Hurricane Sandy happened almost two years ago, but its effects are still felt across New York City. I’ll never forget the way giant trees were thrown about like tinker toys, and the dread my neighbors and I felt as the Gowanus Canal broke its banks and started flooding sewage into the streets. As sections of the city were destroyed, and others left without power for days and even weeks, from Staten Island to Red Hook we were all shaken. Sandy was a reminder of how mother nature can bring civilization to its knees. That kind of chaos and randomness can be a frightening thing, so when Chuck Augello’s “Cool City,” appeared in our slush pile, I found myself both surprised and charmed by the way Augello took those same feelings of fear and uncertainty and spun them into a story about connection and love. Set during a terrible, Sandy-like storm, “Cool City” follows two young city-dwellers, each trying to cope with the randomness and terror of life. One uses numbers and OCD-like behaviors to make himself feel safe, the other uses “Fast Love”—a unique self-help program where love is broken down to an impulse decision followed by immediate, binding commitment. Be sure to read Chuck Augello’s Q&A with us about how he came up with the concept for “Fast Love”, as well as his decision to use Rainer Maria Rilke’s poems in “Cool City.” I was moved and relieved when reading the final pages of this story, just as I was by the outpouring of volunteers and neighbors coming together in the aftermath of Sandy’s destruction. Like these two characters who fall in love during the chaos and wildness of the storm, when the rain finally stopped we found true comfort in each other.
I’m thrilled to announce our next issue: “Coda” by Whitney Groves. Since Contributing Editor Karen Friedman saw this story through its paces, I’m turning the introducing reins over into her capable hands. I hope you all enjoy this exciting fiction debut from a talented new voice. -HT
A father’s love is supposed to be a transcendent thing, unconditional, reliable and protective, reminiscent of a reasonably priced Subaru. The iconography of fatherhood is used to sell us everything from sodas to appliances. But as we all know, reality rarely emulates the ideal. So what happens when the paternal relationship is nothing more than a loose tether? Our latest issue, “Coda”, by debut author Whitney Groves explores one such father-daughter relationship. The main character, Vera, has spent the majority of her life knowing very little about her father – hazy memories and scraps of information provided by a reluctant mother. The story alternates between Vera’s final encounter with her father and the moments that brought Vera to a reconciliation with the man who abandoned her sixteen years earlier. “Coda” is a quiet story about what remains when a relationship falls short of even modest expectations. As an editor, I am struck by Vera’s measured response to her father. Anger would have been the easy route. Instead, Vera’s journey is one of longing mostly endured. Groves fills that longing with tension and, most surprisingly, humor. By bringing the reader close to Vera, we understand her desire at the most basic human level to be seen and validated by her father, to be loved by a man she has never known. It is an honor to introduce Whitney Groves to all of you in her first published piece of fiction. For more on how Whitney developed this beautiful and heartbreaking story please check out our author Q&A.
This Friday marked the close of One Story’s fifth annual workshop at The Center for Fiction. Tea and coffee helped ward off the last-day-of-camp blues before students entered into their final workshops with Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison. They were reluctant to leave their workshop rooms, lingering to have story collections signed and group photos taken. One writer told me, as she headed for the elevator, “We all love each other now.” While One Story’s romcom may not be The Notebook, it does make for lasting writerly connections. Together we ate a final lunch of pizza and chatted about ways to keep in touch.
We gathered after lunch for a craft lecture by Hannah Tinti, the editor in chief of One Story, on getting “out of the slushpile”. She told us how to manage the business side of being a writer, by walking us through how to get our work published, starting with the basics of preparing it for submission (use a simple font like 12 pt. Times New Roman, number your pages, double-space, etc.), and figuring out where to send–be that to magazines, agents, or small presses. She showed us samples of query letters, and then shared some of her own rejections to show how there are different “levels” of rejection, and finally, what to do if and when you get an acceptance. But Hannah was also clear that “you are a writer if you’re writing, not if your work is published.” She ended the lecture with a quote from Barbara Kingsolver regarding rejected work. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”
Time for celebration! After hours of workshops, panels and talks, we travelled home to One Story’s office at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, where students were able to see where the work behind publication occurs. We saw Patrick Ryan’s desk with its strikingly intellectual desk lamp, Hannah’s desk with drawings of demons, the calendars showing our publication schedule, the table where the editorial meetings occur, and, most importantly, the coffee machine that brews our coffee.
