Issue #245: Joe Cary’s “Disembodied”

Our new issue, “Disembodied” by Joe Cary, is about family, legacy, kindness, generosity, and the possibility of magic. It’s also about fear, rotten luck, and flat-out destitution. For all its admirable qualities—and there are many—it’s the voice of this story that brought me to my knees. The unnamed narrator is a second-generation homeless man living on the streets of New York City. His only agenda is a simple one: get through today so that he can get through tomorrow. He expects to be met with difficulties. He expects to encounter judgmental looks from strangers, suspicious glances from cops, hunger pains, challenges when it comes to looking for a place to sleep or even a safe place to sit down and have a thought. He lives in a world so consistent in its daily unwelcoming of his presence that it’s almost become a dependable place. And then something unexpected begins to happen—something that defies even his college-educated, street-smart mind. Hats off to the author, Joe Cary, who says in our Q&A that while drafting “Disembodied” he read the story aloud so many times (in order to get the voice right) that he “can nearly recite it.” That hard work has paid off, and we’re the lucky readers who get to reap the benefits.

OTS 55: Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade”

I was nine when I lost one of my grandparents and fifteen when I lost another. In both cases, I remember every detail about receiving the news: the shock, the tears, the hugs, the consolation. What I don’t remember was thinking that one of my parents had just lost one of their parents. Call it selfishness or shortsightedness, I just couldn’t see my parents as anything but parents, which meant that I couldn’t picture them as someone’s child—someone they’d just found out had passed away.

The narrator of Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade” is wiser and far more generous than I ever was as a child or a young adult. She learns in the opening paragraph of her grandmother’s death and then travels with her mother back to China for the funeral. At every step of the way, she observes and listens to and processes her mother, and she’s able to tap into the complexity of emotions her mother is experiencing. No parent is a parent without having once been a child. No parent can resist measuring themselves against the parents who raised them. Between one generation and the next are layers of hopes, desires, resentments, and regrets. Throw death into the mix, and the emotions become all the more tender—even raw.

“White Jade” is an incredibly sophisticated and accessible portrait of three women bound by more than just blood. For good reason, it’s one of our Teen Writing Contest winners. We’re thrilled to publish it, and we’re thrilled to introduce you to the work of Katherine Xiong.

To read an interview with the author, please visit the stories page of our website.

Issue# 244: Brian Panowich’s “Box of Hope”

I’m always interested in the story behind the story. That is, the inspiration that had to be there in order for the story to come into existence. In the case of “A Box of Hope” by Brian Panowich, the inspiration was a tragedy—the death of the author’s father—and the original idea was to imagine a conversation the author might have with a younger version of his dad. As is so often the case with inspiration and creativity, the result is something very different.

“A Box of Hope” takes place on a front porch over a period of roughly half an hour. A wake is going on, and the deceased’s fifteen-year-old son, Will, is grieving, brooding, and mad enough to punch someone. Then along comes Jack: his father’s younger brother, a man Will has never met, a man his father wasn’t close to, a man his mother despises.

Our new issue is, in part, an investigation into the nature of hope and the trust it brings with it. Hope can take many forms and can spring from some very unlikely sources. It can be as unexpected as it is welcome. And it can be anything but simple. For me, the most interesting takeaway from Brian Panowich’s story—and the thing that first drew me to it—is the oft-overlooked reality that hope can sometimes be complicated.

To read an interview with the author, visit the stories section of our website.

One Story Summer Conference Day 5: Authorial Authority

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Stephanie Santos. Enjoy!–LV

The One Story Summer Conference ended on Friday after a week filled with craft lectures, panels, and workshops. While we’re sad to see it end, we’re happy to have welcomed a new group of writers to the One Story family.

After the final workshops, Hannah Tinti gave a fantastic lecture on how writers can ensure they have authority in their stories. The main question writers should ask themselves when they are considering the amount of authority they have in a story, Tinti told the audience, is “Am I doing this story justice?”

To begin, Tinti asked the audience to close their eyes and recall the first book that sparked their interest in reading or writing fiction. After asking the audience how they felt reading this book, she wrote down some of these descriptions: “entertained,” “invested,” “understood,” “excited,” “alive,” “not alone.”

Hannah then asked the crowd to find words that describe feeling lost. The answers she received included “confused,” “disorientated,” “stupid,” “lonely,” and “angry.” Her main point was that a story written with authority would skillfully guide readers to the first list and inspire them rather than frustrate and confuse them.

