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WRiTE CLUB 2021 - Preliminary Bout #7


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 Mon, Dec 20th (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 WordMonger representing the General Fiction genre.

Showdown in Severance

The only residents left in Severance were empty buildings, tumbleweeds, and dust. Harry had spent the last three weeks chasing this one since the Montana border, through Wyoming, and into Colorado. The trail of bodies it left behind made tracking it easy.

He was tired and thirsty and was surprised to see a well along the main street. He twisted the water valve and was greeted with brown sludge. Did a fish die in it? He abandoned the faucet tapping his breast pocket where he kept a flask of whiskey. Once the job was done, he would treat himself to a swig.

Pulling on his mustache Harry scanned the buildings that tumbled along the empty street. The only movement came from the occasional breeze that blew up a bit of dust or fluttered the colored drapes from broken windows.

She was here somewhere. It was here, he reminded himself. He could smell its oily disregard that hung in the air. It, and cyborgs like it, were the Federal Conglomerate’s answer to an alien problem, until they, the cyborgs, became humanity’s worst nightmare. A glitch in their programing the F.C. said. Some glitch, Harry thought.

He was pulled aside. Caught with an arm wrapped around his neck and a weapon in his back.

“Hello Harry. Are you ready to die?”

Harry knew the velvet voice could only belong to Stark. “Don’t tempt me with death. It might be the easy way out of this Hell hole, but I’m not quite ready to leave.” He twisted out of its grasp and stepped back a few paces with his own gun in his hand.

She took his breath away, yet he had to remember he was looking at a cyborg, not the drop-dead gorgeous woman it portrayed. He glanced to Stark’s head. Above the left eye and across its metallic skull, the polished sheen was marred by deep gouges exposing the wiring beneath. “You don’t look so good Stark. Your brain feeling the breeze, or is your cardboard heart too stiff to connect to your Bot-brain to know it’s sprung a leak?”

“Half bot, Harry. Not that you could extrapolate anything with your human grey matter.”

He lifted his chin, his mouth turning into a crooked grin. He took a half step to the left and tilted his hat in front of his face just as the cyborg’s head exploded.

After a moment’s hesitation he lowered his hat and shook what gore he could from it. Looking up, the grin he had a moment ago grew into a full smile.

“Nice shot Josie!” he waved to the small woman holding a rifle who rose from the roof of a saloon down the road. She gave him a quick salute.

Harry stood over the cyborg and kicked its foot. A deep laugh rumbled from his chest. He reached into his pocket and pulled out his flask of whiskey raising it to the prone body in a toast.

“Extrapolate that, bitch.”


On the far side of the ring, we have Stardust Forager who represents the Literary Fiction genre.

“A New Page” 

Dusk had just turned the corner into night when an ambulance pulled up at my neighbor’s house. Well, neighbor was probably stretching it. I didn’t even know his name. When I’d moved here a year ago for the crown molding and the pine floors, he’d been raking leaves, looking like the grandpa I barely remembered. I’d walked over to say hello, but he didn’t speak first and my courage failed. And that’s a moment you can’t get back, the one where the most natural thing to do is open your world to someone else. This I’ve learned from a lifetime of letting hellos pass me by. So for a year I’ve watched him shuffle out to get his mail and he’s watched me water my petunias and we’ve never said a word. 

But in an emergency, that moment circles back. I ran into his yard as they brought him out on a stretcher, his white hair dissheveled, an oxygen mask over his face. His rheumy gray eyes locked onto mine and he pulled the mask down long enough to gasp, “My cat. Will you feed my–” before a paramedic secured it again. 

“Of course,” I said, watching them load him under spinning red lights. Then I ducked inside to the stench of dust and kitty litter. News buzzed from a corner of the den where a can of cold chicken noodle soup and a spoon had fallen to the floor. I picked them up, swallowing the prickle of fear that, give or take a few decades, this would be me. 

“Here, kitty,” I said, glancing at an envelope on a stack of bills that covered the counter. J. Merritt. I was that much closer to his name, at least. 

