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.
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.
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.
“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.
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.
I’ve lived in New York City for twenty years, and I’ve seen it change an awful lot. But say that to someone who’s lived here for thirty, forty, fifty years or more, and they’ll laugh, roll their eyes, and wave your observations way. Then they’ll tell you what real change looks like.
The main character in Michael Hawley’s “That’s How You Dance the Mambo” is Albert, an elderly man who is doing his best to live in the moment, even while the moment rains plaster dust down on his head. Most of his dear friends have shuffled off the mortal coil. His landlord would love for him to give up his apartment. His nephew wants to move him into a retirement home outside of the city. And his long-time neighbor, Nestor, has found a hundred-dollar bill and wants to go to dinner—but that means venturing out into a landscape neither one of them feels comfortable calling home.
“That’s How You Dance the Mambo” is a rendering of a present that’s out-of-true with its past. It’s a faded and crumbling love letter to New York City, and it’s a story, as the author says in our Q&A, about resilience. Let the dance lesson begin.
Have you ever read someone else’s mail? Have you ever presented yourself to people as someone you’re not? Have you ever stood over a dead body and pretended to have feelings for it? If the answer to all three of these questions is yes, you are one sick puppy. You might also have stepped out of the pages of our new issue, “Departures” by Sara Batkie.
Betsy is a quiet, well-meaning individual. She’s the person you pass in the hall of your apartment building and don’t want to say hi to because she looks a little too fragile for a casual exchange. She looks—at least in my reading of her—like the deer in the headlights who wants to bolt but also wants to have a chat. And if you’re her neighbor, she might just know more about you than you would ever suspect.
“Departures” is both creepy and fun. It’s both a psychological profile and a how-to manual for deception (imagine Tom Ripley but with none of the malice). It’s “a love story of sorts,” the author says in our Q&A—even though, when asked to sum up the story in one word, the word she chose was “disguises.” However one describes it, I think this story by Sara Batkie is a knockout, and I’m delighted to be putting it into your hands.
This year at the Debutante Ball, along with honoring the three One Story authors who’ve had their first book published during the past year and our mentor of the year, Alexander Chee, we’re also honoring three of our authors who published their first short stories ever in One Story over the last twelve months. Those authors are Sanjay Agnihotri (Issue #236: “Guerrilla Marketing”), Maud Streep (Issue #234: “The Crazies”), and Lucas Schaefer (Issue #225: “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes”). All three of these short story debutantes (whom I affectionately refer to as our “Little Debbies”) will be joining us at the Ball on May 4th. Recently, I asked them if they had any questions for one another about their stories. Here are the results of that round-robin conversation.
PATRICK RYAN: Lucas, since you’re the first short story deb, chronologically, let’s start with you.
LUCAS SCHAEFER: Okay, I have a question for Maud. Maud, you handle the passage of time so beautifully in “The Crazies.” When, at the end, you jump years ahead to the narrator’s current life and then take us back to the time of the fire—it’s poignant and unexpected. I’m curious if you knew from the beginning that the story was being told many years later, and how knowing that or not knowing it affected the writing of the piece.
MAUD STREEP: The passage of time was actually the key that let me into “The Crazies.” It was one of those stories that wasn’t working and wasn’t working. The first few endings were dreadful. But about a year in, my teacher at the time, David Gates, took a look at it and suggested that perhaps the issue was that the story wasn’t being told from the right time. That clicked things into place for me, although it took me another year to find the right distance and perspective, and then a couple more years from there until it felt done. So, thanks, David! The core of the story’s action and language remains as it was in the first draft, but without the perspective from the future, nothing added up.
Sanjay, I know you’ve previously said “Guerrilla Marketing” went through many drafts. I’d love to know more about how you came to the story’s structure—did you always know what happened in Los Angeles that left Vikram in the predicament he’s in? Did the reveal of what happened in LA and why it happened always fall where it does now, or did you play with the placement?
SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: Vikram’s back story was tricky. I always knew that he’d end up in NJ after getting kicked out of LA, I just didn’t have all the details worked out in the early drafts. It took some time to get that right. The placement too was challenging—I recast his LA backstory several times, though it always appeared near the end.
