One Story Workshop Day Five: We All Love Each Other Now

book-heart-valentineThis Friday marked the close of One Story’s fifth annual workshop at The Center for Fiction. Tea and coffee helped ward off the last-day-of-camp blues before students entered into their final workshops with Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison. They were reluctant to leave their workshop rooms, lingering to have story collections signed and group photos taken. One writer told me, as she headed for the elevator, “We all love each other now.” While One Story’s romcom may not be The Notebook, it does make for lasting writerly connections. Together we ate a final lunch of pizza and chatted about ways to keep in touch.

We gathered after lunch for a craft lecture by Hannah Tinti, the editor in chief of One Story, on getting “out of the slushpile”. She told us how to manage the business side of being a writer, by walking us through how to get our work published, starting with the basics of preparing it for submission (use a simple font like 12 pt. Times New Roman, number your pages, double-space, etc.), and figuring out where to send–be that to magazines, agents, or small presses. She showed us samples of query letters, and then shared some of her own rejections to show how there are different “levels” of rejection, and finally, what to do if and when you get an acceptance. But Hannah was also clear that “you are a writer if you’re writing, not if your work is published.” She ended the lecture with a quote from Barbara Kingsolver regarding rejected work. “This manuscript of yours that has just come back from another editor is a precious package. Don’t consider it rejected. Consider that you’ve addressed it ‘to the editor who can appreciate my work’ and it has simply come back stamped ‘Not at this address.’ Just keep looking for the right address.”

Time for celebration! After hours of workshops, panels and talks, we travelled home to One Story’s office at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn, where students were able to see where the work behind publication occurs. We saw Patrick Ryan’s desk with its strikingly intellectual desk lamp, Hannah’s desk with drawings of demons, the calendars showing our publication schedule, the table where the editorial meetings occur, and, most importantly, the coffee machine that brews our coffee.

Then to The Cantine, the restaurant within the Old American Can Factory. Conference Director Michael Pollock began the night by recognizing the students’ endurance, “I hope you don’t want to write tomorrow. I hope you don’t want to write Sunday. But on Monday, I want you to write, and that’s when this workshop will matter.” Marie and Will thanked their classes, recognizing how easy it was to teach such brilliant people. Then each student gave a three-minute reading at our open mic. Their pieces were beautiful, competent and honest. As were Michael’s physics and whale jokes as he acted as our MC.

Maribeth Batcha, our publisher, and Hannah closed the event by welcoming the students to the One Story family. Writing is about community, so it was only fitting that after a delicious dinner catered by Runner & Stone, we took many class (or should I say family?) photos.

Hannah ended the night with Lauren Groff’s writing advice from “Writing Advice from the Authors of One Story”, a special edition of One Story magazine, that was printed and given out to all the students as a parting gift: “Give yourself the grace of failure – most good stories are made up of hundreds of invisible previous failures; read everything you can get your grubby mitts on; excise people from your lives who bring up turmoil and darkness, then write them clean in your fiction; if you have talent, it is a gift, so try your best to honor you gift by developing it; write every single day, because if you wait for the Muse to land she’ll cackle as she flies on by; don’t worry about publishing because if you write from a place of love and gratitude you will publish; try not to listen to advice about writing because the most important things you learn are things you’ll teach yourself.”

One Story Workshop Day Four: We Map Our Stories

new-york-public-library-lions (475x347)One Story’s fifth annual workshop is starting to wind down. Our incredible workshop teachers, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino, led us in critically analyzing each other’s work for an additional hour today. Whew! But, as usual, the feedback and guidance was well worth it.

After a lunch of falafel, in which we stuffed our bellies as much as we could, the Editor in Chief of One Story, Hannah Tinti, took us on another writing excursion: to the New York Public Library. That’s the one with the two lions in front from the opening scene in Ghostbusters (also where Dorothy and the Scarecrow meet the lion in the movie version of The Wiz). By the way, the names of those lions are Patience and Fortitude, which as Hannah sagely said are, “Perhaps the two qualities that a writer needs most.”

