“Best Excerpt, All Genres” Contest Medal Round

Our contestants and judges have spoken, and we have our four “Best Excerpt, All Genres” 2014 contest finalists. Why four? Because our judges were adamant about their choices, and insisted that a fourth entry be considered in this final medal-award round.

SoWrite Gold Medal

Graphic courtesy of Carlos A Torres

Before I get any deeper into the details, please allow me to present our four finalists. These entries are listed in alphabetical order by author surname:

I’ve contacted each of our medal-round authors and asked them to submit up to three additional sentences directly related to their entered excerpts.

As soon as I receive responses from these writers, I’ll display their revised entries in this post’s Comments section. Once each entry is posted, contestants (including the finalists) are invited to add their feedback and ratings.

Please use this rating scale:

  • Scale is 1 to 10, with 10 the highest rating
  • “7” equals “excellent”
  • “8” would be “outstanding”
  • “9” should be reserved for “unique and amazing”
  • “10” will only be conferred as the highest possible praise (First Place choice)

Our two contest judges are free to accept or ignore reader ratings, as they see fit. Decisions of the judges are final, and not subject to adjustment based on any mathematical calculations based on reader ratings.

Who are SoWrite’s judges?

Both of our esteemed judges have been doing this often-thankless task here on the site since early 2013. I have the utmost respect for their critical decisions.

Wormhole Electric Publishing

  • Tammy Narayan: Mathematics post-grad, author,  and hard-nosed editor.
  • Carolyn Varvel: Author, editor, and publisher at Wormhole Electric.

My sincere thanks go out to Carolyn and Tammy for their careful consideration and analysis of our contest entries. In one competition after another, each has remained pointedly objective and professional in her approach. Neither judge is compensated for her participation.

Final judging begins as soon as all four finalists have submitted their revised entries.

What’s at stake?
  • Cash prizes now totalling $45 — $1 for every entry.
  • Three medals: Gold, Silver, and Bronze — suitable for display by each winner.
  • Potential invitation to join Wormhole Electric Publishing‘s elite stable of authors for an upcoming anthology.

Winners will be announced on Saturday, March 1 by 7 pm EST.

Please CLICK HERE to see the preview announcement here in Comments. ~Jim

Or CLICK HERE to see the official winners’ announcement. Stop by and congratulate our medalists?

This first foray into 2014’s new contest format for SoWrite.Us has been, by far, the most exciting and interactive competition since this website was created. Thank you all for your interest, your participation, your critiques and ratings, and for sharing info about this contest among your friends and peers.

Please scroll down to the Comments section to review and critique our finalists’ entries.

With grateful thanks to our charter site and contest sponsor:
Mandy's Pages content website

Mandy is hosting a brand new Tanka Contest on her website. Be sure to check it out!


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  1. NOTE:
    Our finalists’ revised entries will appear here, as Comment replies. Stay tuned!

    • UPDATE:
      All four of our finalists have provided their final-round entries, displayed below. Thanks, everyone!


      I’ve received the judges’ unanimous decision. You may be surprised at the final order of win, place, and show; I was. Or you may find yourself nodding pleasantly in agreement. Without further ado, here we go:

      HONORABLE RUNNER-UP: “For weeks I sat…” by Melinda Clayton –the clear audience favorite!
      THIRD PLACE, BRONZE: “Eva naughty. Me naughty,…” by PJ Yusten — likely the most discussed entry.
      SECOND PLACE, SILVER: “What I’ve realized as…” by Kae Bender — our only non-fiction finalist.
      FIRST PLACE, GOLD: “Born during that time…” by Nyaran — Well done!

      [Please note that “Nyaran” is that contestant’s display name, and bears NO relationship whatsoever with our judge, Tammy Narayan. Sorry if this has created any confusion.]

      Congratulations to all of our finalists. This first contest of 2014 has been an incredible journey for all of us. I am thrilled beyond words with our contestants’ entries and feedback, and with our judges’ dedication and professionalism.
      I’ll make an “official” announcement to our readers and site members in the morning. Thank you all!


      • Jim, yes, I, too am somewhat more than surprised the judges final decision seems to be the reverse of popular opinion, but that is the nature of competition –and the duty of judges to evaluate, establish the basis of merit and make those difficult decisions. Congratulations go out to the winners and all contestants, great work!

