Issue #208: Mothers, Tell Your Daughters by Bonnie Jo Campbell

It is an enormous thrill to be publishing Bonnie Jo Campbell in the pages of One Story. I’ve been a fan every since I read her collection, Women & Other Animals. Everyone should be pre-ordering her new book, which includes our current issue, “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters.” This marvelous tale inhabits a voice that will charm, shock, and ultimately haunt you.  With gratitude, I’m turning the introduction reins over to Contributing Editor Will Allison, who brought this wonderful writer to our pages. –HT

MTYD-cover (480x640)In our latest story, the narrator of Bonnie Jo Campbell’s “Mothers, Tell Your Daughters” (issue #208) is a tough woman—widow, mother of six, smoker, drinker, drowner of kittens, butcher of chickens and cows, breaker of horses, lover of men. But most of all she’s a talker; indeed, talking is, as Campbell puts it our author interview, “her great power.”

The problem is, this woman just had a stroke. She can hardly speak a word as she lies in bed in the old Michigan farmhouse her father built, cared for by nurses and her estranged daughter, Sis. “Now she can only try to explain her life to herself,” says Campbell. “Probably it’s what we all end up doing in the end.”

What this narrator has to say about her life might surprise you. She’s proud of the fact that she didn’t worry about her kids when she raised them. She doesn’t regret letting her husband and boyfriends beat her children. She refuses to apologize for allowing her kids to eat PBB and lead paint. And she doesn’t really like when her grandchildren visit. (What she’d really like, at the moment, is a jelly jar of elderberry wine.) As much as she wants to believe she lived her life right, however, she does have a few regrets, one in particular involving her boyfriend Bill Theroux and Sis. But if that sounds like the sort of regret you’ve read about before, get ready for another surprise.

We’re thrilled to present the title story from Campbell’s forthcoming collection; it features one of the strongest and most distinctive characters we’ve encountered in a long time—a woman you might come to love in spite of yourself, and a woman you definitely won’t forget. If you’d like to learn about the inspiration for this character—and find out which two words Campbell never uses in her fiction—be sure to check out our author interview.

Issue #207: Safety
by Lydia Fitzpatrick

cover_207One of my favorite school memories involves a giant parachute. Once a month, our gym teacher would unroll the colorful fabric. My class would stretch across the floor and play games, raising it up and down, catching the air. There was something magical about that moment, when we were all under the parachute together, and I remembered it vividly when I first read our new issue, “Safety” by Lydia Fitzpatrick. This finely-wrought tale explores a difficult subject: school shootings. The material might seem a bit daunting to some readers, but I will say now that if you do not open this story, you will be missing out on an astonishing accomplishment of suspense and point of view, that somehow turns a deplorable situation into a moment of courage, faith, hope and connection. Check out Lydia’s Q&A with us about how she explored her own fears while writing this compelling story. And when you’ve finished, you might find yourself thinking of your old gym teacher who always made you run extra laps, and the thrill of lifting a parachute over your head with the rest of your class. All those tiny hands making something enormous happen, with material strong enough to save lives, and still thin enough to let the light shine through.

Issue #206: Bursk’s Cutting Board by Scott Cheshire

issue206Nothing taught me more about the inner lives and desires of people than waiting tables. From the maniac chefs in the kitchen, to the customers demanding substitutions, to the bartenders passing around kamikaze shots, a restaurant is full of drama and bursting with energy. At the center of it all, of course, is the food that is being served. The pleasure of eating and the awakening of the senses. But what happens when a bite loses its taste? When a man whose entire life has been focused on cooking finds himself the one being cooked for? This is the dilemma in our new issue, “Bursk’s Cutting Board” by Scott Cheshire. As the narrator awaits what could be his final meal, he reminisces on his past and his marriage, sifting through his memories as the smell of his wife’s cooking winds through their apartment to the bedroom (now sickroom). Bursk has lost his appetite, and though he hides this from his wife, this loss intertwines with all his other regrets and fears. He worries: was he a good husband? He worries: what will happen when I am gone? In the end Bursk connects it all–his past, present and future—in a rousing speech that clutches at joy and salutes his hopes and dreams. I hope you’ll read Scott Cheshire’s Q&A with us on how he wrote this compelling and moving story, and also this interview where Scott discusses publishing his celebrated debut novel, High as the Horses’ Bridles, and what it’s like to be a One Story Literary Debutante. Until then, let’s all raise a glass to first books, and to great meals, and to the smell of garlic lingering on our fingers.

