As 2020 was nearing its close, we received more than 450 entrees for One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest—the most we’ve ever received. They came in from teen writers ranging in age from 13-19, and we grouped them into three categories: 13-15, 16-17, and 18-19. Our goal, as always, was to pick a winner and runner-up in each category, and our team of dedicated contest readers set the process in motion by diving into one of our favorite shared activities: reading. It was heartening, indeed, to discover that not only had the teens been writing during a tumultuous year, but they’d also produced some powerful, moving stories.
We’re pleased to present to you the winner of our 13-15 age category: Elane Kim, who has written a quietly moving story called “Smorzando.”
“Smorzando” is about two sisters, Amy and Maya, who have lost their mother, live with their grandmother, and share a passion for playing the piano. As is often the case in stories about siblings, there is rivalry: Amy is more dedicated (at first); Maya is more talented. The fact that Maya is the younger of the two sisters isn’t lost on Amy, who does her best to tolerate her sister’s immaturity while struggling to accept that, no matter how immature she is, Maya will always be the better pianist. Add to this Amy’s desire, as the older sister, to help keep alive the memories they share of their mother, whom they both dearly miss.
Elane Kim has written a tender and utterly convincing story about these two girls at a challenging juncture of their lives. We hope you enjoy “Smorzando” as much as we did.
When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, and social distancing turned into lockdown, and lockdown turned into finding new ways to live and stay creative and sane, we at One Story began to anticipate the pandemic-related submissions we were bound to receive. As they started to come in, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was going to write a story about how weird we all became. What I mean is, consciously or not, we all had to reinvent our notions of interaction and intimacy. We all had to find new ways to lend emotional support, and we all had to find new ways to receive emotional support.
It wasn’t a smooth process, by any means. We were living in a world of constantly changing information, trying to cope with a global health crisis that immediately and bizarrely had become political. And as the spring of 2020 edged toward summer, everything became more challenging, more unsettling, more of a mirror held up to our faces, showing us ourselves in stark relief.
I’ve been a fan of Jackie Thomas-Kennedy’s writing for a long time, so I’m particularly thrilled to be presenting “Extinction” to you. This, in many ways, is the story I was wondering if someone was going to write: a story about how our world was (and still is) upended, and how it changed us not just in obvious ways but in subtle ways we might not even have been aware of. How do we make the best of things when a better version of our world is rapidly receding from our view, when distancing becomes isolation, and when we can’t trust ourselves to make the best choices? “Extinction” puts its finger on the pulse of our current lives. It’s both a story for our times and a story with staying power.
Don Lee’s “Reenactments” takes us to El Paso, Texas, where a Hollywood shoot-’em-up—a “pretty standard narco/border thriller,” as the narrator describes it—is being filmed. The on-location challenges include barking dogs, blistering heat, and fake, sugary blood that attracts fire ants. But the biggest challenge for Alain Kweon (an actor from Hawaii whose agent has convinced him to go by the professional name Alan Kwan) is a script filled with racial stereotypes, and the director who wrote it. Alain’s character, Mano Silencioso, has but a single line in the film. That line make no sense to Alain and, worse, the director wants him to deliver it in what a fellow cast member calls “the old I-rike-flied-lice accent.” It’s the biggest role of Alain’s career thus far, so he has to make a choice: dignity, or potential success in the industry?
This story knocked my socks off for a number of reasons. For one thing, it transported me onto a film set fraught with problems (I’ve got my own problems, but they don’t involve lying on the ground for hours in full sun while bugs eat through fake blood to get at my skin). For another, Alain’s conflict is palpable—and all the more so because the story is told in his voice. The main reason I fell in love with “Reenactments,” however, is because it’s so masterfully told. Don Lee is a writer who knows how to cut to the heart of difficult subject matter in an extremely honest, realistic, and entertaining way. I was leaning forward in my chair as I neared the end, hungry to find out what was going to happen.
One Story is delighted to be putting “Reenactments” into your hands. If you aren’t yet familiar with Don Lee’s writing, a wonderful discovery awaits you. And if you have a secret dream to become a villain in a shoot-’em-up, you might want to keep that dream to yourself (or, at the very least, make sure you have some say in both the script and the ingredients for the fake blood).
To read an interview with Don Lee about “Reenactments,” please visit our website.
