This election season, Three-Minute Fiction is getting political. Weekends on All Things Considered has a new judge, a new challenge and a new prize for Round 9. For this contest, submit original, short fiction that can be read in about three minutes, which means no more than 600 words.
The judge for this round is writer Brad Meltzer. He's the author of seven novels, including the best-seller The Inner Circle. His newest thriller, The Fifth Assassin, will be out in January.
Here's the challenge he's laid out for contestants: Story entries must revolve around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional.
"It's the president that you make up in your head, that's the best president of all," he tells Guy Raz, host of weekends on All Things Considered.
Meltzer has written books that revolve around presidents and national security, so he's met all kinds of people who work in that arena, including Secret Service agents and first ladies.
"But there is nothing like meeting the president of the United States," he says.
Meltzer says someone once told him that "anytime you even see the president, you have a story to tell for the rest of your life."
"You have every detail, all of time slows down, and so the stories take on a brand-new importance. And that's why I love them," Meltzer says. "The hardest part of writing them is that when you write about the president ... the cliches come easy."
The key, he says, is "finding the real person inside." Put simply, Meltzer says, he's looking for a good story.
"To me, stories aren't what did happen, they're what could happen," he says. "They take us to places and they imagine worlds."
Submissions will be accepted until 11:59 p.m. ET on Sunday, Sept. 23. As we go through entries, we'll post some of our favorites online and read highlights during weekends on All Things Considered. You can also keep up with the latest posts on our Three-Minute Fiction Facebook page.
The winning story will be read on the air in its entirety, and the winner will receive signed copies of some of Meltzer's books.
Starting this round, the winning story will also be published in the December issue of The Paris Review, one of the most acclaimed literary magazines in the world.
All of the stories will be read with help from students at the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, Cornell and the Iowa Writers' Workshop.
"Write what you love. Even in the diabolical box that we've put you in, don't write for us," Meltzer advises. "Don't write for me. Write for you. Write what you love, and I promise you it will show on the page."
GUY RAZ, HOST:
It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.
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RAZ: That is not an egg timer. That is a sound that those of you who are regular listeners to this program will be familiar with. Of course, the ticking and the bell can only signify one thing: Three-Minute Fiction is back. It's Round Nine of Three-Minute Fiction. We have a new judge, a new challenge and a new prize.
Now, if you're not familiar with our writing contest, it's pretty simple. We are looking for original short fiction that can be read in about three minutes, so no more than 600 words. And each round, we've been asking a well-known novelist to come up with a writing challenge. And I'm happy to introduce the judge of Round Nine. It's writer Brad Meltzer. He's the author of seven novels, including the bestseller "The Inner Circle." Brad, thank you so much for coming on board for Three-Minute Fiction. Welcome to Round Nine.
BRAD MELTZER: Thank you, Guy.
RAZ: As we do, Brad, with every judge, we asked you to come up with a challenge for this round. So if you will, please reveal it.
MELTZER: Sure. The challenge is simple: all stories must revolve around a U.S. President who can be fictional or real.
RAZ: A U.S. president who can be fictional or real. Doesn't have to be Barack Obama, doesn't have to be Bill Clinton or George W. Bush.
MELTZER: To me, that's the best part, right? It's the president you make up in your head. That's the best president of all.
RAZ: Which, in fact, is something you do, something that you've done in your novels. You've written about presidents and national security. And, of course, they are made up.
MELTZER: Yeah. You know, when I write my novels - I've interviewed Secret Service agencies and staff and first ladies and even the body person who carries around Clearasil for the president, but there is nothing like meeting the president of the United States. Now, someone once told me anytime you even see the president, you have a story to tell for the rest of your life. You have every detail, all of time slows down, and so the stories take on a brand new importance. And that's why I love them.
The hardest part of writing them is that when you write about the president, it always - immediately, the cliches come easy. So, you know, yes, Mr. President, no, Mr. President. The key is always finding the real person inside.
