Introducing 2014 Literary Debutante: Amelia Kahaney

BHOn May 22nd, at the 5th annual Literary Debutante Ball,One Story will be celebrating seven of our authors who have published their debut books this past year. As a lead up to the event, we will be introducing our Debs with a series of interviews about their debut books.

This week we’re discussing first books with Amelia Kahaney, whose YA novel The Brokenhearted was published by HarperTeen in October and called “an action-packed, adventure-laced debut” by Publishers Weekly. Amelia made her One Story debut back in 2007 with “Fire Season.”

The Brokenhearted is an engrossing novel with a solid core of noble heart. Anthem Fleet, ballerina-turned-vigilante is a heroine for the ages–one who defies the life that society has given her in order to be with, and then save, the one she loves. By the end of the book, Anthem has become even more than that, though, and is well on her way to becoming a symbol of rebellion for a society on the cusp of riotous change. “Go ahead and try” says author Adele Griffin “to predict the hairpin turns and steep reverses as you race through this sharply–conceived urban odyssey.”

Our thanks to Amelia Kahaney for speaking with us about first books, voice, and the image that inspired her to write The Brokenhearted.

The Brokenhearted is a story about a young ballerina vigilante in a quasi-dystopic society who is sort-of-accidentally given superpowers. The imagery is bizarre, gorgeous, and unique; what was the first image or idea that came to you and inspired The Brokenhearted? 

I knew I wanted to write a superhero story set in a city with a vast divide between rich and poor, and the Occupy movement popped up just when I most needed inspiration in building the world of the book. The original call to arms from Adbusters that sparked the first Occupy protest absolutely floored me in its emotional power, and I had it hanging above my desk for months as I wrote the first draft. occupyI love the juxtaposition of soft and hard, of art, commerce, and revolution. The fragile strength of the dancer on top of the brute aggression of the Wall Street bull, all surrounded by tear gas and masked protestors, epitomized the world as a place of good and evil, as a place that needs saving. The simplicity of the image (and of course the ballet component) worked with the aesthetic of the superhero story I was trying to build, and the girl on the bull guided me whenever I lost my way in the first draft.

You’ve written for both a YA and an adult audience. In The Brokenhearted and “Fire Season,” your One Story issue, you have the ability to balance two very distinctive voices. Is there a difference in your approach for each? 

A short story may start with a sledgehammer, but the drafting process always ends with the painstaking use of toothpick-sized tools to whittle it into the final product. In contrast, the novels I’ve been writing feel more like throwing plot grenades at the page and then sculpting the wreckage into shapes that make sense.

The challenge of creating movement on the page is the same for both, but short stories require more ruthlessness and economy, more precise emotional calibration, whereas the young adult novels I’ve been working on are looser in their form but demand a ton of action that all has to make emotional sense. The novels also have to be written quite quickly to meet the publisher’s deadlines. So my approach has been different for sure, and the voice in the Brokenhearted books has by necessity been a less interior, less idiosyncratic narration than I’ve ever used in a short story, as I’m more concerned in these books with finding a consistency of tone that allows me to nail the action and pacing.

Your story “Fire Season” was published as Issue #98 in One Story. What has happened in your life between the publication of “Fire Season” and the publication of The Brokenhearted? How did you celebrate when you found out that The Brokenhearted had been accepted for publication?

The Brokenhearted sold to HarperTeen on April 20, 2012 – the day of the One Story Debutante Ball. So after some screaming, calling my mom, hugging my husband and trying to explain to my then-four-year-old what had just happened, I floated down to the Invisible Dog and made merry. It seemed a great coincidence to be surrounded by my first literary champions on the day I was embraced by a set of new champions at Harper.

As far as what has happened between the two publications, I couldn’t really tell you. The highlight may have been having and raising a baby, who is now almost six years old. I also ghostwrote three tween novels, got and lost and got some jobs, visited Maine and Puerto Rico, learned to cook paella, and acquired crow’s feet. All the usual things have happened. On the writing front, the main thing that happened is I learned to write young adult novels and to manage the anxiety of deadlines.

The Brokenhearted has been optioned by New Line–what has that process been like for you? What are some of your hopes for The Brokenhearted as a movie? 

