Two Questions for Rebecca Orchard

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.
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Two Questions for Lior Torenberg

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.

Two questions for Pat Foran

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.

Two Questions for E. Kristin Anderson

We recently published E. Kristin Anderson’s clever “Ted Cruz Injures His Hand at a Party at the Governor’s Mansion.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This story is part of a series on Ted Cruz — what made you pick him in particular for these pieces?
I’m trying very hard to remember exactly where this came from but all of my best and also weirdest ideas happen somewhere between 1am and 4am and I don’t know why this project happened but I did find this text to myself from last summer in which I decided I was going to write this project last summer and planned on pitching it to Nicci Mechler at Porkbelly Press (she published my Prince chap in 2015). I’ve since joined the Porkbelly Press staff so I never did pitch Nicci. But I have since written fifteen or so of these little Cruzies. I have them in a file called SAD TROMBONE FOR TED CRUZ. I think his is my way of coping with the fact that this guy not only exists but purportedly represents my interests in the United States Senate. So maybe if I can give him a very fictional bad day, maybe it will help. Sometimes I tweet him, just to be like hey, what’s up Ted, EKA here, what the actual fuck are you doing? But in the case of Cruz, probably writing fiction is more productive. Though there have been two unfortunate side effects.1: Twitter keeps suggesting that I follow Sean Hannity and Paul Ryan and really nobody needs that shit. 2: All of my writer friends—in and outside of Texas—have begun to associate me with Ted Cruz and I’m not entirely sure how to feel about this. Mostly I feel weird, I guess. Still, I have a list going of more Cruzies to write. It’s a thing now. You’re welcome, Democracy.

2) You manage the great trick of making the character relatable, yet detestable. How hard is it to pull off that balancing act, to make someone so hated/hateful come across as sympathetic?

I feel like what makes this work is how the Ted Cruz that you see on TV is very much all there is to Ted Cruz. Like I sort of assumed that this was true, but after a couple of these pieces hit the web, I learned that a friend of a friend of a friend apparently was his college room mate and was like yeah the dude is really that weird and evil. So I think the actual absurdity of Ted Cruz’ personality and beliefs and actions feed right into what makes the mundane bullshit that I’m writing somehow entertaining. Like I never wrote the Stevie Nicks piece from the original text I sent myself. I ended up writing about him being in a feud with a possum and tripping over his kid’s science project and having gross, wet socks after stepping in a huge puddle because it’s so plausible. And enjoyable. I should say that the last thing I want is to humanize Ted Cruz. He’s a 100% revolting human being who is too gross for even Satan to claim. He has an actual history of DOING MIME! That is real! I didn’t make that up! And former Speaker of the House and purported nice guy John Boehner—yes, a republican—once said, “I have never worked with a more miserable son of a bitch in my life.” So basically Teddy is so incredibly unlikeable and ridiculous that the only way to make him interesting is to give readers a reason to maybe feel bad for him. But not that bad. That pity/schadenfreude balance only works because the human filth vortex that is my junior senator is next-level uncharming. So for me, having him be a completely insecure menace to his own personal wellbeing is more interesting and believable than the Stevie Nicks thing. Anyway, I know way too many things about Ted Cruz now, even for a constituent. Like he’s a Sagittarius. And as a Sag myself, I really need to know his time of birth so I can do his full chart. For democracy. Or art. Whichever.

Two questions for Timothy Boudreau

We recently published Timothy Boudreau’s stark and lovely “Grandma Told Us Her Happiest Day Was When they Bought the Satellite Dish.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story.

1) I love the relationships shared in these small snapshots here, how much is left for the reader to fill in. Did you ever have a longer version of this with more information, or was it always intentionally these tiny moments?

