Two Questions for Yunya Yang

We recently published Yunya Yang’s cutting “The Warrior.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the transformation here as the character changes for kendo — there is something so powerful and so pure in it. Do you think she holds on to some of this feeling when she changes back into her dress? Or is this brief moment all she gets?

I think the feeling has always been in her, just in a dormant state. I think of the dress as a disguise, something she wears to survive out there. Her armor gives her anonymity – the Men that hides her face, and the Do that hides her body – and grants her power to be anybody she wants to be. At that moment, she thinks of being born in this country, being a man, being white, but she doesn’t really want to be those things, what she wants is the power that comes with being those things, which to me is the tragedy here. At that moment it feels empowering, but it is also sad that only when she is anonymous can she feel powerful. She doesn’t feel powerful in her own skin. This, I think, is where the anger at the end comes from, that desire to turn the tables. 




2) I want to talk about how you address this idea of being “othered” so effectively! In one sentence, you let us know everything about this character, about the space she inhabits, about this country, about this world. So I guess this is less a question and more of a compliment! How did you manage to get all that into one little sentence?

Thank you! I think she is defined more by who she is not, than who she is. By the end of the story, we still don’t really know exactly what she looks like or where she is from, but we know who she is not and what she does not have. I feel in this way, she is specific enough, but can also be a universal figure – she is anybody who is an immigrant and a woman of color. The capitalization of certain words might have helped too? I started with capitalizing only the Japanese words, but then when I got to the end, it felt right to capitalize those last couple of words too, together with the Japanese ones, almost like power tugging on two opposite ends. One is power within her, the one that supports her, and the other is power from the outside, the one that oppresses her.

The Warrior ~ by Yunya Yang

When she takes off her shoes and steps into the Dojo; when she sheds her dress, the soft shell peels off her skin; when she winds a long, white band around her breasts before slipping into the Keikogi, its wide sleeves cut at her elbows; when she pulls the Hakama up her legs, tying the night-blue belt into a butterfly, tucking the wings just under her waist; when her hands reach into the Kote, the wrinkled leather cool to the touch; when she straps the Do in front of her torso, the hard and comfortable armor hugs her body like a lover; when she puts her head inside the Men, hiding her face behind the metal cage; when she wraps her gloved hands around the Shinai, the length of the sword extends before her; when she takes her stance, right foot forward, left heel lifted, the hem of her Hakama swishing on the springwood floor; she finally feels in Power. She could be Anybody — she could be Born Here, she could be a Man, she could be White, and people would be in her Mercy, for once. 

***

Yunya Yang was born and raised in Central China and moved to the US when she was eighteen. Her work has appeared and is forthcoming in Heavy Feather Review, Brilliant Flash Fiction, The Los Angeles Review, among others. She lives in Chicago with her husband Chris and cat Ichiro. Find her at www.yunyayang.com and on Twitter @YangYunya.

Two Questions for Candace Hartsuyker

We recently published Candace Hartsuyker’s gorgeous “At the Sixth Grade Picnic Lunch, We Are the Last Girls Standing.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This piece, for me, brings back all those horrifying grade school moments being the kid who didn’t fit in, the kid who was never going to fit in. And yet there’s a touch of beauty — I love that you have found beauty here! Do you think this moment will change the girls? Or do you think it is a moment they have always been expecting, always been preparing for?

I do think the girls have always been preparing for this moment. One of the reasons I chose to write this story in collective first-person was to portray the universal experience of girlhood. Whether it’s prom or getting married or being auctioned off at a picnic lunch, there are all these traditions in society that seem to put more pressure on women than men. When I was in sixth grade, my elementary school had a picnic lunch, and I remember my friend had the expectation that the day would be perfect because the boy she liked would pick her, but he didn’t, and she was devastated.


2) I love the detail in the last moments of this story, the way the girl slaps the boy ” the same way women with sharp eyebrows and shoulders pads in old movies do.” That’s such a great and vivid description! Were you thinking of any movie in particular?

I was picturing Joan Crawford in Mildred Pierce, which is a wonderful film noir that poses the question: how much will a mother sacrifice for her daughter? Joan Crawford is magnificent in this role; she is able to show despair one minute and steely determination the next. At the end of my story, one of the girls has a Joan Crawford moment: by slapping the boy, she has agency.

At The Sixth Grade Picnic Lunch, We Are the Last Girls Standing ~ by Candace Hartsuyker

We know the rules. When you’re a girl at a picnic lunch, it’s your job to stand, picnic basket in hand, feet aching, until a boy picks you. Remember: you can’t choose the boy; he chooses you. One by one, our friends are auctioned off. Crinkled dollar bills slide from the palms of grubby boys, money attached in envelopes and safety pinned to their back jean pockets by their mothers.