Tinti listed some key things that she looks for in a short story while reading unsolicited submissions:

  • Language
  • How quickly she is sucked into the story
  • If the story displays a new idea or something in a new light
  • If the story clearly knows what it’s about
  • How in control the writer is of the story

While at first it may seem overwhelming to juggle so many ideas at once while writing, Tinti dispensed helpful advice to the writers so that they could begin to achieve each of these important elements.

  • Write with clear, confident sentences
  • Immediately set the stage of the story to ground your reader
  • Include just enough specific facts
  • Establish the main character quickly
  • Understand the emotional situation of your story

To demonstrate what all these skills look like in action, Tinti led the group in a close read of Jesse Lee Kercheval’s flash fiction piece “Carpathia,” which manages to employ all these essential elements seamlessly. She pointed out that the effect the story has is only possible with tireless revision and an acute attention to these details.

Tinti then had the audience put her advice to the test with three exercises. The first was to take a flower and invent a botanical encyclopedia entry for it. She had participants describe the flower in terms of specific facts that relate to it as well as how the flower appeals to the five senses. This exercise established false authority and demonstrated its usefulness at making false authority feel believable.

Conference participants prepare to write fictional botanical encyclopedia entries about their flowers.

Tinti also stressed the importance of mapping a scene out to make it clearer to the reader what is happening, where they are, what they are seeing, and what the main character’s feelings about the situation are. The mapping exercise, which was designed to help writers establish a scene, was to describe a situation with a car that the writers were very familiar with and describe exactly everything they see to the right, left, forward, behind them, up, or below them. Then, she had the audience write a scene using this “map” to show how much easier it is to write a scene when the writer has planned it out.

Hannah’s final exercise demonstrated the importance of layering in a scene. Her exercise focused on character. To help the group visualize the layering process, she used a soil diagram that showed the layers of earth: surface litter, topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock. The exercise was to choose a character and state what they are saying out loud, which makes up the surface layer of that character in a specific scene. The next layer (the topsoil) was made up of the character’s physical action while they are speaking. After this topsoil, Tinti asked the participants to write what this character is thinking (subsoil). Finally, as the bedrock, writers provided a memory that this character might be reminded of in this scene.

Tinti’s goal for these exercises is to make each scene easier to access for the reader. Writing with authority is critical to avoiding confusion or frustration from a disoriented reader. A story should be clear and leave all the complexity to its substance.

To conclude the conference, all workshop participants were asked to read a part of their work before dinner. Every writer gave their reading with eloquence and authority, thanks to the reading tips they received on Thursday from Ann Napolitano and Patrick Ryan. Following a dinner catered by Runner & Stone, workshop participants were sad to go but left fulfilled by the week. We at One Story wish these writers great success and cannot wait to see where their talent and hard work will take them next.

One Story Summer Conference Day 4: Lessons on Life-Crafting

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Benjamin Newgard. Enjoy!–LV

After three fun and illuminating days at the One Story Summer Conference, we arrived at the fourth, which began with the writers’ penultimate workshops led by authors Anna Solomon and Will Allison. The focused, creatively charged morning soon segued to delicious sandwiches and a moment to kick back and chat before the next big event: a lecture about organizing—or “crafting”—the writer’s life by our very own Ann Napolitano, associate editor of One Story and author of the books A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach.

Napolitano separated this task of “life-crafting” into three primary components, or “legs of the stool”: paying attention, maintaining the writer’s inner self, and tailoring their practical routines and principals to allow for the most unimpeded dedication to their work. While the first of these—paying attention—may seem like common sense, Napolitano argued that it is anything but. In fact, by learning to “pay attention to what she paid attention to” (an adage borrowed from Amy Krouse Rosenthal), Napolitano gained heightened clarity not only in her writing, but in her life at large.

To help illustrate how she accomplished this, Napolitano urged writers to imagine that a magnetic board rests inside them, one to which their interests and curiosities, whether fleeting or lasting, “stick.” The latter, more persistent of these interests comprise a writer’s “obsessions”—the very foundations, she explained, of an artist’s themes and inner voice. “Leaning into” these obsessions—meditating on them, letting them linger and marinate in the mind—can only make the writer’s unique imagination all the more pronounced, even when the given interest seems like one the writer wouldn’t normally choose. Some everyday methods she recommended for honing “self-attention” included include keeping a journal, making lists, and taking photographs.

