Smoking With Freda Love Smith

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story September 23, 2013

Can you tell me about where the idea for this story came from?

I was eleven when the blizzard of ’78 slammed my hometown of Bloomington, Indiana, and it was among the most amazing and memorable events of my childhood; the world totally buried and whited out, the monotony of my unhappy fifth grade routine shattered with school closed for days. I never wanted it to end. When somebody brings up the blizzard, my ears perk up, and a few years ago a much older acquaintance told me that during the blizzard he skied around town and brought wine and cigarettes to his friends. I just loved that, and how ’70s is that, by the way—he didn’t bring food, but crappy wine and cartons of cigarettes, just the essentials! I started trying to write this anecdote into something, but it was always too happy, too benevolent, it went nowhere. I played around, until the guy on skis became a force of chaos and disruption, like the blizzard. Once I found that chaos on top of chaos it felt like a story with somewhere to go.

The ending is one of those perfect endings that says just enough but not too much. Do you usually find endings difficult to write, or does it just depend on the story? Was this ending easy to come by or did you have to revise revise revise to get it right?

Thank you—I had to revise revise revise revise. The last sentence was originally the penultimate one, with a longer bit of explication following. I was attached to that last bit; I liked the sentence and liked the feel, but I am incredibly lucky to be in a writing group with people who are the rare combination of kind and honest, and they all said scrap that sentence. I resisted, but once I deleted it the story finally seemed complete.

Do you like snowstorms or do you get cabin fever?

I don’t love snow so much, but I love snowstorms, the big dramatic kind we rarely get anymore, the ones that wipe out all your plans and transform your backyard into foreign territory. I don’t get stir-crazy—I am very good at being at home.

You are a drummer in several bands. Tell me how does playing music help, if at all, with writing fiction?

It feels to me like my approach to drumming has carried directly into the way I write stories. Just like you can ruin a song by drumming all over it, you can ruin a story by writing all over it. I haven’t been writing fiction for long compared with my years as a musician but it already feels familiar—not easy, mind you, not at all, but it’s just that the rhythm of a sentence is a close relative of the drum beat.

On your blog you write about teaching your songs to cook. What is the one recipe you would want them to master?

I’m writing a proposal for a book about teaching my kids to cook, in the context of my life as a musician and writer, so I am thinking about this intensely at the moment. I’m working on a chapter about birthday cake, which grew out of my experience as a feminist who has taken on the traditional role of family cook and baker. I love food and love to make it, but sometimes it’s problematic. I always make cake for my partner and sons on their birthdays, but I have, more than once, made my own birthday cake. In talking to my friends I’ve discovered I’m not alone here—it seems like a lot of women make their own cakes, or at least have to manage and supervise the process (one friend printed up an easy recipe for cupcakes and gave it to her partner).

So to answer your question—I want my sons to master birthday cake.

About the Author:

Freda Love Smith was a drummer and songwriter in The Mysteries of Life and The Blake Babies, among other bands, and currently writes fiction and non-fiction. Her work has appeared in publications including The North American Review, Bound Off, and Riptide Journal. She is completing a book about teaching her teenage sons how to cook, a subject she blogs about at lovesmiths.blogspot.com.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.