Introducing 2016 Debutante: Naomi Williams

Landfalls coverOn May 6th, at our 7th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating 6 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.

First up is Naomi Williams, author of One Story issue #131 “Snow Men” and Landfalls from Farrar, Straus and Giroux. Landfalls is a kaleidoscope tale of the ill-fated expedition of the ships Boussole and Astrolabe, which set sail from France in 1785 in an attempt to circumnavigate the globe and map the unknown parts of the world. The voices that populate the novel speak from locations visited along the journey—from the ports left behind, settlements visited, and journeys by dogsled across continents, and each chapter creates a new world, driven by individual desires and conflicts but all reflected in the larger story of the exploratory endeavor. Williams’ masterful narration pulls us into the individual lives affected by the voyage, but the expedition itself remains the central character as those lives intersect and diverge across the globe, and we arrive at the final page with sense that we, too, have gone on a great journey and are still yet a long way from home.

Torrey Crim: Where were you when you found out your first book was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Naomi J. Williams: Hm. I’m not sure when that moment was. I do remember where I was when I learned my agent, Nicole Aragi, had agreed to take me on. It was early morning, and I was checking e-mail over my tea, which is what I always do first thing after I wake up, and there was her “yes” e-mail. My husband had just left for work, but I ran to the garage and he was still there, so I told him, and then we both cried a little. The book then went to auction, and that was very heady in its way, but I relayed the decision to go with FSG over the phone, and then I’m pretty sure the rest of my day went as originally planned—bugging my oldest child, a high school senior then, about college applications, and my younger one about homework, then enjoying a dinner that my husband probably made. Perhaps I had an extra glass of wine that night.

A few weeks later, though, before I’d seen a dime for the book, I did celebrate by shutting down my small private tutoring business. I was a good tutor, and fond of most of my students, but whereas I’ve always loved teaching classes, especially college classes, I never really enjoyed one-on-one tutoring, which often involved trying to cajole a few sentences out of children who didn’t like to write and didn’t want to be there. Once I knew the book was coming out, the tutoring became intolerable. That was a good day, when I sent out my “Dear Parents: I have some good news and some bad news….” e-mail.

TC: Landfalls is a dense collection of experiences all influenced by the Lapérouse expedition; crew members, scientists, family members left behind, inhabitants of the places the expedition visited. What was the first seed of this story for you? How did you decide to tell the story this way, from all angles?

NW: The idea for this book came from an old map that my husband gave me many years ago. It was supposedly an 18th-century map of San Francisco Bay but turned out to be a map from the Lapérouse expedition of a bay in Alaska. (That bay is the setting of “Snow Men,” the story that appeared in One Story in 2010.) I started Googling the expedition, which I’d never heard of before. The idea for the structure of the book—a series of stories or chapters, each set in a different part of the expedition and told by a different narrator or group of narrators—sort of came to me in a flash, either that first day or shortly thereafter. I’d always liked nautical fiction and stories about explorers, but I didn’t want to write another story that centered around the great white captain and his exploits. I wanted to mess that up a little bit and include voices we don’t usually hear.

TC: One of my favorite chapters is “Dispatches,” which follows Barthélemy de Lesseps as he crosses Russia. He’s cut off from the knowledge of what his former crew-mates are going through even as he makes a perilous journey of his own; we’re able to see the story as a whole, even though he can’t. It seems that some of the pleasure of historical fiction is that the reader always knows a little more than the character; for instance, that the French Revolution is brewing while the explorers are away from home. What drew you to this particular voyage and this particular historical moment?

NW: It was pure chance that drew me to this particular voyage, as I describe above, but I think it fascinated me right away—and continued to fascinate me for the decade I spent working on the book—in part because for its time, the expedition was quite progressive. It wasn’t about claiming land for France or about extracting gold or about missionizing people in faraway places. While the ships were charged with looking for economic opportunities for France, its primary goals were scientific and cartographic. A delegation of scientists and artists accompanied the expedition. Even the chaplains were also naturalists. It was also very high-tech for its time. And yet those Enlightenment ideals and idealism and advances didn’t really protect them in the end. I was really interested in exploring that. I’m so glad you liked “Dispatches,” by the way. I’m quite fond of that chapter myself.

TC: Can you talk about how research influenced the writing of this book? Did you find that research opened up how you thought about the novel or did it create unforeseen roadblocks?

NW: I love doing research. I have a lot of faith in the creative possibilities that open up when you combine artistic curiosity with scholarship. I veered from the historical record as little as I could—not because I thought that was my “job” as a writer of historical fiction, but because that was the challenge I set myself; it was just more fun that way. I never saw the research requirements as roadblocks. On the contrary, when I felt a little stuck in a particular story or chapter, I often found that doing more research would suggest something that lit the way forward. Of course, one can do too much research. I often had to tell myself to just stop already and start writing. Enough fussing about with what people ate in the 18thcentury or how they dressed or the obscure backstory of someone who never even makes an appearance in the novel! So yeah, in that sense it could present a roadblock. Because researching was always easier and more fun than writing.

