Smoke and Mirrors—Interview with Taryn Tilton

by Elise Burke Read the Story April 1, 2015

I’ll admit I’m nosy—maybe because I’m a writer myself—but I’m always interested in the story behind the story. Was there an image, experience, place or idea that sparked this piece?

I found a picture of some deer hanging in a shed and it struck me, though I wasn’t sure why. And from there, I thought on it and pulled out bits: a man I knew, an internet comment I read, a Borges quote I liked, a memory of my own friends I often revisited. No matter how disparate it all seems, it is stirred up by the same source for a reason, I think. So once I had the pieces, I knitted them together.

One thing I really admire about this story is its spareness. What gives it such impact are the details it includes and also what’s left out. Can you speak to those choices? Did you write twenty pages of the narrator’s childhood memories and scrap everything but one line? Or did this piece come out so perfectly concise?

I often find myself writing in a polished, tight, and spare way, yes—so I have to be more deliberate to break out of that, to let things loosen if I want them to have a different kind of heat. In this story, though, I particularly like the spareness of the words because it serves the near-winter rural landscape, cold and bare, as well as the disconnect between the narrator and the father.

Successful flash fiction always leaves me feeling totally satisfied, but uncomfortable having to depart from its captivating characters. Your story is a prime example of that. Is this your go-to form or did the nature of this story dictate its shape?

Actually, I have been writing much longer pieces; I just finished a novella and am now working on a novel. If a novel is an expansive and imperfect exploration, and a novella a shorter yet more perfect iteration, then flash fiction, for me, is the polished pit of the thing. (By perfect here I don’t necessarily mean better, but tidy or distilled.)

I absolutely think the story dictates its shape. Here, the chronic and acute conflicts (the narrator-father relationship and the friend coming to visit, respectively) overlap so tightly, and the clock on the piece (Thanksgiving weekend) is so short. I couldn’t see it as anything else.

The final image of this story is so haunting. It reflects on our lack of importance, which is somehow both comforting and troubling. It reduces us to animals, anonymous and predatory and insignificant. Can you speak to why you think animals allow us to reflect on our humanity in fiction?

We as humans feel our existence is more absolute, forget we are also just animals. Of course we can’t always be thinking this way, and I don’t like it myself—I love so many people, and seen on this level, each is incomparable, yes—but in terms of our bodies and abilities within this space, in many ways one is the same as the other. The deer are immortal because one deer lives on in all other deer, but not us; we give ourselves names and think ourselves important.

That’s part of what I was trying to explore here with the unnamed deer, the named dog, the humans, the finger: why we place value on some and not others and how absurd it is to think ourselves above it.

About the Author:

Taryn Tilton writes and translates. Her novella, Cherry Cherry, won the 2017 Plaza Literary Prize.

About the Interviewer:

Elise Burke is an MFA candidate at Hollins University’s Jackson Center for Creative Writing. She received her BA from the Kratz Center for Creative Writing at Goucher College in Baltimore.