My only hope for the movie is that it actually gets made! The optioning process had nothing whatsoever to do with me, except that I received a lovely phone call with the news and then made a few even more lovely calls of my own to family members to share it with them. Not having anything to do with the film makes it that much more fun to think about – there’s absolutely nothing about it that I can screw up, which is such a relief.

I’m so excited to read The Invisible, the second and final book in the Brokenhearted series. When writing The Brokenhearted, did you already know how the story would end in The Invisible? Can you tell me more about the process of writing a series? 

I figured out around draft two of The Brokenhearted that I’d been unconsciously laying the groundwork for an enormous revelation in the second book that would change everything we thought we knew about the main character and her family. (Cue the ominous music here.) Knowing I was building toward this enormous twist, which is revealed in all its bonkers glory toward the end of the second book, was probably the thing that sustained me during the difficult marathon months of writing book two.

The process of writing a series, in my case at least, is that the first book developed reasonably slowly, but the second book had a hard delivery date assigned by the publisher, and that date was not terribly flexible. By the time I had my outline approved by my editor for book two, I only had eight months to get the book from outline to finished, copyedited manuscript. Subtract two months for the time the editor or proofreader had the manuscript, and we’re down to about six months of writing time. Subtract a month of procrastination, and now we are close to the truth, which is that I wrote and edited Book Two in five months, give or take a couple of weeks. At some point during the writing process, I had to just accept that this was the timeframe I had and that I could only do so much at the sentence level because I had to focus as much as possible on the action of the book making sense. The first book took maybe a year and a half all told, so for the second book, I shrunk my writing time to a third of what it had been.

It was a difficult six months that was eased somewhat when a friend sent me Death In The Fifth Position, a catty, hilarious whodunit about a string of murders in a ballet company that Gore Vidal wrote under the pseudonym Edgar Box. Vidal claimed to have written this absolute gem of a book in eight days, and he became my spirit guide while I finished The Invisible. I liked to imagine him laughing bitchily at me in the final weeks, telling me that I ought to have written three books for all the time it was taking me to finish this one.

What are you most looking forward to about the Literary Debutante Ball? (And will you be arriving in ballerina regalia, with or without a super-powered heart?) 

Like any debutante, I care about one thing above all else when I go to a ball: gossip. I look forward to schmoozing with the literary folks I only see a few times a year or on Twitter, and to hanging with my agent, my editor, and the formidable posse of glamour and glitz that is the Brooklyn College MFA alumni. With any luck, there will be literary mini-scandals and prognostications a-plenty to keep all of us entertained.

As for attire, I have the misfortune not to be built like a ballet dancer and so a tutu-esque ensemble of any kind is out of the question. I am considering a black floral headpiece to jazz things up. And thank you for giving me this opportunity to set the record straight: I never go anywhere without a super-powered heart.

Introducing 2014 Literary Debutante: David James Poissant

PoissantOn May 22nd, at the 5th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating seven of our authors who have published their debut books this past year. As a lead up to the event, we will be introducing our Debs with a series of interviews about their debut books.

This week we are chatting with David James Poissant, whose debut collection The Heaven of Animals was published by Simon and Schuster in March. Jamie made his One Story debut back in 2011 with “Refund”.

As Jamie’s issue editor for “Refund”, I am thrilled to now be able to introduce his collection to all of you. The Heaven of Animals is full of stories that linger long after you have closed the book and turned off the light. Many link thematically, parsing questions about love, redemption, forgiveness, and how we navigate the big moments, both tragic and absurd (often at the same time). As fellow One Story author, Lauren Groff, says of him: “David James Poissant is one of our finest young writers, with a taut and subtle prose style, a deep knowledge of craft, and a heart so vast it encompasses whole worlds.”

Many thanks to Jamie for taking time to speak with One Story about his collection.

Where were you when you found out The Heaven of Animals was going to be published and how did you celebrate?
It’s cliché to say I remember the day like it was yesterday, but I do, I remember the day like it was yesterday. It was a teaching day, a Thursday in September, 2012. I teach fiction writing at the University of Central Florida. That semester, I had two back-to-back undergraduate advanced fiction sections, and for that class we had read Kelcey Parker’s story collection For Sale by Owner. Kelcey Skyped into the first class to discuss the collection with us, which went really well. I had fifteen minutes before the next class, so I decided to check my email. And what I found was an email from my agent, Gail Hochman. The subject line read: YOWEE ZOWEE. The email read: Call me! Good news!