Then to The Cantine, the restaurant within the Old American Can Factory. Conference Director Michael Pollock began the night by recognizing the students’ endurance, “I hope you don’t want to write tomorrow. I hope you don’t want to write Sunday. But on Monday, I want you to write, and that’s when this workshop will matter.” Marie and Will thanked their classes, recognizing how easy it was to teach such brilliant people. Then each student gave a three-minute reading at our open mic. Their pieces were beautiful, competent and honest. As were Michael’s physics and whale jokes as he acted as our MC.
Maribeth Batcha, our publisher, and Hannah closed the event by welcoming the students to the One Story family. Writing is about community, so it was only fitting that after a delicious dinner catered by Runner & Stone, we took many class (or should I say family?) photos.
Hannah ended the night with Lauren Groff’s writing advice from “Writing Advice from the Authors of One Story”, a special edition of One Story magazine, that was printed and given out to all the students as a parting gift: “Give yourself the grace of failure – most good stories are made up of hundreds of invisible previous failures; read everything you can get your grubby mitts on; excise people from your lives who bring up turmoil and darkness, then write them clean in your fiction; if you have talent, it is a gift, so try your best to honor you gift by developing it; write every single day, because if you wait for the Muse to land she’ll cackle as she flies on by; don’t worry about publishing because if you write from a place of love and gratitude you will publish; try not to listen to advice about writing because the most important things you learn are things you’ll teach yourself.”
One Story’s fifth annual workshop is starting to wind down. Our incredible workshop teachers, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino, led us in critically analyzing each other’s work for an additional hour today. Whew! But, as usual, the feedback and guidance was well worth it.
After a lunch of falafel, in which we stuffed our bellies as much as we could, the Editor in Chief of One Story, Hannah Tinti, took us on another writing excursion: to the New York Public Library. That’s the one with the two lions in front from the opening scene in Ghostbusters (also where Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet the lion in the movie version of The Wiz). By the way, the names of those lions are Patience and Fortitude, which as Hannah sagely said are, “Perhaps the two qualities that a writer needs most.”
First Hannah talked about ways we could use maps in our stories, from creating action, to filling out setting, to keeping track of our novels and longer works. She also gave us blank story maps and floor plans as tools to keep our readers grounded. Both techniques helped us to learn to navigate our worlds. Our “on-site” exercise at the NYPL was to go look through maps and atlases, find one that we liked, and use it as a jumping off point. Characters are always in a setting. And that setting always has some topology. Creating mental or even physical maps allows us, the writer, to better explore our world so that we don’t get lost. “When the writer is lost, the reader is lost,” said Hannah. “We never want to do that. It’s the quickest way to make a reader put down our book.”
For our evening panel we enjoyed a visit from author Rachel Cantor, who read a few excerpts from her new novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario. Think of it as a really twisted Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or a fusion of Ray Bradbury and Italo Calvino. Bizarre, funny, quirky, she had us all in stitches. Then Hannah interviewed Rachel about the struggles and joys of an emerging writer, and how Rachel got this marvelous book published, from first draft on her computer to hard copies in bookstores.
We’re upset that the week is coming to an end, but tomorrow night is our big send off, with a visit to One Story’s office in Brooklyn, an open mic for students, and a grand finale dinner. Stay tuned!
It’s the third day of One Story’s fifth annual workshop. Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino led their wonderful workshops after our students drank as much coffee as they could. Following a lunch of sandwiches, soda, chips, and more coffee, the editor of One Teen Story, the fabulous Patrick Ryan, gave a craft lecture on guidelines for writing a story.
“You cannot take risks if you strictly follow rules,” he said. “Allow room for surprise in your writing, readers read to discover and writers write to discover. Don’t spoil that for yourself or your readers. Writing should make you happy. Also, always read your work aloud.” Leaning over his lectern he joked, “Of course you don’t want to speak it in your quiet writing studio. Disturbing other writers while they’re working…bad idea.” We all laughed.
Patrick went on to explain that writers need to think of many mediocre or terrible ideas in order to find a good one. His technique is to type up any idea, even if it’s only two words, print it out, and put it in a box. The act of having a physical, separate note makes the idea stand out, rather than being in a list, where we are tempted to scan through and pick the best one.
