Issue #222: The Quality of Your Life by Min Jin Lee

222_coverWhen we’re young, we tend to be idealistic. Everything is new and exciting—especially when it comes to love. A heart that has never been broken before is easier to give away. We do it without knowing the danger. We offer it with both hands. This kind of blind, joyous affection is beautifully captured in our new issue, Min Jin Lee’s “The Quality of Your Life.” Set in Korea in 1932, the story follows Sunja, a girl on the cusp of womanhood. Her days are filled with hard work and shopping at the daily market for the boarding house run by her mother. And then, in an instant, everything changes. Sunja crosses paths with an older man named Hansu, who travels for business between Korea and Japan. Soon the blossoming relationship between these two characters becomes as complicated and fraught as the relationship between those two nations. Sunja struggles to maintain her identity, just as her fellow Koreans work against the historical ties that bind them to Japan. This theme continues in Min Jin Lee’s forthcoming novel, Pachinko. Find out more in our Q&A, and then continue on Sunja’s epic journey, where she never gives up fighting for the people she loves.

Exciting One Story News
from Hannah Tinti

os200xDear One Story Friends & Family:

For the past fourteen years, it’s been my privilege and honor to be the Co-Founder and Editor in Chief of One Story. It’s hard to believe how far we’ve come—from the brilliant idea Maribeth Batcha came up with and then shared with me in 2001, to a zine the two of us cranked out of our apartments, to eventually evolving into the award-winning magazine and non-profit organization we are today. One Story started as a labor of love, but with a lot of hard work and a bit of pixie-dust, we’ve become a permanent fixture in the literary landscape, with over 15,000 readers, an expanding educational wing and a sister magazine, One Teen Story, to inspire the next generation of readers and writers.

I’m so grateful to the authors who have trusted us with their words, to the volunteers and members of our staff (past & present) who have helped us grow, and to the amazing members and subscribers who have supported us so enthusiastically, in person and online. You’ve all helped One Story expand our horizons and kept us moving forward. Although the future can sometimes be intimidating, we continue to believe that reading and writing stories is a vitally important experience, to better understand the world around us as well as our own interior lives. Maribeth and I are dedicated to One Story and what it stands for. We also know it’s a good idea to shake things up every once in a while, in order to see what else we’re capable of, and find new ways to thrive.

In the spirit of that kind of change I have some exciting news to share: In 2017, I’ll be publishing a new novel, one that I’ve been working on for the past six years. In order to properly launch this book into the world, I’ll be taking a sabbatical from some of my duties at One Story. I’ll no longer be running the day-to-day operations of the magazine, but I’ll remain on the board, and continue to be active in areas of content and education. Starting on Dec. 1st my new title will be Executive Editor.

Taking over the helm as Editor in Chief will be author and editor Patrick Ryan. Maribeth and I are extremely excited to be expanding Patrick’s role in our organization, as he’s become a vital part of One Story’s community, coming to us first as an author (we published his story, “So Much For Artemis” back in 2005), and later as an editor, when he joined our staff from Granta to become a contributing editor for One Story and Editor in Chief of One Teen Story. I’m confident that One Story is going to be in very good hands, and I hope that you’ll all enjoy getting to know Patrick more and welcome him as he takes this step forward.

One of the questions I’ve been asked the most over the past fourteen years is how I balance editing with my own writing. The truth is simple: I’ve been able to pursue my creative projects because of our amazingly talented staff at One Story. I couldn’t take this sabbatical without their full support. So before I temporarily bow out, I’d like to express my sincere gratitude to Maribeth Batcha for helping me find a way to take this much-needed break. She is both the brains and the beating heart of the magazine, the best partner-in-crime I could ever hope for, and she will continue to brilliantly direct all things One Story while I’m on the road. I’d also like to thank our board, supporters, volunteers and interns, as well as Devin Emke, Lena Valencia, Will Allison, Karen Friedman and Ann Napolitano for lending their super-smart and capable hands, and especially Patrick Ryan for agreeing to take the editorial chair. I know he’s going to bring the magazine (and all of us) to some fantastic and exciting new places.

