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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #2


We're back with the second of fifteen preliminary round bouts. Remember, the voting for each bout remains open for an entire week, so if you missed one or two you can always go back and catch up.

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 Monday, Dec. 13th (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 Sunflower with some Poetry for us.

Innocence- a lack of guile or corruption

At age 5 my biggest worry was not breaking my favorite purple crayon, because the other purple crayons are either a little too dark or much too light. I’m happy. My parents love each other and love us. I have started to make friends I am sure will last a lifetime and role models I am certain will never let me down. Nothing is confusing because it’s all black and white… and the perfect shade of purple. I am so innocent; I don’t even know the definition of the word.

At age 12 my purple crayon, along with the others, are never used but I know they are still there. I am just too busy, too old to use them. Still naïve, but I’ve seen some things. I’ve lived long enough to know love isn’t what it’s made out to be, friends come and go, and role models shouldn’t exist, they just let me down. I know but I don’t fully understand. I cling to that innocence as it slowly starts to fade away with each passing disappointment.

At age 19 my crayons are gone, in the trash. I haven’t seen the perfect shade of purple in years. I’ve witnessed more than I can bear and what’s worse is that I understand it all. The love I thought my parents had and tried to mimic has now left me heartbroken beyond known repair. I have a whole new set of friends but have convinced myself there is an expiration date, there always is. The people I chose to admire have turned out worse than those I chose to despise. I am not happy. I just want my innocence back.

At age 25 I miss the simplicity and the feeling of unadulterated happiness. I have experienced good. I’ve accomplished. I’ve laughed. I’ve loved. However, there is the unavoidable bad. I cannot regain the innocence. It’s gone. Stripped from me by too many people, with too many things.

At age 5 when I would make an error coloring, I would snatch that perfect purple crayon and color over it. There is nothing that crayon couldn’t make look better. No one could see any problems.

So, at age 30 I drive, and I buy a box of crayons. The purple crayon isn’t included but if I have learned anything, it’s how to make it work. I am not innocent but I will color over it so it cannot be seen. 


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

I was supposed to be a snitch, not some lackey listening to Wham! blare throughout the store. The only way my demotion could be worse was if that annoying Mariah Carey Christmas song came on again. The Big Guy would say it’s penance for messing around with his daughter. I bristled at the unmistakable whir of an approaching grocery cart. Any moment now…

“Pick me!” The shouts came from all around me. Much more of this, and I’d need something to survive the next fourteen hours with my sanity intact. Fortunately, the beer section was only a few aisles away, provided I could ever escape.
The “pick me” chorus crescendoed as the cart neared and the woman pushing it came into view. She had big, brown eyes, lips like pillows, and dark hair that spiraled several inches past her shoulders. She was probably in her thirties, still a hottie. The woman passed by and browsed through the decorations. With a sigh, she deposited an angel tree topper and a tractor ornament into the cart, then turned toward the toy department, stopping briefly to acknowledge my presence with a tilt of her head. She’d be back, and I’d look forward to the view.
Customers grabbed for garland and stretched for stocking holders as they hustled into my section, and the beautiful woman returned, her cart brimming with toys, coats, and board games. Two children followed close behind. The girl appeared to be about eight, and the boy was probably four. Both had tufts of white fur, likely an animal’s, stuck in the Velcro of their jackets that were too light for a Midwestern winter. The kids pointed in my direction. 
“Mom, they’ve got them! You promised us one last year,” the daughter said as she headed my way.
“Today is the first time I’ve seen them all season.” The woman pulled a tissue from her pocket and dabbed her son’s nose. “We’re only buying one, though.”
“Really?” The girl’s eyes lit as her mom nodded. The boy’s devilish smile was the stuff of my nightmares. “Which one should we get?”
Two kids—possibly more, and an animal, too. The home from hell. This didn’t bode well at all. I needed to keep calm, be invisible, and let them choose someone clueless about the trouble ahead. Anyone but me. I took a step backward and teetered before falling onto the floor.
“I think this one chose us. Maybe he should be our shelf elf.” The woman reached down as I tried scrambling away. To my chagrin, my magic never worked when children were looking. “Of course, we’ll need to come up with a name, but that’ll wait until we get home. Your sisters get to decide, too.”
“We should call him Glitter.”
“No, T-Rex!”
My name was Sven, not Glitter, T-Rex or anything else this wretched family could dream up. Sven.
“Come on, kids. We need to buy dog and cat food, too.” 

