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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #3


We're back with the next preliminary bout. 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 Tuesday, Dec. 144th (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 Flipside representing the Women's Fiction genre.

Ruby sat at the kitchen table, pen in hand as she gazed upon the rolling hills of the farm outside her window. It was spring, and the sun through the glass warmed her face as she struggled with what to say. Grasping the pen, she winced from the pain of arthritis.

My Dearest Annie.

She scratched it out.


Just her name would be best.

“How can I tell her?”  The image of a little tow-haired boy being chased by a skinny-legged girl came floating into her mind. “You two. Always friends. Always laughing. I remember that first day he came into Sunday school, all red cheeked from running. His father said he was a handful, but I never had a moment’s trouble out of him. I should never have agreed to teach that Sunday school class…teaching leads to nothing but trouble.”


Jimmy’s dead.

 The words staring from the paper, she decided brevity was best in this situation, so she would only require a postcard. No. Short and to the point—that was how she determined to handle telling Annie the news.

Hit by bread truck.

Should she put that?  She usually didn’t hesitate to put the cause of death; it was what people were going to ask anyway so why not tell them straight away?  Less chance of gossip and speculating. So yes, she would put that. “Best she gets used to life letting you down, and no amount of flowery language will take away facts or pain.”

Rifling through her stationary box, she discovered only one postcard: an Easter postcard with a pastel yellow daffodil and pale brown rabbit. Annie had always loved rabbits and flowers; this would let her know she was thinking of her in this tragic event.

How to end?  After several false starts, she settled on the simple:


Laying the pen down, Ruby retrieved a newspaper clipping worn and thin from age and handling. It was usually hidden in the bottom of her stationary supplies, but times such as these made her crave it like an amulet. “He’s dead,” she said resolutely. “Dead. Love always dies.”

As she fingered the ancient, yellowed article she whispered softly to it, “I’m sorry. I’m so very sorry.”

Sorry, she thought. Sorry for so much. She thought about adding this to the card, but stopped short of putting the words on there. It was true: she was sorry. She was very sorry. Very sorry for all of it: for the bizarre and tragic death of Jimmy; for his father’s loss; for her daughter’s loss; for all of it. “She’s not a little girl anymore. She’ll be fine—she’ll bounce back. She’s too young not to.”

Too young not to. She remembered the words from years ago, but death never got easier. 


On the far side of the ring, we have S.L. Grady who represents the Mystery/Thriller genre.

The door opens and Lexi races towards me. I sink to my knees and wrap my arms around her furry chest as she covers my face in wet kisses. “Okay,” I tell her. “Walk time!”
Winter means that daylight is scarce, and the lingering rain clouds only deepen the sinister feel of the night. Regardless, I equip myself with a flashlight and rain boots before Lexi and I drive to McCormick Forest Park.
The empty trail head is unsurprising and a relief we have the place to ourselves. “Go ahead,” I motion Lexi out of the car and she happily obliges; her tail spinning as she darts into the forest.
Not before long, the bright white light shining from my flashlight dims to a lackluster yellow. I swear it had a full charge before I left. Without warning the flashlight shuts off, blindsiding me into pure darkness.
“Lexi!” I call her name, reassured when I hear her familiar pant. Without any light, I can barely make out the shadows of the trees that stand before me. “Let’s go,” I tell Lexi, turning back towards the car.
The sudden snap of a twig from behind jolts my body like a strike of lightning. I instinctively tense, paralyzed from taking another step forward. “Hello?” My shallow voice trembles.
I cautiously continue forward, trying to sidestep stray branches. Unsettling silence radiates across the forest. “Lexi?” I don’t hear the clank of her collar against her heart shaped tag. “Lexi,” I call again, this time louder.
Panic arises in my chest; I need to get to the car, I need to find Lexi. “Lexi!”
Another snap of a branch breaks the stillness that permeates the air. I am not alone.  
I quicken my pace, but rain soaked dirt gloms onto my boots, weighing down my feet with each step. Finally, I see the faint glow of a street light ahead.
Breathless, I reach the car. Before I open it, Lexi emerges from the trail. Relief calms my hammering heart. “Get in!” I yell.
On the drive back home, I have one hand on the steering wheel and the other on Lexi. “What’s that?” My hand reaches into her mouth and pulls out what feels like a long, tattered rope. I throw it on the floorboard amongst empty water bottles and crumpled store receipts.
The following morning I drive into work, still shaken from the night prior. I turn on the radio to quell my unease, landing on the local news station. “19 year old Tara Johnson went missing Tuesday night. She was last seen walking her dog Maggie near McCormick Forest Park.” My blood turns cold.
I gulp down a bottle of water and throw it on the floorboard. My eye catches the blue rope I must have pulled from Lexi’s mouth last night. I look again. It’s not a rope, but a canvas collar. Still damp, I scrape away the dirt that is caked over the nameplate. “Maggie.”


