Smoking With Amy Denham

by Nancy Stebbins Read the Story December 17, 2012

Both of the moms in the story seem to love Louis and want the best for him, but their perspectives are so different. His bio mother’s attitude is clearly colored by her husband’s betrayal. It’s a bit harder for me to grasp where Becky’s attitude is coming from. What were your thoughts as you wrote this character?

I think Becky is very noncommittal about the morality of things. She isn’t malignant, but she’s more easygoing in her approach to right and wrong. The biological mother is doling out the conventional advice: don’t make out in the church, don’t cheat on your girlfriend. But Becky is more self-determined in her actions. She has no apparent qualms about being a “homewrecker.” She’s like, life happens.

But the biological mother isn’t a complete Judgy McJudgerson either. She’s forgiving. She makes footie pajamas for the Other Woman. I’ve witnessed a few situations like that in my life: a man’s several baby mamas holding it together and being nice to the other ladies and their kids. It’s like, in practice, there are very few pure Madonnas or one-note whores.

The death of the sister weighs on the mother. It seems that the event has come to symbolize so much. Does she feel that the marriage might have survived if the sister had?

That is a completely feasible interpretation, but I actually hadn’t thought of it! The mother definitely has a lot of what-ifs over the sister’s death. But my thoughts on its significance, especially in the ending line, were a little darker.

The mother herself does not seem the heartbreaking type. But at the same time, she almost envies the carelessness with which Becky can deal in other people’s emotions. The mother has been on the crappy end of heartbreak before, and at the end, she sees the effect it’s having on her own son. But she would still rather her daughter be like Becky than like her. Would rather her daughter be the maybe-hurtful one than the one getting hurt. That’s what I was thinking, anyway.

I noticed that both women were written with sympathy and respect, and I really admired that, especially when women are often portrayed as being rivals and vicious to each other.

Yep. Such a lot of sexist hogwash. The world does not need another depiction of two weepy ladies ripping each other’s hair out. I mean, the mother did feel hatred toward Becky in the beginning, I guess, but she got over it. People adjust.

What are you reading right now?

I’ve been skimming an American lit textbook of my dad’s published in 1969. The last story I read was Hemingway’s “Big Two-Hearted River.” I’m wishing I hadn’t sold my American Lit Norton Anthology back to the bookstore after freshman year of college.

About the Author:

Amy Denham is a graduate of the MFA program at Bowling Green State University, where she served as an assistant editor of Mid-American Review. She has stories forthcoming in Washington Square Review and the anthology Girls on Fire.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Stebbins is a former editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.