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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #13

The number thirteen maybe be considered unlucky by some, but for two writers it's anything but. Here is today's next preliminary bout. 

The voting for each of these bout remains open for an entire week, so if you missed one or two you can always go back and catch up.

Recap: WRiTE CLUB (sponsored by Wild Lark Books) is a tournament-style contest that will run for nine weeks (which includes a week break for the holidays). It provides writers the opportunity to compete against one another for a chance to win a free publication package (along with other prizes). Here’s the kicker—it’s all done anonymously. Writers have submitted 500-word writing samples under pen names. The chosen (decided by a group of twelve slush pile readers) are paired off to go head-to-head in daily “bouts”, with the winner of each match determined by you the reader—by voting for your favorites. Bout winners keep advancing until there are only two remaining and that’s when a panel of celebrity judges, who include well know authors, agents, editors, and other publishing folks, choose the ultimate champion.

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, the voters can win a $50 Wild Lark Books gift card. Each time you vote in a bout your name will be placed into a hat and at the end of the contest, one name will be selected to receive the prize.

How this works—two anonymous (pen name only) writing samples are waiting in the ring below. Visitors to this blog (that’s you) should read both entries and then vote by leaving a comment for the one that resonates with you the most. We also ask that you leave a brief critique for both writers with your vote because that is one of the real values of this contest—FEEDBACK. Please be respectful with your remarks!

Even though there will be a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout will remain open for seven days from the date I post it to give as many people as possible to have a say. Voting for today’s bout will close on Tue, Jan 4th (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. What is okay, in fact, encouraged, is to spread the word about the contest to get more people to vote, just not for a specific writer!

That’s enough of the fine print…here we go!

On one side of the ring stands Dark Stormy representing the Romance genre.

It is unusually cold for a summer day, even for San Francisco. He sits by the window, rubbing his hands together to warm them. He has been waiting for her nearly an hour. She is never late and he is concerned. Finally she walks through the door. He rushes to her side.

“June?” he asks, his mouth agape.

“I came in her place.”

“She never told me she had a twin. Is she ok?” Jack reaches out to touch her arm in concern. She averts it deftly, leaving his hand to continue its arc through the air, coming down empty.

She shrugs. “Yeah.”  She nods at the counter. “So…Are we just going to stand here or…?”

“Oh, yeah. What would you like?”

“Coffee, black. None of that fancy shit, just regular French Roast.”

He shakes his head as if there were a fly buzzing around his ear. June, with her skinny Orgeat lattes and Pollyanna speech is nothing like her sister. If he weren’t staring into the face of his girlfriend, he wouldn’t even believe they were related. He heads for the counter as January makes for a table in the corner of the indie beatnik coffee shop.

She is wearing torn black jeans, tight against her slender body, a chunky black belt with three rows of grommets all the way around and a black ribbed tank top. It’s obvious she isn’t wearing a bra. She dares anyone to stare.

Jack hurries over with the coffees. He sits, puts his cup on the small, circular marble topped table and extends the other out to January. She stares at him intently, and makes no move for the disposable paper cup so he places it on the table in front of her.

 “So….?” He starts, returning her gaze. Even with the charcoal shadow and heavy black eyeliner he sees June’s icy blue eyes staring back at him. Strange, he thinks, that ice blue never came to mind before. June’s are warm, like shallow pool water in August.

She cuts him off. “I came to tell you it’s over. Don’t call June again.” She stands up and grabs a handful of his shirt, puts her face so close to his she can smell the cologne wafting off his neck, sweet oak and heavy pine, like a jazzy Christmas. She’s almost tempted to nuzzle in and breathe deeply. Almost.

 It’s time this comes to an end. At almost two months of dating, this “boyfriend” of June’s has already been in the picture too long. She doesn’t like and therefore doesn’t allow anyone to get too close to June.

“Ever!” She shouts as she releases the crumpled shirt, using his chest to push off like an Olympic swimmer using the side of the pool for a kick turn. She turns on her heel and walks out.

Jack gazes down into the umber liquid and pretends not to notice the other patrons watching the scene. We’ll see.


On the far side of the ring, we have Axis who represents the Realism genre.

