Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Benjamin Woodard

by John Milas Read the Story September 16, 2019

Why is it the narrator wants Ignacio to cut out the shenanigans? Does the narrator really care about him, or does the narrator just want some peace of mind?

Both, perhaps? He probably believes he just wants some peace, but underneath it all he sees some of his own past in Ignacio. That kind of physical reminder can hurt.

When the narrator asks Ignacio, Do you need everyone to burn? I wonder if the narrator is really asking that question self-reflexively. Did the narrator lose Billy, or does Billy remind the narrator of loss somehow?

I agree that the narrator is definitely asking the question self-reflexively. I do think that he lost Billy, though I’m not sure if Billy is dead, necessarily.

It seems like the narrator is the only person in the neighborhood trying to curb Ignacio’s behavior. Why is it that the rest of the neighbors are so much more sensitive to grief?

What a great question. Part of me wants to say that everyone else sees empathy differently than the narrator, who doesn’t quite believe in letting the pain work itself out on its own. Another (cynical) part of me wonders if the neighbors truly are more sensitive, or if, like in many suburban neighborhoods, they simply don’t want to get mixed up in someone’s life and say these things as an easy out.

What do you think is the most difficult component to writing a story under five hundred words in length? Did this piece originate at that length, or was it trimmed down over time? How have you learned to write at this length?

The hardest part of writing short, to me, is balancing rhythm with narrative. This piece originated in a workshop run by Kaj Tanaka (through Bending Genres) on beginnings and endings. It was a bit shorter then and got longer in revision. Writing very short came to me when I began teaching. I adjunct, so I travel from school to school and teach up to six classes a semester. I have little time to write, so I decided to focus my efforts on making small narratives. They fit well into my schedule.

What’s the worst music a real-life neighbor has ever subjected you to?

Freshman year of college, the guy who lived next door to me had a massive stereo system, and he played the song “Angry Johnny” by Poe (this was 1996) all the time. It wasn’t the worst music in the world, but he’d crank it up at all hours, and he never bothered to respect quiet hours. So near the end of the semester, when my roommate and I couldn’t take it anymore, I remember putting my little stereo against the wall between our rooms, cueing up Smashing Pumpkins’ “French Movie Theme” on repeat at maximum volume, and then leaving the dorm with my roommate for the weekend. Our neighbor was quiet after that.

About the Author:

Benjamin Woodard is editor-in-chief at Atlas and Alice. He lives in Connecticut with his wife and teaches English. In addition to the anthology Best Microfiction 2019, his fiction has appeared in Hobart, Monkeybicycle, Atticus Review, and other journals. Find him on Twitter at @woodardwriter.

About the Interviewer:

John Milas studies fiction writing in the MFA program at Purdue University. He previously studied creative writing at the University of Illinois. His writing has appeared or is forthcoming at Superstition Review, O-Dark-Thirty, Hypertext Magazine, and elsewhere.

About the Artist:

Paul Bilger's photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly.