OTS #62: Adysen Straw’s “Like a Rainbow”

Being at home so much lately has given me plenty of time to catch up with old friends and reminisce. (Sound familiar?) One of the things I’ve been reminiscing about is my teen years and how wonderful they were—when they weren’t difficult. And they were difficult much of the time. A lot of that difficulty, I now realize, had to do with identity: who I was and who I wanted to be, how I saw myself and how I wanted others to see me. There was disparity across the board.

Adysen Straw’s short story “Like a Rainbow”—one of the winners of our Teen Writing Contest—is all about identity. From its very first sentence, the story plunges us into what it’s like to be a teen struggling with perception: the perception that comes from without, the perception that comes from within, and the disparity that (hopefully) one day becomes harmony. One Teen Story is delighted to bring you this endearing tale of self-acceptance and the crucial role friendship can play in that process.

One Story Issue #264: Molly Gutman’s “Extraordinary Miraculous”

One of my favorite characters in our new issue, Molly Gutman’s “Extraordinary Miraculous,” is named Um. Another is named Hoo, and another, Eeag! (exclamation point included). But my favorite character has no name at all, no qualifying features, no import—and that character is the narrator.

At once sounding like a formal voiceover in a nature documentary and a concerned, helpless spectator, this narrator invites you to swoop in and observe a family that feels familiar yet is unlike any you’ve encountered before.

It can’t have been easy, living in the Pleistocene some million-plus years ago. The raising of children went hand-in-hand with the battle for survival. The ones who ate were the ones who didn’t get eaten. The ones who rested overnight and managed to survive were the ones who adapted and got lucky.

I’ve never read anything like “Extraordinary Miraculous.” In fact, when I first finished it, I sat back, pages in hand, and tried to wrap my head around how Molly Gutman had accomplished what she had; then, without getting up from my chair, I started back at the first sentence and read the story again. I’m still not sure how she did it. We hope you enjoy this odd and compelling short story as much as we did. If you get the urge to sleep in trees while reading it, keep your eyes down, not up. The stars are beautiful, but what lurks below is hungry.

Occasionally I Fall in Love with Words: An Interview with Chuck Augello

Our Literary Debutante Ball is postponed until the fall, which is when we’ll be running the rest of the interviews with the debut authors being celebrated. But given that our Debutante Chuck Augello has two books coming out in April, in the midst of a pandemic, no less, we wanted to spotlight him now. We hope you’ll consider supporting Chuck—and writers like him who have Spring 2020 release dates—by purchasing their books. – One Story

In The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love, out now from Duck Lake Books, Chuck Augello pulls us closer to the realities of everyday life by exploring magical worlds outside of our own. While whimsical and lighthearted in tone, these stories force us to reckon with our own humanity: from heartbreak to healing, from misfortune to kismet, from chaos to purpose. In Augello’s peculiar characters, we see ourselves, and these recognitions make us laugh, cry, and gape at our surprising proximity to the fantastical.

Twinkle Bharwaney: Where were you when you found out The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Chuck Augello: I was at work, so it wasn’t an environment where I could jump up and shout, “Yes!”  I think I went to the vending machine and celebrated with a pack of Peanut M&M’s.  I’m not big on celebration, particularly when it concerns myself, but there was definitely a sense of achievement, and to a lesser extent, relief. Rejection is common, and it’s easy to lose faith in oneself, so when Edward Parris of Duck Lake Books contacted me with an offer to publish my story collection, it was an important validation. Oddly, while The Inexplicable Grey Space We Call Love is my first published book, it holds that distinction by only fifteen days, and it’s the second book of mine to be accepted. Grey Space is being published on April 1, and my novel The Revolving Heart is being published on April 16 by Black Rose Writing; I received the contract offer for The Revolving Heart about a month before Grey Space was accepted. So in a short window of time there was cause for double celebration. Of course whatever celebration I might have planned for the publication dates will be tampered by the Covid-19 crisis, but I will definitely mark each date. Maybe I’ll break open another pack of Peanut M&M’s.

TB: The stories in this collection seem to deal with the arbitrary nature of timing. Whether it’s the urgency for twenty boxes of pizza or a soon-to-be-couple meeting as a man chokes on blueberry pie, your characters’ lives hinge on strange moments that change everything. Can you speak more about how you use the concepts of fate and destiny in your fiction? How do they inform both the inner and external worlds of your characters? 

