Issue #235: Pups by Kate Folk

This month’s story — featuring both otters and squids, along with some human beings — was found and edited by our wonderful contributing editor Karen Friedman, so I’m turning over the intro duties to her. Take it away, Karen! — PR

Of the thousands of decisions we make every day a few are good, but most are meaningless. And then there are the bad ones—the decisions that haunt us, shaping our lives in ways we can’t foresee. At our best, we face the consequences of a bad choice head-on and try to minimize its impact. At our worst, we ignore what we have done.

One Story’s latest issue, “Pups” by Kate Folk, introduces us to Roe, a woman seemingly determined to allow life to happen to her without the responsibility and culpability that comes from making decisions. While Folk provides the reader with a sense of Roe’s potential, she also casts an unblinking eye at the effects of Roe’s passivity and the way it enables her to feign intimacy, even at the cost of her own happiness. Early in the story we learn Roe is pregnant, the result of a misguided and drunken one-night stand. Roe’s unplanned pregnancy raises questions that range from the practical to the political to the downright moral.

Over the past two years I’ve had the pleasure of reading a number of Kate’s stories, and I am thrilled to introduce her to our readers with “Pups.” Kate has an immense talent for creating flawed but sympathetic characters. Her women, in particular, defy easy labels and expand our understanding of what it means to be truly human. I hope you love this story of motherhood, agency, and otters as much as I do.

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

OTS 52: Bulletin Board Dragon by Lilly Hunt

In junior high school, I knew a boy with a heart condition. I knew a girl with progeria. I knew a boy who couldn’t stop tapping his pencil on his desk because he honestly felt like he would die if he did (this was pretty disruptive during a pop quiz, as you might imagine). And I knew a girl who believed she was close friends with a very famous rock band that lived on the other side of the world, and that she and this rock band had shared many adventures together. The people around these teens who were roughly their age fell into one of two categories: 1) those who allowed them to be who they were without giving them a hard time, and 2) those who gave them a hard time. Why everyone couldn’t have fallen into the first category remains a mystery to me.

The new issue of One Teen Story is called “Bulletin Board Dragon.” It’s about two teens who live next door to each other but have never met (until now). Each one of these teens has a particular condition not shared by the other, and each one of them does her or his best to understand and accept the other. Is it easy? No. Is it a smooth process? No. Are they successful? You’ll have to read to find out—and keep in mind, stories are always about the complications before they get around to the resolutions (if there are resolutions to be had).

“Bulletin Board Dragon” is one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest, and its author is a teen named Lilly Hunt. She’s a wonderful writer, and after you read the issue you should treat yourself to our Q&A, where she discusses, among other things, what it was like to write a short story with one character who is not only invisible but a figment of the imagination.

Issue #234: The Crazies by Maud Streep

This month’s story, “The Crazies,” was found and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so I’m happily turning the steering wheel over to him to guide us in. — PR

As many a cowboy ballad can tell you, the halo glow of new love never lasts. Sometimes it simmers down with age; sometimes it flames into something else; and sometimes it just flickers out. It’s one of those lessons we all learn sooner or later.

Even so, when I read “The Crazies” by Maud Streep, I couldn’t help but be charmed by the halo glow of its early pages. The narrator, a recent Yale grad, heads to Montana, takes a job at a Wild West tourist attraction, and falls in love with a cowboy named Jake. Their marriage is a happy whirlwind of cheap beer, sex, optimism, and simple, carefree living.

But halfway through the story, the couple’s happiness turns to anguish. At the risk of giving away too much: something terrible happens on an elk hunting trip in The Crazy Mountains, and the narrator and Jake may or may not be responsible. How each of them deals with this possibility will determine whether their love endures, or whether it flickers out.

“The Crazies” is wise about life and relationships in ways one would expect from a veteran storyteller. As it happens, though, this is Maud Streep’s first published story. We are very pleased to present One Story’s second debut of 2017, and we hope you are as crazy about “The Crazies” as we are.

Visit the One Story website to read our Q&A with the author.

Issue #233: Are You Mine and No One Else’s by Danny Lorberbaum

One of best things about reading short stories and novels is that we get to spend time with people we wouldn’t actually want to know. This applies to out-and-out villains, of course, but it also applies to jerks, narcissists, bigots, whiners, chronic interrupters, what have you. Spending time with such types via the written word is great not only because we get to observe them without having to be in the same room with them, but also because we get a chance to be in their heads for a little while and better understand what it’s like to be them. The feeling may only last for as long as your eyes are moving across the page, but there it is: empathy, no strings attached.

Our new issue takes us into the heads of two different characters—Rhoda and Tony—and I’m guessing you might not want to be besties with one of them. You will, however, be on intimate terms with both of them by the last sentence, and I wager you’ll see a little of yourself somewhere along the way. Mix longing with possessiveness, desire with performance anxiety, second-guessing with secret-keeping, skinny-dipping with fast driving, and project it all onto a backdrop of America in the early days of the Reagan administration, and you’ve got “Are You Mine and No One Else’s?” by emerging writer Danny Lorberbaum.