When I was nine years old, I went to the cinema and saw a very low-budget movie about Bigfoot. Because the movie was a documentary, I knew it was all true. Because I was nine, I had no idea that I was watching cheesy re-enactments of people’s encounters with the hairy maniac and thought it was all actual footage. As a result, I became obsessed with Bigfoot. I thought he could show up anytime, anywhere. I had difficulty falling asleep for a full year because I was convinced those oversized fists were going to crash through the window over my bed and grab me. Bigfoot strolling through a suburban neighborhood on the Florida coast seemed like a very real possibility to me.
I also started keeping an eye out for Bigfoot, and wouldn’t you know I saw him? Several times! Just a glimpse, but each time I dialed the police and reported the sighting, only to get very frustrated when the cops didn’t take me seriously.
So I was excited to encounter Gabriel Krawec’s “The Squatchers.” (The title is a reference to people who track Bigfoot, also known as Sasquatch.) In this story, two teens meet up in the woods one night, both out with Squatching groups led by their obsessed fathers. One of these groups is out to observe; the other is out to kill. Neither group has ever seen a Sasquatch before—but that’s about to change.
“The Squatchers” is a funny and slightly sad story about what can happen to families in crisis. It’s also about how teens are sometimes a little wiser than their parents. This is the third and final winner of this year’s Teen Writing Contest, and we’re delighted to put Gabriel Krawec’s unusual tale into the hands of readers like you. We hope you enjoy it.
Billie, the main character in Dantiel W. Moniz’s story “Necessary Bodies,” has a secret: she’s pregnant. This is primarily a secret she’s keeping from her mother, Colette, who’s about to turn fifty, has two grown children, and—so far—no grandchildren. To Colette’s thinking, if one can make babies, one should make babies.
But to Billie’s thinking, a prospective parent should ask herself some very important questions before bringing a child into the world, one of which is, Will I be a good parent?
That alone makes “Necessary Bodies” a bold and challenging story, because while most everyone hopes they would rise to the occasion of child-rearing if presented with it, not everyone does. (If everyone did, think of all the great novels sprung from unhappy childhoods we’d be deprived of.) Dantiel W. Moniz says in our Q&A that she’s a writer who doesn’t shy away from uncomfortable or undesirable feelings, and the result of that is writing that feels refreshingly—and comfortably—real. This story, our last in a very rocky and challenging year, is a pre-pandemic joy to read. I’m delighted to introduce you to it and to this dynamic, emerging author.
I’m not what anyone would call a sports fan. I never know who’s in or who won the World Series. I never know who’s playing in the Super Bowl (my ignorance is such that I just had to look up “Super Bowl” to find out if it was one word or two). I was walking through LaGuardia once when a crowd of people suddenly started screaming, and I assumed it was a mass shooting; turns out the World Cup was being broadcast in a bar and someone had just scored a goal. So when I first read “The Freak Winds Up Again” by Jenn Alandy Trahan, I had no idea Tim Lincecum was a real person who used to pitch for the San Francisco Giants. I didn’t even know there were San Francisco Giants.
The narrator in “The Freak Winds Up Again” is somewhat obsessed with Tim Lincecum. She’s also living her life in the shadow of her brother’s suicide. While her fandom serves as a helpful distraction from her sadness, it’s also intricately threaded through her healing process. There’s something of a magic trick happening here, I’d argue, because by the closing words of the story, Lincecum’s stunning achievements feel as intimate and personal as the narrator’s grief, and the pain she’s working through seems to be touched by the pitcher’s healing hands.
This story almost made me care about sports! It definitely made me care about the narrator’s love of baseball. During the editing process, I hopped over to YouTube and found the footage of Lincecum’s no-hitter against the San Diego Padres, and I got goosebumps watching it. An hour later, I’d happily gone down a rabbit hole of baseball clips. So I would say to you, as you embark on our new issue, that you don’t have to be a baseball fan to enjoy this story by Jenn Alandy Trahan, but you just might be one by the time you finish it. The narrator’s passion is infectious, and Trahan has a pitch that will sneak up on you. One Story is proud to usher “The Freak Winds Up Again” into the world.
Erika Yip’s “Fifty Square Feet Within” is a story that gripped me from the beginning with its quiet, claustrophobic atmosphere and then held me at the edge of my seat right up till the end. Tian is a teen girl living with her mom in the Sheung Wan area of Hong Kong. They share extremely cramped quarters in a subdivided apartment, and her mother works long hours at two different jobs to pay for their food and lodging.
