Smoking With Erin Armstrong

by Michelle Elvy Read the Story June 23, 2014

This story has such an easy, natural feel to it. Tell us what inspired it—whether it came from personal memory and experience or from a place deep in your imagination and completely made up.

I wrote this story for a couple of reasons. The first one is that my two best friends and I got into graduate schools so far away from each other and from home. We keep reminiscing about things we are still doing. This summer is the lightning bug. We only have this one left before everything changes, and it’s moving so fast it’s just going to blink out of being before I realize it.

The other reason I wrote this is because of the clichéd small town girl I was. I was desperate to make it in a big city and leave all the “stupid” people from my past behind. I knew I wanted to write about
the South, but I was ashamed of where I was from. It was a toxic formula. I had to remember those people taught me the patience to look for turtle bubbles, how to hold a Shellcracker and not get stuck, the
differences between a good snake and a bad one, and gave me the shovel and fortitude to handle it if it was bad.

What’s the most important thing to consider, for you as a writer of flash fiction? Tell us about some of your other stories.

This is the question I was dreading. I feel like I just get lucky when they work, but I know I worked my butt off trying to make it right. I guess I try to make it something people will be able to connect to,
with memorable language if I can manage it. My other stories are a bit different. There are freak shows, placentas in jars, searching for youth with the lost boys, funerals for voles, and a daughter connecting with her dead father through smoke.

Who are some of your favorite writers? And what are you reading right now?

Flannery O’Connor is my patron saint of writing. If you read any of my longer work you’d see that immediately. That’s a problem for me. I never want to be the poor man’s Flan. I love Eudora Welty, Breece D’J
Pancake, Lee Smith, Neil Gaiman, Victor LaValle, Junot Diaz, Kim Chinquee, Don Shea, Nikky Finney, Patricia Smith, Ellen Bryant Voigt, the list continues as I do. Right now, I’m reading “Crush” by Richard Siken.

What else were you doing the day you wrote this story?

I wrote this at six in the morning on a night I couldn’t sleep. I was up worrying about what’s coming, and I wanted something to make me feel better. My friends, even when they’re just limited versions of how I see them, always do that. I think after that I slept for a few hours and probably had milky coffee and beer.

What is your favorite method for catching lightning bugs?

My favorite method for catching lightning bugs is actually one at a time. I want to have my own light for a while, so I trap it in the cup of my hands.

About the Author:

Erin Armstrong is a recent graduate of Georgia Regents University and an MFA candidate at CU-Boulder.