WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Preliminary Bout #9


Today at noon we will complete selecting winners from our first week of bouts and as it has every year, voting has fallen off during this second week and it will take ALL OF OUR concerted efforts to keep people interested in voting. So after you vote today, please take to social media and keep spreading the word. Pretty Please.

Recap
For anyone just discovering us, 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 20th (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 printlike the man says –




For our Thursday bout, we have Valley Bird on one side of the ring representing the YA Contemporary genre.



Mom’s dancing when I get back to the living room.  She clutches the bottle of bourbon in one fist as she sways to the music.  When the verse begins, she raises the bottle to her mouth like a microphone and starts singing into it.  I stand in the doorway for a second, watching.

From the speakers, my mother’s voice spills out, that strong pure alto I remember from sitting at the side of stage after stage.  The voice that won her awards and accolades, got her offers of movie roles and sold out stadiums.

What comes from my mother’s mouth now is ragged and raw.  She can still hit the notes, but there’s no purity now.  Her voice is a hoarse, ruined parody of how she used to sound.  The same way she still dresses the same way as she did back then; dresses that flowed around her narrow frame now cling snugly to her bloated stomach, strain across her hips.

She spins around and takes a swig from her “microphone”, staggering backward as she does.  Her heel catches the edge of the rug and she falls backward, crashing onto the coffee table on her ass.  It cracks under her weight and dumps her to the ground amid a cascade of old magazines.

“Ooopsy daisy!”  Mom sees me in the doorway and drags herself up, leaning heavily on the ruined furniture.  “Mommy’s clumsy today.”

“Mommy’s drunk,” I say.  “As usual.”

“I’m not drunk, baby boy.”  Mom sways on her feet and looks blearily around for her bottle.  She finds it under the magazines, empty now, the remaining bourbon now soaking into the filthy carpet. 

“No?”  I watch her shaking the bottle over her mouth, trying to get any last liquor out of it.  “Looks that way to me.”

“You worry to much.  I’m fine, Bluebell.  I’m celebratin’”

Celebrating?  What the hell does she have to celebrate?  Kicking the shit out of Sage?  Terrifying Wiley so much he barely speaks?  “Don’t call me Bluebell.”

“Oh, I forgot.  My baby boy is too big for pet names.”

I roll my eyes, but ignore it.  There are more important things right now.  “I think it’s bed time,” I say, tugging the bottle away from her and setting it on the broken table.  “You’ve had enough.”

“Darlin’,” she snarls, leaping away from me.  “I haven’t even started yet.”

She reaches into the stereo cabinet and pulls out another bottle, this one smaller and slimmer.  She unscrews the cap and takes a healthy belt.  “Damn.  That’s the stuff.  Here,” she holds the bottle out to me.  “Have a drink, baby.  You know I don’t like to drink alone.”

I take the bottle, but don’t take a sip.  For someone who doesn’t like drinking by herself, she spends a lot of time doing it.  Like, every day.  All day.  Since giving up singing, drinking has been her career.

Who am I kidding?  She never gave up singing. People just didn’t want to hear her anymore.

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On the far side of the ring, we have Loft Letters representing the Adult Commercial genre.


Helena Rey lay passed out on the bathroom floor. Again.

Ignoring the pungent smell of body odor, Bethany touched her mom’s shoulder. Helena blinked, one of her fake eyelashes following the movement. The other had found its way to her forehead sometime during the night. Moaning, she leaned forward, tipping the bottle of vodka in her hand and spilling it across Bethany’s shirt.

Bethany recoiled. Perfect. Now she’d smell like alcohol the rest of the day.

She closed her eyes, took a deep breath, then grabbed the bottle and placed it out of reach.

“Oh, Beth,” Helena said. “I didn’t mean to. We’re just passionate. I didn’t know it would get that out of hand.”

“Come on.” She pulled her up. “We need to get you cleaned up.”

Bethany unzipped Helena’s dress and pulled off her heels. Once her mom was naked, she led Helena into the warm shower, going in with her slightly to make sure she didn’t fall. After she was halfway soaked, but Helena clean, she pulled her out. They made it two steps before Helena vomited all over herself, the bathroom floor, and Bethany. Bethany turned the shower back on and washed her off again. This time, they made it to Helena’s bed, dodging dirty clothes and empty cigarette boxes on the floor, before another incident. She tucked her mom in, not bothering to dress her. Helena slept naked anyway.

