OTS#60: Juliet Cushing’s “Cicatriz”

When I was in high school, a friend of mine named James suddenly passed away. I remember feeling torn, angry, bewildered. And as I processed my grief, I began looking back in a way I never had before. It was more than just not having any future moments with James to look forward to; it was the (very new to me, then) phenomenon of having death illuminate life in a way that only death can. For the first time, I became aware of the value—the treasure trove—of the past. I looked back with purpose, one could almost say with a mission: my memories of James—memories that stretched back to junior high and went up to the day before he died—were James. Wrapping my head around that was a big (and uninvited) nudge toward adulthood.

Our new issue of One Teen Story wanders into similar territory. It’s called “Cicatriz” and is written by a wonderful emerging writer named Juliet Cushing. I won’t go into detail about it because I think it speaks beautifully for itself, but I will say that it takes a painful situation and illuminates it in a way that radiates off the page. The writing turns tragedy into art. “Cicatriz” is one of the winners of this year’s Teen Writing Contest. We’re proud to be presenting it to you.

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

One Story Issue #258: Say Uncle

Our new issue was edited by the great Will Allison. Here’s his introduction. -PR

The first time I read “Say Uncle,” I was touched by the sweetness of the love story Becky Mandelbaum tells. Normally, as a reader, that’s exactly what I hope for: to be moved. In this case, though, I also felt a little dirty, because the so-called love story in question involves Dan, an unemployed thirty-something, and Hollie, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl. Clearly, the relationship is all wrong. So how could I feel sympathy for a pedophile? How could I sort of even like the guy?

Of course, this is what good fiction does. It challenges us by allowing us to inhabit viewpoints that are radically different from our own. It’s easy to be repelled by the idea of Dan and Hollie together; it’s harder to dismiss Dan’s humanity once you’ve spent time in his shoes. And so “Say Uncle” engages in a daring high-wire act, creating sympathy for Dan while also not letting him off the hook.

I wasn’t surprised to encounter this rich complexity in a story by Becky Mandelbaum. Her collection, Bad Kansas, which received the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is full of stories that are as lively and hilarious as they are challenging and unsettling. Here at One Story, we are thrilled to be sharing her work with you.

This story contains scenes of child sexual abuse. We encourage you to read our Q&A with the author, in which Mandelbaum addresses her reasons for investigating the topic and how she approached this taboo subject matter.

One Story Issue #257: “Leo in Venice”

Our newest issue is edited by the great Karen Friedman. Here’s her introduction. -PR

In June my eleven-year-old went to sleep-away camp for the first time. As we wound our way through rural Missouri roads in the pouring rain, I kept asking how she felt. Excited. Impatient. Maybe a little nervous. Despite heading to a place where she knew no one, she didn’t hesitate when the moment finally came to leave. She barely waited for good-bye. Not wanting to embarrass her, I scooted back to the car and drove off. But as soon as cell service returned, I called her father (only slightly hysterical) to explain my overwhelming need to go back and hug her one more time, just to make sure.

The funny thing is I’m not normally that kind of mom. I want my kids to be independent, have humble-bragged for years about my daughter entering preschool without turning back, just an arm thrown in the air as she headed to the sand table. Here she was again, confidently facing the unknown without me. This time for a week. I should have felt like I’d earned a parenting gold star. Instead, I listened to bad 80s pop and tried not to cry all the way back to St. Louis. In the Q&A for One Story issue #257, “Leo in Venice,” author Samantha Silva says, “we raise our kids to leave us, but our letting go is another thing.”

Learning what and how to let go is at the center of “Leo in Venice.” In this beautiful and heart-wrenching story, we’re introduced to Annie and her nearly grown son, Leo. Due to a chronic illness theirs is an uncommon relationship—one forged in pain, but also humor and wit and a wide acceptance of who the other person is and what they are capable of enduring. In short, it is a love story. But it is also the story of a breakup. By bringing the reader to the moment of goodbye, we witness Annie’s simultaneous support of and struggle to accept her son’s decision to leave. Set against the often mystical backdrop of Venice, a city that has long lived in their collective imaginations, Annie at last begins to see herself apart from her son.

By the end of the story we are left with the unsettling knowledge that it is our job to let our children go, and yet the impulse to hold on, to go back and ask for one more hug never goes away. It is an honor to introduce you to Samantha Silva, a gifted storyteller whose unflinching eye is tempered with compassion and levity.

Read Karen Friedman’s Q&A with Samantha Silva here.

OTS Issue #59: Emma Caton’s “And the War Stopped”

Two young soldiers from opposite sides of a battlefield meet in No Man’s Land with their hands raised. Others from both sides join them. So begins the Christmas Truce of WWI.

