Goodbye, My Darling…

The One Story Literary Debutante Ball is on Thursday, May 4th. This is our most important fundraiser of the year! All proceeds from ticket sales and donations that night help keep our doors open and support our mission: to celebrate the art form of the short story and support the authors who write them, through publication, education, community and mentorship.

This year, playing off the “Kill your darlings” adage, we’ve asked authors to choose a piece of text that has been cut from their work and annotate it with a handwritten goodbye note, in the form of a “Dear John” letter. We’ve been amazed at the creative ways that writers have taken to this challenge, sharing hilarious and moving anecdotes and all the different ways they’ve learned to say “Goodbye, Darling.”

These Darlings will be framed and available for sale at our Debutante Ball on Thursday, May 16th. Now YOU can own a piece of writing by one of your favorite writers that NO ONE ELSE has! All proceeds are tax-deductible and support your favorite non-profit literary organization.


Special thanks to all the authors who contributed pages to Goodbye, My Darling, including: Andrew Sean Greer, Meg Wolitzer, Jim Shepard, Karen Shepard, Ann Patchett, Darin Strauss, Nathan Englander, Kelly Link, Myla Goldberg, Hannah Tinti, Ann Napolitano, Patrick Ryan, Helen Ellis, Mira Jacob, Marie-Helene Bertino, Daniel Wallace, Tommy Orange and Kate Gray.

Pictured above: Darlings by Meg Wolitzer, Hannah Tinti, and Marie-Helene Bertino.

Introducing 2019 Debutante Jake Wolff

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Jake Wolff, author of One Story #164, “The History of Living Forever” and the novel The History of Living Forever (FSG).

On the first day of his senior year of high school, precocious chemistry student Conrad Aybinder learns that Sammy Tampari, his favorite teacher and first love, has died of a rumored overdose. Soon he discovers that Sammy had secrets besides their relationship—most notably, a lifelong quest to construct the elixir of life. If Conrad can figure out the recipe, he has a chance at both saving his dying father and understanding a lover who, it seems, he never really knew. The problem is, Sammy wasn’t the only one searching…

Nina Sabak:  Where were you when you found out The History of Living Forever was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Jake Wolff: I was at home on a Monday night. I knew the people at Farrar, Straus were meeting that day to make a final decision on the novel, but when 5:00 pm arrived and I hadn’t heard from my agent, I assumed I was in for another long night of tossing and turning. Then around 9:00 pm, I realized he’d been trying to reach me for over an hour. I called him back in a panic, and he gave me the great news. Afterward, my wife and I just sat on the bed in a state of happy disbelief. She was crying. I was stunned.

I remember saying, “I don’t know what to do now. What should I do?” 

And she said, “Call your mom.” 

So I called my mom.

NS: The story you published with One Story, issue #164, shares a title with the novel and is echoed in the first case history, “Ge Hong Reflects on the Discovery of Mercury.” In the Q&A for that issue, you noted that you’re working on what became this book: a novel that “explores the same ideas…but in a contemporary setting.” What was your idea of what that novel might be, and how was it different from the book you ultimately wrote? 

JW: This question has led me to an answer I actually find surprising, which is that my vision for the novel back then is relatively close to how it turned out. I’m surprised because it feels like we did so many heavy rounds of edits, and we did—removing characters, reconfiguring plot lines, cutting lots and lots of backstory (poor backstory…always the first to go). But the core vision and basic shape of the novel stayed true. I see this as a testament to my editor, Jenna Johnson, who helped me find ways to clarify and sharpen without disrupting the spirit of the book. A lot of editors I spoke to, for example, wanted to cut the Case Histories. And I get it: the Case Histories are weird. But Jenna understood how much the history matters, and even how much the weirdness itself matters, to a subject like immortality. 

I will say that maybe in 2012 I saw the book more purely as the narrator Conrad’s story, who is on this scientific quest to save his father. As it evolved, I realized it was really just as much about Conrad’s teacher, Sammy, and the life he lived before his death in the novel’s first chapter. I realized that Conrad sees the book as a chance to tell Sammy’s story as much as his own. 

NS: Did the story prompt the research, or did the research turn into the story? Put another way: which came first, the elixir or the people you imagine searching?

JW: For me, it’s always research first. In this case, the history came first—understanding the “elixir of life” as an idea, one that has a historical, cultural, scientific lineage. I was researching the history of living forever long before there was a History of Living Forever or a Conrad who would tell it. I’ve always understood that character as a small part of a long continuum; he’s never existed for me just on his own.

My research for the elixir of life that Conrad spends the novel constructing—based on Sammy’s journals—happened more organically and more concurrently with the writing. There were some ingredients that I thought would be more important based on their historical importance, but Sammy’s life and interests began to dictate certain directions for his research. I also did some first-hand research by sampling various products claiming to be elixirs of life, which helped me access Sammy’s mindset and understand the risks he was taking. You haven’t lived until you’ve ordered an “elixir of life potion” from an Australian alchemist (only $70!). 

NS: You didn’t drink the elixir, did you?