Lucas, I’m a boxing fan and can’t wait to read your novel-in-stories about the Austin boxing gym. You mention the book Boxing Shadows by W.K. Stratton as an inspiration. I’m curious to know what other writers—fiction/non-fiction—have inspired both the collection and your writing in general? Also, you mention in an interview with Patrick that you worked out at R. Lord’s Boxing Gym in Austin. I have to ask: have you ever been knocked out? And if so, did you see stars? I got knocked out once, but it wasn’t in a ring, and I never saw stars, only pavement and blackness, and I’m afraid I might be missing out.
LUCAS SCHAEFER: What’s always appealed to me about the boxing gym as a setting isn’t so much the boxing as it is that, in our still-very-and-in-some-ways-getting-more-segregated (racially and otherwise) society, the gym is one of those rare spaces where people of wildly different backgrounds and experiences converge. And not only that, but they’re converging to fight. On purpose! How wonderful and unsettling and bizarre. This is a long way of saying that the books I tend to gravitate toward have less to do with boxing than with the clashing of cultures and identities, from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth to Hari Kunzru’s White Tears to Oreo by Fran Ross, which is what I’m reading at the moment.
And no, I’ve never been knocked out! But that’s not due to my great defensive skills. My workout was all non-contact. I put on all the gear once to spar, and went a couple rounds—with a man who went super super easy on me—and afterwards I was like, “Lucas, honestly. This is not going to end well for you.”
I have a question for you, Sanjay, about the protagonist in “Guerrilla Marketing.” Vikram was an accountant but now makes a living working at a restaurant, a gas station, and, briefly, for Liberty Tax. The portrait is so affecting, in part, I think, because you really go there in exploring the toll that his work and his financial situation take on his body. Could you talk a bit about the role money (or lack of money) plays in your work, and how Vikram’s different jobs informed your understanding of him?
SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: Vikram happens to be educated, but many of the men I write about in the linked collection are not educated at all. Many have overstayed their visas and are scraping enough money to survive and send back to their families. Every day they face the risk of being caught and returned to the most deplorable conditions. Vikram, like all of the men in the boarding house, is obviously broke and his striving for cash is rational—up to a point, he’s got a wedding to pay for, after all. He’s also obsessed, like most Americans, with money as a function of status and self-worth.
In the story, the character of Boss Bhatti is a sort of mini Trump—he’s a bully and con artist, looks slovenly even in a $3,000 Brioni suit. He’s less educated than Vikram, less sophisticated, but still Vikram believes the lie and wants nothing more than to be part of his crew. I mean, Boss Bhatti is definitely the sort of guy who would attend Trump University and not ask for a refund. That said, I don’t judge Bhatti or Vikram in the story. That’s not my job as the writer. I have to take my ego out of it and portray the characters honestly and unsentimentally.
Maud, I read “The Crazies” many months ago and it still haunts, especially the last couple of sentences of that brilliant ending. You mention taking five years to finish the story—were those last couple of lines in the early drafts? They just seem so perfect; like they were delivered to you from the literary gods.
MAUD STREEP: I’m so pleased to hear the ending lines stayed with you—they took a lot of unglamorous work to find. As I mentioned before, I went through a few different endings. Versions of the final lines showed up in the story by the second full draft, but never in the right place—I couldn’t recognize them as the ending until I’d sorted out when in the narrator’s life the story was being told.
Lucas, “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes” circles around Holly, looking at her from everyone’s point of view but her own. I’m curious whether you ever wrote a draft in which she did speak, or if you always knew she’d be a presence through absence—if that was some of the appeal or challenge in writing the story?
LUCAS SCHAEFER: Great question. The earliest draft of “Oral History” included Holly as one of the interview subjects, but I knew before I got to the end of the draft that she probably shouldn’t be there. What resonates with me about Holly is that she’s basically born to do this one thing—box—but because of her geography and her circumstances, and because she’s a woman, and a lesbian, in a time and place and sport that isn’t “ready” to deal with her, she doesn’t get to do it. I wanted readers to want to hear from Holly and to not get to, and to feel that loss. “Oh, now you want to hear from me?” That’s what I imagined her telling the reporter when he called to ask if she’d participate in the oral history. “Dude, I got better things to do than talk to you. Y’all had your chance.” I might go back to her in another story, though.
PATRICK RYAN: Here’s a question for all three of you—a question I want to ask every working writer these days. What’s your technique for shutting out the world when you write?
