One Story Summer Conference Day 1 : Characters Matter

Dear Readers: This week we’re hosting our 9th annual Summer Writers Conference. Our current interns, Stephanie, Ben, and D.J. will be chronicling each day here on our blog, giving a peek into what we’re doing at the Old American Can Factory in Brooklyn. Today’s write-up is by Stephanie Santos. Enjoy!–LV

One Story’s 2018 Summer Conference is here, and writers arrived at the Old American Can Factory on Sunday night excited to begin their week of workshops and craft lectures. Over wine and cheese, One Story co-founders Hannah Tinti and Maribeth Batcha introduced the Writing Advice Wall: lengths of twine strung between two metal posts where workshop participants could handwrite bits of writing advice they picked up throughout the week on colorful cards and clip them to the twine.

The writers were given a tour of the Can Factory. At the One Story office, Maribeth and Hannah talked about the organization’s origins. The magazine started with just three thousand dollars and grew beyond what the two founders could have dreamed. The Summer Conference, they said, was an especially important milestone. When they held the first Conference in 2010, it was the organization’s first step toward being more than just a print magazine.

The next day, after their morning workshops with Anna Solomon and Will Allison, conference participants gathered to hear Patrick Ryan’s craft lecture entitled “Good Writing About Bad People.” He began by listing steps to approach any character you write, stating that all characters should:

  1. Interest you
  2. Be somewhat unknown to you
  3. Be able to surprise you
  4. Want something

Patrick said following these steps when creating a character is an effective way to separate your writing from typical genre fiction, which often falls flat for him when writers create a character and only go as far as tacking on shallow, meaningless attributes that do not speak to the character’s actions in a complex way. “Genre fiction,” he said, “is great when it comes close to literary fiction: when the characters matter.”

Patrick stressed that your character should be someone you want to spend quality time with, even if they are not someone you necessarily would like. Even if a character is mainly sweet, kind, or generous, finding the part of them that isn’t a good person is still important. He applied this same idea to unlikable characters: “You don’t have to like the character to be engaged in the story and want to learn more about them.” He emphasized the idea that there has to be some mystery about the character, and that overplanning or knowing everything about a character can make them reductive.

Another problem with overplanning connects back to the third step Patrick mentioned: if a writer knows everything about their character, the character can no longer surprise the writer. Patrick stated that too much planning is boring and puts too much pressure on the writer to invent, rather than allowing that character’s decisions to unfold organically. More importantly, he said this room for surprise is where some of the best ideas can come to a writer.

Stories are all about people, Patrick pointed out. Naturally, people see each other as good or bad to some degree. When writing a bad person or a villain, Patrick’s main point of emphasis was this: people are not just good or just evil, so neither should your characters be. “Evil” oversimplifies your character. He added that the same thing goes for labeling a character as “crazy.”

Patrick then outlined the three keys to writing complex villains:

  • Villains do not see themselves as villains.
  • You have to love all your characters the way an attorney loves a client.
  • Get in touch with your character’s internal narrative.

Patrick concluded his craft lecture with a final piece of advice for the writers. In order to write complex villains, writers must be both sympathetic and empathetic. Sympathy is at the base of all compassion and, as Patrick pointed out, it is impossible to not have compassion and be a writer. Empathy is important when writing a villain because it forces you into the perspective of that character and prevents you from selling your villain short. Patrick said that in every villain, there is often a heart, often a regret, often a fear, and something more than just evil. Without any of these, the villain is boring.

After Patrick’s craft lecture, the writers attended a Q&A session with instructors Will Allison and Anna Solomon. Hannah began by asking when Will and Anna first felt comfortable calling themselves writers. Anna felt pressured to take on the title when she was applying to graduate programs and had to explain to her friends and family the seriousness with which she now was approaching the field of writing to validate leaving her job to pursue a fiction-writing career. Will said that he calls himself a reviser. He took on this name long after he started calling himself a writer, eight years after he started writing his short story collection.

One student asked about Will and Anna’s daily writing routines, and both revealed that they schedule writing time early in the morning. Another student asked if they take time away from writing their novels to write short fiction, and both do but in different ways. When Anna submits a manuscript for feedback, she uses that time to write a short story and then puts it away to revise when she has another feedback-waiting period. Will says he often uses that break time to revise a story he has already written.

At the session’s end, they both named something about their writing careers that makes all their hard work worth it. Anna said she finds the act of writing thrilling, especially those moments where she creates something that surprises her. She also gets the chance to hear people discuss her published work and loves seeing how invested the readers were in her characters. Will said that when he was losing a game of softball, one of the players told him he had read his novel. After talking to this fan of his work, he stopped caring about the outcome of the softball game.

When the Q&A finished, writers filed out of the room and headed home to get ready for another busy day of workshops and craft lectures.