CA: Interesting question. The other day my wife and I had a conversation in which I said I don’t believe in destiny, but perhaps I believe in it more than I think since it slips into my work with some frequency. Much of life is routine but every now and then we experience what I’ll call opportunities for movement, events with the potential to alter the trajectory of our lives. Usually we don’t realize it at the time, and these moments slip away. I can think of several in my own life that I let pass.  So in my stories I often place characters in situations with distinct choices, and in choosing an action, they create their destiny. In hindsight we might think it was fate, but there are multiple destinies available. You referred to the story “Pizza Monks,” in which Flynn feels his fate is certain, and it’s not a happy one.  When the monks come into his shop and order twenty pizzas, he could simply make the pies and be done with it. But it’s an opportunity for movement, and his decision to engage with the monks and deliver the pizzas himself leads to an exploration of Buddhism and the possibility of accepting his father’s suicide. From an interior perspective, it may feel like destiny, but the larger workings of the world are indifferent to us, although characters, and people, often think otherwise. I try to include that tension in my fiction.       

TB: Cool City” began with the story’s first line popping into your head one morning. You have some extraordinary first lines in this collection. Some I loved in particular were from “Thursday Night at the Tick Tock Diner, “Languid” and “Extraction.” Did these stories begin as compelling first lines too? How did these stories begin for you?

CA: Thanks for the compliment. A while back I was searching online and came across a list of one hundred great opening lines in fiction. To my utter surprise, I found one of my stories included on the list: the opening line of “Cool City,” published by One Story, which begins, “I was in the kitchen watching The Weather Channel when the girl from two floors down knocked on my door and asked if I wanted to fall in love.” I’m not sure I belong on any list that includes Tolstoy and Flannery O’Connor, but I’ll take it. Regarding your question, yes, they all began with what I hoped was a compelling first line. I struggle with endings, but my head contains a decent supply of first lines, most of which never develop into a story, or at least haven’t yet. As with “Cool City,” the opening line will arrive unannounced, and if it sticks around, I’ll start writing, hoping that a story takes shape. When it does, it’s a great feeling until I reach the end, which is when things get sticky.

“Extraction” began as an exercise in a workshop taught by Anthony Varallo at the Iowa Summer Writers Festival. The opening line came from an old-fashioned writing exercise with a prompt. “Languid” opens with the line “Three days after his roommate Calvin’s funeral, William K. fell in love with the word languid.” Occasionally I fall in love with words; over the years I’ve had relationships with brouhaha, unitard, cumbersome, and a few others, including languid, although I’ve never gone as far with it as William K. It was just a goofy idea about myself that I transformed into a story.    

There are many wonderful stories with unmemorable opening lines, but I respect the competition for a reader’s attention, and hope to hook them from the beginning. Kurt Vonnegut has written, to paraphrase, that writers should use the time of a total stranger in a way that he or she will not feel the time was wasted. With a strong opening line, I hope that a potential reader will trust that my story will be a good use of the next fifteen minutes of his or her life. Hopefully the rest of the story lives up to the beginning.

TB: How does magical realism, as a genre, afford you the breadth to explore heavier topics such as love, loss, and neuroses?

CA: I’ve never really considered these stories magical realism, though I see how the term is absolutely applicable to many of them. It’s a way of being playful and imaginative and opening doors that hopefully take the story in unique and interesting directions. My goal in writing is always to entertain; introducing magical elements provides a release valve when writing about heavier topics. It’s also wishful thinking. Wouldn’t it be great if strange, magical occurrences happened in real life? Like that Borges story, “A Very Old Man with Enormous Wings.” Who wouldn’t want to find that old man in his or her back yard? I know I would. I spend a lot of time outdoors walking my dog and I’m always hoping we’ll stumble upon something unexpected and unexplainable, but we never do. We just find discarded plastic, crushed soda cans, and the occasional dead frog. I wish it were otherwise, and some of that desire informs my approach to fiction.

TB: What is a piece of advice you would give young, aspiring writers? 

CA: It’s hard to put myself in the role of an advice-giver, especially about writing fiction, but I’ll offer a few thoughts that may be useful: first, whenever you think you’re done with a story, you’re probably only half-way there; approach your work like a sculptor chipping away at a giant block of clay until you can’t imagine the story existing in any other form. You may never write the story as perfectly as you’d like it to be, but don’t settle for anything other than your absolute best. That’s pretty standard advice; every writer mentions the importance of revision. Secondly, make sure that writing is something that you absolutely want to do because the external rewards will most likely be sporadic and not commensurate with the effort. You should really enjoy sitting down and working on a piece of writing as the reward in itself. If you knew no one would ever read what you wrote, would you still write? For me, the answer is yes, and so when good things happen, like One Story accepting “Cool City,” it’s wonderful, but it was equally wonderful sitting at my desk working through the story line by line. Finally, read a lot. It will make you a more thoughtful writer, and a better person, and it’s fun. 

