The end of Round 8 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest has finally arrived. With help from our readers at the Iowa Writers' Workshop, New York University, the University of Oregon and the University of Texas, at Austin, we've read through more than 6,000 stories.
Submissions had to be original works of short fiction — no more than 600 words. They also had to begin with this sentence: "She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door."
Our judge for this round is the novelist Luis Alberto Urrea, author of Queen of America. He helped sift through some of the submissions before picking his favorite.
"I was amazed at how many of the stories ended up dealing with loss," Urrea tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
The winner for Round 8 was no exception to this trend. Urrea chose Rainy Wedding, written by Carrie MacKillop of Charlotte, Vt. The story is about a mother who is caring for her deathly ill, 5-year-old son.
"Sometimes you read a piece of literature that you realize you will never forget," Urrea says of MacKillop's submission.
MacKillop says once she heard the rules for the round, the ideas started coming.
"For me, when I heard the prompt, it was so easy for me to picture the most difficult thing on the other side of the door, which would be a sick child," she tells Raz, "and I think the story just flowed from there."
The flow worked, Urrea says.
"If you write like that all the time, you are America's next famous author — because it's just devastating," he tells MacKillop. "There were a lot of layers of story. The way the story was told, I really loved it that there was no 'Bam! Here's a snappy ending for you.' It felt almost novelistic in its heft."
MacKillop has no formal background in creative writing. She holds a bachelor's degree in English from the University of California, Los Angeles, but was never accepted into their creative writing program.
"Do not stop writing," Urrea tells her. "Send me your work. ... We'll be pen pals."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
And if you're just joining us, this is WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
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RAZ: We finally made it. The end of Round 8 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest has arrived. Three-Minute Fiction, of course, is our contest where we ask you to come up with an original short story that can be read in about three minutes.
And with help from our readers at the Iowa Writers Workshop, at NYU, the University of Oregon and the University of Texas at Austin, we've read through over 6,000 stories we received this round.
Our judge for this round, the novelist Luis Alberto Urrea who's the author of "Queen of America" has now picked his favorite. And in case you forgot, the challenge this round was that each story had to begin with the sentence: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door.
And joining me now from WBEZ in Chicago is Luis himself. It's great to have you back.
LUIS ALBERTO URREA: Buenos dias, Guy.
RAZ: Before we get to that winner, I know that you had a tough time because you had to pick one story out of 6,000 submissions. You obviously could not read all of them, but you read a lot of those stories. And you had some other favorites, as well, so first talk about some of those favorites before we get to the winner.
URREA: I loved "Mona Lisa, Mona Lisa." I loved "Outliers." "Like Characters in a Book" was a really moving story. "Last Night," "Pilgrims," "The First Table," another deeply moving story. "No Way Back," "Overdue." I was amazed at how many of the stories ended up dealing with loss.
RAZ: All the stories you just mentioned are actually posted at the website npr.org/threeminutefiction. So anyone listening who wants to check them out should do so. They are amazing stories. Luis, normally, I would just keep chatting, and then it would just drive people crazy.
I actually got a phone call from somebody who submitted a story. I called her back because she wanted to know when we were going to announce the winner. And so - and I'm sure she's listening, Patty Shevay(ph) out in St. Louis. So, Patty, the winner is going to be announced right now. Luis?
URREA: All right, America. Our winner is Carrie MacKillop with "Rainy Wedding."
RAZ: Tell us what it was about the story that drew you to it.
URREA: You know, sometimes you read a piece of literature that you realize you will never forget.
RAZ: Well, one of my favorite parts of the winner's announcement is when we have Susan Stamberg read the entire story, and we have that. Let's take a listen.
SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door. Her son lay dying on the other side, his blue, pale skin in stark contrast to the bright red blanket on his bed. His gray eyes looked at her dully as she entered the room. She withheld the tears that wanted to come every moment and smiled cheerfully. Today I get married, right, he said with a smile. Yes, sweetheart. Today, you get married.
When the boy became ill and had to miss his first day of kindergarten, he had asked what school would be like. She started a ritual that day, explaining to him in detail everything he was missing so that he and she could experience the life he would never have. In the last few months, lying in this bed, in this room, he had gone through every grade, graduated from high school, went to college and graduate school and gotten a job as an architect.
He met his fiancee when she lost her purse on a rainy day while he was at a meeting in Manhattan. She told him of a fairy-tale romance, the day he had asked for her hand in marriage, the house they were planning to build. What's the weather like today? Is it sunny? Her son, though only 5, had lived 30 years in this bed.
