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When Owls Play Foul

An ode to writer's block on the "Return of the Night Owl" Vocal challenge and some reflections on my first 20k entry, Doomsday Diary.

By Call Me LesPublished 2 years ago 3 min read
Art copyright of Lesley Leatherdale. From work Owl in a Towel

Vocal's biggest challenge of the New Year is worth $20,000.

YES, that's right: 20 GRAND.

So, of course, I and essentially every other Vocal writer who can type (plus their friends, nosy neighbours and grandmothers), are now furiously trying to hatch an original and captivating short story featuring a barn owl.

Full details here:


Didn't I already do this?!

Kind of. It was poetry and for kids. But, because I'm not afraid to humble-brag (when you're a creative you have no choice, really), I am now reminding my sure-to-groan audience about my first book, Owl in a Towel. Website below; new shipping options coming soon.

Back before "Call Me Les" had any kind of brand behind the penname, before Vocal Social Society existed—before the magazine The Vocal Creators Chronicle had even been thought of— there I was, a nobody, trying to push my children's book while recovering from a single oophorectomy. And I found Vocal. Coincidentally, because of a similar Vocal challenge, also worth 20 grand: Doomsday Diary.

Prompt: Create a short fiction set in a dystopian future featuring a heart-shaped locket.

I thought, for 20 grand, at the cost of 10$ to enter, I can dive in! I had zero writer's block and the following flowed out almost too fast to type:

"My mother had been a Reba McEntire fan. Maybe it was because she had roots in the south, or maybe it was because she wished her roots were as red as Reba's. I'll never know. It's bizarre which memories stay with you when you lose a parent young and which ones vanish like socks in a dryer. I don't remember her middle name or hometown, and I'm not entirely sure of the colour of her eyes. Still, every time I hear the song Fancy I remember her sitting in front of the mirror, getting ready for work, dressed in red lingerie, brushing her dyed red hair and singing along in her perfectly pitched voice with her perfectly red-lipsticked lips."

My story was quite short, possibly a tad contrived, likely trying too hard to be Atwood-worthy, and it didn't win. If I'm gutwrenchingly honest, it probably did not even come close to making the final round. Not gonna lie: losing out on that 20 grand hurt. But I look back at it now without regrets. I mainly see how far I've come. Vocal challenges are by far the best investment I've ever made in my writing when I consider the cost, camaraderie and collaboration. I've continued to enter Vocal challenges as often as possible ever since, including all of the Summer Fiction Series.

Along my journey, I've been blessed to meet so many talented creators who've supported me. Now, I -co-admin a group completely dedicated to Vocal challenges: Great Incantations.

Seeing as I'm completely blocked on my owl entry, I thought I'd take a moment to champion a few contenders who have amazed me there so far.

Natasja Rose with "Heightened Stakes".

Rachel MJ with "Night Owls".

Claire O'Brien (a new face to me) with "Return to Dust".

All three stories are extremely unique, and the authors are equally talented. If you're like me, and hoping to unwind while you wait for your writer's block to clear, I urge you to read some of these, and then come and join in the fun in Great Incantations. There are plenty more talented entries waiting there looking for reads and feedback. Note that the real fun starts with this guy: Steven Lance. When he's not leading bracket challenges, he's mesmerizing us with fictions. I've read this one below twice! Steven announced his piece stemmed from his own writer's block, so it just goes to show you never know where the words will lead!

For all of us that lose Barn Owl, and those lucky two that win (plus the fifty runner-ups), here's reminding you we're still #bettertogether. Push yourself for that grand prize, but don't lose sight of the non-monetary gain. I've yet to win a challenge, but I also have yet to feel I've lost.

Be like Owl and Keep Your Cool When the Sun Gets Hot

Cheers folks,


product review

About the Creator

Call Me Les

Aspiring etymologist and hopeless addict of children's fiction.

If I can't liberally overuse adverbs and alliteration, I'm out!

Instagram @writelesplaymore

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Comments (1)

  • Mike Singleton - Mikeydred2 years ago

    I was looking for something else but nice to dip into any of your writing for a second time

Call Me LesWritten by Call Me Les

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