I always get excited for holiday reading. After a big Thanksgiving meal, I like to digest with a good book. And I save the ones that I can’t tote around with me (I do a lot of reading on the subway) for the lull between Christmas and New Year’s. (This year, I hope to read Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of War and Peace and Roberto Bolano’s 2666. I acknowledge that it’s an ambitious plan; we’ll see if I actually manage to finish either by 2009.) At a recent One Story staff meeting, we had an enthusiastic (and heated, since we don’t all agree) discussion about our favorite books of fiction published this year. Titles that were casually mentioned at that meeting include: The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon; Home by Marilynne Robinson; The Boat by Nam Le; Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum; the contentious Netherland by Joseph O’Neill; Lush Life by Richard Price; and The Good Thief by our own Hannah Tinti. There’s some overlap between our list and the new one in the New York Times Book Review. What were your favorite books of the year? What books do you intend to give your family and friends? What will you be reading this holiday season? Do tell. We always welcome your comments on our blog.
There is nothing like a good sport story–teams clashing, the coach’s inspirational pep talk, the last shot hitting the net right before the buzzer. When “We Bluegills” by Robert Travieso first crossed my desk, I was expecting something along these lines, but what I got was a sport story completely turned on its head: the narrator, Jeremiah, as well as all his teammates are on drugs, the foreign coach’s pep talk is hilariously incomprehensible, and half way through the water polo match (water polo!) a player on the opposing team sprouts wings and suddenly begins talking like Thor, the norse God of thunder. Underneath all this madness is Jeremiah’s personal struggle to overcome the guilt of his grandfather’s death. The weaving together of these two narratives is part Denis Johnson’s Jesus’ Son, part John Irving’s fantastic description of sports games. At the same time Robert Travieso makes ”We Bluegills” it’s own creature–touching, strange, and very, very funny. Check out his Q&A to find out more about this incredible story. I hope you all enjoy it as much as I did.
At One Story, we’re always happy to see short story writers win big prizes and fellowships. So we’re delighted to report that Charles D’Ambrosio, author of two phenomenal story collections, The Point (1995) and The Dead Fish Museum (2006), as well as a beautiful book of essays called Orphans, is one of the recipients of a Fellowship from Lannan Foundation. We know that D’Ambrosio is working on a novel, but we can’t wait to read whatever he publishes next.
“The actor event in Hollywood, organized by my dear friend Holiday Reinhorn was absolutely amazing and surreal. Definitely one of the best nights of my life. Among the actors who read from my short story collection were Rainn Wilson, Justine Batemen, Eric Stoltz, Matthew Armstrong, and Nathan Fillion. You can see several pages of photos from the event here, and read a shout out from People Magazine here. My deepest gratitude to all who participated, attended, and helped to organize this amazing night! I’ll never forget it.”
The National Book Award winners were announced tonight at a dinner in New York emceed by Eric Begosian. (And thanks to the National Book Foundation’s Twitter updates, readers who were not at the dinner could still follow the action. I confess that I don’t entirely understand Twitter, but was impressed by how tech savvy the National Book Foundation is.) This year’s winner for Fiction is Peter Matthiessen for Shadow Country. The four Finalists were: Aleksander Hemon for The Lazarus Project, Rachel Kushner for Telex from Cuba, Marilynne Robinson for Home, and Salvatore Scibona for The End. In other award news tonight, McKey (apparently not her real name) was named “America’s Next Top Model.” The winners of the National Book Awards each received $10,000 and a bronze statue. The winner of “ANTM” received a $100,000 contract with Cover Girl, representation from Elite Model Management, and a cover shoot for Seventeen Magazine. I’ll refrain from further comment. Just buy the Finalists’ wonderful books. And then read them. Please.
