Two Questions for Annika Barranti Klein

We recently published Annika Barranti Klein’s cyclical “Anaphora (Ten Ways to Greet a Time Traveler).”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) So a time traveler goes back to the past to take the great philosopher Plato on an adventure. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but omigosh, it is just a great time travel story! What made you choose Plato as the protagonist for this piece?

This story has a funny origin: I was going through my drafts and found an unnamed file with a single sentence written: “Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived.” I knew I had written it, but I had absolutely no clue what I was planning to DO with it. I thought it would make a great writing prompt—you know, “Write a story to go with this opening line.” I don’t teach a creative writing class, so I thought, well, I guess I have to do it myself. So I wrote ten microfictions that start with that line. I knew it was absurd for Plato to be the main character, but I just leaned into the absurdity and made Socrates a character as well (which allowed me to subtly reference both Bill & Ted and Operation Ivy).



2) One of my favorite moments in this piece is where Plato says all the time travelers look the same to him. It’s so funny, but it’s also a little worrisome — up until this point, I had assumed it was the same time traveler visiting from different time planes or even different parts of their own future, but what if Plato is just being visited by multitudes of time travelers? It would be like having guests just show up at your door uninvited all the time! Which do you think it is — the one time traveler from different realities? Or a whole bunch of different folks?

Because of the way I wrote the story, it started out being ten different possible ways it might go, ten versions of one possible story. But in my heart, even though they’re all different, there is a through line. Maybe it’s ten different time travelers from ten realities, but it’s ten different versions of Plato, too. Maybe it’s all the same time traveler and the same Plato, but sometimes they remember and sometimes they don’t. Or maybe it’s all different time travelers and poor Plato is Coleridge, forever being interrupted by persons from Porlock. I think the reader should probably decide what they want it to be, because there isn’t a wrong answer. 

Anaphora (Ten Ways to Greet a Time Traveler) ~ by Annika Barranti Klein

One.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. There was something otherworldly and strange about the mountaintop where the time traveler appeared. Plato had always known something would happen there. Now he knew what it was.

#

Two.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. He knew that they would ask him on an adventure. He knew he would go on the adventure and it would be a disaster, so disastrous that the time traveler would travel back further, to last year, and warn him to say no to the adventure. Beg him, plead with him, cajole him to please, please say no. Their eyes were wild as they explained. He knew they had seen terrible things. He knew the adventure would bring him to his end. But he also knew that he had to say yes, because if he said no, the time traveler would not have come to warn him.

#

Three.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. At the time, Plato was angry at his philosophy teacher, Socrates, who is credited with the conceptualization of irony. Plato had lost track of time when the time traveler appeared, which he would have considered ironic were he speaking to Socrates. As it was, when the time traveler invited him on an adventure, he told them yes without hesitation.

#

Four.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. He had seen this before, as a boy. He had been waiting.

#

Five.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. Perhaps he should have been. He’d never considered the possibility of time travel before, but as his great teacher Socrates was fond of saying, he knew that he knew nothing. Sometimes Plato repeated this—I know that I know nothing—with a little rhythm, like a song that he sang to himself. He knew nothing, and therefore he knew that time travel was just as possible as anything else. “Welcome,” he told the time traveler.

#

Six.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. One is rarely surprised when one is living backward in time.

#

Seven.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived.

“Socrates,” he called. “He is back.”

“Which one?” Socrates asked.

Plato shrugged. The time travelers all looked the same to him.

#

Eight.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. Time, he concluded, was a loop. No sooner did he return home from adventures through time than the time traveler arrived again. They never remembered him. They never remembered their adventures. It was always the first time for the time traveler. Plato thought that it ought to be the other way around, but he knew that he knew nothing.

#

Nine.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. He should have been surprised. It was a very surprising thing. But he felt no jolt of surprise. He merely saw the time traveler and thought, ahh. The time traveler has arrived.

#

Ten.

Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived. He had been waiting. He had been waiting, and hoping.

“You came back,” he said to the time traveler.

“I have never been here before,” the time traveler assured him.