The icy water of her old bathroom’s shower stung as Bethany stepped into it minutes later. Though she knew she needed to make it quick, she couldn’t help but take a little extra time under the water, letting it press into her skin and run down her body. That shower had been her refuge growing up. A place the cameras, which projected all her failures to TV’s across the country, couldn’t reach. Though they had been gone for several years, their presence still haunted her when she was within the mansion walls. She always expected to turn a corner and see one. Staring at her. Watching.

Watching as Helena snored down the hall. Watching as Bethany gathered bleach and towels to clean up the rest of the mess in the bathroom. Watching as she attempted to hide what had happened from the maid. Watching as she did it all alone. They still watched.         

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


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. 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 tomorrow for our 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!



49 comments

  1. Reading them in order, Loft Letters gets the disadvantage today because of the incredible similarities of the pieces. In all the year of reading, I don't think I've seen two this close.

    Both are solid and the loser should hold out hope for a save because either could get my vote many other days.

    Loft Letters decided to go with short and sweet (less than 400). While that may have worked other days, when going up against a mirror image of itself, the extra 100 words allowed Valley Bird to add a touch more voice, detail, and story. Sadly, that's the defining difference as both pieces are beyond my critique from start to finish. These are both well done.

    For a little extra voice, my VOTE goes to VALLEY BIRD

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  2. Valley Bird - I liked the setup, and the premise. I was hoping for a bit more, though. The narrator just came across as bitter, and it felt a little over the top. The dialog was rough, too. A couple passages made it seem like you didn't read it over before sending -- the same way she still dresses the same way as she did back then -- stood out.

    Loft Letters - After reading the first piece, I was shocked to see another drunk, out-of-control mom story. I think you were a little less heavy-handed with yours, but it did feel like there was a lot of room to add some dialog or figurative language. It was a quicker, cleaner read, though.

    Vote is for Loft Letters.

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  3. This bout is a hard one to choose. The pieces are nearly identical in the story, and neither one grabbed me. Guess I'm not a fan of drunken mommies.

    I couldn't tell what the story is about in the first one, and got a glimpse of one in the second, so Loft Letters gets my vote.

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  4. Vote: Loft Letters

    This was a tough call, as I think the writing was actually strongest in Valley Bird's piece. Unfortunately a few elements tore me out of it. The premises are also so similar! I don't know why, but I'd been assuming the opponents were randomly selected, but obviously not. ; )

    Loft Letters: I'd be curious to see what the larger work is about! It sounds like this is, perhaps, a creepy mansion story, and those are 100% my thing. In this 500 word excerpt, however, I think the setting should have been clearer immediately. I spent part of the piece assuming the bathroom referred to a club bathroom, so it jerked me out of the story when they were suddenly transposed to a mansion. The line, "Watching as Helena snored down the hall" is also a little awkward. For some reason to me it reads as though Helene is walking, snoring, as she goes down the hall. Could just be me and that I'm too sleepy right now though!

    One other note: I think the repetition of "watching" could work if used sparingly, but it's starting to veer into he camp for me.

    Valley Bird: Your writing is smooth and easy to read, and I appreciate that your piece tells a somewhat complete (or at least satisfying) story.

    At times I found the way the mother is described uncomfortable. It felt to me like a caricature of an alcoholic rather than a nuanced portrayal, and the focus on her weight also disturbed me. These are all things that may well be coming from your MC's view of his mother--I'm all for characters who don't have neat, easy, kosher perspectives on things--but it seemed like authorially you were confirming that outlook in the writing. It just reminded me a little of how I thought drunk people behaved when I was a kid.

    As I said though, the writing is smooth, and I do think you're a talented writer!

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    Replies
    1. Just to be clear, opponents ARE RANDOMLY matched against another. Content has nothing to do with the selections and any similarity between these two submissions are totally coincidental.

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    2. Oh wow! That's hilarious in then. Happy (or unhappy?) coincidence.

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    3. Oh god, my typing today. Edit: That's hilarious then.

      Delete
  5. Interesting matchup... pretty much the same story from teen and adult perspectives. Both pieces feel rather distant - there is SO much emotion left unexplored here.

    Valley: you do a great job of creating atmosphere. It’s a bit over-the-top, but for YA I think it works well enough. What’s missing is the narrator’s presence. Until he tugs away the bottle, he’s a motionless observer. Even when mom falls over, he just stands there. His emotions are absent. How does he feel - tired angry, resigned? What’s his real name? Wiley and Sage add confusion because we don’t learn who (or what?) they are. A few minor things, like “the same way” repeated in error - in such a short piece, even those three words could’ve made an impact elsewhere.

