Smoking With Craig Buchner

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story December 16, 2013

What made you write about Katrina? Have you been there? Are you from there?

I was living in NC at the time and volunteered in the cleanup efforts in Biloxi. It was only a week after the storm hit the coast. I’d never seen so much destruction. Like the description in my story, it was as if someone had thrown out a handful of matchsticks, just strewn about, except the matchsticks were the boards of houses and tree limbs and car doors and refrigerators. I remember helping a couple clean up their yard and finding one of their photo albums on the driveway. All the pictures had been erased from the water damage, and that got to me. This couple was probably in their 70s and they’d been warned by their kids to leave the city, to keep themselves safe, but they stayed on because Biloxi was their home, in the truest sense. Not only was their house destroyed, but their keepsakes, photos, all those things that were associated with long-ago memories. I looked at the whitewashed pictures in the scrapbook thinking, “How are they going to remember those 50-year-old moments? What’s going to trigger that now?”

I have to tell you, dogs dying or being hurt in stories is usually a dealbreaker for me. But the way you treat it here is just so matter-of-fact. It’s not gratuitous. It just is. Was this the image that sparked the story?

I’m always hesitant to share ideas with people before I’ve written the stories because of how bizarre they must sound. I know how I’d react if someone told me ahead of time that they had this amazing idea: “Hey Craig, I’m going to write about a pack of man-eating Chihuahuas that take over Biloxi in the wake of Hurricane Katrina.” I might tell that person to tone it down, right? But I own a Chihuahua-looking dog and he just loves to cuddle so imagining him and some pals roving as a bloodthirsty pack is sort of funny to me. In the right context, though, it would be horrific, which might lead people to act very differently than in their normal lives, including shooting at dogs. Since most of the story is pretty absurd, I think I had to write it matter-of-factly.

Where do you see these guys in one year?

I still see these guys on their porch. Year after year as some storm is about to hit some town reporters are on the scene asking locals if they’re going to weather it out or not. I’m fascinated when people stay because of their connectedness to their place. Biloxi accepted these two guys, has committed to them as they have to the city. Where are they supposed to go? This is their home, and they’re trying, sometimes desperately, to protect that relationship.

I think there is such an undercurrent of fear in this story—it’s very gripping. What are you most afraid of?

Wow, that’s a question that’s going to have my phone ringing. “Craig, it’s your mother. Do you need to talk?” Thanks, Tara. Really.

But honestly, what keeps me up at night are diseases like dementia and Alzheimer’s. If you haven’t read it, David J. Lawless wrote a frightening and beautiful and sobering essay called “My Father/My Husband” that puts these diseases into context. It’s the day-to-day of a husband and wife. At one point, the wife believes her husband is an intruder when he slips into bed with her, calls the police on him. Throughout, she forgets him, remembers him, forgets him again, thinks he’s her father. It’s heartbreaking as she becomes a shell of herself. That scares me. Yet they endure.

Tell me what else you’re working on.

This summer I finished up the last of the stories in a collection I’d been working on for a few years, and I’m currently braving my way through a novel. I’d share more, but I know if someone told me they were writing a book about a 20-foot moth I might roll my eyes.

About the Author:

Craig Buchner's work has appeared in Tin House, Puerto del Sol, Wigleaf, Word Riot, Juked, and other literary magazines. In 2006, he won the AWP Intro Journals Award for fiction. Craig lives in Portland, Oregon. He is currently at work on a collection of stories and a novel.

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.