WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #5



We've come to the last bout of the week and today we reveal the ninth and tenth writers chosen to step into the ring. 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 This weekend is a perfect time to catch up.

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 Thursday, May 14th (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.

Let's do this!

For the last bout of the week, we have Artichoke on one side of the ring representing the Adult Fantasy genre.



DEVILLED STEW

The laboratory has emptied at last and all is darkness, except one small lamp glowing at a corner desk. God sits there, thinking. It’s a good time to act, he decides: get things moving without interference. He brings forth his tray of Petri dishes and examines the cultures. All eleven look healthy and well-developed after only a week. God is pleased.

He updates their labels for Stage 2: Earth 1-10 and - of course - Earth Control.

Check.

God gathers together the additives bottles: Devils 1-10. He tests each on his wrist. Hot little darlings, some of them, but within the tolerances. No-one could accuse him of bias in this setup.

Check.

He smiles and admires his experiment for a time, anticipating Lucifer’s humiliation and his own unstoppable ascendance. Eons of Angelic arrogance about to come crashing down. Sweet.

Lu and his “constant moral challenges, God, it’s what builds strength; you’re just keeping them soft and vulnerable” ….ridiculous. Any fool knows that cultures need absolute purity or they will collapse and rot away. Any fool.

And here will be the proof and there will go Lucifer, bye-bye.

God focuses intently on the task now; no room for error here. One type of Devil per Earth 1-10, while leaving Earth Control alone. Nothing but purity and peace in that one. He drips a drop of Devil into each respective Earth; then he puts the dishes back in the incubator, carefully checks the seals on the almost-full additive bottles and starts to consider dinner. By the morning there will be measurable changes in the cultures to report to the Committee. An early night then, if he can sleep. He strolls to the door, performs a happy pirouette and walks energetically down the corridor. The lamp glows on, in silence.

Now a figure cautiously separates from the shadows of a far corner and approaches God’s incubator. It’s Lucifer, scowling and tense. He studies the dishes closely, noting small changes already taking place in the doctored cultures. Despair rises in him. He is sure of his truth, but now also sure that God’s experiment will provide truth of another kind - and absolutely certain the Committee will never understand the difference. God will get the new funding, not he, and that will be the end of Lucifer’s own Earth project. The end of the most vital work of his existence.

Lucifer hovers, uncertain - an idea arriving appalling in its boldness. He stares at the cultures, unseeing, his future painted all too brightly in his mind. He decides.

Lucifer opens all ten Devil bottles and empties them, one by one, into Earth control.
#############################################################################


On the far side of the ring, we have J.P. Devenish who is representing the Adult General Fiction genre.

The cop car came out of nowhere. I had been coasting along, relaxed, peering into the darkness ahead, when the big cruiser appeared behind me. It was too close, its roof lights flashing bright through my rear window and across my dashboard. Then, a single electronic note from the siren, blaring into the night. A statement of power.

“Last thing I need,” I thought, and eased over, my tires thumping across the roadside markings and crunching to a halt on the verge. The police cruiser pulled in behind.

I grabbed my license, rolled down the window, and placed my hands in my lap. Then I took a deep breath and watched in the rear view mirror.

The door of the cop car opened, its large gold star reflecting the lights, and the cop himself, silhouetted, strode into view. Someone out to make his mark.

Stopping behind my front door, he peeked inside, saw only me. His voice was deep, authoritative. “Do you know what speed you were doing?”

I knew exactly. “Thirty eight,” I said, without moving. “Two below the limit.”

“The limit here is thirty,” said the cop, and I detected the tiniest hint of smugness. I wondered where the forty zone ended, and I imagined him hunched over the wheel, engine idling, hidden behind some billboard, pondering his ticket quota.

I gulped. “Oh my goodness, I’m so sorry. I didn’t realize. I’m on my way to Dallas, the airport, DFW, to pick up my brother. He’s flying in.”

