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?

Introducing 2013 Debutante: Manuel Gonzales

MiniatureWifeOn June 6th, at our 4th Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead-up to the event, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews about their debut book experiences.

This week we’re talking to Manuel Gonzales, author of the collection The Miniature Wife, published by Riverhead Books. The Miniature Wife includes the innovative story Manuel published with One Story, “Pilot, Co-Pilot Writer,” which tells the hilarious, strange and moving story of a writer trapped on a hijacked airplane–circling Dallas–for 20 years.

Gonzales is the Executive Director of the Austin Bat Cave, a great non-profit organization that offers writing classes for children and teenagers in Austin, TX. So it’s no wonder that his stories are chock full of wild creatures–unicorns, zombies, and even werewolves. As the LA Times said in their review of the book: “Manuel Gonzales is a writer who can’t wait for the next, magical thing to surprise him—so he makes them happen, in the big Texas sky of his abundant imagination.”

Your collection includes, “Pilot, Co-pilot, Writer,” which you published with us in One Story. What happened from when you published in One Story to when your first book was accepted?

I wrote that story in late 2004 and it was published in late 2005. I was in the middle of writing or trying to write a novel when this story was published, a novel that I spent maybe five years writing and rewriting, but that I could never pull together, regardless how many drafts I wrote. I was living in Houston, and then moved with my wife and daughter back to Plano, where we lived for a year at my parents’ house while I continued to work on the novel, and then we moved to Paris, TX, where I worked more on the novel, lost a job working from home, became, briefly, a high school English teacher, quit work on the novel, went back to stories I wrote during and right after grad school, tried to look for a book in them, wrote more stories to make them into a book, and then I, when I finally did, tried to find the right agent for them. So. Seven years and six novel drafts and nine new stories later, the book was accepted at Riverhead. 

Your collection showcases enormous imagination and inventiveness yet manages to remain grounded in story and the details of everyday life. How have you learned to exercise such restraint while working with wild ideas? How do you keep your concepts and premises from running away with things?

What helps keep these ideas from running away from the story I want to tell is that I’m mostly interested in the characters and the details of their every day lives, in how these lives must continue functioning in the face of the apocalypse or total body paralyzation or the purchase of a unicorn, how these things don’t ever really take away the deep-seated problems or concerns facing these people, their relationships with each other, and in fact might make them worse.

Do you write stories to explore ideas or do you come up with ideas in order to write stories? Is this a false binary?

I’ll plead the third (option). I do both. I’ll write a story based on an idea and sometimes I start a story without any idea but a character or a line in mind, and then as the story moves forward, I’ll recognize ideas I’ve explored in the past or that are new ideas but pretty clearly present in hindsight. Take “Pilot”. I had the idea while traveling a lot for work that I felt like I was on a plane constantly and that I wouldn’t ever not be on a plane and then played around the idea of how I would act or how a person would act if actually in that situation. But also a lot of what’s going on in this story—looking back at it now—there’s a strong sense of stasis, of circling, and looking back at that time—I had recently left New York and my circle of friends, had been having difficulties working with my literary agent, felt myself stuck in a distant and barren suburb of Houston, in a job that wasn’t fulfilling, was little more than work — I mean, looking back at that moment in my life, it’s almost more surprising that I didn’t write twenty stories about circling a city in an airplane.

Do your stories or characters ever surprise you? Has the writing of a particular piece caused you to view what you were writing about differently?

What’s usually surprising to me is that moment when the story becomes a story. Often I’ll have an idea or a character in a situation–trapped on a plane forever, told from the point of view of the zombie, the African continent sunk into the sea–but I won’t know very much else, won’t have a direction, won’t have a story itself, and I’ll put these characters through paces, or I’ll play around with language, and then I’ll write a line or a phrase–everything went dark, I got the notion I should steal this creature from them–and suddenly this weird, amorphous piece of writing I’ve been working on is suddenly a story, has a shape that I can see. Every time that happens, and every time it’s a surprise, a thrilling surprise.

Your collection features a number of pieces written in the style of a non-fiction profile and I’ve read elsewhere it’s one of your favorite forms to read as well. What is it about the non-fiction profile piece that piques your interest as a writer and as a reader? 