Introducing our 2018 “Little Debbies”

This year at the Debutante Ball, along with honoring the three One Story authors who’ve had their first book published during the past year and our mentor of the year, Alexander Chee, we’re also honoring three of our authors who published their first short stories ever in One Story over the last twelve months. Those authors are Sanjay Agnihotri (Issue #236: “Guerrilla Marketing”), Maud Streep (Issue #234: “The Crazies”), and Lucas Schaefer (Issue #225: “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes”). All three of these short story debutantes (whom I affectionately refer to as our “Little Debbies”) will be joining us at the Ball on May 4th. Recently, I asked them if they had any questions for one another about their stories. Here are the results of that round-robin conversation.

PATRICK RYAN: Lucas, since you’re the first short story deb, chronologically, let’s start with you.

 LUCAS SCHAEFER: Okay, I have a question for Maud. Maud, you handle the passage of time so beautifully in “The Crazies.” When, at the end, you jump years ahead to the narrator’s current life and then take us back to the time of the fire—it’s poignant and unexpected. I’m curious if you knew from the beginning that the story was being told many years later, and how knowing that or not knowing it affected the writing of the piece.

MAUD STREEP: The passage of time was actually the key that let me into “The Crazies.” It was one of those stories that wasn’t working and wasn’t working. The first few endings were dreadful. But about a year in, my teacher at the time, David Gates, took a look at it and suggested that perhaps the issue was that the story wasn’t being told from the right time. That clicked things into place for me, although it took me another year to find the right distance and perspective, and then a couple more years from there until it felt done. So, thanks, David! The core of the story’s action and language remains as it was in the first draft, but without the perspective from the future, nothing added up.

Sanjay, I know you’ve previously said “Guerrilla Marketing” went through many drafts. I’d love to know more about how you came to the story’s structure—did you always know what happened in Los Angeles that left Vikram in the predicament he’s in? Did the reveal of what happened in LA and why it happened always fall where it does now, or did you play with the placement?

SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: Vikram’s back story was tricky. I always knew that he’d end up in NJ after getting kicked out of LA, I just didn’t have all the details worked out in the early drafts. It took some time to get that right. The placement too was challenging—I recast his LA backstory several times, though it always appeared near the end.

Lucas, I’m a boxing fan and can’t wait to read your novel-in-stories about the Austin boxing gym. You mention the book Boxing Shadows by W.K. Stratton as an inspiration. I’m curious to know what other writers—fiction/non-fiction—have inspired both the collection and your writing in general? Also, you mention in an interview with Patrick that you worked out at R. Lord’s Boxing Gym in Austin. I have to ask: have you ever been knocked out? And if so, did you see stars? I got knocked out once, but it wasn’t in a ring, and I never saw stars, only pavement and blackness, and I’m afraid I might be missing out.

LUCAS SCHAEFER: What’s always appealed to me about the boxing gym as a setting isn’t so much the boxing as it is that, in our still-very-and-in-some-ways-getting-more-segregated (racially and otherwise) society, the gym is one of those rare spaces where people of wildly different backgrounds and experiences converge. And not only that, but they’re converging to fight. On purpose! How wonderful and unsettling and bizarre. This is a long way of saying that the books I tend to gravitate toward have less to do with boxing than with the clashing of cultures and identities, from Zadie Smith’s White Teeth to Hari Kunzru’s White Tears to Oreo by Fran Ross, which is what I’m reading at the moment.

And no, I’ve never been knocked out! But that’s not due to my great defensive skills. My workout was all non-contact. I put on all the gear once to spar, and went a couple rounds—with a man who went super super easy on me—and afterwards I was like, “Lucas, honestly. This is not going to end well for you.”

I have a question for you, Sanjay, about the protagonist in “Guerrilla Marketing.” Vikram was an accountant but now makes a living working at a restaurant, a gas station, and, briefly, for Liberty Tax. The portrait is so affecting, in part, I think, because you really go there in exploring the toll that his work and his financial situation take on his body. Could you talk a bit about the role money (or lack of money) plays in your work, and how Vikram’s different jobs informed your understanding of him?

SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: Vikram happens to be educated, but many of the men I write about in the linked collection are not educated at all. Many have overstayed their visas and are scraping enough money to survive and send back to their families. Every day they face the risk of being caught and returned to the most deplorable conditions. Vikram, like all of the men in the boarding house, is obviously broke and his striving for cash is rational—up to a point, he’s got a wedding to pay for, after all. He’s also obsessed, like most Americans, with money as a function of status and self-worth.

In the story, the character of Boss Bhatti is a sort of mini Trump—he’s a bully and con artist, looks slovenly even in a $3,000 Brioni suit. He’s less educated than Vikram, less sophisticated, but still Vikram believes the lie and wants nothing more than to be part of his crew. I mean, Boss Bhatti is definitely the sort of guy who would attend Trump University and not ask for a refund. That said, I don’t judge Bhatti or Vikram in the story. That’s not my job as the writer. I have to take my ego out of it and portray the characters honestly and unsentimentally.

