OTS#60: Juliet Cushing’s “Cicatriz”

When I was in high school, a friend of mine named James suddenly passed away. I remember feeling torn, angry, bewildered. And as I processed my grief, I began looking back in a way I never had before. It was more than just not having any future moments with James to look forward to; it was the (very new to me, then) phenomenon of having death illuminate life in a way that only death can. For the first time, I became aware of the value—the treasure trove—of the past. I looked back with purpose, one could almost say with a mission: my memories of James—memories that stretched back to junior high and went up to the day before he died—were James. Wrapping my head around that was a big (and uninvited) nudge toward adulthood.

Our new issue of One Teen Story wanders into similar territory. It’s called “Cicatriz” and is written by a wonderful emerging writer named Juliet Cushing. I won’t go into detail about it because I think it speaks beautifully for itself, but I will say that it takes a painful situation and illuminates it in a way that radiates off the page. The writing turns tragedy into art. “Cicatriz” is one of the winners of this year’s Teen Writing Contest. We’re proud to be presenting it to you.

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

One Story Issue #258: Say Uncle

Our new issue was edited by the great Will Allison. Here’s his introduction. -PR

The first time I read “Say Uncle,” I was touched by the sweetness of the love story Becky Mandelbaum tells. Normally, as a reader, that’s exactly what I hope for: to be moved. In this case, though, I also felt a little dirty, because the so-called love story in question involves Dan, an unemployed thirty-something, and Hollie, a fifteen-year-old schoolgirl. Clearly, the relationship is all wrong. So how could I feel sympathy for a pedophile? How could I sort of even like the guy?

Of course, this is what good fiction does. It challenges us by allowing us to inhabit viewpoints that are radically different from our own. It’s easy to be repelled by the idea of Dan and Hollie together; it’s harder to dismiss Dan’s humanity once you’ve spent time in his shoes. And so “Say Uncle” engages in a daring high-wire act, creating sympathy for Dan while also not letting him off the hook.

I wasn’t surprised to encounter this rich complexity in a story by Becky Mandelbaum. Her collection, Bad Kansas, which received the 2016 Flannery O’Connor Award for Short Fiction, is full of stories that are as lively and hilarious as they are challenging and unsettling. Here at One Story, we are thrilled to be sharing her work with you.

This story contains scenes of child sexual abuse. We encourage you to read our Q&A with the author, in which Mandelbaum addresses her reasons for investigating the topic and how she approached this taboo subject matter.

One Story Issue #257: “Leo in Venice”

Our newest issue is edited by the great Karen Friedman. Here’s her introduction. -PR

In June my eleven-year-old went to sleep-away camp for the first time. As we wound our way through rural Missouri roads in the pouring rain, I kept asking how she felt. Excited. Impatient. Maybe a little nervous. Despite heading to a place where she knew no one, she didn’t hesitate when the moment finally came to leave. She barely waited for good-bye. Not wanting to embarrass her, I scooted back to the car and drove off. But as soon as cell service returned, I called her father (only slightly hysterical) to explain my overwhelming need to go back and hug her one more time, just to make sure.

The funny thing is I’m not normally that kind of mom. I want my kids to be independent, have humble-bragged for years about my daughter entering preschool without turning back, just an arm thrown in the air as she headed to the sand table. Here she was again, confidently facing the unknown without me. This time for a week. I should have felt like I’d earned a parenting gold star. Instead, I listened to bad 80s pop and tried not to cry all the way back to St. Louis. In the Q&A for One Story issue #257, “Leo in Venice,” author Samantha Silva says, “we raise our kids to leave us, but our letting go is another thing.”

Learning what and how to let go is at the center of “Leo in Venice.” In this beautiful and heart-wrenching story, we’re introduced to Annie and her nearly grown son, Leo. Due to a chronic illness theirs is an uncommon relationship—one forged in pain, but also humor and wit and a wide acceptance of who the other person is and what they are capable of enduring. In short, it is a love story. But it is also the story of a breakup. By bringing the reader to the moment of goodbye, we witness Annie’s simultaneous support of and struggle to accept her son’s decision to leave. Set against the often mystical backdrop of Venice, a city that has long lived in their collective imaginations, Annie at last begins to see herself apart from her son.

By the end of the story we are left with the unsettling knowledge that it is our job to let our children go, and yet the impulse to hold on, to go back and ask for one more hug never goes away. It is an honor to introduce you to Samantha Silva, a gifted storyteller whose unflinching eye is tempered with compassion and levity.

Read Karen Friedman’s Q&A with Samantha Silva here.

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.