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WRiTE CLUB 2020 - Cage Bout #6

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 Thursday, June 11th (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 -

Dovey Grimm

The Wandering Man

Bennett Dowdy whirled in with a West Texas Blue Norther one Sunday. Clouds, dark blue as new denim, hung heavy with the promise of rain. Inside the Baptist church, Rayna Cantrell pounded out hymns on the piano, her black hair whipping like a horse’s tail. Had she inherited her Romani grandmother’s sixth sense rather than her Roman nose, Rayna might have looked to the clouds for a portent. Instead, she limited her magic to tonics for laying hens and spells to calm cattle on stormy nights.

Rayna thumbed the pages of the Baptist Hymnal as she glanced over the congregation. A stranger sat in the back pew. The man reminded Rayna of the movie star James Dean. Slim-shouldered in his pearl snap shirt, his hair bore a crease that hinted the fellow had arrived at church wearing a hat. A cowboy. Her fingers touched the keys to play “Amazing Grace” while under her breath she hummed Hank Williams.

After the service Rayna lost sight of the stranger in the flow of folks rushing home to their Sunday meal. As she followed her father to their Cadillac, the cowboy appeared.  

“Excuse me, Mr. Cantrell?” The man stood next to a rust red Chevy truck–the front bumper held on with baling wire. “Brother Butler said you might need a hand at your ranch.”

The stranger twirled a grey Stetson. She’d been right about the hat. Her gaze dropped to the man’s boots–alligator. They must have cost more than the old truck.

“You know our preacher?” Rayna’s father asked.

“Yes sir, Leroy Butler’s my cousin.” The stranger stuck out his hand. “My name’s Bennett Dowdy. I can mind stock, mend fences. Hard work doesn’t scare me.”

Joe Cantrell hesitated before taking the younger man’s hand. Rayna held her breath, waiting for her father’s reply. A cold draft whistled past, pressing Rayna’s skirt against her legs and ruffling Bennett’s hair. One strawberry blond lock curled across his forehead like the dolls they gave as prizes at the State Fair. Rayna shivered. What would it be like to run her fingers through that hair?

“Come round tomorrow morning, talk to Carl, my foreman.” Joe Cantrell took Rayna’s arm. “We’d best get home, rain’s coming,” he said.

“Good to meet you, sir.” Bennett nodded and leaned to spy Rayna where she hovered behind her father. “Ma’am,” he said.

Later, in the car, Rayna asked, “You think he’ll come by?”

“Like as not,” Joe answered. “I’ve seen his kind before, a wandering man. He won’t stay.”

Rayna rested her forehead on the cool glass of the window. Her grandmother’s aged, leather-bound book waited at home. The old woman had warned, “Sometimes, magic requires sacrifice. Whatever you release into the world will be returned three times over.”  

Rain pelted the car, and the flat land rushed by outside. The world filled with the scent of sage and ozone. Rayna closed her eyes. She thought of what she’d need – cinnamon, honey, hibiscus, rose.

Contestant number two is Imposter

I stared out across the barren landscape on either side of the interstate. Not a tree, shrub, or bush tall enough for a desperate dog to raise a leg against. The I-80 drive through the Nebraska countryside was challenging for even the most attentive drivers, but this bordered on the brutal. Miles and miles of nothingness. I loved our home and the land it was situated on, but it was times like this where conveniences of a big city were sorely missed.

The commute tended to make people drowsy, which would be a good thing for Cami. Especially today. I snuck a glance at her. Her head was propped against the window, a vacant stare fixed on the horizon.

“How you doing?” I asked.

“Same as the last time you asked.”

I knew I couldn’t let her brush me off that easy. “Cramping any better?”

She sighed. “Jason, honey, you need to stop worrying about me. I’m fine. Really.”

I knew she was lying. How could she be fine? I wasn’t. But once again the right words alluded me. Did those words even exist?

“Okay,” I surrendered, reaching for the radio. “But I need something more upbeat or else I’ll fall asleep.”

When I looked up from the dashboard, my attention was drawn to something out of place on the road ahead. It appeared to be a wadded sheet or light blanket, but big enough to worry about running over and fouling the car's undercarriage. It was still a couple of hundred yards away, but instinctively I checked the rearview mirror, noting that the pair of semis we recently passed remained a distance back.

