Issue #224: Optimistic People by Chris Drangle

There are many layers to Chris Drangle’s “Optimistic People,” including the layer of earth one of the characters is buried under as the story opens. Contributing Editor Will Allison lassoed this twisted, hair-raising work of fiction, so I’m happy to let him make the introductions. Enjoy!-PR

This month we’re excited to bring you one of the most shocking, suspenseful short stories ever to cross One Story’s submission desk: “Optimistic People,” by Chris Drangle. Set in rural Virginia, “Optimistic People” is the tale of two teenagers on their first date. Warren and Soleil have plans to meet up in the woods to watch the sunset. Warren is well meaning but dim; as Soleil puts it, “There was a thin line between being good and being a moron, and he straddled it.” Soleil is the new, weird girl in town, her parents having fled Washington D.C. to escape a congressional staff assistant turned stalker.

The teens’ plans go awry when Soleil runs out of gas en route to the meetup. Meanwhile, Warren stumbles upon two men burying a mysterious something in the woods. Minutes later, we meet friendly, disheveled Tom, whose prayers are answered when Warren unearths the pine box in which Tom has been buried alive.

I’m guessing you’ve never encountered a character quite like Tom. (If there’s such a thing as your typical buried-alive guy, this guy is definitely not it.) I won’t spoil the plot by revealing more, but you should know that a man being buried alive is not this story’s most chilling plot twist. That comes later, and it unfolds in a fictional slow motion that will have you turning pages with a delicious sense of dread.

Chris Drangle is still new on the literary scene, having published just a handful of stories, but we look forward to seeing a lot more of his work. You can get to know him in our online Q&A, where Chris discusses techniques of suspense, his fondness for story titles, and the importance of figuring out why the junebug collapses.

Issue #223: In the Neighborhood by Jess Rafalko

223_coverTwenty years ago, I loaded everything I owned into a truck and moved from a quiet place in the woods to the middle of New York City. It took nearly a year before I understood how to navigate the different subway lines, got used to Indian, Ethiopian, and Egyptian food (the three staples in my neighborhood), and learned how to sleep through the sirens outside my window at night. There is a feeling of disorientation that comes with moving to a completely new landscape, especially when it coincides with a great emotional change, as it does for the characters in Jess Rafalko’s marvelous short story, “In the Neighborhood.” Angela and Hank are a married couple who’ve moved from the flat-lands of Nebraska to the mountains of Vermont. They’ve unpacked and settled into new jobs, but the path of their journey is still strewn with wreckage. Hank is avoiding his grief and soldiering forward, while Angela has fallen into a well of guilt, anger, and sadness. Then, one day, a bear appears. The animal opens their mailbox, looking for food, and the scratches it leaves begin to tear down the walls that have built up between this husband and wife, who discover that moving to a new state may change the view from your window, but it will never change what’s in your heart. I hope you’ll all enjoy this story as much as our staff here at One Story did. And be sure to read Jess Rafalko’s Q&A with us, where she talks about work, love, loss, and the tornado that inspired this wonderfully moving story.

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.