Literary Debutante Ball Fashion Advice III- Dress Harder

Me in my platform dress (actual size).

Why hello, One Story Debutante Ball attendees!  I was re-potting this heirloom tulip and didn’t see you there!  Allow me to remove my fingerless gardening gloves and we will sit and chat at my table made of box car remnants.

I am overjoyed to act as your fashion mentor again this year.  What a year it’s been, especially for women!  The Vida numbers came out, assuring women that even if they can get a novel published, The New York Times won’t review it. Women’s unmentionables were discussed in national arenas, I would talk about it however it is unmentionable. Not a moment too soon, New York  instituted two 24-hour cupcake-dispensing machines that made leaving this city completely unnecessary. Winter didn’t interest us so we skipped it.  Everyone on earth felt pain, made excuses, lost loved ones and, without exception, got older.

Most adorably this year, the word “curate” became the hottest verb going, moving from museum pamphlets to the national stage.  Editors no longer edit, they curate!  Website editors no longer post content, they curate!  Isn’t it amazing when we use a different word to make our jobs sound more alluring?  I was chatting about it with my Sandwich Artist the other day while he curated my turkey footlong.  “The world is getting more elegant,” he said.  “Keep your eye on what is truly important.  Mayo?” he said.

He’s right, of course.  And as I stated in my first fashion advice column, and in last year’s brilliant sequel, there is nothing more important than fashion.  Nothing.  Seriously, nothing. So this year allow me to curate your dress.

Let us begin with the rules!

The first rule of One Story’s Literary Debutante Ball is you don’t talk about One Story’s Literary Debutante Ball.

For obvious reasons, there are no other rules.

As was true last year, and the year before that, there is no dress code for the ball. Suits with converse sneakers, suits made out of converse sneakers—all good. Dresses of the sun, maxi or cocktail variety—yes! Mu-mus: yes-yes. A floral vintage wedding dress?—YOU DO. A sequined tie—my my!  A bold cravate—show us what you’ve got! A belt of bike horns?—honk, because you are awesome. A mink tuxedo offset by a cheetah stole?—that’s totally fucked up.  Absolutely no.

This is One Story’s tenth anniversary, so be daring, whimsical, strive to elicit this response from passers by—dear god, what was that?!

When in doubt—dress like Nancy Drew.  #2 Pencil skirt, thin turtleneck, plaid pashmina and a giant magnifying glass.  That’s been my motto for 34 years and I’ve been able to correctly identify the secret passages at every party I’ve ever attended.

This year I am wearing something so special it will outdo my Swiss cheese costume of Year One, and my dress made out of casino napkins from Year Two.  I have been accused of not being active enough in social media, preferring to keep my private life and thoughts, well, private.  I have been accused of this by my mother, who called last week to curate my life.  “Be self-promotional,” she said, “like those annoying nags everyone loathes who post and email about nothing but themselves.”  Like my sandwich artist, my mother is always right.  So at this year’s ball I will be dressed as a platform.  On that platform will be the details of my book coming out in the Fall with a live stream of every thought I’ve ever had about politics or being a woman.  In advance: sorry for hitting you in the face as I walk by.

Finally and most importantly, have fun at this year’s gala, and don’t forget to stop by the silent auction where once again extraordinary works of art will be, ahem, (what’s the word?), posted by Helen Ellis. Give them an early look here.

If you’re still struggling with what to wear, let the words of these famous people guide you:

“When in doubt, wear red.” – Bill Blass

“Bravery never goes out of fashion.” – William Makepeace Thackeray

“I wear my sort of clothes to save me the trouble of deciding what clothes to wear.” – Katherine Hepburn

“In order to be irreplaceable one must always be different.” – Coco Chanel

“I can’t concentrate in flats!” – Victoria Beckham

“Cruelty is one fashion statement we can all do without.” – Rue McClanahan

“I’d rather go naked than wear fur.” – Me

“Ma’am, you have to put clothes on or we will call the police.” – the guards at The New York Public Library

“Every woman should be her own chaperone.” – Amy Vanderbilt, Success Program for Women

“Just once, I want a weekend when you don’t call me to get you out of jail.” – Martin, my Sandwich Artist

“I’ll wire the International Federation of American Homing Pigeon Fanciers and give them the number stamped on the bird’s leg ring.”  – Nancy Drew, Password to Larkspur Lane

“Without a doubt and yes, always: mayo.” – Me

P.S. I want to thank those of you who sent such thoughtful cards, emails and flowers to congratulate my turtles Leonardo and Turtlerino Bertino on their nuptials last year. I am happy to report their first year of marriage has been a blissful, albeit slow-moving one. Recently they adopted what they think is an underfed owl I don’t have the heart to tell them is a non-dairy creamer.  Regardless, they are happy and wish to say thank you for the kind notes and emails.