      • melindaclayton says

        Congratulations, PJ, Kae, and Nyaran! And to everyone else who entered; I really enjoyed reading all the excerpts. Thanks, too, to the judges. It takes a lot of time and attention to judge writing contests, and I appreciate all you’ve done. This was a really great creative exercise, and I learned a great deal from it, not just from the feedback, but also from having to pick just three sentences to try to draw a reader in – not easy to do! Thanks, Jim, for hosting all of us. Tough competition – I see I’m going to have to step up my game for the next one! *Melinda heads back to the drawing board*

      • As a judge, I have to admit that this contest was one of the harder ones to judge. All my personal ratings were quite close! In fact, only .5 separated first and second place. I thought everyone did a most excellent job! Thank you for allowing me to judge.

      • Tamara Narayan says

        This contest was like a horse race where the winner can’t be determined until someone freeze-frames the video and gets out a ruler to measure the horses’ nose hairs. All four deserve medals, but alas, an ordering had to be done. As you can see by my rambling comments, each entry had its strengths and weaknesses. Trying to sort them all out and come up with a winner wasn’t easy, but in the end, I went with the voice,style, and subject I found most beautiful and captivating.

        Melinda Clayton

        My favorite part of this excerpt came at the end of the first three sentences with the phrase “but because I didn’t save her sooner.” It gave me sympathy for the character and made me wonder if perhaps he is somehow innocent. Raising that question was a powerful and wonderful way to leave things. It grabbed my attention and made me want to know what happened—a great page-turning device.

        Then the three new sentences squelched that budding sympathy. In the end, the character himself seems not to even question his guilt.

        The last sentence frustrated me. At first I questioned the word “It” in “It is not enough to label me guilty.” I thought the “It” referred to the list of italicized words in the second sentence and wondered if it should be “These issues are not enough to label me guilty”. Then I reconsidered and decided, no, the character means “It will not be enough (for the jury) to label me guilty; the question is: Am I guilty enough to (be) put to death?”

        As for the cliché—eh—not a huge deal for me. I guess I would pick a different image because I think dust is pretty light so it wouldn’t crumble in the wind, but just be picked up and blown away. What would crumble nicely (besides a cookie)?

        PJ Yusten

        The strength of the entry is the subject matter. It grabs your attention and won’t let you look away. It’s powerful, important, and horrifying. This content is so strong it turned some folks off, which raises an interesting question: If you write something so graphic and gut-wrenching that some people can’t bear to read it, would it be worth gaining a bigger readership by toning things down? Or do you stick to your artistic guns?

        I tried to think of the worst, most horrifying thing I’d ever read and came up with the crucifix scene in The Exorcist. Talk about stepping over the line! But that mind-boggling scene didn’t stop millions from reading the book and even made it into the movie (which still amazes me). So using material that goes beyond the pale of what we can imagine can work.

        They were some technical problems like the confusion over the blood and the man’s fist, but I think those issues have already been discussed. The first sentence trips up the reader here: “she winced from the sting of the soaked diaper reminding Eva . . .” Okay, I’m no expert on grammar, but I think the dirty diaper is the object in the first part, but then it’s the dirty diaper that reminds Eva she must make it to the potty on time, so now the dirty diaper has switched to the subject.

        In other words, I can write “The dog chased the cat over the wall, barking all the way”, but I can’t write “The dog chased the cat over the wall, hissing like a snake.” I’d have to edit that second one to indicate the cat was hissing, not the dog. Does that make sense?

        Kae Bender

        Amongst the finalists, this was the entry where the extra sentences made things better for me. In the first round, I loved the passion in the three-sentence excerpt, but I felt like something was missing. What exactly was “the problem”, “the crisis”, “the private shame”? The new sentences helped clear that up. If the first three were climbing a mountain, I felt the last three brought us to the summit.

        I do agree with Kukkee that the part in parenthesis in the first sentence could be left out, particularly with the awkward “forces today reinforcing”. What are those forces anyway?

        I have to disagree with Kukkee’s suggestion to change “human” to “humane” in the second sentence. “As long as we can reduce the crisis to statistics, it isn’t humane“ doesn’t make sense. Would any crisis be humane? “It isn’t humane to reduce the crisis to statistics” fits, but lacks Kae’s artistic flow.

        The strength of this entry is the level of writing. The drawback, for me, isn’t the little nitpicky things mentioned above but the fact that without the name, Dr. Martin Luther King, I would have no clue what this entry is about. You’d probably have to go to another country to find someone who doesn’t know the connection between Dr. King and civil right, but still . . .


        Again, the new sentences didn’t make me like the entry more (or any less). Perhaps the tense in sentence three should be “are talking” instead of “were talking”. I would also separate the three new sentences from the previous ones by a new paragraph. These six are related (I assume Dennis is the boy the narrator can’t find), but all six don’t seem to flow well together in one paragraph.