Beyond becoming more familiar with a writer’s own curiosities and attention, Napolitano stressed that a productive creative life also depended in a large part on self-kindness. Pursuing a serious writing career inevitably involves an often staggering variety of trials and travails, whether those pertaining to the writing itself (rejection, self-doubt, artistic slumps), or those exterior to it, such as family, health, and financial needs. Yet however easy it might be to acknowledge such difficulties from a rational standpoint, writers often treat or think of themselves harshly when trouble disrupts their work. On this point, Napolitano offered an encouraging reminder: “Any day you sit down to write is a good day.”

When you approach the writing—and yourself—with kindness, generosity, and dedication, Napolitano said, “it goes better.” More than that, she insisted “the fact you created something on the page” is, in itself, “amazing.” Even if the piece you’re working on seems like a mess, “you created this thing,” and “that’s wonderful.”

Napolitano concluded her lecture by discussing some of the practical lifestyle changes and practices that might help writers approach their craft with all the more focus and persistence. Some of these include:

  • Pursuing a job that the writer doesn’t have to ‘take home’—one with definite, constrained hours.
  • Simplifying everyday routine so the writer arrives at the desk as fresh and energized as possible.
  • Locking in a certain amount of time or part of every day specifically for writing—and doing so consistently. Whether this means writing on the subway every day, or early in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up, this time should be honored and protected fiercely, tenaciously.

No matter what system or routines to which the writer adheres, the essential thing, as Napolitano put it, is that the writer “keep going. If you want the work inside you to grow and deepen, you have to keep writing.”

These sentiments found emphatic echo at the final event of day four: a Q&A with bestselling author Min Jin Lee, hosted by Hannah Tinti at Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore. Much like Ann, Lee emphasized the vitalness of exhaustively exploring a writer’s obsessions and natural, unceasing curiosities. In fact, her recent novel, Pachinko (finalist for the National Book Award), traces its earliest foundations to just such an obsession—a harrowing story she came across as a college student.

Transforming this kernel into Lee’s formidable novel, however, proved a decades-long process, one fraught with countless hours of research, interviews, and work alone at the desk. And as both Lee and Napolitano emphasized in their respective presentations, long and arduous journeys from idea to publication—should this ever be achieved—are overwhelmingly the rule, rather than the exception.

“Writing good fiction is really hard,” Napolitano said. But unless writers “put their heads down and take themselves and their work seriously,” they can never realize the “brilliance” of which they might be capable.

One Story Interns Benjamin Newgard, D.J. Kim, and Stephanie Santos with author Min Jin Lee.

One Story Summer Conference Day 3: Be Authentically You

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Diana (D.J.) Kim. Enjoy!–LV

Today marked the third day and the half-way point of our writers conference at the Old American Can Factory. Irina Reyn, author of The Imperial Wife and the forthcoming novel Mother Country, gave her craft lecture on point-of-view.

Point-of-view determines psychic distance, which the critic John Gardner defines as “the distance a reader feels between himself and the story.” One of the major takeaways from this craft lecture was that the degree of closeness or distance is not directly tied to the narrative point-of-view. Third-person point-of-view can, for example, have a closer psychic distance than a first-person. She pointed out that certain aspects of writing are harder in one voice than another; for instance, descriptions and scene setting is much easier to write in third-person than in first for which the writer needs to weave in the details. Reyn suggested that starting a draft with a level of distance is a good way for a writer to discover the point-of-view that works best for the story.

The second major point in the lecture was to resist merging the role of the character and the role of the narrator in writing. When a writer merges the two separate roles, they let a character run the story. Instead, the narrator should be responsible for describing the external world of the characters and setting the scene while a character is simply an actor on the page. To sum the lesson up, as long as the writer is aware of the existence of a world outside the character’s head, they are less likely to merge the two roles.

Irina then led the group in a writing exercise. Everyone was given a random character name, a job description, a desire, and a conflict—all things we had to account for while practicing writing in different voices with different levels of distance (of course, with the external world of the character in mind).

In the evening session, a group of four successful literary agents—Rebecca Gradinger (Fletcher & Company), Mitch Hoffman (Aaron Priest), Duvall Osteen (Aragi Inc.), and Soumeya Roberts (HSG)—joined us for the very informative and honest agent panel.

The agents made it clear that the route to publishing a book is not singular, and  the process of finding an agent and getting a manuscript out into the world is a unique journey for every author.

