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."