Smoking With Jake Ruiter

Read the Story June 15, 2007

Name five other things that are “better than Robitussin.”

For the kids: Warm, lumpy winter hats with the logo of a local dumpster service on them. Dinosaurs and dragons—especially the ones with those crystal balls curled up in their tails. Eating peas right out of the garden with your cat. Movies where some kid learns about karate and, in the process, life. Pie, certainly.

It begins with floating and ends with “again and again.” Is anything gained by looking at the beginning and how it relates to the ending? Or is that just a whole lot of nonsense?

I wouldn’t call it nonsense. It’s really more like hooey. Seriously though, this is such a short piece that I tried to make every word important, agonized over them really. Floating seemed to capture the idea I had that everything was still up in the air for these kids, they would make this first decision to detach from their young bodies in this park, and even though the outcome is not what they had hoped for, they would try it again, in Howie’s garage with a bottle of Boone’s or they would fishbowl Karen’s Pontiac. People are deftly afraid of their children doing these things and yet we all did them as children. There is that breaking through point, to something a little darker, a little more adult, and I tried to capture that beside the youthful exuberance in which these things are first experienced.

An electrical engineer in Boston. What’s life like in the Local Electrical Engineer Union in Boston. Crazy, yes?

This is funny because I have often fantasized about organizing the engineers at my work but most of us have been skillfully brainwashed to revere the profit motive of the company. So far the closest I’ve come to helping out the cause is wearing my Dickies workpants for eight months straight and listening to the Billy Bragg version of “There is Power in a Union” while pumping my fist quietly yet heartily in my cubicle.

Your first published work is in Quick Fiction! That’s one of my dreams. How did you achieve it so soon in your writing career?

I was absolutely blown away when I learned that my work would be published in Quick Fiction and then soon after found out that Smokelong was publishing this piece. I must give a shoutout to my writing group friends Amy L. Clark, Devlin Farmer and Mollie Meikle who reviewed and helped me revise both pieces prior to submission. I was a student of Amy’s for some time and she has been instrumental in this success, having first introduced me to short short fiction, to the journals that publish it and especially how such pieces, and fiction in general, is crafted. Also there is the luck of the Dutch-Irish beginner to consider.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you’ve ever encountered?

I’m really terrible at coming up with titles usually. This one felt like a gift, though, because I came up with it almost immediately as I began to get the idea for the story and I never second guessed it. Usually, I have to work at it much harder. The worst title I’ve ever encountered is, of course, mine. I once titled a short story “His Brahmin at the Bow.” It was clear I had no idea what Brahmin meant or why it was that the story should end with a man smoking a cigarette in the bow of a canoe. Here are some people who are much better at titling things than I am:

“Cathedral” by Raymond Carver. I love how this title makes you think of open, airy churches only to have the story open in this claustrophobic suburban household with this narrator that you might not really like. By the end, though, the roof of that house is blown off, and there are organs playing and an angelic glow on everything. This story definitely changed how I look at writing.

I always thought the Coen Brothers’ The Hudsucker Proxy was a fantastically evocative title and it’s a great movie. I love how evident it is that this movie was made by two men who are totally in love with early Hollywood. Also Fellini’s 8 1/2 comes to mind. The movie is his 8 1/2th production, and it’s all about how horrible and distressing it is to create something, this something that you are trying to create right now especially. When you finish, it will likely be only half what you thought it could have been when you started, but next time, baby, next time you’ll get it right.

The Tom Waits album Rain Dogs is amazing to me. It is chock full of stories and images and ideas and incredible sounds. When you listen to it and think about the title, it’s quite easy to imagine an alternate universe where the canine aristocracy has begun seeding the clouds with whiskey pellets and it will rain sweet mashed barley for a thousand days and nights and there will be poker and cigars and someone will likely paint a picture of the occasion.

About the Author:

Jake Ruiter lives and works as an electrical engineer in the Boston area. His first published work, "What Kind of Whale It Is," is forthcoming in Quick Fiction.

About the Artist:

An Old Woman of Arles by Vincent Van Gogh. This artwork is in the public domain per Wikipaintings.