When I asked Emma Caton, author of the latest issue of One Teen Story, what drew her to the subject matter, she talked in our Q&A about the amount of hatred that “has to be present in order to go to war,” and yet the soldiers involved in the event were able to suspend their hatred for a few hours of peace and comradery. That fascinated her. And then she took it a step further and gave her young soldiers—one German, one British—a spark of romantic interest.

I was impressed by how swiftly this story moves, how deeply it cuts, and how sparsely it’s told. Emma had the idea from the get-go to write a love story, and she’s done just that. At the same time, she hasn’t shied away from the challenges these two young men face. The result is “And the War Stopped”—a powerful story of connection and longing in the most unlikely of circumstances, and one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Issue #256: Arinze Ifeakandu’s “The Dreamer’s Litany”

Our new issue, “The Dreamer’s Litany,” reaches for an answer to a very difficult question: What happens when the heart cannot have what it desires?

Auwal is a struggling shopkeeper with a wife, a daughter, and a dream of a better life. When he meets the gregarious Chief, he sees a man who might be able to help them. But Chief wants something in return—something he intuits Auwal might be able to provide no matter how reluctant he is. As their lives begin to overlap more and more, the complexities of their less-than-ideal arrangement grow. Auwal is no stranger to hardship, nor is he a stranger to a broken heart. He wants to do well, do better. But is Chief a path toward betterment, or a fast track in the opposite direction?

One Story is thrilled to be publishing Arinze Afeakandu, a young writer who was one of A Public Space’s Emerging Writer fellows and a finalist for the Caine Prize. “The Dreamer’s Litany” is a tense and fractured love story full of unexpected twists and turns that often take place away from home, after the sun goes down. As the author says in our Q&A, “At night, people will surprise you, surprise even themselves.”

One Story Summer Writers Conference 2019 Recap

Last week, we hosted twenty writers at The Old American Can Factory for a week of workshops with instructors Lisa Ko or Will Allison, craft lectures, readings, and panels. Our intrepid interns—Evy Constant, Carly Frederickson, Jacob Maren, and Andrea K. Oh—spent the week documenting the events. Here are their recaps!

Day 1: Welcome

As temperatures climbed into the triple digits outside, we welcomed twenty writers into our home at the Old American Can Factory in Gowanus, Brooklyn to kick off the 2019 One Story Summer Writers Conference. Students were introduced to the entire team and got to know each other during an hour filled with cocktails and conversations with fellow writers. The classes only last a week at One Story, but many came to realize that the friendships made this week can last a lifetime. —Jacob

Day 2: It’s About Time!

During the first craft lecture of this year’s Summer Writers Conference, One Story’s editor-in-chief Patrick Ryan discussed the importance of economy and time management in writing. Ryan explained that, although writers often attempt to illuminate their character’s experiences by extending scenes and trailing their actions very closely, this can sometimes lead to stagnation in the story’s action—the dreaded “boredom” all writers fear their readers feeling.

Rather than attempting to control everything in every moment of a story, Ryan pointed out that writers must avoid over-choreographing: you must determine what your story is really about, then use that knowledge to figure out which scenes should take up time and which you should compress. Essentially, Ryan explained that “it’s about keeping the reader’s attention where you want the reader’s attention to be.”

Ryan emphasized that this is something all writers do; we all tend to expand scenes unnecessarily because “nobody’s got it figured out. It’s not about trying to be an expert when you’re writing.” Instead of trying to get it perfect the first time, writers should work to incorporate narrative compression into their revision processes. To this point, Ryan shared that his ideal reader—and perhaps to some extent, all of our ideal readers—should be one who suffers from extreme impatience; one who urges us to “spit it out. Get to it!”—Evy 

Day 3: How Does She Do That?

How does she do that? This the question Myla Goldberg posed at the start of yesterday’s craft lecture, a discussion of Lauren Groff’s short story, “L. DeBard and Aliette” from her short story collection Delicate Edible Birds.

During this craft talk, Myla went into a deep analysis of the short story and covered a lot of ground, discussing everything from time to suspense to POV to character building to sex. One of the overarching lessons that Myla presented was how Lauren Groff builds worlds through different perspectives. Groff’s ability to alternate point of views seamlessly, going from a God’s eye view to different close character perspectives, draws us into the world of the story.

In a short Q&A following the talk, Myla addressed the crowd’s questions about her own personal experiences in the literary world. She ended with this piece of advice: “Take ten minutes a day to read over what you’ve been working on.” Our lives might be too busy for us to write every day, but we always have time to interact with and think about our writing despite all the distractions inhabiting the space around us.—Jacob

Day 4: The Vampiric Research Method

During the third craft lecture of this year’s Summer Writers Conference, One Story co-founder Hannah Tinti provided listeners with an abundance of practical tips for getting one’s work out of the slush pile. Her talk guided conference participants through various aspects of the publishing process, such as how to prepare your work for submission, how to decide which magazines or agents to send your work to, and how to handle rejections and acceptances.

