Dime Stories: Temecula's 3 Minute Tales

Sandy Schuster-Hubbard, reader.

An evening sun slants light through vineyard leaves, turning them into veined skin. People sit around an art gallery patio, sip wine, and get to know each other in the day's wind-down. Before long, the stories, none longer than three minutes, begin to unfold.

Sandy Schuster-Hubbard, humorously describes her book addiction, and how Kindle rescues her from a hardback swamping.

Kim Quon recounts his boyhood on the fringe of gang life, and how a friend's life ended on the pavement when gangbangers ran him down with a car.

Herb Torrens chronicles the disappearance of humans after the takeover of computers, which ends in their own demise as the ultimate machine, the computer that stores all knowledge, obliterates everything with Ctrl+Alt+Del.

And that's the fun of it, never knowing what's next. All these stories, and more, were told on recently at Dime Stories, a new for Temecula, literary happening. This Friday, July 26, a new crop of storytellers will spin tales at the Wine Country Art Gallery.

Herb Torrens
Herb Torrens.

Dime Stories, Temecula was started by Lisa Sanchez, a former university professor turned fiction writer, who saw a need for an open-mike venue in Temecula, a place where writers could get their words heard by an audience.

"A live reading provides you with an audience to listen to your work, and you get attached to that audience, it keeps you on your toes," Sanchez said. "By gauging audience reaction, you know immediately what's working and what isn't."

If you write a line intended to be funny and nobody laughs, well, you know revisions are in your future.

Dime Stories Temecula had its first gathering May 31, at the Temecula Wine Country Art Gallery in the vineyards of the Van Roekel Winery on Rancho California Road. Of the 40 or so people who attended, 23 chose to read. The process was simple, like a raffle. Write your name and the title of your piece on a slip of paper, drop it into a bowl.

Sanchez picks out a ticket and calls the reader's name. The reader has three minutes to enthrall the audience. After all the readers have read, the audience selects the top three stories of the night. The readings are recorded, and the top three are posted as audio recordings on the Dime Stories website.

Kim Quon
Kim Quon.

Dime Stories International, the parent group, got it's start about 10 years ago, when San Diego Writer's Ink, a non-profit writer's group, asked one of its members, Amy Wallen, to start an open-mike event. There were a ton of open mikes and poetry slams for poets, but slim pickings for prose. Amy founded an event called First Fridays, readings for prose writers. But the catch was the story had to done in three-minutes, about 500 words, depending on how fast you read.

"I'd been to many readings where I had to sit through several preliminary authors reading for 45 minutes or more to get to the main-event author, and I'd lose interest. So I decided to keep the First Friday readings short -- three minutes," Wallen said.

She figured the time limit would reassure nervous readers the torture would be short-lived. It also meant that if listeners fidgeted during one piece, the next was only minutes away.

Wallen, author of the novel MoonPies & Movie Stars, teaches writing and runs a writing and pie salon. Yes, she bakes pies, sometimes sweet, but mostly savory.

"I was most surprised by how the three-minute limit forced writers to write tight. Pieces got clean and clear. I watched writers' work really improve," Wallen said.

The concept of the quick reading caught fire, and new chapters formed -- New York (although it has since closed because the founder moved to Florida), Orange County, Oceanside, Albuquerque, and now Temecula.

After some brainstorming, the group landed on the name "Dime Stories," a take-off on the Dime Novel, a catch-all description for pulp fiction around the turn of the century.

Lisa Sanchez, Dime Stories organizer
Lisa Sanchez, Dime Stories organizer.

But today the Dime Novel costs $10 or or more, double that for a hardback. The slowdown in the economy hit book publishers hard, driving many out of business, and forcing those that held on to cut the number of titles they publish. As a result, many publishers are less willing to gamble on mid-list and unpublished writers, favoring instead big-name writers easier to market. This has triggered a growth in self-published books, and on-line publishing. Electronic readers also contribute to the boon, as people can download books online. But without as many traditional publishing houses backing writers, book tours have become fewer, consequently writers have fewer opportunities to read before an audience, Sanchez said.

Enter the rising popularity of the Dime Stories phenomenon. For new writers and mid-listers, as well as those who self-publish, getting your name out there is key, Sanchez says. Each writer is becoming her own marketing department. Dime Stories helps.

Sanchez, who has published many shorter pieces and is near to finishing her first novel, is convinced that writing well is the key to success. Toward better writing, she leads two workshops at her Temecula home, helping writers to improve their game.

To organize her groups -- Wine Country Writers Network on Thursday nights, and Weekend Writing Workshop on Sunday afternoons -- she enlisted the help of Meetup.com, a social-networking site that helps people with common interests to set up gatherings -- everything from cycling enthusiasts, to hikers who like wine, to French speakers hoping to improve their accents. Sanchez uses Meetup.com to help organize Dime Stories as well.

To further help writers, and to give readers something good to read, Sanchez, with the help of Russell Shor and Martin Japtok, publishes and edits Nomos Review, a literary journal, available in both hard copy and online versions. The fourth edition is
fresh off the press.

When Sanchez first came to Temecula 10 years ago, she didn't immediately find what she was looking for -- a community of writers. She's been in Temecula long enough now to discover the Inland Empire is home to many writers, laboring in isolation in their bedrooms, studies and on kitchen tables, pounding out words for self expression. It's Sanchez's dream to make writing less solitary, and to provide writers with ways to get their words out.

Dime Stories, a monthly event, certainly works toward that end.

Temecula wine country grapevines at dusk.
Temecula wine country grapevines at dusk.

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