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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #4

We're back with preliminary bout four. 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 Wed. Dec 15th (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 Elettra Miller representing the Cozy Mystery genre.

As the two FBI agents lead Cherry off of the casino floor, Dot adjusts the elasticated waist of her trousers, flips out her cane with the flowers on the shaft, and catches up 

"What's going on?"

"Murder, probably." 

"You're a suspect?"

Cherry half smiles. "Let's hope not." 

The agents reach a fire door and open it. Brad is tall, but his chin is weak, and Carla bears the scars of teenage acne. They are, however, pretty darn fit. Dot follows them down the employee hallway, wondering if it's too late to start building her glutes.

"DAMN! What kind of asshole architect puts one step in a hallway?" 

Cherry has half fallen and is leaning on the wall. Dot rushes back. 

"Have you been drinking?"

"It's Vegas. Haven't you?"

Dot bites her lip. "No, Cherry, I haven't been. I wouldn't drink today any more than I'd drink if I was running a marathon."

Cherry glances at the cane, but seems to think better of commenting. 

It's too late, though. Dot feels the tips of her ears go warm. "The ladies out there and I have been training our brains to the limits for months. Mind palaces, mnemonics, all that stuff. Do you know how many decks were in that shoe on the table? Eight, these days. Then you waltz in and …"

"Everything okay?" It's Carla. She's come back to see why they aren't following.

Cherry pushes herself straight. "I don't suppose you got coffee?"

"I sent Brad for some. He'll meet us at the murder scene up those stairs." She holds out her hand. "He told me about your good work on the Pasadena highway killer last year."

Dot looks from Carla to Cherry and back again. "You consult for the FBI? That's what this is?"

"My assistant," Cherry says to Carla, "she's new."

Dot doesn't want to be Cherry's assistant, but she's not keen on explaining she's in Vegas to fleece casinos using math, so she follows them up the stairs. At the top, there is police tape and something gunky spilling out an open door. Carla goes to flag down Brad, and Cherry turns to Dot. 

"I'm sorry. I just wanted to watch you."

Dot sighs. Her team has earned so much money over the years, they don't need more. These days, they choose a GoFundMe to support. "I shouldn't have mentioned it. It wasn't an invite."

"My daughter needs the therapy. It's the only way she'll live a normal life."

"It's okay."

"And I could use some help now, actually. You're right. I'm pretty trashed."

Despite herself, Dot is curious. She's never seen a real crime scene. She figures the ladies can wait a bit. 

They walk down the hall, toward the tape. Brad is there with coffee, and he hands Dot one. She looks at the glistening globules of matter scattered across the floor, wondering if it's brains. 

"Meat feast pizza," Brad tells her. "Better drink up, ladies. The real show starts inside."

On the far side of the ring, we have Lady Warbleon who represents the Gothic Horror genre.

House of Whispers


The house had outgrown them.

No, I have not misspoken: truly, the Château du Chuchote was bigger than when the family first arrived. Like a quiet cancer, it swelled and spread—stairwells unrolling from drywall, corridors sprouting from halls, porticos appearing where they hadn’t been the day before.

The youngest of them was the first to notice, one fog-softened afternoon in August. “We’ve a courtyard now, Mother,” she announced over tea.

“Of course, Nicolette.” The mother did not spare a glance from her cup or a care for the courtyard. Like all the house’s additions, it was easy enough to trivialize with reason or diagnose as imagination. It has always been that way, the adults would say, even as the foundation groaned beneath them.

Nicolette spent her day exploring the cour d’honneur all the same, delighted to find it trimmed with fieldstone and ripe roses. She tucked her dolls among the buds and armed their porcelain palms with thorns. For a perilous moment, she considered hiding herself in the roses, too, deep in the brambled shadows.

But she knew it would not matter. He would find her anyway.

Nicolette took a nascent hallway back to the nursery, so narrow she had to turn sideways to pass. There were tiny white flowers metastasizing down its length, and when she touched one, it rained petals at her feet as though this were the nave of a chapel and she the bride. It was both sad and beautiful, she thought, not unlike the house itself.

