My Own Third Blended Thing: An Interview with Ayşe Papatya Bucak

Though our 2020 Literary Debutante Ball has been postponed, we’re still promoting the work of our incredible 2020 Debs. We hope you consider supporting Ayşe Papatya Bucak, and all the authors who are releasing books during this challenging time, by purchasing their books.

The Trojan War Museum is a collection of short stories that explores myriad imaginative intersections between East and West, history and memory, myth and fact, and collective and personal identity. In “Good Fortune”—also published in One Story’s issue #255—a birth-tourism destination hotel in Florida is plagued by a series of threatening letters. The displacement and pain of an Armenian refugee is “performed” for an American fundraiser audience in “The Dead,” and in “The History of Girls,” a group of dead girls buried under the rubble of their school communicate with the ones still living. Each of the collection’s ten stories portrays a distinct and rich world, told with both grandness and humility, humor and grace.

Talia Aharoni: Where were you when you found out The Trojan War Museum was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Ayşe Papatya Bucak: I was at a writing residency, Willapa Bay AIR, which is on the West Coast. My phone rang really early in the morning and it was my agent. My heart pretty much stopped. After she told me Norton wanted to buy the book, I tried to call my mom, but she wasn’t home, so I wandered out of my cabin and over to the main dining room. Another writer, a poet named Amy Sailer, was there and she will forever be the first person I told and the first person to give me a big hug. The other residents, who I consider dear friends now, bought me sparkling soda and a chocolate bar and made me a card. It was actually kind of amazing to be among near-strangers and away from home, yet amongst a group of people who absolutely understood how important it was for me and who made it a big deal.

TA: There’s a fascinating confluence of both East and West in many of these stories—a meeting point between civilizations and worldviews that seem to be very much at odds. How did you attempt to treat the “clash” of cultures in this collection?

APB: Because I’m half Turkish and half American, I don’t consider it a clash, I consider it a blend or an intersection. I don’t have two cultures at odds inside of me; I’m my own third blended thing, so I tried to write stories like that. Each of the story ideas came to me when some moment of Turkishness popped up in my very American life (like when I read a newspaper article about a Turkish girls’ school that had exploded). But as I wrote more and more stories, I started to see way more similarities between East and West than I did differences.

TA: Another major theme that seems to stem from the East-West dichotomy is the idea of displacement—from the Turkish wrestler interrogated by a border official in “A Cautionary Tale,” to the Armenian genocide survivor whose story of misery is paraded around Key West in “The Dead.” These stories seem to challenge the notion that emigrating West, specifically to the U.S., is an inherently fortunate thing, despite its often “desirable” status. (See: the parents in “Good Fortune” for whom the other stories might act as a sort of cautionary tale?)

APB: I think anyone who is the child of an immigrant knows that emigrating West involves a lot of sacrifice and loss. My father was extremely assimilated, and he spoke brilliant English even before he came to the US, but he was still apart from his extended family, he was still held back from pursuing the career he had held in Turkey. And he had a good experience compared to a lot of people. Generalizations are always risky, though. Lots of people immigrate due to circumstances that are far more difficult than my father’s were. And refugees are in a totally different situation, of course. But I don’t think anyone who leaves home considers it to be without loss. Even someone like me, who left Turkey when I was four, I know that I lost something—I don’t know what exactly, but something.

TA: Each story embodies a particular, brilliantly-wrought world—but there are certainly some common threads. For one, there’s a grandness of narrative in which the stories take on a quasi-mythical quality. Can you elaborate on the significance of mythology in this collection, in terms of both plot and form?

APB: At some point I decided to see just how much a short story could fit. And I suspect that desire to write bigger, to make stories that were quite large in scale and scope, led to my embrace of mythology. Myth is a natural way to tell an epic tale in a small space. And the voice of myth—that omniscience—was useful to me. I also recently found a school project that I did around second grade that was a retelling of Greek mythology, so perhaps it’s just something I was always drawn to. Not to mention a lot of the Turkish literature that was first available to me consisted of Turkish fairy tales—those tales have long been an influence.

TA: The stories feel thoroughly researched—from the incorporation of Greek and Turkish mythology and lore, to the artwork of French painter Ingres, and even the history of the sponge diving industry. Can you tell us about the extent of your research, and what you were most surprised to discover in the process?

APB: As someone who doesn’t feel very Turkish (my mother is American and I don’t speak Turkish), Turkey, or my own Turkish identity, has long been my research project. So, to some extent, the research process has been lifelong and cumulative. But the big surprise was that I love doing research. I have some regrets now that I wasn’t a history major. For nearly every story I read dozens of books—Appalachian literature to help me write a story set in Western Virginia, books on carpet motifs, books on modern art, books by genocide survivors, the list goes on and on, but I loved doing that. For a while I had almost 200 books out from my university library. I’ve got it down to about half a dozen now—but only after a librarian looked at my account with one eyebrow extremely arched. 

Talia Aharoni is a fiction writer living in NYC. She completed an MFA at the New School with a focus in fiction, and is the recipient of the Provost’s scholarship and the 2019-2020 Teachers & Writers Magazine Editorial Fellowship. She served as an editorial intern at One Story literary magazine, editorial assistant for LIT magazine, and editorial associate for Teachers & Writers Magazine. She’s at work on her debut novel.

Use Your Writing to Subvert, to Inform, to Speak Truth to Power: An Interview with Christina Hammonds Reed

Though our 2020 Literary Debutante Ball has been postponed, we’re still promoting the work of our incredible 2020 Debs. We hope you consider supporting Christina Hammonds Reed, and all the authors who are releasing books during this challenging time, by purchasing their books.

