RON CHARLES AT THE WASHINGTON POST SHEDS LIGHT AND LOVE ON “THE BEASTS OF ST. ANDREW’S”

Ted Thompson, author of our new issue, “The Beasts of St. Andrew’s,” in conversation with editor Patrick Ryan

image

What drew you to the topic of werewolves? Was your interest sparked by something you’d read or seen, or was it sparked by (ahem) something you’d experienced?

To be totally honest, I wasn’t drawn to werewolves at all. In fact, when I was teaching creative writing in the years just after Twilight, I had gotten so sick of reading werewolf and vampire stories that I was tempted to ban them (of course I never actually did). But then about four years ago I had a falling-out with one of my closest friends, which was a traumatic and confusing experience, and as with all things that trouble me deeply enough, I found myself needing to write about it. And it turned out the only way I could find to articulate the emotional experience was by literalizing Bruce’s alienation—by creating a situation in which one character was a totally different species from the other, and in that, no matter how hard either of them tried, they would never be able to coexist. Ultimately, I see “Beasts” as a story of friends growing apart, of understanding that no matter how much they may care for each other, they have differences that are too great to bridge. Turned out that writing about a werewolf was my way in.

Did you ever consider writing the story from Bruce-the-werewolf’s point of view? Or was the intention always to show Bruce from the perspective of someone outside the transformation process?

I didn’t. I was always interested in the character who was straddling two worlds, who was able to enter regular social life with his peers but also felt a keen loyalty and responsibility for his friend. What are the limits of that loyalty? At what point can you no longer stand by someone? For poor Bruce, so much of the situation is out of his control—he’s an outcast and a werewolf. He can’t help it! But for the narrator things are a lot more complicated.

“The Beasts of St. Andrew’s” is as funny as it is creepy—and in a very organic, unforced way. How important is it for you to incorporate humor into your writing? Or does it just happen naturally because humor is in your toolbox?

I always love stories that make me laugh. It’s the one thing that disarms me as a reader and makes me feel immediately close to the text. So I suppose I try to replicate that experience in my own stories. But more than that, it’s really an issue of tone. It seems to me that it’s always much easier to write moments of earnest sentiment (loneliness or longing or fear) if the moment before it is funny. Or light. Or doesn’t take itself too seriously. It’s in the contrast that feeling can best be conveyed.

Can you name a couple of books, films, or TV shows that deal with a supernatural element you really like? There are plenty out there to choose from, as we all know. Twilight? Percy Jackson? Harold and the Purple Crayon?

Good question. A story I deeply love and have been trying for years to imitate with very limited success is “The Ceiling” by Kevin Brockmeier. It’s about a town where there is a glossy black ceiling descending, day by day, week by week, onto it at the same time as the main character’s marriage is falling apart. That story combines this mythic, supernatural element with precise psychological realism so seamlessly that you can’t say whether it’s one kind of story or another. It’s sort of simultaneously a metaphor and not, a sci-fi horror story and not. It’s a masterpiece. A recent movie that I thought did this beautifully was called Ruby Sparks. It’s a retelling of the Pygmalion myth, about a blocked writer who invents his dream girl on the page only to have her actually come to life. It sounds hokey when it’s described like that, but it’s really funny, and it walks the line between psychological reality and total wacko fantasy quite beautifully. I really hope more people see it.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on two new novels at the moment, which is something I’ve never attempted before. But they’re very different. One is very autobiographical and the other one is very much not. I’m a little superstitious about talking about things before they’re finished, so that’s as much as I’ll say—except that one story opens with a body. I’ll leave you to guess which one that might be.

What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

Hm. That’s tough because I’ve received so much terrific advice that has suited me at different times. But perhaps the most useful in the long run has been the notion that you have to spend a lot of time sweeping the temple steps before the god appears. Meaning that it takes a lot of work for inspiration to strike—and it tends to strike mostly when you’re doing it. More and more I’ve become convinced that writing is a process of consistency and routine, a training of the mind and a habit of articulation rather than anything all that romantic. That’s where its power lies.

