Smoking with Bob Arter

Read the Story August 15, 2004

The last time we talked, you said, “I know a million great reasons for having sex and not one puny little reason for waging war.” Any thoughts on our current state?

First of all, we’re not at war in Iraq—we’re occupying the wretched place. In all of history, there has never been a popular occupying army. Would we like to have a foreign army here, setting curfews, brandishing weapons, killing and dying, appointing our governments? And we wonder why they don’t like us. That’s stupid. Further, our own death toll has recently passed 900—how many is it going to take? This is exactly what happens whenever you commit combat troops to a region without first deciding two things: a clear objective and an exit strategy. We have neither, which assures us that this one will end as Vietnam did—with pseudo-diplomats pretending to negotiate a peaceful resolution while we’re pulling out the last of our people, clinging to the skids of a helicopter. And the President will bleed our young people to death before he’ll ever admit that the Iraqi invasion had absolutely no linkage to the tragic events of 9/11.

You also mentioned wanting to take more risks with your writing. What forms have those risks been taking?

I’ve been trying, in nearly every piece I write, to go for the Big Bang, the jaw-dropper—and to couch it in prose that makes it believable. It’s very difficult to establish, and I still fail more often than I succeed, but it isn’t costing me a salary, so why not?

I’m going to harp a little on politics, because I think it’s something important to both of us right now. What would you say to anyone who’s on the fence about the upcoming election?

How on earth can anyone be on the fence? There’s more at stake than school prayer and the marginal tax rate—this time it’s about lives. If you’re in favor of continuing to waste them, Bush is your man, and Dick Cheney is his prophet. If it sickens you, as it does me, then give thanks that democracy offers us an alternative.

What director do you think would most effectively translate the vision of your words to the screen?

Whether I’m writing about war or another favorite topic, sex, I only wish that Stanley Kubrick were still alive to blow the budget.

Aside from SmokeLong, what other literary magazines should people be reading?

A long list springs to mind—mainly, little, quality print mags such as Tin House, Ploughshares, the Mississippi Review, Night Train, and so on. The problem is, there aren’t enough hours in the day to read more than a few and still write. So I’d caution any writer against plunging too deeply into the list. Read the ones you want to submit to, keep another in the bathroom, and don’t forget to go outside and breathe.

About the Author:

Bob Arter lives and writes in Southern California. His stuff has appeared, or soon will, in Zoetrope All-Story Extra, The Absinthe Literary Review, Painted Moon Review, Lit Pot, Ink Pot, Night Train, and elsewhere.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.