JW: I did drink the Australian elixir. It came in a soda bottle wrapped in tinfoil, and it mostly tasted like saltwater. I also drank a snail mucous elixir, a gold nanoparticle elixir, and a deer velvet elixir. And I took a caterpillar fungus pill. The only really gross one was the deer velvet, which tasted like apple juice mixed with blood. 

NS: What led you to set this particular tale—or at least a major portion of it—in the place you’re from? 

JW: The book required such an extraordinary amount of research—both historical and scientific—that I suppose I was inclined to make my life a little easier when it came to Conrad’s home. I love Maine, and I know it really well despite not having lived there in some time. It was nice having one aspect of the book where I could just close my eyes and find an image. I particularly like the contrast between northern and southern Maine, so I had fun bouncing Conrad back and forth between those two poles. I don’t think any of this was a conscious decision, by the way, but it still feels true.   

NS: Because the elixir is impossible and therefore can’t actually disappoint, it can reflect its searchers’ hopes back to them. For Conrad, it’s one last Hail Mary to save his father. For Sammy, it’s a way to quiet the question he’s been asking himself his entire life (what’s wrong with me?). For the New York Society of Numismatics…well, that’s probably an entirely separate book. You, though in a far less credulous way, have conducted your own kind of search. Why do we keep looking for this particular supernatural answer when both the quest and the prize can backfire so badly?

JW: I think what’s interesting to me is that there are actually surprisingly few people who have searched for immortality, at least in any serious way. We talk about immortality a lot—in philosophy, in religion, in all forms of art. We like the ethical, spiritual, and moral questions surrounding the idea of living forever. But to take two characters from my book, there really aren’t that many Radkins or Bogdis out there, today or historically. That was part of the fun of those characters, for me. They exist in a state of lonely exasperation. They’re saying, “Why are people getting so uptight if I commit a few bad deeds? I’m trying to save us all from dying!”  

NS: Which fact or character detail do you most regret having to cut from the final book? 

JW: In chapter two, I had this one sentence of backstory where I mentioned that Sammy was once mugged in an alley by a woman holding a hand grenade. For some reason I find this idea very funny. The sentence had nothing to do with anything, so we cut it very early in revision. But whenever I read that paragraph I think, “Aww, this is where the lady with a grenade used to be.”    

NS: What are you most looking forward to at the Debutante Ball?

JW: If I have to pick one, I would say reuniting with my mentor, Judith Claire Mitchell, who was my MFA advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s the kindest, most brilliant teacher, and she was the first person to make me believe I could actually do this job. I haven’t seen her in many years, so the chance to send her the invitation was really special for me. We’re also both big introverts, so we’ve been joking about how wonderful it is that we have this opportunity to see each other—and also how horrified we are that it’s going to be at a party.

Nina Sabak earned her MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. A native of West Virginia, she now works in publishing in New York City. Her stories have appeared in The Rumpus, Bartleby Snopes, and elsewhere.

Introducing 2019 Debutante Brad Felver

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Brad Felver, author of One Story #218, “Queen Elizabeth” and the short story collection The Dogs of Detroit (University of Pittsburgh Press).

Each of the fourteen stories in Brad Felver’s The Dogs of Detroit jumps off the page ready to fight scrappy. In “Throwing Leather,” brothers Charley and Jack spar in boxing gloves to test their masculinity; in “Praemonitus, Praemunitus,” a father signs his son Jared up for Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons to support Jared’s dream of becoming a cage fighter; in “How to Throw a Punch,” the narrator must prepare for a fistfight against his stubborn coworker at the end of their shift. Characters wrestle and draw blood, but the worst pain isn’t something you can grab by the neck and kick in the gut—the violence and brutality in this collection hurt precisely because of what will stay long after cuts and bruises heal: grief, sorrow, and second chances at better lives that slipped by unnoticed.

Monique Laban: Where were you when you found out The Dogs of Detroit was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Brad Felver: I had just picked up our two boys from school and the sitter. My wife had a late meeting, and so it was just the three of us. We were playing in the backyard when I saw that I had a message on my phone from an unknown number in Pittsburgh. I just assumed someone was trying to steal my identity. But I listened to the message, and it was from Ed Ochester telling me my manuscript had won the Drue Heinz, and I just kind of stood there in shock. I was so glad to have my kids there with me at that moment but also glad that I couldn’t explain it to them because I didn’t have the words.

ML: Many of the stories in this collection involve physical violence as a coping mechanism, as a survival tactic, as a rite of passage, as a way to establish superiority, or as some combination of them all. What I find so interesting about violence in The Dogs of Detroit is that you don’t shy away from the gore and cruelty of it, nor do you glorify it, and yet I felt a strange catharsis from reading these depictions of violence. Could you talk about how you approach violence in your stories and what makes it so ripe for exploration?

BF: I’ve been able to talk about violence a lot while out promoting this book, for which I’m grateful. I think it needs to be talked about candidly. I always start by sheepishly telling people that, despite these stories, I don’t have a violent bone in my body. And I’m always afraid that writing about violence will be seen as accidentally condoning it. I’m certainly not.