She did not tell the mother about the hallway. Or about the door that had begun to etch itself into the nursery wall. She knew it was not her imagination, because she would watch the door’s light inch closer each night—to the toy chest, to the chair, to the foot of the bed. She would watch the light whenever the yelling swelled below her, and the rumble of his voice grew closer.

The next morning, she ate peaches and regarded the new window in the parlor. She skipped through the rambling enfilades and sunk her dolls to the bottom of the new fountain. And that night, she found the new door in the nursery had cracked open, the light beyond it coaxing and warm. While other children might have been afraid, Nicolette knew there were bigger things to fear. Like the sound of his footsteps thundering down the hallway, her name a curse in his mouth.

When he arrived in the nursery that night, he did not find Nicolette. He found only a melting lantern, only an empty wall, only a new porcelain doll left in her stead.

The house had outgrown them, you see. It’s said the Château du Chuchote had once been home to many daughters. Now, the grounds are quiet, save for the occasional creak of a beam settling into place. It has always been that way, the adults would say.

But if you listened, the house would say different.


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 one last bout for the week. 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 to today’s contestants!

    Elettra Miller: This was a fun concept—savvy seniors fleecing a casino and Oops! one of them is an FBI consultant—but the piece could use a little more polish. “Something gunky” and “glistening globules of matter” aren’t as descriptive as they could be, and the voice is kind of flat. I’d love to see this rewritten in such a way that Dot’s voice comes through loud and clear, because I get the sense she’d be a riot. (Google “close third person” for tips). It’s clear you have a LOT of funny stuff going on in this story, and a strong voice would take it to the next level.

    Lady Warbleon: I feel like there’s a missing piece of the story in regard to the girls who have gone before, but this piece wowed me. The writing is poetic, and the atmosphere is exactly what it should be—a perfect balance of sinister and beautiful. I love Nicolette, so innocent and yet so fierce. Whoever “he” is, he should probably be scared. The repetition of certain lines (“The house had outgrown them,” and “It has always been that way, the adults would say”) gave the story a good shape, so to speak.

    My vote goes to Lady Warbleon.

  2. My vote today goes to Lady Warbledon.

    Elettra Miller - this was definitely an intriguing concept and I would be interested to see it fleshed out a little more, but I found (and this can be a common problem with present tense in particular) that there was a lot more telling than showing, leaving me at a distance from Dot as a character. I wanted a little bit more of her thoughts and feelings rather than just the action of what was going on.

    Lady Warbledon - the description in this piece was vivid and well-crafted. The end gave me chills, and I finished the piece with question that leave me wanting to read further. I did feel, however, that the first person at the beginning felt a little out of place. Within the context of a larger piece, I could see how it might work, but for such a short piece, I didn't feel like it fit.

  3. Elettra- This feels like a good start to a much bigger piece. Packing a lot into such a small number of words is not easy, and I think it bit you here. For one, there are too many characters for this short of a piece, we don't have enough words to get to know any one of them well enough to identify. I also didn't feel like there was an "ending" to this... so I wasn't attached to it. Once again, hard to pack all of that into such a short sample.

    Lady--the prose was very poetic and flowed well. I was left with a few questions, but in a good way. I wanted to keep reading and find out more.

    Lady Warbledon gets my vote

  4. Congrats to both of you!

    This piece is super fun and I adore the idea of a bunch of old ladies counting cards in Vegas to raise money for a favorite charity. It's clear that Dot and Cherry are close, but that's part of what confused me about this piece. Why would Dot keep the fact that she's an FBI consultant from her best friend? I'm so curious to know WHY Dot is an FBI Consultant. What special skills does she possess that make her the FBI's go-to for a hotel murder? Why would they not have blocked off the scene and why would they allow Dot to bring a guest? The excuse of a new assistant felt a bit flimsy to me. However, I don't read cozy mystery so perhaps all my nit-picks are actually ignorance about the genre and its norms.

    I also had a hard time telling all the characters apart. Carla's name came out of nowhere and I had to read the story twice because I thought she might be another of Dot's friends. For such a short piece, I definitely recommend keeping it to the characters who are absolutely essential, even if it means rewriting it a little or reworking a different scene if you're pulling an excerpt from a larger work.

