Two Questions for Annika Barranti Klein

We recently published Annika Barranti Klein’s cyclical “Anaphora (Ten Ways to Greet a Time Traveler).”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) So a time traveler goes back to the past to take the great philosopher Plato on an adventure. It sounds like the beginning of a bad joke, but omigosh, it is just a great time travel story! What made you choose Plato as the protagonist for this piece?

This story has a funny origin: I was going through my drafts and found an unnamed file with a single sentence written: “Plato was not terribly surprised when the time traveler arrived.” I knew I had written it, but I had absolutely no clue what I was planning to DO with it. I thought it would make a great writing prompt—you know, “Write a story to go with this opening line.” I don’t teach a creative writing class, so I thought, well, I guess I have to do it myself. So I wrote ten microfictions that start with that line. I knew it was absurd for Plato to be the main character, but I just leaned into the absurdity and made Socrates a character as well (which allowed me to subtly reference both Bill & Ted and Operation Ivy).



2) One of my favorite moments in this piece is where Plato says all the time travelers look the same to him. It’s so funny, but it’s also a little worrisome — up until this point, I had assumed it was the same time traveler visiting from different time planes or even different parts of their own future, but what if Plato is just being visited by multitudes of time travelers? It would be like having guests just show up at your door uninvited all the time! Which do you think it is — the one time traveler from different realities? Or a whole bunch of different folks?

Because of the way I wrote the story, it started out being ten different possible ways it might go, ten versions of one possible story. But in my heart, even though they’re all different, there is a through line. Maybe it’s ten different time travelers from ten realities, but it’s ten different versions of Plato, too. Maybe it’s all the same time traveler and the same Plato, but sometimes they remember and sometimes they don’t. Or maybe it’s all different time travelers and poor Plato is Coleridge, forever being interrupted by persons from Porlock. I think the reader should probably decide what they want it to be, because there isn’t a wrong answer. 

Two Questions for Anthony Varallo

We recently published Anthony Varallo’s dreamy “Cruise.”
Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) Cruises, for me, seem like such a nightmare of a vacation — trapped on a boat with a bunch of strangers, unable to escape. But some people like that sort of thing! I love how you take that nightmarish quality and mix it with the “this is a great time” kind of feeling some folks have. How did you find that balance between nightmare and dream come true?

I’ve been on several cruises, each time with mixed feelings, since, like you, cruises seem to me more like a nightmare than a vacation (why go on a cruise when you could choose to do practically anything else?)  But we have kids, and our kids like the cruises, and we tend to like the things our kids like, so off we go, to sail the seas from Miami to Mexico with a ship full of strangers.  It’s actually fun (sort of), but the experience is more about what you bring to it than what it actually is, like so many things in life, I guess.  At the very least, you can eat twenty ice cream cones a day without anyone seeming to notice.  I tried to remember those ice cream cones as I wrote “Cruise,” all of my mixed feelings notwithstanding.

2) That moment at the end is so great, when an identical cruise ship appears on the horizon. It really plays to the dream quality of this piece, as well as the kind of “every person” feel that the reader is given. So! Do you think this ocean is filled with identical cruise ships, one going past the other, over and over? Or is it just these two?

Wow, I really like your idea about an ocean filled with identical cruise ships, one going past the other forever.  That sounds good to me.  That’s the way it felt whenever I’d look out across the ocean, thinking, “We’re all alone out here at sea!” and then I would glimpse a cruise ship on the horizon and realize they must all be traveling the same route, like planes following a landing pattern.  But I’m going with your idea.  Just two cruise ships would be sort of sad and lonely.  Let the oceans swell with identical cruise ships, I say!

Two Questions for M.J. Iuppa

We recently published M.J. Iuppa’s stunning micro, “White Noise.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I love how you take a small moment like this and make it into something so large — the reader feels a whole history in 100 words here! When you write a piece like this, do you imagine an entire backstory for the character too? Or is what’s on the page all you know about them?

In “White Noise” the character’s internal conflict (life vs death) is revealed in the stasis of winter. All those layered sound and touch images build in a forward motion towards a bubble of change that may or may not come. However, it’s the character’s heart— her will to hear her own heartbeat in the darkness of winter that makes the white noise a comfort rather than its maddening buzz. Not always, but often, I write fiction from my own life experience.  I live on a postage stamp farm, in a farmhouse built in 1860’s. I have been undergoing health challenges since 2018. There is isolation in cancer, which has been compounded by Covid-19. How to handle the isolation is where my fictional character instructs me, imagining her future in the story’s present.