One task I aimed for in many of these stories was to humanize characters with violent impulses. When people behave violently, it appears to outsiders as some crude, mindless reaction, but I don’t think that’s right. It’s not so clean as that. For them, it’s a release valve, a product of accumulation. And this means that it’s really a physical manifestation of something else—anger, grief, helplessness, and a thousand other things that people endure in an unfair world. It’s easy to be horrified by these violent outbursts, and I hope the reader is, but I hope it’s the violence itself, not the violent characters, that truly horrifies them. So, there’s an entrapment technique at play here, too: if I can convince readers to care about a character who reacts violently, I’ve suddenly forced them into a sort of complicity, and the character becomes much more than his basest instincts.

ML: I’m fascinated by all the mean kids in this collection! In “Unicorn Stew,” Bev insults Walter by calling him a “God-lover” and steals his ten-speed bicycle; in “Out of the Bronx,” Roman describes his mother as a “car with a dead battery” and enacts a master plan to set all the rats in their building’s alley on fire. Many of the adult characters, if not outright stated within the stories, often seem like older versions of these children, and it’s clear that their early experiences with this bad behavior shaped them. Could you discuss writing kids in your stories and what you enjoy about writing characters within these formative, experimental years?

BF: There was a lot of casual violence in the neighborhood when I was a kid, and it’s obviously stuck with me. This was back in the 80s and early 90s, and our society just shrugged it off as boys being boys. In some ways, this book is a response to that mentality, which we’re finally starting to see as criminal. I didn’t realize it so clearly as I was writing these stories, of course, but that’s how it usually goes. From the standpoint of story, there’s a real potency to child characters. It’s bad enough to see an adult behaving badly; it’s far worse to see a child imitating that bad behavior.

ML: I found The Dogs of Detroit refreshing as a short story collection in part because of how wildly the length of each story could vary. “Queen Elizabeth” is twenty-three pages long while “Stones We Throw” takes up two pages. How do you know when a story is done?

BF: Short answer: I don’t. I try to trust my gut on these things, but it’s still hard. No matter how many stories I write, each one is its own world. Usually, though, I suspect I’ve found the right form and focus for a story when I’m drawn to re-reading it over and over, especially the ending. If the story moves me on a purely intellectual level, something is probably lacking; but if it moves me on an emotional level, which I think is the real currency of fiction, then I suspect I’m about there. For “Queen Elizabeth,” it took me 23 pages to get there, but occasionally, I stumble into it quicker. I wrote “Stones We Throw” in a single sitting, under an hour, which never really happens for me.

ML: In your One Story interview for “Queen Elizabeth” (Issue #218), you mention that you’re “utterly terrified about going romantic,” and part of this terror comes from us being “ill-equipped to articulate” being in love. Could you speak more about the challenges, terrors, and limitations you face in your writing, and how you work through them?

BF: One thing I learned by writing that story is that I would prefer being seen as sentimental than cynical. Sincerity is really important to me. And I do still feel ill-equipped to write about love, but that’s exactly why I need to keep at it. It’s a writer’s job to articulate the things that don’t want to be articulated. In fact, the seeds of “Queen Elizabeth” grew out of my inability to do so. I’m very lucky to have married my best friend, and I just needed to write about that tremendous good fortune. So I started writing about how it felt to be so tethered to another person. It was fiction, but it felt true. The story turned into something else, as stories always do, but the truth, which I guess I’ve never admitted until now, is that it really started as a love letter to my wife.

In answer to your bigger question of how to work through the challenges—I guess the answer is that I just love the work of writing. And when you love the work, I think you develop a sort of faith, and that faith nourishes you when things aren’t going so well, which is a lot of the time. The work of writing is very often both the problem and its only viable solution.

ML: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story ball?

BF: Talking to other writers for one thing, especially the other debs. I actually just met Lydia last night at her wonderful reading in Ann Arbor, and I got to gush about “Safety,” which I just loved. It never gets old meeting other writers and telling them how much you admire their work. Also hanging out with my agent and my mentor, and with the whole One Story crew—they’ve all just been so good to me, and they’ll all be in one place! Also, NYC in the spring!

Monique Laban is a writer from New York. She attended the 2017 VONA: Voices of Our Nations Arts workshop and will attend the 2019 Tin House Summer Workshop. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from Electric Literature and Catapult

Introducing 2019 Debutante Bryan Washington

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Bryan Washington, author of One Story #230, “Bayou” and the short story collection Lot (Riverhead).

Predominantly told in the voice of a first-generation American youth, Bryan Washington’s Lot is a coming-of-age collection that centralizes narratives around family, sexuality, poverty, intimacy, and identity. These thirteen short stories ambitiously portray the complexities within immigrant-based communities and Washington becomes our tour guide, skillfully ushering us into the lives of Black and Latinx folks in Houston and its adjacent cities. From the collection’s first story to its last, we encounter romantic relationships, infidelities, and vocal individuals who allow for these energetic neighborhoods to come alive with each turn of the page. 

Kukuwa Ashun: Where were you when you found out Lot was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Bryan Washington: I was wrapping up a lesson plan at work, just before a long weekend. I may or may or not have partied throughout it.