    Overall, I did enjoy this, even if I was a bit confused by the details.

    Lady Warbledon:
    This story is everything Gothic Horror should be, in my opinion. It's meandering and beautiful and a little sad. The house is just as important a character as Nicolette, and I got such a protective feeling towards her from it. The one thing that didn't quite work for me was the description of the door etching itself into the wall. I had a hard time picturing how wide the door is and how much it grew each night. Even though I know it's not the case, my brain painted the image of the door opening a little more every night until Nicolette finally went through. With a bit of tweaking, I think you could fix that description and you'd have a near flawless piece.

    My vote goes to Lady Warbledon because of the deliciously creepy, perfectly gothic atmosphere.

  5. Elettra--for such a short piece, there were far too many names to keep track of and this put way to much distance between me, the reader, and the characters and subsequently the story. I was confused and still after reading it twice, not entirely sure what is going on. If i could make a suggestion, it would be to limit the story to one, maybe two characters and let a scene/plot develop naturally.

    Lady--YES PLEASE! I love the omniscient voice, the changing shifting house and the whole premise of this. Is there more of this? I want more of this. Has a Jackson vibe mixed with a little something special. While the idea itself isn't entirely unique, the execution was great. Thank you.

    my vote is for Lady Warbledon

  6. Another strong round -- both contestants pack a punch.

    Electra, I love the premise of the brilliant old ladies who fleece casinos and get sucked into crime-solving. This promises to be a very fun ride, although there are some bumps here at the start, although I suspect some of them might have been from ruthless editing to get the entry under the maximum word count. For example, that opening two lines throws four character at the reader and then immediately gives three lines of unattributed dialog, making it a challenge to figure out which of the four is speaking. I would guess your editing room floor is littered with a few 'saids' to reduce word count. I'm also guessing there are some other introductory scenes to hopefully explain why the FBI even knew Cherry was in the casino, why'd they'd risk bringing her to the murder scene, or why they'd let Dot tag along. Normally they are very careful about limiting any risk of a defense lawyer later claiming an uncontrolled scene was contaminated or tampered with. But, it's a "cozy" mystery, so I can suspend some of my unbelief for the fun of the tale. You do a good job of bringing characterization and what backstory you can into the action and keeping things moving at a very nice pace. The writing is clean and the voice is solid and entertaining. I enjoyed your work and would keep reading.

    Lady Warbleon, I also enjoyed your sunmission too. The concept is creepy and compelling, and using a child as the MC only adds to it -- the tension of innocence against an overpowering evil is great, and it's even better as the reader begins to wonder who or what is the REAL evil? The scary house that's threatening to pull her in, or the un-named "He' who comes to her room? Is the house really saving her? Excellent job giving the reader clues yet keeping enough ambiguity to preserve the horror. The voice has a great gothic vibe, although the unknown, ambiguous "I" of the telling is a bit distracting, especially since it's only explicitly referred to once at the beginning. But I'm sure my disorientation is from being a modern reader used to the "I" being IN the story, not just some random narrator.

    I find this another tough one to pick. I love the premise, voice, and quick-paced story-telling of Electra, but also love the creepy concept, skilled structure, and compelling tale of Lady Warbleon.

    But by a paper-thin margin, I'll give this one to Lary Warbleon.

  7. My vote is for Lady Warbledon.

    Elettra: This seems like a fun story with a great main character, but is too choppy and under-developed in this piece.

    Lady Warbledon: The match between the piece, the writing style, and the genre works. You've told a full, detail-oriented, mysterious, and compelling story in this piece. The writing is excellent, full of interesting and evocative word choices.

  8. I love cozy mysteries, but I've got to say that Lady Warbleon gets my full-throated vote on this one.

    The language, imagery, Nicolette's innocence/loss of innocence, the house that protects her (and possibly the other young girls before her) from a predatory father? step-father? other malevolent man? is just a beautiful construction from start to finish. I especially loved how the porcelain dolls represented an aspect of Nicolette by proxy. I have nothing but admiration for this piece.

