Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Tiffany Quay Tyson

by Qiana Towns Read the Story September 17, 2018

How does place influence your writing?

Place influences everything. A person raised in a rural area and a person raised in a big city might witness the exact same thing, but they will interpret the event in vastly different ways. Where we come from colors our view of the world, whether we want it to or not. I try to think about that, especially when writing characters. I’m always trying to suss out how their past influences their view of the world.

Are there differences in the ways you approach writing as a former resident of the Delta and a current resident of Colorado?

No matter where I live, I write about Mississippi. I don’t know why, but I can’t seem to leave it behind. I do think it’s helpful to be able to examine a place with a wider perspective. It’s hard for me to write about any place when I’m smack in the middle of it. I see things more clearly from a distance. So, writing about Mississippi from Colorado helps me focus on the details in a richer way.

“You don’t see me at first and maybe I don’t exist, but the swing creaks again and you step in the yard. Now you see me.” That cleaving. That desperation. To be wanted by the only person you want to want you. This story captures a portion of the human experience some of us would rather turn away from. What prompted your exploration of the subject?

I like to dig into the raw emotions of my characters. I don’t necessarily set out to explore a particular subject or theme in my writing. I create characters and situations and see what happens. In this case, the narrator wanted to be seen. She wanted to be noticed and valued. It’s something everyone wants, I think, but no one likes to admit it. It feels like weakness in someone with no power. Yet, if you look at some of the most powerful people in the world, they demand to be noticed and admired. Why do some people get to demand attention while others have to beg for it? I don’t know the answer to that. Maybe I’m trying to figure it out.

In the section where Buddy is hit by the truck, why do you think the man yells at the narrator? What, do you imagine, is his problem?

Well, he has many problems, doesn’t he? First of all, he is privileged in a way the narrator is not. He has more advantages and more opportunities, so he is surprised when bad things happen. The narrator is not surprised. In her world, bad things happen all the time. He looks for someone to blame. She understands that loss is part of life and no one is to blame. It’s the thing that sets them apart, but it also brings them together. He needs her, even if he doesn’t really know why.

It’s interesting that she is smart enough to know how to contact the clinic and how much it’ll cost to have the procedure, but she doesn’t take a pregnancy test before doing all of this. Is this driven more by ignorance than desperation? What do you want this moment to reveal about the character?

Well, a home pregnancy test costs money. She’d have to pay for that at-home test on top of the visit to the clinic. This way, she only expects to pay once. I think she is quite smart in a way that might not make sense to someone who has more resources. She’s practical. Also, she doesn’t fall apart when she believes she is pregnant and she doesn’t fall apart when she learns she is not. I think people have a tendency to underestimate her and overlook her. She is really quite strong in her own way. It’s the sort of strength that isn’t valued as much as it ought it to be, in my opinion.

Which of the characters would be an Aretha Franklin fan? What would be his/her favorite Re-Re song?

Oh, I think the narrator would be the Aretha fan for sure. In fact, I’d like for her to put “R-E-S-P-E-C-T” on repeat. It’s what she longs for, isn’t it? A little respect. I think she deserves it.

About the Author:

Tiffany Quay Tyson is the author of two novels, The Past is Never and Three Rivers. She was born and raised in Mississippi and much of her fiction is set in the south. She currently lives in Denver, Colorado, where she teaches at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

About the Interviewer:

Qiana Towns is author of the chapbook This is Not the Exit (Aquarius Press/Willow Books, 2015). She resides in Flint, Michigan, where she serves as the community outreach coordinator for Bottles for the Babies, a grassroots organization created to support the residents of Flint during the water crisis.

About the Artist:

Find more photography by Velizar Ivanov at Unsplash.