First Hannah talked about ways we could use maps in our stories, from creating action, to filling out setting, to keeping track of our novels and longer works. She also gave us blank story maps and floor plans as tools to keep our readers grounded. Both techniques helped us to learn to navigate our worlds. Our “on-site” exercise at the NYPL was to go look through maps and atlases, find one that we liked, and use it as a jumping off point. Characters are always in a setting. And that setting always has some topology. Creating mental or even physical maps allows us, the writer, to better explore our world so that we don’t get lost. “When the writer is lost, the reader is lost,” said Hannah. “We never want to do that. It’s the quickest way to make a reader put down our book.”

For our evening panel we enjoyed a visit from author Rachel Cantor, who read a few excerpts from her new novel, A Highly Unlikely Scenario. Think of it as a really twisted Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy or a fusion of Ray Bradbury and Italo Calvino. Bizarre, funny, quirky, she had us all in stitches. Then Hannah interviewed Rachel about the struggles and joys of an emerging writer, and how Rachel got this marvelous book published, from first draft on her computer to hard copies in bookstores.

We’re upset that the week is coming to an end, but tomorrow night is our big send off, with a visit to One Story’s office in Brooklyn, an open mic for students, and a grand finale dinner. Stay tuned!

One Story Workshop Day Three: Breaking the rules on Flying Bicycles

flyingbicycleIt’s the third day of One Story’s fifth annual workshop. Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino led their wonderful workshops after our students drank as much coffee as they could. Following a lunch of sandwiches, soda, chips, and more coffee, the editor of One Teen Story, the fabulous Patrick Ryan, gave a craft lecture on guidelines for writing a story.

“You cannot take risks if you strictly follow rules,” he said. “Allow room for surprise in your writing, readers read to discover and writers write to discover. Don’t spoil that for yourself or your readers. Writing should make you happy. Also, always read your work aloud.” Leaning over his lectern he joked, “Of course you don’t want to speak it in your quiet writing studio. Disturbing other writers while they’re working…bad idea.” We all laughed.

Patrick went on to explain that writers need to think of many mediocre or terrible ideas in order to find a good one. His technique is to type up any idea, even if it’s only two words, print it out, and put it in a box. The act of having a physical, separate note makes the idea stand out, rather than being in a list, where we are tempted to scan through and pick the best one.

We took a break and then did a writing exercise with Michael Pollock where we worked in groups to write a short story in about 30 minutes based on three random ideas. My group’s: a hot air balloon, a bicycle for two, and a lemon. Didn’t figure out how to put the lemon in the story, but our flying bicycle for two was like something out of a Dr. Seuss book.

Everyone needed a break after that. We reconvened at 6:30 for an editor panel, but not before the front legs to a beautiful leather chair suddenly gave out in our very cozy writing space. But we writers can’t sit down writing all the time, in any case; we need to get out and explore the world and be social and engaging and talk to people.

Our evening panel consisted of Maria Gigliano from Slice, Lincoln Michael from Electric Literature, Sam Nicholson of Random House, and Jonathan Lee of A Public Space, all led by our own Patrick Ryan, an editor himself. The editors were very knowledgeable, coming from big publishing houses all the way to small magazines—a nice spectrum of the industry. All agreed that the best way to stand out is to make your writing unexpected. Plot and character can always be edited, but language, style, voice, etc… really can’t. And as for debut novelists they said, “It’s a wide open future. They don’t have any history that could work against them. It’s nothing but promise!”

One Story Workshop Day Two: We Find Our Spirit Animals in the Rain

AMNHIt’s the second day of One Story’s fifth annual workshop. Today our students braved severe thunderstorms and flash floods, all in the name of good writing. We started off the morning with workshops at the Center for Fiction led by Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino, our fantastic instructors. After eating some delicious wraps and sandwiches for lunch, we sat down with One Story’s Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, who then began a lecture about creating unique characters, using three techniques: “10 Facts,” “Superhero” and “KWL”.

The “10 Facts” technique is self-explanatory. It involves writing ten basic facts based on the character’s appearance. Hannah used herself as an example. Students immediately listed off some facts about her, some of which included “curly hair”, “creamy skin” and “wearing a large bracelet.” These facts added up to give us a sense of who she was, at least on the surface. The students were then asked how this could apply to their own characters; what does their appearance say about them? What conclusions could be drawn from that, even if eventually proven wrong?