My final 2 cents (no refunds)

Marie-Helene Bertino (in green skirt) with her One Story Summer Workshop Class

Last Thursday, I attended my last meeting as One Story‘s Associate Editor. Though I will remain involved, teaching for One Story‘s various educational projects for example, this ended a 6 year journey for me. Besides the friendships I’ve made, I am most proud of the yearly fashion blogs I dispensed on the eve of our Fundraiser.  To that end, I hope you will indulge me as I offer one more piece of fashion advice: smile.  The most beautiful people I know allow their smiles to reach their eyes.  When you smile, people want to be around you.  My Mom said that.  Also, when you smile, people wonder what you’re up to. Garfield said that.

Thank you to Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha, under whose tutelage I received my real world MFA.  Thank you to Tanya Rey, the present staff and the staffs throughout the years who inspired me and who were kind enough to laugh at even my most irreverent jokes.  I will forever remain One Story’s most loyal subscriber.

I am most proud of One Story’s Emerging Writer’s Workshop I taught, co-organized and co-ran with Michael Pollock.  I love working with new writers and was honored when my high school’s Alumnae newsletter asked me what advice I would give to them.  I’d like to leave you with what I told them.  And that, as they say, will be all she wrote (for now).

ADVICE TO NEW WRITERS

Keep writing.  Be curious about how different people live.  Talk to everyone; doormen, waiters, motorcycle guys, your grandparents.  I am sometimes unintentionally glib and sometimes my writing sounds glib, so take time to get to know yourself because the problem with you will be the problem with your writing.  For the converse reason, cultivate hobbies. Run and cook and sing and play the drums and hug your parents and kids and sister and whoever.  Then, keep writing.  Rescue a dog or cat.  Collect stories.  Other people will tell you to read to excess, but I’ll let you slack on that if you promise to ask questions and listen to people.  Listen to the criticism of people you respect and let it make you better.  Don’t write because you think it’s cool, because if you are doing it correctly it is the least cool thing on the planet. Don’t be that jerk who complains when Aunt Barbara asks what you write about.  Don’t say, “that question is impossible to answer!”  If you can’t answer what you write about then you don’t know what you write about, and that’s like not knowing what color hair you have.  Do this right now (now!): figure out in two sentences how to say what you write about.  Cultivate the ability to be so lost in thought that you can’t hear your own name being called.  Be secretive and bold and stick up for the underdog and the little guy.  Drive around America and stop in Kansas.  Backpack around Europe and watch a World Cup game.  Keep writing.  Think about semi-colons and punctuating dialogue for hours. Don’t brag.  Anyone worth his or her salt talent-wise is humble and kind.  This is because they understand they’ve been given a gift and people who have been gifted have special responsibilities and are thankful.  Don’t worry if you hear a “rule” about writing that sounds wrong to you.  There are as many different ways of being a writer as there are writers.  Write with your heart, revise with your head. Shut up and listen.  Sometimes the answer is turning off your mind and getting a beer with your best friend.  When discouraged, don’t listen to anything besides the voice that told you were a writer in the first place; that is the voice that will be there for you when everyone and everything else goes away; it is the voice Kermit sang about that “calls the young sailors.” It’s someone that you’re supposed to be.  Keep writing.  If any of this sounds like a root canal; do something else.

Sam Katz in The Good Men Project

It’s always sad when we say goodbye to one of our interns.  It normally involves sweet chocolate treats and scattered crying (by me).  Last week, we said farewell and good journey to another great intern, Sam Katz.  Thankfully we can keep up with him and his work via the World Wide Web, specifically the website of The Good Men Project.  The Good Men Project is a nonprofit men’s magazine that examines what it means to be a “good man” and gives back through organizations like Street Potential, The Boys and Girls Club of Boston, Big Brothers Big Sisters of Massachusetts Bay.  Now, those are some good men!  Check out Sam’s story “Blue Skies” here.