KA: These stories rely heavily on setting, specifically in Houston and its surrounding cities. What inspired you to draw attention to your hometown in your debut collection?

BW: It definitely wasn’t a didactic effort, or even especially initially intentional: at some point, I realized that all of the stories were set in some hub or another of the city. Then my agent, editor, and I worked towards heightening the specificity throughout the drafting process. But I’m generally pretty taken with the locality of any piece — it’s always interesting to think about how a character’s structural, geographic, and physical limitations (or benefits) affect their arc.

KA: How did you decide which narratives deserved to be told from a third-person or a first-person point of view? 

BW: The short answer’s that the third-person is hard for me (too much power). So I don’t do it very often.

KA: I remember hearing you read “Waugh” on The New Yorker‘s podcast a few months ago and thinking about the emphasis on escapism. This concept pops up in multiple short stories. Why was it important to narrate how different characters chose to “escape” certain situations within their communities?

BW: It’s just a way of navigating or dealing with whatever cards you’re dealt. The overwhelming majority of us don’t have much of a say in our larger situations, so while the “escapist” methods some of the characters turn to might seem more far-field or extreme to some readers, the luxury of getting to hang out on your sofa and binge Netflix or whatever for however many hours might seem just as dubious to them. Different poisons.

KA: Many of these stories share an unnamed protagonist whose name isn’t revealed until the final story, “Elgin.” Was it intentional to keep his identity under wraps until the collection’s closing pages? Can you talk about why you made this decision?

BW: A friend and mentor of mine made the suggestion, and then I tried it and it worked. So we kept it in. But I’m always interested in the rift (or the lack thereof) between our identities as they’re perceived, and our given personas, or our internalized notions of ourselves—and what’s super-interesting to me is when those facets of our lives converge on one another. I think there are more than a few instances of given names (whether first or secondhand) and adopted names collapsing on one another across the book.

KA: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

BW: I’ve never been to a ball. So I guess I’ll tell you afterwards.

Kukuwa Ashun is an MFA candidate at New York University.  

Introducing 2019 Debutante Erin Somers

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Erin Somers, author of One Teen Story #20, “Astronauts in Love” and the novel  Stay Up with Hugo Best (Scribner).

When aspiring comedian June Bloom runs into her idol and former boss, the famous late-night host Hugo Best, she gets the chance to live her fantasy—Hugo invites June to his house for the long Memorial Day weekend. Hugo is an older, powerful man and June is a young, broke woman trying to make it in a tough industry. What do they owe each other? What do they have a right to expect? Stay Up with Hugo Best is a deft exploration of fame, desire, and what we demand from people—those we know, those we’re related to, and those we don’t know but feel like we do.

Hayleigh Santra: Where were you when you found out Stay Up with Hugo Best was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Erin Somers: I was at the gym when my agent called, just like I’d always imagined. I got off the treadmill to take the call and walked out into the hallway outside the racquetball courts. I listened to my agent tell me an editor had made an offer while I watched some guys playing racquetball. I remember thinking, “How can you be playing racquetball at a time like this?”

As for celebration, my husband ran out for champagne. Beyond that I didn’t allow anything. I’m wary of getting what I wish for, but in a monkey’s paw way. Where the wish is technically granted, but the results are mangled and ironic, a punishment for my hubris. So I don’t over-celebrate until I see how it all shakes out. I send someone fleet footed for good booze, I drink it quickly before the gods can notice, and I get back to work.

HS: The novel is a meditation on desire, both realized and unrealized. Hugo Best presumably got everything he ever wanted—a long-running late-night show, celebrity status, money—but his need for others’ approval never subsides. June also gets her fantasy—a weekend with her idol—and yet it doesn’t feel as she thought it would. So often we think we know what we want, only to discover that it doesn’t have the effect on us that we imagined. What interested you about exploring this aspect of desire?

ES: Almost nothing can live up to our hopes for it. What could possibly live up? Not getting what you want feels terrible. But getting what you want also feels terrible. Why? It should feel good! But it doesn’t. But why? Probably because it doesn’t match the elaborate fantasy we create in our heads about how things will go and how they will feel.

I find that disconnect to be really rich. I’m attuned to it’s tragicomic potential, in fiction and in life. If I’m at an elegant occasion, a nice wedding, say, I’m looking around for the detail that’s going to undercut the whole evening, its gravitas, its specialness. The thing that’s going to make the bride sad later. The blue recycling bin fully visible in the corner or whatever. The DJ who drinks too much and says something inappropriate. I feel deflation acutely. I’m highly disappoint-able. I can’t help it—I keep hoping!

HS: There is an obvious power imbalance between the famous, rich Hugo Best and the young, aspiring June Bloom. Yet, they could make a compromise — June could give Hugo sex and uncomplicated adoration, and Hugo could help make June’s career. This is a topic that people are especially attuned to right now, as it’s come to light that many powerful men in the entertainment business have harassed or assaulted younger women and used their money and fame to get away with their behavior. Why did you want to explore this type of relationship?

