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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #14

Just four more contestants to reveal in these last two preliminary bouts. Who will make it into the ring?

Here's a reminder of what is happening. 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 Wed, Jan 5th (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 MIM representing the Short Story genre.

Driving Me Crazy

“Get off in Sandnes,” she says. 

The website for the Statens Vegvesen, the Norwegian DPS, calls her a “test sensor.” I call her—this khaki-uniformed woman who holds my vehicular fate in her hands—the Ice Queen. Queenie, for short.

The ten minutes since I pulled out of the Stavanger motor vehicle bureau have been chilly, and nothing’s wrong with the sedan’s heat. Yep, it’s Queenie. You know the type—pruny face, glacial eyes, and Grinchy heart. 

I have fifty more minutes to melt Queenie with my red-hot driving skills and snag that Norwegian driver’s license. If I don’t--well, let’s not think about that.

I am piloting Queenie smoothly, steadily, and moderately southeast on the motorway when she tells me to exit in Sandnes. Seems to me Sandnes has four exits. Queenie’s going to have to cough up more info. “Which Sandnes exit? This one?” I say, gesturing toward the blue highway sign approaching us. 

Then I reconsider. Waving one hand around during a driving test—could look reckless. I slide it back to the two o’clock position and act casual.

“Do you mean the Sandnes sentrum exit?” I ask. 

Ja,” she says, scribbling on her clipboard. 

Not that rabbit warren. Crap! 

Downtown Sandnes is the cutest for shopping, strolling on the brick-paved pedestrian mall lined with boutiques. For driving, though, its criss-crossing streets are nothing but a tangled mass of potential accidents. Cyclists and baby strollers and walkers and parallel parkers and a bunch of fun-sized roundabouts—you follow me, don’t you?

All the ex-pats here have PTSD from the Sandnes-hell test portion. “I was clenching the steering wheel and going about 10 miles an hour,” said Debbie, the runner from Colorado. (Does she mean 10 kilometers an hour? I never can tell.)

Jana told me, “I was trying to turn left, but I couldn’t get the green arrow. My shirt was sticking to my back—sweat just streaming down, you know? And the test guy kept trying to talk to me.” She’s from Houston, like me.  She failed the test, like I’m about to. 

Since my family and I moved to Norway in May, I’ve been coping with culture shock. It comes in trickles sometimes, storm surges other times. When I’m on the Stavanger roads and behind the wheel, it’s like I’m up to my neck in the deep, dark fjord.  

“Turn at the next right,” says Queenie.

“By the apotek?” I ask. 

She brushes something (probably fake) off her coat sleeve and exhales. “Is that the next right?”

Honestly, I don’t know. As I’ve learned recently, the “next right” could be the drugstore. Also, it could be a dead-end alley barely wider than a Gremlin. Reversing in such a situation really gets your heart pumping. 

In any case, I turn right. 

“Drive up the hill,” says Queenie. “Continue straight on at the intersection.”

I approach. I decelerate. Looks like I’ve reached the end of my ride. 


On the far side of the ring, we have Storyweaver who represents the Fantasy genre.

The dark stone was a canvas, calling to Harriett as she ran her fingers over the textured surface.  She closed her eyes, letting her consciousness drift into the blocks, sensing the form it would take tonight.  Her lips curved up as the stone recalled great cliffs and a roaring waterfall.  The image of a rainbow over the cascade burned her eyelids, providing inspiration to start.

Gently, she set her backpack on the ground, sparing a quick glance around the alley before tugging he zipper.  Inside, sixteen cans of spray paint stood at attention.  Her heart swelled with pride every time she opened her specially designed pack, inside crisscrossed with layers of fabric to create a sleeve for each can, keeping them protected, and most importantly, quiet.

Harriet selected red - her favorite color.  A quick, curved motion and an arch appeared on the stone in front of her.  More colors followed; each building the rainbow she had seen.

She didn’t stop there.  Blue and white swirled together under the rainbow to create foaming water.  With a sharp turn, it cascaded into a pool of water, ripples billowing out to a border of rocks, coated in moss.  With a touch of gray, Harriett highlighted the stones, creating the illusion of cliffs containing the massive flow of water.

The sound of the midnight bus reminded her to hurry.  Green became a meadow, bright spots of color for flowers dotting the expanse.  She debated adding fish jumping out of the pool, but there wasn’t time.  Tucking her materials into their sleeves, Harriett stepped back to review her work.  Still a bit rough around the edges, but it would do.

Shouldering her backpack, she checked to ensure the coast was clear before placing both hands on the picture.  Eyes squeezed shut, she felt the magic running through her palms and into the stone.  She felt it awaken, slight stirrings underneath her fingertips.  Holding the image of a cliff in her mind, she released the stones from the mortar, infusing them with the memories of their former glory.

Done.  She stepped back.  To the untrained eye, the overpass looked much the same as before.  Her soul felt the excitement of the wall, as it began to shift to a new form – reshaping into the cliff from her painting.

Experience told her it would take two days for the structure to collapse, and a week at least to recreate the landscape she had created.  Plenty of time for authorities to recognize the painting and reroute traffic off the now condemned bridge.