But since that’s a pretty vague answer, here’s something small and concrete that has recently changed my writing life: The next time you’re stuck and you’re tempted to stand up—to go get some coffee or to clip your fingernails or any of the fidgets that crop up when you’re working—stop and set a timer for twenty minutes. For that twenty minutes you can’t check your email or go online or get out of your seat. Your only options are to write or not write until the alarm goes off. My experience has been that I’ve written just about everything that’s worth keeping in that twenty minutes. And often I keep going long after the alarm has rung. For me, fidgets and flinches are often a sign that I’m getting to the edge of what I know, and it’s time to trust my subconscious and my imagination. It means I’ve found my way to the good stuff.

So there you go: my deepest trade secret.

Want to take a YA Writing Workshop with Patrick Ryan?

Young Adult fiction has never been hotter than it is right now. This workshop, led by Patrick Ryan, editor of the leading Young Adult literary magazine, One Teen Story, is an excellent way to help you improve your writing. Particular attention will be paid to character, plot, language, and narrative arc.

The class will meet every other week for twelve weeks, for a total of six sessions, giving the participants ample time to read their peers’ work, generate responses, and receive helpful feedback.

Take your Young Adult fiction a big step forward with this dynamic mid- to advance-level workshop.   Patrick Ryan is the author of the story collection Send Me and three novels for young adults: Saints of Augustine, In Mike We Trust, and Gemini Bites. His stories have appeared in The Best American Short Stories, Tin House, One Story, The Iowa Review, Yale Review and elsewhere. From 2009 to 2013, he was the associate editor of Granta. He is the editor-in-chief of One Teen Story and lives in New York City. 

Click here for more details: http://centerforfiction.org/forwriters/nyc-writing-workshops/patrick-ryan-young-adult-fiction/

A FEW WORDS FROM TARA ALTEBRANDO, JUDGE OF THE 2014 ONE TEEN STORY WRITING CONTEST

image

Now that we have the results of the 2014 One Teen Story Writing Contest, we’d like to share with you a few words from our judge, celebrated YA author Tara Altebrando, about our winner and finalists.  Here’s what Tara has to say about each:

WINNER: “A Eulogy for Pretzel” by Lily Dodd

“Truth is, I killed your hamster.” Truth is, Lily Dodd’s story completely hooked me from that killer first line. I generally hate the word “edgy” but the voice and language and characters here are undeniably sharp. And the narrator’s frequent return to that haunting “Truth is…” leaves you feeling off kilter in the best possible way. How reliable is this girl? How much is she lying to herself in this supposedly confessional letter she’s writing to Pretzel’s former owner and her former friend? The result is a story about love and jealously and cruelty that feels like the kind of story someone like Megan Abbott might have written when she was young. It’s my choice as this year’s winning story.

FINALIST: “Brighter” by Quinn Shephard

The characters in Quinn Shephard’s story “Brighter” shine. They are Veronica and Bea, and they are on a cruise with Bea’s parents and younger brother—on a ship that might not be big enough for Veronica, who likes to drop f-bombs in front of Bea’s parents and whose boredom is a thing to be feared. We feel Bea’s panic over what Veronica might do at any given moment right along with her because the writer has crafted a wonderfully claustrophobic feeling ship and friendship. The story is a spot-on depiction of how visceral, competitive, and fragile adolescent relationships are and how warped our own views of ourselves can be.

FINALIST: “Locked-In” by Oona Intemann

Oona Intemann gave herself quite a challenge when she sat down to write this story. Her narrator, Greg, is paralyzed and suffers “locked-in” syndrome. He can only see things that are right in front of him and can only communicate by blinking once for yes, twice for no. The fact that the story is so moving—and dare I say, funny—is a testament to Intemann’s success in creating an interesting interior life for Greg and a worthy companion in lymphoma patient Lana who quickly declares herself Greg’s new friend and then actually becomes that for him in a series of lovely interactions.

WE HAVE A WINNER FOR THE 2014 ONE TEEN STORY WRITING CONTEST!

image

Exciting news!  We now have the results of the 2014 One Teen Story Writing Contest.

