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 duotrope.com 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.

Day 2 of the One Story Workshop: To MFA or Not to MFA? That is the question.

Yesterday was the second day of the week all of us at One Story have been waiting for. My internship thus far has been two months of craziness, love, and a lot of hard work, and whispers of the workshop at the end of the summer have been filling me with anticipation since I found out about it back in October. The week is finally here and it feels surreal – writers, agents, educators, and editors have been swarming the Center for Fiction like book-lovers at a library.

After a catered breakfast, students broke down into their individual workshops, taught by One Story contributing editor Will Allison and former contributing editor Marie Helene-Bertino. Then, after lunch, we all gathered on the 6th floor to listen to Simon Van Booy talk about character, point of view, and more character. A fine British gentleman and the author of The Secret Lives of People in Love and Everything Beautiful Began After, Simon charmed us all with his quips and his accent. He told us creating a character in the first person point of view is so involved that it becomes like method acting. In every real life situation you encounter, you must ask: what would Polly or Victor or Leo the Leopard do? As Simon says, get your feet wet!

Simon also told us about the importance of flat characters to offset round characters and provide humor. “Flat characters are the unsung heroes of characterization,” he said, and discussed how Shakespeare was a master of flat characters. The drunken gatekeeper in Macbeth provided comic relief when Duncan was dying upstairs. In Camus’s The Stranger, Mersault’s overly violent neighbor Raymond allows him to give his own life philosophy without just plopping it in the book.

Later, at the evening cocktail hour and panel, we had the opportunity to hear about MFA programs. Representatives from Sarah Lawrence, Warren Wilson, Vermont College, and Manhattanville College told us what we get out of an MFA, how to choose one, how to get into one, and how to pay for it. Some MFA advice from the pros:

  1. There’s no rush to do an MFA at a certain time of your life – right after college, for example. Go when you have time for it and are burning to write, as they say.
  2. When choosing writing samples, send those that reflect the style of writing you wish to develop, not necessarily what you think they want to see. That way you will end up in a program that will encourage your personal voice.
  3. Writing sample advice #2: Pick two or three different pieces. If one is absolutely terrible, maybe the second will redeem you.
  4. Tenacity and persistence is impressive, as long as every reapplication demonstrates some growth.
  5. When in the MFA program, get the most out of it by putting your writing before your part-time job, volunteer work, or internships.
  6. But still involve yourself in those things. They will help you make connections you might need to find a job in the publishing world or get your own work out there.
  7. When faced with a should-I-or-should-I-not situation, remember that whether or not you choose to do an MFA, the agony and joy of the writing life is available to you whenever you decide to pick up the pen and paper.

And so it begins: One Story Summer Workshop, Day One

Twenty writers, eight staff members, five panelists, two instructors, one craft lecturer, and an infinite supply of cheese descended upon Manhattan’s Center for Fiction today. This can only mean one thing: the One Story Summer Writers’ Workshop is back in full swing.

This is the third year that One Story has hosted our own workshop, and it is already off to a great start, thanks in part to our friends at the Center for Fiction who have welcomed us into their fabulous space. The week will feature small group workshops, craft lectures by award-winning authors, and panelists from literary agencies, publishing companies, and MFA programs. After this morning’s workshops, led by Marie-Helene Bertino (past Associate Editor of OS) and Will Allison (current OS contributing editor), we were thrilled to hear Ann Napolitano, author of A Good Hard Look and Within Arm’s Reach, give a craft lecture on the art of description. She highlighted nine key points about description, including the importance of specificity, the usefulness of nouns and verbs in place of adjectives, and the significance of word choice, quoting Mark Twain: “The difference between the right word and the almost right word is the difference between lightning and a lightning bug.”

Next, we were each given the opportunity to do our own describing when Ann passed out a variety of odd fruits and told us to write about them using the five senses. After getting up close and personal with what looked like a fuzzy green oyster, I eventually compiled a nice list of sentences from the exercise (though I still have no idea what fruit I was actually describing. A rare cousin of the peach? Perhaps.).