Before we left, we swiped our mothers’ lipstick. This made us feel grown up, like the older girls at school who were always puckering their lips in front of bathroom mirrors, then swinging their ponytails to hide the hickeys on their necks. Now we just feel like little girls. The lipstick is waxy, caked on our lips.

We try not to think about how the last girl chosen always has the plainest face or the worst food, the kind that tastes like a meal served in a nursing home. If our fathers were here, they’d try to make us feel better by saying that we are like samurai warriors, the last ones remaining in a fight. But they are not here, so we stand, eyes glimmering, teeth bared.

The boy who chooses us hands over a jangle of coins. He doesn’t stop to admire our mothers’ handiwork: the carefully folded napkins, the mouthwatering ham sandwiches with the crusts cut off, the thermos of pomegranate juice, the pomegranate carefully plucked from the tree in the backyard then juiced, staining our mothers’ hands mauve. Our stomachs growl as the boy wolfs down another sandwich. We wonder if this is why our mothers sometimes clatter the silverware drawer shut after dinner, complaining that no one ever appreciates them. The boy slurps down the juice and twists his mouth at the taste before ripping the saran wrap off the sandwich. When he softly kisses one of us on the cheek, she slaps him the same way women with sharp eyebrows and shoulders pads in old movies do. Then, she rubs a finger across reddened lips as if she’s trying to hold back a smile. He tears off a chunk of the sandwich and swallows. Hands brush crumbs off his pants. One final bite of the sandwich, and he’s gone, just a streak of boy running across the grass.

***

Candace Hartsuyker has an M.F.A in Creative Writing from McNeese State University and reads for PANK. She has been published in Cotton XenomorphHeavy Feather Review, The Hunger and elsewhere. 

Two Questions for Paul Thompson

We recently published Paul Thompson’s elegant “Group Hug.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love how this piece starts small and then grows so large — that first meeting again, after such a long time, the momentary awkwardness, and then: an embrace. How long do you think this couple had been waiting for this moment to come?
Long enough for it to mean something. The story is loosely based on the pandemic so a year at least. I find it interesting how the benchmark for normality is when can we hug our loved ones? as opposed to any scientific data. People value and miss the human things, so I took this pent up emotion and escalated it as far as I could.


2) That last line! “…like the ghosts we once were.” It is so beautiful! Now that this couple (and the rest) has experienced this kind of closeness, this creation of a new form, do you think they could really become like ghosts ever again?
Not really. Everything changes and continues to do so. Ghosts of our former selves are everywhere, and how we handle them defines us going forward. It’s been a difficult time for everyone, and with no ‘normal’ to return back to, there is only a new future ahead of us. In many ways that is going to be just as overwhelming as anything that came before it.

Group Hug ~ by Paul Thompson

They announce it during an emergency broadcast – we can embrace once more.

I meet you outside the library where we first met. Your clothes are too big. You tell me a beard makes me look older. We do the pedestrian shuffle – step left then right, then left then right, then apologise awkwardly. Our arms waver, broken puppets, reaching and missing each other. The construct of a hug, so easily forgotten.

We hug. A boa constrictor hold. Arms so tight to bruise our backs. Tight and intertwined, an entanglement puzzle. Hours pass, unable to let go, unwilling to risk a future separation. Around us, the post-new world moves on. Birds make nests in our hair. People throw objects at us from passing cars. A billboard poster fading behind us. A performance art review in the local newspaper.

The first of many others join us. Seeking warmth after so long indoors – reaching arms around us, adding to our mass. Strangers stick to our bodies. New best friends. Hundreds of them, blocking the road, interlinking arms and bodies. Our structure becomes unstable, rocking as more people join us. Motion becomes momentum. We stumble down roads. Trample across rivers. People in our path absorbed. Traffic bouncing off our perimeter. Fields churned and pylons toppled. A new force of nature.

Over a thousand people, growing exponentially to a million. Our form eclipsing the low sun at dusk. People losing their grip, trampled underfoot. Missing persons leaflets pasted onto backs. People circulating food deliveries. Factions emerging. Social classes spreading from our centre. Rumours from the perimeter – we are now many millions, we have crossed the oceans, we are visible from space, we are impacting the rotation of the planet.

You pull me tighter into our nucleus. Our epicentre under the strain of the oceans. Bodies compressed in the squeeze – mixing atoms, skin eroding, bones interlocking. Our stampede a new species, an organism sharing limbs and memories. A new name in Latin. A future fossil perplexing experts, millions of years from now. We erode ourselves, lifting our feet, carried by the infinite embrace. Hovering across the surface of the earth, invisible and fading, like the ghosts we once were.

