What pulses beneath the soil? What do our roots seek when they dig deep? What sap rises in spring to feed the branches that reach for the stark sky? Place an ear to the trunk of Arkana to hear the hushed voices at work beneath the bark.
Let me start with a definition of digital publishing. Often referred to as online publishing or e-publishing, it is any content made available electronically on websites, social media platforms, and electronic devices such as Kindle. Ebooks, eMagazines, online literary journals and even YouTube videos are forms of digital publishing.
According to various internet sources, digital publishing started in 1971 when the Gutenberg project was launched with the digitalization of the US Declaration of Independence.
My google search revealed that SwiftCurrent was created in 1984 and lays claim to the distinction of being the first online literary magazine. My search also revealed that in 1995 the Mississippi Review became the first large literary magazine to launch a fully online issue.
Some scholars believe that modern technology and social media are having an effect on the styles of young writers. Speaking at the Lahore Literary Festival in early 2014, Pakistani novelist Mohsin Hamid specifically made this observation and at one point asserted that the way young writers write today is very different from how people used to write ten or fifteen years ago. I agree with this observation, and I don’t see this change as necessarily detrimental. In present day, we are bombarded with so much information that we need faster and more efficient ways to disseminate and have access to the information. Technology has changed the way we take in this information and yes, it is affecting the way we read and write for online publication. Brevity is a necessity and digital publishing lends itself well to that brevity.
Digital publishing is a fast and efficient platform to reach many who may not have access to printed materials. Maybe the printed material is cost prohibitive whereas access to digitally published material may be free or available at a much lower cost. Digital publishing certainly bodes well for Arkana because it allows us to reach a much broader audience in the most cost-efficient way possible.
I believe there will always be a market for printed materials. There are those, myself included, who simply enjoy the tactile experience of being able to hold a book, or magazine in their hands, who enjoy the experience of being able to slow down, relax, and enjoy a good read. However, digital publishing has a function, and place. It is an invaluable platform and I would venture to say that digital publishing has a solid future.
As a first-year graduate student it is a richly rewarding experience to be part of the staff that produces our online literary journal, Arkana. It is a privilege to be able to read great works and participate in the decision-making processes that uphold our mission which is to seek and foster a sense of shared wonder by publishing inclusive art that asks questions, explores mystery, and works to make visible the marginalized, the overlooked, and those whose voices have been silenced. This is my first experience with digital publishing and it will not be my last.
Janet Holmes Uchendu is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas. She lives in Little Rock, writes nonfiction, and loves music.
The New York Times reported that of the 220 books on the Best Seller List in 2020, only 22 were written by authors of color. Only 10%.
Here in the twenty-first century, there has been a push for more diversity and representation in media, but just how successful has that push been?
In 2010, Erin Belieu and Cate Marvin created the VIDA Count, which tracks the number of works written by women that are published in major literary journals. The count compiles data from these journals to track trends. Unsurprisingly, the numbers are quite unbalanced, favoring male-presenting authors over female-presenting. The VIDA Count has been running for ten years to keep a running list of the top literary magazines in the country in order to hold those magazines accountable in this push for more representation of writers.
The most recent VIDA Count compiled data from 2019 releases. Out of the top ten literary magazines in the country, only three of those magazines had at least 50% of the authors were non-men. To top things off, one of these three publications announced that the issue in 2019 would be their last. Tin House shut down that year. The purpose of the VIDA Count is not to force literary magazines to change but to ask them to take a look at their own practices and push their staff and readers to be more conscious of the subject as they are accepting and what kind of authors they are choosing to showcase in their publications. The organization serves as a presence to hold those magazines accountable.
Sources like the VIDA Count aren’t perfect, of course. There is a disclaimer on the website that acknowledges that the VIDA Count wasn’t always conscious of non-cis writers. Trans and cis writers are included together, and the category for genders that are outside of the binary is broad and non-specific. There is also a lack of intersectionality in the VIDA Count. Writers of color are lacking in the publishing industry. No matter what sort of influence the VIDA Count has on the publishing industry, it still has a central focus that results in another minority group to be overlooked.
There are countless opportunities in the age of the internet to go out and create a brand-new literary magazine that fits a certain niche. By doing this, writers can find an audience that will be acceptive of their own works and receive praise within their own group. However, as Belieu quotes in an interview in Literary Publishing in the Twenty-First Century, “I don’t think we address gender bias by taking our ball and going off to make our own game.” In order to continue the push to include diversity in the literary world, staff and readers alike have to be more conscious about the content that they consume and promote.