In Los Angeles in 1992, race relations are reaching a fever pitch. As riots roar through the city in response to the police beating of Rodney King, high school senior Ashley Bennet is facing her own reckoning. The school year is coming to an end, she feels as though she’s losing everyone she loves to other priorities, and a rumor she starts reaches a fever pitch of its own, at her wealthy, predominantly white, private high school. With significant parallels to our current times, Christina Hammonds Reed’s The Black Kids, out now, is about coming-of-age in a fire, both literal and figurative – little sparks of tragedy in a teenager’s life, as the world quite literally, burns around her.

Vanessa Chan: Where were you when you found out The Black Kids was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Christina Hammonds Reed: I was at my day job at the time, which incidentally was the day job I most enjoyed out of the many random jobs I’ve had over the years. My agent called me so I rushed out of the office to take a “coffee break”. When he shared the news with me, I could barely contain my excitement. I was jumping up and down in heels outside a very corporate building in Downtown Los Angeles. Then I calmly and rather anti-climactically went back to work. I didn’t really share it with people outside of my super close circle of friends. I was terrified it would all be taken away. Eventually, I had various celebratory dinners and drinks with my family and closest friends. But the day itself was especially meaningful to me because I received the news finalizing the deal on the one-year anniversary of my grandmother’s death, so there was so much joy to be had in a day that otherwise would’ve been painful.

VC: Which did you write first, the novel or your short story (published in One Teen Story, Issue #41)? And how long did the novel take you to write?

CHR: I wrote the short story first! I had the idea kicking around in my head as a graduate thesis film back in 2010, but ultimately decided against it. However, the story wouldn’t let me go, and just felt increasingly imperative with the rise of smartphones documenting police brutality and the effects of unequal policing on Black and Brown communities over the last decade. When the short story was published, I was un-agented. My (eventual) agent reached out to me and we had a really great meeting where he asked if I had considered expanding it into a novel. My first impulse was actually to say I’d said what I had to say, and was ready to move on to the next story. But the more I thought about it, it really did feel like there was so much left to explore, specifically as it relates to class, race, mental health and what it’s like to come of age as a Black girl with some degree of relative privilege. The novel took about two and half years to write from outline to submission. I had a job that entire time and was grieving the death of both of my maternal grandparents, so it took me a little longer than I’d hoped. But it also helped me stay focused on something other than grief. The task of completing it felt like a way of honoring them.

VC: In the novel, there is a point where a well-meaning friend tells Ashley that she’s not, “Blackity Black.” A lot of the story references the different ways where Ashley is either “too Black” or “not Black enough.” Why is this part of her identity important to interrogate?

CHR: I think for those of us who grew up in non-Black areas and going to non-Black schools, this is very much part of the microaggressions we were regularly subjected to because the media portrayals of Blackness, up until very recently, have been so limited. Film, music, books, visual art, all of these, seep into our consciousness as a society and when those images are focused solely on Black struggle and degradation, non-Black people will look at a Black person who doesn’t fit that stereotype and say, “Well you’re not that. Therefore, you’re not Black.” Which is absolutely incorrect. The Black community isn’t and never has been a monolith and while we have this powerful shared and unique experience of being Black in America, Blackness doesn’t only look like one thing and never has.

VC: It seems as though this novel is both an homage to and an indictment of the city of Los Angeles. What do you love and mourn for in LA?

CHR: I love the socioeconomic, cultural and religious diversity of this place. I love the geographic diversity of this city. I love that LA in its current iteration was actually founded by Black and Brown folks, as well as originally being the land of the Tongva people. And what I mourn is that these same people who helped make this city as beautiful and culturally rich as it is are being pushed out because of the economic realities of being unable to compete with wealthy transplants, rising housing costs, and a more stratified economy. Even homes in what was traditionally considered the hood up until fairly recently are now going for over a million dollars. Gentrification and revitalization projects are good for some but often they come at the expense of Black and Brown people who get pushed out of places they’ve called home for generations. And really that gentrification has been enabled by years of neglect, of political and economic disenfranchisement in the years leading up to and following the riots, from which many of these Black and Brown communities never fully recovered.

VC: You were eight years old when the LA riots broke out; your character Ashley is a senior in high school. What did it take to imagine her world at the time? What were your resources—your own memory, or conversations with family/friends, or historical research, or anything else? Did you draw from parallels in the present?

CHR: I was young at the time, but old enough to remember the fires, the anger and hurt of people who looked like me on the screen. I remember wondering why they were in pain and how it related to my personal experience of blackness. Similarly, Ashley is questioning herself and her community albeit in a much more mature way. That said, I still had to do a lot of research to make sure I was getting things right, even down to flipping through old issues of Seventeen and Vogue, etc. to see what Ashley and her friends would be wearing. Of particular help was Anna Deavere Smith’s Twilight: Los Angeles, 1992 and a compendium of articles by the LA Times called Understanding the Riots, among others. I also spent hours on YouTube watching news reports, listening to music, and watching music videos of the era and the stories told therein. I wanted to fully immerse myself in 1992 and what it looked and sounded like. Also, one of the benefits of writing about somewhere where I currently live, is that everyone I spoke to about writing the book would offer memories of what their experiences of the riots had been. It was like we had shared this moment as a community and there was absolutely a desire to reminisce and reflect on it.

Honestly, I didn’t have to try too hard to draw parallels to the present. They’re inherent in this moment, unfortunately. Things have changed a bit, but also as we’ve seen with the recent George Floyd protests and the national and international outcry over the deaths of Black and Brown people at the hands of police, almost thirty years later we’re still grappling with how structural and systemic racism lead to a police force that doesn’t actually protect and serve all of us.

VC: You have a career and background in film and TV production. Did that aid you in writing this book?

