Mark Kline's short story The Clouds Shall Inherit the Earth is featured in Epiphany’s latest issue. It is a compassionate and empowering look at how a sister deals with her brother's Multiple Sclerosis. Kline’s story is memorable because of combination of taught language, restrained emotion, and the humorous interplay between characters. I had the pleasure to converse with Mark by email regarding his writing.

Amanda: Why do you write? Have you always been a writer?

Mark Klein: I can think of dozens of reasons why I write. Put them together and they add up to this: I love to write. But if I had to pluck out a single reason, it would have something to do with my life-long curiosity about relationships between people. Curiosity, or amazement, really, at times. I've only been writing the past fourteen years or so.

A: How long did it take you to write this story? Were there many drafts? What was the writing process like for you individually, and then with the editors of Epiphany?

MK: The first draft of this was written in 2006-7. It's been cubbyholed for years at a time, but I always knew I would finish it. At times the story was in a form that can hardly be called a draft, it was more in pieces, lying around like a jigsaw puzzle. Some of the pieces got tossed, like one scene where Asia and Hannah had a few tense moments over a dead bat, when Asia held it up to Hannah's neck to see if it would work as a necklace, and of course the bat wasn't dead after all. The writing process for me was obviously very long and complicated, very emotional at times. And fun. Exasperating. From the beginning it was clear that Odette and Joel (editors) were quite involved with the story. They considered and discussed it thoroughly, just generally put a lot of effort into it every step of the way, and I'm very grateful to them.

A: What inspired you to write this story?

MK: The people I know who have MS, the dilemmas and uncertainties the disease brings with it. And Alex and Asia, who were in an earlier story. A: Are the characters inspired by real people?

MK: Yes and no. A senior couple I saw in a New Circus many years ago were the inspiration for Will and Bert. They wore these pompous uniforms with epaulets and skeleton-ribbed fronts, and they came out and changed props between acts all the way through the show, until the very end when they had their twenty seconds in the sun — he cradled his hands and she hopped up and stood on his shoulders, and it was such a surprise! From there on out it was just a matter of imagining who they might be, as individual people and as a couple. They're probably nothing like Will and Bert. Alex and Asia came to me one sunny afternoon about twelve years ago. I was looking for characters, a man and a woman, one of whom had MS, and when this brother and sister popped up I knew I wanted to write about them. I had the basics of their personalities and relationship that first day, but I've never linked them to any specific people I know, not
at all.

A: Why did you choose to focus on the relationship between siblings? MK: The loyalties and rivalries and jealousies and sometimes extreme closeness between siblings, the shared lives, how they talk to each other, battle each other -- there's just so much energy there, so much to work with.

A: The story is very intimate; Why MS? Do you have a personal connection or experience with MS?

MK: I have MS, and I know literally hundreds of others who have it too; I stay a month every year in an MS rehab center, and it's always an overwhelming experience. Of course the disease has a special significance for me, but apart from that, the dilemmas are very sharp, the anxieties enormous. I couldn't count the number of wrecked relationships I've heard about. I've also seen and experienced pure loyalty. There are so many possibilities for fiction here.

A: How did you choose the title “The Clouds Shall Inherit the Earth”?

MK: The phrase appears coincidentally in the story, but it hangs around as background in Asia's head. It also acquires meaning at the end through Asia's irony in dealing with the shock of her loss: what does all this painful stuff matter anyway, when in a few billion years it will all have blown over. 

A: Lastly, how did you discover Epiphany?

MK: A friend told me about it. 

May 30, 2012