Smoking with Curtis Smith
Read the Story September 15, 2007
What amazes me about your writing is every sentence is packed with specific detail. In the opening alone, the couple relaxes on a flagstone patio, a box fan rattles their bedroom windowsill, orioles cheep-twitter complaints. Are you always conscience of this exactness? Why is specificity important?
Exactness —I like that term. And I’m glad it struck you that way. I love detail —I think it makes scenes come alive. That’s what we writers do —we make pictures —of the physical or emotional or spiritual —and we try to paint them on paper as clearly as we can. There is so much competition for a reader’s attention that we owe them that much. And in a short-short especially, where words are limited, they need to be chosen with a great exactness that will paint just the right image in a reader’s mind.
One of my favorite parts in this story is when the husband is standing at the Shertzer’s kitchen sink looking at his house—at the darkened rooms, the ragged hedges—and he’s taken aback by the skewed perspective. What is the significance of this moment?
It’s all about looking at the familiar, even the mundane, in a different way. In both fiction and life, it’s one of those things that make for cool, meaningful moments. It’s strange, you know, looking at your house through another person’s window, seeing the place that sometimes seems so huge and consuming reduced to a finite prism of brick and wood.
You end the story with the couple unfurling their “hopes like canvas sails, waiting for a wind that may never blow” but in which they must believe. Are you drawn to hopeful endings? Should a story ever end in futility?
I think I am drawn to hopeful endings. Not the happy-ever-after-thing but a tempered, wary brand of optimism. In this life, what better gift can one have than hope, if not hope for us in the here and now, then at least hope for the future or for the ones we love. Can a story ever end in futility? Sure —why not if it’s deserved and that’s the vibe you’ve created. Your question had me returning to my latest collection and I paged through the stories —and I’d say four end in a type of futility. And sometimes, the difference between hope and futility is just a matter of shading, each no doubt contain elements of the other.
Press 53 released your short story collection The Species Crown earlier this year. What kind of reception have you received?
It’s been awesome. I’m so thankful I landed with such a nice press and such a good bunch of people who really want to add to the literary scene. And the response to the book, both its physical presentation and the stories, has been great. I would hope that all those interested in keeping lit presses viable would check them out and buy one of their other great offerings.
Since this is my first issue with SLQ, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss firsts. Writing firsts. First time you called yourself a writer, first publication, first check. Those sorts of things. So, dish. What is your most memorable writing first?
My most memorable first came in 1992. I bought my copy of Best American Short Stories and brought it home. I’d been reading BASS for years —and I loved the feel of the books, the font, the design. And back in my little apartment, I leafed to the end and saw my first published story listed as one the year’s distinguished stories. It was just a line or two of print, but it really floored me.
About the Author:
Curtis Smith's stories and essays have appeared in over one hundred literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and The Best Small Fictions. Smith has published five collections of fiction, the first two with March Street Press and the last three with Press 53. He has published three novels, the last two with Casperian Books, and two essay collections (Sunnyoutside and Dock Street Press). His latest book, a personal take on Slaughterhouse-Five, was recently put out by Ig.
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