Updated: Aug 29, 2022
Brooklyn writer John Waterfall's story "Levi's Song" appears in Flying Ketchup Press's upcoming anthology, Tales From the Deep. The story details the haunting journey of a cyborg whale in a post-apocalyptic world. Here, Waterfall shares some of the ideas and inspirations that fed into the tale.
At one point in my childhood, whales had a mythic quality. I went to the Museum of Natural History in New York a lot. There's something there called the whale room. At the top, there's a life-size replica of a big whale that's suspended from the ceiling. As a kid, I was just amazed at how big it was. Later in life, I learned that a blue whale is the largest animal to ever exist on Earth. That amazed me. In a way, it's a beautiful accident—supersized animals just don't make it in nature. It's an element of real fantasy that an animal this large, as well as ethereal and beautiful, can exist. Long story short, they captured my imagination.
I went to Iceland at one point as an adult and saw the same thing: suspended, life-size whales that you can freely walk amongst. Even if it's not the real thing, it's amazing to be next to these animals and see their scale. I was reading a book at the time called Leviathan, or The Whale by a British writer named Philip Hoare. It's a brilliant book. It explores the intertwined relationship between mankind and whales. There was a time in the post-industrial era where all the industry was fueled by whales. Basically everything was made from whales at a certain point in human history. The bottoms of your shoes, toothpaste, cat food—it was all whales! In terms of butchery, a whale is the single most valuable creature on planet Earth. These amazing creatures helped bring us forward at their own expense.
These amazing creatures helped bring us forward at their own expense.
We know at this point that a lot of animals live very emotional lives. Whales have language, they have intense relationships. There's this fringy belief that certain types of whales have religion or are capable of complex emotional thought. The whale in Levi's Song is based on a sperm whale, in part because I wanted to invoke some of the Moby Dick mythos. Sperm whales have a lot of spindle cells in their brain. Spindle cells are generally considered to be a key factor in consciousness. Aside from humans, the animals that have the most are ones like chimpanzees—and even they are dwarfed by the amount of spindle cells that a sperm whale has. So there's a lot going on inside their heads.
There's also the idea that sperm whales are capable of killing each other. They hunt squid by blasting them with sonar, immobilizing them, and then eating them. But they could do that to each other as well. That capability for self-harm also necessitates a level of restraint. All of this together implies that sperm whales may recognize a sort of morality in their relationships between each other.
So when I wrote Levi's Song in 2017 or 2018, I was fascinated with these animals and how much we had taken from them. You're close to the things you take advantage of; that's the only way you can take advantage of them. The relationship between mankind and whales is eventful and deep.
I was also interested in what I perceived to be the moral failings of apocalyptic fiction. I think there's far too much cynicism. I was interested in whether you could write a story from a perspective that wasn't human. I don't think you can, really. One of the main criticisms of the story was that the whale sounds too human. I addressed that by making it a point of the whale's own conflict, the fact that his "whaleness" was being taken from him through interaction with mankind. I was trying to find a sort of interspecies empathy. The story shows what mankind is incapable of not doing, but at the same time has something life-affirming. I think apocalyptic fiction forgets that, when looking at the end of things, there should be a measure of appreciation for having a chance at all. There's something to cherish in thanking the world for giving you the opportunity to be alive. I also think the world will be fine without people, should that come. I hope it doesn't—I hope my children can inherit a world that has a future. But if we die, there will be animals left and the world will be theirs.
There's something to cherish in thanking the world for giving you the opportunity to be alive.
John Waterfall is a writer living in Brooklyn and a graduate of the New School's creative writing MFA program. His work can be found in Jersey Devil Press, Unnerving Magazine, Pseudopod and others. Look out for his debut story collection, Try Not to Get Discouraged, releasing this summer through Lost Fox Publishing. Twitter @JohnCWaterfall.
This Tuesday, August 10th at 6:30 Central our first poetry workshop sponsored by Ketchupedia, our outreach to writers. You are invited. 6:30 to 8 pm.
Have you ever wondered how to edit a poem quickly and easily to make it more shareable for readers or more satisfying to yourself? How to make our poetry catch the eye of an editor, or make it seem more magical or more down to earth?
In this workshop, you will learn five simple strategies to edit your poetry based on voice, landscape, verb-age, metaphor loops, and point of view. This class is fun for beginner and long time poets alike! Even better we will use poems you bring to the workshop, so you don't have to wonder how the ideas apply to your own work.
POLLY ALICE MCCANN’s lyrical poetry paints a picture of the narratives of the internal heartland. Poet, curator, artist, editor, speaker. She is a writing professor, founder, and managing editor of Flying Ketchup Press. With a B.A. in Studio Art, and her MFAC in Writing from Hamline University, Polly shows her art internationally. She has been published in US newspapers and magazines, most recently Rattle Magazine. Find Polly’s art at www.thatpollygirl.com She credits much of her creative work due to her research on dreams which won her the 2014 Ernest Hartmann award from Berkeley, CA. She says her favorite thing is to tell stories-- other people's, her own-- maybe yours. Find out more at pollymccann.com
Flying Ketchup Press ® founded in 2018 to champion new and diverse voices in short fiction and poetry. We publish books, anthologies, podcasts, magazines, and contemporary media. Each year, Flying Ketchup Press produces collections of short stories and poetry by select authors, as well as an anthology dedicated to adult and teen readers. Our dream, to share worlds of wonder and delight.
Ketchupedia is an outreach of Flying Ketchup Press ® began in 2020 a grassroots network to connect the Kansas City & regional writers community through weekly blogs, a writer's word of the day podcast, a live poetry radio show, and two annual poet-in-residences including open mics, classes, and events to allow regional artists to explore motivation, creative goals, and advocacy. Our editorial mentorships create an exponential artist-tree effect. Instead of one poetry book a year, we add another poetry editor each year; each new editor is able to empower more poets, making room for poetry, as a space for personal narrative that empowers, heals, and unites diverse audiences. You can find us at Home | Flying Ketchup Press
Make friends with your inner editor. Just a dash.