“A Disorienting Fog of Residual Energy” – A Conversation with Shannon Moore Shepherd

20150723_174708Shannon Moore Shepherd is the author of “Creature Feature: Caligynachtmare: Dread the Beauty,” a fantastically fierce poem from our 7th issue which we nominated for Best of the Net this past September. Shannon is also a musician, a master eavesdropper, a sloppy but intuitive tarot reader, and a fearless insect photographer. She studied Creative Writing at Bradley University and is working on a Gothic homage to her hometown of Peoria, Illinois. In her recent interview with our senior editorial consultant Maria Pinto, Shannon talked about her poetry, as well as feminine beauty, writing voice vs. speaking voice, and the romance of nauseous anticipation…
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MP: First, let’s discuss the title of your stunning, Best of the Net-nominated poem, “Creature Feature: Caligynachtmare: Dread the Beauty” which opened FLAPPERHOUSE #7. How did you know it had to be a three-parter? How dope is Caligynachtmare as a coinage? Did the title come before during or after you wrote the final draft?
SMS: It came after. This poem came, as it says, from very far away. The entity came into focus slowly. I didn’t know what to call her, so I made up a hybrid of caligynyphobia (fear of beautiful women) and Nachtmahr, German for “nightmare.” In folklore, the mare (who came dans nacht) was commonly gendered female and said to ride things. All kinds of things. She was evidently very restless. I wanted her to ride in from across the galaxy, which brought to mind vintage sci-fi. So she gets her own Creature Feature, entitled Dread the Beauty. That’s how the three parter came to be. Really, I just couldn’t bear to choose one or the other.
MP: If the “I” in the poem is loud and clear with its moon-sickness and dark promises, the “you” is wonderfully meek. Where did these two subjects come from?
SMS: So, the “you” is always a little tricky, right? I’ll admit, for me it always starts out a real flesh and blood human with whom I have an ax to grind spiritually or intellectually or romantically but can’t really do so inside my own body. That person or those couple of individuals get dragged off to my poetry den to meet their fate there. But I have to say, this you, in the end, looked more like… well: MRAs to conservative politicians to priests to good-old-boys. The irritating little power struggle I was experiencing with one human at that particular time was suddenly a since-the-beginning-of-time kind of thing.
MP: One way I read this poem is as a corrective to the glossy, static photo of a beautiful woman in a fashion magazine with an arrow pointing to her eyes nose and mouth and notes about what brand of lipstick and foundation and mascara she’s wearing floating around her head. Was it your intention with this piece to re-mystify feminine beauty, to reclaim its dangerous, ineffable properties?
SMS: Yea, it’s really cute how we’ve gotten the hang of making “beautiful women” something benign, tame, palatable, pleasant. Can you imagine asking Hecate to turn her chin just a little to the left? She’d crush your esophagus. Could you imagine the guy sitting next to you on the subway opening an issue of Maxim and finding the true likeness of Lilith staring back at him? He’d stroke out. We all have an inkling that the examples of the feminine we’re given to this day are weak, watered down, incomplete at best. Occult aesthetic is going mainstream so that’s neat and everything, but thousands of years of trying not to be scary, powerful beings so that little boys don’t piss themselves really can’t be remedied by haut witch collections of 2017. This being is manifested directly from male fear. And she’s insanely gorgeous. Blindingly so, if you ask me.

Continue reading “A Disorienting Fog of Residual Energy” – A Conversation with Shannon Moore Shepherd

“Evolution” – Poetry by Francine Witte

evolution-of-man
Human Evolution – Octavio Ocampo

“Evolution” is one of two brilliantly biting poems by Francine Witte in our Winter 2017 issue.

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FIRST, THE APE,
paw-digits poking
at sticks.  Monkeybrain
seemed to want
a fire.

Later, early
man.  Thin coat
of intelligence against
the cold.  Someone stumbled,

flint against rock
and sparkshower tumbled
into the unlanguaged night.