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 another 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. Wow -- I have to say the first two rounds were pretty one-sided for me, but this one is a VERY tough one! Excellent job writers! Ugggh, the diabolical luck of the draw! I'm really torn between these two pieces, and it's going to have to come down to petty nit-picking or a coin-flip because I wish I could pick both of you!

    Flipside, you do a fabulous job of filling your entry with emotion and grabbing the reader with a heart-pulling situation that raises a ton of curiosity. The POV character is compelling and easy to identify with, and the scene is very well-constructed. I admit I had to read it twice to get a solid connection of how the characters are interrelated, but that was my fault -- all the clues are there, neatly and concisely presented. The only thing that I have a question about is a story question that you clearly intended the reader to have: "Why is the article old and faded?" I assume it's about Jimmy's death so it makes me wonder: How long has she been struggling with writing this letter? But then she says Annie is "still young" so maybe its an older article of something else deeply important to the MC. Also, I'm curious about the setting -- it feels like rural and 20th century since it mentions a bread truck. But wouldn't she have a phone and want to give Annie the news that way? Or is it maybe like the early 1920s or so, when a lot of rural homes hadn't gotten phones yet? Either way, the main point I have is that I found this piece evocative, relatable, compelling, and well-written; it makes me curious and eager to learn more; and I'd definitely keep reading, even though I'm not physically, nor do I identify as a, "woman". To me, fiction is either compelling or not, regardless of what gender it is aimed for -- and yours definitely is.

    S.L. Grady, I also found your work emotion-filled, although the emotions were much more visceral and fearful. The writing is crisp and the pacing is tight. You do a great job of building your scenes and make it very easy to identify with your MC. The concept is a bit well-trodden in the horror genre, but you do a really good job of not making it seem stale or clichéd. I do feel a bit lost as to who the MC is -- I'm guessing female, just to make it more identifiable with the victim Tara Johnson, but I'm not certain. But I come away with several key story questions that raise intrigue and would definitely keep reading to learn more.

    Dang -- I feel like both entries deserve to win and hate that I have to pick only one. But I guess my vote goes to S.L. Grady. If these were the beginnings of two books, I would want to continue reading both, but I'd probably pick up the mystery first simply because that's a genre I more enjoy.

  2. Wow, I was really impressed by both of these pieces! I think my vote today goes to Flipside, but it was definitely a difficult choice.

    S.L. Grady - the sense of fear is really strong in your piece, my heart was pounding as I read it, and the end gave me chills! My biggest critique - and this may be due to the word constraint - is that I felt like the really sudden shift from night to the next morning was a little bit jarring.

    Flipside - the emotions in this piece are so real, and I really got a good sense of character in a very short period of time.

    Great job both of you!

  3. Congratulations to the contestants for making it into the ring!

    These pieces are pretty evenly matched, to the extent that on any given day, I might chose one over the other. Both are decently written. Both offer a little mystery.

    Flipside: I was a little confused on the chronology, but I wonder if that's intentional. We appear to have an older woman notifying her grown daughter about a death that occurred in the distant past. I have a lot of questions about Jimmy's death, Ruby's role in it, and what Ruby has been doing since, as writing death notices seems to be a habit of hers. The story was a little hard to follow and I wasn't as drawn in as I would have liked, but I think you've given us an interesting character with a perplexing backstory.

    S.L. Grady: This reminds me of the near-miss horror stories we used to tell at sleepovers, but I feel like it needed something more to really grab the reader's attention--maybe a closer connection to the protagonist or a twist ending. For example, if the story on the radio had been about the protagonist's disappearance, THAT would have made me sit up and pay attention. There were also places where you could have tightened up the writing. "The empty trail head is unsurprising and a relief we have the place to ourselves" is awkwardly worded. I think you're missing an "it's" in the second clause. Also, in the phrase "Not before long," the "not" gives your sentence the opposite meaning of what you intended. Little things like that tip the scale in favor of your opponent.

