Two Questions for Marjorie Drake

We recently published Marjorie Drake’s luscious “Skin Hunger.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the transition to include a second person character here — it’s a moment that really invites the reader into this story with our protagonist. Do you think this second person character might be just as hungry for touch as the woman at the bar?

I’m not sure it matters. The protagonist is indulging vague fantasies about who could possibly fill her need—and suddenly, apparently for the first time, a person she knows slides into the role. It’s a small step. It’s likely that the second person (just like the bartender and the customers) will never know about the thoughts. Who knows what roles we are playing in someone else’s head? On the other hand, if I am wrong, and the protagonist is actually ready to act on her thoughts, I hope he’s feeling similarly—the woman could use a break.

2) The reader doesn’t get the details of the woman’s loss — it’s clear that, at one point, she did have someone to touch and who touched her, but now she is alone. There is a small hint (“and for so long the thought of holding someone else made her feel sick and it still often does”) that there is, perhaps, some trauma in her past. Do you think she will get past it and manage to find someone to touch again?

I don’t think one ever gets past loss, but at some point, it may become possible to let other experiences, and other people, into one’s heart. The loss, and the love that goes with it, will always be there too, undiminished. The protagonist’s ruminations are triggered by a reminder of the loss—seeing a couple touching in a public place, the type of casually intimate contact that is a part of being a couple—an ordinary sight, but one that stops her breath with pain. I do think it’s a positive sign that she allows herself to consider the possibility of touching someone again. So, I am cautiously optimistic for her!

Skin Hunger ~ by Marjorie Drake

The glow from a chandelier above the bar bathes the two in warm light, reflects the shine of his gold watchband as she absently strokes the back of his hand, her knees angled toward his, his hand resting on the back of her chair and when he leans in to speak over the din of the happy hour, he brushes her hair back with his hand, slides his arm around her shoulders and his lips touch her ear and, behind them, at a table for one, a woman watches, stops breathing, and remembers, remembers having someone to stroke her hair, whisper into her ear, to rub her back, zip the zipper on her dress, kiss her neck, to spoon at night and nuzzle in the morning, to lace her fingers with and feel the warmth of his hand as their palms meet; and remembers being held—real hugs, not the quick ones from friends, nor the ones where you slide your arm between your breasts before leaning in, but long embraces, pressed together, burrowing into each other, his face in her hair, and for so long the thought of holding someone else made her feel sick and it still often does—but she orders one more, and she thinks, maybe it wouldn’t with him—the bartender with the soft eyes and tattooed birds flying up his arm, or the man at the end of the bar, leather jacket and two-day scruff, nursing a ginger ale and reading the Times, or even perhaps with you, perhaps you’ll do, your skin, your hands, your warm breath on her neck, your heart thumping against hers might just keep her from shriveling up and floating away, weightless.    

Two Questions for Rebecca Field

We recently published Rebecca Field’s devastating “Parallel Blouse.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I’m a sucker for an alternate/parallel universe story — it’s so interesting to think of universes where things are different like this, even in small ways. Could there be a universe for these characters where something even different than this has happened, do you think?

I’m not sure whether or not I believe in a multiverse theory where there could be multiple other parallel universes coexisting alongside the one we live in, but I’m open minded about the possibility. I often find myself thinking about the different choices we make day to day and how those many tiny decisions we make without even really thinking about them will have a ripple effect on so many other people our lives interconnect with. Death, and what we leave behind us when we die is another topic I think about often (there’s another piece of mine called ‘Traces of You’ published in Phare Magazine that explores this idea) and so this piece is very much an insight into the slightly morbid things I am often thinking about. So in answer to the question, I’d love to believe there are many possible realities for these two characters in which there are other outcomes, good or bad.

2) And of course, even if there is a parallel universe where there was no argument and the blouse is worn for different reasons, that doesn’t change the fact that in the universe of the story, our narrator is still enduring this loss. Do you think they would try to trade places, if they could, with their parallel counterpart? Or would they think that would be too cruel?

