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!

Introducing Our Debutantes: Katherine Karlin

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we’re interviewing each author about their debut book experiences. This week, we had the pleasure of speaking with Katherine Karlin, author of Send Me Work, a captivating collection that includes the story she published with One Story, “Muscle Memory.”

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

We had a visiting author at Kansas State, Dana Johnson, whom I knew from USC where I’d done my graduate studies.  It was a very successful event, and after her reading a bunch of us went to a bar to hang out with Dana for a while.  I got home in the early evening, full of beer, food and companionship, and I lazily checked my email to find the note from my agent that Northwestern University Press would publish my short story collection.  It was a lovely end to an absolutely lovely day.

2) Your collection includes “Muscle Memory,” which you published with One Story in April, 2008. What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and publishing Send Me Work?
Quite a lot.  When One Story published “Muscle Memory” I was living in Los Angeles, working towards my PhD.  By the time Send Me Work came out I was teaching at K-State.  So I went from grad student life to faculty life, and I’d moved from Los Angeles to the town of Manhattan, Kansas.  I wrote a novel in that time, and established my relationship with my agent, Barbara Braun.  I got my first house, and I got my dog.  He’s a Kansas dog.  A rescue.

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?
The revision process was fairly painless.  Most of these stories had been published and I got great advice along the way from some wise editors, Hannah Tinti having been the most rigorous of them all.  Northwestern thought we needed one more story to round out the collection, so I wrote a new one, “Geography,” which is the final story in Send Me Work.  I wrote it the summer that BP was spilling oil into the Gulf of Mexico, and that disaster haunts the narrative.

My stories are not linked by character or setting, but they are linked by the theme of work, and this motif evolved naturally for me.  It is just what interests me, as a writer.  I’m not very big on romance or on domesticity.  Some of the tightest connections I’ve made in my life have been with co-workers, and I wanted to explore those close bonds in my fiction.  So the theme kind of presented itself, and I realized after writing and publishing several short stories that I had a collection.

4)  Many of the stories in Send Me Work have women doing unusual jobs (like welding in “Muscle Memory”). What kind of research went into this collection, and how do your own work experiences play into your stories?

Many of the stories are drawn from my own work experience, particularly the stories that are set in oil refineries.  I worked in a Delaware Valley refinery for several years, and I worked along the Houston Ship Channel.  Like Destiny in “Muscle Memory,” I had a job in the toolshed of a Louisiana shipyard, where I learned how to weld.  I think these experiences helped give a certain depth to the settings, the descriptions of work, and to the characterizations, even though none of these stories is autobiographical.  I also tapped the expertise of my friends.  For “The Severac Sound,” I used everything I learned over the years from Philadelphia Orchestra oboist Jonathan Blumenfeld, whom I’ve known since we were in our teens.  Jane Harris, who is a railroad engineer for New Jersey Transit, taught me a few things about the railroad.  I have pretty interesting friends.

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

I’m most looking forward to meeting the other writers whose work I admire, and to seeing my good friend Bonnie Nadzam, the author of LAMB, who has been a mentor to me in so many ways.  I’m proud to have her present my debut.

Introducing Our Debutantes: Megan Mayhew Bergman

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we’re introducing our Debutantes through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.

This week features a true Debutante: Megan Mayhew Bergman‘s book, Birds of a Lesser Paradise, just came out last week! It is a mesmerizing collection that includes the story she published with One Story, “Housewifely Arts.”

1) Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?
I was jogging, pushing my 2-year-old in a stroller on a dirt road down by the Battenkill River. It was November and I was 8 weeks pregnant.  My agent, Julie Barer (a wonderwoman!), called me.  I was getting terrible reception, so I packed up and drove to a church parking lot and parked by an old cemetery, where Julie gave me the news of the probable deal.  I cried, probably thought about throwing up (morning sickness and extreme excitement are a lethal pair), then came home and danced with my husband in the kitchen.

2) Your collection includes “Housewifely Arts,” which you published with us in November, 2010 (it later went on to be included in Best American Short Stories). What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and publishing Birds of a Lesser Paradise?
What has happened to me?  Hmm.  No new super powers or shape shifting abilities or anything cool like that.  I had my second daughter.  We bought my husband’s childhood home from his father, painted the inside, and put up all our thriftstore-chic pieces among the existing antiques and baby gear.

Writing-wise, I started a novel and began teaching literature at Bennington College.

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?

The revision process was great; I like to revise.  There were enormous stacks of scribbled-on manuscripts on my desk, on the kitchen counter, in my diaper bag.  Every now and then a page would get a crayon mark or coffee spilled on it.  Dog hair is on everything I own, including edited manuscripts, and probably anything I sent back to Scribner (Sorry, guys).

