Issue #187:
A Good Problem to Have
by B.J. Novak

187-coverA man leaves Chicago on a train heading for Cleveland at 60 miles per hour. Another man leaves Cleveland heading for Chicago on a train going 85 miles per hour. How long before the two trains cross paths? This standard math question is something we all eventually face in grade school. To solve it, determine the distance (308 miles), the relative rate of the two trains (60 + 85=145), and use the formula Distance ÷ Rate=Time. But what if some of the elements of this equation changed? What if the two people traveling weren’t strangers, but a man and woman who are in love? What if the distance wasn’t 308 miles, but the years since one of them has passed away? What if the child solving this problem learns not math—but how to live a fuller life? All of these questions come into play in our new issue, B.J. Novak’s “A Good Problem to Have.” This short piece begins as a mad-cap lark, when the aged author of our famous train problem arrives and demands compensation from a fourth grade class. But as he settles in and tells his tale, the students soon learn that the truth behind this equation isn’t arithmetic—it’s a love story and life lesson hidden within the numbers. Be sure to read Contributing Editor Will Allison’s Q&A with B.J. Novak about the inspiration behind this sharply-written, funny, curious and moving story. And check out B.J.’s story collection, One More Thing, when it hits bookstores next month.  In the meantime, take out a piece of scrap paper and start crunching those numbers. (The answer is: two hours and twelve minutes. The other answer is: make every second count.)


Issue #186: Mastermind by Jen Fawkes

186-coverWho is your favorite Bond villain? Whenever I ask this question, people have their answer ready, as if they have been considering it for years. Some pick the classics from Ian Fleming’s universe, such as Goldfinger (“No Mr. Bond, I expect you to die!”), Jaws (mouth of metal) or Oddjob (deadly bowler hat). Some are fans of Mr. Big (“Names are for tombstones, baby!”), Rosa Klebb (killer shoes) or Ernst Stavro Blofeld (stroker of the white cat—later sent up by Mike Meyers as Dr. Evil). In many ways, these “bad guys” are more memorable than the men who have stepped in and out of the role of the hero. But what would happen if “real life” entered into this fictional world of dastardly plans? What if, for example, Dr. Evil got Alzheimer’s? That is the question Jen Fawkes asks in her highly imaginative, satirical and moving story, “Mastermind.” Set in a volcano—a VOLCANO, people!—our new issue is narrated by Carl, the right-hand man and care-giver of an evil menace who is slowly losing his mind. Be sure to read our Q&A with Jen Fawkes to find out more about the inspiration behind this gripping story of fathers, sons, memory and heart-break. And now—back to the volcano! Will Carl be able to keep his boss’s illness hidden from the rest of their evil organization? Or at least hidden long enough to blow up Mt. Rushmore? You’ll have to read “Mastermind” to find out.

Issue #185: Marlinspike by Tom Paine

cover_185Just as the cold weather sets in, our new story takes us on a trip to the islands. “Marlinspike,” by Tom Paine explores love, loss, and the connections we make while healing. Contributing Editor Will Allison saw this story through from start to finish, and so I’m passing the microphone into his capable hands. Enjoy!-HT

I’ve long been a fan of Tom Paine’s work—not the Tom Paine who wrote Common Sense back in 1776 but rather the O. Henry and Pushcart Prize–winning author of the story collection Scar Vegas—so I was thrilled when Tom sent us the story in our latest issue, “Marlinspike.”

Set on the Carribbean island of St. John, “Marlinspike” is about the extraordinary friendship between a grown man, Phineas, and a ten-year-old girl, Julia—a relationship that immediately reminded me of Seymour Glass and Sybil Carpenter in J.D. Salinger’s “A Perfect Day for Bananafish.”

“Marlinspike” opens as Phineas, a med-school-dropout-turned-dive-instructor, is abandoned by his fiancée, also named Julia, on their wedding day. The problem is that Phineas won’t grow up. As Phineas’s sister tells him, “You can do everything, but your heart’s in nothing.”

Phineas is preparing to throw his homemade wedding cake into the sea when he meets a young girl, Julia, who’s visiting St. John with her father, a recently widowed eye surgeon from Savannah. Neither have come to terms with Julia’s mother’s death.

Unsupervised on the island, Julia attaches herself to Phineas—two damaged souls with time on their hands. The friendship that develops between them is sweet, unpredictable, and charming—but also full of danger: rocky cliffs, windswept seas, Carribbean wasps, a five-foot barracuda. It’s hard to imagine, given how reckless and injured they are, that things won’t turn out badly for Phineas and Julia.

I hope you find “Marlinspike” as memorable and moving as we did. And be sure to check out our Q&A with Tom Paine to learn about his years in St. John, the inspiration behind “Marlinspike,” and what Tom thinks of Kenny Chesney.

