The Kuleshov Effect* ~ by Nora Nadjarian

i) How quickly time flies on a council estate and I tell you it’s a kind of freedom because you can have a fight and a baby sleeping in a crib in the same scene, or a polar bear and a sinking ship. It can all be both ethereal and real. The heroine grows up pretty. I wish the director would hurry and juxtapose her, in this chilly, crisp, almost scene, with a boa or a fox. Woman, fox, woman, fox. The audience thinks: Aha, woman! Therefore foxy.

ii) The waitress in the diner, burger and fries. Someone has lived this moment before, a million times in this scene and the ketchup has dried at the edge of the table. Can I take your order? Your order is here. She hates being told, a sudden quagmire, she’s nervous in her mini skirt. Close-up of a wolf whistle. Wolf whistle, spot of ketchup, wolf whistle, spot of ketchup. The implication is: He kills her. The blood, the blood of it, the bloodiness of it.

iii) A fairy-tale forest. Mushrooms, leaves, a quizzical silence. A bushy tail the colour of henna, dream, dream, a sort of dream. A bushy tail, a leaf, a bushy tail. There is a house, a grandmother, police. But when she left the house she was a girl, says the grandmother. The mouth of the wood where she lives is pursed and stubborn and silent. Were there any witnesses? ask the police. Question, silence, question, silence.

iv) Over and over in the story the girl was a fox, was a creature, was a colour, was wild, was devious. When the man stroked her she bit his hand, when he tried again, she bit it again. The blood was courageous and the girl was relieved when he walked out pressing his hand to stop the gash of it. The owner of the diner sacks her: Too fierce for my liking.

v) The girl gets home and the grandmother says: The police said you’d gone missing.  The grandmother cries and hugs her with relief, her chest rising and falling. With her high cheeks and pointed chin, the white patch under it on her glossy thick fur, the girls looks almost different, the girl looks almost the same.  

*The Kuleshov Effect is a film editing effect invented by Soviet filmmaker, Lev Kuleshov. It is a mental phenomenon where the audience derives more meaning from the interaction of two back-to-back shots than from one shot in isolation.

***

Nora Nadjarian is a poet and writer from Cyprus. She has been commended or placed in numerous competitions, most recently in the Mslexia Poetry Competition 2021 and Live Canon International Poetry Competition 2022. She was chosen to represent Cyprus in the Hay Festival’s Europa28: Visions for the Future in 2020. Her short fiction has appeared, among others, in the National Flash Fiction Day anthology 2020, Reflex Fiction, FRiGG, MoonPark Review, Ellipsis Zine and was selected by Kathy Fish for Wigleaf‘s Top 50 Very Short Fictions of 2022.                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                    

Two Questions for Bill Merklee

We recently published Bill Merklee’s stunning “Grand Canyon, 1967.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) The voice here is almost instructional, something more commonly seen in second person PoV — yet this story is in first person! What made you choose this particular style for this piece?

This story is part of a novella-in-flash I’m working on. In the novella, the MC has asked an old friend to write his life story for him, and the flashes come out of their conversations. I was struggling with this one. So I started listing the points the MC wanted to make, as if he were giving notes to his friend. When I read them back, they reminded me of those second-person stories, and I ran with it.


2) This is such a powerful, heartbreaking piece. It’s so timely now, yet there is also something timeless about it. What I love (well, one of the things I love!) is the relationship between the mother and child, the way the son-as-narrator looks back in understanding of his mother’s emotions, the son-as-character merely thinking of their journey as a road trip without dad. At what point do you think the narrator’s understanding of the situation changed?

It’s a fundamentalist household in the 1960s — there’s a lot that doesn’t get discussed, especially with a child. Even if he senses something is off, he would never dare ask about it. I think the narrator doesn’t learn the full story until he’s an adult, when he’s able to talk with his mother as more of a peer. I can see him recalling the trip while visiting her, then reading her face and asking, “What?”

Grand Canyon, 1967 ~ by Bill Merklee

Write a story about my beautiful mother: A petite, light-skinned Puerto Rican with dark hair and shocking green eyes. Write about her nervous breakdown.

