From the Trenches, Till Next Time

Eva, Abby, and Rose

Eva, Abby, and Rose

We are being withdrawn from the trenches. Despite the fact that there was really never a war going on, we figured that the time is right to make some room in the dugout for new One Story interns. But this means saying the g-word.

It being our last day in the office, the topic of goodbyes came up numerous times. Editor Marie-Helene Bertino introduced us to the concept of an Irish Goodbye, in which you might leave a room without saying a word, or say you have to move your car but in actuality drive it home. The concept of avoiding the emotional attachment to the simple word “goodbye”.

Therefore, before we do the deed, we thought we’d leave you with a collection of advice, musings and One Story insider information from our summer spent, knee-deep, in the literary trenches.

1. Those lovely invoices/renewal forms/miscellaneous mail items that show up at your door? Not sent by robots. Sent by us. Also received by us! So send us a fun note and keep using those quirky personal checks. Shout out to the fan of Spaying and Neutering Your Pets: Bob Barker would approve.

2. An internship does not give you security. We all came into this internship from different places wanting different things. We learned that interning is all about trying on various roles and seeing if it feels good—if it doesn’t, that’s okay. Actually, it’s more than okay. Exploring your curiosities will make you more curious, and as Dorothy Parker said: “The cure for boredom is curiosity. There is no cure for curiosity.”

3. When all else fails, bagels.

4. Be patient with your submissions. We work hard to make sure they get good reads, but sometimes this means it takes a while. This is the same for other small literary magazines and presses. Patience is key, but persistence, when suitable, is welcome.

5. It’s hard to run a literary journal. There is an extreme amount of care and love that goes into each issue of One Story. From the Thursday morning editorial meetings to when we stuff your envelopes, we make sure that what you are getting in your mailbox is something that we would want in ours (because it is).

6. Finding new voices in fiction is exhilarating. Giving other people the opportunity to do what we often hope for in the future is incredible. One Story is largely a literary family looking for some beautiful new children to put on display and later smother with excited hugs and kisses. The best part is: the number of extended family numbers is infinite. Maybe you can be the crazy uncle.

7. No matter how much you’ve read, you have not conquered all.

8. Writers are people who write, not necessarily people who are always getting published. Myla Goldberg gave simple directions: find a place where there is a low cost of living. Go there. Write. She spent the year after college in Prague strictly because she could survive on $100 a month and have the chance to work on her writing. Being a writer is a lifestyle choice and whether you have a year to set aside for the cause, or a few early wake ups a week, it’s a choice anyone can make.

9. Although it does feel like we all merged together a bit in these past few months, we’re all off on our own adventures. Tanya Rey, our beloved managing editor, is also embarking on a journey apart from One Story. But as Simon Van Booy helped us see, endings are really the prologue for beginnings, and there is no need to be afraid of them.

So sit tight while we hop on over to 5th Avenue for some coffee. We’ll be right back.

Golden Oldies: Revisiting Issue #13, “Stations West”

nullOnce again, I bring you back to one of our very first issues to remind you of the wonderful things One Story was doing before (many of) you became loyal subscribers! Issue #13: “Stations West” by Allison Amend follows a Jewish father from the old country making a life in America in the 1880s, and his son trying to do the same. Allison’s words are beautiful and carefully chosen to describe the lifestyles of these men that are foreign to most contemporary readers. The story demonstrates a unique family dynamic, and how despite attempts to change paths, the apple often doesn’t fall far from the tree. I strongly encourage you to see life through the eyes of Boggy and Moshe by ordering the story or, even better, picking up a copy of Stations West the novel.

After her publication in One Story, Allison Amend came out with her debut story collection Things That Pass for Love in 2008, for which she won a bronze IPPY award. However, years prior to this publication, Allison had completed her first novel, Stations West, in 2004. Using her One Story issue as chapter one, she found a well-known agent and began the hunt for a publisher. Several big name houses responded to the book with lots of enthusiasm, but no one was interested in pushing forward with a buy. After sending the novel around to smaller publishers with no success, Allison’s agent eventually told her to put Stations Westaside and move on. But this author wasn’t taking no for answer.