RAZ: And who knew the president used Clearasil?
MELTZER: Yeah, I know. You wouldn't believe what's in that bag. I mean, it's like Felix the Cat.
RAZ: Wow. Blistex, OK. But Clearasil, huh?
MELTZER: Depends on the president.
RAZ: It depends on the president.
MELTZER: One president, McKinley, used to carry a carnation. And he used to wear it in his lapel. And any time he would see a supporter, he would take it out of his lapel and say, this is for you. And the supporter would go crazy and love the fact that they got this gift from the president of the United States. And then McKinley would go right back to his office and open up his desk where he would have 5,000 more carnations right there. And it was just his daily trick. And I just loved that.
RAZ: So, Brad, in these stories, give me a sense of what, you know, what you might be looking for in - I mean, you've got 600 words. It's not a lot of space to work with. But, you know, we have had - and I know you know this - we've had over eight rounds. We've had 45,000 people submit stories to us for Three-Minute Fiction. And we've had unbelievable, amazing stories. The last round was just a heartbreaking story. Our judge was Luis Alberto Urea. What are you looking for in that short space?
MELTZER: You know, I think it will be silly to say anything but this, which is I'm looking for a good story. That's it. To me, stories aren't what did happen, they're what could happen. They take us to places, and they imagine worlds. So, yes, character and setting are all vital, but only if they tell that good story. That, to me, is the most vital part of all.
RAZ: All right. Let's recap. This is Round Nine of Three-Minute Fiction. It is now open. We'll be accepting submissions until 11:59 p.m. Eastern time on Sunday, September 23. We have to be able to read your stories aloud in about three minutes, so no more than 600 words. Brad, remind our listeners what the challenge is this round.
MELTZER: Your story must revolve around a U.S. president who can be fictional or real.
RAZ: All right. A U.S. president who can be fictional or real. There's just one entry allowed per person. If you want to send in your story, go to our website. That's npr.org/threeminutefiction, and Three-Minute Fiction all spelled out with no spaces. Each and every story will be read by our staff with help from students at the University of Michigan, the University of Wisconsin, Cornell and the Iowa Writers' Workshop, and, of course, Brad Meltzer will be reading some of the stories as well.
And as with previous rounds, we're going to post some of our favorites on the website each week as we start to narrow it down. And the winning story will be read on the air in its entirety. The winner will get a couple of signed copies of Brad's books and also join Brad and I on the program. And this round, Brad, are you ready for this?
MELTZER: I'm ready.
RAZ: The winning story is also going to be published in the December issue of The Paris Review. We're talking about one of the most acclaimed literary magazines in the world. So if you win, your story is going to be published - let me say that again - in the Paris Review. We're talking about a huge deal for a budding writer, right, Brad?
MELTZER: This is a piece of gold to put in people's laps. When I published my first novel, I got 24 rejection letters on it. There were only 20 publishers at the time, and I got 24 rejection letters, which means some people were writing me twice to make sure I got the point. And so if you would have given me The Paris Review, I would have taken them. That book, still, just to be clear, sits on my shelf published by Kinko's. So, yeah, I may enter as well.
RAZ: All right. Any final words of writing wisdom for our listeners, Brad?
MELTZER: You know, I think here's the real answer: write what you love. Even in the diabolical box it would put you in, don't write for us. Don't write for me. Write for you. Write what you love, and I promise you it will show on the page.
RAZ: That's the novelist Brad Meltzer. His newest book, "The Fifth Assassin," will come out in January. He is the judge for this round, Round Nine of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, and he joined us from the studios at Classical South Florida in Fort Lauderdale. Brad, thank you so much. We're going to be checking back in with you over the next few weeks.
MELTZER: Can't wait. Thanks, Guy.
RAZ: Once again, if you want to submit your story, check out our website. That's npr.org/threeminutefiction. Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out, no spaces. And good luck.
(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.