CHR: Traditionally, screenwriting is very structured. There are very specific moments at which the inciting incident, rising action, climax, and denouements should theoretically take place in a conventional three-act structure. I relied on that in the outlining of the novel and making sure that I was moving plot along even within the more meandering context of Ashley’s interior shift. That said, I frequently blew up what I thought the plot was going to be along the way, most especially in the third “act” of the book. Mostly, I think it helped me not feel overwhelmed by what at the time felt like a very Herculean task. Especially given that it was my very first attempt at writing a book.

VC: What is the one thing you want your readers to take away when they read The Black Kids? What kind of advice would you give young Black writers?

CHR: I purposefully wrote Ashley as an incredibly flawed character because I thought it was important to illustrate that it’s not about where you start, it’s about where you end up. She makes huge mistakes over the course of the book. She hurts people and herself. She isn’t as informed as she should be. But she grows to be kinder, more empathetic; she takes ownership of her mistakes, and speaks up and out. She starts to love herself and really see herself as part of a larger community. I hope to convey to younger readers that it’s OK if you don’t have all the answers. Messing up is part of life and what’s important is personal growth. And I hope that it builds empathy, awareness and an even stronger desire to advocate for Black lives in non-Black readers who may not have inhabited a world like Ashley’s before.

To young Black writers, I would say, Your stories are important and worthy of being shared and you don’t need to seek validation from the “right” schools or the “right” programs before you can consider yourself a “real writer.” Also, be kind to yourself right now. This is a moment that can be especially stressful for one’s mental health given that not only are we in a pandemic, we’re also in a moment of huge racial reckoning in which the oppression of Black, Brown, and trans bodies is at the forefront of the national conversation. It’s OK to feel drained or depressed and less focused on writing as you normally would. Take care of yourself and eventually, when you feel stronger, use your writing to subvert, to inform, to speak truth to power, and to showcase our joy and our love.

Vanessa Chan is a Malaysian writer who writes about race, colonization, and women who don’t toe the line. Her fiction and non-fiction have been published or are forthcoming in Conjunctions, The Rumpus, Porter House Review, and more. Vanessa is a Fiction editor at TriQuarterly Magazine, an Assistant fiction editor at Pithead Chapel, a reader for One Story, and an MFA candidate at The New School. Her writing has received support from Tin House, Mendocino Coast Writers’ Conference, Aspen Words, and Disquiet International. She is at work on a novel.

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.

Introducing 2019 Debutante Jake Wolff

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six 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’re talking to Jake Wolff, author of One Story #164, “The History of Living Forever” and the novel The History of Living Forever (FSG).

On the first day of his senior year of high school, precocious chemistry student Conrad Aybinder learns that Sammy Tampari, his favorite teacher and first love, has died of a rumored overdose. Soon he discovers that Sammy had secrets besides their relationship—most notably, a lifelong quest to construct the elixir of life. If Conrad can figure out the recipe, he has a chance at both saving his dying father and understanding a lover who, it seems, he never really knew. The problem is, Sammy wasn’t the only one searching…

Nina Sabak:  Where were you when you found out The History of Living Forever was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Jake Wolff: I was at home on a Monday night. I knew the people at Farrar, Straus were meeting that day to make a final decision on the novel, but when 5:00 pm arrived and I hadn’t heard from my agent, I assumed I was in for another long night of tossing and turning. Then around 9:00 pm, I realized he’d been trying to reach me for over an hour. I called him back in a panic, and he gave me the great news. Afterward, my wife and I just sat on the bed in a state of happy disbelief. She was crying. I was stunned.

I remember saying, “I don’t know what to do now. What should I do?” 

And she said, “Call your mom.” 

So I called my mom.

NS: The story you published with One Story, issue #164, shares a title with the novel and is echoed in the first case history, “Ge Hong Reflects on the Discovery of Mercury.” In the Q&A for that issue, you noted that you’re working on what became this book: a novel that “explores the same ideas…but in a contemporary setting.” What was your idea of what that novel might be, and how was it different from the book you ultimately wrote? 

JW: This question has led me to an answer I actually find surprising, which is that my vision for the novel back then is relatively close to how it turned out. I’m surprised because it feels like we did so many heavy rounds of edits, and we did—removing characters, reconfiguring plot lines, cutting lots and lots of backstory (poor backstory…always the first to go). But the core vision and basic shape of the novel stayed true. I see this as a testament to my editor, Jenna Johnson, who helped me find ways to clarify and sharpen without disrupting the spirit of the book. A lot of editors I spoke to, for example, wanted to cut the Case Histories. And I get it: the Case Histories are weird. But Jenna understood how much the history matters, and even how much the weirdness itself matters, to a subject like immortality. 

I will say that maybe in 2012 I saw the book more purely as the narrator Conrad’s story, who is on this scientific quest to save his father. As it evolved, I realized it was really just as much about Conrad’s teacher, Sammy, and the life he lived before his death in the novel’s first chapter. I realized that Conrad sees the book as a chance to tell Sammy’s story as much as his own. 

NS: Did the story prompt the research, or did the research turn into the story? Put another way: which came first, the elixir or the people you imagine searching?

JW: For me, it’s always research first. In this case, the history came first—understanding the “elixir of life” as an idea, one that has a historical, cultural, scientific lineage. I was researching the history of living forever long before there was a History of Living Forever or a Conrad who would tell it. I’ve always understood that character as a small part of a long continuum; he’s never existed for me just on his own.

My research for the elixir of life that Conrad spends the novel constructing—based on Sammy’s journals—happened more organically and more concurrently with the writing. There were some ingredients that I thought would be more important based on their historical importance, but Sammy’s life and interests began to dictate certain directions for his research. I also did some first-hand research by sampling various products claiming to be elixirs of life, which helped me access Sammy’s mindset and understand the risks he was taking. You haven’t lived until you’ve ordered an “elixir of life potion” from an Australian alchemist (only $70!). 