    Loft: surely Beth can shower if she’s worried about the smell - and in fact she does this later in the story. So her concern about smelling all day doesn’t make sense. Who is the “we” her mom refers to? “Going in slightly with her” wants a bit of rewording. I don’t think Helena needs to get sick twice - it doesn’t tell us anything new and therefore wastes words. I enjoyed the parallel structure of the last paragraph, it creates a nice emphasis on the repetitive dread of Beth’s life. I think they’re former reality stars, which is a fun topic. I’m curious how they still live in a mansion when things have obviously gone downhill. Same as the other story - how does Beth feel throughout this piece? I get a little sense with the “haunting” comment, but there’s so much else left unsaid.

    Super close call today! I’m going with Valley because it’s a touch more atmospheric.

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  6. What an interesting juxtaposition the randomizer came up with today! Both entries are well written. Each of them vividly describe the grim, depressing situation, and neither is a complete story that reaches any resolution, making it difficult to choose between them.

    Valley Bird: The writing is vivid and strong. For my money, the description of the mother was slightly over the top, veering toward cliche. It also bothered me that in showing how terrible her condition is, her having gained weight was given almost as much importance as her being falling-down drunk. Trimming this back a bit would leave space to fill in some gaps where key information is missing. I would like to know how old the narrator is and, if he's a full-grown adult, why he and his mother are living together. I am also asking myself who Sage and Wiley are, and why she is able to terrorize them.

    Loft Letters: This is another strong, vivid entry. It would have worked better for me if the setting, the mansion with cameras everywhere, had been established from the beginning. I wanted to know the story of them broadcasting her failures to the nation. I also wondered why it was important to hide the situation from the maid. One tiny detail bugged me for no good reason: Bethany's reaction when her mother spilled vodka on her, thinking that she'd now smell like alcohol. First, vodka has very little aroma. Second, given all the other smells around, this seems like the least of her concerns. Finally, she was going to shower anyway, so wouldn't it wash off?

    My vote this week goes to Loft Letters, for slightly less overblown descriptions. As I said, a difficult choice, and one I'll probably come back to in Save Week.

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  7. Ooh, this one's a toughie. Both powerful. Voting for Loft Letters, though the pov is a bit confusing.

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  8. This was tough, because neither of these pieces grabbed me. My vote goes to Valley Bird for the immediacy of the scene, although I have no idea where the story can go from there, and, sorry, co-dependent kids of alcoholic parents are not in themselves likable. A Loft Letters -- a bit too much telling, and an even more unlikable narrator.

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  9. Both do an excellent job of drawing you in. My vote is for Loft Letters, the ending left me wanting to know more.

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  10. Valley - I enjoyed your story of a mom who hasn't been able to let go of what she once was and how that's affected her and her family. I would've loved to see more emotion from the son, I think it would've added nuance to his character. It doesn't have to be much, I know it's hard to fit everything into 500 words, but a little would've been nice.

    Loft Letter - I love that this is a family that used to be on reality TV--what an interesting take. I could see this piece being part of a larger story on the emotional fall out from living that type of life and how Bethanie handles it.

    My vote - Loft Letter

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  11. Drunken Mom stories are my jams, so this is a damn difficult round for me. Congrats to both of you!

    Valley Bird: Your piece was smooth and clear as Bluebell's mother's voice used to be. If I were your critique partner, the only thing I'd have to offer up is the sentence "The same way she still dresses the same way as she did back then; dresses that flowed around her narrow frame now cling snugly to her bloated stomach, strain across her hips." is a bit clunky. I love the content of that sentence, the structure just needs a bit of tweaking. Also, there was no need to put microphone in quotes. You've already established that mom is using the bottle as a mic, so trust your reader not to forget that.

    Loft Letters: I'm not sure if this is YA or Adult. Since Helena is the first person we're introduced to, I thought the Adult label would fit, but it's clear this is Bethany's story, not Helena's. From the way you write Bethany, I assume she's a teenager--maybe even an older teen who has come home to visit college--but still solidly a young adult. Leaving the category aside, I had a bit more difficulty getting into this story. The first stumbling block for me was "Helena Rey lay". It's purely personal and nit-picky, but I didn't like the rhyming first thing. It felt almost like the first line of a perverted Dr. Seuss book.

