Smoking With Janet Frishberg

by Leesa Cross-Smith Read the Story March 24, 2014

I love second person. I also love when couples are snowed-in or stormed-in and forced to spend time together. I think it’s romantic and sexy. I love that the words here are so simple but the feelings are so complicated. There’s the feeling that anything can happen…with this couple and with the storm outside. It’s both scary and sweet. It feels very real. Tell me more about how this story made it from your brain and heart on to the page.

I love second person, too. Sometimes I worry that I use it too much, but I consistently come back to it. I wrote this story in November of 2012. For the last couple years, I’ve been doing 10-minute writes on an almost daily basis. Sometimes I do them as an exchange with a friend where we each send each other a daily or weekly prompt and then send back our writing, and then respond with only positive feedback. (My friend Caroline and I actually organize a writing exchange like this on a regular basis called 18 Somethings that is super fun.)

This story was part of a one month exchange I did with a new friend, and he would send me these absurd prompts that sort of annoyed me with how silly they were, but they ended up leading to some really interesting pieces, probably in part because I felt like I had so much permission when I was writing with him. The prompt was Stormy Loving, and I was thinking a lot during that time about all my friends in New York, and Hurricane Sandy, and what we’re going to tell future generations about what it felt like to be alive during this time. In particular, I thought probably a lot of babies were conceived, either by accident or on purpose, during the hurricane. And I was interested in the idea of a couple being stuck together for maybe one more night than they want to be, because of the weather, and what might happen.

Also, originally I didn’t write it in second person but then when I was revising it, I thought it’d be more interesting if it was a direct address to the child. And then upon rereading it, I realized this was the part of the birth story that the mother isn’t ever going to tell her child. I’m interested in the narratives families sculpt to tell their children and how those then become the truth.

I think electro jazz is such a cool music choice. What song(s) were they dancing to?

So, I really wish I was cool enough to have had a specific song in mind. I’m slowly getting educated on electronic music but I’m a real amateur. When I was writing, I was just trying to feel around for what music they were listening to, to get more specific about it, and it seemed like they were listening to jazz, but not just jazz, electro-jazz. I wish I had more explanation than that. I have a bunch of friends who are amazing djs and it seemed like the kind of thing they would select. Actually, when you sent me this question I reached out to them asking for some examples of great electro-jazz, and then I got some additional education about the entire genre, which was awesome. Here’s one track my friend Nick sent me that’s kind of similar to what I was hearing in my head:

Do they still love each other? What do you think the future looks like for them?

Oof. I haven’t explored that yet on the page so I’m not sure and part of me doesn’t want to know, maybe because the future isn’t looking that good, and I sort of love this night of them together, trying their best.

That said, I had the feeling when I was going back and editing it that they’re not still together. The way she doesn’t say ever call him “your dad” makes me think that if I kept writing it, they don’t end up staying together. They both have so much sadness. Then again, I believe in people surprising and delighting and changing. But when I picture the narrator telling this story to her daughter in the future, or not-telling it, rather, it’s just the two of them and he’s not around.

What actors would you choose to play these characters in a movie version?

I’m so bad at this game. I can find people in my life who could play them in a movie version, but I have such a poor encyclopedic knowledge of actors. But I just saw Brie Larson in Short Term 12 and I think she’d be great at it. Or Natalie Portman. For him…I’m going to think about it and get back to you. I need to figure out who the actor is who reminds me of the friend who reminds me of the character.

Who are some of your favorite flash fiction writers?

I don’t necessarily have specific writers that I follow religiously, but I enjoy and read what certain publications are putting out, and then I’ll explore the rest of a writer’s work from that initial entry point. I love reading the work you’re publishing on WhiskeyPaper, and the work on Treehouse and Sundog Lit, as some examples. I admire flash fiction writers where a lot happens in their stories, in terms of plot, because that’s the part I have the hardest time with when I’m writing. Also writers where their entire story doesn’t make perfect logical sense and they still trust the reader to get it, that teaches me a lot in my own writing.

About the Author:

Janet Frishberg lives and writes in a light blue room in San Francisco. She's currently editing her first book, a memoir. You can find her work in places like Literary Orphans; Cease, Cows; the SF Chronicle; r.kv.r.y quarterly; Black Heart Magazine; Revolution House and forthcoming in The Rufous City Review and Pithead Chapel. You can find her @jfrishberg.