It was always composed of tiny moments.  I wrote the original version for a Kathy Fish workshop.  I think the assignment’s word count limit was 150 words, and my first draft was probably 250-300, made up of brief sections.  For the assignment I sweated this down to 150.  When I came back to it a month or so later, I resurrected some of the words I’d cut, as well as adding new material.  I’m drawn to shorter forms at least partly because I tend to write in small units, a couple of paragraphs at a time, afterward stitching the pieces together to make a whole.  With a story like this, rather than expand and connect the fragments, I condense them, the goal being to present only the most concentrated and vital sections.  And then as you point out to let the reader fill in the gaps.

2) I can picture that satellite dish taking up half the hillside, such a great metaphor. Do you suppose it is still there?

I do believe it’s still there, though I haven’t been up that way for a while.  But the last time I drove by, it was there on the hill, with grass grown up around it.  The house itself was empty, and has been off and on for years.

Two questions for Liz Wride

We recently published Liz Wride’s innovative “Painted.”
Here, we ask her two questions about her story:
1) What I love about this piece is the theories on the passage of this oddball law. Do you suppose anyone will ever know the real reason?
Nobody will ever know the reason. We live in a world where governments seem to make such strange decisions, that make things so difficult for people in their respective countries – I wanted to sort of capture that – the lawlessness, the strangeness, of law.
2) I think the ending can be interpreted in a couple of ways — either it is sad: everyone’s individuality disappears, or it is happy: everyone is equal now. Does it spoil things if you share your feelings on the ending?
For me, the ending is both happy and sad: everyone’s individuality disappears; everyone is equal now. Some people in the story may welcome being part of the faceless mass – but I like to think that the artists in the story feel pretty sad about it.

Two Questions for Clio Velentza

We recently published Clio Velentza’s glorious Anatomical Venus Girl. Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) There is so much happening in this small moment; the piece is heavy with detail. Knowing you’ve been working in longer form recently, is it very hard to pack so much in to such a tiny space?

It’s an entirely different experience. While on longer form I try to keep my mind on several threads at a time, with flash I have the sensation of handling a single thread, which I’m struggling to spool as tightly and neatly as possible. It can be a tactile difference: sharp as opposed to smooth, narrow as opposed to wide. Flash always carries at least a hint of claustrophobia, the feeling of entering a small room, turning around and then seeing the door closing behind you. Perhaps it’s the simple mechanics of reading something short: it makes us hold our breath. And then you have long form which is a series of long dives, of learning to strengthen your lungs to make it a little bit further each time. But after all they’re both a kind of gasping for air.

 

2) At the end, the girl (consciously or unconsciously) tugs her hair down in imitation of the doll’s. This connection is deeply important to her — have you felt such a connection yourself?

(In October 2012, on an unexpected solo trip to London where I had no plans and no desire to spend any more time than necessary at my packed hostel, I found myself at Tate Britain which was hosting an exhibition on the Pre-Raphaelites. The following is an excerpt from my travel diary at the time.)

I had the chance to pause and take my time in front of many pieces of art I already loved, and discover some new ones. In particular The Stonebreaker, by which artist I can’t recall. [oil painting by Henry Wallis] I couldn’t tear myself away from it – and when I had seen everything else, I returned to it. It depicted a man seeming to rest against the rock, dressed in rags and sitting on a pile of stones. You only realize that he’s dead when you notice that a stoat, hard to make out right away, has climbed onto the man’s leg.

His hammer has slipped from his hands which still form a lax grip, and it evokes in you a deep shame the way he couldn’t escape laboring even in death. One of his legs is outstretched, the other bent, his head lolls forward gently and his dark, blurry profile is almost attractive, his mouth is half open as if in sleep. The entirety of him is swallowed by the darkness of the foreground, as the rock against which he leans obscures the evening light, which is brightly reflected in the background by a body of water. The piece radiates calm and pain at the same time, it draws you in, makes you want to lift the face of the unlucky man, to ease his body on soft soil, to cross his arms and straighten his legs and put something light over his head, it distresses you that you couldn’t be of help or offer some posthumous relief.

