Three-Minute Fiction Round Three: Picture This

There's no better way to wile away long winter nights than with really short stories. So, by popular demand, we're kicking off another round of our Three-Minute Fiction contest.

We've got a new judge and a brand new challenge. We want you to tell us a story about this photo:

An open newspaper on a cafe table i i
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo
An open newspaper on a cafe table
Robb Hill/Robb Hill Photo

The premise of our contest is simple: Send in your original short story that can be read in three minutes or less. That's no more than 600 words. Your essay must be inspired by the photo provided, and we must receive it by 11:59 p.m. ET on Feb. 28, 2010. We'll read the winning story on-air as well as post some of our favorites right here on NPR.org.

Our new judge is writer and All Things Consideredbook critic Alan Cheuse. The winner Cheuse picks will also receive an autographed copy of his book To Catch the Lightning: A Novel of American Dreaming and an autographed printout of his short story "Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941."

That short story is based on a photograph, too, Cheuse tells NPR's Guy Raz: "I love Ansel Adams and wrote a story after the title of one of his great photographs, Moonrise, Hernandez, New Mexico, 1941." Cheuse adds that his story is about the making of the photograph, but for their own stories, listeners shouldn't feel limited in what they write.

"You can easily write a story using a photograph in which the photograph is part of the story. You don't have to write a story about the making of the photograph." There are, he says, a lot of possibilities.

Cheuse compares a good short story to a lyric poem — both forms pack the biggest emotional punch and the most information into the smallest possible space. "It's a love affair, rather than a marriage," he says. "Or maybe even a one-night stand compared to a love affair."

He'll be looking for entertainment as well as emotion in the stories you send us. "I want to get the sense of life that my old friend Bernard Malamud used to say about a short story," Cheuse says. "He wanted a short story to do what he called 'predicate' a life, that is, give you everything about the life of the character that you need to know, in the same way a novel does."

But how do you pack the wallop of a novel into 600 words or less? Well, you'll show us soon enough.

Finally, we're excited to announce Three-Minute Fiction's new collaboration with the prestigious Iowa Writers' Workshop. A group of talented young writers will take the first round of reading your stories before handing off to Cheuse. We can’t wait to see what you send us!

Alan Cheuse

Alan Cheuse
Josh Cheuse

Alan Cheuse has been reviewing books on All Things Considered since the 1980s.

Formally trained as a literary scholar, Cheuse also writes fiction and novels and publishes short stories. He is the author of four novels, two collections of short fiction, and the memoir Fall out of Heaven. His most recent novel, To Catch the Lightning, is an exploration of the intertwined plights of real-life frontier photographer Edward Curtis and the American Indian. With Caroline Marshall, he has edited two volumes of short stories. Cheuse's short fiction has appeared in publications such as The New Yorker, The Antioch Review, Ploughshares and Another Chicago Magazine. His most recent collection of his short fiction was published in September 1998 and his essay collection, Listening to the Page, appeared in 2001.

Cheuse splits his time between the two coasts, spending nine months of the year in Washington, D.C., where he teaches writing at George Mason University. His summers are spent in Santa Cruz, Calif., teaching writing at the Squaw Valley Community of Writers. Cheuse earned his Ph.D. in comparative literature with a focus on Latin American literature from Rutgers University in 1974.

"The greatest challenge of this work [at NPR]," he says, "is to make each two-minute review as fresh and interesting as you can while trying to focus on the essence of the book itself."

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