Interview with World in Pain Contributor: Matheus Borges

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About the Interviewer: Logan Ralph is a full-time student at San Diego State University and aspiring writer. When he isn’t studying, you can usually find him toiling away on his work in progress YA novel. He further distracts himself by curating a writing blog, Writers Unblocked, and binge watching all the good stuff on Netflix. His work has been praised by his mom who likens him to a young Stephen King.

About the author: Matheus Borges (1992) was born in Porto Alegre, southern Brazil. After graduating in film school at Unisinos, he attended the celebrated literary workshop ministered by Luiz Antonio de Assis Brasil. Borges wrote the screenplay for the feature film ‘The Honeycomb’, to be released in 2019. His fiction has been published in a number of magazines, both Brazilian (Subversa, Gueto) and foreign (Waccamaw, Fiction International), as well as anthologies. Feel free to follow him on Instagram (@matheusmedeborg) or on twitter (@matheusmedeborg) or his online Portuguese portfolio.

LR: Your short story, “The Clouds”, contrasts the experiences of two men, the first and last on earth. There also seems to be a contrast of hope vs despair. In this story I get the sense that the unfamiliar leads to hopefulness with the first man. The second man however, is is so familiar with his world that he comes across as hopeless. Do you think that the unfamiliar fosters greater hope than the familiar? Does this idea influence your writing?

I’m interested in how fiction is able to take the feeling of familiarity and turn it against the reader, or even against the world. Some stories can force you to look at something as if you were seeing it for the first time. It’s amazing when you’re faced with this kind of story. Suddenly, the world is full of new meanings, ideas, and signifiers. Of course they were always there, hidden somewhere under the surface, but now you’re able to look behind the curtain. I wouldn’t say hope is associated with this act of unveiling, but certainly there’s a level of wonder, or even awe.

LR: Why did you choose to focus on the clouds in this story, and what do you hope readers will take away from this focus?

When you write a story, some mental images just impose themselves on you. They’ll take you by assault and become inseparable from the story itself. That’s what happened with the clouds. ‘Cloud’, the word, can’t be found anywhere in the story itself, only in the title. When the first man looks up to the sky, he has no word to describe what he sees. The reader, on the other hand, knows what the character is looking at. Personally, I understand these clouds as amorphous monuments to the uncertainty of the world. Of course, clouds are famous for their shapelessness, so they can be a million different things. It’s all up for the observer to decide.

LR: You touch on the idea that humans are irresponsible tenants on earth. If your story was to continue, do you think that first man would repeat the mistakes of last man’s ancestors? Or is first man seeing the world in an entirely different way?

Well, let’s talk again about hope. We already know what happens when humankind behaves in such a selfish, reckless way. It is what’s happening now, everywhere around our planet. We are living in the middle of a global climate catastrophe, and I have no hopes about a future where it doesn’t get worse from here. So, we might ask ourselves: If we could get back in time and control the fate of our species, would we take a different path? Would we take a not-fossil-fueled-capitalist path? I would, but there’s no going back in time.

LR: Last man had become extremely apathetic towards his circumstances even though they were virtually the same as first man’s. Do you think that perspective plays a big part in this difference of attitude?

Perspective is everything, as I understand. A story is a story as long as there’s someone perceiving something. Despite both men following their respective paths, one world is a desert because nothing has been invented yet, while the other is a desert because everything has already been destroyed. However, this is the same world. What happened between these two stages of generalized emptiness? One character has no idea, while the other is the only one left who knows. It’s like the match cut in the movie ‘2001: A Space Odyssey’. First, you have a flying bone, then a spaceship. What happened between them? The answer to both questions is the same: The human species.

LR: If you could continue writing the story of either characters which would you choose and why?

None, I think. I wrote ‘The Clouds’ in December 2015, as a formal experiment in mirror-storytelling. You have these two characters extracting their respective meanings out of their respective surroundings. In effect, however, the central character is this sort of shared consciousness guiding the story. They are two, yet one. This experiment led me to write a novel, called ‘As Forças Armadas’ (‘The Armed Forces’), which has yet to find a publisher. The novel, set in contemporary Brazil, also employs this mirror-storytelling mode, but in a much more radical way. ‘As Forças Armadas’ may not be a literal extension of ‘The Clouds’, but it’s certainly a methodological one. 

