Two Questions for Hannah Cajandig-Taylor

We recently published Hannah Cajandig-Taylor’s otherworldly “When We Left Earth, the Whales Came With Us.

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) What really drew me to this piece was the imagery here — these whales in aquariums being tugged through space as children adore them from rocket ship classrooms, as they hold on to the things they have left behind. Why did you choose whales specifically for this lovely story, these lovely images? Did you ever consider, say, elephants instead?

The pieces of this story were actually born during a coffee shop writing session with my good friend and previous MCR contributor R. A. Matteson, and while giving elements or constraints, one of the concepts to work with was the word “whales”. Because of my undying love for outer space, I just kept thinking about what would happen to these massive aquatic mammals if humans abandoned earth in favor of galactic exploration. It seems like the world is on fire, but we just keep talking about leaving it instead of trying to fix things. I couldn’t stand to leave the whales behind on paper, so I figured why not chuck them into massive tanks and take them too? Though I was concerned about the laws of physics while writing this, it became clear to me that this piece was not specifically about the scientific impact, but more about the idea of transplanting life and attempting to understand a species that feels so distant to us as humans. I’m really drawn to whales in general, and have been on quite the whale kick since writing this, actually. There’s something so intriguing and lovely about these (mostly) gentle giants that roam the waters of our planet.

2) I love that the children write a song in honor of the whales, and that it is so long, some of the verses have to be cut, “for concision’s sake.” What is in those excised verses, do you suppose?

Funny enough, I’d actually written out a few more lines or verses for the whale song that ultimately didn’t make it into the story. One of those excised fragments talked about sperm whales, but I just couldn’t imagine children not giggling over sperm whales, so I ended up obsessively researching classifications of whales, both still alive and extinct, before deciding which lyrics would slip themselves into the narrative. I like to think that some of the unwritten verses featured narwhals. I’ve got a soft spot for narwhals. I imagine there could also be mention of other whale species with “clunky names” or such little cultural acknowledgement that they’ve simply faded into the background of history. I mean, at the end of the day, there are likely thousands of animal species and genera that humans have never encountered or classified, and that idea fascinates me because it makes me think about the creatures we HAVE taken record of and eventually lost over the course of time due to an attempt at simplifying things.

Two Questions for Michele Finn Johnson

We recently published Michele Finn Johnson’s searing “Hunger, Listen, Thirst.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I like how the narrator calls the baby’s father “the man who is the baby’s father” or simply “the baby’s father.” For me, this gives a really clear indication of their connection … or lack thereof! Did you ever consider having her call him anything else, or is this really the only option she has?

As soon as I wrote the line—”He’s a man who stayed when we both know he would’ve been long gone by now, if not for the circumstance.”—I knew the father would remain nameless in the story. His only tie to the narrator’s life is because of this baby, and I imagine she can’t help but feel the thinness of this tie every time he points out yet another failure on her part as a nurturer. He also seems to take his role as the baby’s father seriously with his tip-toeing and baby-burping and amazing catalog of nursery rhymes. That title defines him in this household; he’s certainly not a lover anymore, which is something our narrator hungers for.

2) The baby and the father both show how they aren’t satisfied, how the narrator can’t satisfy them fast enough or in the ways they want. But she is unsatisfied as well, though her feelings simmer below the surface, quietly. Do you think she will ever let them — let anyone — know exactly how she feels?

I’d love it if she would! The narrator in this moment of life is so incredibly overwhelmed and over-needed, it’d be a miracle if she had the time for self-assessment. She’s in total sacrificial mode for the benefit of the baby, but pretty soon she’ll wean him and get some bits of herself back. That seed of hunger for more is definitely there. She’s listening for some hope in the baby’s father’s throat, but I’m pretty sure that’s a dead end. I wouldn’t be surprised if she has her own equivalent moment of banging on a plastic tray of CheeriosTM in the not-to-distant future. Maybe once she finally gets a solid night’s sleep!

