After 3,600 stories and countless hours of reading, here's the moment we've all been waiting for: It's time to announce the winner of Round 2 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest.
We asked listeners to send in original short stories that can be read in three minutes or less. But we made this round extra challenging by assigning a first line: "The nurse left work at 5 o'clock." James Wood, The New Yorker's literary critic and our guide to Three-Minute Fiction, tells Weekend All Things Considered host Guy Raz that this opening line led listeners to do amazing things.
"The standard story, which I hadn't expected at all, seemed to involve a nurse walking home, immediately lighting up a cigarette and then, as soon as she gets home, dissolving into alcoholism," Wood says.
"An interesting number of stories twisted it around so that it wasn't the perspective of the nurse, it was the perspective of the patient as the nurse leaves the room, which was a nice thing to do.
"And some wonderful stories dispensed entirely with that kind of ordinariness," he says, "and just played wonderful games and arabesques."
But ultimately, it was brevity that led Wood to choose "Last Seen" by Cathy Formusa of Port Townsend, Wash.
"I was looking for something that absolutely pushed the form as tightly as possible," he says, some snatched anecdote that approximated poetry.
"It doesn't start the way you expect it to, it doesn't proceed the way you expect it to, it doesn't end the way you expect it to."
Formusa, a massage therapist, has no formal training as a writer, but says this isn't her first attempt.
"I've always had this novel in my head, and I started writing it a year ago," she says. "I had left my main character in the Amazon — and she's actually on a shaman's drug trip right now. I think that's why I took a break and wrote [this] story."
Formusa found inspiration in the opening line. "I thought it was so descriptive, 'the nurse left work at 5 o'clock' — boy, boom, an image."
For winning the second round of our contest, Formusa will receive a signed copy of James Wood's book How Fiction Works.
For the second round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction that begin with this sentence: "The nurse left work at five o'clock." The winning story was "Last Seen" by Cathy Formusa of Port Townsend, Wash. You can read her story and more of our favorites on our Three-Minute Fiction page.
Round Two Winner!
Cathy Formusa's 'Last Seen' is the Round Two winner of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. Congratulations, Cathy!
"The nurse left work at five o'clock." He sauntered his words at me like he was king of the street.
"How do you know, Pablo? Maybe you went cold — had a flash, you know, blacked out and when you woke up you thought it was five?" I was pushing him now, just to see how sure he was.
"I like her." He lowered his head humbly for a moment, then abruptly continued in a strength I hadn't ever seen or felt from him before. "She brings me coffee sometimes, at five o'clock. It was five o'clock when my angel in white brought me coffee. And she smiles at me, my coffee angel. No starbucko never done that for me, but my angel does at five o'clock, she left at five, and I saw her!" Pablo karate-chopped his right hand, slicing the air between us to make his point.
He smelled so ripe in the afternoon's August heat, I let it go. I handed him a few bucks and continued my search for her killer.