    In the next paragraph, I love the image of one false eyelash on her forehead. It's so vivid. But you've already said that she's lying down on the bathroom floor, so I couldn't picture her lurching forward and spilling vodka on Bethany's shirt. Did she sit up? Why was Bethany concerned that she'd smell like liquor all day? I assumed if she didn't have time to shower, she could at least change her shirt. Especially once she ends up in the shower anyway. I think with another pass or two this piece would be perfect, but good as it is, I just don't think it's quite there.

    My vote today goes to Valley Bird

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  12. Drunk Mothers. To make this tired and expected trope work the writing must be exceptional or the characters must be surprisingly fresh. Sorry, but I didn't find either in these stories. And nothing made me feel for the poor, unfortunate vomit-swabbing children. The moms take center stage, but the lens should be on the kids and what actions they are going to take. The kids are passive observers so the reader only wallows in their pity.

    Draw.

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  13. Vote is for Loft Letters. it was shorter and less arduous to read. no real connection with any characters.

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  14. Unfortunately, I felt distanced from both stories and their characters.

    Valley Bird: I can easily picture the scene from your descriptions, but there are several problems. In the second paragraph, "my mother’s voice spills out, that strong pure alto I remember ..." yet the next paragraph states the exact opposite. "Now" is also used three times in that paragraph along with "The same way she still dresses the same way ...", all of which pulled me out. Putting technical issues aside, I didn't feel anything for the narrator as we don't get a sense of who he is at all. It would have helped to leave out the randomly named people and interject something personal to the narrator. For instance, was his observing in the stage wings as a child a happy time, and he yearns for that happiness again? As is, the present observations don't feel unique. The former-star mother is alcoholic; her son is picking up the pieces with obvious disdain. Why should I care?

    Loft Letters: Spatially, this doesn't work from the beginning. Helena is passed out on the floor, yet she manages to lean forward? How? Then, from the same position, tips over a bottle and spills it across Bethany's shirt? Is Bethany also lying on the floor? Then Bethany is upset she'll smell like alcohol the rest of the day. This would only make sense if she's ready to run out the door because she's late for work or an appointment. But, no. She relaxes in the shower. The former presence of cameras is then somewhat left up to the reader's imagination as to why they were there at one time. With no segue into that part of the story, this completed the disconnect for me.

    My Vote: Valley Bird

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  15. Congratulations to both of you for making it into the competition. This is a hard vote for me because I feel that both stories are evenly matched.

    Neither of these stories really grabbed my attention. The writing wasn't bad...but I felt like something was missing from both. I wish I could point out what that was. Maybe it's that I want a little bit more conflict than "My celebrity mom's a drunk." Maybe it's that I wanted to connect to the characters a little more. I want to reiterate that I don't think either of these stories is bad, just not my cup of tea.

    My vote is for Loft Letter, purely for having a more polished story with less grammatical errors/typos.

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  16. My vote is going to Loft Letters today.

    I understand drunken parents are a reality for too many teens, but I'm at a point in my life (or my reading life... maybe both) where I'd rather see healthy parent-child relationships in YA. So that was one point against Valley Bird. Beyond that, I didn't feel connected to the narrator, as he was very much a background character, and the mother's behavior seemed very generic. I would have liked something unique about these individuals to draw me into their story. The writing needed some polishing, and I was really thrown when the author spent the third paragraph telling us how different her voice was after telling us in the second paragraph that her voice was the same.

    Loft Letters contains some areas that could be tweaked for clarity. For example: "Helena lay passed out on the floor..." but then "she leaned forward..." "spilling it [vodka] across Bethany's shirt..." feels like we're missing whatever action would have put Helena in a physical position to spill anything on Bethany's shirt. For the most part, though, the writing is clean, and whereas I had no idea what might make Valley Bird an original story (I'm not saying it's NOT original, but the 500-word snippet above doesn't distinguish it from other drunk-mom-YA novels), I do have a hint of that Loft Letters isn't about just any ordinary, dysfunctional family.

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  17. Valley Bird: You told a tragic human interest story a bit too blandly. I got an "I don't give a damn" vibe off the son. There were some clunky sentences that were hard to read, and a punctuation error. I had to assume that Sage and Wiley were family, since nothing more is written about them.

    Loft Letters:
    At first I thought this story was about the drunken mother. But as I read on, it was actually about Bethany. "I didn't know it would get out of hand," said by the mother left me wanting to know what had happened.

    My vote goes to Loft Letter.

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  18. Congrats to both for making it into the ring! Sadly, I think you're both at a disadvantage, because the two pieces are so similar.

