Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Casey Quinn

by Qiana Towns Read the Story June 20, 2016

What did you discover the last time you Googled yourself? If it’s not anything exciting, feel free to make up something.
There’s a writer with a very similar name as mine, and when I Google “Casey Quinn,” she pops up. She writes romance novels set in the south.

Poets often say that a poem is never finished. Do you feel the same way about your stories? If not, how do you know when a story is finished and ready for the world?

I think it’s the same for fiction writers. For me, time passing is the real pain in the butt. I think you’re trying to create a static thing in a chaotic universe, and you the writer are constantly changing emotionally—your aesthetic is evolving, you’re hopefully becoming a better writer (whatever the hell that means). There’s nothing worse than realizing a few weeks after you’ve sent something out that it really wasn’t “ready” or what it really should be.

So I’ve been trying to put things away for a while and returning to them after time has passed, which is really hard. I think that’s a fairly common writing policy for fiction writers; I’m not sure about poets.

A follow-up question—do you celebrate the completion of a story? If so, how?

I don’t celebrate but I feel good for a while. Then the doubt and jealousy seep in. I’ll read someone that blows me away or see an awesome film. Wax on, wax off.

The father in your story seems to be a bootstraps kind of man. The kind of man who only kisses his wife on holidays. The kind of man who tells the same story time and again. The kind of man who still eats Freedom Fries! Yes! The kind of man who might still refer to black people as negroes because he never learned anything different. Or maybe he reminds me of my papa. Anyway, what else can you share with us about him that is not revealed in the story?

Yeah, that’s definitely his type. A small person out of time. Someone who doesn’t quite fit the mold anymore and is clinging to what he knows. He wears the same clothes that he wore fifty years ago: short-sleeved button-down shirts. He probably came close, but never hit his wife. His greatest insecurity is that he can’t and has never been able to grow chest hair. Someone who covets Hemingway and ideals of masculinity but maybe was never the top dog amongst the guys, so he was braggadocious at home?

There is something very unsettling about the sons in your story. It’s difficult for me to pinpoint what it is, but by the end of the story I am very angry with them. How do you respond to that?

I think as a society we’re inclined to give older generations a lot of leeway in terms of their idiosyncrasies, beliefs and physical aliments, so to see someone’s own children wanting them to just keel over is upsetting, no matter how big of a jerk that older person is. The sons aren’t very sympathetic towards their father’s plight or his memory loss. They’re more annoyed than anything. They’re just vultures circling. I imagine most people can empathize with the frustrations of taking care of someone or something. These sons are kinda the manifestation of all those awful thoughts people hopefully ignore. The onus is on them to be sympathetic and patient because this is their father and because he is old.

What’s your favorite Muhammad Ali quote?

“I have wrestled with a alligator. I done tussled with a whale. I done handcuffed lightning, throwed thunder in jail.”

Bonus question:  Why aren’t there any women in the story? I don’t mean to imply that there have to be women in the story; I’m just curious about why there aren’t any.

The sons were more inherited from an earlier version than anything else. That story started out more as a fable with the father being 120 with fifteen sons, some of whom were dead, etc. I liked the way the “we” worked since death is a communal event, so I kept that. And to have both daughters and sons kinda felt like breaking up the point of view by introducing more individuality than I wanted to deal with in such a short form, if that makes any sense. It could have been all daughters. Now that you posed that question I kinda wish I had written it with all daughters. There would have been so much to play with.

I’m also kind of the anti-Disney. I really love my mother, so I probably never would have thought to make the father a mother. Sorry, Dad. My dad also painted the accompanying artwork.

About the Author:

Casey Quinn holds an MFA from Sarah Lawrence and has received scholarships and fellowships from Bread Loaf Writer’s Conference, Community of Writers at Squaw Valley, The Edward F. Albee Foundation and Hamilton College. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Narrative, Post Road and Bartleby Snopes.

About the Interviewer:

Qiana Towns is author of the chapbook This is Not the Exit (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2015). She resides in Flint, Michigan, where she serves as the community outreach coordinator for Bottles for the Babies, a grassroots organization created to support the residents of Flint during the water crisis.

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.