OTS Issue #59: Emma Caton’s “And the War Stopped”

Two young soldiers from opposite sides of a battlefield meet in No Man’s Land with their hands raised. Others from both sides join them. So begins the Christmas Truce of WWI.

When I asked Emma Caton, author of the latest issue of One Teen Story, what drew her to the subject matter, she talked in our Q&A about the amount of hatred that “has to be present in order to go to war,” and yet the soldiers involved in the event were able to suspend their hatred for a few hours of peace and comradery. That fascinated her. And then she took it a step further and gave her young soldiers—one German, one British—a spark of romantic interest.

I was impressed by how swiftly this story moves, how deeply it cuts, and how sparsely it’s told. Emma had the idea from the get-go to write a love story, and she’s done just that. At the same time, she hasn’t shied away from the challenges these two young men face. The result is “And the War Stopped”—a powerful story of connection and longing in the most unlikely of circumstances, and one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest. We hope you enjoy it as much as we did.

Issue #256: Arinze Ifeakandu’s “The Dreamer’s Litany”

Our new issue, “The Dreamer’s Litany,” reaches for an answer to a very difficult question: What happens when the heart cannot have what it desires?

Auwal is a struggling shopkeeper with a wife, a daughter, and a dream of a better life. When he meets the gregarious Chief, he sees a man who might be able to help them. But Chief wants something in return—something he intuits Auwal might be able to provide no matter how reluctant he is. As their lives begin to overlap more and more, the complexities of their less-than-ideal arrangement grow. Auwal is no stranger to hardship, nor is he a stranger to a broken heart. He wants to do well, do better. But is Chief a path toward betterment, or a fast track in the opposite direction?

One Story is thrilled to be publishing Arinze Afeakandu, a young writer who was one of A Public Space’s Emerging Writer fellows and a finalist for the Caine Prize. “The Dreamer’s Litany” is a tense and fractured love story full of unexpected twists and turns that often take place away from home, after the sun goes down. As the author says in our Q&A, “At night, people will surprise you, surprise even themselves.”

Issue #255: Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s “Good Fortune”

Our new issue drops us down into the world of a Florida hotel that caters to clients interested in long-term residency for the sake of ensuring U.S. citizenship for soon-to-be-born babies. In other words, the birth tourism industry. And while it’s strange enough to consider a hotel where, on a regular basis, one person checks into a room and two people check out, stranger still is the appearance of a series of threatening, anonymous notes slipped under residents’ doors. Everyone has a different theory about who the culprit is. The manager, whose suspicions include (but are not limited to) her estranged nephew, starts sleeping with a vegetable knife clutched in her fist just in case things get dicey.

Ayşe Papatya Bucak’s “Good Fortune” is many things at once: laced with humor, sprinkled with menace, peppered with false clues, and ghosted with memories of long-lost family members. We’re delighted to be ushering it into the world, and we look forward to reading more from this emerging, energetic writer.

Issue #254: John Rolfe Gardiner’s “Freak Corner”

In the summer of 1991, I was a year out of graduate school, living in Virginia, painting houses, and working in an independent bookstore. The stock was mostly new books and, upstairs, some used books, and on slow days I would peruse the shelves and read the first pages of novels. I came across a book called Unknown Soldiers, published in 1977 and written by a writer named John Rolfe Gardiner. The first page held my interest, so I carried it back to my spot behind the register. By the end of the second chapter, I knew I was going to finish the book and wanted to own it, so I rang up the sale on the cash register, put my money in the drawer, and continued reading.

A couple of hours later, I was well into the novel when the bell over the front door jangled, and when I glanced up, the author of the very book I was holding walked into the store. I looked at him, looked at book’s author photo, looked at him again. I said, “This is you, isn’t it?” He seemed somewhat sheepish and confirmed that it was, indeed, him, and I—as star-struck as if I were meeting a beloved movie star—began to heap praise on this novel that he’d written fourteen years earlier. We talked for just a few minutes, and at my request, he signed the book. As I write this introduction, twenty-seven years later, that same book is sitting on a shelf a few feet away from my desk, along with all of his other books.

