Who Writes Short Shorts?

Esquire magazine is celebrating it’s 78th anniversary with a writing contest. The twist: every entry must be exactly 78 words. I’m pretty excited about the contest; back in the day I used to write 3-sentence bits when I was stuck, tiny snippets that were intended to capture a character, a setting, and a conflict in three sentences. Most of them sucked, of course.

I didn’t realize that most of those snippets are in an alpha version of Jer’s Novel Writer so old that the latest version won’t open them. I used to have an old version that I could use to rescue ancient files, so I’m not worried. For tonight, however, I contented myself with more modern efforts.

I think I can make a 78-word-something that doesn’t suck too bad, but there’s a catch. On the contest page they give an example. They seem to think it’s good. I don’t. At all. So I’m not sure the judges and I see things the same way. I’m going to enter anyway, and so should you! I mean, why not?

Meanwhile, here are drafts of my two candidates (until I bother going back and opening my most-ancient files). One is a condensation of a 600-word scrap I dug up. The challenge is to get a little atmosphere in there and get the buildup of the longer piece in fewer words. I think the payload need to be more condensed in this version – it has to be two sharp smacks of a hammer, bam! bam!. Not there yet. The other starts with a phrase my third-favorite-of-all-time bartender once said (the phrase, in fact, that earned her that stature), in Louisville Kentucky. It’s autobiographical up to a point.

Me on my stool, Ray on his. The game ended. “Every eighteen minutes…” the tv said before falling silent.

“Every eighteen minutes,” Ray said. Took a long drink. Wet rings on the bartop. “Every eighteen minutes a new star is formed.”

“You’re making that up.”

He shrugged. “Every eighteen minutes a girl leaves her family for the promise of an easy life and free drugs.” He put down his empty bottle. “Every eighteen minutes I have another beer.”

“I may be smilin’, but it’s fake.” Heather looked at me almost apologetically as she brought us our beers. She paused. The bar was full of people fresh from the Derby, drunk as lords and money losers on top of that. An angry bar. Funny Cide? Who the hell would pick Funny Cide? Beside me and Art.

“That’s all right, darlin’.” Ever the gentleman, Art. “If someone troubles you I’ll kill him.”

Heather laughed, a little. I didn’t.


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