Kickstarter rewards fulfillment.


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PDFs of U#1 and U#2:

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All e-reader editions of U#1 and U#2:

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Interview: Aimee Bender


Barry is wearing the coat he bought at the store in the West Village, the store where the girl at the register smiled at him in a way he had not been smiled at in a long time. So he bought the coat. When he took it up to the register, he noticed she had a scratch on her cheek.

Your cat? he said, pointing.

She blushed. No, she said. He wasn’t supposed to ask, is what her face said.

Oh, I’m sorry, he said.

He bought the coat with cash. He wanted to leave her a tip. Is there a tip jar? he asked.

She shook her head, fast. Her blush deepened. This isn’t a coffee shop? she said. He bought a sparkly green bead bracelet at the counter, because it was there to be bought, in a jar, an apology. Do you get commission? he said.

No, she said. This is a used clothing store.

With the blush, the scratch on her cheek stood out like a small crackle of lightning.

     —from “The Coat” (Unstuck #1)

Aimee Bender is the author of four books. The most recent, The Particular Sadness of Lemon Cake, won a SCIBA award and was a New York Times bestseller. Her short fiction has been published in Granta, GQ, Harper’s, The Paris Re­view, Electric Literature, HOBART, and McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, and heard on NPR’s “This American Life.” She lives in Los Angeles.

Interview by Molly Laich

UNSTUCK:  I was at the MacDowell colony and the writer Kevin Moffett and I were talking about novel writing versus short stories. I was complaining that writing my first novel was difficult, but that all my teachers said I had to write a novel in order to get ahead. Kevin told me that you had once said that you never worried about what medium you were working in—that you just started writing and whatever it turned into was fine. Can you elaborate on that a little? Do you have a preference for short stories or novel writing?

AIMEE BENDER:  I like that Kevin Moffett.  Yes—I have, many times, started something thinking "Aha! This is a novel!" only to find I had finished it in three pages.  That has really happened multiple times. So I just don't think I can know for a while—I'll just write and see what unfolds and if it seems to be opening up to more scenes versus happening upon an ending that I like, then it seems to have a novel feel to it.

Mainly I think that all your teachers saying you had to write a novel to get ahead is tricky. Yes, they are more publishable, but if you are not inclined to write a novel then it seems like a forced thing, which usually doesn't help.  There are poets in the world, after all.  They're not writing novels.  If you like writing stories, write stories! The audience will be smaller, but who cares? As long as you know you have to work another job, something I have always pretty much counted on, (and novel-writing in no way assures otherwise), the pressure dwindles a lot, I think.

UNSTUCK:  What are some non-writing things that inspire your writing? Plays, movies, TV, life, etc.

AIMEE BENDER:  Everything! I'm about to use part of Caryl Churchill's amazing play Cloud 9 in a talk on fiction.  Just saw 2001 again and I can't get enough of that one.  Really love the Louie show on FX—I think it's like reading a really good short story over and over.  Louis C.K. is so smart and open and strange and moving.  And life, yes.

UNSTUCK:  What have you been you reading lately?

AIMEE BENDER:  I just read Sheila Heti's new book, which I liked a lot, and now am onto Teju Cole's Open City which makes me, once again, want to listen to more classical music.  I like reading about classical music.  Also reading Wonderland, which is about a pianist.  Also reading about plants.

UNSTUCK:  You sometimes write about sexy women behaving badly. Here's a meta question for you. Do you get a lot of questions about writing about women? Do people say you are a feminist writer, or not feminist enough? Is it annoying to have your gender brought up in the first place?

AIMEE BENDER:  Not a lot of gender questions but some—my favorite moment was at Reed College, which is super liberal and very academic and a little pressured because of that.  Great place, but a little pressured.  I read a story called "Debbieland" about junior high school girls beating up a girl and after, someone asked why I wrote about such broken women and girls. And as a woman, didn't I feel a responsibility to write strong women? I loved it as a question because it sets me up so beautifully to contradict that assumption.  A perfect pitch to an eager bat.  Because who wants to write strong all the time? Or read strong?  Who is strong all the time?

Feminism has opened up in such a way that happily we now no longer need just strong women figures and characters but just women of all kinds.  It's like how we know we'll have reached some better, more varied place with Native American portrayals in the media when there's a film with a non-wise Native American person.  That's happening with writers like David Treuer but it's just at the start.  Some people do call me a feminist writer and others no—it's such an interesting subject to me so I'm happy to discuss it.  I'm also interested in generations and where women's rights hits all of us at different ages—me versus my mom versus my 19-year-old students and all that.  My older sister could only wear pants once a week when she was in elementary school.  That seems unthinkable that that was only six years before me.

UNSTUCK: How does teaching affect your own writing? Do you learn things from your students?

AIMEE BENDER:  I really love the social aspect and talking about fiction, which is one of my favorite topics.  Teaching also constantly reminds the teacher what she values and that is good. Keeps me honest.  I do learn things from my students—they read different things, they get younger each year, literally, so they are good lines into culture too.

UNSTUCK:  Regarding your process for story writing, I've read that you often start with an image or single sentence and that everything you write necessarily has a tinge of autobiography, even if it doesn't literally come from your experience. What was the magic spark that set off "The Coat," which appears in the first issue of Unstuck? How did the story come about?

AIMEE BENDER:  I can't really track the autobio—it's there, it has to be there, but it is camouflaged by the story even to me.  Years later I can sometimes figure out the spark but usually there are multiple sparks.

"The Coat" originally came from an assignment to write a story off of an MFA art student's photograph of a man hanging up a frame on a wall. A man with a beard, in a coat. And so I was wondering why he did that. And maybe the spark of me in there is I am interested in the idea of an empty frame, of framing something that is not there.  In marking absence in that way.  That's abstract, but I am repeatedly interested in that.

UNSTUCK:  You've said you're interested in fairy tales because they use plot as metaphor.  I am very interested in that idea. I can see that at work pretty explicitly in your story “Appleless” in Fairy Tale Review, where it appears to me that the apples represent female sexuality, and that a certain woman's failure to freely partake in the apple eating makes everybody nutso. My teacher at the University of Montana Kevin Canty told us in workshop that in a short story, we learn who the characters are by what they do. Is this something you're consciously aware of when you're writing short stories? Does it have a place in novel writing?

AIMEE BENDER: No, not consciously aware—most of the better writing I'm able to do happens when I'm paying less attention to what I'm doing.  Characters do things, yes, and
it's good to get them out there and very fun to write about characters who are “do-ers” (as many writers, including myself, may find initially startling—writers are often both watchers and doers, so there's an impulse to have the character watch a lot and that can get static.  It can work at times but is trickier).  In a fairy tale, things happen, pianos fall from the sky, holes open in the earth, foxes turn into nymphs, so it doesn't have to be explicitly character-motivated to affect and impact and even be generated by character.  That has felt so freeing to me. And yes—all true for novels too.

UNSTUCK: How much are technique and process and theme consciously present in your initial writing process? What order does it come in? Do you write first, and then think about technique in the rewrite? How would you explain this to your writing students?

AIMEE BENDER:  Theme is usually not very present.  Ray Bradbury has a great quote about how the first draft is burning down the house, and the second draft is picking through the ashes.  I always liked that.  That the beginning can be fast and messy and all over the place and as you go through it you learn.  But speed allows certain choices to happen and it's helpful to try to sidestep the more judgmental analytical mind and get to the more visceral stewy stuff.

UNSTUCK:  Do you feel famous? I think you are pretty famous, as far as writers go. What is it like? Does it ever hinder or get in the way of your writing or your life to be attached to a name that pretty much everybody in this community is familiar with? Does it lead to having haters? Do you ever have the experience of meeting someone who thinks they know all about you because they've read your work? Are they right? Are they wrong?

AIMEE BENDER:  Fun question—an unusual one.  I mean, fiction writers are not the most visible of groups, so within that group, there's a smaller group that can recognize my name, and maybe an even smaller group that has read my stuff.  My daily life is not interrupted in any way.  But—it's largely really nice.  I love going to readings and having people come up
and tell me what their experience is of my writing—that is great!  I also still have readings where two people show up and I know them both and have dinner plans with them after.

When my first book came out, there were a few haters—I think I was younger and had a first book and so it was a little more loaded publicly.  And still there are a lot of Amazon reviewers who really, really hate my stuff.

As far as people thinking they know me: once I dated a guy who was making all sorts of assumptions about me based on a character and wondering if it would work out due to that.  That was so annoying and frustrating! I'd never felt that before in so personal a way. But generally people don't seem to assume too much or at least they're not telling me.  Usually people think I'm really “normal” compared to the strangeness in my writing but I think that skips over the weirdnesses in all of us.

UNSTUCK:  What are you working on now?

AIMEE BENDER:  Working on stories which are coming along.  And starting to put out bait lines for a new novel fish.

*   *   * 

Molly Laich is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She reads and writes in Missoula, Montana. Tweet her (@MollyL) or visit her blog at

Interview: Arthur Bradford


There was a small bell next to the pumpkin and a card under it said “Ring For Service.” So I did that. An older man emerged from a trailer which was set up behind the stand. He was kind of plump and wore a baseball hat which said “Go Possums.” I asked him what was going on.

“I live upon very powerful soil,” he explained. “And my farm is up north. In the summertime we get twenty hours of sunshine per day.”

“You came all the way down here to sell your vegetables?” asked Maria. She tapped on the skin of a zucchini the size of a baseball bat. She seemed skeptical, as if she thought it was all fake.

“Where I come from these vegetables are not unusual,” said the farmer.

     —from “The Carrot” (Unstuck #1)

Arthur Bradford is the author of Dogwalker, a collection of short stories, and Benny's Brigade, a children's book about two girls who find a small walrus inside a walnut.  His fiction has appeared in Esquire, McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Zoetrope: All-Story, Tin House, and BOMB, among other publications.

