WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #4




Yet another pair of talented writers will brave the WRiTE CLUB ring today. If you're arriving a little late to the contest I've recapped what is happening below and you can always check out previous bouts by visiting the Tournament Scorecard HERE.

WRiTE CLUB (sponsored by the DFW Conference) is tournament-style contest that runs during the eight weeks prior to the conference and 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 (pre-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, I forgot to mention that 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 Wednesday, May 13th (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.

That’s enough of the fine print. It's time to RUMBLE!


Today we have Sweet Baby James on one side of the ring representing the Adult Horror genre.

 

Green Space

She and the boys followed several steps behind the men. Partially because she wasn't comfortable with her children around Charlie, and partially because she wanted to observe him. She watched as his eyes darted around the land, seemingly searching for something. She was close enough to hear his talk of his glory days on the land; the trees he planted, the pastures he groomed, the well-respected and knowledgable neighbor that everyone new him to be. It made Margaret sick.

 As they neared the creek her sickness intensified, now coupled with the odd familiar chill. It was the same chill she experienced upon encountering Charlie. Though this time it had little to do with him. It was the lilies.

Margaret could hardly bear to look at the ugly orange blob of a flower patch. Her body continued to chill as her eyes welled with tears. Why did the flowers affect her this way?

Charlie went on with his ramblings, all the while, Sam nodded politely. Margaret could go no further as she watched the pair walk on. She continued her scrutiny of Charlie, only to see him stop abruptly when he spotted the lilies.

He appeared to have found what he was looking for. He stared at the flowers for a long time and then walked towards the patch, leaving Sam behind.

Despite her fierce discomfort, Margaret trudged towards the flowers, too. She was drawn to them.

Margaret and Charlie approached the flowers at the same time. “Wachya think, Mags? Ain't they pretty?” sneered the man.

Margaret paled, “What did you do?”

“I told you, I planted all these flowers for Beatrice. Lilies was her favorite. Her very favorite.” replied Charlie with a grin.

Margaret was frozen, unaware of what his next move might be. “Don't worry Mags. I just wanted to visit. I'll be moving along now. I expect you won't hear from me again.” he said with a wink.

Before he turned, he bent down and plucked a lily from its stem. He secured it to the lapel of his dirty flannel shirt, a grotesque version of a groom on his wedding day.

He flashed her a final, sick smile before sauntering back to his truck, whistling a tune as he went.

Margaret stood by the flowers for a long moment waiting for him to go, every uncomfortable emotion imaginable coursing through her body.

She was barely breathing when she sensed her oldest boy standing beside her. Instinctively, she gripped his arm, not allowing him any closer the offensive lilies.

“Mama, I don't like those flowers.” he said solemnly.

“Me neither, Baby.” Margaret replied, finally admitting to herself what she had always known.

Her boy had it, too. He could feel.

She quickly said a silent prayer. She prayed his “gift” wasn't strong. She prayed it wouldn't affect his life the way it had affected hers. She prayed for peace for her child.

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


On the far side of the ring, we have Invernia who is representing the YA Contemporary genre.



Fifteen.

 

Fifteen is a stupid age to fall in love, but that’s not the part I regret.

The first time he said it, we were sitting in the fried grass of the sledding hill in June, watching the sun split like ripe fruit over our shitty town. He had run away from home for the day—the night, the week—because his stepfather had a keen way of making him feel unwelcome. Against the bruising, his eyes were blue and tragic like icecaps.

“I love you,” he said, but what I heard was “everything” and “forever” and “this is the biggest feeling you’ll ever allow yourself again.” Then he kissed me, and it tasted like the sweet-salt of caramel corn. My braces and his tongue made it awkward, and we laughed about it later as we clung to each other’s voices through a phone line until the stars winked out one by one by one.

He got a job to save escape-money and rode his bike fifteen miles to see me after opening shifts. He smelled like coffee and brought my father chocolate crullers and smiled at me with red-rimmed eyes. We fell asleep curled on the couch, talking about how wild it was that there could be an entire world between someone’s arms.

Come fall, he stopped making the long ride. The air and his eyes grew colder. I picked him up from a field where he told me the sky was raining angry faces and it must have been something he took. I hid him in my basement and rubbed his palms in reverent circles until he recognized me again.