They also discussed the oh-so-important query letter. Query letters introduce a writer and their manuscript to the agent, so the writer should take the time to craft a compelling one. Once an agent signs an author, they are dedicating many hours of their lives to the author’s career, so they want to know that the author is super-dedicated to his or her own career in writing.

The things the agents value the most in query letters are as follows:

  1. A concise and clear email simply stating what the book is (similar to the brief description one would find on the back of books—enough about the story and the voice that makes agents want to read it). A good concise and clear description of your own work also demonstrates your handle on your own story.
  2. Professionalism—writers should be thinking about the author/agent relationship as a business deal, which also means the email should be free of spelling errors, crazy fonts, typos, avoiding photos, inspirational quotes, or any unnecessary material .
  3. Research the agent. It’s important to know to whom you’re sending your manuscript, meaning you understand the types of books the agent has taken on in the past.

Another major piece of advice the agents all agreed on was to not send your manuscript unless you are ready. They want to see how much a writer can do with their writing on their own before an agent steps in to help. Just as one would not apply to a job you they are not ready for, a writer should not send out manuscripts that are not quite ready yet.

Speaking of query letters, the agents mentioned that they like to see authors who are also readers. One of the agents stated that she is more interested in what the author is reading and who s/he is in conversation with. She said that she will never take on an author who is not a reader. All in all, it is important for a writer to refer to books they are reading that are contemporary and that your manuscript is in conversation with.

The final piece of advice came from Hannah Tinti, the moderator of the panel, who suggested that writers should “lean in” to themselves. The specificity of their stories is also where universality is found.

If you are a writer who is afraid that people might not understand your writing (your voice, creativity, story), take comfort in the fact that many agents are seeking unique, particular voices. As Hannah Tinti concluded, “Be authentically you.”

OTS 54: Micaiah Saldaña’s Dear Jamie, Love Rory

“Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is a story about siblings. But more specifically, it’s a story about love. Jamie is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Rory and Nikki are his sisters. They don’t always get along; in fact, one of the few things they have in common is their love for their brother and the fact that they miss him so much. And they’re about to embark on a road trip together.

One Teen Story is excited to be presenting this impressive piece of fiction by Micaiah Saldaña, one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. Written as a series of letters Rory writes to Jamie, it is both funny and touching, and it is a testament to patience and personal growth. One of the things I like about “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is that it’s two stories in one: we get the road trip (and who doesn’t like a good road trip?), and we get an intimate portrait of two sisters on a path toward mending their strained relationship.

As long as the Airstream trailer doesn’t make you claustrophobic and Mittens (a slobbering Mastiff) doesn’t drool on you, you should enjoy this one-sided epistolary.

To read an interview with Micaiah, please visit our website.

One Story Summer Conference Day 2 : It’s About the Love

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Benjamin Newgard. Enjoy!–LV

In spite of stormy forecasts, Day 2 of the One Story Summer Conference began with clear skies and sunshine. After morning coffee and tea, conference participants attended another round of workshops led by authors Will Allison and Anna Solomon. Following workshop and a refreshing Mediterranean lunch, conference writers shifted focus from craft and technique to the business side of literature.

One Story co-founder Hannah Tinti, whose own publishing career traces back to such esteemed magazines (in addition to One Story, that is!) as the Boston Review and Atlantic, kicked off the afternoon with her lecture, “Out of the Slush Pile.”

For conference attendees, “Out of the Slush Pile” contained a bevy of crucial tips and guidelines for establishing a professional, compelling presence in the literary world. To begin, Hannah listed the basic features of proper Manuscript Format—what she considers a bare essential before she reads any submission:

  • Always double space (single-spaced work, Hannah cautioned, might be subject to immediate rejection)
  • Use a 12-point, simple font, such as Times New Roman or something similar.
  • Include your contact information on the first page: name, email, phone, and postal address (unless submitting to a publication that reads ‘blind,’ meaning they look at the cover letter and contact information after reading the piece).
  • Place an asterisk in any intended space break, just to ensure these don’t get lost in translation (between file formats, for instance).
  •  If submitting a physical manuscript, print on plain white paper (here Hannah recalled how she once received a submission on scented paper), and print only on one side. This last tip will improve legibility, plus editors often like to take notes on the back.
  • Include page numbers!

These rules, as Hannah noted, often change depending on the publication in question. Many journals, for instance, prefer that writers submit work in a particular file format, such as Word or PDF. In all cases, Hannah stressed the importance of checking the targeted publication’s submission guidelines, as breaking these can often disqualify a piece from the get-go.

