Smoking With Amber Sparks

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story October 2, 2011

The story seems to me to be an obvious reference to Peter Pan. Can you talk a little about that? Do you intend it to be a retelling of some sort? Or more of an homage? Or something totally different?

I guess it’s more of an exploration than anything else, into a small facet of the story that interests me most. I’ve always been fascinated with the story of Peter Pan and the way that the interpretations of it swing so wildly between sweet and savage, between cruel and childlike, almost saccharine in its sweetness. The movie is bizarrely disconnected from the book, the musical slightly more faithful but equally bizarre. I love the way the story uses the wild nature of children to mirror the wild nature of the world, and our own animal nature. Children are really just little beasts, right? In the best, id-like sense of the word, I mean.

I like the different voices in this piece. Did you intend the story to be that way when you started writing it, or did that just happen as you went along?

I actually intended to write the whole thing from the Lost Boys’ collective voice, but then I thought—where is Wendy in all of this? What kind of jerk am I that I can’t give her a voice? And then it just developed from there.

Where is Captain Hook?

I struggled with whether or not to include him, and Tiger Lily, and even the crocodile — but then I realized they weren’t really central to the story I was trying to tell. In a flash piece, of course, you have to strip your story down to the essential, and this was, at its heart, a story about the relationship between Peter Pan, Wendy, and Tinkerbell. That relationship, and even her role as mother to the Lost Boys, has always seemed weird and kinky and dark, and I wanted to explore that a little further. That side of things — the growing up and exploring your own sexuality side of things — seemed like a different story than the sort of wild-but-definitely-childlike fantasies that include playing at pirates and Indians.

Have you written other pieces based on children’s stories?

Kind of — I’ve written stories about mythical figures like Paul Bunyan and fairy tales and monster stories — though I guess not so much children’s stories as sort of archetypal stories, myth-making pieces. I’m definitely drawn to simple stories, whether for children or adults or both, because so much more can be done with language and with character in the spaces between the plot. And since the plots are already so familiar, there’s so much you can do to explore and twist and examine and deconstruct, and that’s what I really love about writing.

Why are you drawn to flash fiction?

I think it’s because flash fiction forces you to make every single word a diamond in your stories, since they’re so spare. You can’t have any loose, saggy prose, any extraneous elements or characters — it’s like the human body going into starvation mode: there’s no extra fat on it. There’s a hard kind of beauty in that. I started out writing poetry, so the transition to flash fiction was not as hard as it might have been to say, novels or long stories. It’s a very similar animal in many ways — you have to sock the reader in the face so they’ll remember your six hundred words. You have to really give them something golden.

About the Author:

Amber Sparks is the author of two short story collections, including the recent THE UNFINISHED WORLD and OTHER STORIES. Her fiction and essays appear widely online at places like Tin House, Granta, and American Short Fiction, and you can find them all at ambernoellesparks.com. She lives in Washington, DC with two beasts and two humans, but if you don't live in the swamp you can still say hey on Twitter @ambernoelle.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.