This year we had almost 600 entries, which is nearly double the number of teen writers (ages 14-19) sending their stories to us from around the country.  After much deliberation, we chose Honorable Mentions in each age group (14-15, 16-17, 18-19), and our judge for this year’s contest, celebrated YA author Tara Altebrando, chose our Winner and two Finalists.  Here are the results:

WINNER: Lily Dodd (age 16) for “A Eulogy for Pretzel”

FINALIST: Quinn Shephard (age 19) for “Brighter”

FINALIST: Oona Intemann (age 17) for “Locked-In”

HONORABLE MENTION: Genesis Garcia-Diaz (age 15) for “Ace of Hearts”

HONORABLE MENTION: Madeline Tucker (age 17) for “The Last Big Thing”

HONORABLE MENTION: Kate Petroff (age 18) for “Small, Eyeless Animals”

We’ll be publishing Lily Dodd’s winning story as the May 2015 issue of the magazine. 

We’d like to extend our congratulations to Lily, Quinn, and Oona, and to our Honorable Mentions.  And a heartfelt thank you to everyone who entered this year.  It was uplifting—and a real pleasure!—to read so many wonderful stories.  Tara Altebrando’s comments about our winner and our two finalists will be posted here shortly.

Yours,

Patrick Ryan

Isaac Blum, author of our new issue, “Cassie, Two Kids,” in conversation with editor Patrick Ryan

image

Did “Cassie, Two Kids” come from something you’d heard about, or personally went through? Or was it pure invention?

In high school, I worked at an ice cream store. In the winter, nobody bought ice cream, because ice cream is cold and therefore redundant. So we wasted time playing games on the store’s computer. But that’s where my personal experience ends and the invention begins.

People’s lives are often broken up into segments: home, school, work. And it’s always interesting when these different worlds come together. What’s your teacher like outside of school? What happens when your parents meet your friends or girlfriend? What happens when you try to date your co-worker? When you mix these separate worlds together, you often get interesting and unexpected results.

Cassie is kind of into Stevie. Stevie is kind of into Cassie. Do you think Stevie has a realistic idea of what he might be in for, if they became a couple?

Nope. And not just because Cassie has children. Any time you intertwine your life with someone else’s there are unexpected complications. And even once Stevie and Cassie begin hanging out and hooking up, I don’t think Stevie really understands how profoundly his life would change if they became serious. It’s one thing to visit a young family like that. It’s another thing entirely to become a part of it.

In the story, Stevie’s mom has to deal with 1) her son’s wanting to date a young mother and 2) her daughter’s coming out. Do you think her handling of one affected her handling of the other? Would she maybe have reacted differently to either one if they weren’t happening simultaneously?

I think she might indeed have handled these things differently, had the two events been independent of each other. I’m not a parent, but I imagine it’s difficult to see your children grow up and assert their differences and individuality. Stevie’s mom wants her children to be freethinking and independent, but it’s still hard for her to process such sudden developments.

Katie’s coming out takes her mom by surprise, and it’s not something her mom is prepared for: it’s not something she’s experienced before, and she doesn’t know exactly how to deal with it. So when Stevie wants to date Cassie, she seizes an opportunity and says, basically, “Okay, I do know how to deal with this one,” and I think she’s more assertive—or pushy—about the Stevie-Cassie situation than she might have otherwise been.

Here’s a really goofy question, but I can’t resist: If you were Stevie’s Life Coach, what would you want him to take away from the experience of trying to date Cassie? And how does that compare to what he actually takes away?

Stevie’s a pretty smart kid. And that’s actually part of the problem. He’s perceptive and intelligent, and, as Cassie says, he’s a “fast talker.” But he needs to see that, even though he’s quick on his feet and mature for his age, there’s still a lot he can learn from people who have more life experience than he does.

Were I Stevie’s Life Coach, I’d like him to view the whole Cassie situation as a learning opportunity. This experience will serve him well in his future friendships and relationships. I think he’s a little too hurt—too discouraged—to feel that right now. But he’ll get over his resentment toward Cassie and his mom. And when he does, I think he’ll feel good about the choices he’s made, and hopeful about the adult life that awaits him.

What are you working on now?

I’m working on a middle grade novel about a band of kids living out of abandoned strip malls in post-apocalyptic Philadelphia. When conditions in Philly become too difficult, they depart on a quest to cross the world, to reach the only place where there are still blue skies and ample food: Bulgaria, home of the world’s crown jewel, the Bulgarian National Circus.

Yes, it’s a really strange idea. We’ll see what happens.

What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

A professor told me that you should take your favorite sentence in your story, and cut it immediately. I hope she didn’t mean it literally. But I always keep that advice in mind when I revise. You shouldn’t be married to particular sentences or paragraphs or ideas. You should be ready to change anything, even your favorite sentence, if that change will improve the work as a whole. I think if you commit yourself to that idea, and stay open-minded, you’ll edit and revise better.

