Every October, when a girl hasn’t disappeared into the fields yet and everyone with a daughter is walking around wild-eyed and nervous, Olivia and I are indoors by nightfall. My mother digs out her rosary and nails it onto my doorway, where it stays until spring. Olivia’s parents send her to my house every time they go on a business trip. We’ve watched the entirety of Netflix’s Instant Queue-able movie collection, beat every video game Diana left behind when she went to college, destroyed all the board games, and even tried arts and crafts—Olivia knitted winter-wear for theoretical boyfriends, I embroidered. Sometimes we run through all our classmates and try to sort them into two categories: initiated or victim. Those who don’t fall into either aren’t important enough to be categorized. Olivia crosses her fingers at every name and we don’t talk about who’s right or wrong because there are no winners in this game. We came up with it bored and laying down cards in another round of War. This afternoon, we’re in my bedroom listening to some indie rock band Olivia likes.

Gnesis Villar

Gnesis Villar is a sophomore at Kenyon College where she receives a writing scholarship. She is majoring in English and Gender Studies. She was awarded a Gold Key for her writing portfolio in the National Scholastic Art & Writing Awards in 2015, and that same year won second place in the Penguin Random House Creative Writing Competition. She works as an associate at The Kenyon Review.

Patrick Ryan on “Guts”

Dear Readers,
As you may know, at the beginning of this year One Teen Story became a quarterly magazine focused solely on the writing of teens. Along with how wonderful it is to work with young, emerging writers, I’m excited that we’ll now be putting their stories into the hands of over 10,000 readers (which is a huge circulation increase from what OTS was able to boast of in the past). To start us off on this new venture, we present you with “Guts,” a story written by Gnesis Villar. “Guts” is several things at once: it’s a story about courage and self-respect, it’s an endearing portrait of a friendship between two teenaged girls, and it’s a chilling tale of a dangerous world that looks a lot like ours. Read what Gnesis has to say about how the story came about in our Q&A. She’s a remarkable talent. I feel certain we’ll be reading more of her work, and I envy readers who get to experience “Guts” for the first time.

Q&A by Patrick Ryan

PR: Where did the idea for this story come from?
GV: I can’t pinpoint the exact seed of it but I remember talking with my writing mentor in the summer of 2015 about what I planned on writing next. I only had a vague idea that’s remained the same since, that it would be about a small town where teenage girls’ unsafety is accepted as a certainty. That what was threatening these girls would be a mirror of how in real life a girl’s coming-of-age often depends on and follows learning intimately all the ways you or your body are in danger. Also, the spring before I had discovered short stories and how that’s probably what I should have been writing this whole time instead of the next YA paranormal romance. So, I read “Somebody Else’s Baby” by Diane Cook and “Fear Itself” by Katie Coyle during this time of upheaval in my writing, two stories that were the closest to what I wanted to do—except that the places they didn’t overlap was what I was most interested in. And I was left with a question that moved the story to the point it is now: how can I write dark, surreal fiction that prioritizes and is about teenage girls?
PR: Is this story set in our world and time, or in a slightly different version of our world and time? If slightly different, can you tell us how?
GV: This is a different world but not a different time period, despite the questions I’ve gotten about it in the past. It’s at least set in our time, if a world where Radio Shack still exists and is manned by a bored, Nightvale wraith can be considered to fit within “our” time. For anyone who’s ever listened to Welcome to Night Vale, I tried to imbue my world with a similar nonchalance to the supernatural horror of their daily existence. The only real difference is that the everyday horrors we implicitly accept are far more mundane.
PR: I’m trying not to give too much away here. There’s the potential threat of the boys in the story, and the potential threat of what’s lurking in the woods. Are they the same?
GV: Yes. It isn’t the woods themselves that is so threatening to teenage girls, but what boys are allowed to get away with and are basically sanctioned by the community to do in them, is what has everyone worried. Although, I won’t rule out that something else might be in the woods, everyone just knows to stay out of its way.
PR: The ending is incredibly powerful. Did you ever consider a different ending, or was it always going to conclude the way it does?
GV: Most of my stories, or at least the ones I tend to finish, begin with me knowing how they’ll end. So, I came to this story having a clear vision of where Luz and Olivia would end up but not the why or the how. Which I think is pretty important for build-up, especially since I seem incapable of writing conclusions that aren’t traumatizing or depressing.
PR: Finish this sentence in just one word—the word you think best captures it: “This story is about __________.”?
GV: Friendship. I think that makes it sound like a happier, more optimistic story. Luz and Olivia’s relationship with each other really is the heart of everything.
PR: What are you working on now?
GV: I’m a slow writer so I’ve been re-writing a short story I came up with and finished writing around the same time as “Guts” for what feels like forever; it’s about a pair of estranged cousins trapped in their high school during a zombie apocalypse. I have a couple other stories floating around too, one’s about a boy who accidentally raises the undead with a spell from an Internet forum. I’ve also been toying with the possibility of following Luz’s sister, Ria, to boarding school where she’s older and summons a bad ghost boyfriend.
PR: What is the best bit of advice about writing you have ever received?
GV: Uh, I’m not sure I can think of any at the moment. Not to say that my writing is perfect and I’m not constantly learning from other writers, but I don’t internalize writing advice in a way that I can regurgitate as a good quote or well-worn saying. I think where I get most of my cues on how to write is reading other writers talk about writing. When I was middle school I used to be a devoted reader of the personal blogs of YA authors because I was preoccupied with learning how writers lived and how that would affect whether I took this writing thing seriously. Now, I find myself reading a lot of online interviews, whether it’s promotion for a book or saying what inspired a short story or just chatting with another writer. There’s something about hearing someone whose work I admire speak on their craft that motivates me, makes me think, “They are a person, and as a fellow person, they expended a tremendous amount of effort and work to produce what I am seeing.” I take a long time to finish projects and I almost never have moments where words just pour out of me so, it really helps to see people. And the few times that has occurred has been because I’ve got a deadline the next morning or I’m twenty minutes away from missing it. I also think that we heap a lot of praise on the inspired genius-type who doesn’t even have to try a pedestal, when working your ass off to be the best at your art is the more, if not the most, admirable thing.