LR: Could you see this story continuing into something longer?

Thematically, ‘The Clouds’ is interested in exploring some sort of post-industrial mythology. I felt I had to assume the voice of a fabulist, like a dystopian Aesop’s. The story had to be short, and it had to work both concretely, as a narrative with interesting characters and engaging events, and as an allegory. After writing ‘The Clouds’, I suspect this thematic frame became my main method of writing short stories. While the novel and the screenplay mostly demand you follow one logical thread from beginning to end, the short story is an invitation to establish your own rules. Since ‘The Clouds’, I’ve written a couple more stories in this dystopian fabulistic mode – which, I must recognize, owes a lot to writers like Barthelme, LeGuin, and Ballard. (Editor’s Note: Feel free to check out Matheus’ other story which uses this same dystopian fabulistic mode)

Be sure to buy our newest Fiction International: World in Pain issue featuring Matheus Borges story “The Clouds”.

Interview with World in Pain Contributor: Margaret Hermes

About our interviewer: Krystal Galvis, born and raised in San Diego, California, is a writer fascinated with magic, fantasy, and darkness. She is an MFA graduate student at San Diego State University studying creative writing. Outside from writing short stories and poems, she researches any Latinx fables or mythology and goes on long walks at the beach. Her published work appears in Feminine Collective Literary Magazine and you can find her on twitter @Kbgcali

Photo of Margaret Hermes

About the author: Margaret Hermes’s story collection, Relative Strangers (Carolina Wren/Blair), was chosen by Jill McCorkle as winner of the Doris Bakwin Book Award and given a special second place award in the 2012 Balcones Fiction Prize competition. Dozens of other stories have appeared in magazines and journals such as The Missouri Review, the Laurel Review, and The Literary Review. Several have also won or been finalists in competitions (Glimmer Train, River Styx, and others).

Her published/performed work includes a mystery novel, The Phoenix Nest, and a stage adaptation of an Oscar Wilde fable, The Birthday of the Infanta. When not writing, Hermes concentrates on environmental issues. Feel free to visit Margaret Hermes’ Website or Facebook.

KG:  What motivated you to write “Dust?” Had you written this story before noticing Fiction International’s theme or did the theme inspire you to write it?

MH:  I had worked on “Dust” over a period of years, so I wasn’t inspired by Fiction International’s theme to write the story, but the theme of “World in Pain” certainly inspired me to send it.

Like in much of my writing, many real-life threads came together to weave this fiction. The double-named Vietnamese-American was a boy I knew who chose his best friend’s name for his Confirmation name though it was identical to his “American” first name. A man once confided that his beloved, the child of Vietnamese refugees, rejected the possibility of ever introducing him to her parents. A first-generation Vietnamese-American told me of his mother’s fear that he would swallow dust along with their meals unless he sat very still. These cultural carry-overs can sometimes be heavy weights, even as they are connectors.

St. Louis is home to different waves of immigrants, including from Vietnam, a later tsunami from Bosnia – St. Louis holds the largest population of Bosnians outside of Europe – and more recently from Afghanistan. My experience with refugees from Bosnia and Afghanistan showed me the sense of loss that permeates daily life after flight from a war-torn homeland.

KG:  Names often have a powerful meaning. But in your story, you wrote that “it’s not what a person is called, but how. It is the feeling that goes into the speaking of the name — not the pronunciation or the meaning.” Can you elaborate on this?

MH:  Sure, there is such a range of names and their meanings embedded in the story and its references. Rainbow is the first name I explore – and the last — in order to talk about a moment in time and inherited cultural expressions. While the protagonist, Hien, sums up with the declaration that a name in and of itself is not what’s important, I use names as the story’s knots, conjoining people with one another and with their families’ pasts. Hien dwells on the Vietnamese meaning conveyed by his given — and later taken — name as well as those of the refugee girl he has grown up with and of his aunt who still lives in Vietnam. Those meanings are important, maybe even determinant. He learns that his own first name, the name by which he is known to himself and called by his parents, was not originally his – it had always belonged to someone else. Coincidentally (or not), the book on my nightstand as I write this is Jose Saramago’s All the Names with the epigraph “You know the name you were given, you do not know the name that you have.”