Next was the “Superhero” technique. Hannah used Superman as an example, and asked the students about his costume, superpowers, backstory, weakness and quest. By outlining all of these details, we were able to create an image of Superman that even someone unfamiliar with the comics or movies could understand. While our own characters may not be superheroes in the same way that Clark Kent is, we could use the same approach for them. What do they wear? What are they good at, or bad at? What is their personal history? What do they want most? Hannah used a quote from Kurt Vonnegut to further emphasize that last point: “Every character should want something, even if it’s only a glass of water.” She then asked the students to consider how each character’s individual needs could intertwine to tell the story.

Finally, the “KWL” method. What does the character know? What does the character want to know? What has he or she learned by the end of the story?

With these methods in mind, we set off for the American Museum of Natural History. After some minor delays (thanks to a sudden downpour and one extremely late B train) we arrived at the exhibit for North American mammals. We split up and searched for animals that we felt most strongly about, and used the techniques Hannah had taught us to brainstorm stories about them. We used the information given to us by the museum’s placards to jot down the animal’s strengths and weaknesses, and we used our own imaginations to fill in backstories and quests for them. Then we took it one step further, and gave them an obstacle–whether that included a hunter, an opponent to compete against for a mate’s attention, or even, referring back to Vonnegut, trying to find some water–and we sketched out a brief scene, in which our characters succeeded, failed, or decided to change their goal entirely.

We headed back to the Center for Fiction, and were treated with a very informative discussion from a panel of literary agents: Jim Rutman, Sally Wofford-Girand and William Boggess. They offered plenty of advice to our students, and they parted with these three important tidbits: “Don’t rush your first offering. Wait until you’ve done everything you could for your story”; “spend time with a workshop group to make your story even better”; and, lastly, “the writer is really the source of the talent; trust your own work.” We wrapped up the night with snacks and cocktails, laughing together and enjoying some great company before heading out into the terrible storms once again.

One Story Workshop Day One: New York City Writes the Story for You

Taken inside the Center for Fiction's famous elevator

Taken inside the Center for Fiction’s famous elevator

Readers and writers, One Story’s fifth annual workshop has begun! Some travelled thousands of miles, others dozens of city blocks to arrive this morning at New York City’s Center for Fiction. Ahead of us lies a week of craft lectures, agent panels, guest author talks, and workshops. Hannah Tinti, the Editor-in-Chief of One Story, welcomed students with coffee and tea before they split into their morning workshops led by our instructors, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.

After a lunch of tacos, salad and salsas so hot that they brought tears to our eyes, we sat down with Hannah, Will and Marie for a brief insight into the writerly lives of working authors. Each spoke of their path to writing, which featured ceiling-high piles of submissions and many rejection letters. Will Allison talked about his journey as a writer and an editor, and how, when he started working at Story magazine, it challenged him to make his own work better. Hannah then opened the panel to questions. “Describe your style,” one student asked. “Dark, twisted, funny,” she replied. When asked to give writing advice, Marie-Helene Bertino encouraged students to wander the streets of New York. Eavesdrop. Open your eyes. New York City will write the story for you.

After several hours talking about writing, it was time to get down to business. Hannah led a writing exercise given to her from one of her own mentors, Dani Shapiro (author of the great book Still Writing). The exercise is derived from Joe Brainard’s I Remember. She read from Brainard’s book:

“I remember the first time I met Frank O’Hara. He was walking down Second Avenue. It was a cool early spring evening but he was wearing only a white shirt with the sleeves rolled up to his elbows. And blue jeans. And moccasins. I remember that he seemed very sissy to me. Very theatrical. Decadent. I remember that I liked him instantly.”

Students wrote their own stories built of “I remember”, and shared their memories with the class, which were full of sharp details and all kinds of interesting experiences.

In the evening, Irina Reyn gave our first craft lecture on perspective. Using Frederick Reiken’s 2005 essay on the “author-narrator-character merge,” she revealed techniques of varying closeness and distance in narration. “The one that feels the most on fire, that’s the right perspective,” she said.

I (will) remember the first day of the One Story workshop. Stay tuned for more updates!





One Story Workshop Day 4: Book Love

book-heart-valentineDay four of One Story’s writing workshop continued in NYC’s epic heat wave. But the stifling weather did nothing to deter our writers from braving the sweltering city streets to reach that wondrous air-conditioned haven of creativity, the Center for Fiction.