The goal of One Story, first and foremost, is to put great short stories into readers’ hands. Along the way, we often make readers aware of writers they might not yet have come across. I’m confident Danny Lorberbaum is at the beginning of a vast and varied career, and I’m thrilled to be sending you “Are You Mine and No One Else’s?”—a story I find as charming as it is unsettling. To read our Q&A with the author (and to hear about the news story that caused seven-year-old Danny to reassess the world), please visit our website.

Issue #232: A Month on Greene Street by Tom Hanks

I’ve long been guilty of inaccurate first impressions. Thankfully, I usually keep them to myself—just private little assessments I make of, say, a person I see across a room. Observations I deem both intuitive and astute. What an accurate judge of character I am! I can sum you up with a glance or, at the very most, a few seconds of watching your mannerisms, your facial expressions. That’s how sharp my receptors are.

Only, they aren’t that sharp. Sometimes I’m near the mark; quite often I’m way off. “Always trust your first impression” is advice we’ve all heard before, and it’s often true—but it slams up against “Don’t judge a book by its cover,” “Don’t knock it till you try it,” and even “Proof’s in the pudding.”

Our new issue is a story called “A Month on Greene Street,” and it’s about a woman named Bette who has just moved her family into a new house. Not only does Bette rely heavily on first impressions, she also takes great stock in what she considers to be her extrasensory visions, or “pops” (as she calls them). “Pops” are little glimpses of the future Bette has now and then. Sometimes they come true; sometimes they don’t. They’re a source of comfort; they’re a source of worry. And there are quite a few of them to be had in a new home, on a new street, surrounded by new neighbors.

This story won me over the first time I read it, and upon each subsequent reading it becomes more layered, more moving, and funnier. It’s written by an author we already know to be a tremendously accomplished actor, and the fact that he’s now proving himself to be a tremendously talented writer of short stories makes me wonder what else he can do. (Levitate? Bend things with his mind?) One Story is thrilled to be giving the world its first glimpse of “A Month on Greene Street” by Tom Hanks. Be sure to check out our Q&A with the author, wherein he discusses Bette, her pops, why and how he came to write short stories, and his fondness for the good old-fashioned typewriter.

OTS 51: Toby by Lily Boyd

When I was four years old, our dog died. Four is a very resilient age. What can make us wail one minute can be gone from our heads the next. I cried and cried—and then we got a new dog. A puppy we named Missy. She was a small, raggedy mutt who dug through the Easter baskets while we were at church, suffered my brother’s rock band rehearsals, survived a tornado that tore up our house, and evacuated with us when Hurricane David was heading our way.

The summer after I graduated from high school, Missy was fourteen and was starting to show her age. I moved away to college, came home for Thanksgiving three months later, and she was wheezy and lethargic. My parents told me they were taking her to the vet the following Monday for a checkup. I knew I was going to be home again in just a month (for Christmas), but I had a feeling Missy might be on shaky ground. So, right before I caught my ride back to college I got down on the floor next to her, curled around her, and talked to her. I told her a lot of nice things, but mostly I told her that she’d been a really good dog. Then I left. She died the next afternoon.

All of this came flooding back to me as I read “Toby.” If you’ve ever loved and lost a pet, this story will no doubt have the same effect on you. It’s a laser-sharp and emotionally raw piece of writing, both fresh and familiar, and it’s all the more impressive because it was written by a teen. Lily Boyd is one of the winners of One Teen Story’s Teen Writing Contest, and we’re happy to be introducing you to her, and to “Toby.” (To read our Q&A with Lily, go here.)

Issue #231: Please Give Me One Good Reason Not to Hate You by Shawn Vestal

“I arrived in Bozeman after the place that came after Animas, was thinking I would stay forever—thinking I would finally stop what I’ve been doing and be someone, thinking this place was really me.” So says Benny, the semi-likable sleazeball who narrates Shawn Vestal’s brilliant new story “Please Give Me One Good Reason Not to Hate You.”

The thing is, Benny isn’t really his name. “Benny” is just the latest in a string of identities he has fashioned as a small-time scam artist crisscrossing the American West. Also, it’s not just the scams that keep Benny on the move. It’s people—his overpowering need to be among them and apart from them. You might say Benny is alternately addicted to and allergic to his fellow man. It’s an internal tug-of-war that so far has guaranteed him a life of perpetual unfulfillment.

But Bozeman—beautiful Bozeman, Montana—is going to be different. Bozeman is the place, Benny comes to believe, where he’ll finally settle down, fit in, and take a chance on normal human happiness. To that end, despite being out of shape and hopelessly un-outdoorsy, Benny accepts an invitation to go on a four-day, forty-four-mile mountain hike with a quartet of hip thirty-somethings—including his sort-of ex-girlfriend and her new boyfriend.