That advice made it a lot easier for me to accept constructive criticism. And the stories and essays I’m most proud of are all the result of relentless revision, and the ruthless criticism of friends and editors.

KOOL NEW SUBSCRIPTION DEAL — 12 STORIES, $12!

We can’t explain the phenomenon of Kaptain Kool and the Kongs — really, who can? — but we can explain this: Our HOT NEW SUBSCRIPTION DEAL — $12 A YEAR!  That’s 12 great stories for 12 bucks. Get it for yourself, get it for a friend. Got it? https://www.oneteenstory.com/index.php?page=subscribe

flosculorum said: Hey when are the results for the One Teen Story contest coming out?

September 1st.  Thanks for asking!

Patrick Ryan’s video intro to “Astronauts in Love” by Erin Somers

Erin Somers, author of our new issue, “Astronauts in Love,” in conversation with editor Patrick Ryan

Would you describe Brandon, the narrator of “Astronauts in Love,” as an optimist or a pessimist? The reason I ask is that I’m wondering if he’s able to envision a life with Claire Collins that’s better than the life his parents seem to have with each other. (He’s crushing on Claire pretty hard from beginning to end.)

I see Brandon as an optimist. The seed of this story came about when a friend told me about the Golden Voyager Record. Briefly: NASA sent a record player to space along with a recording of human voices, animal sounds, and music in hopes that alien life or future humans would find it someday and know that life on Earth existed. This seemed to me to be such a hopeful, romantic gesture, an almost emo-level romantic gesture, on NASA’s part. The idea of launching what is basically a mix tape into space even though it might never be found. They sent actual shouts into an actual void! I wanted to write a character with that kind of optimism. A character who believes he can do better than his parents, or even if he suspects that he can’t, even if he suspects that his crush on Claire Collins is doomed, he finds the guts to try anyway.

Your story just happens to be set in my hometown. Have you ever been on a school trip to the Space Center in Cape Canaveral? If so, did you find it fascinating or—as some of the teens in your story find it—lackluster? (I promise not to mind, however you answer.)

I went to the Space Center with my parents when I was very young, maybe eight or nine. I was a little bored but bravely pretended I was into it for my dad’s sake. It’s a shame, because now I follow all that stuff: the Mars Rover, the flying saucer NASA’s testing right now, that astronaut who answers questions on YouTube. I guess one’s interests evolve between the ages of eight and twenty-nine.

The teens in “Astronauts in Love” seem bent on forming their own temporary “adult” society while on this fieldtrip. They gravitate toward one another with a unified purpose—they want to behold (if not actually hold) a “Space Baby,” and they don’t seem at all desirous of adult company. Did you intend this, or did it just happen as you were writing a story about a fieldtrip?

The temporary society of teens (TSOT) was one of those things that got teased out of the story after many drafts. The more I circled the idea, the more the TSOT seemed true to me. I remember in high school abiding strongly by the code of “kids versus adults for life no take backs.”

We adults walk around so obviously damaged, hemorrhaging from our flaws really. Our vulnerabilities are often immediately apparent to young people, who are much more perceptive than they are usually given credit for. Who wouldn’t want to distance himself from such a pack of screw-ups? I still see the logic of the TSOT. Yikes, no thanks, I’ll pass. I’ll make a little world with my friends here, and you guys can continue to get divorced and drink red wine and misunderstand pop culture or whatever over there.

It goes back to optimism, to the conviction that we will do better than the people that came before us. It’s possible that we need that conviction to survive as a species. Certainly we need it to survive adolescence.

What are you working on now?

I’m putting together a collection of short stories. I’ve also just begun work on a longer thing. I’m still in the throat-clearing and knuckle-cracking stage. I’ve opened a Word document, anyway. That’s a vital first step.

What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?

I took a workshop with Christine Schutt once and she compared writing a short story to giving someone a tour of your house. You lead your reader into the house, but you don’t let her go in the sun-drenched kitchen, you don’t let her peek into the sprawling living room, you don’t let her linger in the foyer. You take her directly to the closet and show her the inside. That’s what a short story is. The inside of the closet and nothing else. I think about that all the time.