Issue #205: Tell Us You Were Here by Anne Valente

205-cover What haunts us isn’t always supernatural. Loss and regret can float through the dark the same as any phantasm, and they both come to roost in Anne Valente’s marvelous story, “Tell Us You Were Here.” Contributing Editor Karen Friedman took this piece through from start to finish, and so I’m turning the introduction reins into her hands. We’re thrilled that Anne will be one of our Literary Debutantes at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball on May 15th (get your tickets now!) for her collection, By Light We Knew Our Names (Dzanc Books), which Matt Bell called: “a striking debut, reminiscent of Aimee Bender and Lorrie Moore, but with a bright promise all its own.”-HT

Do you have a ghost story? I do. One night, when I was eighteen years old and crying in bed, the springs of my mattress compressed beside me and a hand touched my leg. This contact was the culmination of months of eerie activity in my room – mostly missing items suddenly reappearing and unexpected noises. Senior year had been rough. Within one week, my grandfather died and my parents announced their divorce. The ghostly hand on my leg was not menacing, but somehow caring. It freaked me out.

Our latest issue, “Tell Us You Were Here” by Anne Valente is all about ghosts and what beliefs become necessary for a person to survive. The story centers on an unlikely trio of women ghost hunters, each with her own reason for searching out proof of the unknown, each damaged in her own way. The women seek a ghost named Patience Worth, who in the early part of the 20th Century supposedly penned novels and plays through the medium (and actual historic figure) Pearl Curran.

The narrator, a non-believer and a geologist by training, has recently fled her adult life and returned home to St. Louis. She is working at a coffee shop by day and getting stoned in her parents’ basement every night. Anne expertly interweaves fact and fantasy, the narrator’s concrete knowledge of geology with a spiritual search in which proof is often elusive.

My daughter, too, looks for proof about the things she loves, but fears may not be real. Like Narnia. Or the Tooth Fairy. We’re careful to walk the line between honesty and her imagination. My practical side recognizes the flimsiness of my superstitions. But belief in a little everyday magic has made my life richer, given me strength, even been a comforting hand at a time when I needed it. So when my daughter asks, I paraphrase the old line about there being more things between heaven and earth than we can imagine. I hope, like the narrator in “Tell Us You Were Here”, that even in the face of overwhelming reason, the chance of what might be possible is enough.

For more on Anne’s historical inspiration and how her story developed, please visit our author Q&A. We hope to see you on May 15th in Brooklyn, where we’ll be celebrating Anne as one of our literary debutantes! Read an additional interview with Anne about publishing her first book here.

 

 

Introducing 2015 Debutante: Katie Coyle

vivianappleOn May 15th, at our 6th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating 10 of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week we have the pleasure of chatting with Katie Coyle, author of One Story issue #192 Fear Itself, and the debut Vivian Apple at the End of the World from Houghton Mifflin Harcourt. When Vivian Apple discovers her parents are missing and two holes in the roof in their place, she sets out to get answers on a road trip across “post-Rapture” America with her best friend Harp and a mysterious boy named Peter. Vivian’s quest to find her parents brings her to larger questions about identity, belief, and growing up and highlights Katie Coyle as an exciting new voice.

Where were you when you found out your first book, Vivian Apple at the End of the World, was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

I was sitting on my couch, opening up my e-mail, after an aborted attempt at doing Pilates. I don’t know that I ever attempted Pilates again after reading that e-mail. I celebrated by taking a train downtown in the middle of the day to meet up with my husband, who was so crucial to me in getting the book written and out into the world. We ate cheeseburgers and laughed like idiots and later that night I’m pretty sure I got really drunk.

Your story “Fear Itself”, issue #192 of One Story, also revolves around teenage girls. Why did you decide to focus on teenage girls in both “Fear Itself” and the novel?