TC: “Snow Men” was published in One Story in 2010, and the story makes up a chapter of Landfalls. Did you already know where it stood in the novel? How did having that story published change your writing life?

NW: “Snow Men” was the third piece from the book to find its way into print (the other two had appeared in “American Short Fiction” and “A Public Space”). I already knew where it would be in the book, but it had been a difficult story to write, and I was aware of some risks I was taking by adopting the point of view of a young native Alaskan girl. She’s one of the few characters in the novel who is entirely fictional, yet I felt a great obligation to her to get her as “right” as possible. So the piece’s appearance in One Story was an enormous shot in the arm.

TC: What are you most looking forward to about the One Story ball?

NW: Oh, I love parties and I love dressing up. My life in a laid-back Northern California college town affords me relatively few opportunities to do either. But contrary to the usual stereotype about introverted writers who find other people exhausting, I love being around people—new friends, old friends, the works. I can’t wait.

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.

One Story’s 2016 Mentor of the Year: Jim Shepard

Jim_ShepardOne Story is thrilled to announce our 2016 Mentor of the Year: Jim Shepard.

At One Story, we believe that being a part of the literary community should include helping others. In that vein, each year at our Literary Debutante Ball we honor one established author with a “Mentor of the Year” award for their extraordinary support of fellow writers. Past honorees have included Ann Patchett,Dani Shapiro, Cornelius Eady, and Toi Derricotte.

Mentoring is the kind of work that happens behind the scenes, but is vital to keep the literary world alive and kicking. It comes in all forms—from teaching, to blurbs, to recommendation letters, to late-night reads, agent advice, one-on-one conferences, career guidance and inspiration. Behind each book on the shelf is an unseen mentor, giving an author the help they need to make their work better, to keep writing when they are ready to quit, and eventually give them a boost over the publishing wall.

Jim Shepard exemplifies this kind of gallant hard work, and we’ll be honoring him, along with our Literary Debutantes, on May 6th, 2016  at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball at Roulette in Brooklyn.  Sponsorship level tickets are available now. General Admission tickets will go on sale on April 1st.

Jim Shepard has written seven novels, most recently The Book of Aron (2015), and four story collections, including Like You’d Understand, Anyway, a finalist for the National Book Award and winner of The Story Prize. His previous novel, Project X, won the Library of Congress/Massachusetts Book Award for Fiction as well as the ALEX Award from the American Library Association. His short fiction has appeared in, among other magazines, One Story, Harper’s, McSweeney’s, The Paris Review, The Atlantic Monthly, Esquire, The New Yorker, Granta, Zoetrope: All-Story, Playboy, and Electric Literature, and five of his stories have been chosen for the Best American Short Stories, two for the PEN/O. Henry Prize Stories, and one for a Pushcart Prize. He teaches at Williams College.

Announcing One Story’s 2016 Literary Debutantes!

classicchicagodebutantes-9One Story is thrilled to announce our 2016 Literary Debutantes: 

SAVE THE DATE and raise a glass as we toast these six One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year. The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Friday, May 6th 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. VIP Tickets are available now. General Admission Tickets will be on sale April 1st. To discuss sponsorship opportunities for the One Story Literary Debutante Ball please contact: maribeth@one-story.com.

About One Story’s newest online class and how soap operas can unlock your writing

Karen 2As a Contributing Editor at One Story for the past six years, I’ve been privileged to work with many talented writers, including Megan Mayhew Bergman and Aria Beth Sloss, whose One Story issues both went on to be included in The Best American Short Stories, Jodi Angel, whose piece was chosen for The Best American Mystery Stories, and David James Possiant, whose story was part of his debut collection, The Heaven of Animals, a finalist for the Los Angeles Book Prize. Editing these authors has been a joy and taught me a great deal about the mechanics of writing and how it works. I know how to use my red pen to help bring fiction to its full potential on the page.

And yet, when it comes to my own writing I often have trouble. Besides my part-time editing job at One Story, I have two young children (ages 7 and 4). When I do manage to carve out an hour or two, the pressure to be productive can be overwhelming and I often find myself drawn away or too discouraged to continue. I suspect I’m not alone here. Whether it’s a job, an aging parent, school, or something else, there are always reasons to undercut our own writing time.

This five-day class is designed to ease the pressure we place on ourselves to be perfect, and to simply get back to having fun on the page again—through the always dramatic, often silly, totally over the top world of soap operas. While it’s easy to dismiss soaps as campy escapism, these daytime dramas tell stories that endure.

With classic soap clips as our guide, each day will contain a lesson, followed by a writing exercise designed to help you hone your skills—from building stellar openings and resonant endings to creating narrative arcs and memorable characters. As the NY Observer once declared (in an article about how literary authors such as David Sedaris and Frank McCourt were secretly watching soaps instead of working on their novels): “Writing can be dull work. The writing on soaps is everything but.”

