Three minutes. No poems.
Those are the rules at DimeStories—a prose-only open mic trying to gain traction in Albuquerque’s poetry-dominated reading circuit.
The timing bodes well. In recent years, short-form writing like flash fiction, nano-fiction and drabbles (stories composed of exactly 100 words) has taken firm root in our text- and Tweet-obsessed, ADHD world. Flash anthologies abound. Big names like Joyce Carol Oates and Chuck Palahniuk have gotten into the act. NPR hosts a popular Three-Minute Fiction Contest. And the Alibi has its own annual clash of conciseness, the eight-year-old Flash Fiction Contest.
DimeStories, though new to the Duke City, traces its origins to 2004, when a group of San Diego prose writers decided to level the open-mic playing field. Their SoCal verse-free experiment has since franchised out.
“There’s already this fantastic slam-poetry community here, but those of us prose writers didn’t get to have any fun,” says Jennifer Simpson, a UNM creative-writing grad student who, along with CNM instructor Merimee Moffitt, brought DimeStories to Albuquerque. Our local version is held the third Thursday of every month. “In a sense, we’re doing slam prose now. Only there’s no scoring involved.”
There is a timer, however, and pity the poor reader who exceeds 180 seconds, her words suddenly drowned out by an incessant beeping, causing her to either halt, wilt, freeze or hasten. It’s as awkward as the what-do-I-do moment at the Oscars when the orchestra cuts into an acceptance speech.
“There’s already this fantastic slam-poetry community here, but those of us prose writers didn’t get to have any fun.”
Jennifer Simpson, UNM MFA student
“You hear almost everyone have the beeps come in,” says Annarose Fitzgerald, one of about a dozen attendees at April’s gathering—the third event so far. “It wasn’t as nerve-wracking as I thought it would be, though. I decided I’d just skip to the end.”
Duke City DimeStories is held in an unlikely location. Rather than a campus coffee shop or Downtown performance space, the reading makes its home in a stylish wellness complex called The Source, on Carlisle south of Nob Hill. The Garden Room, with its hardwood floor, dimmed track lighting, floor-to-ceiling mirrored wall and spare Japanese aesthetic, immediately says one thing: yoga.
“It’s quiet,” Simpson points out, “which is good for recording.”
Each month, the three best recorded stories—as voted for on paper slips by the audience—are posted on the DimeStories website, along with those from the organization’s other hubs in San Diego, Orange County and Brooklyn. There are also links to podcasts and public-radio pieces from the past, as well as CD collections.
One of April’s three Albuquerque winners, Andrew Harrison, read four quirky micro-stories in the three-minute time frame—“Popcorn,” “Just Another Citizen,” “The Loneliest Robot” (featuring a robot impression) and “Dad’s New Medical Procedures”
Harrison says that it’s been a revelation for him to learn that the kind of brief storytelling he enjoys has official recognition as “flash fiction.”
“Reading in front of people pushes me to get out of myself,” he adds. “It’s sort of intimidating and embarrassing, so it helps me stretch my limits.”
Another participant, Blake Magnusson, imparts this advice to potential newcomers: “Don’t underestimate how big a story you can tell in three minutes. Just because it’s short, it doesn’t have to be light or minor.”
Compared to DimeStories headquarters in San Diego—where 50 to 75 people pack into each month’s open-mic, with half of them reading—the Albuquerque branch and brand have a long way to go and grow. But Simpson isn’t worried.
“For now, we’re having fun, and I’m starting to feel like part of a community here,” she says. “We have a core group of regulars. It’s a wonderful way to get to know people by hearing their stories.”