One Teen Story Issue #68: Ethan Luk’s “The Frame Between Us”

As the end of the year approaches, it’s time for us to publish the third and final winner from One Teen Story’s 2020 Teen Writing Contest. With over 450 entrees to read and consider—the most we’ve ever received—our goal was to pick an outstanding story in each age category: 13-15, 16-17, 18-19. The task wasn’t easy because there’s a tremendous amount of talent out there among our teen writers, but tough choices had to be made.

The winner in the 18-19 category is “The Frame Between Us” by Ethan Luk.

This is a story about friendship and loveship, artistic ambitions and insecurities, and those last moments of high school when you feel the world you’ve built around yourself begin to crumble. Nothing gold can stay. Nothing young can stay young forever. And nothing innocent, when pushed out into the world, can remain innocent for very long. Ethan Luk has his finger on the pulse of this massively transitional period in a teen’s life, and he’s written a story that beautifully—and precisely—renders its challenges and its quiet rewards.

We hope you enjoy “The Frame Between Us.” To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

One Story Issue #284: Rémy Ngamije’s “The Seven Silences of the Heart”

Our final issue of the year was acquired and edited by contributing editor Maaza Mengiste, so the honor of introducing it to you is hers. Here’s Maaza! — PR

It’s not every day that I find myself on unsteady, exhilarating ground when reading a story, but this is what happened when I encountered Rémy Ngamije’s genre-defying and poignant “The Seven Silences of the Heart.” This story is about many things, and I’ll let him explain to you what it means to him. To me, it was an elegy and something altogether new—a genre that evaded categorization to be something wholly its own. I recognized the stories of exile and longing, of grief and love woven through its pages, but there was more, and it was riveting.

What does it mean to be born after a sibling who has died? What burdens and responsibilities do the living carry when walking down a path first forged by the dead? These are some of the questions this story challenges us to consider. Yet, the writer at work in these pages is also irreverent, with a wicked sense of humor and a strong awareness of the fantastical that exists in even the most devastating moments, and that makes this story something distinct.

It is my sincere pleasure to welcome you to the striking and powerful writing of Rémy Ngamije, and to “The Seven Silences of the Heart.” What you will find in these pages is a startling and rebellious imagination moving into territory you did not know existed.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

One Story Issue #283: Carrie R. Moore’s “Naturale”

Our new issue was procured and edited by contributing editor Karen Friedman, so I’m happy to hand the mic over to her to make the introductions. Here’s Karen on why “Naturale” is such an awesome story. — PR

“Naturale” by Carrie R. Moore, begins with a betrayal. When we meet the main character, Cherie, her husband has just confessed to an affair. Cherie doesn’t shout or throw her coffee in his face. Instead, she pushes down her anger until she can be mild and pleasant—the woman she thinks her husband wants. Half a page later they’re sharing a bath.

But Cherie is no doormat. As a hairstylist who ministers to her clients, Cherie understands not only the hidden burdens women can carry, but also the potential consequences of their rage. Like so many, Cherie knows that “unlikeable” is the kindest judgement our society passes on an angry Black woman. However, it will come as no surprise to our readers that Cherie’s desire for gentleness cannot force her to forget her husband’s actions.

In exploring the aftermath of a very personal betrayal, Moore pushes us to ask broader questions about our biases and assumptions. How much of our behavior is dictated by the expectations of others? Moore expertly sifts through the layers of gender, race, education, and class with grace and wit, ultimately leading the reader to the conclusion that perhaps forgiveness cannot be found without first allowing anger its due.

One Story is delighted to bring you this expansive story, and especially to introduce you to Carrie R. Moore, an emerging writer of immense talent.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

One Story Issue # 281: Ann Aspell’s “Fair Use”

Our new issue was procured by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m passing the mic over to him to make the introductions. Take it away, Will! — PR

This month One Story is happy and honored to bring you our second debut story of 2021, “Fair Use,” by Ann Aspell. Set in Burlington, Vermont, during a snowstorm, the story chronicles a chance encounter between two characters: Jenks is a struggling painter who was fired from his teaching job at the university—and who lost his girlfriend, Lonnie—in the wake of a plagiarism scandal. Ro is a successful visual artist passing through town en route to New York City after a museum purchased one of her painting for its Canadian collection.

The two characters happen upon each other in a park beside Lake Champlain, and when Jenks invites Ro back to his loft to see his masterpiece-in-progress, one might expect they’ll end up in bed together, or not. What one won’t expect is what actually happens: a stunning, subversive transgression that alters the course of Jenks’s life in ways neither character anticipates.

