We made it. After six weeks and nearly 4,000 stories, we’ve reached the end of Round 9 of our Three-Minute Fiction contest, where we ask listeners to come up with an original short story that can be read in about three minutes.
Graduate students from around the country helped read all the submissions. The winning story was chosen by this round’s judge, novelist Brad Meltzer. Meltzer wrote the best-selling books The Inner Circle and The Book of Lies. His new book, due out in January, is called The Fifth Assassin.
Meltzer gave you this challenge: Write a story that revolves around a U.S. president, who can be fictional or real.
He says the submissions were as diverse as he had hoped.
“They came from every direction. They came from real presidents, they came from fake presidents, they came from their personal lives, they came from something that touched them, they came from something big about America,” he says.
The winner for this round is Marc Sheehan of Grand Haven, Mich., who wrote The Dauphin. The story is about a man taking care of his father, who thinks he’s President Spiro Agnew.
“Forget about whether Spiro Agnew was or wasn’t president, forget about the fact that clearly this guy is not the president,” Meltzer says. “It’s really about this guy who’s suffering and his son taking care of him.”
Meltzer says the story stuck in his mind, and the character was so well defined that a whole book could be written around him.
“And the one thing I will say that caught me more than anything else is it was the story I was most jealous of, and I mean that in the very best way,” he says.
Sheehan has never entered the Three-Minute Fiction contest before, but he says this prompt really resonated with him. While pondering the challenge, Sheehan says he was interested in the idea of a fictional president and the possibility of writing an alternative history. Then it got him thinking about his own father, who passed away in 1984.
“I’d actually tried to write about that more realistically different times,” he says. “It had never turned out well, and then suddenly having this different slant on it paradoxically gave me a kind of way into an emotional truth that I hadn’t been able to get to, again, writing more realistically about it.”
Meltzer lost his own father last year.
“Sometimes a story just hits you in that personal spot, and this one just hit me,” he says, “and it helped me, and I appreciate [Sheehan] sharing it.”
But Meltzer says his personal connection with the story was not the reason he picked it.
“That’s just the emotional thing that I can feel in the back, but that had nothing to do with [being drawn to it],” he says. “What I recognized was just the complete picture that [he] painted of this man and his son and … it really was more than just plot — it was real-world building.”
For his day job, Sheehan is the communications officer at Ferris State University in Big Rapids. He writes on his own — he has even published two books of poetry. Sheehan says he recently finished the draft of a comic novel. Meltzer wants to buy the first copy when it’s published.
Sheehan’s Three-Minute Fiction entry will be published in the next edition of The Paris Review.