If the humiliation didn’t kill me, the cat would. 

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.

Before we sign off, I wanted to address the issue a few readers are having with not being able to post comments, or having those comments show up as UNKNOWN even though they have a Google Account.  There are several things at play here. First, if you are using the Safari or Chrome browsers they have a known problem with Blogger and you have two choices. Switch to Firefox as a browser (I've never had a problem using it), or change the setting on Safari as illustrated below.

The other problem is Blogger not recognizing you when adding a comment and therefore designating you as UNKNOWN. This could happen if the reader is a Blogger user themselves and they have not changed their settings since Google + went away.  To do this, follow these steps:

Go to Blogger dashboard.
Set User Profile = Blogger (instead of Google +)

Hopefully, that will resolve everyone's issues and let the votes/comments reach our contestants.

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 #2. 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. Congrats to the contestants for being chosen in round 2!

    Sunflower--interesting and solid concept,and nice flow, but it didn't resonate with me. I'm just not a poetry person, and I think that probably helps color my view, so take that with a grain of salt.

    Anita- (great name btw)-- This was a cute/fun piece and I love the twist. I could easily see this made into a kid's movie with John Carrey as Sven/Glitter. Nice job!

    Anita gets my vote.

  2. My vote goes to Anita Winn.

    Sunflower: I’m not usually a stickler for genre, but there’s a big difference between poetry and prose, and this felt more prosy than poetic. It’s a solid personal essay with depth, sadness, and a touch of hope. I like that the narrator came back to crayons in the end, and I’m hopeful that the next thirty years will be brighter, but not being able to find the poetry in a piece labeled as poetry was too big an obstacle for me.

    Anita Winn: This is how humor should be done. I like the quirky perspective, and the voice is spot on. Good job.

  3. Good morning and congrats, Contestants!

    This piece is beautifully written, but it didn't read as poetry to me. It read more like a journal entry or an excerpt from a memoir or creative nonfiction piece. I also had a hard time really getting into the piece because the first paragraph talks about how as a 5-year-old they are certain friendships are forever and role models will never let you down. These are high-level concepts for 5-year-olds and although I truly appreciate that you tried to paint a picture of an idyllic or at least stable childhood, that bit just felt too old for a kid in kindergarten. Still, I adore the way the narrator embraces their inner child and nurtures them with crayons and coloring again.

    I know choosing a category and genre can feel like an impossible thing, but it's a really important part of the process if you want to get your work out there. Whether you sub to lit magazines, pursue traditional publishing by querying agents, or self-publish, you have to know where your work fits in the market.

    Anita Winn:
    This piece was snarky and fun and it could have been labeled Humor just as easily as Fantasy. My only real critique is changing the final sentence to say "if the humiliation didn't kill me, the pets would." I suggest this simply because Mom mentions needing dog and cat food, and I'd imagine Sven would be equally if not more terrified of dogs than cats.

    Anita Winn gets my vote.

  4. Sunflower--when labeled as poetry, the reader expects poetry, but this reads as prose. I was thrown by this right away. Though well written, the last 5-year-old POV felt out of place to me. All the ages were in progressing order, there was no need to circle back to five again. I enjoyed the correlation between crayons and life and how sometimes things of our youth are still a comfort as adults. I actually found myself coloring with my uncle over the Thanksgiving holiday. Relatable, but the misused genre and the oddly placed POV threw me out.

    Anita-- I loved the whimsy of Anita's piece, and it was a delight to see a story from the POV of the elf. We have such an elf in the house, his name is Warner, and I would have loved to have had his perspective of all the nightmarish and humiliating things we put him through. Our boy is grown now, and the magic is gone, but we bust Warner out every once in a while and mess with each other. The writing was strong, quick and each word mattered. My only real critique is the "pick me" line. It would have been less confusing and more comical/impactful if I had known right up front the POV was an Elf on the Shelf waiting to be purchased, and not a store employee who wanted to work for the mob (snitch comment).

