Smoking With Ashley Strosnider

by Josh Denslow Read the Story December 16, 2013

I really like how the story kind of works backwards. We’re already out in the dark before we know why. How much did you play around with the revealing of details?

I set out to write a story “devoid of all nostalgia,” a massive challenge for me. I don’t think it necessarily succeeds in terms of that goal, but the goal that starts a story isn’t always the same one that ends it. Still, the way to reign in the nostalgia, in this piece, was through physical detail. It became a very physical story—from the setting down to the characters’ interactions. It became a story built on details, specific enough to ground the piece in the present moment without derailing the tension. But it’s also a story that gestures at the universal, and the details had to contend with that too.

The story unfolds like a thriller. The reader expects bad things to happen in the dark and you tease their expectations. But I’d say that this story is actually a love story. Am I far off?

There’s something equally thrilling and lovely, I think, about darkness, the woods, the cosmos. It’s a terror that enables a heightened self-awareness, a real presence within the physical world but also a mindfulness of one’s own sentience. I find that the discomfort of walking through trees at nighttime coaxes a tenderness out of the darkness, too. Maybe as an act of self-preservation. The unknown threat that lurks beneath the quiet and beyond the range of sight, but also, the beauty of frog song, the crush of thankfulness to recognize the Big Dipper in a world turned unfamiliar by the betrayal of the senses.

So, to your question, yes, in a sense, it’s a love story. It’s a story about a boy and a girl and the static-electrical magnetism that tries to draw people together in the dark. But if it is a love story, it’s one about longing.

Since the title so perfectly transports us into the world of the story, I wonder: At what point did it have its name?

You could also ask: At what point did the title have its story? This title predates the story, actually, as is the case with many of my pieces. I keep a collection of them and sift through them from time to time. I think of lenses and filters when I think of titles, ways to bathe the story in a different light, to get the right amount of focus or zoom.

I ought to credit the guy who gifted me this one, but if I tell you his name, I’ll have to kill you. I think I saw a knife around here somewhere.

The last visual of the exposed heart is startling and lovely at the same time. Were you ever tempted to keep going?

There’s nowhere to go from there. If you strip a story down to a character’s desire, and you follow that desire down through object, through self, through clothing, through skin and bone, down to her heart—that’s the end. That’s the living essence, and if, like the story suggests, that’s the universe, how could you keep going?

(Although, I hear NASA’s working on a warp drive, so there may be routes through the universe I’m not thinking of yet.)

Why did he really bring the knife?

Why do any of us carry anything around? Because he can’t put it down, or else, just in case.

About the Author:

Ashley Strosnider is from Kentucky and earned her MFA from the University of South Carolina. She currently hangs her hat in Charleston, SC, where she works as a copyeditor and advocate for the Oxford comma. Her work has appeared in decomP, Word Riot, DOGZPLOT, Fifth Wednesday, and Paper Darts, among others. Find her on Twitter @bravenewlady.

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.