Interview by Janalyn Guo

UNSTUCK:  I’m a big fan of roadside attractions (I even have the Roadside America iPhone app). The farmer’s joint in “The Carrot” evokes (for me) house museums and all that idiosyncratic stuff.  Are you an avid roadside adventurer?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  I do like that impulsive stop on a road trip where you see something unusual and pull over to investigate.  I think that was a big motivation for this particular story.  I’m not too familiar with the iPhone application you mentioned, but I like the idea behind it.  Or, I should say, I sort of like the idea behind it.  For me, a big part of the roadside adventure experience is making the discovery yourself, keeping your eyes open and aware of what’s outside in front of you.  I would hazard a guess that the most unusual and amazing roadside attractions wouldn’t be found on an iPhone app.  The fictional farmer’s stand in this story, for instance, wouldn’t have made it.

I own an iPhone myself and enjoy using it, but I guess when I think of a world I want to write about I get rid of certain technology like smartphones and computers.  It increases the human interaction.

UNSTUCK:  The app is one of those things that’ll tell you how close the nearest roadside attraction/house museum is, in any given location, but of course it’s not quite like discovering something yourself. I’d love to hear about your impulsive stops, your favorite discoveries in the past. Was there anything you came across on your travels that specifically motivated the story?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  I like the experience of driving in very remote rural areas.  I grew up in Maine and the northern part of that state is very sparsely populated.  I’ve taken some wonderful road trips up there and when I first began writing stories I placed a lot of them in that location.  I think because it was one of the more unusual places I’ve been, but it was also a little familiar.  Roadside farm stands are very common in Maine, especially in the summertime.  I always enjoy that “what the fuck?” moment in any story, like in that movie Eraserhead when he opens up a drawer and it’s full of baked beans.  That film affected me a lot, the random images.  I saw it when I was a teenager and have never forgotten it.

Anyway, I also enjoy The Guinness Book of World Records and used to pore over it as a child.  This was where I got the idea of a farm stand with incredibly large vegetables.  Apparently it’s true that in places like Alaska, where the sun shines for 24 hours in the summer, you can grow extremely large vegetables.  I prefer my stories to be rooted in reality—I want the world described to be unusual, but entirely possible.

But you asked about my favorite roadside discoveries. In Maine I remember a giant hill of sawdust that my father discovered beside a dirt logging road.  It was on the way to our fishing camp in the north and we made a point of stopping there after we discovered it.  Us kids would run down and roll in the dust and it was quite satisfying.  After a few years plants and other vegetation took hold and that was the end of it.  In Austin, Texas, where I once lived, my favorite places are the swimming holes—places on the Pedernales River and even Barton Creek.  Bar-b-que joints as well, of course.  Always stop at the mom-and-pop places.  Far more interesting.  The Mutter Museum in Philly is pretty much a classic too. 

UNSTUCK:  Yes—Austin’s full of places like the Cathedral of Junk and Pinballz—stuff of dreams. I’ve heard great things about the Mutter Museum; I first read about it in a course I took on nature and knowledge in Early Modern Europe, which touched upon cabinets of curiosity among other things. I love all things that evoke the wunderkammer: Joseph Cornell, the Museum of Jurassic Technology, the artwork of Mark Ryden, etc. I have to ask, have you ever pondered putting something together of your own, as in, curating your own house museum or roadside attraction? Are you a collector of things?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  Well, I’m not an organized enough person to ever put together such an attraction.  I could maybe come up with some good concepts but the execution would be poor, if I’m being honest. I’ve moved around a lot in my adult life so collecting things has not been practical.  I end up jettisoning my material goods each time I move.

The one thing I have tried to collect over the years has been manual typewriters.  I use them to write first drafts and love their look and feel.  The problem with such a collection is people start giving you old broken ones and typewriters are bulky and difficult to transport.  So I’ve also reduced that collection.  I still have four or five good typewriters.  My mainstay is an old Woodstock from 1929, a big heavy creature that has followed me everywhere for the past 17 years. 

UNSTUCK:  I like what you said about wanting your stories to be rooted in reality, in that wonderful space of strange but possible. “The Carrot” plays with incredulity, in its nonchalant, deadpan delivery. Is this something you admire in other work? You mentioned Eraserhead--any other memorable gems (film, literature, or otherwise)?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  I think my typewriter obsession began with seeing the 1991 film adaptation of Naked Lunch by David Cronenberg.  He toes the line between reality and surreality very well.  I was also very affected by Katherine Dunn’s Geek Love.  Crazy as that world was that she described, I believed it was somehow possible.  And with Cronenberg’s film, he was portraying the very real imagery of Burroughs’s drug visions.  So while I don’t believe typewriters can morph into living creatures, I do believe they can take on that persona to a drug-addled writer.  So there’s a reality to that.  I also greatly admire One Flew Over the Cuckoo’s Nest, which seems slightly fantastical, but because it’s told through the eyes of an asylum inmate it also feels like a reality.  I’m a big fan of Harmony Korine’s films and writing as well.  His version of reality is always interesting to me.

UNSTUCK:  I’d love to visit a museum of typewriters. I usually use them to compose letters. I guess it allows my mind to run and leaves no room for my inner editor to creep out. What’s kept you from switching over to the computer?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  Typewriters work well for first drafts because, like you say, they keep you from over-editing.  The danger with writing on a computer is that it’s entirely too easy to fidget with your sentences.  There’s no perfect way to write something, so the temptation is to tamper with it over and over again to see how it might look.  This is paralyzing.  Just move forward, get it down.  I believe that once you become practiced in writing with a typewriter you become more careful about your phrasing and word choices because you know you can’t go back and correct things as easily.  It’s kind of ridiculous that we even think computers are superior writing instruments when we consider that the greatest works of literature were written well before they ever existed.  And I’ve seen no evidence of writing getting any better in the computer age.

UNSTUCK:  I adore Geek Love, and I guess in conversation with that book and going back to “The Carrot,” I’m wondering about the relationship (amidst the whimsy) at the center of your story—the girl’s exasperation and go-with-it-ness against the narrator’s steely resolve. I like that “The Carrot” touches upon love relationships at a certain stage. Am I on target?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  Yes, I’d say you are on target.  I think most writers are probably reticent to speak much about the meaning of their stories because the fact is once the writer starts thinking about what a story means, it loses its purpose, if that makes sense.  By this I mean that if I set out to write a story which explores a certain kind of relationship and then craft characters around that plan, it’ll probably feel kind of dry.  A more mysterious and lucrative way to approach it would be to just imagine a situation and characters you find interesting and wonder what might happen.  That said, I don’t think there’s anything wrong with a writer trying to dissect a story after he or she has written it.  I’m just trying to explain why I’m a little reluctant to do so.  Also, I think writers sometimes sound pretentious when they try to explain their stories.

But anyway, I wrote this story a while ago, on my manual typewriter, and then put it in a drawer.  When I pulled it out years later I liked the idea of buying a giant carrot, but the tense relationship between the narrator and his lady friend was only hinted at.  I believe I expanded that when I re-typed the second draft, and I added the ending about the tiny carrots.  If I were to try to be really psychoanalytical about this I’d guess this story is about the dissonance between men and women when they are thinking about having children.

UNSTUCK:  I’m thinking about that farmer’s powerful soil. If you had the ability to generate something in abundance for the rest of your days but couldn’t sell it—something that was just for your own enjoyment—what do you think that something would be?

ARTHUR BRADFORD:  That’s an interesting question.  If it’s purely for myself and no one else, then I would say good Italian Water Ice, made from natural ingredients.  You can only find proper Water Ice around Philadelphia these days, and in pockets where the craft has been transported.  For a while in Austin, there was a Philly Water Ice maker and their product was pure heaven on a hot Texas day.  But if this abundant something is a product I can share, just not sell, then I’d be very happy creating quality children’s books.

*   *   *

Janalyn Guo is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She received her MFA in fiction from Brown University and lives in Austin, where she is at work on a novel. Her fiction can be found at Tarpaulin Sky, the New Yinzer, and Digital Hamper.

Interview: Charles Antin


When the Army recruiter comes to my second grade class, I want to grab his arm and twist it behind his back and say something highfalutin and holier-than-thou as I toss him from the classroom. Instead I say, “Sir, these kids are seven years old,” and retreat behind my desk.

He’s unfazed. He cocks a 9mm handgun and the kids ooh and aah and before I know what’s happening, Aidan, the four-foot-seven, proud, mature-for-his-age star of my class, steps up. Aidan’s my favorite. Thoughtful and handsome, kind but not sentimental, popular yet humble. He’s the kind of kid that second grade teachers dream of. I remind him of the sacrifices he’ll have to make should he enlist (no more Legos, no more read aloud, no more show and tell, etc.) but I can tell by the look in his still-innocent doe eyes that he’s already gone. The recruiter gives him a Crayola magic marker and points to the dotted line. Aidan waves me off like he barely knows me and carefully writes his name in newly learned handwriting. Aidan’s the ringleader so when he signs up, the rest of the boys follow suit.

Some of the girls decide they’re being left out and move to sign up too. The recruiter stops them and makes it clear that while they’re technically allowed to enlist, they’re unwanted. This isn’t something that women of any age like to hear. I’m against discrimination but I can’t say I’m disappointed.

     —from “Second Grade” (Unstuck #1)

Charles Antin’s writing has appeared in numerous publications, including Virginia Quarterly Review, Michigan Quarterly Review, The New York Times, Fugue, and Glimmer Train, where he won the award for short fiction. He holds an MFA in fiction from NYU.

