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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Cage Bout #2

Reminder - You can follow along with all of the bout results right HERE.

It's CAGE BOUT time!

Here's how this works. Instead of two writers competing against one another, now it's THREE AT ONCE. But there's a twist. All of the winners have been given the opportunity to absorb the feedback offered during their preliminary round and submit an edited version of their original submission. As a writer, utilizing feedback can be a tricky proposition - because frankly - not all feedback is equal. This is our chance to see how the contestants used that feedback (if at all).

The readers/voters are to choose one of the three to move on.  There will be six daily bouts (Mon-Sat), and no saves this time.

Remember, one of the real values of this contest is FEEDBACK. So, please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-S), because of time restrictions the voting period will be staggered somewhat, so please pay attention to the dates posted. The voting for today’s bout will close on Sunday, June 7th (noon central time).

The piece that garnishes the most votes will move on to the next round where they’ll face a different opponent with a BRAND NEW WRITING SAMPLE

As always, in case of a tie, I’m the deciding vote.

Here are the voting guidelines –

1) One vote per visitor per bout.

2) Anyone can vote (even the contestants themselves), but although our contestants are anonymous, voters cannot be. Anonymous votes will not count, so if you do not have a Google account and are voting as a guest, be sure to include your name and email address.

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

4) Although more of a suggestion than a rule - cast your vote before you read other comments. Do not let yourself be swayed by the opinions of others.

Here our the contestants for this first cage bout (in random order) are -

Annie Corvino

August 1961, Turkish coast

Deep beneath the Aegean Sea, Jillian Ames hovered in her scuba gear over the ancient wreck. Light from an underwater camera tower illuminated its cargo—clay wine jars—as she shifted her air-lift hose to clear them of sand and marine encrustations. Even now, a month into her first post-grad expedition, the sight of artifacts that had lain untouched for centuries still thrilled her.

For a moment, the thought of the sailors who had met their deaths in the wreck turned her thrill to unease. It was something she’d get over, the rest of the crew had assured her. A thousand years and more than a hundred foot-depth of salt water should be enough to wash away any ghosts.

Still, that shiver again. Was it the cold or a sudden sensation of being watched—and not just by the camera?

A small octopus burst from a hole in one of the wine jars. The turbulence of its escape left her bobbing in the water, its ink and the flurry of her air bubbles blurring her vision. She choked back a giggle at her own jitters. Something had been watching—that inquisitive octopus.

But as the ink cleared, she realized it hadn't been the only watcher. Out of the surrounding blackness where no sun ever shone, a man appeared, barreling toward her. He wore no equipment. Must be one of the rare free divers searching for sponges. His face, bare of goggles, was distorted as if in anger. Or more likely, fear.

Still holding the air-lift hose with one hand, she waved the man away with the other. His mouth was open now, lips moving. Before she could offer help, he slammed into her, tugging viciously at her scuba gear. Oh, God, he was drowning and in his terror, he would drown her as well.

She kicked, webbed flippers meeting solid flesh. Then nothing. She swiveled, searching. Within the circle of camera light, there was no sign of him. He had disappeared as suddenly as he came.  He must have realized his only hope was to head for the surface. If he didn't reach the top in time….

There was one other possibility. Jillian swam to the underwater phone booth installed for emergencies. Its upper Plexiglass sphere held enough air to save him. If only.

But it was empty.

She ducked inside to alert the barge crew on the surface to the man’s peril.

"Jill?" Tom Belasarian, the expedition leader. “You OK?”

"There was a free diver down here. Must have run out of air. He tried to grab my gear. Have you seen him?"

"Jill, you need to get out of the water. You know the procedure."

"But the diver—"

"Come on up, Jill.” Very calm, very deliberate. "I checked the camera feed. You became agitated, tried to rip off your own gear. Thank God, you headed for the booth."


"Now, Jill. There's no other diver. Nobody down there but you."


Contestant number two is Wink N.A. Smile


I’m focus breathing, gripping my coffee cup in one hand and the orange airport seat with the other. Still I can’t shut out the images, the ones from the nightmare I’ve had since childhood, not with the continous trigger of scrolling departures.