She stressed the importance of submitting a manuscript that conforms to industry standards (double-spaced, 12 pt. Times New Roman font) and went over how to write a professional, informative cover letter. She also introduced conference attendees to a variety of anthologies such as Best American Short Stories, The Pushcart Prize, and The O. Henry Prize Stories, all of which can be used as tools for becoming acquainted with different literary magazines and discovering which ones best fit your work. Tinti shared her method of creating different tiers of magazines to send work to as well, making sure you have a variety of different options.

Tinti reminded us that along with submissions often come rejections, but also that many extremely successful books faced a large number of rejections before they were published and praised. She concluded her talk with an important piece of advice: Publication is not what makes you a writer; writing is what makes you a writer.—Evy 

On Wednesday night, One Story co-founder Hannah Tinti talked with Irina Reyn at Community Bookstore about Reyn’s incredible new novel, Mother Country. Their conversation was filled with writing tips and tricks, anecdotes about the creative process, and laughter, ending with an audience Q&A that (surprisingly) included vampires!

“I operate on what I call ‘vampiric research,’” Reyn told the crowd, “which is that I’m only sucking the blood that I need. You’re only using what you need, and you’re not getting distracted by things you don’t need. So, in other words, you’re only using the things in service of the story you want to tell.” —Andrea

Day 5: Writerly Self-Compassion

On Thursday’s craft lecture, Rakesh Satyal drew on anecdotes from his vibrant literary career to advise our summer conference participants as both a fellow writer and as an editor. Above all was his desire to see them—to see all writers, really—develop their writing lives. Satyal emphasized that one needs to be intentional about one’s writing life, highlighting the importance of dedicating time to writing. This, however, was not to say that writing must, or even should, happen every day; in his words, “You have to identify for yourself what feels productive. You know when you’re doing the work.” Later, Satyal discussed the need for writers to allow themselves the space to think on a macro level, to have a sense of the larger ideas or themes they’re writing towards. “Be a good literary citizen,” he said, which, at its core, means treating writing as a legitimate and necessary profession. Up-and-coming writers, he said, can practice good literary citizenship by paying attention to what’s happening in the “literary world,” talking with others about their own writing and buying of books, and, instead of trying to emulate prominent authors, working on honing/owning their unique perspectives. Of perhaps the most importance, though, was his view on writerly self-compassion: “Let yourself know when you’ve done good work.” —Carly 

Day 6: Pay Attention To What You Pay Attention To

For the final craft lecture of our Summer Conference, our very own Ann Napolitano discussed the importance of writers living in service of their work. In the first of three sections, titled “Paying Attention,” Napolitano centered on the need for writers to pay attention to the things that hold their interest—namely, inexplicable obsessions that lodge themselves deep in their brains. Drawing on David Lynch’s book Catching the Big Fish, Napolitano explored the idea of the “internal magnet,” which she defined as certain ideas “sticking” to one’s subconscious in the same way magnets stick to a refrigerator door. There is often no discernible rhyme or reason for a particular idea to stick around, she said; something inside you decides, and one’s job as a writer is to lean into the resulting obsession with intention. “Your calibrating magnet is the you of you,” Napolitano said, and listening to it can lead to your best work. In her second section, called “The Inside Job,” Napolitano emphasized the need for writers to turn away from their end goal(s), instead focusing only on the work at hand. Through writing for oneself (instead of for external validation) and, as Rakesh Satyal spoke about in his lecture, having self-compassion, writers will, hopefully, realize that they have agency in choosing where their thoughts go. In turn, this could help writers to experience more mental clarity when writing. For her final section, “The Practical Side,” Napolitano gave practical advice on how to develop one’s writing life with intention and mindfulness, including a list of different lifestyle choices one can use to aid in the development of a regular writing practice. Quoting Annie Dillard, Napolitano said that “How we spend our days is how we spend our lives.” One’s writing—as well as one’s quality of life—improves when treated seriously. —Carly 

The One Storys Summer Writers Conference ended with memorable readings from all of our students and jokes from the One Story instructors and staff. Tears might have been shed. It has been a pleasure to talk with each and every writer who attended this week-long conference and helped create such a generative, supportive space. We hope your time with us was meaningful and that you created life-long literary friends.