My words came fast, tumbling. “Dad collapsed this morning. With pneumonia. He’s ninety-four, the doctors say he’ll pass tomorrow. It’s our last chance to see him. God willing.”

No response.

The seconds ticked by.

I spoke again, my voice trembling slightly. “Mom died on Christmas Day…. he’s been alone since then.”

This Christmas?” asked the cop.

“Yes sir,” I answered, a little high-pitched, “It’s been a tough few months.”

A couple more cars whizzed past.

Then he said, “I’m letting you go with a warning. Mind your speed.”

Only my eyes moved, watching in the mirror as he marched back to his cruiser and stepped inside.

And at that very moment I heard a tiny sound from behind me. From the trunk. No, I didn’t hear it so much as feel it, through the body of the car and through my bones. It was perhaps the first movement of someone waking up.

My hand rested on my purse, inches from the hilt of the Lady Glock 20 nestled inside my driver’s door. My index fingernail, still polished red, was cut short to facilitate rapid trigger fire.

I didn’t think the cop could see my face. I knew for sure he couldn’t hear me. Very slowly, I turned my head to the side and, barely moving my lips, spoke through my hair. “Don’t you make another fucking sound.”

I waited. In the thick silence.

Nothing more.

I nodded, satisfied. “Good boy,” I whispered, and pulled out onto the dark road.

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


Leave your votes and critiques in the comments below. Again, be respectful of your remarks and try to point out positives as well as detraction's.

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 Monday with bout #6. 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. Congratulations, authors! I loved both stories. They were well-written and engaging.
    J.P. Devenish's tone and dialogue set the piece really well. I would've liked to know a little more about the main character from the start. I only realized she was a woman later.
    My vote goes for Artichoke's story because I liked the tone and the concept just a little bit more.
    It was a difficult choice.

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  2. Artichoke is my preference today.

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  3. Congratulations on making it in, contestants! These are both solid pieces, and you should be proud of yourselves!

    Artichoke: I'm always a fan of painting gods/demons as cogs in a wheel. Your story reminded me of some of Kafka's short stories along the same vein. Choosing to tell the story in present tense was a bold move, and it mostly worked well for me, but there were a couple of instances where it felt forced, which pulled me out of the story a little. The switch from when God leaves the room and Lucifer enters was jarring. It almost felt like I was reading a screenplay treatment right there.
    And one small note, I was thrown off by the spelling of the title. At first I was trying to pronounce it De'villed. Like Cruella from 101 Dalmatians.

    J.P. Devenish: Fantastic job with the dialogue, but the repetition of the word "cop" was a bit tiresome. The first thing I thought when the narrator pulled over and placed their hands in their lap was "this character is clearly white." It was a subtle way of foreshadowing they would escape the encounter unharmed. Perhaps it's my own internal bias, but I assumed the driver was a man, so when it's revealed at the end that the driver is a woman, I had to backtrack. I'm not certain saving that information for the end added anything to the twist, though. Also, I've never been locked in a trunk, but I did find it unbelievable that the person in the trunk would actually be able to hear her without her shouting, especially if that person was drugged.

    My vote this round goes to Artichoke.

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  4. Tough choice today! Both pieces are well-written, complete little stories with a nice surprise at the end.

    Artichoke: bit of a slow build, but I enjoy God’s thoughts and his relationship with Lu is funny. I would’ve liked to understand why either of them needs funding in the first place. Omniscient POV is tough to pull off and the switch was a little confusing, but overall I think it works pretty well here.

    Devenish: I like this twist on getting pulled over. Love the contrast between the driver’s words and reality. The red nail polish and Lady Glock at the end seem like they’re meant to shock us that the driver is a woman. Why not just share this early on? The reveal takes focus away from the real twist, the body in the trunk.

    Both solid pieces! Ultimately I vote for Artichoke because it’s a story I’d be more interested in continuing.

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  6. Excellent stories, both. Two of the most evenly matched so far in the bouts, which doesn't make it easy picking one for my vote.