Berlin 11:29

Topeka 11:41

Chiang Mai 11:57

Unfurling bronze leaves . . . on a tree etched in red  . . . on the opening door.

Get a grip, Sylvie. But I can’t, not with this blur of destinations you could fall right into. One wrong step down the boarding ramp and you’re in Minsk or Peru. And then leaves unfurl, a door opens.

The man across from me leans forward. “Scared of flying?” My heart double-times. It’s nerves, of course, plus eight solid hours of caffeine, but mostly it’s the precise stubble on his jawline. His clear hazel eyes. “No, just – work stress.” That’s partly true. If I’d known travel would be part of the job, I’d never have taken it.

“So what’s your gig?”

I take a shaky sip of coffee, steady myself with roasted beans. “Risk management.” Then I can’t think of another thing to say. His navy shirt reads “Rebooting . . .” and that’s exactly what I need right now. I could have been so many things without that door.

“Hey, could I trouble you?” It’s Hazel Eyes again with a girl in a pink flannel hat clinging to his hand.  “Could you watch my daughter a minute? I’m headed to the lavatory – don’t want to leave her.”

The girl smiles, and she’s missing a front tooth. I shouldn’t say yes to this, everyone would say I shouldn’t say yes, but between the two of them, I’m toast. I wave at the seat next to me. Coffee sloshes over my hand, and I hope he doesn’t notice. “Sure.”

He tweaks the girl’s hat. “Be good, Nina.” She bounces down, twisting a charm bracelet. Unicorn, ice cream, skates.

“Hi Nina! I’m Sylvie.”


“You going on holiday?”


“Headed home, then?” I’m trying too hard but somehow I can’t help it.

The girl turns huge grey eyes to mine. “Something like that.”

“Got it.” And on the other side of the flight, there’ll be someone waiting for them, someone without a coffee stain spreading up her sleeve.

The charms circle again. Open book. Flame. Teardrop. Either that’s an odd set, or I don’t know kids at all. She slips a cold little hand into mine, looks up. “Hi, Dad.” He’s back, dazzling as before, staring straight at me. “Ready, darling?”

He takes my arm, pulls me to my feet.

“No! What? What are you – NO!”

People turn, gape, but already they’re too far away to help. Everything brightens, fades. He leans close, smelling like everywhere I’ve never been, whispers, “You’ll see.” And he’s right. Because right there in front of us, bronze leaves take shape on a red tree. As the door opens, they pull me across the threshold.


And finally number three is Peace and Quiet



Please 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.

We’ll be back tomorrow for another cage match. 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!


  1. Fabulous entries, all. I'm so impressed that it's almost impossible to choose. Almost. As far as I'm concerned, you each deserve to go on to the next round because I LOVE all these entries. But the best revision, the one filled with so much heart, it literally made me (surprisingly) cry at the end, is the one that gets my vote.

    My Vote: Peace and Quiet

  2. For the second day, two of my favorites were up against each other. (Peace and Quiet, please don't take it personally, but I really don't like animal protagonists. Seriously, I cringe at CATS and don't like LION KING. It's not you, it's totally me...)

    Anyhow, upon reading the revisions, I felt like Annie Corvino lost some of the underwater atmosphere that made the piece so powerful. Wink N.A. Smile's first paragraph was a little cumbersome to read. Our protagonist is panicking, and the pace of the writing should reflect that. I recommend something like:

    "I’m focus-breathing, gripping my coffee in one hand and the airport seat with the other. Images from the nightmare I’ve had since childhood flash through my mind, accelerated by the continuous trigger of scrolling departures."

    Once I got through that paragraph, the piece read smoothly, with more clarity and as much intrigue as the original entry. Good job.

    Wink N.A. Smile for me today!


  3. My vote is for Wink N.A. Smile

    Annie Corvino: this is much tighter now, and an easy read. There are still a couple of logic issues as before, but it paints the scene well and offers several possible storylines.