Revising needs to be savage and you need to walk away with some scars and dirty manuscripts to feel like you did a good job.  You abandon yourself to it.

As for turning a group of stories into a book-length manuscript, I think you know when the material is there.  Readiness of the work itself is the first battle; coherence for a collection is the second.  Most of us have thematic obsessions, or a consistent voice/narrator—the things that link stories together for a collection are often already in place in a body of work.

4) Many of the stories in Birds of a Lesser Paradise hinge on the question of home, as well as animals and their place in our lives. How do your home in Vermont and your own animals play into your work?
Birds of a Lesser Paradise is my therapy session with myself.  I was going through so many changes when I was writing these stories:  marriage, fertility questions, motherhood, my working life, the first signs of aging, moving away from my family in the south to my husband’s hometown in Vermont, homesickness, and grieving (my mother-in-law passed away just two weeks after my first daughter was born).

For example, the story “Yesterday’s Whales” is me working out my urge to have children despite significant environmental concerns.  In “The Cow that Milked Herself” the husband, who is a vet, gives his wife an ultrasound with the same equipment he uses on dogs (this really happened).

My animals and town make rogue appearances in the works. I had my spaniel Betsy in mind when I wrote the father’s dog in the title story “Birds of a Lesser Paradise.”  “Night Hunting” features a Christmas party like the one we attend annually, and an abandoned orchard like the one right up the hill from our house.

I occasionally use a real problem or setting for an anchor when I begin a story, but by the time the story is finished, it’s often 5 percent reality and 95 percent imagination.  Writers get into trouble this way.  People often ask me about the veterinarians in my work – are they my husband?  For the record – no, they aren’t.  Do I steal things that come out of his mouth? Yes, totally.  There is a certain beauty and exoticism to his medical jargon, the sparkle in his eye when he talks about running his scalpel through a body to solve a problem or save a life.

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

I am looking forward to two things:
1.  Spending time with my date, Amy Hempel, who is kind and brilliant.  People may think we are discussing literature, but we are probably talking about how to clean dog ears or trading rescue stories.

2.  Celebrating with Karen Seligman, who edited my piece at One Story, and a few after that, and became not just a trusted editor, but a friend.

Introducing Our Debutantes: Caitlin Horrocks

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.

This week, in our second installment, we had the pleasure of speaking with Caitlin Horrocks, author of This is Not Your City, a mesmerizing collection of short stories published by Sarabande in June 2011.

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

Sarah Gorham, the editor at Sarabande, called me. I was living with friends for a few months while I guest-taught for a semester at Arizona State University. I ran out to the living room to tell them and we went out to dinner. As we ate, they were saying, “This isn’t the actual celebration, right? This is just dinner. We have to do something more exciting later.” But dinner was fine by me—much of what I was feeling was just relief, along with elation. The book had been accepted for publication once before, and then that publisher shut down. This time around, there was excitement, but also the feeling of a weight being lifted.

2) In January, 2011, your story “Life Among the Terranauts” was published in One Story. What happened to you between then and the debut of This Is Not Your City?

I’d actually just started writing “Life Among the Terranauts” when my book manuscript was accepted, and the copyediting was nearly complete when the story came out. So it didn’t make it into the book. That’s resulted in some Goodreads reviews about how my book is good, but would have been even better if it included “her awesome Terranaut story from One Story.”

To echo something I know many other One Story authors have commented on, the magazine’s format means that people actually read your one story. I loved hearing from people who enjoyed the piece and took the time to tell me so.

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?

This will sound disingenuous, but my advice is to not worry too much about it. I wasted a lot of time and mental energy worrying over whether my book-length group of stories was really a book: were the stories cohesive enough? How could I make them more cohesive? Why would I even want to attempt that when much of what I love about short stories is reading and writing really disparate voices and places?

I shouldn’t have worried so much. Editors and readers have found plenty of connective tissue in this book, even things I hadn’t thought of as themes or obsessions. My book was a book all along.

4) The stories in This Is Not Your City are remarkably diverse in terms of setting and subject matter – one is written in the voice of a Russian mail-order bride on her way into Finland, for example, and another takes place in the Gulf of Aden, where Somali pirates hijack a cruise ship. What kind of research went into this collection, and how do your own experiences play into the fiction you write?

I’ve spent time in Finland, but I haven’t spent time on a cruise ship, or with pirates. There’s a blend of personal and researched experience throughout the book, and hopefully I’ve made them both seem real. The autobiographical material in my fiction is almost always some hacked up potato pieces in a much larger stew. They float alongside pieces of research that I perhaps shouldn’t admit are Googled, but often are. Even when the research is casual, I love the hunt for the exact right fact, or just the useless fact I find so interesting that I file it away in hopes of using it later. I have a lot of those.

