Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Jonathan D. Nixon

by Brandon Wicks Read the Story December 18, 2017

Tell us a little something about this story’s genesis.

I’d read somewhere online about people finding strange reminders of their dead loved ones in unexpected places, specifically, breath left behind in inflatables. That sparked the image of two estranged siblings holding up a kiddie pool between them, so I wrote the ending and worked my way backwards from there. It originally began as a flash fiction assignment for a workshop, but over the course of a year I kept experiencing these urges to revisit and revise. Interestingly, by the time it was ready for submission, my interest had shifted from the story’s final scene to all of the moments hidden below the surface.

There are so many wonderful, exacting details in here: Anne stirring the drinks with her finger, the buying of broccoli as an emotional trigger. What moment in this story really demanded your attention when drafting and revising?

The details you’re referring to are what held this story together for the longest time. The broccoli monologue, the beagle figurines, Anne’s unsanitary mixing habits,  all persisted through each draft and required very little revision. It was actually the underbelly of the story that demanded most of my attention. I kept clear of Felix’s deep, emotional hurt for quite a few drafts. I had myself convinced that it was artsy to leave his past vague when, in reality, I just hadn’t spent enough time to know him as a character. Consequently, I spent a lot of time writing the scene at the kitchen table when Felix talks about his husband. Once I started revising from a place of authenticity, though, everything just sort of clicked.

I’m very fortunate to have a family who accepts me unconditionally, but I still share many of Felix’s insecurities. Drawing from those insecurities was tough, though cathartic in the end.

The liturgical aspect of “Our Father” is nicely understated. Tell me, what funerary customs do you find most valuable, most interesting, or most in need of replacement?

I understand the sentiment behind honoring the dead in a respectful way, but I do find it strange how gloomy funerals are made to be. Just thinking about people lined up to view an embalmed body freaks me out. I like that more and more people are choosing to hold celebrations of life in which families can honor the dead in a less traditional setting with food, music, and laughter. Standing around a church in stuffy clothing sounds completely undesirable when there are so many fun and interesting ways to send someone off.

Finally, we never know what becomes of dear father’s remains (Burial? Cremation? Compressed carbon-to-diamond?). When you go, what might be your final wishes?

There’s a company that creates “reef balls” by combining your ashes with a concrete mixture. Your family can customize the outside with their handprints or little trinkets and then sink you to the ocean floor. I really like the idea of little marine critters making a home out of me.

About the Author:

Jonathan D. Nixon is originally from South Florida and currently resides in Auburn, Alabama where he is pursuing a master's in technical and professional communication. His worked has previously appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly.

About the Interviewer:

Brandon Wicks is the associate editor for special projects at SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Philadelphia. His debut novel, American Fallout, will be published by Santa Fe Writers Project in 2016. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, Potomac Review, Sou'wester, and other journals.