Morgan Adams is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas.
The New York Times reported that of the 220 books on the Best Seller List in 2020, only 22 were written by authors of color. Only 10%.
I can assure you we live in a world where more than 10% of the population identifies as Non-White. This overabundance of White, whitewashing if you will, extends beyond authors. It applies to our literary characters, our television shows, and our films. Even our holidays are typically viewed and showcased through a White lens. When confronted with this fact—this lack of diversity, this White everywhere—the thought of achieving diversity can seem near impossible. It’s system-wide.
Here’s the thing about systems. They don’t change all at once. Some gears grind, change the pattern. The new pattern those gears created affects the other pieces. Eventually—perhaps after years, decades, despite the hope for a quicker turnabout—the system changes.
The lack of diversity in publishing is a publishing-wide problem. Diversity won’t spring into publishing overnight, as great as that would be.
Diversity, of course, extends beyond skin color. It includes ideas and beliefs generally overlooked, the LGBT+ community, and multiple other factors. All these different types of diversity must be acknowledged and welcomed into our literature.
And how do we accomplish diversity?
Diversity is our responsibility—each individual’s, regardless of whether they consider themselves a minority or not. Editors, publishers, even readers all have a responsibility to welcome and honor diverse literature.
We should learn to empathize and connect with characters who are not just like us. There is humanity in every individual, and we should connect with that humanity—with the character just for being a person—rather than if they are like us. What if Harry Potter or Percy Jackson had been Non-White? Would that have made Harry any less a loyal, brave friend? Would that have made Percy any less a witty, cheeky hero? Absolutely not. Non-White readers and authors have always been asked to identify with White characters. Now, White readers must identify and connect with Non-White characters.
We should not use quotas. Already have one Black editor on staff? Hire another. Already published a book by a Latinx author? Publish another. Already told one story centered around queer characters? Tell another. The world we live in does not have quotas on diversity. People are who they are. The use of quotas is justified by the argument that quotas match the diversity of society. They don’t. Publish good stories, regardless of who the protagonist is. People will read them.
We should celebrate diversity. Read books by colored authors. Read books by queer authors. Read books with Non-White characters, with queer characters, with characters who did not grow up in the same socioeconomic circle you did. Read diverse, and the system will adjust. Read diverse, enjoy and embrace diversity, and what is published will become more diverse.
As I said before, diversity is the individual’s responsibility. However we identify and define ourselves, we are responsible for diverse voices being heard and represented.
Readers must welcome diverse stories and diverse authors.
Editors must read and accept diverse stories and diverse authors.
Publishers must publish and market diverse stories and diverse authors.
Authors must praise and recommend diverse authors.
Here at Arkana, we strive for diversity. We welcome stories that are told beyond the scope of the identifiers we use for ourselves. We want those diverse voices out in the world.
We’re just one drop in the bucket.
But even one drop of food coloring can change the color of water.
Imagine that one drop changing to a multitude as individuals everywhere strive for a new, diverse publishing industry.
Just how rich and deep could we make the color of that water?
Amber J. Wagoner is a fiction writer and a keen reader. When not engaging with language, she enjoys hiking, horseback riding, or catching a film. She is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas and currently resides in Conway.
Arkana Editors announce 2020/2021’s Best of the Net nominations!
Best of the Net is an annual online award anthology curated and hosted by Sundress Publications, honoring the best online writing. Independent publishers are invited to nominate 6 poems, 2 pieces of fiction, and 2 pieces of nonfiction published in their online journals during the previous year. Nominations for this year’s award have originally been published online between July 1st, 2020, and June 30th, 2021.
Arkana believes our authors deserve recognition for their well-crafted work. We are pleased to announce our editors’ picks for this year, and we wish our writers the best of luck in the award process.
Adam D. Weeks discusses his poetry featured Arkana’s 10th Issue, Arkana Editors.
Arkana: Both poems feature lines attributed to other artists; Emma Depanise in “Witness Marks” and Ani DiFranco in “Nuclear Music.” How does integrating and/or borrowing others’ words inform your writing process? Do these lines serve as a jumping-off point for your work, or do they find relevance and meaning as your poetry comes into clearer form?
Adam D. Weeks: The integration of or reference to the art of others, whether it be poetry, music, film, or any other art form in general has always had an incredible impact on my work. I find myself constantly inspired by the words and ideas of others and do often use them as jumping-off points to inspire my own work. If I’m hitting a wall with a poem I’m working on, I’ll often turn to the recent music, films, and books I’ve been enjoying to see if something will make me start to consider what I’m writing in a new light. I think this really began during my undergraduate career studying creative writing at Salisbury University, where I was constantly inspired by the words of the other incredible writers in my cohort such as Emma Depanise, whose line inspired “Witness Marks.”