    Valley: I didn't read this as YA, and that sort of put me off. Despite the fact that she calls him "baby boy", doesn't mean he's a minor. His responses to his mother were too mature sounding, to me. The first sentence, I had to read several times to figure out that the Mom's was "mom is", so I was immediately pulled out of the story by the first word. The biggest problem was that the story didn't really have an "ending" for me. There are some good descriptions, and I think this was just a missed opportunity.

    Loft: This, too, was a missed opportunity. There was no pay off at the end, and some of the descriptions were a little clunky.

    I'm sorry you guys got pitted against each other, because both could have won, I feel, against some of the other pieces. But I have to make a decision, and I'm basing it on that one word in piece #1. It just never let me get into the story

    My vote is for Loft.

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  19. My vote goes to Valley Bird. I feel the character's disgust at finding his mother this way again and I like that he doesn't get hysterical or over the top, but just deals with her in a very removed way. It shows this is something he's dealt with many times before.

    Loft, I liked this piece too, especially the hint that this family was on reality TV. I just didn't get quite enough insight into the daughter to really connect to the character.

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  20. My vote is for Loft Letters. I think this one had a clearer story surrounding this one scene. The first was a good scene, but didn't feel as fleshed out as the second

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  21. I know it was the luck of the draw, but putting these two pieces side by side actually dragged both down, in my view. Still, I'm going to vote for Valley Bird -- although, I am not a fan of present tense and would recommend looking at that. If there's a compelling reason for it ever, I don't think this story has that going for it. But, this story has quite a few interesting threads to pull, and I'd read more of this.

    Loft Letters left the interesting premise too late in this piece, I believe. I might have gotten hooked if the past history of a reality show had been brought in sooner.

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  22. It’s pretty amazing two drunk mommy stories squared off. Random luck does hold surprises.
    Valley Bird-As I’ve noted in prior rounds, I am far outside the YA demographic. It may be why this reminded me of the ‘Afterschool Specials’ that aired in my childhood. The writing was solid. The problem is the characters didn’t do anything that made me want to care about them.

    Loft Letters-I’ve never heard of any work being classified as Adult Commercial so I’m not sure what it means. Like your competitor, the writing is solid. Buti it’s noticeably shorter than the 500 word hard cap. I think you should have used your full allotment to flesh out this entry. It feels like it’s missing something.
    My vote goes to Valley Bird.

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  23. I am voting for Valley Bird.

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  24. My votes goes to Valley Bird. :)

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  25. My Vote: Valley Bird

    Well, this was tough.
    I liked both.

    I felt more of a connection to the characters in Valley Bird's piece.

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  26. I vote for Loft Letter.
    Valley - Read like the start of a story not a complete story.

    Loft - This story felt more complete. One line got me: why is the place so dirty if they have a maid?

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  27. Valley Bird gets my vote.
    shame the two were against each other

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  28. Valley Bird - Heartbreaking.

    Loft Letters - Truman show? Celebrity tv? You have my vote because I want to know more.

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  29. Valley Bird gets my vote today. I just cared more about the character than I did in the other piece. Unfortunate that these two got paired together because it made it that much harder to pick a winner.

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  30. Valley Bird drew me in the most, so that's my vote.

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  31. Valley Bird gets my vote.

    I thought the scene was human, the mother lost in her memories using the bottle like a mic and a crutch. Her denial as she destroys her furniture, the kid rejecting the nickname, and then actively refusing to drink. This was a well written focused piece of writing.

    For Loft Letters this one also had impact because the kid was trying so hard to help mom, fix the mess, the desensitized kid to their parent, and all of it works until the outside world starts getting pulled in. The past seems to have shaped their relationship, but we don't get enough details on the incident or if it was a bunch of incidents to properly understand/empathize.

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  32. Congratulations writers on making it through, for that you are both winners.

    These two entries pitched against each other really illustrate the tough time agents must have when reading pitched novels that may be similar. Wow, that in itself is eye-opening to me!

    Valley Bird, you have created a scene that is both vivid and heartbreaking. It is easy to visualize the drunken mother, and unlike some of the comments I feel the story is not about an unlikeable character (the mother), rather it is about how her actions affect those who love her and try to deal with her. The scene has an authenticity to it, even though it is incredibly sad.

    Loft Letters, like wise you created an unlikeable character, but we still care for those trying to support and help her. This I feel is their story, not the mother's, so again I don't have a problem with an unlikeable character, as long as you make as care about the others involved. I felt there were a few inconsistencies in your piece (its a mess but they have a maid) and the shower scene didn't really work for me (left me with niggly questions), but still you captured the direness of the situation. I would say my biggest question with your piece, is why stop before you've used up more of the allotted 500 words? Perhaps in using more of the allowed word count you could create more empathy for Bethaney in trying to care for Helena.

