Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Shelli Cornelison

by Ryan Ridge and Mel Bosworth Read the Story December 17, 2018

What inspired you to write this story?

I grew up near Galveston and there was a phantom face on one of the buildings at UTMB. You had to trespass to see it, so of course everyone did. A Google search will reveal everything you need to know about it. A memory of going to see that face came back to me one day and I thought it might spark an interesting story. I had no idea what story would emerge. I also had no idea that I’d start to type and the face in my story would be at a poultry farm instead. That’s my brain in a nutshell. I try to take it to an island, and it detours to a slaughterhouse. But I liked the narrator’s memory, so I went with it. I’m fascinated by the very thin line that sometimes lies between reminiscing and obsessing. It’s interesting how some people can revisit memories and leave them in the past while others slip so easily into obsession and allow a memory to trespass on their present. And the thought of someone remaining so fixated on such early relationships that she’d allow them to dictate her adult experiences is both intriguing and incredibly sad to me.

Where do you like to write?

I prefer to revise at home, but I can draft anywhere. I participate in two regular weekend retreats with two different groups of writers, and I get so much done at those. One is at a place between Austin and Houston, a dusty, ramshackle lodge loaded with questionable taxidermy. All I can say is there’s a particular form of magic there that I hope I never have to give up. The other retreat takes place at a lovely house in the Texas hill country. It has a long porch with about a dozen rocking chairs on it, and it features beautiful, expansive views. And it has a hot tub. (Did I mention the hot tub?) I also love to write in coffee shops and at the new Central Austin Public Library, which has its own great views from the rooftop garden. It’s not your average library.

What are you reading now?

Funny you should ask. I just won this inventive story collection, Second Acts in American Lives. And yes, I have a favorite story in it so far. It’s “A String of Hot Seconds.” I’m also reading a fantastic new young adult novel written by Kendra Fortmeyer, Hole in the Middle. And because I’m taking liberties here, I’m going to add that I just finished Nova Ren Suma’s hauntingly beautiful latest novel, A Room Away From the Wolves.

Tell us about Texas.

Texas is my home state, and aside from a year spent in southern California in my early twenties, I’ve always lived here. Beaches, mountains, desert, charming small towns, big cities, great shopping, excellent food, vibrant arts scenes, and, yes, small pockets of troubling, terrible things, but mostly it’s crammed full of people with huge hearts and a willingness to help each other, even when we don’t entirely agree on everything. Oh, did you want to know about Austin, specifically? It’s terrible. No one should move here.

What are you listening to?

Jarekus Singleton, a blues artist out of Mississippi. He opened a show I went to recently, and I’ve been listening to him since. I think everyone should be listening to him.

About the Author:

Shelli Cornelison lives in Austin, where she alternates between short stories and working on her latest novel. Her short fiction has recently appeared in Monkeybicycle and Defenestration.

About the Interviewer:

Ryan Ridge is the author of four books, the most recent of which is Second Acts in American Lives, a collection of stories coauthored with Mel Bosworth. An assistant professor at Weber State University, he lives in Salt Lake City, Utah, and edits the literary magazine Juked and is the former editor of Miracle Monocle. Mel Bosworth is the author of the novel Freight and the poetry chapbook Every Laundromat in the World. He lives in western Massachusetts.