Allison parted ways with her agent and, because she believed in the book so much, persisted on her own. At one point, she even went to Book Expo America, pitching her novel to every publisher she liked. She said it was “horribly embarrassing and humiliating and in between every pitch [she] would go over to the bar and have a shot of something.” After some more time of sending her work around to no takers, the moment finally came. Hannah Tinti, editor-in-chief of One Story, put Allison Amend in touch with Michael Griffith, who was curating the Yellow Shoe Fiction Series and in search of a historical fiction novel that had been overlooked by mainstream publisher. As Allison stated, “the rest is history.” Stations West was published to great reviews and was a finalist for the prestigious Sami Rohr Prize.

Though Allison went through an unconventional publication process, her dedication and true belief in what she does followed what the students at One Story’s summer workshop learned all of last week. As Hannah Tinti explained in one of her craft lectures, “it only takes one person to like what you’re doing.” It may take a while, but you just need to find that one person to reaffirm your efforts. Many of our workshoppers said they felt validated at the end of the week and were comforted knowing that what they do is truly important and that they are certainly not alone. It’s a matter of passion, and Allison Amend certainly has it.

Click here to buy Issue #13: “Stations West”, or here to see more of Allison’s thoughts on writing the story. To watch a video with more details of her publishing process, just click below!

Third Day’s a Charm: The Workshop Continues Full Force

3 days in, the writers of One Story‘s summer workshop are continuing to gobble up the tricks of the trade and the helpful feedback from peers and professionals. After another fabulous morning workshop with editors Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison, the students enjoyed a craft lecture by One Story author Darin Strauss (Issue #15: Smoking Inside).

Darin came in to discuss how to begin a story and incorporate a formula into something creative. “The only rule,” he explained, “is that starting a story has to work.” While One Story editor-in-chief Hannah Tinti had earlier compared the first page of a story to a first date on Day 1, Darin’s approach was slightly more scientific. This wasn’t love; this was strategy. “Each decision needs to make tactical sense.” Through examples like “The Metamorphosis” by Franz Kafka, Darin showed the writers how bringing in an essence of drama at the very beginning brings a piece of work from just a curiosity to an actual story. To keep the story worth reading, one must follow (most of the time) the following formula: X + Y + Z = Structure. X=the goal or desire of the protagonist, Y=the conflict (“anything that thwarts desire”) and Z=the plot, or a series of events within the conflict that continually escalate. If applied correctly, this structure = story success. In simpler terms for the mathematically challenged (we are writers, after all), Darin believes that “you can write about anything as long as there is conflict and the character cares about it.”

After a break from scribbling notes in margins and pondering the role of scientific formula in fiction, our writers reconvened for yet another entertaining and informative panel. Editors from four exciting and unique literary magazines spent their night discussing with our attentive workshoppers the process of submitting, editing, and publishing their finished products. On the panel were Patrick Ryan (Issue #53: “So Much for Artemis”) from Granta, Anne McPeak from A Public Space, Scott Lindenbaum from Electric Literature, and James Yeh from Gigantic. In an effort to give you the best idea of what these bright minds had to say, I’ve created a list of advice and wisdom from their brains to your computer screen:

1. “Read the magazines you’re submitting to is the best answer,” said Anne McPeak, and this was strongly agreed upon by every panelist. Blindly throwing your work around isn’t the way to go. Every magazine has a taste, a direction, a feel. When you’re trying to get published, you’re attempting to join a community. James Yeh explained that the goal is to find the “community you make sense in or would like to make sense in.

2. Be careful with your cover letters (or in Electric Literature‘s case, please don’t write one). No one wants to read a list of your credentials. It’s fun to hear if you’re a fan of the magazine, but simply stating accomplishments doesn’t make you a better contender.

3. Don’t be afraid to send a little nudge email in March if you haven’t heard back about your submission in December. Short and sweet, a small reminder can be a necessary push.

