Smoking With Daniel Wessler Riordan

by Nancy Stebbins Read the Story March 25, 2013

I love how the story is both playful and deep at the same time. How did you accomplish this?

Can you imagine if we all walked around feeling our own pain and everyone else’s pain just as acutely all at the same time? The planet would run out of corners for folks to huddle into and cry. So what I attempt to do is employ the humorous and/or fantastical in order to both disarm the reader and to hopefully allow them to engage their own imagination in creating an emotional universe for the story. I feel like part of my job as a writer is to trick the reader into wanting to get as close the metaphorical fire as I can, and if I can trick them into standing in the middle of the damn thing, well that’s even better. I know it’s a lofty goal, but I’m trying my darnedest.

In this story, the character/author circles around and around the real issue, which mimics what writers often do in their bodies of work. Has this been your experience, too?

Funnily enough, I don’t think I’m circling around the real issues, or at least I’m not trying to. What I’m trying to do when I write this type of story is get at something terrible, something immensely painful, and not have the reader go, “shrug.” What could be worse than pouring your heart out and have the reaction be an arm stretch and a yawn? I hope this doesn’t sound cynical, because it’s not meant to, but I believe true empathy is damn near impossible, you know? Our connection to others is limited. We can only reference another’s experience through the lens of our own experience. And even if we do happen to have a frame of reference for another’s experience, our own experience is always more important and real than the experience we’re trying to empathize with. We all know we can never truly feel someone else’s pain, but nor, do I suspect, would we want to. That doesn’t make us shitty people.

Where did the idea of the albino alligator come from?

I wish I knew where the albino alligator came from. If I knew I would go and visit that place all the time and steal things and bring them back. But I spend much of my writing time wandering the halls of my brain, knocking on doors, asking if this is where the ‘Idea Room’ is located, and getting the door slammed in my face. Yet somehow I seem to find the ‘You Know You Want a Ham Sandwich Room’ with little trouble, which irks me.

You just finished your thesis. What was it about?

What’s it about? Well, it’s about 40 pages too short, is what it is. HiYo! Seriously though, I wasn’t kidding around when I said that everything I write is sex and death. Or maybe, really, sex, love, and death. Problem is, the more I write about these three topics, the more I discover I don’t really know shit about them. But I keep asking questions and maybe the answers will turn up someday. The death one, yeah, I’m pretty certain I’ll get all the answers I never wanted on that one at some point.

About the Author:

Daniel Wessler Riordan is a third year MFA candidate at the NEOMFA. His fiction has appeared in Indiana Review and is forthcoming from Hayden's Ferry Review.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Stebbins is a former editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.