Maud, I read “The Crazies” many months ago and it still haunts, especially the last couple of sentences of that brilliant ending. You mention taking five years to finish the story—were those last couple of lines in the early drafts? They just seem so perfect; like they were delivered to you from the literary gods.

MAUD STREEP: I’m so pleased to hear the ending lines stayed with you—they took a lot of unglamorous work to find. As I mentioned before, I went through a few different endings. Versions of the final lines showed up in the story by the second full draft, but never in the right place—I couldn’t recognize them as the ending until I’d sorted out when in the narrator’s life the story was being told.

Lucas, “An Oral History of the Next Battle of the Sexes” circles around Holly, looking at her from everyone’s point of view but her own. I’m curious whether you ever wrote a draft in which she did speak, or if you always knew she’d be a presence through absence—if that was some of the appeal or challenge in writing the story?

LUCAS SCHAEFER: Great question. The earliest draft of “Oral History” included Holly as one of the interview subjects, but I knew before I got to the end of the draft that she probably shouldn’t be there. What resonates with me about Holly is that she’s basically born to do this one thing—box—but because of her geography and her circumstances, and because she’s a woman, and a lesbian, in a time and place and sport that isn’t “ready” to deal with her, she doesn’t get to do it. I wanted readers to want to hear from Holly and to not get to, and to feel that loss. “Oh, now you want to hear from me?” That’s what I imagined her telling the reporter when he called to ask if she’d participate in the oral history. “Dude, I got better things to do than talk to you. Y’all had your chance.” I might go back to her in another story, though.

PATRICK RYAN: Here’s a question for all three of you—a question I want to ask every working writer these days. What’s your technique for shutting out the world when you write?

MAUD STREEP: At home, I rely on those mockingly titled internet blocking apps, Freedom and Self Control. Since there aren’t yet humiliating apps to block out things like doing the dishes and vacuuming and managing day-to-day family life, I’ve been incredibly grateful for time spent removed from all that while at residencies the past few years.

SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: I have an eleven-month old daughter, and I think I might also suffer from some form of attention deficit disorder, so I’m not sure I ever shut out the world. But I do write almost every day, first thing in the morning when my mind is relatively clear.

LUCAS SCHAEFER: I’m on Twitter too much and have no great secrets, but rain noises help. I get them off a YouTube video that’s ten hours long, all rain, so when I get to the end of the ten hours I can say, “You’ve done good, kid!” and then go back to the beginning.

PATRICK RYAN: I am very familiar with that ten-hour rain video. Okay, one last question for the three of you. What are you most looking forward to about the One Story Debutante Ball?

LUCAS SCHAEFER: Before One Story took a chance on my work, it had been so much rejection. Having the piece out there has been such a boost, professionally and creatively, but being in Texas I’ve never met you, Patrick, or any of the folks who gave me this opportunity. So I’m excited to meet you all and to thank you and to celebrate One Story. And as a Longhorn, I’m happy to be there for fellow Austinite and UT grad Kendra Fortmeyer’s debut, and to honor Alex Chee, who led one of the first workshops I took in grad school and who is so generous with his time and knowledge.

MAUD STREEP: I’m looking forward to seeing the Debs with their mentors. I love the idea of honoring the people who teach and support writers. There’s the enduring myth of the solitary author, but I shudder to think where my writing would be without the generous brains of others.

SANJAY AGNIHOTRI: Hanging out with the generous folks at One Story, and meeting other great writers like Maud and Lucas. Also, if the conditions are optimal, I might bust out some break dancing moves. I won a break dancing contest in Saudi Arabia when I was in the 8th grade, but it was Saudi Arabia and the competition was thin.

PATRICK RYAN: We’re holding you to that, Sanjay. Thanks, everyone, and we’ll see you at the Ball!

Annotated Pages

One Story is a non-profit, 501 (c)(3) organization, and the Debutante Ball is our biggest fundraiser of the year. Donations help us keep our doors open and support our mission to celebrate the short story & support the writers who write them. For this year’s event, we’ve asked a few authors to annotate (by hand) a manuscript page from one of their published books. We’ll be making these available to on-site donors at the One Story Literary Debutante Ball this Friday, May 4th. Thank you to all of the wonderful authors who have so generously sent us pages: Jami Attenberg, Aimee Bender, Peter Carey, Michael Cunningham, Min Jin Lee, Celeste Ng, Ruth Ozeki, Ann PatchettRichard Russo, Patrick Ryan, Dani Shapiro, Jim ShepardKaren Shepard, Darin Strauss, J. Courtney Sullivan, Hannah Tinti, Vendela Vida, Jess Walter, Claire Vaye Watkins, Colson Whitehead, and Meg Wolitzer. We can’t wait to see you at the ball!

