We recently published Zach VandeZande’s melancholy “Dad.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:
1) Some of my favorite pieces by you focus on the relationship between fathers and their children — is this an intentional choice of subject?
It’s an intentional choice in that I realized my brain kept going to that space during writing time and I let myself lean into it. I sort of have two modes that I’m working through when I write: the first is that I write my way into what I want the world to look like, like, I try and find that bit of grace that exists in most moments and make them into something bigger and more matterful than they are (I think this works really well in flash fiction). And then the second mode is that I write from a place of anxiety. I think where I am in relation to the idea of fatherhood sort of lets both of those modes work at once. Or maybe it’s this: one of the grand, silly pronouncements I’m always making to my students is that fiction writing is a mode of knowledge production, and something (my own relationship with my father, the fact that I will probably never be a father, ???) keeps bringing me back to wanting to know more about fathers.
2) If the father could have managed to tell a story, what story do you think he would have told?
I really wish I knew! I think it would’ve made for a better piece, maybe. I think he would have tried to tell a story that does too much at once–too much meaning-making, too much lesson, too much, general. I think he probably wouldn’t realize that fathers don’t have to try to be important, that being important is part of the problem.
We recently published Michelle Ross’s glorious “Deposition.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love the use of ritual in this piece, the nightly burying of the spoons. Was this image what kickstarted this piece? Or was there ever a different ritual that Sam performed?
This is precisely the image that kickstarted the piece, and I can’t take credit for it. Vanessa Gebbie supplied the image as a prompt in a flashathon Meg Pokrass organized. I usually resist such specific prompts, in part I guess because it bugs me somehow to begin with someone else’s words or image, but these flashathons have dulled my resistance. Drafting a new micro or flash every hour for fifteen hours straight, I take inspiration wherever I find it. Of course, as writers we are often responding to others’ words in one fashion or another, even if typically less directly. In this case, I was immediately taken with the image and couldn’t help but follow it.
2) The sensuality of spoons is something I’ve never thought of before — we see how the characters think they are. For you, what makes a spoon sensual?
All cutlery is sensual, I think, both because of the function spoons, knives, and forks serve, but also because of their forms—the way these pieces are shaped to fit the hand, the mouth. Spoons most especially, though. They’re more inviting than other cutlery. I love soups, but I think that beyond the soup itself, one of the pleasures of eating soup is that it’s eaten with a spoon. Ice cream, if it’s solid enough, could be eaten from a bowl just fine with a fork, but some measure of the pleasure of the experience would be taken away with the spoon. Imagine sucking the last bit of ice cream off a fork. Not the same by a long shot.
We recently published J. Bradley’s nostalgic “I-65
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:
1) This is part of a series of stories about the gas cloud mother — is it difficult to make each story its own separate thing knowing the history that has come with it?
It’s not. I think the history binds all of the stories together. Life is a series of interconnected moments. What we have done informs what we will do and I do enjoy playing with that narratively.
2) Do you think they will manage to go on a road trip? Or are they stuck where they are?
I think they might once they figure out the logistics but then, there’s the complications to deal with when they do figure it out.
We recently published Kristin Tenor’s aching “I Am the Chrysalis Waiting for You to Break Free.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love the use of allusion in this piece, how it evokes The Scarlet Letter and various fairy tales all at once. Was this something you had to work to convey, or did the allusions just flow with the story?
This past winter I had the privilege to participate in one of Kathy Fish’s Fast Flash workshops, which, by the way, I highly recommend to anyone searching for a generous and supportive workshop environment. As far as I’m concerned, it is one of the best. Anyhow, during the workshop we were prompted to write a mosaic where the fragments were built from images cultivated both from dream memory and moments of reality. I’m not sure why, but the first image to come to mind was that of myself sitting on the couch in the therapist’s office. (Yes, a version of that encounter really did happen in my life.) Then, came the girl with the scarlet letter sewn upon her chest, finally the blackbird. I wish I could say that by some genius I had planned the placement of those allusive moments, however, they flowed into the piece rather organically. The story really told me how it wanted to be written.
2) The scene with the therapist is so poignant, “call me Mary,” I can just imagine a therapist saying that. You say so much in such a tiny scene here — did you ever consider making this portion longer?
