Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with James Kennedy

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story September 21, 2015

There’s so much melancholy here for a story about someone trying to be funny. Can you tell me where the initial spark of idea came from for this story? 

A mutual friend fixed me up on a blind date with a nurse who was coming out of a depression caused by the end of a long-term relationship. I approached her with great sensitivity and a goal to make her laugh. Soon, she was happy again and I fell hard for her. So, when she dumped me, I was both shocked and devastated. I learned that my success doing the right thing didn’t guarantee my own happiness. With this story, I’m acknowledging the emotional toll of helping others.

What’s your opinion of clowns? Scary as shit or hilarious or something in between? 

Poor clowns. They mean well, at least the good ones do, but the bad ones are so horrifying. A mask frees a person up to be someone else, which helps when your goal is to make a fool of yourself in public. However, masks also make it difficult for others to read you, which can be unsettling for the audience. Ultimately, I see clowns as the medium and within that sphere you might find the diabolical Joker or the avenging Eric Draven (The Crow). In the end, I never judge a clown by its cover up. I judge them by the content of their big, floppy hearts.

We both share a history of working for a small community paper and writing about the extraordinary within the ordinary lives of people. Can you tell me about one of your favorite stories you reported while working that job? 

One time, I rescued a cockatiel from a tree outside the newspaper offices. I took the bird to a well-known pet store for safe keeping. The day the story ran, the son of the cockatiel’s owner called me to say his elderly mother longed for the return of her dear companion. I cheerfully provided the whereabouts of the bird, but the son soon called back to tell me the store had no bird fitting his description. Unbeknownst to me, the owner of the pet store had sold the bird to a third party. Following a salvo of angry phone calls from me, the store owner confessed, and the bird was eventually returned to its rightful home. Not too long after, a rumor circulated that the store owner stole his own parrots to bilk his insurance company. Apparently, I had stumbled across a criminal mastermind who specialized in avian fraud.
Do you find it harder to write fiction or nonfiction?

When I write nonfiction I’m trying to capture the story as true to the way it happened as I possibly can. I observe a lot. I quote a lot. Then I assemble it so that the readers can follow the story. While it’s an extraordinary experience that helps my writing immeasurably, writing fiction is still more difficult for me.

I find everything and everyone fascinating, but not everyone agrees. So when I convey a story that interests me, I labor to make it interesting to others. I work on everything from characters to word choice to dialogue to symbolism in an effort to make it more inviting to potential readers. I must create a plausible reality so that the reader stays engaged.

In every case, it is an honor whenever anyone takes the time to read something I have written.

About the Author:

James Kennedy learned that phenomenal stories hide in everyday life while covering a small community for a weekly newspaper. He’s been trying hard to capture their beauty in short form ever since. Otherwise, he teaches at a local community college and tutors kids of all ages while pursuing a PhD in literacy.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

About the Artist:

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.