***

Paul is from Sheffield, UK. His stories have appeared in Okay Donkey, Spelk Fiction, and was recently on the Best British & Irish Flash Fiction list for 2019-2020.

Two Questions for Caroljean Gavin

We recently published Caroljean Gavin’s fruitful “Once Tasted.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the imagery in this piece, the way each fruit evokes a memory and a feeling. And the story itself is a new fruit, tasting of different memories, different sensations. Do you think every story has a flavor like that?

I think so, and maybe that’s what we normally call tone or voice. A story is a fruit a writer has created with the flavors of their particular style and decisions. The writer creates the fruit, the writer creates the sensory experience.  Not every flavor tastes the same in every mouth though. Cilantro is an easy one. I love it. Other people taste soap. 

2) The tending and care here is so powerful, too, and the outcome could be anything, maybe a fruit, maybe nothing, maybe even a story. What inspired this specific imagery for you?

This piece came from Jennifer Wortman’s Advanced Fiction Workshop and began as an exercise in subverting a writing rule or convention. What was the biggest rule I could break? If this story wasn’t a story what was it going to be? What could seem to be the opposite of a story, but not actually be the opposite of a story? I am such a fast reader, and the image of the fruit popped in my head because if you take your time with a fruit, it can be such an intense sensory experience. The thing is that that sensory experience is going to be different for every person. The sight, smell, feel, taste, even sound of it are going to trigger different responses in different people.  I have specific memories of the feel of an orange rind, the punch of citrus that rings out when I pull the orange open from itself, the taste of licking a dribble of the juice off my finger, that no one else will have.  Whether it’s a fruit or a story, a chair or a ladybug, the more we give ourselves up to the experience, the deeper of an experience we’re going to have. 

Once Tasted ~ by Caroljean Gavin

This is not a story. It is a piece of fruit. Pluck the paragraph, hold its weight in your palm. Rub it against your cheek, let it linger under your nostrils as you inhale. Inhale with your eyes closed. Inhale. It can be any fruit that you wish. It is not a strawberry from your grandfather’s garden, half-eaten by birds. It is not an apple you set down in your child’s lunch box, its tap echoing in the tunnel of your ears these twenty-something years. It is not the mango you watched your soon to be lover slurp from the peel and hold in her mouth like two tongues. It is not the hairy kiwi. It is a new fruit, the likes of which you have never seen before. Let your gaze be the knife. Slice the paragraph into sections. Fan them out across a plate. You know which plate. Perhaps the sentences are juicy. Possibly they are dried out, having lost all sweetness through evaporation. Select one sentence and slip it in your mouth, bring your teeth down into it, the words squirt up against the roof of your mouth, or they seep into the soft place under your tongue, or they do nothing, just grave there pulpy and savorless. Choose one particular flavor, one specific word. It can be any flavor you choose. It tastes like the last time your mother said goodbye, with a wave of honeysuckle, and the subtlest itch of pepper. If your eyes have closed, open them, bring your attention to the seeds, the letters of the fruit, the “r’s” and the “b’s,” the “x’s” and the “e’s” pinch them from the fruit flesh, or scoop them clean, or shake them free, this is your fruit after all. Because this is your fruit after all, do whatever you wish with the letters. Put them in the trash, release them into the yard, throw them out of your moving car, but save one. Save one. Take the letter. Maybe it is a “t’, or it could be a “q.” Set it in a pot and cover it in soil. Put it on your windowsill or put it on the nightstand. Put it wherever light shines for you. Water it however you wish. It might sprout. It might grow. It might lie dormant for seven years, and then one day, a shoot of green! It might already be dead for you. Any outcome is okay. Any outcome is perfectly fine. You are okay. You are fine. You are perfect. If your hands are sticky, let them be sticky. This is not a piece of fruit. This is a story.

***

Caroljean Gavin’s work has appeared in places such as Pithead Chapel, Tiny Molecules, Barrelhouse and Bending Genres. She’s the editor of What I Thought of Ain’t Funny, an anthology of short fiction based on the jokes of Mitch Hedberg out from Malarkey Books. She lives in North Carolina with her two rambunctious sons, one goofy husband, and her one-eyed shih tzu named Moxie.

Two Questions for Lyndsie Manusos

We recently published Lyndsie Manusos’s enigmatic “The Following.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) “Because maybe the darkness could give back after taking.” This is such a great story, I love it, but that line is so powerful and hopeful — it is my favorite moment in a story full of amazing moments. So. If you could get something back from the darkness (any kind of darkness), what would it be?