People passed by the painting quickly, since it didn’t offer the vivid colors and opulent shapes of the others surrounding it. Some paused by me, read the label and stared at it until they discovered the obscured stoat, then they smiled with satisfaction and walked away. I stayed in front of it until my eyes had filled up and I had to press my mouth to keep them from spilling. A lady glanced at me curiously. With effort I drew myself away and headed to the exit. I kept my eyes lowered, not wanting any other image to linger last in my memory.

Two questions for Hannah Gordon

We recently published Hannah Gordon’s gutting “Something Hungry and Bloody-Jawed.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I remember in school there’d be fights: “meet me by the flagpole,” they’d say, and give their future combatant a shove. Is this fighting against someone or more to prove something?
It’s so funny how memory works. I have a strong memory of hearing that some older guys at my high school would fight each other in the far parking lot. I never went to a fight, so I’m not sure if they actually did fight each other, or if it was more of a myth at my school. That’s what inspired me to write this story. The why is crucial: why are they fighting their friends? Why are they fighting period? I’d imagine the answer is different for each individual involved. In this story, I don’t think any of the friends are mad at one another. I don’t think it’s that simple.
For the narrator of this story, she wants to prove she’s tough enough, and she wants to win the approval of this group that she’s always felt on the periphery of. She’s curious, too. She wants to know what they’re feeling. She wants to experience the adrenaline and absurdity of it.
For the other characters, I imagine rage, sadness, frustration, and heartache play into their motives. It’s tough being a teenager; it really is. I think teens are often laughed at for their emotions or, worse, belittled for it. But they experience life – all its beauty and cruelty – just like everyone else.
2) And of course, these fights would always gather quite a crowd — the narrator is a girl who wants to join in. Are there other girls watching or is it just her and the boys?
There are definitely other girls in attendance. Maybe some of them want to fight, too.

Two questions for Eilise Norris

We recently published Eilise Norris’s beautiful “Even With Glue.”

Here we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I see this as a bit of a love story — well, two, actually: between the narrator and Rachel, and the narrator and Sindy. Do you see a love story here too?
Yes, I do! That love where you want to be as close as you can to someone, the person they cling to. The narrator has this Best Friend ideal in her mind, which is kind of built-in for a Barbie. I think anyone growing up can feel that same drive to latch onto a best friend and be practically glued together. The narrator doesn’t have that with Rachel, but Sindy could be a match.
2) The narrator is very upbeat and chipper, a personality type that drives me nuts in real life, but I find charming here. How did you find such a perfect voice for this character?
Thank you so much! Terrifically chipper can get on my nerves as well, but I loved writing this character because it was so different for me.
I started writing this story during Kathy Fish’s FastFlash Reunion, thinking of the Aqua song “Barbie Girl” – the less sung, the better. The Barbie in that song is as one-dimensional as carpet, but I imagined her trying to keep up her sunny world view and please everyone. The effort involved has to be immense. When I wrote the character’s voice, I think that effort filtered through the chipperness and made her someone I could relate to. She’s sweet and upbeat but not exactly carefree.

Two Questions for Chloe N. Clark

We recently published Chloe N. Clark’s gorgeous “Other Skins.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story.

 

1) That dismissive moment with the doctor is so small and so accurate — is that an experience you’ve had yourself, that moment where the doctor thinks they know more about your body than you do?

I’ve spent a lot of times in hospitals and at doctor’s offices, throughout my life, and I can say that those kind of moments are far too often. I actually have a lot of ideas about how doctors should need to take specialized communication courses and what those would look like (because as a teacher, my teaching mind never sleeps). For people who question whether doctor’s dismissive attitudes, especially towards women-identifying and nonbinary people, are that prevalent — they should check out Doing Harm by Maya Dusenbery.

2) Your voice as a poet always seeps into your fiction, creating these lovely melodic lines and imagery. How does your fiction writing inform your poetry?

First thank you for that compliment 🙂 Second, I often get called a prose-y poet–so I think it seeps in there a lot. I like simple language in poetry and a clear sense of plot–abstraction has never worked for my brain. So I think poetry and fiction for me are often just different spectrums on the same wavelength.