Pictured above: annotated pages by Ann Patchett, Ruth Ozeki, and Hannah Tinti

One Story at AWP 2017

In just a couple of days, the AWP conference will descend upon Washington, D.C., bringing thousands of literary magazines, MFA programs, publishers, and writers to our nation’s capitol. One Story will be there, too, and we hope that you’ll come visit us at booth #472. We’ll be selling discounted subscriptions, recent issues of One Story and One Teen Story, and custom-curated three packs of the magazine. We’ll also be registering people for our newest online class, and raffling off prizes (one of which is a Nasty Writer tee similar to the ones pictured above).

Wondering which panels & readings to go to? We’ve got some suggestions! Co-Founder Hannah Tinti will be giving a reading on Thursday from her new book, and One Story Editor in Chief Patrick Ryan will be hosting a panel on Saturday. One Story authors will also be participating in some amazing events throughout the conference—here’s a schedule (One Story Author/Editor/Contributor names in BOLD)

THURSDAY, FEBRUARY 9TH:

9:30-10 am:  Writing in a Time of Terror and Environmental Collapse. (Imad Rahman, Jacob Shoes-Arguello, William Wenthe, Anne Sanow, Jacqueline Kolosov) Archives, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four How do writers give shape to the experiences of war, terrorism, and the disregard for life endemic on this planet? Muriel Rukeyser believed that denying the responsiveness to the world could bring forth “the weakness that leads to mechanical aggression… turning us inward to devour our own humanity, and outward to sell and kill nature and each other.” Given global terrorism and the spoliation of the planet, the stakes in being able to respond are terribly high. Writers working in poetry, prose, and hybrid forms, will discuss their ways of meeting this challenge in their works past and present, including the difficulties they face and the sources from which they take inspiration.

10:30-11:45: Leashing the Beast: Humanizing Fictional Monsters. (Anna Sutton, Steven Sherrill, Clare Beams, Kate Bernheimer, Julia Elliott) Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Want to write fabulous fabulist fiction? Bring your beasts to the table. Panelists discuss their influences, inspiration, and how they go about creating characters who exist between human and monster, mundane and extraordinary. In addition, they explore how writing a fantastical other can open up the conversation to contemporary societal issues, all while cultivating empathy within both the writer and the reader.

12:00-1:15: Beautiful Mysteries: Science in Fiction and Poetry. (Robin Schaer, Amy Brill, Catherine Chung, Martha Southgate, Naomi Williams) Liberty Salon L, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Einstein said, “The most beautiful thing we can experience is the mysterious. It is the source of all true art and science.” In search of those mysteries, poets and fiction writers mine the revelations and riddles of science to better understand the human condition. This panel will explore why botanists, astronauts, and climatologists populate the pages of modern literature; how writing advances ecological awareness; and how science is a metaphor and a lens to decode our beautiful universe.

12:00-1:15: A Field Guide for the Craft of Fiction: Finding Structure. (Michael Noll, Manuel Gonzales, Kelly Luce, Daniel José Older, LaShonda Barnett) Virginia Barber Middleton Stage, Sponsored by USC, Exhibit Halls D & E, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two When talking about narrative structure, we often focus on the macro: three acts, plot points, beginnings, and endings. But there are micro ways to think about structure while working with character, dialogue, the movement through time and space, and shifts between interiority and exterior action. Authors of literary, fantasy, and YA fiction featured in the forthcoming Field Guide for the Craft of Fiction will discuss how they developed (and stumbled upon) structure in their novels and stories

12:00-1:15: Write Your Memoir like a Novel. (Joanna Rakoff, Tova Mirvis, Dani Shapiro, Marie Mockett, Christa Parravani) Room 202A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two What happens when a novelist writes a memoir? Some of the rules change: no more making everything up. But crafting a memoir requires many of the same skills used in writing fiction. A memoir is filled with characters that need to be developed—even if one of those characters is you. Real-life events still need to be shaped into an arc. This panel, comprised of fiction writers who have written memoirs,will discuss ways to use the techniques of fiction writing to bring a memoir to life.

12:00-1:15: The Art of the Novella: Publishers and Writers On Crafting the Beautifully In-Between. (Richard Hermes, Deena Drewis, Lindsey Drager, Dennis Johnson, Josh Weil) Room 207B, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two Ian McEwan calls it the perfect form of prose fiction, but the novella is often seen as an awkward middle sibling, defined by what it isn’t. How do we know if our work isn’t merely a bloated short story or fledgling novel? What’s at stake in working in this (arguably marginalized) form? Pioneering publishers of stand-alone novellas, Melville House and Nouvella, join accomplished authors to share what they’ve learned from reading manuscripts, curating book lists, and publishing their own drafts.