Issue #184: ReMem by Amy Brill

184-cover (4)Sometimes I lie awake at night replaying events from the past in my mind. What if I had done this instead? What if I had noticed that earlier? And sometimes—I wonder if I am remembering everything correctly. Go to any family reunion, and you’ll hear a dozen different versions of how Grandma met Grandpa, or who said what at Aunt Reba’s wedding, or where Great Uncle George served during the war. This concept of memory and how it is shared, lost, and re-formed is at the heart of our spellbinding new issue: “ReMem,” by Amy Brill. Set in the future, “ReMem” opens on a world where people no longer rely on their memories alone—instead their brains are synched with a computer system that “uploads” directly online, where people can share their experiences with others, delete memories they wish to forget, or re-live the same moments in the past, over and over. Part love story, part social commentary, and part sci-fi detective story, “ReMem” delves deeply into the ways that we hide and reveal our inner selves, while giving a fresh take on where science and social media are (possibly) leading us. Be sure to read our Q&A with Amy Brill to find out more about the inspiration behind this beautifully-wrought and highly imaginative story. And the next time you login to Facebook, Tumblr, Vine, Instagram or Twitter, you may want to think twice before you hit “upload.”

Issue #183: The Signature of All Things

183-cover (360x504) (2)For the past year, I’ve been spending a lot of time at the American Museum of Natural History. I go there for inspiration, but also to teach creative writing—my students happily scribbling in front of a diorama of mountain gorillas, or underneath a skeleton of a Tyrannosaurus Rex. When fact and fiction (science & literature) mix, our imagination can blossom in surprising ways. And this is exactly what happens in One Story’s current issue, “The Signature of All Things” by Elizabeth Gilbert. Set in Philadelphia in the 1800s, this vividly-drawn, magically-detailed, humorous and moving story follows the early years of a budding young scientist, Alma Wittaker. Growing up on White Acre, her family’s botanical garden/estate, and encouraged by her parents—who are at turns severe and loving—Alma cultivates a curious mind. She wants to know how things work. But also: why. It is this pursuit of why that determines the course of Alma’s life, as she searches for her place in the world. This story is an excerpt from Elizabeth Gilbert’s forthcoming novel of the same title, The Signature of All Things, and so you—lucky readers—can continue on Alma’s journey of science and discovery when the book hits stores in October. Be sure to read Elizabeth Gilbert’s Q&A with us about her research, and the influence of Linnaeus and Darwin on her work. And the next time you find yourself in a science museum, stop and consider the many people who have dedicated their lives to expanding our knowledge of the natural world. In their own way, both scientists and writers play the role of detective, trying to unearth the truth of our existence in the universe. For scientists it is a factual truth—and for writers, an emotional one. There is a story behind every diorama, each skeleton and diagram of the moon. Look closely at that early botanical sketch of a Red Mulberry leaf. Notice the veins, the shape of the tip. Take out your notebook and pen. And start writing.



Issue #182: Drawn Onward

182-cover (360x504)When One Story started back in 2002, we made the unusual decision to publish authors only once. There were two reasons for this: 1) To ensure that our magazine would never become an insider/clique. And 2) To give our subscribers an exciting new voice in every issue. One Story has published 181 stories from 181 different writers from around the world, and a big part of why the magazine continues to be fresh and relevant in today’s literary community is because of this guiding principle.

To continue in the tradition of new experiences, we’ve decided to take a step outside our regular format with issue #182, and publish a graphic short story: “Drawn Onward” by Matt Madden. I was first introduced to Matt Madden’s work through his exceptional book, 99 Ways to Tell A Story. Ever since I read it, I’ve been thinking of how literary writing and comics intersect, and I knew that I wanted to run a graphic short someday in One Story.

In “Drawn Onward,” a man and a woman cross paths in a series of chance encounters in the New York City Subway system. As obsessions grow and falter, these characters walk closer and closer to the edge, striking a dangerous balance. With each new panel “Drawn Onward” adds a layer to the puzzle, using a mirrored structure of time and place to illustrate the fragile nature of love, and how we seek each other in our own reflections.

We hope you enjoy this special edition of One Story. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Matt Madden about how he created “Drawn Onward,” especially if this is your first comic/graphic experience. When you’re finished, I hope that you will turn the magazine over and open the pages again. With each new read you’ll notice another detail. Like the wonderful issues we’ve published in the past, “Drawn Onward” weaves together an intricate pattern of words and images. And like the best short stories, it stands alone as a deeply moving work of art.

One Story’s First Graphic Short Story!

MaddenDear Readers,

We are thrilled to share some exciting news: in our next issue, #182, One Story will publish our first graphic short: “Drawn Onward” by Matt Madden. Today our printer sent this picture of the first printed issue, hot off the press! We can’t wait to share it with you.

But wait, what’s that you say? Your subscription has lapsed, and you can’t bear to miss this landmark issue? No worries: just use the promo code MADDEN in the payment section when you renew, subscribe, or give a gift to a friend, and the first issue received (by you or your friends) will be Matt Madden’s tragically beautiful love story “Drawn Onward”, set in the New York City subway system.

