Waiting for the Thaw

As Publisher’s Weekly reported last week, Houghton Mifflin has put a freeze on acquisitions. Meaning, of course, that the publisher has instructed editors not to acquire books. This has led many editors, agents and writers to wonder which publishing house will be next. The publishing industry is taking a beating from the recession, as are the universities that employ many of our country’s writers. (Many colleges have put a freeze on hiring, prompting a lot of handwringing among young academics about to go on the job market.) This depressing economic news means that some good books won’t get published, that others will go out of print faster than they should and that some talented editors, agents and writers in the making may lose faith and go to law school. (Although law firms are laying people off too.) So if you love to read, put your money where your mouth is. Hardcover books are not cheap. But for the price of say, one and a half packs of cigarettes, you could buy Sana Krasikov’s excellent story collection, One More Year. (And aren’t you trying to quit anyway?) And for less than the price of a taxi ride from Williamsburg, Brooklyn to the Upper West Side of Manhattan, you could pre-order Lauren Groff’s Delicate Edible Birds. (If you’re like me, you get nauseated in cabs–too much stopping and starting. Added bonus to taking the much cheaper subway: you can read on the train!) You can get More Than it Hurts You by Darin Strauss for less than the price of two movie tickets. Or ten copies of Fiona Maazel’s Last Last Chance (give it to all your friends!) for less than these shoes

Books for the Holidays

I always get excited for holiday reading. After a big Thanksgiving meal, I like to digest with a good book. And I save the ones that I can’t tote around with me (I do a lot of reading on the subway) for the lull between Christmas and New Year’s. (This year, I hope to read Pevear and Volokhonsky’s translation of War and Peace and Roberto Bolano’s 2666. I acknowledge that it’s an ambitious plan; we’ll see if I actually manage to finish either by 2009.) At a recent One Story staff meeting, we had an enthusiastic (and heated, since we don’t all agree) discussion about our favorite books of fiction published this year. Titles that were casually mentioned at that meeting include: The Lazarus Project by Aleksander Hemon; Home by Marilynne Robinson; The Boat by Nam Le; Ms. Hempel Chronicles by Sarah Shun-lien Bynum; the contentious Netherland by Joseph O’Neill; Lush Life by Richard Price; and The Good Thief by our own Hannah Tinti. There’s some overlap between our list and the new one in the New York Times Book Review. What were your favorite books of the year? What books do you intend to give your family and friends? What will you be reading this holiday season? Do tell. We always welcome your comments on our blog. 

Charles D’Ambrosio wins Lannan Foundation Fellowship

At One Story, we’re always happy to see short story writers win big prizes and fellowships. So we’re delighted to report that Charles D’Ambrosio, author of two phenomenal story collections, The Point (1995) and The Dead Fish Museum (2006), as well as a beautiful book of essays called Orphans, is one of the recipients of a Fellowship from Lannan Foundation. We know that D’Ambrosio is working on a novel, but we can’t wait to read whatever he publishes next.

National Book Award Winner in Fiction: Peter Matthiessen

The National Book Award winners were announced tonight at a dinner in New York emceed by Eric Begosian. (And thanks to the National Book Foundation’s Twitter updates, readers who were not at the dinner could still follow the action. I confess that I don’t entirely understand Twitter, but was impressed by how tech savvy the National Book Foundation is.) This year’s winner for Fiction is Peter Matthiessen for Shadow Country. The four Finalists were: Aleksander Hemon for The Lazarus Project, Rachel Kushner for Telex from Cuba, Marilynne Robinson for Home, and Salvatore Scibona for The End. In other award news tonight, McKey (apparently not her real name) was named “America’s Next Top Model.” The winners of the National Book Awards each received $10,000 and a bronze statue. The winner of “ANTM” received a $100,000 contract with Cover Girl, representation from Elite Model Management, and a cover shoot for Seventeen Magazine. I’ll refrain from further comment. Just buy the Finalists’ wonderful books. And then read them. Please. 