NS: You didn’t drink the elixir, did you?

JW: I did drink the Australian elixir. It came in a soda bottle wrapped in tinfoil, and it mostly tasted like saltwater. I also drank a snail mucous elixir, a gold nanoparticle elixir, and a deer velvet elixir. And I took a caterpillar fungus pill. The only really gross one was the deer velvet, which tasted like apple juice mixed with blood. 

NS: What led you to set this particular tale—or at least a major portion of it—in the place you’re from? 

JW: The book required such an extraordinary amount of research—both historical and scientific—that I suppose I was inclined to make my life a little easier when it came to Conrad’s home. I love Maine, and I know it really well despite not having lived there in some time. It was nice having one aspect of the book where I could just close my eyes and find an image. I particularly like the contrast between northern and southern Maine, so I had fun bouncing Conrad back and forth between those two poles. I don’t think any of this was a conscious decision, by the way, but it still feels true.   

NS: Because the elixir is impossible and therefore can’t actually disappoint, it can reflect its searchers’ hopes back to them. For Conrad, it’s one last Hail Mary to save his father. For Sammy, it’s a way to quiet the question he’s been asking himself his entire life (what’s wrong with me?). For the New York Society of Numismatics…well, that’s probably an entirely separate book. You, though in a far less credulous way, have conducted your own kind of search. Why do we keep looking for this particular supernatural answer when both the quest and the prize can backfire so badly?

JW: I think what’s interesting to me is that there are actually surprisingly few people who have searched for immortality, at least in any serious way. We talk about immortality a lot—in philosophy, in religion, in all forms of art. We like the ethical, spiritual, and moral questions surrounding the idea of living forever. But to take two characters from my book, there really aren’t that many Radkins or Bogdis out there, today or historically. That was part of the fun of those characters, for me. They exist in a state of lonely exasperation. They’re saying, “Why are people getting so uptight if I commit a few bad deeds? I’m trying to save us all from dying!”  

NS: Which fact or character detail do you most regret having to cut from the final book? 

JW: In chapter two, I had this one sentence of backstory where I mentioned that Sammy was once mugged in an alley by a woman holding a hand grenade. For some reason I find this idea very funny. The sentence had nothing to do with anything, so we cut it very early in revision. But whenever I read that paragraph I think, “Aww, this is where the lady with a grenade used to be.”    

NS: What are you most looking forward to at the Debutante Ball?

JW: If I have to pick one, I would say reuniting with my mentor, Judith Claire Mitchell, who was my MFA advisor at the University of Wisconsin-Madison. She’s the kindest, most brilliant teacher, and she was the first person to make me believe I could actually do this job. I haven’t seen her in many years, so the chance to send her the invitation was really special for me. We’re also both big introverts, so we’ve been joking about how wonderful it is that we have this opportunity to see each other—and also how horrified we are that it’s going to be at a party.

Nina Sabak earned her MFA in fiction from the University of Pittsburgh in 2016. A native of West Virginia, she now works in publishing in New York City. Her stories have appeared in The Rumpus, Bartleby Snopes, and elsewhere.

Introducing 2019 Debutante Brad Felver

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six 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’re talking to Brad Felver, author of One Story #218, “Queen Elizabeth” and the short story collection The Dogs of Detroit (University of Pittsburgh Press).

Each of the fourteen stories in Brad Felver’s The Dogs of Detroit jumps off the page ready to fight scrappy. In “Throwing Leather,” brothers Charley and Jack spar in boxing gloves to test their masculinity; in “Praemonitus, Praemunitus,” a father signs his son Jared up for Brazilian jiu-jitsu lessons to support Jared’s dream of becoming a cage fighter; in “How to Throw a Punch,” the narrator must prepare for a fistfight against his stubborn coworker at the end of their shift. Characters wrestle and draw blood, but the worst pain isn’t something you can grab by the neck and kick in the gut—the violence and brutality in this collection hurt precisely because of what will stay long after cuts and bruises heal: grief, sorrow, and second chances at better lives that slipped by unnoticed.

Monique Laban: Where were you when you found out The Dogs of Detroit was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Brad Felver: I had just picked up our two boys from school and the sitter. My wife had a late meeting, and so it was just the three of us. We were playing in the backyard when I saw that I had a message on my phone from an unknown number in Pittsburgh. I just assumed someone was trying to steal my identity. But I listened to the message, and it was from Ed Ochester telling me my manuscript had won the Drue Heinz, and I just kind of stood there in shock. I was so glad to have my kids there with me at that moment but also glad that I couldn’t explain it to them because I didn’t have the words.

ML: Many of the stories in this collection involve physical violence as a coping mechanism, as a survival tactic, as a rite of passage, as a way to establish superiority, or as some combination of them all. What I find so interesting about violence in The Dogs of Detroit is that you don’t shy away from the gore and cruelty of it, nor do you glorify it, and yet I felt a strange catharsis from reading these depictions of violence. Could you talk about how you approach violence in your stories and what makes it so ripe for exploration?

BF: I’ve been able to talk about violence a lot while out promoting this book, for which I’m grateful. I think it needs to be talked about candidly. I always start by sheepishly telling people that, despite these stories, I don’t have a violent bone in my body. And I’m always afraid that writing about violence will be seen as accidentally condoning it. I’m certainly not.

One task I aimed for in many of these stories was to humanize characters with violent impulses. When people behave violently, it appears to outsiders as some crude, mindless reaction, but I don’t think that’s right. It’s not so clean as that. For them, it’s a release valve, a product of accumulation. And this means that it’s really a physical manifestation of something else—anger, grief, helplessness, and a thousand other things that people endure in an unfair world. It’s easy to be horrified by these violent outbursts, and I hope the reader is, but I hope it’s the violence itself, not the violent characters, that truly horrifies them. So, there’s an entrapment technique at play here, too: if I can convince readers to care about a character who reacts violently, I’ve suddenly forced them into a sort of complicity, and the character becomes much more than his basest instincts.