Tilt Toward Me


The April sunset lengthened across the horizon in a bright lavender band and then suddenly burned out, snuffed by the passing storm. Winter’s desperate grasping covered the lake, the dock, the opposite bank--all that I could see--in snow and ice. A flock of robins hopped around the yard as confusedly as I felt about the spring freeze, but by the evening I had welcomed the oddity.

I started a fire in the pit we made in February.

(Do you remember? After we dug the circle and lined it with smooth rock, how we chopped the white birch logs and piled them in stacks? You said, Will they be dry enough next winter? I pointed out how the wood had aged, how easy it was for us to cut them. Okay, let’s save them. Remember how you said that? Let’s save them.)

It took awhile, but the flames spread, and I prayed the fire would burn forever and the cold would hang on even though the spring air is bound to return tomorrow--for with the greening of the ground you’ve gone, and I can’t see far enough ahead to know when you’ll come back.

You will, won’t you? And we’ll sit here on the stones we dragged from the shoreline, and we’ll talk about the otter pups up the creek and how they grew so fast over the summer, and about the wonder of watching their rolling play. Yes, that’s right, and you’ll point out to me it isn’t really that long to be gone again, and how it’ll get easier for us.

Of course. We’ll get used to the cycle of your going and returning, the both of us will. Yet--why shouldn’t I embrace a day like this one? This storm of memory with hope twinkling in the hoarfrost?

Now the coals glow at my feet. They cover themselves in ash, and I have to stir them back to life. And if I focus on the orange, the deep surge of color that’s always folding into black, I can fool myself that soon you’ll let the screen door slam on your way to sit with me.


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.

Finally, in order to keep this contest going AND GROWING, I'm asking folks to donate to the cause on my Ko-fi account. Let me assure you, 100% of the donations will go towards the contest prizes for this year and next!

We’ll be back tomorrow with bout #14. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encouraging them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. There's a romance in Dark Stormy? It didn't feel third person enough. I'm curious about twin versus personality disorder (or whatever we're calling it now-- the movie Split).

    I'm betting the character Axis is writing about is dead. Something about saving them makes me think saved for a time that can't come because of death. Anyway, lots of feels, and my vote.

  2. Dark Stormy: I kind of like the idea of a twin dumping her sister's boyfriend, but having seen the Romance genre tag, I was expecting Jack to start falling for January, so this ending was disappointing. I'm not sure third person present tense works in this piece, and there were several things that confused me, starting with how easily he jumped to twin and how he knew January's name without a proper introduction. You also switch the point-of-view from Jack to January at the end, which was a bit jarring. I think maybe slow down with this piece and, if January is the psychotically protective twin she appears to be, reconsider your genre.

    Axis: I confess, I'm not sure what's going on in this piece. It's full of loss and longing and lovely phrases, though. I think you could have cut the first paragraph or worked those details in later and opened with the stronger, "I started a fire in the pit we made in February."

    Axis has my vote.

  3. My vote goes to Axis today. Beautiful description and a real sense of loss and melancholy, even if I'm not entirely sure what is going on.

    Dark Stormy, I really struggle with third person present tense so this piece jarred me from the first line. I also instantly hated the twin for sending her sister to do her dirty work - what a wimp! Or are they actually two sides of the same person?

  4. Way to go, writers!

    Dark Stormy:
    I think you're going for third person omniscient, but it's not quite coming across. It feels more like third person close, following Jack, until the end when it switches over to January. Perhaps this is a minor thing, but it bugged me that all three characters had J names. June and January I get. That's kinda fun and totally something I can imagine parents naming their twins, but I wished Jack had a non-J name. That kind of thing happens, though. For my debut book, I went through oodles of revisions and even landed my agent when I realized every single last name in the book ended with "-son". I was appalled and embarrassed, but it happens!

    The biggest issue for me was how easily Jack accepted that January does speak for June. It seems to me he'd have texted her to ask what was going on. I just couldn't wrap my head around why he took her at face value so easily. I also briefly wondered if it was a case of dissociative identity disorder and if maybe Jack knew June suffers from this and that's why he went along with it so easily. It's the only thing that answers the question, in my opinion.

    This is a beautifully written piece that left me feeling hollowed out and sad in a good way. I desperately want to know who the narrator is and why their love left, but it sorta doesn't even matter. I felt like I was reading a diary entry that was never supposed to see eyes other than the author's, and that worked for me.

