Issue #192: Fear Itself
by Katie Coyle

192-coverI’ll never forget the first time I saw Vincent Price’s classic horror film House of Wax on late night TV. In the climactic scene, the young heroine discovers that the museum’s wax figurines are made from real corpses, including her best friend, who has been transformed into Joan of Arc. Trapped between a young Charles Bronson (Igor) and Vincent Price (the museum curator), she beats Vincent Price’s face, which falls apart, revealing a monster hidden behind a wax mask. I was reminded of the movie the first time I picked up our marvelously strange new issue, “Fear Itself” by Katie Coyle. Not only because of the wax museum setting, but because both stories center around identity and false appearances. The teenaged heroines of “Fear Itself”—Kara, Ruthie & Olive—are best friends, but find themselves grating against their assigned categories (the ugly one, the caretaker, the prude). The girls’ internal frustrations bubble to the surface on a class trip to a presidential wax museum, and soon overflow. Jealousy, love, courage and hate all come into play as these three friends search for ways to find new ground, eventually standing together against the forces of darkness (and in this case, also bad boyfriends). Check out our Q&A with Katie Coyle to find out more about the inspiration behind this sharply written, astonishingly bizarre and simply fun short story, then click the video below to see a clip from House of Wax. Despite all of the movie’s campiness and bad-acting, the moment where Vincent Price’s face falls apart still resonates with a creepy magic. What’s really behind the masks our friends and family wear each day? What’s behind our own?

Q&A with our 2014 Mentor of the Year: Colum McCann

columMcCannAt 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. This year, our Mentor of the Year is Colum McCann.

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.

Colum McCann exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring him, along with our Literary Debutantes, Thursday, May 22nd, 2014 at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn.

In today’s post, Colum kindly took time from his busy schedule to talk with One Story about writing and teaching, the importance of being a mentor, and what he’s looking forward to the most at the big party this Thursday night.

  1. You’ve been a great supporter of emerging writers. But who were your mentors and how did they help you along the way?

I remember getting to meet of one of my heroes, Benedict Kiely, in Dublin when I was about sixteen years old.   He was a  friend of my father’s, and my first mentor.  He wrote me a beautiful note about some pretty awful stories that I had written.  I remember, years later, drinking with him in the pubs of Donnybrook.  He was an incredible raconteur.

And then for years I have had a correspondence with John Berger who sort of took me under his wing at a very early stage.  He once sent me 12 pages of notes about a novel of mine, Dancer.  There were many other mentors and spectacular acts of generosity all down the line.

Also, there were so many great teachers from my early years in Dublin, both at the primary and secondary school level.  All those songs and stories and poems.

Ultimately, however, I’d have to say that it was my father, Sean McCann, who was my primary mentor.

  1. Besides being an active member of various literary organizations such as PEN, and a founder of Narrative 4, which promotes empathy through the exchange of stories, you also teach writing at Hunter College’s MFA program. How does community work and teaching others fit into your literary life? And is it difficult to keep the balance with your own creative work?

Vonnegut says we should be continually jumping off of cliffs and developing our wings on the way down.  That’s how I feel about teaching and being involved with all these non-profits.  It keeps me on the edge.  It propels me forward.  It forces me to learn new things.  And my students keep me current in many ways also.  I see so many things through their eyes.  I don’t really find any tension there between my teaching and my creative work.  I like both immensely.  I think they compliment one another.  It’s just that there aren’t enough hours in the day.  I could do with another eight hours.

  1. You’ve recently published your 8th book, TransAtlantic. But could you share what it was like to publish your first book, Fishing the Sloe-Black River? What was the most surprising thing about becoming a published author for the first time?

I remember I went to London when Fishing the Sloe-Black River came out. I thought it was going to be a big deal.  I wore my torn black overcoat and a ridiculous beret.  I wandered around the publishing house, waiting for them to make a big fuss.  Nobody gave a tupenny bit.  I was distraught.  I stuffed my beret in the coat pocket and walked around, sulking.  But at the end of the day — just when I was about to give up on any pretense of celebration — my editor introduced me to Edna O’Brien who happened to be in the offices that day.  She was amazing.  She invited me to come read with her that very evening in a shop in Hammersmith.  It was my first ever reading.  An incredible experience.  Of course I read too long and didn’t have a clue, really, but it was unforgettable to read with Edna, another one of my heroes, one of the world’s great writers.

  1. Any words of advice for our 7 Debutantes as they start their literary careers?

My favourite quote from Samuel Beckett: “No matter. Try again.  Fail again.  Fail better.”

