Issue #224: Optimistic People by Chris Drangle

There are many layers to Chris Drangle’s “Optimistic People,” including the layer of earth one of the characters is buried under as the story opens. Contributing Editor Will Allison lassoed this twisted, hair-raising work of fiction, so I’m happy to let him make the introductions. Enjoy!-PR

This month we’re excited to bring you one of the most shocking, suspenseful short stories ever to cross One Story’s submission desk: “Optimistic People,” by Chris Drangle. Set in rural Virginia, “Optimistic People” is the tale of two teenagers on their first date. Warren and Soleil have plans to meet up in the woods to watch the sunset. Warren is well meaning but dim; as Soleil puts it, “There was a thin line between being good and being a moron, and he straddled it.” Soleil is the new, weird girl in town, her parents having fled Washington D.C. to escape a congressional staff assistant turned stalker.

The teens’ plans go awry when Soleil runs out of gas en route to the meetup. Meanwhile, Warren stumbles upon two men burying a mysterious something in the woods. Minutes later, we meet friendly, disheveled Tom, whose prayers are answered when Warren unearths the pine box in which Tom has been buried alive.

I’m guessing you’ve never encountered a character quite like Tom. (If there’s such a thing as your typical buried-alive guy, this guy is definitely not it.) I won’t spoil the plot by revealing more, but you should know that a man being buried alive is not this story’s most chilling plot twist. That comes later, and it unfolds in a fictional slow motion that will have you turning pages with a delicious sense of dread.

Chris Drangle is still new on the literary scene, having published just a handful of stories, but we look forward to seeing a lot more of his work. You can get to know him in our online Q&A, where Chris discusses techniques of suspense, his fondness for story titles, and the importance of figuring out why the junebug collapses.

Issue #221: Staff Picks
by George Singleton

221_coverOur new issue, George Singleton’s “Staff Picks,” centers around an RV and all the dreams that motor homes represent–the possibility of changing your life, hitting the open road, seeing the world, while at the same time keeping creature comforts close. I fell for Staff, the librarian hero of this tall tale, and cheered as she attempts to break free from her job and her broken heart. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this unpredictable love story to our pages, so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him. Enjoy!-HT

There’s an old show business saying: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” You could argue that this is even more true in literary fiction, where characters die all the time, but precious few stories offer much in the way of laughs. If you feel the same, then the story in our new issue, George Singleton’s “Staff Picks,” is for you.

Like many of Singleton’s stories, the premise of “Staff Picks” sounds like the setup for an elaborate and possibly off-color joke: What happens when a South Carolina woman with “resting bitch face” takes on eighteen locals in a hands-on endurance competition to win an RV?

Rest assured, the resulting story is funny. But as with all of Singleton’s work, it’s no joke. The author’s favorite bit of writing advice? Comedy is serious. “On the page,” he says in our author interview, “it’s not slapstick. It’s what Aristotle pointed to when he wrote about catharsis, and what Mr. Beckett meant when he espoused how there’s nothing funnier than human misery.”

In “Staff Picks,” the human misery begins with Staff Puckett, who, through no fault of her own, has the sort of deadpan visage that makes it look like she wants to vaporize you. Suffocating in her small-town life as a library archivist, Staff sees a possible escape in the brand-new Winnebago being offered as a prize to whichever contestant can remain in physical contact with the vehicle the longest.

What Staff doesn’t bargain for is fellow contestant Landry Harmon, a doughy, chatty, low-level pro bowler with whom she has more in common than she knows. Throw in a swindling jeweler, an insecure poker player, some goofy radio deejays, the periodic table of elements, British fine china, and a lightning storm, and you have the makings of a classic George Singleton tale that we’re tickled to present in the pages of One Story.

Issue #213: The Savior of Gladstone County by J.F. Glubka

cover_213Our next issue, “The Savior of Gladstone County” introduces an exciting new voice, J.F. Glubka. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this marvelous piece to our pages, and so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him. I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I did. -HT

is the question faced by Henry Heinrich, the protagonist of J.F. Glubka’s “The Savior of Gladstone County” (issue #213).