You’ll be hearing from Patrick and Maribeth over the next few days about their plans for the coming year. In the meantime, I hope you’ll wish me luck, and save me a dance at the 2017 debutante ball!

Cheers,

Hannah Tinti

 

Changes at One Teen Story

One Teen Story is changing! Read on for a note from Maribeth Batcha, our Executive Director, with the details:

OTS

Dear Friend,

Every four years at One Story we take some time to think about our programs and publications and plan for their future. It’s like the presidential election season, but with friendlier debates and fewer yard signs.

The last time we completed this process, in 2012, we launched One Teen Story. Since then, this little publication has published stories by both teen and adult writers side by side. We’re so proud of both, and have been honored to work with so many writers of all ages.

But these teens we’ve published are AMAZING. We’ve seen how much this success means to them, and have come to understand how few venues they have for publishing work that both adults and teens read. We have therefore decided to make One Teen Story a magazine that only publishes teen writing.

Starting in 2017, all issues of One Teen Story will be written by authors between the ages of 13 and 19. To find these stories we will run a teen writing contest from January to April 2017. We hope you will spread the word far and wide.

To allow these teens a longer time in the spotlight, the magazine will go from monthly to quarterly. And to give them the widest audience possible, One Teen Story will be sent to all One Story subscribers as well as to One Teen Story subscribers. This means that nearly 15,000 readers will read each and every story, and that One Story readers will be introduced to the amazing work being done by the next generation of short story writers.

One Teen Story will continue publishing adult writers through the end of this calendar year. Subscribers will be able to keep their One Teen Story subscription or switch over to receive One Story as well. We’ll be sending a letter out in the next few weeks that will explain all of the options.

We have, as of today, closed submissions of One Teen Story to writers above the age of 19. If you have a submission in our system, know that it is being read and considered for one of our final issues of 2016.

We hope that you are as excited about these changes as we are. And, if you are a teacher or someone who works with teen writers, please send an email to me directly and I’ll add you to our list of people to alert about submissions and our contest.

We’ll have more news about the change as we get closer to January 1st, but until then, thanks for all your support!

Maribeth Batcha
Executive Director

Issue #221: Staff Picks
by George Singleton

221_coverOur new issue, George Singleton’s “Staff Picks,” centers around an RV and all the dreams that motor homes represent–the possibility of changing your life, hitting the open road, seeing the world, while at the same time keeping creature comforts close. I fell for Staff, the librarian hero of this tall tale, and cheered as she attempts to break free from her job and her broken heart. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this unpredictable love story to our pages, so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him. Enjoy!-HT

There’s an old show business saying: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” You could argue that this is even more true in literary fiction, where characters die all the time, but precious few stories offer much in the way of laughs. If you feel the same, then the story in our new issue, George Singleton’s “Staff Picks,” is for you.

Like many of Singleton’s stories, the premise of “Staff Picks” sounds like the setup for an elaborate and possibly off-color joke: What happens when a South Carolina woman with “resting bitch face” takes on eighteen locals in a hands-on endurance competition to win an RV?

Rest assured, the resulting story is funny. But as with all of Singleton’s work, it’s no joke. The author’s favorite bit of writing advice? Comedy is serious. “On the page,” he says in our author interview, “it’s not slapstick. It’s what Aristotle pointed to when he wrote about catharsis, and what Mr. Beckett meant when he espoused how there’s nothing funnier than human misery.”

In “Staff Picks,” the human misery begins with Staff Puckett, who, through no fault of her own, has the sort of deadpan visage that makes it look like she wants to vaporize you. Suffocating in her small-town life as a library archivist, Staff sees a possible escape in the brand-new Winnebago being offered as a prize to whichever contestant can remain in physical contact with the vehicle the longest.