Interview by Molly Laich

UNSTUCK: I really love “Second Grade.” I thought it was so funny and sad and well-constructed. Can you say a little about how the story came about? I think telling it from the teacher's perspective works really well, but it could have been done many other ways. Did you ever consider any other perspectives?

CHARLES ANTIN: I never considered any other perspectives. I write mostly in the first person, which is probably a crutch, or an easy way out.

UNSTUCK: Eh, but it can be difficult to do well, so: crutch shmutch.

CHARLES ANTIN: The way the story started was, I had just written a story called "The Iraq Show" which ended up in VQR. It was a story that tried to blend elements of all the news of the Iraq war with all of reality TV. I read last week that this is was what Suzanne Collins was thinking about when she wrote The Hunger Games. So I did: literary magazine. Suzanne did: worldwide domination. But anyway, I wrote that piece and I really found it enjoyable to write and different for me. And I really enjoy stories that involve creepy kids, a feeling that probably started with Roald Dahl. I had also recently read "Admiral of the Swiss Navy" by Sam Lipsyte, which I love, and some of it came from there, too. But it was a long time coming. To give you an idea of how long, I just opened the original file on my computer (I re-save every draft with a new date, so that I have every single draft). And this used to be the opening paragraph:

"If you were to ask me why I am aiming an M16 at the right shank of a common domestic goat, I’d tell you that it’s my job to fire small arms at Capra aegagrus hircus from close range in order to facilitate a better understanding of combat injuries and how to treat them in the field. I’d also say that the job comes with a decent salary, benefits, tax breaks here and there, and the overwhelming satisfaction of knowing that I’ve done my part for the enlisted men and women at war. Also, all the goat meat I can eat."

So, the story went through some major changes over the months.

UNSTUCK: Yes, that is some significant revision. Did it go through a standard workshop?

CHARLES ANTIN: I believe so. But according to my computer, my first draft is from 4/19/08, so I really can't remember. I went to grad school part time, and it took me 4.5 years to complete a two-year program, so the specifics are a bit fuzzy.  In grad school, I tended to workshop things only once. That is, I didn't bring the story back with changes. So if I did workshop it, it was once.

UNSTUCK: But the takeaway point I think is that it went through many revisions before it became what it is today?

CHARLES ANTIN: Definitely. But if the question is how long from original computer file to publication, it's about four years. But I tend to start something, get stuck, write other things, come back. I like to have a backlog of false starts that I can go back to.

UNSTUCK: I wonder whether you're conscious of the morals or lessons of your stories. Is it something you think about?

CHARLES ANTIN: I’d say it's not something I ever think about when writing. So I'm definitely not conscious of any lessons or morals. I think that as I write I'm trying to transcribe momentum. Momentum with some humor, some excitement, some ting and sparkle. I don't think as much about lessons, which is, to me, probably a shortcoming in my writing.

Can I turn around the question, and the interviewee becomes the interviewer? Have you identified some lessons in these stories?

UNSTUCK: I think what I like about “Second Grade” is that the lesson is not at all easily identifiable. I think there are pretty explicit conclusions to come to. Of course war is bad. Sending small children to war is bad. It's sad the way time moves on and people forget. There are social hierarchies in the classroom.

What I identified with, though, was this teacher who loved his students, but conditionally. And as a writer I admired the way heavy issues were balanced with insane wit. I'm thinking in particular about the way your first-person narrator finds a way to slip in information that is telling about the character. For example, when you mention that the exchange coordinator (or somebody like that) is also the narrator’s ex-girlfriend. From that I know that he is pretty lonely, and the rest of the universe exists entirely in the classroom with these kids. I think maybe I'm getting off track a little.

CHARLES ANTIN: No, that's interesting.

UNSTUCK:  I’ve noticed in all of your stories a theme of war and espionage, and of course an interest in the media and vapid consumerism if we want to spread it really thin.

CHARLES ANTIN: But I wrote a piece called "Gingerbread Cathedral" in Alimentum about my mom making a to-scale gingerbread Notre Dame, and I have a piece in the Summer 2012 Gettysburg Review about 1907 Champagne from a Swedish shipping vessel, and a piece coming out about a man dealing with leukemia as his grandfather dies. So I don't know if my body of work is big enough to draw any interesting conclusions.

I heard George Saunders speak recently, and he talks about how when he was in his 20s he idolized how Hemingway wrote. He talks about how Hemingway is this big mountain, and he wanted to climb that mountain, but then he found the George Saunders hill and it wasn't as big as the Hemingway Mountain, but it was his.

And I think that I tried to climb the Hemingway Mountain for some time, when I was 22-24, and then I tried to climb the George Saunders Mountain for a while too. And some of the “vapid consumerism” themes come from what I thought he was trying to do in some of his writing, and doing my best to riff off of that.

UNSTUCK: I am heartened to hear you say this about the process of finding your own voice. I think it's a kind of epiphany that any writer worth reading must go through.

CHARLES ANTIN: I think so too, and by no means have I found my own voice.

UNSTUCK: I remember hearing David Foster Wallace talk about the same epiphany, through realizing that David Lynch was making films that were totally original, and I try to remember that myself.

CHARLES ANTIN: Yes, so part of what I was trying to do by combining Iraq/xenophobia/reality TV was to make up a story that couldn't have been written 10 years ago. So I've written stories about Nigerian email scams, product placement and stuff like that.

When I was in grad school a critique I got sometimes was that I was very funny, but lacked heart. So I started thinking of myself like the Tin Man. No heart. And in all my current writing I'm trying to write about characters I care about a bit more. 

UNSTUCK: Last question: what have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?

CHARLES ANTIN: I wish people would recommend things to me! Recently, I’ve read Skippy Dies, Blink, The Art of Fielding, The Bell Jar, The Great Gatsby, and The Art of Beauty. And, I cannot tell a lie, I did read the entire Hunger Games trilogy on Kindle.

*   *   * 

Molly Laich is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She reads and writes in Missoula, Montana. Tweet her (@MollyL) or visit her blog at

Interview: Matthew Derby


I trudged through a shallow tidepool caked over with coppery surf that popped and sputtered as I moved through it. I saw a gutted aluminum trailer home erupting from a pinkish slurry, vomiting glow-in-the-dark windshield dice from its open front door. On a hill beyond there was a jagged pyramid of a hundred or so white Chinese hardhats piled up like the skulls of monks, topped by a Tekken 9 arcade game cabinet, the composite frame of which was swollen and separated, rimed with a sick yellow crust. I passed a vinyl lawn ornament in the shape of a snowglobe that was partially inflated from the heat. The team of reindeer trapped inside were furry with black fungus. Hundreds of Nerf darts littered my path like grapeshot cast on the battlefields at Gettysburg, and in the distance a fiberglass restaurant chain mascot lay with its braincase smashed. I marveled at how the things had gotten to Dokken, and how it had come to be an inhabitable surface at all. When my father ran United Polymer the garbage patch was little more than a speculation. It couldn’t be seen by satellite or by the naked eye, and the threat it posed was so remote that nobody paid much attention. Suddenly, though, there was a small, rainbow-colored island spinning at the center of the gyre. I remember the photograph that my father tried to hide from me of a group of scientists balanced on its surface in T-shirts and running shorts, staring ruefully into the distance. He was ashamed of the picture but I found it fascinating. The objects collected in the gyre told a story that no single human hand could author.

Beyond the mascot, which was a muscular cheeseburger dressed as a ninja, there was an oblong depression lined with a patchwork underlayment of parched tarps and wrappers, lengths of tattered plastic woven together and shot through with tangled bits of safety orange fencing and drag nets. The dyes and colorants used to brand the various materials had faded and bled to create a variegated tapestry. Little fronds of torn poly whipped in the breeze. There was a slick pool at the bottom of the depression and I could see even from far away the dorsal fin of something that still lived.

     —from “Dokken” (Unstuck #1)

Matthew Derby is the author of Super Flat Times: Stories. His writing has appeared in McSweeney’s Quarterly Concern, Conjunctions, Fence, The Believer, The Anchor Book of New American Sto­ries, and The Apocalypse Reader.

Interview by Molly Laich

UNSTUCK:  A story always has to take place at some time. This is just one of those decisions a writer has to make. If not now, then when? I've noticed that your stories tend to happen either in a hypothetical future—as in "Dokken" and Super Flat Times—or in the 1980s—as in "Full Metal Jhacket" and "January and December." Can you say a little about how the time period works in your stories? What is it about the future? What specifically about the 1980s appeals to you? And finally, what may or may not be unappealing to you about setting your stories in the present day? 

MATTHEW DERBY:  Well, some of the stories in Super Flat Times started out as stories set in modern times, which meant, at that point, the late 90s. Then I wrote “The Sound Gun,” which was based on some very real nonlethal weapons technology that was being developed at the time. But as I wrote the story, I realized that I could get away with more if I cut it loose from the present. That's really when Super Flat Times started to take shape. By setting things in the future, I could prop up these outrageous predicaments for my characters and watch how they struggled to overcome them. And I never really knew, at the outset, how they would deal with these challenges. That sounds precious, I know. But I really don't have any idea how a story will end when I start it. Or I should say that I can only finish a story if I don't know how it's supposed to end. I'm just not interested enough, otherwise, to make it through.

Those stories about the 80s were mainly nostalgia pieces. John Lennon's murder had a big impact on me (even though I was seven at the time), and I felt like it was something I just had to write about. “Full Metal Jhacket” was a sort of tribute to my friends from Junior High—we were always making super 8 movies: super-pretentious stuff, really ham-fisted ripoffs of Kubrick films.  And we had this feeling that somehow Kubrick would actually see the films and collaborate with us or fund a feature or something. We actually thought this. I ache for that kind of naiveté, and that story was my attempt to reach back through time and sort of caress it one last time. By the time those came out, though, I was already typecast as the “meat future guy,” so people would read the stories and struggle to figure out how they were futuristic. Like, they thought maybe the main character in “January in December” came from the future or something. So I may be stuck writing future stories whether I like it or not.

