"The Two-Body Problem"

Sometime during the summer of 2019, a Northern Virginia Community College colleague with whom I'm friends on Facebook posted an article from The Chronicle of Higher Education that discussed something called "the two-body problem," which refers to the challenge faced by an academic couple both looking for teaching positions in the same field. I hadn't heard the expression before, but naturally my mind went straight to that's a perfect title for a short story! I came up with a plot in no time, and what resulted was a piece of what's called "flash fiction," which means a story under a thousand words in length.

As it happens, Laurie and I have some friends who spent years wrestling with what I now know is called "the two-body problem." Malvika Talwar was hired to teach biology at NOVA at the same time I started there, and her husband Casey Dillman is also a biologist. For several years, they lived apart, since he couldn't find a teaching position in Northern Virginia and she couldn't find one in the same places where he was able to get work. Finally Casey got a temporary gig with the Smithsonian in DC, so they were able to live together for a while. And then Casey got a great job at Cornell, and Malvika resigned from NOVA and moved with him to Ithaca, where, after a lot of searching, she finally landed a decent position at a smaller school within commuting distance. That's the two-body problem in a nutshell.

So I named one of the characters in my story Dillman and made them both biologists, and ran the story past Malvika and Casey for their suggestions. When I had it polished to my satisfaction, I sent it to Mystery Weekly, which had already published two previous short-shorts of mine ("Bill Posters Will Be Prosecuted" and "Last Call at the Bar of Invariable Length"). Chuck and Kerry Carter are a pleasure to work with: they respond quickly, they pay practically instantly, and they get the stories into print surprisingly speedily. They accepted "The Two-Body Problem" within a week of receiving it and published it in their October 2019 issue. You can purchase a copy here, if you'd like to read the story, which author/critic Rob Lopresti selected on 10/14/19 as the best story he read that week, and which in May 2020 won the Short Mystery Fiction Society's Derringer Award in the Best Flash category -- my first-ever award! SMFS member Gerald So interviewed me about the story here.

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