    My vote goes to Anita Winn

  5. 🌻 Sunflower was cool. 🖍 I liked the purple crayon best too. Not that it's really about that.

    Anita Winn -- is that a skeptical, pissed off Elf on the Shelf? 😄 Cracked me up. You get my vote.

  6. My vote goes to Anita Winn. It's not easy to tell a complete story in 500 words, complete with twist, but you did it. Loved the voice and the humor and I really feel for poor Sven having to go home with these people.

    Sunflower, like others, I didn't read this as a poem. It was more like slightly fragmented prose and didn't read right to me.

  7. Well, the first did not strike me as poetry Descriptive, a little evocative.

    The second - well, an interesting choice for a protagonist. Also liked the inferences. Not sure about the lust factor in a shelf ornament.

    My vote goes to Anita Winn's Shelf Elf piece.

  8. Anita Winn gets my vote. Hilarious, and with an unusual narrator. I liked the evocative feeling of Sunflower (more essay than poem, not that it matters). But -- it may be the times -- I just wanted to have fun!

  9. My vote goes to Anita Winn. It was such a fun story with a unique point of view.

  10. Sunflower, the imagery of the purple crayon as a connection to innocence is a good one, but I don't think it's a deep enough one -- why purple? What makes it special over green, red, or blue? Your opening line also could stand a little tweaking -- it's the only one in past tense ("worry was") while everything else is present tense, and I believe the worry would be breaking the crayon rather than "not" breaking it. Also, while there are some definite emotional elements to the piece, it is actually prose, not poetry. Poetry is about sparse, evocative words, rhythm, and the interplay of the sound of each syllable. This is a narrator telling their story in complete sentences and paragraphs. I do like the "return to innocence" message of the story.

    Anita Winn, I like the clever idea of the elf on the shelf telling his story, although it took me a while to get that's who was speaking -- I initially thought it was a store employee and the "Big Guy" was his boss. The voices all calling "pick me" was also a little disorienting until it all fell into place at the end. It's great to get your reader wondering what's happening or to give them a surprising twist at the end, but it could be a little smoothed over here. I enjoyed the voice, although the "snarky tuff-guy" thing has become a bit of a cliché for me. Still, it was a very enjoyable piece and the writing was effective in relaying the scene.

    My vote goes to Anita for the Winn.

  11. Congrats to both of you for getting in!

    Sunflower the comparisons you make and timeline you describe are relatable and elegant. However it did read more like prose than poetry.

    Anita definitely had me asking questions and reading more than once. Not sure what the narrator is but you definitely nailed the feel of holiday chaos. I would have liked to see more of the narrator but otherwise a fun read. My vote goes to Anita.

  12. Sunflower: I admire the courage and vulnerability in your writing.

    Anita: I like your concept. Your story was a fun and entertaining read.

    I vote for Sunflower

  13. My vote goes to Sunflower.

    Anita Winn - I liked the twist at the end, that was definitely a cute discovery! However, I found prior to that point, there wasn't anything in the character or story work that drew my attention, so it wasn't UNTIL I got to that twist that I was interested in what was happening.

    Sunflower - I'm not normally a poetry person, but the theme in this poem came through really strongly and resonated with me.

  14. Congratulations to you both for making it in!

    Sunflower, I too find myself looking for the perfect crayon. Nice description of lost innocence.

    Anita - I loved this story! It left me wanting more.

    My vote goes to Anita!

  15. My vote goes to Anita Winn.

    Sunflower: I like the idea of the crayon, but didn't feel the emotions here. It felt like you were telling me something, not showing it.

    Anita Winn: First, I like your name. More importantly, your piece read well, although it was a bit confusing until it became clear who the narrator was. Cute piece, good execution.

  16. My vote is goes to Sunflower. It's hard to open up that much and pull your audience in with the story. Good job. Transitions need some work though.

    Anita Winn, yours was good. It just didn't vib with me. I think if it flowed better I would have picked it.