You don’t get an email like that from your agent every day, so I knew what it had to be (we’d been shopping the book around all year), but I didn’t want to let myself get excited. Cautious, I stepped into the hallway. There were students everywhere hustling from one class to another, so I found a quiet corner of the building by a window and called Gail. She gave me the good news, that Millicent Bennett of Simon & Schuster wanted to acquire not just the collection but also my novel in progress. I didn’t cry the way I thought I might every time I imagined getting this news, but I started shaking, as in trembling uncontrollably. I’d been working on the collection for eight years, and it seemed impossible that the dream had finally come true, and not just with any editor, but with Millicent, an editor I’d met at Bread Loaf that summer and with whom I’d felt a deep connection. I was quiet so long, Gail asked if I was okay. “I’m shaking,” I said, and I remember Gail saying, “Oh, honey, don’t shake.”

By the time I got off the phone, I was late for class, so late I didn’t even have time to call Marla, my wife. Gail had cautioned me not to tell anyone but Marla for the next day or two, just in case, just until we were sure that it was a done deal.

I’ve been told I have a terrible poker face, which, that day, proved true. I stepped into the classroom. I don’t know what kind of look was on my face, but all of my students stared at me. They appeared concerned. One asked whether I was sick or something, and I just blurted it out, that my books were going to be published, at which point there were cheers and hugs. “But you can’t say anything!” I said. Then we Skyped with Kelcey, all of us pretending that nothing had just happened.

Later, when I would tell Kelcey about this, she’d say, “What? I would have just cancelled everything and gotten a martini.”

I wanted to wait to tell Marla in person, but I couldn’t stand it, so, after class, I called and told her over the phone. She laughed and cried, then hugged me hard when I got home. The next night, once it was official, we went out to dinner with our daughters. In some ways, I feel like we’ve been celebrating ever since.

One of the things that I’ve always admired in your writing (and I remember this from the first time I read “Refund”) is your ability to throw in the surprising detail without derailing the momentum of the story – these unexpected moments often then become intrinsic to the narrative. I’m thinking of moments like finding the alligator in “Lizard Man” or when Lily takes off her arm in “Amputee”. How often do you surprise yourself? And by that I guess I mean are these moments always part of the plan or do you stumble on them in the course of writing?
I absolutely stumble upon them in the course of the writing. I’m big on the craft philosophy of “no surprise for the writer, no surprise for the reader.” When I’m writing, I seldom know the direction in which I’m headed. When I begin to feel the story drag, or when I just feel bored, I try to do something big, something startling. I didn’t know that the alligator would appear in “Lizard Man” until I wrote that scene. I didn’t know what Dan would find inside the shoebox at the end of the story until he opened it. I didn’t know that Lily was an amputee until she took off her arm. Writing, I like to surprise myself. The trick, later, in revision, is to make sense of the surprises, so that the surprises, when they happen—and here comes another craft mantra—feel surprising and inevitable.

Religion twists through many of your stories. From casual believers to doubters to fundamentalists to those who’ve run screaming away from it all. What is it about faith (or the lack of it) that interests you?
As a boy, I was brought up in the Southern Baptist Church. I’d like to say that this did some good things for me, but the experience was pretty damaging. I can’t speak to all Baptist churches, but the one in which I was raised espoused beliefs that promoted sexism, homophobia, and racism. In youth group, we were taught that the planet was only a few thousand years old. We were taught abstinence. Sex before marriage was a sin, etc. There was a huge emphasis on guilt and shame, on sin, particularly sexual sin, and on hell and what you had to do or say in order to be sure that wasn’t where you were headed. I can’t tell you the number of times, growing up, that I prayed and begged God not to send me to hell. It was, in short, a bad scene.

I went to college and stopped going to church, then fell in love with the daughter of a Methodist minister. This man didn’t talk about sin or hell. He smoked. He cursed occasionally. I went to church with the woman who would become my wife, and I saw that church, done right, could become a force for good, for social justice and helping those in need.

I still don’t call myself a Methodist and won’t until the Methodist church officially extends all rights and privileges to every member of the LGBTQ community, but my wife and I do attend a Methodist church in Orlando. I still believe in God, but I don’t believe in hell. My idea of God these days is God as Love. I’m not interested in any other kind of God.