ML: I’m fascinated by all the mean kids in this collection! In “Unicorn Stew,” Bev insults Walter by calling him a “God-lover” and steals his ten-speed bicycle; in “Out of the Bronx,” Roman describes his mother as a “car with a dead battery” and enacts a master plan to set all the rats in their building’s alley on fire. Many of the adult characters, if not outright stated within the stories, often seem like older versions of these children, and it’s clear that their early experiences with this bad behavior shaped them. Could you discuss writing kids in your stories and what you enjoy about writing characters within these formative, experimental years?

BF: There was a lot of casual violence in the neighborhood when I was a kid, and it’s obviously stuck with me. This was back in the 80s and early 90s, and our society just shrugged it off as boys being boys. In some ways, this book is a response to that mentality, which we’re finally starting to see as criminal. I didn’t realize it so clearly as I was writing these stories, of course, but that’s how it usually goes. From the standpoint of story, there’s a real potency to child characters. It’s bad enough to see an adult behaving badly; it’s far worse to see a child imitating that bad behavior.

ML: I found The Dogs of Detroit refreshing as a short story collection in part because of how wildly the length of each story could vary. “Queen Elizabeth” is twenty-three pages long while “Stones We Throw” takes up two pages. How do you know when a story is done?

BF: Short answer: I don’t. I try to trust my gut on these things, but it’s still hard. No matter how many stories I write, each one is its own world. Usually, though, I suspect I’ve found the right form and focus for a story when I’m drawn to re-reading it over and over, especially the ending. If the story moves me on a purely intellectual level, something is probably lacking; but if it moves me on an emotional level, which I think is the real currency of fiction, then I suspect I’m about there. For “Queen Elizabeth,” it took me 23 pages to get there, but occasionally, I stumble into it quicker. I wrote “Stones We Throw” in a single sitting, under an hour, which never really happens for me.

ML: In your One Story interview for “Queen Elizabeth” (Issue #218), you mention that you’re “utterly terrified about going romantic,” and part of this terror comes from us being “ill-equipped to articulate” being in love. Could you speak more about the challenges, terrors, and limitations you face in your writing, and how you work through them?

BF: One thing I learned by writing that story is that I would prefer being seen as sentimental than cynical. Sincerity is really important to me. And I do still feel ill-equipped to write about love, but that’s exactly why I need to keep at it. It’s a writer’s job to articulate the things that don’t want to be articulated. In fact, the seeds of “Queen Elizabeth” grew out of my inability to do so. I’m very lucky to have married my best friend, and I just needed to write about that tremendous good fortune. So I started writing about how it felt to be so tethered to another person. It was fiction, but it felt true. The story turned into something else, as stories always do, but the truth, which I guess I’ve never admitted until now, is that it really started as a love letter to my wife.

In answer to your bigger question of how to work through the challenges—I guess the answer is that I just love the work of writing. And when you love the work, I think you develop a sort of faith, and that faith nourishes you when things aren’t going so well, which is a lot of the time. The work of writing is very often both the problem and its only viable solution.

ML: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story ball?

BF: Talking to other writers for one thing, especially the other debs. I actually just met Lydia last night at her wonderful reading in Ann Arbor, and I got to gush about “Safety,” which I just loved. It never gets old meeting other writers and telling them how much you admire their work. Also hanging out with my agent and my mentor, and with the whole One Story crew—they’ve all just been so good to me, and they’ll all be in one place! Also, NYC in the spring!

Monique Laban is a writer from New York. She attended the 2017 VONA: Voices of Our Nations Arts workshop and will attend the 2019 Tin House Summer Workshop. Her work has been published by or is forthcoming from Electric Literature and Catapult

Introducing 2019 Debutante Bryan Washington

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six 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’re talking to Bryan Washington, author of One Story #230, “Bayou” and the short story collection Lot (Riverhead).

Predominantly told in the voice of a first-generation American youth, Bryan Washington’s Lot is a coming-of-age collection that centralizes narratives around family, sexuality, poverty, intimacy, and identity. These thirteen short stories ambitiously portray the complexities within immigrant-based communities and Washington becomes our tour guide, skillfully ushering us into the lives of Black and Latinx folks in Houston and its adjacent cities. From the collection’s first story to its last, we encounter romantic relationships, infidelities, and vocal individuals who allow for these energetic neighborhoods to come alive with each turn of the page. 

Kukuwa Ashun: Where were you when you found out Lot was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Bryan Washington: I was wrapping up a lesson plan at work, just before a long weekend. I may or may or not have partied throughout it.

KA: These stories rely heavily on setting, specifically in Houston and its surrounding cities. What inspired you to draw attention to your hometown in your debut collection?

BW: It definitely wasn’t a didactic effort, or even especially initially intentional: at some point, I realized that all of the stories were set in some hub or another of the city. Then my agent, editor, and I worked towards heightening the specificity throughout the drafting process. But I’m generally pretty taken with the locality of any piece — it’s always interesting to think about how a character’s structural, geographic, and physical limitations (or benefits) affect their arc.

KA: How did you decide which narratives deserved to be told from a third-person or a first-person point of view? 

BW: The short answer’s that the third-person is hard for me (too much power). So I don’t do it very often.

KA: I remember hearing you read “Waugh” on The New Yorker‘s podcast a few months ago and thinking about the emphasis on escapism. This concept pops up in multiple short stories. Why was it important to narrate how different characters chose to “escape” certain situations within their communities?