After an assorted pastry breakfast, the writers divided into their workshop groups, led by Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino. After the morning workshops, our writers enjoyed fresh pizza and San Pellegrino (because here at One Story we know that before there can be good writing, there of course must be good food). After lunch everyone gathered on the Proust Floor for a lecture given by novelist Myla Goldberg on Generating Fiction from History and/or Fact.

Myla wasted no time in telling us that all fiction requires research of some kind, whether it be personal or general. She told us that while in non-fiction your research forms the “bedrock” of your writing, in fiction it becomes the “springboard” for your imagination. Myla said that as a fiction writer, you must research with an open-mind and always be prepared to be surprised by what you find.

She turned to an essay by Jim Shepard to explain how fiction writers use historical and non-fictional material to enlarge their contact with the world. Writers are often encouraged to write what they know, but when what they know isn’t enough, drawing from non-fiction and historical material expands what Shepard calls, “the ground,” of their work. The project of literature depends on the writer’s capacity for empathetic imagination, which allows them to get a sense of why characters do what they do, by using their imagination. We are writing from our lives, but not necessarily about our lives, and so as writers we must respect the facts while taking advantage of our imaginations, to mold them into something aesthetically beautiful.

Myla described her methods of researching both setting and character. When investigating a place, Myla suggested that that it was best to visit a couple of different times and in a couple of different ways. On the first visit simply experience and explore. Get a feel for the place without trying to write anything down. On the second visit take notes. On the third visit: take pictures.

When conducting character investigations Myla said that one of the best methods is to interview people, since everyone loves talking about themselves. On this subject, she had a great deal of advice. For instance, never take notes, but always record the interview. When you take notes you remove yourself from the other person and thus miss out on the emotion, nuance and tone they are giving off. Let them know that the interview is for general knowledge and that they will not be a character in your work. Be prepared to respond naturally to them and use the opportunity to get a feel for the person, and thus the character you are trying to create.

Myla also encouraged us to investigate as an observer, using eavesdropping as a way of gaining access to peoples’ lives. She told us of how she used this method when conducting investigative character research for her first published novel Bee Season. She told us that we can conduct character investigation as a participant as well as an observer, and then relayed how she joined a Hari Krishna Temple in Brooklyn under a false name in order to research the place and the people.

Following Myla’s craft lecture, One Story hosted a panel of representatives from different MFA programs: Alexandra Soieth (Sarah Lawrence), Eliza Hornig (Brooklyn College), Camille Rankine (Manhattanville), and Perrin Drumm (Vermont College). When is the best time to get an MFA? Don’t go right after college–go when you know for sure that’s what you want to do, when you’re ready to take the next step in your writing, and can make the best financial decision, so that you don’t put yourself into debt. What’s most important about an application? The work sample. Make sure you send your best possible work, and be sure to have other people read it first to give suggestions and catch mistakes. How do you choose which MFA program to go to? Do your research, make sure there are writers at the program you want to work with, make sure the time commitment is something you can do, check to see what financial assistance they can give you, and be sure to visit the school. What do MFA directors look for? Writing that feels alive on the page, that makes them sit up and take notice.

In the evening, we hosted One Story author Claire Vaye Watkins, author of the prize winning collection of stories Battleborn. Claire read a selection from her book, then had a conversation with One Story Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti, where they discussed how to handle violence in fiction, what books to read while working on a novel, how to go back and repeat certain objects or themes in work in order to create texture and depth, and the editorial work they did on Claire’s One Story issue, “Man-O-War.” Claire also talked about the Mojave School, the project she began with her fiancé Derek Palacio, which hopes to bring free writing classes to rural teenagers. Their first session will begin shortly in Nevada, and One Story has donated subscriptions and issues of One Teen Story for the students. Hannah and Claire ended by talking about the importance of giving back to the literary community, whether through projects like the Mojave school, or running non-profit literary journals like One Story. No one decides to become a writer because of the money, Hannah said. We do it for the love.


One Story Workshop Day 3: Let them eat cake (or tacos)

Book-Paintings2 (640x406)We’re back for Day 3 of One Story’s summer writing workshop!  After an amazing assortment of breakfast pastries, the writers divided up for their workshops with Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.  They met back up for a lunch of tacos before we jumped right in to the first craft lecture of the day.