5 Under 35

The National Book Foundation’s annual “5 Under 35” celebrates five books of fiction by five writers under the age of thirty-five. As most people know, thirty-five is the minimum age for a President of the United States. To the Founding Fathers, with their limited life expectancy, thirty-five years seemed sufficient time to accrue the experience necessary to be Chief Executive of this fledging nation. In our contemporary society, where forty is the new twenty, thirty-five still seems awfully young. It’s hard to imagine electing a thirty-five-year-old President. (People were worried about Obama’s experience and he is 47. He is also a terrific writer who wrote Dreams from My Father when he was under 35. But I digress.) Still, the 5 Under 35 celebration is a reminder that one should never underestimate youth. Mary Gaitskill said the title story in One Story author Nam Le’s astonishingly good collection, The Boat, would be extraordinary if it had been written by a fifty-year-old author, and that the fact that Nam was just twenty-six when he wrote it makes it all the more remarkable. There is no doubt that writing is hard, and that with experience and practice, most writers’ work does get better. But some writers do their best work long before 35. The work of the five writers feted at Tribeca Cinemas last night already displays such wisdom and maturity that one can’t help but feel that 35 is an arbitrary age to define the cut-off between young and, well, less young. How relevant is age when it comes to confidence and authority on the page? It’s exciting to imagine what this year’s 5 Under 35 will write in the next thirty-five years or so. In the meantime, buy the books they have already written. Each of the five young writers is always selected by a previous National Book Award Fiction Finalist or Winner. Here are the 5 Under 35 for 2008, who were introduced by the writers who selected them: Matthew Eck, The Farther Shore. (Selected by Joshua Ferris, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Then We Came to the End.) Keith Gessen, All the Sad Young Literary Men. (Selected by Jonathan Franzen, 2001 National Book Award Winner for The Corrections.) Sana Krasikov, One More Year. (Selected by Francine Prose, 2000 National Book Award Finalist for Blue Angel.) Nam Le, The Boat. (Selected by Mary Gaitskill, 2005 National Book Award Finalist for Veronica.) Fiona Maazel,  Last Last Chance. (Selected by Jim Shepard, 2007 National Book Award Finalist for Like You’d Understand, Anyway.)

Irina Reyn reading/”Jeopardy!”

A fan and Irina Reyn show why Jeopardy loves What Happened to Anna KOn Friday, November 7th, Irina Reyn (author of One Story issue #89, “The Wolf Story”) joined us at Pianos to read from her debut novel, What Happened to Anna K. The book is a contemporary retelling of Anna Karenina, but Reyn has taken Tolstoy’s classic and made it her own. Irina is originally from Moscow and when you listen to her reading, you’ll hear my rusty Russian. It is also worth noting that Irina’s novel was recently featured as an answer on “Jeopardy!” She may be the first One Story author who has been mentioned on air by Alex Trebek.

Best American Short Stories 2008

The new Best American Short Stories, edited by the incomparable Salman Rushdie, is in stores now and it’s a great read. We were pleased to see two One Story issues listed in the “100 Other Distinguished Stories of 2007”: Issue #88, “Aerogrammes” by Tania James and Issue #92, “Maria Ximenes da Costa de Carvalho Perreira” by Jason Grunebaum. Also listed are nine stories (published in other magazines) by One Story authors: Bradford Tice (who is one of the winners), Steve Almond, Rebecca Barry, Austin Bunn, Thomas Grattan, Tania James, Melanie Rae Thon, Kate Walbert and Paul Yoon. Congratulations!

Hannah Tinti Reading

At our superhero reading two weeks ago, One Story Editor-in-chief Hannah Tinti dressed as “Super Editor,” but sometimes we wonder if she really does have super powers. How else could she possibly manage the incredibly demanding job of editing One Story while writing such amazing books? On Friday, September 12th, Hannah read for One Story fans at Pianos. If you haven’t read her acclaimed first novel, The Good Thief, buy it now. And listen to her reading here. You won’t be disappointed.

One Story written at the Brooklyn Book Festival

Elliott Holt explains One Story’s exquisite corpse to NY1

At the One Story booth at the Brooklyn Book Festival today, we asked visitors to help us write one story on a giant pad. Writers young and old, published and unpublished, each contributed a sentence to this exquisite corpse. It may not make a lot of sense, but it’s a fun read (a digressive mystery featuring a turtle, an illiterate detective, Vanna White and many shifts in point-of-view) and you can see the list of authors at the end. Thanks to everyone who came to see us in the blazing heat (including NY1 news!) Here’s the one story we wrote today:

Noah Montague had been missing since February. His family is very worried about the 15 year old, last seen playing with his dog, Bandit. Many were puzzled by his disappearance, but how far could he have gone? The police theorized that the dog was kidnapped and the child was collateral damage. But that was not the case.

Cereal Slone, private investigator, wondered aloud why the family had waited two months to report that Noah was missing. Could it be that Noah was autistic and the family was in denial? But of course, this was a question without an answer. Cereal Slone tried to resolve this quandary through thorough consultation with the DSM IV handbook. “Now, if only I knew how to read,” he sighed.

It was a good thing that Slone’s sidekick was the wonderful Vanna White; she knew her letters.

Slone sat down with Vanna and mused aloud about the facts he had so far. “A: there’s an autistic child involved,” he said.

Vanna turned over an “A” from her deck of index cards. “Now let’s see about the rest of the alphabet,” she said, “the other twenty-three letters.”

A fly landed on Slone’s nose. He imagined he could feel its individual sticky feet, lifting and landing, R-S-T-U-V.

Life was never the same for Charlie and Ro after they saw the opera “The Fly.” Ro had a craving for sugar and nails. She wanted to feel the crunch of sugar between her teeth and coating her tongue, to turn the nails between her fingers like a magician with a gold coin. (Editors’ note: this excellent non-linear narrative thread was contributed by our friend Gary Winter, who is one of the playwrights in the Obie-winning 13P.)

The letters, Slone remembered, I must return to the letters. “Oh, Vanna,” he said, “where am I?”