    Hard to choose between such similar pieces.

    Vote this round goes to Valley Bird as I felt your piece was a little more authentic.

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  33. Oh, dear. I'm no fan of misery-drama, even less of alcoholic-parent stories, and here are two of them. However, my vote goes to Valley Bird.

    Valley Bird: An alcoholic's son deals with drunk mom once again. I don't understand the premise of this story: I can't see any direction for it to go as a longer piece, and as a stand-alone it doesn't really say anything except bitterness. If this were a story about how this is the last time he does this - the son finally moves on, detaches from her on this day - then that would be very interesting; a triumph of self-care, self-respect.

    Taking the narrative for itself, it flows well and the description is effective. There is definitely some strong observational talent here - if this were a humorous piece about something a little less bleak, I think I might be snorting with laughter.

    For your observational talent and way with words, I vote for you.

    Loft Letters: an alcoholic's daughter deals with drunk mom once again. I don't understand the premise of this story, either. It suggests that Bethany grew up in a reality-show household, which I would imagine to be nightmarish, both from the cameras and the celebrity parent's ego. This has HUGE possibilities, so I don't understand why we have only a long description of a tedious drunk's usual behaviour and the camera-stuff tacked onto the end. That isn't really saying anything. If the reality-show stuff were woven through the story, that could be interesting: perhaps everything mom does here is a flashback to the reality-show days.

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  34. My vote goes to Valley Bird. Here's my input:

    Wow! What can I say that hasn't already been said? These pieces are near identical so my vote had to go to the one that hit me the hardest and I felt the cynical inner voice of Valley Bird's piece did it for me. I also really liked the tag line about no one wanting to hear her sing anymore. With Loft Letters, I thought the reality TV angle was something that needed to either be further explored in this piece or left out because it begged too many questions. I suspect Loft Letter's entry is part of a longer story (and based on what I've read, probably a very good one:). But for the 500-word entry. I was more moved by Valley Bird.

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  35. Congrats to both writers!

    Valley Bird: You has some great description of what drinking had done to mom - the comparison in her singing abilities was a great way to frame it. It’s hard in such a short piece, but just a bit more info in the narrator would have been really helpful - but it did make my heart break to think there were other children.

    Loft Letters: What an interesting concept of the result of TV cameras on the “stars”. The fear and paranoia it created in Bethany. The feelings that she had to hide the truth from the maid. It was a bit rushed for the space here - or maybe the paranoid thoughts could have started earlier - like when she first put mom in the shower.

    For two pieces so similar, My vote goes to Valley Bird.

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  36. I love that these are so similar, because isn't that the case in the publishing world? You might be pitted against a trend or popular concept and have to prove why your story can stand out.

    For me, Valley Bird takes the edge here because there's a strong sense of backstory and an authentic voice. We have an understanding this mother had a fall from grace and that her son--who I imagine is a lovechild of rock and country--is now collateral damage. There's character depth and context. Since this is YA, I'd just caution you not to let the mother's backstory take precedence. The son's character arc should be the focus and I hope we see his agency when it comes to moving the story forward.

    Loft Letters was more plot-driven than character-driven, in which case I wanted more arc, or a hint at where the story would take us beyond this unhealthy mother-daughter dynamic. While the ending was a seed of something, I had a hard time deciphering whether the 'watching' was literal or psychological, and had to check the genre to see if you were setting the stage for a contemporary thriller. All that said, the voice felt spot-on for commercial.

    My vote: Valley Bird

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  37. Great bout!
    I enjoyed the fact that both of these had similar themes.

    Valley - I could see every moment of this play out. Your motion descriptions were concise and not over-descriptive - just enough to move the scene forward and let me picture it in my head. The dialogue was fantastic and added to the pace, and the son's inner dialogue conveyed his emotions well.

    Loft Letters - The camera references in the end were unexpected, which was cool. I did struggle a little with the use of both proper names at the beginning. I could't quite understand the relationship. Maybe use "mom" or "mother" earlier - I think it might add some gravity that this piece needs.

    Excellent job both of you!! My vote goes to Valley Bird.