ES: This type of relationship is everywhere. More than is even acknowledged, especially in creative fields. Older men help young women with their careers in exchange for sexual attention. I wanted to write about it because I saw it happening constantly and we haven’t gotten the young woman’s perspective on it much in literature. What we usually get is an exquisite prose stylist (male) writing about a professor and/or writer (male) having an affair with a young woman. And the young woman is just a device to show what a mess this dude is or set him on the right path or explode his life. Fine. Some of those books are good. But that’s a boring premise in 2019 and I’m sick of reading about it. Much more interesting to hear from the young woman at this point, explore her complicity, let her have flaws, etc.

HS: June and Hugo are constantly cracking jokes, and Stay Up with Hugo Best is rife with insider knowledge about comedy. Why did you decide to use comedy as the backdrop? Can you talk about your research process?

ES: I chose comedy as the backdrop because I thought I could write the jokes. I wanted to try. It seemed fun and like a formal challenge, too—I had never written standup before. Plus the industry is rife with bad behavior and big egos, and full of interesting characters. It’s also a hard industry for women. There has still never been a woman host on a network late night show. That’s wild. What’s going on there? I look at James Corden and I think, no woman on the planet could do better than this? Things have improved a little on cable, but I remember when they were looking for Jon Stewart’s replacement on the Daily Show and they were trying to make the argument that no qualified woman wanted the job. Okay guys, sure.

To research it, I read books about late night and memoirs by comedians. I watched a lot of late night and listened to old standup to get a feel for Hugo’s voice. I talked to a former head writer for a long running late night show who had started as an audience page and worked his way up and he very generously described every job he had in detail. I did tons more, maybe too much, but it never felt like work because it was mostly listening to funny people talk.

HS: The story takes place over the course of one Memorial Day weekend — four days. I love books that have specific, short timeframes, and I’m always fascinated with how the author manages to create and maintain the tension necessary for a novel. Can you talk a bit about this choice? Was that always how the novel was structured? What were the challenges and advantages in writing about one weekend?

ES: Comic novels in particular work well with short timelines, especially the sub-genre I think of as “an idiot flailing around.” The novels I looked to when I was writing it—Lucky Jim, Cassandra at the Wedding, Desperate Characters, Straight Man, Who is Rich, Goodbye Columbus—have short timelines.

As a first time novelist, I tried to make things as easy on myself as possible. That was the logic behind many of my choices: what will make this project less daunting? Why make things harder? Writing a novel is already hard. By setting it over a long weekend, I wouldn’t have to worry about finding an ending—it ended when the weekend ended. Four days meant four sections. Every section began in the morning and ended at night because that’s how time works.

The challenge was how to keep it interesting when the structure precludes anything “big” from happening. It could only ever be a small story. But when I got all the characters talking I found they were all trying to seduce each other and also, on some level, hated each other. That escalating push-pull seemed enough to sustain it.

HS: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

ES: I’m hoping to see some grinding.

Hayleigh Santra is an MFA candidate at The New School. 

Introducing 2019 Debutante Joseph Moldover

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week, we’re talking to Joseph Moldover, author of One Teen Story Issue #35, “Every Other Emily” and the novel Every Moment After (HMH Books for Young Readers, forthcoming April 9th).

Set in the fictional town of East Ridge, New Jersey, Every Moment After examines the far-reaching impact of an elementary school shooting that killed eighteen students. Over a decade after the tragedy, in the wake of high school graduation, survivors Cole and Matt are dealing with all the usual trappings of growing up—girls, college, parents, drugs, and hot air balloons—but are also still coming to terms with the effects the shooting has had on them and their town. While Every Moment After is certainly about the long-reaching aftermath of tragedy, it is also a generous and thoughtful coming-of-age story, in which we remember that the only thing certain is change.

Kaitlin McManus: Where were you when you found out Every Moment After was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Joseph Moldover: I was at home when I got the call from my agent, Adam Schear. It was incredibly exciting; the best part of it was sharing it with my family. In terms of celebration…one nice thing about being part of a big family is that it keeps you grounded, so I think my wife and I hugged each other, said “this is amazing,” and then two minutes later shifted to figuring out who was doing pick-up from school and who was getting dinner ready.

KM: Every Moment After is largely about effects of a school shooting on a small New Jersey town, and rings very strongly of the tragedy committed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. What made you want to approach this subject matter? Did your day job have any influence on your decisions? (Joseph Moldover is also Dr. Moldover—a developmental neuropsychologist.)

JM: I believe that there is a story that we are not telling about the violence in our society. When there is a terrible incident—like a school shooting—the media covers it intensively for a little while, the pundits all chime in, and then we move on. But the people involved don’t get to move on in the same way, and I feel that there is a collective failure to pay attention to that, to acknowledge that the burden of violence is not just the loss of life in the immediate moment but the anger and sorrow and guilt that so many people have to bear for years and years after.

In my day job, I work with children and families who are struggling with very complex, painful issues. It’s made me aware of the ways in which we carry these things with us, how the layers of a family or a community can peel away to reveal memories and beliefs that cause enormous pain but aren’t let out into the open. That was part of what I wanted to explore in the fictional town of East Ridge.

KM: This novel is a bit different than others of its ilk in that it’s set more than ten years after the shooting. What do you see as the benefits of setting this book so long after this incident rather than in the immediate aftermath?

