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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #5

Here we are with the final bout of the week - but 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 over the weekend. Here's a timeline of how the remainder of the contest will play out.

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 Thurs. Dec 16th (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 The Comet representing the Fantasy genre.

Flames of Anger

Fire flamed in Maggie’s hand as her eyes narrowed on the man in front of her. He killed her best friend. The image of Janell’s lifeless body, blood seeping from a wound on her chest, fueled the rage building inside her. 

She closed her eyes and sucked in a deep breath, channeling all her energy and thoughts into the fire she was about to unleash. Warmth spread from her chest, down her arms, and into her hands, making the flame there grow bigger and bigger. 

The pendant around her neck glowed as she pulled even more magic from it. Her fingers tingled with the power flowing through them. When she was satisfied it was enough, she opened her eyes and focused on the man staring wide-eyed in front of her. 

He scrambled backward. “Please, I had no choice. The king would have killed my family.”

“So you sacrificed one human to save another?”

“If it would have been your family, would you not have done the same? I have a little girl, Marcy. She needs me.” A tear slid down the man's cheek.

The anger inside Maggie faded slightly. The flame that had been building in her hands shrunk just a little. If she killed this man, she would be no better than him. She may even be worse than him. At least he killed to save another. She would be killing out of pain and anger, killing for revenge.

The flame dancing in her hand grew smaller until there was nothing left but a wisp of smoke. As much as she wanted to see this man pay for killing Janell, she couldn’t just take his life. Her eyes locked onto his. “You better leave while you still can.”

A sob escaped his lips. “Thank you. I won’t ever forget this.” He turned and ran for the woods, disappearing among the trees.

Maggie dropped to her knees, allowing the sorrow of losing her best friend to consume her. She buried her head in her hands. Sobs racked her body as tears flowed unchecked down her cheeks.

When she had no more tears left, she wiped her eyes and got to her feet. Things would never be the same again. 

On the far side of the ring, we have WritingwithBourbon who represents the Alt History Fantasy genre.

Dull light from swaying kerosene lamps passed over the dead firing squad. Alexei and his family stared at the crows plucking the eyes out of the Bolshevik soldiers.

“Thank God,” Alexei whispered. He wiped away the splattered blood on his hands and face, then patted himself down, looking for cuts and bruises. “Thank God! The blood’s not mine.”

“We must go!” His father urged. Their first step from the wall and the murder of crows stopped feasting. “Go!” His father hissed. At their second step, black wings swarmed them, cawed them back against the wall. Hands pushed Alexei back and forth, rattling his head. His mother kept him behind her, half wrapped in her skirts.

“Anything?” She demanded over her shoulder, eyes wide. He patted himself down again.

“Nothing.” Alexei lied, swallowing the blood from his bitten tongue.

Howling winter winds blew out of the basement’s shadows. Alexei’s family huddled and shivered

“Leaving before giving thanks. I should not expect better from Romanovs.” A raspy voice scorned, then cackled. The crows added their cawing chorus. Alexei shut his eyes and covered his ears.

“Show yourself and we will know whom to thank!” His father shouted over the din.

Stone tapped against concrete. Alexei opened his eyes to watch the darkness. Old stories echoed in his memories as the sound came closer. A pestle held by gnarled hands entered the light first.

“And what will the Czar who abdicated offer me?” Eyes, bluer than Siberian ice, gleamed at the light’s edge. When they passed over him, Alexei couldn’t help the warmth rushing down his leg.

“We can pay-” One moment his father was standing tall, and then he was on his knees gasping for air. One rush of wind and Alexei stared open-mouthed into the fishhook grin of Baba Yaga. The child eater of legend tightened her knobbled hand on his father’s throat.

“Keep your bloodstained gold. I want Russia’s future.” Her eyes found Alexei again. His mother pushed him back. She spat pious prayers wishing damnation would fall on the witch’s head.

“Render unto Caesar what is Caesar’s.” Baba Yaga spat in answer. “You all live because of me. I claim him as mine.” She stabbed the pestle’s stone tip at his mother’s gut. Metallic echoes from the gold and gems sewn into his mother’s gown filled the basement. She doubled over, heaving. Alexei tore away from his sisters and grabbed the wrist killing his father.

“Please let him live, I’ll go with you.”

The fishhook grin never changed, but her eyes softened for a second. She leaned in close to his father’s red face.

“Be grateful your son is braver than you.” She shoved his father back into his mother. His family huddled and fussed over each other. Everything in Alexei wanted to run back to them. Five fingers wrapped around his shoulder, strangled that urge.