When no cat appeared, I stepped into the brown carpeted depths of the hall. “Kitty?”

A muffled bump answered. The cat. Just the cat. Still I grabbed for the light switch at the nearest door. Inset bulbs hummed on, reflecting off the last thing I expected. Glass cases. The nearest held an oversized yellowed volume, opened to Shakespeare’s Tempest. In the next, Marlowe’s Faustus stared up at me. A fluffy tabby materialized, twined around my legs. “What in the world, cat?” 

That’s when I felt someone watching me. I turned slow, hackles rising, to the portrait of a woman, elegant and accusing. Her blue-green eyes seemed to follow me out of the room as I fled back to the kitchen, grabbed a can of Purr Delight from the nearly empty pantry and dumped it in the bowl by the sink, trying to reel my imagination in. This was exactly why I never said hello. Still my thoughts kept drifting to that picture. Who was she? And who exactly was J. Merritt? 

None of my business, that’s who. 

On the way out, I snagged keys from the counter. I’d come back tomorrow, just to feed the cat and drop off some real food. 

Most definitely not to investigate.


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 #8. 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. Stardust Forager takes it for me this morning! You got me with the combo of books, cats, and mystery. I like that you quickly set up a character and a situation in the 500-word limit. Only slight critique would be that getting into the neighbor's house and having complete access to everything needed to feed cat and return daily seems a bit easy.

    WordMonger, I liked your combo of western and sci-fi. I had a few pronoun problems. Sometimes the cyborg seemed to be a she, and other times an it. I understand both could be true (cyborg alert!), but the pronoun switching seems unconscious rather than a device. I'm also not sure why the protag would be surprised the water is filthy given the general state of the town. I would read more, though, because I wonder where this is going.

    Thanks to both writers!

  2. Stardust Forager gets my vote.

    WordMonger: Great job setting a scene and creating a world by showing it to the reader rather than just describing or telling. I wanted to know more about who Harry was and about his relationship to Stark, maybe more emotional content? I also found a bit of the writing to be hard to follow. For example, "this one" in the second sentence doesn't reference anything in the first sentence.

    Stardust Forager: I loved how you use words beautifully and uniquely to capture feelings and experiences common to humans. The writing sparkles and leaves me wanting more of the story. I noticed a couple grammar issues ("turned slow" should be "turned slowly," I believe).

  3. My vote goes to Stardust Forager.

    WordMonger - from the beginning, title and all, I thought this piece was a little cliche, but you turned it around nicely with the cyborg twist. Your descriptions are quite vivid! What I struggled with was the action in the piece; the word choices for it didn't quite fit. "He was pulled aside" didn't give me the picture of what was actually happening, and I wanted a little more of what he thought and felt in facing off with this Stark, who he's been chasing for a while and evidently knows in some capacity.

    Stardust Forager - your word choices throughout this piece felt very deliberate and purposeful, and while I don't usually tend towards literary fiction, the writing of this piece was just so well done that I couldn't help but be wowed.

  4. Good morning, Writers! Congrats to you both!

    Word Monger:
    This is a fun concept that could still use some TLC. There's a lot of telling in this piece, which kept me from falling headfirst into the story. I don't want to be told Harry is tired, thirsty, and surprised to see a well, I want to SEE these things. I also had a hard time with the idea that this experienced cyborg tracker would have to remind himself the cyborg is, in fact, not a gorgeous woman. As I read and re-read this piece, I was also struck with how Harry doesn't really do anything. We know from the first paragraph that he's chased this cyborg all over, but otherwise, all he's done is scowl and say some snarky things. When he finally comes face-to-face with the cyborg, he's not even the one who completes the job I assume he's been hired to do. Instead, an extra character comes out of nowhere and takes care of it for him.

    500 words isn't a lot, but I would have loved to see what's at stake for Harry. Why is he tracking and what happens if the cyborg gets away? Giving us stakes and making Harry work for the outcome would have helped lock me into the story.

