Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Dinah Cox

by Anastasia Berkovich Read the Story June 20, 2016

This story, right from the beginning, has a great rhythm to it. Some of it comes from repetition, some from diction. Here’s a bit of a chicken-and-egg question: Did you find yourself intentionally adding this rhythm, or was it there and you added to it? Is it even possible to separate one from the other?

The repetition suggested itself more or less immediately as a way to express the tedium of everyday life. Possibly the rhythm arose from feeling annoyed, or from despairing, or from being annoyed with my own misplaced despair.

“Tabloid” reads as an urgent piece, begging the reader to take notice of the world around them, their actions. It certainly leaves the reader thinking. What was your thinking, as the author, behind it?

I think I was writing against the notion that images on a screen can help people feel better in a way that’s meaningful or lasting. You know those posts on Facebook that say stuff like, “The world is so depressing these days, let’s take a moment to notice the greatness of our own wonderful selves.” I hate those. I wanted to find a way to say so.

This story starts off in an almost different arena—one akin to “The Lottery”—then pivots in the second sentence. It’s almost a twist, but not quite—more of a laugh. Is this opening meant to divert the reader’s attention by adding a bit of a cold opening to the story?

In my experience, the limitations of the short-short mean the first few sentences must either establish setting—as I think I was trying to do here—or capture the essence of a character or conflict. I wanted to ground the story somehow, and an announcement in a town square seemed as good a way as any.

The story delivers much heft for just over three hundred words. It’s a roller coaster, pivoting between lines that are a tad silly, like “Hamburger Helper will not help,” to piercing, like “Humanity will not save itself.” Did you find yourself cutting to make it concise, allowing only the lines that ring to stay? Did it start off as a short, or merge into one?

I think I had an eye on the word count the entire time I was writing this piece, a practice, by the way, I do not recommend.

Do you have a favorite line, image, or phrase from “Tabloid”?

I like the title. I’ve been trying for a number of years now to amass a series of vignettes, all with titles suggesting print as a medium. Someday I’ll have a million of them collected in a very tidy and widely read book.

About the Author:

Dinah Cox's first book of stories won the fourth annual BOA Short Fiction prize and is forthcoming from BOA Editions in May. Individual stories appear in a variety of publications, including StoryQuarterly, Prairie Schooner, Salt Hill, and Copper Nickel. She is an associate editor at Cimarron Review at Oklahoma State University.

About the Interviewer:

Anastasia Berkovich is a graduate student studying fiction at Missouri State University, where she also serves as a graduate teaching assistant and assistant editor for Moon City Review.

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.