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


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.

Issue #200: A Party for the Colonel
by F.T. Kola

200-coverWhen Maribeth and I started One Story, our goal was to make it to 100 issues. Then in 2007 we did, publishing “Beanball” by the award-winning author Ron Carlson. After we sent his story to the printer, Maribeth and I caught our breath and looked at each other. We made it! Now what? Do we close the magazine? We thought of our loyal subscribers, our talented authors, supporters, and wonderful staff. All of these people had become dear friends, and together had formed not only a community, but a family of readers and writers. We needed to keep going, Maribeth and I decided. So we set a new goal: 200 issues.

Since then, One Story has become a non-profit organization. We’ve also expanded our family by creating a summer workshop, a membership program, and hosting our annual Literary Debutante Ball, so that our readers and writers can interact in person as well as on the page. With our new online classes, One Story has spread even further, reaching across the country and across the globe—Alaska to Africa, California to China, North Dakota to the North Pole. We’ve also launched a sister magazine, One Teen Story, to encourage and foster teenage readers and writers, so that our love of fiction and the short story can be passed to the next generation.

And now here we are at issue #200.

One of the rules Maribeth and I made when we started One Story was that we would only publish an author once. We wanted our magazine’s pages to be open to everyone, to bring a new voice to our readers with every issue, and ensure that One Story was always on the forefront of the literary scene, featuring the best established and emerging authors, side by side. Our past two stories highlight this mission: Issue #199, “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away” was written by the legendary Ann Beattie, winner of the PEN/Malamud and the Rea Award for the Short Story, while our new issue #200 is by a debut author, F.T. Kola. “A Party for the Colonel” is her first published story.

Set in South Africa in the 1970s, “A Party for the Colonel” explores Apartheid during a time of violent upheaval, with each generation seeking their own path to change. The Indian family at the center of this tale exists in a world that bars them from “Whites Only” hotels, restaurants and cinemas, but also puts them in a different class from their Black and Coloured (mixed race) African neighbors in Johannesburg. While the Colonel tries to raise the family’s status through acquiring wealth, his son joins the ANC and is held as a political prisoner. Caught between these two is the Colonel’s wife, and it is through her sorrow and fear for her child that F.T. Kola weaves this finely wrought story of hope and racial injustice.

Born in South Africa, F.T. Kola brings a unique perspective to this world-wide problem, while tugging at the reader’s heart with her remarkable prose. I hope you will read her insightful Q&A about how she wrote this story, and help me congratulate her on being One Story’s 200th issue.

Here’s to the next 100!


Issue #199: And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away
by Ann Beattie

cover_199It’s a thrill and an honor to publish award-winning author and short story master Ann Beattie in our new issue of One Story. “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away” made me hungry for pie (there are many delicious recipes in these pages). But it also made me wonder at Beattie’s skill on the page, exploring the simple events in our lives that can unseat our minds and unearth our secrets. One Story Contributing Editor & OTS Editor in Chief Patrick Ryan brought this marvelous piece to our shores, and so I’m turning the introductions into his extremely capable hands. I hope you all enjoy!-HT

There’s a phenomenon that occurs in an Ann Beattie story that always lets me know I’m reading an Ann Beattie story. The most apt comparison I can think of is that it’s a little like watching a Robert Altman film (when Altman was at the top of his game)—but in Beattie’s stories, instead of the characters all talking for their lives, they’re thinking for their lives. Even when we’re tethered to the thoughts of a single character, there’s a staccato of observations, conclusions, and second-guessing going on—all of it pinballing through outside stimuli.

In the case of “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away,” much of the outside stimuli arises from a farmers’ market. If you’ve spent any time at all in a busy farmers’ market and wondered at its bustle not just of commerce but of personalities, you’ll know what an accurate portrait of that environment Beattie has created here. And, more importantly, at the heart of this story is another portrait: Nona and Prue—two sisters in their later years, each trying to help the other out emotionally, and each doing a less than perfect job of it.

No proper introduction of this wonderful story would be complete without mentioning the pies. The pies! You’ll be entranced by the care and inventiveness Nona puts into her baking. You’ll smell the pies as Prue cradles them and boxes them up. And a little part of you—probably nestled in the pit of your stomach—will ache as those pies are bought and carried away by people who aren’t you. Still, “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away” doesn’t belong to the pies; it belongs to the sisters, both of whom I fell a little bit in love with.

We’re delighted to be publishing the legendary Ann Beattie. Be sure to read her Q&A with us about how she wrote “And Then Someone Came From So Very Far Away.” This story will both fill you up and leave you wanting more: more Nona, more Prue, more Beattie.

Issue #198: An Inventory
by Joan Wickersham

198.coverWhenever I’m feeling overwhelmed by life I make a list. Instantly I become calmer, as if by scratching out my ideas, tasks and responsibilities on paper, I’ve won half the battle. Our new issue, Joan’s Wickersham’s “An Inventory,” explores this same inclination for organization. In this charming story, a character (“you”) accounts for all of her romantic partners (even if that romance was one-sided), exploring the forces of attraction as well as the tender reaches of her own heart. Compiled chronologically, these brief anecdotes—with footnotes from the future!—become a marvelous meditation on love, faith and endurance. I was first introduced to Joan Wickersham while reading Best American Short Stories. Years later, working as a bookseller, I was thrilled to discover her wonderful novel The Paper Anniversary (and hand-sold many copies). Since then, I’ve kept track of her career and continued to admire her skillful carvings of emotional truth. Connections like this between a reader and a writer, that cover many years and many books, are why I got into the business of publishing, so it brings me particular joy to present “An Inventory” in our pagesI hope that all of you—our dear readers, writers, supporters and fans—will stop by our website to read Joan’s Q&A, and welcome her into the One Story family.

Issue #197: North by Aria Beth Sloss

197.coverOur new issue of One Story explores the fire and spark of the imagination, and how that drive to follow our dreams can sometimes lead us away from the ones we love. Contributing editor Karen Friedman has been a champion for “North” and so I am handing the introduction reins to her. I hope you all enjoy this remarkable story as it takes you on a trip in a balloon! Balloon!-HT

Ambition can be a tricky thing. Not enough and you wind up living in your mom’s basement. Too much and, well, you just might be a megalomaniac. How far can you dream and what would you give up to attain that dream? Despite all our technology and prosperity, for most of us, our aspirations can seem small. However, the late nineteenth century was full of men and women whose ambition was intertwined with a sense of entitlement and desire for adventure. Men, like Thomas Hamblen in our latest issue, “North” by Aria Beth Sloss, who pushed the boundaries of what was known by sheer force of will. In the story, Thomas believes he can reach the North Pole by hot air balloon. The idea takes hold and obsesses him, even as it places his sanity and much that he holds dear at risk. But “North” is not merely the story of an adventurer, it is also a love story, and Thomas’s wife, Mary, is fearless in her own right. Through their relationship we parse the distinction between wilderness and what is known, and the cost of un-tempered desire. Every time I read “North,” I’m struck by how much faith Thomas has in science and his own ability to conquer whatever challenges he encounters. Today, when doubt and sometimes a downright hostility toward science seem to be the norm, how glorious Thomas’s sense of possibility feels. I hope you will all love “North” as much as we do at One Story. After you read it, please be sure to check out our Q&A with Aria, and look here if you are interested in seeing some amazing photographs of the expedition that first inspired her.