    Wink N.A. Smile: I like the plot and the language very much. You have several amusing lines, eg "It’s nerves, of course, plus eight solid hours of caffeine, but mostly it’s the precise stubble on his jawline." There are a few confusions for me: coffee over her hand doesn't mean a sleeve stain; the "Hey, could I trouble you" suggests the conversation had stopped for some time, but I thought they were mid-chat. Ditto the child - where was she before? I have no idea what the destination board could have to do with doors or leaves, so that becomes an irritant rather than creating curiosity. But, the main narrative works very well, I like the voice, and I'm curious to know where he's taken her.

    Peace and Quiet: just not my sort of thing, as before.

  4. I agree that Peace and Quiet improved immensely. I could finally picture a dog narrating this. (Although I did have qualms about what kind of shelter this is -- the "three burly men in a pickup" sounded like guys who wanted dog fight fodder instead of a best friend.) Wink N.A. Smile -- slightly less confusing than the first version, although I'm still uncertain whether this is a romantic fantasy or an abduction. My vote goes to Annie Corvino. I found it more understandable. And am always a sucker for historical aspects.

  5. MY VOTE: Wink N.A. Smile

    WOW! Great job tidying up the piece and giving more clarity and emotion! Fantastic.

    The other two were also much improved, great job taking in the feedback and putting it to use. Congrats on your writing journey thus far. It was a tight vote, but Wink pulled me in.

  6. My vote goes to Anna Corvino.

    I did not like the changes made by Wink N.A.Smile. The very thing that hooked me was the beginning reminded me of Haiku, and that was changed, and I missed it.
    Peace and Quiet was a good story, but Anna Corvina's story was more appealing to me, and the changes did not take away what I liked the first time I read it.

  7. Annie Corvino - Even after revision there is still a lot of room to trim. The opening alone -- August 1961, Turkish coast -- should have been cut. You use four words that are contradicted by the next line, which tells us we're underwater. And, as before, a story that takes place entirely underwater has no description of the water, or what it's like to be in it. It feels like a white room story when you have so much atmosphere to work with.

    Wink N.A. Smile -- The story is still vague, and the changes to the beginning rob it of a little of the first version's flare.

    Peace and Quiet -- Good job taking out the chapter breaks. Some of the alliteration -- a barrel of a boy -- doesn't sound intentional and feels clumsy. The simile -- they returned him as if he was a sweater that didn’t fit -- doesn't fit from a dog's perspective. If you're trying to write from an animal's POV, you've got to have the way they see the world, not the way a person would.

    Vote goes to Wink N.A. Smile

  8. These entries show close attention to comments in the earlier round, thanks! The one that -- to me -- showed the most improvement overall is Peace and Quiet, plus I'm a sucker for a good dog story. Removing the breaks and changing the ending made this a much stronger entry. It gets my vote.

  9. Great job!
    Annie Corvino - This tightened up. I do agree it lost some of its underwater-ness, but it was still gripping. Pretty creepy...

    Wink N.A. Smile - I love your style of writing - the imagery. But I am still a little lost on the overall story here. I have too many questions about what is happening. Maybe I am too literal?

    Peace and Quiet - I am still a sucker for an animal story, but there were times it didn't read like a dog's thoughts and made it a little cumbersome.

    Difficult decision, but my vote is for Annie Corvino.

  10. Annie Corvino In your original piece, I had had qualms about the reference to an underwater phone booth. I like how you clarified what it looked like. The fleshing out of the ghost was and age of the wreck did add more atmosphere to the story.

    Wink N.A. Smile You did a nice job of removing bits of the story that weren’t necessary, allowing you to focus more on the characters. I still think in this post 9/11 world the premise is a little suspect. But that is something I would probably overlook when I was reading a full length version of this story.

    Peace and Quiet- I had loved the story in the first round. Comparing the two versions I can see where you made the changes and why. It is definitely a tighter written story now. Still love it.
    Looking back at my votes, Peace & Quiet was the only one of the three that got my vote the last time.
    While Annie Corvino and Wink N.A. Smile both improved, Peace & Quiet also improved and I don’t have a reason not to continue with my pick from the last round.