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

I’m most looking forward to the second hour or so, when I look around and see that I didn’t wear the entirely wrong thing, and can relax. Other than that, I’m very excited to meet the other debutantes.

Introducing Our Debutantes: Ramona Ausubel

On April 20th, at our 3rd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will celebrate seven One Story authors who have published their debut books over the past year. As a lead up to the event, we thought it would be a fun idea to introduce our Debs through a series of interviews on their debut book experiences.

This week, in our first installment, we have the pleasure of speaking with Ramona Ausubel, author of No One is Here Except All of Us, a dazzling first novel about a small Jewish village re-imagining their world.

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

I was on my way to New York  for the One Story Ball two years ago (this is actually my second time around as a debutante!).  My agent had sent the manuscript out a couple of days before and I had been biting my nails.  I was in the Albuquerque airport when he told me we had interest, in the Baltimore airport when he told me we had an offer and in front of Citarella on 75th and Broadway when he told me the deal was done.  I have extremely fond feelings towards those unlikely locations now.  I was with my sister and my husband when that last call came and we found the nearest bar and had a glass of champagne.  A couple of days later, I got to hear John Hodgman announce me and my book deal at the Debutante Ball.  What could be better than that?

2) In July, 2008, your story “Safe Passage” was published in One Story. What has happened to you between appearing in One Story and the debut of No One is Here Except All of Us?

Having that story in One Story changed everything for me.  I got a bunch of emails from agents and editors, which made the whole prospect of finding a home for my story collection and novel much less impossible-seeming, although the novel wasn’t nearly finished yet, so it took a while before I could make use of those contacts.  Eventually I went out to New York and met with some of the people, including an editor at Riverhead who ended up sending the collection to an agent she loved.  Happily, he loved the book and waited patiently while I finished the novel.  Fast-forward to the Citarella window.  Since then, I’ve been working on new stuff, which I hope, will eventually turn into another novel and another collection.  In non-publishing news, I had my first baby in November.

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

I think my advice (and I have to remind myself of this all the time) is to have fun.  Having a book published has been terrific and I’m so, so grateful for it, but the real imprint on my life was made by the years I spent writing the thing, not by the flash of having it enter the world.  I guess the idea is to take pleasure in the work itself rather than worrying all the time about finishing it.  No One is Here Except All of Us took eight years and seventeen drafts to complete.  Only five of those weeks were spent writing a first draft (a terrible, crazed first draft).  One percent of the time I was starting the book, one percent of the time I was finishing it and the rest of the time I was in the middle. Basically, I’m reminding myself to enjoy the middle, because that’s where you live most of the time you’re writing a book.

4)  No One is Here Except All of Us puts a magical spin on real-life events. What kind of research went into this novel, and how does your own family history play into your work?

Stories from my family provided the original seeds for the book.  I grew up with legends about my great-grandmother and her children surviving on tree bark in the wilds of Romania during WWI while her husband was a prisoner of war in Italy, where he was having the time of his life (he was reported to say later, in his thick yiddish accent, “the vether vas varm, the vimen vas varm…”).  These were the stories I had in my head, but they seemed impossible.  How could they be true?  I began writing the novel to answer that question–my job was to create a world in which such stories could be real.  For many drafts, my imagination was my only source.  Much later in the process, I did a lot of research so that I could situate my invented world within history, within the Jewish religion and within the tradition of folktales. Though I was writing fiction, I felt like I had found some kind of truth.

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

I’m most looking forward to seeing lots of friends.  It’s also likely to be by far the latest I will have stayed out without my son since he was born, which will probably be weird and magnificent, in equal parts.

PEN 2011 Writing Awards Announced

writing

Last week the PEN American Center announced its 2011 awards. We’re so excited that the winners included three members of the One Story community.

Susanna Daniel (“Stiltsville” #134) was one of two winners of the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize (worth $25,000) for an excellent debut work of fiction for her novel Stiltsville. Smith Henderson, author of One Story issue #136 “Number Stations,”  won The Emerging Writers Award, a new prize which honors a writer who has been published in a literary journal, but has not yet published a book-length work. Former One Story contributing editor Elliot Holt, nominated by Guernica magazine, was named the runner up for this award.

We’d like to thank PEN for their continued extraordinary support of writers at all stages in their careers. We congratulate Susanna, Smith, and Elliot, and all of this year’s winners and runners up who will be honored at the 2011 PEN Literary Awards Ceremony on October 12, 2011, at CUNY Graduate Center’s Proshansky Auditorium in New York City.

You can see the full list of winners and runners up here. We hope you’ll join us in October to toast them all.