The National Book Foundation’s annual “5 Under 35″ celebrates five books of fiction by five writers under the age of thirty-five. As most people know, thirty-five is the minimum age for a President of the United States. To the Founding Fathers, with their limited life expectancy, thirty-five years seemed sufficient time to accrue the experience necessary to be Chief Executive of this fledging nation. In our contemporary society, where forty is the new twenty, thirty-five still seems awfully young. It’s hard to imagine electing a thirty-five-year-old President. (People were worried about Obama’s experience and he is 47. He is also a terrific writer who wrote Dreams from My Father when he was under 35. But I digress.) Still, the 5 Under 35 celebration is a reminder that one should never underestimate youth. Mary Gaitskill said the title story in One Story author Nam Le’s astonishingly good collection, The Boat, would be extraordinary if it had been written by a fifty-year-old author, and that the fact that Nam was just twenty-six when he wrote it makes it all the more remarkable. There is no doubt that writing is hard, and that with experience and practice, most writers’ work does get better. But some writers do their best work long before 35. The work of the five writers feted at Tribeca Cinemas last night already displays such wisdom and maturity that one can’t help but feel that 35 is an arbitrary age to define the cut-off between young and, well, less young. How relevant is age when it comes to confidence and authority on the page? It’s exciting to imagine what this year’s 5 Under 35 will write in the next thirty-five years or so. In the meantime, buy the books they have already written. Each of the five young writers is always selected by a previous National Book Award Fiction Finalist or Winner. Here are the 5 Under 35 for 2008, who were introduced by the writers who selected them: Matthew Eck, The Farther Shore. (Selected by Joshua Ferris, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Then We Came to the End.) Keith Gessen, All the Sad Young Literary Men. (Selected by Jonathan Franzen, 2001 National Book Award Winner for The Corrections.) Sana Krasikov, One More Year. (Selected by Francine Prose, 2000 National Book Award Finalist for Blue Angel.) Nam Le, The Boat. (Selected by Mary Gaitskill, 2005 National Book Award Finalist for Veronica.) Fiona Maazel, Last Last Chance. (Selected by Jim Shepard, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Like You’d Understand, Anyway.)
A fan and Irina Reyn show why Jeopardy loves What Happened to Anna KOn Friday, November 7th, Irina Reyn (author of One Story issue #89, “The Wolf Story”) joined us at Pianos to read from her debut novel, What Happened to Anna K. The book is a contemporary retelling of Anna Karenina, but Reyn has taken Tolstoy’s classic and made it her own. Irina is originally from Moscow and when you listen to her reading, you’ll hear my rusty Russian. It is also worth noting that Irina’s novel was recently featured as an answer on “Jeopardy!” She may be the first One Story author who has been mentioned on air by Alex Trebek.
We at One Story can barely keep up with the success of our authors. This month we were lucky enough to interview Kelly Link, whose short story “The Great Divorce” was One Story issue # 59. Kelly’s new collection Pretty Monsters was published by Viking Children’s Books in October. Pretty Monsters has received outstanding reviews, and was included on Amazon’s 2008 list of Top Ten Books for Teens.
Kelly Link is the award-winning author of Stranger Things Happen and Magic for Beginners (selected by Time Magazine as one of the Best Books of 2005). The recipient of a 2006 NEA grant, Link lives in Northampton, Massachusetts, where she and her husband Gavin J. Grant run Small Beer Press who, among other great offerings, publish Lady Churchill’s Rosebud Wristlet, a consistently brilliant literary magazine.
Here Kelly talks about loving dead people, exhuming ex girlfriends, Buffy the Vampire Slayer and other subjects of Pretty Monsters.
The stories in Pretty Monsters seem to have a shared, funny narrator, giving the sense they are being related to us by a friend. Was your intention to have a continuous narrative feel?
Point of view is a way of manipulating distance. You can get inside the heads of your characters, and then draw back and comment on those characters’ prejudices or peculiarities through the filter of that intermediary, your narrator. It allows for lateral movement. And of course you (and now I mean you the reader as well as you the writer) may begin to suspect that the narrator has their own agenda or story. There’s more of a sense of play, of elasticity when the characters want one thing and the narrator may want something else.
It can also be a way of tethering a story that heads off into fantastic or supernatural territory.
Until you asked, I hadn’t actually thought about how many narrators were lurking and loitering in these stories. They’re smart alecks, aren’t they? It’s a relief to hear they’re likable, which is not to say always trustworthy, I hope.
The kids in the story “Magic for Beginners” are obsessed with a “reality show” called The Library, whose reality bleeds into the real lives of the characters, who may or may not be characters on the show itself. Was The Library based on a real TV show?
