Miroslav Penkov’s Debut Collection: East of the West

We’re excited to share more good news about another One Story author, Miroslav Penkov (Issue #148: “A Picture With Yuki”)! Penkov’s debut collection of stories, East of the West: A Country in Stories, is a creation inspired by the eighteen years he spent growing up in Bulgaria (as well as the distinctive wit that grew up with him).

East of the West has already received great reviews that highlight Penkov’s notable sense of humor and his unforgettable characters. His devotion to the history, pain and exile of these characters helps lay the groundwork for intense but comical stories. The powerful plot turns and dramatic setting found in “A Picture With Yuki” are consistent throughout East of the West, assuring an intriguing read.

I encourage you to learn more by reading Penkov’s interview with himself (Parts One & Two) on his entertaining blog,  in which he tackles the question of “Why do you write?” as well as why interviewing oneself should never be socially acceptable. Example:

Interviewer (a.k.a Miroslav Penkov): “Why read when you can write your own?”

Interviewee (a.k.a. Miroslav Penkov): “This might be the stupidest thing you’ve said so far.”

Go here to learn more or to purchase East of the West.

Stiltsville selected for Oprah’s Summer Reading List!

stiltsvile coverWe’re so excited for OS author Susanna Daniel (#134 “Stiltsville“), whose novel Stiltsville has been garnering acclaim from all over the literary world.  Amazon.com called it “disarmingly good” and named it one of the top 10 debut novels for 2010, Barnes & Noble selected it for their Discover Great New Writers series, and Publishers Weekly called it “an exquisite debut…beautifully told.”

Oprah.com is the latest to feature Stiltsville by selecting it for the 2011 Summer Reading List. Daniel’s book “stands out due to its lovely, unexpected normalcy,” they wrote, though many others have noted it for its lush descriptions, honest characterization, and the quiet compelling power that certainly caught my attention when I first encountered Daniel’s work through One Story. You can check out her website here to see more about what critics are saying, learn more about her experiences as a writer, and see what she’s up to next. Congratulations, Susanna!

From the Trenches: Audio Books and the Experience of Listening

Each summer, One Story opens our blog to the interns in a section we like to call “From the Trenches”. Our first piece is by Abby Ryder-Huth, on the magic of reading work out loud. Don’t have someone to read to you? Then I’d suggest tuning in to Public Radio’s Selected Shorts to hear great short stories read by top actors of stage and screen. (Full disclosure: I recently joined this show as commentator/sidekick.) Go here to find your time/station or listen to free podcasts. -HT

NPR’s story last weekend about Alice Ozma’s book The Reading Promise caught my attention: every single night for almost nine years, from when she was in fourth grade up till her first day of college, Ozma’s dad read to her. Even on prom night. Taking a break in between hair-styling and corsage-pinning to pause and listen to a story is probably not what most people did before prom; reading aloud and being read to are things that seem to have been mostly written off for people without young children, who are themselves no longer young children. It feels kind of decadent to be read to now. You have to really listen, which at once is very easy and can be done almost anywhere, but also forces you to slow down and focus your attention on just the sounds of the language.

Storytelling too then manages to be a throwback to childhood/the world pre-printed book, while also being a (not so) innovative way for more people to experience more literature. Publishers Weekly recently took a look at the audio book industry (June is apparently Audio Book Month), which you can read about here. There’s an interview with celebrated audio book narrator Scott Brick that got me thinking how reading a story aloud really changes your own experience of it. Prose is usually not judged with the same criteria as poetry, but sound and rhythm can just as easily be crucial to a paragraph of fiction as to a stanza (for a very in-depth look at sonic sentence construction, check out Gary Lutz’s lecture, “The Sentence is a Lonely Place,” as printed in the Believer.) Reading “Tiger” on the train this morning, there were passages I wanted to read to the people around me, if only just to listen to how they sounded.

So if you have any favorite stories to listen to or read aloud, or thoughts on how hearing a story affects your experience of it, let us know—if a party ever gets too tiresome, reading a great story aloud is sure to make up for most of the dull ones.

