Smoking With Claudia Smith

Read the Story December 15, 2005

“My sins are folded into doves and stars.” Incredible. How well do you know this girl? I love love love her.

Well, she has her secrets, and she’s not telling them. Even to herself.

How does one capture, as you’ve done so amazingly well, not only the details of childhood, but the authentic sense of it all, that mixture of feeling innocent and damned at the same time?

I’m glad you took that feeling from this story. That’s what I was striving for; when I was a child, I found the world magical and mysterious. That mystery came with terrible beauty. I think we can sometimes forget how frightening childhood can be. When I wrote about this girl, I tried to see the world that way again. It’s a very dreamlike, yet concrete way of looking at things.

That final image of the shivering moon. Whoa. It lingers long after I’ve left the story. How did you arrive at this perfect perfect ending?

I actually wrote the story with that image in mind. My family lives in an apartment complex that backs up to a nature preserve. Our backyard is a forest of juniper trees. They are very stark in winter. I wrote this story last Christmas Eve, so my memory is a bit fuzzy. But at some point that evening, I think I walked outside and saw the moon caught between two branches. I wanted to write some poetry about it, but I’m not a poet, so I wrote this instead.

You just finished guest editing for Hobart. How did it go? What did you take away from it? Any epiphanies to share about writing? Any dirt on Aaron Burch? Is he really that nice and generous?

It was a great experience for me as a writer. I’ve always respected the editors I know out there who pour so much of their time into publishing writers like me. Tackling this really brought that home to me. What I learned – email is not that predictable. Some of my rejection and acceptance notices never arrived. So, next time I don’t hear back from a magazine, I won’t hesitate to give them a gentle reminder. Also, I ended up rejecting a lot of stories I adored. This was a themed issue, so the final selections had to be stories I loved, but they also had to work together as a whole. I can certainly appreciate the art of editing now. It truly is an art.

And yes, Aaron Burch really is that nice and generous. I was the “guest editor” but he did all the artwork, the layout – he put the whole thing up. And he let me have complete freedom when it came to the stories I chose. I have no dirt on the man, although I only know him in a virtual way. He’s coming to Austin for AWP – I’m hoping I get to meet him and Elizabeth Ellen in person. Ask me then, after I’ve had a couple of Shiner Bocks with them.

A new year approaches (yikes!). So, what’s the best that 2005 had to offer in literature, web sites, music, movies, television, DVD, and the like? Also, any predictions for 2006? And we’d love to hear your New Year’s resolution.

My son is a little over a year old, so this year has gone by in a sort of time-outside-of-time. A sort of black hole in time, I guess you could say. When he was a newborn and nursing constantly, I read a lot. Now I’m lucky to get through my friends’ books and stories, and the backs of cereal boxes. The last movie I saw in the theatre was The Village. I can tell you that I love all the children’s albums They Might Be Giants made. It’s funny to think that when I hear them, I’ll always think of college, but when my son hears them, he’ll be thinking about his early childhood. Dan Zane makes some beautiful children’s albums. Lou Reed sings on one of them and he sounds just like Lou Reed. I hate Barney. Those kids on the Barney show never stop moving. It makes me dizzy. I’ve rediscovered my old love for Mr. Rogers and Sesame Street. I want to see the Johnny Cash movie. The last time my husband and I planned our first night out together, the babysitter was a no-show. But Walk the Line and dinner at a fancy Japanese restaurant in town are in the works.

I’m often too ambitious when it comes to resolutions. This year, I want to overcome all my various anxieties and become an all around better person, without the aid of self help books, therapists, or heavy religion. If that’s possible.

About the Author:

Claudia Smith's stories have been anthologized in W.W. Norton's The New Sudden Fiction and So New Media's Consumed: Women on Excess. Her flash fiction collections, The Sky Is A Well And Other Shorts (reprinted in the book), A Peculiar Feeling of Restlessness and Put Your Head In My Lap are available from Rose Metal Press and Future Tense books, respectively. Her new collection of stories, Quarry Light, is now available from Magic Helicopter Press.

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.