Three-Minute Fiction
1:44 pm
Sat March 17, 2012

Minor Details: Three-Minute Fiction's Age Rules

This week, along with the nearly 1,000 stories that were submitted to weekends on All Things Considered's writing contest, Three-Minute Fiction, there was a letter from 11-year-old Kahlo Smith of Felton, Calif.

Dear Mr. Raz,

I am eleven years old. I wanted to enter round eight of the three minute fiction contest. I have a story that fits all the guidelines. It's less than six hundred words and begins with the sentence: She closed the book, put in on the table, and finally, decided to walk out the door. But when I checked the entry rules, it said that the contest was open to people eighteen or older. Is there a reason for this?

Kahlo Smith
Felton, California

The question has been asked by kids, teens, students, teachers and parents since Three-Minute Fiction launched in 2009. But according to NPR's general counsel and senior vice president of legal affairs, Joyce Slocum there is no way around the rule.

"The shorthand is that minor children do not have the capacity to enter into a contract," Slocum says. "A child who enters into a contract may have the ability to have it voided by a court even after they became an adult."

Entering Three-Minute Fiction is entering into a contract with NPR, Slocum says. And once a participant has entered and agreed to the contest rules, NPR can use the copyrighted work for its own purposes, which includes being read on the air and posted on NPR.org.

Even after hearing the legalese from NPR's general counsel, Kahlo was not appeased.

"I understand that it's a legal thing that minors cannot enter the competition, but it seems unfair," says Kahlo, who was encouraged to enter Three-Minute Fiction by her mother, an avid NPR listener.

"When I was little I wrote a story about a turtle who gets sent to this shelter for sea animals because it got caught in a plastic bag and then is released at the end of the story," Kahlo says. "My mom was listening to NPR and she heard about the contest and she knows that I like writing so she told me I should enter."

Even though she is not qualified to enter, for her persistence and a surprisingly mature and creative story, Kahlo will receive a copy of Luis Alberto Urrea's latest book. Queen of America.

Urrea said he loved the mystery, the details and the descriptions in Kahlo's story.

"It makes me grateful that I'm old now so I don't have to compete with this kid," he says. "Way to go!"

"It's sort of like I won," Kahlo says. "I still get the stuff, my story still gets read, I'm pretty happy."

Those who are 18 and older can still enter the contest by clicking on the "Submit Your Story" link. Stories must be 600 words or less and begin with the sentence, "She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door." All stories must be received by Sunday, March 25, at 11:59 ET.


NIGHT BUS
By Kahlo Smith, age 11

She closed the book, placed it on the table, and finally, decided to walk through the door. She lifted her bag off a peg, and after a moment of hesitation, slung it over her shoulder. As she shut the door behind her, she looked around, as if expecting someone to stop her. No one did, and she closed the door gently.

It was chilly outside, and she hugged her thin turtleneck sweater closer to her. She glanced up. The first stars were appearing, dotting the night sky with pinpricks of light, like holes in the black blanket draped over some chairs that had served as her "magical fort" as a child.

She pushed her glasses up, looked around, and started down the street. She looked young, too young to be walking the streets at night. No more than sixteen, a passerby might have thought, had they paid any attention to this young girl, walking down the sidewalk alone, arms crossed tightly across her torso, head down.

Cars whizzed by, dark, fast moving shapes, stirring up her long brown hair. She breathed in the winter air, cold and clear in her lungs. She glanced in the window of a coffee shop as she passed it, the warm, bright place contrasting sharply with the cold and dark that surrounded her. She might have been visiting a friend's apartment. She might have been older than she appeared, eighteen or so, walking away from her own apartment. None of the people who walked by her knew, and they certainly didn't seem to care.

She turned the corner, and approached a different building. She hesitated in front of the door. She lifted her hand as if to knock, but then withdrew it and continued walking. It seemed to her then that she was in a bubble of space that was all her own. That she was not a part of the world the people rushing past her existed in, hurrying home, or to late night jobs.

She turned off onto a side street, and stopped at a bus stop, one of those benches with a sort of roof and an enclosure around it, as if trying to fence you in where you sit. She tapped her foot on the hard cement and rubbed her arms with her hands, trying to get some warmth into them.

The moon had risen, casting a white glow on everything, making it look somewhat unreal, almost like a painting. She heard the bus before she saw it, approaching the stop with a crunch of gravel as it left the pavement. The doors swung open as if in invitation. A faint light spilled out onto the three steps leading up into the bus.

She rose from the bench and mounted the steps. She chose a window seat next to a chatty, middle-aged woman. The kind of person you might expect to be an aunt, or even a great aunt. She rested her bag on her lap and pushed her hair up behind her ears. The bus moved on again, with yet another loud crunch of gravel. She didn't look back.

Copyright 2012 National Public Radio. To see more, visit http://www.npr.org/.

Transcript

GUY RAZ, HOST:

It's WEEKENDS on ALL THINGS CONSIDERED from NPR News. I'm Guy Raz.

(SOUNDBITE OF CLOCK TICKING)

RAZ: Round 8 of Three-Minute Fiction is underway. You can enter the contest and find out all about it by going to our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out, no spaces. We've already received 1,000 stories, and this past week, we got a letter in our inbox from Kahlo Smith, and this is what she wrote.

KAHLO SMITH: (Reading) I am 11 years old. I wanted to enter Round 8 of the Three-Minute Fiction contest. I have a story that fits all the guidelines. It's less than 600 words and begins with the sentence: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk out the door. But when I checked the entry rules, it said that the contest was open to people 18 or older. Is there a reason for this?