Now, there’s us.
Filthy with fires
and bloated with words.
We are scorched with war
and we say nothing.

Future man
looks back on us
and shivers.

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Continue reading “Evolution” – Poetry by Francine Witte

“Walk With Me Along a Crumbling Cliff…” – A Conversation with Jonathan Wlodarski

img_2555-copyJonathan Wlodarski is the author of “The Cake,” a deliciously disturbing short story from our Winter 2017 issue that we nominated for the Pushcart Prize last month (and is now freely available to read on our site). Our senior editorial consultant Maria Pinto spoke with Jonathan about his fascinatingly twisted tale, as well as first-person plural narration, dystopian fiction, and Fabergé eggs…
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MP: I will never hear the old cliche “a piece of cake” in the same way again. What was the germ of your chilling, Pushcart-nominated story, “The Cake”?
 
JW: The genesis of this piece came from a question–it’s a tradition to eat cake at weddings, so why isn’t there an equivalent for funerals? I scribbled the words “funeral cake” on the margins of another story I was working on and let the idea bubble and simmer for a few months.

MP: The narrator’s “we” takes a subtly sinister turn in the story so that we find ourselves held hostage inside a lonely, claustrophobic perspective. How did you achieve this unique voice? Were there aspects of the writing of this story that you found difficult?

JW: The use of “we” as a narrative perspective was sort of an accident. In my earliest draft, I wavered between a “we” and an “I,” so the narrator was more obviously individual, but in revisions I realized that the collective–or the false collective–was an important aspect of this story. The most challenging part of writing it was reckoning with the ending, when our town has dwindled to one person and our “we” is really just an “I.” I really struggled to express what that person would sound like and there were lots of verbose, grandstanding monologues that got written and cut.

MP: This is how dystopias are often made or exacerbated in the popular imagination–the thing that brings a population together or eases its pain also catalyzes that population’s ruin. The cake starts out as a palliative for death, but ends up wiping out the town. Is there a real-world problem onto which this pattern maps, for you? What is your relationship to dystopian fiction as a genre?

JW: A conceit central to my fiction is concept-as-metaphor, and in this instance, my concept (the cake) is a metaphor for, at its core, addiction. I suspect that’s the undercurrent thrumming at a lot of our popular dystopian fiction: addiction to power, addiction to normalcy/equality/sameness, addiction to obedience/submission. There are more explicit kinds of addiction in dystopias, too–addiction to virtual reality/the internet seems to be one perpetually on our minds–but I think it’s usually way more subtle.

As for my relationship to the genre, I’d say it’s fairly average. I don’t go seeking it, but I’ve read and enjoyed it. My favorite is Lois Lowry’s The Giver, which surprises and frightens me each time I read it.

MP: Do you have an audience in mind when you write?

JW: My hope is always that the audience that reads my writing is, if nothing else, willing to take a walk with me along a crumbling cliff from time to time.

MP: Who comes to your fantasy dinner party of authors and artists, alive and/or dead?

JW: Jasper Fforde; Viola Davis; Judy Garland; Alexander Chee; Aimee Bender; Sor Juana Inés de la Cruz; Alissa Nutting; Sarah Ruhl; Laura van den Berg; Rebecca Makkai; Whitney Houston

MP: What are you reading right now? What books do you come back to over and over again, especially while you’re writing?

JW: I’m reading Alexander Weinstein’s short story collection (Children of the New World) and the March graphic novel trilogy. I have a near-claustrophobic fear of not reading enough, so I rarely read a book more than once, even if I adored it. One exception to that is The Song of Achilles (Madeline Miller), which amazes me for finding new ways to devastate me emotionally each time I read it. It’s a great example of a book that weaves a complex, subtle tapestry of feelings without demanding the reader feel anything.

MP: What’s on the horizon for your work? Who or what can we look forward to encountering in your coming stories?

