Smoking With Barbara Diehl

by Mitch Parker Read the Story December 22, 2010

I do admire how you render the complexities of the relationship between these two women with so few words. Along those lines, one phrase in the beginning, and another again near the end, “too precious for the dishwasher” and “pedicured feet.” I can almost hear the narrator saying this to herself with a hint of annoyance and a bit of jealousy. With every word and phrase so carefully crafted, I was interested in whether Martha wiping the “crystal ball” of the glass was intended to be prophetic.

Yes, I did have Martha’s tone of voice firmly in my head, and I’m glad that words like “precious” and “pedicured” could convey that tone. The character is less than lovable, which makes me quite fond of her.

As for that crystal ball: After one magical element came into the story, that Waterford goblet springing to life, others naturally followed. Most snapped pretty well into place in this small puzzle of image pieces. I didn’t doodle ideas for adjectives and nouns that would work with that glimpse into the future at the story’s end. The small images reflected in crystal simply have a crystal ball quality that made perfect sense there. Serendipity.

The fragile crystal so succinctly encapsulates the dynamics of the in-law relationship. where did the idea of the magician imagery originate that works so beautifully in this story?

I took one very brief moment in time and slowed it down. Just the act of slowing down time is magical, isn’t it? So why not extend the metaphor a bit further. Oh, I could have had far too much fun with magical metaphors. Just think–disappearing coins, card tricks, the woman who is sawed in half. I had to ration them or risk losing the little story entirely.

That squeak , “a rabbit scream,” evokes vivid images that are somehow annoying, subtle and immediate all at once. It is one of the things that really sold me on this story. Where did the idea for a rabbit scream come from to describe the squeak?

Remember that cartoon line–watch me pull a rabbit out of a hat? Wasn’t that poor rabbit always yanked out by his ears? Maybe he didn’t scream; I don’t remember. But if the rabbit did scream–and he should have–I think there would be the same element of horror as there was in the Waterford crystal goblet squeaking away from the flesh of Martha’s hands. The horror of a child’s birthday party magic trick turned tragic. Maybe a rabbit scream is taking the magic metaphor into the realm of grotesque, but I allowed myself that lapse. Glad you liked it.

As well as being a writer, you are also the founding editor of the Baltimore Review. I am interested in how you see the role and responsibility of the traditional print journal with the shift to electronic media.

Expect changes at The Baltimore Review in the coming year. We understand the need to keep pace with technology and change the business model when the old model is no longer working. We’re due for an overhaul, and I’m looking forward to being part of that. Expect to see much more of an online presence and more ways for readers to read the work we’re proud to present to the world. We may no longer be appearing on as many bookstore shelves in the future–who knows?–but contributors’ work will be much more accessible to readers–and we still plan to publish print issues. In that way, I’m old school. I like bookshelves full of books. I like my computer and Kindle, and I am indeed a gadget geek, but I still love books and always will. As far as the role and responsibility of traditional print journals in general–I think we still need those precious (and I mean that word) print copies, even if they are awfully expensive to produce. We just need to be a lot more savvy about how we print them and get them into readers’ hands. Yes, people have to buy them. Sorry to sound hard-assed, but there has to be a market. We need to work both sides of the street–print and electronic. It’s a little ridiculous to be entirely paper based today, I think. Remember when online submissions were strange and radical? Are the paper-only submissions in the minority now? I used to haul grocery bags of submissions to my reviewers. Seems nuts now . . .

About the Author:

Barbara Westwood Diehl is founding editor of the Baltimore Review and a Master of Arts in Writing student at Johns Hopkins University. She works for the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health. Her short stories and poetry have been published in a variety of publications, including Eureka Literary Magazine, MacGuffin, Confrontation, Rosebud, Thema, JMWW, Potomac Review, American Poetry Journal, Measure, Little Patuxent Review, and Gargoyle. Three poems can currently be viewed at the online poetry journal Avatar Review.