    This one was hard. Great job both writers

  17. Sunflower, I did not feel the feels this piece intended, but I do love the color purple!

    Anita, I can only say, omg, that poor elf, and you get my vote today.

  18. Sunflower, thanks for trusting us with such a vulnerable, heart-on-page piece. There are a lot of powerful lines here, like "I haven’t seen the perfect shade of purple in years." And then there are some where I think the metaphor ran away with your story: "I will color over it so it cannot be seen." Does this mean the narrator is practicing avoidance or is this supposed to be a moment of hope? I wasn't sure how I was supposed to feel.

    Anita, I really like that we don't get the POV reveal until later in the story. It was a fun twist to realize this cantankerous personality was coming out of a shelf elf. And it was a clever take on the traditional elf gig to position him as a whistle-blower for Santa.

    Great pieces, both, but my vote goes to Anita for cleaner execution of plot and mood.

  19. Anita Winn - A snitch for who? What daughter? I don't fully understand what's going on here. Is this like the Childsplay movies and the "shelf elf" has the soul of someone else inside? Chucky for Christmas?

    Sunflower, at least I understood the emotions you put out. So you get my vote.

  20. Congrats on making it into the ring!

    Sunflower, I think this might have worked as prose, but it fell a little flat as poetry.

    Anita, you have my vote.

  21. My vote is for Anita Winn.

    Anita-your story was clever. I also enjoyed the detail and descriptions; it put me right in the store next to Sven.

    Sunflower-this had great potential but I think the overall theme was lost by the end.

  22. My vote is for Anita. I was confused by the snitch part and not sure how a toy elf was messing with the big guy's daughter but the concept was cute and I loved the bit about magic not working around kids.

    Sunflower: I like the concept of looking at life from the perspective of your relationship with crayons. Not to beat a dead horse but the category was a disconnect for me.

  23. Sunflower: To me, this read like prose not poetry. The piece invoked feelings with I always like. I want to color over everything with purple too.

    My vote goes for Anita however. To me, this was perfect timing and holiday themed that made me chuckle. Laughter always wins in my opinion.

  24. I struggled with both of these - there's talent in both, but in each case the central idea was off-key for me.

    I like your use of a controlling metaphor, of the crayons, and you obviously have a lot of insight into the nature of trust, the loss of it. Your voice is excellent and there is a flow throughout the piece. This level of vulnerability, however, makes me feel imposed upon: what am I supposed to do with these traumas of yours? I think if this had been a piece about the human condition, which inevitably includes some level of betrayal and abuse, it could have been a charming exploration of re-finding one's power and moving onto greater things.

    Anita Winn:
    I liked your descriptive skill - I could really see the woman moving around in that 'shopping for everything in one go' way. There was a lot of humour in it. I found the story itself a little loose, and the narrator's lechery pushed me out of the story somewhat. The questions in my mind: a 'shelf elf' sounds very static - why would a family yearn for it, why was it fitting punishment? How is he being a 'lackey' by sitting on a store shelf? Why is he appalled that he's being bought by a family, given that he's in a toy department? If not them, then the next. There were a number of odd word-choices: bristle implies anger, crescendo is a noun, chagrin implies a mistake rather than an inability.

    For language and flow I vote for Sunflower's Innocence.

  25. Such different pieces. both deploying a true talent with words and imagery. Still, my vote goes to Anita for the delight of discovering the true POV character. Poor Sven!

    Generally, I'm pretty lenient in a writer's interpretation of poetry, but Sunflower's piece just wasn't it for me, as evocative and emotional as it was. It felt more like journaling to me. Possibly, it would have resonated more if it had covered more of the ebb and flow of disillusion and hope over a span of life rather than just the first 30 years.

    If I had a critique of Anita's piece it would be that, to fully enjoy it, it must be read more than once, but it was so much fun to re-read it knowing that the lecherous Sven was an Elf on the Shelf, I give that a pass.

  26. Congratulations, writers!

    I really related to Sunflower’s poem about the loss of innocence. To me, it effectively conveyed how life takes us from naïve to jaded and, if we’re lucky, back again. Nice use of imagery, metaphor and language.

    Yes, there is such a thing as a “prose poem” and I think you did this very well.