He worried that the caterer would be late, that his tuxedo wouldn't fit, that his Uncle Charlie would embarrass him in front of his new wife. No, it's really cloudy. There's a good chance of rain around 4:00. But that's when the ceremony is, he wailed. What are we going to do? It doesn't matter. It will be beautiful no matter what.
She told how the bride's father had built a floor under the tent that morning to stave off the two feet of water that had developed in the backyard after four weeks of steady rain. She told how the maid of honor had stopped on the way back from getting her hair done to buy mud boots for the wedding party, how this was the rainiest spring on record, how it rained during the whole ceremony, drowning out the father of the groom when he read from the Bible, and how his new wife, looking as stunning as ever, had her best friend cut off her dress at the knee in the middle of the reception because it had soaked up so much mud and water.
She's awesome, isn't she, he said gleefully. I'm really lucky, aren't I, Mom? She stroked his hair, taking in the small thin features of his face, thinking of the life she and her husband had laid out for him before he was sick, all the world their little man would devour. You are so lucky, sweetheart, and so is she.
As he eased into sleep, she thought about what the next few days would hold. She knew she didn't have much time to get him to his first child and that child's first day of school. She knew what he would ask when the baby was born. Will he get sick, Mommy? Of course she would answer no.
RAZ: That is NPR's Susan Stamberg reading the winning story of this round of Three-Minute Fiction. It's called "Rainy Wedding" by Carrie MacKilop. And Carrie joins us now from her local public radio station WVPS in Colchester, Vermont. Carrie, congratulations to you.
CARRIE MACKILLOP: Thank you so much.
RAZ: Luis is with us as well.
MACKILLOP: Hi, Luis.
URREA: Hi, Carrie.
RAZ: Carrie, this story is so beautifully written. It is so heartbreaking. Tell me about this story. How did you come up with it?
MACKILLOP: For me, when I heard the prompt, it was so easy for me to picture the most difficult thing on the other side of the door, which would be a sick child. And I think the story just flowed from there.
RAZ: I read it on paper, and, Luis, I know you did several times, but to hear Susan read it, it's just so powerful. How did you respond, Luis, when you read Carrie's story?
URREA: I remember saying, and I'm going to tell you this, Carrie, right now, if you write like that all the time, you are America's next famous author because...
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URREA: ...it's just devastating. I mean, listen to poor Guy.
RAZ: As the father of a young child, it's even probably more profound and powerful to hear that story. Carrie, I want to move away from the sadness for a moment because this is a joyous moment. You have won the Three-Minute Fiction contest. First of all, do you have any background in creative writing?
No. I have a bachelor's degree in English from UCLA, but I was never accepted into the creative writing program, even though I tried really hard to get in.
I bet they have regrets now, don't you think, Luis?
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URREA: Yeah. She is too good for an MFA, man.
RAZ: Carrie, do you have any questions for Luis?
MACKILLOP: Honestly, I'm really curious why. I'm really excited, but I'm wondering what stood out. Was it the emotion that it evoked or...
URREA: Well, there were a lot of layers of story, the way the story was told. I really loved it that there was no, bam, here's a snappy ending for you. It felt almost novelistic in its heft. Do not stop writing. Send me your work.
MACKILLOP: All right. Well, thank you so much.
URREA: Keep in touch. We'll be pen pals.
RAZ: We'll hook you up with Luis offline, all right, Carrie?
That's Carrie MacKillop. She's the winner of Round 8 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest with her story "Rainy Wedding." You can read Carrie's story and many, many others at our series' webpage. It's npr.org/threeminutefiction. Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out. Carrie, thank you so much for participating. Congratulations. It's such an amazing, amazing story.
MACKILLOP: Thank you so much.
RAZ: And, of course, to you, Luis, thank you so much for being our judge this round. You did literally read hundreds of stories.
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RAZ: Carrie will receive a copy - a signed copy of his latest book "Queen of America." Luis is also the author of "The Devil's Highway" and "The Hummingbird's Daughter." Luis, it has been an absolute pleasure having you as our judge.
URREA: Thank you, Guy.
RAZ: And keep close to your radios. We're going to be back with Three-Minute Fiction in the fall, Round 9. So stay tuned, and you will hear that here on WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED.
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RAZ: And for Sunday, that's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz. Don't forget to download the podcast, The Best Of. It's called WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED. You can find it on iTunes or at npr.org/weekendatc.
We're back on the radio next weekend with more news, personal stories, books and music. Until then, thanks for listening and have a great week. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.