When Henry discovers his gift, he doesn’t try to get rich. Or seek fame. Or resolve to save the world. In fact, he doesn’t do much of anything until a friend coaxes him into serving as an “angel” for the people of their rural community.

For Henry, though, being an angel isn’t all wings and halos. “By thirty-five his hair was white,” writes Glubka, “and he’d stopped hunting and fishing. He drank more and ate less. He’d stare at the TV with the sound turned down to a hush and the lights dimmed. Too much stimulation gave him headaches. He’d let the sweetheart he’d married at nineteen divorce him with hardly a protest.” Cheating death has drained the life out of Henry.

That all changes when he meets Francis Friday, an eccentric, young divorcee and the sister of a girl Henry once saved. Henry falls in love, and Francis falls for Henry too. The problem is, Francis is also in love with Henry’s gift. And as she begins to test the limits of his power, she sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy more than just their relationship.

I hope you find “The Savior of Gladstone County” as riveting as we did. And be sure to check out our Q&A with J.F. Glubka to learn about his approach to supernatural subject matter, the best writing advice he has received, and how this story was influenced by his stint as a nighttime security guard in Portland, Oregon.

About One Story’s next online class and how to become your own best editor

Will PhotoIn the summer of 1996, a few months after I finished my MFA at Ohio State, I got the luckiest break of my writing career: I landed an editorial job at Story, the fabled literary magazine that prided itself on discovering great new writers, from J. D. Salinger and Carson McCullers in the 1930s and 1940s to Junot Díaz and our own Hannah Tinti in the 1990s.

I say it was the luckiest break of my career because even though I’d been writing fiction for eight years, editing stories taught me how to write them much better. My job at Story also gave me insight into what I could expect when the day came that I’d be working with an editor myself.

In this latest incarnation of our popular editing course, you’ll get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process. You’ll also learn to bring the same sharp editorial eye to your own work that the editors of One Story bring to each issue. Daily online lectures will guide you through a case study of a One Story debut, issue #191, “Claire, the Whole World,” by Jonathan Durbin. You’ll follow the story from first draft to publication—studying actual marked-up manuscripts—as the author and editors work together to make the story the best it can be.

In addition to drafts of “Claire, the Whole World,” the ten-day course (November 13th – 22nd) will include daily online lectures, assignments, and a message board where you can share ideas and manuscripts with other writers who are committed to becoming better editors of their own work. To find out more about this course, go here. Deadline to sign up is November 13th.

I hope you’ll join us!

Issue #208: Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

It is an enormous thrill to be publishing Bonnie Jo Campbell in the pages of One Story. I’ve been a fan every since I read her collection, Women & Other Animals. Everyone should be pre-ordering her new book, which includes our current issue, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters.” This marvelous tale inhabits a voice that will charm, shock, and ultimately haunt you.  With gratitude, I’m turning the introduction reins over to Contributing Editor Will Allison, who brought this wonderful writer to our pages. –HT

MTYD-cover (480x640)In our latest story, the narrator of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” (issue #208) is a tough woman—widow, mother of six, smoker, drinker, drowner of kittens, butcher of chickens and cows, breaker of horses, lover of men. But most of all she’s a talker; indeed, talking is, as Campbell puts it our author interview, “her great power.”

The problem is, this woman just had a stroke. She can hardly speak a word as she lies in bed in the old Michigan farmhouse her father built, cared for by nurses and her estranged daughter, Sis. “Now she can only try to explain her life to herself,” says Campbell. “Probably it’s what we all end up doing in the end.”

What this narrator has to say about her life might surprise you. She’s proud of the fact that she didn’t worry about her kids when she raised them. She doesn’t regret letting her husband and boyfriends beat her children. She refuses to apologize for allowing her kids to eat PBB and lead paint. And she doesn’t really like when her grandchildren visit. (What she’d really like, at the moment, is a jelly jar of elderberry wine.) As much as she wants to believe she lived her life right, however, she does have a few regrets, one in particular involving her boyfriend Bill Theroux and Sis. But if that sounds like the sort of regret you’ve read about before, get ready for another surprise.

