Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Santi Elijah Holley

by Steve Weddle Read the Story June 22, 2015

What do you want your reader to feel or think when reading your fiction? 

Anything.

The stakes in your story “Fall” seem, at first glance, to be small. As a writer, how do you work to convey the inner conflict while focusing on the details of the visible world?

During an inner or personal conflict, you become much more aware of your immediate surroundings and otherwise trivial details. Things that are normally insignificant take on a greater weight, and it’s important to me to try to show not only the conflict at hand, but the surrounding details, i.e. the coldness of the night air, the clear sky made dull by their cigarettes, a missing lighter. How we view the visible world at any given moment is determined by what is happening to us and what we’re going through. The stakes in this story seem small and inconsequential, but the issue is, of course, about something else entirely.

How does your writing process for a flash piece work? Do you find yourself working through numerous edits?

I begin with the scene, decide on the characters, and see where they end up. I then go back and trim everything that feels extraneous, and then go back again and trim away even more, leaving only the bones. I went through a half-dozen different endings for “Fall,” before finally deciding to end the story two paragraphs sooner than I’d planned. I feel like this kind of abruptness helps to convey the frustration and hopelessness of the couple’s situation.

How complete is the world where this couple lives? Do you visualize the entire neighborhood?

As far as the couple is concerned, nothing exists outside the confines of their backyard. They are responsible for polluting the clear sky with their cigarette smoke, they are responsible for the weather, they can determine fate. I don’t see the neighborhood, the street, or even their house. I see two desperate people, lying on their backs in the grass, underneath a wide, indifferent universe.

What are you working on now?

I’m always writing something, stories or personal essays or reviews for our local alt-weekly, The Portland Mercury. But, more specifically, right now I’m just trying to keep the lights on.

About the Author:

Santi Elijah Holley has contributed fiction and nonfiction to VICE, Tin House, NAILED, and Monkeybicycle, among other periodicals. He is an arts and culture writer for the Portland Mercury, and he works in the publicity department at Powell's Books. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

About the Interviewer:

Steve Weddle’s novel-in-stories, Country Hardball (Tyrus, 2013), was called “downright dazzling” by the New York Times. The French translation, Le Bon Fils, will be published in 2016 by Gallmeister. Weddle holds an MFA in creative writing from Louisiana State University, where he also taught.

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.