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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #15

Today we reveal the final two writers who were chosen to participate in WRiTE CLUB this year. Anyone who's followed this contest knows that it is an achievement simply being selected to compete. My hat is off to these 30 amazing writers!

With this final preliminary match, there are now five bouts that still need to be decided. As you recall, the voting for each bout remains open for an entire week, so bout #11 will close this Sunday. If any of these five bouts, you can always catch up.

And for those of you who voted for a particular writer — only to see them lose their battle — they might get a second chance.  Next week is SAVE WEEK (details on Monday), so stay tuned.

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 has been a different bout every day (M-F), the voting for each bout remains 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 Thur, Jan 6th (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 Captain Skyrider representing the Science Fiction genre.

Finley Shaw and her family usually avoided places like Rigley-Beck, a dust-ball planet in a desolate part of the galaxy.

Meeting the contact here was Finley’s first clue that something about this deal wasn’t right.

“Stay alert,” Mom said as they suited up. Mom and Dad tucked blasters and concussion bombs into their gear. Just in case.

Why had they agreed to this? Dad had two rules: never do business with people you don’t know and stay away from illegal clones. This job broke both rules.

Dad said they needed the money, but Finley thought it was something more. Dad had done some shady things when he was young and rebellious. Maybe this was his way of making up for it.

Whatever it was, Finley didn’t like it. But she kept her mouth shut. Questioning Dad’s decisions was pointless when he was so determined. She shouldered her pack and followed Mom, Dad and her older brother Jed down the shuttle ladder.

Rolling terrain, bristling with stunted trees, stretched to the horizon, greyer than anything Finley had ever seen. The wind, smelling of the ammonia leftover from the planet’s terraforming days, blew sand into her face. They headed for a squat corrugated metal building at the edge of the field barely visible through the forest of fuselage carcasses and old ion engines cluttering the front yard. Sand rats chased each other around the hull of an old destroyer half buried in sand.

Who would put a space station in the middle of a junkyard?

Inside, a ceiling fan circled overhead, clicking with each wobbly turn. A man worked behind a counter typing on an ancient-looking keyboard. Eyes bulged in his narrow face reminding Finley of the pop-eye bugs they’d encountered in the Quintero system.

Dad and Mom approached while she and Jed leaned against the back wall.

“What can I do for you folks?” Bug-eye asked, not looking up from the com-screen.

“Here for Stillwell. Cargo pick-up.”

 “Out back.” Bug-eye hooked a thumb over his shoulder.

Dad murmured “thanks” and headed that way. Finley and the others followed. They entered a narrow yard cluttered with more starship wreckage, surrounded by a tall metal fence.

No Stillwell. Mom and Dad exchanged wary looks, putting Finley on edge.

The “cargo” they’d come for huddled in the shadow of a lean-to. Ten or so service clones, dressed in faded civilian clothes, not the usual crisp grey and yellow corporate-clone uniform. They gazed down at their worn boots or stared blankly ahead, clearly miserable. Outside of Interplanetary Council protection, unregistered clones usually ended up working in illegal mines or out-galaxy terraforming projects. But Finley’s family would be delivering this bunch to a resistance group and freedom.

“Let’s just take the clones and go,” Jed said.

“Not till we get paid.” Dad started for a shed across the yard.

Finley barely had time to process what happened next.

The roar of air-strikers and gunships filled the air, approaching fast.

Dad’s eyes filled with panic. “Run!”


On the far side of the ring, we have Bashert who represents the Romance genre.



A fake tattoo pressed upon wetted skin, the sunset sky against the surging sea, ink against a crisp white page— that’s how close we were. Only us, no space in between. We moved in concert, our mouths like jellyfish, pushing and receding, palms against skin, goosebumps upon flesh. Our oxygen dwindling, he pulled back.

I stared into his soft-skinned, olive-toned face.

“Who are you?”

 His eyes were timber, the cinnamon of flames alighting wood in the dark, dark night. His hair was chestnut, flecked with strands of light. Arms still encasing me, muscular vein splitting the middle of his forearms like a taut guitar string.