Twinkle Bharwaney is a writer and student living in New York City. She is currently an MA candidate at NYU Steinhardt, pursuing a degree in Media, Culture, and Communication. She earned her BFA in Dramatic Writing from NYU Tisch in 2017.

One Story Issue #263: Shannon Sanders’s “The Everest Society”

Contributing Editor Will Allison procured and worked on our new issue, so here he is to introduce. Take it away, Will!PR

If you’ve ever lived in a high-rise, you’ll appreciate the frustration Liv MacHale and her neighbors feel in “The Everest Society,” by Shannon Sanders. The elevator in their building is out of order—indefinitely—so the residents have to schlep up and down as many as seven flights of stairs every time they go out.

To make matters worse, Liv and her husband, Dante, want to adopt a child, but first they—and their apartment—have to pass muster with a social worker. Liv, in her obsessive preparation for the home visit, fears that the building’s lack of a working elevator (not to mention its dingy stairwell) will reflect poorly on them. Easygoing Dante, on the other hand, doesn’t see what the big deal is.

This is but one of the many ways in which Dante irks Liv: He says weary when he means wary. He fails to notice the hanging produce baskets she lugs home and installs in their kitchen. He gets frisky while she’s fretting over their cracked bedroom ceiling. And when Liv mentions Margaret, the social worker, Dante can’t even place the name.

If Liv and Dante’s relationship sounds prickly, it is—but only sometimes. They actually have a pretty great marriage with lots of give and take, which Sanders renders with uncommon grace, generosity, and humor. The result is one of the most charming fictional marriages I’ve encountered. It’s also one of the most convincing, with all of the messy richness that characterizes real married life. Sanders is a rising literary talent with a gift for writing big-hearted stories, and we are thrilled to present her work in the pages of One Story.

And here’s a timely P.S. from our Managing Editor, Lena Valencia:

I live in a 60-unit apartment building in Brooklyn. My husband and some neighbors recently started a building-wide Facebook group in the hopes of creating a network of support for those who might be more vulnerable to COVID-19. As I was placing flyers outside doors, alerting the residents to the group’s existence, I couldn’t help but think of the way Shannon Sanders so expertly captures the nuances of apartment living  in “The Everest Society,” and how—whether it’s a broken elevator or a global pandemic—neighbors come together to help each other in times of strife and upheaval. It’s a message that felt especially timely at this moment. I hope you enjoy this brilliant story as much as I did, and remember to take care of each other. — Lena

One Story Issue #262: Rachel Lyon’s “You’ll Know When It’s Time”

Right around the time I was accepting the fact that I was going to have to put down my beloved, seventeen-year-old cat, a story called “You’ll Know When It’s Time” came across my desk. Something clicked in my head; this, I thought, is what people say to you when you’re dealing with having to put down your pet. Sure enough, the first line of the story was, “Once the cat died she would move to Delaware.” Excited to be reading a story by Rachel Lyon but unwilling to go there, I pushed the manuscript aside, then buried it under some folders, where it sat while I faced grim reality.

Weeks (months?) later, I finally read the story. To my great relief—which quickly turned into delight—the story was as funny as it was moving. Who would have thought you could both cringe and laugh, reading a story that dealt with such a gruesomely delicate topic? Of course, “You’ll Know When It’s Time” is about much more than a cat and a cat-owner. It’s about marriage, infidelity, parenting, aging, and so many other things. Rachel Lyon is a powerhouse of talent, and our new issue stands as a testament to that. We hope you enjoy Ida and Denny’s last hurrah as much as we did.

Announcing the winners and runners-up of the Teen Writing Contest

We are thrilled to announce the winners and runners-up of our 2020 One Teen Story Teen Writing Contest! We received over 300 entries from teen writers across the globe, and narrowing it down was no easy feat. Each winner will receive $500 and publication in a forthcoming issue of One Teen Story.

Ages 13 – 15

Winner: “Like a Rainbow” by Adysen Straw 

I reached up to pull my bangs out of my eyes and the boy in the mirror did the same. I didn’t want to look away. if I had been a girl, I might’ve said this guy was cute and crush-worthy. It took me a long couple of minutes to realize that this guy was me.”