2) The imagery is so powerful here; I love how you make us feel the cold that the narrator feels. Is this kind of cold an experience you’re familiar with yourself?

Describing the cold as an extended metaphor for illness and isolation comes to me organically.  I have lived in Western New York, where we’re sandwiched between the weather of two Great Lakes (Ontario and Erie); so, cold and snow are elements that I know inside and out.  Consequently, I began with the sound of the furnace (e.g., heart of house) kicking on, in hopes of driving out the cold in the farmhouse. The metaphor is extended through participles (verbs in motion): kicking, making, raising, thinking, shushing. I do like the way that shushing of snow circles back to the furnace kicking on.

Typically (not always, but mostly) first lines and last lines of stories have what I call a bracelet effect; that is to say that the first line launches the story, and like dominoes all the middle lines fall naturally into place; and then, the last line reaches back to the start, making its connection in the story’s revelation. Consequently, the imagery used in the extended metaphor gains power as the story unfolds.  The challenge is to make readers feel, know the experience, too.

Two Questions for Jo Withers

We recently published Jo Wither’s gorgeous “Medusa’s Bridesmaids.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) I have a weakness for mythology, and I love your take on Medusa here — how much her friends love her, how they are wounded, too, by her pain, how they want to create this perfect day for her. Where did this idea of a wedding for Medusa come from?

I too have always had a fascination with mythology and I have wanted to write a story about Medusa for some time, but I could never find the right angle. Medusa is such a tragic figure, young and beautiful before Poiseidon’s seduction then altered to a hideous monster by the jealous Athena. I felt enraged by her treatment and the fact that Poseidon’s forceful ‘seduction’ goes unpunished but I also wanted to look deeper into Medusa’s background. A young, kind-hearted girl like her would surely have formed fierce friendships before her transformation. This sparked the idea of a strong sisterhood of friends who only see purity and tenderness in her. This unwavering circle give Medusa the strength to carry on, believe in herself and find the love she deserves. The wedding day is a celebration of their childhood love for each other as they watch Medusa move forward into a happier phase of life.


2) I have always thought that moment of transformation must have been so horrible for her, and the powerful way you describe it here is so perfect! So this question is a tough one! Why do you suppose the gods are so cruel?

I think the Gods are cruel because they are not accountable to anyone and have terrible emotional maturity – their knee-jerk reaction to any problem is to devastate and destroy. While humans in society have learnt through thousands of years of cause and effect and hopefully hold great empathy towards each other, the Gods impulsively react from a mindset of untethered rage and fear with no consequences. When Athena becomes aware of her beautiful young love rival, she seeks to punish her in a way which will ensure no man ever wants her again. With this action Athena steals more than her beauty, she takes Medusa’s humanity, changing her into a half-beast. In ‘Medusa’s Bridesmaids’ her continued compassion and connection to her fellow humans is what saves her. As humans, we may not have the Gods’ omnipotence or immortality but we have nurturing love and deep, trusting friendships that the reckless, shallow-hearted Gods can never experience.

Two Questions for Quinn Forlini

We recently published Quinn Forlini’s aching “Catalog of Small Things.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1) This is such a painful situation for the narrator — my heart was breaking for her! And I love all the little details that make everything feel so real: the nurse with her blushing cheeks, the things the mother finds around the house. Were there details you left out from this final version of the story that might have appeared in an earlier draft? Or were these small pieces always the things you had in mind?

I wrote the beginning of this story about six years ago, and abandoned it. Then, about a year ago, I had what seemed like a new approach for the story and wrote the first two paragraphs, then abandoned it again. I later found that first draft buried on my computer, and was shocked to find that the two versions were nearly identical to one another–almost word for word, written five years apart. That was when I knew I had to finish the story. Most of those details appeared in the original version, and somehow stayed intact in my subconscious. I’m attracted to small things myself, so I tried to push that appeal to obsession for the things the mother finds around the house. Some of the things are beautiful, but some of the things are trash–how do we know when to draw the line of what to preserve and what to throw away? 


2) Nothing in this story is given a name, and one of the sharpest moments for me is when you say: ” The baby was also a she, but everyone called it the baby.” Do you think if they had called the baby something else, by a given name, perhaps, the mother might have felt more of a connection there?
I think the lack of connection that the mother feels towards her baby is deeper than the absence of a name, although maybe she is further distancing from the baby by not using a name. Names make things feel more real, and the mother is trying hard to obscure her reality. She is in denial. “The baby” feels safer to her. Maybe a name would have forced her to break out of that denial a bit, but I think there are a lot of layers there. I actually did give the baby a name in an earlier version, and it felt very unnatural. It didn’t feel true to the mother’s perspective. The lack of a name might be more of a symptom than a cause. 