    Elettra -- sorry you were pitted against House of Whispers! The premise of Elettra's piece is fun, but it's a little disjointed and I have a problem with the present tense. That said, I very much enjoy Dot's character and POV. I think with some refinement and a clearer development of the story, this would do well in another comparison.

  9. Elettra--I liked the premise but all of the characters made it too confusing to follow.

    Lady Warbleon--great descriptions. You get my vote.

  10. To me, these are the most evenly matched so far. I enjoyed both stories and would like to see more from both writers. Maybe a wild card if that is still an option. My vote goes to Elettra because there are so many more places this story could go and I'd really like to see how that turns out.

  11. House of Whispers. Without a doubt.

  12. My vote goes to Lady Warbleon. I really enjoyed this story. It was creepy and entertaining. I loved the imagery and the Idea of a house that grows and protects Nicoletta.

    Elettra: I liked the idea of your story but with so many characters I found myself getting lost with what was going on.

  13. Elettra - I really enjoyed the characterizations and details of your piece, and I like the concept of the story. It seemed to begin mid-scene, though, which made it a bit more difficult to follow.

    Lady Warbleon - this is a gorgeous, magical piece. I love the characterization of the house, and the only line that didn't ring quite true to me on a second read was the description of the growth of the house as cancerous, since it seemed to have a more positive role. My vote is for Lady Warbleon.

  14. Elettra--there's so much potential for this story as a longer piece, but in 500 words, this has way too many characters and I have no idea who some of the dialogue is attributed to.

    Lady Warbleon--the language is beautiful and I loved, loved, loved the story. My one criticism is the "No, I have not misspoken" toward the beginning. That pulled me out of the story, but I was able to delve right back into it.

    My vote is for Lady Warbleon.

  15. Lady Warbleon gets my vote -- great language and concept. Elettra -- your piece reads like something from further into the story, after we've already been introduced to the characters. As it was, I had trouble following it.

  16. My vote goes to Lady Warbleton today. Great atmosphere and lovely use of language.

    Elettra, I enjoyed the concept, but third-person present tense just doesn't work for me, and there were way too many characters to keep track of in this short piece. Especially when there were so few dialogue tags to anchor the reader as to who was speaking.

  17. Congrats to both of you!

    Elettra the elderly consultant character definitely got my attention and I wanted to know more about them. Things like the architect asshole, card counting and funding go fundmes, all of these things are great little details that work better in a longer entry. We know what she does but not why, what drives her, or anything else so while reading I was both in and removed from the character.

    Lady Warbleon I don't have much experience with gothic the word beautiful sadness. This entry definitely creates that through Nicolette. She tries to warn who she can but when denied at every turn she takes what fun she can find and ultimately escapes the monster she is living with. How and where she goes are questions I want to know the answers to and for that reason Lady Warbleon gets my vote.

  18. My vote goes to Lady Warbleon.

    Elettra Miller:
    I tried hard, but I found the story too confusing because I was never sure who was talking, meaning I had to keep re-reading things; and there were many disconnects in the information and dialogue. I think there may be an interesting story in there, but it needs editing for clarity.

    Lady Warbleon:
    Mmm, this is when I just throw my pen in the fire and ask myself 'Oh, why bother?' Such beautiful imagery and flow. I'm particularly taken with 'the door that had begun to etch itself into the nursery wall'. You have packed an extraordinary amount of feeling and story into 500 words.

  19. Congrats to you both for making it into the ring. My vote is for Lady Warbleon as the story felt complete (clear begining, middle, end) and the tension ran high.

    Elettra Miller- While your story was solid it felt more like an snippet from a larger story instead of a self contained short story.

  20. Elettra Miller -- There's some good stuff here. I love the setup and the juxtaposition of an old lady detective on the backdrop of Sin City. I think it relied too heavily on dialog, though, and could have benefitted from more exposition, which is usually the opposite of what I see in these short pieces.