Ark: Tell us more about the layout and use of intentional spacing in “Nuclear Music.” How are you hoping and/or envisioning such creative design will inform the reading experience?
AW: Whitespace is one of my favorite aspects of craft to play around with. In “Nuclear Music” specifically, I wanted even the form to speak to this uncertain feeling of being rooted in the past while still trying to grow in different ways into the future, hence the disjointed lines. I wanted the overwhelming look of the piece to communicate the turmoil of feeling unsure about where to go in the future while existing in a world that is also so unsure about how to grow.
Ark: In “Witness Marks,” themes of slow decay, sweeping change, and development, as well as reckless abandonment are touched upon. How do you see these notions intertwining in this work and your poetry in general?
AW: In the past year or so I feel I really found the center of what all my work has been circling around. “Witness Marks” really is the poem that best explains what I want my work to speak to, which is this troubled relationship younger generations have with a society that in many ways loves and wants to support them but has slowly compromised the integrity of our planet and the potential for our future. At the point in the poem where the speaker says “but//I am writing this/into history: fit in/-to me. Break into me,” it is really a call for the world to be honest with ourselves about where we are, what we’ve done to the planet we’ve been given, and what we can do from here to make this life meaningful. The reckless abandonment in the poem is the enemy—the speaker wants to look at what we’ve left behind us.
Ark: Tell us a little bit about your process, routine, idea generation, etc.
AW: My writing process involves a lot of “research,” which I put into quotes because the research I’m talking about is more just my time spent listening to new music, watching movies, reading poetry, and observing the people and lives around me. I live by Atlas Obscura and will often spend hours reading through articles on there, filling the notes app on my phone with random paragraphs that sometimes don’t make sense by the time I’m done with them, but always give me a jumping-off point when I’m feeling stuck. Seeing the new work of my close friends also consistently drives me and keeps me in a routine of weekly writing (shout out to the incredible poet Jeremy Rock for always keeping me motivated to keep up by sharing his killer work).
Ark: In addition to your work with Arkana, are there any other publications or projects you are excited about?
AW: I recently had the opportunity to start the new publication Beaver Magazine with my two amazing friends from undergrad Ellery Beck and Haley Winans, which has been one of the best experiences in my writing and publishing career. I’m also lucky to have recently had my work featured in print at Sycamore Review and Sugar House Review as well as online at Thrush.
Adam D. Weeks is an undergraduate student at Salisbury University, the social media manager for The Shore, and a poetry reader for Quarterly West. He is a Pushcart Prize nominee and has poetry published or forthcoming in Ninth Letter, Poet Lore, Puerto del Sol, Sugar House Review, Sycamore Review, Thrush, and elsewhere.
Putting together a literary magazine comes with a lot of hard work with very little monetary pay, whether it be a print or an online magazine. Many magazines thrive solely on a base of volunteers because many cannot afford to pay every staff member. Contributors are lucky to find a magazine that can pay them for their work because many of them can only pay a few contributors or sometimes none at all. If there is a minuscule chance to get rich in this industry, then why are there so many literary magazines out there and why are there so many writers?
The editor of Rattle, Timothy Green, referred to literary magazines as “social benefit organizations.” A literary press spends a bunch of money in order to put together a literary magazine by paying for printing, postage, advertising, distribution, website domains, staff (maybe), and more. Most literary magazines do not sell all of the printed copies and do not pay all of the contributors for their work. As a literary press, the magazine that is created is done for the benefit of society. We create the magazine and give people something to read and enjoy. We also give the writers the satisfaction of having their work printed in a book or online. After the issue has been put out, what does the literary press get out of it?
There will always be someone wanting to tell their story so there will always be a need for a publishing platform. As a publishing press, we can publish as many writers as we can and help them get recognition for their work that they are striving towards. We provide that service to the writers and the readers that want to read their stories and poems. As volunteers and staff members of a literary press, we want the same thing. We want to read those stories and poems. We want to know that we are helping out a fellow writer because we all hope that one day, they will do the same for us.