After breaking for dinner, the writers reassembled for a panel of five literary agents: PJ Mark, Julie Barer, Jim Rutman, Julie Ferrari-Adler, and Renee Zuckerbrot. The panel helped to answer questions about getting an agent and offered their own stories from the publishing industry. While the world of agents has always seemed quite mysterious to me (I half-expected them to come in wearing tuxedos and sunglasses reminiscent of Will Smith’s attire in Men in Black), the panel helped to clear up most of my confusion. So, what is it that agents look for? The conclusion, it seemed, was unanimous: everybody’s looking for love. Each agent really wants to fall in love with a manuscript, and once they do, they’ll be the writer’s biggest advocate, establishing that necessary link between writer and publisher. Love, though, is hard to find, and it’s up to the writer to make a good first impression. When we all seemed a little down-trodden after hearing how difficult it is to catch an agent’s attention, PJ Mark reassured us: “All agents are optimists. You have to remember that we are all eager to see your work.” After the panel, we had the opportunity to converse over wine and cheese, connecting with the agents one-on-one (and maybe even mustering up the courage to pitch them our novels).

It was a lovely first day at the Center for Fiction, and we cannot wait to hear craft lecturer Simon Van Booy and the panelists from various MFA programs. Stay tuned for more updates!

Introducing Our Debutantes: Anna Solomon

Our next literary debutante is Anna Solomon, author of the novel The Little Bride, which Bookpage called: “A fascinating debut… riveting… Solomon’s prose is bold and often gritty, and she creates complicated, surprising characters that completely defy expectations, displaying the depths of the author’s careful research and rich imagination.” Before Anna walks down the aisle at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball, we sent her a few questions about her debut author experience:

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

I was in a used kids’ clothing store with a friend and our toddler daughters. It was Friday afternoon and I’d been waiting all week for news from my agent. I was beginning to despair that I’d have to get through another weekend on pins-and-needles, and then the call came. I felt dizzy, ecstatic, relieved, then totally exhausted. On the way home my friend bought a bottle of champagne and we toasted while the girls drank juice.

2) One Story published your story “What is Alaska Like?” in April, 2006. What has happened to you since then? Did anything interesting transpire between your appearance in One Story and the publication of The Little Bride?

Gosh, I hope so. Six years without anything interesting happening? Writing-wise, I started playing around more with my stories, taking new risks in terms of structure and point-of-view. I actually wrote one story, called “The Long Net,” that’s kind of a retake of “What Is Alaska Like?” Of course, I didn’t realize this until after I’d written it. And it’s not the same story. But in a lot of ways I was revisiting and refining the themes from the earlier one. I guess we do this throughout our writing lives. Anyway, that story won The Missouri Review Editor’s Prize last year – hopefully some day they’ll both be in a collection and people can compare and accuse me of plagiarizing myself.

On a personal level, I had my first child, and now I’m expecting my second. So that’s been interesting, too – to say the least.

3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers currently working on a book-length manuscript?

I think it’s accurate to say that revising The Little Bride took longer than writing it. By revising I mean rewriting, on every level – from starting individual sentences anew to creating whole new backstories for characters. I’m lucky to have a few very smart, honest readers, and I went through many drafts before the book was submitted to publishers. Then I was lucky enough to have an editor, Sarah Stein, who really edited my book in what I guess is now the old-fashioned sense of the word. We worked through two full revisions and then there were copyedits. So it was thorough, and the book is much better for that. I think I was prepared for this because I’d been working on – and revising – my short stories for years. Most of my stories are many years old before they see the light of day. I guess I’d urge patience. And I’d remind writers that much of what they’re writing in their first drafts won’t wind up in the final – so don’t get too attached or precious. Just go for it.

4) On your website, you write that The Little Bride is a love story “set against the real historical backdrop of the Am Olam movement, a little known Jewish-American experiment in the 1880s and 90s.” What did you find challenging and/or rewarding about turning your research on the Am Olam movement and its era into fiction?

First off, I still have a hard time calling The Little Bride a “love story.” But that’s for another conversation. As far as Am Olam goes, I’d never written fiction set in the past before I wrote The Little Bride. (That’s what I called it, by the way, “this book I’m writing that happens to be set in the past,” not “historical fiction.”) I found the research came pretty naturally – in general I let the story come first and tell me what it was I needed to know, so I didn’t spend a lot of time researching things I wasn’t interested in, or that weren’t important to the book. When I teach “historical fiction” now, I find this is where writers get hung up the most. They can’t stop researching. Then they wind up with libraries of material that don’t actually belong in their story. And they have to struggle with letting it go. I like to work the other way around: discover my story, then learn what I need to know to tell it. Of course, there are different types of historical fiction. The next book I’m writing is much more tied to the social and political movements of the time period (it’s set in the 20s, against Prohibition and strong anti-immigrant sentiment) so that’s presenting new challenges.