As a parting gift for our fellow writers, some final words from Hannah Tinti: “Your writing is not you. It’s something you have done.”—Andrea

Issue #255: Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s “Good Fortune”

Our new issue drops us down into the world of a Florida hotel that caters to clients interested in long-term residency for the sake of ensuring U.S. citizenship for soon-to-be-born babies. In other words, the birth tourism industry. And while it’s strange enough to consider a hotel where, on a regular basis, one person checks into a room and two people check out, stranger still is the appearance of a series of threatening, anonymous notes slipped under residents’ doors. Everyone has a different theory about who the culprit is. The manager, whose suspicions include (but are not limited to) her estranged nephew, starts sleeping with a vegetable knife clutched in her fist just in case things get dicey.

Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s “Good Fortune” is many things at once: laced with humor, sprinkled with menace, peppered with false clues, and ghosted with memories of long-lost family members. We’re delighted to be ushering it into the world, and we look forward to reading more from this emerging, energetic writer.

Issue #254: John Rolfe Gardiner’s “Freak Corner”

In the summer of 1991, I was a year out of graduate school, living in Virginia, painting houses, and working in an independent bookstore. The stock was mostly new books and, upstairs, some used books, and on slow days I would peruse the shelves and read the first pages of novels. I came across a book called Unknown Soldiers, published in 1977 and written by a writer named John Rolfe Gardiner. The first page held my interest, so I carried it back to my spot behind the register. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was going to finish the book and wanted to own it, so I rang up the sale on the cash register, put my money in the drawer, and continued reading.

A couple of hours later, I was well into the novel when the bell over the front door jangled, and when I glanced up, the author of the very book I was holding walked into the store. I looked at him, looked at book’s author photo, looked at him again. I said, “This is you, isn’t it?” He seemed somewhat sheepish and confirmed that it was, indeed, him, and I—as star-struck as if I were meeting a beloved movie star—began to heap praise on this novel that he’d written fourteen years earlier. We talked for just a few minutes, and at my request, he signed the book. As I write this introduction, twenty-seven years later, that same book is sitting on a shelf a few feet away from my desk, along with all of his other books.

One Story is immensely honored to be publishing a new short story by John Rolfe Gardiner: a writer of profound abilities and agilities; a writer who has proven himself to be a master of the novel, the novella, and the short story over the course of the last four decades; a writer who remains at the top of his game to this day and who deserves to be widely read. “Freak Corner,” a story set in 1953 about a deaf girl, a cross-dresser, and a young man trying to figure out why the world reacts to them both the way it does, echoes much of our current landscape. We fear and vilify the unfamiliar now as much as we ever did. As the author says in our Q&A, “the path to reform is by way of familiarity.”

One Story 2019 Literary Debutante Ball: The Pictures!

Thank you to everyone who came out on May 16th to Roulette in Brooklyn for our annual One Story Literary Debutante Ball! We had a great night celebrating One Story Alum Kelly Link and six One Story authors who have published their debut books in the past year:

After our debs walked down the aisle with their mentors, honoree Kelly Link gave an amazing speech full of advice for these debut writers, and everyone else. You can read it over at LitHub.

Want to see some pictures of the event? Here’s a link to an album. We’ve also put a slideshow below. Photo Credit: Aslan Chalom.

We love you all, supporters, writers & readers! Until next year….

Issue #253: Lillian Li’s “Coach Ray”

Back when I was at Granta, I had the pleasure of being the first person ever to publish Lillian Li. Later, I was thrilled to finally hold in my hands her debut novel, Number One Chinese Restaurant, and I was thrilled when more of her work landed on my desk at One Story. Our omni-wonderful managing editor Lena Valencia worked on the story with Lillian, and their mutual enthusiasm for this deceptively quiet (and tense) piece of writing turned it into our brilliant new issue. Here’s Lena to introduce you to “Coach Ray.” — PR

On the annual St. Joe’s Prep cross-country team retreat at a Vermont summer camp, Coach Raymond Dockett is intent on helping the newest member, Oliver, see his potential as a runner. But it seems that Oliver doesn’t need Coach Ray’s assistance. In fact, Oliver seems to be doing everything he can to thwart Coach Ray’s attempts to help him. And the more Oliver resists Coach Ray’s help, the angrier Coach Ray gets.

There is no triumph of the underdog in this sports narrative, no good-hearted coach leading a scrappy nobody to victory. Instead, “Coach Ray” deals with something far more complicated: the power dynamics of mentorship. In writing this story, Lillian Li wanted to “look at how people abuse their power without realizing it.” As I found myself drawn deeper into the struggle between Coach Ray and Oliver, it became less and less clear who I should be rooting for.

“Coach Ray” is a disconcerting portrait of a flawed character. It’s also funny and formally inventive. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cringe in the best way. It’s morally ambiguous: regardless of who makes it to the finish line first, there are no easy answers as to who wins at the end. I’m thrilled to introduce you to Lillian Li’s “Coach Ray.”

To read an interview with Lillian Li, please visit our website.