Smoke and Mirrors—An Interview with Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam

by Gay Degani Read the Story April 3, 2015

“Six Ways to Break Her” felt magical to me as soon as I read the first sentence. It gave me an anchor and a promise, the image of a fragile young girl and the mystery of what it might mean. How did the story reveal itself to you?

I don’t remember exactly how the idea came to me. I wanted to explore the concept of a child dealing with a traumatic childhood and/or young adulthood: specifically, how these experiences are a cycle that’s difficult to break and, in most cases, is never broken. I was thinking about different ways a young woman could break and decided arbitrarily on the number six. Once I had the number, I wrote different iterations of a similar story. I do remember this explicitly: I pulled a chair into the sunlight outside to write it in a notebook, as I knew that I would need the mood-boost of the sun so that the aftereffects of writing it wouldn’t bring me too far down.

The glass metaphor was inspired by Ali Shaw’s The Girl with Glass Feet, a startlingly vivid novel; the physical processes of the girl turning to glass in that novel still make me cringe when I think about them.

This story is an easy read because it’s so lyrical, but the ideas presented are complex, insisting on a second or third reading to be fully appreciated, and each reading worth it. What I came to understand was that there are several women in this story, each growing out of the experience of the previous one, generations of women. However, I’m not sure that was your intent. Can you talk about what part, if any, a writer’s intent plays into the reader’s interpretation?

Often a reader’s interpretation is far more interesting than a writer’s intent. What I intended was to explore how other people, parents and lovers and friends, can contribute to the buildup of a child/young adult’s trauma without knowing they are doing so. Partly this story was an attempt to purge some of my own feelings as well as pen a sympathy letter to people who have experienced such trauma. As for whether I wrote about generations of women, one woman reincarnated, or unrelated women altogether, I didn’t consider it, as my interpretations of my works are not quite so literal.

Can you point to any single book or short story and say, “This is what a story should be. This is what art is all about?” If not just one, then pick two or three and explain why you are choosing them.

There’s no one book or short story or piece of art in any form that can be a universal epitome of what art should be, so I can only answer this question for myself. One of my personal favorite stories is Kelly Link’s “Travels with the Snow Queen.” Kelly Link’s work is fearless; she is unafraid to deviate from structural constraints and unafraid to have fun while exploring deeper aspects of humanity. The stories of my own that I like best are the ones I had the most fun with, and “Travels with the Snow Queen” reads like it was enjoyable to write. Link’s prose, too, is beautiful, which is integral to my own positive experience of art.

If you had only one piece of advice to give someone who is learning to write, what would it be?

Write as much as you can. I’ve struggled with guilt over not always being able to follow the write-every-day adage. Though I try to write every day, sometimes life gets into the way; and as a writer, it’s important to let life cut in sometimes for the sake of new experiences. Write as much as you can is a kinder piece of advice in that it’s more malleable.

What are you working on now?

Right now I’m editing a novel based on one of my published short stories, “The Siren,” which appeared in 2013 in Strange Horizons. In the story, a mother and daughter grieving the death of their husband/father struggle with a sexual and deadly attraction to a siren. In the novel, I’ve taken the story further to also encompass the lives of the mother and the siren before and after the events of the short story. They all struggle with sexuality, their own forms of grief, and the difficulties of living a creative life – the daughter is a sculptor, the mother a poet, and the siren a lounge singer.

About the Author:

Bonnie Jo Stufflebeam lives in Texas with her partner and two literarily named cats: Gimli and Don Quixote. Her fiction and poetry has appeared or is forthcoming in magazines such as Room, Hobart, Strange Horizons, and Goblin Fruit. She holds an MFA in creative writing from the University of Southern Maine's Stonecoast program and curates an annual Art & Words Show, which was profiled in Poets & Writers.

About the Interviewer:

Gay Degani is the content editor at Smokelong Quarterly. She has had three of her flash pieces nominated for Pushcart consideration and won the 11th Annual Glass Woman Prize. Her suspense novel, What Came Before, was published in 2014.  Founder and editor emeritus of Flash Fiction Chronicles, she blogs at Words in Place where a complete list of her published work can be located.

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