We’ll be posting more when the issue comes out. Until then, make sure your subscription is up to date, and be prepared for something special in the mail!



Issue #181: Between Ship and Ice

181-cover2 (360x504)Our new issue, “Between Ship and Ice,” follows the strained relationship of a father and daughter, at the crossroads of both identity and adulthood. Adina Talve-Goodman, One Story’s managing editor, pulled this story from our slushpile, and acted as issue editor, so I’ll be turning the introducing reins over to her. I hope you’ll all enjoy this unique tale, set on the polar ice of Norway. Skål! -HT

When I was around ten years-old, a friend told me she wanted to have a polar bear as a pet. “It would probably eat you,” I said. We argued about whether or not she could train the polar bear to sit when she commanded, like her dog. She said she could. I said it would still be a polar bear and that her dog never really sat when she told him to. We never resolved the issue.

Perhaps it was the memory of that conversation that drew me to pull “Between Ship and Ice” by Chelsey Johnson from our submissions. More likely, it was the quiet nature of the story and the skillful shifting of points-of-view while Synneva, a seventh grade girl, and Erlend, her estranged father who has recently come out to all but his daughter, trek across Svalbard in search of polar bears. Along the way, Synneva and Erlend are on parallel tracks—discovering new lives independent and yet complicatedly bound by missing the other. The question of whether the two will find each other again looms. You can find out more about how Chelsey crafted these two unique voices and learned to speak Norwegian in her Q&A.

So, in these hot summer days, I’m happy to present this story filled with ice floes, snowmobiles, Norwegian folklore, and, yes, polar bears.

Issue #180: The Prospects

180-portrait (480x640)My experience with football is extremely limited. But in high school the game was everywhere, and it followed the basic script: Footballers swaggering down the halls, Cheerleaders with their short skirts and high ponytails. This athlete/hero-worship culminated in a Thanksgiving game, and a giant rally where Freshman, Sophomores, Juniors and Seniors put on skits that celebrated our football team. The head coach would get up and give a speech about how great these young men were, and how the team was going to cream our rivals, and then he would introduce each player, and they would come running down the aisle of our auditorium like they were super-stars. I had blocked this memory from my consciousness (I was in science club—need I say more?), but it all came flooding back when I first read our new issue, “The Prospects.” In these beautifully-written pages, Michelle Seaton deftly chronicles two story-lines—that of the Prospects (young footballers full of hope and bravado), and that of the Recruiters (the Prospects’ doomed future-selves). Using a group point-of-view narration, “The Prospects” lifts the classic football cliché out of the world of after-school specials and sets it alongside the great epics, exploring the culture of youth vs. age, hope vs. decline. Be sure to check out our Q&A with Michelle to find out more about her research with the players and the men hired to scout their talents. It all comes together in “The Prospects,” and was enough to make even this bookish nerd care deeply about football and the young men who play it. Quite a feat.

Issue #179: Snuff

179-cover_Page_01 (2)Our next issue, “Snuff,” is a part of Jodi Angel’s new collection of stories, You Only Get Letters from Jail, which has just been released by Tin House Books. We’ve been fans of Jodi’s work since we read her first book, The History of Vegas, and are thrilled to welcome her to our pages. I’ll now turn the introducing reins over to Contributing Editor Karen Friedman, who took this story from first to final draft. Be sure to check out Jodi’s Q&A with us on how she wrote this extraordinary tale of brothers, sisters, and growing up.-HT   

Here’s a confession: I’ve been sweating this introduction for weeks. In some ways I feel like I’m bringing home a boyfriend, who maybe looks a little tougher than my usual type. You know, visible tattoos and combat boots, the kind of guy that can hold his own in a bar fight. After working with Jodi Angel on Snuff for the past few months, I’d almost forgotten how violent the subject matter can seem to someone who hasn’t read the story yet. I imagine my mother wrinkling up her nose as I explain what a snuff film is and want to reassure her (and all of you) that here the violence is not an end unto itself. There’s so much more making this story great.

Don’t get me wrong. There are graphic passages. Not only related to what the main character, Shane, has seen, but also what he and his sister, Charlotte, are doing on a deserted country road. Jodi’s language is nearly clinical in these spots, with nothing in excess, nothing gratuitous. By the cadence and rhythm of her sentences, she compels the reader forward, even if we fear things will end badly. More than her flawless technique, however, is the way Jodi’s portrayal of this brother and sister obscures the violence, and brings the entire piece to a different level.

We root for Shane and Charlotte as they struggle with secrets that are never quite revealed to one another. They accept what is still unknown in each other because there is no other choice. The strength of their bond in all its messiness is what initially drew me to Snuff and is what keeps me engaged every time I reread it. Shane and Charlotte are the heart of this story, and I hope you love being with them as much as I have.

For more on how Jodi crafted this story, check out our Q&A.