We took a break and then did a writing exercise with Michael Pollock where we worked in groups to write a short story in about 30 minutes based on three random ideas. My group’s: a hot air balloon, a bicycle for two, and a lemon. Didn’t figure out how to put the lemon in the story, but our flying bicycle for two was like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.
Everyone needed a break after that. We reconvened at 6:30 for an editor panel, but not before the front legs to a beautiful leather chair suddenly gave out in our very cozy writing space. But we writers can’t sit down writing all the time, in any case; we need to get out and explore the world and be social and engaging and talk to people.
Our evening panel consisted of Maria Gigliano from Slice, Lincoln Michael from Electric Literature, Sam Nicholson of Random House, and Jonathan Lee of A Public Space, all led by our own Patrick Ryan, an editor himself. The editors were very knowledgeable, coming from big publishing houses all the way to small magazines—a nice spectrum of the industry. All agreed that the best way to stand out is to make your writing unexpected. Plot and character can always be edited, but language, style, voice, etc… really can’t. And as for debut novelists they said, “It’s a wide open future. They don’t have any history that could work against them. It’s nothing but promise!”
It’s the second day of One Story’s fifth annual workshop. Today our students braved severe thunderstorms and flash floods, all in the name of good writing. We started off the morning with workshops at the Center for Fiction led by Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino, our fantastic instructors. After eating some delicious wraps and sandwiches for lunch, we sat down with One Story’s Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, who then began a lecture about creating unique characters, using three techniques: “10 Facts,” “Superhero” and “KWL”.
The “10 Facts” technique is self-explanatory. It involves writing ten basic facts based on the character’s appearance. Hannah used herself as an example. Students immediately listed off some facts about her, some of which included “curly hair”, “creamy skin” and “wearing a large bracelet.” These facts added up to give us a sense of who she was, at least on the surface. The students were then asked how this could apply to their own characters; what does their appearance say about them? What conclusions could be drawn from that, even if eventually proven wrong?
Next was the “Superhero” technique. Hannah used Superman as an example, and asked the students about his costume, superpowers, backstory, weakness and quest. By outlining all of these details, we were able to create an image of Superman that even someone unfamiliar with the comics or movies could understand. While our own characters may not be superheroes in the same way that Clark Kent is, we could use the same approach for them. What do they wear? What are they good at, or bad at? What is their personal history? What do they want most? Hannah used a quote from Kurt Vonnegut to further emphasize that last point: “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” She then asked the students to consider how each character’s individual needs could intertwine to tell the story.
Finally, the “KWL” method. What does the character know? What does the character want to know? What has he or she learned by the end of the story?
With these methods in mind, we set off for the American Museum of Natural History. After some minor delays (thanks to a sudden downpour and one extremely late B train) we arrived at the exhibit for North American mammals. We split up and searched for animals that we felt most strongly about, and used the techniques Hannah had taught us to brainstorm stories about them. We used the information given to us by the museum’s placards to jot down the animal’s strengths and weaknesses, and we used our own imaginations to fill in backstories and quests for them. Then we took it one step further, and gave them an obstacle–whether that included a hunter, an opponent to compete against for a mate’s attention, or even, referring back to Vonnegut, trying to find some water–and we sketched out a brief scene, in which our characters succeeded, failed, or decided to change their goal entirely.
We headed back to the Center for Fiction, and were treated with a very informative discussion from a panel of literary agents: Jim Rutman, Sally Wofford-Girand and William Boggess. They offered plenty of advice to our students, and they parted with these three important tidbits: “Don’t rush your first offering. Wait until you’ve done everything you could for your story”; “spend time with a workshop group to make your story even better”; and, lastly, “the writer is really the source of the talent; trust your own work.” We wrapped up the night with snacks and cocktails, laughing together and enjoying some great company before heading out into the terrible storms once again.
Readers and writers, One Story’s fifth annual workshop has begun! Some travelled thousands of miles, others dozens of city blocks to arrive this morning at New York City’s Center for Fiction. Ahead of us lies a week of craft lectures, agent panels, guest author talks, and workshops. Hannah Tinti, the Editor-in-Chief of One Story, welcomed students with coffee and tea before they split into their morning workshops led by our instructors, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.
