Smoke and Mirrors—An Interview with Pete Stevens

by Teneice Durrant Read the Story June 22, 2015

Are you a classical music fan? Was there something particular about Beethoven’s Fifth that inspired this piece?

No, I’m not a classical music fan. There was, however, a period of time during grade school when we used to take field trips to the symphony, and I remember really enjoying those trips, the music, but the appreciation didn’t carry over into my adulthood. For this story, it’s not the specific piece of music that mattered to me, but rather what that style of music represented. The husband is a man of tradition and rigidity. In its most simple terms, for me, the music represented his character. He was the Fifth. I wanted the husband to stand for a time that has hopefully passed us by.

The piece opens, “My husband doesn’t listen to the voice from my lungs or the nuance of my protest …,” yet there is no dialogue in your story. Can you speak briefly to the motivation behind that choice?

Going into the story it wasn’t a conscious choice, rather the product of organic creation. Yet, it makes me think of something I once heard Matt Bell say that dialogue is the one aspect of fiction that can only exist in real time. As an author, I like the idea of having total control over the speed or time of my piece. It’s like being a symphony conductor or DJ, controlling the experience for the listener.

The husband in this piece has his song that marks all special occasions. What song do you imagine the wife adopts once she realizes that it is the end?

She definitely needed some big beats, maybe a song like “Gosh” by Jamie xx, or possibly some Zeds Dead, SBTRKT, or even Little Dragon. She wanted the music that spoke to her, and that’s the huge drums and bass of electronic dance music. She didn’t want any of the bullshit that was starting to pile up around her. She just wanted to dance! We all want to dance.

What is the biggest challenge you face in writing flash fiction? What’s the biggest pleasure you find in writing flash fiction?

The challenge, it seems, is to decide what stays and what goes. There’s a bigger, more fascinating narrative existing outside of the page. We all try and have the balance, the ability to give readers just enough of a glimpse so that they can fill in rest. That tweaking or editing is also a pleasure. I’m unabashedly in love with all things flash. When comparing the writing of longer forms and flash, I always use this analogy of a baker: The baker, when writing longer forms, is carrying a mass of dough. It’s spilling over his arms and he has gather it on one side before it spills over on another, constantly shifting and readjusting his hold on the dough. When writing flash, the baker has a baseball-sized ball of dough in his hands and he can press his thumbs in and shape and shape. Can’t tell you how much of a pleasure that is.

What books are you reading right now? Any recent works that inspire you?

Recently, for inspiration, I’ve been curious about works that use shorter chapters or pieces of flash to tell a longer story. I like the idea of linking compressed forms into something that reaches beyond the individual parts. So, to help understand, I’ve been reading works like Matthew Salesses’ I’m Not Saying, I’m Just Saying and Chris Bachelder’s Abbot Awaits. And damn, Abbot Awaits is so good it just punches me in the gut. Yes. Then, for pure fun and entertainment, I’ve been going back to some classic Kurt Vonnegut novels. I haven’t read Vonnegut in over a decade, used to be one of my favorites, and books like Cat’s Cradle and The Sirens of Titan have proven to be good summer reading, even if they’ve lost some of that magic they used to hold over me.

About the Author:

Pete Stevens is the fiction editor at Squalorly. His work has appeared or is forthcoming at Blue Earth Review, Yemassee, Hobart, and Word Riot, among others. Currently, he is working towards his MFA in fiction at Minnesota State, Mankato.

About the Interviewer:

Teneice Durrant is managing editor of Argus House Press/Winged City Press and is the author of four chapbooks, most recently Night for Weeks (Two of Cups Press, 2014).

About the Artist:

Ashley Inguanta is a former art director of SmokeLong Quarterly and author of three poetry collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press, 2013), For the Woman Alone (Ampersand Books, 2014), and Bomb (Ampersand Books, 2016). Next year, Ampersand Books will publish her newest collection, The Flower, about how death shapes us.