    Flipside gets my vote today.

  4. This was a hard choice to make as I enjoyed reading both stories.

    S.L. Grady: I enjoyed the heart pounding tension in your story. It gave me chills. The biggest thing for me was the change from night to day. If felt rushed and awkward, but with only so many words to work with I understand.

    Flipside: I enjoyed your story and it left me with many unanswered questions, but I had a hard time connecting with the main character. I also wasn't sure what time period this was. I thought present day, but the postcard statement made me think a much earlier time.

    My vote today goes to S.L. Grady

  5. Way to go, Contestants! Both of these stories were fantastic and I had a damn hard time casting my vote this round.

    This is beautifully written and incredibly emotional, but there are a lot of unanswered questions. Presumably, Annie's childhood friend, Jimmy, died. But from the old newspaper clipping, I feel like Jimmy died a long, long time ago. Wouldn't Annie have known about his death when she was little?

    So then clearly the clipping is about someone else who died when Annie was little. A sibling, perhaps?

    I'm also unclear about the Sunday School connection. It definitely sounds like Mom regrets teaching because that's the day Jimmy died. If that's the case, Annie would have been a child and she'd definitely already know because that was her best friend.

    S.L. Grady:
    I adore the sensory details in this piece. I agree with the above commenter who said the switch from a nighttime walk to a daytime drive felt a little jarring, but it wasn't so jarring that it pulled me out of the story. I did predict Lexi and the protagonist would find a body, but predicting that didn't take away the shiver or the satisfaction. Overall, I thought this piece was really well done.

    My vote goes to S.L. Grady today because they answered all my questions and took me on a short, fun ride.

  6. A tough choice, but my vote goes to S.L. Grady.

    Flipside-your story had great details but I had a hard time following and am left with many questions.

    Grady-your story was gripping and I, too, got chills reading it. I do wish there was some more detail leading into the next day, but I do get the 500 word constraints.

  7. Wow, Dec. 144th??? But... but... I want to get out of 2021... 😳😱😄

    Flipside I can relate to this because my Christmas newsletter this year has been reduced to brief sentences on what is basically a postcard, listing all the family who died this year. So, no offense, but reading this was kind of a kick in the teeth.

    S.L. Grady that's a thriller, no doubt! Good opening for a story. Voting for you.

  8. Flipside- Great job creating a character sketch of the mom and the mother/daughter relationship in so few words. I really liked the image of the postcard and the hopes of the mom that her daughter would believe her mom was thinking about her because of the picture. While there were some great details, I was frustrated that you didn’t spell out what the newspaper said. I assumed it was an obituary but it would have been nice to know for sure.

    SL Grady- This was such a chilling piece! I really felt the fear and was rushing to get to the end to see what would happen next, always a good sign! Kudos for creating a complete story in so few words.

    I vote for SL Grady, although it was a close one!

  9. Flipside - something was off to me in the timing. Was this mother wallowing in grief for ages and just now trying to decide how to tell her daughter of Jimmy's death? Very odd an hard to follow for me though the feelings of sadness from the mom was palpable.

    My vote goes to SL Grady for the win. I tend to gravitate to suspense and mystery genres anyway. My heart was pumping as I read this story. Way to close as well ... Maggie on the nameplate!! OMGee!! Can't wait to read more from you.

  10. Flipside - I like the atmosphere you created in your piece with the details you include. And I love the mother deciding so carefully what to write - though like others, I was confused about the other death in the story.

    SL Grady - good job of building tension. I was invested in Lexi coming back!

    Because I really enjoyed the world you created, my vote goes to Flipside.

  11. SL Grady, I want more! Your descriptions and emotion really drew me in, I could feel the anxiety on the dark path. Both writers were compelling but SL Grady had me. I love writing that brings forth visceral reactions.

    I vote for SL Grady

  12. Congrats to both of you and best of luck!

    S.L. Grady you definitely have atmospheric and mystery vibes down for this one. Easy to visualize, empathize, and then the reveal of what Maggie found. This was well written and I would read the full story just off this, but that's also where it falls short. This is how the story begins which is engaging but all buildup and just the beginning of payoff was a rough way to end at least for me.

