First of all, before I go a step further, I want to express how proud I am of everyone who participated in CruelJan17! For many of us, this was a real challenge: limiting ourselves to 2,000 words, writing with a deadline, breaking out of our preferred themes, &c. Yet, rather than dread and begrudging, I saw a lot of excitement on everyone’s part, eagerness not just for the friendly competition but to improve and develop ourselves as serious, authentic writers.
Everyone is fucking awesome. I hope writers and readers will stick around for the upcoming contests (GentleApril17, ButtyJuly17, and… October may be up for a vote). And by the end of this month all the stories will be released as a PDF and an epub for anyone who’d like a copy; the website will remain intact as well. Thanks go to Giantess Tina and Undersquid for volunteering their art to accompany this anthology.
Here’s the breakdown of who voted for what, as well as readers’ best guesses as to who wrote what. Reviews may include spoilers.
I know everyone wants to know which story was the outright cruelest but I think everyone can guess. Nyx, author of “The Portrait,” dominated this category all throughout the voting, sometimes tipping over 50% but never going below 35%. In the end she landed at nine votes out of 25, with Miss Kaneda’s “Pressure” in second place with five votes, and “What I Deserve” (Mr. Taedis) and “Allegory” (Giantess Tina) tied for third at three votes. Also voted in were “The Power of Heartbreak” (MoonlightUmbry), “Every Time, The Same” (Undersquid), “Bad Moon Rising” (QuickSilver), and “Call Me Absurd, Selfish” (me).
As for writing style, four readers out of six were able to identify Nyx’s style accurately, while two people thought CrushedBoyWonder or I wrote her story! Five people nailed Miss Kaneda’s style (one person thought Theophilous Bolt wrote “Pressure”), and three out of five correctly guessed that Mr. Taedis wrote “What I Deserve,” two people guessing Undersquid or Theophilous Bolt.
This one saw more even distribution. Tied for first (four votes) were “The Portrait,” “What I Deserve,” and “Allegory.” “Ad Infinitum” got three votes, and five stories tied with two votes each: “”Pressure,” “Resistance” (Lycaon6), “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine” (Will Edgecomb), “Every Time, The Same,” and “Bad Moon Rising.”
Four people out of six identified Theophilous Bolt as the author of “Ad Infinitum” (two supposed it was Nyx, one guessed Miss Kaneda). Four out of six knew Nyx wrote “The Portrait,” but two readers thought maybe CrushedBoyWonder wrote it, or that I did—so even if my story wasn’t nearly as cruel as hers, one person conflated our writing styles, and I will wear that as a badge of honor.
But everybody—absolutely everybody—knew that Giantess Tina wrote “Allegory,” the only unanimous turnout in this poll. We’ll leave it to the historians to debate why this should be.
This was a trick question: all the stories were delightful. But as a matter of personal opinion, various readers looked at all the stories and had individual reactions. Here’s how it broke down: tied for first (six votes) were “The Portrait” and “Allegory.” “Pressure” got four votes, “Resistance” and “Every Day, The Same” each received three votes, and also mentioned were “Jessica,” “Ad Infinitum,” and “Bad Moon Rising.”
Four people attempted to identify the author of “Bad Moon Rising.” Two correctly guessed it was QuickSilver, but others thought maybe it could be Will Edgecomb or CrushedBoyWonder. The author of “Jessica” was correctly pegged as CrushedBoyWonder half the time: two people thought it was Lycaon6, one guessed Theophilous Bolt.
What this means is the story that surprised you with a refreshing take on cruelty, or that explored other ways in which cruelty can manifest. Far and away the winner of this was Mr. Taedis’s “What I Deserve,” in which a man endures a personal hell, continually denied the one thing he craves. Tied for second were Undersquid’s “Every Time, The Same,” where a goddess-like figure loses track of adoring her sacrifices, and Nyx’s “The Portrait,” where her Tyrant character goes out of her way to abuse an adorer. Three people voted for “Allegory,” a humorous fairy tale of reversal with a genuinely cruel twist, within context. Also nominated were “Resistance,” “Pressure,” “The Power of Heartbreak,” “Kobold Cruelty,” “Call Me Absurd, Selfish,” and “Ad Infinitum.”