    My vote is for Peace and Quiet.

  11. Annie: nice edits to reduce jargon and make this more readable. I still don’t understand how the time period enhances the story. The emotions are told instead of shown, making this story feel remote.

    Wink: great atmosphere, but I’m afraid I still don’t get it. I need some real insight, more than mysterious references, into what happened in Sylvie’s childhood in order for this story to click.

    Peace: good voice, lots of palpable emotion. I can really see this as a sweet picture book.

    I vote for Peace.

  12. My vote goes to Peace and Quiet.

  13. Great job on the revisions today! My vote goes to Peace and Quiet.

  14. My vote goes to Wink N A Smile today. I feel like the opening paragraph could convey more urgency to show how panicked your character is, but otherwise, I feel that this is the strongest of today's pieces. Sorry, Peace and Quiet... I just can't get into stories from an animal's POV. Not your fault, just my own personal preference.

  15. My vote goes to Annie today
    Another tough one - good entries

  16. My vote goes to peace and quiet.

  17. Annie Corvino -- This makes a lot more sense this time. I like it considerably more than I did the first time. And you're my close second for this round.

    Wink N.A. Smile -- Are two different people speaking in the same paragraph? Is this an airport or the space between here and death/ afterlife (like on Lost)?

    Peace and Quiet -- You've made my heart warm and fuzzy once again. The story feels complete this time. You get my vote because I REALLY need more happy stories right now. Win or not, I thank you for this gift of words.

  18. My vote in this round goes to Annie Corvino.

    Annie Corvino - Great job putting the reader in the scene. You could tighten it up with more showing in places. For example, instead of "... turned her thrill to unease" you could describe her physical reaction to the feeling. The octopus was a good foreshadowing for the actual confrontation. Great action scene, when the man grabs hold of her I felt panic reading the words. The twist was expected but still satisfying and the ending left it open enough that the reader would want to continue to see what happens next. A couple of suggestions - give the reader a bit more of Jillian's background to give them a reason to empathize with her when she is in danger. I still don't understand the underwater phone booth, but I'm not a diver and don't have experience with this. It did draw me out of the story, however, and I had to google it to see if it was a real thing. Leave it in if you're certain of the terminology, but know that your readers might be confused by it. I loved the story, you got my vote!

    Wink N.A. Smile - This story intrigued me, and I'd love to read the rest of it. Great hook at the end. I actually liked the original beginning more than the revision, it had a more poetic hook to it. I love the visual of the leaves and the door - like something out of a nightmare it was very creepy, good job with the shivers.

    Peace and Quiet - Good job adding more description with the dogs. Your story feels more fitting for a grade school book, if you added illustrations it would be a lovely children's book.

  19. All three pieces cleaned up really well. I was not confused this go round.
    Wink N.A. Smile gets my vote.

  20. Annie Corvino - This was a brilliant revision. I'm sure it was painful to strip out some of the terminology but the piece was stronger for it, and the context and action much clearer (particularly around the man swimming up from the depths). I do feel the mention of the ghosts in the second paragraph was a bit too leading, since that seems to be exactly what we encounter. It might be more powerful to mention the deaths, show the man, and then let the reader connect the dots.

    Wink N.A. Smile - This was one of my favorite pieces in the first round. I loved the poetry and the obscurity. It definitely reads much more contemporary in this iteration, and the premise is clearer, but I felt it peeled back too much. As a reader, I wanted to revisit that gray area between fantasy and reality that you created in the first draft, specifically in the beginning. That said, the middle interaction between Hazel Eyes, Sylvie, and Nina was much stronger in this version.

    Peace and Quiet - Such a sweet story. I love the characterization of Scruff and his buds. I don't remember the "more distressing than a thunderstorm" line before but thought this was a great way of putting yourself inside the head of a dog.

    Voting Wink N.A. Smile for this round for the originality and level of craft.

  21. Annie Corvino, your revision works really well. It's clearer and tighter. I think you could leave out the mention of ghosts and only hint at it to make us wonder a little while longer.