Winter snuck up on us, then Christmas, and I bought him a sweater from the mall. It sat in a box under my parents’ tree because there was a reason—so many reasons—he couldn’t make it over. So I brought it to school, and it watched from my locker as his best friend pulled me out of computer class to tell me about Her. I really only remember the hard linoleum under my knees, and how the hurt was so big it had to crack ribs to make room in my chest.

We both cried when it ended, and it was as close to mourning as I’d felt. An irrefutable shutting of something. A Little Death. “I love her,” he said. They made coffee together and shared spoons. He asked if I would be her friend, because she was lost too and I felt like home.

I like to think that I would have. But they wandered too far, looking for smiles in the rain and new lines through which to cling to each other. The next time I saw him was in our shitty town paper, next to a notice about his service. The black ink got his eyes so, so wrong.

Fifteen is a stupid age to fall in love, unless you only live to sixteen. Then it’s a strange sort of gift.

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


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 today, 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. If you missed the first two bouts because of one of these issues, remember the bouts remain LIVE for a week so you can still go back and let your choice be known.

We’ll be back on tomorrow with the last bout of the week. 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!



47 comments

  1. I see a lot of potential in the first piece, but it needs a lot of work. Pronouns are used to start it off and then names appear, but I have no idea which pronouns went with which names. I was mostly confused as to who the players are and I wasn't grounded into the scenery either. All of this can be easily fixed, though.

    The second piece is written better, but what does the narrator regret? I didn't see the answer here. Still, the words flowed and created some empathy. Therefore, Invernia gets my vote.

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  2. This is unfair. I wish I could call it a draw. Both entries are outstanding. What a great bout! Technically, the writing in both pieces is beyond solid. Each story seized me in a different way. I don't know. This isn't fair. I already said that, didn't I. Sweet Baby James created an intense just-under-the-skin horror like a splinter in the foot that you can't dig out. The dialogue is sparse and haunting. Green Space is the slow family hell you want to watch and hope you never live.

    After reading Sweet Baby James, I thought, Invernia didn't have a chance. A scrawny YA Contemporary bantamweight stepping into the ring with a heavyweight, but Invernia hit me with an emotional roundhouse. Fifteen captured the emotional truth of first love and handled it in a refreshing way. Waiting all winter to bring the sweater to school and then learning the he had another girlfriend. We've all been there. "I only remember the Linoleum under my knees, and how the hurt was so big it had to crack ribs to make room in my chest." Terrific. Do I have to pick one?

    The mic drops to the center of the ring, and I must declare a winner. Half the audience will boo. I apologize to each corner, but there can only be one.

    I raise the arm of Invernia.

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  3. Sweet Baby James: Kudos for the horror skimming below the surface, suggested, and not in-your-face. But beginning the piece with "She ..." gives me no sense of who the protagonist is, her age, or anything about her, which leaves me floundering from the start. As the story spins along, I'm left to wonder why Margaret and her boys are even following Charlie and Sam. It feels random. The bits of horror are nicely placed. Charlie's creepiness shines. But I never felt truly grounded in the story. Poor punctuation also contributed to my lack of connection.

    Invernia: Your first sentence set the stage and compelled me to read on. The prose and story held me tight throughout as it elicited emotion after emotion. Her heartbreak became mine. The last sentence beautifully ties in with the first and gives us completion, again breaking our hearts. It's not easy to recount something that happened in the past and make a reader feel as though it were happening in the present. All the props!

    Vote: Invernia

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  4. SweetBabyJames - There is some great stuff here. The immediate tension, the imagery, all work. Loved -- A grotesque version of a groom on his wedding day --. My issues are technical. First, starting off with Margaret instead of SHE would have made a world of difference in the opening paragraph. Three out of four sentences start with SHE, creating a visible pattern. Also -- every uncomfortable emotion imaginable coursing through her body. -- feels lazy. Writing is solid, but the -ly adverbs are overused.

    Invernia - The beginning and ending sentences mirroring each other is a clever idea, but the end note feels a little forced. Other than that, this is a brilliant piece. The language and the imagery and the use of literary devices is what I look for in a short piece. It's listed as YA but contains more verbal nuance than most of the adult entries. -- how the hurt was so big it had to crack ribs to make room in my chest. -- Just fantastic.