Write about the doctor recommending she terminate her latest pregnancy. That he knew somebody who could do it discreetly and safely. For more money than she had saved. More than Dad made in a month, and how he would never permit it anyway.

Talk about Rh incompatibility. But try not to sound clinical about it.

Talk about a wife’s duty to her husband.

Talk about the abomination of contraception.

Have a scene where she makes the mistake of confiding in the wives of the church elders. Where she’s told only God holds the reins of life and death, and she’s made to feel like a sniveling idiot.

Write about the impromptu trip to visit friends in Arizona, just an hour north of the Mexican border. How her friends figure out her plans, and drag her back to Jesus.

Tell us about her fourth fruitless labor, and how she added this stillborn’s name to the others in the family Bible, as if they would grow up, move away, and simply forget to call.

Show us how her green eyes dulled, how her mind went places we could not go.

Yes, write a story about my beautiful mother. Then tell it from her young son’s point of view. Highlight the epic road trip without Dad. Include the greasy roadside stands, the singalongs with the radio, the bugs swarming motel lights, the friendly strangers who talked funny. How flat and tedious America was. The promise of the desert after rain.

Write of the son’s disappointment at cutting the trip short, about the drive north before heading home, how he stood at the south rim of the Grand Canyon and watched his beautiful mother weep at God’s perfect creation.

***

Bill Merklee’s work was included in Best Microfiction 2021 and nominated for Best Small Fictions 2022. He lives in New Jersey. Occasional outbursts on Twitter @bmerklee.

Two Questions for Kathy Fish

We recently published Kathy Fish’s sharp “A Solid Contribution.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the use of the plural narrator here, the way it carries the reader from the routine to that killer ending! It’s so matter-of-fact that you almost don’t notice how devastating it is. How did you select this particular voice for this particular story?

Thanks, Cathy! I love using the first person plural point of view when I’m trying to capture a somewhat odd, collective voice. I talked about this point of view at length in my October newsletter. I’ve been reading old texts from the Project Gutenberg site. Very old instruction manuals and guide books and so forth. I think the odd voice and diction of those 19th century texts embedded themselves into my subconscious. Somewhere I came upon the “clubs, associations, societies” stuff and my brain latched on to that. It led me to this idea of in-groups and conforming that led me to this faceless, somewhat tortured, collective. 

2) The moment that really showed me where this piece was planning to take me was that line: “We need to learn the skills of judging distances.” That small turn is so powerful! Do you think there will ever be a time when skills like that aren’t necessary? Or, at least, not as necessary as they are now? 

You know, I didn’t begin the draft with that turn in mind at all. That’s how I draft all of my stories. For me, writing is an act of discovery and the things that surprise me are often the most interesting and compelling. My subconscious is by far smarter and more creative than I am. I’ve learned to trust it. As to survival skills, the kind needed to avoid being shot to death in a school, place of worship, nightclub, concert, etc., I just don’t know, Cathy. My hope is that eventually sanity will prevail in our country, but you know, these are not the most sane times. 

A Solid Contribution ~ by Kathy Fish

We have failed at Lincoln/Douglas debate. We have failed at Speech. We have failed at Hygiene. We have failed at Square Dancing. We have not been invited back to Improv. We have not been invited back to Taxidermy. We have not been invited back to Surgical Procedures 101. We have been whooped upside the head. We have been whipped into a frenzy. We have been told we lack initiative. We have been told we must learn to finish what we start. We might at one time have said, let’s start a formal club, association, society, or religion. But of course, as we’ve been told, we lack follow-through. We have been told we take up too much space. We have been told that, at times, we appear to be in our own world. We have been told we need to stack the blocks in the corner neatly before we take our turn at the easel. We need to learn the skills of being invited back to formal clubs, associations, societies or religions. We need to learn the skills of judging distances. For example, distance can be judged by sound. If we see a gun fired in the distance, we can count the number of seconds between the flash and the sound of the explosion reaching us. In this way we can tell how far we are from danger. If we see a gun fired close up, judging the distance will not be necessary and won’t help us anyway. We have been told these are good skills to learn if we wish to make a solid contribution. We will learn the skills of basic survival. We will learn to tuck and roll. We will learn to make ourselves invisible.

