Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Lyndsie Manusos

by Shelly Weathers Read the Story June 18, 2018

Your story found its way to me, a grade school teacher, parent, and avid classic sci-fi fan. Everything about the motifs you’ve used here—the romanticized space program with the dreamy, heroic-sounding name, the useless letters home from a well-meaning teacher, the angry little girl left behind by her parents (a sadly crowded demographic)—gave me the strangest sensation of having lived in this world of yours. How did you come to combine those elements? Are your choices most often theme driven or does a vision of place and a given situation come first, suggesting deeper purpose?  

I had Zoe’s character and situation in my head for some time, but I struggled. I had written a lot from Zoe’s perspective, but it seemed more of a rant. I got caught up with trying to explain the science fiction aspects, which then took away from the humanity of the story. I needed an anchor.

Then I read “You Can Find Love Now” in Ramona Ausubel’s Awayland. It was structured around dating profile questions. Light bulb! I needed something like that with the right amount of distance to tell Zoe’s story. That brought me to the parent-teacher conference survey. I could insert the speculative parts while still grounding the story. It gave me the balance I was looking for.

Your story makes great use of names—the grandmother meta-revels in this aspect of characterization. What do you read into a name, both in literature and life?

I’ve always been a sucker for names. I spend way too much time thinking about names of characters, which I think a lot of writing professors and books tell you not to do. I think it’s because the right name helps solidify a character for me, both in literature and life. If someone’s name really clicks with me, it’s like finding a pearl in the ocean. The chemistry is perfect. Of course, other parts of the character have to be thought out for the name to fit perfectly, but the right name helps.

In reading this, our sympathy is squarely with Zoe. Like the grandmother, we want to smack the father who would leave her. What new name will Zoe carve for herself?

To be honest, I don’t know! Her future is unwritten; Zoe has to live out more of her life to find out. Maybe that’s another story in the making ….

Your portrayal of the school survey feels realistically faceless. In what ways does this sort of assembly-line method of communication hurt the wounded child so much?

Parent-teacher conferences and surveys are so interesting, and there are so many versions of that survey online that are all equally faceless. I understand why they’re given, so as to give parents a voice if they have a concern they want to tackle, but the questions are so emotionless. It’s like talking about someone while they’re standing right next to you.

The survey was perfect for these characters, who are all frustrated with a situation beyond their control.

I have to address the background against which Zoe’s anger is staged because I admire it so much. “Into the Reaches” could be taken as a loving nod to midcentury sci-fi, like Ray Bradbury’s R is for Rocket or the Place of Going to the Stars, from the Clifford D. Simak novel A Heritage of Stars. Under what circumstances would you find yourself on the rocket, headed into the reaches?

I’m not sure there’s any circumstance where I could find myself on a rocket to do that. My younger self might have thought so, but there’s too much here for me. I mean, I have trouble separating from my daughter and dog for more than an hour, so an eternity in space … meh, wouldn’t be my cup of tea.

It reminds me of those Mars missions they’re planning right now. There are candidates for the first manned Mars missions that will likely go to Mars and never come back. It boggles my mind. They will die there. The morbidity abounds!

We don’t see their destinies in this story, so I have to ask in case there is an answer that would supplant my own imagined one. What did your couples find in the reaches?

Whatever it is, I hope they find something worth the sacrifice — I truly do. A civilization, perhaps. The answer to life and death. The formula for hyperspeed. A place where the Star Wars prequels are better than the originals, which is impossible, but who knows!

Space is the ultimate backdrop of unknown potential, for disaster and for wonder. But so is parenthood. Which seems to you to be more adventurous, space exploration or raising a child?

On April 20, 2018, I would’ve said space exploration. On April 21, I gave birth to my daughter, and since then raising her has been the most exhausting adventure of my life. So I gotta go with the latter right now. Ask me again once I’ve had more sleep.

Finally, should writers be astronauts?

All writers are already astronauts, IMO. We go boldly where no one has gone before.

About the Author:

Lyndsie Manusos' work has appeared in The Masters Review blog, Midwestern Gothic online, PANK, A Cappella Zoo, among other notable publications. Her flash fiction story 'Clean Team' won the 2017 Write to Publish Contest contest judged by the editors at The Masters Review. She received the Sara Patton Stipend Award in fiction from the 2017 Writers Hotel conference. Most recently, her short story 'Winterworld' was listed as a semifinalist in Screencraft's Cinematic Short Story contest.

About the Interviewer:

Shelly Weathers’ fiction has appeared in Tahoma Literary Review, Adroit, Sou’wester, Moon City Review, Timber, and elsewhere. Her work has been recognized with the 2013 Beacon Street Prize in Fiction and the 2014 John Steinbeck Short Story Award. She lives in the desert Southwest with her family.

About the Artist:

Find more photography by Saffu at Unsplash.