Smoking With Brian Mihok

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story March 26, 2012

These characters just come to life immediately in this story—I love their complexity, which is so hard to do in such a short amount of space. Where did you get the idea to write about these characters? Have you ever thought about writing more about them?

This story was written like most of the stories in the collection it belongs to, only this one took longer. I started and stopped more than usual. My notebook has a lot of paragraphs scribbled out from directions that I tried to go but ultimately didn’t work. The characters themselves weren’t quite something I had in mind starting out, which is to say they developed as the story unfolded; but I did have a sense of the dynamics of their personalities. I knew there should be someone sort of bossing everyone around, and then two followers. Then I just sort of filled in the gaps in revision. I knew I wanted them to be defacing something. I haven’t given any thought to writing more about them yet, but who knows.

What kinds of things are they spraying, do you think?

Like what pictures are they forming? I’m not sure. I intentionally didn’t get into too much detail about what they were drawing for a couple reasons: one, because it’s boring to read about a drawing I think (or at least I’m not talented enough to make that interesting), but two, the way the story is now, it’s not important to know what they are drawing because the actual shapes they are making are crude and sort of irrelevant. Still, I read it in a way that makes me want to know what they are drawing…so it’s probably good that we are left with just hints, but no actual pictures. The story ends with their pictures out of view, on a rooftop for no one to see. That goes along with the characters’ context and how their lives have gone up to that point, I think.†Though, if someone else showed me what they were drawing, I’d probably find that pretty fascinating.

The woman cutting off her hair is such a perfect image for this story. Did that come as you were writing and surprise you, or did you always have that in mind?

Like most things in my stories, it just came out in a surprising kind of way. I was writing towards it in one sense because I wanted something else to happen in the story, something outside of their relationship and their lives. I wanted them to be taken a little off guard. I thought they could look in a window but I wasn’t sure what they would see until it just came out that it was a woman cutting her own hair.

You are the editor of matchbook, a journal I really love. Can you talk a little about what kinds of stories you look for when reading submissions, and what surprises you?

Thanks! That means a lot coming from you. At matchbook we obviously shoot for short prose, but the definition of what prose is can be nebulous and we like it that way. Mostly we publish fiction because that is largely what we receive as submissions. But we’d be happy to receive micro essays or some other form of prose. I am most surprised by writing that has a strong voice (though not an overpowering one), and that feels complete. I never cease to be impressed with something that is just a couple hundred words but feels like a whole entity, instead of like a snippet or an unfinished sketch.

In terms of what I look for in stories to publish: we will publish a completely realist story and then next publish a bizarre fairy tale. We tend not to limit ourselves as far as content or even form, other than asking only for prose. That said, I think every piece we publish has an electricity to it. Some kind of urgency without feeling frantic.

What else are you working on right now?

I’ve finished the book of stories that “Fire Egg” belongs to, so I’m happy about that. It’ll be called Country of Warehouses. Now I’m in the midst of a shortish novel that is yet untitled, but is an expansion of another of the stories from the collection called Pill. The novel depicts a group of vagrants called Knifers who live in the city and carry around knives to shank people with when things get dicey. Paralleling that is the story of a family that moves to the city because that is where the schools are. The family’s story takes place in the past for the Knifers but both stories meet up towards the end.

About the Author:

Brian Mihok's work has appeared or is forthcoming from Tarpaulin Sky, Necessary Fiction, The Emprise Review, Hobart and elswehere. The Quantum Manual of Style, a book-length work, is forthcoming from Aqueous Books in 2013. He also edits matchbook, a journal of indeterminate prose.

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.