    Wink N.A. Smile, I loved your revision. I felt I was at that airport. This version is clearer, and that's good, but maybe you could maintain that poetic feel starting with the cities and then adding the first sentence and the subsequent visions.

    Peace and Quiet - great job at making the beginning and end clearer. Great descriptions.

    My vote goes to Wink N.A. Smile

  22. Good use of suggestions. I'm a sucker for a historical, though, so I'm going with Annie Corvino.

  23. The decisions just keep getting harder and harder. All three writers listened to feedback and made their stories even better. Annie Caravino: You cleaned up some of the confusion in the first draft. Peace and Quiet: You maintained the sweetness and love in the earlier version while tightening up some prose. Well done to both of you. But I'm still going to vote for Wink N.A. Smile, because I adore the mysterious atmosphere. There are many unanswered questions, but somehow it still feels complete to me. Now that I look at the comments, I agree that as a group we're asking you to somehow clarify and tighten the opening while simultaneously maintaining the haiku-like subtlety you had the first time around, and I don't know how you'd manage that. I like this version well, though (although there's a hyphen missing). Maybe keep the opening paragraph, but then attach the individual images to the individual sentences after that?
    Berlin 11:29 . . . unfurling bronze leaves
    Topeka 11:41 . . . on a tree etched in red
    Chiang Mai 11:57 . . . on the opening door.
    I don't know if that works any better. Still, I really love this piece, and it gets my vote despite how much I also love the others!

  24. Annie Corvino - I like the ending of your story, and I think some of your changes added some clarity. I think your story could use some more of the character's physical experience of scuba diving - like the coldness of the water, the feeling of pressure, maybe some difficulty catching her breath after the attack. This is a setting that most of us have never experienced, and I think we need more of the 5 senses to get our bearings.

    Wink N. A Smile - I think your edits added a lot of clarity, but I am still a bit confused by some of your story. I'm not sure if the reference to a door opening is supposed to be ominous, but if it is, I don't think it accomplishes that. The opening of a door is too banal to create any kind of interest or tension for me.

    Peace and quiet - I think your edits were good, and added to the voice of the dog.

    My vote is for Annie Corvino

  25. Wow, three stories that went through the ringer and came out stronger!

    In such a close round, I vote for Peace and Quiet.

  26. My vote is Peace and Quiet. Gotta love a good happy ending dog story.

  27. Annie Corvino: Mentioning the men who died at the beginning of this story was really effective, though I believe it would have been better not to mention ghosts, since that connects the dots for the readers and takes out some of the element of surprise.

    Peace and Quiet: this version flows more smoothly and the echo of the beginning at the end really tied the piece together.

    Wink N.A. Smile: I still really want to know what's behind that door, so Wink N.A. Smile gets my vote this round.

  28. hard choice but i will go with Annie Corvino

  29. πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•πŸ•πŸ’—πŸ’—πŸ’—πŸ’—!!!
    ✌& quiet

  30. All three entries are very good and it really makes it hard.
    Corvino is so well written and the atmosphere and descriptions underwater are fantastic! I love the ending as well. Wink N.A. Smile had some great lines. I love the paragraph that starts with “Got it!” And she thinks there will be someone with no stain waiting for them at the other end of the flight. The ending makes me want more too.
    Peace and Quiet is my favorite and it has been all along. The characters are so endearing, especially the old dog that narrates the story. He is like a lovable grandfather and the ending made my heart so happy that a little boy took him home. Peace and Quiet gets my vote! Great job all three!

  31. Three really great stories, and another example of where the use of provided feedback for the writers has been used to create stronger, tighter entries.

    Vote this round goes to Peace and Quiet.

    Well done writers, and good luck.

  32. My vote is for Peace and Quiet!

    Good job on all writers making adjustments!