In both instances, it was extremely intentional. Vivian and the girls in “Fear Itself” are all dealing with the same fundamental problem, which is finding that their own wants and fears and personalities don’t seem to fit the cultural understanding of what a girl should be. This has been a fundamental challenge in my life, from my teen years until today, and I’m always fascinated by stories that touch on it. I’m really weary of the teen girl stereotype that persists in pop culture, all these ditzy and dramatic backstabbers. Having been a teen girl myself, having known so many teen girls, I’m interested in that space between the stereotype and the actual, far more complicated truth. The characters I write tend to be girls who have felt pressured to limit themselves, and then over the course of the story they inevitably snap, often in (to me) funny and compelling ways.

Throughout the book, Vivian is questioning her beliefs and religion. What inspired you to explore this?

I started writing Vivian Apple about four years ago now, shortly after a 2011 prediction from a man named Harold Camping that the Rapture and apocalypse were imminent. After his predicated date came and went and nobody seemed to have been raptured, I read an article about a family wherein the parents had believed Camping, had given him a lot of money and were anxiously anticipating being saved, and their teenage children were far more skeptical. The article was kind of jokey, but I thought the dilemma of the kids was a really powerful one. Not only were they setting themselves in opposition to these huge ideas about God and salvation, but they were taking a stand against their parents, too. I have always been interested in the way young people often have to reject the values of the generation that came before them in order to define themselves as their own autonomous individuals, and I saw a lot of potential in writing a story about a family divided along similar lines.

What are you working on now?

I’m trying to finish up a draft of my third novel, a fantasy—which is also and perhaps unsurprisingly about a teenage girl—before August, which is when I’m due to give birth to my first child.

What are you most looking forward to at the One Story ball?

I’m looking forward to meeting the other debutantes, who are all extremely talented and intimidating and good-looking. I’m also looking forward to snacks; I assume there will be snacks.

Introducing 2015 Debutante: Matthew Baker

If-You-Find-ThisOn May 15th, at our 6th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating 10 of our authors who have published their debut books over the past year. In the weeks leading up to the Ball, we’ll be introducing our Debs through a series of interviews.

This week we have the pleasure of talking to Matthew Baker, author of the Middle Grade novel, If You Find This, published in March 2015 by Little, Brown. Matthew’s short story, Rites, One Story issue # 203, was also published this past March.

If You Find This follows Nicholas Funes as he struggles to save his home from being sold which would leave his brother—a tree in his backyard—alone. That is until his senile grandfather, released from prison, stays with his family and spins a story about priceless family heirlooms. He’s soon aided by two unlikely classmates, a nursing home escapee, and a rundown “haunted” house. Mixing mathematical and musical techniques, Baker tempers Nicholas’s whimsical adventure with a voice that is uniquely engaging and emotional.

You’ve published many short stories. How did publishing your first novel, If You Find This, feel different? How did you celebrate?

My family knew I’d work straight through pub day if there wasn’t some type of intervention, so my mom and my sister stepped in and threw a launch party at the local art museum. My K-12 teachers were all invited and got free copies. And that really turned out to be the perfect way to celebrate—a reunion with all of those people who had helped raise me as a child. (The best part was, after the party I learned that while I had been busy signing books for people, everybody had secretly been signing a copy of the book for me, like a yearbook.)

As writers we are told to limit adverbs. Yet you embraced them in a powerful and unique way through Nicholas’s adverbial use of musical dynamics and by incorporating musical notations into the text of the book. What’s the story behind how you developed this technique?

I was reading a lot of comics and thinking about the storytelling moves that cartoonists can do on the page that aren’t possible in any other medium. In Peanuts, Charles Schulz uses music staffs and music notes visually in a variety of different ways, with characters actually interacting with the music in certain strips. There’s a long tradition of that in comics, of course—almost half a century before, Winsor McCay was already using music in similar ways in Little Nemo in Slumberland. Anyway, reading comics in bed one night, I wondered, “Would there be a way to use music notations in prose…?”

Your previous stories were for adults. How was writing a Middle Grade piece different?