His eyebrows crinkled as though he, too, was unsure of the answer.

Around us stretched an expanse, a prism of colors flickering and blinking.            Roots floated beneath paper trees into nothingness, pages of books open and murmuring, thoughts and whisperings tied to invisible strings like hanging fruit. It was all so unfamiliar and yet so comfortable, strangely.

“I don’t quite remember….”

He swiveled his head around, searching for clues. With the space left by the absence of his lips, I followed his eyes.

“But I know that I was assigned to you.”

We turned our heads back to each other and our expressions caught in mutual perplexity. Both of us ticked our heads back, turning to one side, and then the other. We each raised an eyebrow, then pursed our lips— mirrors of each other, a reflection of opposites. We stared at each other with a confusion that felt like home.

It was awfully difficult to talk to your soulmate when neither of you knew anything about yourselves.

We could not seem to grasp what we were doing in this place, yet we could not recall being anywhere else.

It wasn’t long before we realized that kissing was the key.

Every time our lips melded, a new revelation surfaced. Eyes closed, tongues pressed together, glimmers of future memories filled the blackness behind our eyes. The recollections appeared distorted, half-blurry, as though reflecting through a crystal prism—the staccato wails of babies crying, tiny boots crunching leaves, grey streets littered with debris. We saw the two of us, in a dim-lit room cocooned by books, youthful hands cradling sleeping beings, wrinkled feet faltering, the echoes of quiet sobbing. Next, we saw the land, a patchwork of ruddiness and green, folded like a pillow beneath our feet. And then there was the taste of dirt, dark and deep, so rich we gulped at each other, desperate to inhale it.

As soon as we surfaced, we asked the question burning both of our minds: What is this place?

It was a sort of “World to Come,” but reversed, the answer arrived, granting only more bewilderment. What was the “World to Come” when we had no knowledge of a “World In The Moment”? Why was it “to come” if we were already in it? And what about the leaking memories?

What had come already?


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. 

As I mentioned above, next week YOU the reader will get to give three writers who lost their preliminary bout a second chance during SAVE WEEK. You don't want to miss that!

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!

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. My vote today is for Captain Skyrider. From your descriptions, I could picture this scene from beginning to end and would keep reading to see what happened next. At the beginning, you mention the dad making up for his past, and I think there needs to be a hint there of why the job might be worth it, because that pulled me out a bit wondering why. It was answered at the end, but foreshadowing it could be effective.

    Soulmates - great concept that the connection between these two characters is their key to beginning to understand themselves and their world. The language is beautiful, but there were so many descriptions that at points I lost the thread of the story. Also, the end is pretty nebulous and I wonder if they could discover one concrete thing that could push their journey forward while also keeping the sense of mystery you've developed.

  2. What a way to wrap up the preliminaries! This is a tough decision.

    Captain Skyrider:
    I feel like this is an excerpt, which is totally fine. My issue with this particular piece, though, is as a reader I'm not close enough to the characters or adventure to feel the importance of what's happening. Finley seems to be the main character, and your use of third person close is spot on, but this piece feels a little like retelling facts rather than revealing a story. I'm missing emotional weight and connection with a character.

    For the most part, your words are lovely. In all honesty, "mouths like jellyfish" made me feel a little ooked out, but it was a colorful description! My main issue with your piece is that through all the lovely words and turns of phrase, I'm having a hard time grasping what the story is about. Two strangers don't know anything about themselves, but they know they're somehow assigned to one another. It's a cool concept, but when you have characters who don't remember or know anything about themselves, it's hard for the reader to connect with them. If the characters don't know what's going on or how to feel, how can a reader keep up? I suspect this is also an excerpt from a longer piece and my instinct is this works much better in a longer piece because the reader has time to discover the characters' personalities and desires alongside them. But in this shorter sample, it left me feeling confused. The questions at the end only increased my confusion rather than piquing my interest or answering lingering questions.

    Again, congrats to both of you for making it into Write Club! The fact that you got this far proves that you are skilled writers.

