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John Minichillo put up with me. I interviewed him for this week’s group talk about the Short Story Challenge, and I tried to be “competitive yet pleasant” in tone because we were talking about a challenge and I thought that would be cute but I think ended up looking not so hot. (Swigs from bottle of Bourbon, gives a thumbs up at the computer screen). You judge, he had a bunch of interesting things to say.

Q (Nicolle Elizabeth for Fictionaut): Holla, John. You’re all over the Fictionaut Admin map in addition to living in Nashville. I have never been to Nashville but I had a story “Steam” that was posted up all over the city by the Keyhole crew last August and I am still bragging about that. Did you see the Nashville Reads project? See, they took short stories and literally printed them out and taped them to telephone poles all over the city. I love Dolly Parton, she’s from Nashville, right? One of my favorite Dolly Parton quotes is, “Looking this cheap costs a lot of money.” One of my idols in addition to Mary from It’s a Wonderful Life is June Carter Cash. She’s from there too, right? When I grow up I want to be like June Carter Cash. Enough about me, for now. Let’s talk about the Short Story Challenge group going strong here on the Fictionaut moon. Who came up with the idea?

A (John Minichillo): You’re hitting all the right notes for an out-of-towner. You probably expected me to ignore most of that but here goes: Peter Cole at Keyhole is doing very good things. They came out of the gate running. You sometimes hear the phrase “anyone can start a magazine,” but here’s someone with vision who gives and gives. It’s a generally thankless endeavor so I sure hope you thanked him. Dolly’s from the other part of the state but we’ll claim her. Dolly Parton’s Imagination Library donates a book-a-month to any kid in Tennessee who signs up. It’s all free. She sends my son a book every month and so now he’s her biggest fan. I’m married to fellow Fictionaut Katrina Gray and her father is a retired musician. Them are his peeps you mentioned. Johnny came to see Katrina in the hospital when she was born and she grew up terrified of them. From a child’s perspective this was a big man who always wore black. June would offer Kool-Aid and to hear Katrina tell it, “There was no way I was taking Kool-Aid from them!” Barry Gibb bought their house a couple of years ago and then it burned to the ground. Coincidence?

What is the group’s aim? What’s your point, ma’an? Your deal, your dilly?

Short Story Challenge is an attempt to do something different with the groups. Sometimes you hear the phrase, “anyone can start a group,” and it’s true! Jürgen has always called Fictionaut an experiment. His philosophy is to make the tools available and see what happens. It’s no longer my group, btw. I passed it off like a baton to November’s winner, Susan Gibb, and she gave it to December’s winner, Jon Davies. The idea is to post a writing prompt for the month. And the winner gets to come up with the next prompt. The competitive spirit is borrowed to encourage creativity with the end result that loosely linked stories are posted to the group that were written just for Fictionaut. Everybody reading, if Fictionaut has encouraged you to write something new, raise your hand. You can’t see it, but my hand is up.

How does the voting process work?

The group is public, so the stories go to the main page. By the end of the month the story with the most faves wins. So the whole Fictionaut community votes. If it’s a tie, both stories win, and both writers get to come up with a challenge for the next month with the challenges run simultaneously.

How many stories have been published to date?

You’re really not much of an investigative journalist, huh? Last I checked there was only one story posted for the January challenge, so this is good timing. I am calling on all Fictionauts to check out the January challenge and to step up to the challenge.

How (if you think) does the group fit into the fictionaut “atmospheric vibe?”

The next winner decides what happens.

People are playing nice, right? (We hope.)

All in good fun.

In the group’s description, there’s a reminder that short story writing is not a competitive sport. I like that. In Murakami’s short story “Barn Burning” there’s a bit where the protags are peeling oranges and he says something to the effect of, “You have to forget the orange exists.” Don’t you feel like “Write first, shop out later,” is a good motto? On the flip, don’t you also feel that groups like the Short Story Challenge encourage writers to “go hard” on themselves and their peers, in a friendly way? To “push,” as it were? (I would be a horrible prosecutor, I just threw the ball 50 yards in the wrong direction and then said play catch with me)

The competition is within you…

You’re kind of like Yoda wrapped in Mr. Miyagi with a little Merlin thrown in.

Last week we talked about Literary Death Match, a reading of short story competition IRL (in real life) Would you guys do something like this with the group? (The internet IS real life, ma’an)

In real life Katrina and I started the Nurse group, based on a prompt from an NPR contest because we saw people posting them here. The rules for the NPR contest was the first line had to be “The nurse left work at five o’clock.” This is a horrible first line and I hope anyone who wrote for that contest keeps the story but chucks that line. Anyway, the challenge group is more dynamic by design. Jürgen came up with a tagging system for all the challenge stories because he is an efficient German. Oh wait, I think that’s a stereotype. He’s an efficient person.

What makes a short story great? What is the secret to life?

I started the group because I was driving home one day and saw a flier nailed to a telephone pole that advertised gift certificates for a skydiving company. It just seemed like such an odd thing to me, as a gift at least. Kind of like giving someone a free round of Russian roulette. But I knew it was a kernel for a story, so I was pleased. I’ve been working mostly on novels in recent years, so when a story idea hits me it’s like a vacation. I knew this one was bigger than me and I wanted to share and see what others would come up with.

Anything else you want to tell me here, but I should say I’ll run it, because you are from the South, I am from the North. “I come from the land of the ice and snow,” -Led Zeppelin. (Enough about me, for now.) Tell us more about you.

I also come from the land of the ice and snow. I left.

Nicolle Elizabeth checks in with Fictionaut Groups every Friday.


  1. finnegan flawnt

    so much fun…thanks for playing, you two. i don’t know if, in the middle of a grim academic winter, i shall have the time to participate in the challenge but i love the idea and yr execution – the passing on of the baton…and the results. the force is with you, dr minichillo, and also with you, ms elizabeth.

  2. gary percesepe

    you two are a bravo comedy team.

    ships, passing.

    but in a good way…

  3. nicolle elizabeth

    oh he is wayy better off without me
    i’m better off without me

  4. Ethel Rohan

    I really enjoyed this, thanks Nicolle and John, left me smiling, and itching to come back to Fictionaut more often, maybe even participate in the challenge. Time, sigh, is not generous, it’s the worst miser.

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