Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Jennifer Todhunter

by Reem Abu-Baker Read the Story September 19, 2016

I love your story, and I’m especially obsessed with the moment when the narrator is out dancing and their friend asks about their lipstick. It’s such a striking image—the husband’s ashes as the narrator’s lipstick shade. I think this demonstrates one of the things I most admire about the story—how it manages to be funny and strange and sad all at once. Do you frequently find yourself using humor and/or strangeness to address difficult topics?

Absolutely. I crave the relief humor and strangeness provide when reading something innately sad or disturbing and try to offer up the same in my writing. As a reader, that break allows me to keep going at times when I may put something down for a little while. I wanted to incorporate a bit of humor into this story because grief is such a heavy form of sadness. I liked the way the lipstick exchange turned out because it’s a little weird and a little funny and a little indicative of how grief can be so misunderstood.

The loss of a husband seems like it should be a very “adult” experience, and yet there are so many objects and sentiments of adolescence in this story. Do you see a connection between adolescence and grief? Is this something you worked consciously to develop in this story?

My dad died suddenly when I was nineteen, so my experience with death is rooted to my adolescence. Ever since, I’ve found myself a little obsessed with ways I’ll cope when someone else who’s that kind of close to me passes away, my husband in particular. I have stacks of books I’ll read, puzzles I’ll do, games I’ll play with the kids. Distractions, I guess. There’s something very adolescent about grief. It kind of debases adulthood. Makes you incapable of dealing with life for a while. That’s what I tried to illustrate with this story—the narrator’s inability to be adult in the face of her grief.

Why flash fiction?

I love the power of flash fiction. The snapshots into characters’ minds and lives. Flash can be such a gut punch, and I love trying to create something minimal that really shakes a reader and sticks with them.

Anything you’ve read recently that you’re excited about?

I am totally taken with Ken Liu’s “The Paper Menagerie and Other Stories” and “Double Dutch” by Laura Trunkey. I am also re-reading Amelia Gray’s “AM/PM” for the gazillionth time.

Where have your little daily happinesses been coming from lately?

Fresh peaches, beekeeping, swimming in the ocean, and Halsey.

About the Author:

Jennifer Todhunter is a number nerd by day, word fiddler at night. She enjoys dark, salty chocolate and running top speed in the other direction. Find her also @JenTod_.

About the Interviewer:

Reem Abu-Baker lives in Tuscaloosa, Alabama, where she is the fiction editor for Black Warrior Review. Her writing can be found in Ninth LetterNANO FictionDay One, and other journals.

About the Artist:

Claire Ibarra is a writer, poet, and photographer. Her photographs have appeared in numerous journals and magazines, including Roadside Fiction, Alimentum--The Literature of Food, Foliate Oak, Lime Hawk, and Blue Fifth Review. She was an artist in residence for Counterexample Poetics and art editor for Gulf Stream Magazine. Claire’s work was included in the “Finding the Light” Exhibition at the PhotoPlace Gallery.