— Adysen Straw, “Like a Rainbow”

Runner-up: “Saving Yellowstone” by Joe Palsha

Ages 16 – 17

Winner: “Fifty Square Feet Within” by Erika Yip

Mama is a fabric that has been worn and torn and stretched to near nothingness. She works two jobs—a waitress at Yiu Wah Café by day and a cleaning lady at the Hong Kong Museum of History by night—and we never have time to spend together.

—Erika Yip, “Fifty Square Feet Within”

Runner-up: “Containment” by Lukas Bacho

Ages 18 – 19

Winner: “The Squatchers” by Gabriel Krawec

Every weekend my dad and a small army who called themselves the SRA (Sasquatch Research Association) would drive into the woods to track down Bigfoot, set traps, and kill him. I remember the therapist said everyone deals with grief differently, that I should go too, so that I could ‘support’ him.

— Gabriel Krawec, “The Squatchers”

Runner-Up: “The Next Step” by Felix Foote

Subscribe to One Story or One Teen Story in print or on your mobile device to read the winners’ stories throughout the year. Our next Teen Writing Contest will take place in fall 2020. 

Support our mission to publish great teen fiction writers by donating or becoming a supporting member

Congratulations to the winners and runners-up!

Save the Date: Our Literary Debutante Ball is on April 30th!

Our annual Literary Debutante Ball celebrates One Story authors who are publishing their first books.

This year, we’re also honoring a past One Story author who has gone on to make a significant contribution to literature and the literary community. The 2020 Distinguished Alum is Celeste Ng, who published with One Story in 2007.

Celeste Ng by Kevin Day Photography

Celeste Ng is the author of two novels, Everything I Never Told You and Little Fires Everywhere.

Her first novel, Everything I Never Told You (2014), was a New York Times bestseller, a New York Times Notable Book of 2014, Amazon’s #1 Best Book of 2014, and named a best book of the year by over a dozen publications. Everything I Never Told You was also the winner of the Massachusetts Book Award, the Asian/Pacific American Award for Literature, the ALA’s Alex Award, and the Medici Book Club Prize, and was a finalist for numerous awards, including the Ohioana Award and the VCU Cabell First Novelist Award. It has been translated into over thirty languages.

Celeste’s second novel, Little Fires Everywhere, was published by Penguin Press in September 2017, and is a New York Times bestseller, Amazon’s #2 best book and Best Fiction book of 2017, and was named a best book of the year by over 25 publications. It was also the winner of the Ohioana Award and the Goodreads Readers Choice Award 2017 in Fiction, and has been published abroad in more than 30 languages.

Celeste grew up in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, and Shaker Heights, Ohio. She graduated from Harvard University and earned an MFA from the University of Michigan (now the Helen Zell Writers’ Program at the University of Michigan), where she won the Hopwood Award.  Her fiction and essays have appeared in the New York Times, One Story, The Guardian, TriQuarterly, and elsewhere, and she is a recipient of the Pushcart Prize and a fellowship from the National Endowment for the Arts.

We are also thrilled to present our 2020 Debutantes:

From Left to Right: Chuck Augello, Ayşe Papatya Bucak, & Christina Hammonds Reed

Join us as we toast these three One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year and honor Celeste Ng! The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Thursday, April 30th at Roulette in Brooklyn, NY.  We’ll have live music, dancing, hors d’oeuvres, and specialty cocktails. It is our most important fundraising event of the year. Tickets will go on sale Tuesday, February 18th.

Ayşe Papatya Bucak photo credit: Daniel Lateulade

One Story Issue #261: Josh Riedel’s “Midnight Sessions”

Our new issue — as disturbing as it is fun, and funny — was commandeered and edited by contributing editor Will Allison, so the enviable task of introducing it goes to him. Take it away, Will! — PR

I was aware that Josh Riedel had worked at Silicon Valley startups in a former life, so I wasn’t surprised to find that “Midnight Sessions” (One Story issue #261) dishes up a zesty critique of corporate technology run amok. I was, however, surprised and wholly captivated by the fantastical world that blooms within the story’s pages.

Set in the not-too-distant future, “Midnight Sessions” takes place on the vast campus of a mega-corporation called Cleo Corp, which produces, among other things, cheap cosmetics known to cause strange side effects, such as the stars that sparkle and swirl beneath Moot Mangorski’s skin after he uses—and becomes addicted to—Midnight Sessions cologne. But when Moot sues, the company’s crafty CEO, Mr. Sackamoray, convinces Moot to come work for Cleo Corp, where his perks include a free condo and a lifetime supply of the now-banned cologne.

