Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Melissa Scholes Young

by Michelle Ross Read the Story June 20, 2016

Was the idea of winning Ferris Bueller at a carnival the catalyst for this story? Or did it begin with the garage full of the father’s belongings? Or elsewhere?

I’m from Missouri, the land of fairs and carnivals. There’s not much else to do but make your own fun. I won Ferris in my dream one night. It was surreal for a kid of the eighties. Ferris gave us all permission to break the rules with style. The day after my dream I was having dinner with my friend and fellow fiction writer John Copenhaver, and we were talking about how garages get so full of stuff that they paralyze people from moving forward in life. This story began with Ferris. I was surprised he didn’t want to hang out in Tammy’s garage more, actually.

When it comes to carnival games, the joy is in the winning and in the novelty of the often absurd and impractical prizes. My partner once won a stuffed banana larger than our son. The grinning banana lasted barely a few months in our son’s bedroom before we threw it out, though. Because who really wants a giant stuffed banana? Do you think Tammy’s desire to win Ferris Bueller is similar to the desire to win a giant stuffed banana? And if Bueller/Broderick hadn’t run off, would she have kept him for long? What would she have done with him?

I want nothing more in life now than a giant stuffed banana. My students would be so jealous and confused to see it in my office. Whether you win the banana or Ferris, you’re still going to be disappointed, though. Bueller/Broderick isn’t the answer to Tammy’s pain. The next thing you achieve isn’t going to fix your problem. That’s what Ferris is there to teach Tammy. You can’t go around grief. You have to go through it.

You’re a writer with kids. So often people pit writing and mothering (not so much fathering) against each other as though one is bound to suffer, if not both. But being a mother has given me stories I wouldn’t have written otherwise. And I’d argue that my writing benefits my son in all sorts of ways too. For one, he is inundated with talk about the importance of discipline and perseverance. How do you think having children has benefited your writing? How has your writing benefited your children?

Writing with kids has given me plenty of reasons to run away. I’m kidding. Sort of. Last year I was named a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow and awarded a four-week residency in the south of France to finish my novel. I ran away quickly to that one, but I did get a lot of pushback—not from my partner or kids; they were very supportive. I was asked “What about the kids?” again and again. I published an essay in Poets & Writers as my answer. The night before my residency, my oldest daughter said, “Mom, I need you to do this residency more than I need you to stay.” She saw me being brave even though I was a little scared to leave them. Like your son, writing is just a part of our life. My kids go to readings all the time. Writing takes a lot of courage, especially to keep going through all the rejection. I hope my daughters learn that from me.

Do you have a favorite flash fiction story you’ve read in a journal or a collection recently? What? Who? Where? Why?

I just read Ty Coleman’s “Prom Night” over at The Stoneslide Corrective. I think I held my breath through it. It’s edgy and honest, like all of Ty’s work.

I’m going to cheat, as I tend to, and add flash nonfiction to the mix, too. As an MFA student at Southern Illinois University-Carbondale, I met Anne Panning and read “Candy Cigarettes” in Brevity. Her work opened my eyes to form in a new way.

Tara Campbell recently published a lovely flash, “Angels and Blueberries,” over at Defenestrationism. There’s a line in it—“But if you ask a writer, you’ll get a different answer every time”—that struck me as absolutely true.

Jan Elman Stout also has a fine flash, “Marital Amnesias,” at Journal of Compressed Creative Arts.  There are bananas in it, too. Real ones.

If you could win a character, whether it be from a movie or a book, at a carnival, who would it be and what would you do with your prize?

What a great question. The mother in me would love to raise Matilda or Scout Finch or Ramona Quimby. I’d bring home Pippi, too. I’d have a beer with Jo March or Professor McGonagall, and I think they’d be a riot together. I have questions for Clarissa Dalloway, so I hope she brings her author. Rory Gilmore may come over and organize my life anytime. The ultimate prize would be Huckleberry Finn. He and I would take my dog, which is named after him, and go for a long walk in the woods to plot our escape.

About the Author:

Melissa Scholes Young's work has appeared in The Atlantic, The Washington Post, Narrative, PloughsharesPoets & WritersPoet Lore, and other literary journals. She teaches at American University in Washington, D.C., and is a Bread Loaf Bakeless Camargo Fellow. Follow her on Twitter @mscholesyoung

About the Interviewer:

Michelle Ross is the author of There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Press Short Fiction Award (MCP 2017). Her writing has appeared in Cream City Review, Gulf Coast, Hobart, and many other venues. She serves as fiction editor for Atticus Review.

About the Artist:

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia's writing and art have appeared in Agave, Apeiron Review, Chicago Literati, Crack the Spine, Foliate Oak, Gravel, Jersey Devil Press, Necessary Fiction, Loco Magazine, New Pop Lit, North American Review, Pithead Chapel, Popular Science, Prairie Schooner, Stoneboat, theNewerYork, Vine Leaves, and elsewhere. He is a Contributing Editor at Arcadia Magazine.