To reveal any more would be to spoil the surprise (and other surprises to come), so I won’t. But suffice it to say, it’s a delightfully satisfying plot, rendered in confident, precise writing that no doubt benefits from Aspell’s background as a poet. The net result is an entertaining, quietly funny, and deeply thoughtful exploration of what it means to borrow from another person’s work.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

One Story Issue #280: Alice McDermott’s “Post”

Near the beginning of the lockdown in New York City, I thought about all the lonely people who suddenly were having to confront a whole new kind of loneliness. I also thought about all the couples living in all those apartments who were having to redefine their notions of cohabitating. Perhaps most often—and this might sound strange, but it was a pretty strange time—I thought about those cohabitating couples who’d been on the verge of breaking up when the lockdown began, and how any plans to break up had to be shelved (along with all the rest of one’s plans), and what that must have looked like when added to the other stress, worry, and general discontent that comes with a pandemic. Ticking time bombs! I thought. Huge fights! Murders! I could foresee the day Netflix would run dry and was, perhaps, pre-seeding my desire for other people’s drama.

Leave it to Alice McDermott to imagine a lockdown scenario of compassion—of love, even—between two people who have already drifted apart yet have chosen to lock down together. Mira and Adam are recent exes living in Brooklyn when the pandemic turns life on its head. While social distancing, by necessity, is driving so many people apart, they manage, temporarily, to come back together—not as a couple, not as anything romantic, but as a kind of two-person care unit. One of the many things I love about this story is that it’s about a pair of exes, yet it contains not a single argument about their shared past, not a single zinger, not even a single regret. It’s a love story about ex-lovers who are not attempting to reconcile. In the canon of great stories about exes, “Post” deserves an honored position. One Story is proud to present to you this brilliant new piece of fiction by the one and only Alice McDermott.

Please visit our website to read an interview with the author about “Post.”

One Story Issue #279: Christine Vines’s “The Tower of Amber Lane”

A lot of wonderful fiction has come from writers examining post-traumatic stress disorder. Katie Rogin’s novel Life During Wartime and Phil Klay’s short story collection Redeployment come to mind. So do Edward St. Aubyn’s five Patrick Melrose novels (which, while diving deeply into addiction, all have their roots in sexual abuse). The subject matter can be discomforting and even painful, but good fiction, as Raymond Carver said, “is partly a bringing of the news from one world to another.” And that’s what good fiction about trauma and post-trauma does: it brings the terror to the reader in a way that transcends observation and becomes something much more intimate.

Christine Vines’ “The Tower of Amber Lane” is good fiction that brings difficult news. One of the many things I admire about this story is that, within a fairly short amount of narrative time, it renders the lead-up to the trauma and then, while taking a brief step over much of the event itself, settles into the immediate post-traumatic period. There’s a boldness at work here, a willingness to dive deep into the hours and the very minutes following a harrowing night in the life of Lissa, a college student who’s living on the edge of campus and trying to climb out of the fellow-college-student dating pool. The point of view is close, the voice is intimate, and the effect is beyond chilling. This story is fearlessly fearful—and perhaps all the more so because the reader is right there with Lissa as she struggles to make the right decisions in a world that doesn’t always share her definition of what’s right.

The first time I read “The Tower of Amber Lane,” I started off deep in an armchair and ended up on the edge of the cushion, my hands white-knuckled as I held the pages. Christine Vines has written a story about, as she puts it, “navigating safety in intimate encounters.” Safety, as Lissa learns, is a relative term, and trying to navigate it can be terrifying. One Story is proud to be publishing this powerful work of fiction by an emerging writer of great talent.

To read an interview with the author, please visit our website.

Issue #278: Kristen Leigh Schwarz’s “Signs and Symptoms”

Every story has a spark that set it smoking in the writer’s mind, and the spark that set off our new issue, “Signs and Symptoms,” was a news article about a physicist’s attempting to open a portal into a parallel universe. Author Kristen Leigh Schwarz read that article and couldn’t help but wonder, How might that go?

How it goes for barista Marvin is that a series of bizarre and troubling phenomena first are reported in the news and then begin to occur in his place of work. The parallel universe, it seems, is vacuuming things out of this world at an alarming rate. Marvin and his boyfriend, Reg, have to think fast: Should they call for help? Run for their lives? Go to a casino and play nickel slots until this world and everything in it have been sucked into the void?

I love “Signs and Symptoms” because it manages to be so many things at once. It’s weird, fantastical, a little frightening, extremely funny, and romantic. Yes, this apocalyptic yarn is romantic! Kristen Leigh Schwarz has pulled off a kind of magic trick with this highly original story that is simultaneously down to Earth and out of this world. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

To read an interview with the author about this story, please visit our website.