Beyond preparing a brilliant, soon-to-be-prize-winning manuscript, there remains the question of where to send it. On this point, Hannah urged writers to do their research and separate potential publishers into tiers, somewhat like applying to college or graduate programs: Which journals, for example, might comprise ‘reaches’ or ideal places for your work? Which seem like safer bets?

To help in the search for potential literary homes, Hannah recommended three indispensable anthologies as resources: The Pushcart Prize: Best of the Small Presses, Best American Short Stories, and the O. Henry Prize Stories. Not only will these provide a sense of the quality writers should strive for in their work, but also an overview of celebrated, widely read outlets that could elevate a writer’s career.

Those hoping to publish not just a story, but a collection or novel are more likely preparing their manuscripts for submission to an agent or agency. In this regard, research proves no less important—Hannah encouraged all writers to find agents who have worked in genres similar to their own, and who have published authors they admire.

Whether submitting work to a magazine or agency, Hannah noted the importance of a strong cover letter. As discovered in her own experience as a writer, editor, and publisher, the most effective cover letters adhere to a simple set of conventions. They should:

  • Be short.
  • Be addressed to a particular editor on the masthead (as in the Fiction Editor, or the Editor in Chief)
  • Mention any previous personal notes or acknowledgements from the editor.
  • Include a (brief) biographical blurb, mentioning the most important past publications, mentors, classes, and other relevant accomplishments.
  • If submitting a short piece or story, say nothing about the content of the work! No synopses or plot information!

To conclude her talk, Hannah focused on the most dreaded, yet all too familiar aspect of publishing: rejection. And while this familiarity might make us bristle and wither (even the most encouraging rejections “still stink”), Hannah reminded the class that many of the most successful, even canonical writers first faced repeated rejection before becoming literary legends (including Herman Melville and Edgar Allen Poe). Rejection, in other words, is an inevitable part of the process, and as such Hannah encouraged all writers to develop their own rituals for easing the anxieties and pressures therein—for “taking the stones out of your pockets.”

Hannah’s lecture proved an appropriate prelude to the final event of Day 2, a panel of established book editors hosted by One Story Managing Editor Lena Valencia. Here conference attendees gained vital, firsthand insights into the publishing industry from Noah Eaker (Editorial Director at Flatiron Books), Megha Majumdar (Associate Editor at Catapult), Katie Raissian (Editor at Grove Atlantic), and Jessica Williams (Senior Editor at William Morrow).

Among the most heavily emphasized points they discussed was that the editor-writer relationship be understood as a partnership. As Williams put it, the editor’s job is to be the writer’s “toughest critic,” but also their “fiercest advocate.” First and foremost, she said, “It’s about the love, the passion for your book. It’s about finding the right fit for the editor of your book.”

Near the end of their discussion, the editors offered various pieces of advice for emerging writers. Some of these include:

  • Don’t get discouraged! If your debut book, for instance, doesn’t quite take off, there’s always the second, the third…
  • When it comes to finding an agent or publisher, a good way to get your foot in the door is to submit to magazines and journals. These much more frequently accept unsolicited and non-agented submissions, and many agents and editors search quality journals for new writers to work with.
  • Be nice! No matter your chances, unkindness can only make them worse.
  • Revise, revise, revise. Let your work sit, then come back to it. Editors, in other words, want work clearly cared for, work that demonstrates the writer’s effort and faith on the page.

Following the panel, workshop attendees got a chance to mingle with these editors over wine and cheese, which brought day two of the One Story Summer Conference to a pleasant, creatively buzzing close. Further literary exploration and learning await for day three—stay tuned!

One Story Summer Conference Day 1 : Characters Matter

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Stephanie Santos. Enjoy!–LV

One Story’s 2018 Summer Conference is here, and writers arrived at the Old American Can Factory on Sunday night excited to begin their week of workshops and craft lectures. Over wine and cheese, One Story co-founders Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha introduced the Writing Advice Wall: lengths of twine strung between two metal posts where workshop participants could handwrite bits of writing advice they picked up throughout the week on colorful cards and clip them to the twine.

The writers were given a tour of the Can Factory. At the One Story office, Maribeth and Hannah talked about the organization’s origins. The magazine started with just three thousand dollars and grew beyond what the two founders could have dreamed. The Summer Conference, they said, was an especially important milestone. When they held the first Conference in 2010, it was the organization’s first step toward being more than just a print magazine.

