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. 

Making Fire ~ by Christina Kapp

We are learning to make fire but we aren’t very good at it. It’s not even a Survivor-type fire with the sticks and stones and rubbing things together. The counselor gave us matches, but the wind keeps chugging at us and the matches flare but won’t hang onto a flame. I can see Michael out in the trees, smoking. He has a lighter, but he’s not supposed to. That’s not the assignment. He should get in trouble, but he won’t. He’ll keep standing just far enough away that it would be a nuisance for the counselor to go get him, and the wind snatches away any attempt to call him back. He’s not close enough for me to tell, but it’s safe to assume anything Michael is doing must be at least vaguely illegal. Otherwise, why would he bother? He eats hash brownies, he gives his friends “prison” tattoos with a ballpoint pen and a Swiss army knife, he claims to have fucked his biology teacher at school. He stole three Kit Kats from the 7-Eleven where the bus stopped for gas on the way here. Nobody cares. Even our counselor seems to accept his need to do things that are bad.

 

Once we make the fire, we are going to have to forage for something to eat. This might be why we’re so bad at making the fire. Fire-making is preferable to foraging. Plus, Michael and his friends ate the Kit Kats so they aren’t hungry. I still try, though. The counselor says if we run out of matches we’ll have to do things the old-fashioned way, which I think might mean we’ll have to die. This might be okay if I also don’t have any friends and I don’t have any food and I don’t have any fire. It’s getting cold.

 

This trip is just a long weekend. The upside is we get a day off of school, and most of the kids are here so nature might teach them some sense of responsibility, but I don’t have the luxury of saying my parents forced me. They didn’t. I needed something to do other than sit in my room and stare at the things my friends are doing on Instagram that I haven’t been invited to. I take a photo of my little pile of sticks and leaves on my phone. I add a filter, so it looks sort of artsy. I upload it to Instagram, #nature #survival #fire but I close the app before I hit share. In the woods where Michael is I hear laughter, someone falls down.

 

I had planned go to Australia next summer. I still might, you know. My parents could give it to me as an early graduation gift. I could write my college essay about it. When I was in ninth grade this girl Ruth went to Australia on a youth trip. She talked about it for an entire year. It was all Great Barrier Reef, surfing, and kangaroos. This mate did this and that mate did that. The whole thing was truly sickening, but I envied her. It was like she’d been given a free pass to a whole life. She could say anything she wanted. How would we ever know if it was true?

 

I strike the last match. I don’t believe in God because the stars don’t seem that cool, even out here in the woods. They’re not as cool as the picture of the Christmas lights Hannah strung up around her room, all glowy with their 1,472 likes. I lean over and take a picture of the saggy tent, making sure I get Michael in the background. This might not be Australia, but when this thing is over I can say I climbed a mountain, I can say I waded across a river with a thirty pound pack that tried to drown me. I can say I met a guy who was a criminal. I can say he let me drink his vodka and he kissed me and called me a fire slut when I asked to borrow his lighter.

 

But I probably won’t do that. But I will tell them that I learned to make fire, because how will they know the difference?

***

Christina Kapp teaches at the Writers Circle Workshops in New Jersey and her work has appeared in Passages North, Hobart, Forge Literary Magazine, The MacGuffin, PANK, Pithead Chapel and elsewhere. Her fiction has been nominated for Best of the Net awards and a Pushcart Prize. She welcomes you to follow her on Twitter @ChristinaKapp and visit her website: www.christinakapp.com.

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.

POW, POW ~ by Ellen Rhudy

She says she once shot a thief, right in the hand, on the beach in Florida.

Where the thief came from, how she caught him, why she had a gun on the beach? Where he stored his stolen treasures, tied to the drawstrings of his shorts or tucked beneath one arm? Where the police were in this scenario, a man spurting blood as he rushed the white-tipped waves? At a certain point, maybe too late, you realize that asking questions only closes the story, and you return to this photo: striped bikini, hand on hip, sand sprawling into the water, smile wide enough it cracks her cheeks, everything gray gray gray—except her lips, painted red, and her eyes, painted blue though brown in truth. Spinning like she’s in a cowboy movie just after the shutter clicks, eyes narrowed against the sun, gun raised in right hand. Pow, pow, pow, clouds of smoke and sand erupting, screams flush with joy—and there’s the story, yes: the one true story, the only one you need her to tell, the one you will tell for her, laughing, when she’s no longer there to tell it herself.

***

Ellen Rhudy’s fiction has appeared in journals including Story, Split Lip, Cream City Review, Okay Donkey, and Pithead Chapel. Her story “A Writer’s Guide to Fairy Tales,” first published by Milk Candy Review, is a Spotlighted Story in Best Small Fictions 2020. She lives in Columbus, where she recently began working toward her MFA at The Ohio State University. You can find her at ellenrhudy.com, or on twitter @EllenRhudy.