The only thing that's lame to me about writing something set in contemporary America is that I'd almost certainly have to write things like, “Starbucks,” “Applebee's,” and “Spotify.” I can't really articulate why I don't want to write about those brands. But it bums me out. But I don't have a rule about it. Someday, if I'm still writing, I'm sure I'll end up setting a story in “modern times.” But there are so many people already doing it way better than me. So I may just stick to the future, actually. There are only a couple people writing about how boring the future will be. So I feel like it's easier for me to stand out in a crowd if I become a subject matter expert in that arena.

UNSTUCK:  I was particularly touched by the narrator's relationship with the dolphin in "Dokken.” Says your narrator: "I felt comfortable talking to the dolphin, who seemed to really get me." For me, the dolphin is a much needed source of warmth and "humanity" in an otherwise bleak scenario.

MATTHEW DERBY: You're right—I wanted to give the guy in “Dokken” a task that would briefly ennoble him.  He sees this creature suffering the worst kind of humiliation—floundering out of the water with a surgically implanted human voice box that can only make menu recommendations—and he acts.  And for a moment the reader thinks, “Hey, that guy's great. That's exactly what I would do.” At least I hope that's what they think.

UNSTUCK:  On the flipside, you've invented this terrible "Meat Tower," where in a post-apocalyptic world devoid of plants, the people are resigned to eating an all-animal diet.

MATTHEW DERBY:  The funny thing about “The Meat Tower” is that—I swear this is true—I had no idea it would be perceived as a screed against meat eating. When the book came out all of my friends were like, "Oh, I see you tried to push your vegetarian agenda once again." And I looked at the story and saw what they were talking about, but it was a true shocker to me.

I wrote that story for some literary journal—something that doesn't even exist anymore. One of the editors solicited a piece from me and I told her, on the spot, that I was going to write a story about a kid in a snowmobile suit sliding down a massive column of frozen meat. And I went and wrote the story, and it had the kid sliding down the tower of meat. But not once did I think about the perceived symbolism, you know, of the horror of a world made of meat. I just thought it would be a funny image.

The editor then rejected the story. I'm not bitter about it.

UNSTUCK:  We were talking, before the interview, about the TV show Animal Hoarders. I don't know about you, but personally, while I love and am fascinated by them, I'm a little annoyed at all of these in-depth documentary-style shows for mining all the very meaty human tragedies, such as hoarding, weird addictions to eating tape or plastic surgery, salmon fishing, duck entrepreneurs and on and on, leaving less and less for us writers. How does media influence your writing? How does IRL influence your writing?

MATTHEW DERBY:  I don't know. I feel like those shows—even the best of them—can only go so far in revealing the depths of the human condition. But Gary Lutz could write a story about a woman who compulsively licks dustings of Comet and it would just barely resemble the source material (My Strange Addiction, Season One, Episode Three). In other words, the material is all out there already. It's the lens through which the artist translates the raw material that matters.

UNSTUCK:  What are some themes and ideas you're particularly interested in these days?

MATTHEW DERBY:  I've been working on this project for the past year that explores the notion that language is a hardwired faculty. We, as humans, didn't sit around a campfire in a cave and invent language. It's part of our physiological makeup. We have areas in our brain that are specifically designed for producing and comprehending language. So in a very real sense, humans didn't make language; language made humans. That's totally fascinating to me.

UNSTUCK:  About your writing. I find it to be clear and precise, but not particularly "minimalist." What I mean is that at times, you allow yourself to pack a lot of details and insight into your sentences. The prose is allowed to meander on the characters' reflections and ideas in a way that is sometimes absent from a lot of current writing—particularly stories published on the web. And finally, your stories are not particularly short. Have you ever felt pressure to produce shorter work? Do you find it difficult to find venues willing to publish work that takes time and care to unpack?

MATTHEW DERBY:  So, you're saying my stories are too long?


I started out writing really short, “prose poem-y” stuff. “Micro fiction.” But I could never really find my footing. I don't really send my stuff out that much so I'm not getting the sense that it's being rejected based on length.

But this project I'm working on will be published exclusively online, and my collaborators and I sort of arbitrarily agreed that none of the pieces we wrote for it would be longer than 1,500 words. Our goal is to give readers the sense that they can read an entire piece on a single subway ride. We've sort of designed the project so that it can be read “out in the world.” So that's certainly forced me to compress and condense, and I think for the better.

UNSTUCK:  Finally, could you share some writers or books that you currently find particularly exciting?

MATTHEW DERBY: I've just read two related graphic novels by Alison Bechdel--Fun Home, about her father, who inherited his father's funeral home, struggled with his sexual identity, and eventually committed suicide, and Are You My Mother?, which is, spoiler alert, about her relationship with her mother.  To say that they're “about” her parents really underserves their incredible scope. The way she uses the comic form to tell these stories is really astounding.  I don't read a ton of graphic novels, so maybe my saying that is equivalent to a guy who's never heard a rock song thinking that Papa Roach is the greatest band ever.  But I don't see how Bechdel could have told these stories in any other medium. Her transitions are super deft and exhilarating and she manages to convey raw emotional content with precision and an utter lack of sentimentality that blows me away. They're definitely the best books I've read in a while. 

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Molly Laich is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She reads and writes in Missoula, Montana. Tweet her (@MollyL) or visit her blog at

Interview: Andrew Friedman


When I lean from the bell tower, gray light rushes with the water on either side of the barren street. Our town at dawn is a tilted aquarium. The rain falls in straight, each droplet a continuous line from its own invisible faucet. Beyond the closest droplets that stream from the cupola, the motion in the rain disappears, and it’s still as paint. The town would flood but for the drainage ditches Sal dug a few weeks back.

They appear. They walk in the center of the street, where the double white lines fade. She angles her body toward his wiry frame, raises her chin, laughs. She tosses off the brown raincoat of Anton’s he gave her without my permission. I used to wrap it around my legs when I slept. These seven days he’s gone to her in the mornings have been a little bit colder. The raincoat lands in a puddle and Sal sweeps it like a matador from the road. He shakes off the excess water and makes a show of draping it across the next puddle, and the next. Amelda leaps from her hamstrings, daintily, fingers up like some Prussian baroness. She accepts his gallant hand and steps with her toe on the raincoat and then safe onto a high mark in the road. I close my throat and ruffle the mucus but it doesn’t go anywhere. I’m close to the cracked bell and the ancient reliable metal sonorously vibrates through the rain. Sal hears me watching. He covers her ears  and whispers to her, holding her eyes forward to the theater where I’ve spied them watching films from the dusty storage boxes shut for years, boxes they have begun to open. Every day for seven days. Amelda was sixteen when she used to visit the orphanage, a volunteer. Older than us, professional, but even then I could discern the sadness at the back of her eyes, calling me. She can only hide in a shallow puddle like Sal for so long. He turns surreptitiously and raises his middle finger at me. The theater door is barred with a two-pound padlock when I get there, like other doors all over the city, but the projector inside clacks merrily.

In bed, their obscene contortions visit my dreams, his lips on her thigh, her teeth in his back, their open mouths. Then something else. Through the tangle of parts in my dream, a hairy hand appears and pushes the others away, until it is reaching for my face. I try to make myself wake up. Every dream ends like this. My cough is getting worse.

     —from “The Rain Falls Down and Hits Us, So Down’s Where We Must Be” (Unstuck #1)

Andrew Friedman’s work has appeared in Ghost Town, The Connecticut Review and elsewhere. He lives in Philadelphia.

Interview by Janalyn Guo

UNSTUCK:  In “The Rain Falls Down…," two brothers sift through their adoptive father’s storage shed after he dies. They find, among other things, a big cache of military helmets. The helmets make me think of wartime—and of other big historic moments. It seems that the two brothers are engaging with history in a personal way, piecing together the mystery of a person through what is left behind. Could you talk a little bit about this—the intersection of larger histories and personal ones?

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: One thing comes to mind here. I found a theme arising in a series of stories I was writing about the ways a set of radical leftist hopeful historical moments or associations trickle down to characters as weird kind of ruins or wreckages. Points of intense emotional attachment, without a real feeling of belonging inside them. The hopeless bound to the hopeful, and possible collective moments becoming a kind of extreme isolation.

UNSTUCK: I’d like to know what you mean by “wreckages” and how they seem to be sites of opposition (i.e. places of attachment but non-belonging, collectivity and extreme isolation).

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: One example is the film that the characters watch in the story, The Grapepicker and the Fieldhand’s Romantic Lament, and particularly the labor organizing, strike and revolt in the film. To the film, that’s the point of hope. Sal and Edgar are so attached to the film emotionally, but you don’t get the feeling they’ll be starting a worker-owned cooperative any time soon. It’s not even an option. But I’m interested in your thought of these wreckages as sites of opposition. That seems true to me—the way that such histories, objects or ruins are the only points of hope, but ones that come chained to loss, misery, irreconcilability, unattainability.

I think this is right, that this story is strewn with stuff that might represent everything or nothing. The sense of a violence experienced as only a rumor of violence, or a smudge of a past violence. But also that things are more consistent than characters in duration, that things bear out biography and history, but need to be both handled delicately and hacked away at before they start to tell you anything, and then so often tell you nothing.

I thought about this a lot with the language in that story. I was reading Hart Crane’s long poem "The Bridge" and thought about it when I was writing that story. I had also been reading something about the way the language in "The Bridge" could be thought of as “catechristic.” I think the word actually means something like, using a word in a dumb, wrong way. But this writer was talking about “catechristic” as the ways that a wrong word is sometimes the closest you can get to an actual meaning that is inexpressible. The word is an arrow pointing to an inaccessible landscape of expressibility. That’s how language is in the story, but that’s also how everything is for the characters in that story—history, mourning, [their late adoptive father] Anton, their own lives, every day, the weather, each other, the ticket taker from the past. I was thinking about that story as an arrow to the story they should or might have inhabited, might have, might have... 