What Staff doesn’t bargain for is fellow contestant Landry Harmon, a doughy, chatty, low-level pro bowler with whom she has more in common than she knows. Throw in a swindling jeweler, an insecure poker player, some goofy radio deejays, the periodic table of elements, British fine china, and a lightning storm, and you have the makings of a classic George Singleton tale that we’re tickled to present in the pages of One Story.

Four Distinguished Stories in Best American Short Stories 2016

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We’re very excited to announce that Best American Stories 2016 named four One Story stories in their “Distinguished Stories” section. You can read interviews with the authors and excerpts from the stories on our website:

One Story issue #204: “The Pole of Cold” by Erika Krouse

One Story issue #207: “Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick

One Story issue #211: “The Elephant’s Foot” by Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes

One Story issue #212: “When in the Dordogne” by Lily King

Congrats to Lydia Fitzpatrick, Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes, Erika Krouse, and Lily King!

Issue #220: Where the Bees Are Going by Andy Holt

220_coverI always get excited when I see a writer trying something unexpected on the page. Well, get ready folks–this new story if FULL of surprises. Tying the collapse of bee colonies to the loneliness of those pushed to the edges of society, “Where the Bees Are Going” by Andy Holt will make you buzzzzzzz with excitement. Since Karen Friedman took this story through its editorial paces, I’m passing the introduction reins into her hands. In the meantime, enjoy! And pass the honey. –HT

In my early 20s, I moved to New York without a job and with very little savings. My roommate, an aspiring actress and high school friend, found us a cheap one-bedroom in Fort Greene. She was my only friend in Brooklyn, which seemed fine at first – there were drinks with producers and various “industry” people to fill the hours and I was always invited along. Then she left for a month to try pilot season in L.A. Without my friend, there were no nights out. I was trying to temp, but work was slow, so I spent three weeks alone in our apartment trying and failing to write. I lived on cereal. I read. I watched our 5 channels of network television. I listened to “Blood on the Tracks” so many times I can still sing the entire album from memory. I wished I’d never left home. Mostly, though, I waited for something to change.

Almost 20 years later that feeling of overwhelming inertia, the sense of being powerless to move beyond my circumstances, came back to me as I read “Where the Bees Are Going” by Andy Holt. Through the unexpected and captivating voice of bees, Andy explores the nature of loneliness and how we survive it.

Far from mindless drones buzzing around the backyard, the insects narrating his story are survivors of collapsed hives. They long for the homes they’ve left behind, navigating what it means to be thrust out into a world where the very basis of their survival, the hive, no longer exists. In their desperation, the bees attempt to create a home. This time one based not on conformity and duty, but rather shared need. Along the way, they learn from a species all too familiar with what it means to struggle in loneliness: our own. The bees find that their survival depends on a measure of grace, sacrifice, and compassion. I hope this story captures your heart and imagination the way it captured ours. After you read it, check out our online Q&A for more on how Andy created this memorable story.

And if like me, a latent bee obsession gets reignited, take a peek at this incredible art installation in London where you can step inside a gigantic metal hive and feel a bit of what it’s like to actually be a bee.

Issue #219: Switzerland
by Ann Patchett

219_coverI have been a fan of Ann Patchett’s writing since I first read The Magician’s Assistant. Along with her legions of fans, I have awaited each new book of hers with great joy and expectation, and it gives me ENORMOUS pleasure to have the chance to run a piece of fiction by Ann in our pages. This heartwarming tale of a mother and daughter re-connecting at a Zen Retreat moved me to tears. I know that you will all enjoy it, and I hope that you will also read Ann’s new book, Commonwealth. Contributing Editor Patrick Ryan brought this lovely tale to our shores, so I am turning the official introduction reins into his talented and capable hands. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Ann, where she talks about meditation, acceptance, and how to dial up the volume of pages when she’s writing.-HT


“Switzerland” is a story about a mother visiting a daughter who’s gone off to live at a Zen Study Center halfway around the world. It’s about a retiree diving deep into meditation for the first time in her life. And it’s about a parent reaching for her children long after both life and death have stepped in the way.

