Believe This

“You are interesting. Your imagination, your perceptions, your emotions are interesting. What is closest to you is valuable for your art. Believe this.” Those are the words carved into the tombstone of Jerome Stern, one of the greatest writing teachers I ever had. When I read this quote—which I keep over my desk—I can still hear his voice and feel his determination to inspire others.

patrickI never could have written the nine stories in my new book, The Dream Life of Astronauts (or had the courage to revisit and revise them over and over again) if it weren’t for this kind of support from people like Jerome, who not only helped my sentences get stronger on the page but showed me the importance of being a part of community that values reading and writing.

With that in mind, I’m excited to share some of my own encouragement—with YOU—in One Story’s first-ever, online Book Class: Learning from The Dream Life of Astronauts.

A book class is a private, online book club—with perks!—for both readers and writers.  Sign up today (or any time between now and August 1st) and I’ll send you a signed, first-edition copy of The Dream Life of Astronauts. In addition to the book, you’ll also gain access to a three-day, interactive class where you’ll get the chance to chat with me directly, as well as fellow readers and writers. We’ll take an intimate look at the evolution of this story collection, I’ll share my ups and downs, and I’ll also give tips that will help you start to assess your own writing, with an eye towards turning that drawer full of manuscripts into your very own book one day.

In addition, the class will feature a special, bonus story of mine called “The Real Ones,” which isn’t included in The Dream Life of Astronauts but features the same setting and atmosphere.

I hope you’ll join me. The class runs from August 4th – 7th. Sign up here, and I look forward to seeing you there!

About One Story’s newest online class and how soap operas can unlock your writing

Karen 2As a Contributing Editor at One Story for the past six years, I’ve been privileged to work with many talented writers, including Megan Mayhew Bergman and Aria Beth Sloss, whose One Story issues both went on to be included in The Best American Short Stories, Jodi Angel, whose piece was chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories, and David James Possiant, whose story was part of his debut collection, The Heaven of Animals, a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize. Editing these authors has been a joy and taught me a great deal about the mechanics of writing and how it works. I know how to use my red pen to help bring fiction to its full potential on the page.

And yet, when it comes to my own writing I often have trouble. Besides my part-time editing job at One Story, I have two young children (ages 7 and 4). When I do manage to carve out an hour or two, the pressure to be productive can be overwhelming and I often find myself drawn away or too discouraged to continue. I suspect I’m not alone here. Whether it’s a job, an aging parent, school, or something else, there are always reasons to undercut our own writing time.

This five-day class is designed to ease the pressure we place on ourselves to be perfect, and to simply get back to having fun on the page again—through the always dramatic, often silly, totally over the top world of soap operas. While it’s easy to dismiss soaps as campy escapism, these daytime dramas tell stories that endure.

With classic soap clips as our guide, each day will contain a lesson, followed by a writing exercise designed to help you hone your skills—from building stellar openings and resonant endings to creating narrative arcs and memorable characters. As the NY Observer once declared (in an article about how literary authors such as David Sedaris and Frank McCourt were secretly watching soaps instead of working on their novels): “Writing can be dull work. The writing on soaps is everything but.”

A note from Marie-Helene Bertino on her upcoming spring workshop at One Story

BertinoPhoto1I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer since I was four years old and wrote my first earnest, terrible poem. When on late nights I ruminate on how that desire has influenced the shape of my life (the smallness of my apartment), I think mostly of the kind, brilliant people who paused their journeys to offer me advice or, at times, a strongly-worded pep talk. Anything I’ve been able to achieve has been because of these helpful souls.

Several years ago I decided to begin teaching because I finally felt I had something to bestow. I wanted to help newer writers by passing along the advice I’d received, and the advice I wish I’d received

One of the most important tools to cultivate is the ability to allow the constructive criticism of others make your work stronger. To that end, we will workshop stories with this question in mind: where do I think this writer/story is trying to go? We will tailor our critiques toward the idea of helping the writer get there. We will eschew the idea that there is one way to write fiction. We will seek out the joy in our work and the work of others and will cultivate our personal, idiosyncratic voices. 

If this sounds good to you, please join us for One Story’s Spring workshop. The workshop will meet weekly on Tuesdays evenings from February 23rd to March 22nd at the One Story Inc. office in Brooklyn. For more information and to apply, please visit the website

Join me for a winter workshop!

PR May 2015 AltI published my first short story twenty-five years ago, and my love for writing and reading them has only gotten stronger over the years. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that honest, constructive feedback from others is an invaluable part of the process. With that in mind, I hope you’ll consider joining me for One Story’s winter workshop.

Regardless of whether you’re working on a second or umpteenth draft of a short story, this workshop will provide you with helpful criticism and set you on a path for revising. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of fiction’s inner-workings, get to offer your own feedback to other writers, and become part of a close-knit literary community.

The workshop will consist of ten students and will meet weekly on Thursday evenings (Jan. 7th-Feb. 4th)  from 7pm to 9:30pm at our office in Gowanus, Brooklyn. I hope to see you there!

About One Story’s next online class and how to become your own best editor

Will PhotoIn the summer of 1996, a few months after I finished my MFA at Ohio State, I got the luckiest break of my writing career: I landed an editorial job at Story, the fabled literary magazine that prided itself on discovering great new writers, from J. D. Salinger and Carson McCullers in the 1930s and 1940s to Junot Díaz and our own Hannah Tinti in the 1990s.

I say it was the luckiest break of my career because even though I’d been writing fiction for eight years, editing stories taught me how to write them much better. My job at Story also gave me insight into what I could expect when the day came that I’d be working with an editor myself.

In this latest incarnation of our popular editing course, you’ll get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process. You’ll also learn to bring the same sharp editorial eye to your own work that the editors of One Story bring to each issue. Daily online lectures will guide you through a case study of a One Story debut, issue #191, “Claire, the Whole World,” by Jonathan Durbin. You’ll follow the story from first draft to publication—studying actual marked-up manuscripts—as the author and editors work together to make the story the best it can be.

In addition to drafts of “Claire, the Whole World,” the ten-day course (November 13th – 22nd) will include daily online lectures, assignments, and a message board where you can share ideas and manuscripts with other writers who are committed to becoming better editors of their own work. To find out more about this course, go here. Deadline to sign up is November 13th.

I hope you’ll join us!