Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Brooke Randel

by Kinga Ławicka Read the Story June 17, 2019

The hidden depths that you create from the simple situation of overhearing neighbors fight is intriguing to me. How did you figure out where to put your characters to extract the full emotional depth of the story? 

I knew I wanted to leave a lot unsaid between the narrator and Dane. They’re weighed down by all the things they’re not talking about and yet, they’re still not really talking. The neighbors, on the other hand, are letting it rip. They’re angry, they’re loud, they’re going for the jugular. I loved the idea of using this contrast to deepen the characters’ silence and put their awkwardness on display. There’s a wall between the two couples, but it’s paper-thin compared to the wall between the narrator and Dane.

Does being a copywriter by day influence your creative writing? 

Definitely. With copywriting, there are limitations on visual space and time, meaning you have to be pithy. You have to pack a punch in every line. Naturally, this bleeds into my creative writing, too. I tend to write tight and leave as much as I can between the lines. I like giving the reader just enough. I also think a lot about voice. Tonality and voice are critical to me; even the best premises fall apart if the writing is flat. I think that way of thinking comes directly from my experiences in advertising. When you have limited space, you’re forced to get creative. You have to keep it interesting and keep it moving.

Your story uses repetition on a few occasions. These build in us the feeling of monotony and pointlessness of the characters’ exchange. It brings us closer to the story allowing us to experience how truly stuck they are. However, I find repetition to be a tricky beast. How do you know when to stop repeating? 

For me, it’s a musical thing. I listen to tell when the repetition resonates and when it’s just prattling on. Often, it comes down to whether the repetition serves a purpose. If it adds texture or tone, or colors a previous meaning, it can enrich the story and help the reader draw connections. If it’s only being used to hammer home a point, the repetition becomes tiring rather than rhythmic. Tricky beast definitely seems like the right term for it.

During the discussion* many of us, who are international students, found your story to be painfully relatable. What advice would you give to someone who is struggling with a concept like Brian? 

The challenge of long-distance is often the challenge of not splitting yourself in two. Your day-to-day life can feel so separate from your relationship that one can start to feel less real than the other. I have no idea how to avert this, but pretending everything is fine is probably not the way to go. Maybe have an open and honest conversation with your partner? Share how you feel? Something crazy like that?

The characters in your story struggle with their conversation losing meaning the moment they have to play game show host and ask “Where is it going?” If you were a game show host in your own life what kind of game show would it be, and why? 

I regularly host a game show called When Is the Bus Going to Get Here? where I stand at a bus stop and wonder how long the wait will be. The grand prize is a seat on the bus, if I’m lucky.

*”Concepts Like Brian” was chosen by the students of the Amsterdam University College creative writing program.

About the Author:

Brooke Randel is a writer and copywriter in Chicago. Her fiction has been published in Fearsome Critters, Gigantic Sequins, LandLocked Magazine, Two Cities Review and Ropes. She is currently co-writing a memoir with her grandma Golda Indig.

About the Interviewer:

Kinga Ławicka came from Poland to study Communication Science at University of Amsterdam. She is fascinated by storytelling and how it shapes a society. She herself is trying to contribute to the library of stories by writing a fantasy novel as well as a mystery time travel comic. Recently she read *Save the Cat! Writes a Novel* and she might have taken the title too literally. If you find her saving cats and asking them how to write, please don’t be concerned.

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.