Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Jeremy Packert Burke

by Joe Lucido Read the Story December 18, 2017

Jeremy, I’m dying to know, because I wish I’d thought of it first—what was the impetus for this story?

As most stories I’m proud of do, this began with a note in my phone I have no memory of writing (“Kids travel through time to buy beer”). From there it was just a matter of seeing how it unfolded, how it affected them or others, marking the pain they’ve skipped over. I’m interested in nostalgia as an adult practice but also the kind of childhood future-nostalgia where you can’t wait to grow up. The kids have figured out how to circumvent this, but seeing into the past only creates a deeper sense of loss for the adults. There is, of course, a way in which this is exactly what it’s like to be a teenager.

You have some wonderful, complex sentences in this story, thick with description and cadence. During your writing process, how do you know you finally have a sentence right where you want it? Is it your ear that tells you? Is it simply grammar?

When I’m revising I usually read the whole story out loud. It’s remarkably easy to tell what’s clunky and what has the right rhythm just by listening, although it’s also often useful to rearrange syntax so that the end of the sentence has the most punch. Also, it’s usually a matter of curtailing my desire to write extremely long-winded sentences.

Your story by virtue of its conceit has a fair amount of comedy, especially at the outset. I found myself laughing on multiple occasions. What role(s) do you think comedy plays in literature? Do you have touchstone comedic works you look to for inspiration, or simply for laughs?

I think humor is best used in conjunction with darkness. As far as I know, no one has done this better than Catherine Lacey in her first novel, Nobody is Ever Missing, which manages to move from funny to sad quickly enough to give you whiplash. Donald Barthelme and Welcome to Night Vale do this too, each to varying degrees. Usually anything that’s categorized as straight “humor” does little for me because it feels like it fails to represent the world as it is: a big chaotic mess of laughter and pain. That said, Patricia Lockwood’s memoir Priestdaddy is about the funniest thing I have ever read (and is mostly light on pain).

I find myself wondering if the barman sleeps well at night, or if finds his legal/ethical position more conflicting than he lets on. Does he sweat over these teens and tweens gaming the time-travel system, or does he simply feel it’s his duty within the law to fill the glasses of all legal patrons? Maybe I’m asking this: Does he have children?

I have to imagine that the barman is an anarchist bent on demonstrating the illogicality of a minimum drinking age, or that he took a philosophy class and is eager to disrupt the idea of “age” in a world where one can travel through time faster than one second per second. I expect he has adult children who don’t really talk to him anymore.

About the Author:

Jeremy Packert Burke is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama, Tuscaloosa. He has previously had work in The Adroit Journal, Day One, and the Nashville Review, among other places.

About the Interviewer:

Joe Lucido is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. He’s a former prose editor for Black Warrior Review. Some of his work can be found in Juked, Wigleaf, Passages North, and others. He grew up in St. Louis.