have either stopped before that or continued the story past this point so we could see how he fit in with the initial setup.

    Luxor’s story is compelling, with nice imagery and an interesting premise, though hard to follow in places. The POV kept switching and I was never sure whose head we were in. The therm pronouns and the use of their/them was confusing and hard to keep track of, but as a concept, intriguing. I wish there was a bit more background and grounding in the setting and character, so I could go deeper into the story and get a better picture of who these people are and where they are. Sedge’s longing to have a fulfilling life is relatable and touching and I’m intrigued to find out what happens next.

    So hard to choose, but because the writing is smoother, my vote goes to Circle Slide.

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  34. Wow! Two intriguing stories, both demanding one to think beyond where we are as humans.

    Circle Slide--loved the idea of one finding a way to defy her physical limits to visit the dreams of others. I would be interested to see where the story goes from there.

    Luxor--you touched on something that others usually don't spend time thinking of. This story has so much potential, grabs the emotions, makes me want to know what happens next.

    Great stories, writers!!!
    My vote is for Luxor!

    lindsey.tidmore1976@gmail.com

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