    Anita Winn:
    The first sentence was a bit awkward and some of the descriptions throughout confused me. I had to go back and figure out who was shouting “Pick me.” I thought it was one of the shoppers. It might have helped to have some description of other shelf-elves or the other decorations doing the shouting.

    I wasn’t sure what the elf was demoted from, since the “elves on the shelf” are the ones who are supposed to be reporting to Santa.

    It was fun and entertaining. The last line made me laugh.

    Both stories had qualities to recommend them, but the poem made me feel something and I liked the way it circled back to complete the theme and offer hope.

    My vote goes to Sunflower.

  27. Anita Win, first--I love your alias. That's hilarious. You WIN with me today! I loved the POV reveal, as someone noted above. It was a tiny bit confusing but kept me reading, and the payoff was so worth it. I'd like to find out why Sven was "supposed to be a snitch" and how that works in the kids' home. I love that the timing of Fight Club this year allows for holiday pieces.

    Sunflower, I love purple, too! My very favorite! I would suggest editing for age. The ages provided seemed too young for me (at age 12, kids are normally much more childlike and less world weary--at least less able to express what they are beginning to realize about life). Perhaps adjusting narrative voice over the chronological age progression would add something (5-year-old voice sounds different from 12 years etc.).

  28. The first story is prose, not poetry. But still, I like the subject matter. The first paragraph was a bit too mature for a five year old. Retaining the understanding of a little child would have been more demonstrative of the phases of growth this person goes through. And at the end, the absence of a purple crayon and learning how to do without it is an excellent expression of growth.

    The elf story was entertaining, but the originality of the first story made it more memorable for me. My vote goes to Sunflower.

  29. Ugh! I hate that these two stories found themselves pitted against one another as they were both at the top of my slushpile list!!! I LOVE both of these stories so it is agony to choose between them. Anita Winn you captured my heart with your elf on the shelf POV. My kids get an annual visit with our shelf elf Gelf so this story hit home. Sunflower you blew me away with this poetic picture of life which was so filled with emotion it stuck to me like glue. I was impressed with much emotion you managed to create with so few words. Your piece hit home so my vote is for Sunflower!

  30. Sunflower -- The piece was sweet but not sappy, and I feel the reader can easily relate with the character. The opener was a little jarring, that transition between letting the reader know you're grown now and looking back to "I'm happy." Could have used some re-thinking. After that, the voice smooths out.

    Anita Winn -- This is cute and timely, with a snarky, irreverent narrator that captures the mood well. The word limit was managed well, though I'm not sure why the woman had to show up, leave, and then return. Keeping her there would have allowed for more room to explore other aspects of the scene. I'm still not sure what the "Pick me" chorus refers to. Is it the other elves on the shelf hoping to go home with this hottie?

    Vote goes to Anita Winn

  31. Congratulations to both of you for making it to the bouts! My vote goes to Anita Winn.

    Sunflower - Your entry just didn't read as poetry. With some editing, you might work this into a lyric essay, as you already have the symbolism in place with the purple crayon. Your theme - the loss of innocence, is something most readers could identify with.

    Anita Winn - Funny piece. I appreciated the twist at the end and you built that up well without revealing too much. At first the narrator's voice annoyed me, but at the end I was satisfied that he'd end up with that family!

  32. I vote for Anita Winn.

    I would love to see more from the perspective of this (slightly naughty) little elf on the shelf, and I loved the humor strung along throughout!

    Sunflower, your entry was lovely, and I did absolutely enjoy reading it--but I echo some of the critiques here that it was not quite as poetic as I'd want from poetry. I did love how it came full-circle back to the crayons, and you had some absolutely beautiful turns of phrase, but it ultimately fell a little flat for me.

  33. Sunflower, I like the progression of how the importance of the purple crayon changed as the MC changed. It's a good embodiment of the idea of the MC controlling his or her own life or at least the reaction to what life has to offer (color it over if it's not pleasing).

    Anita Winn, I thought the surprise of the story was good, and I liked the action.

    My vote goes for Anita Winn.

  34. Both are lovely. Anita Winn gets my vote because I smiled when I figured it out... and I'm keen to learn what happens next.




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