    Axis gets my vote today.

  5. Axis gets my vote today.

    Dark Stormy - I found the third person omniscient particularly jarring in this piece; maybe it would have been better to stick with Jack for the duration of the piece, since he was clearly the one being hurt, and this way you can focus on his emotions during this really strange breakup. I also wonder if present was the right tense here. I find that present tense often has the side effect of putting the reader at a distance to the characters, especially in third person. Present tense tends to make it easier to slip into the telling style of writing, and I found a lot of that here. I think more detail needed to be added to the breakup itself, especially since it's not even his girlfriend breaking up with him. That said, I thought it was really clever using warm and cold months to name the two twins who clearly have matching personalities, and I think there's lots of potential to make this piece even better.

    Axis - I think this was beautifully written, and it left me with a lot of questions. If you have any word count to play with, I would definitely recommend adding a few more hints to the narrator's identity and the WHY of this. I was a little confused about the brackets that were around the second paragraph, though, it didn't really feel like those were necessary.

  6. Honestly, the toughest bout I've seen so far. Different, of course, and with different strengths--each appealing!

    Dark Stormy, I had a lot of fun reading and re-reading your piece because I'm just not sure "who's zoomin' who" (to quote Aretha Franklin). Is January consciously playing Jack? Is June? Is someone mentally unstable? I also liked the play of warm-cool names, weather, etc. The switch in narrator viewpoint toward the end felt abrupt to me. I would recommend working more there.

    I have to go with Axis, though, because of some lovely phrasing. I just love the few lines with "Save them--you said that--remember?" So very poignant. This is a tough mood/tone to convey without overused tropes, and I appreciate what you did. I would read more to find out the exact situation.

    Thanks to both! I will be thinking these over all day and wondering what comes next.

  7. Dark Stormy gets my vote. Although the change of POV near the end threw me, I was intrigued. Is "June" masquerading as a "twin" to break up with the boyfriend? Or is January really manipulative enough to bust up her sis's romance? Made me wonder. Axis -- loved the language but as a story fragment? Nothing is happening and I have little sense of narrator or events.

  8. Axis gets my vote.

    Dark Stormy: I liked the twin idea, with the contrasting sisters. There is an interesting story to be told here. I struggled with the narrator's perspective, especially when it switched unexpectedly. Also, if he doesn't know June had a twin, how did he know January's name? The first paragraph also read choppily to me. Overall, I thought the piece needed polishing. The concepts and ideas are good, with an appropriate amount of detail and contrasts.

    Axis: The writing here is evocative and eery and emotional. It reads like poetry. I do wish, however, for a bit more clarity so the reader can understand a little more of the narrator's story. I also thought the third sentence was clunky, even though the imagery was lovely.

  9. Dark Stormy -- This feels like the author fell in love with the idea without considering the implications. The reaction Jack has to realizing his girl not only has a twin but is dumping him is so far from what anyone would do that it's impossible to get lost in the story. I believe in writing what you love, but you have to consider the reader when you make the big choices.

    Axis -- The writing in this piece is some of the best we've seen so far. Two things to consider. First, the voice after the first paragraph is very strong and specific, but the opening is generic description that feel like another narrator. I know setting up things is tough, but I feel you could do better. Also, the parentheses around the third paragraph are not necessary. They make it look like you were not confident in the voice, so you had to offset it to clue the reader in. It's fine without them.

    Vote goes to Axis.

  10. Congratulations to both writers for making it this far! My vote goes to Axis.

    Dark Stormy - this was a really interesting concept, and his we’ll see at the end made me wonder whether he wanted to see June or January again. The sudden appearance of the sister’s name without any introduction feels a bit weird, unless he was just giving her a nickname for being so different from her sister.

    Axis - I was at first a bit confused by this piece, but I like the feeling of recollecting and talking to someone who isn’t there. I would have liked a little more hint at The Who or the why - at first I was thinking wife, but the line about the screen door at the end made me think daughter, perhaps who is away at school, though that would take away from some of the melancholy of the piece.

