Category Archives: Interviews

“We Make Our Own Ghosts” – A Conversation with Jessie Janeshek

Nobody has contributed more poems to our weird little zine over the years than Jessie Janeshek, and it’s not even close. It’s because her poetry so perfectly captures that easily-recognizable-yet-hard-to-define quality known as “flappiness” that we look for in the work we publish. (One of her recent contributions, “Delicate / Cheap,” was posted here last week.) Jessie has had poetry appear in other excellent publications like Potluck, Drunk in a Midnight Choir, and Anti-Heroin Chic, among dozens of others. She’s also the author of numerous chapbooks & collections, including The Shaky Phase, published earlier this year by Stalking Horse Press.

Jessie recently exchanged emails with our managing editor Joseph P. O’Brien about her poetry, as well as the sorrow of nostalgia, the allure of Golden Age Hollywood, and the ghosts of our own creation…

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JO’B: To me, your poems feel both spontaneously, almost subconsciously crafted, and yet also meticulously assembled from vintage / antique parts. How much subconscious spontaneity and how much meticulous assemblage would you say plays a part in your writing process?

JJ: I really like this description of my work, so thank you! It’s both lyrical and accurate. I would say that many of the phrases and images used are subconsciously generated. I take a lot from dreams and memories, and I jot down random phrases that come into my head, often while I’m exercising or just ostensibly focused on something else. I also use lines from films, articles, songs, etc. Putting these parts together on the page is where the “meticulous assemblage” comes in. I’m very deliberate about how the parts come together to make the whole. I recall reading an interview with Kim Addonizio quite a few years ago where she referred to her revision process as a “comb-over,” a need to go back through her work and fill in the sparse parts. I do something similar in subsequent drafts of my poems; my writing process often feels like a layering process.

(Here’s a link to the interview with Addonizio. I found it again by googling “kim addonizio” and “comb over” to make sure I wasn’t going crazy.)

JO’B: Do you practice any particular rituals or traditions to write, or to otherwise activate the more creative / intuitive realms of your mind?

JJ: Nothing too interesting or magical. It is usually a little hard for me to get started, if only in the sense that writing is harder than reading news articles on my phone or watching TV or petting a cat or listening to music or just existing. So, I usually put my phone in another room; otherwise, I’m tempted to mess with it any time I get stuck for a second. I usually sit on my couch. I have a journal of on-going notes, as well as a clipboard and a stack of typing paper with notes like more than an inch high. Sometimes I look at them; sometimes I don’t.

I usually have a glass of ice water and something caffeinated. Eighty-five percent of the time it’s strong coffee with a bit of cream and one sweet and low; the other 15% of the time it’s diet pop. (I was told the other day that my use of the word “pop” to describe a carbonated beverage is “so colloquial.”) Sometimes I light a candle or three, but not always.

I will say that even though it can be hard to get started, I’m much happier and saner if I’m writing for a bit every day or at least every other day. If I don’t write for like a week, my brain really starts to feel out of whack.

I write in the afternoon. I hate the morning, and I like to do my reading at night.

JO’B: In your recent interview with Kailey Tedesco for Rag Queen Periodical, you said of your poems’ speakers that “most of the time they’re just nostalgic and sad.” What are your personal feelings about nostalgia? Do you generally see it as a sad thing?

JJ: Yes. As I learned in a college course on Greek and Roman literature, nostalgia literally translates to “a longing for home.” Looking at a past, a home, that I know I can never get back to, is sad to me. The rational part of me is well aware that I’m seeing things from the past in soft focus, both on and off the screen, and that the past has its flaws, just as the present does. The irrational part of me thinks the pasts—and I make it plural, whether it’s my adolescence in the 90s or the 1920s of a film I’m watching—are so much better. And I can never get back to them. And the irrational part of me is where the poetry comes from.

Continue reading “We Make Our Own Ghosts” – A Conversation with Jessie Janeshek

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“Make American Loitering Great Again” – A Conversation with Leland Cheuk

Leland Cheuk is a big part of the Flapperhouse family: he has performed at three of our readings, and contributed three excellent flash fictions to our Summer 2017 issue (including “Vote For Arnie,” which we posted last week). He has also contributed work to fine publications like Salon, Catapult, Kenyon Review, and Prairie Schooner, and has written wonderful books like LETTERS FROM DINOSAURS and THE MISADVENTURES OF SULLIVER PONG. Leland recently exchanged emails with our managing editor Joseph P. O’Brien about his writing, as well as generation gaps, the universal appeal of Haruki Murakami, and the potential economic necessity of polyamory.