UNSTUCK: Speaking of the ticket taker, I love the movie theater as a setting in your story—for itself and for all that happens within the theater (as a place of conflict and of revelation). How did the movies become integrated into the piece, as being part of this world of desire?

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: Movies, I guess, seem like the ultimate version of an object that is more animated than the living. Sometimes people seem to suggest that movies only simulate life and cheapen or flatten real emotion. But these characters experience a more focused moment of emotional clarity watching the movie, or being in the movie theater, than they do “living their lives” in the more “real” settings in the story. That’s interesting to me. The idea that a movie distills, rather than dilutes, emotion.

UNSTUCK: The narrator has a puzzling debilitating illness, the symptoms of which keep morphing. I can't quite figure out what's wrong with him. This mystery seems intentional. Also, when he presents his naked chest to Amelda, the girl he desires, we're told he has excessive body hair, three inches long at some places. Could you talk a little bit about the narrator’s particular illness or malaise?

ANDREW FRIEDMAN:  I think even the greatest doctors would have trouble diagnosing this illness, so you’re not alone. It’s important to me, I think, how he has symptoms and then the symptoms disappear. He can’t speak, he can only write on a pad, but then he can yell when he’s angry. What’s with that?  Is his body hair abnormal? Is three-inch body hair really too long? How long should body hair be? Or does he just see it as abnormal?

I guess, in sum, you couldn’t say he was lying because the illness is defining his life, but he couldn’t just go to the doctor either. To me, that’s just really frustrating.

UNSTUCK: Sure—now that I think of it, perhaps three-inch body hair is not too long at all. Good for winter!

Regarding Sal and Edgar, can you discuss their different approaches to revelation—one wanting to know and uncover more, and the other resistant?

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: Hmmm. I think it’s interesting how Edgar’s sympathy and empathy and identification and care and vulnerability—all theoretically admirable qualities—can become kind of a circuitous weapon, and how Sal’s caddish, out-with-it, brusque, no-bullshit, whatever-the-whatever qualities are in a way sort of utopian and seem filled with humanity, even if they’re obnoxious and potentially hurtful. At the same time, I think you’re right that Sal and Edgar are a sort of unit—in a way they can only express or reveal anything together, they only become moral jointly, and without either of them I think the world of the story would be emptier. In some sense, their “different approaches” are also, I guess, supposed to be a kind of screwed-up portrait of the paradox of mourning.

UNSTUCK: Anton is so present in his absence in this piece; it's astounding how he's so dominant in a world that no longer includes his body. I'm curious about your ideas about memory and legacies. What keeps a person alive after death?

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: This is a really good question and observation. Anton’s not a ghost, he’s not a corpse, he’s not a zombie, he’s not even a memory, in that Edgar and Sal don’t really go around sharing a lot of memories of him. He’s environmental—everything and nothing. That seems to be one of the worst things about death and time passing here. Something that totally defines the world of these characters being so absent and unable to be literally reckoned with, yet also a total anchor and drag on all of reality.

UNSTUCK: I like that you call his effect "environmental," as being akin to the rain that’s so ubiquitous throughout.

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: I’m writing a novel about an even more severe weather event.

UNSTUCK: Is weather often central in your work?

ANDREW FRIEDMAN: Now that you mention it, I do seem to write about weather a lot. I have this story about rain. I have a story about ice. I have a story about lightning. All this weather, why? I’m interested in how extreme weather re-animates setting, and has an estranging, drenching effect on language. It also relates to some of the other things we’ve talked about—the ways that human and non-human characters interact to make up stories. What are the emotions of weather? I don’t think we even know. Not yet.

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Janalyn Guo is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She received her MFA in fiction from Brown University and lives in Austin, where she is at work on a novel. Her fiction can be found at Tarpaulin Sky, the New Yinzer, and Digital Hamper.

Interview: Amelia Gray


Work around the tree was going well. The tree’s roots disrupted the ground and the area needed to be smoothed and resodded. The men with the shovels exerted themselves under the shade of the tree. One man, an usher at the local church, swung a shovel full of peat back farther than he had intended. The shovel glanced off a gravestone and chipped off its corner, sending the stone flying into the high grass.

The sound rang out across the field, a light metal ping, and stopped the crowd. People craned their heads to see which grave had been damaged. A few dropped their rags and tools where they stood and walked closer. Wiping their foreheads on their shirt collars, they squinted at the stone.

It was the grave of an upstanding member of the community, a woman who had been well-loved when she died twenty years prior. Most of her children were in attendance, and her young grandchildren played hide-and-seek behind the graves. The man whose shovel had caused the damage put his hand over his mouth and looked away.

The woman’s oldest son, who had been on tree duty as well, stepped forward to inspect the damage. He ran his finger along the stone at its sheared point. The granite wasn’t very old, but the surface had dulled after years of rain and sun. His mother’s name was still clearly marked, but the carved grooves had begun to fill with grime. A line of earth clung where the shovel had struck, and the stone above had given way to the bright, fresh material that had been hidden inside. It sparkled with quartz and mica, gleaming like the stream behind the family home did after a long rain.

     —from “Monument" (Unstuck #1)

Amelia Gray is the author of the story collections AM/PM and Museum of the Weird, and a novel, THREATS.

Interview by Janalyn Guo

UNSTUCK:  “Monument” starts with work and ends with cathartic destruction. There is the way in which we are supposed to display grief, an acceptable form, and the takeover of a new, rawer form. I’d like to hear your thoughts on the social cues present in our culture around grief.

AMELIA GRAY:  There's no wrong way to grieve. Wailing in the grocery aisle is a correct way. The absence of grieving accompanied by an internal guilt is one. Attending a ceremony, going home and burying all your paper clips is one. Social cues are okay; I think they help other people deal with us when we're grieving, but you've got to forgive yourself for the internal process as well, the thoughts your brain can't help but think. Self-forgiveness isn't a huge part of American culture.

UNSTUCK:  I’d love to hear more about that last thought—about self-forgiveness not being a big part of our culture, and how you see that playing out.

AMELIA GRAY:  I mean, we’re more of a personal accountability kind of culture. People see that that Octomom woman is getting her hair done while she’s on welfare, they want to see her strung up. And then I guess we’re alone in our rooms later, presumably thinking about all the awful shit we do on a regular basis. Meanness towards other people is generally all about guilt or meanness towards oneself, don’t you think? Most of the meanness I’ve experienced from other people has been pretty transparent in that way.

UNSTUCK:  I like that “Monument” suggests a resistance to traditional forms, a new playing field of sorts, and it just feels like the perfect opening piece for a journal like Unstuck. Could you talk a little bit about what it means to you to chip away at the old and start anew?

AMELIA GRAY:  All literary journals should be started the way Unstuck was, with the idea that there needed to be a new voice out there. And whenever something new comes along, the old guard shouldn't be vaporized. There's probably some satisfaction in bulldozing a graveyard but you're still left with the same bodies, the same space. It's the chipping away that provides that nice contrast.

UNSTUCK:  Who are some of your favorite innovators in fiction?

AMELIA GRAY:  What’s interesting about the term “innovation” is that it’s not just about uniqueness—it’s about uniqueness being accepted in the culture at large. So, I’m in love with these unique Thierry Lasry sunglasses I saw this past weekend, but I wouldn’t say they’re a mass-market kind of product. Talking about true innovation in fiction means bandying about some familiar names, because you’re talking about the people who have managed to slip something better into the standard practice. So, I don’t know, Joyce Carol Oates?

UNSTUCK:  You mention innovation is uniqueness accepted in the culture at large, and I’m curious about your thoughts on work that is not quite accepted because it’s "ahead of its time"—like, say, Twin Peaks.

It seems that there's this trend in the publishing world where the big publishing houses are seeing their most dismal numbers during the recession but the small presses are seeing their best numbers yet. I like this phenomenon. I suppose more people are searching for the kind of work that they like and not necessarily what appeals on a broad level.

AMELIA GRAY:  I think that access will define the next generation of fiction, and I think that the big publishing houses are becoming more agile and accessible, themselves following the small-press model. Look at big box stores like Target, which is doing its best to feature smaller brands. I was just at Target to buy a board game and a pack of gum and it was all "The Shops We Fell in Love With, Collected and Curated For You." That's exactly what the big presses are doing right now, and it's because these houses employ people who love reading at the fringes. My editor at FSG found me because she read my first book, AM/PM, put out by featherproof books in Chicago. So I think that innovation has always been a part of the culture, but I hope to see it even more easily accessed with all of our e-readers and baby presses and imprints.

UNSTUCK:  Are you captivated by graveyards? Do you visit them?

AMELIA GRAY:   I'm most interested in the forgotten graveyards. If you fly a certain route into the airport in Austin, you can see a little graveyard right next to one of the airstrips, called the Waters Cemetery. And there's the state hospital cemetery up on North Loop where about 500 anonymous individuals are buried in addition to the named plots. Or Edward Abbey, who is buried somewhere out in the Cabeza Prieta Desert rolled up in a blue sleeping bag.

I have visited graveyards and enjoyed my visits, particularly to the kind of backwoods Texas cemetery at the end of a long road where an errant cow keeps the stones company, but I generally don't hang around too long. Time enough for that!

UNSTUCK:  I like that you’re interested in the forgotten graveyards. A poet once told me that in the old graveyards, where the stones are falling over, you could find at their base etchings of letters; I suppose this was how stone chiselers practiced their alphabet before setting letters to the stone. I like that there’s all this evidence of the human hand in the graves of old; their fastidiousness moves me. I suppose this has all been replaced by laser technology and photorealistic images of our deceased: somehow not as captivating to me.