Working for a literary magazine is not the most glamorous job and if you are looking for a career where you can make the big bucks, you should probably be looking elsewhere, but if your love for writing and reading is strong, working for a literary magazine is one of the best jobs out there. As a student, I have spent countless hours reading submissions, editing works, and debating with my peers on which piece is worthy of our magazine. I received class credit for these hours, but even after I took the class, I kept coming back as a volunteer. My love for the writing world is satisfaction enough for me to want to be in this career field. At Arkana, we look for mysteries and marginalized voices, and finding those makes the work even more rewarding. So next time you read a literary magazine, know that the passion of writers and the press fueled that creation.
Melanie A. Wilson is an avid reader, fiction writer, and lover of Dungeons & Dragons. She is a first-year MFA student at the University of Central Arkansas and currently resides in Conway.
Jennifer McCune: This is a very beautiful, lyrical piece. How would you say being a poet contributes to composing prose pieces?
Madari Pendas: This is a great question! Poetry forces one to think about language on an almost atomic level, so to speak. What I love about poets is that they are very attuned to the way their work sounds, and often you will catch them reading aloud their words. I want each sentence to go beyond its utilitarian function and feel like a gift. I want a reader to feel that the author has attempted to compose something beautiful for them, something that sounds lovely in their mind’s voice, something they too want to repeat aloud. Poets are so attentive to language and I think that type of careful curation is something I try to bring to my fiction and nonfiction works. Poetry is such a generous art; it gives you writing that you read for the simple pleasure of how lovely it sounds in your mouth. So when I write something, I want to give them a story, but something that is pleasurable on an additional level. For instance, my mother doesn’t speak English, but there are certain phrases or words in English that she loves and repeats because they’re fun to say, like “bouncing beach babies” and “what’s new pussycat?” from the Tom Jones song. In a certain way, poetry is like bubble gum and can stick with you and can be chewed over and over. Poetry carries a beauty beyond its literal meaning. Sometimes when I’m cooking or cleaning I’ll remember: “esta noche puedo escribir los versos mas tristes”/”tonight I can write the saddest lines,” and feels like a secret little pleasure. Poetry inspires me—if you do well, your lines can be with someone for the rest of their lives. So, I think language can go beyond being a means of communicating information and become something lovely, haunting, and borderless.
JM: You are a painter and author. Which medium are you most comfortable creating in, that is to say, which medium do you feel gives you the most freedom of expression of your intersectionality?
MP: There’s a line in one of my favorite Derek Walcott poems, “Love Letter from Brooklyn,” and one of that piece’s haunting lines is “heaven is the place where painters go/all who bring beauty on frail shell or horn,” and it reminds that all these different mediums are constantly conversing with one another. There’s a long history of writers also working as painters (or vice-versa), like Victor Hugo, Oskar Kokoschka, Maynard Dixon, Elizabeth Bishop, Leo Tolstoy, and many more I try to use painting and sketching techniques with my writing. For instance, sometimes an artist will sketch with their non-dominant hand because doing so helps them be more loyal to their reference. With the non-dominant hand, you’re focused on stability and keeping your lines straight. Whereas when you’re working with your dominant hand (in my case my right hand) there’s a tendency to deviate from the reference and draw the way you think the subject is supposed to look versus how the subject actually looks—you’ll make more assumptions. Some artists will flip the reference upside down to achieve something similar or drop grids on the reference and work from one box to another box. I apply this to writing by asking myself “what assumptions am I making about a character or their behavior?” “what are some references from real-life that I can look at?” “Am I looking at this in detail?” Also, longhand calligraphy is art itself. When I look at someone’s journal with cursive, I can’t help but think that too is art and something aesthetically beautiful—separate from the literal meaning of the words. There’s a theme here, words being emancipated from their meanings to do different work (visually and auditorily). To your question about freedom, I think writing is more liberating and allows me to be more expressive. Paints, turpentine/mineral spirits, canvases, thickening medium, palate knives brushes, and varnish are expensive, so it’s not the most economically accessible artform. I didn’t start painting until I got my first full-time job, but I’ve kept diaries and written since fourth grade. A notebook or journal at the Dollar Store is cheap and none of what I write is openly displayed the way a finished painting hangs somewhere on your walls. So I can be more open and dangerous in a notebook. I can write unfinished stories or bad poetry or about a memory or list off the first words I learned in English. With a painting, I’m always aware that when I invite someone over, it will be seen; it’s a bit more public-facing than a journal that I can stash away. But what painting gives me is the ability to express myself without the constraints of language. My mom, uncles, grandparents, and more relatives can’t read my work in English, so painting allows me to make art that doesn’t require language fluency. I’ve also found that with painting I don’t have to justify the subject matter—like in fiction I need a plot; in a poetry chapbook I need thematic harmony—it can just be a pretty sunset or a recreation of the way light from a streetlamp reflects across wet pavement at night.