BW: It’s just a way of navigating or dealing with whatever cards you’re dealt. The overwhelming majority of us don’t have much of a say in our larger situations, so while the “escapist” methods some of the characters turn to might seem more far-field or extreme to some readers, the luxury of getting to hang out on your sofa and binge Netflix or whatever for however many hours might seem just as dubious to them. Different poisons.

KA: Many of these stories share an unnamed protagonist whose name isn’t revealed until the final story, “Elgin.” Was it intentional to keep his identity under wraps until the collection’s closing pages? Can you talk about why you made this decision?

BW: A friend and mentor of mine made the suggestion, and then I tried it and it worked. So we kept it in. But I’m always interested in the rift (or the lack thereof) between our identities as they’re perceived, and our given personas, or our internalized notions of ourselves—and what’s super-interesting to me is when those facets of our lives converge on one another. I think there are more than a few instances of given names (whether first or secondhand) and adopted names collapsing on one another across the book.

KA: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

BW: I’ve never been to a ball. So I guess I’ll tell you afterwards.

Kukuwa Ashun is an MFA candidate at New York University.  

Introducing 2019 Debutante Erin Somers

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six 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’re talking to Erin Somers, author of One Teen Story #20, “Astronauts in Love” and the novel  Stay Up with Hugo Best (Scribner).

When aspiring comedian June Bloom runs into her idol and former boss, the famous late-night host Hugo Best, she gets the chance to live her fantasy—Hugo invites June to his house for the long Memorial Day weekend. Hugo is an older, powerful man and June is a young, broke woman trying to make it in a tough industry. What do they owe each other? What do they have a right to expect? Stay Up with Hugo Best is a deft exploration of fame, desire, and what we demand from people—those we know, those we’re related to, and those we don’t know but feel like we do.

Hayleigh Santra: Where were you when you found out Stay Up with Hugo Best was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Erin Somers: I was at the gym when my agent called, just like I’d always imagined. I got off the treadmill to take the call and walked out into the hallway outside the racquetball courts. I listened to my agent tell me an editor had made an offer while I watched some guys playing racquetball. I remember thinking, “How can you be playing racquetball at a time like this?”

As for celebration, my husband ran out for champagne. Beyond that I didn’t allow anything. I’m wary of getting what I wish for, but in a monkey’s paw way. Where the wish is technically granted, but the results are mangled and ironic, a punishment for my hubris. So I don’t over-celebrate until I see how it all shakes out. I send someone fleet footed for good booze, I drink it quickly before the gods can notice, and I get back to work.

HS: The novel is a meditation on desire, both realized and unrealized. Hugo Best presumably got everything he ever wanted—a long-running late-night show, celebrity status, money—but his need for others’ approval never subsides. June also gets her fantasy—a weekend with her idol—and yet it doesn’t feel as she thought it would. So often we think we know what we want, only to discover that it doesn’t have the effect on us that we imagined. What interested you about exploring this aspect of desire?

ES: Almost nothing can live up to our hopes for it. What could possibly live up? Not getting what you want feels terrible. But getting what you want also feels terrible. Why? It should feel good! But it doesn’t. But why? Probably because it doesn’t match the elaborate fantasy we create in our heads about how things will go and how they will feel.

I find that disconnect to be really rich. I’m attuned to it’s tragicomic potential, in fiction and in life. If I’m at an elegant occasion, a nice wedding, say, I’m looking around for the detail that’s going to undercut the whole evening, its gravitas, its specialness. The thing that’s going to make the bride sad later. The blue recycling bin fully visible in the corner or whatever. The DJ who drinks too much and says something inappropriate. I feel deflation acutely. I’m highly disappoint-able. I can’t help it—I keep hoping!

HS: There is an obvious power imbalance between the famous, rich Hugo Best and the young, aspiring June Bloom. Yet, they could make a compromise — June could give Hugo sex and uncomplicated adoration, and Hugo could help make June’s career. This is a topic that people are especially attuned to right now, as it’s come to light that many powerful men in the entertainment business have harassed or assaulted younger women and used their money and fame to get away with their behavior. Why did you want to explore this type of relationship?

ES: This type of relationship is everywhere. More than is even acknowledged, especially in creative fields. Older men help young women with their careers in exchange for sexual attention. I wanted to write about it because I saw it happening constantly and we haven’t gotten the young woman’s perspective on it much in literature. What we usually get is an exquisite prose stylist (male) writing about a professor and/or writer (male) having an affair with a young woman. And the young woman is just a device to show what a mess this dude is or set him on the right path or explode his life. Fine. Some of those books are good. But that’s a boring premise in 2019 and I’m sick of reading about it. Much more interesting to hear from the young woman at this point, explore her complicity, let her have flaws, etc.

HS: June and Hugo are constantly cracking jokes, and Stay Up with Hugo Best is rife with insider knowledge about comedy. Why did you decide to use comedy as the backdrop? Can you talk about your research process?

ES: I chose comedy as the backdrop because I thought I could write the jokes. I wanted to try. It seemed fun and like a formal challenge, too—I had never written standup before. Plus the industry is rife with bad behavior and big egos, and full of interesting characters. It’s also a hard industry for women. There has still never been a woman host on a network late night show. That’s wild. What’s going on there? I look at James Corden and I think, no woman on the planet could do better than this? Things have improved a little on cable, but I remember when they were looking for Jon Stewart’s replacement on the Daily Show and they were trying to make the argument that no qualified woman wanted the job. Okay guys, sure.

To research it, I read books about late night and memoirs by comedians. I watched a lot of late night and listened to old standup to get a feel for Hugo’s voice. I talked to a former head writer for a long running late night show who had started as an audience page and worked his way up and he very generously described every job he had in detail. I did tons more, maybe too much, but it never felt like work because it was mostly listening to funny people talk.

