I sit on the organizing committee for the Vegas Valley Book Festival, the largest literary event in Southern Nevada (and one of the largest in the western United States). As a Las Vegas-based author, my job on the committee is to represent the interests of the local writing community. In the past, the festival has focused on bringing authors and readers together in a variety of venues and formats. This year, we wanted to create a new pre-festival event that would engage writers in a more hands-on, interactive way. And so the Flash! Fiction Contest was born.
I’ve written about flash fiction before (and even tried my hand in a previous blog). Flash is a form of short, short story, usually between 50 and 1,000 words. For the purposes of this contest, we chose a maximum of 500 words. We loosely based the concept on the “48-Hour Film Project,” which gives participants a theme and 48 hours to turn in a finished movie. Our contest had fewer moving parts, but still involved a tight deadline. Entrants had 90 minutes to write a flash story based on the theme, “Las Vegas: City of Second Chances.” But it wasn’t that simple. We also threw them a curve; their stories could not revolve around casinos or gambling. In essence, we forced them to take a deeper look at the city they call home.
Last Saturday afternoon, laptops in hand, sixteen brave souls assembled in the auditorium of the Historic Fifth Street School (yes, that’s the official name) in downtown Las Vegas. This was a demographically-diverse group with one thing in common: the love of writing. As coordinator of the event, I spent the first half hour going over the ground rules and answering questions before delivering the secret theme (previously held in a security vault in an undisclosed location guarded by Dick Cheney). At that point, as they say at the NFL draft, the writers were “on the clock.”
Writing is challenging enough under ideal circumstances. Mix in a tight but not impossible time constraint and the occasional crash of workmen preparing for an evening event, and you’ve got a pressure-cooker situation on your hands. Let’s just say I was relieved to be coordinating the contest rather than writing in it.
And yet, the writers acquitted themselves admirably. (Later, when I apologized for the noise, many of them said it was quieter than their work environments.) I could almost see their right-brain wheels whirring away as they went about their tasks, the clacking of keyboards echoing through the auditorium.
I’ve had a chance to read the finished stories and I’m glad I’m not a judge. (We are fortunate to have four highly-qualified volunteer judges who work as journalists, editors and writing instructors). The top three writers will receive cash prizes generously provided by the City of Las Vegas. More importantly (from my perspective, at least), the winning entries will be published in “Las Vegas CityLife” and on the Book Festival website at www.vegasvalleybookfestival.org. The writers will also have an opportunity to read their stories at the Book Festival, which takes place November 3 – 7.
The feedback from this event has been overwhelmingly positive. My thanks to everyone who helped make it a success, especially the writers. I admire each and every one of them.
PS If you want to know how long (or short) 500 words really are, this blog is 569 words.