Smoking with Chris Sheehan

Read the Story December 15, 2006

“I wasn’t around when a bear dragged my father into the night and buried him with sticks.” The matter-of-factness of this statement strikes me as the perfect tone for what otherwise could be a pretty “grizzly” story. How hard was it to get that tone just right?

Thanks, Randall. I realized early on that I was working within a specific structure, a narrative built around a bunch of sententious bear stories, not a very flexible conceit. But when I wrote that line I knew I had a tone that could accommodate both the abstract and “grizzly” details.

Quite the honeymoon. Husband, wife, and problem bear. Later, much later perhaps, what do they tell their kids about their Marble Mountain after-marriage trip?

That’s a good question. The initial draft was actually told from a similar position, but there was something disingenuous about it. That’s usually my first impulse, though, to give a first-person narrator all kinds of room to feel out the story, hoping the voice or language will find its own perspective.

What do they tell their kids? Most likely they tell them about the first greasy restaurant they found on the drive out, or maybe how they should’ve gone to Hawaii.

What has been your personal experience with bears?

More bear stories? All right, I’m baited. I used to spend a lot of time in the mountains—back when I was reading Kerouac and McPhee and Snyder and Austin and King and Muir, back when I wanted to be a Geologist—and happened to run into a few bears, though this was usually near a fire or landfill or highly frequented lake and they were mostly polite and well-mannered.

How goes the work with the novel?—and a short story collection, too? Wow.

Both are slowly moving toward an end, hopefully a happy one.

The 2005 Edge Annual World Question ( asked a question that the BBC called “fantastically stimulating.” One year later, we ask you this same question: “What do you believe is true even though you cannot prove it?”

Smoking’s good for you.

About the Author:

Chris Sheehan is an MFA graduate of Saint Mary’s College of California . His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in the Blue Earth Review , ZYZZYVA , Storyglossia , and The Angler, and has been nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He is the recipient of the Jeanine Cooney Award for Excellence in Fiction, and the Elizabeth Butler Award for Literary Excellence. He currently lives in Minnesota and is at work on a collection of stories and a novel.

About the Artist:

René Magritte was a Belgian surrealist artist (21 November 1898 - 15 August 1967).