One Story is immensely honored to be publishing a new short story by John Rolfe Gardiner: a writer of profound abilities and agilities; a writer who has proven himself to be a master of the novel, the novella, and the short story over the course of the last four decades; a writer who remains at the top of his game to this day and who deserves to be widely read. “Freak Corner,” a story set in 1953 about a deaf girl, a cross-dresser, and a young man trying to figure out why the world reacts to them both the way it does, echoes much of our current landscape. We fear and vilify the unfamiliar now as much as we ever did. As the author says in our Q&A, “the path to reform is by way of familiarity.”

Issue #253: Lillian Li’s “Coach Ray”

Back when I was at Granta, I had the pleasure of being the first person ever to publish Lillian Li. Later, I was thrilled to finally hold in my hands her debut novel, Number One Chinese Restaurant, and I was thrilled when more of her work landed on my desk at One Story. Our omni-wonderful managing editor Lena Valencia worked on the story with Lillian, and their mutual enthusiasm for this deceptively quiet (and tense) piece of writing turned it into our brilliant new issue. Here’s Lena to introduce you to “Coach Ray.” — PR

On the annual St. Joe’s Prep cross-country team retreat at a Vermont summer camp, Coach Raymond Dockett is intent on helping the newest member, Oliver, see his potential as a runner. But it seems that Oliver doesn’t need Coach Ray’s assistance. In fact, Oliver seems to be doing everything he can to thwart Coach Ray’s attempts to help him. And the more Oliver resists Coach Ray’s help, the angrier Coach Ray gets.

There is no triumph of the underdog in this sports narrative, no good-hearted coach leading a scrappy nobody to victory. Instead, “Coach Ray” deals with something far more complicated: the power dynamics of mentorship. In writing this story, Lillian Li wanted to “look at how people abuse their power without realizing it.” As I found myself drawn deeper into the struggle between Coach Ray and Oliver, it became less and less clear who I should be rooting for.

“Coach Ray” is a disconcerting portrait of a flawed character. It’s also funny and formally inventive. It will make you laugh, and it will make you cringe in the best way. It’s morally ambiguous: regardless of who makes it to the finish line first, there are no easy answers as to who wins at the end. I’m thrilled to introduce you to Lillian Li’s “Coach Ray.”

To read an interview with Lillian Li, please visit our website.

Issue #252: Katherine Hubbard’s “Wash & Fold”

Greetings, readers! Our new issue is about—well, it’s hard to say what it’s about without spoiling some of the most wonderful things in store for you, so I’ll try to tap-dance through this delicately: “Wash & Fold” is about what happens when two strangers come together in a laundromat, encounter an unusual situation that has nothing to do with either of them, and do something about it that changes them both.

When I read “Wash & Fold,” I’m filled with admiration for the writing, the technique, the humor, the precise observations of humans and human interaction. But I’m also happily caught up in the narrative tug that carries this delightful tale from beginning to end. In our Q&A, Katherine Hubbard tells us that she found herself using “a storyteller’s voice” when writing the early drafts, and while that might sound like an obvious thing for a writer to use, it isn’t, and it allowed her to step into and out of various characters’ points of view so fluidly that the reading experience is buoyant from beginning to end.

We’re very happy to be putting a story by Katherine Hubbard into your hands, and we hope you enjoy it as much as we do.

Issue #251: Natalie Serber’s “Children Are Magic”

Our new issue was acquired and edited by our laser-eyed  contributing editor Will Allison. Here he is to make the introduction. — PR