  1. What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on May 22nd?

It’s a real honour to be seen as a mentor, but mostly I’m looking forward to hanging out with some of my students, and meeting the debutantes.

At the Ball: Handwritten Advice From Your Favorite Authors!

writedrunk (523x365)At this year’s Literary Debutante Ball, on May 22nd in Brooklyn, supporters of One Story will have the chance to take home handwritten advice from their favorite authors!

Over 30 authors have “donated” handwritten and personally signed advice, framed and ready to hang over your writing desk for inspiration.

Donate on the night of the ball, and leave with advice from: George Saunders, John Green, Ann Patchett, Roxanne Gay, Jonathan Franzen, Lydia Davis, Teju Cole, Meg Wolitzer, Pam Houston, Andre Dubus III, Walter Mosley,  Michael Cunningham, Susan Minot, Dani Shapiro, Colson Whitehead and many more!

We’ll also have framed advice available from your favorite “classic” authors, such as Franz Kafka, Nathaniel Hawthorne, Virginia Woolf, Agatha Christie, James Baldwin, Raymond Carver and Zora Neale Hurston.

And back by popular demand, our cigarette girls from last year’s party will be returning, hawking the one thing no writer can do without: PUNCTUATION!

Advice and punctuation will be given for donations of $20-$250. All proceeds will go toward One Story’s mission: to celebrate the art form of the short story and support the writers who write them. Tickets are almost sold out! Buy yours today.

Issue #190: Owl by Emily Ruskovich

190-coverWhen it comes to jealousy, Shakespeare probably said it best: “O, beware, my lord, of jealousy; It is the green-ey’d monster, which doth mock the meat it feeds on.” Just like poor tragic Othello, nothing settles into our souls or breaks us apart more completely than doubt, an emotion that takes center stage in the lyrical and gripping new issue of One Story, “Owl.” Set near Bonners Ferry at the turn of the last century, Emily Ruskovich’s “Owl” is a mystery wrapped in a love triangle wrapped in an historical thriller. A husband cares for his wife, shot in a hunting accident by a group of local boys. But lingering in the air is a puzzle he cannot solve—what was she doing in the woods that night? No matter how he tries, he can’t shake his feelings of suspicion, until they lead to a hunt of his own, and a confrontation that reveals a long-held secret. Be sure to read Emily Ruskovich’s Q&A with us, which explores the connection between her story and Peter Pan—as well as how she developed the distinctive voice for this unforgettable narrator. And next time the green-eyed monster starts to haunt you, remember: Iago may have whispered those famous words to Othello, but it was Othello who clung to them and let them eat away at his heart.

Announcing One Story’s 2014 Mentor of the Year: Colum McCann!

columMcCannOne Story is thrilled to announce our 2014 Mentor of the Year: Colum McCann.

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, and Dan Chaon.

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.

Colum McCann exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring him, along with our Literary Debutantes, on May 22nd, 2014 at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn.  Tickets for the Ball will go on sale on April 10th.

Colum McCann was born in Ireland in 1965. He is the author of two collections of stories and six novels, including Let the Great World Spin and TransAtlantic. He has been the recipient of many international honors, including the National Book Award, the International Dublin Impac Prize, a Chevalier des Arts et Lettres from the French government, election to the Irish arts academy, several European awards, the 2010 Best Foreign Novel Award in China, and an Oscar nomination. His work has been published in over 35 languages. He lives in New York with his wife, Allison, and their three children. He teaches at the MFA program in Hunter College.

Issue #189: Astonish Me
by Maggie Shipstead

189-coverI am not a ballerina. I’ve never had that kind of grace. But I love going to see dancers perform. They have a different kind of relationship with their bodies than the rest of us—a harmony of mind and muscle, spirit and bone. But what happens off-stage, when the tights are off? In our new issue, “Astonish Me,” talented author Maggie Shipstead holds back the curtain to see. Loosely inspired by dancer Mikhail Baryshnikov’s dramatic defection from the Soviet Union in 1974, “Astonish Me” explores the high cost of love and freedom in the beautiful and cut-throat world of professional ballet. Be sure to read Maggie Shipstead’s Q&A with us to find out more about the inspiration behind this extraordinary story, which details the sacrifices, both emotional and physical, that dancers make in search of perfection. Like any athlete, ballerinas push themselves to the edge, then retire before they’ve hit middle-age—when other professionals (particularly writers) are just hitting their stride. So the next time you see a performance of The Nutcracker, be sure to clap extra hard for those snowflakes in the chorus. With each pirouette they are giving their all, even as their moment in the spotlight melts away.

Announcing the 2014 One Story Literary Debutantes!