A note from Marie-Helene Bertino on her upcoming spring workshop at One Story

BertinoPhoto1I’ve wanted to be a fiction writer since I was four years old and wrote my first earnest, terrible poem. When on late nights I ruminate on how that desire has influenced the shape of my life (the smallness of my apartment), I think mostly of the kind, brilliant people who paused their journeys to offer me advice or, at times, a strongly-worded pep talk. Anything I’ve been able to achieve has been because of these helpful souls.

Several years ago I decided to begin teaching because I finally felt I had something to bestow. I wanted to help newer writers by passing along the advice I’d received, and the advice I wish I’d received

One of the most important tools to cultivate is the ability to allow the constructive criticism of others make your work stronger. To that end, we will workshop stories with this question in mind: where do I think this writer/story is trying to go? We will tailor our critiques toward the idea of helping the writer get there. We will eschew the idea that there is one way to write fiction. We will seek out the joy in our work and the work of others and will cultivate our personal, idiosyncratic voices. 

If this sounds good to you, please join us for One Story’s Spring workshop. The workshop will meet weekly on Tuesdays evenings from February 23rd to March 22nd at the One Story Inc. office in Brooklyn. For more information and to apply, please visit the website

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.

Issue #213: The Savior of Gladstone County by J.F. Glubka

cover_213Our next issue, “The Savior of Gladstone County” introduces an exciting new voice, J.F. Glubka. Contributing Editor Will Allison brought this marvelous piece to our pages, and so I’m turning the introduction reins over to him. I hope you all enjoy this story as much as I did. -HT

is the question faced by Henry Heinrich, the protagonist of J.F. Glubka’s “The Savior of Gladstone County” (issue #213).

When Henry discovers his gift, he doesn’t try to get rich. Or seek fame. Or resolve to save the world. In fact, he doesn’t do much of anything until a friend coaxes him into serving as an “angel” for the people of their rural community.

For Henry, though, being an angel isn’t all wings and halos. “By thirty-five his hair was white,” writes Glubka, “and he’d stopped hunting and fishing. He drank more and ate less. He’d stare at the TV with the sound turned down to a hush and the lights dimmed. Too much stimulation gave him headaches. He’d let the sweetheart he’d married at nineteen divorce him with hardly a protest.” Cheating death has drained the life out of Henry.

That all changes when he meets Francis Friday, an eccentric, young divorcee and the sister of a girl Henry once saved. Henry falls in love, and Francis falls for Henry too. The problem is, Francis is also in love with Henry’s gift. And as she begins to test the limits of his power, she sets in motion a chain of events that threatens to destroy more than just their relationship.

I hope you find “The Savior of Gladstone County” as riveting as we did. And be sure to check out our Q&A with J.F. Glubka to learn about his approach to supernatural subject matter, the best writing advice he has received, and how this story was influenced by his stint as a nighttime security guard in Portland, Oregon.

Join me for a winter workshop!

PR May 2015 AltI published my first short story twenty-five years ago, and my love for writing and reading them has only gotten stronger over the years. One of the most important things I’ve learned is that honest, constructive feedback from others is an invaluable part of the process. With that in mind, I hope you’ll consider joining me for One Story’s winter workshop.

Regardless of whether you’re working on a second or umpteenth draft of a short story, this workshop will provide you with helpful criticism and set you on a path for revising. You’ll gain a deeper understanding of fiction’s inner-workings, get to offer your own feedback to other writers, and become part of a close-knit literary community.

The workshop will consist of ten students and will meet weekly on Thursday evenings (Jan. 7th-Feb. 4th)  from 7pm to 9:30pm at our office in Gowanus, Brooklyn. I hope to see you there!

About One Story’s next online class and how to become your own best editor

Will PhotoIn the summer of 1996, a few months after I finished my MFA at Ohio State, I got the luckiest break of my writing career: I landed an editorial job at Story, the fabled literary magazine that prided itself on discovering great new writers, from J. D. Salinger and Carson McCullers in the 1930s and 1940s to Junot Díaz and our own Hannah Tinti in the 1990s.

I say it was the luckiest break of my career because even though I’d been writing fiction for eight years, editing stories taught me how to write them much better. My job at Story also gave me insight into what I could expect when the day came that I’d be working with an editor myself.

In this latest incarnation of our popular editing course, you’ll get a rare, behind-the-scenes look at the editorial process. You’ll also learn to bring the same sharp editorial eye to your own work that the editors of One Story bring to each issue. Daily online lectures will guide you through a case study of a One Story debut, issue #191, “Claire, the Whole World,” by Jonathan Durbin. You’ll follow the story from first draft to publication—studying actual marked-up manuscripts—as the author and editors work together to make the story the best it can be.

In addition to drafts of “Claire, the Whole World,” the ten-day course (November 13th – 22nd) will include daily online lectures, assignments, and a message board where you can share ideas and manuscripts with other writers who are committed to becoming better editors of their own work. To find out more about this course, go here. Deadline to sign up is November 13th.

I hope you’ll join us!