Psychological, as well as physical, dislocation strikes me as an aspect of the refugee experience in general and plays a role in the very particular experience of this narrator. Unlike the immigrants who passed through Ellis Island and sometimes were assigned an “Americanized” name by an arrogant clerk, refugees are not leaving the place of their birth for a better life – although this, too —  they are fleeing for their lives. People who are escaping war or famine or the aftermath of natural disaster can in the process lose nationality, culture, connections, of course property and belongings, and even identity.

So, while the narrator finally learns the truth (or one truth) of his family’s history, the emphasis on names shows the tentacles of that history reaching into his life.

KG:  What made you decide on “Rainbow” as the name for the girlfriend?

MH:  I chose the name Rainbow for the main character’s girlfriend because I both wanted to let the reader know from the outset that the story hinges on names and to establish a sense of “otherness” across all the characters. And because I imagined the reader wincing and instantly acknowledging the burden that a name can impose on the bearer, as well as the rather remarkable resignation most of us submit to in accepting the name assigned us by our parents.

One of the pleasures in writing fiction is the experience of making a choice and then discovering what rabbit hole it takes you down. The naming of Rainbow led me to the folks who would do that to their daughter, her hippie parents, her abdicant father and her jangling, self-absorbed mother.

KG:  Are there any books that you’ve read recently that you would recommend to emerging writers?

MH:  I just finished Kate Atkinson’s Life After Life, a novel that might have been crafted with the theme of a “World in Pain” in mind. World War II provides the canvas, England and Germany the pigments. Atkinson paints scene after scene, life after life, offering alternate versions of the lives of characters and the characteristics of countries. The person we accompany on this journey from birth through adulthood and through various lifes and deaths is Ursula, but then we find that the main character is really potentiality itself.

Before that, I read Divisadero by Michael Ondaatje, in which one horrific explosion of violence divides a makeshift family and redirects — or misdirects— their lives. But it is loss that has brought this foursome together to begin with. The novel moves across starkly different landscapes where the characters are leading their disrupted lives that have echoes in the life of a dead French poet and novelist that one of the sisters is researching.

That was preceded by Eat the Apple, a young marine’s recounting of his deployments in Iraq. Matt Young’s memoir is raw, rough, and real.  Hard reading.

KG:  Any old favorites that you think are a must read?

MH:  Anything by Ondaatje. And Ondaatje can write about absolutely anything. In prose or poetry. I think Coming Through Slaughter is stunning. It’s the fictionalized story of the real life jazz musician Buddy Bolder set in the Storyville district of New Orleans. The writing itself, with its riffs, reads like a jazz composition sounds.

I like singling out the less known work by a celebrated author that has left a lasting impression on me. The Blind Assassin is a guilty favorite as it’s more of a potboiler (well, three potboilers actually) than vintage Margaret Atwood, but it’s loaded with entertaining quotes and heavily cloaked (weighed down?) with enigma.

I think any practitioner — or admirer — of the short fiction form should read the Collected Stories of William Faulkner. Just plain wonderful.

Milan Kundera’s Immortality. I found The Unbearable Lightness of Being and The Book of Laughter and Forgetting thoroughly engrossing and Immortality thoroughly challenging. I keep intending to read it again . . .

Paddy Clarke Ha Ha Ha by Roddy Doyle, set in a low-income neighborhood of Dublin. Funny and heart-breaking.

When thinking about dialogue and the writing of dialogue, I’ve been known to read plays. Tennessee Williams, Tom Stoppard, John Osborne, Oscar Wilde, Henrik Ibsen, Robert Bolt, Edward Albee, Sean O’Casey. I listen to the voices, the give and take. It’s an exercise I would recommend. Also, I go to see plays, three in the last week! One of those was a staged reading of Quiz Out by Margot Connelly about a pair of uber-Christian teens who are lesbians and teammates attending Bible Quiz tournaments.

