Issue #235: Pups by Kate Folk

This month’s story — featuring both otters and squids, along with some human beings — was found and edited by our wonderful contributing editor Karen Friedman, so I’m turning over the intro duties to her. Take it away, Karen! — PR

Of the thousands of decisions we make every day a few are good, but most are meaningless. And then there are the bad ones—the decisions that haunt us, shaping our lives in ways we can’t foresee. At our best, we face the consequences of a bad choice head-on and try to minimize its impact. At our worst, we ignore what we have done.

One Story’s latest issue, “Pups” by Kate Folk, introduces us to Roe, a woman seemingly determined to allow life to happen to her without the responsibility and culpability that comes from making decisions. While Folk provides the reader with a sense of Roe’s potential, she also casts an unblinking eye at the effects of Roe’s passivity and the way it enables her to feign intimacy, even at the cost of her own happiness. Early in the story we learn Roe is pregnant, the result of a misguided and drunken one-night stand. Roe’s unplanned pregnancy raises questions that range from the practical to the political to the downright moral.

Over the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of reading a number of Kate’s stories, and I am thrilled to introduce her to our readers with “Pups.” Kate has an immense talent for creating flawed but sympathetic characters. Her women, in particular, defy easy labels and expand our understanding of what it means to be truly human. I hope you love this story of motherhood, agency, and otters as much as I do.

To read an interview with Kate about the story, please visit our website.

OTS 52: Bulletin Board Dragon by Lilly Hunt

In junior high school, I knew a boy with a heart condition. I knew a girl with progeria. I knew a boy who couldn’t stop tapping his pencil on his desk because he honestly felt like he would die if he did (this was pretty disruptive during a pop quiz, as you might imagine). And I knew a girl who believed she was close friends with a very famous rock band that lived on the other side of the world, and that she and this rock band had shared many adventures together. The people around these teens who were roughly their age fell into one of two categories: 1) those who allowed them to be who they were without giving them a hard time, and 2) those who gave them a hard time. Why everyone couldn’t have fallen into the first category remains a mystery to me.

The new issue of One Teen Story is called “Bulletin Board Dragon.” It’s about two teens who live next door to each other but have never met (until now). Each one of these teens has a particular condition not shared by the other, and each one of them does her or his best to understand and accept the other. Is it easy? No. Is it a smooth process? No. Are they successful? You’ll have to read to find out—and keep in mind, stories are always about the complications before they get around to the resolutions (if there are resolutions to be had).

“Bulletin Board Dragon” is one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest, and its author is a teen named Lilly Hunt. She’s a wonderful writer, and after you read the issue you should treat yourself to our Q&A, where she discusses, among other things, what it was like to write a short story with one character who is not only invisible but a figment of the imagination.

Issue #234: The Crazies by Maud Streep

This month’s story, “The Crazies,” was found and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m happily turning the steering wheel over to him to guide us in. — PR

As many a cowboy ballad can tell you, the halo glow of new love never lasts. Sometimes it simmers down with age; sometimes it flames into something else; and sometimes it just flickers out. It’s one of those lessons we all learn sooner or later.

Even so, when I read “The Crazies” by Maud Streep, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the halo glow of its early pages. The narrator, a recent Yale grad, heads to Montana, takes a job at a Wild West tourist attraction, and falls in love with a cowboy named Jake. Their marriage is a happy whirlwind of cheap beer, sex, optimism, and simple, carefree living.

But halfway through the story, the couple’s happiness turns to anguish. At the risk of giving away too much: something terrible happens on an elk hunting trip in The Crazy Mountains, and the narrator and Jake may or may not be responsible. How each of them deals with this possibility will determine whether their love endures, or whether it flickers out.

“The Crazies” is wise about life and relationships in ways one would expect from a veteran storyteller. As it happens, though, this is Maud Streep’s first published story. We are very pleased to present One Story’s second debut of 2017, and we hope you are as crazy about “The Crazies” as we are.

Visit the One Story website to read our Q&A with the author.

Issue #233: Are You Mine and No One Else’s by Danny Lorberbaum

One of best things about reading short stories and novels is that we get to spend time with people we wouldn’t actually want to know. This applies to out-and-out villains, of course, but it also applies to jerks, narcissists, bigots, whiners, chronic interrupters, what have you. Spending time with such types via the written word is great not only because we get to observe them without having to be in the same room with them, but also because we get a chance to be in their heads for a little while and better understand what it’s like to be them. The feeling may only last for as long as your eyes are moving across the page, but there it is: empathy, no strings attached.

