Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Amber Sparks

by Michael Czyzniejewski Read the Story March 19, 2018

What’s the worst neighbor story you have? (This story might be it, I guess.) What’d you do about it?

I have so many— I’ve lived in apartments for the majority of my life. Ha. I’m not sure I have any horror stories, but I do know that we used to have this upstairs neighbor who would just pound all around and drop stuff all the time; furniture was always sliding around all loud, and it drove us nuts. Finally, I ended up stomping up the stairs and banging on this person’s door, demanding to know why they were so goddamn clumsy—and this very old, almost blind woman with crazy thick glasses answered the door. I felt terrible, but then she denied everything! Said she’d been sleeping. It was bizarre.

The protagonist in this story makes a lot of assumptions about what she hears (or thinks she hears), from bowling balls to werewolves. I imagine you writing this story, listing the weirdest, most varied, most terrifying sounds you could think of. Let’s turn it around: What are the most soothing sounds you can think of?

That’s easy! The sound of the shower running. My husband has pretty much always gotten up way before me in the morning, so the sound of the shower running means I get to stay cozy in bed for a while longer. I also love the sound of rain, the louder the better as long as I’m inside. And … this one is bizarre, but I used to fall asleep all the time watching Forensic Files. That narrator’s voice is so weirdly soothing. So, the sounds of murders being solved, I guess?

When I think about it, this character starts the noise log the first day she hears noises, when the situation is still relatively tame. This seems to define her more than anything, that she starts to journal about this before it was even a problem. What else in her life has she kept track of in this way?

Oh, she’s a freelancer, so I imagine she’s pretty well organized. She probably keeps the lists in the family—what they need, when the toilet paper’s almost out. (That Person is my husband, by the way, not me. If it were up to me we’d be forever running out at two in the morning to buy paper towels or something.)

Rank the five senses:

  1. Sight
  2. Taste
  3. Hearing
  4. Smell
  5. Touch

What scares you more than anything else in the whole world? Have you ever had to face it?

The kind of haunted houses that you walk through. I’ve had too many “trapped in a house with a murderer” dreams to feel OK with that. I tried with some friends in Salem a few years ago, but as soon as the lights went down, I bolted. Screw that. Facing your fears is for suckers.

About the Author:

Amber Sparks is the author of two short story collections, including the recent THE UNFINISHED WORLD and OTHER STORIES. Her fiction and essays appear widely online at places like Tin House, Granta, and American Short Fiction, and you can find them all at She lives in Washington, DC with two beasts and two humans, but if you don't live in the swamp you can still say hey on Twitter @ambernoelle.

About the Interviewer:

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three books of short fiction, most recently I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside  Splendor, 2012) and he serves as the interviews co-editor of SLQ.

About the Artist:

Find more of Ryoji Iwata's photography on Unsplash.