Whenever I read Ann Patchett, I discover something new about what great writing can do. More importantly, I discover something new about living. Joy, grief, regret, forgiveness, a grappling with the past and a hesitant embrace of the present—they’re all here.

We’re thrilled to be presenting you with this new story by Ann Patchett. Take a deep breath, clear your thoughts, and open your mind to the beauty of “Switzerland.”

One Story Workshop Day 5: Magnet Boards & Family Dinners

Dear Readers: Over this past week, One Story hosted our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally have been chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Our final write up is by Coryna Ogunseitan. Thanks, ladies, for writing up these great posts!–HT

One Story staff poses on the final night

One Story staff poses on the final night

After hours and hours of writing, reading, listening, and learning, One Story’s Summer Workshop has come to an end. The last day of the week began as usual; students were now familiar with the routine, and those who got to the Canteen early snacked and chatted with familiar friendliness. Most were thinking about the reading to take place later that evening, discussing what work they might share and different reading techniques. Students whose pieces were yet to be discussed were eager finally to showcase their writing in the morning’s workshops with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison.

After lunch, everyone gathered for Ann Napolitano’s craft lecture, which she referred to as “more of a TED Talk”. If what she meant by “like a TED Talk” was that her lecture would be more than inspiring, the comparison was spot on: Ann told workshop students about techniques by which they could process the world in order to become better writers. She advised everyone to pay attention to their internal “calibrated magnet” – inside each and every one of us is a particular set of traits or experiences that make us attracted to certain subjects or ideas. There are the best things to write about, the things that stick. Ann gave examples that ranged from the noble (like motherhood, the paramount theme in Anna Solomon’s reading Thursday night) to the grotesque (Ann once met a writer who was obsessed by newspaper articles about dead babies). She stressed that everyone who intends to write should be deeply familiar with what sticks to her magnet board, explaining that it is easy for mainstream tastes to overwhelm individual tastes when we let pop culture dominate most of our thoughts.

To illustrate each individual’s unique perspective, Ann revisited photographs she had asked students to take of “something that catches your eye”. There were sunsets, dead birds, funny notes, and dogs. She then asked everyone to write a sentence about each of five photos. When everyone read aloud, it became even clearer how particular each writer’s tastes were: while some described the image they saw in front of them, others cracked jokes and still others introduced first-person narrators. Ann emphasized that what sets a writer apart is not only what she sees in the world, but how she sees it.

After the lecture and exercise, students took a break for the afternoon. Many went to practice for the fast-approaching reading, and joked about how many glasses of wine a writer should have before getting on stage. It hardly seemed that any time had passed when writers returned, dressed up with heels and well-practiced stories, ready to culminate the effort and learning of the week.

Although many readers confessed to being anxious, no one’s nerves were obvious: everyone read smoothly and confidently from a selection of work as varied as the group itself. A vasectomy, turduckens, and being home alone were among the many rich subjects addressed. Workshop students received their fellow writers’ work, some serious, some humorous, with laughter and enthusiasm.

Once the reading had ended, the relieved students settled into their seats around the giant table set for 29 people, and, over a delicious dinner made by Runner & Stone, talked about the highlights of their weeks. As the evening winded down, everyone exchanged phone numbers, eager to keep in touch with other writers whose vision and criticism participants had appreciated. We ended the night with laughter and song, after Hannah announced that we were all now part of the One Story family.

