NPR’s 3-Minute Fiction Contest – Rejection #2

Every time NPR has a 3-Minute Fiction contest I do my best to enter.  Before I got lucky and was selected for my story to appear on their website, this was one of my rejections. The story had to begin with “Some people swore that the house was haunted.” And it had to end with “Nothing was ever the same again after that.” – 600 words or less.

The House on the Water
by Susanna Hartigan
©2010

Some people swore that the house was haunted. The houseboat sat barely afloat on the Florida waters for almost seven years, leaving a mystery of several theories about its history. An old man who resembled a pirate got drunk and fell overboard, drowned by his own negligence. A serial killer abandoned it after having used it as a source of a kill site. Drug lords were executed on it when they didn’t meet their quota, their remains used as bait. A man killed his family on it before taking off into the Atlantic never to be seen again. No one really knew the story about the house on the water.

Many of the small town’s residents were quiet, distant ancestors of the Salem witch trials. They knew that hauntings were real-life occurrences, not just some fictional ghost stories. They knew that water was a great conductor of those from the otherworld and since the surrounding land contained a bed of limestone, there was a great possibility that the houseboat was in fact haunted. And they knew that the best option was to allow whatever paranormal that might occupy it to remain at rest. But there was one woman determined to be rid of the demons encircling it.

“It’s the town menace,” scowled Chatty Patty, nicknamed for being the town’s gossip and outspoken nuisance. “I want it gone. The Lord does not want evil spirits filthing up our community.”

Chatty Patty was known for exercising the demons out of everything, including food from the local health food store that happened to be owned by a pagan. People went out of their way in order to avoid the henpecker and her incessant ranting and insistence that Satan lived among the town. Although the town loathed the middle-aged woman’s presence, Patty was someone who would bring assistance to a family in need.

“Just because they are witches doesn’t mean that the Lord Jesus can’t change their ways through my influence,” she was heard saying one day at the library. Patty considered anyone a witch if they celebrated Halloween, including her own church members.

Despite her overbearing influence, Chatty Patty’s effort to get the houseboat removed from the Mosquito Lagoon was unsuccessful. The town’s mayor told her it wasn’t in the budget.  Her frequent trips to the police department went unheeded. “There’s nothing we can do about it. Not our jurisdiction,” she was told.

“We don’t handle boat removal. You’ll have to call a tow company,” the Coast Guard station informed her.

“Fine,” Patty informed the town. “Then I am going to be rid of this evil presence once and for all, even if I have to do it myself.”

For Patty, the disposal of the boat was a simple recipe: a canoe, Holy Bible verses, holy water, and olive oil. She would use the canoe to transport herself to the house on the water, drenching it in holy water upon her arrival. She would read all of the appropriate verses that were intended to strike any remaining form of immorality, as she doused the house on the water in olive oil. Patty told the townspeople of her plan. No one objected. Some were glad it would be the last time they would have to hear Chatty Patty complain about it ever again.

Patty set out to perform her duty the night before Halloween, knowing that it would deter from bringing more demonic influences to her town on such a blasphemous date.

Halloween arrived. The house on the water had disappeared. A canoe took its place. Nothing was ever the same again after that.

NPR’s 3-Minute Fiction Writing Contest — Cooking up Fiction by Susanna Hartigan

This was my rejected entry for my very first NPR writing contest. The story had to be under 600 words and contain the 4 words: “plant,” “button,” “trick,” “fly.” It’s been two years since I read this, and looking back, I know it could use some work.


Cooking Up Fiction 
by Susanna Hartigan ©2010

Caterina Romano seemed to be quite the opposite of her Italian upbringing when it came to cooking food. Her most memorable cooking experience ended in a disaster involving the local fire department and an eviction from her landlord when she tried to brown garlic in olive oil. The most frequently used appliances in her kitchen consisted of a microwave and a toaster oven, with a month-old dead basil plant sitting in between the two.

Like the basil plant, Caterina’s love life was dried up as well. Although easy to please, of pleasant company and easy on the eyes, Ma Romano’s voice echoed in her head that she would never find a man until she learned how to cook like a proper Italian woman should. Caterina had pretty much given up on dating and settled for watching her neighbors across the street out of her living room window on Saturdays. She knew that they barbequed each weekend, and one guest in particular that she admired drove a pickup truck donning a frontal vanity plate that exclaimed “FLY BOY”. That was the type of man the pretty brunette was had been dreaming of for the last three years, but in her mind, Caterina was convinced that no man would ever marry a culinary-challenged woman.

“What is wrong with you?” Nonna Romano screeched at every holiday gathering. “Why you no have no husband yet??” she’d ask, hands flying everywhere, nearly knocking over wine glasses at the dinner table.

“Caterina, love waits for you,” Ma repeated over and over again, dreamy eyed.

“Ma, her cooking is like trick-or-treat without the treat,” teased Caterina’s brother Tomeo. It was the same old joke, the same old story each and every holiday for the last two and a half years.

“I met someone,” announced Caterina. “He’s a pilot.”