So, all of that, in one way or another, probably informs everything that I write. I think that most Americans practice or used to practice one form of faith or another, or they at least believe in something, but this maybe doesn’t get written about as much as it could be in literary fiction. I’m happy to join that conversation in my fiction and nonfiction. I got to write about this a little in an op-ed for The New York Times last year. In response to the piece, I got hundreds of emails, which ran the gamut from people thanking me for my candor to people telling me I’m going to hell.

Currently, I’m at work on a novel that revisits Richard and Lisa, the characters at the center of “The Geometry of Despair,” one of the stories in The Heaven of Animals that deals directly with faith and faith communities. And, yes, that theme pops back up again in a big way.

Certain themes resonate throughout a number of the stories: death, loss and regret, the search for if not redemption, then forgiveness. At what point in writing did you realize you had a cohesive collection? And did you then keep parsing those same themes intentionally or are they simply where your interest was at the time?
I wish that I could say that I worked hard to shape a cohesive collection, but, really, it was a happy accident. For years, I just wrote stories, not worrying too much about whether they’d all find a home between the covers of the same book. In the end, it turned out that I’d been very much preoccupied with ideas of love and death, family and parenthood, and regret and atonement. Many of my stories surround a protagonist seeking to make amends for something he’s done and now regrets. Maybe because of my faith background, maybe because of my move from a philosophy of life preoccupied with shame and punishment toward a philosophy that celebrates forgiveness and redemption, I keep returning to these themes. I’m interested in empathy and in love. I want my readers to feel for my characters, to empathize with them, even if they’d struggle to extend empathy to such people in real life.

Speaking of those themes, you get pretty dark at times. I know you’re also a dad to two lovely and hilarious little girls. How do you find balance and do you ever struggle with bringing your work home?
Usually, I can turn it off. When I’m writing, I’m writing. When I’m teaching, I’m teaching. When I’m with my family, I’m with my family. But there are times my wife will catch me. I’ll be moody or distant, “there but not there,” you know? I’ll be stuck in the novel. But, then, one of my daughters will hug me or tell me a joke, and, when that happens, it’s hard to stay stuck for long.

What are you most looking forward to at the One Story Debutant Ball on May 22nd?
I’m very much looking forward to meeting the other debs, and to meeting Colum McCann, whose work I’ve admired for a long time. But, maybe most of all, I’m looking forward to seeing my agent and editor again. Because I live in Florida and they live in New York, I’ve met each one only once. My agent and I met and talked for about ten minutes at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference in 2006. My editor and I met and talked for a few hours at the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference in 2012. All of our other interactions have been over email or over the phone. Which is weird to think about. These two women who have changed my life and to whom I owe so much, and I’ve hardly spent any time with them. If it weren’t for Facebook, I wouldn’t even remember what they look like! I’m definitely looking forward to celebrating with them, to raising a glass, to thanking them in person for all they’ve done for me and for my family.

Introducing 2014 Literary Debutante: Ben Stroud

byzantiumOn May 22nd, at the 5th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating seven of our authors who have published their debut books this past year. As a lead up to the event, we will be introducing our Debs with a series of interviews about their debut books.

We’re kicking off the interviews with Ben Stroud, whose first story collection, Byzantium, won the 2013 Story Prize Spotlight Award, as well as the Bread Loaf Writers’ Conference Bakeless Fiction Prize, and was published by Graywolf Press. Stroud published his story “Eraser” with One Story in 2009.

In Byzantium historical re-imaginings twist together with contemporary stories to reveal startling truths about human nature across the centuries. In the Byzantine court, a noble with a crippled hand is called upon to ensure that a holy man poses no threat to the throne. On an island in Lake Michigan, a religious community crumbles after an ardent convert digs a little too deep. And the detective Jackson Hieronymus Burke rises to fame and falls from favor in two stories that recount his origins in Havana and the height of his success in Kaiser Wilhelm’s Germany. Byzantium was named a Best Summer Book of 2013 by Publishers Weekly, the Chicago Tribune, and the St. Louis Post-Dispatch. NPR’s Alan Cheuse had this to say: “Talk about a debut, the title story in Ben Stroud’s Byzantium, is not only the best in the book, it’s the best story by a new writer I’ve read in years.”

Our thanks to Ben for taking the time to chat with One Story about finding his voice, historical fiction and what it’s been like to publish his first book.