As a writer, I love the ability a person writing non-fiction has to simply lay out details of a person or a situation. There is no fictional trickery or obfuscation, no worry of show don’t tell with the nonfiction essay. That straightforward, declarative sentence is amazing fun to work with in fiction but you can’t usually get away with when writing a short story. I mean, nonfiction writers have the benefit of writing from facts, and so of course readers are going to be inclined to suspend disbelief because the intention is straight belief without any suspension. As a reader, I love the ability great nonfiction writers have of taking something so rigid and potentially anti-narrative as facts and crafting an affecting story out of them.

What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on June 6th?

Buying a kickass ball gown. It’s funny because the coming out party, or the debutante ball, is huge in Mexican culture, with the quinceañera, but that’s reserved just for girls, and also my parents didn’t really get into that when my sister and I were kids, but still. Here is my chance to horn in on that quinceañera action. Also, it’ll be a great party and a lot of fun connecting with good friends I don’t see often enough and making new friends with the other debs, and to do all of this and also help support an outfit like One Story Magazine makes the perfect kind of sense.

Introducing 2013 Literary Debutante: L. Annette Binder

rise_cover (415x640)On June 6th, at our 4th Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews about their debut book experiences.

This week, in our first installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with L. Annette Binder, author of Rise (Sarabande Books), a stunning collection, published in August 2012, that includes the story she published with One Story—“Nephilim”—which won a 2012 Pushcart Prize, and was later performed live on stage and later broadcast on the Public Radio Program, Selected Shorts.

The stories in Rise are fairy tales, except that the witch, lucky Hans, and the frog prince are all characters at the fringes of everyday life. There are rockets, swells of starlings, and children who disappear into thin air. These are stories where a man can be blind and still see the stars. L. Annette Binder writes magical tales with authority and restraint, and we believe her stories, every one.

1) How did you celebrate when you found out your first book was going to be published?

I got a voicemail on a Friday in May from Sarah Gorham at Sarabande Books saying she had a very important message for me but she was travelling and wouldn’t be able to get back in touch with me until Monday. That was a long, long weekend. I hoped it meant I’d won the Mary McCarthy Prize but I’m a little superstitious and didn’t want to jinx myself. When Monday finally came and I found out the good news, I celebrated over dinner with my husband and some L.A. Burdick chocolate mice. I have a wicked sweet tooth, and chocolate always plays a major role in every happy moment.

2) Your collection includes, “Nephilim,” which you published with us in One Story. What happened from when you published in One Story to when your first book was accepted?

It was only five months between “Nephilim” coming out and my collection getting accepted, but so much happened in those months. I found my agent Claudia Ballard, who had read the story and reached out to me. The same weekend I found out about the book I also found out “Nephilim” won a Pushcart. I credit One Story with so many of the good things that have happened with my writing over the last few years. One Story reaches a huge number of readers who are passionate about the form, and I still get kind notes from people who have read the story in a back issue or online.

3) During the editing of Rise was there any single piece of advice you received or perhaps remembered from earlier in your career that helped ease the process?

The folks at Sarabande were great during the editing process. They helped me winnow the collection while being receptive to what I was trying to do on a sentence level. In general, the writing advice that helps me during the revision stage is—be open to criticism, but trust your own instincts.

4) I’ve read that you are you are currently working on a novel that grew out of one of the stories in your collection, “Dead Languages,” which I loved. In general, how do you know when you are done with writing a story, or when you need to keep working on it? Would you say that revision is an overwhelming part of the process? Which story in your collection was the hardest to revise?

I usually know when a story is done by the feeling of relief that I have when I write the final scene. Revision is something I really enjoy, though I’m a slow writer—glacially slow—and I revise each sentence multiple times as I’m working on the first draft. By the time I have a completed draft and start revising, I’m usually looking less at prose rhythm and more at structural issues and adding beats where they’re needed.

Some stories, like “Nephilim,” went very fast and required little revision. Others were much more challenging. “Lay My Head” was the hardest to revise by far. I added beats and took some away, and the ending flipped several times—between the fairy tale beat and the current scene where Angela’s mother carries her to the car.