Absolutely I think the narrator of this story wishes to trade places with their parallel counterpart. Imagining that there is a parallel counterpart where something different happened may very well be part of their coping mechanism in dealing with and processing the loss. I think it is natural when we lose someone to spend time imagining the what ifs, and to wish you could go back in time to change things and I think it is also normal to get stuck in that mindset for a period of time as part of the grieving process, as well as to experience guilt or regret that we didn’t get to say or express what we wanted to before it was too late. I know these things have been my experience and so that is something I have drawn upon in writing this piece, which I hope brings some authenticity of emotion to the piece. Ultimately I wanted to end the story on a hopeful note even with the loss still being present, and I hope I got the balance right.

Parallel Blouse ~ by Rebecca Field

In the parallel universe in which we don’t have an argument before you set off for work, I look anxiously at dove-grey clouds over distant trees, trying to gauge if they are coming my way. I peg out your favourite blouse, the one with the gold-edged pearlescent buttons, on the washing line next to my T-shirts, hoping they might dry a little before the rains come. You only wear the blouse on special occasions. You almost didn’t buy it at all because you thought it was ‘too nice’ and you didn’t need a blouse like that, until I told you to just get it, because life is too short to worry about stuff like that.

In the non-argument universe, I take in the washing just as the first fat drops fall from the ashen sky, hug the crumpled pile close to my chest and sprint indoors. I throw the tangled heap onto the bed in the spare room and go back to my work in the office next door, uninterrupted by calls from the hospital.

In the parallel universe in which we don’t argue about something so petty I can’t even recall the details now but had something to do with our dinner plans, I iron your blouse a few days later and hang it in the wardrobe. You probably won’t wear it for another few weeks because of your policy of saving it for an occasion when you need a boost; the self-confidence of knowing that an outfit looks good. You tell me how you love the feel of its soft fabric, the cool nip of the gold-edged buttons at your neck, the way the hem skims your waistband just so. In that universe I don’t take your blouse in a carrier bag to the pebble-dashed building on the outskirts of town where your body lies, wishing I had picked something else because I don’t want to let it go, but knowing I have to because this is the outfit you would have chosen, if you could have chosen for yourself. 

In the parallel universe in which there is no argument, no altercation I will forever turn over again and again in my mind, the last memory I have of you is not a slammed door or a raised voice. Your car pulls onto the driveway, your kicked-off shoes hit the hallway skirting board, stockinged feet pad up the stairs. You poke your head through the office doorway, smile hello, then put on a pair of slippers in the bedroom. In that universe I persuade you to wear the blouse when we go out for lunch that weekend, tell you how much it suits you, how it is my favourite too. The buttons glint in the sunlight and there isn’t a cloud in the sky.  


Rebecca Field lives and writes in Derbyshire, UK. She has work in several print anthologies and has been published online by Reflex Press, The Daily Drunk, The Phare, Ghost Parachute, Fictive Dream, Gone Lawn and Ellipsis Zine among others. Forthcoming at Tiny Molecules and Sunlight Press. Tweets at @RebeccaFwrites 

Two Questions for Mauro Altamura

We recently published Mauro Altamura’s devastating “Breathing Quietly.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love the strangeness of Mrs. James’ last day — that odd (and somehow beautiful!) hostage situation gives this piece such a wonderful flavor. What do you think the hostage takers’ end game was? What were they hoping to accomplish?

I didn’t have a specific motive for the strangers. It might be a metaphor for the way religions also hold hostages, keep believers in their thrall. Or perhaps a torturous taste of Purgatory, though Presbyterians state that “Purgatory is consistently denied and vigorously opposed by Protestant Christians.” Well, as a former Catholic, Purgatory loomed pretty large for me.

I first thought the men were enacting a random act of violence, an intimidation that came unannounced, out of the blue, beautiful day, and altered the world. (All the mass shootings are a more horrible and tragic example.) There’s a clue, though, when Mrs James’s missing Bible was found, shot through with five rounds, tossed below the willow. A long brown braid with a kitty clasp wrapped the Bible tight. Something disturbing occurred, and that braid and kitty clasp ask who the hair came from and why. Coupled with the bullet hole in Mrs. James’s tire, we’re left to ruminate, to imagine what forces floatin that dark Western sky. I like the questions as well as the fears that remain. We only know what happened to poor Mrs James. Who else was harmed? What were the men trying to cover up? The strangers may have seemed benign, but their act led to the death of at least one person. I haven’t answered your question, ‘why.’ Let me simply say they were evil men who wanted to wield power. Sounds too familiar, to me.