Our new issue takes us into the heads of two different characters—Rhoda and Tony—and I’m guessing you might not want to be besties with one of them. You will, however, be on intimate terms with both of them by the last sentence, and I wager you’ll see a little of yourself somewhere along the way. Mix longing with possessiveness, desire with performance anxiety, second-guessing with secret-keeping, skinny-dipping with fast driving, and project it all onto a backdrop of America in the early days of the Reagan administration, and you’ve got “Are You Mine and No One Else’s?” by emerging writer Danny Lorberbaum.

The goal of One Story, first and foremost, is to put great short stories into readers’ hands. Along the way, we often make readers aware of writers they might not yet have come across. I’m confident Danny Lorberbaum is at the beginning of a vast and varied career, and I’m thrilled to be sending you “Are You Mine and No One Else’s?”—a story I find as charming as it is unsettling. To read our Q&A with the author (and to hear about the news story that caused seven-year-old Danny to reassess the world), please visit our website.

Issue #232: A Month on Greene Street by Tom Hanks

I’ve long been guilty of inaccurate first impressions. Thankfully, I usually keep them to myself—just private little assessments I make of, say, a person I see across a room. Observations I deem both intuitive and astute. What an accurate judge of character I am! I can sum you up with a glance or, at the very most, a few seconds of watching your mannerisms, your facial expressions. That’s how sharp my receptors are.

Only, they aren’t that sharp. Sometimes I’m near the mark; quite often I’m way off. “Always trust your first impression” is advice we’ve all heard before, and it’s often true—but it slams up against “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “Don’t knock it till you try it,” and even “Proof’s in the pudding.”

Our new issue is a story called “A Month on Greene Street,” and it’s about a woman named Bette who has just moved her family into a new house. Not only does Bette rely heavily on first impressions, she also takes great stock in what she considers to be her extrasensory visions, or “pops” (as she calls them). “Pops” are little glimpses of the future Bette has now and then. Sometimes they come true; sometimes they don’t. They’re a source of comfort; they’re a source of worry. And there are quite a few of them to be had in a new home, on a new street, surrounded by new neighbors.

This story won me over the first time I read it, and upon each subsequent reading it becomes more layered, more moving, and funnier. It’s written by an author we already know to be a tremendously accomplished actor, and the fact that he’s now proving himself to be a tremendously talented writer of short stories makes me wonder what else he can do. (Levitate? Bend things with his mind?) One Story is thrilled to be giving the world its first glimpse of “A Month on Greene Street” by Tom Hanks. Be sure to check out our Q&A with the author, wherein he discusses Bette, her pops, why and how he came to write short stories, and his fondness for the good old-fashioned typewriter.

OTS 51: Toby by Lily Boyd

When I was four years old, our dog died. Four is a very resilient age. What can make us wail one minute can be gone from our heads the next. I cried and cried—and then we got a new dog. A puppy we named Missy. She was a small, raggedy mutt who dug through the Easter baskets while we were at church, suffered my brother’s rock band rehearsals, survived a tornado that tore up our house, and evacuated with us when Hurricane David was heading our way.

The summer after I graduated from high school, Missy was fourteen and was starting to show her age. I moved away to college, came home for Thanksgiving three months later, and she was wheezy and lethargic. My parents told me they were taking her to the vet the following Monday for a checkup. I knew I was going to be home again in just a month (for Christmas), but I had a feeling Missy might be on shaky ground. So, right before I caught my ride back to college I got down on the floor next to her, curled around her, and talked to her. I told her a lot of nice things, but mostly I told her that she’d been a really good dog. Then I left. She died the next afternoon.

All of this came flooding back to me as I read “Toby.” If you’ve ever loved and lost a pet, this story will no doubt have the same effect on you. It’s a laser-sharp and emotionally raw piece of writing, both fresh and familiar, and it’s all the more impressive because it was written by a teen. Lily Boyd is one of the winners of One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest, and we’re happy to be introducing you to her, and to “Toby.” (To read our Q&A with Lily, go here.)

Issue #231: Please Give Me One Good Reason Not to Hate You by Shawn Vestal

“I arrived in Bozeman after the place that came after Animas, was thinking I would stay forever—thinking I would finally stop what I’ve been doing and be someone, thinking this place was really me.” So says Benny, the semi-likable sleazeball who narrates Shawn Vestal’s brilliant new story “Please Give Me One Good Reason Not to Hate You.”