    Artichoke: I love this whole premise. My degree is in chemistry with a biology minor, so it's way cool for me to imagine God and Lucifer experimenting like this. I also knew a couple of students who sabotaged others' experiments. Maybe the devil made them do it? Your writing is tight and imagery spot-on. The only thing that threw me off a tiny bit (being extremely picky because the piece is so good): "The lamp glows on, in silence." I've never heard a noisy lamp (noisy fluorescent ceiling lights - yes), so this didn't make sense. Again, being picky. Now I want to know what happens the next day!

    J.P. Devenish: Another well-written, well-paced piece. One caveat: Your first sentence is a cliche. Ugh. Still. I never knew where you were going with this, the tension pulling me in and through. Excellent use of details and emotion. Then I braked at "purse" and "Lady Glock." Ah. The twist. You surprised us. But I'm not sure if I enjoy the twist or feel like I've been intentionally misled/fooled, beginning with your category of "General Fiction" rather than "Thriller" or "Mystery" and the tone of the piece. I've been taught that an author shouldn't try to fool their reader, that the breadcrumbs should be placed for the reader to figure it out ahead of time, if only subconsciously. I know it's only 500 words and many readers will appreciate the unexpected twist. In some ways, I do too. But I mostly feel fooled.

    My vote: Artichoke

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  7. My vote: Artichoke

    These were both fun.

    I enjoyed the twist at the end of J. P. Devenish's piece a lot, but I felt like the rest needed more oomph to set it apart from your average thriller. Maybe it would have worked more for me if it had more of an ominous tone throughout, or a hint that something was off (I think the reveal would still have worked even with this suggestion). There were also some places where, if you wanted, you could make some small cuts and gain some extra words.

    A good piece overall, and I have a feeling my comments are really a matter of personal taste!

    Artichoke: I've read variations of this premise before, but I thought the way you handled the ending elevated it a little for me. The idea of Lucifer just maniacally dumping his creations into Earth Control was fun, and I felt like I could picture this as a cartoon. There were some instances where you needed and lacked commas, as well as other minor grammatical issues, but overall the writing was solid. I would lose the italics when God is recollecting Lu's comments, since it should be clear from context that Lu isn't actively speaking.

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    1. Edit to say: By twist I meant the body in the trunk (I hadn't thought the gender of the MC was a twist, haha). If it's meant as a twist, I would change that.

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  8. Voting for JP Devenish. So tense!

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  9. Two great pieces!

    Artichoke—I loved the take on the whole gods and demons story—it’s incredibly unique and fun. I also loved that Lucifer dumped everything into the control, I couldn’t help but think that was our Earth.

    JP—I loved the twist at the end—I didn’t see it coming and I love to be surprised. I thought your writing was tight and the story fast paced. Excellent job.

    My vote: JP Devenish

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  10. I enjoyed both of these pieces. In all honesty, this comes down to genre preference to me. I'm voting for JP Devenish. I enjoyed your voice and loved the twist at the end. Artichoke, I think your story is interesting and well-written, but I am not a fan of present tense. Very possible that this round will contain one of my votes during Save Week.

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  11. Really!? How to vote on this one. Artichoke first I want to say "Devil NO!" But we know who wins in the end, right? That story just had me reading right along until the devil walked up at the end. That's when I inched up to the edge of my seat.

    J. P. Devenish had me thinking of all those things that I might say if I were to get pulled over by a cop. We're always told to never lie, to always tell the truth and be honest. But when she heard that sound... I knew. Great ending.

    My vote goes to J. P. Devenish

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  12. My vote with this one is based entirely on my personal preferences. Both are well written, but I enjoyed JP Devenish's story. My vote goes to JP Devenish.

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  13. Wow! This is just getting harder and harder! These stories are both fantastic! By a hair, my vote is for Artichoke. This Stew was just delicious! Such a creative idea, the likes of which I have not encountered before.
    Both of these were, in my opinion, so well written it was truly difficult to pick just one.