        That aside, I love the voice. I married into the name Narayan. I’m a southern gal with a drawl. The way my inlaws (from Trinidad/Tobago and Guyana) speak English is different. They don’t use American slang. Their sentences come together with a clipped formality that can be almost British in its precision. I find it charming.

        Nyaran’s poetic entry reads like an excerpt from a literary novel along the lines of Jhumpa Lahiri, one of my favorite authors. I love the line, “He knows he cannot really look for the boy.” Who is “He”? Why does he search for this boy? These are the page-turning questions.

  2. Thank you Jim, for giving me space to comment on the contests at Mandy’s Pages.

    I am an avid tanka-lover and so from time to time I host tanka contests. Last year it was the Inaugural Tanka Contest in June and that will be held this year too – in June. – with cash prizes.

    Next month, however, I host the Tanka Time #1 Challenge (the entire month) which is an informal, friendly get-together to write tanka. (There is a substantial amount of info on tanka at Mandy’s Pages for those who are interested or new to this genre of poetry.) There will be certificates mailed out to those who make the final list at the challenge. Thank you in advance for your support.

    Again, thanks Jim.

    • I confess I’m already reading this in its entirety and find it totally absorbing. In the book, this had the power to draw me in, and as an excerpt it remains compelling. 9

      • Oh no, not again! This was attached to the wrong place:

        I confess I’m already reading this in its entirety and find it totally absorbing. In the book, this had the power to draw me in, and as an excerpt it remains compelling. 9

        It should go with Melinda’s entry.

        • melindaclayton says

          LOL, Kae, thank you! I have to admit, I kept looking at Mandy’s post and trying to figure out where she mentioned a book….

    Revised entry, from Blessed Are the Wholly Broken:

    For weeks I sat at the defense table, my mouth dry, my eyes drier, and listened to the horror of my crime. The carefully prepared defense of my actions crumbled away like so much dust in the wind, blown apart by my own behavior. By the end, even I knew I was a monster, not for the reasons they cited—not because I had killed my wife—but because I didn’t save her sooner.
    More recent words play themselves through my mind as I wait for the telltale jingle of keys. Aggravating factors. Particularly cruel, stood to gain sole custody of a minor, planned and premeditated, preyed upon vulnerabilities. It is not enough to label me guilty; the question is: Am I guilty enough to put to death?

    • melindaclayton says

      I should probably clarify that the sentence “More recent words….” starts a new paragraph. First para is remembering, second takes us back to the present.

    • I am intrigued by these inner thoughts. He says he knew he was a monster but seems nonchalant about what happened/what’s going to happen. The question of a possible death sentence seems about as emotional as, ‘is The Blacklist on TV tonight?’ I’m confused about many aspects of this character- especially mental state but definitely interested enough to continue reading. The cliche of dust in the wind smacks me in the face. Otherwise, awesome. It’s possible I liked it more-or just as much without the added lines. I think it deserves at least a solid 8.

      • melindaclayton says

        LOL, PJ, that made me laugh! I definitely don’t want my words to smack anyone in the face. Okay, maybe sometimes I do, but not now! 🙂 And you’re right – he does sound unemotional. If you’re curious, email me on Facebook for more. 😉

    • Wonderful. Words from the inner mind, and I get it; Melinda is right on with this one. I would like to award it with a 9.5 if possible. The 0.5 missing only because of the cliche’.

    • By far my favorite of the finalists. I give it a 9.

    • This is awesome. Easy to read. 9 (Missing a 10 because of the obvious lack of zombies 😉 Just kidding)

      I give this entry a 10. For real this time, Jim. 10. (Despite the lack of zombies.)

      • melindaclayton says

        Too funny! But if there’s a sequel (which there won’t be), there could easily be zombies involved….:-)

    • Melinda,
      I really enjoyed your description and the twist that you provide with the statement about was he enough of a monster to put to death. I had some problems with a sense of a sudden shift in place: in the courtroom, then suddenly listening for jingling of keys. And the cliché threw me.

    This is taken from a nightmare sequence in my portfolio.

    “Eva naughty. Me naughty,” the tattered little toddler whimpered in the filthy closet corner as she winced from the sting of the soaked dirty diaper reminding Eva a big girl must make it to the potty on time if she wants to eat. A cockroach crawled into the feast on her stained bottom as a bony little finger mixed seeping blood with the tiny tears she tasted for her last supper. With one shaky sob of, “Bad baby,” a blanket of urine spread under the little girl’s bruised leg.
    Eva’s big dark eyes fell shut.
    She didn’t even hear the mean man’s psyched up fist fumbling on the closet doorknob.