Moot’s job is to “cure” others who suffer side effects from Cleo Corp products. These “subjects” are paid to spend three nights in a suite on campus, where sophisticated instruments collect samples from their bodies and analyze them to find a cure. (Of course the samples are secretly used for R&D purposes.) Moot has mixed feelings about his job, and he feels even more conflicted after meeting Flux, a subject whose use of Forest Fresh—a budget toothpaste—causes his teeth to sprout green, moldy fuzz. As Flux’s side effects intensify, a complicated relationship develops between the two men, and it becomes unclear if Moot will succeed in saving Flux, or vice versa.

I won’t give away more of the plot, but it’s a wild ride, and I promise the final scene is one you won’t soon forget. We’re very excited to be presenting Josh’s work here at the start of his career, and we hope you find “Midnight Sessions” to be as much a feast for the imagination as we did.

Announcing the 2020
Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow:
Arvin Ramgoolam

photo credit: Nathan Bilow

Together with the Talve-Goodman family, One Story is pleased to announce our 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman Fellow: Arvin Ramgoolam.

For 16 years, Arvin Ramgoolam has lived in the heart of the Rocky Mountains in the small town of Crested Butte, Colorado and owns Townie Books with his wife, Danica. An immigrant, he was born in Trinidad and Tobago and raised in Miami Beach, Florida. His writing explores themes of otherness, the outdoors, immigrants, and pop culture, subjects that are innately central to his very existence.

He is currently working on a collection of short stories revolving around these issues. He is also at work on a novel about people from different backgrounds moving across land and time towards the western US, culminating during election night 2016.  He is the father of twin four year old girls, Anya and Sahira, and the owner of Wylie the Wonder Dog, the best mountain dog ever.

The finalists for the 2020 Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship were:

  • Jackson Ingram
  • Wynter Miller
  • Lolita Miranda
  • Olakunle Ologunro

The Adina Talve-Goodman Fellowship was created in memory of One Story’s former managing editor, the writer Adina Talve-Goodman. This fellowship offers a year-long mentorship on the craft of fiction writing with One Story magazine, and is given to an emerging writer whose work speaks to issues and experiences related to inhabiting bodies of difference. This means writing that explores being in a body marked by difference, oppression, violence, or exclusion; often through categories of race, ethnicity, gender, sexuality, class, religion, illness, disability, trauma, migration, displacement, dispossession, or imprisonment. The previous winner of the Adina Talve-Goodman fellowship was Nay Saysourinho.

One Story is grateful to the Talve-Goodman Family, all of the friends and organizations who helped spread the word about this fellowship, and the many talented writers who took the leap and shared their work with us. Applications for our 2021 Fellowship will open in September 2020.

Photo Credit: Nathan Bilow

One Story Issue #260: Maria Lioutaia’s “Sand People”

I was on a sabbatical when ONE STORY co-founder (and all-around brilliant person) Hannah Tinti stepped in to guest-edit our new issue, so I’m turning the introduction mic over to her. Heeeeeere’s Hannah! –PR

Living by the sea is one thing in spring and summer and something else entirely after winter sets in. The beaches are deserted, the sky turns gray and the cold wind seeps deep inside your bones. But there is a magic to winter beaches–the open emptiness, the twisted driftwood and monstrous carcasses of boats and creatures that wash onto the shore. It casts a spell, just like the kind Maria Lioutaia does in her wildly creative short story, “Sand People.”

Set on an isolated peninsula for lost souls, “Sand People” begins with the depositing of an orphan boy into the home of his aunts, a set of conjoined twins. These witchy aunts make him skirts of seagull feathers and teach him how to weave nightmare catchers but also warn him to stay away from the Sand People–the human-shaped holes that glide up and down their shoreline. These sand shadows are captivating and ultimately heartbreaking, just as the affections and jealousies that rise in this three-legged, broken family. “Sand People” is about aloneness and togetherness. About the sucking pulls of despair and the saving ties of connection.

I hope you’ll read our author Q&A, where we discuss the inspiration behind “Sand People,” and how to find balance with the strange and the surreal. It’s exciting to see the leaps of fierce imagination on the page, and a thrill to wade into these winter waters with Maria Lioutaia. You never know what will be conjured next.