5) What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on June 6th, 2013?

Everything!  Meeting writers I admire, spending time with Michelle Latiolais, who has been a wonderful mentor to me, visiting New York, which always makes me saucer-eyed, and wearing a fancy dress.

Day 5 of the Workshop: All Good Things Must End

Yesterday tied together everything we have learned so far at the One Story Workshop. In the morning, writers had their final group workshops with Marie-Helene Bertino and Will Allison. Then, in the afternoon, we met for a craft lecture by Editor-In-Chief Hannah Tinti.

Hannah’s talk was on the business side of publishing. She discussed launching our writing careers by finding agents and submitting to literary magazines. The way to tell a piece is ready for the world, according to her? You have gone through a few drafts to get pitch-perfect prose, workshopped it, showed it to all your friends, teachers, and your pet turtle, taken their suggestions (if you feel they are right). When you get to a point where nobody you show it to agrees on what’s actually wrong with the piece, that means it’s pretty good. Obviously, no matter what, somebody somewhere is always going to find something they don’t like about it. It’s when all of the glaring, objective errors that everyone notices are gone that you have gotten it to a point where it is publishable. You can’t please everyone.

At that point, Hannah told us to send our piece to the top 10 literary magazines we’d like to see our piece published in, accepting probable rejection as inevitable as death and taxes. Good resources for literary magazines are or Poets & Writers magazine. When those rejections come in (or maybe you will get accepted at one! Yay!), send it to the next 10. And the next 10. And the next 10. Keep trying, and don’t take rejection personally. Hannah told us she sent in a story to 50 magazines until it got accepted, and the story ended up being one of the best in her collection Animal Crackers. In the case of acceptance, celebrate! Don’t just shrug it off – congratulate yourself for the accomplishment.

Hannah told us industry standards for submissions: 12-point, double-spaced format on one side each of plain white copy paper with a normal font, your name and contact information on the first page, and page numbers included. The cover letter (the purpose of which is to demonstrate that you are not crazy and show some writing experience, whether MFA programs, previous publications, or otherwise) should be on a separate page or the “Notes” section often included in online submission websites. She also told us of ways to continue our writing education with conferences, fellowships, literary volunteer gigs, and writing buddies.

After the lecture, we took a break and the workshoppers got dressed up to read their work. The writing presented ranged from shocking to hilarious to heartbreaking, and the styles were as varied as the personalities there. It was exciting to see it all coming to a close: after a week of hard work, the writers and staff were able to kick back and listen to some great stories.

We said a sad goodbye to the beautiful Center for Fiction and then headed over to Tricolore Trattoria, passing the diamond district on our way and giving the out-of-towners a chance to check out Times Square. At dinner we watched a slideshow that showcased the friends made, professional connections established, and lectures given over the course of the week. Then we all raised a glass and cheered. The One Story Summer Workshop is over, but hopefully, all the attendants will keep in touch with us and extend their new knowledge and relationships far into the future. We will miss you all!

One Story Workshop, day 4: Characters, Cats, Community

A colossal event of epic proportions hit New York today. It wasn’t zombies. It wasn’t The Derecho. It was the penultimate day of the One Story Workshop, and it was marvelous.

We began the day with delicious bagels, then proceeded to workshop. As seems to be the theme throughout the week, the authors in workshop were verbosely happy with the readings and advice they received.

Overheard at lunch: “I just want to go to my hotel now and write.” It was agreed by all surrounding that this sort of optimistic drive is the best possible feeling that a workshop can give.

After consuming heaps of falafel, we trekked onwards and upwards for Myla Goldberg’s craft lecture: “How To Fake It: Creating Characters That Don’t Seem Made Up.” Myla had asked us to read Aimee Bender’s odd, beautiful story, “What You Left In The Ditch” so we could discuss the elements at work. Myla, with wit, and wild vocal inflections, stressed the difference between creating a likeable character and an empathetic character, noting that the latter is more interesting. “It is your job as a writer,” she told us, with the tone of a manifesto, “to inhabit every single character you invent.”

Other gems of advice culled from the Q/A session included:

-Subtlety is a muscle that you develop over time.