Because of her mother’s work hours and her own school schedule, Tian usually only sees her mother for the duration of a single meal a day: dinner. But one evening her mom doesn’t come home. And Tian has to figure out what to do next.
“Fifty Square Feet Within” reads like a mystery. It builds suspense as Tian takes matters into her own hands, and it conjures a feeling of claustrophobia that it maintains even when she steps out of her confined living space and ventures out into the larger world. Erika Yip’s story is one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest, and we’re excited to be putting it into your hands. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.
To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.
In the same way you listen to Willie Nelson sing and pluck his worn-out guitar and know he was meant to be a singer plucking a worn-out guitar, when you read Jenzo DuQue, you know he was meant to be a writer. His prose has an urgency to it, a forward lean, and his voice is fluid. He blends sounds, words, languages. He writes with his ear.
“The Rest of Us” tells the story of three boys growing up in a melting pot that refuses to melt. José, Cristian, and Frail Boy (as the narrator is known) are street-smart kids pumped up with their own ambitions and tamped down by societal expectations. They have to figure out how to stand their ground while taking their cues from others, and the older they get, the more cues there are to sift through.
“Suddenly,” Frail Boy tells us, “we were young men.” And there they are, stepping out of childhood and into a dangerous adult world that has been right under their noses the whole time they were growing up. What unfolds does so easily and brilliantly—or so it seems, until nothing about it is easy or brilliant, until everything about it is complicated and, at times, dangerous.
I don’t want to tell you too much. I don’t want you to read this story with any expectation other than to be blown away by its narrative drive and its wonderful blend of languages. We’re thrilled to be publishing Jenzo DuQue’s “The Rest of Us,” and we look forward to what he does next.
“I’ve never been hit in the face, and neither have you.” So begins our new issue, “The Wish.” It’s a great first sentence, a great hook, because not only do we not know who’s speaking; we don’t know who they’re speaking to. (Are you talking to me?) And the authority in those eleven words! Soon enough, it’s revealed that the speaker is Sean, a poetry editor at a small publishing house who places a high value on authenticity and wants to do right by his authors. He also wants to do right by someone he’s recently lost. When a manuscript comes across his desk, sent by the poet’s mother, Sean sees an opportunity to do some good in a world that, for him, has been particularly bad lately.
In general, I’m usually not drawn to short stories, novels, and films about writers or editors or the publishing business. Not because I don’t think those are worthy subjects, but because I usually don’t find them very compelling. There’s a reason why films about writers often don’t devote a lot of footage to the main characters actually writing: it’s boring to watch someone write. (It’s also boring to watch someone edit.) By that same token, get any six authors together at a dinner table and chances are the subject of writing won’t even come up. Who wants to talk about how they spent their morning moving words around? So I was guarded when I began reading “The Wish” and realized it was about an editor. But that first sentence had me, and soon the voice had me, and soon I’d read right to the end and wanted to start the story all over again.
Michael Kardos is a tremendous talent. In his hands, “The Wish” isn’t about an editor or about the publishing industry or about any aspect of the writing process. It’s a story about a damaged person who’s trying, simultaneously, both to heal and to do the right thing. We’re thrilled to be ushering it into the world, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we did. After you read the story, be sure to check out my Q&A with Michael, wherein he reveals which character showed up on the page unexpectedly and explains why he thinks of “The Wish” as a “yo-yo story.” (Note: There are no yo-yos in “The Wish.”)
Being at home so much lately has given me plenty of time to catch up with old friends and reminisce. (Sound familiar?) One of the things I’ve been reminiscing about is my teen years and how wonderful they were—when they weren’t difficult. And they were difficult much of the time. A lot of that difficulty, I now realize, had to do with identity: who I was and who I wanted to be, how I saw myself and how I wanted others to see me. There was disparity across the board.
Adysen Straw’s short story “Like a Rainbow”—one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest—is all about identity. From its very first sentence, the story plunges us into what it’s like to be a teen struggling with perception: the perception that comes from without, the perception that comes from within, and the disparity that (hopefully) one day becomes harmony. One Teen Story is delighted to bring you this endearing tale of self-acceptance and the crucial role friendship can play in that process.