JM: I felt that it was important to distance both the reader and myself from the immediate horror of the shooting. I think that, particularly when dealing with violence against such young children, there is something unbearable about focusing on it too closely. I sometimes think about the story of Perseus, who approached Medusa by looking at her reflection in his shield because it was too terrible to look directly at her. This story is about the reflections of the shooting in the lives of many different people over a decade later, and maybe it had to be written that way because it was too terrible to look at the thing itself.

KM: One thing Every Moment After did particularly well was acknowledge that there’s no correct way to memorialize this kind of incident. The town diner is wallpapered with rejected gun control bills, which many characters dislike. There’s an unofficial monument in the woods that some believe is more about the shooter than the victims. And while everyone in the novel agrees that the victims need to be remembered, sometimes they just want to forget that they were ever part of something so horrifying. Can you speak to these conflicting feelings and how you struck the balance between them so wonderfully?

JM: I don’t think that was something I was doing consciously, but one thing that does obsess me is the question of how people go on with things that are too painful to carry but which can’t be set down. How do we try to make peace with things that won’t leave us alone? I think that the conflicting feelings you mention, and the efforts at memorialization by characters in the story, comes out of that preoccupation.

KM: Your book speaks openly about violence, drugs, sex, and other things that teenagers face—but that many are afraid to include in media for them—in an honest, reasonably healthy way. My mother would have lost her mind if I read this as a “young adult”, but there’s been a surge of serious, issue-focused young adult fiction in the past several years. Do you see a reason for this? And how do you think Every Moment After fits into that movement?

JM: When I wrote the book I wasn’t really aware of a particular movement, I was just trying to write honestly…and all of those things are part of the world that “young adults” are living in. Omitting them would be totally dishonest, and the book wouldn’t be worthy of the respect of people who are reading it in between lock-down drills in schools with major drug problems. 

I think that those of us who are older than “young adult” (which definitely includes me) are wrestling with the growing realization that we are handing a world riddled with incredibly large, complex, and serious problems to younger people. With that realization comes a sense of guilt—that we have not more seriously addressed these issues—and also responsibility to be honest about them. In the case of my book, I would say that if we can’t—or won’t—do something about the problem of gun violence, the least we can do is be honest about it.

KM: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

JM: I published in One Teen Story in 2015, and have read OTS and One Story for years. I’ve also taken a number of online classes with One Story instructors. I haven’t met the staff and teachers in person, however, and I’m really looking forward to putting faces to names!

Kaitlin McManus is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn—by way of Central Illinois. She earned her MFA in fiction from The New School in 2018 and her work can be found in Brooklyn Magazine, Vault, and elsewhere on One Story‘s blog. She is currently at work on a novel about the Nashville club scene of the near-future.

Adina Talve-Goodman 2019 Fellow: Nay Saysourinho

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Together with the Talve-Goodman family, One Story is pleased to announce our 2019 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow: Nay Saysourinho.

Nay Saysourinho has received fellowships from Kundiman and the San Francisco Writers’ Grotto. She is an alumna of Tin House Summer Workshop. The daughter of Lao refugees who immigrated to Montréal in the late 70’s, she writes about food, memories and post-colonialism. Her writing can be found in the Funambulist Magazine and The Margins. She is currently working on her first novel.

The finalists for the 2019 Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship were:

  • Senaa Ahmad
  • Carrie Moore
  • Alejandro Puyana
  • Shannon Sanders

The Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship was created in memory of One Story’s former managing editor, the writer Adina Talve-Goodman. This fellowship offers a year-long mentorship on the craft of fiction writing with One Story magazine, and is given to an emerging writer whose work speaks to issues and experiences related to inhabiting bodies of difference. This means writing that explores being in a body marked by difference, oppression, violence, or exclusion; often through categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, illness, disability, trauma, migration, displacement, dispossession, or imprisonment.

One Story is grateful to the Talve-Goodman Family, all of the friends and organizations who helped spread the word about this fellowship, and the many talented writers who took the leap and shared their work with us. Applications for our 2020 Fellow will open in September 2019.

A Message About Our May 2018 Issue

In late September, One Story, Inc. was contacted by a writer concerned about similarities between a story she had submitted to One Story and a piece One Story had recently published, written by a former volunteer reader for the magazine. One Story, Inc. immediately launched a review and is currently evaluating all aspects of the situation and soliciting outside advice. At this point in the process, we decided a public statement was merited.

One Story, Inc. is a small, Brooklyn-based non-profit literary publisher. Our flagship magazine, One Story, receives approximately 10,000-12,000 short story submissions each year. From these submissions, One Story selects 12 stories to publish. One Story relies on volunteer readers (about 10-12 people) to aid the editors in this winnowing process. Readers are assigned 15 stories per week to read and are required to send at least one story each week to an editor for additional review.

While One Story readers are volunteers, there is an application process for these positions. Applicants are evaluated both on their ability to identify work suitable for the magazine and their ability to discuss the work of others with sensitivity and kindness. One Story readers meet with the editorial team on a bimonthly basis and often volunteer to assist One Story, Inc. staff in running public events.