Two Questions for Christina Kapp

We recently published Christina Kapp’s nostalgic “Making Fire.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

1)    What I love about this narrator is that her voice is so authentic. That moment where she is considering selling a big lie to her classmates, but decides she will go with a smaller one, “because how will they know the difference?” is just so great! Was this narrator a character that came to you fully developed, or did you have to search for her and her voice?

This narrator’s voice always felt clear to me. She’s a little bit me, a little bit me projecting myself onto my daughters, and a little bit of the teenage girls that circulate in the periphery of my world. Not that any of what the narrator feels is new. I think the basic desire to have that which is just out of reach is fairly universal and always has been. We have so many windows into other people’s lives, but in each of them the view is so narrow. The public posturing we see, the gossip we hear, the social media we monitor, the unfulfilled desires we project. Even though on one level we always understand that a lot of the “self” everyone puts out into the world has always been at least part fabrication, in our more social media-driven life there’s a lot more urgency to the sense that you need to build something palatable. The funny thing is that the tension between what’s actually real and what’s plausibly real after the fact doesn’t just convince others, but often is what we need to convince ourselves. Maybe that’s the point. Anyway, the narrator’s desire for the real thing but her sense that some kind of facsimile of it will do well enough speaks to me.  

2)    The Michael character is another great creation — he’s the perfect boy to draw the interest of this narrator in this situation. I know this is a reach, but what do you think his future has in store for him?

Ah, Michael. I think I need to back up a bit to explain Michael. 

I first wrote a version of this story about ten years ago. It was much, much too long, had too many characters and confused everyone, including me. In that version, Michael shows up to a group of friends’ camping trip at the last minute, takes nothing seriously, and completely messes with the narrator the whole time. They get blisters, get lost, and drink a lot of tequila. Michael pees on things, makes out with one of the other girls, and sets stuff on fire. There were things I loved about that version of the story, but I couldn’t sort out what the story was actually about eventually abandoned it. 

Then this past summer I stumbled across Jami Attenberg’s #1000wordsofsummer hashtag/mailing list on Twitter and decided to do it. For prompts, I used abandoned or unfinished story ideas. (I seem to have a never-ending supply of these.) It was such an amazing project! I didn’t go back to look at any of the old versions, I just used whatever still lingered in my mind about them. All that was left of this one was the narrator and Michael, so they drive the story and I love it so much more.  

But your question: What does the future have in store for Michael? Eh, he’ll be fine. He’s a rebel and a pain in the ass, but guys like him live with certain guard rails that make sure when they stumble they never fall off a cliff. No one ever challenges him and everyone is a little bit attracted to him in one way or another. He’s not stupid, and while he might not own it out loud, on some level he knows that this kind of masculine aura is not only permissible, but protective in a lot of ways. 

Two Questions for Ellen Rhudy

We recently published Ellen Rhudy’s gorgeous “Pow, Pow.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) I think of this as being a story between a mother and daughter, some grand tale that has grown throughout the narrator’s childhood — but, really, the story never tells us for sure who the characters are. Did you have a specific pair in mind when you wrote this piece?

I did! This piece is probably as close to creative non-fiction as I’ve ever gotten, a reimagining of a story told by my grandmother, Aunt Pud. I pictured this story being recounted through the generations, either by a daughter or granddaughter. I wanted to look at that idea (to steal your phrasing) of a “grand tale that has grown throughout the narrator’s childhood,” and how as the narrator ages it might shift from “grand tale” to “eye rolling” and then back into a wild story to hold onto.



2) I love that line “everything gray gray gray,” and the contrast of the photo’s colors vs. the colors of real life. Pictures can lie, the way people can, but it seems like this picture and this story tell more truth by being a lie. Do you think that the narrator will expand upon this story themself as they tell it later? Make its truth their own?

Yes, I think so — and I’m so glad you brought up that idea of there being more truth in the lie, which was the idea that I held as I wrote this piece. Whether there’s any truth in the original story itself, there is so much to learn about this woman through the stories she’s told, and how her stories are then remade by the narrator and other members of the family. I like to think of the narrator retelling this story, and maybe continuing to build on its exaggerations, until it is fully secure as part of the family lore — until everyone who looks at the photo of this woman on the beach sees not just the photo, but also her stories.

Two Questions for Kathryn Kulpa

We recently published Kathryn Kulpa’s powerful “Road Runners.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) The characters in this story are so vivid, so real — even in this small space! I love the detail about trying all the Slurpee favors; it gives them so much character. Did you have an image of these girls in mind when you set pen to page?

