Issue #247: Christopher Santantasio’s “Persistence”

Our new issue was selected and edited by contributing editor Will Allison. Take it away, Will! — PR

The first time I read “Persistence,” by Christopher Santantasio, I was reminded of one of my favorite novels, William Maxwell’s So Long, See You Tomorrow, in which the narrator is guilt-ridden over his failure to help a childhood friend fifty years earlier. As a reader, I have rarely encountered such a profound sense of regret on the page, and as a writer, I continue to be inspired by it.

Maxie, the narrator of “Persistence,” is haunted by a similarly powerful guilt. In 1960, when Maxie was twelve, her mother died, and she moved with her father to a small town in upstate New York. Maxie’s life in Clyde’s Creek was not a happy one. The only bright spots were the piano lessons she received from her teacher and time spent with her sole friend, Honey.

Honey’s life was no picnic either. As Maxie came to learn, Honey suffered severe abuse at the hands of her domineering older brother, Hubert. And as the only person who knew Honey’s secret, Maxie was the only person who could help. However, exposing Honey’s secret threatened to upend Maxie’s life as well. Suffice it to say that the choices Maxie made failed Honey entirely.

Like the narrator of So Long, See You Tomorrow, Maxie understands that her childhood actions were driven not by malice or heartlessness so much as by fear, confusion, and a child’s limited understanding of the world. Even so, Maxie struggles to come to terms with her behavior. In reading about this struggle, I found myself haunted by some of my own childhood mistakes, and I bet you will too. I also hope you’ll agree that Santantasio, despite being new on the literary scene, captures Maxie’s guilt with a sensitivity and depth that would make William Maxwell proud.

To read an interview with the author, visit the “Persistence” page on our website.

A Message About Our May 2018 Issue

In late September, One Story, Inc. was contacted by a writer concerned about similarities between a story she had submitted to One Story and a piece One Story had recently published, written by a former volunteer reader for the magazine. One Story, Inc. immediately launched a review and is currently evaluating all aspects of the situation and soliciting outside advice. At this point in the process, we decided a public statement was merited.

One Story, Inc. is a small, Brooklyn-based non-profit literary publisher. Our flagship magazine, One Story, receives approximately 10,000-12,000 short story submissions each year. From these submissions, One Story selects 12 stories to publish. One Story relies on volunteer readers (about 10-12 people) to aid the editors in this winnowing process. Readers are assigned 15 stories per week to read and are required to send at least one story each week to an editor for additional review.

While One Story readers are volunteers, there is an application process for these positions. Applicants are evaluated both on their ability to identify work suitable for the magazine and their ability to discuss the work of others with sensitivity and kindness. One Story readers meet with the editorial team on a bimonthly basis and often volunteer to assist One Story, Inc. staff in running public events.

Sara Batkie joined One Story, Inc. in May 2009 as a summer intern. When her internship was complete, she remained a part of the One Story team, donating her time as a reader and volunteer until August of 2016.

Since its founding in 2002, One Story’s policy is not to publish writing by any current editors, volunteers, or readers. However, the magazine does allow former volunteers and readers to submit their work for evaluation after a waiting period of at least one year.

In the fall of 2017, Batkie submitted her short story “Departures” to Patrick Ryan, editor in chief of One Story. This story was accepted for publication and published by One Story in May 2018.

On Sept. 25, 2018, One Story, Inc. was contacted by a submitter to the magazine, Sarah Jane Cody, who was concerned about similarities between a story she had submitted to One Story in December 2015, titled “An Invitation,” and Sara Batkie’s short story “Departures.”

After checking our database and records, One Story discovered that Sara Batkie had been a reader for Sarah Jane Cody’s story, “An Invitation.” These records indicated that after reading Cody’s submission, Batkie forwarded the story to One Story’s editors for additional evaluation. The editors decided to decline the story, and a message was sent to Sarah Jane Cody on April 21, 2016, with an encouraging note and a request to send more work.

While One Story, Inc. cannot speak to intentionality and while some circumstances remain unclear, the similarities in plot, aforementioned timeline, and conversations with both writers have led us to take Sarah Jane Cody’s concern very seriously.

The submission process for any literary magazine involves trust. Trust on the part of the magazine that writers are submitting their own original work, and trust on the part of the writers that the magazine will evaluate their work fairly and treat it with respect. One Story exists because of that trust.

We expect it may take some time before we have a full understanding of this matter. In the meantime, One Story will be suspending any additional sales or promotion of “Departures.”

We would like to thank Sarah Jane Cody for bringing this matter to our attention. We know it could not have been easy to do so.

One Story is grateful to all our readers, writers, donors, and submitters for the trust and support they have given to us over the years. We hope to continue to earn and strengthen that trust as we move forward.

Sincerely,

Maribeth Batcha & Hannah Tinti
One Story Co-Founders

To contact One Story about this matter, please email mbatcha@one-story.com.

OTS 56: Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna”

It’s always a pleasure to read submissions for our Teen Writing Contest. And it’s an extra pleasure to be taken to a time and place I’ve never been before. In the case of our new issue of One Teen Story, the time is 1945, and the place is war-torn Vienna. Tobias and Franz are riders in training at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. An evacuation is underway. Bombs are falling from the sky.

That’s already enough to have me on the edge of my seat. To complicate things further, the only manner of quickly and safely evacuating the horses is by train, and most conductors aren’t willing to pull a train through an air raid to save a bunch of horses.

The ability to create believable tension in a short story is admirable; the ability to sustain it to the end is something to be celebrated. One Teen Story is very proud to be presenting Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna” to the world of readers. You’ll never look at a Lipizzaner stallion the same way again!

Issue #246 Karen Brown’s “Spill the Wine”

Our new issue was acquired and edited by the laser-eyed Karen Friedman, so the pleasure of introducing it is all hers. Take it away, Ms. Friedman! — PR

“Spill the Wine” by Karen Brown, is set in a small summer community on the beaches of the Sound during the early 1970s. When sitting down to introduce this story to our readers, my first instinct was to talk about the nature of such places—how the simple act of returning each year to an unchanging spot highlights the passage of time and magnifies our own experiences, throwing into sharp relief the people we have become since we last visited.

But then I watched the recent Kavanaugh hearings and I, like many others, felt a deep sense of familiarity and rage—not simply at the events themselves, but more so at the responses from those who would ignore the power dynamics that continue to permeate our culture, the way acceptable consequences still seem defined by gender and race, rather than truth or fairness.

At fourteen the main character in “Spill the Wine,” Nancy, knows a lot already. With a mentally unstable mother and a narcissistic father, Nancy craves the security of functional parents and fantasizes about her father marrying one of their summer neighbors. During the course of a day, however, Nancy confronts the very real possibility that no one is coming to save her and that there will be no safe landing.

“Spill the Wine” is about a specific time and place, but it is also a damning portrait of how young women learn to survive in a society where there is no punishment for those who misuse others. Nancy’s coming of age feels like a prescient commentary on our current news cycle. In the end, her steadfast refusal to capitulate produces a final moment of grace that resonates far beyond the confines of her story. I hope you love this one as much as I do. For more on how Karen Brown developed this story, please check out our Q&A with her.

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.”