Realizing she had forgotten to sign, Harriett reached over her shoulder for the red.  She gave the can a few good shakes as she surveyed the landscape, deciding what to name it.  With a smile, she held down the sprayer and added a few words beneath the green meadow and rippling pool:

Fall of Water by Preservationist

Tucking everything away, she sprinted down the alley, paint cans as silent as her soft soled shoes.


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 the final preliminary bout. 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. Congratulations for making it in, writers! Well done, both of you!

    This piece has a great voice. My biggest critique is that I have no concept of who the narrator is. Is it a middle-aged woman with kids at home? A crabby teenage boy? A retiree who resents having to take this driving test when he's been driving for fifty years? Without an idea of who's telling this story, it was difficult for me to connect with the narrator or care about what they're going through. What will happen if they fail the test? Why are the stakes so high? I also didn't understand the ending. With so much talk about the maze-like streets and difficult roundabouts in Sandnes, I don't understand why continuing straight through an intersection is the end of the road.

    You also have a wonderful voice in this piece, and I love the concept. There are a couple of places where things could be tightened or clarified, though. For example, the following sentence is long and a bit clunky. You could break it up into a couple of sentences or remove some of the detail to clarify things:

    Her heart swelled with pride every time she opened her specially designed pack, inside crisscrossed with layers of fabric to create a sleeve for each can, keeping them protected, and most importantly, quiet.

    Again, congrats to both of you! Storyweaver gets my vote today.

  2. Mim gets my vote today. I'm intrigued as to who this person is and why the driving test is so important, and most essentially, why they reached the end of the road at the end.

    Storyweaver, I enjoyed your piece too. Some lovely descriptions and a really neat concept. I just didn't connect with it quite as much as I did the other story today.

  3. I really enjoyed both of these pieces and wish I could pick both. Alas, if I must choose, I'll go with Storyweaver as the story was so unexpected and fresh.

    I love the voice and the world created by MM. My only critique is the abrupt ending.

  4. MIM: This is cleanly written with a solid voice, but I don't have a clear image of the narrator, the stakes don't feel very high, and it just kind of fizzles out at the end.

    Storyweaver: There are more than 22 -ing words in this 500-word writing sample. (I overlooked a couple.) That's way too many. I recommend reworking this to eliminate a good chunk of them and paying attention to how often you use -ing words in your writing as you go forward. I suspect you'll find varying your sentence structure will give your writing better flow and rhythm, and thus pull the reader more fully into the magic. That said, I thought the concept of a magical graffiti preservationist was intriguing. I'm interested to see where the story goes.

    Storyweaver has my vote.

  5. Mim, I've never read a short story about a road test, so that's different and good. But I wasn't sure for most of it if the main character was a person or an AI car (KITT). I was kind of confused.

    Storyweaver has a fascinating concept. Graffiti art that can alter the landscape to a natural state? Turning a dystopia into a utopia? That's probably going to be the next wave of fiction.😌 It was a fun read and nice to picture. I'll give you my vote.

  6. This one was tough, but MIM gets my vote. Loved the voice and humor. Haven't we all undergone such a test? Then to add navigating medieval streets in a foreign land/language? Who wouldn't sweat? Only concern -- the abrupt ending. Storyweaver -- loved the concept but the execution didn't grip me.

  7. Storyweaver has my vote.

    MIM: I love the feel of the piece, the voice. I wanted it to be funnier, wittier or maybe deeper, reflecting something about life in general; you almost get there. I didn't quite follow the ending; it seemed abrupt and purposeless. It's clear you can write and have a great way of describing situations and bringing life to seemingly mundane interactions. Good job.

    Storyweaver: I love the concept and the way that your piece slowly brings it alive...starting with a sense of magic, moving towards what seems like a routine graffiti artist, then bringing back the magic and giving it life and purpose. Beautifully done. Please edit ("he zipper" is clearly a typo that should not be missed). If you move into the next rounds, I would like to see more flexibility in your writing, such as having more than one character, adding some dialogue, showing more range.

  8. Wow, these are both great pieces, this might be the toughest choice yet for me! I think I'm going to give my vote to MIM, but it was incredibly close.

    Storyweaver - I love how this picture comes to life, both within the confines of the story, but also in my mind's eye. You did a really great job of describing the scene, and I especially liked the idea that she's a preservationist because she's turning these city spaces back into nature, that was a neat touch. My biggest critique is that I would have liked more emotion and thoughts from Harriet, especially as she's creating this art. What does she feel as she's creating this piece that she knows is going to become reality in a few short days? It just seems like you missed an opportunity to insert some incredible voice and emotion into it.

    MIM - voice comes through really strongly in this piece, and I really love how you managed to make it feel fresh even though it's a fairly common event, a driver's test. My main critique is with the ending. Not that I didn't like it - I thought the abrupt ending was actually quite good, however, I did feel like there might need to be more build to it. If the narrator thinks their ride is over, there should maybe be an indication in what Queenie says or does to indicate that's true. I also think there's a great opportunity to create a literary connection with this and make this "end of the ride" thing into a theme that says something deeper.