HS: The story takes place over the course of one Memorial Day weekend — four days. I love books that have specific, short timeframes, and I’m always fascinated with how the author manages to create and maintain the tension necessary for a novel. Can you talk a bit about this choice? Was that always how the novel was structured? What were the challenges and advantages in writing about one weekend?

ES: Comic novels in particular work well with short timelines, especially the sub-genre I think of as “an idiot flailing around.” The novels I looked to when I was writing it—Lucky Jim, Cassandra at the Wedding, Desperate Characters, Straight Man, Who is Rich, Goodbye Columbus—have short timelines.

As a first time novelist, I tried to make things as easy on myself as possible. That was the logic behind many of my choices: what will make this project less daunting? Why make things harder? Writing a novel is already hard. By setting it over a long weekend, I wouldn’t have to worry about finding an ending—it ended when the weekend ended. Four days meant four sections. Every section began in the morning and ended at night because that’s how time works.

The challenge was how to keep it interesting when the structure precludes anything “big” from happening. It could only ever be a small story. But when I got all the characters talking I found they were all trying to seduce each other and also, on some level, hated each other. That escalating push-pull seemed enough to sustain it.

HS: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

ES: I’m hoping to see some grinding.

Hayleigh Santra is an MFA candidate at The New School. 

Introducing 2019 Debutante Lydia Fitzpatrick

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six 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’re talking to Lydia Fitzpatrick, author of One Story Issue #207, “Safety”  and the novel Lights All Night Long (Penguin Press).

Lights All Night Long follows a Russian exchange student, Ilya, to a small town in Louisiana. If navigating a new country with an entirely different culture were not difficult enough, Ilya remains haunted by what he has left behind. His older brother, Vladimir, remains in prison for a crime Ilya does not believe he committed. Consumed by the weight of his past, Ilya embarks upon a quest to vindicate his brother along with the help of his host sister, Sadie, who has a complicated history of her own.

Natalie Whalen: Where were you when you found out Lights All Night Long was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

LF: I was at home, crouched in the one corner of our yard where I get cell service. My daughters were inside, peering through the windows at me, wondering why I was acting so strange. That night, I went out to dinner with my mother-in-law to celebrate—my husband was out of town, and she, sweetly, had come to help me out with the girls—so the two of us went on a date and ordered too much food and drank too many French 75s.

NW: You wrote in your author’s note that Ilya, the protagonist of Lights All Night Long, was originally supposed to be a minor character. Clearly, the novel ended up very different from how you originally intended it. What was the novel originally supposed to focus on, and when did you decide to take the novel in such a different direction?

LF: When I was in grad school, I wrote a short story in which Sadie was the protagonist. The story was published, but I had this lingering feeling of not being done with it, so I began writing more about Sadie and her world. I began the novel over and over, with different versions of Sadie—in some of those early drafts she’s pregnant, and in others the perspective alternates between her and her mother and J.T.—but each of these beginnings petered out around the hundred-page mark. Then I wrote a scene in which Sadie meets Ilya, a Russian exchange student. I’d intended for their interaction to be brief, for Ilya to throw into relief Sadie’s sense of being an outsider, but once he entered the story, that was it. He took it over pretty instantly.

NW: What really stands out for me in Lights is the tenderness with which you treat your characters. While they are quite nuanced, I understood as a reader how much you cared for each of them. I found this to be particularly true with Ilya’s brother Vladimir, who is written in such a way that allows us to reckon with his morality right alongside Ilya. How did you come up with his character, and do you find it important for yourself as a writer to love each of your characters?

LF: I do—or, if not to love each and every character (because of course there are some who are hard to love), then to find an emotional point of contact with each character, something that helps you understand their motivations and desires even if you don’t share them. That said, with Vladimir it was pure love. Vladimir has this spark, this joy for life that contrasts so sharply with the risky choices he seems intent on making—and I think he emerged initially from some sort of wish fulfillment. I’d like to be more impulsive, more like Vladimir in that sense, but as I developed his character, and the world he inhabits, that impulsiveness began to pull him in dark directions.

NW: Lights is timely in so many unexpected ways, in terms of its exploration of narcotic addiction and life in contemporary Russia, both of which seem to constantly be in the news these days. “Safety,” your 2015 One Story piece, was similarly relevant to contemporary goings-on with its subject matter of a school shooting. Can you talk a little bit about writing fiction inspired by the news cycle?

LF: I wrote “Safety” in response to the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting. I was a new mom then, and naïve enough to think that having a child meant I could also protect that child, like that was a promise I could honor, but of course it’s not, and the story came out of that realization.  

With Lights All Night Long, the inspiration didn’t really come from the news cycle—my mom’s a Russian historian, and when I was young, we hosted two Russian students who eventually became the inspiration for Ilya. Also, I started the novel over six years ago, when Russia wasn’t looming nearly as large in the public consciousness. The opioid epidemic was in the headlines, though, with heartbreaking regularity, and in my research I also came across krokodil, which is a horrifically deadly home-made heroin that first appeared in Russia in the early 2000s. I think that it’s easy to be myopic about the opioid epidemic, to think of it as an American problem, but it’s bigger than our border. Russia’s opioid epidemic is every bit as serious as ours, and the devastation of krokodil is a sort of terrible synthesis of that point.  

NW: Lights is a murder mystery, but I feel that where the novel really shines is its treatment of connections between people and places and its investigation of morality in relation to these two things. Is this something that you feel that you uncovered through writing Lights?

LF: Definitely. Writing Lights was a process of discovery, and I came away from it with a reinforced sense of our universal humanity. Sadie is from Louisiana, and Ilya is from a town in Russia’s northwest—worlds that seem, on the surface, incredibly disparate—and yet their traumas and burdens and desires and dreams have a lot in common.

NW: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the Literary Debutante Ball?

LF: Meeting the whole One Story team!

Natalie Whalen is a writer and student living in New York City.