    Stardust Forager:
    Oh my goodness, I identified with your MC! The anxiety of being the first to introduce yourself and then dealing with the awkwardness of not having introduced yourself before but believing it's too late. It's so stressful! The only thing in this piece that didn't quite gel with me was the can of cold chicken noodle soup and the spoon. It's a small detail that took up way too much space in my head. Did J. Merritt always eat soup out of the can? Was the can open and the contents spilled on the floor? Was it an empty can with a nearby bowl? If the can is open and the soup hadn't somehow spilled out, of course it'd be cold, so there's no need to say so. In fact, the temperature is the least interesting question that came to my mind regarding the can of soup.

    Stardust Forager gets my vote today because they took me on a journey into anxiety and into someone else's private space when they didn't expect anyone else to see it.

  5. My vote goes to Stardust Forager today. Lovely writing that captured the anxiety and curiosity perfectly.

    Word Monger, this was great too, but it just didn't flow quite as beautifully as the other piece.

  6. Word Monger has a classic Sci-Fi Wester feel, but I never really felt swept up in the story. On the contrary, it felt like something that's been done before. Josie was a nice addition, but there just wasn't anything to really pique my interest.

    Stardust Forager opens with a strong, cheeky narrator who is immediately relatable in their reflections on neighborly relations and then sympathetic in their springing into motion to assist in the emergency. The suspense is almost unnoticeable--just a neighbor exploring another neighbor's house--until it hits the reader square in the face with that portrait. You could have drawn out that moment a bit, but I get it... 500 words.

    My vote goes to Stardust Forager.

  7. Stardust Forager gets my vote, with its narrative voice, character development, and a mysterious twist! Word Monger -- it felt like you were hurrying to reach the climax and never giving this story a chance to develop.

  8. Word monger-
    I am not a genre expert but I believe this is sci-fi, or sci-fi western. I thought the dialog was really well done. There was a disconnect when she was described as beautiful & then in the next sentence you tell us that half of her face is missing.The descriptions are good, I can see the setting. The bit about the water & whiskey add some nice texture . The building tumbling along the empty street didn't work for me as tumbling suggests movement, & you are depicting the opposite of that. Overall, I believe the piece was well written. Kudos!

    Stardust Forager-
    The first sentence was beautiful. It also matched the action & delivered on the promise of literary fiction, one of my favorite genres. More attention to creating the setting was needed for me as I couldn't place the glass cases in the space. Still, this was a strong piece in my opinion.

    My vote goes to Word Monger.

  9. My vote goes to Stardust Forager. The writing was so beautiful and I was pulled into the story with the very first line.

  10. 🌟 Stardust grips me far more, so it gets my vote. But Word Monger did a good job filling in a whole story.

  11. Word Monger, I liked this story, but it needed another proofread. My vote is for Stardust Forager. The writing was absolutely beautiful.

  12. My vote: Stardust Forager

    Wow, this was great! Not a ton to critique on. It's all praise from me. The simplicity, the set up, just amazing! Thank you for this. A great way to start my day with this piece. My only complaint, I want more. I want the whole novel. ALL OF IT! Now i NEED to know too! Fantastic job.

    WordMonger--The name "Stark" for a Cyborg threw me out. I immediately went to Stark Enterprises and thought--Is this a girl Tony? Interesting concept, but with all the "robots gone bad" out there, it's my opinion that this needed a little more bite, rather than sticking so tightly to what we've all already seen before.

  13. WordMonger- Liked the worldbuilding for a grungy scifi western with hard nosed characters, mentions of half bots, and the action ending. Unfortunately I wasn't invested in the chracters mentioned in the story, I definitely would read more in this world but the human trackers aren't given enough time to be likeable and the "half-bot" is sympathetic but apart from the name, fighting back, and death we don't get enough time to know them.

    Stardust Forager: So this felt real. The unspoken distance, curiousity, chaos of life, and breaking of routine all made this compelling it based on the tones and circumstances I honestly it could go horror, human connection, and many other directions.

    My vote goes to Stardust Forager.

