420 Characters

Last month, the illustrator-turned-author Lou Beach released a book of extremely short stories titled 420 Characters - miniature stories that began as Facebook status updates and that are just 420 characters long.

On the program, Studio 360, Kurt Andersen challenged listeners to write their own 420-characters stories. You can read them all here.

Lou Beach judged the contest, and kicked in the prize — a signed print of one of his own illustrations.

I really like this runner-up entry:

I pace my side of the lake we swam all summer. Winter’s first blizzard has blocked all roads; the half-mile swim between us is now a walk across thin ice. I say I’ll cross when the ice is thick. You propose we meet now—halfway. And then? If the ice cracks on your side, you’ll jump to mine, you say. Where have you studied ice? Think how a window swallows a baseball. You really want to take a swing at that?
—Mary Soufi, Vacaville, California

The winning entry:

It was dog number four that put the nail in the coffin, so to speak. It was about a month after the cafĂ© went out of business, less, maybe. He comes home with it in his arms. Big thing, but still in his arms, carrying it across the threshold. I think he was trying to be funny. But it wasn’t funny. He was never funny.
—Samantha Wilson, Melbourne, Australia

LOU BEACH is an award-winning illustrator and gallery artist, well known for his record covers and magazine work. A book of his artwork, Cut It Out was published in 2006.

To read excerpts from 420 CHARACTERS and to hear them being read by Jeff Bridges, Ian McShane and Dave Alvin, visit

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