“Come princeling, and together we will mold a nation of magic the world has never seen.”   


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 next week with five more bouts. Please help all our writers out by telling everyone you know what is happening here and encouraging them to come vote.

This is WRiTE CLUB—the contest where the audience gets clobbered!


  1. My vote goes to WritingWithBourbon.

    Comet: I'm afraid I didn't find this particularly original. The fire power, the concept of "I can't kill him because then I'll be just like him," and the final line "Things will never be the same again" felt cliched. I like the way you set the scene and tied bits of information into the description. I also wondered why the man didn't run away while the narrator had her eyes closed to draw on her power. Your writing is good, with nice description and varied sentence structure. I wanted more originality in content, character's voice, and story line.

    WritingWithBourbon: You got my vote because of the originality of the content and the evocative scene-setting. The story was well-told and I wanted to know more. The writing is decent, but clearly could benefit from some polishing. I thought "Their first step from the wall and the murder of crows stopped feasting" was awkward. Overall, the flow of the story, word choice, and ability to set a scene were good. I think you could do a bit more with character's voices to bring out their personalities, specifically Alexei; also maybe do a bit more to set the mood of the scene: but that would likely require a less limited word count.

  2. Way to finish off the first week! Congratulations, authors! Today's choice is the most difficult for me yet.

    Your writing is lovely and descriptive. You've set a clear scene and I knew exactly what the stakes were. Internal journeys are always the most compelling to me, but in this case there didn't seem to be much of an original journey. I've no doubt it's really, really hard not to kill the person who killed someone you love when you get the chance, but without the benefit of backstory this feels more like a lesson you're trying to teach the reader than Maggie's personal growth journey. If this piece had ended with Maggie weighing the options but not making a decision, I think this piece would have resonated with me a bit more.

    This was a really interesting read with a lot of action. At times I had to reread a passage to make sure I didn't miss something. An example of this was when Alexi is behind his mother and she asks "anything" over her shoulder. I didn't know what she was referring to so I didn't understand the urgency--other than murderous crows chasing them. I also think the story could have benefited from fewer exclamation points. I know this comes down to personal choice, but I prefer to see words do the heavy lifting of conveying urgency or high emotion. That said, I adored the Baba Yaga twist and would love to read more about Alexi's life after Baba Yaga takes him away.

    My vote goes to WritingWithBourbon because it turned into something I absolutely didn't see coming and I wanted to read more.

  3. WritingWithBourbon gets my vote! The twist (the Romanovs lived!). The creepy witch (Russian fairy tales are the scariest!) All that, with the superb voice and the deep POV! Sorry, The Comet -- your piece seemed less original, and the POV was more distant.

  4. My vote goes to WritingWithBourbon. Great scene setting and I loved the arrival of Baba Yaga. I'm a sucker for Russian fairy-tales.

    Comet, I just felt your piece was too like so much other fantasy I've read and compared with the striking originality of the other piece, it just couldn't compete.

  5. Congratulations to today’s contestants!

    The Comet: So many emotions were packed into these 500 words—her love for her friend, her sorrow, anger, wavering, resolution, and his fear, love, and relief—that none of them came through strongly enough to touch this reader’s heart, especially without established bonds with the characters. The scene might work in a full length novel, where I would have already come to know and love these characters, but in this short sample, it’s really hard to feel the emotions the author is trying to create. The writing is good on a technical level, and I do believe there’s a well-crafted story here, but I’d encourage the author to take it apart, line by line, and ask if it’s been said this way before… and then how to say it more originally.

    Writing With Bourbon: I like what’s going on here and get a sense that the author has researched the history and culture upon which the story is based. The setting could have been clearer and the writing slightly tighter, but the characters unfolded smoothly, and the plot had a nice, slow build. It took me a moment to remember the czar’s son was a hemophiliac, a detail the author included seamlessly. My one complaint is that I don’t know how old Alexei is. When he’s checking himself for cuts, he feels like an older teen, if not an adult, but the way his mother is shielding him with her skirts makes him seem younger.

    Writing With Bourbon gets my vote.

  6. Congrats to you both on making iit into the ring! My vote has to go to WritingwithBourbon as the opening hook, pace and level of tension was stronger than those in TheComet.

  7. The Comet -- This piece has some good descriptive language and it feels like a fantasy world the author knows well. The magic is a little vague for me, and that last line fell flat.

    WritingWithBourbon -- That opening line is great. The idea behind the story is creative and the execution is good. I feel like you didn't trust the readers to know what you're referring to, and you may be right, but some of the explanation felt heavy handed.