"What's that in the road?" Cami asked.

I didn't bother to answer, instead wondering why the coiled sheet remained stationary despite the never-ending breeze blowing across the plains outside. I flipped down the turn signal and started pulling into the left-hand lane as our Jeep quickly approached the odd road-hazard.

An icy chill ran down my spine when the surface of the sheet suddenly seemed to ripple and flex.

“Something’s moving inside it,” I uttered.

There was another item next to the blanket I couldn’t make out. Cami sat forward, her focus intent on the sheet. We were right on top of it now and Cami’s head turned to track it as we sped by.


I reacted instinctively, stomping on the brakes. The screeching tires were deafening, seeming to last an eternity. My lungs emptied as the force of the seatbelt prevented me from colliding with the dashboard. I fought the steering wheel, trying to maintain control and keep the car pointed straight. Our momentum pulled us left and we veered into the median.

No sooner had we jerked to a halt, dust swirling, than I heard the click of my wife’s belt and the passenger door fly open. I watched in horror in the rearview mirror as Cami sprinted unflinchingly towards the blanket – and the semi-trailers thundering towards her.


And finally number three is Battlestar Bear

Chapter 1


 The wooden staff landed across the warrior’s back with sickening force. It knocked the wind out of her as she fell, sprawled out on the ground. Her fingers curled in the dirt while she resisted the urge to reach for her blade.

 “Goddess take me. I won’t fight you this time,” she whispered.

 Her face was streaked with blood, her skin crossed with fine, silvery scars barely visible in the evening light. A dark-brown tattoo swirled an intricate pattern on her left temple, one fine line curling just under her eye.

 Three men circled her, weapons in hand. The big, burly one twirled his staff as he laughed to himself.

 “The notorious, immortal Amarynn,” he sneered. “You don’t look so deadly to me.”

 Amarynn pressed her forehead into the ground and let loose a half-hearted chuckle. “I never do.”

 The littlest one with the broadsword leaned in close to her and whispered, “You’re nothing but a girl!”

 She couldn’t see the third man, but she could feel him behind her. He was the quiet one with a pair of daggers and she was counting on him to hit his mark. She breathed out slowly, fighting the instinct to defend herself. He stood over her for a moment, then grunted and brought his daggers down forcefully. She inhaled deeply as the blades penetrated her sides, carrying with them the thick poison paste she spread over her skin earlier. The mage had been specific about the concoction – she could not inflict it upon herself. While she hated for it to end like this, it wouldn’t matter soon. Amarynn smiled as she felt the blinding pain and the spreading fire of nightshade in her blood. She silently thanked Nyra, the Goddess of Night for hearing her plea.

 Her limbs weakened as the nightshade poison slithered through her body, creeping up to lick at her heart. But then she felt the familiar chill of immortal magic take hold and fight back the poisonous assault.

“No, no, no,” she banged her forehead against the ground. Searing pain tore through icy magic as muscle and flesh repaired itself. It had taken three long months of searching to acquire the nightshade and she had done everything exactly as the dark mage had instructed. It should have worked. She should be dying.

As her strength flooded back, anger and frustration exploded. Her eyes glazed over with the familiar rage of battle and she flipped over onto her back. In the space of a breath, she had whipped out her throwing knives and placed them squarely in the chests of two of her assailants. Only the big lout with the staff remained standing. She deftly jumped to her feet, drawing her sword.

“Do I look deadly now?” she growled as her sword met his belly in one swift movement. His eyes widened and he said nothing as he fell to the ground.

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 next week for the Playoff Rounds. 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. All three cleaned up nicely. It's hard to choose.
    Dovey - That first paragraph is still showing me that someone is telling a story instead of having the story happen on the page.
    Imposter - I'm still having issues with the wife's motivation to run out of the car. Maybe if they saw a body part...
    Battlestar - I get she wants to die, but not why she has to fight.
    Since they all have minor issues (to me), I guess I'll just pick the one that I would most likely pick up to read.
    My vote goes to Dovey Grimm

  2. Dovey Grimm -- The original entry of this story had the best voice of the top thirty. The revisions take a little away from that, though you did follow the critique advice. I liked the old spell book as the mcguffin, and the opening paragraph felt much stronger in the original version. Still love the imagery, and it still hangs together.

