On my first trip to Rome, I visited the Capuchin Crypt, beneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Inside those underground caverns I discovered a true Momento Mori—thousands of skeletons of Capuchin monks, deconstructed to form elaborate frescoes and decorative arches—as well as a sign that read: What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be. The monks, I was told, would pray in the crypt every night before going to sleep, among the vertebrae and femurs and skulls of their brothers. When I first read Jason Zencka’s “Catacombs,” I was reminded of the beauty of that cold, dark place—not just because of the reference to the catacombs and tunnels that the narrator, George, travels to over his life, but because of how perfectly this story captures the mysterious places our minds create and then wander through, when dealing with the loss of someone we love. “Catacombs” breaks so many rules of fiction, slipping through time, playing with point of view, deconstructing its own narrative voice, and yet somehow through this process, it sets its finger exactly on a difficult truth—the guilt of those of us left behind, so desperate to commune and connect that it leads us to find solace and beauty in fragments, whether they are pieces of bone or memory. That this is Jason Zencka’s debut publication makes “Catacombs” all the more special. Please read his Q&A to find out more about this remarkable story, and in the meantime, join me in welcoming a talented new writer to the literary stage.
A few years ago, two close family members of mine were diagnosed with cancer. I’d lost other relatives, friends, and co-workers to the disease before, but this was the first time I was dealing with the day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour intricacies of care-taking, surgeries, treatment side-effects, hospital visits, and health insurance. The anxiety, strangeness, intimacy, love, helplessness, humanity, and at times, God-help me, dark humor of that experience came rushing back as I read Charles Bock’s “Case Studies.” Set as a series of fictional medical histories of patients, each record moves quickly from the hard facts of diagnosis to the existential questions of healing, building a mosaic of the daily, quiet heroism of patients and their caregivers, while at the same time condemning the bureaucracy of our current health care system. I encourage everyone to read Charles’s Q&A with us as a companion piece to this extraordinary story, where he talks about his own experience caring for his late wife Diana, his decision to explore this subject matter via fiction instead of memoir, and how “Case Studies” fits into the larger narrative of his highly anticipated forthcoming novel, Alice & Oliver. To steal a phrase from Charles—dealing with cancer sucks rocks. But “Case Studies” is more than just a cancer story. It asks: How do we face our daily lives with dignity and hope when our bodies begin to fail us? Every one of us will have to answer that question someday. But we don’t have to do it alone. One of the magical things about fiction is how it creates a mirror of interior worlds. Moments of recognition. When you find one of them on the page, you feel it in your bones. Yes, you think. Exactly. That is exactly how it feels. And you know that you have found a fellow traveler. In these brief medical histories, “Case Studies” introduces us to six such fellow travelers as they navigate the treacherous path of illness, exploring the failures, sorrows, hopes, and mysteries of the human experience.
One Story is thrilled to announce our 2016 Mentor of the Year: Jim Shepard.
At One Story, we believe that being a part of the literary community should include helping others. In that vein, each year at our Literary Debutante Ball we honor one established author with a “Mentor of the Year” award for their extraordinary support of fellow writers. Past honorees have included Ann Patchett,Dani Shapiro, Cornelius Eady, and Toi Derricotte.
Mentoring is the kind of work that happens behind the scenes, but is vital to keep the literary world alive and kicking. It comes in all forms—from teaching, to blurbs, to recommendation letters, to late-night reads, agent advice, one-on-one conferences, career guidance and inspiration. Behind each book on the shelf is an unseen mentor, giving an author the help they need to make their work better, to keep writing when they are ready to quit, and eventually give them a boost over the publishing wall.
Jim Shepard exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring him, along with our Literary Debutantes, on May 6th, 2016 at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn. Sponsorship level tickets are available now. General Admission tickets will go on sale on April 1st.