AMELIA GRAY:  I can’t imagine they’re as captivating to anyone. Maybe their purpose is that they’re less captivating, less romantic, than the hand-worked stone. It makes death a little more distant when it’s professionally etched. Me, I want a stoneworker in a cage over my plot creating artifacts until his own death, at which point a second cage is placed above his and a new stoneworker interred.

UNSTUCK:  Our relationship to graveyards has changed since the Victorian era, when there were picnics and leisurely Sunday strolls on the grounds amidst the tombstones and crypts. I wonder why.

AMELIA GRAY:  Why, I can't say. Surely we'll move back to graveyard strolls when the parks get bought up and bulldozed. The real shame is that a lot of modern graveyards are boring, sanitized places with flat stones that can be easily mowed over. I'm from Tucson, which has a pretty big Dia de los Muertos crew, and so everyone decorates the tombstones of their loved ones and hangs out and has a meal.

UNSTUCK:  I was thinking that perhaps architecture has something to do with how we treat a space. Perhaps a few picnic benches and a walking path would do a lot for a cemetery.

AMELIA GRAY:  I think you’ve got a future in cemetery design if this whole interview thing doesn’t work out.

UNSTUCK:  Speaking of architecture, the architect Adolph Loos has this saying that I guess is quite famous in the architecture community: “Only a very small part of architecture belongs to art: the tomb and the monument. Everything else that fulfils a function is to be excluded from the domain of art.” I’m curious about the idea of tombs and monuments not necessarily fulfilling a function but doing something else, something more so in the realm of art. What are your thoughts?

AMELIA GRAY:  That’s a cool quote. I wonder why a functional building can’t serve as a monument as well, though. I’m thinking of the New York Stock Exchange building, or the White House. I do like the idea that perhaps there are different purposes and levels to art, that a “pure” art moves away from practical function. I once had a graffiti artist make the argument to me that graffiti is the only pure form of art because it can’t be bought or sold; once the piece is covered by a protective sheet or pulled off the wall and put in a gallery, it is no longer a piece of art. 

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Janalyn Guo is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She received her MFA in fiction from Brown University and lives in Austin, where she is at work on a novel. Her fiction can be found at Tarpaulin Sky, the New Yinzer, and Digital Hamper.

Interview: Lindsay Hunter


You got the cat you came to know as Milton the day that Indonesian man phoned up to say he wouldn’t be meeting you at the Sizzle Steak because your new hairdo reminded him of a hive of blood beetles, which was a bad omen, and while he was at it your perfume reminded him of his momma’s deathbed breath, and finally he spluttered how you make him sad, and that was really the thing of it, this put you off so much you didn’t deign to ask him what a blood beetle was, even though that was the best part of the Indonesian man, the exotic facts he could drop into a conversation, like that time he mentioned in passing that he boiled his shoes every week, and was a blood beetle an annoyance similar to the house roach or was it a horror similar to a flying ant, you don’t know and now you never will, you daubed some hand soap on your pulse points so you wouldn’t smell like breath no more and you went to the Pets 'n Friends and walked straight to the kitten bucket and pointed, a little boy said Uhl, that thing got a noface, and you told the boy Better than too much face, biglips, and you named that cat Milton and you tried not to look directly into its face, cause you remembered the Indonesian man saying how cats can hypnotize you into digging out your own internal organs and offering them up as an afternoon snack.

     —from “You and Your Cats” (Unstuck #1)

Lindsay Hunter is a writer living in Chicago, where she hosts the Quickies! reading series. Her collection of slim fictions, Daddy’s, was released in 2010.

Interview by Allie Werner

UNSTUCK: How did this story originate? What made you want to write about a cat lady?

LINDSAY HUNTER: Well, originally I wanted to write a story about a middle-aged woman who took a roommate. I wrote that story and it didn't do what I wanted it to do. It was flat. Then, I was asked to read at a local reading series, P. Fanatics, with a theme of "cats." So I kind of molded the two ideas into a Voltron story. And I wanted, also, to explore the impulses behind collecting.

UNSTUCK: Now I have the image of a literary Voltron in my head. Which element of this story would be the arms?

LINDSAY HUNTER: One arm would be a centipede of cats. The other would be the Indonesian man.

UNSTUCK: Do you have any collections of your own?

LINDSAY HUNTER: Yes! Okay, look, I believe inanimate objects have feelings. I am constantly filled with anxiety that I'm hurting everything's feelings. (My husband has the same illness.) Exhibit A: Last weekend when putting the ladder away, we both agreed the ladder shouldn't be shut in a room alone in the basement, but should be amongst other basement flotsam, amongst "friends." So, anyway, that has led to a lot of hand-wringing about throwing anything out. I collect books, folk art, and every every every item I can find from my childhood. You're shrieking into your hands, aren't you?

UNSTUCK: I feel like anthropomorphization of objects is a pretty common instinct, actually.


UNSTUCK: I mean, I think everyone does it during childhood. We all have a security object of some sort.

LINDSAY HUNTER: I used to, before getting into bed with my first lover (I did just use that word, oh God), put my stuffed animals "to bed" by laying them down on a pillow and covering them with a blanket.

UNSTUCK: I used to worry about certain toys getting jealous of other toys if I played with them more.
LINDSAY HUNTER: Yes. Precisely!

UNSTUCK: Today, I try to keep my stuff pared down to a minimum because I move around a lot, but I can't get rid of books or small plastic toys. Like, the random French fry transformers from 90s Happy Meals.

LINDSAY HUNTER: Oh, you have to keep those.

UNSTUCK: And speaking of anthropomorphism, one of the things I really liked about "You and Your Cats" was that the cats weren't actually anthropomorphized that much. They felt very animal and indifferent.

LINDSAY HUNTER: Right! I wanted the woman to be cat-thropomorphized. Folded into the pack. Is that what a group of cats is called? Pack? Harem? The cats and the woman, they live together out of necessity.

UNSTUCK: A pride? Like lions?

LINDSAY HUNTER: There we go!

UNSTUCK: So she becomes kind of the inverse of dogs dressed in fashionable sweaters.

LINDSAY HUNTER: Right. She is slowly becoming cooled to society. Retreating into her own world.

UNSTUCK: I went down a weird Internet rabbit hole after reading your story, because I decided to Google what cat food tastes like. And I found a very detailed Yahoo Answers thread about it. Apparently it has some human fans. What do you imagine cat food tastes like?

LINDSAY HUNTER: That does not surprise me! I imagine it tastes like chewed Spam. Which itself already tastes chewed. The oil of it coats your tongue, and there are sudden chewy pieces. With every chew you think the word, "doody." Delicious, in other words!

UNSTUCK: I imagined it as a mix of Spam and creamed tuna. With some peas.

LINDSAY HUNTER: Ooh, good call.

UNSTUCK: Why did you decide to go with a second person narration in this story? Did it just naturally go that way during your first draft, or did you shift to it later?

LINDSAY HUNTER: Oh, yeah, it started that way. I rarely go back and make huge changes once I've got a story totally down. As for why I went with second person, I love the simultaneous closeness and distance you can get with it. And for this story, that felt like the right choice for the character. You know her pain, but she is still withdrawn.

UNSTUCK: When I was first reading the story, I also felt like the "you" emphasized the fact that she had no one to talk to. I, as a reader, felt almost complicit in her loneliness.

LINDSAY HUNTER: Wow! I love that.

UNSTUCK: You have a book of "slim fictions" out called Daddy's.

LINDSAY HUNTER: This is true!

UNSTUCK: What attracts you to slim fiction as a form?

LINDSAY HUNTER: Man, so much. I love the immediacy of it. I love how an entire world can be shown in just a matter of moments. Which any great fiction does. Longer stories, novels, etc. There is a world in every sentence. I love the stakes of short fiction. I love how it seems, to me anyway, that word choice is just as essential as plot.

It's like poetry in that way. I had an argument with a professor once about whether or not a story I had written was a poem or a story, and I feel like that is the tension I want in everything I write or read.

UNSTUCK: What are you reading right now?

LINDSAY HUNTER: I just finished The Sisters Brothers and I loved it. Every sentence was so careful and essential. It was funny and violent. Now I'm reading The Vanishers and the language in it feels bright, fresh, new. I am only about 50 pages in but I am enjoying it a lot.

UNSTUCK: Is there anything else you wanted to talk about before we wrap up?

LINDSAY HUNTER: Anyone reading this, be kind to your stuffed animals. Don't write crap. Don't read crap either.

*   *   * 

Allie Werner is a graduate of Reed College. Before joining Unstuck as an Assistant Editor, she read slush for Tin House and interned with American Short Fiction. Her first published story appeared in Storyglossia last summer. She can be found online at A. is A. In her spare time she enjoys coffee and comic books, preferably simultaneously.

Interview: J. Robert Lennon


When at last they reached the top, it was nearly dark, and Richard wondered if they had made some kind of mistake. The cottage was not as he recalled. The tree was still there, but the structure itself was lower, broader. The second floor seemed to be missing entirely, and the clapboards were wider, and painted a peeling white. Furthermore, the former gas company grounds could no longer be seen from the hilltop, and the view on the far side was drastically different. The lake he remembered was gone—only a weedy marsh seemed to lie in the valley below, and the hills did not appear as tall as they once had. Indeed, if they were there at all, they were obscured by fog. The terrain was very rocky and unforgiving, and he began to feel a terrible sense of dread.

     —from “The Cottage on the Hill” (Unstuck #1)

J. Robert Lennon is the author of seven novels, including Mailman, Castle, and the forthcoming Familiar, and a collection of short stories, Pieces for the Left Hand. He teaches writing at Cornell University.

