Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Gary Fincke

by Dustin M. Hoffman Read the Story December 17, 2018

In Debra Spark’s essay “Getting In and Getting Out,” she discusses how the best story endings have a sense of “opening up,” of communicating that “it all counts. Everything makes a difference.” Could you talk about how you let this story open up at the end, even as the image narrows to a pinprick?

I’m glad you asked. Everything until the last long sentence moved steadily along the surface. All I knew was the cow was inevitably going to leave, but when it turned and left by the same path it had arrived on, that last “opening up” sentence wrote itself—always a good thing to have happen.

Every tree and lawn, every cow description seems essential. When you have so few words, what influences which details you’ll paint and which you’ll ignore?

“Half-grown” is the detail I debated as perhaps misleading, but then I realized that though the mother tells the story, the daughters “see” it, and the detail seemed accurate. Another? Once I chose a willow tree for its size and shelter and association with child’s play, the other yards grew full of shrubbery and small decorative trees, the world maintained by adults.

It seems most contemporary writers cringe at the idea of symbolism. But why a cow? If not symbolic, what does it evoke for you?

For sure, if those girls had said “Mommy,” that cow becomes less real and more symbolic. For sure, I worked against that. But it is the surprise, the near-miracle of its presence, and the girls’ spontaneous response that matters.

This story understates the father’s absence, but once it’s mentioned, the story takes on a whole new glow of uncommon visitation. How did you plan where to reveal this and what to include/exclude?

I never “plan” a “reveal”—and though sometimes that results in losing whatever thread I thought was there, I’m not interested in writing any other way but toward discovering what there is about my characters’ lives that might surface and be somehow significant to me and to whoever might choose to read my work. I did, however, drop a couple of sentences of exposition that surrounded the “mention.” The daughters are so young, I had to trust that a reader would understand it’s an absence that comes to them spontaneously and without analysis.

As a prolific writer of both poetry and prose, could you discuss how you see the genres colliding in this story and in the flash fiction form?

I’ve come late to flash fiction, almost by the accident of adapting scenes that seemed striking but led nowhere in what I believed would be long stories. I hate to discard anything, from old town league basketball T-shirts to ticket stubs, and I discovered a new pleasure in reworking a few such scenes, finding enough success that, from time to time, I set out intentionally to write flash fiction.  Since I’m pretty sure my biggest fault as a writer in any genre is knowing when to shut up—the audience may not have the patience to stay while I continue to associate—flash fiction feels like a healthy thing to do.

About the Author:

Gary Fincke’s latest collection of stories A Room of Rain is just out from West Virginia University.  A novel How Blasphemy Sounds to God was published in 2014 by Braddock Avenue Books.  An earlier collection Sorry I Worried You won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and was published by Georgia.  He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.

About the Interviewer:

Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist (University of Nebraska Press), winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. He spent ten years painting houses in Michigan before getting his MFA in fiction from Bowling Green State University and his PhD in creative writing from Western Michigan University. His stories have appeared in Black Warrior Review, Phoebe, Puerto del Sol, Fourteen Hills, Witness, Quarterly West, The Journal, GargoyleFifth Wednesday JournalIndiana Review, and other outlets. He lives in South Carolina and teaches creative writing and literature at Winthrop University.