Three-Minute Fiction is All Things Considered's creative writing contest where our listeners submit an original short story that can be read in about three minutes — 600 words — or less. After weeks of reading a couple thousand submissions, a judge picks a winning story. Over the last two years, contestants have submitted about 29,000 stories, and only six have won. Next week our judge will announce the winner of Round 7, so we decided to catch up with past Three-Minute Fiction champions.
LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Laura Sullivan. Two years, 30,000 stories and six winners.
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DANIELLE EVANS: Hi. It's Danielle Evans. I can't wait to come back next week and tell you who the winner of the Three-Minute Fiction contest is.
SULLIVAN: You heard right. Next week, our judge will be here to announce the winner of Round Seven of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. Now, for those of you catching the tail end of this round, Three-Minute Fiction is this program's creative writing contest, where our listeners submit an original short story that can be read in about three minutes. This time around, we enlisted the help of award-winning writer Danielle Evans, author of the short story collection "Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self."
And I am pretty sure Danielle's busy reading that last batch of stories we just sent her. In the meantime, we thought it'd be cool to catch up with the previous winners of each round, so we put our producer Kenya Young on a mission to find out where they are now. And, Kenya, what did you find out?
KENYA YOUNG, BYLINE: Yeah. Laura, you know, it actually has been really cool to catch up with these winners going all the way back to the first round. It's really hard to believe that we've been doing this for two years.
SULLIVAN: That's right, because the first round launched back in June of 2009, right?
YOUNG: Yeah. Really, this is just something we decided to do for a little bit of summer fun, and we had no idea at all that we'd get this much attention and get as big as it did. Here we are, seven rounds later.
SULLIVAN: And James Wood was the judge of that first round.
YOUNG: Yeah, he was. And in fact, we didn't even have a challenge at that point. It was Round One. It was just an open-ended contest. The listeners just had to write a story in under 600 words. So you can imagine all the different stories that came in.
SULLIVAN: A lot of different stories. But one that caught James Woods' eye was...
YOUNG: "Not that I Care" by Molly Reid. And I caught up with her yesterday.
MOLLY REID: I'm applying to some writing residencies and conferences and just really concentrating my efforts there, which is kind of scary, but was a necessary change, I think.
YOUNG: Molly just moved to Portland, Oregon, and she's actually working on a collection of short stories. Now, I don't know if you remember, but Molly's story back in Round One was about animals - ducks, in fact - and ever since then, she's just kept writing about animals.
REID: I have recently written about some Freudian hummingbirds. In one of my stories, I have a severed cat paw and a murdered hamster.
SULLIVAN: Wait a minute. A severed cat paw and a murdered hamster?
YOUNG: I know. I know. I said the same thing. And I had to have Molly explain.
REID: I've just found myself really fascinated with the animal-human relationship. And it's not really about the animals themselves so much as sort of how we use animals, you know, as substitutes for relationships or as symbols or talismans and how that sort of reveals an important part of us.
SULLIVAN: OK. So James Wood also judged Round Two of the contest. But that time, he added a twist.
YOUNG: So, yeah, Round Two is the first time where we actually started giving the writers a challenge, some kind of criteria that they had to meet within these 600 words. So for example, in Round Two, every story had to begin with the first line: The nurse left work at 5:00. And the winner of that round was Cathy Formusa with the story "Last Seen."
SULLIVAN: What's Cathy up to these days?
YOUNG: So she's still writing since winning the contest. In fact, she's working on a novel. And she's had this novel in her head for years, and she said Three-Minute Fiction kind of helped her get it out and be more committed to writing it. But Cathy is also a full-time massage therapist out in Port Townsend, Washington, so she's just having a hard time finding the time to actually complete her novel.
SULLIVAN: Yeah. I mean, it definitely takes a longer to write a novel than a three-minute story, I would imagine.
YOUNG: That's exactly - I'm telling you, that's exactly what Rhonda Strickland said. She is actually the winner from Round Three. Her winning story was "Please Read," and it was chosen by writer and book critic Alan Cheuse. And I actually think Alan would be really thrilled to know that Rhonda is working on her memoir.
YOUNG: Yeah. She's writing about overcoming humble roots. And her parents or the children of sharecroppers and Rhonda herself actually grew up right outside of D.C. here in the first prefabricated housing development. The funny thing is Rhonda actually lives in North Carolina now, and she's a tutor. And she says that winning Three-Minute Fiction actually increased her tutoring clientele. Apparently, when parents hear that she's one of the Three-Minute Fiction winners, they think they're getting a real bargain when they hire her to tutor their kids.
SULLIVAN: You're kidding.
YOUNG: Too funny.
SULLIVAN: So what about the others? We have Yoav Ben Josef, Round Four, Zach Brockhouse of Round Five and Lauri Anderson winning the last round, Round Six.
YOUNG: Yeah. You know, all of them, I had really great talks with all three of them. And what I love about our past winners is that they're just so humble.
YOAV BEN JOSEF: I got this just overwhelming response from all the people that knew me from school and all my friends. And it was really nice and kind of embarrassing. And...
YOUNG: That's Yoav Ben Josef, winner of Round Four, as we mentioned. Write Ann Patchett chose his story "Not Calling Attention to Ourselves."
SULLIVAN: And did Yoav say winning Three-Minute Fiction helped him in any way?
YOUNG: To say the least.
JOSEF: Actually, the co-chair of a college became quite a mentor to me and hired me to teach. And I was also contacted by an agent, and I've been working with her. And it's been really helpful to be able to have somebody sort of on the other side waiting for a story because that gave me the drive to keep writing, which actually is exactly what Ann said that she hoped would happen from the experience, that I would kind of like, regain some faith in my writing, which I have.
YOUNG: But I tell you, Laura, it seems like folks are really paying attention to this contest, the little contest that could, because agents contacted Zach Brockhouse and Lauri Anderson as well.
ZACH BROCKHOUSE: Large literary agents follow Three-Minute Fiction, so that was a surprising place where I got a lot of interest.
YOUNG: That's Zach Brockhouse. He was the winner of Round Five, which was judged by the wonderful Michael Cunningham.
BROCKHOUSE: When I won the contest, I wasn't quite prepared for what was going to happen. I didn't have a lot of finished material like I do now. I've been writing pretty consistently since the contest, and I've actually just sent out my first two stories at the end of September. I plan on sending out another batch here pretty soon.
SULLIVAN: And you said Lauri Anderson, the winner of Round Six, was contacted by agents as well?
YOUNG: Yeah. I was even taken aback by all that's happened to Lauri since Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie selected her story as the winner less than just six months ago.
LAURI ANDERSON: After winning, I had three different short stories published in literary journals, and two poems, and I was named the Tobias Wolff Award in fiction.
ANDERSON: The - yeah, the Bellingham Review, which is a great journal. So that was super exciting.
SULLIVAN: That's pretty extraordinary. And to think we'll soon be adding another winner into the mix.
YOUNG: That's right. Who knows what's going to be in store for that person after Danielle makes her announcement next week. But they're going to really be in some good company.
SULLIVAN: That's producer Kenya Young. She pretty much runs ALL THINGS' Three-Minute Fiction around these parts. And you can keep up with her and others on our Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page. Don't forget to check out the stories posted so far on our website at npr.org/threeminutefiction, all spelled out, no spaces. And tune in next week for a special visit from the regular host of this show, Guy Raz, and our judge Danielle Evans, for our Round Seven winner reveal.
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