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.

OTS 54: Micaiah Saldaña’s Dear Jamie, Love Rory

“Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is a story about siblings. But more specifically, it’s a story about love. Jamie is a soldier stationed in Afghanistan. Rory and Nikki are his sisters. They don’t always get along; in fact, one of the few things they have in common is their love for their brother and the fact that they miss him so much. And they’re about to embark on a road trip together.

One Teen Story is excited to be presenting this impressive piece of fiction by Micaiah Saldaña, one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. Written as a series of letters Rory writes to Jamie, it is both funny and touching, and it is a testament to patience and personal growth. One of the things I like about “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” is that it’s two stories in one: we get the road trip (and who doesn’t like a good road trip?), and we get an intimate portrait of two sisters on a path toward mending their strained relationship.

As long as the Airstream trailer doesn’t make you claustrophobic and Mittens (a slobbering Mastiff) doesn’t drool on you, you should enjoy this one-sided epistolary.

To read an interview with Micaiah, please visit our website.

Issue# 243: Rachel King’s Railing

One of the most interesting things fiction can do is allow us to climb inside the minds of individuals who might not see the world the way we do. More than any other art form, even film, fiction is transformative. And a first-person narrator can make that transformation all the more intimate and impacting.

Our new issue, “Railing” by Rachel King, allows us to climb inside the mind of a middle-aged sausage-maker who was, up till recently, a train engineer. He’s divorced, has a daughter, would love to escape his past, and longs for the future he sees coming his way—a future that will be turned around and made brighter, he hopes, by a stranger running for public office.

The story, however, isn’t political. It’s personal, reflective, and aching to expand out of its own confines—into a world that involves a little less struggle. When I asked Rachel to tell me what the story was about in just one word, the word she chose was “intimacy.” (For more on our conversation, check out our Q&A.) “Railing” is an outstanding and melancholy piece of fiction. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.