Issue #223: In the Neighborhood by Jess Rafalko

223_coverTwenty years ago, I loaded everything I owned into a truck and moved from a quiet place in the woods to the middle of New York City. It took nearly a year before I understood how to navigate the different subway lines, got used to Indian, Ethiopian, and Egyptian food (the three staples in my neighborhood), and learned how to sleep through the sirens outside my window at night. There is a feeling of disorientation that comes with moving to a completely new landscape, especially when it coincides with a great emotional change, as it does for the characters in Jess Rafalko’s marvelous short story, “In the Neighborhood.” Angela and Hank are a married couple who’ve moved from the flat-lands of Nebraska to the mountains of Vermont. They’ve unpacked and settled into new jobs, but the path of their journey is still strewn with wreckage. Hank is avoiding his grief and soldiering forward, while Angela has fallen into a well of guilt, anger, and sadness. Then, one day, a bear appears. The animal opens their mailbox, looking for food, and the scratches it leaves begin to tear down the walls that have built up between this husband and wife, who discover that moving to a new state may change the view from your window, but it will never change what’s in your heart. I hope you’ll all enjoy this story as much as our staff here at One Story did. And be sure to read Jess Rafalko’s Q&A with us, where she talks about work, love, loss, and the tornado that inspired this wonderfully moving story.

Issue #222: The Quality of Your Life by Min Jin Lee

222_coverWhen we’re young, we tend to be idealistic. Everything is new and exciting—especially when it comes to love. A heart that has never been broken before is easier to give away. We do it without knowing the danger. We offer it with both hands. This kind of blind, joyous affection is beautifully captured in our new issue, Min Jin Lee’s “The Quality of Your Life.” Set in Korea in 1932, the story follows Sunja, a girl on the cusp of womanhood. Her days are filled with hard work and shopping at the daily market for the boarding house run by her mother. And then, in an instant, everything changes. Sunja crosses paths with an older man named Hansu, who travels for business between Korea and Japan. Soon the blossoming relationship between these two characters becomes as complicated and fraught as the relationship between those two nations. Sunja struggles to maintain her identity, just as her fellow Koreans work against the historical ties that bind them to Japan. This theme continues in Min Jin Lee’s forthcoming novel, Pachinko. Find out more in our Q&A, and then continue on Sunja’s epic journey, where she never gives up fighting for the people she loves.

Issue #221: Staff Picks
by George Singleton

221_coverOur new issue, George Singleton’s “Staff Picks,” centers around an RV and all the dreams that motor homes represent–the possibility of changing your life, hitting the open road, seeing the world, while at the same time keeping creature comforts close. I fell for Staff, the librarian hero of this tall tale, and cheered as she attempts to break free from her job and her broken heart. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this unpredictable love story to our pages, so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him. Enjoy!-HT

There’s an old show business saying: “Dying is easy. Comedy is hard.” You could argue that this is even more true in literary fiction, where characters die all the time, but precious few stories offer much in the way of laughs. If you feel the same, then the story in our new issue, George Singleton’s “Staff Picks,” is for you.

Like many of Singleton’s stories, the premise of “Staff Picks” sounds like the setup for an elaborate and possibly off-color joke: What happens when a South Carolina woman with “resting bitch face” takes on eighteen locals in a hands-on endurance competition to win an RV?

Rest assured, the resulting story is funny. But as with all of Singleton’s work, it’s no joke. The author’s favorite bit of writing advice? Comedy is serious. “On the page,” he says in our author interview, “it’s not slapstick. It’s what Aristotle pointed to when he wrote about catharsis, and what Mr. Beckett meant when he espoused how there’s nothing funnier than human misery.”

In “Staff Picks,” the human misery begins with Staff Puckett, who, through no fault of her own, has the sort of deadpan visage that makes it look like she wants to vaporize you. Suffocating in her small-town life as a library archivist, Staff sees a possible escape in the brand-new Winnebago being offered as a prize to whichever contestant can remain in physical contact with the vehicle the longest.

What Staff doesn’t bargain for is fellow contestant Landry Harmon, a doughy, chatty, low-level pro bowler with whom she has more in common than she knows. Throw in a swindling jeweler, an insecure poker player, some goofy radio deejays, the periodic table of elements, British fine china, and a lightning storm, and you have the makings of a classic George Singleton tale that we’re tickled to present in the pages of One Story.

Issue #220: Where the Bees Are Going by Andy Holt

220_coverI always get excited when I see a writer trying something unexpected on the page. Well, get ready folks–this new story if FULL of surprises. Tying the collapse of bee colonies to the loneliness of those pushed to the edges of society, “Where the Bees Are Going” by Andy Holt will make you buzzzzzzz with excitement. Since Karen Friedman took this story through its editorial paces, I’m passing the introduction reins into her hands. In the meantime, enjoy! And pass the honey. –HT

In my early 20s, I moved to New York without a job and with very little savings. My roommate, an aspiring actress and high school friend, found us a cheap one-bedroom in Fort Greene. She was my only friend in Brooklyn, which seemed fine at first – there were drinks with producers and various “industry” people to fill the hours and I was always invited along. Then she left for a month to try pilot season in L.A. Without my friend, there were no nights out. I was trying to temp, but work was slow, so I spent three weeks alone in our apartment trying and failing to write. I lived on cereal. I read. I watched our 5 channels of network television. I listened to “Blood on the Tracks” so many times I can still sing the entire album from memory. I wished I’d never left home. Mostly, though, I waited for something to change.