“I see,” Plato replied. “But you will. In my past, and your future, you will come and ask me to travel through time with you. I will say no. But I will regret it until you come and ask me again, in your past and my future.”

“You mean our now?” the time traveler asked.

“Yes,” Plato answered.

***

Annika Barranti Klein is a writer in Los Angeles and a contributing editor at Book Riot. Her fiction can be found in Craft Literary and Hobart After Dark, and is forthcoming in Asimov’s. She is currently knitting socks instead of working on her novel.

Two Questions for Anthony Varallo

We recently published Anthony Varallo’s dreamy “Cruise.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) Cruises, for me, seem like such a nightmare of a vacation — trapped on a boat with a bunch of strangers, unable to escape. But some people like that sort of thing! I love how you take that nightmarish quality and mix it with the “this is a great time” kind of feeling some folks have. How did you find that balance between nightmare and dream come true?

I’ve been on several cruises, each time with mixed feelings, since, like you, cruises seem to me more like a nightmare than a vacation (why go on a cruise when you could choose to do practically anything else?)  But we have kids, and our kids like the cruises, and we tend to like the things our kids like, so off we go, to sail the seas from Miami to Mexico with a ship full of strangers.  It’s actually fun (sort of), but the experience is more about what you bring to it than what it actually is, like so many things in life, I guess.  At the very least, you can eat twenty ice cream cones a day without anyone seeming to notice.  I tried to remember those ice cream cones as I wrote “Cruise,” all of my mixed feelings notwithstanding.

2) That moment at the end is so great, when an identical cruise ship appears on the horizon. It really plays to the dream quality of this piece, as well as the kind of “every person” feel that the reader is given. So! Do you think this ocean is filled with identical cruise ships, one going past the other, over and over? Or is it just these two?

Wow, I really like your idea about an ocean filled with identical cruise ships, one going past the other forever.  That sounds good to me.  That’s the way it felt whenever I’d look out across the ocean, thinking, “We’re all alone out here at sea!” and then I would glimpse a cruise ship on the horizon and realize they must all be traveling the same route, like planes following a landing pattern.  But I’m going with your idea.  Just two cruise ships would be sort of sad and lonely.  Let the oceans swell with identical cruise ships, I say!

Cruise ~ by Anthony Varallo

 

The world is filled with so many people we will never know; everyone on this ship, for example.  See the family in matching T-shirts and sun-visors, the visors topped with cat’s ears.  Or the same child who keeps running the length of mezzanine at full speed, his clothes soaking wet from some source we cannot name.  The pool, most likely, although the pool is crowded with children riding the backs of parents, the parents affixed to straws noisily asked to convey the last of margaritas, mojitos, and Mai Tais to grateful mouths.  Attendants in neckerchiefs roll trash cans in from wherever and out to wherever.  Walking to obtain yet another self-serve ice cream cone, we bump into eleven new strangers, our only bond our habit of saying “sorry” at the same time.  Why do we want another ice cream cone?

            Surely this cruise was someone’s idea.  Someone—us, most likely—had to pay for all of this.  Which is probably how everyone else got here, too.  Pricey, we figure.  It had to be, otherwise how would we get the opportunity to watch so many “Broadway-quality” shows with so many agreeable people we’ve never known?  This one is top-shelf all the way, what with its seamless blend of acrobatics, rollerblading, and Sondheim tunes.  We’re either in awe or a little bored or maybe both; it’s hard to say with our ears ringing from the applause of strangers.  We’d add ours to the din, but our hands seem to be occupied by ice cream cones.  When did we get those?

            We tour the ship, hoping, we suppose, that we’ll turn the next corner and see someone we recognize.  Someone to return the world to the one we know.  But the world we know seems to have been commandeered by the world of strangers, who pass us by at an alarming rate.  The teenager in the neon top that proclaims MONOGAMY ROCKS!  The octogenarian in a wheelchair festooned with orange flags.  Not three, not four, but five adults cheerlessly dressed as Santa Claus, for reasons we’ll never know.  A white dog, apparently ownerless, fervently licking a fallen ice cream cone from the shuffleboard court.

            We ascend stairwells teeming with passengers headed the opposite way. 