3:00-4:15: But Do You Have a Novel? How and Why Short Story Writers Transition into Novelists. (Susan Perabo, David James Poissant, Caitlin Horrocks, Kirstin Valdez Quade, Amina Gautier) Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Even the most successful short story writers face this daunting question: “Is there a novel coming?” Agents and publishers contend that the market simply does not exist for story collections. Thus many story writers embark on novels in part to secure publishing contracts, and then struggle with a new form they have promised to deliver. We take on practical questions of transitioning to a new genre, and also consider the issue of navigating the professional complexities of this transition.

4:30–5:45pm: Jennifer Egan, Karen Joy Fowler, and Hannah Tinti: A Reading and Conversation, Sponsored by Penguin Random House Speakers Bureau (moderated by Ron Charles) Ballroom A, Washington Convention Center, Level Three This event will bring together three engaging contemporary female writers to read and discuss their craft. Jennifer Egan is the author of five books, including the Pulitzer Prize–winning novel A Visit From the Goon Squad. Karen Joy Fowler is the author of nine books, including We Are All Completely Beside Ourselves, which won the PEN/Faulkner Award. Hannah Tinti is the author of three books, including The Twelve Lives of Samuel Hawley, which will be published in 2017.

4:30-5:45: Science in Literary and Mainstream Fiction: A New Wave. (Nancy Lord, Susan Gaines, Kathleen Dean Moore, Michael Byers, Jean Hegland) Room 101, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Street Level Recent decades have seen an upsurge of novels that deal with knowledge, themes, and characters from scientific fields such as biology, ecology, chemistry, genetics, paleontology, neuroscience, and psychology. Panelists discuss the reasons for this trend, the particular craft challenges and responsibilities of writing about science in realistic fiction, and the ramifications of such fiction for public understandings of science and debates on related social and environmental issues.

4:30-5:45: Fractured Selves: Fabulism as a Platform for Minorities, Women, and the LGBT Community. (Sequoia Nagamatsu, Aubrey Hirsch, Brenda Peynado, Zach Doss, Ramona Ausubel) Room 207A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two Fabulist writers and editors define Fabulism (often used with other terms like magical realism and slipstream), illuminate individual approaches to the genre alongside brief readings, and discuss how fabulism can be a rich territory for expression, exploration, and power for minorities, women, and the LGBT community. What does it mean to write about the other from other worlds or hybrid spaces?

FRIDAY FEBRUARY 10TH:

9:00-10:15: A Novelist’s Job: The Realities, Joys, and Challenges. (Miranda Beverly-Whittemore, Nicole Dennis-Benn, Julia Fierro, Celeste Ng) Room 203AB, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two A novelist’s most important job is writing a great book. But say that’s done, and the book sold. What’s next? How does one master social media and the promotional partnership with a publisher? What are the financial realities of signing a book deal or leading a “successful” novelist’s life? What are the pros and cons of teaching, starting a writing-adjacent business, or making ends meet on words alone? Our award-winning panelists offer hard-earned advice on building a sustainable career.

9:00-10:15: Strange Bedfellows: The Unholy Mingling of Politics and Art. (Andrew Altschul, Nick Flynn, V. V. Ganeshananthan, Anthony Marra) Room 202A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two If the pen is mightier than the sword, why are young writers so often told that politics and literature don’t—or shouldn’t—mix? The introduction of real-world conflicts interferes with good storytelling, the theory goes, favoring ideas over characters and the general over the concrete. How then can writers find a space to explore the matters of life and death, wealth and poverty, war and governance that affect us all? How should art respond to the terrors of modern life?

10:30-11:45: Novels and Short Stories: How a Narrative Finds Its Form. (Deb Olin Unferth, Jon Raymond, Sara Majka, J. Robert Lennon) Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Five Graywolf Press authors read from their new and forthcoming books and discuss the differences inherent in writing short stories and novels. Are some narratives best suited to one form or another? How does each form demand a different approach to the writing process? Does the length and shape of the narrative restrict or enhance the story being told? These authors, who range in experience from established to emerging, bring a variety of perspectives to bear on these questions and more.

12:00-1:15: Seeing the Forest for the Trees: Organizing and Structuring Story Collections. (Sian Griffiths, Benjamin Hale, Marie-Helene Bertino, Michael Martone, Julia Elliott) Archives, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Putting together a story collection can feel like assembling a jigsaw puzzle in which the pieces don’t quite fit and there is no one solution. Must the stories be interconnected or thematically connected? Can stories be linked by virtue of voice, tone, or style? How much does the marketplace influence the writer’s approach? The panel presents writers of interconnected, thematically connected, and unconnected stories to provide insight for story writers seeking to build their collections.

12:00-1:15: Raising Hell: Writing from the Extremes. (R. O. Kwon, Roxane Gay, Téa Obreht , Laura van den Berg, Catherine Chung) Room 202A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two Terrorists! Cult leaders! Violent criminals! Psychopaths! This reading presents fiction writers who have given voice to the baleful extremes of human experience. What are the joys, risks, and responsibilities of writing sinister characters whom many readers might have trouble understanding? How should fiction writers think about depicting evil? What are potential difficulties? Join the panelists as they share perspectives and read from their work.