***

Kathy Fish’s stories have most recently appeared in Ploughshares, Wigleaf, and Washington Square Review. Her work has been widely anthologized, notably in the Norton Reader, Best Small Fictions, and Best American Nonrequired Reading. She is a recipient of the Copper Nickel Editors’ Prize and a Ragdale Foundation Fellowship. 

Two Questions for Paul Thompson

We recently published Paul Thompson’s delightful “How to Find a Prehistoric Ghost.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) We see the world through a layer of dinosaur ghosts. We see the world through a layer of dinosaur ghosts! Omigosh, we see the world through a layer of dinosaur ghosts!! As you can tell, I’m a little bit obsessed with the concept of this story! How did you come up with this idea, this world?

I was wanting to enter a ghost story competition, and so was trying to come up with unique ideas. After eliminating everything else I was left with dinosaurs, which got me thinking about their ghosts, and why no-one ever claims to have seen one. I have no idea if the science stacks up, but I liked the idea enough to expand on it.

2) The relationship between the narrator and her ghostly brother is so lovely. Do you think he has been watching over her for a long time, or is this just a chance visit?

I think these are regular conversations. An early draft explicitly had the fog as a metaphor for her grief, and by talking to her brother he was helping her through it by finding the gaps back to the real world. I took it out and left it a bit more ambiguous – that way people can decide if it’s happy or sad or a bit of both.

How to Find a Prehistoric Ghost ~ by Paul Thompson

A hilltop conversation with the ghost of my brother. His image threadbare, glowing like some deep ocean creature.

“How many people do you think have ever lived?” he asks.

Always a numbers guy. Some strange statistic or guessing game. I snuggle into him, aligning as best I can, propping myself up to maintain the illusion.

“It’s billions,” he says. “Hundreds of billions. We outnumber the living; you are in the minority, little sister.”

Still little sister, despite me now being ten years older.

“Down there,” he says, pointing towards a field. “A man in the wildflower, still in army uniform, one arm missing. Do you see him?”

I see nothing but shadows. He laughs and prods at me, his finger slipping into my shoulder.

“Can you see them all?” I ask. “Right now, how many do you see?”

Before his reply, he does a mock scan of the horizon.

“We are sparse, despite our numbers,” he says, “We cover only a fraction of the planet’s surface. Imagine – the current living population could fit shoulder-to-shoulder in the city of Los Angeles. Did you know that?”

He pauses now, deliberate. Something is distracting him, far beyond the rocky edge where we sit.

“I brought you here to show you the dinosaurs,” he says. “You asked me why no one ever sees their ghosts.”

I sit up, confused. Did I ever ask him that? Maybe a joke or passing observation from our childhood, kept close all these years.

“The reason you never see them, is because you actually see them all the time,” he says. “Think about how many dinosaurs ever lived. Now think of their size – they were massive! They cover the entire planet, many times over. Everything you see is through the filter of a prehistoric ghost, sometimes more than one! They surround you like a blanket.”

He is bursting, enthusiastic, more alive now than ever before. I touch the air, trying to imagine the oldest of ghosts. Sensing my curiosity, he hovers an arm across my shoulder.

“Now, look,” he says, pointing to the valley. “I can show you proof, by showing you where they are not.”

And then I see it, without his help – a tiny square of light, pulsing and bending above the crop. It vanishes before expanding outwards, a rip in the atmosphere, hints of green and yellow.

“It’s a gap,” he says, “Between the ghosts. Sometimes, very rarely, you can make one out. That’s how you find them – you find the gap, the bit that is missing.”

He opens his arms out wide.

“Ta-da!” he says. “That’s the actual world you are seeing, without the filter, without the obstruction of ghosts. Beautiful, isn’t it? Now hurry.”

He runs ahead, beckoning me to follow.

 “I thought you were stuck on the hilltop!” I shout, trying to keep pace.

 He ignores my question as we approach. Up close, the gap is fragile in definition. A glare of rainbow; no heat, or sound, or shadow – a space between ghosts, an inverse of everything. It skips in the air, the illusion of being alive.

“It’s not the gap moving,” he says, “it’s the things around it. An Apatosaurus, late Jurassic, a whole herd of them.”

