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.

One Story’s first online course: Become Your Own Best Editor

Editing an English language documentIn 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 putting together One Story’s first online course, Become Your Own Best Editor, I thought a behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process—using actual marked-up manuscripts—would be as instructive for other writers as it was for me. And I had the perfect story in mind: Laura Spence-Ash’s debut, “The Remains” (issue #188). Laura was great to work with, a writer who was open to feedback and who improved upon our suggestions, making her story even better than we envisioned.

In addition to drafts of “The Remains,” the ten-day course (March 21-30) 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 March 21st. I hope you’ll join us!

Issue #188: The Remains
by Laura Spence-Ash

188-coverOne Story works hard to support emerging writers, so it is a special thrill to present a debut author in our pages: Laura Spence-Ash! Contributing editor Will Allison will do the proper introductions for this unique and moving story. For now, let’s all raise a glass to a promising new writer, and the start of a successful career. —HT

In our latest issue, we’re excited to present Laura Spence-Ash’s first published story, “The Remains.” I’m a sucker for mystery, and this story had me from the start: “Sergeant Bill Marshall was the one who found her white bones in a fetal position, nestled inside a tweed coat and a red woolen hat.” The “her” in question is Sophie Constantine, who, we learn, lived a quiet, solitary life in a bustling Queens neighborhood. The cause of Sophie’s death is revealed soon enough, but “The Remains” is more concerned with the bigger question of who she was. Spence-Ash tells the story in five sections, each from the perspective of a different character who knew Sophie or was in some way touched by her death: the police officer who found her skeleton, her next-door neighbor, her tailor’s daughter, her former boss, and her ex-husband. Over the course of these five mini-stories, a nuanced and moving mosaic of Sophie emerges. It’s a story about death, yes, but it’s more a story about life: how we exist, beyond the grave, in memory, and how our lives affect the lives of others, often in ways we’ll never know. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Laura Spence-Ash to learn about the real-world inspiration behind her debut story, how long it took her to write it (my fellow slow writers, you will be comforted), and more.

Issue #185: Marlinspike by Tom Paine

cover_185Just as the cold weather sets in, our new story takes us on a trip to the islands. “Marlinspike,” by Tom Paine explores love, loss, and the connections we make while healing. Contributing Editor Will Allison saw this story through from start to finish, and so I’m passing the microphone into his capable hands. Enjoy!-HT

I’ve long been a fan of Tom Paine’s work—not the Tom Paine who wrote Common Sense back in 1776 but rather the O. Henry and Pushcart Prize–winning author of the story collection Scar Vegas—so I was thrilled when Tom sent us the story in our latest issue, “Marlinspike.”

Set on the Carribbean island of St. John, “Marlinspike” is about the extraordinary friendship between a grown man, Phineas, and a ten-year-old girl, Julia—a relationship that immediately reminded me of Seymour Glass and Sybil Carpenter in J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

“Marlinspike” opens as Phineas, a med-school-dropout-turned-dive-instructor, is abandoned by his fiancée, also named Julia, on their wedding day. The problem is that Phineas won’t grow up. As Phineas’s sister tells him, “You can do everything, but your heart’s in nothing.”

Phineas is preparing to throw his homemade wedding cake into the sea when he meets a young girl, Julia, who’s visiting St. John with her father, a recently widowed eye surgeon from Savannah. Neither have come to terms with Julia’s mother’s death.

Unsupervised on the island, Julia attaches herself to Phineas—two damaged souls with time on their hands. The friendship that develops between them is sweet, unpredictable, and charming—but also full of danger: rocky cliffs, windswept seas, Carribbean wasps, a five-foot barracuda. It’s hard to imagine, given how reckless and injured they are, that things won’t turn out badly for Phineas and Julia.

I hope you find “Marlinspike” as memorable and moving as we did. And be sure to check out our Q&A with Tom Paine to learn about his years in St. John, the inspiration behind “Marlinspike,” and what Tom thinks of Kenny Chesney.

Issue #178: Indulgence

178-cover (457x640)I’ve been a fan of Susan Perabo ever since Robert Sean Leonard performed her story “Counting the Ways” on Selected Shorts, so it is a great pleasure to welcome her into the One Story family. We’ve just heard that Selected Shorts will be recording “Indulgence” in the coming season as well, so: keep your dial tuned to your local public radio station! And now: I’ll turn the mic over to contributing editor Will Allison, who brought this marvelous story to our pages. -HT

In 2007, the Motion Picture Association of America announced that it would start to take into consideration depictions of smoking when it rated films. Fortunately, the story in our latest issue—Susan Perabo’s “Indulgence”—isn’t subject to the MPAA’s scrutiny. Otherwise, it might be rated X for excessive smokiness.

This was no accident on the author’s part. “I wanted to write a love letter to cigarettes,” says Perabo in our interview with the author. “I wanted to write a story that genuinely, without irony, celebrated smoking.” (Spoiler alert: read the story before you read the Q&A!)

But “Indulgence” is much more than a delightfully transgressive paean to cigarettes. It’s also one of the most moving stories about death and loss that I’ve read—one that still leaves me choked up every time I read it, even though I know what’s coming.

Much of the story’s power derives from its unexpected ending. But this is no trick ending. Early on, Perabo quietly sets about preparing the reader for what’s ahead. That the ending still comes as a surprise is a tribute to the subtlety of her technique.

The result is one of those wonderful endings that is at once surprising yet inevitable in retrospect. “Indulgence” is a story you’ll want to read twice.

Issue #177: The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero

177-cover_Page_01 (457x640)Our new issue is by Douglas Watson, one of our 2013 Literary Debutantes. “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero” appears in his forthcoming debut collection, The Era of Not Quite, which will be published by BOA Editions next month. Part fable, part comedy, and part philosophical meditation, “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero” reminded me of one of my favorite authors, Italo Calvino. I’m thrilled to have Douglas Watson in our pages, and excited to celebrate his debut  on June 6th at the 2013 Literary Debutante Ball. Now I’ll turn the mic over to Will Allison, who found this remarkable story and brought it to our shores. –HT.

Many years ago, when I was working in Cincinnati at a magazine called Story, our wise old contributing editor, Max Steele, said to me, “Will, I have never seen a story that could not be improved by editing.” I took those words to heart, not only as an editor but as a writer. To this day, it frankly makes me nervous when an editor accepts work of mine as-is.

Here at One Story, we pride ourselves on thorough editing. Sometimes we go back and forth with an author through multiple revisions before we feel the story is just right—a process that can take upwards of a year. At the very least, Hannah and the issue editor give every story a good, hard scrub, with plenty of editorial suggestions.

But then there’s the story in our current issue, Douglas Watson’s “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero,” a brilliant, funny, heartrending tale of a king’s messenger who finds his life turned topsy-turvy just when he thought he was more or less done living. (Be sure to read our interview with the author.)

The day after we accepted the story, I sat down with my editorial scrub brush and went to work—only to discover, after several reads, that I had not a single meaningful editorial suggestion to offer. Not a one.

Usually, when I don’t see ways to make a story better, I assume I’m blinded by my admiration for it, and I rely on Hannah to bail me out, to see what I don’t. But this time, Hannah didn’t have any edits either.

I don’t, of course, mean to suggest that Douglas’s story is un-improvable. That I didn’t see how to improve it is as much a testament to my shortcomings as an editor as it is to his strength as a writer and editor of his own work. If anything, “The Messenger Who Did Not Become a Hero” is the exception that proves the rule—and yet it’s also a reminder (my apologies, Max!) that now and then, we editors should just leave well enough alone.

Issue #175: The Zen Thing

175-cover_Page_01 (2) (457x640)Our new issue, “The Zen Thing,” is the debut publication of Emma Duffy-Comparone. OS edtior Will Allison will handle the introductions.  I’ll just stand here at my desk and applaud. -HT

As any story writer knows, getting your first story published is tough. I know from experience: back in the dark ages, before the Internet got huge, it took me seven years of sending out stories before one was accepted.

Today, given the breadth of online publishing opportunities, I imagine things are a bit easier for first-time authors. On the flip side, the Internet has made it more difficult for print magazines like One Story to “discover” new writers: by the time most writers send us a story we fall in love with, they’ve already notched a few publications elsewhere, often online.

Introducing our readers to brand-new voices remains the single most exciting thing we do here at One Story. That’s why we are particularly pleased to present in our latest issue “The Zen Thing,” a debut story by enormously talented newcomer Emma Duffy-Comparone. If you’ve ever been party to an awkward family get-together, you’ll relate to the hilarity—and horror—of Emma’s multi-generational beach vacation gone awry. (To read more about the story, please see our interview with the author.)

I hope those of you yet-to-be-published writers will take heed: please keep writing, don’t let rejections get you down, and know that nothing would make us happier than to someday showcase your first published work in the pages of One Story.

Issue #173: The Soul Keeps the Body Up

Excerpts rarely work as stand alone pieces, but our new issue, “The Soul Keeps the Body Up,” feels complete all on its own. A part of Amity Gaige’s novel, Schroder (just-released by Grand Central), this heartfelt father-daughter story will keep you on the edge of your seat. It was brought to us by contributing editor Will Allison, and so I will now place the introduction reins into his very capable hands. -HT

Is it possible to kidnap one’s own daughter and still be a good parent? The story in our current issue, Amity Gaige’s “The Soul Keeps the Body Up,” suggests the answer might not be as clear-cut as you’d think. The first time I read the story, I was struck by the sweetness and lightness of the rapport between the narrator, Eric, and his six-year-old daughter, Meadow. Their love for one another—their ability to click—shines through on every page, even as Eric gives in to his most reckless instincts, leading his father-in-law on a high-speed car chase with Meadow in the backseat. As Amity observes in our Q&A with the author, Eric treats Meadow more like a peer than a kid. Sometimes the results are touching, other times darkly comic. The good news is, if you love this story as much as we do, there’s more. “The Soul Keeps the Body Up” is an excerpt from Amity’s third novel, Schroder, which is due out in February, and which is receiving raves from the likes of Jennifer Egan, Jonathan Franzen (“The measure of Gaige’s great gift as a storyteller is that she persuades you to love a narrator who shouldn’t be lovable”), Adam Haslett (“You will not want to put this book down”), and David Bezmozgis (“Amity Gaige has written a flawless book”). Here at One Story, we rarely come across an excerpt we feel can stand on its own—and stand out—as a short story, but we hope you’ll agree this one is a gem.