Interview with 2011 Debutante, Jerry Gabriel

On April 29th, at our 2nd Annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating five 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 Jerry Gabriel, author of Drowned Boy (Sarabande), a harrowing collection that includes the story he published with One Story, “Boys Industrial School.”

Set in the hardscrabble borderlands where Appalachia meets the Midwest, Jerry Gabriel’s Drowned Boy reveals a world of brutality, beauty, and danger in the forgotten landscape of small-town basketball tournaments and family reunions. Selected by Andrea Barrett for the Mary McCarthy Prize in Short Fiction, these stories probe the fraught cusp of adulthood, the frustrations of escape and difference, and the emotional territory of disappointment.

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

In spite of the fact that the news came at a busy time—my wife and I were preparing to move to another state and trying to sell our house in the worst market since the Dust Bowl—we took a break, collected our friends, and repaired to a favorite Ithaca watering hole, where we made many, many toasts to, among other people, places and things, Sarabande Books and Andrea Barrett, who had judged the contest. It was of course fantastic news to learn of the book’s publication, but that Andrea, whose work I’ve long admired, had been the one to choose it was an incredible vote of confidence.

2) Your collection includes, “Boys Industrial School,” 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 had already published (or was in the process of publishing) many of the stories in the book in magazines when “Boys Industrial School” came out in One Story, but the response from that story was really of a different magnitude. For starters, people read it. I got emails about it from strangers. I heard from publishers, editors of other magazines. It’s how I was lucky enough to find my agent, Katherine Fausset. But the book was still some years off. During much of that time, I was writing a novel—it’s called Resurrecting the Single Wing and is a sequel of sorts to Drowned Boy—but I don’t think it’s an overstatement to say that the publication of “Boys Industrial School,” which I have to say Hannah Tinti helped me make approximately a thousand times better, was what got the ball rolling for the collection.

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

I took a class with Stuart Dybek in graduate school and over the years have thought a lot about many of the things that he had to say about writing and art. He’s a very smart guy. I remember him once saying about the creation of his own book, The Coast of Chicago—one of my favorite collections of all time—that early on he had these stories that obviously worked together on some levels but not on others, and that as he began to think of them as a single book, he worked very hard to give them, in addition to the punch of the individual stories, a comprehensive, singular effect. Basically, he sculpted a loosely defined larger story out of the individual stories, one in which place was the key element, but other features—characters and events—overlapped. I took his experience to heart when I began to think of Drowned Boy as a book. I jettisoned stories that didn’t quite fit. I revised others to work with the narrative arc I was constructing. I changed the point of view of one story—this with the help of my editor at Sarabande, Kirby Gann. And I have been really pleased with the cumulative effect of it all.

4) You were the recipient of the 2008 Mary McCarthy Prize, which in addition to a cash award, also includes publication of a book length manuscript. How has your life changed since winning this prestigious prize and what has it been like working with the folks over at Sarabande?

First things first: the people at Sarabande are the absolute best. In preparing the manuscript and getting the word out about the book, I have worked with everyone there—Editor-in-Chief, Sarah Gorham, Kirby Gann, Caroline Casey, and Meg Bowden, as well as two people who have since moved on, Jen Woods and Nickole Brown. These people are all ridiculously good at their jobs. I feel so lucky to have worked with them on this book. I couldn’t have scripted a better experience, seriously.

Since the book came out, life hasn’t changed a great deal, except that along with my wife, whose first book of poems came out in 2009, I have done quite a bit of traveling for readings. While we used to go to the Adirondacks or Argentina for vacation, lately we’ve gone to Ohio and Illinois. Which, I should say, has been really great.

5) What are you looking forward to the most about the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on April 29th?

Having myself a BULLDOG gin cocktail, naturally. And getting the chance to chat with so many talented writers.

For more information about Drowned Boy , check out Sarabande Books. Or read more about Jerry at his author website.