After a lunch of tacos, salad and salsas so hot that they brought tears to our eyes, we sat down with Hannah, Will and Marie for a brief insight into the writerly lives of working authors. Each spoke of their path to writing, which featured ceiling-high piles of submissions and many rejection letters. Will Allison talked about his journey as a writer and an editor, and how, when he started working at Story magazine, it challenged him to make his own work better. Hannah then opened the panel to questions. “Describe your style,” one student asked. “Dark, twisted, funny,” she replied. When asked to give writing advice, Marie-Helene Bertino encouraged students to wander the streets of New York. Eavesdrop. Open your eyes. New York City will write the story for you.
After several hours talking about writing, it was time to get down to business. Hannah led a writing exercise given to her from one of her own mentors, Dani Shapiro (author of the great book Still Writing). The exercise is derived from Joe Brainard’s I Remember. She read from Brainard’s book:
“I remember the first time I met Frank O’Hara. He was walking down Second Avenue. It was a cool early spring evening but he was wearing only a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And blue jeans. And moccasins. I remember that he seemed very sissy to me. Very theatrical. Decadent. I remember that I liked him instantly.”
Students wrote their own stories built of “I remember”, and shared their memories with the class, which were full of sharp details and all kinds of interesting experiences.
In the evening, Irina Reyn gave our first craft lecture on perspective. Using Frederick Reiken’s 2005 essay on the “author-narrator-character merge,” she revealed techniques of varying closeness and distance in narration. “The one that feels the most on fire, that’s the right perspective,” she said.
I (will) remember the first day of the One Story workshop. Stay tuned for more updates!
The siege of Sarajevo began in April, 1992 and lasted nearly four years, during which the citizens of that war-torn city lived in terror and suffered every possible kind of deprivation. Thousands were starved, raped, killed by snipers or wounded in bomb attacks. Like the mass murders in Srebrenica and death camps like Omarska, the siege of Sarajevo became a symbol of the Bosnian war and dominated the world news cycle. But how did the civilians caught in the crossfire live day to day? How did they continue on when surrounded by so much death? These are just some of the questions that author James Winter takes on in our new issue, “A Very Small Flame.” Written from the point of view of Pasha, a Muslim grocer trying to protect his family, “A Very Small Flame” uses a unique format to tell its story, presenting lists of words and memories to record the facts of history. As a reader I was caught up in the drama of Pasha’s life but also held by his refusal to fall into despair, even when bearing witness to the darkest of atrocities. Read our Q&A with James Winter to find out more about the research that went into “A Very Small Flame,” and how this thriving, cosmopolitan city went from hosting the Olympics in 1984 to being a battlefield just eight years later. It is a history lesson everyone should know, and a story worth telling—how to face such horror with an unflinching eye, and without losing love or faith in humanity.
When I first started writing, I didn’t know how to tell a story. I had a lot of ideas, some descriptions, and strings of scenes that didn’t work together. My friends and family would read something I wrote, then hand the pages back saying: I liked it. But I could tell that they were not moved.
It wasn’t until I started studying and working with editors that I began to understand structure—how to bring shape and form to the page and use it to guide a reader through my fiction from start to finish. It was like someone had handed me an X-Ray machine. Suddenly I could see the backbone running through all of my favorite books and stories. So that’s how they did it, I thought. That’s how they made me feel this way.
Learning this technique changed the way I wrote. Now, I’d like to share it with you—while also having some fun (it is summer, after all). So let’s write a short story together! Through videos, power point presentations, online lectures, and discussion on the message board, I’ll lead you sentence by sentence, explaining each step along the way. At the end of the week—you’ll have a story with strong bones, ready to go wherever you want to take it.
Write a Short Story with Hannah Tinti is my first online class, and will take place July 6-12th. Deadline for sign up is July 5th. For complete details, go here.
I hope you’ll join us!
Learn how short stories work from the inside out! In this one week (7 day) online class, July 6-12th, 2014, One Story Co-Founder and Editor-in-Chief Hannah Tinti will examine the basic structure and core elements of short fiction.
With videos, online “lectures,” and guided writing exercises, Hannah will lead you sentence by sentence and paragraph by paragraph through the writing of your own story. At the end of the week, you’ll have a deeper understanding of the inner workings of storytelling and story structure.
You’ll also have the chance to take part in an active discussion board of like-minded writers, the opportunity swap work with fellow students, and be able to ask questions along the way. Sign up now for this fun week-long event, the first online course offered by Hannah Tinti.