Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Nancy Au

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story June 20, 2016

You had the most enthusiastic response to an acceptance that I’ve ever seen at SLQ. It made my day, my week, my month. What has your writing journey been like so far?

Thank you, again, so much for making my dreams come true!! I’ve been reading SmokeLong Quarterly for years, and have such deep admiration and respect for the writing that you publish. My writing journey began as a response to moving to a new city, to a climate and culture very different from the one I grew up in. I was living far away from my family, and I didn’t know if I would be returning. So I started writing stories to try to forge some type of connection between this new place and my family and my previous life.

I began writing flash fiction because it matches so closely with how I perceive and learn from the world; by listening to other people’s stories, merging them with my own observations, and then trying to distill this richness of language and imagery and mystery into a tight, concise package that I can carry with me. I believe that the word constraints of flash fiction result in writing that closely mirrors the fragmented, disjointed, uniquely and subjectively organized mental processes that our brains employ to express our thoughts and feelings.

I often think back to the writer I once was, afraid to give my characters names or faces or voices: mute little pink meatballs just rolling around the white page. I think about the generous ways that my mentors and teachers (and dedicated writers and editors, like you!) encourage me to find my voice. I hope to do the same for others, through both my writing and teaching, to help translate immigrant voices (like my parents’), to combat the voicelessness of children and the elderly by writing stories that showcase these characters, and to show diverse ways of thinking and existing in the world.

Well, we are also excited to have your excellent story published with us. What inspired “Little Harlot”?

I’d written this story because after my mom died I learned that she’d had a child when she was in high school. I don’t know who my half-sister is, and I’ve always wondered about what happened to her. I do not know what my mom felt about giving her up for adoption, whether it was her own choice or if her parents decided this for her.

In the story when Lin says that she loved herself, that she didn’t know why anyone would expect her to give up her life…I think that I wrote this story because these are the words that I’ve always imagined and wished for my mom to have said.

How do you think Lin turns out? Do things go well for her, or is life going to be a struggle? I’m rooting for her!

Thank you so much for saying that! As a writer, it means the world to me when a reader roots for my characters! A part of me believes that because Lin is such a strong and curious person, that her life will get better. I think, though, that this will depend on the other people in her life and whether she has a support network to help her as she (and her child) grows.

There is another part of me that believes Lin will also struggle; her choices to rummage through her relatives’ belongings, to steal, to hide precious jewelry inside of vases, to blow her nose on someone else’s clothing, to stain things—all of these actions speak to a person who seems to subsist in the shadows, who might not trust the strength and self-love that she innately has, and who might not know, yet, how to exist in the light. Whenever I develop a character for a story, I often try to think about how they affect the light and the temperature when they enter a room; some people have the capacity to exude a glowing warmth, while others cast a cool, dark pallor wherever they go. (And, of course, there is the whole spectrum of light in between.)

I hope that Lin will find out for herself how she wants to light the world.

If a couple of teenage girls were snooping around in your house, what would they find that would surprise them?

You ask the best questions! I’ve been thinking and thinking about this. There are so many strange things that I have in my home, knickknacks that I’d inherited from my parents after they died, that might puzzle two curious teenagers.

I think that my large collection of small, very heavy, wooden and metal clocks (that are all broken!) might be the most perplexing. They might also be intrigued by the peculiar images of faces painted onto side tables and decorative boxes, and carved into clay “head” sculptures (also inherited from my parents), that I’ve placed around the house.

About the Author:

Nancy Au graduated from UC Berkeley with a degree in anthropology and is completing an MFA at San Francisco State University where she teaches creative writing. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, Necessary Fiction, Fiction Southeast, Word Riot, Identity Theory, Prick of the Spindle, and elsewhere.

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:

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.