Stacey D’Erasmo spoke to us about the power of white space in our writing.  Most writers use white space as a way to advance the action, a means of locomotion, if you will.  Stacey showed us some examples of writers who use white space to generate a kind of narrative power other than speed.  For instance, she argued, Italo Calvino’s If on a Winter’s Night a Traveler uses white space as a subjunctive space.  Think of the space around the story as a kind of ‘what if?’

This idea of using space as alternate storytelling method came up in one of the pieces she brought into class for us to examine together.  In “We Wanted More” by Justin Torres, the real story of the family happens in the void.  The writing is beautiful, but it’s only by not hearing what’s actually happening that we fully understand the abusive nature of this family.  My favorite example of alternate uses of white space in D’Erasmo’s lecture was Eros: one small fragment of a chapter in Kathryn Davis’s Versailles: A Novel.  This section details the last moments of Marie Antoinette’s life.  The writing is beautiful and poetic, but it is only by sitting in the quiet aftermath that you realize her death happened there.  The white space becomes the guillotine, the crowd, the world.

Our writing exercise today was led by Michael Pollock (One Story’s workshop organizer extraordinaire) and was a prompt called “Build a city from the clouds exercise” from Karen Russell.  Using Calvino’s Invisible Cities, we each had to create a city in 300 words or less.  Everyone in the group had a different take on the exercise. We went from a town called Periphery to Paradise City, from a city built on Mars to a town in East Texas.

James Yeh from Gigantic Magazine, Benjamin Samuel and Halimah Marcus from Electric Literature, Suzie Hanrahan from Columbia: A Literary Journal and Jonathon Lee from A Public Space joined Adina Talve-Goodman for our evening panel on editors and publishing.  We opened the panel by talking about each magazine’s slush (unsolicited stories) reading practices.  All four magazines have a reading period that allows them to take time off to catch up and make sure every piece gets read and replied to.  When asked what their magazines were looking for in slush, the editors had a similar suggestion:

  • Read the magazine!  See what is being published by the magazine and send pieces that you feel would be a good fit with the other work they publish.

After this, we spent time on rejection letters. Here are some highlights from the discussion:

  • When do you send a rewrite?  ONLY when explicitly asked.  If one of these editors returns your story with personal notes, it means: they liked your work, but next time, send a different story, not a rewrite.  Also (and this was stressed) don’t send something back immediately.  If an editor took the time to reject you personally, it means he or she wanted you to know how you can fix a story.  They want you to think about their suggestions (and take a few if they appeal to the story you are trying to tell) before sending them something new.
  • Why was I rejected? There are many reasons for a rejection.  Maybe your story didn’t fit in with the theme of the magazine. Maybe there was too much sex or violence for a certain issue. One big reason you may be rejected is because your piece feels like a first draft. You should always have someone you trust read your work before submitting.  Make sure there are no glaring mistakes that might make a promising piece less appealing.

We ended the night on a high note.  Each panelist discussed their idea for the future of publishing.  Benjamin Samuel summed it up perfectly; “I think the future of publishing is bright, because I refuse to think any other way.”


One Story Workshop Day Two: W-H-O ARE Y-O-U?

whoareyou (533x400)On our second day of workshop in the gorgeous and air-conditioned Center For Fiction, we talked about literary identities – from the page to the internet.

We ate falafel and tabbouleh after morning workshops with Marie-Helene Bertino & Will Allison, and then headed to the Proust floor to hear Paul La Farge’s talk on the uses of persona in literature. There, he surveyed a dizzying number of writers with multiple literary personas – from Fernando Pessoa to J.M. Coetzee, assessing the artistic advantages and ethical consequences of creating these identities.

It’s old news that writers invent characters for their stories, but what happens when writers create authors – imaginary characters with distinct writing styles, personal histories, appearances? These invented writer characters are called heteronyms (a term invented by Pessoa, who wrote under a whooping 81 different heteronyms, autonyms, and alter egos).

This not only fascinating from a theoretical standpoint, but useful from a craft perspective. La Farge offers the creation of heteronyms as a remedy for writers block and an untapped source of inspiration. “Tired of your voice?” he asks. “Try on a new one.” Concerned that no one will care about your writing? Invent a new literary persona (or seven). As long as you keep your writing rooted in reality, these heteronyms will be able to deliver some emotionally resonate truths.

