In our new author series, we’ll be offering a clairvoyant peek behind the veil of who and what makes up TRANSCENDENT. Here’s a glimpse at Brett Petersen and his story “Frogbaby.”
ABOUT THE STORY
What inspired your story?
Among the things one should never Google is the term ‘frog baby.’ This will link you to images of babies with anencephaly: a birth defect wherein the cranium, brain and spinal cord never properly form. These babies, as one might guess, look kind of like frogs with protruding eyes and no top of their head.
I’ve always had a fear of hospitals and medicine in general, and so the grotesque, clinical aspects of this story tend to reflect that. The ‘story-within-the-story’ is a wacky, surrealist fable intertwined with the main narrative in order to create a jarring juxtaposition of grimness and absurdism. The narratives (sort of) come together in the end, but not in a way that anyone would expect.
Did you have to do any research? If so, what kind? What did you learn?
I definitely had to read about anencephaly (and yes, look at pictures of frog babies.) I learned that their prognosis is never good. However, four years after writing “Frogbaby,” I came across a documentary featuring two sisters with microcephaly (a condition where only the brain stem has formed.) These girls are still alive today and are in their teens. This makes me think that there might be a kernel of truth to “Frogbaby” after all.
Can you tell me a little bit about your protagonist?
Most of the characters in this story get their share of the limelight, but Sheila, Dan, and Lily (the frog) are probably the most qualified for the title of ‘protagonist.’ Sheila and Dan, the parents of Ryan (the titular Frogbaby) are everyday people who react to the death of their child the way I imagine most parents would. From the outset, they are characterized by how they cope with their loss: Sheila is dissatisfied with the official story of Ryan’s death and sets out to discover the truth, whereas Dan undergoes a faith/identity crisis and switches from being a theologian to a writer of young adult, absurdist fiction. Lily and her partner Abe are frog detectives on a mission to fulfill the final wish of a dying pterodactyl. Lily tends to take the mission seriously, whereas Abe mostly serves as her comedic foil. While the frogs’ arc doesn’t make much sense plot-wise, it functions as a tonal juxtaposition to the grim-darkness of the main narrative.
What would you like readers to take away from your story?
Stand up to the draconian policies of any and all institutions before it’s too late! Always question the motives and actions of those in the higher echelons of society. Their aims tend not to benefit the vast majority of people.
Which phrase are you most proud of in this story?
Too many to choose, but if I had to pick one, it would be from the opening paragraph:
A mind is a terrible thing to waste, that is, unless you never had one to begin with.
That sounds to me like the perfect tagline to put on the front of a book.
If your story was front-page news, what would the headline be?
“Local woman sues pharmaceutical giant for child’s birth defect: says she was inspired by science fiction story.”
ABOUT THE AUTHOR
What was the best money you ever spent as a writer?
Pretty much all the money I spend on books is well-spent. My greatest investment was probably my laptop: I wouldn’t be where I am today without it.
If you had to put your name on someone else’s book/story, which would it be and why?
That’s a tough one, but I’d say many of the pieces in Harlan Ellison’s Deathbird Stories. Either that, or the short stories of Gabriel Garcia Marquez. Or perhaps Jeff Vandermeer’s Southern Reach Trilogy.
When did you decide to take writing seriously?
My dream of becoming a writer began to bud around 2007 or 8 when I declared a major in English. But the dream didn’t really blossom until 2014 when I got my first fiction piece published. That was the moment when I set myself on the course to writing my first book: a collection of all my published short stories.
If you could choose a single superpower, what would it be and why?
Time travel: because then I could go back to the past a much wiser man and undo all the stupid mistakes I made as a kid and teenager. I would also love to just live through the 1990’s on an infinite loop: no 9/11, no War in Iraq, no economic crash, and no Trump. The ‘90s were a time of great cartoons, video games, music, movies, and a president whose only flaw was cheating on his wife with an intern.
Tell me about the mythology of the Squid Universe.
Okay. Essentially, our universe exists within the subatomic particle of a tomato planted by a giant squid called Unas who exists on a higher plane known as The Unknowable. Unas plants the tomatoes for nourishment so that he may defend himself against Sokar the sperm whale who is trying to kill and eat him. The souls of intelligent beings that evolve and die within the tomatoes are the ‘nutrients’ that keep Unas healthy and strong. If Unas were to defeat Sokar, or Sokar were to eat Unas, no more tomato universes would be planted. Thus, the struggle between squid and sperm whale is reminiscent of Yin and Yang in Taoism. But the structure of the Unasian system is much more complex than that.
Encircling Unas’ head are two double helixes made of one centipede and one millipede each. These are Carol and Beth, the Millipede Goddesses, and Carl and Jeff, the Centipede Overlords. These entities serve as Unas’ ‘brain:’ pumping the building blocks of intelligence and energy (flow) into the tomato seeds.
Orbiting Unas’ body are four floating heads: Finkler, Figgs, Yasher, and Maldonado. Each of them represents a ‘low-functioning’ kid that I (the author) met in a psychiatric facility. Unas siphons manure from the bottoms of the low-functioners’ necks and injects it into the tomato seeds, giving physicality (structure) to the universes within.
Brett Petersen is a writer, musician and artist from Albany, New York whose high-functioning autism only enhances his creativity. He earned his B.A. in English from the College of Saint Rose in 2011 and since then, his prose has appeared in more than a dozen print and online journals. He is currently working on compiling his published works into his first book titled Welcome to the Squid Universe. Aside from his career in publishing, he is a drummer, guitarist, singer/songwriter, cartoonist and Tarot reader.