Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Wynne Hungerford

by Michael Czyzniejewski Read the Story June 19, 2017

Sherrie Flick, the editor who selected your story, notes that she admires how the magical realism comes in gradually, subtly, amidst the realistic setting. What are some magically real stories that inspire you, your must-read list?

As far as magical realism goes, my main man is Lewis Nordan. As a young writer, I learned a lot from Music of the Swamp and Wolf Whistle. He’s from Mississippi, and I looked to him as a Southerner who could ride that line between humor and heartbreak, which makes for the most satisfying read, in my opinion. It’s funny because I don’t think of his stories and novels as “magical realism” at all, just wild and wacky at times, although he commonly falls in that category. I remember being in a workshop in college and someone saying that my work seemed “surreal.” That was odd to me. I think of my work as being very realistic (or hope it is) because realism implies that work feels real, even if there is an otherworldly element.

Something gives me the idea that this family, if it gets any colder, is going deeper into Dad’s mouth, that they’re going to go all-in, maybe disappear. Any way for him to turn such a skill into steady income?

Nope.

The POV of this story strikes me, how it’s told from the mom’s perspective and not the dad’s. I see her as a Watson to his Holmes, the straight man there to bear true witness to the fantastic proceedings. What made you choose her to tell this tale?

I started this story in the wife’s point of view based on instinct. At the time, I didn’t have a particular reason for giving her the POV, but in retrospect I think she’s the only one to tell the story. If it were told from John’s point of view, the big mouth would be too much of a focal point. Really, it’s not a big deal. I’ve known lots of people with big mouths, people who could fit their fists in their mouths, people who could eat half a cheeseburger in one bite. The big deal is the family coming together in this moment and being comfortable, despite the power being turned off. I remember watching American Winter, a documentary about families in Oregon dealing with the Great Recession, and that has always stuck with me, how regular families could go from having jobs and steady income and security to being homeless. I was graduating from high school during the recession, and it was tough because everybody was saying a college degree didn’t matter because there wouldn’t be any jobs. People were worried about the housing market and gas prices. Even worse, people were thinking, “How am I going to feed my kids?” It was bleak. It’s always bleak, depending on your outlook, but the wife in this story is able to find a moment of comfort among all the bullshit.

Fun fact: One way to differentiate between a hamster and a gerbil is that hamsters store their food in their cheeks and gerbils cannot. What makes Wynne Hungerford different?

Different from a hamster? My heart beats much slower.

About the Author:

Wynne Hungerford's work has been published in Epoch, Talking River, The Tulane Review, The Whitefish Review, The South Carolina Review, and The Weekly Rumpus, among other places. She is an MFA candidate at the University of Florida.

About the Interviewer:

Michael Czyzniejewski’s most recent collection of stories is I Will Love You For the Rest of My Life: Breakup Stories (Curbside Splendor, 2015). He is editor-in-chief of Moon City Review and serves as managing and literary editor for Moon City Press.