-The more scenes you write, the more you get a sense of what a scene is.

-It’s okay to know that you need to fix something and not fix it right away.

-Write until you get stuck. Then go back and make corrections.

-Read your work out loud.

-Trust yourself. Follow your character around and be open to things.

After the lecture, we took a writing break, a wine-cheese break, and met again for the evening event: a reading by Joshua Henkin, director of the Brooklyn College MFA and author of Swimming Across The Hudson, Matrimony, and, most recently, The World Without You. Josh was introduced by Marie-Helene Bertino (his former student and one of our workshop leaders) before he read two excerpts from his most recent book. The novel tells the story of the first time a family has been together since a son was killed in Iraq. Heartbreak, comedy, and delicate hybrids of the two ensue as the family members’ habits and beliefs slam into each other.

Josh’s manner was open and honest—his presence allowed a sense of openness rare in post-reading Q/A. “We both create our stories,” he told us, somberly, “and are created by them.” While we basked in the sageness of his widsom, he cracked a joke. The discussion ranged from too-beautiful sentences to bad soap operas (hint: any plotline can become one, but no plotline has to be one) to showing other people our work. “When I first started,” he confided to us, “I couldn’t write a paragraph without showing my cat. I didn’t even have a cat.”

As the workshop hurtles toward its close, there’s a palpable sense of satisfaction in the Center For Fiction. We’ve heard great advice from marvelous people—people who live in the literary world that so many of us are climbing toward. It’s been inspiring, while also being a uniquely accessible experience. We’ve formed a literary community. It deepens in every workshop and during every meal, and strengthens with every craft lecture, panel and reading. In applying to this workshop, we have followed our passion, and with each day of attendance, we are learning together how to make a life out of it.

One Story Summer Workshop Day 3: Out Here in the Middle

Wednesday marked the middle of One Story’s third annual writers workshop, and as in any great story, the elements are coming together. Writers have spent great time and care with each other’s fiction in workshop, and the group continues to grow close. We were lucky to have another enriching day of programming with a craft lecture by Victor LaValle and an evening with a panel of editors from an array of exciting literary magazines.

Appropriately to the midpoint of our workshop week, celebrated author, Victor LaValle gave a lecture on structure entitled “What the Hell is Happening? Structuring Your Story.” I’m often bewildered by how rarely the subject of writers’ advice is handled methodically, with an eye toward maker’s skill rather than abstract theory, but the simple elegance of LaValle’s approach was indeed rare and enlightening. Using Samuel Fuller’s “The Deadly Circle” and Amy Hempel’s “San Francisco,” he demonstrated how to map the structure of any story, pulpy or literary, with an orderly arrangement of boxes and basic summary of present-action. In applying this technique to the draft of a story in-progress, LaValle emphasized the importance of balancing structure with discovery.

“If you plan everything all at once in the beginning, there’s nothing for you to discover, so there’s nothing for the reader to discover,” he reasoned. According to LaValle and the consensus of the classroom, a writer must find the surprises from experience. “As much as possible,” he told us, “if you’re writing about something, go do it.”

A lovely evening awaited in the company of three talented editors. Writers listened in on a panel comprising Patrick Ryan, One Story author and Associate Editor at Granta; Ronna Weinberg, Senior Fiction Editor at The Bellevue Literary Review; and James Yeh, Founding Co-Editor of Gigantic. All editors are also accomplished writers and offered valuable perspectives in their discussion. Moderated by our own Adina Talve-Goodman, panelists acquainted writers with their magazines and answered questions about the submission process, writing cover letters, how to get picked up from the slush pile and the editorial process among other useful wisdom.

As rich as the sequence of events has been this week, some of the magic happens in quiet moments between scheduled sessions. Writers have traveled from across the country and across the ocean to dedicate a place in their lives to the art we all love. In the hours between lecture and our evening panel, workshop writers and One Story staff set up in the beautiful meeting rooms on the sixth floor of The Center for Fiction to work. In the middle of one of the world’s busiest cities, I’m sure everyone present found something they were looking for in the magnificent silence of writers, editors and interns communing over the solitary yet entirely shared love of the work we do.