Thank you for your kind words, Cathy. As I mentioned earlier, the incident in the therapist’s office is rooted from personal experience, a quite painful and confusing experience for an eighteen-year-old mother-to-be. No matter how hard I tried to convince the therapist, who was seven months pregnant herself, that the baby’s father and I were prepared to parent our child, she threw statistic after statistic in my face, assuring me we were doomed to fail. Our daughter is now married and has two beautiful children of her own, and my husband and I are still very much in love. Could I have woven more of this backstory into the scene? Perhaps. However, I sense everything I needed to say is already there.
We recently published Becky Robison’s deliciously sad “Apple Crisp as Symptom.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I love the voice in this piece, how it simultaneously clings to what’s real and at the same time veers away from it. Was it difficult to create this voice, this character in such a small space?
It was difficult to create the voice for this story because I wanted to make it clear that dementia was involved without making it too obvious. And I often receive feedback that I’m too subtle, that I leave too much off the page, so I wanted to make sure that didn’t happen, either. That’s where the title came in: Apple Crisp as Symptom. I figured that the word “symptom” might help suggest a medical condition to readers, that the leaps in logic and physics weren’t just careless writing on my part.
2) I have an awesome apple crisp recipe that I might make a bit too often. What’s your favorite apple crisp recipe?
I’m not known for my skills in the kitchen, so I don’t personally have a good apple crisp recipe. However, I’ve had an excellent one for brunch at Same Day Cafe in Chicago’s Logan Square neighborhood. I’m also obsessed with their avocado toast. I swear it’s not just the millennial in me—they top it with jicama slaw!
We recently published Francine Witte’s stellar “Midnight on the Moon.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) This is such a tiny piece and you manage to create three such believable characters — well, four, if you count the moon! How do you walk the line between stereotype and archetype in such a small space?
I think that what makes them believable is the tiny things they do. The man looking at the wall behind his wife makes him real and different. At least, I hope so. I am having fun with the idea of them being stereotypes, and so I haven’t even given them names. I wanted it to be somewhat of a stereotype. By blowing up the stereotype, I’m hoping to give the piece a comic tone.
2) The moon is watching all of this, lonely. Do you think the moon cares?
Yes, the moon cares, as any unwilling witness would to this scene of infidelity. The moon is trapped and has no choice in the matter. So I believe the moon would be quite resentful.
We recently published Ben Niespodziany’s trickster “Moose Hunt.” Here, we ask him two questions about his story:
1) The transformation in this story is so effective, how the fur trapper becomes bit by bit the thing he is tracking down. But he never completely does, does he?
He does and he doesn’t. From an outside perspective, it would appear that the fur trapper has all of the moose, but the piece speaks a great deal on satisfaction and not knowing what you have while you have it. When I first started submitting, for example, I wanted to have a published story. Now that it’s happened, I want a published book of stories. Whenever (if ever) that happens, I know I’ll want a second book of stories. When will I rest easy? When will the hunter have enough of the moose before he is able to focus on something else? Once he smiles like a moose and begins to walk on all fours? Once he deceives another hunter and is killed out in the woods?
2) The story is mostly about the fur trapper and the moose, but at the end, we are introduced to a larger world, to the town. They are afraid of guns. Is this because of the fur trapper, do you think?
I’m a big fan of zooming out at the end of my stories. Honing in with a character / situation for 90% of the fable and then stepping out for a new perspective. The town is terrified of guns because, yes, a man dressed as a moose has been shooting bullets in the nearby woods. But this viewpoint / fear is also a tiny nod to the world that engulfs us. Every day it’s a high school or a dance club or a shopping mall or a movie theater that is overtaken by a madman with a weapon. The collective town in this story speaks on behalf of many scared Americans without guns (including myself). While there are plenty of us, there are also the gun fanatics with safes full of rifles and pistols. So it’s worth noting that another potential ending that I considered (call it the Director’s Cut) was that no one interacted with the fur trapper who was transforming into a moose because they were all busy cleaning their guns, wiping drool from their mouths, and eyeing the size of the tasty moose so very out in the open.