After a short break, we headed downstairs to do One Story author Laura Van den Berg’s “The Ingredients Exercise” with the ever-lovely Adina Talve-Goodman (One Story’s Managing Editor). We wrote three words on an index card, swapped cards with neighbors, and had fifteen minutes to create a scene using all three words. My words were OCD, beach, and running, and I wrote of two teenage bullies in Atlantic City (~*4evr thirteen). Other writers got meta on us and included the index card in their stories. Since the hardest thing about writing is often getting started, the three words constraint gave us a box to expand around quickly, forcing us to get specific and concrete fast.

We broke for dinner and met back up around seven to share some chilled wine and cheese, Brooklyn lagers and butter cookies. We laughed with (and sometimes at) our hilarious Social Media Panel – Seth Fried, Emma Straub and Julia Fierro, who encouraged timid writers to develop an internet presence despite any anxieties. They too felt strange after their first blog posts and virgin tweets.

As Seth joked, “Since literary fiction has the cultural pull of ventriloquism,” social media can help give people a taste of a writer’s personality and build a community of supporters. “Keep it inclusive instead of divisive,” Seth urges. “Don’t alienate people. Build a big tent online and let your work move people. Don’t try to move people through the internet.” Stay posi, keep it cool with the politics, and don’t be that guy who only tweets about his book tour and how many books he’s sold.

In order to preserve privacy and cultivate a genuine persona, post about personal tastes – art, music, books you’ve loved –  instead of posting pictures of your new lover or your poor seventeen-year-old (you’re killing us, Mom). Your internet presence should reflect a wide range of your personality and interests, not just your professional life. Julia was able to connect with more people by sharing her identity as not just a writer, but as a mother, knitter, etc. Round out your personality across platforms, but do make sure to have one landing place where people can find quick factual information about you and your book too.

Overall, the panelists agreed that you should only give into social media if you want to, and if it feels true to you. “If it makes your teeth feel like they’re bleeding,” Emma said, “don’t bother.” It can be very helpful, but it isn’t a steadfast requirement for burgeoning writers. Social media posts aren’t direct revenue streams, but they can open doors to score more writing, teaching, and speaking opportunities. (I mean, One Story’s social media panel landed this gig because, well…)

As always, be genuine. And true to who you are: as a person, and a writer.




One Story Workshop Day One: Writers need failure & a doula

DSC00250 (640x480)It’s that time again, writers and readers!  One Story’s fourth annual summer workshop has begun.  Twenty talented writers have come to New York City’s Center for Fiction to workshop stories, listen to craft lectures and learn from diverse panels.  The week began with our students breaking into two morning workshops with our fearless  returning teachers, Will Allison and Marie-Helene Bertino.

After lunch we sat down for an intimate craft lecture with Jenny Offill.  The theme of the lecture was failure.  Jenny went around the room and asked everyone what was the most discouraging comment they had received about being a writer.  Comments ranged from: “You would have made such a good doctor” to “Really? Have I read anything you’ve written?”  Although we started off doom and gloom, throughout her lecture, Jenny really encouraged embracing the notion of an “un-successful” life, so long as it remains writing-focused.  At the end of the lecture, Jenny shared some of her important life hacks for being a writer in New York.

Highlights included:

  • where to find free cheese and wine
  • a list of movies about people with interesting lives
  • a list of jobs that give you time to write (but will not make you rich or encourage your parents in any way)

She ended by giving her secret to success as a writer.  “Let everyone give up on you.”  That moment of pity when no one, not even your loved ones, believes that you can finish the book can be a catalyst.  Sometimes pity is the biggest spur.

In the afternoon, our students stretched their hands and minds with writing exercises, hosted by One Story Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti. Together they wrote beautifully about memory and remembering, and shared their work out loud in an impromptu performance, before heading into midtown for dinner.

