No, wait, wrong literary reference...
I've never written for a Write Club Duel, and frankly, I don't know that I'd be up to the challenge of producing a finished, complete story in a three-hour window. I've done other competitions, but nothing with this type of pressure-cooker environment.
That's my way of saying that both authors deserve commendation. Both stories are worth reading and both stories incorporated the nine words.
A moment of your time about the words, and then I'll get to the stories. When the authors select their three words, I've always assumed that they're doing so with the kernel of a story in mind. As a writer, I know that most of us have story ideas bubbling on the various back-burners, and my suspicion is that, when the list of words arrives to each author, they're keeping their fingers crossed that the other author and the judge haven't selected something completely out in left field. I've seen duels like that, and I've felt incredibly sorry for the authors who, quite possibly, had to spend 20 minutes of their three hours looking up meanings to a set of incredibly obscure words. Those duels are often very disappointing -- it becomes quite obvious that one or both of the authors had to do some serious squeezing to make the words work (like packing a size 12 bride into her size 8 wedding dress <g>).
This wasn't the case in this duel.
I've also seen lists of words that were so incredibly generic, any author could have picked a story at random from their archives and found all nine words already there.
This wasn't the case this time, either.
The words selected by the authors were generally clever, usable, and interesting without being obscure or bizarre. As the judge, I tried to put in three words that would make the authors stretch. So, here is the list and following that, my opinions on the stories (the words came from, in order with three each; Vinnie, Antheros, and me.)
And now, the stories:
Vinnie gives us "Lesson One," in which Sybil and Stanley develop a seminar of sorts for some very lucky young men who, until now, were somewhat unschooled in the ways of pleasuring women.
Vinnie used all nine of the words, and managed to do so seamlessly -- in fact, I did searches for two of the words after reading the story, because I couldn't remember them being included. Frankly, his use of "oracle" is something of a cheat, or, more accurately, a work-around. Since I've been known to bend the rules myself on occasion (and been allowed to do so successfully), I'm merely going to give him a wink and a nod for it.
There were some notable phrases and moments in this short story that are worth mentioning:
"She kissed him gently on the cheek, patted his hair down into a semblance of order (too much would be as suspicious as too little on Stanley, she thought to herself),..." Nice attention to detail -- it's those little thoughts that give insight into a character (and, by extension, into the author). Also:
"The worst part was between the arrival of the first and the second of Stanley's tutees. Small talk was unbearable, and discussion of what was planned impossible." I suspect that this one sentence completely sums up the true feelings of someone preparing to be part of a "group" encounter for the first time.
There is one section of this story that I didn't care for -- without giving away too much (like I said, the story is worth a read), I found the encounter in Sybil's office cubicle to be unlikely enough as to be distracting to me, as a reader. When a story is written in a believable universe and there's little need for a suspension of disbelief on the reader's part, an unexpected moment of, "no, I don't really think so" is often enough to throw me out of the story completely. That particular section doesn't add much, overall, to the story and could be removed or highly edited, and would, in my opinion, make the story a stronger one.
Vinnie's "Lesson One" appears to be a strong introduction to a longer story -- or perhaps to a series of short stories or vignettes -- and I think that he should be encouraged to continue writing it.
Antheros wrote a completed short story, "Choices." Interestingly, it appears that his story was written around one of the words I provided rather than around an idea he already had marinating. In "Choices" the reader is presented with a familiar scenario -- the young college co-ed and the more adult and more experienced professor. Like Vinnie, he used all nine of the words and presented a well-proofed, finished piece. I'm not as comfortable with his use of the word "schadenfreude," and were I his editor for this story, I'd strongly suggest a different phrase. However, he was stuck with the word this time, and he managed to include it more or less accurately.
The beginning of his piece is somewhat awkward -- there's a discussion of the co-ed's dissertation that seems rather vague (although given the three-hour time limit, that's to be understood and expected). However, there are also some very good passages in this piece. I believe the most telling is this:
"The problem of an oracle, Mandy, is that it gives you an answer. And you have to find what exactly the question is."
When it comes right down to it, a whole lot of life is like that, isn't it?
Bottom line -- I'm strongly tempted to call this a tie. Both stories are well written, relatively well proofread (given the time constraints), and polished. Both authors took common themes and situations and handled them deftly; neither fell to cliche (as each could have, quite easily). Both stories have areas of weakness, but both could easily be 'fixed' with a few back-and-forth efforts with a good editor.
At this point, I'm going to go with my initial, gut-reaction. Although both were strong, well-done stories, Antheros' story "Choices" simply appealed to me more. Not by a wide margin, and were we to redo this duel another time, there's a good chance that it would have gone the other way.
So, thank you both for giving me the opportunity to be part of this duel. Congratulations to you both for what you've accomplished.