    My vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

  3. My vote goes to Captain Skyrider today. Loved the acerbic, wry voice and the sense of wold-weariness that comes with it. Sci-fi isn't my favourite genre, but the voice made the story accessible for me and I'd be interested to read on.

    Bashert, I found this piece a little overblown. Too much description and often using words that didn't seem quite right for what was being described.

  4. Captain Skyrider, the family reminds me of Lost In Space. Probably because I don't read enough scifi to make another connection. Anywhodoodle, I liked the story.

    When they say "romantic writing" or "romantic prose," I think it means what you did, Bashert. Very flowery.

    I like both of these. I want to know more about them both. I'm voting for the Captain by a slim margin.

  5. Captain Skyrider -- There is a definite Lost in Space feel to this. The writing is competent, and the author has a grasp on the genre. There's a little too much description for the allotted word count. The whole paragraph describing the junkyard could have been a single sentence. Give us descriptions while we learn about the action or the characters. Make it part of the story. That would be a better use of word count. Instead, the paragraph is like a huge speedbump mid-story.

    Bashert -- There's good writing here, both descriptive and emotional beats come through clearly. What doesn't come through at all is setting or character. Maybe that's a risk by going with the concept of amnesiac characters, but it leaves the reader unmoored for too long. The questions at the end were also a bit much. As a reader, we were already asking questions, and ending the piece on a handful of them feels like maybe the author couldn't think of a way to wrap it up.

    Vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

  6. Congratulations to both writers for making it this far! My vote is for Captain Skyrider.

    Captain Skyrider - the beginning was a little clunky for me as I wasn’t quite sure what they were doing, but I was pulled in with the line that these unfortunates were going to be brought to freedom. That begs the question of how involved this family is with this form of resistance or if they were just set up to take the fall (which questions whether you really want to be involved with that sort of resistance). Would definitely read more.

    Bashert - when I saw the genre was romance, I wasn’t expecting hot and steamy! The first few sentences to describe how close they were threw me off - some great descriptions, but maybe it just needs to be reordered in the paragraph. I was really intrigued by the concept of seeing their future together as they kissed (if only that happened in really life and you could actually learn if they were your soulmate that way!) but their inability to act on it because of the apparent amnesia sort of pulled me out of the story.

  7. Captain Skyrider and Bashert, thanks for the reads today! You both have excellent imaginations. Congratulations!

    Bashert, romance as a genre just isn't my thing. Sorry! I think it's interesting that kissing reveals the past/present/future. It's actually something that could become quite funny if taken several steps farther. I could see you doing a satire if you're so inclined.

    Captain Skyrider, well written! Very smooth. I like the set-up and would read more to find out about this world and the mission. Very polished. You get my vote today.

    Happy New Year to you both!

  8. My vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

    Bashert - the descriptions and writing were beautiful. I'm going to be THAT person and disagree with some of the previous comments; I didn't mind being unmoored to character or setting in this piece, because it left me feeling like I was discovering with the character. That said, I do agree that the ending could be improved, perhaps some solid discovery at the ending that can be used as a mooring point to move forward.

    Captain Skyrider - I'm intrigued by this concept and you left me wanting to read more. My main critique is that I felt the ending was too abrupt. I think there's room to cut down earlier in the piece to allow for a little bit of expansion on the ending. I.e. the use of "approaching fast" in the second last sentence felt vague to me, especially when there's already gunfire. Shouldn't the airships already be on them if there's gunfire? Anyway, I think there's room to expand without taking away too much from the cliffhanger.

  9. Congrats to both of you! These were both solid pieces.

    Bashert--beautiful descriptions. I think I could probably try for days and never write description as beautiful as yours. I honestly believe your story will be one of my save votes if you don't win this bout.

    Captain Skyrider--this is well-written. My vote is for you because I'd love to see where this story goes...which is quite a feat given my dislike for sci-fi. Seriously.

  10. My vote is for Bashert. I loved the colorful, descriptive language.

  11. Captain Skyrider -- Lots of unanswered questions here. But I like what you offered.

    Bashert -- Metephor soup. But I like the romance vibe you have going on. I suspect that this is going somewhere great. So you have my vote.