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    1. After reading others' comments, I just have to say that I was not negatively affected by JP's character being revealed as a woman as some have said; it added interest to the story for me. And when she put her hands in her lap, I immediately thought "They have a gun! Oh my gosh!", so, for me, the breadcrumbs were there. That is all.

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  14. Both fun stories. I like the twist at the end of JP's. But Artichoke's writing (both in style and structure) is more unique. I relished in it from beginning to end.

    I'll take the Artichoke dip.

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  15. My vote goes to J.P. Devenish.

    Artichoke - I'm not usually a fan of present tense, but good job making this scene read like a stage play, which made the story interesting and brought the scene to life. I felt the God and Devil were a bit of a trope, but casting them as scientists competing for funding gave the scene a fresh perspective. Interesting story that might benefit from a bit more humor to lighten it up, but the ending hook was a good one, I'd read on to see where the story went.

    J.P. Devenish - Great description in the first paragraph, the reader sees the scene unfold and we have some tension when the police car pulls over the main character. For some reason I pictured a male protagonist, so it was a little jarring and took me out of the story to find out the main character was female. It felt a bit deceptive, and if this was the intent of the story fine, but if not then the author should add in some character description at the start to let the reader know the protagonist is female. I felt some suspense in the story, good job drawing the reader in while still keeping some things a surprise for the ending. Overall a good piece - conflict, character, description, dialogue - all there in 500 words.

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  16. I know the first piece is labeled fantasy, but I still expect events to make sense. I just think God would have better security in place and that just anyone couldn't enter the lab. Even Lucifer. Or rather, ESPECIALLY Lucifer.

    My only problem with the second piece was not knowing the narrator was a woman until the end (which is a problem I have with many first person narratives). A simple "Ma'am" from the cop would have cleared that up. Still, it kept me grounded and I'd probably read on. So J.P. Devenish gets my vote.

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  18. MY VOTE: JP Devensish

    That is all...except:

    After reading some of these commments/votes, I want to voice that it was no surprise the driver was a woman, the narrator was a woman from the get go in my head...so no problem there. And, this story tickled me. I thought to myself, "I bet there is a body in the trunk." And then..ha ha. There was, but the way it was presented didn't make me feel like it was ruined by being predictable, but rather more like a red bow tied on a present sort of way. Thank you for a fun read.

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  19. My vote goes to Artichoke.

    I enjoyed the "Whoville" premise of 11 earths ... just wonder if Lu was premature with his sabotage act.

    For Devenish. Had I been the driver, I'd have taken the ticket and been on my way. I found the protracted conversation trying to get out of the ticket to be a plot hole. That said, nice twist at the ending.

    Both well written stories.

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  20. My vote goes to J.P Devenish!

    For Artichoke I love the premise of two deities as rival moral scientists with reality shaping powers. That alone hooked me, and the idea that there are 10 earths with 10 different demons and the control earth gets none again all of it is fantastic setup, and Lucifer's sabotage is also great. That being said the lack of physical description makes me wonder what lab scientist God looks like and what rival scientist Lucifer looks like. Basically I wanted more characteristics to the characters in this world.

    For Devenish I loved the ending, I almost saw it coming at the line of a "little high-pitched"that for me was the red flag that she was telling a story, but I did not see her having someone in the trunk, and the timing of it all is so good, if the cop had lingered for just another moment he would have heard it. A few things that stuck out to me was at the beginning "peering into the darkness" first time I read it my brain went, what about the headlights? Given the ending I'm gonna guess she was driving into darkness to dump the body. The second time was when the cop came up, she'd prepped her license and registration but he never asked for it or addressed her by name. This feels like a missed opportunity to introduce the character, while following a real world scenario.

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  21. My vote goes to Artichoke

    I enjoyed the style of writing and the humanizing of deities. Solid writing to create a relatable feel in a parallel to scientist. I would've liked to know the importance of the actions a little clearer, but I realize 500 words is a tight window. Well done!