These girls came to life the minute I started writing. They took shape in motion, on the run. It’s hard to say exactly how I picture them visually, because they change their look all the time, trying on different versions of who they could be. Clothes, hair—they try everything, like the Slurpees. I see them as the kind of best friends where people call them “the twins” or ask if they’re sisters; they don’t actually look alike, but they feel alike. The kind of best friend you can only have when you’re that young, and friends are everything. It’s like the tree falling in the forest with no one to hear it: your friends are your forest. They hear you. They witness. And when you’re with them you can do anything and not be afraid.

 

2) There’s a dark note here, with Todd and his gun, which could be read in a couple of different ways. This part of the story speaks to a kind of toxic masculinity that the girls, despite their friendship and power and running, still will have to face. Or will they?

Todd took the story into a darker place, for sure. At first it was fun—he thinks he’s going to trick them into taking off their tops while his buddies hide and take pictures, but they’re actually pranking him—but the more I thought about Todd the sorrier I felt. As much as he tries to victimize them, he’s even more a victim of toxic masculinity and its expectations, and when he can’t prove his manhood with the girls he turns to the gun. That darkness is sunk so deeply into our culture that it’s something we all have to face. I don’t think any of us can outrun it. But you can refuse to be defeated by it, and that’s the way I like to think of these girls—still running.

Two Questions for T.L. Sherwood

We recently published T. L. Sherwood’s heartfelt “The Thinnest of Veneers.”

Here, we ask her two questions about her story:

 

1) One of the things I love about this story is that we know so much about this relationship just from the small bit of detail you have given us, how ephemeral it is, how fleeting, how secret. Do you think there is any chance of a connection for them that is more lasting?

Thank you for the lovely compliment – and these questions. More lasting? I would like to think so. I’m a sucker for happily ever after endings, even if they take a long time to pan out. If whatever arrangement they have now doesn’t last, one of them could certainly use the love to spawn a short story. Or a novel. Maybe a painting or a building. I think that’s the thing about love, it spreads out in unexpected ways.  

 

2) I like that the narrator’s instinct is to call this person when they see the double rainbow — it’s such a real and human moment, to want to share something special like that with someone you love. Do you think the other person saw this double rainbow, too, and thought of the narrator? Or is this moment for the narrator alone?

I really don’t know if they also saw it, but I’ll guess no. The other person is not there so maybe they are at work or the dentist’s office and wouldn’t be able to see the sky. When I wrote this as a response to a Kim Chinquee prompt, what originally came to mind was my neighbor Lisa across the street. She called to tell me about a rainbow in our backyard. It was a vibrant arc against a yellowing sky. I didn’t know Lisa well then and now I never will. She divorced the man who still lives in that house, then she got cancer and passed away. I think of her kindness that day whenever I see a rainbow in my backyard (and that divorce is rotten, and cancer is evil) and how it has lived on for so long inside of me. I don’t think the moment or the event was only for the narrator — if so, they wouldn’t have thought to tell someone else. Double rainbows are uncommon, but love and the desire to share beauty with those you care about is not, which is the great thing about being human, especially in these politically polarized Covid times.

Two Questions for Hun Ohm

We recently published Hun Ohm’s lush “Last Tree Standing.”

Here, we ask him two questions about his story:

1) I love how your work focuses on memory, the then vs. the now, how things have changed, how they haven’t, and how we remember them. In this story, we have a physical return to a place of memory — do you think things here are the way the narrator has remembered them?
Yes and no. As you’ve alluded to, memories can be curious creatures, the way they fade or sharpen, shift into so many shapes; on the other hand, physical places can be the very opposite – objective and familiar, largely unchanging. Or is it the reverse? Sometimes it’s hard to say. How do visits to old haunts release existing memories, or mold them? And how do our memories disturb the story embedded within a place, and lead to new tales far beyond the surface? This is a constant puzzle whose solution changes each time I look at it.
2) That ending image is such a powerful one and gives the reader a kind of unexpected moment: that in the narrator’s harsh childhood, there was this place of beauty and comfort that still remains. Do you think she can still find some peace there? Or is that peace only a lost part of her childhood?
I would like to imagine there is some place of peace to which she can return, one imbued with the unfiltered wonder and imagination of childhood that is not yet adulterated by decades of living. But at the same time, this child’s peace developed against a backdrop of adult shortcomings, rage and despondence, and to reach that place again, she has to once more experience those misguided cruelties and casual neglect. Departures and returns are on a loop, and nothing is completely lost or forgotten. Can there be solace in that?