    Imposter -- Big changes. Still hate the all caps and exclamation point for emphasis. Let your words do the work. Otherwise, I think the story was improved.

    Battlestar Bear -- Wish you'd done some revision. Good original entry, but there's some stuff that sticks out as clumsy -- whispered, “You’re nothing but a girl!” -- and those adverbs. If you took out half of them the story would have been much improved. Still like the story, but not using the advice of the voters is risky.

    Vote is for Dovey Grimm.

  3. Dovey Grimm, I love the writing, so much fun. Imposter, the baby bottle made my heart sink. Battlestar Bear, I really enjoyed this entry. A little weird that she'd want to die, but it works for me.
    I have to go with Battlestar Bear this round.

  4. Imposter gets my vote. Wow! You took critiques to heart and turned characters I'd once thought "never in a million years" and turned them into rounded, compassionate people I can care about, without losing your story's main premise. Also appreciated subbing "baby bottle" for "pacifier."

    Dovey Grimm -- I still want to read more of your story. Removing mention of Bennett's possible ulterior motive -- at least for now -- made it even better. If only I could vote for more than one contestant in this bout. And about Battlestar -- we often hear about starting scenes too early. In my opinion, this one starts too late. Before we even get a chance to know your protagonist, you hit us (again) with the torture porn. Please show some heart!

  5. These were three of my favorites and you all did a great job with your revisions which makes it even harder to choose.

    My vote: Dovey Grimm

  6. Dovey Grimm: Disappointed that you made any changes. The story was terrific to begin with. I liked the opening in the first version. It grabbed me and pulled me in.

    It is still my favorite for syntax, and being a damn good story. So Dovey Grimm gets my vote.

  7. Dovey Grimm: loved the pace and the descriptions, very well written.

    Imposter: nice descriptions.

    Battlestar Bear: love the action I would definitely read your book.

    My Vote goes to Dovey Grimm

  8. Dovey Grimm: Oh, shoot! I loved your original opening better and felt the story flowed more smoothly as well. Thank you, though, for changing your reference to her grandmother and using "Romani." Still beautiful writing.

    Imposter: Much cleaner and clearer. I get a definite sense of these two people and their connection, and the stakes at the end ... Fantastic. I want to turn that page.

    Battlestar Bear: I still enjoyed the story.

    For really taking advice to heart and giving us a much-improved entry ...

    My Vote: Imposter

  9. Well done writers on using the provided feedback to create stronger, tighter entries. Some really great writing all round.
    Still not a fan of the all caps used in Imposter's piece as it screams at the reader, but feel of the three your revisions had the biggest impact.

    Vote this round goes to Imposter.

    Well done writers, and good luck.

  10. Dovey Grimm: I enjoyed the images and wording of this piece; they painted such an evocative picture.

    Battlestar Bear: Well-paced action in this scene - and a great twist.

    Imposter: Your revisions were really effective - brought me right into the story and clarified the stakes. You have my vote this time.

  11. Dovey: you really took the last round’s comments to heart, which is great. I think you lost some voice but gained a little more fluidity in the timeline of the story. The end is less clear that she’s going to cast a love spell - it seems like it could be anything.

    Imposter: you also did a great job considering the comments in round 1, changing details to make this more realistic. This could still be tightened up a lot i.e “the land it was situated on” is very wordy. Consider what really adds to a story, and delete anything that doesn’t. The new cliffhanger is a bit contrived, but nevertheless I want to read on.

    Battle star: it doesn’t look like you changed anything, and I really wanted to understand more here. Why does she want to die? What if she lives? The stakes are missing. I think this could be a great story, but I just don’t get it enough to want to read on.

    I vote for Imposter.

  12. Dovey's first version felt more full-circle.
    Imposter felt like it was trying too hard for that cliffhanger moment and left too much unanswered.
    Battlestar maybe gave too much of the fantasy, like giving the god of death a name.
    I vote for imposter. Even with the unanswered questions, I was drawn in.