Jim Shepard has written seven novels, most recently The Book of Aron (2015), and four story collections, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of The Story Prize. His previous novel, Project X, won the Library of Congress/Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction as well as the ALEX Award from the American Library Association. His short fiction has appeared in, among other magazines, One Story, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, Playboy, and Electric Literature, and five of his stories have been chosen for the Best American Short Stories, two for the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and one for a Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Williams College.
- Brian Booker, Are You Here for What I’m Here For? (Bellevue Literary Press), author of “A Drowning Accident”
- Kim Brooks, The Houseguest (Counterpoint), author of “Do You Like It Here?”
- Matthew Cheney, Blood: Stories (Black Lawrence Press), author of “Blood”
- Charles Haverty, Excommunicados (University of Iowa Press), author of “Storm Windows”
- Naomi Williams, Landfalls (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), author of “Snow Men”
- Cote Smith, Hurt People (Farrar, Straus & Giroux), author of “Hurt People”
SAVE THE DATE and raise a glass as we toast these six One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year. The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Friday, May 6th at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY. We’ll have live music, dancing, hors d’oeuvres, and specialty cocktails. It is our most important fundraising event of the year. VIP Tickets are available now. General Admission Tickets will be on sale April 1st. To discuss sponsorship opportunities for the One Story Literary Debutante Ball please contact: firstname.lastname@example.org.
A long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an editorial intern working at The Atlantic Monthly. One of the big perks of the job was the giant pile of galleys (also known as ARCs—Advanced Reading Copies) that the assistants and interns were allowed to peruse and take home, once the editors had finished reviewing them. It didn’t matter that these were little more than loosely-bound manuscripts. They were FREE BOOKS and very exciting to an avid reader like me, who spent any extra money from my paycheck at bookstores. Galleys gave us a special “sneak peek” into a book six or eight months before it was published, and I discovered that it was thrilling to read a novel or memoir before anyone else had turned its pages. One of the very first galleys I chose from the Atlantic’s pile was Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s unforgettable collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage. I have strong memories of reading those enchanting tales, and so, now, many years later, when a NEW galley of Divakaruni’s work passed my desk, I jumped at the chance to publish her in One Story. Set in India, “Durga Sweets” skips from moment to moment, telling the story of a relationship backwards in time. Together with the delightful bachelor Bipin Bihari and the savvy sweet shop owner Sabitri, we travel from their final parting towards the unforgettable moment when these characters first meet. Woven between these many years is a deep unrequited love, as well as marvelous confections of mango, cardamom, and saffron, created by Sabitri at her shop, Durga Sweets. Read our Q&A with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, where she discusses how she wrote this lovely story, and shares a special recipe for Sandesh! In the meantime, I hope you will all enjoy this moving tribute to loyalty and friendship, and consider this issue of One Story your own personal “galley” to Divakaruni’s marvelous forthcoming novel-in-stories, Before We Visit the Goddess.
“Be a sadist. No matter how sweet and innocent your leading characters, make awful things happen to them—in order that the reader may see what they are made of.”
I often quote this Kurt Vonnegut line to my students. It’s great advice for writers trying to create compelling fiction on the page. But as a reader, I sometimes find it hard to keep turning the pages as horrible events are heaped onto my favorite characters. I want them to have happy endings instead. This contradiction got me thinking about happiness as a literary device. It’s just as layered and complex as anger or hate, but authors often avoid it in their work. Why? I wondered. So I asked around. The truth of the matter seems to be this: happiness is really, really, really hard to pull off—in life, and in literature. Luckily, in our new issue, “When in the Dordogne,” we’re in the talented hands of author Lily King. Set over one magical summer, the story begins as a lonely boy is left in the care of two house-sitting college students. These young men are bristling with energy and joie-de-vivre, and in between raiding the fridge and cannonballing into the pool, they teach our boy lessons about friendship and love and finding joy that he carries with him for the rest of his life. Happiness is rare, and wonderful. When it comes, we must grab it with both hands. So read more about Lily King in her Q&A with us, and hold tight onto “When in the Dordogne.”
