Smoking With Andrew Roe

by Ania Vesenny Read the Story December 20, 2009

The story, “Stalling”, is rooted in a simple interaction between father and child. What moved you to focus on such an interaction and how did the story grow out of it?

Unlike a lot of my fiction, “Stalling” is somewhat autobiographical. My father, like the grandfather in the story, died some months before my first son was born. Since then (my son is now four) I’ve tried to tell him about my father, to make my father a presence in my son’s life. At one point, my son said he missed him. That really struck me, stayed with me big time—the idea of missing someone you’ve never known. And to hear that from a three-year-old child. So that’s what got the story started. But the scene, the moment, the boy pretending to be dead—that’s all made up, that’s what happened when I sat down to write.

The construct of death is prominent in this story—the grandfather’s dead, the child is pretending to die, and the father himself is preoccupied with death and dying. And yet this is not a dark story. Tell us more about how your understanding of death worked itself into this story?

Wow, that’s a tough one. My understanding of death? I struggle to make sense of it, like everyone else. But death has certainly been part of my reality the past few years—there have been multiple deaths in my family. On the other hand, there’s been the birth of my three children. Like the narrator in “Stalling” I think about these extremes, this bittersweet contrast (death/birth) a lot, especially in regards to my father. That definitely worked itself into the story, which is, as you say, preoccupied with death, yet it’s not a dark story. To me, it’s really about a connection between generations—a connection that exists even between people who never met.

Some flash fiction pieces are miniature stories, and some, like this one, are snapshots of a particular moment. What needs to happen for such a snapshot to work?

That’s a great question. And I wish I had a great answer. But I don’t. I will say this: It might be a particular moment, but when it gets rendered on the page/screen/whatever it has to somehow feel bigger, more significant than a single insular instance. There has to be weight and resonance. Each word, each sentence must inevitably lead to the next and collectively push the story and the characters—as well as the reader—beyond the moment and into a larger, more open, more expansive and universally recognizable place.

On your blog you mention that you write slowly. What does it mean to write slowly? Tell us more about your process and what inspires you.

I tend to tinker and revise as I go. Some writers blaze through their first draft (I heard it recently referred to as the vomit draft). But I’m the opposite. I write a few paragraphs or pages, then typically go back over them. Then maybe I’ll keep moving forward, or maybe I’ll go back again and do more revising on what I previously wrote. Often I feel like I have to get a sentence or a scene “right” before I can continue. The result of this back-and-forthing is that it takes longer to get that first draft finished, but hopefully, ideally, it’s a draft that will be a bit farther along than if I’d written it straight through (I guess you could say my initial draft is less vomit-y). Then I’ll do this all again three or four more times. If a story has survived this process, I’ll consider either sending it out or putting it away for a while. How long is “a while”? I recently pulled out a story that I started 10 years ago. I did a couple more drafts. It still isn’t ready. So yeah, I’m slow.
I’m inspired by my wife, my children, music, other writers, reading, curiosity, public transportation, sleep.

How do you come up with titles for your stories?

Ah, titles—they’re so important and yet you never hear much discussion about them. For me, there’s no set method or process. Fortunately they usually come to me pretty quickly—and more often than not it’s a line from the story that jumps out at me and vividly frames the story for me—and I don’t struggle much with titles. Of course there are exceptions. There’s one story that has gone through three or four titles and still nothing seems right. And this haunts me. I have dreams about that title and how it keeps eluding me.

About the Author:

Andrew Roe lives in Oceanside, California. His fiction has appeared in One Story, Tin House, Glimmer Train, The Cincinnati Review, Slice and elsewhere. Predictably, he has a blog: http://andrewroe.blogspot.com/.