AWP Panels & Events You Must See

This year’s AWP Conference will be held in our Nation’s Capital. One Story will be at the book fair again this year, supporting our fantastic writers. As usual the conference offers an incredible amount of writers, discussions and panels. Here are just a couple panels which stuck out to me:

Beyond Print: Digital Directions in Literary Publishing. (H. Emerson Blake, Michael Archer, Jeffrey Thomson, Ram Devineni, Steven Lagerfeld) Digital media is often presented as a challenge for literary magazines and journals—an obstacle to be overcome. But digital media also presents dynamic opportunities for the world of good writing. This panel features the editors of five print, digital, or online-only publications—Guernica, Orion, From the Fishouse, Wilson Quarterly, and Rattapallax—that are using digital media to find new methods of expressing their missions and new ways of connecting with their audiences.

Filling the Void: Growing & Sustaining Literary Communities. (Jill Pollack, Christopher Castellani, Alix Wilber, Kyle Semmel) What is the beating heart of a city’s literary community? Writing centers across the country are doing more than filling a void: they are building vital links and opportunities to serve writers at all stages of their careers. Panelists from some of the largest centers in the country will share the successes and challenges of helping writers to study the craft, creating training grounds for MFA graduates to teach, developing reading audiences, and participating fully in a city’s cultural life.

Double Duty: Writers Who Work in the Publishing Industry. (Parneshia Jones, Randall Horton, Toni Margarita Plummer, Dan Bernitt) Join four accomplished writers who happen to be successful publishing professionals from the commercial, independent, and university press backgrounds. They will discuss the pros and cons of being on both sides of the literary coin, as well as how they have learned to make wiser decisions about their own writing careers while being responsible for publishing award-winning writers from all over the world. Get the inside writer’s view of the publishing industry.

Building the Literary Robot: The Lit Journal as New Media. (James Engelhardt, Scott Lindenbaum, Jurgen Fauth, Zach Dodson, Zachary Schomburg, Travis Kurowski) Lit has gone viral, adapted to fit Twitter feeds, iPhone apps, and social networks, and fashioned into flash animation for posting on YouTube. How do literary journals step into these new, far-reaching modes of publishing? What role will e-literature have in contemporary publishing and the teaching of creative writing? What will this mean to the traditional short story, poem, and essay? Writers and editors of online and print literary journals tell how they’ve explored new e-lit territory.

And for those of you who got stiffed on getting into Junot Diaz’s reading at NYU back in November (myself included) there is redemption ahead–the Pulitzer Prize-winning author will be reading at the conference, as will Jhumpa Lahiri, Mary Gaitskill, and others… See you there! Don’t forget to stop by the One Story booth and say hello.

Critics Rave about Ben Greenman’s “What He’s Poised To Do”

One Story author Ben Greenman (Issue # 113, “The Tremulant”) has published a new collection of stories that has literary critics buzzing. “What He’s Poised To Do” (Harper Perennial) has raked in shining reviews from several publications. The Los Angeles Times calls it “astonishing”; Bookslut proclaims it “a book so beautiful, you’ll feel mysteriously compelled to mail it to a stranger”; and PopMatters writes, “I want to run out onto the balcony of my apartment and yell from there how snazzerific, how terrificadelic, how ubertastic this book is.”

Finally, The Millions notes, “After reading What He’s Poised To Do, it’s almost baffling that Ben Greenman isn’t a full-fledged star…he exhibits such compelling mastery over the form and engages readers with compact, electrifying prose.” To read the rest of this review, visit their webpage.

Or, alternatively, you can read the stories yourself and see what has the critics raving! To learn more about Greenman or to share your own comments about his book, contact Gregory Henry at Harper Perennial.

The One Story Workshop for Writers…so far.

We’re at the beginning of day 5 of 6 for the One Story Workshop for Writers.