One Story Workshop Day 4: Take a Moment to Celebrate

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Michelle Hu and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT

Anna.Cat

Even Community Bookstore’s resident cat is entranced by Anna Solomon’s new novel, LEAVING LUCY PEAR

Today at the Summer Workshop, writers powered through their fourth day, packed with morning workshops taught by Will Allison and Patrick Ryan, Hannah Tinti’s lecture on getting “Out of the Slushpile” and attending Anna Solomon’s launch of her newest book, Leaving Lucy Pear at Brooklyn’s own Community Bookstore.

Although “Out of the Slush Pile” suggests a more pragmatic lesson than an inspiring one, Hannah continued the pattern of lectures this week by reminding us all that writing is hard loving and loving hard. She asked the audience to try as best as they can to separate the writing process from the publication process. The room filled with a gentle silence as they were told that “not being published doesn’t mean you’re not a writer.” Writing is about the heartbeat, about authenticity. Publication is a business hat, one you wear when the sun gets too hot.

Hannah then began her talk, quickly breaking up the process into three digestible parts: preparing your work, compiling a list of places to send, and hearing back.

PREPARATION: The formalities of hard and digital submissions were laid out in specific details from fonts (Patrick’s favorite is Garamond) to email follow ups. A specific pet peeve, one shared by many editors, is page numbering (always number the pages).

SENDING (short stories to magazine): Hannah sited Best American Short Stories, The O’ Henry Prize Stories, and the Pushcart Prize anthologies as great ways of finding which publications are gaining attention. In general when submitting, one should consider the magazine’s reputation and circulation. It’s also nice to be paid.

SENDING (manuscripts to agents): When looking to query literary agents, Hannah cautioned writers to do their research. As explained at the Agents Panel on Tuesday night, the writer/ agent relationship is a more delicate one determined by compatibility between persons and ideas. Agents’ qualifications are not determined by who they are but the people they know and the books they represent. It is important to be more selective in how many you submit to at once (preferably less than 5), and the specificity of your address to them, noting any familiarity with their work or other points of connection.

HEARING BACK: After breaking down submissions and providing tips for cover letters, Hannah talked to the group about acceptance and rejection. Through example letters, writers reviewed the different tiers of rejection and learned their varying significance. A rejection is not a hard No. The coded hints (the inclusion of their name, a story title, or a personal note) help writers better understand the spectrum between yes and no. “The editors are having a conversation with you,” Hannah said. By being able to decipher their cues, writers can begin to talk back.

Later on in the evening, writers reconvened a few blocks away, at the Community Bookstore for Anna Solomon’s launch of her new novel, Leaving Lucy Pear. The bookstore’s cat purred and listened intently as Anna began reading from the opening chapter, describing a young woman, Bea, leaving her baby in a pear field, then watching behind a stone wall as another woman, Emma, picked up the baby and adopted her as her own. During the Q & A, moderated by Hannah, Anna not only talked about her revision and writing process, but talked candidly about her ideas of motherhood, growing up Jewish, and her hometown of Gloucester, Massachusetts.

During the event, as we listened to and celebrated with Anna Solomon, understanding all the labor and the love she put into creating Leaving Lucy Pear, we were reminded of what Hannah said about acceptances in her afternoon lecture. “When one comes your way, stop and celebrate.” Acceptances are rare, and sometimes, their importance isn’t easily understood by family or friends. “So take a moment,” Hannah said, “and feel exactly what you feel. Raise a glass with some fellow writers. They are the ones who will truly understand how hard you worked to make this happen.”

One Story Workshop Day 3: Find the Action in Your Story

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 7th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Michelle, Jess, Coryna and Kally will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write up is by Kally Patz and Coryna Ogunseitan. Enjoy!–HT

Victor

Victor LaValle talks about ACTION!

Alice Munro and the Brothers Grimm may not appear to have much in common. Aside from, of course, their enormous talent, the writers are stylistically very different. But today, they were two of four celebrated authors on the syllabus for Victor LaValle’s Craft Lecture. After students finished two hours of rigorous workshopping with Patrick Ryan and Will Allison, and enjoyed a delicious lunch prepared by Runner & Stone, we all gathered in the Canteen to take a closer look at ACTION & PLOT.

