GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
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RAZ: Ah, the sound we have come to love on this program, the ticking and the bell that could only signify one thing: Three-Minute Fiction is back. It's Round 8 of Three-Minute Fiction, and we have a new judge, a new challenge, and we're ready to launch the contest.
Now, if you're not familiar with the contest, it's pretty simple. We're looking for original short fiction that can be read in about three minutes, so no more than 600 words. In each round, we have a judge who comes up with a writing challenge. With me now is that judge to decide your fate, novelist Luis Alberto Urrea. He's the award-winning author of books including "The Devil's Highway," "The Hummingbird's Daughter," and his most recent release, "Queen of America." Luis, it's great to have you back on the show. And thank you so much for coming onboard to be the judge of this round of Three-Minute Fiction.
LUIS ALBERTO URREA: So thrilled. I couldn't not do it.
RAZ: Well, we spoke to you on the program a few months ago about "Queen of America," which is an amazing novel. And anybody who has not read it should go pick it up. What have you been up to since then?
URREA: I've been on the road, brother. I am the literary Bachman-Turner Overdrive.
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RAZ: And I should say you're speaking to us from Tucson, Arizona. You normally - you live in Illinois.
URREA: Yeah. I used to live here in Tucson for a while working on "Hummingbird's Daughter" and "Queen of America." But I'm here for the spectacular Tucson festival of the book, and it's going to be really cool.
RAZ: Now, this is different from what you normally do. Of course, you publish poetry and nonfiction and memoirs. But, I mean, essentially, you write long-form fiction. And we're asking listeners - we've been asking listeners for almost three years now, to write stories in under 600 words, which is - which actually is a bit of a challenge, especially for somebody like you, probably, right?
URREA: Well, you know, I got started doing poetry and short stories. So - I have a book of short stories out called "Six Kinds of Sky." And I'm still showing up out there with short stories, so I'm thrilled. I think this is a great challenge. And perhaps, it'll make me write some short stuff too.
RAZ: Well, Luis, we have not had a Three-Minute contest since late last year, and I know a lot of listeners have been writing and saying when is this going to come back? When are you going to bring it back? It's back, and everybody wants to know what the challenge is so they can go to our website and submit their stories. So go forward with it, Luis. What is the challenge this round?
URREA: All right, brothers and sisters, gather round, because this is it. I love me some books, and I know you do too. So here's your first line--see where you go with it: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door.
RAZ: Wow. That's awesome. That can go anywhere. That can go in any direction. So, basically, the first sentence of every story has to start: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door.
URREA: That's right. The key, of course, being that finally. There could be an infinity in what's going on with that finally.
RAZ: Yeah. Oh, my. I cannot wait to see how people take that - like, where they go with that story. I mentioned earlier that these stories have to be 600 words long. You have given us 17 words, so I should say that the stories that people submit now, I guess, they're now left with 583 words.
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URREA: Oh, sorry.
RAZ: But let me ask you about that sentence, especially that first part: She closed the book and placed it on the table, and I'm just picturing that. Tell me about the inspiration behind that.
URREA: Well, you know, I'm a book person. And honestly, I wanted the sense of life change that comes from a good reading experience that happens for somebody. And it seem like this implies all kinds of possibilities after this reading experience has ended.
RAZ: What I love about it is it basically throws the power and the control into the hands of our listeners. I mean, they can - you can go anywhere with this. It can be anywhere, it can be anyplace, any time, and you can introduce anybody you want to in this story.
URREA: Yeah. I hope so. I can't wait to see where people go with it, you know? I'm sure somebody's going to go through an airlock on a spaceship, you know? Who knows? Who knows where we're going? Or to step, you know, through the doorway at Hampton Palace and see Henry XIII. I just don't know.
RAZ: You know, a lot of people write in, and they want to know, you know, what are the judges looking for in the story? We've had, you know, Michael Cunningham and Ann Patchett and Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, I mean, amazing writers. And, of course, now we have you. I always say, you know, the best place to go is the website, npr.org/threeminutefiction, 'cause you can find all the previous winners, and we have more than 100 stories on there that were finalists. But in this case, what kind of advice, you know, could you give to listeners who, you know, who want to write a story?
URREA: Oh yeah. Well, this exercise or challenge actually comes a bit from my own editors at Little Brown. My editor is often telling me, you know what, stop clearing your throat. Stop clearing your throat. Don't hesitate. Get in the story. And so I thought, though this is a challenge, I intended it as a bit of a gift to tell somebody, look, you're in the middle of the story and you cannot stop. All stories happen when the old way of life doesn't work any longer. So let's jump right in, right to the moment of change.
RAZ: Well, there you have it. That is the launching of Round 8 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. It is now open, and we'll be accepting submissions until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, March 25th. You've got quite a bit of time, so get writing. We have to be able to read your stories aloud in about three minutes. It means that the stories cannot be longer than 600 words, and that includes the words that Luis just gave us. And, Luis, remind us of that sentence once again.
URREA: Why, certainly. The sentence says: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door.
RAZ: And remember to use that full sentence as it is to qualify, because if you miss one word, unfortunately, we've got to move on to the next story. There's just one entry per person. To send in your story, go to our website. It's npr.org/threeminutefiction, and Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out with no spaces. Each and every story will be read. We are lucky enough, Luis, once again, to get help from the creative writing students at NYU and the Iowa Writers' Workshop. They're sort of the first lines of defense, and then we post our favorites on the website. And over the course of the next several weeks, we're going to be reading excerpts from some of those stories. We're going to be sending the standouts to Luis, and then the winning story will be read on the air in its entirety.
The winner will receive a signed copy of Luis' book, "Queen of America," and also come onto the program and appear with Luis and me. Luis, any last-minute tips before we begin?
URREA: Be bold, baby. Just jump in there and let us have it.
RAZ: That's the author Luis Alberto Urrea. He is the judge of this round of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, and he joined us today from member station KUAZ in Tucson, Arizona. Luis, thank you so much. We're going to be checking in with you over the coming weeks. And I can't wait. It's going to be so fun.
URREA: Yeah, I'm excited, Guy.
RAZ: And once again, if you wanna submit your story, go to our website. That's npr.org/threeminutefiction, and Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out with no spaces. Good luck.
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