Everyone perked up. Caterina stood there, unbelievably catching herself in her own blatant lies, clutching her hands and looking to the air above her head for the words to come to her just to please her family. She watched each of them, their eyes lighting up like Paschal candles.

“Tell us!” Ma was excited.

“He comes from a good Italian family,” lied Caterina, nervous and almost fumbling her thoughts to find the right words. Then all of a sudden it came to her naturally, as if it were the truth.

“What he look like?” asked Nonna, thrilled by the prospect that she may witness her only living granddaughter in a wedding dress one day. “He handsome?”

Caterina looked straight into Nonna’s eyes. Her acting classes from college were finally becoming of use to her. “Just like John Travolta!”

“Oh Caterina!” Ma sighed, making the sign of the cross on her chest so hard her button came flying off of her shirt and scurried onto the floor. “When will we meet him?” Tears began welling in Ma’s eyes.

“After our tour to Venice where he is flying me this summer…”

How I Got My Writing Groove Back with Flash Fiction Short Stories

Since I have dedicated most of my writing to nonfiction over the last several years, going back to fiction has been a bit of a challenge for me. I love fiction! After all, I’ve been writing it since I was a young child. I even won a school contest in sixth grade, and I’ve been reading fiction forever. So why did I stop writing and reading it for the past five or six years? I really can’t answer that except maybe I wasn’t challenged.

I am glad to say that my interest in fiction is back, thanks to NPR. NPR ran an article about two years ago on Robert Smartwood’s Hint Fiction – fiction which is written in 25 words or less. Now I am transfixed on very short, short fiction and entering contests.

I entered my very first flash fiction contest from Smokelong Quarterly in which each submission had to be exactly 30 words – no more, no less. I was rejected, but it was another step in my groove. Almost two years later I realize that these could be the beginning of some of my screenwriting ideas.

These were my submissions:

A Haunting Moment
Your cornflower blue eyes told me that the prospect was irreversible. And as you left the area under the exit sign, the doctor emerged from the operating room, looking down.

Four Walls
Been dreamin’ alot lately. Doesn’t make sense – cowbells, clocks, neon lights, numbers. Reach for the pills, swallow down with whiskey. These walls are getting lonely. My pistol stares at me.

Vinnie
Whose hair is that all over his bathroom floor, I wondered. It is dark, not red like mine. This will give me the perfect excuse to take that trip after all.

NPR 3-Minute Fiction Story Contest: Charidy’s Case – Explained by Susanna Hartigan

The latest 3-minute fiction story contest by NPR had to have two elements: someone had to tell a joke and someone had to cry. It was a challenge to write it all in 600 words or less. The crying part was easy. It was the filling in the joke at an appropriate time that was most difficult for me.

How did I do it? I meditated and wrote some key words on my note pad. Random things came to me, but nothing that made sense to me at the time. All I knew was that these were the words given to me that I had to work with and somehow put them in a story: pickles, agitate, bark, eyeball, foul, bakers, field, fountain, hall, mustard, clicking, monarchy.

Monarchy? How in the world am I going to find a way to incorporate that into a story with pickles, mustard, and an eyeball? And then I started to write:

Seven hundred dollars.

Where was I going to go with $700? I wrote it more than once. Perhaps someone who lost their wallet? Got robbed? Perhaps someone who needed her medication or rent money? I jotted down some things that I wasn’t happy with, put it away, and later on it all came to me.

“Charidy’s Case” is not about a story about a homeless mentally ill person getting rescued. There is much deeper meaning to the story than that, and if anyone has witnessed a person in this condition, it is something unforgettable.

Symbolism is very important when I write, so I committed myself to the main character’s name being Charidy – purposely spelled incorrectly. I wanted a tree with bark that peeled like paper – and the symbolism of the birch tree seemed to be the perfect choice. The numbers used in the story – including the number of people – are all symbolic in “Charidy’s Case”. The bear is a protective, nurturing animal – at first as a teddy bear – but Charidy begins to see her as a threat. Even the words I initially jotted down had symbolic meaning, although to most readers they probably did not make sense when Charidy spoke them.

Since Charidy is a representation of the mentally ill that are forgotten, homeless, and helpless – I wanted to canonize her with the golden bark fluttering around her like angelic feathers.

Most likely Charidy will be taken to a place, dosed, shuffled through the system and sent back to the streets when her time is up. Does that mean she was really rescued?

Read here:
Charidy’s Case
by Susanna Hartigan

Listen here:
A Sampling Of Three Minute Fiction Entries

NPR’s 3-Minute Fiction Writing Contest Entry

I didn’t think I was going to be able to pull this one off because I felt the required ending sentence was weak. But I did it and will post once the contest winners are announced.

The story had to begin with:
Some people swore that the house was haunted.

And end with:
Nothing was ever the same again after that.

This one was definitely a challenge for me. Thinking about this story for weeks, I finally wrote it today – the last day NPR was accepting submissions. I didn’t want to be cliche but still be original. I hope it worked.

I will be thrilled if it is chosen as a favorite.