Interview by Molly Laich

[Note: This interview was conducted over Google Chat.]

J. ROBERT LENNON:  You in there?

UNSTUCK:  Ha. Yes, I am in there. I am in the computer.


UNSTUCK:  Hello! How are you?

J. ROBERT LENNON:  I'm great! Just sent in the page proofs for Familiar, the new book, so I am relieved and happy.

UNSTUCK:  Oh, what a feeling. When does it come out?

J. ROBERT LENNON:  First week of October. Will be touring a bit then, including to Missoula.

UNSTUCK:  Speaking of which: I wanted to ask about your time at the University of Montana. When were you there? What were the circumstances that led you to an MFA? What sort of writer were you before the MFA, and how did it change you?

J. ROBERT LENNON:  I was a student there from 1993 to 1995, met my wife, the novelist Rhian Ellis, and we stayed there a couple years more. I got an MFA for the usual reasons—my favorite college class was a fiction workshop and my teacher suggested I apply to MFA programs. Montana was the only place I got in—I was not a terribly skilled or mature writer at the time. The main thing I learned there, though, was discipline—to write every day, and, most importantly, to revise. I'm no longer in a position to be able to write daily but I am a total pig for revision. My first drafts are crap.

UNSTUCK:  In workshop, did you work on short stories or novels?

J. ROBERT LENNON:  Both. My first attempt at a novel was about a rock band that that has to deliver a baby from Seattle to Philadelphia. It was really bad, and people told me so. I also ended up workshopping the first few chapters of what would become my first novel, and that went rather better.

UNSTUCK:  Since we brought Familiar up, let's talk about the new book! The novel is about a woman who stumbles into a parallel reality in which she's estranged from her children. To me, this is the saddest thing I can imagine. The ultimate life failure: to have a ruined relationship with your kids. (I don't have any kids; I'm guessing.) And you confirmed my suspicion that you were writing about your worst fears. To me, it's almost a horror story. But not in any conventional way.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  A friend of mine just read it, and mentioned how sad it was. And my reaction was, "Is it? Damn, I guess it really is." Of course it is.

I do like your characterization of it as a horror story, though, and that is precisely how I've been describing it to people—a horror novel about parenthood. Not as horrifying as, say, Pet Sematary, but maybe less easy to dismiss as fantasy.

The book started as a way of exploring the weird feeling of driving on the highway after September 11th—I was supposed to be on a book tour, and it was all cancelled, and I had to drive a rental car home to Ithaca, because the airports were closed. When we were living in Missoula in 2002, I wrote about 40 pages, then gave up. Finally I went back to it in 2009, printed it out, deleted the file, and started over, retyping it all into the word processor. And this time I didn't stop. Over many drafts, it became more about parenting and less about the sci-fi conceit. I think my recent work is more about metaphor, and works more by evocation rather than description, if that makes any sense. I think I'll be returning to the social realism for the next book—a comedy, I hope. But I always think everything's going to be funny, and then it turns depressing.

By the way: I'm reading your movie review of Damsels in Distress—my wife liked it pretty well. I like Greta Gerwig. But I've never really been able to wrap my mind around Whit Stillman. I always find myself wishing that Hal Hartley were directing his movies instead.

UNSTUCK:  That's sort of like how every time I listen to Elvis Costello I wish I were listening to Tom Petty.


UNSTUCK:  Thanks for reading. I wish I'd reviewed Battleship instead. Rihanna as a naval officer, LOL. But anyway. It's interesting that the sadness wasn't at the forefront for you while you were writing the book. It did sort of sneak up on me as well. I was overcome with grief when she sees Sam and—   but I shouldn't give things away.

Have you written from a woman's point of view before?

J. ROBERT LENNON:  I have written from a woman's POV before, and I'm always a little surprised when people are surprised by it. It seems to me that writing from the other gender is a Writing 101 skill. I mean, if you can't imagine what it's like to not be yourself, you're in the wrong line of work. That said, I do usually write male characters, and I've never devoted an entire novel to a woman character before. Most of one, but never the whole thing. I felt at home in this one, though—do you think it's a persuasive feminine perspective?

UNSTUCK:  I do. I found her to be unsentimental and I enjoyed the idea that she had suddenly given up the impulse to wear makeup. I agree that writers should be able to write from other perspectives, but I don't agree that it's an entirely symmetrical switch. I mean— I think it's slightly more challenging for a man to write as a woman than for a woman to write as a man. It's a complicated theory supported by my cursory studies of psycholinguistics, briefly summarized by saying that man is sort of the default stance, and as such all humans are better at slipping into a man's world.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  I suspect you're right about that. And I suspect it's also easier for a male reader to accept a male character written by a woman, in part for the same reasons. Because hell, why wouldn't she be writing about a man? It could be that the bar, then, is set higher for a man trying to write from a woman's perspective—but, on the other hand, we get congratulated for doing it a hell of a lot more often, and more effusively, than women writers do for writing about men.

UNSTUCK:  One more question about Familiar, maybe. You mentioned abandoning the more sci-fi-ish elements in an earlier draft, but it's not all gone. It engages with elements of sci-fi in the way Elisa becomes involved in parallel worlds discussion boards and whatnot. But it seems to me the novel is just itself and doesn't concern itself very much with genre considerations. Do you agree? Is this a luxury of someone who has written multiple novels?

J. ROBERT LENNON:  I think it's a luxury of somebody who grew up reading tons of genre fiction, and is writing in an era where genre-blurring fiction is not only acceptable but à la mode. I can't get Stephen King, sci-fi, and crime fiction out of my head. Sometimes I don't bother to try. I think this is even more common among writers younger than me—all my undergrads at Cornell are members of the Harry Potter generation, and I have been getting lots and lots of literary fiction with insidious genre-borrowing in it. I like this a lot.

Yeah, there is lots of the parallel worlds stuff in here, but in earlier drafts it was there more for its own sake, and now it is there as something for Elisa to ponder. It's a vehicle for exploring character now—and for exploring the vicissitudes of family life. I am glad you regard the novel as merely being itself—that's my intent, and I think I needed to let it find itself before I could start trying to make it any good.

UNSTUCK:  Let's "shift gears" a second. There's your Unstuck story, "The Cottage on the Hill," about a cottage that seems to morph via mysterious circumstances, and your novel Castle, that is about a lot of things, but much of the action has to do with home repairs. Do these stories have anything to do with one another? I get the feeling that they were maybe written around the same time or are born of similar experiences or ideas.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  Well, the Unstuck story came after Castle, but I will tell you what, I am obsessed with houses. They are so powerful. I dream about them constantly—I think most people do. That story came from a dream, in fact—I was out of town with my son, at of all things a Rubik's Cube solving competition, and in the hotel we were staying in I dreamed about returning over and over to this cottage that is different every time, but still the same, in that dreaming you-just-know-stuff sort of way. I spent the drive back to Ithaca trying to remember it all, and then wrote the story with only a small amount of narrative structure inserted to hold it all together. I ought to teach a course on books about houses. There are so many good ones.

UNSTUCK:  Tell us about a few! What books were helpful to you in writing Castle? (But then I have another question about Castle, so contain yourself.)

J. ROBERT LENNON:  Well, Shirley Jackson's The Haunting of Hill House is wonderful. But I mostly think of Castle as a Stephen King novel. Whereas the biggest influence on Familiar is probably Tom McCarthy's Remainder—another book about the mysteries of cognition.

UNSTUCK:  Not to be illiterate, but it reminded me a little of the film Cast Away.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  Sure, I'll buy Cast Away! The first two thirds, anyway. I used to characterize my earlier book On The Night Plain as "A Coen Brothers western." This was before there actually were Coen Brothers westerns.

UNSTUCK:  What I admired most about Castle was how close we were to the protagonist’s changing moods, perspectives. I think the book is psychologically deft. (I have an undergraduate degree in psychology, so, you're welcome.) It's clear we're dealing with an "unreliable narrator," but precisely how he is unreliable remains a mystery for much of the book. It's a source of much tension and intrigue! And I liked very much the white deer.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  White deer: yes! They’re a staple of central New York writers. They live behind the fence at the old Seneca Army Depot. They are strange and beautiful.

My editor and I worked very hard to keep the nature of Loesch's unreliability consistent. He is not lying—but he is telling a highly self-serving narrative. There are things he needs to say, but he can't bring himself to do it, not for a long time. At first he will only allow his past to enter the story via other characters—e.g., the hardware store clerk who calls him "Soldier." But as the narrative wears on, he talks more openly about what he did, and what happened to him. The turning point is when he falls into the pit trap in the woods.

A colleague of mine at Cornell, a medievalist, told me, after hearing me read that bit, that this is a very, very old trope—you fall in a hole and remember things. Murakami's Wind-Up Bird Chronicle does this too.

UNSTUCK:  I was telling somebody about Familiar and they said it sounded like Murakami's latest book.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  Well, I was a little dismayed when I learned that Murakami's book was about parallel universes...  but it turns out to be utterly different. I must say I wasn't wild about 1Q84—it should have been shorter, among other things. I ordinarily like Murakami a great deal, though.

UNSTUCK:  I used to have these insane fears as an undergrad the night before workshop that I would show up and someone would have written the same story as I had, exactly—the way normal girls might worry about someone at the wedding wearing the same dress as them.

J. ROBERT LENNON:  A former teacher who shall remain nameless once told our workshop, "If you get a good idea, write it immediately, because somebody could steal it." NO! No, that is dumb.

It is one of the most popular questions I get from would-be writers, too. "Should I copyright my idea?" No, because your idea is worthless! Ideas are nothing. A book is something—it's real—and it won't be like anyone else's. In very much the way that two women are never going to inhabit the same dress in the same way. Hell, it might not even look like the same dress.