            “Sorry!” we say.

            “Sorry!” the passengers say.

            We reach the promenade deck, where so many people we do not know stand shoulder to shoulder, staring out across the flat expanse of ocean.  The sun, that old standby, mysteriously hides behind thick clouds that threaten rain.  Should we speak of the weather to the couple next to us, each of them taking selfies?  Should we make small talk?  But, wait, the clouds part.  The darkness fades.  The sun re-emerges and permits us to see something we hadn’t noticed before: another cruise ship, exactly like ours, riding the horizon.  Those familiar funnels, those unmistakable masts.

            “Hello!  Over here!” we shout, and wave along with everyone else at what surely must be people just like us.

***

Anthony Varallo is the author of a novel, The Lines (University of Iowa Press), as well as four short story collections.  New work is out or forthcoming in The New Yorker “Daily Shouts,” One Story, STORY, Chicago Quarterly Review, DIAGRAM, and The Best Small Fictions 2020.

Two Questions for M.J. Iuppa

We recently published M.J. Iuppa’s stunning micro, “White Noise.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love how you take a small moment like this and make it into something so large — the reader feels a whole history in 100 words here! When you write a piece like this, do you imagine an entire backstory for the character too? Or is what’s on the page all you know about them?

In “White Noise” the character’s internal conflict (life vs death) is revealed in the stasis of winter. All those layered sound and touch images build in a forward motion towards a bubble of change that may or may not come. However, it’s the character’s heart— her will to hear her own heartbeat in the darkness of winter that makes the white noise a comfort rather than its maddening buzz. Not always, but often, I write fiction from my own life experience.  I live on a postage stamp farm, in a farmhouse built in 1860’s. I have been undergoing health challenges since 2018. There is isolation in cancer, which has been compounded by Covid-19. How to handle the isolation is where my fictional character instructs me, imagining her future in the story’s present.

2) The imagery is so powerful here; I love how you make us feel the cold that the narrator feels. Is this kind of cold an experience you’re familiar with yourself?

Describing the cold as an extended metaphor for illness and isolation comes to me organically.  I have lived in Western New York, where we’re sandwiched between the weather of two Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie); so, cold and snow are elements that I know inside and out.  Consequently, I began with the sound of the furnace (e.g., heart of house) kicking on, in hopes of driving out the cold in the farmhouse. The metaphor is extended through participles (verbs in motion): kicking, making, raising, thinking, shushing. I do like the way that shushing of snow circles back to the furnace kicking on.

Typically (not always, but mostly) first lines and last lines of stories have what I call a bracelet effect; that is to say that the first line launches the story, and like dominoes all the middle lines fall naturally into place; and then, the last line reaches back to the start, making its connection in the story’s revelation. Consequently, the imagery used in the extended metaphor gains power as the story unfolds.  The challenge is to make readers feel, know the experience, too.

White Noise ~ by M.J. Iuppa

Deep in the belly of the furnace kicking on is the sound of winter. The farmhouse’s breath becomes cold and dry, making her wear two layers of clothes, especially wool socks to skim across the wooden floors, raising enough static electricity to stand every hair on her head on end. She likes to feel the tiny bristles rub against her palms, thinking her cap of white hair will be back by spring, if she survives whatever else might kill her.  She can still amp up her heart rate until she hears her private sea shushing back & forth, like snow.

***

M.J. Iuppa’s fourth poetry collection is This Thirst (Kelsay Books, 2017). For the past 32 years, she has lived on a small farm near the shores of Lake Ontario. Check out her blog: mjiuppa.blogspot.com for her musings on writing, sustainability & life’s stew.

Two Questions for Jo Withers

We recently published Jo Wither’s gorgeous “Medusa’s Bridesmaids.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I have a weakness for mythology, and I love your take on Medusa here — how much her friends love her, how they are wounded, too, by her pain, how they want to create this perfect day for her. Where did this idea of a wedding for Medusa come from?