Sara Batkie joined One Story, Inc. in May 2009 as a summer intern. When her internship was complete, she remained a part of the One Story team, donating her time as a reader and volunteer until August of 2016.

Since its founding in 2002, One Story’s policy is not to publish writing by any current editors, volunteers, or readers. However, the magazine does allow former volunteers and readers to submit their work for evaluation after a waiting period of at least one year.

In the fall of 2017, Batkie submitted her short story “Departures” to Patrick Ryan, editor in chief of One Story. This story was accepted for publication and published by One Story in May 2018.

On Sept. 25, 2018, One Story, Inc. was contacted by a submitter to the magazine, Sarah Jane Cody, who was concerned about similarities between a story she had submitted to One Story in December 2015, titled “An Invitation,” and Sara Batkie’s short story “Departures.”

After checking our database and records, One Story discovered that Sara Batkie had been a reader for Sarah Jane Cody’s story, “An Invitation.” These records indicated that after reading Cody’s submission, Batkie forwarded the story to One Story’s editors for additional evaluation. The editors decided to decline the story, and a message was sent to Sarah Jane Cody on April 21, 2016, with an encouraging note and a request to send more work.

While One Story, Inc. cannot speak to intentionality and while some circumstances remain unclear, the similarities in plot, aforementioned timeline, and conversations with both writers have led us to take Sarah Jane Cody’s concern very seriously.

The submission process for any literary magazine involves trust. Trust on the part of the magazine that writers are submitting their own original work, and trust on the part of the writers that the magazine will evaluate their work fairly and treat it with respect. One Story exists because of that trust.

We expect it may take some time before we have a full understanding of this matter. In the meantime, One Story will be suspending any additional sales or promotion of “Departures.”

We would like to thank Sarah Jane Cody for bringing this matter to our attention. We know it could not have been easy to do so.

One Story is grateful to all our readers, writers, donors, and submitters for the trust and support they have given to us over the years. We hope to continue to earn and strengthen that trust as we move forward.

Sincerely,

Maribeth Batcha & Hannah Tinti
One Story Co-Founders

To contact One Story about this matter, please email mbatcha@one-story.com.

One Story Summer Conference Day 5: Authorial Authority

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Stephanie Santos. Enjoy!–LV

The One Story Summer Conference ended on Friday after a week filled with craft lectures, panels, and workshops. While we’re sad to see it end, we’re happy to have welcomed a new group of writers to the One Story family.

After the final workshops, Hannah Tinti gave a fantastic lecture on how writers can ensure they have authority in their stories. The main question writers should ask themselves when they are considering the amount of authority they have in a story, Tinti told the audience, is “Am I doing this story justice?”

To begin, Tinti asked the audience to close their eyes and recall the first book that sparked their interest in reading or writing fiction. After asking the audience how they felt reading this book, she wrote down some of these descriptions: “entertained,” “invested,” “understood,” “excited,” “alive,” “not alone.”

Hannah then asked the crowd to find words that describe feeling lost. The answers she received included “confused,” “disorientated,” “stupid,” “lonely,” and “angry.” Her main point was that a story written with authority would skillfully guide readers to the first list and inspire them rather than frustrate and confuse them.

Tinti listed some key things that she looks for in a short story while reading unsolicited submissions:

  • Language
  • How quickly she is sucked into the story
  • If the story displays a new idea or something in a new light
  • If the story clearly knows what it’s about
  • How in control the writer is of the story

While at first it may seem overwhelming to juggle so many ideas at once while writing, Tinti dispensed helpful advice to the writers so that they could begin to achieve each of these important elements.

  • Write with clear, confident sentences
  • Immediately set the stage of the story to ground your reader
  • Include just enough specific facts
  • Establish the main character quickly
  • Understand the emotional situation of your story

To demonstrate what all these skills look like in action, Tinti led the group in a close read of Jesse Lee Kercheval’s flash fiction piece “Carpathia,” which manages to employ all these essential elements seamlessly. She pointed out that the effect the story has is only possible with tireless revision and an acute attention to these details.

Tinti then had the audience put her advice to the test with three exercises. The first was to take a flower and invent a botanical encyclopedia entry for it. She had participants describe the flower in terms of specific facts that relate to it as well as how the flower appeals to the five senses. This exercise established false authority and demonstrated its usefulness at making false authority feel believable.

Conference participants prepare to write fictional botanical encyclopedia entries about their flowers.

Tinti also stressed the importance of mapping a scene out to make it clearer to the reader what is happening, where they are, what they are seeing, and what the main character’s feelings about the situation are. The mapping exercise, which was designed to help writers establish a scene, was to describe a situation with a car that the writers were very familiar with and describe exactly everything they see to the right, left, forward, behind them, up, or below them. Then, she had the audience write a scene using this “map” to show how much easier it is to write a scene when the writer has planned it out.

