Smoking With Faith Gardner

by Josh Denslow Read the Story December 17, 2012

I love the structure with each of the sections mimicking an actual pageant, and how we become more and more horrified as it all slowly unfolds. It’s also a wonderful way to encapsulate the dark humor. Did you know from the start that you were going to build the story this way?

Thanks, Josh. This was a fun, experimental piece to write, and I did know I was going to use the sections from the beginning. That was about the only thing I knew. I stole the structure from a real teen beauty pageant I read about online and treated it like a writing prompt, making each section a brief chapter in this girl’s story.

What drew you to writing a story revolving around a pageant? Just so you know, your answer must be: I used to be in pageants.

Ha ha! Sorry to disappoint, but I was never in pageants. I’ve researched some about them, though. I just find them so absurd that they beg to be written about.

The gruesome image of the mermaid at the end is what resonates most for me. This idea of destroyed beauty. But then there’s another beat, of the Second Runner-Up walking away, and it felt so sad to me. Like there could have been a moment of redemption, but she chose not to take it. What do you think she was feeling in that moment when she sees the mermaid?

Horrified but helpless. Like the world can be ugly and unfair, and there’s nothing she can do about it.

You do a wonderful job of detailing the aspects of a pageant that can appear dehumanizing. Why do you think young girls subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny?

That’s a very good question and I wish I knew the answer. I guess it has to do with a need to be beautiful, a need to win, but I’m sure it’s a lot more complicated than that. And at this girl’s age it probably has more to do with the parents and their issues.

I mentioned the humor before, but I think you do a spectacular job of blending tragedy and comedy. I’ve read other stories by you that achieve the same heights. How conscious are you of incorporating humor when you write?

I don’t think too hard about incorporating humor as I write, but I definitely notice when it’s missing from a story as I revise later. Those pieces that have no sense of humor tend to not work so well for me.

About the Author:

Faith Gardner was born with a tail. Her stories have been published in places like the Paris Review and the walls of public restrooms. She is also a pathological liar. Maybe she has a website and maybe it is

About the Interviewer:

Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, CutBank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. His collection, Not Everyone Is Special, is forthcoming from 7.13 Books.