One Story is thrilled to announce our 2014 Literary Debutantes:

harlem.debs

• Molly Antopol, The UnAmericans

• Rachel Cantor, A Highly Unlikely Scenario

• Amelia Kahaney, The Brokenhearted

• Celeste Ng, Everything I Never Told You

• David James Poissant, The Heaven of Animals

• James Scott, The Kept

• Ben Stroud, Byzantium

SAVE THE DATE and raise a glass as we toast these seven One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year. The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Thursday, May 22nd at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY and include music, dancing, food, and specialty cocktails. It is our most important fundraising event of the year. It is also a lot of fun. Sponsorship Tickets will be on sale April 1st. Individual Tickets will be on sale April 10th. To discuss sponsorship opportunities for the One Story Literary Debutante Ball please contact maribeth@one-story.com.

Issue #187:
A Good Problem to Have
by B.J. Novak

187-coverA man leaves Chicago on a train heading for Cleveland at 60 miles per hour. Another man leaves Cleveland heading for Chicago on a train going 85 miles per hour. How long before the two trains cross paths? This standard math question is something we all eventually face in grade school. To solve it, determine the distance (308 miles), the relative rate of the two trains (60 + 85=145), and use the formula Distance ÷ Rate=Time. But what if some of the elements of this equation changed? What if the two people traveling weren’t strangers, but a man and woman who are in love? What if the distance wasn’t 308 miles, but the years since one of them has passed away? What if the child solving this problem learns not math—but how to live a fuller life? All of these questions come into play in our new issue, B.J. Novak’s “A Good Problem to Have.” This short piece begins as a mad-cap lark, when the aged author of our famous train problem arrives and demands compensation from a fourth grade class. But as he settles in and tells his tale, the students soon learn that the truth behind this equation isn’t arithmetic—it’s a love story and life lesson hidden within the numbers. Be sure to read Contributing Editor Will Allison’s Q&A with B.J. Novak about the inspiration behind this sharply-written, funny, curious and moving story. And check out B.J.’s story collection, One More Thing, when it hits bookstores next month.  In the meantime, take out a piece of scrap paper and start crunching those numbers. (The answer is: two hours and twelve minutes. The other answer is: make every second count.)

 

Issue #186: Mastermind by Jen Fawkes

186-coverWho is your favorite Bond villain? Whenever I ask this question, people have their answer ready, as if they have been considering it for years. Some pick the classics from Ian Fleming’s universe, such as Goldfinger (“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), Jaws (mouth of metal) or Oddjob (deadly bowler hat). Some are fans of Mr. Big (“Names are for tombstones, baby!”), Rosa Klebb (killer shoes) or Ernst Stavro Blofeld (stroker of the white cat—later sent up by Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil). In many ways, these “bad guys” are more memorable than the men who have stepped in and out of the role of the hero. But what would happen if “real life” entered into this fictional world of dastardly plans? What if, for example, Dr. Evil got Alzheimer’s? That is the question Jen Fawkes asks in her highly imaginative, satirical and moving story, “Mastermind.” Set in a volcano—a VOLCANO, people!—our new issue is narrated by Carl, the right-hand man and care-giver of an evil menace who is slowly losing his mind. Be sure to read our Q&A with Jen Fawkes to find out more about the inspiration behind this gripping story of fathers, sons, memory and heart-break. And now—back to the volcano! Will Carl be able to keep his boss’s illness hidden from the rest of their evil organization? Or at least hidden long enough to blow up Mt. Rushmore? You’ll have to read “Mastermind” to find out.

Issue #184: ReMem by Amy Brill

184-cover (4)Sometimes I lie awake at night replaying events from the past in my mind. What if I had done this instead? What if I had noticed that earlier? And sometimes—I wonder if I am remembering everything correctly. Go to any family reunion, and you’ll hear a dozen different versions of how Grandma met Grandpa, or who said what at Aunt Reba’s wedding, or where Great Uncle George served during the war. This concept of memory and how it is shared, lost, and re-formed is at the heart of our spellbinding new issue: “ReMem,” by Amy Brill. Set in the future, “ReMem” opens on a world where people no longer rely on their memories alone—instead their brains are synched with a computer system that “uploads” directly online, where people can share their experiences with others, delete memories they wish to forget, or re-live the same moments in the past, over and over. Part love story, part social commentary, and part sci-fi detective story, “ReMem” delves deeply into the ways that we hide and reveal our inner selves, while giving a fresh take on where science and social media are (possibly) leading us. Be sure to read our Q&A with Amy Brill to find out more about the inspiration behind this beautifully-wrought and highly imaginative story. And the next time you login to Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram or Twitter, you may want to think twice before you hit “upload.”