Dear Margot,

I promised Mom that I won’t use swear words in my letters to you. Mom is very sad nowadays and when I told her I would start writing to you I could see her pale lips stretch into a faint smile. So, I am doing this for Mom, not for you. I’d never want to do anything for you.

I started school a couple of days ago, and I have Mr. Hendricks for third period English. When he was doing roll call he noticed my last name and paused, just for a few seconds, but I could feel it. It was like when a singer is singing a song, and their voice rises and rises and the music builds and builds until suddenly, a single, empty beat is heard, and right as you think that the pause is too long, that the emptiness is taking over the song, the chorus comes crashing in with the drums and the guitars and the singer starts singing again.

Sometimes I think that we are living in that pause, Mom and Dad and I. Desolation travels up the walls and down the hallways of the house, and although we know that we all feel it, we never speak of it, which just lets it take up more time, more space. We are all waiting for the moment the drums and guitar start playing again, and the singer sings. Sometimes I feel like that day will never come.

Shira Zur

Shira Zur is a senior in high school living in the Greater Seattle Area in Washington state. She has loved to read and write ever since she can remember and hopes to pursue storytelling in the future! Her work has been published in several online teen publications, which include Junebug Journal and Orange Blush Zine. She is the founder and head editor of the online teen creative magazine Love Letters Magazine.

Patrick Ryan on “Dear Margot”

The time has come to publish the second of three winners from One Teen Story’s 2021 Teen Writing Contest. As I mentioned when introducing our previous winner, 2020 brought us more than 450 entrees, which is the most we’ve ever received. Given that our submission window didn’t open until September of that year, we found it very impressive that so many teens were tapping into their creative impulses during lockdown. Our goal was to pick the most outstanding entree in each age category (13-15, 16-17, 18-19), and our work was cut out for us.

For our second installment, we present to you “Dear Margot” by Shira Zur. This story is a good old-fashioned epistolary. More specifically, it’s a one-sided correspondence: a teen who refers to herself as “S.L.” is writing letters to her sister Margot—only, Margot has passed away. That premise brings with it several immediate questions any reader might have, such as How did Margot die? and Were the sisters close? and What’s the point of writing to a dead person? Questions, for me, make up at least a third of a good reading experience.

What I love most about this story, however, is that, while answering some of the questions we bring to the table, it also provides us with questions we might not even have thought to ask—and answers them, as well. In a fairly short amount of space, Shira Zur covers a lot of emotional ground, weaving together a portrait of two siblings out of the grief of the one who survived. We at One Teen Story are delighted to be ushering “Dear Margot” into the world.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
SZ: I think that at this point in my life, since I still have so many new experiences and moments I have yet to live through, I would say I get almost none of my story ideas from my life and my personal experiences; instead, I get inspiration from other writers and their words, which come in many forms—novels, short stories, movies, television shows, etc. This is all to say that the very core idea of this story—a girl writing letters to her late older sister—came after I had read The Perks of Being a Wallflower by Stephen Chbosky, and then, unrelated to the book, had also watched the movie The Florida Project. I would say that a combination of Chbosky’s really strong and effective writing, along with the way complicated relationships are portrayed in The Florida Project, helped guide me in writing “Dear Margot.”
PR: How long did it take you to complete this story?
SZ: I believe that I wrote this story in a day, but of course I only had a more legible first draft after a couple weeks. One of my favorite English teachers always encouraged me to write a short story in its full length in one sitting, because otherwise if I left an incomplete story and came back to it on a different day, the voice of my story would shift. So, I always try to get everything down on the page in one day, although that sometimes means I’m furiously typing away at two or three in the morning.
PR: “Dear Margot” is an epistolary. What drew you to the form? And do you have a favorite epistolary novel?
SZ: Going back to what I said earlier, I think what drew me to the form was that I was really inspired by other epistolary novels I had read, such as The Perks of Being a Wallflower. I really enjoy reading books by authors who are doing something different or unusual, since these authors often challenge my notion of traditional storytelling and allow me to think more deeply about what I’m reading—and also motivate me to write different or more unusual material too. One of my favorite epistolary novels is Where’d You Go, Bernadette by Maria Semple; it’s so captivating, clever, and extremely funny—definitely a must-read!
PR: So much of writing a short story is about making choices. You made a lot of choices in “Dear Margot” about what to include and what to leave out. Was that instinctual, or did earlier drafts of the story contain more moments from Margot and S.L.’s past?
SZ: At first, it was definitely very difficult to decide which moments S.L. would write about in her letters to Margot and which ones she would choose to leave out. These decisions would always raise the question of whether a specific memory would be strong enough to make S.L. spontaneously remember it and want to write about in her letter, or would she deem it less important; therefore, trying to get myself to think and reflect like how I think S.L. would was really helpful in making my choices more instinctual. I believe that almost every memory S.L. writes about did appear in the earlier drafts of the story, with the exception of the Romeo and Juliet essay that S.L. writes—the idea to tie Shakespeare together in the plot came later.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
SZ: Coping.
PR: What did you do when you found out you were one of our Teen Writing Contest Winners? Was there any celebrating?
SZ: I was really, really happy! I had received an email about a week earlier letting me know that my story qualified for the final stages of the contest, so already I was really happy knowing I had gotten that far. I remember that I was in-between online classes when I found out, and as soon as I saw the email I jumped away from my computer and ran to tell my mom the good news! There was definitely a lot of celebrating.
PR: What are you working on now?
SZ: I don’t have any specific stories that I’m working on right now, but I do have a lot of smaller projects here and there that I’d love to develop further. I’m hoping that when I start university in the fall I’ll be able to do that with support from my professors! I’m also the founder and head editor of a by-teens, for-teens magazine called Love Letters Magazine. While we are on hiatus right now, each month we open our submissions for short stories, poems, and more, all of which need to be based on a specific theme—visit our website and follow our Instagram and Twitter for more information!
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
SZ: The piece of advice I think is often overlooked but is extremely helpful to me is to read your writing out loud, and specifically practice the conversations the characters in your story have with a family member or friend. I’m always surprised at how different my writing sounds out loud versus what it had sounded like in my head, and it always helps me catch mistakes and makes my dialogue more realistic-sounding.