Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Leslie Walker Trahan

by Megan Pillow Davis Read the Story September 16, 2019

Your story centers around the lives and learned behaviors of girls as they grow into women—specifically, the darkness that undergirds those behaviors. Is there anything in particular you’re suggesting with this story about how girls grow up or about what the future holds for them? About vulnerability? About trauma? What do you want your readers to take away here?

Girls learn so much about how they are expected to behave from watching adult women. That is a positive experience for a lot of girls, but it can also be traumatic. As a society, we tend to think that absorbing gender roles is a natural process. Children do it daily, and often without comment, which perpetuates that conception. They quickly learn where they have to stretch and pull and cut off parts of themselves to make things fit. The idea of using dark imagery really appealed to me in this story because I think there is a certain kind of violence in how children learn to adapt themselves to meet those expectations.

All of the characters in this piece are unnamed, which can have a host of connotations for readers. Why did you make this particular choice?

I use unnamed characters for most of my stories, partly because naming a character feels uncomfortably final to me and partly because I find coming up with the right name for a character to be so, so difficult. (You don’t even want to know how long it took to name my own children.) With this story in particular, though, I really liked the distance that using unnamed characters provided. I wanted to keep the focus of the story on this specific experience rather than allowing myself to get caught up in the plot or the characters. Under a different lens, the girls’ experience might seem trivial or even endearing, but I found that keeping the characters at a remove helped me illuminate the story’s twisted knots and jagged edges.

I love how the darkness in this story bleeds into horror in small aesthetic details: the too-wide smiles, the exposed neck, the mask of the wolf, the dirt-caked fingernails. It had echoes for me of Kristen Arnett’s “The Graveyard Game” and Kelly Link’s “Water Off a Black Dog’s Back.” Are there any particular styles or writers that you were hoping to conjure or pay homage to when you were writing this piece? 

Wow, what flattering comparisons! I didn’t start out with the conscious intention of writing something that would fit a certain style, but I read as much as I can, and I know I’m influenced by more than I’m even aware of. The first version of this story actually didn’t contain any of the horror elements that you’ve picked up on. I knew what I wanted to say with this piece, but that first version felt so off the mark. The story didn’t click into place for me until I decided to make it much darker. 

Flash forward ten years into the future. Where do you see these girls ending up? What’s their story now? What about their mother?

I’ve been wondering this same thing since I finished this story! I don’t know the answer to this question yet, but I hope to figure it out soon. I’ve just started working on a longer project featuring these same characters. 

What pieces of flash fiction do you love or return to often when you’re looking for inspiration?

I’m so constantly inspired and overwhelmed by the work I read of my fellow flash writers every day. I always have way too many tabs open in my browser that contain pieces I loved and am eager to return to. I read Kathy Fish’s Wild Life the moment it came out and have flagged so many pages that I’ve rendered my flagging system completely useless. I have also just finished reading Jennifer Wortman’s This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love, and I know I’ll be returning to it again and again in the same way.

About the Author:

Leslie Walker Trahan lives in Austin, Texas. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Spelk, MoonPark Review, and The Forge. You can find her on Twitter @lesliewtrahan.

About the Interviewer:

Megan Pillow Davis is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and is a doctoral candidate in the University of Kentucky’s English Department. Recent work has appeared in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Mutha Magazine, Memoir Mixtapes, and Coffin Bell Journal and is forthcoming in Moonchild Magazine, Collective Unrest, and Jellyfish Review. She has received fellowships from Pen Parentis and the Martha’s Vineyard Institute of Creative Writing and a residency from the Ragdale Foundation. She is currently writing her dissertation and a novel. You can find her on Twitter at @megpillow.

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.