4. “If you start to develop a relationship with an editor, keep going.” This was said by Maribeth Batcha, Publisher of One Story (and mediator of the panel). If you’re submitting and you’re told by a magazine they want to see some more work, take 6 months to improve your writing and resubmit! Encouragement is honest; what they say is what they mean.

5. Don’t worry about drowning in the slush. Patrick admitted that there “isn’t a lot of difference of quality in what comes in from the slush pile and what comes in from the agents.” The truth is that all of these magazines are looking for solid writing and it’s as simple as that. While we were sitting among the workshop students and listening to the editors play off of each other, my fellow intern Abby looked at me and said, “What’s horrifying is that this actually comes down to talent.”

And this, ladies and gentleman, is the ultimate lesson. The terrifying but purely beautiful truth is that good writing is good writing and that’s what editors want to see. Whether you’ve published four novels or are twiddling your thumbs in a summer workshop, there’s an open playing field out there. With some dedication and pro-activity (and adhering to the aforementioned tips), X + Y + Z may = your name in print.

Golden Oldies: Revisiting Issue #15, “Smoking Inside”

nullRemember when One Story didn’t have an entertaining and wonderfully informative blog? Before we could tweet all of our exciting news straight to your computer screen? In an effort to fill that technological gap, we’re revisiting some old issues to remind you that before we were blogging about it, we published some talented writers you may have missed! Today, I bring you back to Issue #15: “Smoking Inside” by Darin Strauss (January, 2003).

After reading “Smoking Inside” and setting it back on the table, away from me, my heart is still pumping and anxiety-ridden for the story’s protagonist, single mother Nanette McQuaid. Strauss portrays the unfortunate repercussions of placing an eBay ad for bratty children in a moment of motherly frustration. Nanette’s perspective of the world unleashes Strauss’ strong understanding of how people are quick to judge and the lines of social class. A reader can fully appreciate the motherly love and the honest humor consistent throughout the story. If you signed on as a One Story fan post-Issue #15, I strongly recommend you pass the time between current issues by picking this one up instead of obsessively checking your mailbox everyday in anticipation for the next one!

Since his 2003 publication in One Story, Darin Strauss has been very busy, and this certainly has not gone unnoticed. In 2008, he released his third novel More Than it Hurts You, which earned him a Guggenheim Fellowship as well as several Best Book of the Year awards. That summer, Strauss appeared on the public radio show/podcast This American Life in which he told the story of his teenage car accident that resulted in the death of a classmate (click here to listen to the recording). Through dealing with this traumatic event and attempting to make sense of the deep effects it had on him, Strauss completed his memoir Half a Life in 2010. The book received smashing reviews, more Best Book of the Year awards, and the National Book Critics Circle Award for Autobiography. Strauss lives in Brooklyn and teaches creative writing at New York University. He will be a craft lecturer in our 2011 Summer Workshop here in Brooklyn next week.

To learn more about Darin Strauss’ writing process, check out our Q&A with him or click here to order “Smoking Inside”.

Miroslav Penkov’s Debut Collection: East of the West

We’re excited to share more good news about another One Story author, Miroslav Penkov (Issue #148: “A Picture With Yuki”)! Penkov’s debut collection of stories, East of the West: A Country in Stories, is a creation inspired by the eighteen years he spent growing up in Bulgaria (as well as the distinctive wit that grew up with him).

East of the West has already received great reviews that highlight Penkov’s notable sense of humor and his unforgettable characters. His devotion to the history, pain and exile of these characters helps lay the groundwork for intense but comical stories. The powerful plot turns and dramatic setting found in “A Picture With Yuki” are consistent throughout East of the West, assuring an intriguing read.

I encourage you to learn more by reading Penkov’s interview with himself (Parts One & Two) on his entertaining blog,  in which he tackles the question of “Why do you write?” as well as why interviewing oneself should never be socially acceptable. Example:

Interviewer (a.k.a Miroslav Penkov): “Why read when you can write your own?”

Interviewee (a.k.a. Miroslav Penkov): “This might be the stupidest thing you’ve said so far.”

Go here to learn more or to purchase East of the West.