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!

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. 

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!)

Two Questions for Tom Weller

We recently published Tom Weller’s powerful “Hunger.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) As you’re well aware, I’m a huge fan of your Scrap Boys series (this is your third Scrap Boys story I’ve had the honor of publishing!). As you’ve worked on this series, how have the characters changed and grown for you?

Sadly, I think over time the Scrap Boys have become less brash, less sure of themselves. In early stories the Scrap Boys are wrestling in a cheap, plastic pool, strutting bare chested through the fair, and flipping off a guy driving a sleek, expensive car. And in the early stories the conflicts the Scrap Boys encounter are largely external, blonde girls from school who don’t acknowledge them, a pool breaking down due to Scrap Boys wear and tear.

But “On the Way to the Fair,” published a few years ago in MoonPark Review, contains what feels to me like a turning point for the Scrap Boys. Riding their bikes to the fair, “They ride desperate to shake the thing that pursues them. This thing that is all hungry maw, all hand-scythe teeth and razor blade tongue. This thing that they never talk about. This thing that has no name. Scrap Boy 1, Scrap Boy 2, Scrap Boy 3, not one of them has ever seen it, but they all know it’s there, feel it from time to time, right behind them, fetid breath, hot and moist on the back of their necks.” So the conflict here is still external, but this thing is in hot pursuit of the Scrap Boys, threatening to overtake them.

After that, the Scrap Boys adventures become more clandestine. They are breaking bottles by a lonely railroad track; they leave town to sneak out to an isolated trailer. At the same time, the conflicts in the stories become more internal. The Scrap Boys have a drive to destroy they don’t really understand; the Scrap Boys are hungry. What has caused this shift is unclear, but I suspect it has something to do with that “thing that is all hungry maw. . .”

2) And speaking of growth, at the end of this story, we have our first mention of Scrap Men! And that ending line — “You are what you have always been.” What does this mean for the Scrap Boys-now-Men? What does this mean for you as their creator?

I think most immediately the appearance of the Scrap Men is a stark recognition of diminished possibilities for the Scrap Boys. But I also think the appearance of the Scrap Men might be an opportunity for the Scrap Boys, a kind of escape hatch from what looks like an inevitable bad ending. Is there away for the Scrap Boys and Scrap Men to interact? What possibilities might that relationship reveal?

As for the creator of the Scrap Boys, I’m currently on a bit of Scrap Boys hiatus to make time for a nascent project that I hope evolves into a series of stories about a secret clown bootcamp. But I do plan to return to the Scrap Boys at some point. I want to circle back and see what ever happened to that hungry maw that was after the Scrap Boys, and I want to see if there’s a way to put the Scrap Boys in communication with the Scrap Men. I think maybe they all need to do some adventuring together, maybe a big group trip to the fair the next time it rolls into town.

Two Questions for Abigail E. Myers

We recently published Abigail E. Myers’ delightful “First Time at a Waffle House, As a Hurricane Approaches.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the way this story combines the Waffle House phenomenon with the sense of impending danger — it feels both so of-the-moment and timeless, all at once. What was it that inspired this piece? And that feeling?

I didn’t grow up with Waffle House, but they’re everywhere in Texas, where my husband grew up and my in-laws still live. My mother-in-law and her husband lost their home in Port Arthur during Hurricane Harvey in 2017, and although she’s since moved slightly inland, it’s hard not to think of the storm, undoubtedly exacerbated by climate change, when driving along the Gulf Coast and seeing all the oil infrastructure there. There’s a Waffle House just down the road from where she lives now, and a gun range just down the road from there, so for me, this place that feels so cozy and kitschy and fun sits right alongside these places that feel very ominous. We had breakfast there at the end of our visit right after Christmas, when that Waffle House video had just gone viral, so all of those images and feelings were brewing together in my mind. I often sense my readiness to write a story when that brew starts to feel like it’s reached a bubbling point. I wrote the first draft of the story while we were driving down US-90 towards Houston to fly back north.

2) The anaphora of “They won’t tell you this” is so effective as it transitions from the staff not telling you things that will make more work for them to something larger. What made you choose this particular effect for this story?