We’re thrilled to present the title story from Campbell’s forthcoming collection; it features one of the strongest and most distinctive characters we’ve encountered in a long time—a woman you might come to love in spite of yourself, and a woman you definitely won’t forget. If you’d like to learn about the inspiration for this character—and find out which two words Campbell never uses in her fiction—be sure to check out our author interview.

Issue #204: The Pole of Cold by Erika Krouse

204-cover

As the weather finally starts to turn, we’re raising a farewell mug of hot chocolate to winter in our new issue, “The Pole of Cold.” Erika Krouse’s compelling tale of love, family, and the meaning of home will have you thinking fondly of ice-cold nights, even as we enjoy the the long-awaited flowers of spring. I’m turning the introductions over to Contributing Editor Will Allison, who brought this marvelous story to our pages, but I hope you all enjoy “Pole of Cold” as much as I did. Only a story this good could have me wishing for snow in April.  -HT

If you grew up in a very small town, maybe you can relate to Verochka, the main character in our latest issue, “The Pole of Cold” by Erika Krouse. “I’ve always imagined that I would leave here at the first opportunity,” says Vera, “and never look back.”

Vera’s hometown is a remote Russian village. Remote and small: population 472. Remote, small, and cold: as in, the coldest inhabited place on the planet, a town so frigid that trees explode, voices carry for four miles, and birds freeze to death in midflight.

At twenty-two, Vera is old enough to leave, and family ties aren’t holding her back: When Vera was a baby, her mother, Tuyaara Ivanovna Kulika, ran off to Moscow with a weather scientist. When she was fifteen, her father was killed in a plane crash. Only Vera’s aunt, Lyuda, remains—and she thinks Vera should hit the road too.

So when a kind, handsome, wealthy stranger comes to town and thaws Vera’s heart, she has every reason to start packing her reindeer-fur coat and her Arctic-fox hat. But if you grew up in a very small town like Vera did, maybe you know that leaving isn’t always as easy as it seems.

In her trademark crackling prose, Erika Krouse tells Vera’s story with equal doses of humor and heart, and her portrait of Oymyakon will have you reaching for your parka as you read. Also be sure to check out our interview with the author to learn about Erika’s deep, personal connection to this story as well as her moonlighting job as a private investigator.

Issue #203: Rites by Matthew Baker

203-coverOn the outside, our new issue, “Rites” by Matthew Baker is a surreal twist on how to exit gracefully from life. But the core of this funny and surprising tale digs much deeper and comes out the other side, taking a stance that challenges society’s collective fear of aging—and values every moment that our hearts keep beating. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought “Rites” through our doors, so I’m turning the introductions over to him. We were all entranced and challenged by this extraordinary piece at One Story, and I hope that you are as well.—HT

Not long after my grandfather died from Alzheimer’s disease, I wrote a short story about a man who decides to kill himself after learning that he’s in the early stages of dementia. At the time, euthanasia activist Dr. Jack Kevorkian was in the news, and though I don’t know if my grandfather ever considered suicide (assisted or otherwise), I wanted to imagine a death for him in which he at least had a say.

That same notion—getting to choose how you’ll die—is what first drew me to the surprising, consequential story in our latest issue, Matthew Baker’s “Rites.” (Spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal the story’s premise, but I promise not to give away the ending.) “Rites” takes place at an unspecified time in the future when all responsible American citizens, upon reaching the age of 70, customarily kill themselves in the manner of their choosing. It’s not a requirement but rather a right—and a rite.

Enter Uncle Orson, a lethargic, retired history teacher who scandalizes his overlarge family by refusing to do “the rites.” As Uncle Orson’s nephew Zack tells him, “You can’t keep on, just, consuming resources, creating waste, without contributing anything to society. There are nineteen billion of us on this planet. A family planning policy helps prevent drought, prevent famine, wars over energy. By stalling, you’re hurting everybody, you’re hurting my generation, you’re hurting the kids’ generation, you’re hurting their kids’ generation, you’re living like a primitive.”

