Can you tell a compelling, moving story in three minutes? One that is humorous and heartfelt, all within a few hundred words? Local writer Lisa Rubenson can do just that. Rubenson recently won NPR's All Things Considered Three-Minute Fiction Contest. Her winning story, "Sorry For Your Loss," will be featured in The Paris Review and can currently be read online at NPR.
The UNC-Charlotte alum has been penning words for years, earning her Masters in English Literature and working as a freelance writer and copywriter. The national contest pit her flash fiction story against thousands of others. Creative Loafing caught up with Lisa to discuss her win.
Creative Loafing: Can you tell us a little bit about the contest you won? How did you find out about it?
Lisa Rubenson: I listen to NPR a lot, so I've been a fan of the Three-Minute Fiction contest for a while. So far, there have been ten rounds of this short fiction contest, with each round bringing in a well-known author as a judge. The author sends out a prompt that everyone writes to, making sure their piece can be read in under three minutes (about 600 words). This time the author/judge was Mona Simpson, author of My Hollywood. She asked listeners to write a story that could be told in the form of a voicemail.
I thought the voicemail prompt was too fun to pass up. I love a good, rambly voicemail and liked the challenge of telling an entire story within the confines of that limited space. I also liked the idea of playing around with the ways we censor ourselves when we're telling a story, how we try different ways of saying the same thing. I wanted each attempt to leave the message to reveal slightly different information about the speaker.
I really enjoyed the other stories that came in, so no one was more surprised than I to hear that I had won. The delicious irony is that the news came to me via a voicemail from an NPR producer. I'm going to keep it as long as my phone will let me.
Have you had a lot of practice writing short fiction? Are you fond of shorter flash fiction or do you prefer longer prose?
I love flash fiction and am glad so many people want to read it these days. I write a lot of longer pieces, but flash appeals to me because, like a lot of people, I see stories everywhere I go. Someone drops their keys in the parking lot, and I make up an entire narrative about what's brought them to this point. I'm pretty sure everyone does this, so I'm nothing special on that front. I have friends who talk in short stories and don't even know it.
Flash fiction, or very short stories, give you immediate access to people's vulnerabilities and their troubles, and often they mirror our own. You get in, get out, but hopefully are left moved or changed in some way.
Who are your favorite writers?
Like most aspiring fiction writers, I would've liked hanging out with — or at least waiting on — Hemingway, Fitzgerald and Faulkner. I also love Joyce, Virginia Woolf, Flannery O'Connor and Zora Neale Hurston. The short stories of Cheever, Raymond Carver and Joyce Carol Oates have always inspired me, and my copy of Carver's This is What We Talk About When We Talk About Love is held together by duct tape. When I was in high school, my friend and I would share Stephen King novels, ripping the paperbacks in half, so one could start reading while the other one finished. Cormac McCarthy is probably the writer I admire the most, because he writes so beautifully about everything that scares the hell out of me. Along those lines, I've also been reading a lot of Junot Diaz, Jill McCorkle and watching a fair amount of AMC.
Any future writing plans?
This win was like a big permission slip to keep sending my fiction pieces out there. I recently found out that I was accepted into the Tin House Summer Writing Workshop, where I'll be able to study with some writers I admire very much. A short story collection is on the horizon; meanwhile, I'll keep up with my freelance writing business and try not to send anyone harassing voicemails.
Feeling inspired? Submit your flash fiction to Creative Loafing's 2013 Flash Fiction Contest: Religion in Charlotte. (http://clclt.com/charlotte/CreativeLoafingsFictionContest2013/Page) Deadline is April 7th.