Smoking With Gary Fincke

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story December 22, 2010

I never actually knew there was a difference between yams and sweet potatoes. You mention an article about that in the story. Was this an actual article you read, and if so, was it the inspiration for this story?

I read an article about the difference between yams and sweet potatoes, but the “inspiration” came from the African story and my wife’s insistence on never eating white potatoes ever again.

This story seems to revolve a lot around knowing and not-knowing, and change and not-change. The narrator says that though yams “look nearly alike,” that they “aren’t even related” to sweet potatoes. And later in the story, the narrator says that the yam the police keep didn’t change at all, and his daughter retaliates by saying, “If they kept it there three years, it did.” Was this a theme you intended, and if so, can you talk a little about it?

Knowing and not-knowing is a large part of this—whether the diet change matters, whether the disappeared girl is alive or not, whether the African boy is dead or alive—but it wasn’t until I reached nearly the end that I discovered the “knowing and not knowing” that the father senses about his daughter that I recognized what the story was about

This piece is a very short fiction story. You’ve also written non-fiction, short story collections and poetry. Which is your favorite form?

I think I’m most fond of short stories—they’re harder, at least for me, to write, and more difficult to publish, and the ones I believe are most successful stay with me longer. But I gladly move from form to form without regret, and tend to write in one genre for several months at a time.

Are you working on a novel as well?

I have two novels and a novel-in-stories that are complete—I trust the novel-in-stories and believe in it as a way for me to take advantage of what I know best about fiction—it’s very recent and I haven’t really tried to publish it yet—the other novels are agented, yet without a home.

What topics and themes do you find yourself most gravitating to in your writing? Does it change with time?

I always begin in character and his/her voice, so “themes” don’t drive my work—I listen to my characters until I can hear them and then if I can take them through at least three scenes, I’m usually able to discover what my stories are about. Poems mostly begin in image or incident and move by association—they’re heavily narrative and often dense with detail—I’m not a lyrical poet. The nonfiction can come from anywhere—experience for memoir pieces, images for personal essays, first-hand immersion for literary journalism.

About the Author:

Gary Fincke’s latest collection of stories A Room of Rain is just out from West Virginia University.  A novel How Blasphemy Sounds to God was published in 2014 by Braddock Avenue Books.  An earlier collection Sorry I Worried You won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and was published by Georgia.  He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.

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.