    NOTE: This is PJ’s twice-revised final-round entry. ~Jim 2-25-14

    • This content is distasteful, but it incurs anger and sympathy, is well-written and powerful. I’m guessing “man’s psyched up fist ” should be “man’s psyched-up fist ” to clarify the meaning. I would also suggest the removal of the ‘even’ from the last line. I say 8.

    • This is very tough to read. 7.

      • Debbie, I appreciate your comments but I feel obligated to reply. I did make a couple short sentences into one longer sentence to fit the original format. If your comment, ‘This is very tough to read’ refers to the length of sentences or another attribute to writing style, that’s fine. If your comment refers to the subject matter because it’s tough for you to read about such a disgusting event, then (IMO) it’s not fine.
        Child abuse is an ugly matter but one that should not be ignored. Too many people look the other way like it’s not their problem. They think one person can’t make a difference or it’s none of their business what parents do to their children. Bull crap. As I mentioned, maybe your comment had absolutely nothing to do with the topic. In any case, I am certainly not attacking you. I’m taking the opportunity to keep the topic in the limelight to cause people to act. I decided to enter this excerpt for the purpose of awareness. I tried to capture the physical and emotional suffering of this little girl. I wanted to appeal to the senses to the point of forcing the reader to smell, hear, taste, feel or see what this innocent child suffered.
        When I found out I was a finalist, I was hoping it was one of my other entries. But, when I thought more about it, I was doing the avoidance thing like a few readers seemed to do. It would be easier if one of the other entries was chosen. Eva’s story is much more important.
        Thank you for the 7 rating. I am glad you rated the piece on the value of the writing rather than your dislike of the topic. I would hope all of us wish such evil didn’t exist in the world.

    • There were a couple of sentences that could be broken up for easy reading. Plus, shorter sentences make the reader feel the action is immediate. My rating is 7.

    • Poor Eva! It’s graphic and terrible but also a bit confusing. I’m sure in context it would be clearer what “last supper” means (ie previous or about to be killed). As an excerpt I’ll go with a 7 though I suspect with the rest of the story it would be higher.

      • PJ, like so many others, I had a bit of a problem with the subject matter, but I thought you dealt well with the topic and in invoking an emotional response from the reader. Your description was good but I had trouble with the run sentences – I know that making everything fit the format of the contest makes that difficult, but the run on made it difficult to read. There were several points that I had problems with: where did the blood come from? Even though a two year old has no concept of time, figuring out a clearer way to indicate how long had she been in there would have been helpful. Fists don’t do doorknobs.

        • Thanks for the comments. To clarify, I used the word ‘fists’ because the mom’s boyfriend was drugged up to the point of not being able to use a key or figure out how to open the doorknob. Prior to this entry the reader knows the mother knocked Eva down as she was trying to climb onto the toilet. When she slammed against the floor, an scabbed over wound broke open. That was the source of the blood. I agree a couple sentences were too long. But, I disagree they are run-ons.

          • J. Blevins says

            Hello PJ,
            This is the first time I have been able to read the entries in this challenge. After reading the other comments, I feel you need to hear a critique from a more positive viewpoint. Yes, the subject matter is difficult to read. As you know, it is harder to write. However, it is a subject that needs to be pushed into the public forum by any media available. Several years back, before my health failed… I was active in a (Child Advocacy Program) developed by one of my daughters. We encountered a case that mirrored Eva’s plight. The case was closed following the victims death at the hands of her foster parents. My daughter and I fought to have her pulled from the foster home, but the wheels of change turn slowly, and sadly, the child was lost. It changed me forever and I still have dreams of her. I am working on a short story in my writing group about the pandemic of (Child Abuse), and I am being strongly urged to consider it for a novel. It is the most difficult task I have ever begun. I used to say going to nursing school with three young girls was the hardest thing I ever did. Let me tell you, This topic is the most challenging thing I will ever do. There are times when I have to put it away for a while in order to regain some momentum for such a daunting task. I started my story in August of 2013— Had to put it aside in October of 2013— Pulled it out again last night and worked on it until I fell asleep. I am on fire to complete this work by the end of May, 2014. Thank you for relighting the torch for me. For that reason, I give you a 10. I found your entry to be the most important read I have come across in the past two years. I will also say that any editing of your work is minor, considering the constraints of the challenge. Most good writers do several drafts of their works. I find that every time I go back to one of my projects, I can’t read it through without revising the work. ” It isn’t done until it’s done.” LOL. I pray you win this. I would love to read your complete story. It is very compelling and needs to be read.
            J. Blevins


    Born during that time of the day when the sun was at its zenith, he was given the name Ochieng, Dennis Ochieng. And the other boys and girls call him by this name, not Denno, not Dennis. Always Dennis Ochieng, as if they were talking about the spokesman of the parliament or a news anchor and not about their companion with his dingy shirt and his ragged smile.
    He knows he cannot really look for the boy. Those children tend to appear out of the blue, they materialize behind you and are suddenly there to ask you for money or steal your phone or crack a joke. They do not come from somewhere.