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  38. My vote goes to Loft Letters

    Valley Bird - The dialogue here is excellent, and gives the reader some clue to the main character's qualities. The description of the failed singer/drunk was a little bit of a trope, and the piece needed a bit less description of the scene/action of the drunk mom and more about the situation. What besides having to struggle with a drunk, gives the reader reason to empathize with Bluebell? Two other characters were mentioned - Sage and Wiley - without anything else to clue the reader in to who or what these were. If they were introduced in an earlier chapter, okay - but finding them here in the short piece, without background, takes the reader out of the scene. Overall I'd vote for this one on the strength of the description and the dialogue - great work making the action vivid. The other piece beats this one in my opinion, but barely.

    Loft Letters - After getting over the shock of seeing this piece also featured a drunk mom, I settled in to read. Like the first one, there's great scene/action/description in this piece. The dialogue was also realistic and served to advance the story and set up the characters. I like the twist at the end, and it earned the main character some sympathy that was lacking in the first part of the piece. Good job taking a trope of dealing with a drunk/addicted parent and turning it into a mystery that makes the reader want to see more of the story.

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  39. Congratulations to both of you on making it in. Two good stories, so similar in so many ways. I’m shocked to know these two were randomly selected. Some very serendipitous forces at work.

    I personally connected strongly with the characters in Valley Bird’s story. I could feel the son’s disgust. Feel the mother’s need to escape her despair. I’m curious to know how they got this way and what will happen to them now. Although, I wanted a bigger reaction from the MC when his mom falls on her ass. He didn’t seem concerned that she might have hurt herself. My only other suggestion is you might want to let us know Bluebell is a boy sooner. At first, I assumed it was a daughter.

    I had more trouble connecting with Loft Letters’s story. The narrative here felt more distant than the other piece. It isn’t clear how Beth feels about her mother’s behavior. The action is described matter-of-factly. I felt impatience from Beth, but not really disgust or worry or concern or anger. More insight into what Beth’s feeling would help me connect with her. I’m not sure what Helena was passionate about or what got out of hand, besides the drinking. TV cameras in their house is an interesting development and now I want to know how that contributed to mom’s downfall.

    Because I connected more with the characters and story, my vote goes to Valley Bird.

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  40. I could clearly see the pitiful situation of the alcoholic Mother. The author did a good job of helping us feel the disgust from her son. I thought the writing was very descriptive. The author did a great job creating atmosphere and showing as opposed to telling. Valley Bird has my vote.

    I thought that there were clever moments in the writing. One moment that was slightly comical was when Helena’s eyelash found it’s way to her forehead sometime during the night. The ending had a little of the creepy that makes this piece interesting and leaves you wanting more.

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  41. Both stories were good reads! Sad as well where each child became the parent.

    My vote is for Loft Letters.

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  42. Valley Bird gets my vote. They are both very good but I didn't understand the backstory in Loft Letter's story. Who was watching and why?

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  43. What I like about this match-up is the two very different types of drunks moms: Valley Bird's is "drinking to pretend everything is fine" that gets violent when that idea that she's just having fun is at all threatened; Loft Letter's is "can't help myself, sorry, forgive me because I love you" that won't ever really try to change. I'd love to see both pieces explore the facets of those sorts of drunks more as well as acknowledge how alcoholism can manifest very differently.

    Valley Bird
    Very strong opening line! Drew me right in and exposes the reader to action that could go in multiple directions as far as tone/mood.

    "From the speakers, my mother’s voice spills out..." It confused me a bit with the way this is worded/introduced as to what was meant here. I did quickly catch on that she's listening to her own music, but I wonder if this can't be reworked to make that more clear right away. I think the fact that she lifts the bottle like a microphone, then her voice spills out, put me in mind of karaoke, so bit of a disconnect realizing she's listening to her own recording.

    Also, I think there's a real missed opportunity for the mother's character building as well as the possible conflicting emotion her son has for her based in how he describes her old music. Is it a rock n' roll voice, like Joan Jett? Is it powerful and belting, like Cher? Is it somber? What kind of song is she listening to? An anthem? A catchy pop piece? Etc... If you don't want to go too much into the actual song, simple words here and there can help build that, e.g. "my mother's voice croons/belts/whispers/pops." "Spills" doesn't really indicate what kind of style or spirit this music has. Does Bluebell enjoy it?

    Agreed that the emphasis on weight is a bit of a misstep. Yeah, if she drinks all the time and got depressed, she'd probably gain weight, then get more depressed from said weight, amplifying the cycle. However, given how Bluebell is so disgusted, the piece can come off as a bit shaming (further, especially if you're going with a female singer dealing with tough emotional stuff, there are real famous singers who dealt with nasty perceptions from the industry and their own bands due to their weight; e.g. Mama Cass. Bluebell being disgusted at the weight of his female singer mom makes him less easy to sympathize with). Her weight actually cracking the table just seems mean.