I wrote this piece right around when my second daughter was born. Darkness was familiar during those long witching hours, those sleepless nights (still a few sleepless nights lately). If you asked me after such a night, I would ask for the darkness to give me back a sense of being well-rested and awake. Energy! Long-lasting and without the crash of coffee. 
In terms of items, something that I might find on the lip of a mysterious hole, I think it’d be the first journal I ever wrote in. My parents bought it for me when I was very young. I wrote my first stories in there, one about a whale, another about a sloth. I read each story aloud to anyone who’d listen. And I honestly don’t recall what happened to it. So if the darkness gave it back to me, it’d be a confirmation of sorts, like writing came full circle. Who doesn’t want affirmation for their passions?


2) I love how the narrator in this story gives us the facts, the realistic details, but still thinks things like maybe their grandparents are on Saturn. That combination of acceptance and hope is such a powerful one — do you think people like the narrator will be better able to deal with what is happening in this world than someone who leans more to either side?

I sure hope so, because I cope with the unknown and any kind of grief in a similar way to the narrator. Meshing logic with a bit of the fantastical, or at least the possibility of the fantastical. That’s why I love speculative fiction so much, with writers like Amber Sparks, Helen Oyeyemi, Karen Russell, Ted Chiang etc. I love the breadth that genres like science fiction, fantasy, and horror provide to navigate emotions, such as immense loss. Especially now, with *waves hand at the world,* genre provides both a lens and a cushion to explore these types of events that a year or two ago would seem absolutely inexplicable or otherworldly. 

The Following ~ by Lyndsie Manusos

It wasn’t long before a hole opened up and swallowed several cars on Michigan Ave. Not a sinkhole or some road collapse. Just a hole. Like Wile E. Coyote slapped one of those ACME dots into a canyon wall that the roadrunner sped through. The cars just disappeared, devoured. A wedding photographer in Millennium Park captured her clients kissing when the hole appeared beyond them. She sold the photo for thousands. 

And my grandparents and two cousins were in one of the cars. They were on their way home from one of those dinners the whole extended family knew about. An ultimatum dinner. A “What I deserve” and “Who will look after the kids?” dinner. A whole SUV just down, down, and gone. Religious sects and cults contacted my family. Alien enthusiasts emailed me. When something so inexplicable happens, it sets a fire in the chest and head like a cold, and people need to find out why, they have to know. I had nothing to give them. There was nothing to give. The government dropped lights down the hole without finding a bottom. They sent people to drill in from the sides, underneath Michigan Avenue, and they only found rock and cement; what was supposed to be there, but on the surface there was still the goddamn hole. 

More opened up all over the world, too, like the planet had become Swiss cheese. One swallowed a building that manufactured infant formula. Another one engulfed a Sequoia that was over 1,104 years old.  A slew of people willingly jumped into the holes, bypassing the security and barricades. One man wore wings strapped to his back. They called him The Angel. The public ate that shit up. The last thing people saw where the wings before the darkness ate him, too.

And I? What did I do? I couldn’t stop thinking of words I read in some book or another about being a person who spins on their own axis. Someone who could walk into darkness and not give a fuck where the lights are. I needed a nightlight growing up and God help me, I still have one now. A little lightbulb behind a single stain-glass shape of Saturn, burnt yellow and orange and white. I used to stare at it from across my bedroom. I knew Saturn is all gas but still, I imagined life there. Maybe that’s where my grandparents were, I thought, attending the funeral we planned for them. We laid empty caskets in holes in the ground, holes with bottoms, holes with an exact depth that we could measure, check, and measure again.

What a way, way down, to fall.

I’d like to think maybe they’re waiting for more of us to follow into it, be transported. Trust us, follow us, they might be yelling from the void. A few people have jumped in the hole with that very thought—to follow. There are rumors, they say, that items are beginning to appear at the lip of the holes. A wheel. A shoe. A feather. When I read in a chatroom of conspiracy theorists that a small lightbulb had allegedly been found by the hold in Chicago, I nearly wept for joy. Because maybe the darkness could give back after taking. Maybe it was confirming the lingering question. An affirmation. Follow us, see? We’ll leave breadcrumbs. We’ll leave footprints. See there, there, and there: a still-burning cigarette. A doll in mint condition. A watch. A necklace. And there, see? A light. There, a possibility. 

***

Lyndsie Manusos’ writing has appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly’s 70th issue, as well as in The Magazine of Fantasy & Science Fiction, Hobart, and other publications.