It's Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, the short story contest from weekends on All Things Considered. Here's the premise: Write a piece of original fiction that can be read in about three minutes (no more than 600 words).
Our judge for this round is author Mona Simpson, whose most recent book is My Hollywood. She most recently won a Literature Award from the American Academy of Arts and Letters, among other prizes. Here's her twist for Round 10:
Write a story in the form of a voice-mail message.
"It doesn't have to be crazy, but it could be crazy. By nature, first person — basically, a soliloquy or a monologue," she tells Guy Raz, contest curator and host of NPR's TED Radio Hour.
"It could start out, 'Hey, it's me, I'm glad you didn't pick up,' or it could start out, 'You don't know me, but ..." It could be any number of dramatic scenarios which will unwind in the three minutes," she says.
Submissions will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Feb. 10. Throughout the contest, we'll post some of our favorites online, and read excerpts during weekends on All Things Considered. You can also keep up with the latest posts on our Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page.
Each and every story will be read by our staff with help from creative writing graduate students from across the country, including at Vanderbilt, New York University and the University of Houston.
Simpson will be the ultimate judge, and she has some advice for entrants.
"It's spoken, so it has the texture of voice, but ... it's essentially what 100 years ago a short story in the form of a letter would have been," she says, adding, "I think we're hoping for spontaneity and intensity and personality, freedom."
Here's another trick Simpson says might be fun: "Set a timer and just see what comes out a few times."
The winning story will be read on the air in its entirety and will be published in the summer issue of The Paris Review literary magazine. The winner will also receive signed copies of all five of Simpson's novels.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING)
LAURA SULLIVAN, HOST:
And you know that sound means: Three-Minute Fiction is back. Here to kick off Round 10 is the former host of this program and the curator of Three-Minute Fiction, Guy Raz. Guy, welcome back.
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's great to be back.
SULLIVAN: And in just about a month, Guy is going to launch our newest show, the TED Radio Hour.
RAZ: That's right. And we're so excited about it, Laura. So stay tuned. The TED Radio Hour begins March 1st. But in the meantime, there is some Three-Minute Fiction to get to.
SULLIVAN: Sounds good. I'll be back in a minute.
RAZ: No problem. OK. So, folks, we are now launching Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction. And if you're new, or if you need a refresher, it's simple. In Three-Minute Fiction, we ask you, our listeners, to come up with an original short story that can be read in about three minutes, so no more than 600 words.
And each round, we ask a writer we love to be our judge and to throw out a challenge, a twist that you will then use to write your story. So this round, it is my distinct pleasure and privilege to introduce to you the brilliant and excellent Mona Simpson, author of most recently the novel "My Hollywood." Mona, welcome to Three-Minute Fiction.
MONA SIMPSON: Thank you.
RAZ: OK. So we've been getting all kinds of emails and letters from folks all over the country for the past two months. They've been asking for a new round. So, Mona, from your lips to the page, what's the challenge you came up with for Round 10?
SIMPSON: To write a story in the form of a voicemail message.
RAZ: So the challenge is to write a story in the form of a voicemail message. That's a great idea. Like, a crazy voicemail message?
SIMPSON: It doesn't have to be crazy, but it could be crazy. It's, by nature, first-person - basically, a soliloquy or a monologue, you know, could be any number of dramatic scenarios, which will unwind in the three minutes.
RAZ: How about like, (mimics beep sound), Hey, Mona, it's Guy. I'm calling to tell you that I don't think things are working out anymore, so maybe we should see other people? Like, could that be a good start?
SIMPSON: Yeah. Mm-hmm. It could.
RAZ: That was just for dramatic effect.
SIMPSON: Yes, absolutely.
RAZ: There's something so impulsive about voicemail messages. Many people have left voicemail messages that they go on to regret. Have you ever left a voicemail message for somebody that you went on to regret?
SIMPSON: Oh, I'm sure I have. I could think of a few just this week.
RAZ: Oh, no.
RAZ: Hopefully, not to any agents or anything.
RAZ: All right. So Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, Mona, is now open. We're accepting submissions until 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time on Sunday, February 10th. We have to be able to read your stories out loud in about three minutes, so no more than 600 words. Mona, remind us one more time what the challenge is.
SIMPSON: The challenge is to write a short story in the form of a voicemail message.
RAZ: And remember, just one entry per person. To send in your story, head to our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction - that's Three-Minute Fiction all spelled out, no spaces. Each and every story will be read by our staff with help from creative writing graduate students from across the country, including at Vanderbilt, NYU and the University of Houston, to name just a few.
Now, throughout the contest, we're going to post some of our favorites at our website. We'll also air excerpts from those stories on the show, and novelist Mona Simpson will be the final judge. Mona, thank you so much for joining us this round. Any last writing tips for our listeners before you go?
SIMPSON: I think we're hoping for spontaneity and intensity and personality, freedom. It'd be fun to set a timer and just see what comes out a few times.
RAZ: That's a good idea. The winning story will be read on this program in its entirety. The winner will also receive signed copies of all five of Mona's novels. And that story will also be published in the summer issue of the Paris Review. That, of course, is one of the most acclaimed literary magazines in the world. So, Mona, we will check back with you in a few weeks.
SIMPSON: Great. Thanks.
RAZ: That's Mona Simpson, the novelist and author of most recently "My Hollywood." She's the judge of Round 10 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest. Mona, thanks so much.
SIMPSON: You're welcome.
RAZ: And, once again, to submit your story, visit our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. That's all spelled out, no spaces. And good luck.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.