Almost 20 years later that feeling of overwhelming inertia, the sense of being powerless to move beyond my circumstances, came back to me as I read “Where the Bees Are Going” by Andy Holt. Through the unexpected and captivating voice of bees, Andy explores the nature of loneliness and how we survive it.

Far from mindless drones buzzing around the backyard, the insects narrating his story are survivors of collapsed hives. They long for the homes they’ve left behind, navigating what it means to be thrust out into a world where the very basis of their survival, the hive, no longer exists. In their desperation, the bees attempt to create a home. This time one based not on conformity and duty, but rather shared need. Along the way, they learn from a species all too familiar with what it means to struggle in loneliness: our own. The bees find that their survival depends on a measure of grace, sacrifice, and compassion. I hope this story captures your heart and imagination the way it captured ours. After you read it, check out our online Q&A for more on how Andy created this memorable story.

And if like me, a latent bee obsession gets reignited, take a peek at this incredible art installation in London where you can step inside a gigantic metal hive and feel a bit of what it’s like to actually be a bee.

Issue #219: Switzerland
by Ann Patchett

219_coverI have been a fan of Ann Patchett’s writing since I first read The Magician’s Assistant. Along with her legions of fans, I have awaited each new book of hers with great joy and expectation, and it gives me ENORMOUS pleasure to have the chance to run a piece of fiction by Ann in our pages. This heartwarming tale of a mother and daughter re-connecting at a Zen Retreat moved me to tears. I know that you will all enjoy it, and I hope that you will also read Ann’s new book, Commonwealth. Contributing Editor Patrick Ryan brought this lovely tale to our shores, so I am turning the official introduction reins into his talented and capable hands. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Ann, where she talks about meditation, acceptance, and how to dial up the volume of pages when she’s writing.-HT

“Switzerland” is a story about a mother visiting a daughter who’s gone off to live at a Zen Study Center halfway around the world. It’s about a retiree diving deep into meditation for the first time in her life. And it’s about a parent reaching for her children long after both life and death have stepped in the way.

Whenever I read Ann Patchett, I discover something new about what great writing can do. More importantly, I discover something new about living. Joy, grief, regret, forgiveness, a grappling with the past and a hesitant embrace of the present—they’re all here.

We’re thrilled to be presenting you with this new story by Ann Patchett. Take a deep breath, clear your thoughts, and open your mind to the beauty of “Switzerland.”

Issue #218: Queen Elizabeth
by Brad Felver

218_coverI love a good love story. But boy, are they hard to pull off! The risk is getting too sentimental, or, leaning too far in the other direction, and becoming cynical and heartless. Every once in a while, however, a writer skillfully walks the emotional line, capturing the complicated truth of what it feels like to be bound to another human soul. “Queen Elizabeth,” by Brad Felver, strikes a perfect balance between reality and hopefulness, and blossoms just like the ancient tree at the center of this heartwarming tale. A great deal of its success has to do with the authentic and complex characters Felver creates: Ruth, a mathematician who uses numbers to cope with her emotions, and Gus, an artisan woodworker, who creates beautiful, handmade desks (that will haunt the dreams of any writer who reads this story). “Queen Elizabeth” begins with a tussle over the bill on first date, and ends many years later, with Ruth and Gus sitting across from each other once again, feeling the same pull towards each other that they did when they first met. Between these two brilliant set pieces, Brad Felver skips through time, zeroing in on the briefest of moments that often define our lives. I hope that you’ll read Brad Felver’s thoughtful Q&A with us, where he discusses everything from woodworking to Euclidean planes, and even gives a glimpse into Gus and Ruth’s future, past the memorable ending of this marvelously satisfying love story.

Issue #217: The Woman in the Window

217-kindle_Page_01In our new issue, Joyce Carol Oates’s “The Woman at the Window,” two point of views are woven into a complex story of sex, violence, longing and connection. Contributing Editor Patrick Ryan took this unique piece through its paces, and so I am turning the introduction reins over to his steady and talented hands. I hope you’ll all read Joyce Carol Oates’s fascinating Q&A that tells how this piece began with a painting, and then became a poem, and is now a powerfully unnerving, voice-driven story that will grip you from the first page to the very last sentence.-HT

Paintings with people in them always suggest a narrative. Part of the fun of looking at, say, Vermeer’s “Girl Reading a Letter at an Open Window” is wondering what the story is behind the image. Why does this pregnant woman reading the letter look so sad? Who is the letter from? Is it bad news? Maybe from the unborn child’s father? We can’t help but wonder about the context and start filling in the blanks. But it takes an imagination as colossal as Joyce Carol Oates’s to look at Edward Hopper’s painting, “Eleven A.M.” and create the story you’re about to read. the painting, a woman—naked but for a pair of high-heeled shoes—sits in a chair and stairs out through an open window. The woman seems to be waiting for something. The title of the painting tells us only the time of day. As Oates reveals in her interview with One Story, one of her starting points in writing about this woman is that she is forever trapped in her waiting; it is, forever, eleven a.m.