RAZ: Well, it turns out there is a reason for this. And we called NPR's general counsel, our top lawyer, Joyce Slocum, to come here to the studio to explain why. Joyce, why can't Kahlo enter this competition?

JOYCE SLOCUM: The short hand is that minor children do not have the capacity to enter into contract. A child who enters into a contract may have the ability to have it voided by a court, even after they become an adult.

RAZ: And entering Three-Minute Fiction is entering a contract?

SLOCUM: Yes.

RAZ: Really?

SLOCUM: The contract is offer and acceptance and consideration.

RAZ: Now, NPR doesn't make these rules, right? This is the government.

SLOCUM: Well, we make the sweepstakes rules. The states make the rules about what minor children can and can't do.

RAZ: So why do we have to say 18 or over?

SLOCUM: Because once they enter the contest, we can take their copyrighted work and use it for our own purposes.

RAZ: OK. But if I, like, buy a box of Fruity Pebbles, and I'm not 18, and I can enter their sweepstakes.

SLOCUM: Usually, all they have is you send in your name and then they draw a winner. They're not asking anything from you in return. And when you think about it, you know, when we get these Three-Minute Fiction stories in, they don't just appear briefly on the radio program and then disappear. We want to keep these available to people for a very long time.

RAZ: Could we put Three-Minute Fiction on a box of Fruity Pebbles?

SLOCUM: Well, if you didn't want an agreement to continue to use copyrighted work, you could.

RAZ: OK. So bottom line, Kahlo is out of luck. She cannot enter this competition.

SLOCUM: Sorry.

RAZ: Joyce, thanks.

SLOCUM: You're very welcome.

RAZ: You break my heart.

SLOCUM: It breaks my own heart.

RAZ: All right. Well, now that our lawyer has left the room, Kahlo, are you there? Are you with us?

SMITH: Yes, I'm here.

RAZ: We got Kahlo Smith on the line because we received your story, and it was so good that we could not, we just couldn't bear the thought of shutting you out. And it turns out you cannot enter this competition. You heard what Joyce said. Do you - what are your thoughts? Do you understand?

SMITH: Well, I understand that it's a legal thing that minors cannot enter the competition, but it seems unfair.

RAZ: How long did it take you to write this story?

SMITH: Actually, I'm not understanding what everyone finds so great about this. For me, it's a story that I wrote in half an hour.

RAZ: Half an hour. Actually, that proves that Three-Minute Fiction can be done by anybody. How did you hear about the contest?

SMITH: My mom was listening to NPR, and she heard about the contest. And she knows that I like writing, so she told me I should enter.

RAZ: Are you a pretty regular NPR listener?

SMITH: Well, my parents are, so I end up listening to it a lot.

RAZ: Do you like it? Do you enjoy listening to NPR?

SMITH: Well, sometimes it can be a bit boring. I am not an adult, so I do not usually listen to radio stuff that involves so much talking. I'm like, where's the music station on this thing? But usually, I like it.

RAZ: And do you write a lot of short stories?

SMITH: Well, the one that my dad and mom probably remember best is when I was little I wrote a story about a turtle who gets sent to, like, this shelter for sea animals because it got caught in a plastic bag and then is released at the end of the story. But other than that, they're mostly school assignments, which I do, though, write by myself.

RAZ: Well, Kahlo, I am sorry that you cannot officially enter. I think it's unfair. But, you know, that's the rule. The rules are rules are rules. But here's what we're going to do: we called Luis Alberto Urrea, our judge this round. He is going to send you a signed copy of his book, and we're also going to send you some NPR stuff. And we're going to post your story online as well. So not so bad, right?

SMITH: Yeah. I was actually thinking that even if I did enter the contest, it'd probably be like, I'd get one of those automatic reply emails: Your story has been read by the judges, though you did not win, and thank you for entering the contest.

RAZ: Well, Kahlo may not be able to enter officially, but if you are over 18, you still can. You've got until the 25th of March, that's Sunday, 11:59 p.m. Eastern Time. Go to our website, npr.org/threeminutefiction. Three-Minute Fiction is all spelled out. Every story has to be 600 words or less. It has to begin with the exact sentence: She closed the book, placed it on the table and finally decided to walk through the door. Kahlo Smith joined us from member station KUSD in Santa Cruz. Kahlo, I'm sorry that you couldn't officially enter. But, you know, hey, this isn't so bad, right?

SMITH: Yeah. It's sort of like I won. I still get the stuff, my story still gets read. I'm pretty happy.

RAZ: Thanks for being a good sport.

SMITH: Thank you.

RAZ: And without further ado, here is an excerpt from Kahlo's story, "Night Bust," as read by NPR's Susan Stamberg.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

SUSAN STAMBERG, BYLINE: (Reading) It was chilly outside, and she hugged her thin turtleneck sweater closer to her. She glanced up. The first stars were appearing, dotting the night sky with pinpricks of light, like holes in the black blanket draped over some chairs that had served as her magical fort as a child. She pushed her glasses up, looked around and started down the street. She looked young, too young to be walking the streets at night. No more than 16, a passerby might have thought, had they paid attention to this young girl, walking down the sidewalk alone, arms crossed tightly across her torso, head down.

Cars whizzed by, dark, fast moving shapes, stirring up her long brown hair. She breathed in the winter air, cold and clear in her lungs. She glanced in the window of a coffee shop as she passed it, the warm, bright place contrasting sharply with the cold and dark that surrounded her.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright National Public Radio.

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