More Literary Debutante Ball Fashion Advice from Marie-Helene

The cover of How to be Well Dressed, from the Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women

I was delighted to be asked to act as fashion godmother again for this Friday’s Literary Debutante Ball, especially since this year we will be honoring the role of literary mentors.  If you will (will you?) and if I may be so bold (I may!), allow me to act as your fashion mentor.

As I advised in last year’s blog: Be Bold.  Be Comfortable.  Do Your Best.  As was the case last year, there is no dress code for this year’s ball.  Office casual, cocktail dresses, bedazzled shirts with over-achieving torsos paired with Olsen twin sunnies: all good.  Khakis and blazers, hoodies under sports coats, sharp black suits: all good.

Faux tuxedo shirt on top with a chicken costume on bottom: may I have this dance, sir?

This year will offer its own new twists and turns.  As you may have heard, important nuptials will be taking place the day of our ball. Turtlerino Bertino, my male turtle, will finally be making an honest terrapin out of my other male turtle Leonardo.  The wedding will take place in a Foreman Grill box and the bride will be wearing a repurposed napkin from Caesar’s Palace in Atlantic City where, as you know, they met.  The ceremony will be three times as long as regular ceremonies because turtles are really slow.

Prince William of Wales will also be getting married that day, though I’m fuzzy on the details of when and where as that event has gone grossly underreported.

Neither wedding will interfere with our ball.

With all further ados a-done, here are two fashion DOs (I don’t recognize DON’Ts):

DO compliment the Associate Editor on her dress, which she will be making out of repurposed napkins from Caesar’s Palace where, as you know, she works.

“You are never fully dressed without a smile.” – some orphan.  And clothes.  DO wear clothes to our debutante ball.

And, here are more fashion nuggets from the life of yours truly:

“You’re never fully dressed without nude panty hose and red lipstick.” – my Mom

“Nothing, nothing is more important than fashion.” – William S. Randalls, my gym teacher in grade school.

“The only rule is don’t be boring and dress cute wherever you go.” – Paris Hilton

“Fashion is what you adopt when you don’t know who you are.” – Quentin Crisp

“Practice forgetting yourself.  Self-respect is being conscious of yourself without being self-conscious.” – Five Clues to Becoming an Interesting Woman, The Amy Vanderbilt Success Program for Women

“Stop talking about your phone.” – One Clue to Becoming an Interesting Person, Marie-Helene Bertino

“What are you wearing, a napkin?!  Mom, are you going to let her go out of the house like that?” – my brother Chip on the occasion of my first prom

“Two more rounds of suicides or it’s your ass.” – William S. Randalls, my gym teacher in grade school

“For attractive lips, speak words of kindness.  For lovely eyes, seek out the good in people.  For a slim figure, share your food with the hungry.  For beautiful hair, let a child run his/her fingers through it once a day.” – Audrey Hepburn. I would add: then take a shower, eat a hoagie and throw some lip-gloss on, because no one wants to be the starving, bleeding-lipped weirdo with kid junk in her hair.

“Put your name on something, it better be the best.  You only get one shot.” – George Foreman

In conclusion sweet reader, whenever I find myself feeling anxious about fashion, I fire up some lean chicken, watch my gay turtles do nothing, and reassure myself that no matter what I wear on April 29th, Michael Cunningham will look better than me.

See proof of that and some fun and friendly faces from last year’s ball here:

I will be so charmed to see you at the ball.  No matter what you wear, I think you look dope.

Until then I remain your dedicated Associate Editor,

Marie-the-lean-mean-grilling-Helene

Issue #145: Summer, Boys

For #145, I’m turning the reins over to our talented associate editor, Marie-Helene Bertino, who ushered Ethan Rutherford’s beautiful story on friendship, “Summer, Boys” through our publishing process. Really looking forward to hearing what our readers think on this one–it sparked an interesting discussion in the One Story office on childhood  and sexuality.-HT

Last week I caught up with a friend I haven’t spoken with since Thanksgiving.  One of the reasons she’d been out of touch was that on Christmas Day one of her two beloved dogs, a chocolate lab named Brown, died.  While it was heartbreaking for her, she noticed that her surviving dog, a black lab named Black, was inconsolable.  Brown and Black had been inseparable for 14 years.  Without his friend, normally laid back Black was whiny and nervous and had begun to lose his hair.