1:30-2:45: New Writers Award 45th Anniversary Reading. (David James Poissant, Tarfia Faizullah, Ander Monson, Brad Watson, Kim Addonizio) Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two The Great Lakes Colleges Association’s New Writers Award is one of North America’s oldest, most celebrated first book prizes. Now in its forty-fifth year, the award has launched the careers of Alice Munro, Louise Erdrich, and Jorie Graham, among many others. To commemorate the award, five winners from three decades read their poetry, fiction, and creative nonfiction. The reading is followed by a Q&A

1:30-245: The Transnational Novel: Decolonizing Fiction. (Robin Hemley, Lisa Ko, Xu Xi, Evan Fallenberg, Sybil Baker) Capital & Congress, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four In a time of the largest mass migration of humans since World War II, the transnational novel seems more relevant than ever. Four authors who have written transnational novels discuss the impetus behind writing in the form and its challenges and rewards. They also discuss how to approach perspective and craft when writing as well as the attendant writing life that often accompanies it.

1:30-2:45: The World Turned Upside Down: Hamilton , An American Musical. (Judith Baumel, Jacqueline Jones LaMon, Victorio Reyes, Stephen O’Connor) Room 102B, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Street Level The smash Broadway hit Hamilton has been rightly called a game changer. Borrowing from Charles Chesnutt, Lin-Manuel Miranda uses the world turned upside down as an image for the revolution, reversal, and subversion of political and artistic norms. Here, in the capital city, which Hamilton envisioned, Martha Southgate will introduce poets, fiction writers, and playwrights who discuss what’s new and what’s old in the show—its hip-hop poetics, music/ lyric sampling, imagery, narrative, staging & more.

3:00-4:15: In Conversation: Emma Straub and Ann Patchett. Sponsored by the Center for Fiction and Write On Door County. (Emma Straub, Ann Patchett, Noreen Tomassi) Ballroom A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three New York Times bestselling author of Modern Lovers and The Vacationers, Emma Straub is joined by Orange Prize–winner Ann Patchett (The Patron Saint of Liars, Bel Canto, State of Wonder, Commonwealth). Both have written extensively on family, friendships, and the tensions of adulthood. They will read from and discuss their work.

3:00-4:15: A 10th Anniversary Reading from Bull City Press. (Ross White, Anne Valente, Anders Carlson-Wee, Emilia Phillips, Tiana Clark) Room 203AB, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two For ten years, Bull City Press has focused on representing brevity in its many incarnations. Now publishing chapbooks from established and emerging writers in poetry and short prose, Bull City Press showcases unique voices and the vibrancy of compressed forms. We celebrate the first decade with a reading from recent winners of the Frost Place Chapbook Competition, contributors to Inch magazine, and authors from our chapbook series.

3:00-4:15: The Village of Your Novel. (Rebecca Smith, Carole Burns, Robin Black, Margot Livesey) Room 207B, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two Jane Austen advised that three or four families in a country village was the very thing to work on. Two hundred years since the publication of Emma, the idea of the village of your novel can help you manage a cast of characters, build tension, and create a sense of place. This international panel looks at ways writers create villages (inner city or rural) and demonstrates practical methods and exercises for leading readers into a convincing world, utilizing its spaces and playing with its rules.

4:30-5:45: A Reading and Conversation with Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates, Sponsored by the Authors Guild. (E. Ethelbert Miller, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie, Ta-Nehisi Coates) Ballroom A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Three Join us for this featured event with two of the most critically acclaimed thinkers of our time, Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and Ta-Nehisi Coates. Adichie has received numerous awards and distinctions including the Orange Prize for Half of a Yellow Sun, the National Book Critics Circle Award for Americanah, and a Macarthur Fellowship. Coates, also a MacArthur Fellowship recipient, is the National Correspondent for The Atlantic, and he won the 2015 National Book Award for Between the World and Me. Both will read from their latest work, and will participate in a discussion moderated by writer and literary activist E. Ethelbert Miller.

4:30-5:45: Double Bind: Women Writers on Ambition. (Robin Romm, Pam Houston, Erika Sanchez, Claire Vaye Watkins, Hawa Allan) Room 202A, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two A woman must be ambitious in order to have a meaningful career in the arts. But ambition in women is often seen as un-feminine, egoistic, and aggressive rather than crucial to great work and identity. Until recently, no conversation has taken place to help women navigate this pervasive but unspoken double bind. On this panel, women across diverse backgrounds genres provide both stories from the trenches and practical strategies for progressing in the arts, academia, and beyond.