JM: Which authors/painters inspire you the most and why?
MP: Painters: Remedios Varo, Amelia Peláez, Mario Carreño, Nikki S. Lee, Marc Chagall, Oskar Kokoschka, Mon Laferte, Henri Matisse, Vincent Van Gogh, and many more, especially the Dadaist (I dig the idea that art is the process of making art and not necessarily the final outcome). Authors: Ashley M. Jones, Jacquira Diaz, Carl Philips, Martin Espada, Christina Alvarez, Sandra Cisneros, Ana Menedez, Julie Marie Wade, Richard Blanco, Martin Amiss, Gregory Orr, Tim O’Brien and so many more.
The works of the above-mentioned artist are always so layered, textured, rich in composition and color, and do an excellent job of deconstructing our assumptions on form and structure. Their paintings and many would fall under the flexible term “Expressionist”, demonstrated the importance of painting from emotional memory versus strict obedience to reality. Perhaps for similar reasons I love the above authors’ works—they’re beautiful, challenging, political, and instruct us. It’s the type of work that moves you off the page and into your own journal.
JM: When did you begin writing and painting?
MP: I’ve always had a diary. My abuela took me to the dollar store when I was in fourth grade and got me a pink plastic four-by-four journal with a tiny lock on the side. The pages were pink, and I believe perfumed too. I started submitting work for publication and taking the medium more seriously around 2013. The first poem I ever submitted for publication, to my local college’s journal, was a persona poem about Van Gogh’s painting “At Eternity’s Gate.” My grandfather’s brother, Cheito, was a painter and I remember as a kid seeing the stacks of canvas rolls in his poky duplex. He was always a little sad that when he emigrated to this country, he had to leave some of his favorite works. I began trying to imitate him—really, I just wanted to bring him something I had made and hear him say, “wow, good job.” I started at twenty-two, after getting a full-time job that allowed me to buy more materials.
JM: Aside from Arkana, are there any other recent publications, projects, or opportunities you are excited about? (Please provide links if available.)
MP: Yes! My flash fiction piece, “Mispronounced Girl” was recently published in Everyday Fiction. Another one of my fiction pieces, “Your Life as Told by a Stranger” is forthcoming publication in The Flagler Review.
Madari Pendas is a Cuban-American writer, painter, and poet living in Miami. Her works focus on the surreal aspects of the exile experience and the ways Latinidad intersects with other salient parts of her identity as a queer, working-class woman. Her work has appeared in The Acentos Review, Pank Magazine, The New Tropic, Lambda Literary, WLRN (Miami’s NPR affiliate), and The Miami New Times, among others. She is currently a graduate student at Florida International University.
Kathryn H. Ross reflects on her short story, Ara, from Arkana’s 9th Issue!
Questions from Arkana’s Fiction Editor Victoria Mays & Arkana Staff.
Victoria Mays: Throughout Ara, we learn a lot about Ara’s mother and father. I’m curious about your decision to leave them nameless. Is there anything a reader should draw from that? Anything, in particular, you were aiming for?
Kathryn H. Ross: In leaving Ara’s parents nameless, I wanted to keep Ara himself at the forefront. It’s something I’ve been thinking about a lot in regards to parenthood. In each of our lives we are the main character in our story. As we pick up other characters (friends, colleagues, a partner), our story expands and the focus on ourselves (hopefully!) diminishes, but having a child is like a shifting of the spotlight completely. Let me be clear: I don’t have children. I’ve mostly built this view from now being at that age where my friends are having children, and honestly watching my parents and grandparents and how, as my sister and cousins and I— all the kids—grew up, their spotlight shifted to us. I never considered how much of a sacrifice that is before, but it’s also so natural—so a given Some can go too far and only care about their children and forget about themselves. In addition, I’ve seen what it looks like when that spotlight doesn’t shift. When a child is born or a kid is growing up and their parents didn’t allow the light to slip from them and illuminate their child. Usually in those scenarios, the child becomes nameless.
Of course, the reasons why this happens or doesn’t happen are varied. Some adults are unable to give up the spotlight because they didn’t have it much to begin with. Others never felt cared for so that can’t bear to lose it. I think with Ara’s parents, I’m trying to fit all these thoughts into who they are as unnamed but important entities. They created Ara’s life, but his life is the meat of the story. How they react to his life is the meat of the story. What happens in response to their reactions to his life is the meat of the story. They’re important, too, but Ara is centerstage.
