Did you leave a message after our prompt? For Round 10 of Three-Minute Fiction, we asked you to submit a short story in the form of a voice mail message. For this contest, the original fiction must be read in about three minutes, no more than 600 words.
After four weeks and more than 4,000 stories, we have a winner.
Graduate students at 14 different writing programs across the country helped read the Round 10 submissions. They passed the best of the best along to our judge this round, novelist Mona Simpson.
"There was a great variety, and it was surprising voice mail messages ... some were hilarious," Simpson tells Guy Raz, contest curator and host of NPR's TED Radio Hour.
Aside from the winning story, a couple of other entries stood out for Simpson. In Eric Bronner's "Everything's Under Control," a zookeeper has released an elephant for unknown reasons and uses his one phone call from jail to explain how to correct the situation. The voice mail left in Jacqui Higgins-Dailey's story, "After the Tone," is from a girlfriend to her boyfriend about their incompatibility, and she uses a dog pulling away from its owner as a metaphor.
But in the end, there is only one winner: Lisa Rubenson of Charlotte, N.C. She wrote "Sorry for Your Loss."
"It's funny at moments, and yet it's very strikingly yearning," Simpson says.
The story is a series of attempts at leaving a voice mail, which gives a rare perspective, Simpson says.
"I love the way she considers these various things she wants to say but erases them and what she finally comes to," she says. "Even though it's a vocal story, we get the privilege of hearing her thinking as well to herself."
Rubenson says she was excited by the prompt, and her idea came from the challenge of finding the right thing to say.
"There's always things that need to be said but aren't, or things that get said that shouldn't," she says. "And I struggle with that a lot, and I think it's kind of a universal thing."
Rubenson's story will be published in the next issue of The Paris Review. She will also receive a signed copy of Simpson's latest book, My Hollywood.