Most days Robert Brandt, grand-prize winner of the 8th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, isn’t writing. Instead, he’s cutting. Stitching. Watching. Evaluating. Waiting. Running. Saving. And, sometimes, grieving.
As a third-year E.R. resident at Synergy Medical Education Alliance in Saginaw, Mich., Brandt spends his days and nights either on call or at home, studying. The hours are long; the work is intense. And when the life of a doctor begins to overwhelm him, he turns to a passion he’s had since childhood—writing.
Often, Brandt writes fantasy or what he calls Dave Barry-esque humor. He ventures as far as he can from the miraculous, gritty world of medicine. He escapes. But sometimes, events that unfold in the E.R. threaten to smother him. He can’t escape. And so he writes, as a form of therapy. This therapy resulted in “The Procedure,” the grand-prize-winning story that beat out 6,805 entries and won him more than $3,000 in prizes. (To read the story, visit "The Procedure".)
“The Procedure” is about a second-year E.R. resident performing a risky procedure on a 16-year-old girl as a last-ditch attempt to save her life. The story begins quite technical and focused, with vivid details of the procedure’s steps. But when the resident’s heroics don’t work, Brandt allows the protagonist’s emotions to barge right in and leaves us with a young doctor struggling to get through his shift.
“Even though you’re trained to try to detach yourself so you can be an efficient, excellent doctor and try to save lives, no matter how much you train, emotion and the reality of what you’re doing slowly seep in,” Brandt says. “After it’s all done, you look back and the floodgates open and you can’t help but be overwhelmed.”
The story is fiction. Although Brandt practiced the procedure described in his story in a practice lab, he’s never personally performed it on a patient. He has, however, struggled with the emotions that follow when he’s failed to save a child’s life.
Brandt wrote the story a year and a half ago, and it’s the first he’s ever written from a resident’s viewpoint. “Most of the stuff I’m interested in writing is more fantasy, so this was a little different for me,” he says. “Writer’s Digest always tells you, ‘Write what you know. Write what you know.’ So I was like, ‘I don’t know if I know but I’ll give it a try.’ ”
Brandt’s love of science and writing stems from his father, a doctor, and his mother, a retired English college professor. “The biggest influence on my writing has been my mom,” Brandt says. She’s edited everything he’s written—including “The Procedure.”
Although Brandt struggles to find time to write, he’s been professionally published as the author of a chapter in The Medical Student Survival Guide, published by the Emergency Medicine
Residents’ Association. “I’ve done a bit of writing from a medical standpoint and that’s not necessarily fun writing,” he says. His passion lies in creative writing, including short stories, novellas and the novel he’s slowly working on.
In July, Brandt will take a test to become board certified, and will go from resident to attending physician. Perhaps more so than a title change, Brandt’s looking forward to having more time to spend with his wife, Gwen, also a resident, and writing. While he labels himself as a physician first, writer comes in at a close second.
“Winning this contest has really opened my eyes to a world of opportunity,” Brandt says. “I realize that this is only one contest, and that many rejections are yet to come; however, I think this will give me the confidence I need to truly maintain the pursuit of writing as a lifelong career.”
YOU COULD BE NEXT
Enter your bold, brilliant and brief fiction in the 9th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition. Send us your best in 1,500 words or fewer. The deadline is Dec. 1, 2008, and the entry fee is $12 a story. Mail your entry to: Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990. For more information on the contest or to enter online, visit writersdigest.com/competitions.
THE SHORT LIST
The 8th-Annual Writer’s Digest Short Short Story Competition attracted 6,805 entries. Judges Gina Ochsner, Debby Mayne and J.A. Konrath helped narrow the field. Finalists were judged and ranked by Writer’s Digest editors. Click below to read the top five stories (coming soon).
1 Robert Brandt, Saginaw, Mich., "The Procedure"
2 Marsha Brantley, Cleveland, Tenn., “Dirty Little Secrets”
3 Kirk Barrett, Evanston, Ill., “Sarajevo Roses”
4 Kara Graham, Lethbridge, AB, Canada, “The Last Dance”
5 Rekha Rao, Pisa, Italy, “Kite Maker”
6 Richard Holeton, Montara, Calif., “Year of the Pig”
7 Carl L. Williams, Houston, Texas, “One Last Taste Of Home”
8 Holly Current, Cincinnati, Ohio, “Burnt Offering”
9 Marsha Brubaker, Warren, Mich., “Jerry”
10 Ryan Edel, Raleigh, N.C., “My Brother the Hero”
11 Quirino Valdez Garza, Jr., Pearland, Texas, “Coyote: A Family’s Journey”
12 Hannah Rogers, Milford, Ohio, “Batman Band-Aids”
13 Alicia Stankay, Ambridge, Pa., “Reflections”
14 Grant Flint, Richmond, Calif., “Aunt Effie and the Great Depression”
15 Stephen Woodfin, Kilgore, Texas, “He Ain’t Leaving; He’s Gone”
16 Richard Goyette, Jasper, Ga., “The Dragon Hunter”
17 Rebecca LuElla Miller, Whittier, Calif., “Haj”
18 Johnny Skrabala, Richmond, Va., “Typecasting”
19 Samantha Johnson, Mililani, Hawaii, “The Child”
20 Lisa Eisenbrey, Austin, Texas, “Bob”
21 Robert Norton, Portland, Ore., “Marie’s Lovely Picture”
22 Kate Simonsen, Richmond, Va., “Employee Benefits”
23 Rebecca Benston, Springfield, Ohio, “The End”
24 Robert Couture, Boston, Mass., “To Swing”
25 William Long, State College, Pa., “On The Night That John James Shot The Dog”
NOTE: To receive a book containing the full manuscripts of the top 25 winners, send a check or money order for $6 to the 8th-Annual WD Short Short Story Collection, 700 East State St., Iola, WI 54990.