> Short Story Challenge 2008 > Angelinos Take on the
Short Story Challenge
Angelinos Take on the
Short Story Challenge
Liz Shannon Miller
(Los Angeles, CA)
Angeles, despite its reputation for having a
less-than-literary scene, is a city full of writers.
Struggling writers, that is. In between day jobs or
classes or other paid writing gigs, nearly everyone's
trying to find the time, energy, and motivation to
hammer out that great new idea.
those internal struggles that cause most writers to
choke creatively, and those same struggles that
participants in the 2008 Short Story Challenge were able
to overcome. Signing up for the competition meant
paying an entry fee and writing a 2500-word short story
in one week, using an assigned genre and writing
prompt. The irony is that for most of the writers, the
elements that were the most inspiring were the
restrictions of the contest itself.
because it cost money, that I would see it through.
Because if I didn't, I would feel like such a fool,"
writer Meredith Jennings-Offen said. "I'm a tremendous
slacker -- I get really hung up in follow-through, and
half the time lose interest three-quarters of the way.
But I wanted this to kick off a period of doing short
stories for me, and so I wanted to see this idea through
Motivation was a huge factor for Joseph Baleto as well.
While in college, Baleto studied English literature and
wrote profusely -- but as a real estate agent, the bulk
of his writing output has been business-related. The
competition was the first time in years when he had a
chance to write, as he put it, "something of real
Vivian Martinez, a Torrance native who just received her
BA in theater, the deadline had the biggest appeal. "I
write better under pressure and since I graduated, I
don't have that little fire under my ass," she said.
"This competition was a real nice way to get me back
into writing mode."
than be flummoxed by genre assignments outside of their
comfort zones, most of the writers in the competition
enjoyed the experience of tackling a new subject
matter. Although most of Jennings-Offen's work is
heavily fantasy-based -- "I pretty much only like
writing about non-reality and created worlds" -- she
came to romantic comedy with a fresh take on the subject
matter. "I like raw text, I like misspeech in dialogue.
So I chose to write about awkwardness. The subtopic was
jealousy. and my approach is definitely not quite an
obvious conflict, but it fits."
Wilbur, a novelist and professional photographer who
focuses on horror, mystery and western fiction, was
assigned a fantasy involving an ATM. "At first I
groaned, and then I complained, and then I groaned some
more," he said. "But, considering the genre is not one I
typically visit, nor would I choose to write about an
ATM (though I visit them regularly), I feel that the
story is pretty strong. "
coast transplant Tiara Rea's initial reaction to being
assigned science fiction was "a very emphatic 'UGH'. I
have nothing against sci-fi -- it's just the furthest
from my personal comfort zone that I could think of."
However, she awoke early the next morning with her
characters and an opening sentence locked in her head,
and was able to complete three drafts over the course of
the week. "I always tend to gravitate to the same
genres and subject matter," she said, "And this helped
me take a subject and a genre Iím very uncomfortable
with and adhere my own style within it. Itís been
Writer/director Murphy Gilson's genre of preference is
comedy, so when assigned science fiction he also had
some concerns. But he was able to find a way to make
his assignment work for him: "Sci-fi is usually just so
ridiculous. So I went with something more sensible: anal
Meanwhile, since Baleto's previous fiction "always has a
little tinge of sadness," he had some difficulties with
the assignment of comedy. "I think I have a really
funny streak in me personally, but I don't know if I've
really been able to portray that," he said. "And the
prompt was text messaging -- I don't think that's a very
funny subject either. So I don't think my story ended
up being very funny, but I made my best attempt. We'll
just have to wait and see what the judges think."
an issue for most, but not tremendously -- most of the
writers involved had a completed first draft within the
first few days. The greatest challenge for Baleto was
finishing his story on Saturday. He not only had to
contend with a ticking clock, but also the distractions
caused by a party his wife was throwing that night.
"She had a bunch of her girlfriends over, and they were
all drinking and making a lot of noise, so it was a bit
of a difficulty trying to maintain focus and send
everything out on time. That was a comedy in itself.
That's probably what I should have written about."
these writers make it to the next heat of the
competition is yet to be determined, but for most the
sheer act of participating was reward enough. A
professional screenwriter, Jennings-Offen signed up for
the competition hoping that it would re-ignite her
college passion for short fiction. "I've been
miserable as a screenwriter recently, even though I've
had a modicum of success, because my original work never
gets into production. I would prefer to be a short story
writer, or incorporate that into my work, because I'm
trying to channel more of my authentic voice."
Stephen Gabriel, an actor living in North Hollywood,
finishing his short story means the beginning of a new
writing streak. "I have some ideas that have been
setting in the brain pan for some time now, that are
finally starting to develop into something more," he
student Mary Overbey is eager to find out if she'll be
moving forward, but determined to be patient. "I have
over a month to wait, so right now I'm just trying to be
happy and proud of the fact that I did finish before the
deadline. And I definitely loved the chance to explore
a genre I hadn't previously written in, to see what I
could do with it. Even if I don't move onto the next
round, I have accomplished something. And so I feel
great about that."
sure this is drawing some people who are taking it very,
very seriously," Gilson reflected. "I just think it's a
great excuse to write."
of writing is filled with obstacles for any writer, but
participating in NYC Midnight's Short Story Challenge
became a way of eliminating them. "Anything that can
help stretch the imagination, and hopefully keep writers
writing, is a good thing," said Wilbur. "Perhaps the
Liz Shannon Miller
is a mild-mannered freelancer living in Los Angeles, where
she works as a filmmaker and writer of various different
media. A graduate of the USC Screenwriting program,
she is also a produced playwright and published fiction
writer, and her reviews and essays have appeared in Variety,
Bookslut, The Daily Reel, and Ostrich Ink. By day, she
knits her own iPod cozies, blogs at
and enjoys a nice vodka tonic. At night, she fights