Issue #254: John Rolfe Gardiner’s “Freak Corner”

In the summer of 1991, I was a year out of graduate school, living in Virginia, painting houses, and working in an independent bookstore. The stock was mostly new books and, upstairs, some used books, and on slow days I would peruse the shelves and read the first pages of novels. I came across a book called Unknown Soldiers, published in 1977 and written by a writer named John Rolfe Gardiner. The first page held my interest, so I carried it back to my spot behind the register. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was going to finish the book and wanted to own it, so I rang up the sale on the cash register, put my money in the drawer, and continued reading.

A couple of hours later, I was well into the novel when the bell over the front door jangled, and when I glanced up, the author of the very book I was holding walked into the store. I looked at him, looked at book’s author photo, looked at him again. I said, “This is you, isn’t it?” He seemed somewhat sheepish and confirmed that it was, indeed, him, and I—as star-struck as if I were meeting a beloved movie star—began to heap praise on this novel that he’d written fourteen years earlier. We talked for just a few minutes, and at my request, he signed the book. As I write this introduction, twenty-seven years later, that same book is sitting on a shelf a few feet away from my desk, along with all of his other books.

One Story is immensely honored to be publishing a new short story by John Rolfe Gardiner: a writer of profound abilities and agilities; a writer who has proven himself to be a master of the novel, the novella, and the short story over the course of the last four decades; a writer who remains at the top of his game to this day and who deserves to be widely read. “Freak Corner,” a story set in 1953 about a deaf girl, a cross-dresser, and a young man trying to figure out why the world reacts to them both the way it does, echoes much of our current landscape. We fear and vilify the unfamiliar now as much as we ever did. As the author says in our Q&A, “the path to reform is by way of familiarity.”

Issue #252: Katherine Hubbard’s “Wash & Fold”

Greetings, readers! Our new issue is about—well, it’s hard to say what it’s about without spoiling some of the most wonderful things in store for you, so I’ll try to tap-dance through this delicately: “Wash & Fold” is about what happens when two strangers come together in a laundromat, encounter an unusual situation that has nothing to do with either of them, and do something about it that changes them both.

When I read “Wash & Fold,” I’m filled with admiration for the writing, the technique, the humor, the precise observations of humans and human interaction. But I’m also happily caught up in the narrative tug that carries this delightful tale from beginning to end. In our Q&A, Katherine Hubbard tells us that she found herself using “a storyteller’s voice” when writing the early drafts, and while that might sound like an obvious thing for a writer to use, it isn’t, and it allowed her to step into and out of various characters’ points of view so fluidly that the reading experience is buoyant from beginning to end.

We’re very happy to be putting a story by Katherine Hubbard into your hands, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

OTS #58: Carlie Scharm’s “Press Space to Continue”

The game is life. Life is the game. So it is for the main character in Carlie Schwarm’s “Press Space to Continue,” one of the winning stories in our Teen Writing Contest. The game, in this case, doesn’t involve chases through forests or mortal combat or even a group of obsessed athletes wanting their team to succeed. The game is on-screen (or is it?) and is being played alone (maybe) by a kid named Owen. Only, the boundaries have blurred. Where does the game stop and Owen’s life resume?

And then there’s William, the young man who is suddenly there in the game with Owen, or is suddenly there in Owen’s life, or is—somehow—in both.

When I asked Carlie Schwarm, in our Q&A, if she left some of these things deliberately vague, the answer was a confident yes—even while she told me the original draft of the story was nearly five times the length it is now. I love a story that has the guts to remain a little vague, and I love a story that raises questions and leaves some of those questions unanswered, allowing the reader to take part by speculating. “Press Space to Continue” does both of those things to great effect. We’re excited to introduce you to Owen and his game.

OTS #57: Brayden Mekertichian’s “Burning, in You”

Amazing things happen in Brayden Mekertichian’s “Burning, in You.” In a series of short, powerful sections, we’re swept through seven years in the life of a young woman, from the age of thirteen to the age of twenty. We’re with her when she’s high, we’re with her when she’s low, and we’re with her when she’s lower than low. And yet, somehow, there’s humor in this story. There’s bravado peppered with fear. Confusion salted with insight. It’s a portrait in mosaic of what can occur when a young person’s self-image, sense of self-worth, and tendencies towards self-indulgence collide. The gaps are enormous. The ending is mysterious. The emotional import is colossal. I admire this story as much for what it leaves out as for what it includes, and we’re delighted to honor it as one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

Issue #249: Chris Vanjonack’s “Phases”

Is it bad form for a ghost to look over your shoulder while you’re typing an email? Do ghosts need therapy? How do ghosts have sex? These are the kinds of questions that rolled around in Chris Vanjonack’s head before he started writing “Phases.” Henry, the story’s narrator, had an unfortunate encounter with a lightning bolt sometime back. Now, his “life” consists of wandering the planet, walking through walls, and watching his ex-girlfriend get over him. And dating—sort of.

Henry is lonely but surrounded by other ghosts. He’s impatient but not even sure what he’s waiting for. And for all his mobility and freedom, he’s overwhelmed by limitations. As the author states in our Q&A, ghostdom, as he imagined it, became “a potent metaphor for depression, or for ennui, or loneliness, or even aging. No one can see me. I can’t make a difference. I don’t feel the way I used to. I can’t feel anything.” But don’t be misled. “Phases” is no downer. In fact, it’s charged with wit and humor, and it’s fueled by a voice packed with charm. There’s a forward lean to the earnestness in Chris Vanjonack’s writing, and it shines through in this story. We’re delighted to welcome him into the One Story family.

