Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Tom DeBeauchamp

by Sierra Sitzes Read the Story March 25, 2019

Your story begins with the sudden and violent arrival of extraterrestrial space junk. Did the idea for this story hit you the same way it hit Mary-Beth Del Marco McFarthy’s lovely Levi-ed hip?

Sort of! It came out of a generative writing game led by Portland author, Alissa Hattman. Over the course of ten hours, we each wrote ten stories and then met up to read the best ones aloud. “Space Junk” was the fourth or fifth story I wrote that day, and by the time it came out, I was definitely in a zone. When I wrote the first line, I think I had some notion about the party atmosphere, the locale, but was surprised when the space junk showed up. Because the goal was to write the story as quickly as possible in that initial sitting, there was an element of improvisation to it, and I remember thinking when the junk hit Mary-Beth that I couldn’t let this become a then-the-woman-dies story and sort of wrestled against that ugly impulse. In thinking through the story, I hoped to give the obvious destinations of the initial idea a bit more complexity.

I love that this story is an anecdote that has been told over and over again by the narrator. How do you think this method of storytelling benefits from the form of flash fiction?

One of the things I really like about flash fiction is just how much can be, and must be, left out. I think that suits this narrator just fine, too. He’s been over the facts enough times that the extraterrestrial parts almost bore him now. He’s struggling with earthly things, things illuminated by the uncanny event, but completely unrelated to it. Flash encourages mental leaps and insinuation, intentional omissions you still feel, which I think is what you get with a re-re-re-re-etc.-telling.

How do you expect your audience to react to the narrator as a character? How does this compare with the way his audience reacts to his story?

I hope “my” audience sees the narrator as a complex character, if not an entirely sympathetic one. This might be showing my hand, but I hope he comes across as someone who recognizes something ugly about himself and wants to change it, even if he’s been unable to figure out what it is that needs to change, or how it ought to change, etc. I suppose I assume “my” audience understands this better than he does, while his audience is still mystified by the extreme odds of the outer space stuff.

An image that has stuck with me (struck me, you could say) is when you describe the space junk as “some kid’s idea of lightning.” When you were a child, what was a crazy misconception you held about nature?

When I was a kid I thought the white lines that trail behind airplanes were caused by the tips of tall buildings scraping the sky. I thought that’s why those buildings were called skyscrapers. That’s not exactly a natural phenomenon, but it sure felt like it back then!

Does this piece fit into a larger project or, like the space junk its named after, is it destined to travel alone?

“Space Junk” is definitely a stand-alone piece. I hope it feels like it accesses something bigger, but I don’t intend to expand it.

About the Author:

Tom DeBeauchamp's writing can be read at The Collagist, Hobart, Burrow Press Review, and elsewhere. He lives in Portland, Oregon.

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.