how we met the challenge
by ellen klages
Walter had emailed all of us about what he called "The Infinite Matrix
Challenge" about a week before we all convened at Rio Hondo. A cluster of
short-shorts, written in residence. We brainstormed a
little, electronically, and then began talking about it the first night we were gathered around the dining room table in New Mexico.
First of all, did we want to try it? Most of us said sure, a few were
skeptical. We tossed around some ideas. Everyone start with the same first line? Everyone write to a theme? There were a few sacrifical suggestions, quickly discarded like the first, test pancake. Then Leslie suggested "Brains," and someone else came up with "The 1000-Year Anniversary," and suddenly there were murmurings and hmmms and gleams in writerly eyes.
Daniel was the first to actually write one. Tuesday night he announced at dinner (a black roux gumbo with chicken and sausage, served over rice
cooked with peppers, onion, celery, and spices, served with several bottles of Falesco Vitiano 2001) that he had a modest little story, and would read it to us after the meal.
And that became the tradition for the next four nights. As the soup or
salad course was served, someone would say, "All right, I've got one," and when the dishes were cleared, the mini-reading would commence. No one had a printer, and almost no one wrote in longhand, so on a few evenings the table sported two or three black laptops, with each author reading from his or her individual screen. The atmosphere around the table was silent, save for the clicking of scrollbars as the prose wound down beyond the edge of the display, and the enthusiastic applause when the tale had been told.
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Ellen Klages's short fiction has been nominated for the Hugo and Nebula awards, and her chicken without mango sauce was a cause celebre at Rio Hondo 2002.