    The twist in the second fell a little flat for me as the sensing of the body in the trunk and the idea the victim could hear the driver seemed outside the realm of realism. The twist of the driver being a woman would have worked better for me had we known the driver was female early on. It felt a little like too much was piled on at the last minute to try and get added value, but it may have actually worked against the story. Outside of the twist, the writing was crisp and the piece is done well. Against some of the previous competitors, this would have gotten my vote, so the author should be proud of their work.

    Kudos to both contributors.

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  22. My vote goes to J.P. Devenish. So in the moment, with character development, tension, sensory details and then a luscious ending twist.

    Artichoke's premise was intriguing but neither of the figures drew me in. And exactly where does it go from there?

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  23. This definitely another bout where the runner-up will be on my list of potential save candidates

    Artichoke: This is a really good story concept. It comes off something like a cross between the Far Side and Terry Pratchett’s work. It feels like it is going to be some sort of retelling of the Book of Job or Faust. I really grinned when reading it. The only thing holding me back is I’m not a fan of present tense storytelling. It had a tendency to read more like stage instructions instead of a story.

    J.P. Devenish: You did a great job of building up the tension. My quibble is when the MC says her words come fast and tumbling. Given that the rest of the story makes it clear she is in control of what she is doing during the encounter, it feels like you’re trying to trick the reader instead of having the reader making assumptions and fooling themselves.

    Since we have to pick only one, I’m going to go with J.P. Devenish

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  24. Artichoke - Good tone and pace, but is a God's-eye omniscient narrator the way to go in a story about God? The premise took a while to set up, and the payoff wasn't there for me, and the present-tense seemed to trip up a few of the sentences. I feel like past tense may have worked better.

    JP Devenish -- The ending worked for me. I didn't feel like the protagonist being a woman was hidden. The tone in the beginning doesn't match the tone at the end. If you'd started with a better bit of foreshadowing, and maybe not had her -- coasting along, relaxed, peering into the darkness ahead -- it would have less of a trick and more of a positive surprise for readers.

    Vote is for JP Devenish

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  25. Making me pick one of these is cruel and unusual.

    They are both so good, it’s pretty much a toss-up and I think it will come down to each voter’s personal preference. I have little to say in the way of criticism; they are both well-written and polished.

    Artichoke’s story is devilishly fun. A clever juxtaposition of hard science and fantasy. The writing brings to mind Terry Pratchett, who I love.

    J.P. Devenish's story is filled with suspense and intrigue, and a luscious reversal at the end. I would have liked to know the MC was a woman before the end. It may be what you intended, to play with our expectations, but I think the switch would be more effective if we knew all along.

    So since it’s pretty much a toss up, I tossed, and my vote goes to: Artichoke.

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  26. This has got to be the hardest bout yet. Both pieces are excellent, but I think I'm going to vote for Artichoke this time. Like others have said, revealing the narrator is a woman so late in the piece really threw me out of the story because I had to completely re-imagine the rest of the scene. And then that kind of ruined the reveal of the real twist.

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  27. Artichoke - That fantasy seems more speculative fiction to me, as there's a bit of science woven in. I like the plot. I think the story would be stronger with a different point of view. I don't know how to explain it, but it feels like the reader is held at arm's length instead of in the story. As if narrating a silent film instead of letting the film be.

    J.P. Devenish - Great twist at the end! I like the use of DFW in there, ha ha ha. My vote for you is in the trunk. ;)

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  28. This is a difficult decision, with two pieces that are so different but so evenly matched. In Artichoke's piece, the image of God and the Devil as scientists grubbing for grants from some even more powerful shadowy Committee was delightful. The present tense worked well for me. Lucifer's thought about the truth that the Committee wouldn't understand confused me, and I would have liked to know more about that. Otherwise, it all flowed smoothly.