VM: The thought of an expiration date being printed on a baby’s foot is fascinating and terrifying at the same time. How did this idea come to you?
KHR: I’ve had this idea for a pretty long time. I think it came to me in the summer of 2012 and I’m not really sure what brought it on. I’ve rewritten this story many times but I would always get caught up in the why and how of the expiration date. I was trying to explain it and doing way too much exposition. As time’s gone on, I’ve learned that not all stories have to tell, because life doesn’t always tell. There’s probably an answer for why Ara was born with the expiration date (and whether or not it’s viable), but I personally don’t know those answers. I just wanted to focus on the “what if” of the immediate situation. What would I do? What would the reader do? What did Ara’s parents do? It’s such an absurd thing to think about, but what if it was real?
VM: There seems to be an air of vagueness, almost leaving the reader to interpret the situation on their own. Was this intentional?
KHR: Yes! One of my favorite writers and biggest influences is Ray Bradbury. As someone with such a prolific repertoire of sci-fi shorts, there are so many fantastical stories that he just doesn’t explain. However, the lack of explanation never bothers me. Bradbury is such an amazing, masterful writer that the reader gets just enough of what he’s saying, but there’s also room for thought and interpretation. I think keeping some vagueness in storytelling removes some of the control I want to have. I can’t make the reader see or think exactly what I’m seeing or thinking. So, why not just lean into that? I think some of the best art and the best stories are those that tell you what happened, but don’t tell you what happened. They capture a moment in time, but don’t tell you how things end up. They’re just snapshots. This also gives me the freedom to revisit Ara and his family if I want to. Maybe next time I see him he’ll be all grown up. Maybe he’ll be becoming a father. Maybe he’ll be a kid in therapy. There are so many avenues to take and an air of vagueness keeps those paths open.
Caitlin Woolley discusses her short story, Baby Boy, from Arkana Issue 9.
Questions from Arkana’s Fiction Editor Victoria Mays & Arkana Staff.
Victoria Mays: The language in this story is so poetic, and I love how the imagery plays with tongues and language itself. Why did you choose to tell the story more figuratively rather than using a more traditional format?
Caitlin Woolley: This story is a history of memory. There’s not a lot of present action—it’s all cyclical emotions like reminiscence and feelings and resentment and love and relief, all intoxicating in their own way. Once I started writing, I found I was less interested in exploring what happened through traditional scene than I was figuring out how the narrator felt about it, what it meant to him. For me, he was such an intriguing mess of complicated emotions I couldn’t resist spending time in his head. That led me to writing in this voice that’s wounded by memory and burdened by that pain—and maybe even a little indulgent—to try and express what he’d felt for so long. And because memory and emotion are themselves so figurative, it made sense to write the story figuratively, too.
VM: The perspective is so haunting: a grandfather who couldn’t really love his troublesome grandson despite years of trying. What made you decide to tell the story from his point of view rather than the mother’s?
CW: Selfishness and vanity! My grandparents moved into an assisted living facility just before the pandemic started, so I haven’t been able to go visit them, and I really do not call them as often as I should. I wondered—worried, rather—if that affected the way they think of me. I never even considered writing it from the mother’s perspective—the grandfather’s voice was the only one that interested me. So you could say this story functions as a manifestation of that anxiety. (I called them last week!)
VM: What inspired you to write this piece?
CW: Oh, so many things that all came together to make this piece happen. I’ve been working from home for close to a year now, which means I’ve gotten to experience so many neighbor sounds in such close proximity. The family that lives below us has a little toddler who is very, very loud. Always screaming, crying, throwing things. In a moment of irritation, I started wondering what this little kid would be like as an adult, if he never grew out of these behavioral patterns. What would his life look like? What would he do to the people who love him? What would happen if he always lived this way?
Then, over the summer, a very dear, enviably talented friend of mine asked me to look at a piece of flash fiction she’d written. I was captivated by a line about a little girl with pockets full of seeds and cookies, an image that helped give shape to “Baby Boy.” So if your friends ever ask you to read things for them, do it—smart friends are the best antidote to writer’s block.
This last influence is much sillier. I listen to a lot of metal music, especially while I’m working during the day. When I was writing this story, I was listening a lot to Lamb of God’s song “To the End,” which includes a lyric that goes: “Oh Lord have mercy, thank God you’re gone/ Here’s to the end, thank God you’re gone.” So while it’s not as profound an answer as I’d like to give you, that song’s sentiment definitely wormed its way into this story.