Listener Challenge: a 420-Character Winner

Listeners On Air

Friday, January 06, 2012

Last month, the illustrator-turned-author Lou Beach released a book of extremely short stories — each just 420 characters long. Kurt Andersen challenged our listeners to write their own 420-characters stories. Hundreds poured in; you can read them all here.

Lou Beach judged the contest, and kicked in the prize — a signed print of one of his own illustrations.




It was dog number four that put the nail in the coffin, so to speak. It was about a month after the café went out of business, less, maybe. He comes home with it in his arms. Big thing, but still in his arms, carrying it across the threshold. I think he was trying to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. He was never funny. —Samantha Wilson, Melbourne, Australia


I pace my side of the lake we swam all summer. Winter’s first blizzard has blocked all roads; the half-mile swim between us is now a walk across thin ice. I say I’ll cross when the ice is thick. You propose we meet now—halfway. And then? If the ice cracks on your side, you’ll jump to mine, you say. Where have you studied ice? Think how a window swallows a baseball. You really want to take a swing at that? —Mary Soufi, Vacaville, California

Thanks to everyone who submitted a story.

    Music Playlist
  • I Wanna Ride You
    Artist: Medeski Martin & Wood
    Album: Uninvisible
    Label: Blue Note Records
    Purchase: Amazon

Produced by:

Jenny Lawton

Comments [12]

MaryBoone from New Hampshire

I agree with Norman. It was a wonderful experience to write in this form and I was a winner the minute I was happy with my submission. I enjoyed reading the others, winners included, and think we would be well served by some collective support! My writers group is discussing the problem of sharing works in progress. Sometimes the comments by family and friends just feed our inner critic--the unhelpful one. My (online) group has been unfailingly helpful in their feedback and never cruel or catty. It is invaluable. I would join a group of like minded writers-anyone else?

Feb. 16 2012 08:39 AM
Norman T. Thornton from VA

I find the most interesting and perhaps telling part of this experience the glaring lack of writer community (evidence by the conspicuous reader comment absence), instead of community, the apparent devotion is to self interest → in a prize! The challenge wasn't to win, instead, Kurt Anderson challenged listeners to write their own 420-character story(ies). This is an exercise in personal growth as opposed to greed as glory. The winning aspect was an add-on, the winner as a Lou Beach choice and not a validation to the literary merits of the work for all time. Recognize it, please, for what it is, an opportunity to grow, share, congratulate and gain an insight into Lou Beach's perspective. Winners, I congratulate you. Writers, I congratulate you!

I propose we share in each others works – including providing feedback – to expand reaching beyond self and self-interest while at the same time enriching our experience and expertise. Thus, foster community. Until a work is interpreted, where does it live? May I suggest expanding the universe? Go back, read and give voice to each others work with your interpretations through comments as you have been given an open forum to create the world, not simply live by the opinion of one man, one Beach. As for prize, Lou can give a signed print of one of his own illustrations to whomever, winner or not winner. Folks, the challenge is with you as it is with each of us.

Jan. 18 2012 03:55 PM
Mark S.

Don't get so bent out of shape, Lou. So some people don't agree with you, at least they have taken an interest.

Jan. 17 2012 12:45 PM
George Sabree from Parkville MD

I had an entry and I think mine was better than the winner, but then of course I would. However, congrats to the toppers.

Jan. 14 2012 03:00 PM
Deidre from Charleston, SC

I read every valid entry and had my favorites. I am one of many who wish they had a winning story. All art is subjective so let's congratulate the winners and appreciate their different styles. They are good stories.

Jan. 13 2012 01:55 AM
Lou Beach from Los Angeles

Mary's story is a beauty and the baseball/window line is a stunner, but I chose Samantha's because it made me laugh, a visceral reaction, and left me wondering about the characters. Mary's is perhaps a finer bit of writing, but it was finished, a perfect little story and I was less was closed. I asked if we could have two winners, but it wasn't possible. My wife liked Mary's better also. You can't please everyone.

And Irene, I'm learning to be a writer, stumbling along the way, but many others would disagree with your snarky comment.

Jan. 11 2012 11:51 AM

The winning story is just plain boring, but the runner up won't unstick from my brain. Too bad they didn't pick a winner up to the runner-up's standards.

Jan. 09 2012 10:24 PM
Philip from Downingtown, PA

If Mary's story was not published, what would be our opinion of Samamntha's story, the winner?
What, I wonder, (as seemingly others) was Lou's criteria here?

Mary's story was profound; no slippery slope; solid ice. Such imagery in so few words. Makes the reader 'think' and want more.

Isn't that what good writing is all about?

The 'baseball through the window' is a home run.

Jan. 09 2012 06:21 PM
RachelJ from Santa Rosa, CA

At the risk of boring comment readers, I line up squarely with IreneH and Jan regarding the stories. Number 2 is MY winner, by a kilometer.

Jan. 08 2012 06:10 PM

If the runner up wasn't so good I'd think they had been picked at random. In the second story, every word has a purpose and propels the reader forward. In the winner's piece you could cut half of it out and still have the same exact story. Then again, Lou isn't a writer. He is an illustrator.

Jan. 08 2012 05:47 PM

I agree with the first post. For one thing, I couldn't understand her reading on the radio so I had to come to the website to read it. All I can say is, "What??" The runner-up was, by far, the best!

Jan. 08 2012 02:21 PM
Disappointed from USA

i'm really surprised that the dog/cafe story was chosen as the winner. some really nice imagery used, but overall its a tad confusing and there's nothing that completes the story. so, great intro for a novella or short, but i'm disappointed that a fragmented thought like this gets the kudos.

Jan. 08 2012 01:53 PM

Leave a Comment

Email addresses are required but never displayed.