Two Questions for Noa Covo

We recently published Noa Covo’s soaring “Amelia.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) What I love about this story is how vividly you create your Amelia Earhart (and there are so many versions of her, don’t you think?) in such a small space. What inspired your variation of this famous aviator?
A while ago, my little brother suggested that maybe Amelia Earhart disappeared because she reached outer space. I thought that she had always strived to escape Earth and distance herself from other people, so I found it very fitting. (Which just goes to show that my eight-year-old brother is smarter than me.) Amelia Earhart really was, in my eyes, the achiever of the impossible so writing her going to space felt like a natural extension of her journey. I think Amelia Earhart was more than just her tragic disappearance, and that she deserved a lot more than that, so this was kind of my way of expressing the fact that her story should’ve continued.
2) I especially like the moment when the Martians call her “our very own Amelia.” Does she belong to them, or to earth, or to anyone?
There are people throughout history whose stories others like to claim in a way that isn’t entirely fair. The thing that always irked me about Amelia Earhart is that she was let down by the people who should’ve rescued her, but when we tell her story and claim her, nobody ever takes responsibility for her disappearance. In my mind, Amelia Earhart belongs to the Martians in the sense that they appreciate her from afar and don’t try to limit her, unlike the humans. I wanted her to get a happy ending in which she belonged, and I’m not sure she felt that she belonged on Earth.

Two Questions for Sabrina Hicks

We recently published Sabrina Hicks’s evocative “My Drugstore Queen.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) This is such a great moment, one of those small freedoms that teenage girls find in places like drugstores. Do you think the narrator will ever experience that kind of freedom again, without Maeve?

The freedom the narrator experiences is so specifically tied to Maeve that I don’t imagine so, or at least not at the same level. For her, Maeve encompasses the drugstore: a world of possibilities, shrink-wrapped and waiting, the make-up still sealed below pictures of models with impossibly long eyelashes, where teenage girls can roam and make-believe. Without Maeve, drugstores will never be the same for the narrator, just like that tube of mascara won’t make her lashes impossibly long. When the seal is broken, so too is the fantasy.

 

2) That flash forward moment is so heartbreaking but also somehow completely expected. In this moment, before her end, Maeve is so beautiful. Do you think people other than the narrator recognized her beauty? Or did they just use and dismiss it?

The idea of beauty here is fraught with currency. With Maeve, I saw her beauty as something wild and weaponized. Young girls, in their desire to be more beautiful, don’t fully understand the cost of that beauty, how they can become objectified as a result, or that the game of manipulation can backfire, especially in Maeve’s unprotected and vulnerable circumstances. I’d like to believe the narrator was the only one who saw Maeve’s beauty as skin deep, but even she idolized her in a way that dehumanized her to some degree. In the end, she sees her as a saint, as an impossibly beautiful being not made for this world.

Two Questions for Mileva Anastasiadou

We recently published Mileva Anastasiadou’s thoughtful “Mirror, Mirror.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) What I really like about this story is that it has that moment of hope, of light at the end — the narrator is having trouble connecting to her old self, loses sight of her old self, but at the end she says: “I’ll grow wings. … (W)e’ll meet and we’ll be one again….” Do you think she will make it? Do you think she will fly?
I’m not certain, I’d love to believe that she will make it, but things don’t always go as we wish, the girl is hopeful in the end, hope is necessary, hope is always necessary, but despite common belief, it takes more than positive thinking for things to go well. I don’t usually write happy stories, but lately, I’ve come to realize that there is always hope, even if there isn’t, even in case there is no light at the end of the tunnel, even if there is no reason, any logical reason for hope to exist, deep in our minds, there’s always a spark. Human beings are programmed to feel hope, we have invented hope to deal with all hardship and despair, it’s what keeps us going in everyday life, what makes us evolve.
2) In a piece this small, it’s sometimes hard to create a character that readers can connect to, but you give us what feels like a wholly formed person here. Does this mean there is possibly a secret backstory for this character that informs this story?
The way it started out in my mind, there has been some kind of violation. the girl has been violated, her values have been violated, she has done something she knows she shouldn’t have done, or someone she loves has done something unacceptable, or perhaps she’s seen someone doing something she finds unacceptable, but she didn’t speak, or she spoke but couldn’t stop it. Either way, she’s trapped in a moment, or time, or life, she doesn’t like. There’s not a well-formed, secret backstory, the piece is mostly about that feeling, or the epiphany, that you’ve lost yourself, like you’ve turned into someone you despise, someone you cannot respect, and this could be only for a moment, or it could be a sad realization you may reach late in life and you’re not sure if you can reverse it or not, like in the song “Karma Police”, by Radiohead; I’ve always suspected the ‘narrator’ is calling the Karma Police for himself, he’s the one who for a moment there, he’s lost himself, after all.