2) The imagery throughout is so powerful, from that opening image of poor Mrs. James (“who taught high school Latin and spoke it like a saint”) being pulled from the river to the end with Gregory and the gypsy moths, and returning to Mrs. James as she is cut from her restraints, “make-up yet in place.” Seriously powerful stuff! What came for you first with this story — the imagery, the characters, the music? Something else?

I’ve been to the area outside Visalia, CA, a couple of times for short visits. The story began from remembering those long ago trips and the surrounding environment near the Sierra Nevada. After that I imagined what might happen in such a location – terrifying and perhaps inexplicable events – a kind of Twin Peaks scenario. While ruminating on the location, the images and the accompanying actions started to flow. The descriptions of the people, place, and objects were a gush of the horrifying, beautiful, and confounding. I was a visual artist for many years, so describing images is familiar practice. When I’m writing and the images come so fast and free, I feel like all I have to do is type, and sort the threads for the story to arrive. 

Breathing Quietly ~ by Mauro Altamura


Five straight days of rain got the Kaweah River way too wide. Old Mrs. James, who taught high school Latin and spoke it like a saint, drove off the road, into the river and under. The county crew pulled her from her fast-back Volvo after she failed to show for class eight o’clock prompt at Visalia High. Seat belt snug, palms in her lap, she’d lodged in a dark mud hole, ten feet deep.

     We watched and listened while a rescuer’s radio played loud music that evaporated in the sun. The rush of light on its way to one more day said something important had been lost. Passing drivers slowed, the Volvo’s chrome and metal shimmered, circling gulls and jet black crows spread their wings, benevolent, blessing us below.  

     Maybe she’d tried to take the short cut home from church, anxious to avoid the muddy pass at River Bend that disappears in winter. Or maybe she veered a scant yard or two, fixed on what she’d just been through at St Martin’s, found her wheels spinning, mud painting the air like a freeze frame of breath before she hit the water.

     On Mrs. James’s last, strange Sunday, she searched the pews for her lost Bible while two sharp, blue Lincolns crept into the lot. She and the other Presbyterians were geared for the recessional but were shocked instead by a sad lament of love: Leonard Cohen’s“Suzanne” flowed from wall-mounted speakers, an odd miracle unfolding as they prayed. Bowed heads snapped alert like blooming lilies to see a blond stranger with a gun and a flair for things electronic.

     The stranger kept the congregants still, aided by a pudgy fellow he called Buddy. Buddy decided to remain mute but carried a long curved staff. He stared, stared some more, all while maintaining silence. The strangers kept “Suzanne”on repeat for hours, held the congregation inside, a torturous taste of Purgatory. No member of the church didn’t have the song’s words burned in their memory, not to mention their souls.

     The clock ticked. The stranger and Buddy sat, rifles on their laps. “Suzanne” did not abate.

     At five o’clock, the stranger nodded, said thank you, kind folks. Buddy stopped the music, strode from the altar, down the aisle and out. Neither said another word. They drove off in opposite directions. Three stars shot across the dark western sky, colliding somewhere off the coast of Mercury. Mrs James missing Bible was found, shot through with five rounds, tossed below the willow. A long brown braid with a kitty clasp wrapped the Bible tight.

     Sacramento TV came down the next day to film and interview. The two-minute spot ran nationwide. The broadcast closed with a pan of the river, while a lush string version of “Suzanne” filled our dimmed living rooms.

     We easily spotted the tall young man who appeared in the top corner of our TV screens, standing on the bank of the river, just before the image faded. It was Mrs. James’s red-haired son, skipping rocks like the lost orphan he’d become. He’d never gone anywhere except community college for his Associate’s in History.

     The boy is called Gregory, quiet as a breeze blown over soft grass. Now he looks across the water on TV forever, a painting that shimmers like phosphors in the Pacific at night. The rocks he throws are flint, brought down from the Sierras before humans walked. Locked inside the rocks rest the trace of anything that’s ever lived with blood in its veins and air in its lungs. He flips the rocks out, trying to skim, but they do nothing but sink.

