Smoking With David Aichenbaum

Read the Story December 15, 2008
story art

What do you have against ants?
I have mixed feelings about ants. I hate them. They’re creepy-crawly, too small to keep track of. Long ago, I sat on a brick wall only to be eaten alive by the red biting kind. On the other hand, I can be irrationally tender. I won’t kill ants. I ignore them or remove them. Barry deals with a similar, flip-flopping, ant appreciation. Ants mean something to him and the meaning always varies.

As you ponder the few days, weeks, months, years after “Ants” takes place, what do you see for Barry and Susan?
Well, I wrote about 15 pages of story following the ants incident, still a work in progress. But as for the weeks, months, years ahead, I think a lot of it depends on Barry. Maybe he can vacuum away ants, but Susan and Emily are, believe it or not, a whole lot bigger. Barry tends to wait on problems. I think in this case he’ll act—he has no choice—and he’ll act soon. Whatever happens, I have real faith in Susan. In many ways, she’s the stronger person.

Your dialogue in this story is just spot-on wonderful. Brilliant! How do you handle the writing of dialogue? What did you use to teach yourself how to write it? Do you spend a lot of time hiding behind pillars and bushes, listening (and watching of course)?
Thanks! I wrote the dialogue all in one sitting and tried to spit out the words without thinking (not something I usually do). My aim in writing the dialogue, I remember, was to juxtapose where a story might go with where a story will go. Afterwards, I went back and edited out unnecessary bits. In “Ants,” the story really resides in the dialogue, so I was able to keep a lot of it.

Fortunately, I’m short enough that I don’t have to hide behind pillars and bushes. I just sneak up. Few ever notice.

What did you learn about (very) short fiction during your stint as a reader for Quick Fiction?
Quick Fiction is a phenomenal publication and I learned a lot. When you’re working your way through hundreds of submissions, you pick up on a number of flash writerly no-no’s. For one, don’t submit 1000 word stories to magazines that only publish stories of 500 words or less. I did come to appreciate, though, that reading is a frustratingly subjective business. Of course there are good and bad stories, but the difference between a good and great story can be slippery, difficult to discern when it hasn’t already been published.

I also learned how to paint broadsides and break into houses.

Word is that you’ll be in Scotland for a few months at the beginning of 2009. What made you decide to go?—and what do you think you will find being a stranger in a strange land? In what ways will you come back changed and barely recognizable?
Yes, I will be studying abroad in Edinburgh from January to June. It’s a wonderful opportunity to meet a new set of people, and Scotland’s supposed to be pretty awesome from what I’ve heard. Writing was important in my deciding to go. Being in Scotland, I hope, will unveil a range of material I could never imagine. How will I change? Well, I do hope to return impervious to cold weather. Other than that, I’ll leave my options open.

About the Author:

David Aichenbaum attends Tufts University where he majors officially in English and unofficially in anthropology. When he's not at school, he lives just outside of Philadelphia. He has read submissions for Quick Fiction. "Ants" is his first published story.