KG:  What do you most hope readers walk away with from this short story?

MH:  Naturally I’d like them to care about the characters, but ideally the chief takeaway would be a more deeply felt understanding of the layered lives of refugees.

Not just the horrors of war and persecution, though of course there is that. At the apartment of recently arrived refugees from Afghanistan, I’d been invited to meet their visiting relatives who had just settled in Canada. All of the women were crowded into the kitchen, but I was led to an honored place among the men in the living room as I’d been helping the host family navigate their new world and secure some services. A sheaf of photos was being passed from hand to hand with comments made in Farsi. I waited for my turn, expecting to see pictures of more of their relatives. And for all I know, that’s what I did see. All the photos were of bloody victims, maybe some from bombing, but mostly torture, with missing limbs or digits. I dropped the photos and headed for the kitchen. Someone followed to give me a one-word explanation that I could understand without a translator: “Taliban.”

Fortunately, most of us can’t imagine what refugees endure before finally settling in a foreign land, but I would hope that we are sympathetic to the residue of having to leave home and leave behind so much that can never be replaced. At a time when distorted stories of migration are being foisted upon people, I feel it is important to look at the deeply human stories of those who make up the fabric of these dispossessed communities everywhere.

Be sure to get the newest issue of Fiction International with the theme of “World in Pain” where you can read Margaret Hermes short story “Dust”.

Feature Friday: Associate Editor Angela

For our next Feature Friday we’re happy to introduce Angela Pankosky, our final associate editor. Angela helps make the final decisions on submissions with the rest of our editorial staff, along with handling some of our administrative duties.

Angela Pankosky is a Polish writer, mother, and dancer. She earned B.A. in Comparative Literature from SDSU in 2011 and is currently a graduate student in Creative Writing with emphasis in poetry. Her biggest literary influences are Anaïs Nin,  Halina Poświatowska, and Helena Raszka.

You can read one of her latest poems, “Snuff yourself” in the January 2018 issue of Le Scat Noir or “The Brother” in the San Diego Poetry Annual Anthology. Also check out one of her short stories “Between Borders” in the most recent issue of pacificREVIEW!

Feature Friday: Associate Editor William Lambert

Welcome back for another one of our Feature Friday posts! Today FI is happy to introduce William Lambert, one of our associate editors. William participates in line by line editing of final submissions alongside the other editors, and he heads our prison correspondence program.

William Lambert is an MFA grad student at San Diego State University. He has not publish anything yet, but he is looking into publishing opportunities. Although his favorite genres tend to be action, noir, horror, fantasy, and graphic novels, he will read any form of literature. Other interests and hobbies include, anime, reptiles, cats, improv, running, and films. Some of his favorite movies are Jaws, Raiders of the Lost Ark, Nosferatu, Pulp Fiction, Seven Samurai, A Clockwork Orange, Akira, The Maltese Falcon, and The Lord of the Rings trilogy.

Feature Friday: Associate Editor Adrian Belmes

This week on the blog we have another feature Friday post. Today we have Adrian Belmes. Adrian helps keep the journal running smoothly in a lot of ways. He helps with selection of final pieces along with the other editors, and he helps make sure the journal appears as it should by working with our designer.

Adrian Belmes is the founder of Badlung Press, Vice President of San Diego State Zine Collective, and the editor in chief of a dirty college newspaper. He published a chapbook about wartime infidelity last year, an anthology about finstagrams this year, ad some poems here and there in the great void of the internet. His work can be found at or @adrian_belmes on Twitter. He encourages you to bother him, frequently.

Feature Friday: Associate Editor

For this week’s Feature Friday post we’re getting to know Valorie K. Ruiz! Valorie oversees social media for Fiction International, along with organizing reading assignments for interns and volunteers.

Valorie K. Ruiz is a Xicana writer fascinated by language and the magic it evokes. In addition to being an editor for Fiction International, she is also Assistant Flash Fiction Editor for Homology Lit. You can follow her on twitter @Valorie_Ruiz or read more of her work on her website. Her short story “Laced up tongues” was shortlisted for the Cosmonauts Fiction Prize, and one of her flash pieces was published by New South Online. Her writing is also forthcoming from The Florida Review, Occulum, and Hayden’s Ferry Review among others.