The workshop is designed to help emerging writers determine what will be the next phase of their writing journey.  On Sunday, we welcomed 11 excited and talented students to a jam packed week, one that Associate Editor Marie-Helene Bertino promised would “tire them out intellectually and physically so they spend the full day after its conclusion sleeping.”  Each morning they workshop their short stories, novel excerpts, short shorts and, in one case, prose poems with Marie-Helene. 

Every afternoon they have been treated to craft lectures with different writers.  Hannah Tinti kicked off the lecture series with a discussion about story structure in which she read aloud from “Cat in the Hat” and we all sat and listened like good little four year-olds before bed realizing, at last, that the little fish was right. Myla Goldberg encouraged everyone to take a walk and eavesdrop in order to build strong characters during her lecture. And yesterday One Story author Terese Svoboda (Issue #130: “Bomb Jockey”) stressed the importance of using contradictions to create energy, in her lecture on how to begin a story.

At night the tone changes as the panels of agents, MFA directors, and editors address questions of the business side of writing and publishing. The question driving the workshop has been: Are MFAs for me? I am happy to say that as someone who is always asking this question to my bank account and my writing, this workshop has been honest and illuminating.

Onto day 5: a lecture on dialogue with Allison Amend (Issue #13, “Stations West”), and a reading by Sam Lipsyte!

Terese Svoboda shows us how to create a powerful opening line.

MFA directors Josh Henkin (Brooklyn College) and Deborah Landau (NYU) talk about what they look for in an application.

Wilson’s Tunneling to the Center of the Earth

As we did last summer, we’ll be running our “From the Trenches” blog column through the fall, where our summer interns will have the opportunity to inform you on almost anything–beach reads, sewage, envelope stuffing, you name it. Below is a review of Kevin Wilson’s story collection, Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. For those of you keeping score at home, the collection won the Shirley Jackson prize last week. Enjoy!

From a fake granny, to a sorter of Q’s at the Scrabble Factory, to a big-toothed baby, to an agent at Worst-Case Scenario, Inc, Wilson’s characters captivate us with a sense of immediacy. All we have to do is listen.

And yet, each narrative, in its own discrete way, makes us, the readers, an integral part of Tunneling to the Center of the Earth. In his Q&A interview regarding “Worst-Case Scenario” (issue #42), Wilson revealed that one of his greatest challenges in writing is “embracing the ridiculous nature of the story without making the concerns of the characters ridiculous.” Clearly, he has risen to that task by placing his characters in situations that are at once fantastically bizarre and real; by creating strange realities that are microcosms of our “true” reality.

He explores the dead and disturbing, but with a comical flair that reminds us that laughter, or, at the very least, hope, can endure even in the most depressing set of circumstances.

The Blooms are Alright

I now turn the reins over to reader Chris Gregory, for a special Bloomsday post. Enjoy!

June 16th, or, as I like to call it, Bloomsday, the day on which the events of James Joyce’s Ulysses take place, has come and gone once more. I wrote a short post on it the summer I interned at One Story a few years ago. Yet, this Bloomsday more than others, it seems appropriate that we take some time to consider what many scholars consider to be the greatest novel of the 20th century, and perhaps ever. You see, a few days ago, the New York Times reported that Apple had required the creators of “Ulysses Seen,” a graphic novelization of Joyce’s epic, to remove panels from the comic containing a woman’s exposed breasts in order for their app version of the book to be accepted into the Apple app store.

This wasn’t necessarily a case of targeted discrimination on Apple’s part, but rather a result of company policy. Tipping our collective hats to wired.com, Apple CEO, Steve Jobs, has famously been quoted as saying “We do believe we have a moral responsibility to keep porn off the iPhone. Folks who want porn can buy and [sic] Android phone.” Jobs said this in addressing the controversy over Apple banning an app for viewing the work of Pulitzer Prize winning Cartoonist Mark Fiore. Apple has since rescinded Fiore’s rejection, and, before you get angry over the Ulysses ban, they’ve also rescinded their editorial notes to “Ulysses Seen,” according to an update from the Times.