One Story Issue #277: ‘Pemi Aguda’s “Breastmilk”

Our new issue was acquired and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m handing over the intro mic so that he can make the introductions. Take it away, Will! — PR

’Pemi Aguda’s “Breastmilk” takes place in Lagos, the most populous city in Nigeria and the third largest city in Africa. As soon as Aduke’s husband, Timi, returns home from a business trip to the capital city Abuja, he confesses to committing adultery with his ex-girlfriend. But Timi is otherwise a good man—a rare Nigerian husband who eschews sexist gender roles—and Aduke promptly pardons him. They have passionate forgiveness sex, and thirty-eight weeks later, their first child, Fikayo, is born.

That’s where the trouble begins. Aduke finds herself unable to produce breastmilk, and she comes to believe the problem stems from her unresolved regret about letting Timi off the hook so easily. On top of that, Aduke fears she has betrayed the feminist values she inherited from her proud, activist mother. “Women suffer enough,” her mother says. “Don’t add man problem on top. Keep your shoes beside the door.”

I was drawn to “Breastmilk” by the raw honesty of Aduke’s voice and by the story’s vivid rendering of the early days of parenthood. Aduke’s fear is one that all parents will recognize—the fear of failing one’s newborn child. But for Aduke, that fear is compounded by her body’s refusal to comply with the demands of motherhood. It’s a fraught, heart-wrenching situation that Ms. Aguda explores with tremendous depth of feeling in pitch-perfect prose. We’re excited to be showcasing Ms. Aguda’s work in our pages, and we hope you find Aduke’s story as compelling as we did.

To read an interview with ‘Pemi Aguda about “Breastmilk,” please visit our website.

One Teen Story Issue #66: Elane Kim’s “Smorzando”

As 2020 was nearing its close, we received more than 450 entrees for One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest—the most we’ve ever received. They came in from teen writers ranging in age from 13-19, and we grouped them into three categories: 13-15, 16-17, and 18-19. Our goal, as always, was to pick a winner and runner-up in each category, and our team of dedicated contest readers set the process in motion by diving into one of our favorite shared activities: reading. It was heartening, indeed, to discover that not only had the teens been writing during a tumultuous year, but they’d also produced some powerful, moving stories.

We’re pleased to present to you the winner of our 13-15 age category: Elane Kim, who has written a quietly moving story called “Smorzando.”

“Smorzando” is about two sisters, Amy and Maya, who have lost their mother, live with their grandmother, and share a passion for playing the piano. As is often the case in stories about siblings, there is rivalry: Amy is more dedicated (at first); Maya is more talented. The fact that Maya is the younger of the two sisters isn’t lost on Amy, who does her best to tolerate her sister’s immaturity while struggling to accept that, no matter how immature she is, Maya will always be the better pianist. Add to this Amy’s desire, as the older sister, to help keep alive the memories they share of their mother, whom they both dearly miss.

Elane Kim has written a tender and utterly convincing story about these two girls at a challenging juncture of their lives. We hope you enjoy “Smorzando” as much as we did.

One Story Issue #276: Jackie Thomas-Kennedy’s “Extinction”

When it became clear that the pandemic wasn’t going to be over anytime soon, and social distancing turned into lockdown, and lockdown turned into finding new ways to live and stay creative and sane, we at One Story began to anticipate the pandemic-related submissions we were bound to receive. As they started to come in, I couldn’t help but wonder if someone was going to write a story about how weird we all became. What I mean is, consciously or not, we all had to reinvent our notions of interaction and intimacy. We all had to find new ways to lend emotional support, and we all had to find new ways to receive emotional support.

It wasn’t a smooth process, by any means. We were living in a world of constantly changing information, trying to cope with a global health crisis that immediately and bizarrely had become political. And as the spring of 2020 edged toward summer, everything became more challenging, more unsettling, more of a mirror held up to our faces, showing us ourselves in stark relief.

I’ve been a fan of Jackie Thomas-Kennedy’s writing for a long time, so I’m particularly thrilled to be presenting “Extinction” to you. This, in many ways, is the story I was wondering if someone was going to write: a story about how our world was (and still is) upended, and how it changed us not just in obvious ways but in subtle ways we might not even have been aware of. How do we make the best of things when a better version of our world is rapidly receding from our view, when distancing becomes isolation, and when we can’t trust ourselves to make the best choices? “Extinction” puts its finger on the pulse of our current lives. It’s both a story for our times and a story with staying power.