Hannah’s final exercise demonstrated the importance of layering in a scene. Her exercise focused on character. To help the group visualize the layering process, she used a soil diagram that showed the layers of earth: surface litter, topsoil, subsoil, and bedrock. The exercise was to choose a character and state what they are saying out loud, which makes up the surface layer of that character in a specific scene. The next layer (the topsoil) was made up of the character’s physical action while they are speaking. After this topsoil, Tinti asked the participants to write what this character is thinking (subsoil). Finally, as the bedrock, writers provided a memory that this character might be reminded of in this scene.

Tinti’s goal for these exercises is to make each scene easier to access for the reader. Writing with authority is critical to avoiding confusion or frustration from a disoriented reader. A story should be clear and leave all the complexity to its substance.

To conclude the conference, all workshop participants were asked to read a part of their work before dinner. Every writer gave their reading with eloquence and authority, thanks to the reading tips they received on Thursday from Ann Napolitano and Patrick Ryan. Following a dinner catered by Runner & Stone, workshop participants were sad to go but left fulfilled by the week. We at One Story wish these writers great success and cannot wait to see where their talent and hard work will take them next.

One Story Summer Conference Day 4: Lessons on Life-Crafting

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Benjamin Newgard. Enjoy!–LV

After three fun and illuminating days at the One Story Summer Conference, we arrived at the fourth, which began with the writers’ penultimate workshops led by authors Anna Solomon and Will Allison. The focused, creatively charged morning soon segued to delicious sandwiches and a moment to kick back and chat before the next big event: a lecture about organizing—or “crafting”—the writer’s life by our very own Ann Napolitano, associate editor of One Story and author of the books A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach.

Napolitano separated this task of “life-crafting” into three primary components, or “legs of the stool”: paying attention, maintaining the writer’s inner self, and tailoring their practical routines and principals to allow for the most unimpeded dedication to their work. While the first of these—paying attention—may seem like common sense, Napolitano argued that it is anything but. In fact, by learning to “pay attention to what she paid attention to” (an adage borrowed from Amy Krouse Rosenthal), Napolitano gained heightened clarity not only in her writing, but in her life at large.

To help illustrate how she accomplished this, Napolitano urged writers to imagine that a magnetic board rests inside them, one to which their interests and curiosities, whether fleeting or lasting, “stick.” The latter, more persistent of these interests comprise a writer’s “obsessions”—the very foundations, she explained, of an artist’s themes and inner voice. “Leaning into” these obsessions—meditating on them, letting them linger and marinate in the mind—can only make the writer’s unique imagination all the more pronounced, even when the given interest seems like one the writer wouldn’t normally choose. Some everyday methods she recommended for honing “self-attention” included include keeping a journal, making lists, and taking photographs.

Beyond becoming more familiar with a writer’s own curiosities and attention, Napolitano stressed that a productive creative life also depended in a large part on self-kindness. Pursuing a serious writing career inevitably involves an often staggering variety of trials and travails, whether those pertaining to the writing itself (rejection, self-doubt, artistic slumps), or those exterior to it, such as family, health, and financial needs. Yet however easy it might be to acknowledge such difficulties from a rational standpoint, writers often treat or think of themselves harshly when trouble disrupts their work. On this point, Napolitano offered an encouraging reminder: “Any day you sit down to write is a good day.”

When you approach the writing—and yourself—with kindness, generosity, and dedication, Napolitano said, “it goes better.” More than that, she insisted “the fact you created something on the page” is, in itself, “amazing.” Even if the piece you’re working on seems like a mess, “you created this thing,” and “that’s wonderful.”

Napolitano concluded her lecture by discussing some of the practical lifestyle changes and practices that might help writers approach their craft with all the more focus and persistence. Some of these include:

  • Pursuing a job that the writer doesn’t have to ‘take home’—one with definite, constrained hours.
  • Simplifying everyday routine so the writer arrives at the desk as fresh and energized as possible.
  • Locking in a certain amount of time or part of every day specifically for writing—and doing so consistently. Whether this means writing on the subway every day, or early in the morning before the rest of the house wakes up, this time should be honored and protected fiercely, tenaciously.

No matter what system or routines to which the writer adheres, the essential thing, as Napolitano put it, is that the writer “keep going. If you want the work inside you to grow and deepen, you have to keep writing.”

These sentiments found emphatic echo at the final event of day four: a Q&A with bestselling author Min Jin Lee, hosted by Hannah Tinti at Brooklyn’s Community Bookstore. Much like Ann, Lee emphasized the vitalness of exhaustively exploring a writer’s obsessions and natural, unceasing curiosities. In fact, her recent novel, Pachinko (finalist for the National Book Award), traces its earliest foundations to just such an obsession—a harrowing story she came across as a college student.

Transforming this kernel into Lee’s formidable novel, however, proved a decades-long process, one fraught with countless hours of research, interviews, and work alone at the desk. And as both Lee and Napolitano emphasized in their respective presentations, long and arduous journeys from idea to publication—should this ever be achieved—are overwhelmingly the rule, rather than the exception.

“Writing good fiction is really hard,” Napolitano said. But unless writers “put their heads down and take themselves and their work seriously,” they can never realize the “brilliance” of which they might be capable.

One Story Interns Benjamin Newgard, D.J. Kim, and Stephanie Santos with author Min Jin Lee.