    NOTE: This is Nyaran’s revised final-round entry. ~Jim

    • I looked at this a number of times and realized restructuring the first part could be more effective:

      “Born during that time of the day when the sun was at its zenith, he was given the name Ochieng, Dennis Ochieng, and the other boys and girls call him by this name–not Denno, not Dennis, always Dennis Ochieng–as if (they were talking about (someone important, like) the spokesman… etc.

      I say 7

    • I don’t understand the last sentence here. 6

    • This was a tough read. Makes me wonder about the audience. But I have to admit that I love the description of the character. 8.

    • The 3 sentences of the original entry were my favorite, but the addition of the preliminary sentences don’t live up to its original mystique for me. It’s still intriguing but less exotic now. 7.

    • I like some of the vivid description but there are other problems with syntax and changes in verb tense. Overall, for a writer still mastering the English language, it’s remarkable. But, if I look at it with the same level of criticism as all the other contest excerpts, there are too many flaws to rate it more than a 6. I’m not sure if we should allow exceptions. If so, to what extent?
      Either way, your writing is fresh and original!

    • Nyaran,
      Excellent efficient effect use of words. My only problem was sequence and who is “he” who is looking for the boy. The sequence, to me, that makes more sense is to put the sentences “Born during that time of day….” and ending with “dingy shirt and his ragged smile” last. I’m looking forward to understanding how Dennis ties in with “those” children.

    [From an essay, I guess you could call it, for a forum I’m in.]

    What I’ve realized as I look at Dr. Martin Luther King’s legacy is that as long as the suffering is a private shame, it can remain invisible (and certainly there are many forces today reinforcing too much private shame). As long as we can reduce the crisis to statistics, it isn’t human. The problem doesn’t become real until it becomes viscerally visible, until we can cringe at the photos of abuse, until we can empathize with the masses of humanity being dehumanized, until we meet the specter of devastation face to face and it touches our hearts and tears a rip in the fabric of denial and forces us to see through to the painful ugly truth.

    And once we see it, we can’t let the magnitude of the wrong simply overwhelm our senses and collapse our comprehension into woeful regret. We have to retain enough indignation and fury to raise our voices loudly and repeatedly shout out “Enough! That’s the last straw! I won’t put up with this pretense of democracy any more!”.

    NOTE: Kae’s entry was revised, with added sentences, on 2-26 at her request. ~Jim

    • I looked at this a dozen times and finally figured out what is wrong with it. The bracketed section in the first line is really awkward. I say 7.0
      I’m guessing removing the bracket is probably a good idea.

      I would revise using a semicolon after ‘invisible” and removing the unnecessary ‘and’

      btw, I am also curious if Kae meant “humane” instead of “human”, the word ‘humane’ having far more powerful and specific implications.

    • I like the second paragraph, but the first one seems clunky to me. 6

    • 7. This one was hard for me to read. Sorry, Kae.

    • I thought I posted a comment for this entry but can’t find it. I liked it better without the additional sentences. I can seem to identify the exact reason but I think it’s because I see the first section as more of an aspiration to obtain a goal or more hope to discover how we need to change while the last part seems more preachy and less hopeful. That probably doesn’t make sense to anyone else. But, I’d rate a 7 with the added sentences.

    • Kae,
      This was effectively written according to the rules of argument. Your process of narrowing the topic down to a “pretense of democracy” is good! I’m not sure the bracketed phrase in the first sentence is even necessary. The sentence that starts “The problem doesn’t become real…” is a run on, magnificent, but a run on. The wording could be a bit more efficient. However, I can hear this as a speech. You have some good saber rattling going on here.

  7. Tamara Narayan says

    What is a mathematics post-grad? I finished the Ph.D., Jim! So feel free to say, “What’s up, Doc?” next time we meet. Well, you did say I was a hard-nosed editor. 😉

    Note to all contestants of first round: I’d like to add my feedback in the comments section of the original contest, but as there are 45 entries, I may not get to them all in one sitting. Thank you for sharing your work.


  1. […] Here’s the link to Saturday’s announcement of finalists: http://sowrite.us.com/best-excerpt-all-genres-2014-contest-medal-round/ […]

  2. […] to “Nyaran” (absolutely no relation to judge, Tammy Narayan), for her winning entry,  “Born during that time…”. Nyaran’s 3 added sentences may have bolstered her intriguing entry, earning it the top slot. […]

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