Waiting for what? Waiting for whom?

We’re honored to welcome Joyce Carol Oates into the One Story family, and we’re delighted to present to you “The Woman in the Window.”

Issue #216: Catacombs
by Jason Zencka

cover_os_216On my first trip to Rome, I visited the Capuchin Crypt, beneath the Santa Maria della Concezione dei Cappuccini. Inside those underground caverns I discovered a true Momento Mori—thousands of skeletons of Capuchin monks, deconstructed to form elaborate frescoes and decorative arches—as well as a sign that read: What you are now we used to be; what we are now you will be. The monks, I was told, would pray in the crypt every night before going to sleep, among the vertebrae and femurs and skulls of their brothers. When I first read Jason Zencka’s “Catacombs,” I was reminded of the beauty of that cold, dark place—not just because of the reference to the catacombs and tunnels that the narrator, George, travels to over his life, but because of how perfectly this story captures the mysterious places our minds create and then wander through, when dealing with the loss of someone we love. “Catacombs” breaks so many rules of fiction, slipping through time, playing with point of view, deconstructing its own narrative voice, and yet somehow through this process, it sets its finger exactly on a difficult truth—the guilt of those of us left behind, so desperate to commune and connect that it leads us to find solace and beauty in fragments, whether they are pieces of bone or memory. That this is Jason Zencka’s debut publication makes “Catacombs” all the more special. Please read his Q&A to find out more about this remarkable story, and in the meantime, join me in welcoming a talented new writer to the literary stage.

Issue #215: Case Studies by Charles Bock

215.coverA few years ago, two close family members of mine were diagnosed with cancer. I’d lost other relatives, friends, and co-workers  to the disease before, but this was the first time I was dealing with the day-to-day and sometimes hour-to-hour intricacies of care-taking, surgeries, treatment side-effects, hospital visits, and health insurance. The anxiety, strangeness, intimacy, love, helplessness, humanity, and at times, God-help me, dark humor of that experience came rushing back as I read Charles Bock’s “Case Studies.” Set as a series of fictional medical histories of patients, each record moves quickly from the hard facts of diagnosis to the existential questions of healing, building a mosaic of the daily, quiet heroism of patients and their caregivers, while at the same time condemning the bureaucracy of our current health care system. I encourage everyone to read Charles’s Q&A with us as a companion piece to this extraordinary story, where he talks about his own experience caring for his late wife Diana, his decision to explore this subject matter via fiction instead of memoir, and how “Case Studies” fits into the larger narrative of his highly anticipated forthcoming novel, Alice & Oliver. To steal a phrase from Charles—dealing with cancer sucks rocks. But “Case Studies” is more than just a cancer story. It asks: How do we face our daily lives with dignity and hope when our bodies begin to fail us? Every one of us will have to answer that question someday. But we don’t have to do it alone. One of the magical things about fiction is how it creates a mirror of interior worlds. Moments of recognition. When you find one of them on the page, you feel it in your bones. Yes, you think. Exactly. That is exactly how it feels. And you know that you have found a fellow traveler. In these brief medical histories, “Case Studies” introduces us to six such fellow travelers as they navigate the treacherous path of illness, exploring the failures, sorrows, hopes, and mysteries of the human experience.

Issue #214: Durga Sweets by Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni

214-coverA long time ago, in a galaxy far, far away, I was an editorial intern working at The Atlantic Monthly. One of the big perks of the job was the giant pile of galleys (also known as ARCs—Advanced Reading Copies) that the assistants and interns were allowed to peruse and take home, once the editors had finished reviewing them. It didn’t matter that these were little more than loosely-bound manuscripts. They were FREE BOOKS and very exciting to an avid reader like me, who spent any extra money from my paycheck at bookstores. Galleys gave us a special “sneak peek” into a book six or eight months before it was published, and I discovered that it was thrilling to read a novel or memoir before anyone else had turned its pages. One of the very first galleys I chose from the Atlantic’s pile was Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni’s unforgettable collection of short stories, Arranged Marriage. I have strong memories of reading those enchanting tales, and so, now, many years later, when a NEW galley of Divakaruni’s work passed my desk, I jumped at the chance to publish her in One Story. Set in India, “Durga Sweets” skips from moment to moment, telling the story of a relationship backwards in time. Together with the delightful bachelor Bipin Bihari and the savvy sweet shop owner Sabitri, we travel from their final parting towards the unforgettable moment when these characters first meet. Woven between these many years is a deep unrequited love, as well as marvelous confections of mango, cardamom, and saffron, created by Sabitri at her shop, Durga Sweets. Read our Q&A with Chitra Banerjee Divakaruni, where she discusses how she wrote this lovely story, and shares a special recipe for Sandesh! In the meantime, I hope you will all enjoy this moving tribute to loyalty and friendship, and consider this issue of One Story your own personal “galley” to Divakaruni’s marvelous forthcoming novel-in-stories, Before We Visit the Goddess.