Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Randall Brown

by Jason Teal Read the Story December 14, 2015

Your story is an overtly craft-conscious piece, almost meta-narratively bent. Can you talk about the choice behind using different dialog tags than “said”?

A long while ago, there was circulating for a brief moment in literary circles a handout from a secondary school teacher entitled “Said Is Dead,” and it contained a list of alternatives to use instead of “said.” The literary world was outraged at how this teacher and others in secondary schools throughout the land had equated good writing with varying quote attribution! Of course, there is a point there, that there’s more to writing than randomly picking an alternative. But the outrage—Don’t these lit folks know that “good writing” uses “said” almost exclusively?—seemed a bit much to me. I wondered: Don’t “literary writers” know that they created their own construct of “good writing”—and decided that the exclusive use of “said” would constitute it? So the whole thing bothered me—and still does—way more than it should have. I wrote this piece as a way to think about what might be lost in the creation of a world where the only fully literary-writer-approved attribution was “said.” Imagine a world where people just “said” things to each other, never once cooing.

You are a notable figure in (very) short fiction writing circles. What attracts you to the form? Which writers do you look to for inspiration?

Thanks for saying that. The form seems to be continually in flux, defining and redefining itself and our notions of genre and story. I’d say Kathy Fish is an excellent flash writer who I and many others have turned to for inspiration.

You founded Matter: The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, which recently became one of the rare non-profit literary presses that actually pays writers ($50 for accepted pieces). How does reading and publishing others’ writing change your creative process?

I become much more aware of the possibilities of the short form—and also see the need for each piece sent out to journals to differentiate itself in some way from the rest of the submissions. Also, reading such amazing work day after day pushes me to want to improve specific drafts and my writing in general.

What’s next for Randall Brown? I’ve been noticing an upward trend in puns posted to Facebook. Can we guess it’s humor writing?

Well, the Facebook puns are stolen from others far more witty than I. So if I pursue that route, I see a lawsuit in my future. I feel like I’m still not writing the stories on the page as well as I do in my mind. I’d like to get better at making that incarnation from the “ideal” to the “flesh.”

How does Randall Brown spend eternity? With whom?

With my wife, two kids, and our many dogs. Whatever we are doing, I’ll be blissfully happy.

About the Author:

Randall Brown is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print. He earned his MFA at Vermont College.

About the Interviewer:

Jason Teal is a writer and editor living in the Upper Peninsula of Michigan. He earned his Master of Fine Arts degree in fiction from Northern Michigan University and runs Heavy Feather Review. His work appears in Quarter After EightEleven ElevenKnee-JerkVestal ReviewSmokeLong QuarterlyLit.catFlulandCorium MagazineBig MuddyMatter PressHobart, and Fine Print, among other publications.

About the Artist:

Claire Ibarra is a writer, poet, and photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Roadside Fiction, Alimentum--The Literature of Food, Foliate Oak, Lime Hawk, and Blue Fifth Review. She was an artist in residence for Counterexample Poetics and art editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. Claire’s work was included in the “Finding the Light” Exhibition at the PhotoPlace Gallery.