  13. My vote goes to Imposter. What a great revision!

  14. good stories, my vote is for Battlestar.

  15. Wow, Imposter, you really stepped up with this revision. Giving Cami a story that fits with the pathos of the abandoned baby helps this story hang together so much better. I also appreciate that there is now a baby bottle instead of a hard-to-identify-from-a-moving-car pacifier.

    Battlestar -- I didn't see any revisions, or if there are some, they're so subtle as to make no real impact. This is a pretty good story, but it feels like it's lifted out of context from its story.

    Dovey Grimm, I loved the first version and I love this one too. I'm not sure which I think is better, or whether some merging of the two would make this a gem. Either way, I love the imagery, your use of language and word choice. The story is one I want to read.

    Dovey gets my vote.

  16. Two major revisions and one with verrrrry subtle revisions (they are there for Battlestar Bear, but you have to look for them).

    Dove Grimm: Loved the addition of Rayna humming Hank Williams under her breath while playing the church hymns. Great character detail! It makes her feel more like a rounded person, which I thought was very much missing in the first version. I agree that the voice is a bit diluted here. However, I think this scene is still the better place to start and the introduction to the cowboy stronger (fantastic detail about Rayna noting the hat impression in his hair). The word limit, to me, is what prevented the flowing voice from coming in with this new focus. I imagine with more space, that voice could be integrated back here and make for an overall stronger, more character-driven starting point. I also think the story is off to on a better track with working in the magic and how she uses it sooner.

    Imposter: WOW! Major tonal shift. While part of me laments the loss of the humor of the first version, the stakes and heaviness of this new entry make this story feel like it could go in a much more twisty way (a la Gone Girl). That makes this much more addictive to me, personally. I'm reading into this that Cami just suffered a miscarriage, which to me makes sense then why she'd immediately fling herself out for this (possible) baby. It also alludes to some very intense drama if this baby ended up here by means beyond the actual parents' control and they want the baby back later. Oooooh. This can play with so many "OH MAN!" moments with that kind of set up. Bravo!

    This also reads SO much more smoothly. The action at the end amps the tension without reading staccato, so great craft improvements.

    Only two comments are it should be "the right words eluded me" not "alluded," and I think with the shift to this potentially much heavier topic the "desperate dog" analogy doesn't really work. One, this is no longer about Jason having to pee. Two, if I'm right and a recent miscarriage is implied, you'd want a starker analogy for the landscape to bolster the emotion of that.

    Ending with those two semis baring down and not knowing if there actually is a baby in there, but that Cami may be driven given the recent tragedy upped. The. Ante! LOVED IT.

    Battlestar Bear: Verrrry slight changes here. The ones made were good. Especially liked "slithered" as the description for the poison. Nice and evocative. But since much didn't change, I don't have much feedback beyond my last critique. Still enjoyable read.

    Going to have to give it to Imposter. The changes made this much tighter and gave us a much smoother read. My mind is all over the place on where this could go with the hints we've got of the setup. I would love for this to play with expectations and have us rooting for Jason and Cami only to discover that they've been misrepresenting themselves with a twist of the original parents maybe having been murdered, so the abandonment was outside their control, and the grandparents want this baby back, but Jason and Cami don't want to lose her/him. The possibilities with this new version are crazy intriguing!

  17. This was tough (again!). I loved the futility of the immortal trying to be allowed to finally die and then having that snatched away from her. Battlestar Bear gets my vote.

  18. Voting this round for Imposter.

  19. My vote is for Battlestar Bear. Thanks all for writing and sharing!

  20. For the story that took all the advice to heart and really started over, I vote for Dovey Grimm.

  21. My Vote: Imposter. Still diggin it. Great revisions.

  22. All three authors took the opportunity to edit their work. You all cleaned up nicely.

    Dovey Grimm- You made a good choice in jettisoning the first paragraph of your story. Changing ‘blew in’ to ‘whirled in’ was also an inspired change.

    Imposter- I think you did a good job in tightening the story. The misspelling of ‘elude’ is something an editor would pick up. The change from a pacifier to a bottle made it a little clearer how Cami would see what was wrong and dash out of the car.