    Vote goes to Invernia.

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  5. My vote: Invernia

    These were probably two of the strongest entries I've read so far. James's piece had a solid balance of dialogue with the rest of the narration, which is genuinely tough given the parameters of the contest.

    I also appreciated that the prose of both pieces was a little more interesting at a line level than I've experienced so far--there's an interest in craft and linework that really appealed to me.

    Critiques:

    James: A solid piece! You successfully created an atmosphere of unease surrounding the lilies, and I thought Charlie was particularly well-characterized. I was a bit confused here and there about Sam, etc. I really think all you need to do to fix this is add a straightforward line in your opening paragraph that specifies right away that Sam is Margaret's child. A few minor quibbles:

    1) Charlie is suffering from wandering eye syndrome in your first paragraph (search for "Ansible" online and you'll find some funny examples of this from great writers). I'd recommend changing "eyes" to "gaze" in this case.

    2) Many of your dialogue tags require the use of commas rather than full stops

    3) Occasionally you attach a piece of dialogue to an action not performed by the character speaking, which can impede flow at a micro level. E.g. "Margaret was frozen, unaware of what his next move might be. 'Don't worry Mags. I just wanted to visit. I'll be moving along now. I expect you won't hear from me again.- he said with a wink." - note also, the improper use of a full stop here.

    Invernia: This was a great piece, and some of the best writing I've seen in the competition so far. Your character is well-defined, and there's an emotional richness that shines through in the artistry of your prose. I think ideally, a line or two more to lead up to the reveal that the love interest has died would improve the flow at the end, but I expect the limitations of the word count hindered you there. I'm not usually a YA fan, but this was great.

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  6. I thought the writing in both pieces are well done and I wanted to read more of each.

    SweetBabyJames seemed part of a bigger piece with an interesting premise, while Invernia stood alone as a complete story. The difference between the two for me, was the emotion that came through really well in Invernia. Not only that, but the use of concise words to convey that emotion was very nice to read.

    Good job to both, but my vote is for Invernia

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  7. Great job on both of these! They were both interesting and intriguing and I would want to read more of both. Given that, my vote goes to Sweet Baby James because this is the start of a great, creepy, and chilling book.

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  8. Congratulations to both of you for making it into the competition. I really enjoyed both premises and I'm very curious to know what these would like in longer pieces.

    Sweet Baby James, I'm going to agree that Margaret's name should have been mentioned earlier. That would have eliminated one of the "she's." I don't know if I just needed another read, but I'm bothered that I don't know what Margaret or her son's gift is. I know that horror can be subjective, but I didn't feel that in this passage. I know that Margaret has a bad feeling about Charlie, but the horror didn't quite come across to me, if that makes sense.

    Invernia, I think your piece has a lot of potential, but I can't quite put my finger on it. In some ways, it reminded me of a synopsis written in first person. It's possible that a little more dialogue may have helped with this issue. Or it's possible it's just me.

    My vote is for Sweet Baby James because if felt more like a story to me.

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  9. Sweet Baby James - You have some great use of language here as well as some wonderful imagery. Charlie is also wonderfully creepy. It broke down for me in several places though. First, I can't figure out the importance of Sam (assuming he was the second of the two men they were following)--I don't think you need him. Second, I'm not sure why Margaret and her children are following them. There seems to be a hint later on that Charlie wanted to show her the flowers that I think would have served better in the beginning to help the reader make sense of the piece. I also recommend telling the reader who Beatrice is to Margaret to help the reader connect to Margaret and understand her better.

    Invernia - I loved your story and they way you showed first love--it rang true to me. I also loved how you used the seasons to go from the warmth of first love to the coldness of a breakup and then, finally, his death. Great piece overall. One that, if turned into an entire book, I would read, even knowing the ending.

    My vote: Invernia

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  10. James: nice unsettling atmosphere, but confusing. Don’t wait until the end of the first paragraph to name Margaret. “She and the boys followed several steps behind the men” - there must be at least five people here. Who are they? Is Sam the son, or some other person? I don’t understand the reveal that her son “had it too” - there’s no indication that this is fantasy. What’s going on? Phrases like “every uncomfortable emotion imaginable” are very bulky. Dialogue closes with a comma when it’s not the end of a sentence. These technical issues are easily fixed, but distracting in a short piece. All that said, if there were more explanation, I think I’d be interested in the larger story.

    Invernia: great voice, and impressive character arc in 500 words. Some of the metaphors don’t quite come off, to me - how does the sun split? Why is an ice cap tragic? Love the sensory language with tastes and smells. It makes the scene vivid. It’s a little over the top, but so is young love. I’m left wondering what the narrator regrets, but excellent job overall.

    I vote for Invernia. Congrats to both!

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  11. Congratulations, Contestants!

    Sweet Baby James: This is such an interesting piece, but I found myself pulled out of the story by small things. Typos, such as "new" instead of "knew" happen, so I can overlook that kind of thing if the whole piece is super strong and tight otherwise. Unfortunately, I never got my bearing with the story because of little inconsistencies.

    For example, if Margaret is behind the men, how can she watch his eyes? Why does she have her children with her if she doesn't trust Charlie? How can a chill be both odd and familiar to her? Who is Sam? What's actually happening here? Are they in a cemetery? A park? Botanical garden? Is Charlie a groundskeeper turned murderer?

    I read the piece four times and decided it's most likely an excerpt from a longer piece that would answer some of these questions if I could read it in full. I loved "a grotesque version of a groom on his wedding day," but overall, I was just left with a lot of questions.

    Invernia: This piece was painful to read, but it was worth it because it was so beautifully written. You somehow managed to capture the joy and pain of first love in a way that didn't feel overdone or cloying. That's no easy feat!

    My vote today goes to Invernia.

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  12. My vote:Invernia

    I didn't expect to love the sappy YA contemporary romance, but here I am, loving every LINE. Perhaps i'm reading too much into it, but i can't help but think certain words were strategically placed to make me wonder if he really "left her" for drugs. And that's how he died, and for someone so young, that really pulls on my heart strings. Got an actual little lump in my throat at the end. Gulp.

    I am a sucker for Horror, but unfortunaely, i wasn't captivated by Baby James' piece. Was it the confusing pronouns? Maybe..*shrug*. Was the idea too deep and i missed theh concept? Maybe *shrug* i can't specifically say why i didn't love it, but it just didn't grab my attention and i caught myself skimming a bit. I also had a hard time keeping the characters straight.

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  13. My vote goes to Invernia, although I have some reservations about the YA label. Lovely though the piece is, it reads like the words of significantly older narrator. The Baby James piece, however, totally lost me. It's probably taken from further into a longer piece but for a reader encountering it for the first time, it was hard to keep the characters straight. (Was Sam one of the men? One of the children? What is the narrator's relationship to any of these? Why are they here???) Add in a number of punctuation and spelling mishaps and the confusion just builds. Sorry.

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  14. My vote is for Invernia today. How clever to chart an entire romance in just 500 words. Strangely, I never felt involved in it though. The story is told from such a distance, it never felt raw.

    Baby James' piece was confusing. I never figured out what was going on or who each character was in relation to the others.

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  15. Sweet Baby James- I don’t really understand what was happening. The repeated use of sickness to describe the MC and her coldness was distracting. There was nothing to pull me into the story or make me want to care for the narrator.
    Invernia- This read more like bullet points of an elevator pitch than an actual piece or maybe a scripted montage. While the story is YA, the narrator’s voice sounds much older than the target audience. I think there is a good story in there, though I’m not sure this was the best way of presenting.

    My vote for Invernia

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  16. Sweet Baby James: There is a lot of emotion expressed, but I couldn't figure out why--"fear of his next move--" but you did not tell the reader why he was to be feared. The part about her son being able to "feel" was so late in the piece that it felt out of place.

    Invernia: Not too much to say besides it was great. I do not read YA and I loved it.

    Invernia get my vote.

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  17. Sweet Baby James: would have been nice to ID the fear, and the needed info about the son was too late.

    Invernia great. loved it.

    Invernia get my vote.

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  18. As a horror writer, I always worry I'll come into contests with a bias in favor of the genre, but today Invernia has me a contemporary believer and

    Invernia has my vote.

    The subtle creep in the first piece is present, but I felt a little lost with the mention of boys and men, not knowing how many men and initially if both those named were men (rather than one being a son). It has solid potential, but the flow didn't work for me when compared to the second piece where Invernia painted a beautiful picture of both MC and antagonist. Pretty sure I now know the entry that was compared to a John Greene novel in a tweet by one of the judges ;-)

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  19. This is the most difficult for me yet. These are so evenly matched.
    Sweet Baby James, there were a few things that kept me from being able to become immersed in the story (i.e. new instead of knew). I wasn't able to get a full sense of who these characters were but that can be tricky when you only have 500 words. It did make me curious to know why these lilies draw certain people and what happened between Charlie and Margaret for her to feel she does about him. Are they related? Were they lovers?

    Invernia, maybe it's the poet in me but I loved how this piece read like a run-on sentence but was anything but. I got a bit confused when the best friend pulled her out of computer class because that just didn't seem believable but overall, this was completely relatable to me. I am a little confused as to why the "other women" was introduced and think it may have worked better as implied by his waning interest. The ending left me wanting to know how he died (was there an accident? did he commit suicide?) and that would be a good thing if you had more words to tell us (darn those pesky word limits). I really enjoyed reliving a bit of my youth in this piece.

    Good luck to both but my vote is for Invernia.

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  20. Invernia has my vote for packing so much story into 500 words, so perfectly capturing the immensity of teen love, and being beautifully written.

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  21. Two more excellent entries.

    I got confused by Sweet Baby James’s story. I couldn’t keep track of the characters and their names. Also, who was Charlie and why he was giving them a tour, when it seemed to be Margaret’s property? I didn’t get the thing with the orange flowers. Maybe because there was a bit too much telling about the weird thing Margaret was feeling, but not enough information to know why she was feeling it so we could feel it too.

    The imagery in Inverna’s piece was vivid and surprising and I liked it a lot. The story was relatable and evocative. We could have used a bit of foreshadowing when he started drifting away from her. The guy seemed smitten and was riding his bike 15 miles back and forth to see her. When he started making excuses, I attributed to the problems he was having with his stepdad, not because he was falling in love with someone else. So this other relationship with Her, seemed to come out of the blue. But other than that, I thought it was an emotional depiction of first love.

    My vote goes to Inverna.

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  22. I enjoyed both. Invernia's ended so sad- a compliment in that you made this reader feel the feels. Sweet Baby James gets my vote because I want to read more.

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  23. Today INVERNIA get's my vote.

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  24. I was also confused by Sweet Baby Jame's story. It is written well, but I never got to the aha moment where I figured out what was going on with the characters.

    Invernia did a great job of reminding me how devastating that first heartbreak can be. I really enjoyed this piece.

    I enjoyed them both but my vote goes to Invernia.

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  26. Sweet Baby James... I love the depth of this world.
    I vote for Invernia's emotionality.

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  27. Both good reads. I have to admit, SweetBabyJames kinda made me sick to my stomach when I really thought about about what the story meant to me. May not be what the writer intended, but when Charlie put the flower in his lapel I got angry at him!

    Invernia broke my heart. But all the secrets and trusts and firsts that come with love. Both stories were very good. Is there a draw category??

    My vote is for SweetBabyJames

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  28. My vote goes to Sweet Baby James

    This was the closest week yet in my opinion. For me, it came down to the piece with a stronger story, even though the writing was not as polished as the other piece.

    Sweet Baby James - Intriguing story here, the reader feels dread as the characters walk past the lilies. And the hook at the end was intriguing - hints at special powers the main character possesses and we get a glimpse of future conflict with the antagonist.
    This is a nice scene that could use more description and less telling. Dialogue would move the story along and reveal character - a good place to put some dialogue would be where Margaret overhears Charlie. Instead of just telling us he rambles on, put his words down on paper. Great detail about him picking the lily, I think the reader would benefit having more details about these flowers when Margaret first notices them. How do they smell, look?
    This had such a strong story line that it overcame the objections I had to the piece, good job drawing in the reader.

    Invernia - Close call here, if this piece had been up against another I probably would have voted for it. Lovely language here, "blue and tragic like icecaps" and "kiss tasting like sweet-salt caramel corn." The scenes flow and the reader feels some foreshadowing - we know this won't end well for the characters but we're not sure what will happen.