Perhaps because I didn’t grow up with it, Waffle House and its menu still feel like a bit of a secret to me. I’ll be wondering if I can swap out certain items in combos and my husband and mother-in-law will be assuring me that, yes, I can do this or that. I never want to make a nuisance of myself! So it started with that very concrete experience, and then wondering what else people who live and work in this culture know that I don’t, particularly the ones in this climate that feels very fragile to me. Tommy Dean recently posted a great piece about setting as catalyst in his Substack and it’s something that seems to work well for me, so who knows what beloved restaurant chain I’ll explore next!

Two Questions for Lauren Cassani Davis

We recently published Lauren Cassani Davis’s brilliant “Teenagers.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

) There’s a great mix of pop culture references and ancient allusions at play here — I especially like the little winking nod to Spiderman! How did you decide on this blend of the modern and the old?

I’d been reading The Odyssey with one of my classes, so some of it just sort of leaked out in the first draft! Then, as I revised, I realized that the modern/ancient pattern captured a feeling I was trying to articulate. The experience of being a teenager is totally specific to your own generation—ephemeral songs, brands, trends—but also transcendently human. 

2) In this piece, I find a feeling of inevitability and loss, but it all seems almost willful. The teenagers won’t “pretend to act surprised” when meteors come; they don’t believe in history and will only “remember what they want to.” Do you think that speaks to the world these teenagers have inherited?

For sure. It speaks to their reckless rebellion against what previous generations have wrought, and at the same time a grim, almost absurd acceptance of their fate. Not to get too existentialist, but I’m thinking of Heidegger’s concept of thrown-ness; we’re each born into a set of historical circumstances completely beyond our control. The willful attitude of the teenagers in this piece (based on the ones I now know and the one I once was) is a reaction to that condition. A way to find empowerment and solidarity in the face of a flawed inheritance; one they’ll have no choice but to face.

Two Questions for Anu Kandikuppa

We recently published Anu Kanidkuppa’s amazing “Underneath It All.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love, love, love how this story moves from the surface to the depths — from appearances to inner workings. That ending just sends me soaring! Was it difficult to balance the observational with the emotional here?

I always find it challenging to suggest the deeper meaning of a piece in a way that seems neither contrived and obvious nor too subtle and vague, and this story was no exception. (I sometimes think—how easy if I could simply state what I want to say!) As you might imagine, a party I attended sparked the idea for this piece. I probably started writing the observational details first (which I gathered by being anti-social and sitting in a corner and just taking in everything), and then thought about why these details were interesting to me—mined my feelings about them. Then I played around with the words a lot and hoped it worked. There are so many constraints—tension, flow, length. Wanting to be a little fresh, a little new. The short length of a flash piece makes it harder, of course.

2) The little glimpses into each of the characters reveal so much about them (I adore that line where the American hostess is puzzled by another mother’s reference to other countries — ” Were there other countries in the world?”). Do you think, when these women look at each other, they only see the differences? Or do the see the sameness that they hold within themselves?

The women in the story are bound together loosely by the fact that their children studied together. At the same time, they don’t know each other or the hostess well. I think they walk in feeling self-conscious and uncomfortable to various degrees, not to mention throbbing with anxiety about their soon-to-depart children. A crowded house party is never a good setting to meet new people. You gather quick first impressions—accents, dress, superficialities—and move on to the next person. It takes effort and, I think, composure and open-mindedness to make connections, but in the course of the evening at least some women—maybe those who tend to choose deeper conversations with fewer people over flitting around—leave feeling allied with another woman. 

Two Questions for Sara Dobbie

We recently published Sara Dobbie’s luminous “Lady Blake.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love the Romantic feel of this story — a husband lost at sea, a suicidal son, a Lady! And you take all that and compress it and twist it into this beautiful little unexpected bit of beauty! What inspired this character (and her Romantic nature) for you?
I started with the idea of the wings, and I knew I wanted an elegant lady sewing them. I think that typically, older single women or widows in stories are seen as frightening and witchy to neighborhood children, but I chose to take that feminine power and magic and have the children love her for it. The tragic fate of Lady Blake’s family adds to her mystery in their eyes, thereby creating that romantic nature you mentioned.

2) There is an “Emperor’s New Clothes” feel to this as well, but instead of anyone being the butt of a joke, it becomes something more magical. Where do you think these children will go with these new, invisible wings?
I like to think they would soar over the sea in search of the octopus to avenge Captain Blake! Or perhaps they could fly back in time to save him and bring him home to his wife, and then go in search of the son. The main thing is that with the wings, real or not, they have the courage to believe in themselves, to believe that they can go anywhere they want in life.