Smoking With Isaac Boone Davis

by Clifford Garstang Read the Story March 26, 2012

These two characters, Jody and Sela, seem very real to me. What was your inspiration for the story?

Well, they are real, or at least composites of real people I have known. And they are composites of a time in my own life. I was fortunate enough to come out alive, but not everyone I knew did. I wanted to write a story about it without making it about me. But all those things are going on in practically every neighborhood in the country. Kids who are stealing for a living. Kids who are staying in abandoned buildings. Kids whose own survival is going to get them killed. That’s happening right now, everywhere.

A striking feature of the story is its long title. How did you settle on that line?

My little brother, Willie Davis, is a really great writer and I run almost all of what I do past him. I asked him if he liked the title and he gave me a tentative “yeah, I think.” If he hadn’t liked it I would have named it “The Babysitter’s Club” or something. But seriously, I think the title is an echo of how brief and fast these girls’ lives are. “Nobody lives here now,” is just a way of saying we are a couple of ghosts. I really think the picture that Carly Schnur included for the piece summarized that beautifully. The staircase, ascending into heaven.

It can be tough sometimes for kids like this to relate to people with more “normal” lives, but Jody makes a brief connection to Daniel, a kid who lives in the building where she’s temporarily living. How do you suppose Daniel is going to remember Jody in the future?

Interesting question. In my mind the Daphine/Jody character had a somewhat normal home life and then something happened. There is that line “Tell them saline is what killed your mom.” Whereas to me, Sela has been on the street practically her whole life. When you are a teenage boy, pretty girls are these mystical creatures who smell like Jesus’s tears. You’ll do anything to make them happy including smuggling them into your Mom’s shower. And a girl who is living wild like Jody? C’mon now. On the other hand, I think Jody is so infatuated with Sela that she barely notices Daniel at all. Of course, that’s just my interpretation.

Do you have favorite writers? Writers who inspire you?

Man, I’m the wrong guy to ask. I love to read. I go into bars and read. I read while I drive. I’ll give you a few authors, but there’s a lot more. Richard Price is a mindblower. Phillip Gourevich, Dennis Lehane, David Von Drehle’s Among the Lowest of the Dead is simply the best thing ever written about capital punishment. Chuck Klosterman, Junot Diaz, Gayl Jones (Kentucky!), Tom Perrotta, J.R. Moehringer’s Resurrecting the Champ. Check out Elwood Reid’s If I Don’t Six. One of the best books ever written about football. I also really dig bodybuilding magazines, lot of fine work going on there.

Why did you choose to do this piece in the short form, rather than a full-length story? Or do you have plans to say more about Jody and Sela?

Here’s the thing. You’ll never see Jody and Sela happier than they are right now. My guess, the whole story about these girls is pretty rough. It involves sexual assault, sleeping outside, addiction, jail, slinging yourself, all that stuff that happens right before you die when you are twenty-four. They don’t rob banks. They steal things out of Starbucks. The longer the story goes on the more obligated I would be to tell that part. And that’s fine but it changes things. Right now, you still see the life in them. They are still alive.

What are you working on now?

Recently, I got to spend almost three months back home in Kentucky. And that really sparked my writing. I may be a little biased because I grew up there, but I think it’s an amazing place if you want to write because there is such an incredible relationship between people and language. Even if you aren’t writing about people from Kentucky (for example, I don’t think the girls in “I Don’t Know Who Used To Live Here” are from Kentucky), the place just lends itself to a certain kind of truth. And it’s hard not to want to write it down. So that’s a really long way of saying I’ve got about three stories out there right now to different editors. We’ll see.