Gooey Brownies: My Three-Minute Fiction That Didn’t Make It

Logo image Three-Minute Fiction Contest - Round #9
I’m a writer. I’ve been blogging for about 14 years and have written 6 books. But all this writing has been nonfiction.

Ever since I read Stephen King’s “On Writing,” I’ve wanted to try my hand at fiction.

Last fall, I tried my hand at NPR’s Three-Minute Fiction.

All the direction NPR gave was:

For Round 9, guest judge Brad Meltzer asks you to send us original fiction that revolves around a U.S. president, who can be real or fictional.

Mine lost. It didn’t even merit an on-air mention. But I console myself knowing that there were around 4000 submissions. 🙂

Here’s what I wrote:

Gooey Brownies

by Marc A. Pitman

BAKE    SALEAs Ellen watched the young women’s hesitant approach, she thought long wait behind the table was about to be rewarded. But then the woman reached insider her jacket and seemingly out of nowhere a man in the dark suit lunged at her, pinning her to the ground, knocking a single dollar bill she had been reaching for out of her hand.

Ellen sighed. She knew Sam meant well but was overzealousness. As she lost her third sale of the day, her mind went back to daydreaming. For years she’d hated bake sales, so it was odd that she’d been looking forward to this one. She’d felt like she was being delivered a subpoena when her daughter Katie had come home with the school’s photocopied announcement that all parents had to contribute to the class’ fundraising event. Didn’t she already pay enough in tuition to Sidwell Friends? Taking time to bake something that would be sold for a quarter seemed a waste. Didn’t they know how valuable time was?

But she’d missed most of Katie’s school events since taking this new job. The six years had flown by. Katie was no longer a cute seven-year-old second grader in pigtails; she was now a maturing young woman. A teenager almost in high school. With only two more years left in this position, Ellen realized she needed to seize all time she could before Katie was out of the house.

So she’d determined to make changes. Starting with this silly bake sale. Her staff hadn’t taken this decision well. They fussed about the appointments needing rescheduling and the people that might feel slighted. But Ellen stood firm with the resolve that had brought her to this position in the first place. She was a pioneer, this bake sale was yet another case of her blazing a new trail.

She and Katie had a blast. She’d insisted on not letting the cook help beyond making sure the ingredients were at hand. Using her grandmother’s “Gooey Brownie” recipe she felt the weight of her current responsibilities to melt away, reconnecting her with a simpler time when answers were easier and love tasted like fudge brownies straight from the oven.

Ellen smiled as she remembered Katie’s shocked reaction to her first bite of Baker’s chocolate. “Isn’t this supposed to be sweet?” she’d asked. And Katie’s whooping with laughter at Ellen’s futile attempts to crack eggs with one hand. Good thing they had a dozen!

Somehow, working in the kitchen making the brownies had brought them closer than they’d been in years. And working together on the brownie recipe, it seemed like her grandmother was right there with them. They knew, just knew, that these treasured family brownies would be a huge seller.

But that was still yet to be seen. As a blushing Sam picked the flustered young woman off the ground, he turned to Ellen shamefacedly saying, “I’m sorry Madame President. I thought she was about to harm you.”

Ellen sighed. With the Secret Service just doing their job, she wondered if the school would have been able to raise more money if she’d stayed at the White House. Was her really worth it?

But just at that moment, Katie came running down the hall, throwing herself at Ellen with one of her huge bear hugs and shouting, “I’m so glad you came! Thanks for being my mom!”

“Yes,” thought Ellen. “This was definitely worth it.” Being the leader of the free world was an amazing honor. But being Katy’s mom was even better.

Market your book before you start it

How to write a book...and get it publishedAs you’re drafting your cover and creating your book proposal, be sure to start letting people know. Book creation is more fun when you’re in conversation with your intended audience. And it’s smart marketing too.

Build an email list

The biggest mistake I see people making is keeping the book a secret until it’s published.

Huge mistake!

People will be more likely to buy the book if they’ve helped in the process of writing it. And it will be a much better book if you get readers’ feedback along the way.