Feature Friday: Associate Editor Kurt Kroeber

This week as part of our Feature Friday get to know Kurt Kroeber! Kurt is one of our associate editors who oversees the administrative aspect of our journal including managing orders, getting issues out to contributors and readers, and handling much of our finances. Like all of our editors, he also gets to help narrow down what writing makes it into the issue.

Kurt Kroeber likes to put words into sentences, paragraphs, etc. He’s not published in any fancy literature magazines, but doesn’t really seem to give a care about that rat race (or at least that’s what he tells himself so he can sleep at night). Kurt writes for the We Are: The Guard music blog and in his spare time creates the Movie Novelization version of films currently in theatres. He co-wrote the feature film Psycho Sleepover which you can watch free on the internet if you are tenacious enough and have an affinity for schlocky horror-comedies. Happy Birthday!  Follow him on twitter at @wwwkurtcom.



Feature Friday: Associate Editor

For this week’s Feature Friday we have our first associate editor: Thomas M. Gresham.

Thomas is lead editor for this upcoming issue. His position involves overseeing all aspects of production from interacting with contributors, to proof reading, to guiding new interns and readers.

Thomas Gresham is a fiction writer, filmmaker, and screenwriter. He has work published in Superstition Review, Maudlin House, and Rougarou among others. His short story “Peach” was the winner of Carve Magazine’s 2018 Prose & Poetry Contest. He’s online at and you can find him on twitter under @thatsqueakypig

Next Issue’s Theme: Body

The time has finally arrived! The theme for our next issue has been decided on, and we can’t wait to see what everyone submits. For our next issue, writers are welcome to send submissions with the theme of (insert drumroll):




As usual, we have flexibility with what the word “body” means to you. Feel free to send work that deals with the collective human body, our physical meat suit, or things that dabble with form and make us question what can be labeled as a “body” of work.

Submissions will be opening again on October 1st, 2018 and will remain open until February 4th, 2019. Submissions will be accepted online through our Submittable and as always you can also send hard copies with a SASE to:

Harold Jaffe, Editor
Fiction International
San Diego State University
Dept. of English and Comp. Lit.
5500 Campanile Drive
San Diego, CA 92182-6020 USA

As you prepare your submission, why not look through our work? We have past issues available through Amazon. Some of our past themes have been “About Seeing“, “Fool“, and “Walls“. Reading an old issue is the best way to become familiar with the type of work we publish.

Featured Friday: Editor-in-chief Harold Jaffe

As part of a new initiative to help readers and potential contributors become more familiar with the journal and our editorial team, Fiction International is launching a new Featured Friday segment on our social media platforms. During this time, we’ll be giving readers a closer look at our editorial team for the upcoming submission period which opens on October 1st.

As our first featured post we are introducing our editor-in-chief Harold Jaffe. As editor-in-chief, he  has a final say in which pieces move forward to publication after they’ve been voted on by our team of readers. Since joining, Jaffe has been committed to promoting innovative and evocative works of hybrid writing and prose paired with memorable art.

Harold Jaffe is the author of 28 volumes of fiction, docufiction, and non-fiction, including Culture Porn, Goosestep; Death Café, Sacred Outcast: Dispatches from India; Revolutionary Brain; Induced Coma; Anti-Tiwtter: 150 50-Word Stories; Paris 60; Jesus Coyote; 15 Serial Killers; Beyond the Techno-Cave, Terror-dot-Gov, Straight Razor; Eros Anti-Eros; False Positive; Beasts; Mourning Crazy Horse; Madonna & Other Spectacles; and Dos Indios. 

Jaffe’s writing has been translated in Turkey, France, Spain, Germany Romania, Japan, Italy, and Cuba.

If you’re interested in reading interviews with Jaffe, or learning more about each individual title, feel free to visit his website or you can find him on Facebook.

We’ll be back next week with more of our editorial team members. Keep an eye out for a post mid-week with more details about our upcoming issue and the theme we selected!