Smoking With Angi Becker Stevens

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story March 28, 2011

I love the idea of this story and I wonder what sparked it?

The intellectual, philosophy-geek part of the answer would be that it was sparked by Lacan’s concept of Jouissance &mdash in a nutshell, the idea that the joy we are all seeking and can never quite grasp is something pre-lingual. The cliche (and maybe more honest) part of the answer would be that it was sparked by one of my own relationships. I think one of the things I like most about writing stories that lean toward magical realism is that for me, personally, having that kind of absolute distance from reality somehow lets me write about actual experience in a more emotionally authentic way.

What words do you wish would get lost? Like, for instance, I really hate the words moist and panty, (especially when they are used together &mdash ick.) Are there any words you particularly hate? How about particularly love?

The panty distaste seems to be common! I wouldn’t mind very much if that one vanished. I can’t really think of many words that just make me squirm, though. I would get rid of centipede but only if it meant getting rid of actual centipedes. I think absurd is probably one of my favorite words, though I use it more in daily speech than in fiction. I like trajectory a lot. Also ghost. Or at least those are the ones that spring to mind right this second.

You studied philosophy. How, if at all, has this affected your writing?

You know, I think it’s affected my writing a lot less than I expected it to. I get some story ideas that are sparked from concepts I encounter studying philosophy, such as this one, but it’s only in a very superficial way &mdash the same way I might see a headline in a tabloid and get an idea for a story. As much as I love reading and thinking about philosophy, I don’t generally attempt to deal with any big questions in my fiction. I think I write stories that are very human and finite. I just finally finished my bachelor’s degree a year ago, and I was a double major in Creative Writing and Philosophy, and I was always a bit surprised by how compartmentalized the two things felt in my brain. If there’s crossover, it’s mostly subconscious.

What are three of your pet peeves?

People who habitually bail on plans at the last minute. Any repetitive, grating noise &mdash sometimes produced by my 7-year-old. Know-it-alls, especially strangers who feel the need to offer an assessment of my life.

What’s the last thing you read that made you cry?

I don’t think this was actually the most recent, but the most recent I remember for sure was the final story in Kelly Link’s Magic For Beginners. It sticks out because it caught me totally off-guard; it didn’t seem like the kind of story that was going to have that effect, and then all of a sudden it just hit me and I was sitting behind the counter during my shift in the store at 826 Michigan with tears actually running down my cheeks and hoping no one walked in. I’m not a big crier, more often I just feel choked up but hold it in. That one just killed me for some reason. Amy Hempel’s In the Cemetery Where Al Jolson is Buried makes me cry every single time, and I can’t even guess how many times I’ve read it in the decade since I first discovered it.

About the Author:

Angi Becker Stevens spends her time playing with her five-year-old daughter, selling robot supplies at 826michigan, and studying creative writing and philosophy at Eastern Michigan University, where she received the 2009 Jumpmettle award for fiction. Her stories can be found in future issues of Barrelhouse, Pank, Dogzplot, flatmanCrooked, Annalemma, Beeswax, and a forthcoming anthology, 30 Under 30.

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.