The next day, after their morning workshops with Anna Solomon and Will Allison, conference participants gathered to hear Patrick Ryan’s craft lecture entitled “Good Writing About Bad People.” He began by listing steps to approach any character you write, stating that all characters should:

  1. Interest you
  2. Be somewhat unknown to you
  3. Be able to surprise you
  4. Want something

Patrick said following these steps when creating a character is an effective way to separate your writing from typical genre fiction, which often falls flat for him when writers create a character and only go as far as tacking on shallow, meaningless attributes that do not speak to the character’s actions in a complex way. “Genre fiction,” he said, “is great when it comes close to literary fiction: when the characters matter.”

Patrick stressed that your character should be someone you want to spend quality time with, even if they are not someone you necessarily would like. Even if a character is mainly sweet, kind, or generous, finding the part of them that isn’t a good person is still important. He applied this same idea to unlikable characters: “You don’t have to like the character to be engaged in the story and want to learn more about them.” He emphasized the idea that there has to be some mystery about the character, and that overplanning or knowing everything about a character can make them reductive.

Another problem with overplanning connects back to the third step Patrick mentioned: if a writer knows everything about their character, the character can no longer surprise the writer. Patrick stated that too much planning is boring and puts too much pressure on the writer to invent, rather than allowing that character’s decisions to unfold organically. More importantly, he said this room for surprise is where some of the best ideas can come to a writer.

Stories are all about people, Patrick pointed out. Naturally, people see each other as good or bad to some degree. When writing a bad person or a villain, Patrick’s main point of emphasis was this: people are not just good or just evil, so neither should your characters be. “Evil” oversimplifies your character. He added that the same thing goes for labeling a character as “crazy.”

Patrick then outlined the three keys to writing complex villains:

  • Villains do not see themselves as villains.
  • You have to love all your characters the way an attorney loves a client.
  • Get in touch with your character’s internal narrative.

Patrick concluded his craft lecture with a final piece of advice for the writers. In order to write complex villains, writers must be both sympathetic and empathetic. Sympathy is at the base of all compassion and, as Patrick pointed out, it is impossible to not have compassion and be a writer. Empathy is important when writing a villain because it forces you into the perspective of that character and prevents you from selling your villain short. Patrick said that in every villain, there is often a heart, often a regret, often a fear, and something more than just evil. Without any of these, the villain is boring.

After Patrick’s craft lecture, the writers attended a Q&A session with instructors Will Allison and Anna Solomon. Hannah began by asking when Will and Anna first felt comfortable calling themselves writers. Anna felt pressured to take on the title when she was applying to graduate programs and had to explain to her friends and family the seriousness with which she now was approaching the field of writing to validate leaving her job to pursue a fiction-writing career. Will said that he calls himself a reviser. He took on this name long after he started calling himself a writer, eight years after he started writing his short story collection.

One student asked about Will and Anna’s daily writing routines, and both revealed that they schedule writing time early in the morning. Another student asked if they take time away from writing their novels to write short fiction, and both do but in different ways. When Anna submits a manuscript for feedback, she uses that time to write a short story and then puts it away to revise when she has another feedback-waiting period. Will says he often uses that break time to revise a story he has already written.

At the session’s end, they both named something about their writing careers that makes all their hard work worth it. Anna said she finds the act of writing thrilling, especially those moments where she creates something that surprises her. She also gets the chance to hear people discuss her published work and loves seeing how invested the readers were in her characters. Will said that when he was losing a game of softball, one of the players told him he had read his novel. After talking to this fan of his work, he stopped caring about the outcome of the softball game.

When the Q&A finished, writers filed out of the room and headed home to get ready for another busy day of workshops and craft lectures.

Issue# 243: Rachel King’s Railing

One of the most interesting things fiction can do is allow us to climb inside the minds of individuals who might not see the world the way we do. More than any other art form, even film, fiction is transformative. And a first-person narrator can make that transformation all the more intimate and impacting.

Our new issue, “Railing” by Rachel King, allows us to climb inside the mind of a middle-aged sausage-maker who was, up till recently, a train engineer. He’s divorced, has a daughter, would love to escape his past, and longs for the future he sees coming his way—a future that will be turned around and made brighter, he hopes, by a stranger running for public office.

The story, however, isn’t political. It’s personal, reflective, and aching to expand out of its own confines—into a world that involves a little less struggle. When I asked Rachel to tell me what the story was about in just one word, the word she chose was “intimacy.” (For more on our conversation, check out our Q&A.) “Railing” is an outstanding and melancholy piece of fiction. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.