The story in our latest issue, Natalie Serber’s “Children Are Magic,” chronicles a day in the life of Barrett Lee-Cooperman, a stay-at-home mom in a well-to-do California beach town. It’s a busy day. First, Barrett must get her four daughters off to school, including her youngest, River, who ends up going to preschool naked. Barrett must feed her chickens and her pig, Esmeralda, a Mother’s Day gift from her short, slight, pale, balding, OB-GYN husband, Martin. She must ascertain the owner of a racy bra she finds dangling from the pole beans in her garden. She must stop by the dry cleaners, feed store, liquor store, and a board meeting at the Homeless Garden Project. She must mediate Martin’s flirtation with Rowena, their young, blond nanny with toe cleavage. She must have sex with Martin in a position she’s not wild about. She must attend to her own needs. She must pick up River, who insists, in front of her preschool teacher, that Barrett isn’t her “real mommy.” She must welcome another pig—a guinea pig—into the family. She must host a dinner party for her cooking-group friends, some of whom she finds intimidating. At dinner, she must relive the teenage memory of being sexually assaulted by a musician in a nightclub bathroom. Then she must endure the late-night wrath of her oldest daughter, Sheila, while drunk. And those are just some of the highlights. Suffice it to say, “Children Are Magic” is brimming with enough life and love and humor to fill a novel, but it never feels too full, thanks to Serber’s confident storytelling and delectable prose. I was hooked from the opening line to the last. In fact, the first time I finished this story, I immediately turned back to the beginning and dove in again, hungry to spend more time with these characters. I hope you’ll feel the same.

Issue #250: Matthew Lansburgh’s “Latvian Angel”

Our new issue was procured by contributing editor Will Allison. Here’s Will to introduce you to “Latvian Angel.” — PR

I’ve always been a sucker for stories in which characters write letters to each other. As a literary device, the epistle is deceptively simple. Letters are a form of first-person narration, allowing characters to bypass a story’s principal narrator and speak for themselves. The catch—the interesting part—is that letter writers tend to be unreliable first-person narrators, misrepresenting themselves in order to influence the letter’s recipient.

The letters in our latest issue, Matthew Lansburgh’s “Latvian Angel,” offer a fun case in point. Klara Ozols is a poor Latvian villager, born with wings on her back, who seeks a better life by advertising herself as a mail-order bride. Ezra Vogel is a lonely Long Island accountant in search of a wife. When Ezra answers Klara’s ad, the two strike up a long-distance correspondence full of cagey spin. Will Klara’s letters convince Ezra that she is the woman of his dreams? Will Ezra’s letters convince Klara that he is the wealthy, handsome, kind suitor he claims to be?

If you’ve read Lansburgh’s terrific debut, Outside Is the Ocean, winner of the Iowa Short Fiction Award, then you know his stories offer up a delicious blend of humor, love, and sexuality, with sympathetic characters often undone by their own wayward desires. “Latvian Angel” is no exception. We’re excited to finally showcase Lansburgh’s first-rate storytelling and sparkling prose in the pages of One Story.

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

OTS #57: Brayden Mekertichian’s “Burning, in You”

Amazing things happen in Brayden Mekertichian’s “Burning, in You.” In a series of short, powerful sections, we’re swept through seven years in the life of a young woman, from the age of thirteen to the age of twenty. We’re with her when she’s high, we’re with her when she’s low, and we’re with her when she’s lower than low. And yet, somehow, there’s humor in this story. There’s bravado peppered with fear. Confusion salted with insight. It’s a portrait in mosaic of what can occur when a young person’s self-image, sense of self-worth, and tendencies towards self-indulgence collide. The gaps are enormous. The ending is mysterious. The emotional import is colossal. I admire this story as much for what it leaves out as for what it includes, and we’re delighted to honor it as one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest.

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

Issue #249: Chris Vanjonack’s “Phases”

Is it bad form for a ghost to look over your shoulder while you’re typing an email? Do ghosts need therapy? How do ghosts have sex? These are the kinds of questions that rolled around in Chris Vanjonack’s head before he started writing “Phases.” Henry, the story’s narrator, had an unfortunate encounter with a lightning bolt sometime back. Now, his “life” consists of wandering the planet, walking through walls, and watching his ex-girlfriend get over him. And dating—sort of.

Henry is lonely but surrounded by other ghosts. He’s impatient but not even sure what he’s waiting for. And for all his mobility and freedom, he’s overwhelmed by limitations. As the author states in our Q&A, ghostdom, as he imagined it, became “a potent metaphor for depression, or for ennui, or loneliness, or even aging. No one can see me. I can’t make a difference. I don’t feel the way I used to. I can’t feel anything.” But don’t be misled. “Phases” is no downer. In fact, it’s charged with wit and humor, and it’s fueled by a voice packed with charm. There’s a forward lean to the earnestness in Chris Vanjonack’s writing, and it shines through in this story. We’re delighted to welcome him into the One Story family.