    Vote goes to WritingWithBourbon.

  8. My vote goes to writingwithbourbon. I liked the creativity.

  9. ☄ The comet, wow wee, that had a whole opening, building, climax, resolution, and cliffhanger. Well, maybe not a cliffhanger. But I'd definitely read more. So voting for you.

    🥃 Writingwithbournon was really good too. And I'd probably vote for you against others, or in the save round. But I like fantasy more than alternative history. Fire more than Russia's alternative past. 🤷‍♀️

  10. Both stories were good, but WritingWithBourbon got my vote. Excellent use of dialog to tell the story. Good first line, and the ending was logical and satisfying.

  11. My vote goes to WritingWithBourbon.

    The Comet - while I think there is potential in this piece, especially if it's part of a longer work, I agree with some of the previous comments. It feels a little bit cliche and not particularly original. I think to really identify with this, I would need a lot more information about Maggie as a character and what happened to Janell.

    WritingWithBourbon - excellent concept and well-written. I definitely felt like I needed more thoughts and emotions from Alexei though; I felt at a bit of a distance from Alexei. I can guess at how he's feeling, but guessing doesn't give me the connection with and sympathy for the character.

  12. Comet - I liked that your story had a beginning middle and end which is difficult to do in only 500 words or less. Yet at the same time the story could continue if one day Maggie meets up again with the one she let go/saved from a fiery death. I felt what Maggie did, her love for her friend and the internal debate we all go through regarding potential life altering decisions.

    Bourbon - Edge of my seat stuff despite historical fantasy not being my fave. The witch almost killing daddy then son saving the day. Wondering what the kid's fate will be as he leaves with the witch.

    Hard to choose but if I have too, my vote goes to Comet.

  13. The Comet - I commend you on your ambition with this piece--you packed an entire character arc into 500 words! I really like that there is an emotional motive, high stakes, and an established magic system. But this was such a short span for the character to do a moral 180. I just didn't buy it, as much as I wanted to root for Maggie. In a longer piece, of course, you'll be able to flesh out the characterization and add elements to differentiate your plot from other stories with similar elemental magic.

    WritingWithBourbon - Once I got my footing in this piece, I really appreciated the storyline and attention to detail with regard to the tale's origin. But it took me a few re-reads to get a sense of place (beyond Russia)--At first, I thought we were outside because of the crows and the firing squad. If you were familiar with the story of the Romanov family and the Ipatiev House, maybe the basement was a given, but I didn't start with that context. I think a little clarification of their surroundings would go a long way so the reader can focus on the action and give Baba Yaga the attention she commands!

    Great job to both writers. I'm giving Bourbon the nod for this one.

  14. Writing with Bourbon takes the bout. I would not have picked this event for alt history. It wouldn't even have occurred to me. That originality alone gets you the win. I like that you mixed alt history with fable/folklore as well. This could go places.

    Comet's writing was strong. I didn't feel as drawn in because the story felt familiar. I think a larger work would hold some intriguing, unexpected twists and turns.

  15. The comet reminds me of my own book. So I want to read it, I want to do virtual book tours with this author if it turns out as good as this offering. I'm into it. Gets my vote.

    WritingWithBourbon -- also good. But not as close to my heart.

  16. Comet-Nice description of gathering the fire. I really liked that she realized she would be worse than him for killing for revenge instead of to save someone. Other than these two elements, there isn't much story.

    WWWB- Details such as the "fishhook smile" and the boy wetting himself make the fear palpable. This is well written full of pithy adjectives and a full sensory scene setting. My only criticisms were that when Alexi said, "thank god its not mine," that didn't sound like something a child would say to me so it threw me off. The other picky is that Baba Yaga spat in back to back sentences.

    My Vote: WritingWithBourbon

  17. My vote: WritingWithBourbon

    I'm not up on my Romanov history, but this story felt complete and each word held a purpose.

    THE COMET's piece, unfortunately, read like it was cut and pasted from a much larger story and not complete in itself. Additionally, when there is a strict word constraint of 500 words, each one matters. Things like "bigger and bigger" are wasted words. One single word could be used here instead, giving you a few extra words to add something to the story in a different place.

  18. WritingWithBourbon, I loved your take on the Romanovs and how you incorporated Baba Yaga into the story. I would've liked a better balance between dialogue and exposition. This excerpt also needs a good proofread, especially when it comes to capitalization with dialogue tags.