  12. Captain Skyrider, this was really well done. I liked Finley's witty, youthful attitude, and I got a strong sense of the Shaw family dynamic. I did want more context for Stillwell--I figuring this was the name of their unknown contact, but Finlay says "No Stillwell" as though she would know if she saw him/her.

    Bashert, this was beautiful. It definitely read as science fiction to me, even if it had romantic elements; I wasn't sure how much was a metaphor and how much was really rules of some sort of amnesiac global phenomenon. The uncertainty made me feel a bit ungrounded throughout.

    Voting for Captain Skyrider for this great bout.

  13. Kudos to both for being selected, but my vote goes to Captain Skyrider. I felt immediately pulled into the story. I want to know more.

    I felt Soulmates was a little too choppy

  14. My vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

    Captain Skyrider: Good job, solid writing. I do wish the content of the story was more original and had more connections to the main character.

    Soulmates: I like the concept, which matches the impressionistic way you write. This reads like it could be good, but it missed the mark for me due to a lack of clarity of purpose and character. It's hard to understand what's happening here.

  15. Captain Skyrider has my vote in this round. The writing is clean. The stakes are clear. I would have liked to see a little more dialogue, more showing vs. telling.

    Soulmates: This piece is very poetic, which I love, and the concept is intriguing, but I felt completely ungrounded in this scene, and the questions at the end felt rushed and out of place with the rest of the writing.

  16. Captain Skyrider gets my vote. Loved the voice and the story. Sorry, Soulmates -- beautiful writing but no idea what was going on.

  17. Vote to Bashert.

    Captain Skyrider: That escalated! I liked the hint of backstory given, but there wasn’t much story to seize onto.

    Bashert: The first time I read this piece, I was lost. I’m glad I gave it some time and then returned. The visuals you paint are exquisite, and you convey the sense of closeness alongside distance well. The conclusion reminds me of that line, something along the lines of “you don’t know where you’re going unless you know where you’ve been.” To see the future without knowing the past, or even the present - what a burden, what confusion. I’m intrigued by this world.

    1. Edit: This vote is associated with this account. I forgot to log in before publishing the comment.

  18. Vote to Captain Skyrider - Your piece had a good mix of intriguing tidbits of backstory without making things too confusing, and it seems like the start to a fun family adventure story that I'd like to read more of in coming rounds

    Bashert, thanks for sharing your piece, you definitely have a gift for beautiful descriptive language.

  19. My vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

    Captain Skyrider: loved it. JUST my kind of story: clean-written, yet I can see and smell the landscape and the clones. Dying to know what happens next!

    Bashert: I'm sorry, it was way too Purple Prose for my taste, and I couldn't tell you what it was about, at all.

  20. Captain Skyrider: Good piece, well paced. Instead of "ancient-looking keyboard" just use "ancient keyboard" -- it gives more authority to the narration.

    Bashert: Good, and I know it's hard to make 500 words, but it started in the middle of things in a way that was disconcerting. Why were they making out if they didn't know each other? And why was he assigned to her? So maybe less description and more scene setting.

    My vote is for Captain Skyrider.

  21. Great job, both of you!

    Captain Skyrider, I loved the pace and you left me wanting to know more about this family and these clones. I did pick up a Lost in Space vibe, but maybe that's why I liked as much as I did. The writing was clean and never got bogged down with over-description. You gave me what I needed to set the scene, then took me on a ride!

    Bashert - This was such an interesting concept! I loved your description of the physical interactions, but I admit I got lost when the characters pulled back to figure out where they were. I enjoyed the intrigue behind "I was assigned to you" - it drove me to keep reading. But I stayed a little lost for the rest of the piece.

    My vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

  22. My vote goes to Captain Skyrider.

  23. Captain Skyrider: An intriguing story with no ending, but well written.

    Bashert: More poetry than prose, and I did not understand what was happening.

    Captain Skyrider gets my vote.




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