JW: I’ve been working for about a year and a half on a collection of linked stories about people with made-up diseases (stomach acid turns into mother-of-pearl, man coughs up spiders, etc.)–I’m wrapping up the first draft of the last piece, so after that it will be a constant spiral of revising and submitting. Ghosts have been on my radar for awhile, so I might crank out a ghost story or two. Something that’s been fascinating me for about a year now are Fabergé eggs, as evidenced by my author bio, so I decided it might be a fun exercise to write a poem about or inspired by each of the eggs the Fabergé workshop made for the tsars.

“The Cake” – Fiction by Jonathan Wlodarski

Hunger - Kathe Kollwitz, 1923
Hunger – Kathe Kollwitz, 1923

“The Cake” is Jonathan Wlodarski’s deliciously disturbing and Pushcart-nominated short story from our Winter 2017 issue. (And check back here on Monday when we’ll post an interview with Jonathan by our senior editorial consultant Maria Pinto…)

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THE CAKE ONLY GETS MADE WHEN SOMEONE DIES—the baker calls it his mortuary masterpiece. “A recipe from my great-grandparents in the Netherlands,” he explains when we ask. “So sweet it expunges the grief right out of you.” The first time he brings it to a wake, we think he’s crazy—cake can’t heal our wounds, erase our sorrow for the town dentist’s death. We’re pretty sure he was overcharging us for crown work anyway, so we’re not even certain it’s sorrow we’re feeling, except maybe for all the money he’d weaseled from us.

The cake really does all of those things, though—as soon as we eat that first bite, our tears dry, our wails melt into sniffles. Some of us even start to look forward to funerals—fingers crossed it’s just our neighbor’s great-uncle, someone who’s already 85 and lived a good life, but we’re not picky. The twenty-four-year-old who crashes his car into a tree is a tragedy, sure, but at least no one else suffered at the hands of his drunk driving.

The cake is black, or sometimes dark gray, depending on how much food coloring is in the icing. “It doesn’t take much,” says the baker, “just five or six drops.” Some of us don’t like the icing’s anise flavor, not at first: it reminds us of our alcoholic grandfathers, or nosy maiden aunts who visit twice a year. But we come around.

The cake has a slab of almond paste in the middle, a thick, golden mortar that shrivels our tongues and puckers our lips with its sweetness. But almonds take a lot of water to grow, water which has been in short supply for so long, despite some of our efforts to form a resource conservation council and unify the town to save water, which generally fails. Little water means few almonds, so often we settle for imitation paste, which isn’t as good. It has a bit of a chalky flavor simmering underneath. Better than nothing.

The cake goes unmade for three whole months, the entire town in suspended animation like prehistoric mosquitoes in amber while we wait for someone to start counting worms. Our nerves get worn down—we’re on edge, our patience constantly pressed against the edge of a knife, screaming at our spouses for chewing too loud, and one of us snaps and runs over the dog next door that just won’t stop barking. Maybe this will count as a death, we think. We hold our breath.  Continue reading “The Cake” – Fiction by Jonathan Wlodarski

FLAPPERHOUSE Reading #12, In Pictures

A hundred thousand hymns of praise to everyone who helped make last night’s reading such a holy moment: Anthony, Francine, Leland, Leonard, Ron, and Deirdre for performing your flappy lits; Alibi for your exquisite singing & fantastic photography; Pacific Standard for once again being our favorite place to read; and all you smart & sexy people who came to catch the show. Let’s do this again on February 15…

photos by Alibi Jones

img_5724Anthony Cappo shares poems of music & memory from his chapbook My Bedside Radio.

img_5749Francine Witte warns us of “Things to Watch Out For” in one of her poems from our new issue.

img_5765Leland Cheuk performs his brilliant short story “League of Losers” from his new collection Letters From Dinosaurs.

Continue reading FLAPPERHOUSE Reading #12, In Pictures