One Teen Story Issue #67: Shira Zur’s “Dear Margot”

The time has come to publish the second of three winners from One Teen Story’s 2021 Teen Writing Contest. As I mentioned when introducing our previous winner, 2020 brought us more than 450 entrees, which is the most we’ve ever received. Given that our submission window didn’t open until September of that year, we found it very impressive that so many teens were tapping into their creative impulses during lockdown. Our goal was to pick the most outstanding entree in each age category (13-15, 16-17, 18-19), and our work was cut out for us.

For our second installment, we present to you “Dear Margot” by Shira Zur. This story is a good old-fashioned epistolary. More specifically, it’s a one-sided correspondence: a teen who refers to herself as “S.L.” is writing letters to her sister Margot—only, Margot has passed away. That premise brings with it several immediate questions any reader might have, such as How did Margot die? and Were the sisters close? and What’s the point of writing to a dead person? Questions, for me, make up at least a third of a good reading experience.

What I love most about this story, however, is that, while answering some of the questions we bring to the table, it also provides us with questions we might not even have thought to ask—and answers them, as well. In a fairly short amount of space, Shira Zur covers a lot of emotional ground, weaving together a portrait of two siblings out of the grief of the one who survived. We at One Teen Story are delighted to be ushering “Dear Margot” into the world.

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

One Story Issue #280: Alice McDermott’s “Post”

Near the beginning of the lockdown in New York City, I thought about all the lonely people who suddenly were having to confront a whole new kind of loneliness. I also thought about all the couples living in all those apartments who were having to redefine their notions of cohabitating. Perhaps most often—and this might sound strange, but it was a pretty strange time—I thought about those cohabitating couples who’d been on the verge of breaking up when the lockdown began, and how any plans to break up had to be shelved (along with all the rest of one’s plans), and what that must have looked like when added to the other stress, worry, and general discontent that comes with a pandemic. Ticking time bombs! I thought. Huge fights! Murders! I could foresee the day Netflix would run dry and was, perhaps, pre-seeding my desire for other people’s drama.

Leave it to Alice McDermott to imagine a lockdown scenario of compassion—of love, even—between two people who have already drifted apart yet have chosen to lock down together. Mira and Adam are recent exes living in Brooklyn when the pandemic turns life on its head. While social distancing, by necessity, is driving so many people apart, they manage, temporarily, to come back together—not as a couple, not as anything romantic, but as a kind of two-person care unit. One of the many things I love about this story is that it’s about a pair of exes, yet it contains not a single argument about their shared past, not a single zinger, not even a single regret. It’s a love story about ex-lovers who are not attempting to reconcile. In the canon of great stories about exes, “Post” deserves an honored position. One Story is proud to present to you this brilliant new piece of fiction by the one and only Alice McDermott.

Please visit our website to read an interview with the author about “Post.”

One Story Issue #279: Christine Vines’s “The Tower of Amber Lane”

A lot of wonderful fiction has come from writers examining post-traumatic stress disorder. Katie Rogin’s novel Life During Wartime and Phil Klay’s short story collection Redeployment come to mind. So do Edward St. Aubyn’s five Patrick Melrose novels (which, while diving deeply into addiction, all have their roots in sexual abuse). The subject matter can be discomforting and even painful, but good fiction, as Raymond Carver said, “is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another.” And that’s what good fiction about trauma and post-trauma does: it brings the terror to the reader in a way that transcends observation and becomes something much more intimate.

Christine Vines’ “The Tower of Amber Lane” is good fiction that brings difficult news. One of the many things I admire about this story is that, within a fairly short amount of narrative time, it renders the lead-up to the trauma and then, while taking a brief step over much of the event itself, settles into the immediate post-traumatic period. There’s a boldness at work here, a willingness to dive deep into the hours and the very minutes following a harrowing night in the life of Lissa, a college student who’s living on the edge of campus and trying to climb out of the fellow-college-student dating pool. The point of view is close, the voice is intimate, and the effect is beyond chilling. This story is fearlessly fearful—and perhaps all the more so because the reader is right there with Lissa as she struggles to make the right decisions in a world that doesn’t always share her definition of what’s right.

The first time I read “The Tower of Amber Lane,” I started off deep in an armchair and ended up on the edge of the cushion, my hands white-knuckled as I held the pages. Christine Vines has written a story about, as she puts it, “navigating safety in intimate encounters.” Safety, as Lissa learns, is a relative term, and trying to navigate it can be terrifying. One Story is proud to be publishing this powerful work of fiction by an emerging writer of great talent.

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

Issue #278: Kristen Leigh Schwarz’s “Signs and Symptoms”

Every story has a spark that set it smoking in the writer’s mind, and the spark that set off our new issue, “Signs and Symptoms,” was a news article about a physicist’s attempting to open a portal into a parallel universe. Author Kristen Leigh Schwarz read that article and couldn’t help but wonder, How might that go?

How it goes for barista Marvin is that a series of bizarre and troubling phenomena first are reported in the news and then begin to occur in his place of work. The parallel universe, it seems, is vacuuming things out of this world at an alarming rate. Marvin and his boyfriend, Reg, have to think fast: Should they call for help? Run for their lives? Go to a casino and play nickel slots until this world and everything in it have been sucked into the void?

I love “Signs and Symptoms” because it manages to be so many things at once. It’s weird, fantastical, a little frightening, extremely funny, and romantic. Yes, this apocalyptic yarn is romantic! Kristen Leigh Schwarz has pulled off a kind of magic trick with this highly original story that is simultaneously down to Earth and out of this world. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

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

One Teen Story Issue #66: Elane Kim’s “Smorzando”

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.

One Story Issue #276: Jackie Thomas-Kennedy’s “Extinction”

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.

One Story Issue #275: Don Lee’s “Reenactments”

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.

OTS Issue #65: Gabriel Krawec’s “The Squatchers”

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.

One Story Issue #272: Dantiel W. Moniz’s “Necessary Bodies”

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.

One Story Issue #271: Jenn Alandy Trahan’s “The Freak Winds Up Again”

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.