  33. Annie Corvino's story had a ghost story vibe but lost me at the underwater phone booth. Lots of telling.
    Wink's story had great writing but it was a little unclear as to what was going on.
    Peace and Quiet tried to put me in a dog's POV, but I felt like I was being talked down to.
    I vote for Wink N.A.Smile

  34. My vote goes to Peace and Quiet. It felt more complete and I'm still a sucker for a dog rescue story.

  35. This comment has been removed by the author.

  36. Seems like we just voted for these folks. These are three of my favorites and it's a pleasure reading them again.

    Wink, your concept is still really cool but I don't think it's there yet. You need to find the right balance between the artiness and the clarity.

    Annie Corvino, smooth and tight. Great writing. A bit confused on some of the underwater stuff.

    Peace and Quiet, the edits work. I love the simplicity of the voice.

    Hard to choose. Even though it still needs a bit more work, I think the concept is the strongest so my vote goes to Wink.

  37. This story made me cry. I really felt it. Good job, Peace and Quiet.

  38. Oh man! This match-up is AGONY! I adore all 3 of these pieces for very different reasons.

    Annie: You've definitely tightened up that opening and added some nice details to take advantage of the underwater setting. I also agree the explicit mention of ghost would have been better left as exploring the actual horror of how this ship went down instead. I actually do really want to know that. Is this ship here due to pirates? A mutiny? The captain's insanity? Bad construction? Offending the gods? I think you can amp up the intrigue and atmosphere by giving us some of that info and better creeping us out when the free diver shows up.

    Much smoother read, but I do personally miss the jargon for the clay jars. I think you need to introduce them as clay jars first so we understand, but I enjoyed learning a new word ( amphorae) and am the type of reader who will look something up after if it peaks my interest. I super hope at the end of this competition that you let us know about that underwater phone booth. If this is a real thing, that's sooo interesting. If not, then I still err on the side of having someone tug on her line to get her to ascend rather than using that.

    Wink N.A. Smile: Your original piece was my fav thus far in the competition. Still thoroughly enjoyed reading your writing here and the middle edits with the convo between Hazel Eyes and Sylvie reads smoother. The images are also more precise so there's no confusion over mismatching colors.

    I, like others, don't care for the new intro. I've noticed in this competition from reading previous years that stories with ambiguity are a hard sell and tend not to go very far. However, I think the ambiguity in your piece was part of why I enjoyed it so much. It had a literary air to it that got me thinking and mimicked beautifully the disorientation our narrator feels due to her phobia. I tend to be a writer who focuses in on the emotional sensation and concept of situations, rather than strict plot and physical setting, so your work jived with me all the way. Grounding it more definitely has it reading closer to a straight-up mystery novel. If that was your goal, you got it! But I liked the more speculative/abstract feel of the first version.

    Peace & Quiet: Well, DANG! You made me tear up with that new ending. Holy cow. This old dog comforting this kid, I just, THE FEELS, dude!

    Great, tighter descriptions in this version. Focusing on the three dogs allowed you to really explore their characters. I love that we now also get a sense of their personas because of the mention of their breeds. I can connect much better with Belamy and his big heart. The only change I don't think serves the story well is this line: "It worked!" It's not needed and undercuts the power of the previous statement. In such a short piece, may not have the space for it, but I would have preferred to see Trixie/Bandit see this girl and make an effort to go greet her (or be hesitant at first, but then get overwhelmed when this kid so enthusiastically decides she lover her) and have Belamy give her a nudge or something like that to show how he's helped her.

    This line: "Watching and listening, me and Bellamy barked with joy," was a great re-working of the original. The original way this was stated hung me up, so refactoring the Bandit adoption really worked. The overall construction of this piece is also aces now.

    This is such an amazingly feel good piece. I adored it.

    Gracious! I had to think a few days on this one and went back-and-forth on who I was going to vote for A LOT. If I could move you all forward to the next rounds, I absolutely would because I'd LOVE to see more samples from you! I'm ultimately casting my vote for Wink because you gave us such a bold, stylistic piece and your quality is impressive. All 3 of you should know that you have made a huge fan and whomever makes it through, I am big-time looking forward to your next entry!

  39. Annie's story was much better the second time around. Wink's language is beautiful. Peace and Quiet made a fun kid's story. I've got to vote for Wink.

  40. Voting this round for Peace & Quiet




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