That the story finds so much humor in death is but one of its many charms. Yes, “Rites” raises big issues—the right to life, the right to death, the rights of the individual versus the rights of society—but above all it is an affectionate story of a family in crisis. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a story about death that’s so full of life, and maybe that’s the point.

If you want to know how things turn out for Uncle Orson and his family, read our latest issue. And don’t forget to take a look at our interview with the author to learn about the story behind the story and why Matthew Baker has decided against a sky burial.

Introducing 2015 Debutante: Andrew Roe

Miracle-girl-final-coverOn May 15th, at our 6th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating 10 of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

First up is Andrew Roe, author of One Story issue #41 “America’s Finest City” and the upcoming novel Miracle Girl,  available from Algonquin Books in April.

“The crowds keep coming. More and more every day it seems . . . drawn by rumor and whisper and desperate wish. Somehow they heard about the little girl on Shaker Street.”

So begins Andrew Roe’s debut novel, which tells the story of eight-year-old comatose “miracle girl” Annabelle Vincent, her family, and the believers and skeptics who flock to see her. Set in Los Angeles at the end of the millennium, the novel offers a moving and unforgettable exploration of the mysteries of faith.

“Roe inhabits characters who are desperate to believe and reveals to us their needs and wounds and hopes, and he does so with kindness, generosity, and wisdom,” says author Doug Dorst. “This is a novel about what it means to be human, to seek connection and hope and maybe even transcendence in the world around us.”

Thanks to Andy for taking the time to answer a few questions about his work for One Story.

1. Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

I was at work. Right after I found out, I had to go into a meeting. There I was, bubbling and bursting with the news, but I couldn’t tell anyone until after the meeting was over. As for celebrating: on the way home, I stopped off to buy champagne and chocolate cake, which I shared with my wife and kids (well, no champagne for the kids).

2. When I first had the pleasure of reading your debut novel, The Miracle Girl, the book was called Believers. What occasioned the title change, and are you willing to share any other runner-up titles?

From the book’s inception (or pretty soon thereafter), I had the title Believers. I didn’t ever really seriously consider any other titles, so no runners-up to report. The name change came about when my publisher (Algonquin) suggested it. Though I was pretty attached to Believers, they thought that The Miracle Girl was a more evocative, engaging title, and one that ultimately would generate more interest in the book. And in the end, they were right. The Miracle Girl was the best title for the book. It was a good lesson in letting go.

3. Where did the idea for The Miracle Girl come from?

I’m going to date myself here: It started back in the mid to late 90s, when I saw an episode of the ABC news program 20/20. There was a segment about a young girl named Audrey Santo, who had almost drowned in a swimming pool accident, and as a result, she was in a coma-like state, unable to move or speak. At some point, stories started to circulate about her being the cause of miracles (weeping statues, healing the sick, etc.), and people began showing up at the Santo home seeking her help and intervention. I thought that would make an interesting premise for a story—perhaps a novel. I’ve always been fascinated by the stories you hear about Jesus or Mary appearing in a shower curtain or tree stump, and how people are drawn to such events. Why do they come? What do they hope to find? Do they really believe they’ll encounter evidence of the divine in the everyday?

After watching the episode, I jotted down a few ideas, and I think I might have even had the opening line (“The crowds keep coming”). I also had the notion that there would be many characters and multiple points of view, including the girl’s family and the visitors who come to the house—believers, skeptics, the curious, the sick.

So that was the spark. Then I ventured down a path of what if. What if the girl’s family, unlike the Santo family, weren’t religious and weren’t sure what to make of these supposed miracles? What if the story were set in suburban Los Angeles (where I’m from) and took place at the close of the millennium, amid all the buzz of reckoning and doom and Y2K? I started making stuff up. Years went by, and I ended up stopping and writing another novel, a short story collection too, but I finally came back to The Miracle Girl. The spark, fortunately, was still there.

4. What do you believe in?

My family. Tacos. Books. Music. Kindness. Humility. Empathy. Quietly kicking ass. San Diego craft beer. Coffee. Exceptions to the rule.

5. What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Ball?

Getting to hang out with other writers and the wonderful One Story staff. And Brooklyn too.

Issue #202: Storm Windows by Charles Haverty

202-coverpngCharles Haverty’s marvelous “Storm Windows” reminded me of switching out the storms in my family’s creaky old house each spring and winter. It also made me grateful for every moment—even doing annoying chores—spent with loved ones.  Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this heartfelt piece to our pages, so I’m passing the introduction reins into his expert hands. I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I did. -HT

A few weeks ago, my 71-year-old dad called from South Carolina to tell me he wants to be cremated, not buried. He delivered the news matter-of-factly, but I held my breath as I waited for the bad news that surely came next.

“Is something going on?” I said. “With your health?”

“Me?” My dad laughed. “No, no. I’m good as ever. Still plugging along.” He explained that a high-school friend of his had just passed away, and it had gotten him thinking. Since I hold his power of attorney, he said, he just wanted to make sure I was clear on his wishes.

I hung up feeling relieved but with a lingering sense of having escaped a close call: one day, maybe someday soon, the news would not be so good.

Lionel Detweiler—the narrator of “Storm Windows,” by Charles Haverty—knows the feeling, and all too well. In our latest issue, he recounts three such near-misses involving his father, beginning with a half-hilarious, half-heart-stopping childhood Christmas when the elder Detweiler cannot breathe, or thinks he can’t breathe, or has a spell of some kind—it’s not exactly clear, but it’s funnier than a heart attack.

The story then vaults ahead to Lionel’s adult life, when his father survives two more brushes with death, real or imagined, including one in which Lionel nearly kills the old man himself. But don’t be fooled by the story’s comic bent: this is fiction primarily concerned with the big D, and even as Haverty’s lights-out prose had me laughing, it also had me staring down my parents’ mortality and my own.

As much as I love the first three parts of the story, though, it’s the fourth and final act that still leaves me with honest-to-goodness goose bumps each time I read it. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you’d like to find out how it figured into Haverty’s original conception of “Storm Windows,” and if you’d like to learn more about the story behind the story, please check out our Q&A with the author.

Issue #191: Claire, the Whole World by Jonathan Durbin

191-coverOur new issue, “Claire, the Whole World” is another debut—the first fiction published by Jonathan Durbin. As we prepare for this year’s Literary Debutante Ball, which is all about writers helping other writers, let’s take a moment and raise a glass to this talented first-timer. May this pub be the first of many! And now, I’ll turn the reins over to Contributing Editor Will Allison, who discovered and shepherded this marvelous tale of love and Los Angeles. —HT

How high a price are you willing to pay for fame? Would you spend years underemployed, piling up credit card debt, just to give yourself a tiny shot at an acting career? How would you know when to call it quits? And in the end, what’s more important, your dreams or your happiness? These are the questions Jonathan Durbin takes up in his first published story, “Claire, the Whole World,” which appears in the latest issue of One Story. In swirling, confident prose, Durbin weighs the price of success for two aspiring actors in Los Angeles, where fame is ever present but usually out of reach. The story opens with a TV commercial starring the narrator’s girlfriend, Claire—one of three such commercials that comes to haunt the narrator as he seeks footing in the shifting landscape of their relationship. The story’s landscape shifts as well, from the Mojave Desert to Malibu to the Hollywood Hills, each locale providing new challenges as the narrator and Claire try to reconcile their ambitions with the realities of show business. Featuring a cameo by Meg Ryan (not to mention another, more fearsome inhabitant of Hollywood), “Claire, the Whole World” marks the debut of a compelling voice in American fiction. Be sure to check out our Q&A with the author to find out how this story was influenced by Bill Murray, Kurt Cobain, and a stranger’s disparaging remark about salad.