When it arrived at One Story, Ethan Rutherford’s “Summer, Boys” ignited a spirited conversation in the editorial room.  It is the story of two boys, never named, who at the end of the idyllic summer before sixth grade, encounter a rift in their friendship.  The nature of the rift is unimportant, or is very important, depending on which One Story editor you consult.  For me, the Issue Editor, “Summer, Boys” is about friendship, and friendship only.

Since there is no institution akin to marriage that legally binds two friends to one another, friendship grows and strengthens through less official shows of shared interests and devotion over time.  Simply, a friend is someone who chooses to be with you.

Ethan describes it much better than I can:

“…here’s how the boys talk to each other: What do you like?  What do you like?  Is that something we should like?  Every day is a disputation of taste, and nothing ascends without the explicit approval of both.”

The boys want to look exactly like each other and also like the Boz, who has recently been traded to their football team and who is their idea of the man they should be.  They spend gauzy summer hours memorizing his stats, practicing skateboard moves, and organizing their Garbage Pail kids.  They are, in short, best friends.

The Land of Boz

Ah, the best friend.  Among the ship of friend (you be quiet), the best friend is the first mate. The best friend is someone you can call at three in the morning and say, I am feeling a lot like me right now and they will say, right now I am eating an entire cheesecake and have you ever noticed the way Ben Stiller’s voice quakes on the line “I’ve had a rough year, Dad” at the end of The Royal Tenenbaums?  The best friend does not have to ask.  Reads the same book as you do so you can talk about it immediately when you’re both finished.  Does that ridiculous dance to make you laugh.  Doesn’t ask why the boy doesn’t come around anymore, knows you don’t want to talk about it.  Your emissary.  Says: Start from the beginning and tell me everything.  Says: you blew it again, didn’t you, Captain Robot?  When you are not around, says: don’t talk about my friend that way.  This all sounds like ad copy for Jameson’s Irish whiskey.  But it’s also true.

When we are young friendships like this shoulder the added distinction of being our first foray into companionship.  The stakes then can be higher when what is possibly the inevitable rift occurs.  In “Summer Boys” it enters in the form of cousin Elias.  Elias prompts the boys’ first separation, and Ethan articulates the pain of losing a friend in agonizing accuracy.

“And with every hour that passes, the distance between them begins to feel like space distance; within days they are galaxies apart…By himself, he becomes a storm-system of self-doubt, unsure of anything except that wherever he is, he is not where he needs to be.”

You ever lose a friend like that?  I have.  The nicest thing I can say about the experience is that it gave me plenty of time to listen to music and not eat.  Meeting a best friend is as amazing as losing them is terrible.

As for my friend who recently lost her dog, Brown.  Her vet cremated him and placed the ashes in a tin can.  She showed the can to Black, telling him that inside was his lost pal.  Since then, she said, it’s been the strangest thing.  Every night for the past month and a half, instead of sleeping in his bed in their family room like he has for 14 years, Black has slept curled next to the can of ashes.

In the case of “Summer, Boys,” the boys’ separation prompts the final, shattering scene that was the source of so much spirited debate in the office.  Regardless of its manifestation, the intent becomes clear in the piece’s beautiful last lines.  Sometimes, at their most painful moments, we say to a friend: I’m here.

To read more about “Summer, Boys,” including a Q&A with author Ethan Rutherford, go here.


One Story Alumnae Newsletter

On this sunny, autumnal Wednesday afternoon, we’d like to give snaps to the following people who have acted on past or present staffs of One Story, who we have not voted off, and whose work can be read in the following illustrious periodicals.

Julie Innis, current reader, whose story “Big Angel” is featured on Frederick Barthelme’s deeply exciting new website Blip.

