GUY RAZ, host: It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
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RAZ: All right. We're getting closer to finding the winning story in round seven of Three-Minute Fiction. That's our writing contest where we ask you to create an original short story that can be read in about three minutes.
Now, our friends at the Iowa Writers' Workshop and New York University have been plowing through the 3,400-plus stories we've received this round and passing along their favorites to our judge, the writer Danielle Evans, the author of the short story collection "Before You Suffocate Your Own Fool Self." And in a few weeks, Danielle will have a winner for us. And just like our past few judges, Danielle has now realized that this is not an easy task, right?
DANIELLE EVANS: Yeah. The fun part is the reading, but the hard part is the judging.
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RAZ: OK. Danielle, remind us what the challenge was this round.
EVANS: The challenge was that in the story, one character had to arrive in town and one character had to leave town.
RAZ: Right. And, of course, you cannot submit a story any longer for this round. We'll have future rounds where you can. And if you're interested to find out more about Three-Minute Fiction, visit our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction, and Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out.
OK. Danielle, you're here in the studio with a few of your favorites from this round. Tell me what you make of you've read so far.
EVANS: I've been having a lot of fun. I am drawing some incomplete conclusions, because, of course, I'm only seeing a sample of the overall. But there's a lot of child narrators, a lot of violence, astonishingly little sex, so I don't know what's going on out there in NPR world.
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RAZ: All right. OK.
EVANS: I've been thinking a lot about endings in terms of making choices, because, I mean, I think for me, there are a lot of these that I really enjoyed reading and I wanted to keep reading. But in terms of the ones that I would pick as winners, I'm thinking, like, is it actually a story? Does it have a kind of complete moment?
And, you know, we talked sometimes in sort of workshops speak about the difference between, like, an ending, a punch line or a story that just stops. And as a person who likes to think about story, I'm excited about the ending that kind of gives me some resolution and then opens up the world beyond that. What's been making the stories stand out for me are the ones that I feel put the weight on the ending in an interesting way.
RAZ: You have brought four stories with you. These are not necessarily the winners because you're still reading through the stories that are being passed along to you. And I should mention, you do not know the identities of these readers. You don't know their names. I do. Two of these four stories we actually have readings in a moment we'll hear from. But just tell me about the two others that you brought here.
EVANS: The two that I picked as sort of favorites of this group were "Ocean Child" and "The Egg." "Ocean Child" is a story about a child who's born with Down's syndrome and, you know, all these people are giving the mother kind of advice - harsh advice but not really any support. But I mean, I think it's a really - it's got a strong voice. It's got this sense that there's a world beyond this page, that there are all of these people kind of in this world and none of them are of any use.
But I like - I mean, one of the things I like is this story could have easily gone to a kind of sentimental or maudlin. And I think it avoids that because the mother character is active for the whole story. I'm kind of big on agency. If there's something really interesting about the way that, you know, everything is active, like, even in this world are kind of horrible choices or lack of choices, we have a character who's making choices.
RAZ: Yeah. What about the other story, "The Egg?"
EVANS: Yeah. It's quirky, and it's interesting, and it's weird, and it stuck with me in a way that - and sometimes, the story is basically an extended analogy about parenting responsibilities. And what ultimately happens is there's an egg that hatches and they're trying to equally divide the nurturing responsibilities for the egg, but it can't be done. And the mother ultimately leaves because too much of it is falling on her. But it stuck with me in this way that somehow it's just weird enough that it had taken this thing that's really (unintelligible) and made it strange and interesting.
RAZ: The story is "The Egg." It's by Jonathan Curley(ph) of Berkeley, California, and the other story is "Ocean Child" by Chris Bundy(ph) of Atlanta.
And, Danielle, here are our excerpts from two other standout stories, stories you picked. Let's take a listen.
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BOB MONDELLO: (Reading) Early in the morning, Little Hossein tapped on my window screen. We snuck out of the gate and hid behind the sand dunes. We waited. The sun rose. The mullah stopped singing. The roosters stopped kukukoolooing. Then Hassan, the tall, skinny, meanest one, appeared from far across the desert, riding my bike, skidding and scraping the tires. He was singing when he passed us. Little Hossein jumped from behind the sand dunes and knocked him over. I shouted, thief, thief, thief. Hassan scraped his face on the gravel but held tight to the bike. They were yelling about money and Hassan kept saying, Hossein, agha. Mr. Hossein. Big Hossein. Then he yelled, teef, teef, teef, and turned my bike upside down.
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SUSAN STAMBERG: (Reading) Ten hours before Wren would move away, they met up with some friends at a bar. There was a woman there whom Wren did not know. She oozed sex in a faded and misshapen T-shirt dress that would only make Wren look sleepy. Wren wondered if she would ever look that sexy, if she would like her new town, and if she could wear T-shirt dresses there.
Her name was Solonge and she was somewhat French, but really from Connecticut and had only been in town for seven hours. Mark watched her in a way that made Wren feel more sad than she did when she saw babies who looked like adults and adults who looked like children. Wren had a sneaking suspicion that her name wasn't really Solonge. Happy hour, she said to no one. Monday through Friday from four to seven.
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RAZ: That's our Susan Stamberg reading "A Brighter Smile in as Little as Three Days," written by Caryn Tayeh, who lives in Bethesda, Maryland, and also Bob Mondello reading "Little Hossein" by Chris Westberg of Williamsburg, Virginia.
And, Danielle, I know you have a lot more reading to do before you pick the winner, so I'm going to let you go. Thank you so much for coming in. And we'll check back with you in a couple of weeks.
EVANS: Thank you for having me.
RAZ: That's our judge for round seven of Three-Minute Fiction, writer Danielle Evans, with a few of her favorites so far. You can read the full versions of these four stories at our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction, and Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out, no spaces. And standby for the winner coming up in the next few weeks.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.