Tag Archives: Jonathan Wlodarski

Our Most-Viewed Pieces of 2017 Were…

Eyes – Nuri Iyem, 1979

Before we set our sights completely on 2018, let’s look at the pieces from 2017 that attracted the most eyeballs to our site…

10. “When I Die Someone Just Fuck My Body Please,” Ian Kappos’ punker-than-hell poem from our Summer 2017 issue.

9. “Picnic” A. E. Weisgerber’s potent & evocative flash fiction which served as the opening piece of our killer & cinematic Spring 2017 issue.

8. “Drought,” Kim Coleman Foote’s eerily surreal & fable-like flash prose which kicked off our Fall 2017 issue.

7. “Summer Water,” one of two witty & intoxicating poems by Sarah Bridgins in our Summer 2017 issue.

6. “Mission Concept,” Pete H.Z. Hsu’s trippy & unearthly (and Best of the Net-nominated) flash fiction that launched our Summer 2017 issue.

5. “Caulking the Wagon,” Devin Kelly’s poetic meditation on suffering & classic computer games, from our Summer 2017 issue.

4. “Love Song of a Femme Fatale on Scholarship,” Maria Pinto’s frisky & infatuating flash fiction from our Winter 2017 issue.

3. “Torture Game”, Ryan Bradford’s fiendish short fiction about a dark night at the drive-in, from our Spring 2017 issue.

2. “Left Behind,” Kaj Tanaka’s brief yet profoundly haunting flash fiction, and the grand finale of our Summer 2017 issue.

1. “The Cake,” Jonathan Wlodarski’s deliciously disturbing (and Pushcart Prize-nominated) short fiction from our Winter 2017 issue.


“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

Our 2017 Pushcart Prize Nominations

Two and a Pushcart - Kazimir Malevich, 1911
Two and a Pushcart – Kazimir Malevich, 1911

Our nominations for the 2017 Pushcart Prize, which will honor work published by little magazines & small presses in 2016, are:

“The Cake” – short fiction by Jonathan Wlodarski (FLAPPERHOUSE #12, Winter 2017, coming December 21)
Congratulations & best of luck to all our nominated writers, and thank you for contributing your phenomenal work to our weird little zine!