Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Shannon McLeod

by Sierra Sitzes Read the Story September 16, 2019

While traveling, have you experienced a version of the bookstore owner’s suggestion to “sing to the snails?”

It wasn’t suggested by a bookseller, but I did go to a spot on the Maine coast where it’s said that the sea snails wriggle out from their shells if you sing to them. This was a part of the New England Literature Program, which I attended about ten years ago. I recently revisited photos from the trip, and I immediately wrote this little story inspired by the memory. It was too strange not to write about it!

The tension between your characters is strongest in the empty space (whether physical or in the silence) between them. How did you, as a writer, choose which of these spaces to focus on?

I read a lot of fiction about being in relationships or the aftermath of breakups. I wanted to write about that strange period during which one person has decided it’s over but hasn’t yet had the courage to say it. I think that’s usually an empty space of sorts. When one person has moved on emotionally while the other is left trying to figure out what went wrong and attempting to salvage the unsalvageable. I was trying to think of the little physical clues that would denote this shift before the changes were discussed honestly.

Every time I read this story, I’m struck by the last line of the first paragraph: “Any place can be scenic, depending upon the scenes in your head.” When have the scenes in your head turned an unexpected place scenic?

I remember this creek under the highway that I’d walk to as a kid. We called it “Peace and Quiet” even though it was anything but when cars raced overhead. It was a magical, faraway place to me when I was small. But when I returned as an adult it was both much closer and decidedly less scenic—the water was filled with rebar and lamprey traps, and it wasn’t nearly as secluded as I remembered. My desire for escape turned this place into an oasis. 

There is so much detail in this story! Was it always your intention for this piece to be flash fiction or has it existed, at some point, in a longer form?

Usually when a sensory memory or imagery-filled thought grabs me, it turns into flash. Ideas that start with conflicts or characters tend to turn into longer stories. This piece was always flash, but it lost about a third of its weight before publication.

If you were a snail, what human song would tempt you to leave your shell?

Probably anything by Cat Stevens. That’s my go-to when I want to feel more at ease with the world outside.

About the Author:

Shannon McLeod is the author of the essay chapbook PATHETIC (Etchings Press). Her writing has appeared in Tin House Online, Necessary Fiction, Hobart, Joyland, Wigleaf, and Prairie Schooner, among other publications. She teaches high school English in Virginia. You can find Shannon on twitter @OcqueocSAM.

About the Interviewer:

Sierra Sitzes holds an MA in English from Missouri State University and is currently an MFA candidate at Eastern Washington University. Her work has previously appeared in Crab Fat Magazine, The Esthetic Apostle, and Paddle Shots: A River Pretty Anthology.

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.