Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Al Kratz
by Lori Sambol Brody Read the Story September 16, 2019
Can you talk a little about your inspiration for this piece?
I wrote this for a Bending Genres class taught by Kaj Tanaka. A couple of years ago, I read the Philosophical Quarterly article about the Simulation Argument and had been trying various ways to get it into a story. It made a bit appearance in drafts of different stories, one about a father and his sons dealing with the death of the mother. Kaj’s prompt got me to thinking about how the article could be a spark. How it could be the main story rather than a bit player. How exposure to these ideas of existence and consciousness could start mental fires.
I love how the narrator says, “I had to catch the world when it didn’t know I was looking. I had to see it slip.”
Thanks for picking out that line. It was one of my favorites, too, and one that came from that sweet spot of a class prompt and wanting to keep up with the classmates. I’m not sure I would’ve found that line on my own deadline, but when I did, I started to feel like I had the right voice for this story, that I had three characters dealing with some good stuff.
The narrator, for the most part, is an observer and not active in this piece. Why did you choose him as a narrator?
The original plan was just the philosophy article as a spark. Somehow, I found a start with the older brother on the couch, everyone getting mad at him and his obsession with philosophy. That led me to this narrator’s voice and his way of observing things. He mostly watches the spark turn to fire, but he helps spread it, too. Maybe I landed on him because I was the youngest of three boys and all my friends had older siblings, too. That spot forces you to be an observer. I remember how powerful just hearing one new idea from an older brother or sister could be. One little idea could be life changing.
Who is actually conducting the experiment? How do you think the “observer effect” would apply here?
In some ways the narrator is in on the experiment. He doesn’t want his father or brother hurting each other, but he seems to accept he can’t prevent it so he might as well witness it and gather observable truths. But the older brother is the driver. He’s intentionally pushing Dad’s limits, maybe for some type of closure he needs over the loss of their mother. He takes him to the peak and is ready to accept whatever impact comes with it. We don’t get to know much else about how he feels. The narrator drives that by describing that climactic manifestation of his Dad’s ideas on existence, these four points of the cross on his chest becoming real, this passion for life, including the suffering and the love. I suspect this moment is the closest these three men have ever been together.
I know from social media and your other stories that one of your interests is music. What was your playlist when you wrote this piece? Or if you didn’t listen to music, what music do you think is compatible with this piece?
I wrote this on a quiet Saturday morning. I’ve been listening a lot lately to the Velvet Underground. I think their song “Rock & Roll” covers the Spark as good as you can. There was nothing going down, not all, and then one fine morning, she puts on a New York station, and she can’t believe what she hears at all. Her whole life is changed! Changed by rock and roll. By ideas. By passion. That and the song “Foggy Notion.” I don’t even know what it’s about, but I love the idea of the foggy notion. The repeat of Do it Again. Do it again. That and the song “Oh! Sweet Nuthin’.” The repeat of Ain’t got nothing at all. These songs stare into the face of consciousness and give it the finger. Their passion makes us stronger.
Last question—would you take the red pill or blue pill and why? (No alt-right connotation here.)
I’m red pill all the way. I’d always pick consciousness and awareness over blissful ignorance, even if it comes with some costs.
About the Author:
Al Kratz lives in Indianola, Iowa. He is a Senior Fiction Editor at New Flash Fiction Review.
About the Interviewer:
Lori Sambol Brody lives in the mountains of Southern California. Her short fiction has been published in SmokeLong Quarterly, Tin House Flash Fridays, New Orleans Review, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her stories have been chosen for the Wigleaf 50 and The Best Small Fictions 2018 and 2019 anthologies. She’s an assistant flash editor at Split Lip Magazine and can be found on Twitter at @LoriSambolBrody.