Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Tina May Hall

by Michael Czyzniejewski Read the Story September 18, 2017

The title of your piece indicates that either this is part of a series or you’re just goofing on us, merely implying that there’s an entire maze of exhibits to take in. Is #521 a part of a series? If so (or even if not), what else is in that museum? 

Yes! Old light bulbs, a baseball c. 1910, lichen, vials of rainwater, wax cylinders of Tennyson reading “The Charge of the Light Brigade,” an embalmed whale, hearts and brains of disaster victims preserved in jars, and other strange and fleeting objects.

Fitting in with the theme of extinction, the two women in your story seem to have a taste for vintage clothing, vintage looks, vintage Americana. What about the past appeals so much to these young characters? 

I think the idea of us hurtling toward extinction brings on the nostalgia. But also, when I was a young woman, all I wanted to do was dress in old men’s suits from the thrift store and wear clunky old shoes and essentially surround myself with a musty veil of time to blunt the weirdness of growing into adulthood. I imagine these women doing the same, a sort of stylized aging of themselves via retro obsessions.

Be honest: Have you ever seen a live armadillo? I’ve seen thousands—all dead on the side of the highway. I’m beginning to think, to believe, they’re born that way. 

No. But I like to imagine them, shy and alive, safe in a ditch.

Your story world implies a future without a dependence on gasoline, which is great, but do you think that will be our choice—i.e., we’ll smarten up—or will we just run out?

I’m guessing we will just run out. And in some perverse way this is a love letter to the pleasures of the big old American car and the freedom and danger of just driving around in the dark on a summer night when there is nothing else to do—but hopefully tempered by the suggestion contained in the title that these old obsessions will be our undoing.

My four-year-old is into mermaids now. The narrator mentions “barely formed feet” and how their “knees were newly blossomed things.” I think you’re being metaphorical, but just to make sure, these women weren’t recently mermaids, were they? 

No, they are just barely post-adolescent, which is nearly the same thing.

About the Author:

Tina May Hall teaches and writes in upstate New York. Her collection of short stories, The Physics of Imaginary Objects, won the 2010 Drue Heinz Literature Prize. She was awarded an NEA literature fellowship in 2014 and has done residencies at Yaddo and Vermont Studio Center. Her stories have appeared in 3rd Bed, Quarterly West, Black Warrior Review, Descant, The Collagist, and other journals.

About the Interviewer:

Michael Czyzniejewski is the author of three books of short fiction, most recently I Will Love You for the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside  Splendor, 2012) and he serves as the interviews co-editor of SLQ.

About the Artist:

Alex Hockett's work can be found at Unsplash.