The age of the audience doesn’t change anything for me, honestly. For example, I just finished a novella about an elderly man in Arizona. And the “ideal reader” for the novella would probably be someone in the age range of 67-100. I think that’s the demographic that might relate most to the protagonist, the demographic that might best understand what the protagonist is going through. Of course, that’s not an actual marketing category—“elderly literature”—but if it was, that’s what this novella would be. The fact that it’s aimed at older readers didn’t affect how I wrote the story, though. I was still trying (and mostly failing) to achieve all of the usual things artistically. If You Find This is the same way. The “ideal reader” for the novel is someone in the age range of 7-13, but that didn’t affect how I wrote the story, and although it’s aimed at younger readers, it’s also meant to appeal to readers of any age. Ultimately, that’s my target demographic for every story: “living humans.”

March was an exciting month for you. If You Find This and “Rites,” One Story issue # 203, were both published. Could you tell us a bit about your next project(s) and when we’ll read them?

I just finished my first collection of short stories, so hopefully you’ll get to read that sometime in 2016. I’m also revising another middle-grade novel for Little Brown, which hopefully you’ll be able to read by 2017. I’m also collaborating on a comic project with the artist Nica Horvitz, but we haven’t quite figured it out yet, so you may have to wait a while to read it…

What are you most looking forward to at the One Story ball?

Getting to meet everybody in person (finally!).

 

Issue #204: The Pole of Cold by Erika Krouse

204-cover

As the weather finally starts to turn, we’re raising a farewell mug of hot chocolate to winter in our new issue, “The Pole of Cold.” Erika Krouse’s compelling tale of love, family, and the meaning of home will have you thinking fondly of ice-cold nights, even as we enjoy the the long-awaited flowers of spring. I’m turning the introductions over to Contributing Editor Will Allison, who brought this marvelous story to our pages, but I hope you all enjoy “Pole of Cold” as much as I did. Only a story this good could have me wishing for snow in April.  -HT

If you grew up in a very small town, maybe you can relate to Verochka, the main character in our latest issue, “The Pole of Cold” by Erika Krouse. “I’ve always imagined that I would leave here at the first opportunity,” says Vera, “and never look back.”

Vera’s hometown is a remote Russian village. Remote and small: population 472. Remote, small, and cold: as in, the coldest inhabited place on the planet, a town so frigid that trees explode, voices carry for four miles, and birds freeze to death in midflight.

At twenty-two, Vera is old enough to leave, and family ties aren’t holding her back: When Vera was a baby, her mother, Tuyaara Ivanovna Kulika, ran off to Moscow with a weather scientist. When she was fifteen, her father was killed in a plane crash. Only Vera’s aunt, Lyuda, remains—and she thinks Vera should hit the road too.

So when a kind, handsome, wealthy stranger comes to town and thaws Vera’s heart, she has every reason to start packing her reindeer-fur coat and her Arctic-fox hat. But if you grew up in a very small town like Vera did, maybe you know that leaving isn’t always as easy as it seems.

In her trademark crackling prose, Erika Krouse tells Vera’s story with equal doses of humor and heart, and her portrait of Oymyakon will have you reaching for your parka as you read. Also be sure to check out our interview with the author to learn about Erika’s deep, personal connection to this story as well as her moonlighting job as a private investigator.

Issue #203: Rites by Matthew Baker

203-coverOn the outside, our new issue, “Rites” by Matthew Baker is a surreal twist on how to exit gracefully from life. But the core of this funny and surprising tale digs much deeper and comes out the other side, taking a stance that challenges society’s collective fear of aging—and values every moment that our hearts keep beating. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought “Rites” through our doors, so I’m turning the introductions over to him. We were all entranced and challenged by this extraordinary piece at One Story, and I hope that you are as well.—HT

Not long after my grandfather died from Alzheimer’s disease, I wrote a short story about a man who decides to kill himself after learning that he’s in the early stages of dementia. At the time, euthanasia activist Dr. Jack Kevorkian was in the news, and though I don’t know if my grandfather ever considered suicide (assisted or otherwise), I wanted to imagine a death for him in which he at least had a say.

That same notion—getting to choose how you’ll die—is what first drew me to the surprising, consequential story in our latest issue, Matthew Baker’s “Rites.” (Spoiler alert: I’m about to reveal the story’s premise, but I promise not to give away the ending.) “Rites” takes place at an unspecified time in the future when all responsible American citizens, upon reaching the age of 70, customarily kill themselves in the manner of their choosing. It’s not a requirement but rather a right—and a rite.