The thing is, Benny isn’t really his name. “Benny” is just the latest in a string of identities he has fashioned as a small-time scam artist crisscrossing the American West. Also, it’s not just the scams that keep Benny on the move. It’s people—his overpowering need to be among them and apart from them. You might say Benny is alternately addicted to and allergic to his fellow man. It’s an internal tug-of-war that so far has guaranteed him a life of perpetual unfulfillment.

But Bozeman—beautiful Bozeman, Montana—is going to be different. Bozeman is the place, Benny comes to believe, where he’ll finally settle down, fit in, and take a chance on normal human happiness. To that end, despite being out of shape and hopelessly un-outdoorsy, Benny accepts an invitation to go on a four-day, forty-four-mile mountain hike with a quartet of hip thirty-somethings—including his sort-of ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

If that sounds like a bad idea, you’re right, especially given Benny’s gift for self-sabotage. It doesn’t help that he’s a liar, a criminal, and a misanthrope. But whether you end up rooting for Benny or against him, we think you’ll agree that his story is one of the funniest, most compelling, and most daringly original works to grace our pages. Be sure to visit our website to read an interview with the author.

Issue #230: Bayou by Bryan Washington

When I was ten years old, I saw a movie called “The Mysterious Monsters.” It was about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman, and it was filled with cheesy “reenactments” of personal testimonies about encounters with these mythical creatures. Because it was presented as a documentary, and because I was ten, I watched the reenactment footage in absolute horror, completely forgetting these were actors (including the guy in the Bigfoot costume). For the next year, I had a hard time falling asleep, convinced that Bigfoot was going to crash a hairy arm through my bedroom window. I also spotted Bigfoot anytime I got near nature—at least a dozen sightings by the time I turned 11.

The two friends in Bryan Washington’s short story “Bayou” aren’t boys; they’re young men. When they discover a strange creature near a bayou on the outskirts of Houston, it isn’t fear they feel so much as a burnt-out sense of wonder, and maybe a chance to make some money. I was immediately drawn to “Bayou” because it begins with a chupacabra, and while many people claim to have encountered chupacabras (and even filmed them), biologists refuse to confirm their existence. So I was hooked from the get-go. But what follows is more than a monster story. It’s a story about friendship, misunderstanding, and longing. Or, as the author puts it in our Q&A, it’s a story about intimacy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if it inspires your own sighting of a mysterious monster—so long as it’s not a Bigfoot—I look forward to the reenactment.

One Story Summer Conference Day 5: The End

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche 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 Olivia Liu. Enjoy! –LV

I’m sad to say that the One Story Summer Conference has come to an end. It’s a bittersweet feeling. This week has been jam-packed with excellent workshops, eye-opening craft lectures, engaging panels, and the opportunities to talk to those right in the business, from top agents to whip-smart editors to the incomparable One Story staff itself. In this immersive environment of word-lovers, we’ve made friends, recounted stories, gotten advice, and had an overall blast. Not to be cheesy here, but while I’m sad it’s over, I’m very happy it happened.

We kicked off the morning with our last workshops. I know instructors Will Allison and Patrick Ryan have enjoyed working with our conference attendees so much.

After lunch, we headed to Ann Napolitano’s craft lecture on the life of the writer. The room was impressively set up with quote after helpful quote. In the lecture, Ann broke down the seven steps for having a successful and well-balanced writing life.

Step 1: Make a plan and protect it. Writing time can be so rare and precious, it’s important to dive into it armed and ready. Some plans include waking up at 5am to write before anyone else is up, writing on your commute, binge writing (writing retreats are a great place for devoting huge chunks of time to writing), thinking about your story when you can’t actually sit down and write it (Ann Patchett plotted a book down to each scene while she was waitressing), having a specific place to write (such as your car or the café), and making a rule to write for at least 5 minutes a day. Once you choose your plan . . . tell people! You want others to hold you accountable and to respect your writing time.

Step 2: Plan your life around writing. Ann, for example, juggles only three to four things at a time and doesn’t keep overly demanding jobs.

Step 3: Find readers who care about making your book the best it can be.

Step 4: Exercise—yes, exercise! We are not just “meat sticks with minds on top.” We have to take care of our bodies too. 

Step 5: Meditate. Meditation can help you feel fresh, instead of worn down, when you sit down to write.

Step 6: Pay attention to what you pay attention to and pay attention with intention. Every person has a specifically calibrated magnetic board that pulls certain subjects to you—don’t resist them! Be eccentric! Ann told a story about she became obsessed with Flannery O’Connor but resisted the urge to write about her for a long time, as she was from the North and O’Connor was a Southern literary icon. Eventually she gave in, and O’Connor became the subject of her second book, A Good Hard Look. Ann now does not avoid writing about what interests her.