    Ok so Flipside, I read this after work and I gotta say tired body and brain or not I could feel the character's pain, uncertainty, and grief. Her age, her loss, and resilience all came through beautifully here and I hope that she finds some measure of peace. Basically I cared about the character from start to end and wanted them to be ok. Flipside gets my vote.

  13. Congrats contestants!

    Flipside-- I think there is a lot of emotion in this piece, but it is confusing to me. As others have stated, it's hard to follow who is dead, and how the news article comes into play.

    SL Grady-- This is a thriller for sure. My one critique, is as someone else mentioned, the time lag between finding the collar, and the realization. I think this is an easy fix by having the MC discover the nametag in the car that same night. The time lag takes away some of the great tension.

    My vote goes to SL Grady

  14. Oh my. These were difficult to choose. Of all of the posts, there is only one from the first selection that I can compare to the offerings in this third round.

    Both are wonderful. But my vote goes to Flipside for it's language, and feeling.

    But I'm going to go with the first, the women's fiction

  15. I'm having a hard time deciding. Both pieces, in my opinion, lost a little bit of reader connection and plot due to the word constraints. That being said, I resinated most with SL Grady's story. It felt more complete, if a little jarring at the end.

    Flipside: My biggest critique is that i wasn't sure about how the mother was actually feeling. They way she was writing, and subsequently talking to herself, made me feel like this was more than just a mom writing a letter to inform her daughter of a death. It had a lingering idea that there was some sort of either a) supernatural or b) sinister element that wasn't quite coming through in the piece. I didn't feel an urgency of the need for a letter. By the time the letter is mailed and received, quite some time has passed, but the way the mom is talking it sounds like this information needs to be shared now, rather than later, because there was a closeness between the daughter and the dead. Also, it leads me to wonder what time period this is? I'm having difficulty piecing together the setting/time and necessity.

    SL Grady--Thrillers are one of my favorites, and the thrill was definitely here in the piece. We got a distinct beginning, middle and end, although the end was a little too abrupt. Also, not that its a bad thing, there wasn't much resolve--does the dog walker know Maggie and perhaps the owner? Had she seen the missing woman out on a walk before? Were they friends? All these reader questions push me to want to read more, eager for some tea. There were several places that words could have been easily cut and repurposed into story progression. Specifically some redundancies such as "Lexi!" she yelled. We know she is yelling already making the telling of how she called out, redundant. That is one example, but there are a few in the piece that might need a little bit of a look. I would have liked to have seen those words used to answer a few reader thought questions.

    Nice work to both entrants.
    My vote is for SL GRADY

  16. Both really strong pieces that make it clear why everyone commenting has struggled to land on a vote.

    At first, I struggled with Flipside's very evocative story because I kept trying to pull together the chronology and characters, but then I just relaxed and fell into the development of Ruby's character. The setting, the details such as the images on the postcard, the internal dialogue that seemed to highlight (for me, at least) Ruby's taciturn nature and possibly a root cause for an estrangement with Annie -- all gave me a sense of place and POV that touched me.

    SL Grady's mystery/thriller piece is also compelling! I'm a dog person, so I was on the edge of my seat about Lexi and also hit with a sharp pang over Maggie's fate. LOL, sorry I wasn't as worried about the dog walker, oddly. My editor half noted a few things I'd recommend to tighten it up even more, but it was plenty taut and, while a familiar trope, kept me engaged to the end.

    Tough call, and I've swung back and forth a couple of times, but my coin flip goes to Flipside.

  17. My vote is for Flipside.

    Flipside: I liked the idea of this story, but the storyline was a bit difficult to piece together; this could be fixed with a some polishing and clarity. The writing works. I'm not normally a fan of sentence fragments; however, you use them effectively and purposefully here.

    SL Grady: I had a hard time with the emotions of this piece. For me, the tone didn't come across clearly or consistently. There were flashes of ominousness but not a consistent feel or a discernible switch. For example, the narrator is listening for her dog's breath and calling for her dog, but then doesn't think the sound of stick breaking might be her dog? I'm confused.

  18. Ooofff, two strong ones today! But, after much consideration, my vote goes to Flipside.

    I loved the back-and-forth between her thoughts and what she was writing - it broke up the weight of her deep thoughts nicely. I was appropriately appalled by the idea she would send a 4-line public postcard about someone's death, but could absolutely see how her strong emotions would perversely lead to that. I do like a little obscurity in a story, a mystery to be pieced from clues, but I found it impossible to untangle many of these details. Did she have an affair with Jimmy's dad and lose her daughter's regard? I really can't tell. I need a final line that gives the final clue, I think. Regardless, an excellent piece.