The evening session was a panel on the usually un-definable job of literary agents.  On our panel was Renee Zuckerbrot, Julie Barer, Jim Rutman and Rebecca Gradinger, and it was moderated by our own Hannah Tinti.  When asked what an agent’s actual job was, we heard comparisons to doulas, cheerleaders and characters from Jerry Maguire.  Each of the panelists agreed that the agent’s job is to be the writer’s biggest advocate in the literary world.  That being said, agents are looking for great books that they fall in love with.  They are in a unique position, between writer and publisher, to follow their gut and tackle stories that resonate with them.

The most important lesson of the night was finding the right agent to be your partner.  Multiple agents may find a connection and believe in your work, but it is important that a writer takes the time to choose an agent.  Discuss your  own short-term versus long-term writing goals with a potential agent, as well as their plans for your work.  It is important to be on the same page from the beginning, as your relationship with this person will be one of, if not the, most important connections in your writing life.

Day one ended with wine, cheese and mingling. It was a fast-paced day full of information, but it’s only the tip of the iceberg.  Stay tuned!

Introducing One Story’s 2013 Staff Debutantes: Marie-Helene Bertino, Elliott Holt & Julie Innis

One Story is run almost entirely by volunteers. Many of these volunteer readers and editors are also writers! Since our last benefit, two former and one current member of our staff have made the leap and published their first books. So we will be taking a moment at this year’s Debutante Ball on June 6th to acknowledge these three lovely and talented ladies: our own Staff Literary Debutantes: Marie-Helene Bertino, Elliott Holt & Julie Innis. Let’s meet them now!

Marie-Helene Bertino, Safe as Houses (University of Iowa Press)

safeashousesMarie-Helene Bertino was a reader, an editorial assistant, and later an associate editor at One Story. For the past three years, she’s been teaching at One Story’s Summer Workshop for Writers. Her collection of short stories, Safe As Houses, was published in October of 2012 by the University of Iowa Press.  She received a Pushcart Prize in 2007 and a Pushcart Special Mention in 2011.  Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Pushcart Prize Anthology XXXIII, North American Review, Mississippi Review, Inkwell, The Indiana Review, American Short Fiction, and Five Chapters, among others.  Many of the stories in Safe as Houses are set in a supernatural Philadelphia, where everything that happens seems to come out of left field and keeps the reader guessing.  Bret Anthony Johnston has said of the book: “From the first remarkable story to the last, the author takes risks that left me gasping and applauding.  This is affecting and inventive work, work that breaks your heart with humor and mends it with compassion.”

Elliott Holt, You Are One of Them (Penguin Press)

youareoneofthemElliott Holt was a reader for One Story, and later a contributing editor. Her first novel, You Are One of Them is a moving debut, that the NYTBR called “a hugely absorbing first novel from a writer with a fluid, vivid style and a rare knack for balancing the pleasure of entertainment with the deeper gratification of insight.” Holt was born and raised in Washington, DC, but has lived in cities all over the world.  While working, she maintained a full time job in Manhattan as well as participating in an MFA program at Brooklyn College.  You Are One of Them confronts the way we define ourselves and the secrets we keep in the process. Holt highlights the pain of a broken friendship, evoking emotions in those of us who know what lengths people will go to take back what they have lost. Editor in Chief Hannah Tinti said of book: “Like the cold war, this remarkable novel revolves around hidden truths and unreliable friendships. Elliott Holt skillfully draws out her characters’ secrets, delivering a well-wrought tale of international and emotional intrigue.”

Julie Innis, Three Squares a Day With Occasional Torture (Foxhead Books)

3squares.cover.1.0312Julie Innis is a current reader for One Story. She lives in New York, but is originally from Cincinnati. Her work has appeared in Post Road, Pindeldyboz, and Gargoyle, among others, and has received several awards and mentions including two Pushcart nominations, a Glimmer Train Top-25 New Short Fiction designation, and, most recently, a Notable Story recognition in The Best American Nonrequired Reading 2012 anthology.  Three Squares a Day with Occasional Torture is Innis’s first book, about ordinary people with extraordinary problems. Christopher Allen described these remarkable stories by saying: “Humor is like a tight-rope made of razor blades. Some writers who try it come away with more cuts than it’s worth. Innis dances on razors. And she does this by being generous to her characters, indulging their whims, allowing them to be bizarre in their humanity, human in their absurdity.”

We’re so proud of our One Story Staff Debutantes! And we look forward to raising a glass to them on June 6th. Won’t you join us?