    J.P. Devenish evoked a strong feeling of tension in an experience many of us have had, but which was clearly much higher stakes in this case. There were two separate reveals, one for the person in the trunk and one for the MC's gender, and for me one worked but the other didn't. It would have been easy to have the cop address her as "Ma'am," so I assume the author was deliberately withholding that information. I don't see the value of having it come as a surprise. On the other hand, someone in the trunk is a legitimate shock, so that one works. Still, I spent some time checking back to see if it really was someone in the trunk and not someone stuffed in the well behind the front seat, because I don't see how her quiet admonishment could have reached the trunk.

    Again, a tough choice, but I'm going to go with Artichoke. I may be back to J.P. during Save Week, though!

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  29. Artichoke-this piece was very creative, but it did seem forced at times. It seemed too easy that Lucifer was hiding in the shadows and able to get to the very important cultures or dishes.
    J. P. Devenish- I love the scary ending and twist. I was totally creeped out about her nail polish and finding out the driver/killer was a woman. So scary when she whispered “good boy.” It wasn’t believable though that he’d be able to hear her telling him to be quiet from the trunk. Anyway, So fun to read! I wanted more. J.P. Devenish gets my vote.

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  30. These stories were evenly matched, which made choosing one over the other difficult. The premise of the first one was clever. I especially liked the visual of God testing the heat of devil 1-10 on his wrist, something a parent would do. Also, God doing a happy dance--the pirouette--made him seem more human than divine. I liked that.

    The next story was well written, but I would have like some drama, which was downplayed by the driver being so casual before the cop car pulled up behind her. It was a stretch to think someone in the trunk could have heard her threat.

    I read both a few times and decided to vote for Artichoke.



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  31. My vote goes to Artichoke. It's a chilling story and I want to find out what happens next.

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  32. Devilled Stew (I assumed a British speller, so no points off for deviled/devilled!): I'm not sure I like present tense in this scenario, but your writing is clean, and I found your premise and characters interesting. A little bit of a Good Omens vibe going on...

    J.P Devinish: This is a decent scene with some really good descriptions, especially of the officer ("A statement of power... Someone out to make his mark."), but I didn't feel all that invested in the character. I think a little more internal monologue might have helped--like if you'd given the reader some indication of what the driver was thinking as she was lying her way out of a ticket. Not enough to give away the body in the trunk (and I can't help but wonder if this is no ordinary body), but enough to get me rooting for her because I like her and want her to win.

    Today's vote goes to Devilled Stew.

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  33. My vote is for JP Devinish. I appreciated the twist at the end, and the writing was engaging.
    I liked artichoke's premise, but didn't find myself drawn into the story.

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  34. Congratulations to both writers!

    Artichoke: This was a fun concept of the two competing forces, and how they were fighting for the same funding. My suggestion would be to take it a bit more on the fable side by using a name other than “God” that could also have had a nickname like Lu.

    J. P. Devinish: I was suspicious the moment she changed her story from going just under the speed limit to being on her way to the hospital. At first, I was sympathetic that the cop was lying in wait, but as soon as she changed her story I suspected some form of foul play. I think the twist was a bit underplayed on the space of this segment, and could have been explored a bit more with less time worrying about the cops motives.

    My votes goes to Artichoke.

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  35. My vote is for Artichoke. Both pieces are strong but I loved the concept of the Devil interfering with a control in the design of a planet. Of the two pieces, this is the one I’d be most interested in reading more of. But great job to both of you!

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  36. Vote for Devenish! Maybe it's just my preference for the realism in this one, but I felt it is the stronger of the two, and I really enjoyed the tension it builds to the not-too-surprising end.

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  37. Devenish- love the sexy twist at the end!

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  38. Devenish gets my vote. I love a twisty thriller and this piece had that vibe.

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  39. My vote: Artichoke

    Artichoke: I absolutely loved the Gods/Devils as scientists spin. You drew me in from the start. My only critique has been stated by other, it was too easy for Lu to get in the lab. Otherwise, spot on!