SATURDAY, FEBRUARY 11TH:

9:00-10:15: I’ll Take You There: Place in Poetry, Fiction, and Nonfiction. (Ethan Rutherford, Paul Yoon, Edward McPherson, francine harris) Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two Establishing a strong sense of place in a work of poetry, fiction, or nonfiction is difficult but essential. As Dorothy Allison tells us, place is not just setting—a physical landscape—but so much more: it’s context, feeling, invitation, desire, particular language, and emotion. On this cross-genre panel, four writers will discuss the importance of place in their own work, how to put place on the page, and how to navigate the electric current between a physical landscape and an emotional one.

9:00-10:15: You’re on the Tenure Track: Congratulations! Now What? (Joe Oestreich, Erica Dawson, Caitlin Horrocks, Marcus Jackson, Joey Franklin) Salon F, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Street Level Many writers hope to one day secure a tenure-track teaching position, but few have a clear idea of what the job actually entails. What are the course load, scholarship, and service demands, and how do you balance them? How do you assemble a successful tenure file? Is it possible to switch schools mid-career? Panelists—all tenured or tenure-track and from universities of varying sizes—discuss strategies for navigating toward the tenure decision and beyond.

9:00-10:15: Half of Literature Lost: Women’s Writing and the Politics of Erasure. (Rene Steinke, Cherene Sherrard, Terese Svoboda, Elizabeth Spires) Room 204AB, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two Why does the work of so many incredibly accomplished women writers regularly praised by the American literary establishment fall into relative obscurity on their death, and their legacy seemingly vanish? Ageism, gender bias, racism, the scattering of work, difficult executors, and bad timing? Panelists discuss the writing of Josephine Jacobsen, Lola Ridge, Elsa von Freytag- Loringhoven, and Dorothy West.

9:00-10:15: The Ten-Year Novel. (Tova Mirvis, Rachel Cantor, Rachel Kadish, Joanna Rakoff, Sari Wilson) Room 207B, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two Why do some novels take so long to write, and what can writers do to sustain themselves while writing a ten-year novel? This panel of female novelists will discuss why their published novels took (at least) a decade to write. Do some novels require this length of time, or was it the writer herself ? How does a book change when it’s written over a decade? Are the realities of women writers’ lives a factor? What strategies did panelists use to develop the persistence and fortitude to continue

12:00–1:15: A Tribute to Edmund White Featuring One Story Editor-in-Chief Patrick Ryan with Tom Cardamone, Alden Jones, Alexander Chee, and Alysia Abbott Room 204AB, Washington Convention Center, Level Two This panel celebrates the enduring and groundbreaking career of Edmund White, one of the most influential living gay writers. His provocative works of fiction, biography, memoir, and criticism have sparked dialogues on the nature of the self in society for decades. Five writers—peers, colleagues, and those he has mentored—come together to discuss his work, life, and his influence on American letters. Edmund White speaks following the tribute.

12:00-1:15: Writing the Abyss: Turning Grim Reality into Good Fiction. (Stephen O’Connor, Helen Benedict, Helen Phillips, Ellery Washington) Marquis Salon 1 & 2, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two How can powerful, beautiful, and/or comic fiction be made out of the darkest aspects of human experience? Novelists who have written about war, slavery, suicide, existential, and literal despair will tell how they do justice to their grim topics without overwhelming readers or becoming overwhelmed themselves. Questions considered: Is it better to render the horrific in detail or by implication? Must we give readers hope? Is there a war between beauty (or humor) and truth? Can cynicism be wisdom?

12:00-1:15: The Path to Publishing a First Story Collection. (Erin Stalcup, Robin Black, Lori Ostlund, Melissa Yancy) Liberty Salon M, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Four authors discuss their different paths to publishing their first books. One of the panelists got an agented two-book deal with a big New York house, one got an unagented contract with a small university press, and two won contests: the Drue Heinz Prize and the Flannery O’Connor Award. They’ll share their stories, and provide resources and handouts to help audience members understand ideal and realistic possibilities, and navigate their own journeys to publication.

12:00-1:15: Immigrants/Children of Immigrants: A Nontraditional Path to a Writing Career. (Ken Chen, Monica Youn, Marie Myung-Ok Lee, Juan Martinez, Irina Reyn) Liberty Salon N, O, & P, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Four Not only do you not have an uncle in publishing or see people from the neighborhood get MFAs, immigrants and children of immigrants are inculcated to opt for “safe,” “secure,” often well-paying jobs; a writing career may seem like an unimaginable luxury or a fantasy. This panel of working writers looks at both psychic and structural issues that add a special challenge for writers from immigrant families.

1:30-2:45: Girls Who Run the World: Readings of Women in the Apocalypse. (Alexander Lumans, Claire Vaye Watkins, Lucy Corin, Manuel Gonzales, Sandra Newman) Marquis Salon 7 & 8, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two To ignore the role of women in apocalyptic literature is to deny over half the world’s population their opportunity to survive, let alone thrive. In this panel, five established and emerging fiction writers give voice to female protagonists in dystopian landscapes ranging from a giant sand dune to a regional office. Through individual readings of their apocalyptic visions, these writers challenge outdated versions of women at the end of the world.