    Comet, I enjoyed your submission as well, but I wonder why you limited yourself to about 350 words. I think with another 150 words, you could've given us more story and room to show the MC's growth. I am impressed that you made this growth happen in so few words, but I think more story would've been better in this case...and possibly would've gained you more votes.

    I'm voting for Comet.

  19. This comment has been removed by the author.

  20. My apologies, I got the names mixed up in my first comment, which is now deleted! Comet's piece is solid and true to the genre. WritingWithBourbon's piece starts in the middle of the story, which makes it difficult to understand what is going on from this sample. However, the opening "crows plucking the eyes out of the Bolshevik soldiers" really hit me in the gut and the kid is plucky, even though he's young and scared, so my vote is for WritingWithBourbon.

  21. Comet - I'd like to see a little more descriptive wording of what is taking place. You might have been able to do that with a longer story. Writing a little denser, instead of a description of what is occurring.

    Writing With Bourbon - Good idea that can lead to bigger things. You incorporated some interesting facts from our history, and it served the feel of the story well.

    I vote for Writing with Bourbon

  22. My vote is for the Comet. I found writing with bourbon's difficult to interpret.

  23. Congratulations, writers! Excellent work. These two pieces seem pretty evenly matched and I’m having trouble choosing one…


    Good, clear writing in this piece. I can imagine the scene playing out in front of me-- Maggie tempering her need for revenge with compassion. I hope the murderer will resurface to return the favor someday.

    One suggestion: for “fingers tingled with the power” maybe a stronger word? Burned? Vibrated? Tingled doesn’t quite communicate the intensity of the power.

    Unfortunately, the subject matter and descriptions in this piece feel pretty familiar and that kept me from really loving the story.


    Love the idea of Baba Yaga coming to the rescue of Czar Alexander and his family. However, since Baba Yaga and her magic are real in this world, I would consider it Alternate History Fantasy or Historical Fantasy.

    I enjoyed the concept and the interactions between the characters, especially brave Alexei, but some of the descriptions and stage direction are a little vague, making it difficult for me to imagine the scene. For instance, whose hands are pushing Alexei back and forth? How are the hands getting to Alexei, if he’s hidden behind his mother?

    You talk about Alexei’s “family,” but the “sisters” don’t get mentioned until almost the end. A brief mention earlier would give us a better feel for how many people are actually huddled together against the wall.

    But despite the technical problems, I found the second story more intriguing, so I guess originality wins the day and my vote goes to WritingWithBourbon.

  24. These are two really solid entries. Both stand as good intros to larger pieces.

    The Comet: I was hoping for a little more punch at the very end than "Things would never be the same again." I wanted resolve to get back at who was really responsible. So, in an otherwise engaging piece, that was a little of a let down.

    WritingwithBourbon: I generally liked the story, and liked it more as I got further into it, but the first paragraph threw me off. If the family was just saved from the firing squad, by whom? and would the crows be there immediately? So I had a trouble getting in, but once in, was more comfortable. (One other point: would gold and gems sewed into a gown make a metallic echo?)

    My vote: The Comet

  25. My vote is for comet! Both were good reads but I want to know more about the girl with fire than an alternative history.

  26. Arrgh! Running late! But better late than never, so here's my feedback and vote:

    Comet, I like the scenario, even if it does feel a bit familiar. Your character seems compelling and I like the struggle of her torn between surrendering to her violent urges versus doing the compassionate thing. Your writing is good and does what it needs to, but I also think it could be polished and accentuated to really make the scene come alive in the reader's mind. For example, the verbs could be stronger in many cases: "Fire flamed" -- Well, of course it did, just like the walker walked and the jumper jumped. The scene is also a little too tell-y. For example, "He killed her best friend." This sentence exists only to provide explicit info to the reader. You could have more smoothly inserted that info into the following line where the reader gets an actual visual of "Jannell's lifeless body".

    WritingWithBourbon, I really enjoyed the concept you raised in your piece. The idea of the Romanovs surviving thanks to the Baba Yaga is clever, compelling, and promises a fun adventure. I think your writing is smooth and visual does a good job of pulling me into the scene. I think some of the charcater actions get a little unclear, but that maybe because of limited wordcount. I also think there's sometimes a little bit of the, "Hey, lookit me! I'm writing!" lure that can trap us all -- "The murder of crows." Yeah, technically true, but it also feels a little too clever for its own good, because the crows are at the scene of an actual, you know, murder and all...

    I like both pieces but feel that WritingWithBourbon did a better job with making the scene more interesting and compelling, so they get my vote.




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