Growing up, I loved to read classic horror tales, like Edgar Allan Poe’s “The Tell-Tale Heart” and “The Monkey’s Paw” by W. W. Jacobs. There was something electric about the writing in those stories that shocked and disturbed, while also revealing dark, mysterious truths about human nature. A similar sense of touching a live wire came through the first time I picked up our new issue, Gabrielle Lucille Fuentes’s “The Elephant’s Foot.” Set in a Catholic School in the 1960s, this captivating story focuses on four young girls pushing the boundaries of their friendship and their imaginations after a mysterious object (an elephant’s foot!) enters their lives. Everything about the foot is extraordinary—from the wild stories about its origins to the way it haunts, then alters, each of the girls. Read Gabrielle’s Q&A with us to find out more about the inspiration behind this chilling tale, which arrives just in time for Halloween.
I’m writing this in the final moments of summer, which always feel both relaxing and fraught. I spend every minute I can outdoors, enjoying the last of the good weather, and at the same time, I wonder at how fast the days have gone by. Luckily, I have Victoria Redel’s remarkable story, “That Summer, ’53,” to help me remember the smell of BBQ cooking, the cool joy of jumping into a cold lake, and the lazy stretch of a summer night with friends, sipping drinks and watching the sun filter pink and orange through the trees. Set in 1953, this bucolic lakeside life is the American dream for Serge Solta and his young Russian family, their own little piece of Shangri-La. But things are more complicated than they seem in Serge’s work life and his marriage. The McCarthy hearings and the Rosenberg executions are broadcasting through everyone’s TV sets, and soon Serge finds himself caught between two worlds, muffling his misgivings with Seabreeze cocktails and the rhythm of Pérez Prado’s “Mambo Number Five” while trying to keep Shangri-La from slipping through his fingers. Check out Victoria Redel’s Q&A with us to hear the family history behind this sharply-turned tale. Then it’s time to get out your vintage cocktail shaker, fix yourself a Gin-and-It, open the pages of “That Summer, ’53,” and enjoy a literary Indian summer.
In the 1960s my mother worked as a librarian in Brookline, Massachusetts. She still talks about how the building was a lifeline to the community there–not only for students and families but also for the elderly, the unemployed, the lost and the dispossessed. At libraries, people who can’t afford an education (or even a newspaper) have access to books from around the world. At the very least they can find quiet and shelter until the stacks close at night. Our new issue, “Things I Know to Be True” by Kendra Fortmeyer, explores the library as refuge through the unique voice of Charlie Harrison, a Vietnam vet struggling to tell the difference between fact and fiction. Charlie uses books to escape the visions in his head, but when an incident gets him banned from his local library, he must find a way to build his own stories, and eventually face the past he has been hiding from. In Kendra’s Q&A, she discusses the challenges of creating a point of view like Charlie’s, and how libraries have played a role in her own past (and future—as she is now in library school!). “Things I Know to Be True” is an important story about trauma, mental illness, family, and the power of words. I hope it will inspire some of you to dust off your old library cards. There is a whole world waiting at your local branch, and with any luck, a friendly librarian, who can put the right book into your hands.
One of my favorite school memories involves a giant parachute. Once a month, our gym teacher would unroll the colorful fabric. My class would stretch across the floor and play games, raising it up and down, catching the air. There was something magical about that moment, when we were all under the parachute together, and I remembered it vividly when I first read our new issue, “Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick. This finely-wrought tale explores a difficult subject: school shootings. The material might seem a bit daunting to some readers, but I will say now that if you do not open this story, you will be missing out on an astonishing accomplishment of suspense and point of view, that somehow turns a deplorable situation into a moment of courage, faith, hope and connection. Check out Lydia’s Q&A with us about how she explored her own fears while writing this compelling story. And when you’ve finished, you might find yourself thinking of your old gym teacher who always made you run extra laps, and the thrill of lifting a parachute over your head with the rest of your class. All those tiny hands making something enormous happen, with material strong enough to save lives, and still thin enough to let the light shine through.