I too have always had a fascination with mythology and I have wanted to write a story about Medusa for some time, but I could never find the right angle. Medusa is such a tragic figure, young and beautiful before Poiseidon’s seduction then altered to a hideous monster by the jealous Athena. I felt enraged by her treatment and the fact that Poseidon’s forceful ‘seduction’ goes unpunished but I also wanted to look deeper into Medusa’s background. A young, kind-hearted girl like her would surely have formed fierce friendships before her transformation. This sparked the idea of a strong sisterhood of friends who only see purity and tenderness in her. This unwavering circle give Medusa the strength to carry on, believe in herself and find the love she deserves. The wedding day is a celebration of their childhood love for each other as they watch Medusa move forward into a happier phase of life.


2) I have always thought that moment of transformation must have been so horrible for her, and the powerful way you describe it here is so perfect! So this question is a tough one! Why do you suppose the gods are so cruel?

I think the Gods are cruel because they are not accountable to anyone and have terrible emotional maturity – their knee-jerk reaction to any problem is to devastate and destroy. While humans in society have learnt through thousands of years of cause and effect and hopefully hold great empathy towards each other, the Gods impulsively react from a mindset of untethered rage and fear with no consequences. When Athena becomes aware of her beautiful young love rival, she seeks to punish her in a way which will ensure no man ever wants her again. With this action Athena steals more than her beauty, she takes Medusa’s humanity, changing her into a half-beast. In ‘Medusa’s Bridesmaids’ her continued compassion and connection to her fellow humans is what saves her. As humans, we may not have the Gods’ omnipotence or immortality but we have nurturing love and deep, trusting friendships that the reckless, shallow-hearted Gods can never experience.

Medusa’s Bridesmaids ~ by Jo Withers

Are careful not to style their own hair, realising chignons and soft waves will cause the bride distress. Instead they cover their heads with silk scarves, each one a subtle cream, while the bride’s is threaded delicately with rose gold, trickled with amethyst stones.

Decorate the church with posies in lilac and pink, make everything traditional, knowing it’s the things she thought she’d never have that matter most. Give her something old/something blue with a shimmering scale snatched from Poseidon’s tail, crushed to midnight powder in a locket at her throat.

Don’t ask why she’s walking down the aisle alone, or mention their own families, the mothers who would hand-stitch their gowns, the fathers who hold them longer every time they see them, cherishing each fragile second as though they’re dandelion-down, knowing any moment they may blow away.

Hold her and tell her she can have the church and the pure white gown, enraged there is no virginal colour-coding for the groom. Tell her it was not her fault, say over and over that she did nothing wrong. This man is good, this time she will be happy. Cry with her when she trembles, tell her she is perfect, that no one has worn white like her.

Make her promise not to cut her hair. It will only grow back fiercer. Instead, they charm the snakes with lullabies, wind them into coils when they grow sleepy, remembering the first morning they found her, how she howled as they hissed, slicing at the snakes with scissors, serpent heads sprinkling the bedsheets, slicing at her arm with blades, wanting to cut away the shame, screaming that they mustn’t look, their eyes would burn, their hearts would turn to stone, but all they saw was pain, all they felt was love for her.

Have known her since she was a little girl, when her hair was saffron curls, when they practiced getting married in the garden, promised eternity to each other in breathless whispers, talking turns to slow-step down the pathway as the other girls threw daisies, squealing as they reached the end, projecting bouquets backwards to begin again, again.

Were the ones to teach her how to dance, giggling as they took her hand, twirling her beneath their outstretched arms, rolling her one step, two step, to the side, pressing their shoulders over her protectively, flinging her between them in dizzy pirouettes, catching one hand then another as she whirled awkwardly, then nervously, then gracefully, hair billowing behind, laughing, laughing, as they pulled her close, slowed things to an almost standstill, circling their arms around her as he will do tonight, hips swaying softly, not a wisp of space between them, looking down at her like she is blessed, looking down at her like she is whole.

Two Questions for Quinn Forlini

We recently published Quinn Forlini’s aching “Catalog of Small Things.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This is such a painful situation for the narrator — my heart was breaking for her! And I love all the little details that make everything feel so real: the nurse with her blushing cheeks, the things the mother finds around the house. Were there details you left out from this final version of the story that might have appeared in an earlier draft? Or were these small pieces always the things you had in mind?