    Lady Warbleon -- That first sentence is killer. Out of all the pieces so far, I feel like this author knows their genre and is comfortable writing in it, even if it's just 500 words. The writing is tight and the word count used to great effect. It does feel very Shirley Jackson, and I mean that in the best way.

    Vote goes to Lady Warbleon.

  21. The cozy mystery: I had a hard time following the characters and who was saying what. That was distracting, so I did not become engaged by the plot.

    To Lady Warbleon, the story was captivating. Excellent first line and last. So far, this is my favorite of the week.

  22. Elettra Miller--thanks for the cozy mystery set up! I like these old ladies using math to fleece casinos. I got a bit confused with the various names and trying to sort out each character's role.

    Lady Warbleon gets my vote today. Really enjoyed the tone/atmosphere and the idea of the house that grows. It's nauseating and interesting at the same time. I wonder about this girl, her dolls, and what will happen next.

    Thank you to both authors!

  23. I'm voting for Lady Warbleon.

    The atmosphere was fantastic, and I found myself eagerly devouring the words on the page. The ending left me curious, but in a satisfied way--something about haunted houses and creepy little girls getting back at their oppressors always tickles me.

    Elettra Miller, I love the ideas of older ladies solving (and committing?) crimes, but the pacing flagged a bit for me, and I struggled to really get into it as much as I had hoped. The character concepts were interesting, but the writing for each character fell a little flat (which is partially the fault of such a tight word count, especially when you're trying to fit in so much personality into such a small space).

  24. I like the older main character in Elettra Miller's. It feels like stories I've seen in WriteClub before.
    Lady Warbleon has a story that also feels familular to me.
    Both good. But my vote goes to Lady Warbleon because I enjoy the genre more.

  25. I have to give this one to Lady Warbleon - this might actually be my favorite piece of all thus far and this isn't a genre I normally enjoy, it's just very clean and tight and focused. Well done

  26. Elettra- I loved the tone of your piece. Its perfect for a cozy mystery. The story was entertaining and clever. I felt this sentence was unnecessary and unrealistic:
    Dot doesn't want to be Cherry's assistant, but she's not keen on explaining she's in Vegas to fleece casinos using math... You did a great job of showing this already with the counting of the 8 decks and the ladies training. After reading the piece three times I am still confused by this sentence
    "My daughter needs the therapy. It's the only way she'll live a normal life." Who is the daughter? Dot seems pretty old and there is no description of Cherry but she feels younger than Dot so I'm unclear and there is nothing else about that. It sounds like Cherry and Dot are related because it appears they share the gift but this isn't adequately developped, either. If this were the beginning of a novel, I would keep reading. Good job!
    Lady- This was such a novel idea and very well written. Great description and charactization for such a short piece. I can see mother's indifference and phrases like "she knew there were bigger things to fear" and "her name a curse in his mouth," paint a solid picture. Thank you for such an interesting read.

    I really liked both pieces and both are winners. Tasked with picking one, I choose Lady Warbleon.

  27. Elettra Miller -- This is a good bit of writing, but could use a final polish -- the last 5% is the hardest -- and I found myself getting confused with the relationships between the people.

    Lady Warbleon -- I liked the narrator here, and the creepiness of the piece.

    I vote for Lady Warbleon.

  28. Congratulations, writers! You’ve given us two compelling stories to consider.

    Elettra Miller

    This piece sounds like the beginning to a fun romp. All the elements are there. The quirky characters, the Vegas setting, the grisly murder to solve, a consultant for the FBI. But for some reason I had trouble following the action and keeping the dialogue and the characters straight. I was hoping for more description of who Dot and Cherry were and it took me a second read to decipher why there were together. I had no idea how old they were supposed to be. My favorite line was: “It’s Vegas. Haven’t you?”

    Lady Warbleon

    Beautiful imagery, eerie atmospheric setting. This is lush, beautiful writing. I love how the adults reason all the strange things away, while the child sees the house for what it is. I also love how, in the end, the menacing house protected the daughters. A complete story in 500 words. Bravo!

    My vote goes to Lady Warbleon.

  29. (Seems my comment was "eaten" by the Internet)
    Lady Warbleon has my vote. I want to know more about the house.




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