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JO’B: You’ve said that the flash fictions you contributed to our latest issue are part of a “concept album” you’re working on…what can you tell us about the concept of this work-in-progress?

LC: I’m trying to write a novel in mostly flash fictions that features an ensemble of feral characters in a feral, near-future America. I’m becoming more interested in absurdity and surreality and I think shorter fiction is generally a better way to explore these aesthetics. It’s an effort on my part to shed some of the things that we writers learn in MFA programs—like the worship of naturalism, social realism, and character development/epiphanies. I just want to be doing something totally new with each book. 

JO’B: Your flash fiction “Vote for Arnie” suggests a world in which people can go back in time and correct history’s biggest mistakes. If you had one such opportunity, what would you want to fix? What positive results would you hope to achieve, and what negative repercussions would you fear might occur? 

LC: Great question! I’d come back to kill John Connor. No, I think I’d go back and advise the President to devise a more equanimous response to 9/11. That’s really been the biggest game-changing choice is my adult life. Think of all the lives saved, the military spending that could have been repurposed if we hadn’t gone into the Middle East. Maybe there’s no ISIS. Of course, we’d probably have found another war to get into. Fifteen years is a long time for America to be without war—we’re addicts.

JO’B: If you were to run for President in 2020 (in a world without time-travel, of course), what would be your platform? If you won, what would be your first executive order, and your first official tweet in office?

LC: I’d probably run on a similar platform as Jon Gnarr, that comic that became mayor of Reykjavik. I’d want to Make American Loitering Great Again #malga and make Dazed and Confused required grade-school viewing. I’d commission Oliver Stone to make a sequel to Wall Street named Main Street, in which I would make the Gordon Gekko speech, except the word “greed” would be replaced by “dumb.” Dumb is good, dumb is right, dumb works. Continue reading “Make American Loitering Great Again” – A Conversation with Leland Cheuk

“Carry an Armload of Spaghetti Up the Stairs” – A Conversation with Kendra Fortmeyer

Author Kendra Fortmeyer speaks with our senior editorial consultant Maria Pinto about the process of writing her first novel, HOLE IN THE MIDDLE (now available for pre-order on amazon.co.uk), as well as discovering her characters, turning walls into springboards, and wanting to backup-dance for Of Montreal. 

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MP: Your debut novel, Hole in the Middle, comes out with Little, Brown this summer. Congrats, congrats, a million times congrats! I hear you were at Clarion, the premiere science fiction and fantasy workshop in the country, when you got the news of its pending publication. Describe the first 24 hours after that fateful phone call/ email/ however these things are communicated.

KF: A secret: I knew about the sale quite a long time before Clarion! It became finalized right just before I was accepted to the workshop, but I couldn’t tell anybody. A second (less secret) secret: publishing is (99% of the time) a painfully glacial industry, at least from the author side. Agents have enormous piles of manuscripts on their desks, as do editors; contracts can take months to negotiate; announcements of sales are, themselves, carefully calculated and timed so that your book will receive the most attention possible. So the disappointing answer, in short, is that I’d known about the sale for months but had to Keep It A Secret, because according to mystical publishing algorithms, announcing the sale was most advantageous in July. This can be quite difficult, especially when you’ve poured your heart and soul into a project and presented it trembling to the world, but at the end of the day, soul-trembling or not, publishing is a business (that does, hopefully, present the soul-trembling product of your heart to the world in the best possible light; my agent and editor are brilliant and I would never doubt them).

But! In those 24 hours after the announcement, my beautiful Clarion classmates threw me a surprise doughnut party, because they are the best humans, and I will never stop telling the world so.

MP: What were some things that surprised you about the writing of this book?

KF: Hole in the Middle is my first novel, and so the whole thing was a learning experience. I was most surprised by two things: the first was the point when I couldn’t hold the entire story in my head anymore. As a short story writer, I’d always had an intimate knowledge of my work: where, exactly, certain conversations fell on a page, which language had been used already and which hadn’t. Trying to conceive of an entire novel at once was like trying to carry an armload of spaghetti up the stairs—it’s a bigger and more daunting and slippery experience.