    Devenish: It didn't bother me that the reveal was a female driver, I read it with a female voice from the start. I think it was the way she handled herself. The weird part that threw me is that most of the backroads around DFW are 45+ only dropping to 30 in the small cities around it.. yeah it feels nit-picky to my brain, but that is what drew me out of the scene. Though, I could see the Coppell police being that sneaky with a speed trap.. I enjoyed the story, it didn't keep me hooked in.

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  40. JP for me.

    The other story just wasn't my cup of tea. Both are well-written.

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  41. Congratulations writers on making it into the ring - makes you both winners.

    Artichoke, I am not a reader of fantasy but I enjoyed your writing, though I have to admit to being lost a few times. I think your premise was very unusual and clever. Well done.

    J.P. Devenish, liked the suspense you created in your story, the build up to the double twist reveal, but I do think there was a bit too much time spent describing the initial sighting of the cop. I did guess the ending but that is likely because this is similar to the genres I usually read, where I'm always trying to figure out how the writer is trying to mislead me :)
    But well done on creating two twists.

    Very hard to pick in this round as you both feel very evenly matched. So it's really a coin toss, which I hate to do but I need to pick one. Sorry I can't vote for both as I feel you are both worthy contestants and equally deserve to progress.

    Vote this round goes to J.P. Devenish.

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  42. Two strong entries & a tough choice. I really enjoyed the premise of deity as experimenter. The piece perhaps wanted a touch more description; I had a difficult time picturing the scene from the first.
    Devinish had a plausible real-world set up and taut emotion, but the scene felt familiar and a bit forced.
    Have to vote for Artichoke today.

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  43. Interesting how both these pieces end on the cusp of something sinister.

    Artichoke
    The premise! OH MAN, the premise is GOLD! I LOVE the idea of Lucifer and God as competitive, rivaling scientists. Super fun!

    "DEVILLED STEW" Ha! Great title. (Although I have to admit it made me keep weirdly thinking of deviled eggs the whole way.)

    "The laboratory has emptied at last and all is darkness" throws me off. I think the reason is because Lucifer seems to really be the one who wants it to "at last" empty, not God. God just seems to be working late. There is the line about him not having any interference, but interference from what? Since we aren't told why he can't set up his experiment during the day, I just assume he wants to focus on his work, which doesn't really require other people not to be there. Lucifer is the more motivated character to work without scrutiny since he's planning to sabotage something. So I'd probably just go with "The laboratory is empty and all is darkness...". That also reads a bit smoother as the emphasis stays with darkness rather than feeling pulled back to "emptied at last" (the empty at last doesn't go with the single light).

    Stage 2? Hmm. I can't decide if this intrigues me and makes me want to know more about Stage 1, or if it just feels incomplete and almost like a mistake. The voice of the story feels a mix between fairy tale and old nature documentary, which gives it an air of "In the beginning," (which I am sure was your clever intention ^_~). As a result, there being a hint that this is not experiment 1 feels misplaced. I'd consider just making it Stage 1, or else maybe change the voice to be a bit more immediate and from God's/Lucifer's perspective rather than so pulled back. (As an aside, I don't dislike the pulled back tone on its own. Big-time fan of classic fairy tales, so that doesn't bug me. It's just the pulled back "here's the start of the story" doesn't go with the Stage 2 detail.)

    The chemist element with the mention of "additives" is such a great touch!

    I am a little thrown off by God testing the devils on his wrist. In chemistry, it usually is not a good idea to put substances on yourself, especially if they have extreme PHs (which I imagine devils would). God is God, so likely impervious, but the "put substance on my skin" breaks the scientist motif. Can he mix the additives with something or put them through some device to test the tolerances instead? Or, if you want to emphasize God is God and maybe give a compelling reason for why he's doing this at night without an audience, have him wave his hand over the bottle and just divine the potency, or throw it on his skin, but he acknowledges this is outside of accepted procedure. In other words, God is cheating and taking a short-cut. Would give a nice dynamism to his character and could add fuel to Lucifer's appearance as he sees God being less than holy in his science-ing (maybe this is a further reason why Lucifer goes to such extreme sabotage--he knows God cuts corners, but because God comes off as such a pure being, the Committee won't hear a negative word against his character).