1. Where were you when you found out Byzantium had been accepted for publication, and what was the first thing you did? Or if the first thing you did was too weird, how did you celebrate?

It was April, 2012 when I found out. I think I was napping. (Napping, by the way, can be critical to the writing process, I think.) I remember my wife brought me the phone and I was annoyed, thinking anybody calling would be bad news. But it was Michael Collier telling me I’d won the Bakeless.

I don’t remember doing anything specific to celebrate. Just sitting around, being excited, then getting back to work on the next thing. Though I may have used the publication as an excuse to eat out someplace fancy.

2. Many of the stories in Byzantium are historical. What is it that motivates you to write about a certain historical moments or characters? And when it comes to those stories that are both historical and in the first-person, what informs the way you write that particular voice?

It begins with a certain fascination. I somehow find myself caught by a moment and want to dig in. So, “Byzantium” came up through a mix of reading Gibbon and Yeats and also Flaubert’s “Herodias” (which takes on a very different time period). Then I dug some more, moving from a sort of romantic vision of the Byzantine Empire to specific moment–searching for the right one. And sometimes the stories come in a chain. I was researching another project (one that never came together) when I came across the figure of Gail Borden and decided I wanted to write about him. Then while researching “Borden’s Meat Biscuit” I was researching Havana–I needed a street name–and came across a story about something that happened in Havana. I knew I wanted to write about that something, but didn’t know how–and this resulted in “The Don’s Cinnamon.” (That “something,” which I’m being cryptic about here, is the solution to Burke’s case.) And then “The Don’s Cinnamon” led to “The Moor.” So, sometimes these chains develop.

When it comes to voice–I like using the first person because it gives immediacy. I want to pull the reader into the moment, and first person is the most direct way. But I also like it because it imposes limitations. I don’t want my fiction to get bogged down in researched detail–a danger for historical fiction. The story needs to be about the story. So the first person provides that needed limit–I can’t have the characters say something they wouldn’t actually say. They can’t go off on paragraphs of context.

The voice itself usually comes from reading period writings and also, simply, thinking about who this character is. It’s easy to get caught into antiquated ideas of speech–all 19th century people sound like X. But often those notions of speech are rooted in cliche. Focusing on the individual is key here–who he or she is, what he or she would say.

3. Gail Borden’s struggles in ‘Borden’s Meat Biscuit’ are, first of all, hilarious. I think in any century a ‘meat biscuit’ would be unappetizing. But one of the central tensions in the story — whether what he makes next will be genius — might be familiar emotional territory for a writer. Did you find that some of what you imagine Borden was going through resonated with you?

What? Failure? Humiliation? Failing the ones you love? Oh, I don’t know anything about that. Ha ha. You know, to be honest, I’m not sure if I made such a direct connection between my own experience and Borden’s when I was writing the story. (That was years ago, though–2006-2007.) I came across Borden–he’s a real guy–and found his life so interesting I had to right about it. And yet, what you’re saying is right here–there’s a reason his story resonates. It’s what we go through as writers–always the next project, that’s the one that’s going to succeed, that’s the one that’s going to bring happiness. And it’s that last bit that’s so tough. That next project will succeed. But will it bring happiness? Doubtful.

And to say that’s a problem just for writers is, of course, myopic. It’s a problem for humans.

By the way, Borden does find success. He goes on to invent condensed milk (he’s that Borden) and becomes quite wealthy. But that didn’t have a place in the story.

4. ‘The Moor’ has a unique narration — it almost reads like a dossier. But at the very end of your story, your narrator acknowledges his own biases with regard to exactly what happened to Hieronymus Burke: “as long as we don’t know his end, why not grant him this last happiness?” What’s wonderful about that moment is that of course the narrator can’t actually grant the man himself anything — but do you have that impulse yourself as a writer?

For me, that ending turned out to be as much about the project of historical fiction–at least, as practiced in these stories–as it is about the character of Burke. (It was my editor at Graywolf, Steve Woodward, who helped me see this.) That is, why was I doing this? Why write these stories? Not to portray history. If you want straight-up history, then read historians. Writing fiction that deals with history requires invention, taking liberties. So in some ways this thinking about Burke was a way to own that rather than be nervous about it. To own the invention and realize that the invention is the point.