If that sounds like a bad idea, you’re right, especially given Benny’s gift for self-sabotage. It doesn’t help that he’s a liar, a criminal, and a misanthrope. But whether you end up rooting for Benny or against him, we think you’ll agree that his story is one of the funniest, most compelling, and most daringly original works to grace our pages. Be sure to visit our website to read an interview with the author.

Issue #230: Bayou by Bryan Washington

When I was ten years old, I saw a movie called “The Mysterious Monsters.” It was about Bigfoot, the Loch Ness Monster, and the Abominable Snowman, and it was filled with cheesy “reenactments” of personal testimonies about encounters with these mythical creatures. Because it was presented as a documentary, and because I was ten, I watched the reenactment footage in absolute horror, completely forgetting these were actors (including the guy in the Bigfoot costume). For the next year, I had a hard time falling asleep, convinced that Bigfoot was going to crash a hairy arm through my bedroom window. I also spotted Bigfoot anytime I got near nature—at least a dozen sightings by the time I turned 11.

The two friends in Bryan Washington’s short story “Bayou” aren’t boys; they’re young men. When they discover a strange creature near a bayou on the outskirts of Houston, it isn’t fear they feel so much as a burnt-out sense of wonder, and maybe a chance to make some money. I was immediately drawn to “Bayou” because it begins with a chupacabra, and while many people claim to have encountered chupacabras (and even filmed them), biologists refuse to confirm their existence. So I was hooked from the get-go. But what follows is more than a monster story. It’s a story about friendship, misunderstanding, and longing. Or, as the author puts it in our Q&A, it’s a story about intimacy. I hope you enjoy it as much as I did, and if it inspires your own sighting of a mysterious monster—so long as it’s not a Bigfoot—I look forward to the reenactment.

Issue #229: Goodnight Nobody by Sarah Hall

Dear Reader,

Meet Jem, an eleven-year-old girl who is leaning forward toward adulthood with all her might. She has, as the author describes it in our Q&A, “an elastic, skipping-ahead brain” that doesn’t necessarily want to focus on the little brother she’s often charged with watching, but would much rather be investigating the bloody incident that has taken place down the street—an incident that’s left one person dead and put another person in jail. (Her brain would also like to be watching Thundercats, but that’s not an option at present.)

Sarah Hall, the author of “Goodnight Nobody,” is one of the most careful writers I know. Her word choices, narrative pacing, and sentence rhythm are the result, I suspect, of a great deal of hard, obsessive work. And yet none of that calls attention to itself. The nuts, bolts, and machinery are all hidden away, and her work is a pleasurable breeze to read. One of the great achievements of this particular story is the fact that its voice is so intimately attached to Jem, it feels as if it’s written in the first-person. I find “Goodnight Nobody” to be an addictive read, and I hope you do too.

If, by chance, you haven’t encountered Sarah Hall’s work before (she now has two story collections and five novels under her belt), I’m all the happier to be introducing you to her. Her new story collection is called Madame Zero. She’s a treasure, and we’re honored to have her in the One Story family.

Issue #228: The Third Birdhouse by John Biguenet

One of the many things I admire about our new issue is the way it sweeps through time with the subtly of a light breeze. The narrative voice is subtle, as well — subdued, even, and remarkably commanding. Contributing Editor Will Allison brings us “The Third Birdhouse,” so the honor of introducing if is his. — PR

In one of the Old Testament’s more unsettling tales, God commands Abraham to sacrifice his only son, Isaac. The devout Abraham takes Isaac to a mountaintop, builds an altar, and binds his son to it. Just as Abraham raises his knife, though, an angel intervenes. “Now I know you fear God,” the angel says, “because you have not withheld from me your only son.” Abraham ends up killing a ram instead, and as a reward for his obedience, God blesses Abraham’s family.

Things don’t work out quite so well for Abraham in “The Third Birdhouse,” John Biguenet’s contemporary retelling of Isaac’s life: it’s not okay in twentieth-century Brooklyn to try to murder your son with a hatchet, even if you think God told you to. But things do work out for the narrator, who—like the biblical Isaac—goes on to lead a long and prosperous life, with twin sons of his own.

The question is what kind of dad this modern Isaac will be, given the poor role model of Abraham. Isaac’s big test comes when his younger son, Jacob, swindles his twin brother out of his inheritance, just like in the Bible. How will Isaac respond? Raise the hatchet? Bury the hatchet? Hatch a compromise? His solution surprised me, and it’s one I’m still grappling with, which is partly why I love this story: like all good literature, it challenges the reader, posing questions rather than answering them.

John Biguenet, on the other hand, was more than happy to answer our questions. Be sure to check out his author interview to learn how birdhouses found their way into this retelling of Isaac’s story and to get John’s distinctive take on the reading habits of Donald Trump.