He ran to the station hoping he could catch the man who had stolen the formula–what would happen if he were not there in time? When Cereal got to the station, he found Bandit, the dog, with a toy turtle. Cereal bent down and, gently tugging the turtle away from Bandit, noted that the colored swirls along the edge of the turtle’s carapace looked like writing. He peered closely at the writing, wishing he had brought with him his all-language dictionary so that he could decipher the beautiful but unfamiliar words.

Cereal was feeling hungry. He looked at the turtle and thought about cooking up some turtle soup. “Mmmm…” He smacked his lips in anticipation.Cereal shook his head, forcing himself to remember the task at hand. If only Bandit could talk, perhaps he’d find some answers to Noah’s whereabouts. It turned out that the turtle had a recipe for turtle soup on its back, asking for assisted suicide.

Sauntering down the black gum raindropped pavement, he ran across open-toe sandals. His eyes ventured up to psychodelic hoops. It was Tanya! Immediately, she asked “Where is Cathy?” Cathy was, in fact, near by.

Detective Cereal asked Cathy if she had seen Noah, but she had not. So he took Bandit (and the turtle) and said, “Find Noah!”

The turtle closed his eyes and pulled his head inside his shell. A moment later, he popped his head out and looked at Captain Cereal. Cereal followed the train of carrot chips left by Bandit. He was hungry and although he was supposed to hold on to the evidence, he ate every crumb.

The path was leading to Brooklyn! (Editors’ note: metafiction alert.) Brooklyn on a Sunday! Brooklyn filled with books and a funny writing activity.

“My God, it’s hot,” said Turtle, who retired to the shade of an old oak on the City Hall lawn. “I’ll wait here a while.”

He lay down on a hard, shady bench next to an ice-cream stand. Then a little boy kicked him away. The boy kicked him so hard, he skipped several times across the grass, finally landing on the pavement next to the statue of Henry Ward Beecher. And the crowd cheered. As he basked in the applause, Turtle realized how far he had strayed from his original assignment. He was looking for the books in Brooklyn, when a dog came by and sniffed him.

“Killer, get back here,” Cereal called. “We need to find Noah.”

For this was the story of a woman…a woman tossed in the tides of fate…a woman blown by the winds of circumstance…a woman buried in the sands of time. (Editors’ note: new protagonist.)

Or maybe not, she thought to herself as the last train passed her, in an unassuming, vaguely serious manner. I wonder….how does she get her dress to stay on? Does she use a lot of doubled-sided tape? Or perhaps cosmetic glue? Whatever it is, I must get some. I wonder if getting surgically-imprinted Velcro would hurt? But it could have its uses. Imagine body surfing with no fear of certain pieces being whipped away by a rip tide and the sun beats down. That’s when she decided to follow her dream and start making plans to visit Hawaii.

Bandit sniffed high and low to find his owner. He finally ended up on Smith and Livingston where a kind woman noticed him. And she too had a dress that stayed on by seemingly mystical means. Sequins. Glue sticks. Building blocks. Secret passageways.

But what I noticed about her the most was her hat. It was a skimmer or boater hat of straw. She carried a plastic container with a little turtle. She patted the dog and said, “I’d like you to meet my young friend, Noah.”

And when she said his name, it was as if a trap door opened in her face, as if her sly smile opened into another, brighter place. “Noah,” she said, like she was letting Detective Cereal in on a secret. She licked her lips. It tasted salty. “Noah,” she said. “I can’t hide the truth anymore. I know what happened at the drive-in movies.”

Noah said, “What happened? I fell asleep.” (Editors’ note: Noah has apparently been found.)

“What was your dream about?”

“People throwing candy at me, and me riding on a pony. But people were happy.”

“No,” she said. “Nothing like that. I saw you with a woman who wasn’t your girlfriend.”

“Actually, that was Bandit, doing his human transvestite thing–the legs are so realistic, but I hate the way he crossed them and propped those feet on the dash, spilling popcorn everywhere, like even inside my brain, kernels sticking with buttery goo.”

“Buttery goo? That’s not even real butter, just butter-flavored. Like ‘I Can’t Believe it’s Not Butter.’ The fat-free kind.”

“Makes you think how marvelous it is to live in America. You can consume things that aren’t really even food and have dogs that try to act human.”

This story was written by Lisa Reyes, Najaya Royal, Tim Sheard, Susan Marinoff, Diana Winters, Lauren Russell, Timothy Browne, Kelly Spoer, Tracey Simon, Gary Winter, Gena Radcliffe, Jane Axelrod, Juliette, Susy Nowak, Lisa Pacenza, Levi Rubeck, Mike, Shanon, Jaren Kozar, Rachel Boyadjis, Allison Dilyard, John Dilyard, Donna Session, Peter William Naas IV, Mario Quinoves, Thomas Grattan, Anne Ray, Mohan Sikka, John King, Helen Georgas, Robert Feinstein and others who chose to remain anonymous. I apologize if I misspelled your name; some handwriting was very hard to read. Do let us know if we need to correct any spelling.