    “microphone”, Comma should go inside the quotations. I also wasn't bothered by this being in quotes as I thought it underscored how over-it Bluebell is of this behavior as a whole.

    “Mommy’s drunk,” I say. “As usual.”
    Not sure of Bluebell's age, but "Like always," strikes me as more in line with teenager diction than "As usual," which sounds more mature. (While Bluebell would have to step up for his siblings dealing with a mom like he has, I still have to imagine someone growing up with that would be fairly emotionally underdeveloped in a lot of ways themselves.)

    "...empty now, the remaining bourbon now soaking into..." Remove one of the "now"s here.

    With the mention of Wiley and Sage, I'd expect there to be some indication of where they are while this episode is happening (hiding? At after school sports? Friends' houses?).

    "Bedtime" is one word.

    "Like, every day. All day. Since giving up singing, drinking has been her career." The first two sentences are great! And the last sentence is great. But together, they are overkill. Pick one or the other.

    I think for this piece to be YA, we really need to see Bluebell be more active and relate everything he sees back to himself (as is characteristic of youth). Again, how does he perceive her old music? Someone suggested adding how he feels about sitting by the stage, which I think is a great suggestion!

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  44. Loft Letters
    Agreed that it's baffling how she would be lying on the floor, then lean forward and spill something.

    LOVE the detail about one of Helena's eyelashes ending up on her forehead. Strong visual and wonderful way to underscore how very little order she has over herself and her life.

    I do kind of wonder how Helena has a "pungent smell of body odor" already. I assumed she just went on a nightly bender, in which case, I don't think she'd be so smelly the next morning. But maybe the implication is she's been drinking and partying for over a day? Some sense of time would help, I think. I do appreciate the appeal to other senses as well as how this establishes how unpleasant this behavior is to clean up after right away.

    Does Helena not wear a bra or underwear? That kind of threw me off and had me stopping to wonder (I see a lot in writing where only a shirt/pants or dress is removed and then people are naked. I could be super wrong, but going commando I think is a fairly unique choice. So may want to point that out as it builds character. And I'm sure Bethany would have a thought about that).

    "... going in with her slightly to make sure she didn’t fall." Bit awkward and wordy. What about "leaning in to make sure she didn't fall"?

    Oh man! Helena vomiting after getting clean was such a "UGH! I feel for you Bethany!" moment. I think here's a spot to weave back in an evocative line about the smell.

    Personally, I don't mind how distant and mechanical the "helping" segments sound. I think for someone to deal with this routinely and still choose to maintain that relationship, they'd have to emotionally shutdown and just treat it matter-of-fact. So I actually think that writing approach works very well for the theme. However, given that, I would expect Bethany to have a much greater emotional outpouring in the shower, and for the distance of the narrative overall to draw in much more closely. She closes down to help, but once that's done, she can be a person again and let herself feel some of her frustration and entrapment. With the mention of the cameras, this should just be ampped up to 11, and I kind of want to see Bethany struggling not to throw something, or scream, or refocus herself and attempt to let her emotions go.

    "...their presence still haunted her when she was within the mansion walls." With an intriguing line like this, we need hints of it much sooner. When she's dodging dirty clothes, for example, maybe she glances in corners. Or maybe she is very careful about covering her mother once they leave the shower and positioning her body in a given way on the bed to try and best preserve her modesty because she's used to doing that.

    "Helena snored down the hall." So, like someone else, this likewise made me think Helena was on the move and snoring through the hall. Maybe "Helena snored in her bed" would avoid an unintentionally hilarious image.

    "Watching as she did it all alone. They still watched." I LOVE this ending! But I agree with someone else that if you want this to resolve/build effectively, we need the paranoia weaved in earlier (subtle is totally fine and may work better!). This is a really interesting theme, and it'd behoove the piece to work as an emotional dichotomy against the emotionless of the distanced routine. If Bethany is unemotional and beleaguered, but there are sparks of heightened unease/paranoia as she helps, that could introduce and elevate tension.

    Giving my vote to Loft Letters. This sounds like the start of an intriguing story. The fallout of being reality TV stars is SUPER interesting and very original. I want to know more.

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  45. Both stories pulled me into the scene - sights, sounds, and especially smells! My vote goes to Loft Letters because of the theme of watching that is woven skillfully through the piece. Makes me want to keep reading to see how that would be resolved.

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