    S.L. Grady:
    Wonderfully evocative and suspenseful. "I don’t hear the clank of her collar against her heart shaped tag." - suspense from what's absent is a neat touch. There are a few things about the story that bother me: who in their right mind would go walking in a forest at night? The sinister-feeling night, at that. Does s/he do that often? If the murderer was that close, why didn't he attack? Given that it was probably a harmless animal, in that case, why was s/he still shaken the next day? I think it may have been more impactful if s/he'd laughed it off to him/herself and then got smacked with the news. Would the news report have mentioned the dog's name, anyway? In all, I really like the voice, but it feels a little manufactured to fit a goal, rather than organic.

  19. Great stories from both! My vote goes to S.L. Grady, through and through!

    Flipside: I enjoyed your use of fragmenting in the beginning. It was done nicely. I do think that this story line was a bit difficult to follow. I had a difficult time wanting to keep reading. Well done, though!

    S.L. Grady: Great suspense and I wanted to keep reading. My only disappointment was that it was over! I felt the suspense and the ending made my heart sink. Great work!

  20. This was a great bout, both strong pieces.

    Flipside: Since there's some confusion around the chronology, I'll tell you my interpretation was that the newspaper clipping was in reference to another loss, and that Jimmy's was more recent? When she says "Love always dies" I assumed this was in reference to her own former lover. There was a lot of interesting characterization in Ruby's word choices and post card selection; I wonder if she comes off blunt or insensitive to others in her life, maybe because she's unpracticed at social interaction or neurodivergent. Would have loved more hints about her relationship with society and her daughter. I found the transition between narrator, written word and inner monologue to be a bit confusing in the beginning, which might be resolved by italics or a first person POV.

    S.L. Grady: I love a close-call thriller! I thought the pacing of this one was great and the twist was nicely planted. There were a few places where my reality-radar went off: considering the protag did not actually see a pursuer in the woods, would she still be frightened the next day? And, though I know it's critical to the story, how likely is it that the news broadcaster would mention the dog by name? Another nitpicky observation was where you say "winter means that daylight is scarce" followed by a reference to the night. So is daylight scarce because it's winter or because it's nighttime? An easy fix.

    By a hair, and a few details, my vote is with Flipside for this one.

  21. Congrats to both of you! This one is a tough vote for me...and it's taken me a couple days to decide. It is highly likely that I'll cast my vote for whichever story does not win this bout as a wildcard in the cage bouts.

    Flipside: I loved your story. The language is beautiful. I, too, was confused by some of it and it has had my mind wandering. That news article has yellowed, so I wonder how many times this mother has tried to write this letter. I also wonder about the mother's relationship with her daughter, who likely isn't so young now. I wonder about the mother's role in Jimmy's death. I don't think these are questions that need to be answered in this passage, but some of the language is confusing.

    S.L. Grady, I loved your story, too. I loved that we got a beginning, middle, and end...with a side order of adrenaline. I think that something that jumped out at me was "Winter means daylight is scarce." I felt that was probably a waste, as winter usually implies scarce daylight (especially the more north you get. It's almost 4PM where I am...and getting dark). I think you can show us that it's winter and dark without having to tell us that.

    My vote is for Flipside.

  22. My vote goes to S.L. Grady! On the personal side, I'm a sucker for mysteries -- and dogs. But the clear writing and quick (but foreshadowed) twist nailed it. Flipside's writing was lovely, but with too much confusion for my taste.

  23. This is a tough one! Both pieces are really good.

    My vote goes for Flipside. I had a lot of questions about what ws actually happening in this piece, but the emotions were palpable.

    S.L. Grady, you did a good job of capturing the atmosphere, but I never really felt the character's terror in the situation.

  24. This was a fierce battle! Congrats to you both on stellar stories.
    S.L. Grady- Not only am I a dog lover but I once worked in a building that was in the center of a serial killers hunting ground (true story) so your story had my hear pounding. I lOVED your story!

    Flipside- You did a superior job of creating realism in the text. I felt like I was in the character's head hearing her thoughts as they happened. It felt authentic. I loved how she struggled with finding the right words. I felt her anxiety, sorrow and fear all mingled together. My vote is for Flipside- who doesn't love death by bread truck?