Bobby Sauro, graduate of our first Summer Workshop for Emerging Writers, whose story “Athena Barrabas” is featured on Burnt Bridge.

And, last but certainly not least, our reader Sara Batkie, whose story “Cleavage” was chosen by Thisbe Nissen to receive Gulf Coast’s 2010 Prize in Fiction. “Cleavage” is Sara’s first published story–which, if you know anything about baseball, adds up to a walk-off homerun. Way to swing for the fences, Sara.

Congratulations Julie, Bobby and Sara.  And snaps to Blip, Burnt Bridge and Gulf Coast, for continuing to publish great work by great people.

One Story Summer Workshop: Dispelling Myths, Making Magic

The idea for One Story’s Summer Workshop for Emerging Writers was to find talented writers on the verge of their careers who were trying to figure out which next step was right for them.  We would gather them in our Can Factory for an intensive week of workshops, classes, and panels about the special stuff of writing and the not-as-special stuff of publishing.  Music would swell.  I would cry.  Balloons would be released.  If we were lucky, a little magic would occur.

Of course in the way life tends to go…all of that happened.

My assistant Michael J. Pollock and I put together a tiring week of craft lecturers and panels, then combed through the rich and varied writing portfolios of all the tremendous people who applied.  On Sunday, July 24th, we welcomed the students at a cocktail at the Can Factory and I promised them a week that would intellectually and physically tire them out so much they would spend all of Saturday sleeping. 

Every morning, I led workshop.  We made our way through the students’  stories, novel excerpts, short shorts and, in Patrick Gaughan’s case, prose poems.  I knew the week would be all green lights Monday morning during introductions.  Julia Strayer, the first to go, asked me what I meant when I said: tell everyone a little about yourself.  “What would anyone want to know?”  She said.  After I explained that any detail would do, she said “Fine,” blew the blonde bangs out of her eyes and stated, deadpan, “I like fast cars.” 

Every afternoon, a visiting writer lectured on a particular element of craft, starting with our own  Hannah Tinti, who delivered a lecture on structure.  Myla Goldberg, Terese Svoboda, Allison Amend and Ann Napolitano gave talks on character, figuring out where the story starts, dialogue and description, respectively.

Each night a different panel of professionals dispelled common myths of publishing.  The students found agents Renee Zuckerbrot, Paul Cirone and Julie Barer so warm and friendly they couldn’t believe they had previously thought agents were scary.  “They’re just people who like books, just like me,” Sarah Broderick said.

On Editors night, Johnny Temple (Akashic Books), Carla Blumenkranz (n+1), and Scott Lindenbaum and Andy Hunter (Electric Literature) spoke about publishing ideology in the wake of digital advancement.  Together, these illustrious editors dispelled the myth that New York fiction editors drive Audi convertibles, wear magic clothes pressed and washed by animated birds, and eat sandwiches made from the dreams of young writers. 

Not only did we learn about craft issues during the week, but I got to learn about the students who came from as far as England to attend the intensive.  Mackenzie Brady and Joseph Jordon, for example, are both training for the New York Marathon, and would wake at 5am every morning to run Prospect Park which is, you know, insane.

Speaking of running, the week itself took on the pace of a marathon.  We on The One Story staff had to keep ourselves energized.  I did so by excessive caffeine intake and dancing around to INXS.  Michael took what he called “gentlemen’s naps” in Prospect Park before each night’s panel.  Our amazing staff helped us every step of the way by setting up and taking down drinks and snacks for each event, and generally being a joy to be around.

On Thursday night, we enjoyed “An Evening with Sam Lipsyte,” who read hilarious excerpts from his newest novel “The Ask,” and told moderator and Managing Editor Tanya Rey a list of words his teacher Gordon Lish banned in stories: restaurant, thigh, splayed.

Themes sprung up.  For example, writers who are also rock stars or who have “screamed loudly in front of bands”: (Johnny Temple, Myla Goldberg, Sam Lipsyte), working with Gordon Lish (Sam Lipsyte, Terese Svoboda), and community.  Another theme was community.  Josh Henkin and Deborah Landau , Directors of the MFA programs at Brooklyn College and NYU, respectively, listed it as a major reason to attend an MFA program, to find people who are trying to do the same thing you are, to find “your readers.”  And the final theme was a little thing called magic.  Over and over, speakers mentioned it as the unexplainable factor in a favorite piece.  Hannah called a good resolution of a story “a magic feeling you get in the pit of your stomach.”  And, I began every workshop by saying, “Let’s make some magic, people.”