You could simply start by telling people you’ll be writing a book. It’s even better to put drafts of chapters on a blog. That way people can interact with what you write and you can clarify and improve as you go. Plus the pressure of writing a blog post can keep you disciplined in a way that simply writing on your computer can’t.

And as soon as you stop reading this post, if you’re serious about being an author, start ethically collecting people’s email addresses by creating an email list of people interested in the book’s topic. You can see my email optin on the front page of I started writing drafts of segments of the book and emailing them. Then I realized that I wanted the drafts to have more of a life than just languishing in people’s inbox so I started a blog.

I think building an email list is vital. You can build a far more personal relationship with your email subscribers than you can with your social media connections. And email subscribers respond much better to calls to action.

As you develop relationships with people on your email list and blog, you’ll be able to ask them questions. Since my list was targeted to people who might eventually buy my book, I asked my email list to help it. My subscribers came up with much better titles than I did. And even more important: they were telling me what titles would be more compelling to them as customers.

Books don’t make you rich

One last thought: my first publisher gave me a reality check: books won’t make you rich. We’ve all heard of authors getting amazing advances. But those are increasingly rare. He said books are really only expensive business cards. The financial payback is the credibility books give to their authors.

Even in our digital age, books make you credible. People see you’ve written a book, especially one in print, and are unduly impressed. “Oh, she is legit. She’s authored a book.” So if you’re ever going to go to a job interview or do consulting or get paid to give speeches, a book is probably the single best investment you can make.

How to Write a Book…and get it published

How to Write a Book...and get it publishedI’m constantly getting asked how to write a book and how to find publishers. The people asking know that I’ve authored five books, some with publishers, some without. And they know that my first book, Ask Without Fear!® has sold over 4,000 copies since it was published five years ago. (I’ve heard the typical book is lucky to sell 500 copies.)

The questions I get seem easy enough, but the answers could fill books!

Book writing and publishing is an incredible journey of self-growth. And it exponentially expands your ability to help others. So in order to help more people in their process, I’m starting to post answers to the questions here on my blog.

Draft your cover before your book

Writing a book is only part of the process. I’d say 30%. The other 70% is marketing. A book that no one buys is just as ineffective as a Word document that stays on your hard drive. You need to get your books into people’s hands.

Even if you’re going to look for a publisher, I highly recommend Dan Poynter’s “Self-Publishing Manual: How to Write, Print and Sell Your Own Book”.

I read this back in 2007 but I still remember alot from it. For instance, Poynter tells you to write the back cover promotional material before you start writing the book. It sounds counterintuitive, doesn’t it? “How will I know what to put on the cover if I haven’t written the book yet?”

This exercise is amazingly focusing. It’s what Stephen Covey called “Habit 2: Begin with the end in mind.” Ask yourself questions like:

  • What will make your book compelling to someone?
  • Why would they buy it?
  • What problem will be fixed if they buy your book?
  • Who are the experts quoted on the cover?

This work focuses you. And it really helps with the next step I recommend, the book proposal.

Make a legitimate book proposal

Even though I knew I was going to write “Ask Without Fear!” whether a publisher wanted it or not, I went through the process of writing the book proposal. It forces you to argue for the need of a new book on this topic.

  • How is your solution…or just your presentation distinctive?
  • What are the other books that are competitors to this one? (Hint: If none are like it, it may be an indication that no one will buy it.)
  • How big is the market for this book? (Hint: if you think the book is “for everyone” it’s really for no one. You need to target it more.)
  • What are the chapter headings?
  • How many pages will this be?
  • Why are you the perfect person to be writing this book?
  • How are you going to sell it?

If writing the cover is helpful in focusing, writing the book proposal makes the focus laser sharp. Just as importantly, it helps you convince yourself that this book is needed. Writing a book is a pain in the tuchas. You’ll need to keep reminding yourself why you’re doing it.

Many book publishers have templates for a book proposal that you can download. Poynter may have one in his book.

Once you’ve filled it out, share it with a few trusted friends. People who will be able to tell you if it makes sense or if you’re just lying to yourself.