Introducing 2019 Debutante Joseph Moldover

On May 16th, at our 10th annual Literary Debutante Ball, One Story will be celebrating six 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’re talking to Joseph Moldover, author of One Teen Story Issue #35, “Every Other Emily” and the novel Every Moment After (HMH Books for Young Readers, forthcoming April 9th).

Set in the fictional town of East Ridge, New Jersey, Every Moment After examines the far-reaching impact of an elementary school shooting that killed eighteen students. Over a decade after the tragedy, in the wake of high school graduation, survivors Cole and Matt are dealing with all the usual trappings of growing up—girls, college, parents, drugs, and hot air balloons—but are also still coming to terms with the effects the shooting has had on them and their town. While Every Moment After is certainly about the long-reaching aftermath of tragedy, it is also a generous and thoughtful coming-of-age story, in which we remember that the only thing certain is change.

Kaitlin McManus: Where were you when you found out Every Moment After was going to be published? How did you celebrate?

Joseph Moldover: I was at home when I got the call from my agent, Adam Schear. It was incredibly exciting; the best part of it was sharing it with my family. In terms of celebration…one nice thing about being part of a big family is that it keeps you grounded, so I think my wife and I hugged each other, said “this is amazing,” and then two minutes later shifted to figuring out who was doing pick-up from school and who was getting dinner ready.

KM: Every Moment After is largely about effects of a school shooting on a small New Jersey town, and rings very strongly of the tragedy committed at Sandy Hook Elementary School in 2012. What made you want to approach this subject matter? Did your day job have any influence on your decisions? (Joseph Moldover is also Dr. Moldover—a developmental neuropsychologist.)

JM: I believe that there is a story that we are not telling about the violence in our society. When there is a terrible incident—like a school shooting—the media covers it intensively for a little while, the pundits all chime in, and then we move on. But the people involved don’t get to move on in the same way, and I feel that there is a collective failure to pay attention to that, to acknowledge that the burden of violence is not just the loss of life in the immediate moment but the anger and sorrow and guilt that so many people have to bear for years and years after.

In my day job, I work with children and families who are struggling with very complex, painful issues. It’s made me aware of the ways in which we carry these things with us, how the layers of a family or a community can peel away to reveal memories and beliefs that cause enormous pain but aren’t let out into the open. That was part of what I wanted to explore in the fictional town of East Ridge.

KM: This novel is a bit different than others of its ilk in that it’s set more than ten years after the shooting. What do you see as the benefits of setting this book so long after this incident rather than in the immediate aftermath?

JM: I felt that it was important to distance both the reader and myself from the immediate horror of the shooting. I think that, particularly when dealing with violence against such young children, there is something unbearable about focusing on it too closely. I sometimes think about the story of Perseus, who approached Medusa by looking at her reflection in his shield because it was too terrible to look directly at her. This story is about the reflections of the shooting in the lives of many different people over a decade later, and maybe it had to be written that way because it was too terrible to look at the thing itself.

KM: One thing Every Moment After did particularly well was acknowledge that there’s no correct way to memorialize this kind of incident. The town diner is wallpapered with rejected gun control bills, which many characters dislike. There’s an unofficial monument in the woods that some believe is more about the shooter than the victims. And while everyone in the novel agrees that the victims need to be remembered, sometimes they just want to forget that they were ever part of something so horrifying. Can you speak to these conflicting feelings and how you struck the balance between them so wonderfully?

JM: I don’t think that was something I was doing consciously, but one thing that does obsess me is the question of how people go on with things that are too painful to carry but which can’t be set down. How do we try to make peace with things that won’t leave us alone? I think that the conflicting feelings you mention, and the efforts at memorialization by characters in the story, comes out of that preoccupation.

KM: Your book speaks openly about violence, drugs, sex, and other things that teenagers face—but that many are afraid to include in media for them—in an honest, reasonably healthy way. My mother would have lost her mind if I read this as a “young adult”, but there’s been a surge of serious, issue-focused young adult fiction in the past several years. Do you see a reason for this? And how do you think Every Moment After fits into that movement?

JM: When I wrote the book I wasn’t really aware of a particular movement, I was just trying to write honestly…and all of those things are part of the world that “young adults” are living in. Omitting them would be totally dishonest, and the book wouldn’t be worthy of the respect of people who are reading it in between lock-down drills in schools with major drug problems. 

I think that those of us who are older than “young adult” (which definitely includes me) are wrestling with the growing realization that we are handing a world riddled with incredibly large, complex, and serious problems to younger people. With that realization comes a sense of guilt—that we have not more seriously addressed these issues—and also responsibility to be honest about them. In the case of my book, I would say that if we can’t—or won’t—do something about the problem of gun violence, the least we can do is be honest about it.

KM: Lastly, what are you most looking forward to at the One Story Ball?

JM: I published in One Teen Story in 2015, and have read OTS and One Story for years. I’ve also taken a number of online classes with One Story instructors. I haven’t met the staff and teachers in person, however, and I’m really looking forward to putting faces to names!

Kaitlin McManus is a writer and editor based in Brooklyn—by way of Central Illinois. She earned her MFA in fiction from The New School in 2018 and her work can be found in Brooklyn Magazine, Vault, and elsewhere on One Story‘s blog. She is currently at work on a novel about the Nashville club scene of the near-future.

Announcing our 2019 Debutantes

One Story proudly presents our 2019 Debutantes:

Join us as we toast these six One Story authors who have published their first books in the past year and honor Kelly Link, our Distinguished Alum! The One Story Literary Debutante Ball will take place on Thursday, May 16th 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 for the Ball are on sale now starting at $150. $75 tickets will go on sale 4/1.

To discuss sponsorship opportunities for the One Story Literary Debutante Ball, please contact: maribeth@one-story.com.