LaValle began by drawing our attention to a key element of storytelling that, despite its simplicity, is overlooked by many literary writers: present, physical action. He said that when he was an MFA candidate at Columbia, no one ever asked the basic question, “Are your characters doing anything?”

One Story workshop students then read aloud, popcorn-style, three of the stories LaValle had assigned and broke them down according to action, like a comic strip. For each new action, LaValle drew a new box, inside of which he wrote no more than two or three words. (For example, “Mike walks,” or “Mike gets lost.”) The exercise helped the students visualize each story, as they might a movie script, highlighting action as something concrete, progressing step by step. LaValle encouraged breaking down our own stories–and the stories of authors we love–in this same way, to see how the physical action relates to the overall meaning of the piece.

According to LaValle, what was important was that readers and writers alike were able to see why each action was “justified.” He cited a beautiful moment in Alice Munro’s story, “The Bear Came Over the Mountain,” when the protagonist, suffering from dementia, is leaving her home to move into an assisted-living facility, and erases the mark a “cheap black house shoe” left on the floor. Not only is she permanently leaving the home in which she lived most of her adult life; she is erasing what LaValle called “the last trace of herself.” Workshop students left the class talking about the Munro story, many intending to reread it at home looking for intentional, meaningful action.

Some One Story workshop students snuck off to nap—we mean write!—but most stuck around to hear Hannah Tinti and Ann Napolitano’s advice on giving a good public reading, in preparation for open mic on Friday. Students took notes as Hannah and Ann shared tips on getting over the jitters, then tried out their new skills with a classic author used by orators young and old: Dr. Seuss. We were feeling inspired and composed this short tribute in preparation for the evening’s Book Editor Panel:

Big press
Small press
Old press
New press.
This one has a bestseller.
This one treats new authors better.
Say! What a lot
Of editors there are.

Indeed, there were a lot of book editors in the Can Factory last night. The panel, moderated by One Story’s Managing Editor Lena Valencia, included Sarah Bowlin from Henry Holt, Brinda Ayer from Restless Books, Yukia Igarashi from Catapult, and Margaux Weisman From William Morrow/Harper Collins. (Unfortunately, we couldn’t work all of this into the “One Fish Two Fish” syntax.)

The editors started off by talking about how they got into the publishing industry. According to Margaux, the secret is to work 72 jobs and spend your free time hunting down literary agents. There was some nervous laughter in the room, but she assured us that wasn’t a joke.

Things cheered up a bit when the editors talked about what gets them excited. Sarah told us about how she got the rights to Sheila Heiti’s How Should a Person Be? Nobody wanted it after it sold poorly in Canada, but, with some editing and an extra 8,000 words, it became a breakthrough novel at Henry Holt. Everyone geeked out and Brinda asked if that really happened. Sarah confirmed that it really did. A little bit of a book editor fantasy for you.

Inevitably, we came to the age-old question: big or little, which press fits best? Everyone seemed to agree that small presses are a good home for new authors or authors who want to try something a little different. A short story collection, for instance, might do better at a small press that can afford to take a risk. Brinda said that small presses have almost become a hunting ground for larger presses looking for emerging authors. While miming a vulture, she told us about how Farrar, Straus and Giroux bought the paperback-rights to Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle after it did well at Archipelago, a small press down the hall from the One Story office. Brinda’s vulture demonstration got us thinking. We’ve been suspicious of the hawks that live on the can factory’s fire-escape in the past, but now we’re absolutely certain: they are publishing spies!

After the panel was over, editors mixed with students, sharing glasses of wine and beer and answering questions about the business of publishing. Each day of the workshop, the possibility of publishing a book one day seems more concrete and possible. As we left the can factory and wandered out into the night, we looked up at the massive nest of sticks perched at the top of the fire-escape, and wondered if the hawks were watching.