Enter Uncle Orson, a lethargic, retired history teacher who scandalizes his overlarge family by refusing to do “the rites.” As Uncle Orson’s nephew Zack tells him, “You can’t keep on, just, consuming resources, creating waste, without contributing anything to society. There are nineteen billion of us on this planet. A family planning policy helps prevent drought, prevent famine, wars over energy. By stalling, you’re hurting everybody, you’re hurting my generation, you’re hurting the kids’ generation, you’re hurting their kids’ generation, you’re living like a primitive.”

That the story finds so much humor in death is but one of its many charms. Yes, “Rites” raises big issues—the right to life, the right to death, the rights of the individual versus the rights of society—but above all it is an affectionate story of a family in crisis. I’m not sure I’ve ever read a story about death that’s so full of life, and maybe that’s the point.

If you want to know how things turn out for Uncle Orson and his family, read our latest issue. And don’t forget to take a look at our interview with the author to learn about the story behind the story and why Matthew Baker has decided against a sky burial.

Issue #202: Storm Windows by Charles Haverty

202-coverpngCharles Haverty’s marvelous “Storm Windows” reminded me of switching out the storms in my family’s creaky old house each spring and winter. It also made me grateful for every moment—even doing annoying chores—spent with loved ones.  Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this heartfelt piece to our pages, so I’m passing the introduction reins into his expert hands. I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I did. -HT

A few weeks ago, my 71-year-old dad called from South Carolina to tell me he wants to be cremated, not buried. He delivered the news matter-of-factly, but I held my breath as I waited for the bad news that surely came next.

“Is something going on?” I said. “With your health?”

“Me?” My dad laughed. “No, no. I’m good as ever. Still plugging along.” He explained that a high-school friend of his had just passed away, and it had gotten him thinking. Since I hold his power of attorney, he said, he just wanted to make sure I was clear on his wishes.

I hung up feeling relieved but with a lingering sense of having escaped a close call: one day, maybe someday soon, the news would not be so good.

Lionel Detweiler—the narrator of “Storm Windows,” by Charles Haverty—knows the feeling, and all too well. In our latest issue, he recounts three such near-misses involving his father, beginning with a half-hilarious, half-heart-stopping childhood Christmas when the elder Detweiler cannot breathe, or thinks he can’t breathe, or has a spell of some kind—it’s not exactly clear, but it’s funnier than a heart attack.

The story then vaults ahead to Lionel’s adult life, when his father survives two more brushes with death, real or imagined, including one in which Lionel nearly kills the old man himself. But don’t be fooled by the story’s comic bent: this is fiction primarily concerned with the big D, and even as Haverty’s lights-out prose had me laughing, it also had me staring down my parents’ mortality and my own.

As much as I love the first three parts of the story, though, it’s the fourth and final act that still leaves me with honest-to-goodness goose bumps each time I read it. I won’t spoil the ending for you, but if you’d like to find out how it figured into Haverty’s original conception of “Storm Windows,” and if you’d like to learn more about the story behind the story, please check out our Q&A with the author.

Issue #201: All Lateral
by Matt Sumell

201-cover No one works 9-5 anymore. Instead we’re always working, often at more than one job. Most people I know have at least two, sometimes three or four sources of income, pasting together enough to pay the rent and the heating bill with a little left over for groceries and maybe a drink at the bar. Writers don’t often write about work, but in our new issue, Matt Sumell’s “All Lateral,” jobs are everything. The narrator in this wild, voice-driven story pumps gas at a marina and knocks out drywall, surrounded by a decaying landscape and haunted by the death of his mother. Frustrated and lost, he chooses to float—through his emotions and his choices— living on a boat with a dog named Jason. Thank goodness for Jason! And thank goodness for Matt Sumell’s “All Lateral,” which finds hope in the darkest corners. I hope you’ll check out Matt’s Q&A with us on how he wrote this moving, man-not-on-a-mission story, and then buy his collection, Making Nice, which Publisher’s Weekly said was “even more fun than eavesdropping in a confession booth” and “demonstrates an almost painful compassion for the sinner in most of us.” In the meantime, let’s raise a glass to all those sinners working past 5, and to dogs everywhere, scratching at the door, forcing us to go outside and notice the world.