I'll tell you what: dudes don't worry about wearing suits that ALL LOOK ALIKE. Because dudes are taught to think that their own personal special penis power will radiate out from them like glorious rays of man sun.

UNSTUCK:  Would you like to tell me a little about your writing process? What you're working on next? Life plans and dreams?


1) Usually in three- or four-hour shifts, when I am not teaching. I try to produce maybe a page an hour. It's all rather craftsmanlike—I get "inspired" sometimes but inspiration is kinda bullshit most of the time. When I have time, I write—that's about the size of it. Sometimes it's goodish, sometimes it sucks.

2) A short story about a graduate student in anthropology, then a talk about stylistic and plot extremes in fiction for the Colgate Writers' Conference, which is in a few weeks. Then a literary crime novella that I have extracted from a failed 2009 novel. Then I start taking notes on this big social comedy I want to write.

3) Get old. Read and eat and drink and hang out with my wife. Record music. I like my life; I just want to keep it going.

UNSTUCK:  Your work can be dark sometimes. It deals with broken relationships and families, domestic life gone wrong, but with hints of the supernatural. I think there's a natural impulse, maybe particularly among readers who are also writers, to try to find the real-life connections between the author and the horrors he expresses. But you seem fine. I mean, not psychologically tortured or crazy or a bad parent or whatever. What can you say about the relationship between the author and his work?

J. ROBERT LENNON:   Yes, it's true that I am a functional person with a happy family, and I count myself lucky. And it is luck—I don't pretend otherwise. But the collective consciousness of my household is very dark. I think that all of us have tried different ways of channeling this energy—into personal projects, rather than towards our regard for one another. I am deeply proud to already see the family illness finding its way into my older son's Twitter feed, for instance.

Let's face it—the more love there is in your life, the more you have to lose. And the more ways there are to lose what you have. I love extravagantly—the people around me, the work I do, the things I enjoy. And it opens me up to all manner of hurt. But what's the alternative, you know? Hiding from it? Writers don't have to go out in the world and do exciting things, but we can't shy away from strong emotion in our minds. Perhaps this is why so many of us become alcoholics, or suicides. There's no room for denial or aversion.

It hasn't escaped my attention that the stuff of mine that people seem to like the most is the stuff that seemed at the time of writing to be the most personal, the most trifling, the least obviously marketable. I try to tell students this—don't try to write something acceptable, try to write something that expresses your obsessions. This is hard for some writers, who are embarrassed by, or dubious about, their obsessions. But it's important to break through that wall. Your self is the only thing you have that nobody else can give to the world. That pure, unrefined ore—that's the stuff.

I believe in earnestness and honesty and in expressing strong emotion, both on and off the page. Never try to be classy. There, that's your pull quote: Writers, don't be classy!

*   *   * 

Molly Laich is an Assistant Editor at Unstuck. She reads and writes in Missoula, Montana. Tweet her (@MollyL) or visit her blog at

Interview: John Maradik and Rachel B. Glaser


“I want a boyfriend,” Norene says.

“Are you alone? No,” says Priest Paul. “God can be your friend. Jesus is when your vision narrows and you can’t stop feeling warm,” he says. A beam of light blinds him. He slumps as if shot. Someone yawns and his eyes snap open. Priest Paul reminds me of an undernourished horse. He seems to be carrying a load that is endangering his life. I decide I like him a lot.

I’ve seen pictures of him at Priest School having the time of his life. Days he would study scripture; nights him and a priest-friend would hit the streets, helping. “You’d be surprised how many lost souls there are, every night, drunk and wandering. We would help them find their cars. Women would be all dressed up, stood up by their dates, and we would take them dancing, politely refusing drink.”

During Elementary Service, Priest Paul would rock side-to-side pretending we were at sea. Running back and forth, yelling for the sails. “To the canoe-pews!” he’d shriek, wiping ocean spray from his face. “Yes, good, now the bow, run to the bow! The bow! Remember which is the bow?” “Yes, yes, now, all hands on deck!” Out of breath, we’d slide to the floor and put our hands around the podium. At Teen Service, Priest Paul was more subdued. He tried to match our nonchalance, but it came more naturally to us.

     —from “Peer Confession” (Unstuck #1)

John MaradikRachel B. Glaser met at UMass-Amherst’s MFA Program. Maradik’s work has been published by 14 Hills and American Short Fiction. He is the winner of the 2010 Bamby Holmes Award. Glaser is the author of the short story collection Pee On Water.

Interview by Allie Werner

UNSTUCK:  Writing has a reputation as a solitary activity. One of the things that first interested me about "Peer Confession" was the fact that it's a collaborative work. What prompted you to collaborate with another writer?

JOHN MARADIK:  This story was our first collaboration. Rachel and I were in a workshop together at U. Mass and our professor was looking for volunteers to turn in a story first round. Nobody had work ready so Rachel and I said if we could collaborate, it was likely we could crank something out in time. As soon as we opened up a Google Doc together, things got pretty weird. I think our story started off with both Rachel and I trying to impress each other with funny or out of control sentences. We were in love and living together in a loft apartment with no walls. Out of the swamp of sentences we were creating, a story began to emerge. Something about a church. Something about a crazy priest. It’s almost like the story wrote itself.  As the deadline neared things got a little desperate and we sat by a lake frantically brainstorming in a notebook and then we wolfed down food at a breakfast buffet. It took a year of casual editing to get the story to where it is. 

UNSTUCK:  Did you feel like writing a story together provided a different set of challenges from writing alone?

RACHEL B. GLASER:  Yes, it definitely has a different set of challenges, but also a different set of rewards.  Occasionally, one of us will write a line we really like, and the other will want to cut it. The plus of this is that there is constant editing occurring with two sets of eyes, so there's never is a really messy draft, or a lot of material to cut. The main reward is having someone to relate to during the writing process. Often, when you're writing a story alone, the story is like a one-person cave. Writing a story with John is always fun, because it's fun to read the story aloud to each other and to talk about the story when not writing it.  Also, writing collaboratively makes the story feel alive. The story gains lines that I didn’t write. Though they come from John, it almost feels like they come from the story, like the story is helping us write it.

UNSTUCK:  "Peer Confession" is a story about adolescence. What do you think is the most awkward part of being a teenager?

RACHEL B. GLASER:  I think the main awkwardness is also what’s so exciting about it: trying to figure out who you are, and who you want to be. At a certain age, teens’ looks and personalities combine to become a reputation. Do I wear make-up? Would I ever smoke a cigarette? I feel that someone in their early teens is trying to choose who they want to be, but that it is colored by who they guess they will be.  Having a close friend is this real merge—by association and influence. There is a real freedom in the separation between adults and classmates. I remember feeling this “kid feeling” really early on in life, watching Nickelodeon and MTV. It felt like they were channels for my brother and I and not for my parents or other adults. This apartness is a sort of wilderness. In “Peer Confession,” Doris is trying to understand if her braces and her church are holding her back, and also if she minds being held back. Is she ready for what would come next?

UNSTUCK:  The story contains two competing churches, one that encourages peer confession and orthodontia, and one (Church Hello) that throws surreally wild parties.  If you two founded your own individual religions, what would their main tenets be?

RACHEL B. GLASER:  Music and dancing are such a powerful and natural way to make humans happy, so I think my religion might be more of a disco or house party. Not unlike Church Hello, actually!

JOHN MARADIK:  My church would also involve lots of dancing, but gardening too. I don’t think I like gardening, but planting things in the earth is probably important and sacred even though it is too much work to be fun. So I guess you could only eat unprocessed foods in my religion. Bob Marley and Louis Armstrong would be the gospel music. One love, one heart, etc. Meditation and yoga would be part of my religion too. But no yoga classes. Just a free-form stretching sort of thing in a room full of mats with vaporized weed streaming through the ventilation system. Astronomical observation would also be mandatory. Acupuncture would be mandatory. But not ritualistic. There would be no rituals. As soon as something started feeling like a ritual I would change the religion completely. I would also abolish cell phones and computers and jobs.

UNSTUCK:  I would probably join both of those sects. So, what are you two reading right now?

JOHN MARADIK:  Right now I am reading The Pillow Book of Sei Shonagon and the New and Selected Poems of Mary Oliver. This Pillow Book is the non-fiction diary of an 11th century Japanese court lady.  Here is a quote: “A preacher ought to be good-looking. For, if we are properly to understand his worthy sentiments, we must keep our eyes on him while he speaks; should we look away, we may forget to listen. Accordingly an ugly preacher may well be the source of sin.” Very relevant to our story, huh? Anyways, the book is filled with these quirky and beautiful observations. I think Rachel was intending to read this book first . . .  but I am stealing it! As for the Mary Oliver, just about every poem is a stunner.

RACHEL B. GLASER:  Though the books of James Purdy sit gloriously unread on my shelf like the six books of the Mishnah and the five books of the Torah, I’ve been reading other places. Some of what I’ve read recently has been the poems of Christopher Deweese and Heather Christle. These two poets are friends of mine and John’s, and are married.  Their work is not collaborative, but it is interesting to think of these two personalities and sensibilities existing side by side, influencing and entertaining each other.

UNSTUCK: Where can we find more of your work?

JOHN MARADIK: Check out Rachel’s book Pee On Water— one of the best collections of short stories ever written by a person on their own!

RACHEL B. GLASER:  We are currently trying to place a story of ours called “First Semester,” and hope to start another story this summer.  It was an honor to have our first story in Unstuck alongside such wild and varied stories!

*   *   * 

Allie Werner is a graduate of Reed College. Before joining Unstuck as an Assistant Editor, she read slush for Tin House and interned with American Short Fiction. Her first published story appeared in Storyglossia last summer. She can be found online at A. is A. In her spare time she enjoys coffee and comic books, preferably simultaneously.