5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?

The people! I went to the first ball, a couple years ago, and just loved the celebratory, joyous, generous mood in the room. It’s an amazing event for an amazing magazine that’s become an important literary institution. I felt honored when One Story published my story six years ago, and I’ve continued to feel supported by Hannah and Maribeth and the entire One Story team. You do more than publish one story every three weeks (though that would be enough) – you also create a strong, vital community, and as any writer can attest, we need that.

Introducing Our Debutantes: Miroslav Penkov

In our new installment of “Meet the Debutantes”, (in preparation for our Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th), we’re speaking with Miroslav Penkov, author of East of the West: A Country in Stories, a fascinating and witty collection that includes the story he published with One Story, “A Picture With Yuki.”


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

I was spending the summer in Bulgaria when my agent emailed to say we’d received two offers on the book. A couple of weeks later (I was back in Arkansas by then) we received two more. We considered everything carefully and decided to go with Farrar, Straus and Giroux. What this beautiful story of triumph fails to reflect though, are the months of waiting, rejection, rewrites, more waiting, rejection and rewrites before the four offers were made.
I don’t remember celebrating in a special way. I just thanked Providence and tried to ready myself for the rewrites that my editor had explained would be necessary.

2) Your collection includes “A Picture With Yuki,” which you published in with us in April, 2011. What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and publishing East of the West: A Country in Stories?

The book came out in July, so not much happened in those two months. I spent them in Bulgaria, translating or I should probably say rewriting the stories in Bulgarian. As I had expected, the translation proved a real breeze; it did not take up the whole summer, nor did it stretch well into October; it did not depress me terribly, but brought me only joy and filled me with wondrous and positive energy.

3) What was the revision process like for you? What advice would you give to writers about turning a group of individual stories into a book-length manuscript?

I tell my students, and through my students I tell myself, that writing is rewriting. That’s not to say that every time I sit down I don’t hope, secretly, to write something perfect, something I wouldn’t have to change. But honestly, where’s the fun in that? How else would you get to know the people you’re creating if not by spending more time with them on the page and in your heart?
It took me, roughly, a year a half of rewriting before I could get the stories in my book to a place that made both me and my editor happy. Not a single story remained as it had been when we’d signed the contract. I threw some stories out, wrote and added new ones. But in the end, despite the pain, sweat and frustration, or actually precisely because of them – the book was the best book I could write. Even if my life depended on it (and who’s to say it didn’t?) I could not have done any better.

4)  East of the West: A Country in Stories brings to life the tumultuous history of your home country, Bulgaria. What kind of research went into this collection, and how does your own ancestry play into your work?

It’s safe to say I’ve been researching this book since August 21, 1982. And even before that. Because is there research more valuable than the research your blood has done, one century after another? I believe that blood possesses its own memory and its own voice; the kind of memory and voice that no amount of document-reading, note-taking, people-meeting can give you.

5) What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 20th?

I’m looking forward to meeting Ms. Hannah Tinti and thanking her for publishing my story, for being so kind. I look forward to meeting the rest of the One Story staff, the other debutantes… If possible, I would even like to meet my editor and some other people at FSG who worked very hard on my book.

Introducing our MC, Jonathan Coulton!

One Story is happy to announce that singer-songwriter and all-around internet sensation Jonathan Coulton will be our host for this year’s Literary Debutante Ball! Coulton has been a part of the One Story family since the very beginning; he was one of the 150 people at our launch party ten years ago. Since then, Jonathan has become wildly famous for, among other things, his folk songs about geek culture, such at “Code Monkey” and his hilarious cover of Sir Mix-a-Lot’s “Baby Got Back.” His most recent album, Artificial Heart, was released this past September, and on June 2, 2012, he will perform at New York’s Gramercy Theater as part of his upcoming U.S. tour. Find out more at Jonathan Coulton’s website.

Tickets for The Ball are going fast so don’t forget to buy yours!