Three Minutes Of Fiction Fame Our Three-Minute Fiction contest continues: Write a short story based on a photograph. The catch: It must be short enough to be read on the air in three minutes or less. That's about 500 words.
NPR logo

Three Minutes Of Fiction Fame

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123928736/123929006" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript
Three Minutes Of Fiction Fame

Three Minutes Of Fiction Fame

Three Minutes Of Fiction Fame

  • Download
  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/123928736/123929006" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
  • Transcript

Our Three-Minute Fiction contest continues: Write a short story based on a photograph. The catch: It must be short enough to be read on the air in three minutes or less. That's about 500 words.

GUY RAZ, host:

If you missed either of our shows last weekend, we announced the return of our Three Minute Fiction contest. We're looking for original fiction - stories under 600 words that can be read in about three minutes.

Hundreds of stories have already poured in. You can read a few selected entries at our Web site. That's npr.org/threeminutefiction, with three minute fiction all spelled out - no spaces. There you'll find the rules for this round and the photograph that should be the inspiration for your story. Again, it's npr.org/threeminutefiction.

Copyright © 2010 NPR. All rights reserved. Visit our website terms of use and permissions pages at www.npr.org for further information.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by Verb8tm, Inc., an NPR contractor, and produced using a proprietary transcription process developed with NPR. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

Abandonment

For the third round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction inspired by this photograph.


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

"Your first piece, Abandonment," the reporter from Artbeat said, "can you tell us how that idea came to you?"

The young woman's pen stood straight up, like a lone soldier on a battlefield, Claire thought. And those eyes: so trusting. She wanted to tell her the truth. That she'd merely left her copy of The New Yorker lying open on the table to fetch some cinnamon for her latte, and when she returned, a forty-ish, vaguely Mediterranean-looking man in a cream jacket was raving at her empty table.

"Oh, this," he said to her, "I love this. I absolutely love what you've done."

Claire studied her open magazine on the empty table and wondered what she had done.

"What you've got here is incredible," the man went on. "Just incredible."

Claire was an open person, honest to a fault. She'd only lied once, in seventh grade, and the experience had been so traumatic she'd never again told a serious lie in her life. So she was surprised, and even slightly exhilarated, when a counter-intuitive idea flew into her head and, against her instincts, she followed it.

"Thank you!" she said. "I'm glad you like it!"

"Jorge Sachs," the dark man in the cream jacket said, fishing a card out of his jacket. Of the gallery on Avenue B, surely she had heard? Claire nodded: Of course. The current show was wrapping up, and he hadn't seen anything he loved. But this, he said. Could she bring a few things by, say Tuesday? He said some other things, enough for Claire to get an idea of what was going on.

"Of course it won't have the same impact in the gallery," he told her, "Work like this never does." He touched her elbow and leaned in, but kept his eyes on the empty table.

"It was so smart to do this as a performance piece," he whispered. "Just brilliant."

Claire enlisted her friend Julie with the promise of a bottle of chardonnay, and they agreed on Saturday. It was easy, actually. The ideas just came to them. Nothing On consisted of a television on a small stand, playing an endless loop of the first season of The Real World. Shopping Bores Me was a men's flannel shirt from American Apparel on an otherwise empty rack. John Updike Lied to Me, their best idea, was a battered copy of Rabbit, Run lying face down on an end table.

"Well, here's where I'm exposed as a fraud," Claire said cheerfully, as she and Julie carried the items into Jorge's gallery. But he loved her work. Loved it. He gestured. He gushed. He told stories from his last trip to Venice. "You must see Venice," he told Claire. "Promise me you will." He also fixed outrageous prices to her work, and promised her a 50-percent commission.

And in this way, everything had slowly gotten completely out of hand. So she wanted to confess to the reporter, she really did. But she also knew that now was not the time. The opening was going so well, a respectable crowd of beautiful people chatting so enthusiastically, and Jorge had been so supportive and kind. And there was Julie, in the corner of her eye, talking to a tall man Claire had overheard say something about a hedge fund.

And so she smiled to the reporter, and said the words that already struck her as routine.

"I was just thinking about the disaffection of my generation," she began, "and the idea of ennui..."

Across. Down.

For the third round of our contest, we asked you to send us original works of fiction inspired by this photograph.


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

Dean Parker worked newspaper crossword puzzles in ink. Quickly. Accurately. Early. Two blue gel pens clipped in his shirt pocket, one as backup. Dean enjoyed the challenge. Mostly he liked irritating people. He did crosswords in restaurant and coffee shop newspapers before others could do them. Perkins and Denny’s stayed open all night, moored at corners of a regional shopping mall. Morning editions arrived at both no later than 4:00 a.m. Dean alternated. One morning Perkins, the next: Denny’s. Thirty, maybe 45 minutes, tops, he completed the daily puzzle. Drank his first coffee. Black. Now he switched from being an expert to becoming an irritant. Off to the alternate all-nighter. Do it again. Same puzzle, same answers. Coffee number two. Second round, 10 minutes. Nothing copied; he just remembered clues/words from his first working. Object: Finish both Perkins and Denny’s crosswords before 5. At 5, Anna’s opened in a little strip of shops a block from the mall. Quick walk. Third stop; third puzzle. Weak coffee at Anna’s. One block in a different direction to McDonald’s. Better brew, but he allowed himself only basic stuff; nothing with whipped topping or chocolate drizzle. Service began inside at 5:30. Usually they gave him a senior discount without his asking. Dean filled in both McDonald’s papers if at all possible. Life got more complicated after that. Cooks Corner next. The downtown bus had a stop right in front. He got a transfer; pumped half a cup of caffeine from a house blend carafe, threw two quarters in the bowl; worked fast; and, with good timing, made the Broadway bus to Andy’s Coffee Shop & Bakery. Five minutes at Andy’s; answers now memorized; sixth coffee in a go-cup. Finally the 22nd Street bus completed a loop and let him off near the mall where he’d parked his car before walking to Perkins or Denny’s. Weekends, Dean extended along the Broadway route, did another cafe, a second McDonald’s, a Burger King, and a small truck stop. But not workdays. He drove home, showered, grabbed breakfast, arrived at the office by 7:50, in time to do the break room paper. Eight puzzles, six coffees, four restroom stops, three buses, countless would-be Will Shortzs really pissed off. Monday. Dean leaned back into the soft leather of his desk chair and smiled.