Step 7: Trust yourself as a writer. Don’t submit something too soon because you’re searching for feedback; put the work in a drawer for a week then look at it again.

All in all, this craft lecture was extremely illuminating and chock-full of practical advice. It was like a TED Talk—but better.

After the lecture, the conference attendees prepared for the evening reading. The weather was lovely, so some sat outside to work on their pieces. When they reconvened at six, they found that the reading space in the Canteen was done up beautifully with a backdrop of writing advice strung up with fairy lights and garlands of One Story issues. The reading went wonderfully. If anyone was nervous, it didn’t show. The writing was captivating, the audience attentive. We couldn’t clap hard enough. The reading was also interspersed with hilarious jokes from the One Story staff—wonderfully punny ones, may I add. We couldn’t stop laughing.

The evening came to a close with a delicious dinner catered by Runner + Stone. Six days ago they’d gathered in the same room as strangers, and now, given the laughter and animated conversation over plates of food and glasses of wine, it was clear workshoppers were leaving as friends.

 

One Story Summer Conference Day 4: Revise, Revise, (Read Aloud), and Revise

Dear Readers: This week One Story is hosting our 8th annual Summer Workshop for Writers. Our current interns, Hannah, Olivia, and Miche 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 Hannah Johnston. Enjoy! –LV

On the penultimate day of our conference, after another morning of workshops followed by lunch in the Canteen, Julie Buntin, author of the novel Marlena and an editor at Catapult, gave a craft lecture on how to successfully revise and edit as a writer. Buntin discussed her experiences as an editor working with writers and how she’s developed an understanding of the way editors edit and the way writers ought to approach the process of revision.

Buntin began her lecture with a line-edit exercise on a short excerpt from James Fenimore Cooper’s novel The Last of the Mohicans; a passage that was used by editor E.L. Doctorow to make a point about the value of concise writing. She worked with conference participants to find the places in the narration where there was superfluous language. 

Once they shaved the language down to the necessary elements of the excerpt, and made the prose far stronger, Buntin moved beyond line editing to talk about what writers need to do in order to revise their own work effectively. She explained that the most important thing you can do in your revision process is determine the fundamental truths of your story, and to then use those truths to hold your work to.

Buntin had the group read the short story “Spring in Fialta” by Vladimir Nabokov in preparation for the lecture. The story is about a man named Victor and his final meeting with Nina, a woman with whom he’s been on the verge of having an affair as long as they’ve known each other. Buntin acknowledged Nabokov’s ornate and over-the-top prose, but she also said that it all seems necessary to the fundamental truths of the story. For example, Nina herself is never really standing or sitting still in the narrative, and this relates to the fact that she’s never been a still or solid aspect of Victor’s life— she’s always been slightly out of frame.

Buntin also talked about her work as an editor at Catapult, and how the questions about fundamental truths have come into that work. At the beginning of her talk, she had conference participants write down something that they felt was an essential truth about their work, and at the end of the lecture she gave them a related writing exercise: write a paragraph in your story which operates as if that essential truth is no longer true or essential. The writers found this exercise very helpful, and many were able to view their work in a new lens thanks to their letting go of certain assumptions. Buntin left the workshop participants with this idea: By asking what the fundamental truths of the story are, a writer will be able to edit and revise effectively.

After a quick break and opportunity to chat with Buntin, participants made their way down to the Canteen to hear a valuable talk from One Story editors Patrick Ryan and Ann Napolitano on how to give a good public reading. Both Ryan and Napolitano admitted their initial shyness and stage fright in the beginning of their careers. They’ve had to overcome great anxiety in order to give successful readings of their work, and they gave the workshop participants a list of dos and don’ts that they’ve picked up over the years.

DON’T’S

  1. Don’t go over your time— never, never, never. Everyone, the audience and the the other writers set to give readings, will love you for it. It leaves the audience wanting more, which is way better than leaving them wanting less.
  2. Don’t read too fast. Napolitano explained that this is the most common mistake a reader can make, because people speak more quickly when they’re nervous. Reading your work too quickly prevents your audience from being able to settle into the narrative.
  3. Don’t read too quietly. One of the worst things that can happen at a reading is for an audience member to yell, “LOUDER!”
  4. Don’t choose a section that requires a lot of exposition. If you need to describe the Civil War in order to set up the passage you’re reading aloud, people will be overwhelmed with information and won’t be able to properly follow along. It should only take one sentence (or less) to set up your passage.
  5. Don’t choose a section that contains dialect, foreign language, or anything else you won’t be able to pronounce correctly or speak fluidly. Ryan went for a large portion of his life believing that chasm was pronounced with a soft ‘ch’, like the sound in cheese. In reality, chasm is pronounced with a hard ‘k’ sound, and he was once mortified after a reading when a friend told him he was pronouncing the word incorrectly.

