TWA #17 – Circus Circus – JUDGEMENT!

17-judgePlease excuse the lateness of this post. We had some technical issues yesterday.

Under the big top, surrounded by greasy food and some greasy people, the carnival can be a magical place. We asked our writers to set their story inside of one of these festivals.

Danny Brophy responded with “Big Top Barry and Tammy the Lion Tamer.”

His competitor, Jyoji Fee, came roaring back with “Blood in the Tent.”

Which tale of carnal carnivals will win? Let’s see what our judges have to say.

Rich Alix is our first judge. He is a patron of The Human Echoes Podcast, and an all-around awesome guy. He is the voice of the common man in this contest, and here is his judgment:

Let’s all go to the circus!! Who will steal the spotlight under the big top? Lets find out.


“Blood in the Tent” by Jyoji Free- I like the title, gives us some action right off. That’s followed right up by some death defying stunt and a death threat. A couple paragraphs in and we’re already in the thick of things.


Blackmailing a circus by threatening its talent is one of the oddest ways to extort money I have seen but I can roll with it.


The “Killer in our Midst” angle works pretty good here, but because we are not introduced to any of the characters outside this little group the discussions of who else it could be seem nothing more than distractions. The reveal of the letter could have been done differently I think too. If Anastasia had left the letter for the ringmaster to find things would have played out roughly the same way and her involvement even more concealed.


This story had almost a horror movie vibe to it. A single group separates into pairs, taken out one by one, anyone hurt is dead with no effort to save them. Seriously, the only character given more than token assistance to is the elephant. I’m not a big fan of those kind of movies, but some people are.


One thing I did think was very well done was the final confrontation. I liked Anastasia’s motivation and how she threatened Malcolm by shooting at Rocco. She didn’t want to hurt the man who could give her the money she was after.


The actual ending seemed odd to me though. The fact that the rest of the group is so easily swayed to violence and murder steals their innocence. The sympathy I felt for them or those killed is gone. They are a den of murderers and backstabbers and they deserve each other.


This is one of those stories that could benefit from another draft or two. The conversation after Peter’s death to me is the best part of the story. The conversation is well written and seems natural. The deduction of suspects from the wording of the letters is almost Holmesian. Very well done.


“Big Top Barry and Tammy the Lion Tamer” by Danny Brophy- The title struck me as childish and the reason why became obvious very quickly. I don’t think we’ve seen a bedtime story in the arena yet, nice approach. The simplicity of the story and the method of its telling really work with a circus, after all when I think circus I think children.


I liked the way that the story is revealed in the back and forth between mother and child. The dialogue here seems very fluid, very realistic. As a parent, I have had conversations like this many times and this feels very normal, the interjections and off topic comments only enhance that.


This is another one of those stories where we have a couple levels going on, one straightforward and one that goes over the head of the child. Subtle hints and nods to “grown up stuff” made me smile.


The “love story” part is beautifully written and really shines in the plain way that it is told. Boiled down to its essence so a child can understand it makes it that much more powerful.


I think this story might have carved a place on my favorites list, well done Mr Brophy.


This week my choice ultimately came down to flow. One story seemed disjointed and forced while the other felt normal and realistic. If you haven’t guessed yet, my vote this week goes to “Big Top Barry and Tammy the Lion Tamer” by Danny Brophy!

Donald Jacob Uitvlugt is our second judge this week. Donald strives to write what he calls “haiku fiction,” stories that are small in scope but big on impact. Find out more about haiku fiction here. He welcomes comments at his blog or via Twitter @haikufictiondju).

Ah, the circus! The whistle of the train, the smell of sawdust and freshly-popped popcorn. The wild animals and the performers in their sparkly, skin-tight outfits. Those strange orange marshmallow things in the shape of ginormous peanuts. The circus has been a feature in popular literature almost as long as there’s been a circus; Something Wicked This Way Comes and The Circus of Dr. Lao immediately come to mind. What a great prompt! And the writers do not disappoint.


As is my custom, I’m going to make a few comments on the stories individually before moving on to my verdict.


“Blood in the Tent” – What I love most about this story is the intense insider feel of the story, to the point of being claustrophobic. The circus world is so tightly closed off to the world of us “straights” that I get the vibe of a locked room mystery. I think that aspect, the circus people wanting to handle their own problems without outside interference, was handled very well. The story could use more tightening, the cast of characters gets unwieldy at times, and there’s a shift in POV in the middle that I’m not fond of, but this is a very solid entry given the time constraints of the Arena.


“Big Top Barry and Tammy the Lion Tamer” – There are times where this story feels to me like an exercise in writing a story only in dialogue. A little bit of description here and there would I think increase the suspension of disbelief. String after string of quotation marks just serves to remind me that I’m reading a story. That said, I really enjoyed the tale. I love the flip of the story – instead of someone running off to join the circus, you have circus folk running off to join family life. I like that we as the reader are smart enough to figure out what the little girl is not quite old enough to figure out for herself; I had guessed it by the first couple of paragraphs, but even knowing that did not spoil my enjoyment of the story. A smaller story than I was expecting from this prompt, but perhaps all the more delightful for the surprise.


Two solid entries in very different genres. In the end, I must vote for the story that most moved me emotionally. And for me this week, that story was:


“Big Top Barry and Tammy the Lion Tamer” by Danny Brophy

There you have it folks! A unanimous decision from the judges. Danny Brophy wins! Let’s see how the fan voting turned out:

[poll id=”13″]

It looks like our readers and judges are at an impasse for this week, as they gave the nod to Jyoji. If this were a split decision he would have taken it, but that was an amazing comeback. Early Friday morning, Jyoji was behind by several votes but managed to surge right back into this fight.

Thank you all for voting and reading our stories! Be sure to follow our amazing competitors on their various social media, and to subscribe to our site through the tool on the right hand side!

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