Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Brigitte N. McCray

by Georgia Bellas Read the Story December 19, 2016

You are in charge of writing a dictionary of dream symbolism. What meanings do you assign the following images?

Fangs: Strength and power
Mountains: Peak experience/mythic goal of a sacred quest
Snakes: Cosmic energy
Spit: Shame/guilt
Tongues: The voice of the Spirit (God and/or Goddess)

I loved your story “The Body’s Amen” and want to know everything about it! What was the evolution from first idea to finished piece? How long did it take you to write? Did you have to research snake handling or were you already familiar with the subject? Do you own any snakes? What made you decide to submit this story to SmokeLong?

I wrote a very rough draft of what became “The Body’s Amen” in 2012, right after I finished writing my critical dissertation. Around that time I had read and loved the Spanish folktale “The Serpent-Woman” and wanted to do a retelling. The early drafts were terrible, mostly because I was relearning how to write fiction¬†(after spending so much time writing criticism)¬†but also because the setting was vague and the story was illogical. I tried rewriting it a number of times, but it just eventually became a trunk story because I couldn’t figure out the story’s logic: Why was the character turning into a snake?

About two years later, I tried writing it as a poem, and the poem gave me some of those rich and complex images. Where did those images come from? I’ve never been to a snake handling church, but I grew up in a very Southern Baptist family in Appalachia; I’m a recovering Evangelical. I left that Christian tradition as a teenager because the feminist worldview that I was developing didn’t match up with that Southern Baptist tradition. Once I tapped into some of that, the voice of the protagonist started to develop. I wanted though to develop the story further.

I had read Dennis Covington’s excellent book Salvation on Sand Mountain: Snake Handling and Redemption in Southern Appalachia years ago. I got the book back out and reread it. Covington captures the mystical side of snake handling. There’s a sense of awe and wonder about it all, but then there’s a scene near the end of the book, when he brings his wife and a female colleague with him to one of the services, and, because of the way the two professional and independent women are treated, Covington sees the misogynistic side of that tradition. I then knew the story’s logic and the conflict and was able to turn the poem back into a story.

Why I submitted to SmokeLong: I believe SmokeLong is publishing the best flash fiction. I enjoy every story I read on the site because the stories are often rich in language and narrative, without ever sacrificing one for the other. For that reason, SmokeLong was first on my list, and I feel very lucky that my first choice accepted the story.

Describe your personality using only a list of sounds.

Flutter, smack, hum.

What are your current obsessions?

The American chestnut tree: I’m writing a cycle of stories, including a middle grade fantasy, about a magical chestnut grove. I know way too much about chestnut trees.

Jung and archetypal images.

Tarot cards, especially their use in the creative process. For those interested, I highly recommend Jessa Crispin’s The Creative Tarot: A Modern Guide to An Inspired Life.

I’m obsessed with some of my current favorite writers; I’m outlining their stories and figuring out how they work: Kat Howard, Naomi Novik, Lisa Hannett, Angela Slatter, and Rachael K. Jones.

If you were a stuffed animal, what would you be and why?

I currently have a stuffed barn owl on my writing desk. I’m attracted to their ability to see in utter darkness and their listening capacity. The barn owl also seems so ghostly because of the whiteness of the belly and that terrifying scream. The barn owl signifies our ability to see and hear what others may not want to see and hear.

About the Author:

A 2014 graduate of the Odyssey Writing Workshop and a member of Codex Writers, Brigitte N. McCray earned an MFA in creative writing from Virginia Commonwealth University and a PhD from Louisiana State University. McCray's fiction, poetry, essays, and book reviews have appeared or are forthcoming in Crab Fat Magazine; Cease, Cows; Rose Red Review; Prick of the Spindle; Mythic Delirium; Southern Humanities Review; storySouth.com; Red Rock Review; and elsewhere. @bnmccray

About the Interviewer:

Georgia Bellas is a writer, artist, and filmmaker. Her work appears in a number of journals, is included in the 2016 Wigleaf Top 50 Longlist and in Sundress Publications' 2014 Best of the Net Anthology, and has been nominated for a Pushcart. You can follow her teddy bear, host of the award-winning weekly Internet radio show "Mr. Bear's Violet Hour Saloon" on Twitter @MrBearStumpy.

About the Artist:

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia's writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden's Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney's, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.