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.

Road Runners ~ by Kathryn Kulpa

We made up our minds to try all the flavors of Slurpees, even the ones that sounded gross: hot blue Margarita, coffee-banana jolt. Life is boring but we’re not, is what we told everybody, flashing our toe rings and our Slurpee-colored hair, and when Todd Paquette dared us to take off our tops we said we would, told him to meet us at the shut-down skate park, and flashed him our painted chests: FUCK, said yours, the U teasingly cradling your nipple; YOU, said mine, our t-shirts held to the sky across the cracked and empty cement bowl, red letters big enough for his watching friends to see. We stayed long enough to see his jaw drop, linked arms, raised middle fingers, ran home with all their too-late slams following us like wind, skanks, lezzies, hos, nothing could catch us, not even the news next morning, Todd with his father’s gun, we heard that and kept running: whatever he’d tried to prove to them and failed, the crushed look in his eyes when our shirts came up, what he felt when we were gone and his friends hurled their words at him instead of us: none of it would find us if we just kept running.

***

Kathryn Kulpa is an editor at Cleaver Magazine and has work published or forthcoming in Best Microfiction 2020, Atlas & Alice, X–R-A-Y Literary Magazine, and Women’s Studies Quarterly. She was the winner of the Vella Chapbook Contest for her flash fiction collection Girls on Film and a finalist in the 2020 Digging Press Chapbook Competition.

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.

The Thinnest of Veneers ~ by T.L. Sherwood

There was a double rainbow. I called to tell you to look out your window, to share, to bear witness, but it went to voicemail and even if you had checked your messages right then, you still might have missed it. You never check your messages, so I don’t leave any. I delete details of when you call me back. I’m sure you do the same. In a million years, a decade, ten minutes from now there will be no known connection between us, no trace, no artifacts left to probe for meaning. Passion dissolves, love disappears. We’re stardust. As flimsy as the colored air.

***

T. L. Sherwood’s work has appeared in New World Writing, Jellyfish Review, Page & Spine, and The Dead Mule School of Southern Literature. She often dreams of birds trapped in rainbows, lives in Springville, New York, blogs at https://tlsherwood.com, and is currently working on a novel.

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?

Last Tree Standing ~ by Hun Ohm

It had been many years since she last returned. By then there were no family or friends left in town to greet her. One by one they had all exited – this one from divorce, that one from disease, and still others who had simply headed down the main street, around the bend and into the fog.

It was this same fog that she walked through from the bus station to the edge of town. She crossed the freight tracks and stone bridge, then turned south down the dusty road bordering the family land. In the opaque air it seemed nothing had changed, even now after her father’s demise. The land rolled with unmown hay, the fence posts stood sentry, awaiting mending. But as she drew nearer the homestead the fog thinned, and she saw there were no more trees left in the yard except one. Jagged stumps betrayed the wild swings of his drunken rages, timber poorly bartered when the crops failed again, and again.

Only the weeping cherry remained. The tree beckoned her to shelter beneath its outstretched arms anew, and to see his last words in the hatchet half buried in its trunk. She wiggled this back and forth until the blade dislodged, and the leaves rustled in relief. Above the fresh notch, the weathered bark bore witness to her childhood carvings. She traced her fingertips along the shapes and figures she had first conjured in the old shed to which her father was prone to banish her. For unfinished chores, or untimely manners, or no misdeed at all when fever took her mother and he wished to despair with drink unmolested. The shed still stood behind the tree, bare before the horizon. She unlatched its door, and peered inside.

There were his rusted tools hanging on the wall. There was the damp smell of earth and cobwebs, the same cracks between the planks that would tease of an outside that was forbidden. There had been the silence as well, save her shallow breaths and whispered pleas, the vise gripping her chest while daylight slowly smudged away until the unseen night things rubbed their eyes, began to stir, and she knew he had forgotten to retrieve her again. How she yearned to open the door right then, or to hack it into a million pieces. Not to creep back into the house, no, but so that she might slumber beneath the weeping cherry like a wayward sprite in the olden times, with branches canopied above her and the world pitch black despite a bejeweled sky promised in the just beyond. She asked once more for the intoxicating blossoms to cast the spell for sound infant sleep, notwithstanding the miles she might someday travel to leave that place or return, with her thin limbs curled and her tiny fists clenched, an axe head cradled against her chin.

***

Hun Ohm is a writer and intellectual property attorney. He lives in western Massachusetts. His fiction has appeared in New Flash Fiction Review, JMWW, Bull, Necessary Fiction, The Citron Review, Literary Orphans and other publications.