  25. As others have said, this is a close matchup. Both, actually, have intriguing questions, and we want to know some answers! What has Ruby done that she should be sorry about? Why is she estranged from her daughter? The first couple of sentences felt off to me, and I was confused that she apparently began writing on paper and then got up to start again on a postcard? And wouldn't an Easter postcard seem callous, given the message is about a death? But I feel there's many threads to pick up here, and I would definitely read more. Flipside gets my vote!

    S.L. Grady, I also want to know where this is going. What has happened here? You have set up a great mystery. I'm not a huge fan of mystery--and I'm a cat lover--so I think that influenced me. Thanks for the creepy read!

  26. Flipside -- Writing this was a bold choice. A conflicted narrator that isn't very likable, a letter within a 500-word story? I think both paid off. Obviously readers are reacting to the details and having a hard time parsing them, but that doesn't bother me. The depiction of a mother who can't say what she feels to her own daughter is a powerful one.

    S.L. Grady -- Great atmosphere and descriptions for a mystery. Very challenging to set up and execute a mystery in 500 words. The setup was there, but the payoff didn't do it for me. First of all, there's no way the news is going to give the name of her dog on the broadcast, so the reveal feels engineered. Mystery is a puppet show, and we don't want the reader to see the strings.

    Vote goes to Flipside.

  27. My vote is for SL Grady. Great story.

  28. Working within the constraints of a word count makes achieving a concise beginning middle and end tricky. Both stories fell flat at the end for me, but the mystery story was more compelling and if it could have had another hundred words, I think it would have had a gripping end. My vote goes to S. L. Grady.

  29. I vote for S.L. Grady.

    The piece was interesting, though I expected Lexi to not be Lexi when she returned--or for Lexi to have brought back a piece of something slightly supernatural (at first, I thought she'd grabbed a skeletal arm)! But the subtle, more grounded horror works well for this short piece.

    Flipside, I really liked your main character's no-nonsense approach to things, but the overall narrative was a bit difficult to follow. I was intrigued by the concept, but this short word limit is so punishing for stories like this that are filled with backstory and intrigue that cannot be delivered to the reader in a timely fashion.

  30. I'm trying to imagine getting the postcard.
    Annie, Jimmy's dead. Hit by bread truck. Mother
    Is that how women's fiction goes? Flipside, I don't know enough about the genre to judge properly.

    S.L. Grady -- that is how a mystery/ thriller usually goes. This even feels like something I've read or seen. So it'd probably do well with minimum marketing. As I can see a bright future for your story, given what I know, I give you my vote.

  31. I have to give this one to SL Grady

  32. Flipside and S.L. Grady's pieces are both high quality. Both pieces could easily wind up somewhere. Still, I have a penchant for the struggle in putting the hard things into words, so I am voting for Flipside.

  33. Two solid entries here. My vote goes to S.L. Grady.

    Flipside - Your piece had a strong sense of character and setting right from the start. However, the "Hit by a bread truck" seemed a bit odd and out of place for Jimmy's cause of death. At that point in the story I thought it might take a humorous tone. 500 words is a tough challenge and I felt the introduction of the old news clipping raised too many questions and detracted from the mother/daughter drama unfolding. Good start though, for either a short story or a book chapter.

    S.L. Grady - Great tension and atmosphere in this piece. You did a good job varying the pace and length of your sentences and I like the hook at the end - it made me want to know what will happen next in this story. A few more sensory details could make the piece stronger - you have sounds and touch - add scent to round out the setting. Good job fitting in a complete story in 500 words - no small accomplishment and you have my vote!

  34. Oh wow, this is a very difficult one because both are excellent! S.L. Grady's piece is well-paced and the twist at the end is good. My vote goes to Flipside because I love how the complexity of the mother's thoughts is contrasted with the extreme simplicity of what she actually writes, and you can see the train wreck coming...

  35. Both did great. Flipside kudos, I hope we will get to read more from you. But, mystery and thriller is my genre. SL Grady you get my vote

  36. Congratulations, writers! Awesome work.

    I’m running out of time. I liked both of these and at first I was leaning toward Grady, because it’s atmospheric and intriguing but I also felt it was a bit overwritten. On second read, I like Flipside’s clear writing style and the way the inner dialogue unfolded.

    My vote goes to Flipside.




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