Here is where I talk about the moon.  Every evening in Brooklyn, the moon sat fat above the rooftops like it was auditioning for a movie with Cher about opera and bread.  On Friday night, we had our final reading and “family” dinner.  During dessert our hilarious intern Adina Talve-Goodman debuted a slideshow of pictures she had taken throughout the week to the song “Damn it Feels Good to be a Gangster.”  As I drove home in my Hummer, eating a croissant made out of gold, I felt a hollow, buzziness in my stomach, as if I had just taken a good hill fast in my car.  It could only be one thing: a good resolution to a story.

Thank you to the talented and lovely students of our inaugural Workshop: Mackenzie, Eric, Sarah, Joseph, Brianna, Erin, Bobby, Julia, Meghan, Jude and Patrick.  Thank you to all the amazing professionals who came in to lend their expertise.  Thank you to our wonderful staff; Maribeth Batcha, Tanya Rey, Hannah Tinti, Jenni Milton, Cordelia Calvert, and Adina Talve-Goodman who helped Michael and me pull off a great show.  Thank you to Nathan at the Can Factory and Nana, our caterer with the mostest.  Thank you to Scottadito Osterio Toscana, who hosted our yummy final Italian family dinner.  And thank you to Michael J. Pollock, who never fails to crack us all up. 

I will think of all of you while I am on the beach next week with Jay-Z and the cast of Mad Men, being massaged by singing, animated blue jays.  Damn.  It does feel good to be a gangster.

For more pictures, check out our Facebook page.  I hope you will join us if and when we do this crazy intensive next year.  Bring Vitamin Water.

Until then I remain your dedicated Associate Editor,

Marie-Helene

Seth Fried Reading in NYC

Seth Fried, author of One Story issue #124 “Frost Mountain Picnic Massacre,” a story that engendered a fear of face paint in all who read it and for that was awarded a Pushcart Prize, will read from his short story collection on July 28th at 6:30pm at Apexart, a super cool space that supports emerging and independent artists.  The reading is part of their “Almost Famous” series, which showcases bright young talent.  This is fitting since Seth, whose collection will be published in 2011 by Soft Skull Press, is lousy with talent.

July 28th  Apex Art Almost Famous Reading Series – 6:30 pm
291 Church Street, NYC, 10013

Issue #136: Number Stations

For #136 I’m turning the blog reins over to Marie-Helene Bertino, One Story’s Associate Editor, who was the issue editor for Smith Henderson’s amazing story “Number Stations.” Hope you all enjoyed this one as much as I did.-HT

Smith Henderson’s story “Number Stations” was pulled directly out of the slush pile by our keen editorial assistant James Scott who, when forwarding it to me, included this note: This is the best story about an ostrich I read today.

“Number Stations” is a story about the flawed members of a small summer town in Montana.  The people in this town are tied together by the protagonist Goldsmith who owns the restaurant, employs the ex-con Bill, is crushed on by Emily, envied by Van, is father to Charity and whose mother’s late night finger of Beam is interrupted by the ominous voice of a man over the baby monitor, droning through a series of numbers.  The story itself, however, is tied together by the sporadic sightings of a runaway ostrich.

There is much to say about the language of this piece.  The verbs alone sing many sentences to new and unexpected places.  Hot little clouds of breath are “chuffed” by the ostrich, testimonies of time “vouch” in glaciers, and thin water “rills.”  Sometimes strong verbs can feel forced, but Smith Henderson’s capable voice sews each one perfectly into the dense fabric of the story.  It is a voice that knows when it can get away with sentences that wind long around daring verbs and knows when to just land one quickly, in the case of: “Goldsmith didn’t mind if the biddies were upset.  Life was short and weird.”

Smith Henderson’s writing favors fewer words to open up the door to everyday surreality.  I think of “Number Stations” as an American story because America is weird.  For proof, watch the first five minutes of any episode of Nancy Grace.  In America, boys fly over cornfields in the Midwest in manmade space ships, women sell their granddaughters into sex trades, and former DAs with blonde helmut haircuts have successful talk shows delighting over all of it. 