DO’S

  1. Stay within your time. Both Napolitano and Ryan re-emphasized that this is VERY IMPORTANT.
  2. Read more slowly than you think is normal. Often, we feel like we’re speaking way too slowly when we’re actually speaking at the perfect speed to keep the audience engaged. Try to take deep breaths and beats between words and sentences in order to keep yourself from speeding up.
  3. Read at a good volume. Again, it stinks to have someone yell “louder!”
  4. Maybe, if you can, try to choose a selection that will garner a reaction from the audience. Ryan likes to select something funny or shocking, and this way he is able to tell that the audience is engaged. He also mentioned that it’s okay to go with something sad or solemn as long as you prepare yourself for deadly silence from the audience.
  5. Pretend to be a great writer. At the start of her career, Hannah Tinti, One Story co-founder, used to pretend she was the excellent public speaker Elizabeth Gilbert when she went onstage. Now, Napolitano often thinks about how Hannah herself would give a reading!
  6. Look up every once in a while. It can be awkward to make eye-contact with a specific audience member, but it always helps to look up, perhaps just above the heads of the crowd, in order to give the impression that you’re engaged with your audience.
  7. PRACTICE, PRACTICE, PRACTICE! Before the first reading she had to give since she’d bombed a public speaking gig in high school, Napolitano read aloud the passage she had prepared to her husband every day for a month. By practicing your reading, it can almost become muscle memory, and it will make it so much easier to fight your nerves when the time comes.

While Napolitano and Ryan gave this talk in anticipation of the readings that will be given by the conference attendees themselves tomorrow, they explained that these rules can and will apply to any readings that the talented writers will be giving in the future.

After a break for writing and dinner, it was time for a panel of editors to come and answer questions with Lena Valencia, One Story’s managing editor. The panel included: Katie Raissian, editor and publisher of print magazine Stonecutter Journal and an editor for Grove Atlantic; Jenny Jackson, a senior editor for Knopf and Doubleday (imprints under Penguin Random House); Brinda Ayer, managing editor for Restless Books; and Margaux Weisman, who works as an editor for Vintage Anchor and Knopf Doubleday.

The four editors discussed they look for in the manuscripts. Jackson said that debut books are especially exciting, and that the voice in the writing is most often what gets her antenna up. Weisman expanded on this, adding that even if the plot doesn’t work as well, a good style in writing will always catch her eye.

Valencia then asked the editors what they think writers can expect the differences between publishing a book with a large publishing house and a small publisher might be. As an editor at a small publisher, Grove Atlantic, Raissian was enthusiastic in explaining the benefits of her house’s size. Writers get a ton of personal attention, and the staff works very closely with them to make sure their works are published carefully. Every writer at Grove Atlantic is given the same amount of time and effort because Grove editors only buy books they’re very passionate about. Grove was the only publisher that wanted The Sympathizer by Viet Thanh Nguyen, and now it’s a Pulitzer Prize-winning novel. Passion is what drives them, and it usually pays off.

Knopf is different from other large publishers in the sense that it’s a relatively independent imprint of Penguin Random House, but they still garner big house benefits. Jackson talked about how beneficial it can be to have a large corporate connection, as they have larger budgets for advertising as well as a great deal of research on what works best in selling a book. She also felt, however, that Knopf has been able to successfully retain its identity despite its corporate parent, and that passion plays a great role in her book decisions as well.

All four of the editors went on to explain that chemistry between editors, writers, and agents is usually the biggest predictor of success. Many of them had stories about losing books that they loved because of a much larger advance offered by a competing publisher or a disagreement over an edit. While it stings to provide edits to someone only to have them work with another house, they ultimately want there to be as many great books out there as possible, and if they can contribute something positive to a good writer’s work, it’s a job well-done.

After the panel was over, conference attendees enjoyed a wine and cheese reception with the editors, and were able to ask more questions and get to know the industry better. After a long day of activity, everyone was happy to get back to their homes and hotels in order to recharge in preparation for the final day of the One Story Summer Writer’s Conference.