The closest thing to dueling in modern society is having beef with a rival hip-hop crew on the opposite coast from the one you live on and seeking retribution when you, or a member of your crew, gets dissed in another’s not-so-nice lyrics. Thankfully, beefing with another rap crew is “like, so 1990s,” and killing doesn’t fall anywhere along the spectrum of the four branches of true hip-hop—rapping, DJ-ing, breakdancing and graffiti art—that still exists for fans who want to find it.
Enter Ink & Blood Writing Duels, where the intensity of facing another human in combat is created with the use of a prompt, two computers and a peanut gallery of hecklers. This can be viewed as a much nerdier and literary version of a rap battle (cue mental images of Eminem in the film 8 Mile) because words are also used here to defeat your opponent.
Created by Captain James Blood, Commander Lord Byron Taylor and Dr. Charlotte Jenkins (all aliases), the Ink & Blood “secret” society celebrates its one-year anniversary of holding writing competitions and literary events in February. On Jan. 17, however, the group holds its monthly competition.
The society’s duels are modeled after similar events the founders saw in Peru that Dr. Jenkins (or Lottie to most) described like pro-wrestling matches: luchador masks, fan processions behind their favorite competitors and a raucous crowd.
Hosted once a month at G-Mart Comics (2461 N. Kedzie), up to eight anonymous writers—usually wearing masks but without the frenzy of a wrestling arena—are paired at random to write against each other for 10 minutes from a one-word prompt that is shouted out from the audience; the winner is determined in a tournament-style format. The duelists sit side by side behind a partition while the stories they type are projected onto monitors that face a crowd of enthusiastic book-nerds, other writers and anyone looking to interact with (or heckle) the competitors in real-time.
To sit down and engage one’s wit, typing speed and the ability to manifest readable fiction on-demand is absolutely terrifying. I know; I attended and dueled at Ink & Blood’s event at G-Mart in September and had my ass handed to me by a 90-word-per-minute-typing ice-in-her-veins opponent who went on to win second place that evening. The literary beating I received that night left my ego to soak in its own bloody pulp and to this day I feel like a small part of me died in that encounter.
Lottie, who says she might be alone because she doesn’t get nervous if/when she competes, also understands what it’s like to lose during a writing duel.
“Sometimes you’re halfway through a story,” Lottie says, “and you realize you’re going to lose. But once you’ve realized that you can kind of just go for it.”
She knows that entertaining the crowd on the other side of the partition—where the duelers can hear everything and respond vocally, or with words as they type—is the most important part. Making those in attendance laugh is something that happens often during duels, but one story sticks out for Lottie.
“[A story about] erotic poetry as told by eighth graders, a story written in a championship round,” Lottie says, “is the funniest thing I ever read at one of our duels.”
Humor, competition and audience participation are all things helping the Ink & Blood Writing Duels grow. As the group ventures into its second year of holding literary events, there is talk within the society of possible expansion to a larger venue, setting up a space to duel online and, the grandest goal, having well-known authors attend and compete.
Even beginning writers who have the mettle and show up early enough to sign up can test their skills against another writer. Be forewarned: This is not for the faint of heart. It requires 10 minutes of simultaneously typing and world/story building and the ability to either interact or ignore a crowd with a taste for verbal blood.
But it’s also fun just to sit back, talk some smack and watch stories come to life in the pressure cooker of a writing battle.
Ink & Blood Writing Duels go down this Saturday (Jan. 17) and start at 8 pm (7:30 pm if you want to compete) at G-Mart Comics (2641 N. Kedzie Blvd.) in Logan Square.