5. What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Deb Ball?

I’m not sure yet. This will be my first Deb Ball of any sort. But I am looking forward to meeting my fellow debutantes. (Or, in the case of Celeste Ng, re-meeting–we crossed paths at Michigan, though she likely remembers me only as the person who let his coat-laden chair fall on her legs in the Hopwood Room while he looked on helplessly and awkwardly.) Also looking forward to meeting more people from One Story–you guys do wonderful work. We need more like you.

Issue #190: Owl by Emily Ruskovich

190-coverWhen it comes to jealousy, Shakespeare probably said it best: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Just like poor tragic Othello, nothing settles into our souls or breaks us apart more completely than doubt, an emotion that takes center stage in the lyrical and gripping new issue of One Story, “Owl.” Set near Bonners Ferry at the turn of the last century, Emily Ruskovich’s “Owl” is a mystery wrapped in a love triangle wrapped in an historical thriller. A husband cares for his wife, shot in a hunting accident by a group of local boys. But lingering in the air is a puzzle he cannot solve—what was she doing in the woods that night? No matter how he tries, he can’t shake his feelings of suspicion, until they lead to a hunt of his own, and a confrontation that reveals a long-held secret. Be sure to read Emily Ruskovich’s Q&A with us, which explores the connection between her story and Peter Pan—as well as how she developed the distinctive voice for this unforgettable narrator. And next time the green-eyed monster starts to haunt you, remember: Iago may have whispered those famous words to Othello, but it was Othello who clung to them and let them eat away at his heart.

Gratitude for AWP and the Best Small Press Award

Our prize! We got to give an acceptance speech and everything!

Our prize! We got to give an acceptance speech and everything!

In our first year of publishing One Story, Hannah Tinti and I decided to take our first few issues of One Story to the AWP Conference in Baltimore. We took a standing lamp with the One Story logo stenciled on the lampshade and a few back issues, and drove to the conference in my very old car. In a small hotel ballroom, we met writers, readers, our publishing peers, and the amazing folks at CLMP who help lit mags like us do everything better.

We attended the conference every year after that and each time we did we felt refreshed about the state of publishing, enthusiastic about our wild idea of letting just one short story stand on its own, and proud of how much we do on a shoestring budget. Last week in Seattle, over 10 years after that first AWP, we were honored with the Best Small Press Award. We are so grateful for AWP for recognizing the work that we do, and for the work they do in bringing writers, writing programs, and publishers together.

We’re a small staff of mostly volunteers so recognition like this means a lot to us. So, thank you to everyone who has supported us over the years, from those of you who just stopped by the booth at AWP to share some writing advice and chat, to our subscribers, to our readers, writers, and supporters. And of course thanks to our fellow nominees, The Cincinnati Review and Creative Nonfiction, and all of the other small publishers and presses for continuing on the journey with us.

We’ll see you all next year in Minneapolis!


Announcing One Story’s 2014 Mentor of the Year: Colum McCann!

columMcCannOne Story is thrilled to announce our 2014 Mentor of the Year: Colum McCann.

At One Story, we believe that being a part of the literary community should include helping others. In that vein, each year at our Literary Debutante Ball we honor one established author with a “Mentor of the Year” award for their extraordinary support of fellow writers. Past honorees have included Ann Patchett, Dani Shapiro, and Dan Chaon.

Mentoring is the kind of work that happens behind the scenes, but is vital to keep the literary world alive and kicking. It comes in all forms—from teaching, to blurbs, to recommendation letters, to late-night reads, agent advice, one-on-one conferences, career guidance and inspiration. Behind each book on the shelf is an unseen mentor, giving an author the help they need to make their work better, to keep writing when they are ready to quit, and eventually give them a boost over the publishing wall.

Colum McCann exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring him, along with our Literary Debutantes, on May 22nd, 2014 at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn.  Tickets for the Ball will go on sale on April 10th.

Colum McCann was born in Ireland in 1965. He is the author of two collections of stories and six novels, including Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic. He has been the recipient of many international honors, including the National Book Award, the International Dublin Impac Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish arts academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an Oscar nomination. His work has been published in over 35 languages. He lives in New York with his wife, Allison, and their three children. He teaches at the MFA program in Hunter College.