Before I can respond, the gap lunges forward, consuming our position. Our hands go in first, an incredible warmth, the true heat of the sun, unfiltered on our skin. We become illustrations, figures in a stain-glass window. Raw colour fills my brother, an oily volume, swirling within his form.

Looking outward from within the space, the ghosts are everywhere, now visible without obstruction. Crunching and writhing around us, a mist both alive and dead. Species from every period, compressed many times over, smudging the atmosphere.

“Amazing,” he says. “I’m so glad you got to see this.”

And with that he leaves me once more, the almost tangible feel of his fingers brushing my hand. I turn back to the hilltop, to the spot where he fell, looking for his image – a faint pencil sketch, a dream within a dream.

Around me the spectral herd begins to shift; the colours fading in its wake. Invisible giants fill the space, smoothing into a fog and smudging my vision. The gap implodes around me – reforming up ahead, flickering and thin, barely able to maintain its presence. I run toward it, toward the colour, keeping pace with the dead, and the gaps they create.

***

Paul is from Sheffield, UK. His stories have appeared in Milk Candy Review, Okay Donkey, Ellipsis Zine and Janus Literary.

Two Questions for April Yu

We recently published April Yu’s galactic “To Saturn and Back.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) The imagery throughout this entire piece is so beautiful, but what really hits me is that ending — what a powerful last line! Did you ever envision this piece ending in a different way?

Yes! I’ve always been incredibly inspired by music, and this piece was originally meant to be in the wistful, ethereal vein of “seven” by Taylor Swift. However, as I wrote, the relationship felt more like a patina of perfection than pure love. Although the partners knew how to make each other happy, the idea of dissonance between happiness and true fulfillment began filling in the cracks of the piece.

I’ve always been fascinated by how love can manifest itself and be perceived so differently in people. With the ending, I wanted to show that this love could be a storybook romance, but it has shadows as dark as the night in which the lovers meet.

2) The love story here is so shining, but almost painful. Do you think this is a first love for the characters? Or just a first love that feels like this?

I wrote this piece with first-time high school lovers in mind. As a high schooler myself, I wanted to encapsulate how that intrinsic adolescent confusion and turmoil wedges its way into any relationship. It’s the narrator’s first love, and they’re young; after a while, their definition of romantic love is how their partner treats them, even if their heart of hearts tells them otherwise. I think that can be true for any relationship, though, so I love that this story could be interpreted in many different ways.

To Saturn and Back ~ by April Yu

To Saturn and back, you said. Told me about seven rings made of ice, a wedding ceremony in space. Braided constellations into my hair. Aquarius. The Big Dipper. I left the window open at night. Sometimes, your sock feet and black-hole eyes. Other times, nothing but stars. Where is Saturn? I asked, drunk on moonlight. It must be so far. Light-years away from our luminescent breath. You took my hand. My heart, you said. This is Saturn. Seven rings of ice. Frostbite. I thought of elastic hair, stomach kisses. What made a body. Wished you were made of anything else.

***

April Yu is a young writer from New Jersey with an affinity for language, running, and human anatomy. Although she was indeed born in April, her favorite season is winter. Her work appears in The Aurora JournalIce Lolly Review, and Lit. 202, among others. She is a graduate of the Alpha Workshop for Young Writers. Visit her on Instagram @aprilblossom, Twitter @aprilgoldflwrs, and at aprilyu.carrd.co.

Two Questions for Chelsea Stickle

We recently published Chelsea Stickle’s hot “Fire Is an Open Mouth with an Empty Stomach.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This story is one of a series from you — the Screaming Meemies series, which is such a great name, by the way! I love the way you use detail here to give us more backstory on the psychic without requiring the reader to be familiar with the series to follow this one. How do you walk that line?

Thanks! When working with interconnected stories I pay extra attention to scope to make sure each story can stand on its own. Then I ask myself some questions. What details set the scene and establish character? What do you need to know to appreciate what the psychic is going through?

2) So … can you tell me who burnt down the psychic’s house? Or am I going to have to wait and see?

You’ll have to wait and see! That’s its own story. But I will say the psychic goes against her own interests to do the right thing and…you’ve seen the consequences.