3:00-4:15: Wayfaring Stranger: Writing Away from Our Experience. (Michael Croley, Richard Bausch, Brad Watson, Anne Valente, Laura van den Berg) Marquis Salon 7 & 8, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two Fiction that goes beyond the self—the kind that strays from one’s own gender, ethnicity, class, and personal experience—may be the truest form of storytelling and our greatest act of empathy as artists. Five writers discuss and share the challenges posed both in writing and publishing wayfaring stories and the process they use to allow themselves the courage to write about what they don’t know.

3:00-4:15: I Did It My Way: Writing Who We Are. (Susan Orlean, Luis Alberto Urrea, Kevin Young, Celeste Ng, Melissa Stein) Room 204AB, Walter E. Washington Convention Center, Level Two What is this writing voice we’re always hearing about, and do we need one? Does a unifying vision or voice just happen, or is it something we work at? And once we’ve established a style that feels like our own, how do we avoid pigeonholing ourselves? How can we counter pressures and expectations—internal, cultural, racial, gendered, genre, professional—and just write? Five respected poets and prose writers demystify, and perhaps remystify, how they stay true to themselves.

3:00-4:15: Does Size Matter? Corporate vs. Independent Publishers. (Nicholas Montemarano, Steve Almond, Fiona Maazel, Jay Neugeboren) Marquis Salon 5, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two Four writers, each of whom has published books with both corporate and independent publishers, will discuss the pros and cons of their varied publishing experiences. Is a bigger publisher always better? What are some advantages of publishing with a smaller press? To what degree is commercial bookselling at odds with artistic innovation and risk? How are independent presses filling a void left by an increasingly risk-averse boom-or-bust corporate publishing enterprise?

3:00-4:15: The Short Story as Laboratory. (Lesley Nneka Arimah, Carmen Maria Machado, Kendra Fortmeyer, Sofia Samatar, Juan Martinez) Marquis Salon 9 & 10, Marriott Marquis, Meeting Level Two What does short fiction allow? The form is beloved by science fiction writers, who use it to test out hypothetical futures; what does it offer writers who are doing other kinds of testing, related to emotional transitions, marginality, and migration? Is the short story an inherently border form? This panel considers these questions, the challenge of putting a set of experiments into a collection, and the tension between the laboratory and the completed book.

We’ll see you all in DC!! Remember to come by our booth to say hello.

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 why character is its focus

PR May 2015 AltWhen I was sixteen, I had a wonderful English teacher who recognized my passion for writing and encouraged me to pursue it. On my portable Olivia, I would bang out a story about life on a submarine during World War II. I would bang out “chapters” of a detective “novel” set in the year 2750. I would bang out the “status report” of a fly assigned to follow a moose around Canada and report back to the other flies. “You have a good ear for sentence rhythm,” my teacher told me. “But why are you writing about this stuff?”

“What should I write about?” I asked.

“Go to the mall,” she said. “Take a notebook and a pen, and watch people, and listen to them, and write about them. Don’t worry about writing stories. Write vignettes.” (She had to explain to me what a vignette was.) “Just try to capture what they’re like.”

And that’s what I did. Some of those vignettes were half a page long; some were three pages. Some had dialogue (overheard); some had thoughts (imagined). They were plot-less, story-less. I wrote as many as twenty a week and showed each one to her, and she read them all and said, “Keep going.”

I had no way of knowing then that she was helping shape me into the writer I would be for the rest of my life: a writer who puts character above all other aspects of fiction writing, a writer who follows his characters and listens to them and collaborates with them as a means of creating short stories and novels.

For years, I’ve wanted to teach a class that focuses on character and how that one aspect of fiction writing is not only the spine of a story but the connective tissue that runs through every other aspect: setting, description, dialogue, point of view, even plot. And now it’s happening.

Please join me for From Character to Story: A Craft Intensive from October 1st-8th.

Through online lectures, exercises, videos, and message discussion boards, I’ll walk you through the tools in your fiction writing toolbox and show you how character is the secret to making the most out of them. At the end of the week, you’ll feel more confident about your ability to get into, explore, and finish short stories—all through the lens of character.

This online class will meet on your schedule. Each day, the next class will be automatically uploaded. You can log in any time to access the materials. Have a question? Jump into the discussion boards and I’ll post an answer to the group. You’ll also be able to share you work with fellow students and connect with writers across the globe. If you fall behind, no worries; all the class materials will be available to you for an additional week for you to catch up.

I hope you’ll take part in a fun and enlightening week that promises to breathe new life into you, your characters, and your writing process. The deadline to register is October 1st.