Announcing the Winners of our 2019 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2019 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! We received nearly 300 entries from teen writers across the globe, and narrowing it down was no easy feat. Each winner will receive $500 and publication in a forthcoming issue of One Teen Story.

Ages 13 – 15

Winner: “Press Space to Continue” by Carlie Schwarm

“A door. A looming gateway to perilous adventures. Once going through that door, there was no telling what would happen to him.”

— Carlie Schwarm, “Press Space to Continue”

Runner-up: “Every Breath a Love Song” by Jenny Hu

Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “And the War Stopped” by Emma Caton

“But with his family in his mind and Otto’s fingers against his wrist, he doesn’t think he could ever be happier in this war.”

—Emma Caton, “And the War Stopped”

Winner: “Cicatriz” by Juliet Cushing

“Words landed and stuck, merged into feeling, took off again, formed a chain, landed, and I created a hope that we might be twins of each other’s secrets.”

—Juliet Cushing, “Cicatriz”

Runner-up: “Desensitization” by Helen Qian

Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “Free” by Kara Molnar

“Spencer wished he could do the same: suspend his life while he still danced, free to do what he loved without worrying about the inevitable ending.”

— Kara Molnar, “Free”

Runner-Up: “November” by Maia McGaw

Subscribe to One Story or One Teen Story in print or on your mobile device to read the winners’ stories throughout the year.

Our next Teen Writing Contest will take place in fall 2019.

Congratulations to the winners and runners-up!

OTS 56: Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna”

It’s always a pleasure to read submissions for our Teen Writing Contest. And it’s an extra pleasure to be taken to a time and place I’ve never been before. In the case of our new issue of One Teen Story, the time is 1945, and the place is war-torn Vienna. Tobias and Franz are riders in training at the Spanish Riding School of Vienna. An evacuation is underway. Bombs are falling from the sky.

That’s already enough to have me on the edge of my seat. To complicate things further, the only manner of quickly and safely evacuating the horses is by train, and most conductors aren’t willing to pull a train through an air raid to save a bunch of horses.

The ability to create believable tension in a short story is admirable; the ability to sustain it to the end is something to be celebrated. One Teen Story is very proud to be presenting Erin Snyder’s “Escape from Vienna” to the world of readers. You’ll never look at a Lipizzaner stallion the same way again!

Issue #245: Joe Cary’s “Disembodied”

Our new issue, “Disembodied” by Joe Cary, is about family, legacy, kindness, generosity, and the possibility of magic. It’s also about fear, rotten luck, and flat-out destitution. For all its admirable qualities—and there are many—it’s the voice of this story that brought me to my knees. The unnamed narrator is a second-generation homeless man living on the streets of New York City. His only agenda is a simple one: get through today so that he can get through tomorrow. He expects to be met with difficulties. He expects to encounter judgmental looks from strangers, suspicious glances from cops, hunger pains, challenges when it comes to looking for a place to sleep or even a safe place to sit down and have a thought. He lives in a world so consistent in its daily unwelcoming of his presence that it’s almost become a dependable place. And then something unexpected begins to happen—something that defies even his college-educated, street-smart mind. Hats off to the author, Joe Cary, who says in our Q&A that while drafting “Disembodied” he read the story aloud so many times (in order to get the voice right) that he “can nearly recite it.” That hard work has paid off, and we’re the lucky readers who get to reap the benefits.

OTS 55: Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade”

I was nine when I lost one of my grandparents and fifteen when I lost another. In both cases, I remember every detail about receiving the news: the shock, the tears, the hugs, the consolation. What I don’t remember was thinking that one of my parents had just lost one of their parents. Call it selfishness or shortsightedness, I just couldn’t see my parents as anything but parents, which meant that I couldn’t picture them as someone’s child—someone they’d just found out had passed away.

The narrator of Katherine Xiong’s “White Jade” is wiser and far more generous than I ever was as a child or a young adult. She learns in the opening paragraph of her grandmother’s death and then travels with her mother back to China for the funeral. At every step of the way, she observes and listens to and processes her mother, and she’s able to tap into the complexity of emotions her mother is experiencing. No parent is a parent without having once been a child. No parent can resist measuring themselves against the parents who raised them. Between one generation and the next are layers of hopes, desires, resentments, and regrets. Throw death into the mix, and the emotions become all the more tender—even raw.

“White Jade” is an incredibly sophisticated and accessible portrait of three women bound by more than just blood. For good reason, it’s one of our Teen Writing Contest winners. We’re thrilled to publish it, and we’re thrilled to introduce you to the work of Katherine Xiong.

To read an interview with the author, please visit the stories page of our website.

Issue# 244: Brian Panowich’s “Box of Hope”

I’m always interested in the story behind the story. That is, the inspiration that had to be there in order for the story to come into existence. In the case of “A Box of Hope” by Brian Panowich, the inspiration was a tragedy—the death of the author’s father—and the original idea was to imagine a conversation the author might have with a younger version of his dad. As is so often the case with inspiration and creativity, the result is something very different.

“A Box of Hope” takes place on a front porch over a period of roughly half an hour. A wake is going on, and the deceased’s fifteen-year-old son, Will, is grieving, brooding, and mad enough to punch someone. Then along comes Jack: his father’s younger brother, a man Will has never met, a man his father wasn’t close to, a man his mother despises.

Our new issue is, in part, an investigation into the nature of hope and the trust it brings with it. Hope can take many forms and can spring from some very unlikely sources. It can be as unexpected as it is welcome. And it can be anything but simple. For me, the most interesting takeaway from Brian Panowich’s story—and the thing that first drew me to it—is the oft-overlooked reality that hope can sometimes be complicated.

To read an interview with the author, visit the stories section of our website.