Issue #189: Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead

189-coverI am not a ballerina. I’ve never had that kind of grace. But I love going to see dancers perform. They have a different kind of relationship with their bodies than the rest of us—a harmony of mind and muscle, spirit and bone. But what happens off-stage, when the tights are off? In our new issue, “Astonish Me,” talented author Maggie Shipstead holds back the curtain to see. Loosely inspired by dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov’s dramatic defection from the Soviet Union in 1974, “Astonish Me” explores the high cost of love and freedom in the beautiful and cut-throat world of professional ballet. Be sure to read Maggie Shipstead’s Q&A with us to find out more about the inspiration behind this extraordinary story, which details the sacrifices, both emotional and physical, that dancers make in search of perfection. Like any athlete, ballerinas push themselves to the edge, then retire before they’ve hit middle-age—when other professionals (particularly writers) are just hitting their stride. So the next time you see a performance of The Nutcracker, be sure to clap extra hard for those snowflakes in the chorus. With each pirouette they are giving their all, even as their moment in the spotlight melts away.

Announcing the 2014 One Story Literary Debutantes!

One Story is thrilled to announce our 2014 Literary Debutantes:


• Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans

• Rachel Cantor, A Highly Unlikely Scenario

• Amelia Kahaney, The Brokenhearted

• Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

• David James Poissant, The Heaven of Animals

• James Scott, The Kept

• Ben Stroud, Byzantium

SAVE THE DATE and raise a glass as we toast these seven One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year. The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Thursday, May 22nd at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY and include music, dancing, food, and specialty cocktails. It is our most important fundraising event of the year. It is also a lot of fun. Sponsorship Tickets will be on sale April 1st. Individual Tickets will be on sale April 10th. To discuss sponsorship opportunities for the One Story Literary Debutante Ball please contact

One Story’s first online course: Become Your Own Best Editor

Editing an English language documentIn the summer of 1996, a few months after I finished my MFA at Ohio State, I got the luckiest break of my writing career: I landed an editorial job at Story, the fabled literary magazine that prided itself on discovering great new writers, from J. D. Salinger and Carson McCullers in the 1930s and 1940s to Junot Díaz and our own Hannah Tinti in the 1990s.

I say it was the luckiest break of my career because even though I’d been writing fiction for eight years, editing stories taught me how to write them much better. My job at Story also gave me insight into what I could expect when the day came that I’d be working with an editor myself.

In putting together One Story’s first online course, Become Your Own Best Editor, I thought a behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process—using actual marked-up manuscripts—would be as instructive for other writers as it was for me. And I had the perfect story in mind: Laura Spence-Ash’s debut, “The Remains” (issue #188). Laura was great to work with, a writer who was open to feedback and who improved upon our suggestions, making her story even better than we envisioned.

In addition to drafts of “The Remains,” the ten-day course (March 21-30) will include daily online lectures, assignments, and a message board where you can share ideas and manuscripts with other writers who are committed to becoming better editors of their own work. To find out more about this course, go here. Deadline to sign up is March 21st. I hope you’ll join us!

Issue #188: The Remains
by Laura Spence-Ash

188-coverOne Story works hard to support emerging writers, so it is a special thrill to present a debut author in our pages: Laura Spence-Ash! Contributing editor Will Allison will do the proper introductions for this unique and moving story. For now, let’s all raise a glass to a promising new writer, and the start of a successful career. —HT

In our latest issue, we’re excited to present Laura Spence-Ash’s first published story, “The Remains.” I’m a sucker for mystery, and this story had me from the start: “Sergeant Bill Marshall was the one who found her white bones in a fetal position, nestled inside a tweed coat and a red woolen hat.” The “her” in question is Sophie Constantine, who, we learn, lived a quiet, solitary life in a bustling Queens neighborhood. The cause of Sophie’s death is revealed soon enough, but “The Remains” is more concerned with the bigger question of who she was. Spence-Ash tells the story in five sections, each from the perspective of a different character who knew Sophie or was in some way touched by her death: the police officer who found her skeleton, her next-door neighbor, her tailor’s daughter, her former boss, and her ex-husband. Over the course of these five mini-stories, a nuanced and moving mosaic of Sophie emerges. It’s a story about death, yes, but it’s more a story about life: how we exist, beyond the grave, in memory, and how our lives affect the lives of others, often in ways we’ll never know. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Laura Spence-Ash to learn about the real-world inspiration behind her debut story, how long it took her to write it (my fellow slow writers, you will be comforted), and more.