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  29. My vote goes to Invernia.

    Sweet Baby James there is a lot that is hinted, and there was a great slow burn that pulled my mind towards trying to figure out what she was remembering, what trauma she experienced, or what would happen. For me I felt the supernatural element at the end was a little rushed. Up to that point we were in the character's head her reactions and memories. Then it's revealed she maybe has power and she fears for her son. We don't know what her power is, Charlie's identity, or what the lilies symbolize in this context. The upside to all this is that I would keep reading.

    Invernia- This one was a rollercoaster, from the start of the innocent romance, facing life's challenges, trying to help with trauma, heartbreak, and ultimately death. I wanted to know more from his side and why one love took the place of another, the distance, changes over time, etc.? I also really enjoyed how the first and last line connect with each other.

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  30. I give Sweet Baby James credit for the way the horror is hinted at, something you see in the corner of your eye, instead of laid out under the lights. Charlie is completely creepy. Still, I wish that some things had been made clearer. Why Margaret was following the men? What was her relationship to Charlie? What did Charlie do to the lilies, and why was it scary? Who was Beatrice? How can someone experience every uncomfortable emotion there is all at once? What does that actually feel like to Margaret? There were also some technical issues with the dialogue, in terms of punctuation and mixing the actions of one person with the words of another in the same paragraph. These issues detracted from otherwise strong and evocative writing.

    Ivernia pulled me immediately into the mind and heart of the MC. There are some wonderful phrases: "fried grass," "Sweet-salt caramel corn," "shared spoons." This piece also never spells out the story on the surface, never explicitly mentions drugs, but it's still crystal clear. The end shifts from thinking about falling in love at 15 from her perspective to his, a subtle but powerful twist.

    My vote goes to Ivernia.

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  31. Sweet Baby James intrigued me with secrets and foreboding... but Invernia broke my heart.

    My vote goes to Invernia.

    Tara.roquemore@gmail.com

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  32. Sweet Baby James was Fun and eerie. I did have trouble getting grounded in the story and ended up having to reread it a couple of times. Charlie was creepy and it was clever how the author was able to build his character so quickly.
    Ivernia- this story is such a reminder of how wonderful and painful young love can be. The main character bought her love a sweater and waited all Winter to give it to him, only to find out that he had fallen in love with another girl. Ouch! The audacity of him wanting her to befriend his new love, another ouch. The final sad note in this amazing piece was when she said that her last time to see him was in the newspaper next to the notice about his service. The last line was incredible writing to me as well. Ivernia has my vote.

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  33. Congrats to both writers for entering the ring.

    Sweet Baby James: Some great imagery in your piece - especially the part about the flower in his label. There’s a lot of under the surface tension going on here, and I like the hint of a “gift” at the end. I think this piece needed a little rearranging to fit all that story into such a short segment. We get a lot of her feelings about Charlie, but not a lot about the situation around them.

    Invernia: I enjoyed the full circle of this piece in such a short space. The hints about his drug use were subtle, but noticeable. I also appreciated the hints of his backstory of the abusive home. Very powerful ending line.

    My vote is for Inervia.

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  34. Two such emotional pieces, and my vote is for Invernia.

    Sweet Baby James - this seems to be a story of malevolence relating to an unspecified, unwanted, supernatural family 'gift'. I think this must be one page within a longer piece. I am very interested to learn about the 'gift' and how it features in a complex family relationship, and I enjoyed the various undercurrents. I was left rather confused by the plot, however, and found the emotive language a little distracting. If this is the start of the story then much needs to be clarified quickly: who are these people and why are they all there, why can't she leave or tell him to shove it? Words/phrases like 'sick', 'ugly orange blob', 'fierce', 'grotesque', 'every uncomfortable emotion imaginable', 'offensive' are all very strong, but not very evocative - so they reduce the menace rather than increase it. I find the idea of lilies being a huge supernatural problem faintly comical, especially when they're within an orange blob. I'm sure that is not the desired response. I do feel that there is a genuine and powerful story to be told here; it only needs some editing.