Once in a while, a miracle.  The enormously difficult last scene balances Emily’s kindness to Bill, her simultaneous horror and inclination to help, his quick forgiveness, his pain, and ice cream.  I read somewhere that endings should feel surprising and inevitable.  This one was impossible for me to predict.  Yet, every time I read it, I feel it ends exactly where it should.  The story has already offered its explanation for these seemingly bizarre elements.  Life is short and weird. 

Travel Guide of America

Bigfork, Montana.  I’ve never been there.  I’d like to go. I’d like to sit in a hot tub kept boiling by the take-turns methods of drunk kitchen workers.  I would like to experience a late-summer snowstorm.  I would like to chase a wild bird down a dirt road that changes to a meadow of Russian thistle.  I would even like to realize, while watching an ostrich traverse the horizon, that my life is going to be difficult, like Charity does. 

While working with Smith over the past few months, I never got tired of reading “Number Stations.”  While each day the East Coast, shaking winter off, was becoming green again, each night I returned to the end of summer in Bigfork.  Each night I starred different lines that struck me, in addition to the old ones again.  Lines like, “Only seven, the girl already did not forgive herself her own crooked features and was certain that her destiny was to ride an ostrich or griffin or rainbow to her true self, who was beautiful and free.”  Each night the language revealed itself newly, in the way certain people’s voices never fail to make me happy.  Or, in the example of this story, the way Van’s “wonderful hips” never fail to elicit the same thrill from Emily.  Each time the ostrich tink tink-ed on Van’s kitchen window, the snow falling behind its head straight then shunting sideways then straight, I could see it.  It never got old.

Smith Henderson’s “Number Stations” is remarkable.  At the very least, it will be the best ostrich story you read today.

Go here to read an interview with Smith about “Number Stations” and find out who he thinks “sings like an angel, looks like a sasquatch.”

Literary Debutante Ball fashion advice from One Story’s Associate (Fashion) Editor:

An image from Amy Vanderbilt's "How to be well dressed."

I’ve been asked to act as fashion godmother for anyone wondering what to wear to this Friday night’s Literary Debutante Ball.  I must assume this is because I own the complete set of Amy Vanderbilt’s “Success Program for Women,” and quote regularly from its more illuminative tomes such as “Your European Vacation” and “How to Develop Poise and Self-Confidence.”

Happily, there is no dress code for our literary ball.  A straw poll reveals our staff is thinking cocktail dresses, sundresses and rompers for the ladies, blazers and ties over jeans, skinny jeans, khakis, or pants my grandmother would refer to as “slacks” for the gentlemen.  The American Can Factory in Brooklyn is a fun and creative place, so you could arrive dressed as a slice of Swiss cheese and feel right at home.  Unless someone else shows up dressed as one (heaven forbid).

Vintage prom dresses and tuxes, casual Friday office attire: all good!  Be comfortable.  Be brave.  Do your best.

Even more happily, it doesn’t matter what you wear.  What matters is whether you have a good heart and how many times you compliment the Associate Editor on her Swiss cheese costume.

Finally, I offer a few nuggets of fashion advice I’ve collected over the years:

“Glamour, always.”  – Dita Von Teese

“Before you go out, take one piece of jewelry off.”  – my grandmother

“Before I go out, I put one more piece of jewelry on.”  – Kim Kardashian

“It’s always better to be overdressed than underdressed.”  – Coco Chanel

“My mother taught us that it was always better to be underdressed than overdressed.”  Audrey Hepburn’s son, Luca.

“It’s not the clothes, it’s how you wear them.” – Me, 1987

“You cannot go to school with Swatch watches in your hair.” – my mother, 1987

“We’re calling because your daughter came to school with Swatch watches in her hair and refuses to take them out.  To make matters worse, after seeing her, several other girls have put their own Swatch watches in their hair.  We can’t have that.” – my principal, 1987

“Don’t forget yourself—make sure of yourself!”  Amy Vanderbilt’s Success Program for Women, How to Develop Poise and Self-Confidence.

“Nothing beats a nice pair of slacks.” – my grandmother