Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with T.E. Cowell

by Jac Jemc Read the Story September 21, 2015

How did this story begin, and what was the process of getting it to this state?

This story began from a memory. A few years ago I went through an aimless phase where I didn’t know what I wanted to do with myself. I met others who were more or less in the same boat as me, just drifting. It was an exciting time, but I wasn’t exactly happy. Everything seemed fragile and uncertain. I had no clear thoughts about the future and didn’t know where I would be from one day to the next. So in a way this story shows how far I’ve come and how far I might still go (I don’t have a child nor do I own a house, like the story implies) since my wandering days. This story came rather easily for me compared to others. I wrote it in two days or so, edited it a few times, and then I felt it was done and sent it in to SmokeLong.

I will admit to having a bias against what I call “telephone stories,” but yours proved me wrong. I worry they feel too easy sometimes, and that there aren’t many layers, but yours is so rich. You get the complexity of one brother knowing what he’s doing wrong and not knowing how to get out of that rut. And the imagery is still really strong even without a ton of visuals. What are your feelings on stories that happen over the telephone? Do you have examples of ones you’ve read that you really like?

As long as a story keeps me reading, I don’t care where it takes place. I can only recall one story that took place over the telephone, a J.D. Salinger one, which I liked as with all of Salinger’s short stories.

When I learned it was your story I picked, I looked you up and read more of your work. Dialogue features heavily in most of the stories I read. Can you talk about that strength? Why do you think you tend toward that as a device? Do you ever get the urge to write for stage or screen? 

I’m not sure why I write the way I do, why dialogue seems to play an important role in my writing. I like reading dialogue, so maybe that has something to do with it. Dialogue is everywhere, all around us, there for the taking. I have never had the urge to write for the stage or screen. So far, writing fiction is all I can handle.

If this story were a short film, who would star in it and who would you want to direct?

I honestly hardly ever watch films. Netflix has been trying for years now to get me back.

What are you reading that you’re excited about?

Book two of Karl Ove Knausgaard’s My Struggle.


About the Author:

T. E. Cowell calls Washington state home.

About the Interviewer:

Jac Jemc's first story collection, A Different Bed Every Time, was named one of Amazon's Best Short Story Collections of 2014. Her novel, My Only Wife was a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award. She is the nonfiction editor for Hobart Web. Jac teaches fiction at the University of Notre Dame and Northeastern Illinois University.

About the Artist:

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.