  9. Mim -- The writing is strong. I also like the choice to focus on one incident and take us through it. I feel the fish-out-of-water fear of being an expat. The voice was strong, but it felt forced once. -- You follow me, don't you? -- and the parentheses around -- does she mean 10 km -- not necessary. You've got a voicey piece that's a bit rambling. Don't draw attention to it, just write. And the ending, you tell us the ride has come to an end, but nothing the instructor said signals that. It feels like she's just getting started. I would have loved a quick crisis, success or failure, park. Otherwise, good piece.

    Storyweaver -- We've seen a lot of fantasy, and this outshines most of them. The idea was something I don't think I've ever seen, and to use spraypaint and a graffiti artist with a love for nature is brilliant. The writing is good, but there were a lot of words wasted. The signing of the painting is a neat idea, but it painted you into a corner. That means we, the reader, can't see the painting taking form in life. We have to hear that it's going to be a couple days, maybe a week. I don't care about the drivers. I want to see nature reclaim the area.

    Vote goes to Storyweaver

  10. Mim - I really enjoyed the nerve-wracking situation of a driving test with culture shock, though like others, I wasn't sure why it came to an abrupt end (maybe the dead end you mentioned earlier? But then I think that needs to be clarified). My other suggestion is to put the other reactions to this driving test earlier in the piece, so that the context and stakes are established from the beginning.

    Storyweaver - I love the concept of imagination becoming reality to reclaim places. Good pacing of suspense and reveal.

    My vote is for Mim today because I identified with the MC.

  11. A vote for storyweaver, one of my favorite pieces thus far. Very well imagined, reminded me a little of Inkheart, I can see a whole world already

  12. IMO, these were both some of the stronger pieces we've seen.

    Mim, I thought the narrator's voice was hilarious. The concept was also fun, but I wanted some little twist at the end to give the story the closure it deserves.

    Storyweaver, this one felt fresh and magical. Although there were some cumbersome sentences here, the concept itself left me so intrigued that I have to give it my vote.

  13. Congratulations to both writers on making it in.

    MIM, I can identify with driving on European roads. Not sure how the roads in Norway compare to Germany, but I would imagine they are every bit as narrow and terrifying. I would've liked more story to this, in having more stakes and a resolution. Did the MC pass the test?

    Storyweaver, you have my vote. Absolutely brilliant story.

  14. MIM -- What a fun ride you've taken us on. I enjoyed this. You get my vote.

    Storyweaver -- Captivating story. But it feels like there's more focus on how cool her spraycan holding backpack is than the actual magic that is occuring. Is the magic a metephor? Is it like where people were marking potholes to force the DOT to fix them rather than leave the graffiti? I really enjoyed your story, there's just more that I want to know.

  15. MIM gets my vote for pulling in an unusual situation for a piece.

    Storyweaver, I really loved this concept. It's amazing. Well done. I'd love to see this represented graphically.


  16. Congrats to both for your entries. MIM's story is one most of us who have ever taken a driving test can relate to, I felt this story needed to be fleshed out a little more.
    Storyweaver had great descriptive writing and I could see the story come to life in my mind's eye.
    My vote goes to Storyweaver.

  17. Vote to Storyweaver.

    MIM: You captured the nerves of a driving test well. The personality of the driver came through. “Barely wider than Gremlin” - that’s a visual! Overall, so fun.

    Storyweaver: This is amazing. I loved the twist at the end that this image wasn’t any old inspiration; it was what the alley had once been--”memories of their former glory.” How much of the world humans have changed!

  18. I hope this comment comes through, I'm still having trouble commenting.

    My vote this round goes to Storyweaver. Lots to like here, beautiful descriptive language and original concept being two. I hope to see this story progress in future rounds to learn more about Harriet, her world, and her power.

    MIM, thanks for sharing your story, I can definitely relate! I feel as if this piece could stand alone if that is the intention, but if so, maybe a little more clarification on the ending.

    Keep up the good work, both of you!

  19. Congratulations, writers! These are great stories.

    Your story had a distinctive voice and POV, but the ending fell kind of flat.

    Great descriptions and imagery. Imaginative concept.

    Love the creativity so my vote goes to Storyweaver.

  20. Congratulations to both writers!

    MIM - what a relatable situation- I took three driving tests with the same instructor- you definitely begin to invent stories and nicknames!

    Storyweaver-Interesting concept - where are you headed with it?

    My vote is for Storyweaver.

  21. MIM, for the first few paragraphs I thought we were talking about a space ship nicknamed Queenie. Possibly my fault for not paying attention like I should. A second read-through cleared things up.

    Storyweaver, I really loved this concept and I think it was executed well. Please tell me this is part of a larger story?

    My vote is for Storyweaver.

  22. Storyweaver: I had to read the first few lines twice to determine that she was touching a stone wall. Also the line "her lips curved up" was an expensive way of saying she smiled. When you only have 500 words, they should not be wasted. Perhaps less description of the spray paint carrier might have allowed more story regarding her magical ability.

    Mim: I enjoyed this story about something most people have to go through. A driving test! Brilliant. Cleverly written and amusing.

    Mim gets my vote.

  23. Both very good! Storyweaver gets my vote.




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