  11. Congrats, writers! Tough bout.

    Dark Stormy, I thought the plot here was really compelling. I wanted to find out the real dynamic between January and June and what Jack was going to do to get June back. It definitely gave off thriller vibes at the end, which might not have been intentional. You were also heavy handed with the figurative language; that worked well in some places (the contrasting descriptions of their eyes) but felt distracting in others (the Olympic swimmer did not work for me because it read as humorous during a serious moment).

    Axis, that first paragraph is super rich and, while beautiful, it takes up a lot of precious words without giving us a lot of insight into the narrator or plot. Once you got into the description and symbolism of the firepit, the piece felt a lot more grounded. I did want a bit of a hint as to where their absent lover went. Living abroad? Serving in the military? What is the risk that they won't return? I wanted to be clear on the stakes, even for such a poetic piece.

    After a lot of internal debate, I'm voting Dark Stormy for this one, because I feel like it had the makings of a stronger story.

  12. Congratulations for making it into the ring!

    Axis, your words are very beautiful, but I found the passage to be confusing.

    My vote will go to Dark Stormy because I'm curious as to where the story will go.

  13. Dark Stormy: The writing has some issues. Describing the "arc though the air" of his hand was awkward, as was he "nods at the counter." When you only have 500 words, it is important not to waste them. Also, I wondered how he knew her name was January.

    Axis: The first paragraph was well done. I could picture the scene. Parenthesis was not needed. The memory was presented well. All the question marks seemed out of place.

    The story was a good one and Axis gets my vote.

  14. Congratulations to both of you! Awesome work.

    Dark Stormy
    There’s some great writing here. Some vivid descriptions and an interesting concept. But it was too hard to follow. Does June have multiple personalities? Or is this really her twin? Jack’s comment that he didn’t know June had a twin threw me off, because he doesn’t seem at all surprised to see this new person walk in. (If my husband’s unknown twin walked in, I’d be really surprised) I couldn’t tell what was going on and spent the whole time wondering, instead of being swept into the story. It would have been better if you’d clued the readers in, at least with a hint or two. Also, the sudden head-jumping into “not-June’s” head confused me. Loved the June/January thing.

    Loved this piece. So poignant and poetic. The line: “hope twinkling in the hoarfrost” is beautiful. This piece is nothing but description and memory but it told a story about loss and longing and hope. A lot to do in 500 words.

    My vote goes to Axis.

  15. Dark Stormy -- Okay, what's happening in this romance? Certainly not a HEA. But beyond your chosen genre, I'm not sure what the 500 words were supposed to make me feel? Good descriptions though.

    Axis -- Very poetic language. You have my vote.

  16. Congratulations to both authors for being selected. In reading Dark Stormy I felt uneasy by the twin's freedom to butt into her sister's life, and I felt uneasy with his "we'll see" - what did he mean by that. It did cross my mind that June and January might be the same person, which would be an interesting twist.
    Axis while well written left me wondering the whole time who the other person she was referring to.
    My vote goes to Dark Stormy.

  17. I’m super late to the party this year, but glad to catch the last few rounds and the winners in subsequent rounds!

    My vote on this round goes to Dark Stormy, I think you’ve got a great start to an interesting story, I hope to see more of it in later rounds.

    Axis, thank you for sharing your piece, your prose is beautiful.

  18. Dark Stormy: generally a good scene with a beginning, middle, and end, and promise of a larger piece. A couple of things didn't ring true, though. First, the point where we get that the twin's name is January. That came out of the blue, and made me question the narrative perspective. Second, Olympic swimmers push off with their feet, so that image took me out of the flow. But generally pretty good.

    Axis: This is a good scene, but in a short piece I want characters interacting, even if the MC is alone and the action we get is in flashback. Maybe cut the first paragraph (though I liked the flock of robins), and turn the third from a parenthetical to a scene of them interacting and some dialogue.

    My vote is with Dark Stormy.

  19. Vote to Dark Stormy.

    Dark Stormy: This is hilarious! Love the double meaning with the month names. January sounds like a boss.

    Axis: Love the nostalgia in this piece! There’s a longing and a love there, but the relationship between the characters isn’t clarified (spouses, unmarried partners, siblings), which I appreciated because it conveys that this sort of emotion can arise from love of different kinds. (If I’ve misunderstood, correct me!) The memory in parentheses was my favorite part.




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