The second is how a novel grows and changes over the course of its writing, and by necessity: when you write a flash fiction in one sitting, it is of a single time and place, and a single instance of yourself. I drafted this novel over the course of a year, during which I was every season of myself. It took a greater deal of editing than I anticipated (in a much more compressed time) to bring the book in line with itself. Continue reading “Carry an Armload of Spaghetti Up the Stairs” – A Conversation with Kendra Fortmeyer

“The Human Part is Now.” – A Conversation with Mila Jaroniec

Mila Jaroniec has been part of the Flapperhouse family since way way back: her poem “Window Glass” appeared in our very first issue, and she was the very first reader to perform at our very first reading.

Mila’s work has also been published at Hobart, Teen Vogue, and LENNY, among many others. She’s an editor for the wonderful team at drDOCTOR, and her excellent novel Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover was published last November by Split Lip Press. (Check out an excerpt over at Joyland.) She recently exchanged emails with our managing editor Joseph P. O’Brien about her new book, as well as the afterlife, airport novels, hilarious Polish proverbs, and much more…

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JO’B: You’ve aptly described Plastic Vodka Bottle Sleepover as a “road novel with no road,” and it also struck me as a novel about living in limbo. It resonated especially strongly with me, and reminded me of whatever I can still remember from my own early/mid-twenties. There’s plenty of excitement in the sex & drinks & drugs & uncertainty, yet that same uncertainty also creates this restless, stuck-in-a-rut, waiting-at-the-airport sensation, constantly anxious for something to “HAPPEN.” And while that feeling of limbo has certainly ebbed for me as I’ve progressed through my late-twenties & into my thirties, I still find myself there on occasion. With this book, did you intend to create an atmosphere highly specific to that particular stage of late adolescence/early adulthood, or was it meant to be even more universal & accessible than that?  

MJ: It wasn’t planned that way at all. I mean, I didn’t think about stages or accessibility. I just wanted to do a portrait of a person. A young messed up person, in this case, but there are many, many older adults who are stuck in this eternal adolescence. Drug addicts especially.

JO’B: At one point in the book, your narrator (aka “La Maga”) and her friend discuss whether an after-life of non-existence is closer to heaven or hell. Do you side with one character more than the other in that debate? Do you have any unique theories on human existence post-death, or do you think we just cut to black?

MJ: I wanted to think we just cut to black for so long – it’s so easy – but I can’t make myself believe that. It’s just a comforting thought when I feel afraid of dying. Blackout is a comfort. But, you know, I don’t necessarily believe we retain our consciousness as it is now. It changes form. We are souls being carried around in bodies, for now, and then we are set free to do something else. There’s no human existence post-death. The human part is now.

JO’B: PVBS is kind of an “airport novel,” in that much of it takes place in an airport, even though [SPOILER] La Maga never really gets where she’s going. The book’s also overtly inspired by Julio Cortazar’s Hopscotch, which La Maga refers to as “the perfect airport book.” Of course, when most people think of an “airport novel” they probably think of fast-paced, plot-heavy thrillers by Dan Brown or James Patterson. So if a publisher offered you a lifetime of financial security to write a more typical airport novel, what would the title & plot summary be? (And your pen name as well, if you prefer to keep your literary & genre work separate?)

MJ: A lifetime of financial security to write one fast-paced thriller? I’m not above that. So maybe it could be about this housewife with humble beginnings, maybe an immigrant, married to this very high-profile multi-millionaire, and she has everything she wants and an extremely lavish lifestyle, but then she starts to suspect he’s killing and dismembering women, something like that. Which he is. And hiding them in the house. There’s a whole torture chamber in the mansion. So what does she do with this information, and does she make it out alive? He treats her completely normally the whole time. Until he finds out she knows…

Is this convincing? I might actually write this. Get a how-to book, like Ottessa Moshfegh did to write Eileen, and go to town. And of course I would keep my name. I’m not precious about stuff like that. Continue reading “The Human Part is Now.” – A Conversation with Mila Jaroniec

“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

“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.

FLAPPERHOUSE Podcast #3 – Starring Bud Smith & the late William S. Burroughs

The 3rd episode of the FLAPPERHOUSE podcast is now live! Bud Smith talks with us about his killer new novella I’M FROM ELECTRIC PEAK, like why it’s so hard to tell exactly when the story takes place, and why it’s dedicated to Meat Loaf. Plus, the late William S. Burroughs drops by to recap a historic week in the NBA. Hosted by FLAPPERHOUSE managing editor Joseph P. O’Brien. Music by The Cracked Shadows.

Stream or download below…