Two Questions for Rudri Patel

We recently published Rudri Patel’s lovely “The Day Her Husband Died.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love the use of repetition (which I have recently learned is called anaphora) here. Going into this story, did you always have the intent to repeat that refrain, “The day her husband dies”?
“The day her husband dies” was a line born out of a flash workshop. Initially, I tinkered with ways to tell this story in a traditional manner, but abandoned those efforts. I ultimately found the refrain carried a shocking, but quiet power, and the repetition allowed the widow to have permission to detail her journey and mourn her losses. Widows are routinely dismissed or cast out of the South Asian culture and my intent was to alter the narrative in a measurable way. Breaking the refrain at the end is a way to liberate not only the repetition in form, but also for the widow to reclaim her identity. 
2) What really drew me to this story is that the husband’s death is both something to grieve and something that is a release for his wife, a freedom. Was it hard to balance that sense of relief with that sense of loss?
It is a struggle for the character to vocalize this sense of relief. I often think loss is equal parts sorrow and relief. It is acceptable to talk about grief, but most feel guilt speaking about the sigh of relief which emerges for the caregiver. When a loved one is chronically ill or terminal, the burden is shifted to his or her family in fulfilling all of the needs of the person suffering. But there isn’t a guidebook on the best ways to do this gracefully. When grief moves to the periphery, there is room for reflection and a window to move into a new self. That doesn’t necessarily mean the widow loves her husband any less, but she is trying to find a way to claim her new, independent self. 

Two Questions for Rachael Smart

We recently published Rachael Smart’s powerful “Ways with Water.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) The specificity of the imagery in this story is so stunning and rich — I love lines like “Back home his kisses taste of rust and hurry, of pâté before you knew it, tequilas with a twist of salt.” And yet this story is so small to be so rich with detail! Did you have to pare it back any, or did it exist in this format from the beginning?

Giving language to loss is rarely achieved in brevity. For one reason or another, this became a preoccupation for me a few years ago. This tiny story is far bigger than its triptych suggests. I think it was always like this – rich (ish). Word dense. Think mint choc ice cream for breakfast. I deleted ‘riding shot gun’ in the opening paragraph early on but felt adamant that llama print knickers was essential. The cloth a womb pleats itself out on is a sacred thing.

 

2) There is such a deep and painful loss here, and that haunting last line is just so heartbreaking. Do you think there is any hope that the narrator’s pain will ease with time, or is she trapped, sea-gazing, forever?

People always take their pain to water, don’t they? A body of water is a holding space, a perspective point. She will always look out to sea, I think, trying to catch a glimpse of what-not-was but gazing is always interrupted by a sequence of blinks. It is a grace that the eyes offer reprieve. I believe the hurt some women hold needs a language of its own. She’ll look on other beautiful things again, I’m sure of it.

Two Questions for Sudha Balagopal

We recently published Sudha Balagopal’s stunning “Peacock Feathers.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love that opening line, “I date a man who has wings; a man who can fly.” Do you think this trait is what drew the narrator to him, or was there something else?

Oh yes, it’s the wings!

It’s his ability to fly, it’s the places he’s been, it’s the aura of strength and beauty, it’s the breadth of his knowledge from traveling ― all of this makes for a heady combination.

It’s his very “difference” that makes him attractive.