I wrote the beginning of this story about six years ago, and abandoned it. Then, about a year ago, I had what seemed like a new approach for the story and wrote the first two paragraphs, then abandoned it again. I later found that first draft buried on my computer, and was shocked to find that the two versions were nearly identical to one another–almost word for word, written five years apart. That was when I knew I had to finish the story. Most of those details appeared in the original version, and somehow stayed intact in my subconscious. I’m attracted to small things myself, so I tried to push that appeal to obsession for the things the mother finds around the house. Some of the things are beautiful, but some of the things are trash–how do we know when to draw the line of what to preserve and what to throw away? 


2) Nothing in this story is given a name, and one of the sharpest moments for me is when you say: ” The baby was also a she, but everyone called it the baby.” Do you think if they had called the baby something else, by a given name, perhaps, the mother might have felt more of a connection there?
I think the lack of connection that the mother feels towards her baby is deeper than the absence of a name, although maybe she is further distancing from the baby by not using a name. Names make things feel more real, and the mother is trying hard to obscure her reality. She is in denial. “The baby” feels safer to her. Maybe a name would have forced her to break out of that denial a bit, but I think there are a lot of layers there. I actually did give the baby a name in an earlier version, and it felt very unnatural. It didn’t feel true to the mother’s perspective. The lack of a name might be more of a symptom than a cause. 

Catalog of Small Things ~ by Quinn Forlini

She’d had a tiny baby. She hadn’t seen it. At least, not that she could remember. She thought there must have been a moment when the baby was leaving her body that she would have looked down and seen the top of a head, maybe a foot, or a lump held up to her in the arms of a doctor or nurse, in that unforgiving overhead light. But she remembered only the room and herself, and even that was in pieces, splinters of a body like close-ups in a movie. Her hand, clenched. The top of her stomach. A ceiling tile with little dots like pairs of eyes that looked like they were blinking.

Nobody had touched the baby. Not directly. Only through layers of gloves and blankets, and even that not very much. They tried to touch the baby as little as possible. She hadn’t touched it at all. The nurse with the cheeks that always looked like they were blushing told her the baby was being taken care of in another room. The baby had to be separated from everything and everyone as it gained strength. She was lucky to be alive. She, and the baby. The baby was also a she, but everyone called it the baby. 

The hospital sent her home, but the baby stayed.

She pretended that she didn’t have a baby at all, tiny or otherwise.

She took cold showers. She ate peanut butter sandwiches, drank chocolate milk, and watched re-runs of Bewitched. Maybe she could be a mother, after all.

She became obsessed with small things. She began cataloging them. Stamps, pennies, violet petals. A miniature porcelain statue of a cat. She found these things all over the house. She had never noticed them before, but now they seemed to jump out at her. She kept a photo album and in the clear, plastic sheets she slipped scraps of trash—movie ticket stub, ripped receipt, half-charred match. She couldn’t bear to throw these things away.

The baby arrived. Or, it was ready for pick-up. That’s what the hospital said on the phone. Or something like that. Of course they weren’t going to deliver it.

When she went with her mother to pick up the baby, nobody had ever held it. She was going to have to touch it. Of course. She stood in the hospital hallway just outside the room where the baby waited. She longed to be home, watching TV. She did not want to touch anything. She did not want anything to touch her. When her mother nudged her towards the door, she flinched.

The nurse lifted a bundle of cloth that most likely had the baby inside it, wrapped like a gift. The cloth held the baby the way she had held the baby inside her, only then it wasn’t a baby but sleight-of-hand. The nurse was passing the cloth to her, the cloth was heading towards her arms that did not know how to hold a baby. Maybe it was so tiny it would slip through her fingers. Maybe it would crumble in her hands, like a clump of dirt. Maybe it would disappear. Maybe the baby was not inside the cloth at all. Maybe the baby was not real. Maybe it was too small to be real. Yes, maybe it was too small.

***

Quinn Forlini has been published in The Greensboro Review, The Vassar Review, and The Journal. She received her MFA from the University of Virginia and teaches creative writing at Ursinus College.