Smoking With Andrea Danowski

by Josh Denslow Read the Story December 17, 2012

“Slow Dance” reads like a ghost story; something meant to frighten. I love the way the story unfolds, with that wonderful sense of dread. How conscious were you of the creepiness and how did that affect the way you revealed information?

Wow, I really had no idea this story had that effect on readers. I mean, I wanted it to be a little strange, but I didn’t know it worked that well. Maybe that just means I’m inherently creepy? Or maybe all of those ghost and horror stories I read as a kid really affected my writing more than I thought.

After I had read this numerous times, it dawned on me that I couldn’t definitively declare the sex of the narrator. All of the sexual descriptions are saved for the woman with the hole in her chest. For me, this added to the mystery of the piece, and I imagine it challenged the assumptions of many readers. In my first reading, I had assumed the narrator was a woman, but I’m convinced now that it doesn’t matter. Was this something you purposefully left ambiguous?

When I initially imagined this story I had a male narrator in mind, but I also have a tendency to not write in the sex or gender or sexuality of a narrator where it isn’t an important element of the piece. In many stories I feel like it doesn’t matter what sex a character or narrator is any more than his or her hair color matter. And I like that not including inconsequential details like this forces the reader to get involved in their own experience of the scene or story; I like leaving it up to the reader whether they want to think the narrator is male or female or somewhere in between.

Those moments after the woman reveals the hole to the narrator are breathtaking. I could read this sentence from your story all day: Like some strange miracle, I could feel the stretch of her ribs, the humidity of her lungs. This may be a silly question, but when I see a sentence like that, one that so perfectly describes what is happening, I always wonder if the writer stumbled to find the right words. And since I’m lucky enough to interview you, I’ll just ask. How difficult was it to describe what the inside of the hole felt like?

Wow, again. You are too kind! I don’t recall struggling to write that sentence, but I do remember not wanting the description to be full of gore, so I tried to think around the expected blood and guts.

Metaphorically speaking, the hole works on so many levels. We all have holes in us in some way or another, and sometimes we find the right people with whom to share them. What drew you to these two people and this particular type of hole? How important was it that the hole appear in her chest, so near to her heart?

The “Guts” episode of Radiolab that aired a few months ago (which I don’t recommend listening to while you’re eating breakfast) got me thinking a lot about fistulas, how creepy and gross and fascinating and amazing they are. I wanted to write about someone living with an atypical hole in their body, a hole that left them somewhat vulnerable, and how that person would go about sharing that vulnerability with someone else, someone who might find it creepy and gross and fascinating and amazing. So I imagined this character being too cautious or scared to share her secret under normal circumstances, needing to get a little tipsy to make her big reveal, but then ultimately having both parties find some pleasure in that physical and metaphorical opening up.

As far as the location of the fistula, it seemed to make the most sense for it to be near the core of the woman, in a place where letting someone get so close, allowing them to get physically inside, could actually be quite dangerous. There would have to be a great deal of shared trust (or maybe just one drink too many) to let someone else explore her chest cavity with their dirty clumsy fingers.

I’m a big fan of the story’s structure and the slow reveal of information. But there’s another interesting element as well. The woman’s dialogue is set off by quotation marks, but the places where the narrator seemingly speaks are not. What led you to make this distinction?

The narrator is a rather passive participant in this relationship (except with the penetration of the woman at the end). So I wanted the narrator’s half of the conversation to read more like thought than dialogue, so it would be somewhat unclear as to whether it was actually said or not. The narrator might have said these things to the woman, but might have instead kept them internalized, not being quite so willing to share his or her own vulnerabilities.

Before you run off, tell us what you’re working on now.

The unglamorous answer is personal statements for grad school applications. But when I have a few spare minutes here and there, I’m also working on revisiting and reworking some flash pieces, most recently one about a nontraditional bun in an oven.

About the Author:

Andrea Danowski's work has previously appeared at Monkeybicycle, Nontrue, and Gloom Cupboard.

About the Interviewer:

Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, CutBank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. His collection, Not Everyone Is Special, is forthcoming from 7.13 Books.