Four out of six readers knew that I’d written “Call Me Absurd, Selfish,” but two people thought this story’s style sounded like MoonlightUmbry or Mr. Taedis. Similarly, three out of five people sensed “Every Time, The Same” was written by Undersquid, but two people attributed it to SalameleonAD or QuickSilver. Four people guessed on “Resistance,” half of whom attributed it to Lycaon6, but two others thought SalameleonAD or I might have written it.
While readers have individual takes on what’s cruel or what motifs appeal to them, I think most people will agree on a cunning twist of fate (or of the blade) in a story. One again, this category was owned by Mr. Taedis with nine votes. In second were Giantess Tina and Undersquid. After that: “Resistance,” “Pressure,” “The Power of Heartbreak,” “The Portrait,” and “Kobold Cruelty.”
Half of the polled pieced together that maybe, possibly, SalameleonAD might have written “Kobold Cruelty,” though Theophilous Bolt, Undersquid, and MoonlightUmbry were also potential penners of this AD&D-esque tale. Three of four readers pegged MoonlightUmbry’s style, but one person thought QuickSilver might have written “The Power of Heartbreak.”
Even in a cruel story, where someone’s clearly the “bad guy,” we can still choose this character as our favorite. Some readers enjoy their flavor of abuse; others find them charming, despite everything. The most popular antagonist among these stories was the Tyrant in “The Portrait,” with six out of 24 votes; second was either the abusive, controlling Charlotte or the weak-willed Helena who betrayed her helpless friends in “Pressure.” Tied for third were the giantesses of “What I Deserve” and “Allegory.” Also mentioned: “Jessica,” “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine,” “The Power of Heartbreak,” “Ad Infinitum,” and “Every Time, The Same.”
Four out of five readers surmised that Miss Kaneda wrote “Pressure,” with one outstanding guess of Theophilous Bolt. Will Edgecomb wrote “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine,” and 2/3 of readers knew this, but a couple people thought Mr. Taedis or Nyx could’ve written it, too.
Primarily Cruel January was intended to learn who could write the cruelest story within a month’s time, but the secondary objective was to give exposure to talented writers. The function of anonymity attempted to make readers approach all the stories with an open mind, rather than worshipping a known favorite writer. Through this, I hope some obscure or lesser-known talent got some recognition they deserve.
Without knowing the authors’ identities, readers said they’d like to read more by Nyx (six votes), Giantess Tina (four votes), Mr. Taedis (three votes), and Lycaon6 (three votes), as well as Miss Kaneda, Will Edgecomb, Theophilous Bolt, QuickSilver, Undersquid, CrushedBoyWonder, and SalameleonAD.
As well, readers were asked which stories they’d likely reread. This was a multiple-answer question, and everyone got at least five nominations. Hear that? No matter who you are, one-fifth of polled readers intend to go back to your story and enjoy it over and over again. The five most-rereadable stories are, in order, “The Portrait,” “What I Deserve,” “Pressure,” “Allegory,” and “Every Time, The Same.”
Now, this one wasn’t meant to shame anyone. The whole Cruel January contest was meant for fun, and this category is only a counterpart to the Cruelest category. But in the vein of cruelty, this question had to exist, no? And this is another totally subjective evaluation, because if we can’t agree on what true, standard cruelty is, how could we define its opposite?
The least-cruel stories, comparatively, in this selection were “Kobold Cruelty” (six votes), “Allegory” (four votes), “Jessica” (three votes), and tied at fourth with two votes each were “A Stitch in Time Saves Nine,” “Every Time, The Same,” “Call Me Absurd, Selfish,” and “Bad Moon Rising.” Also mentioned were “The Power of Heartbreak,” “Pressure,” “Resistance,” and “Ad Infinitum.” Does that make sense? Because some damned cruel writers were included in that selection. You just never can tell.