  14. WordMonger -- One of those "new western" types of stories. It was good, just not a genre I'm into.
    Stardust Forager -- Reminds me of Apt Pupil in that we might learn anything about the neighbor. Good marketing potential. You get my vote.

  15. Word Monger -- The beginning sets up a western scenario with decent description, but the revelation of the cyborg comes late. If we're in Westworld, we should know in the first paragraph it's Westworld. Also, the dialog is rough. It's a perfect case of why writers should read everything aloud before submitting. Harry's lines, especially. -- Don’t tempt me with death. It might be the easy way out of this Hell hole, but I’m not quite ready to leave -- is quite a mouthful to deliver with a gun to your head. Then -- You don’t look so good Stark. Your brain feeling the breeze, or is your cardboard heart too stiff to connect to your Bot-brain to know it’s sprung a leak? -- is an undeliverable line. Clint Eastwood couldn't make it work.

    Stardust Forager -- This piece has a brilliant subtlety about it. My first thought was that it was going to be a Covid story, the last thing I want to read. Instead, we get a tale that evokes the loneliness and seclusion we've all been feeling without kicking that dead horse. The ending was just okay for me, but the writing was some of the best we've seen so far.

    Vote goes to Stardust Forager

  16. My vote goes to Stardust Forager. You painted a clearer picture in my mind. I loved your word choice and descriptions. Very apt telling for what today passes as neighbors.

  17. Word Monger, the dialogue was distracting. Took me completely out of the story and never brought me back in.

    Stardust Forager: The premise was good, but the ending was flat. But Stardust Forager gets my vote.

  18. I love when we see such wildly different genres pitted against each other! Coincidentally, I stumbled at the beginning of both--Word Monger, your reference to "it" in the first paragraph makes it sound like Harry has been chasing tumbleweeds through the Mountain States; and Stardust, because a neighbor is defined by proximity and not familiarity, I don't think that term is "stretching it," even if the protagonist isn't friendly with Mr. Merritt.

    These are easy fixes. I thought both pieces rebounded well from that point.

    Word Monger - I know this piece is rife with western cliches, but I liked having that familiar foundation for when you start introducing the Sci-Fi elements. It's a fun genre-blend. I got the sense Harry had some run-ins with Stark in the past and has had to convince himself more than once that she's not human. And while Josie taking the kill-shot took some agency from Harry, I love the fact that the small-statured female saves the day in this western. I agree with others that the dialogue needs some fine-tuning; it's okay if Stark sounds robotic but Harry's witty comebacks need to be razor-sharp. (Though, "extrapolate that, bitch" does slap, as the kids say.)

    Stardust - The premise felt very original, the protagonist relatable, and the setting well-constructed. As I read on, I scrolled back up to check the genre. I was expecting literary fiction but kept wondering if I'd been pushed into a thriller, or even the start of a portal fantasy. Why all the raised hackles and jumpiness? And would old books and a painting on the wall really elicit that level of curiosity? I think the plot would be better served if we got more of the protagonist's thoughts and feelings on the cases than on the chicken soup. It's interesting to know they fear dying alone, but it's less relevant.

    I've gone back and forth on this about six times, but I'm going to go with Stardust Forager for the creativity. Sorry Word Monger... I still dig cowboys vs. cyborgs.

  19. Both of these are great starts to something larger.

    I've got a soft space in my heart for what Word Monger is trying to do. It could use a little polishing, though.

    Stardust Forager -- I like the premise of this piece and it's well written. I didn't buy the MC sensing the picture that was to the MC's back.

    My vote is for Word Monger.

  20. Congratulations, writers! Awesome work from both of you.

    I feel like these are two pretty evenly matched, with suspenseful, atmospheric writing.

    Since I enjoy speculative writring, I was more intrigued by the story, so my vote goes to: Wordmonger.

  21. I liked both pieces, though they were both a little wordy, and could use tightening.

    The action, grit, and feel of the place in Stardust Forager were good.
    The mystery and setup of Word Monger were interesting.

    My vote is for Stardust Forager.

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