By DIANNA MACLEOD
Whidbey Life Magazine Contributor
May 20, 2015
A man of few words…but all of them carefully chosen.
Meet Chris Spencer, creator of the upcoming Short Story Smash.
Every year Spencer challenges the storytellers of Whidbey Island—that is, all of us—to submit a story of exactly 100 words in length (sans title). The entries are read aloud by “well-dressed rhetoricians” while a pseudo/suitable book cover is projected on a screen behind them. Authors, see your name writ large!
If you’d like to get an idea of how tough it is to tell a story in 100 words, well, you are coming up on my hundredth word…right…now.
* * *
Dianna MacLeod: What draws you to the short story form?
Chris Spencer: I am drawn to the short story because my interests in literature lean toward brevity and variety.
DM: Why 100 words?
CS: The choice of 100 words was arbitrary. I wrestled with 204 and 79 for a while.
Professional counseling helped me choose a random number.
DM: Why did you decide to launch a contest?
CS: I was curious to see who on the island would want to, and could, write.
DM: When was the first contest and has it changed much over the years? How many entries did you have for the first contest? Now?
CS: I started five years ago. This May is the eighth extravaganza. The only major change is the audience has grown and suffered more traumas.
DM: Have you ever been to or heard of a contest anything like this? Was yours modeled on something, somewhere?
CS: This idea for a contest grew only from my fevered head.
DM: Have you ever sought corporate sponsorship?
CS: Grovel at the feet of corporate America? Absolutely! The trouble is I’m an artiste, not a marketer.
DM: What’s your own writing background?
CS: I am a thwarted closet writer with the proverbial novel in the slow-bake oven. I’ve written short stories for years, which are neatly stored in a bottom drawer. I do have two books published now: “100 Quickies; One hundred, one hundred-word short stories (vol. 1)” and the same title, (Vol. 2) available at Moonraker and on Amazon.
DM: What are the most common problems writers have when they tackle the short short story?
CS: The power of good writing is to communicate effectively. Authors of these stories tend to forget this and become esoteric, vague, tangled and muddled. It is not easy to effectively create an image or elicit an emotion in just 100 words.
DM: What qualities do you seek in the judges? Are bribes accepted? What kinds of bribes are most likely to be effective?
CS: Someone who can speak English helps. I try for three to seven judges. Bribes are simple: sex, drugs and rock and roll. (Nowadays that consists of glucosamine, a romance novel, a beach pebble and a poppy seed bagel.)
DM: What’s your method for choosing the book covers to go with the stories?
CS: Covers are whatever sort of fits my stock of photoshop artwork. I can’t get too fancy; this is volunteer work, for chrissake.
DM: Do you and your fellow actor(s) rehearse much?
CS: Yes, briefly. We pre-read the works, decide whose voice is appropriate (male, female, or both as dialogue). Racy stories I let Shelley (Hartle) read; I’m too sensitive.
DM: What does the well-dressed rhetorician of today wear?
CS: Gold shoes; it’s all about the shoes.
Winners of the 2014 Short Story Smash
The Way These Things Happen
by Judi Nyerges
I didn’t turn around, when you whistled into the kitchen, trailed by our dog. Your warm flannelled arms wrapped ’round my waist and you nuzzled my neck with a playful, bearded kiss. I leaned back and laughed, but I didn’t turn around.
“Sun’s out. We’re going up to get a few shots. I’ll be home early.”
I felt your happiness. It made me smile. But I was busy washing up, and I didn’t turn around. You grabbed your cameras, singing, and out you went.
I didn’t turn around. And now you’re gone. Now you’re gone.
And I didn’t turn around.
by Les McCarthy
You’d think my mama and daddy were humorous folks. Not so.
Contrarily, my name defies their stern nature. My name is Ima Goen. And that’s what I plan on doin’.
I’m sick of saying Ima Goen, ’cuz I know someone’s gonna ask me, “Where?”
It ain’t funny. So, I’m a goin’. I don’t know where and I don’t know when but I’m a goin’ somewhere where I can breathe air so fresh my lungs will laugh.
Today’s not the day. But one day I’ll just go. And when I do, I’ll no longer be Ima Goen,
I’ll be Ima Gone.
The Switching Hour
by Dianna MacLeod
- Cincinnati Zoo. The last passenger pigeon, Martha by name, dies in captivity.
- Rural Ohio natural history museum. Beneath a dusty glass case, microscopic mites make a slow-motion meal of Martha.
God said to all, Let birds fly across the heavens.
God said to me, save Martha.
Hatch a plan.
Trap, kill, and mount a pigeon.
Dye feathers. Alter markings.
Smuggle counterfeit into museum.
Hide in second-floor janitor’s closet.
Await the switching hour.
Swap out pigeons.
Rappel to the ground.
Resurrect the body.
Revere the species.
Remember the extinction.
Who am I to quarrel?
Me, a humble taxidermist.
Attend Chris Spencer’s 100 Word Short Story Smash at 7:30 p.m. on Wednesday, May 27 at Whidbey Island Center for the Arts in Langley. And mark your calendar for next year’s contest deadline. Click here for tickets.
Dianna MacLeod also has a novel in the slow-bake oven and wonders if it’s time to turn up the temperature.
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