 

2) At the end, the narrator is waiting to tell the winged lover a certain truth, “if he ever returns.” Do you think he will return, or will she have to forever keep this knowledge to herself?

He won’t come back.

It’s clear from the way he didn’t turn around, the way he didn’t pause to wonder why she isn’t with him.

Unfortunately, she may never be able to tell him what she now knows.

However, the narrator has understood from his actions that he didn’t really get her or he wouldn’t have brought her inappropriate wings. And that comprehension has immense value.

Two Questions for Alex Evans

We recently published Alex Evans’ delightful “Saint Egg.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

 

1) I love how this story is about growing up, about having to grow up, and the way children sometimes think it should happen. The lines “We’d decided teenagers don’t like glow in the dark stars. We’d decided teenagers don’t like a lot of things.” are so true to the growing-up experience — what else do you think these kids have given up that they maybe shouldn’t have?
Being a teenager is a rough time, point black. So often, young adults are just starting to figure out what excites them, and they hit high school only to feel as though liking anything at all is not cool. I can only speak to my own experience at an all boys’ high school, but I often like having emotions at all was a liability. I think teenagers often are craving some higher level of autonomy; they want to go where they want and do what they want when they want. This urge is often completely at odds with the hyper-regimented schedule of school, extracurriculars, jobs, and familial responsibilities. As a reaction to this, teens often seem to veer towards extremes in the few areas where they do have control, which is what I was hoping to capture in this story.
2) The ending is almost a refutation of the growing-up process when the kids decide to be “irresponsible” and kill the suffering eggs. I like that this moment is almost like the fulfillment of a pact between the children and the eggs. Did you ever consider not giving the eggs a voice in this story?
The honest answer is that before writing it, I never thought about the eggs speaking, and after writing the first of their repeated lines, I could not imagine the story without their dialogue. In writing this story, I was thinking a great deal about power and desire. So often, I’m drawn to writing characters who lack any form of agency, and this story was something of an attempt to address that directly and reframe the idea of agency.
In one sense, the eggs give voice to teenagers’ urge to destroy what small things they have power over, but by locating that voice of agency in the eggs rather than the students, my hope was to focus the narrative more on the relationship all of us have with the things we have power over. If Chekhov’s rifle is an invitation for a gun shot, then an egg is an invitation for a crack. So often, teenager rebellion is framed as an unstable teen pushing back against stable people, objects, or institutions. By having the eggs invite their own destruction, my hope was to try on a reframing of this narrative. Eggs are chosen for activities like this specifically because they are breakable—there is no possible end for these eggs that isn’t breakage, either at the hands of the students or in a trashcan when the exercise is over. If the school’s actual intent was to avoid breakage, they would give students bricks or something else less breakable.

Two Questions for Melissa Llanes Brownlee

We recently published Melissa Llanes Brownlee’s powerful “To Ever Love One Girl.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I love that this story feels so natural — dialect can be such a tricky thing to capture on the page, but the voice here is so real. Did you ever consider writing this piece in a more formal style?
That’s a tricky question. The format is embedded dialogue without the traditional quotation marks or even italics to separate it from the narrative. I chose this to lend a sense of urgency and immediacy to the story. I feel putting it into quotes or italics would have added additional distance to what is happening to the girls, women, daughters, nieces, and cousins. As for whether I would have written that dialogue in Standard American English, I never really considered it. Most of my work uses Hawaiian Pidgin Creole because I think it offers authenticity to the stories I set in that place and time. Also, it is basically the language I grew up with. I don’t think this story would be what it is without it.
2) The ending is so strong and so haunting. It breaks my heart! Do you think there is a chance that the narrator and her cousin and any of the girls have a chance to break out of this cycle, to cease submitting to these “little deaths”?
It breaks my heart too! It was difficult to write. I want to believe that they will break free. I want to believe that the cycle of abuse will end with them. If I were to continue this story, I would be afraid that I wouldn’t do them justice. That I wouldn’t be able to create a world where this wouldn’t continue to happen. And that really saddens me. I guess I could have lied and said sure they will but that’s not the world these women come from.