    Also, not sure how he can't be accused of bias. Is it because he's not just injecting only wimpy devils?

    "...performs a happy pirouette..." Love that God does something fun like dancing as he leaves, but a pirouette just seems silly and over-the-top. Maybe "performs a happy spin"? I just can't see him on one toe, rotating in a pose as he leaves. It feels too extreme for the more level-headed tone we've seen thus far.

    Love the ending! I have to wonder, though, how Lucifer doesn't think he'll be reprimanded for using ALL of a given substance. That sounds pricey and like the Committee, even if it likes the outcome in the Petri dish, would not be happy.

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  44. J.P. Devenish
    Some really nice description, such as "...my tires thumping across the roadside markings and crunching to a halt on the verge." I like how that evokes an actual physical sensation. Smart to get the reader to "feel" in this situation up front given the twist with the trunk in the end. I'd actually love to see more physicality constant throughout (e.g. mention of sweat, how hard the wheel is, or rough/soft the purse is, the tight pull of the seat-belt, etc...).

    Okay, so as someone who has been pulled over by a straight up power-tripping cop at 3AM before, if this guy is all about "I'm making a statement!" he'd shine a flashlight in her face. He wouldn't just stroll over to the car and "peek" inside. There'd be light right in her face and he'd be staring dead-on.

    He also wouldn't open with the polite "Do you know what speed..." line. He'd probably say "Know what you did wrong?" Or something like that. Something to imply he firmly believes she's at fault and going to get her (again, speaking from experience here. In my case, I fully believe the cop assumed I was a drunk college dude since I was in a red car and pulling out of a college apartment complex. He was thoroughly wrong and had to let me off with a warning, but sure as heck harassed me and tried to intimidate me before doing so).

    If you don't want the cop to be so aggressive, ax all the power statement lines. Otherwise, amp up his attitude to match the assertions being made.

    Last note in that vein: "...pondering his ticket quota." The word "pondering" is too passive and friendly. If this guy is truly an asshole out to get people, he'd be waiting to add another tally above his ticket quota. Not just sitting there, lackadaisically pondering his quota.

    I don't buy the switch to the lie about going to the airport to get brother before dad croaks. The reason is, that comes off as an excuse for speeding, but she just said that she was confident she wasn't. "Must get brother, father's impending death" is super weird because then why weren't you at least going what you thought the speed limit was? Can't be that urgent if you're still sticking to 2 under if dad's about to die.

    I see through that, pretty sure asshole cop would, too. You might be able to get away with it if the protagonist starts to tear up. Making it look like there's a very real chance she might start crying could put asshole cop off enough to just want her to leave and not deal with it (tears make people uncomfortable, and jerks are ESPECIALLY not fans). The voice trembling and high-pitch just isn't extreme of enough of an indication. And the fact that she holds off on potential tears until after seeing his reaction, yeah, pretty sure that'd just piss him off. She should shift to verge of emotional breakdown with snot and such the MOMENT she realizes the speed limit changed.

    "Mind your speed," also not uncomfortable enough for how he's made out to be a jerk.

    The slight noise and her reprimand didn't bug me. I was fine with assuming trunk person could hear it. But I do agree with some other voters that there is a weird energy mismatch. She's got person in trunk who can wake up, but she's just la-la cruising at the start. If she were described more as being amped up, like pleasure cruising, that may work. You can play that off as her just enjoying the night and then BAM! Oh noes! She's high on adrenaline cuz she's getting away with murdering a person! SNAP!

    J.P. Devenish was an easy read with a good flow. But I'm giving my vote to Artichoke for the more original story and consistent characters. Would LOVE to see more of that!

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