Perhaps Apple realized the irony in censoring a book that was at the center of one of the most important obscenity cases in US legal history. If we’re to believe the novel’s Wikipedia page, in 1921 an issue of The Little Review containing the Nausicaa chapter, which depicts the main character, Leopold Bloom, masturbating, was declared obscene by a US court, resulting in the book being banned from the United States. In 1933, Random House tried to import a copy of the book from the UK and, when the book was seized by customs, contested the seizure. “In United States v. One Book Called Ulysses, U.S. District Judge John M. Woolsey ruled… that the book was not pornographic and therefore could not be obscene.” Some editions of Ulysses today contain a handy dandy copy of this decision for anyone interested.

Now, these two cases are a bit different. The 1933 decision was a confirmation of Ulysses’s protection under the First Amendment. The Apple app store, on the other hand, is a private club of sorts, and any woman who has ever tried to join the country club at Augusta can tell us that private clubs with discriminating membership requirements are also protected under the First Amendment. Furthermore, I don’t want this article to be a castigation of Apple, especially since they’ve made the correct decision in the end by letting the offending panels remain untouched. Rather, I think use this occasion to remember how lucky we are to have books like Ulysses, and maybe even take the time to read just a chapter or two. I’m proud to say that I’ve made it through the entire book, though I’ll admit it was required reading for a college course. I guess the moral of the story, for me at least, is that we should take comfort in this book that has overcome so many obstacles in the past to reach our nightstands. It’s good to know that what is beautiful in our world cannot be suppressed. So don’t worry for Poldy and Molly. They’ll be okay in the end. They always have been.

Author’s Note: I tried to quote as little from these articles as possible because I’d like the reader to actually click on the links and read the different articles. There’s a lot more pertinent information in each article. These people are paid to do good reporting, and I don’t want to undermine their efforts by giving away the best parts while depriving them of the page views.

Thanks and Thoughts from an Intern

This week I packed up my lunchbox, stamped my last envelope, scanned my last check, and bid the Old American Can Factory goodbye. My internship with One Story as an editorial assistant is ending, and I’m sorry to see it go. I’m off home for the summer, where I’ll be trying to do a bit of my own writing, now that I’ve been thoroughly impressed by the stories that come across my table and end up, tightened and polished, in One Story’s pages.

It’s been a great semester, getting the chance to see a story’s conception from draft to print. Take our most recent issue, #135, “Corporate Park” by Grant Munroe. It was especially exciting to hear that this story came to our editor Pei-Ling straight through the slush pile. After some back-and-forth, with new sections being written to strengthen the piece, “Corporate Park” was ready to go. I’ve interned at a few different literary magazines, but never with the others did I feel so strongly that a young writer could send a story with promise and get the personal attention needed to make it great.

Or take another story that is upcoming in our pages, “Number Stations” by Smith Henderson that involves ostriches, radio signals, and other slightly strange details. The moment Marie-Helene Bertino brought this one to an editorial meeting, she was excited about it. This was one of those rare stories that needed a little tweak here and there, but had come to us virtually perfect. As an intern, of course, I got to see the original submission, the margin notes of the editors, the underlining of particularly gorgeous phrases. Readers, you have something to look forward to with One Story’s next issue, and I got to see it early.

Then there were the things I got a chance to learn this semester that I didn’t expect to. I learned a lot about party-planning, from how many empanadas three hundred people will eat to planning raffles, art auctions and dramatic performances; I even tried my hand at bartending for a while during One Story’s Debutante Ball. I became a whizz at entering subscription information into the computer, so One Story, I thank you for your training in any future jobs in data entry that I take. Most of all, though, I enjoyed the weekly editorial meetings with all of One Story’s staff, talking stories, readings, and what One Story authors are accomplishing now. It’s exciting to hear about all these young talents breaking into the business, and I can’t help thinking that with a few more publications under my belt, I might get there as well.

So thank you, One Story editors, for giving me some terrific experience in the lit mag biz. And what color will the next issue be?