We recently published Rebecca Orchard’s haunting “Please Employ My Ghost Boyfriend.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I adore the idea of a ghost boyfriend just hanging around. Do you think he was the narrator’s boyfriend and then became a ghost, or has he always been a ghost and the narrator’s boyfriend?
I think the boyfriend has always been a ghost. Perhaps this is because I can’t conceive of a boyfriend who isn’t a ghost.
2) And the narrator is trying to get her ghost boyfriend hired on somewhere! That is such a unique idea. Where do you think would be the best place for him to work?
Hm, I think he’d be really good delivering mail in a big office, where he’d get to smile at people while also avoiding eye contact. He’d also be good at cataloging things; I once had a job in a rare book store, cataloging mountains of books in their basement, and I think that would appeal to him. It was quiet and secretive down there. He could probably be a prep cook, too, but I don’t think he’d like all the noise and bombast of a kitchen.
We recently published Lior Torenberg’s stunning “Je Dévore.” Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) I fell in love with the first sentence of this story: “My mother taught housewives how to bake, and then she died.” The baking is such an important thing for the narrator to try to learn about their mother, and those little high heels too. They seem like such unconnected things, baking, wearing high heels. How do you feel they become part of the same thing for the narrator?
The heels, the baking – they’re symbols of femininity. My narrator idolizes his mother as a representative of the ideal woman without acknowledging what she gave up to acquire those totems, and how restrictive they can often be. For Marge/Margaux (and for everyone) femininity is a performance, a costume, just like it is for the narrator later in his life. The difference is that, for Marge, it is confining, but for the narrator, it is freeing.
2) The section with the changing of names is very powerful — it seems expected to be “American” that you must have an American name. The mother goes from Margaux to Marge — do you think she lost a piece of herself with that change, the way she lost her French?
I think Margaux did lose a piece of herself by switching to Marge, but to be more specific: she willingly gave up a piece of herself in exchange for something else. Cultural capital, belonging, the avoidance of potential discrimination. She had found a new life for herself and wanted to immerse herself fully in it. I want to emphasize that, at the time, she was excited to do so. When I moved to America, there was a while when I wanted to go by Lori instead of Lior. It’s only later that you realize what you’ve given up. The narrator tries to pay tribute to his mother by allowing her to live after her death as someone free and unapologetically Margaux.
We recently published Pat Foran’s musical “The Truth about Florence Henderson’s Floating Notes.”
Here we ask him two questions about his story:
1) There is so much music in this piece — the singer in the beginning, the floating notes themselves and, of course, the musicality of your language. Was there a particular song that inspired this piece, or one that you listened to while writing it?
There wasn’t a particular song that inspired it, but I was listening to the newly mixed version of The Beatles’ White Album (the 50th anniversary six-CD set released in November 2018) the day I was writing this. It’s possible listening to a new mix of a record I knew backwards and forwards, a mix that enabled me to hear instrumental and vocal moments I hadn’t heard before, inspired me to listen to myself differently, to hear my voice a little differently, to let the words tumble out a bit differently. But television — how it sounds to me, how it sings to me, how I experience it — was more of an inspiration here. TV has a rhythm, dimensionality and voice all its own, especially (for me) shows from the late 1960s and early 1970s. And I think that’s where my head was, what my ears were listening in on and listening for, that day.
2) Florence Henderson is best known for her role in the Brady Bunch. Why did you choose her as the voice for this piece, as the owner of these floating notes?
Yes, she’s best known as Carol Brady. But Florence Henderson was a singer — first in musicals on the stage, and later on TV. She also was a guest on a lot of TV talk shows and hosted a show or two of her own. When the initial chorus of listeners in this story — the baby antelope, the zebra and the orangutan and the toucan — started to hear what they heard, it had to be Miss Florency, given where my head was at and the way my brain works. I saw Florence Henderson in that scene. I heard her. It probably didn’t hurt that her name has a singsong quality to it, a certain flow. Her Carol Brady hair had a certain flow to it, too — like when she had it cut in the “flip” style during the middle (and seminal) Brady episodes. That the unpretentious and generally joyous Ms. Henderson sang a “Wessonality” jingle in a commercial for Wesson cooking oil probably sealed the deal. She had to be the one to birth those notes.