    Invernia - this is such a strong piece about young love, child abuse, betrayal, drug addiction and death, all in 500 words. Amazing. I love how much extra history and description you brought in with every phrase. So efficient! This sentence - 'The air and his eyes grew colder' - struck me particularly as a kind of 'borrowed scenery': you took all the emotions of autumn going into winter, its decay and death, and gave it to his eyes. So simple yet powerful. I had to read it a few times to understand what was happening, and that is entirely reasonable as it has such dense meaning. An excellent, emotional read, and technically impressive.

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  35. These are both strong pieces but my vote goes to Invernia for doing a slightly better job at building a mood. Honestly, there’s not much I’d change about either one of them! Great job!

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  36. These are both strong pieces but my vote goes to Invernia for doing a slightly better job at building a mood. Honestly, there’s not much I’d change about either one of them!

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  37. Man! You made this one so tough by putting two of my favorites up against each other. I love both of these entries, but my vote has to go to Invernia. The descriptions are lyrical, and the characters are beautifully drawn in very few words. I loved this one!

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  38. Sweet Baby James, if I "got" your story, it's very chilling. The evil Charlie is very evil, and it's clear to me he's a murderer, too. That could've been clearer, however, and your comma use, as well as the word "new" for "knew," was a bit distracting to me. When a character is finished speaking, use a comma instead of a period. You wrote: " '...Lilies was her favorite. Her very favorite.' replied Charlie." You need a comma after the word favorite.

    Invernia, yours was tragic. A well-woven piece with some metaphors and personification that fit very well into a short space. Nice work.

    My vote: Invernia

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  39. My vote goes for Invernia. I liked both pieces but Invernia's really pulled me into the mood of the piece whereas Sweet Baby James was good but didn't draw me in.

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  40. My vote: Invernia

    Sweet Baby James: I loved the premise of the story, however, with 500 words to establish everything it felt just out of reach. I'd love to know why Margaret and her kids were following this person she really disliked, what was the gift, etc. I enjoyed it, it did not hook me in from the get-go. Great job making it into the competition though!

    Invernia: You hit 'first love lost' right on the head. It pulled at the heartstrings when you could see that the guy was losing interest but the protagonist didn't. I wondered about the guy being on drugs, due to the red-rimmed eyes and something he took parts. Would love to read more. Excellent job!

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  41. I vote for Invernia. Brought me back to my teenage self, the pathos and pain in this story was so real to me. Though Sweet Baby James was setting the mood of something horrible happening I didn't understand what it was.

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  42. Congratulations, both of you! I love that both stories ended with a twisted notion of "gift". Such a clever mash up! I'm awful at critique, so I'll just gush about my favorite parts of each :)

    Sweet Baby James: I loved the eeriness and the emphasis on the flowers in this piece. There was the moment of unease that permeated the whole story and really created a unique tone that meshed well with the final paragraph (I'm intrigued!). I especially loved the scene where Charlie attached the lily to his lapel. Such a cool way to blend the discomfort felt by Margaret with the "gift" revolving around flowers.

    Invernia: Oh, wow. This was absolutely stunning. The emotion and thrill of falling in love build the first half perfectly -- and then there's that gut-punch ending. Really well written. The different senses and figurative language (the caramel corn kiss, the hints of coffee, stars winking out) you used sets the mood perfectly.

    My vote: Invernia

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  43. Well done writers on getting through, you're both winners.

    Sweet Baby James you create a world that is filled with just below-the-surface fear, which takes skill. I feel after reading and thinking about your entry that this likely came from a larger piece of work, which would perhaps explain starting it with an unnamed character, so that did not bother me at all. The eeriness it left me with definitely makes me want more, so very well done on creating work that would turn pages.

    Invernia, lovely little piece that reminds me a lot of condensed version of Green's, The Fault in Our Stars. I enjoyed the fact that it reads as a complete story, which is hard to manage in 500 words. I did get a bit lost in parts, the reference to Her - not entirely sure if her is another character or the illness. I also enjoyed circling back to the beginning at the end, but was unclear what the regret was that was mentioned and felt important to the story.

    My vote goes to Invernia this round.

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  44. My vote is for Sweet Baby James.
    Cool premise. Too many adverbs and should strike the line about not knowing why she felt that way.
    Invernia - I would have liked to know the part she regretted. I was a little confused a couple times.

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  45. Inverna for me.

    I felt like I needed more information to get into the other story.

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