Smoking With Abe Gaustad

by Brandon Wicks Read the Story March 28, 2011

Your story is uniquely located–what led you to a “renewables convention”?

The story was inspired by the word “renewables” itself. I thought it would make a nice title, but I didn’t really know where to begin. I had also been thinking about writing an “office” story with a tinge of the absurd. A convention on renewbales seemed a good place to add in some of those absurd elements, and the story grew from there.

The central image of Jen washing out the used condom is unforgettable. Frankly, I’m curious: Do you know if this sort of practice actually happens? Or is it your own imaginative invention?

I don’t remember hearing anything about it before. I’m sure it has happened somewhere, though probably for different reasons than those of the characters in the story.

Furthermore, that moment of uber-conservation is nicely contrasted by the oblivious waste of water. Likewise, the narrator demonstrates a similar tension between responsibility and irresponsibility, ultimately finding relief in what could not be saved. What value do you see this sort of conclusion holding for the narrator?

Oblivious is the right word. All of the characters in the story are so involved with their work and their cause that they are missing some very obvious things. I wanted to highlight the difference between wasting and saving, not just in terms of the physical world, but also in terms of their emotions and personal lives. The narrator is beginning to work through those differences at the end of the story, and that is a small victory in itself.

Perhaps my favorite tiny moment is with the salt lady at the end. She begins the story as a vehicle for the two main characters but ends with a spark of vulnerability. How did she find her way into this story?

Originally she was a tool to highlight the absurdity and misdirection of the participants at the conference. But it was important to give her an emotional aspect via the pictures of her dog. Her professional endeavor &mdash the reclamation of salt &mdash is simply a waste of time. But her personal connection with her dog &mdash and her need to showcase that connection even in a less than appropriate forum &mdash is what redeems her.

Lastly, can you tell us about your revision process for this piece?

This piece came together pretty fast for me. Most of the revision process was cutting down dialogue between Jen and the narrator that didn’t move the story forward. The ending took a few rewrites, but once the focus in their dialogue was on children, the pieces all fell together. Nicely, I hope.

About the Author:

Abe Gaustad lives and writes in Germantown, Tennessee. His fiction has appeared in New Orleans Review, Third Coast, Other Voices, Memphis Magazine and elsewhere.

About the Interviewer:

Brandon Wicks is the associate editor for special projects at SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Philadelphia. His debut novel, American Fallout, will be published by Santa Fe Writers Project in 2016. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, Potomac Review, Sou'wester, and other journals.