     We watched Gregory look to the sky as if he might be able to see past its gray. His hands rest at his sides — until he throws and his limbs snap fierce, curling from his hip, a bullwhip taming some snarling coyote. Gregory’s rocks never break away from gravity. If they could only lift, like sight, Gregory might move away.

    A scent of fuel fluttered with gypsy moths when Mrs. James finally was raised. Cut away from her harness, her body was round and bloated, make-up yet in place, fingers pruned. A hole in her flat front tire, a bullet-sized pierce, had let the air free.

     Folks said she must’ve been thinking about “Suzanne,” and Gregory, of course. Most likely about rain that washed away the road. And surely, finally, about somehow climbing out of that dark, sad hole of mud she’d never intended to find.


Mauro Altamura received a 2022 Prose Fellowship from the New Jersey State Council on the Arts, and several visual arts fellowships from NJSCA, NYSCA, and the NEA. His prose was published in,, and Yolk Literary. He has an MFA in Creative Writing from Rutgers, Newark, and an MFA in Visual Art from SUNY Buffalo. Mauro lives and writes in Jersey City, NJ.

Two Questions for Frances Klein

We recently published Frances Klein’s searing “At the Writer’s Workshop.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the tongue-in-cheek voice here — the line about the men wanting to “use the word fuck in every fucking sentence” makes me laugh every time. But at the same time, this kind of behavior infuriates me! Do you think it’s important to keep a sense of humor about things like this?

This story is based on a local writing group that I stopped attending because of the exact dynamic I describe. For me, the tongue-in-cheek tone comes naturally out of the inherent ridiculousness of the situation, namely men with no more credentials or authority than anyone else asserting dominance for the sake of their egos. I also found the whole environment infuriating, which is why I opted to preserve my peace and stop going. In situations like this, the only immediate options are to get mad or to laugh about it. However, I think it depends on what you want the outcome to be, and what your role is in the group. If you want to improve and diversify the group, the anger is necessary to fuel any changes that would make the group more hospitable to writers that aren’t straight men. If you don’t have a stake in the group, however, I’ve found that humor is more soul soothing.

2) In this story, there’s a line that breaks my heart: ” All the women bring just a little something they scribbled down, nothing very good, needs a lot of work….” It’s so hard to see the women belittle their own work like this! Does this stem from a place of inferiority, do you think? Or are they merely trying to placate the men?

To me, the sense of deprecation or belittlement that a lot of women bring to their own writing is an act of self-preservation. (Believe me, I’ve been that person!). The line of reasoning goes something like, “if I say that my writing isn’t very good, then my feelings won’t be hurt when the other people in the writing group give feedback that implies–or says straight out–that my writing isn’t very good.” There’s also an expectation in a lot of writing circles that people will have thick skin when it comes to receiving feedback, and it seems to me that some people use this approach to project a nonchalance about their own writing that they may not feel. I do think that there is some gendered socialization happening here, especially in writing groups that are either male-led or male-dominated (or both!)

At the Writer’s Group ~ by Frances Klein

All the men want to be Neruda but none are, no one Chilean enough, none unself-serious enough to compare their lovers’ breasts to the twin beating hearts of frogs on opposite sides of the lagoon. All the poems are about breasts, even the ones about the moon and its reflection, even the ones about sibling mountains. Even the ones that are about dicks sound like the ones about breasts, mooning about all sullen over the drawn curtain that hides two neighboring street lamps from view.

All the men want to be Palahniuk, want to use the word fuck in every fucking sentence, to spit every line of dialogue, to visit graphic, nuclear vengeance on the twin fawns that refuse to emerge from behind the trees at their beckoning. They shop pale imitations packaged as reboots of a gritty reboot, now with even more grit.

All the women bring just a little something they scribbled down, nothing very good, needs a lot of work, still just an eighth draft. They bring stories that they’re sure won’t make sense to anyone but them (and their six beta readers), a world of socialized insecurity crystallizing into a perfect microcosm.