The story “Magic for Beginners” was based on the experience of watching Buffy the Vampire Slayer. I moved from Somerville, MA to Brooklyn to Northampton, MA during the seven years Buffy was on, and the one thing all of the places I lived had in common, besides too many books, was a room with a television where we got together with various friends to watch new episodes and then dissect, praise, complain, rewrite and rewatch. It was an enormously social experience, and it’s not one I’ve had since Buffy ended. I wanted to write something that would capture the way it feels to be a fan and a member of a fandom.
On the other hand, the television show itself, The Library, was my attempt to write all the things that would be–if not impossible, then at least costly and impractical–to do in an actual television show. Like having different actors take over key roles in each episode, and putting in elaborate settings and all manner of special effects.
Speaking as a slush reader, there’s nothing worse than a piece of fiction that reads like a transcript of an episode of a television show, and so, in self-defense I started to wonder what could be done in fiction with a television show that you couldn’t actually do using a camera, a script and a bunch of actors.
People loving dead people pops up here and there in the stories. Jeremy loves Fox (who may or may not be dead on a show that may or may not be “reality”), Miles loves Bethany (a teenaged-sweetheart whose grave he digs up to recover his poems). Was it a happy accident to have so much death and loss in the collection, or was it an intentional theme?
Well, that collision between love and death is inevitable, isn’t it? There are a fair number of ghosts in this collection because I love ghost stories. There are some bloodthirsty monsters because when I was a kid, I loved reading monster stories. Pretty Monsters is actually a young adult collection, and so these stories needed to have a certain dramatic urgency. The possibility of death raises the stakes. So does the threat of humiliation.
“The Faery Handbag” is a story about a magic pocketbook that contains several changing worlds. Where did you come up with the idea for this story?
I’ve always loved stories where the insides of something were bigger than the outside. I was drawing on folklore about fairy hills and people going in for one night and coming out hundreds of years later. I was also inspired by a friend who proposed marriage to his girlfriend on a Scrabble board. I started to think about other uses that Scrabble boards and tiles might have, such as divination.
What influenced your decision to make so many of the main characters young?
I like writing from the point of view of children, or young adults. They’re in this weird transitional space, between worlds. Their actions have real consequences, but that doesn’t mean that they’re taken seriously. They’re specialists in music, or dinosaurs or clothing labels. They want things with a kind of great and terrible intensity that makes them great characters to write about. They say things that adults wouldn’t let themselves say. When I write about adults, I’m most interested in writing about adults who have retained some of these qualities.
Why do you write, for lack of a better word, fantastically? Do you hope to get at human emotion through alternative means? Is it just more fun?
I don’t know that I have a particularly good reason at the moment. It’s not just that writing fantasy, or ghost stories, is more fun, because I’m not sure I’m willing to go on the record saying writing is fun. Sometimes it is and sometimes it isn’t. But certainly I’m more interested in the fantastic and the weird, in the experimental and pulp traditions. It just feels like more expansive territory. You can still use all the tools of realistic fiction. You’ve just got this other, complimentary set of tools as well.
I love Angela Carter’s fiction, Joe Hill’s short stories. The world that matters most to me is the kind of fiction that I imprinted on, and never stopped reading. That’s science fiction, fantasy, ghost stories, Stephen King and Terry Pratchett. I’m an unapologetic fan of space opera, heroic fantasy, hobbits, novels about dragons like Jo Walton’s Tooth and Claw or Naomi Novik’s Temeraire books. I still read young adult fantasy by writers like Ysabeau Wilce and Elizabeth Knox, M.T. Anderson and Diana Wynne Jones. So maybe these are all the reasons why I write what I write, because I want to create work that will exist, at least partially, in that same space.
One Story author Nam Le has won the 2008 Dylan Thomas Prize, for his short story collection, The Boat.The Guardian reports: “The chairman of the judges, Peter Florence, hailed Le as a “winner worthy of Dylan Thomas. Nam tackles his own background and circumstances as well as that of others with a clear eye, focused intelligence and wonderful use of words,” Florence said. “He is, in this panel’s opinion, a phenomenal literary talent, and I look forward to following his career as it progresses.” To read the rest of the article, go here.Congratulations to Nam!!
A few years back, we published Charles Lambert’s wonderful story, “The Scent of Cinnamon”, which went on to win an O. Henry Award. Now that story is the lead piece in Charles’s latest book, The Scent of Cinnamon & Other Stories. To find find out more or read an excerpt, go here. Or watch the short video below to hear Charles talk about writing short stories vs. novels: