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.

Issue # 171: Still Life

In our new issue, Jason Ockert’s wild and wonderful “Still Life,” a teenager takes an art project to the extreme. Our talented contributing editor Will Allison discovered this lively tale, so I’m turning introductions, once more, into his capable hands. I leave with a note to our dear readers: No Animals Were Harmed In the Making of This Story.—HT

“Whose story is it?” A writer’s answer to this question almost always determines who his or her viewpoint character is—and in short stories, there’s usually only one viewpoint character.

But the story in our current issue, Jason Ockert’s wonderfully strange “Still Life,” is told from the viewpoints of two characters: Everett Zurn, a marginalized high-school student, and Mr. Ralph, his heartbroken art teacher.

As I read the story for the first time, its viewpoint shifting between Mr. Ralph and Everett, the writer in me couldn’t help wondering: which character would ultimately prove to be the focus of the story? I liked them both and couldn’t decide whose story I hoped it would be.

Happily, I didn’t have to choose. Through the artful intermingling of the two viewpoints in the story’s final scene, Ockert succeeds in making “Still Life” Everett’s story and Mr. Ralph’s story. In the process, he not only offers a refreshing exception to the rule that stories have only one protagonist, but he also provides a well-crafted example of what Mark Schorer might have had in mind when he observed that form is not different from meaning and is itself a gesture toward the meaning of fiction.

To read more about how Ockert conceived “Still Life” (and to learn about his thwarted desire to be a misanthrope) be sure to check out our interview with the author.

Issue #170: The Imaging Center

Our new issue, “The Imaging Center” by Erin McGraw, is a meditation on marriage and love, set in the world of medical-technicians, where people spend more time looking at CT scans and MRIs than examining their own hearts. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this wonderful story on board, and so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him this month. Enjoy! -HT

This summer, I went down to South Carolina for my (gulp) twenty-fifth high school reunion. I was looking forward to seeing old classmates, but I admit I was relieved when one of them—let’s call her Dee Dee—didn’t show.

In ninth and tenth grade, I had a major crush on Dee Dee. You know the kind I’m talking about: I inhaled the air when she walked by. I saved her bubblegum wrappers as keepsakes. I aspired to be behind her in line at the water fountain, so that I might put my lips where hers had been. Twenty-five years later, I cringed at the prospect of seeing Dee Dee again and having to wonder if she remembered what a hopeless goob I’d been.

If you’ve ever had an embarrassing crush or two (and who hasn’t?) the story in our latest issue, Erin McGraw’s “The Imaging Center,” will leave you feeling grateful that your lovesick puppy days are a thing of the past.

At the beginning of the story, the main character, Pete Wender, is felled by a powerful crush. Problem is, Pete isn’t in high school; he’s married and middle-aged, with a career. What’s worse, his crush blossoms at a company picnic, in full view of his co-workers. Margaritas and dirty dancing are involved. It’s not pretty—and things only get uglier as the story goes on to explore, with sharp insight and crackling humor, what can happen when two grown-ups start acting like teenagers.

To read more about “The Imaging Center”—including McGraw’s thoughts on middle-aged crushes—please check out our Q&A with the author.

Issue #168: The Widow’s Cruse

Our new issue, by the talented writer Emma Donoghue, was edited by Contributing Editor Will Allison, so I am turning the reins over to him for introductions. I hope you all enjoy this Dickensian short story, with a real O.Henry twist! -HT

 When I first picked up the story in our latest issue, Emma Donoghue’s “The Widow’s Cruse,” I thought there was a typo in the title. Surely it was supposed to be curse, right? Like the story’s scheming protagonist, the lawyer Huddlestone, I was familiar with neither the word cruse (noun, a small vessel, (as a jar or pot), for holding a liquid (as water or oil)) nor the Bible story about the widow’s cruse of oil that miraculously supplies Elijah during a famine (I Kings 17:8–16). Now I know a little better.

I’m always happy to read stories that open up new worlds for me, and as a consumer mostly of contemporary fiction, I found Donoghue’s richly imagined tale of eighteenth-century New York City to be just such a story. The consensus among One Story editors is that “The Widow’s Cruse” is an old-fashioned story in the best sense of the term: it’s full of well-chosen period details and language; it’s written with a degree of ironic distance that brings to mind Jane Austen; and it includes a twist ending that would make O. Henry proud but that also feels inevitable in retrospect.

To read more about “The Widow’s Cruse”—including Emma’s thoughts on writing historical fiction—please check out our Q&A with the author.

Issue 163: You, on a Good Day

As we get ready for The Literary Debutante Ball tomorrow, One Story is also ushering in Spring with a new issue! I read this piece on the subway, and fell instantly in love with its sharp and witty voice. Here to tell us about “You, on a Good Day” by Alethea Black, is One Story Contributing Editor Will Allison, who took it through the editorial process. See you at the Ball! -HT

With apologies to Alethea Black, author of “You, on a Good Day,” which we’re proud to present in our latest issue:

You do not set the story aside simply because the second-person viewpoint usually seems to you self-conscious and contrived. You do not get impatient with the story’s unconventional structure, its refusal to unfold in scenes. You do not, at the story’s turning point, pretend you knew what was coming all along. You do not turn up your nose at the ending because it dares to be hopeful instead of stoic or dark, like the ending of a literary story is supposed to be.

You do not, you do not, you do not.

Not on this day. On this day, by the end of page one, you forget the story is written in the second person because the viewpoint is handled so deftly. On this day, you’re happy to be reading a story that breaks the usual rules, invents its own, and then plays by them fair and square. On this day, the story’s turning point—its insistent shift away from despair—strikes you as inspired, exactly the sort of thing you’d been wanting without even realizing it. And on this day, the story’s hopeful ending makes you wish more stories had hopeful endings. It gives you a nice little shiver, the thrill of emotional connection that, as a reader, you long for.

To read more about “You, on a Good Day”—including Alethea’s thoughts on the story’s second-person viewpoint and unusual structure —please check out our Q&A with the author.