All the women are—

because they were just trying to—

and they noticed—

it’s unlikely a real woman would—

but that doesn’t make any—

and if they could just—

like they were saying—

they thought it was clear—

why is she naked the whole—

that doesn’t explain—

All the women are limiting themselves, say the men, to the banal domestic world. The women are looking through the microscope at children and bodies, the interlocking atomic orbits of families. The men say writing is for big ideas: for sex and death and the deaths that follow sex. The women see the Great Chain of Being reflected at every stage, see the hierarchies of royal scale recreated in the schoolyard and living room. The men see ten pages of story without a single description of the character’s body.

When the women stop coming, all the men shrug and sigh. It’s a shame that writing is not for the faint of heart. Some people are so easily offended.


Frances Klein (she/her) is a poet and teacher writing at the intersection of disability and gender. She is the 2022 winner of the Robert Golden Poetry Prize, and the author of the chapbooks New and Permanent (Blanket Sea 2022) and The Best Secret (Bottlecap Press 2022). Klein currently serves as assistant editor of Southern Humanities Review. Readers can find more of her work at

Two Questions for Andrea Marcusa

We recently published Andrea Marcusa’s devastating “U.S. Threat Forecast.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the “facts” of this piece — we have statistics, like the number of lightning strikes per year, but then we have lovely tidbits about the sound of frogs and cricket chirps. How did you decide on a balance between the statistical and the (almost) fantastical?

That’s just it. I was looking for a balance. I had developed a long list of weather/type facts (an interest of mine) and also a long list of stats about shootings.  I have noticed that shootings come in waves.  Usually more during warm months.  I was trying to make sense of them (although there is no way to, really.) and so I looked at the weather. Then I came up with the voice, almost childlike in its wonderment.  The contrast between the wonderment and the material heightened the impact of the narrative. I found that the contrast between the statistical and the fantastical really heightened the emotion of the piece so I continued to develop the piece this way.  I experimented with placing the shooting facts and weather facts side-by-side to see which facts worked with each other and which ones didn’t. I have one of those minds that is very associative and intuitive and so experimenting like this was fun. The result was “U.S. Threat Forecast.”

2) And of course, the most devastating statistic in the story (the speed of bullets from an AR-15) leads to the most devastating fact (that we are able to forget). Do you think there is a way for us to remember? To hold onto the pain and the rage and the fear until, finally, something is done?

I hope people who read “U.S. Threat Forecast,” will read this fact differently than if it was simply in a news story.  I felt that by inserting it into this narrative, with the childlike voice of wonderment, that it would stun the reader.  Perhaps make them see an AR-15’s destructiveness differently.  This is an attempt to try to get society to stand up and say — “Enough!”

U.S. Threat Forecast ~ by Andrea Marcusa

Did you know that frogs grow noisy before it rains? And dogs and cats always sense tornadoes looming. Also, wind is silent; we only hear it when it blows against something. Even though little can be learned about people from their facial features, our noses can detect a trillion smells. Meteorologists say lightning strikes 20 million times a year but kills only 432. And hailstones can grow as large as baseballs. 316 people are shot daily and 48,222 die each year from gunshot wounds.  Bullets from an AR-15 travel almost three times faster than one from a handgun and liquefy organs, leaving a smashed cavity the size of a grapefruit. Although wives’ tales say otherwise, lightning often hits in the same location twice, sometimes more. And cats really do land on their feet. It takes blood 60 seconds to make a complete circuit of the body. Scientists tell us that full moons don’t impact human behavior, but violence rates rise along with air temperature. A simple way to learn the air temperature is to count the number of cricket chirps in 15 seconds and add 40. One definition of the word execution is “to carry out a plan.” Blood tastes as salty as an ocean. In time, people grow accustomed to violence, especially young children. Did you know that the only muscle that never tires out in the human body is the beating heart? And sound, whether the blast of a gun or tinkle of a baby’s laugh, won’t ever carry in the absolute silence of outer space. Psychologists say it’s normal to feel upset following a distressing news event, but the feeling eases after a few weeks as predictably as snow melting each spring.


Andrea Marcusa’s work has appeared in Gettysburg Review, Cutbank, River Styx, River Teeth, Citron Review, and others. She’s received recognition in a range of competitions, including Smokelong, Raleigh Review, Cleaver and Southampton Review. For more information, visit: or see her on Twitter @d_marcusa.