    Battle Bear: I liked your story originally and still like. My concern is the overuse of adverbs. It bogs down the flow of the tale. I am curious where this story is going.

    My vote this time goes to Dovey Grimm. I think you did the most of the opportunity to edit your story.

  23. Battlestar makes me wanna fight! in a good way :) you get my vote!

  24. Totally voting with the mom heart here. Voting Imposter.

  25. Dovey Grimm -- Seems like an interesting beginning. Mixing magic and religion is a good twist. I enjoyed the story more with this revision.

    Imposter -- (Jeep doesn't make cars. SUVs, trucks, vehicles like that. The Brand might care if you published and misnamed what they make, just as a heads up.) It's interesting that there's a baby in some kind of silver basket. Or is the blanket silver because it's one of those emergency use ones that unfolds from a small square? Either way, it's odd that there's a baby. And now the semi-trucks are adding urgency to the scene. Really excellent work here.

    Battlestar Bear -- Great story. Very complete, yet easy to add to. I'm drawn in. I'm giving you my vote this time.

  26. Imposter has my vote. 👶🏻 mystery baby!

  27. Grimm was good, and B. Bear was good but not my genre. Imposter had me by the end, and I want to know what happened. Imposter has my vote.

  28. WOW!!! I thoroughly enjoyed all 3 of these writers! Each one kept me interested in what happens next and invested in the characters.
    Dovey Grimm--as a religious person, i am very intrigued to find out what happens. Great intro, and the mysterious Bennett peeked my curiosity.
    Imposter--WHOA... I need more!!!
    Battlestar Bear--I loved the way it started with onomatopoeia! Great beginning, now I want to know why she wants to die so badly.

    IN this bout, i think my vote goes to Imposter, though i wish i could vote for all!

  29. My vote is for Battlestar Bear.

  30. Story #1 made changes that showed a lot more this time around. I like it much better.

    Story #2 flowed much better than before, I gather the wife is having a miscarriage maybe? Still a bit confused about a baby in the middle of the road though.

    Story #3, you took the feedback, but I felt less in the main characters head this time. The first one had more oomph! I love the premise though and would keep reading.

    Battlestar Bear gets my vote because my interest is still engaged completely.

  31. Dovey Grimm: Props for digging in and making significant changes this time around. Most of them were improvements, but for my money the way it opened was better before.

    Imposter: This version is definitely improved from the original. The details are more realistic and there's more of a sense of who these people are and why they're there in the car. Well done.

    Battlestar Bear: The changes you made are all for the better, even if they are small. There were other small things you could have fixed, though, like putting an exclamation mark on something that's whispered.

    All three writers have demonstrated willingness to listen to feedback and make changes, which is important. I'm going to have to pick one, though, so I'm giving my vote to Imposter for more solid improvements.

  32. Such great stories! In the end it came down to content for me on this one. The baby story hit me in the gut so my vote is for Imposter- Marie Korman

  33. My vote goes to Dovey Grimm.

    Dovey Grimm: ah, now, the edits have taken away all the eccentricities and rhythm I loved about your original, and it's become...regular. Please celebrate your non-regularness! I still vote for this one, as I would love to read more from you.

    Imposter: you've done a lot of good work on the story logic. I'm glad to see a hint of motive seeded in there, and the ending has more places to go. I think a little more motive is needed yet: at the moment we simply have a sensible woman feeling utterly lousy after (presumably) another early miscarriage. It still leads to taking the baby to the police station, the end. Your writing is well-structured here, and you have an excellent descriptive talent - perhaps in a short-story like this you could give more space to characterisation/motive.

    Battlestar Bear: I confess, 'warrior fantasy' leaves me cold, but you've done an excellent job here. I love the premise of a suicidal Immortal. I'm wondering what would happen if her opponents lopped her head off, though - that's what I'd be doing if I were them.

  34. Dovey Grimm, I feel like your revision took the story too far from the original.
    Imposter, good changes, much improved.
    Battlestar, starting with Chapter 1 threw me. I would have left that off. Some cool lines, like the venom licking at her heart.
    Overall, I prefer Dovey Grimm's writing style, so you get my vote.




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