MAUD STREEP: At home, I rely on those mockingly titled internet blocking apps, Freedom and Self Control. Since there aren’t yet humiliating apps to block out things like doing the dishes and vacuuming and managing day-to-day family life, I’ve been incredibly grateful for time spent removed from all that while at residencies the past few years.
SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: I have an eleven-month old daughter, and I think I might also suffer from some form of attention deficit disorder, so I’m not sure I ever shut out the world. But I do write almost every day, first thing in the morning when my mind is relatively clear.
LUCAS SCHAEFER: I’m on Twitter too much and have no great secrets, but rain noises help. I get them off a YouTube video that’s ten hours long, all rain, so when I get to the end of the ten hours I can say, “You’ve done good, kid!” and then go back to the beginning.
PATRICK RYAN: I am very familiar with that ten-hour rain video. Okay, one last question for the three of you. What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Debutante Ball?
LUCAS SCHAEFER: Before One Story took a chance on my work, it had been so much rejection. Having the piece out there has been such a boost, professionally and creatively, but being in Texas I’ve never met you, Patrick, or any of the folks who gave me this opportunity. So I’m excited to meet you all and to thank you and to celebrate One Story. And as a Longhorn, I’m happy to be there for fellow Austinite and UT grad Kendra Fortmeyer’s debut, and to honor Alex Chee, who led one of the first workshops I took in grad school and who is so generous with his time and knowledge.
MAUD STREEP: I’m looking forward to seeing the Debs with their mentors. I love the idea of honoring the people who teach and support writers. There’s the enduring myth of the solitary author, but I shudder to think where my writing would be without the generous brains of others.
SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: Hanging out with the generous folks at One Story, and meeting other great writers like Maud and Lucas. Also, if the conditions are optimal, I might bust out some break dancing moves. I won a break dancing contest in Saudi Arabia when I was in the 8th grade, but it was Saudi Arabia and the competition was thin.
PATRICK RYAN: We’re holding you to that, Sanjay. Thanks, everyone, and we’ll see you at the Ball!
Our new issue, “Mt. Adams at Mar Vista,” was sparked by a conversation the author had with a group of friends following a school shooting that had been in the news. The fact that she now can’t recall which school shooting is as chilling as the story she’s written.
No one dies in this story. There’s no bloodshed, there are no weapons, there’s no mass evacuation. We’ve recently seen what an amazing force young people can be when they’re galvanized by a tragedy—and what’s all the more impressive about them is that they’re kids. Brave, angry, focused, articulate kids. In its way, “Mt. Adams at Mar Vista” underscores that by investigating what it’s like when kids in a similar situation try to get on with the business of being high school students.
As Gwen E. Kirby says in our Q&A, this is not “an explicitly political story.” At the same time, it revolves around a topic that, against all reasonable thinking, has become politicized. When what happens to one of us can happen to all of us, when what happens to some of our kids on an average school day can happen to any of our kids on an average school day, and we disagree on whether or not that matters—our definitions of winning and losing need to be redefined.
We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2018 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! We received nearly 400 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: “Dear Jamie, Love Rory” by Micaiah Saldaña
“I hate that I had to sing happy birthday to a blurry figure on a screen that looks like you, but at the same time, with his buzz cut and camouflage…Doesn’t.”
Runner-up: “Imagination” by Arushi Avachat
Ages 16 – 17
Winner: “White Jade” by Katherine Xiong
“It wasn’t until the plane had taken off that my mother began to answer my questions. Yes, she herself had been raised in the States. Yes, her mother had been an immigrant, but had gone straight back to China the moment she’d had the chance. No, my mother had not visited her since.”
Runner-up: “The Shoe Shine Man” by Maisey Campbell Jefferson
Ages 18 – 19
Winner: “Escape from Vienna” by Erin Snyder
“In the deepening twilight of the train car, I wrapped my arms around the weary stallion’s neck and inhaled the comforting scent of warm horseflesh, letting the momentary silence fill me with a peace I hadn’t known in years.”
Winner: “Burning, In You” by Brayden Mekertichian
“Taped on your locker, on a February Thursday, is a transformative note (written on Amy’s monogrammed stationery in her undisguised, loopy scrawl) that says: Parker Martochio is a superficial bimbo. Anger and guilt mounds in your throat. Damn it, it’s high school, you remind yourself when your stomach twists with shame. Superficiality is the foundation of survival.”
Runner-Up: “The Goddess in Boat Shoes” by Izzy DeSantis
Congratulations to the winners and runners-up!