Smoking With Jennifer A. Howard

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story March 25, 2013

This is my favorite kind of flash, that seems sort of meandering and stream-of-conscious, but is clearly very deliberate and in control and fabulous. I love this narrator, her voice and her attitude and the way she surprises us. How did you come to her? Did her voice just pop in your head one day or is she based on someone you overheard or knew or what?

Thanks! I guess I never think about voice in any analytical way; voice happens. I wanted to start with the turtle compass, but I didn’t want to attribute the idea to the narrator, since I (and therefore she) didn’t really understand the whole concept. So I gave the fact to someone else, and threw in some actual jealousy I was feeling. Then, it was a matter of balancing until (I hope) the narrator was a satisfying mix of sympathetic and deluded and compassionate and mean and self-effacing and prideful. Till she was messy enough that she wasn’t simply the victim or the hero.

So if you were on Jeopardy! and could pick the seven categories that you would kick ass at, what would they be?

America’s Next Top Model History, Cardigans, Sneakers, ’80s Duets, Jigsaw Puzzle Strategy, and, unfortunately, Sump Pump Troubleshooting. And I love the actual Jeopardy! category Before and After, like “Hello Kitty Hawk.”

The end of this story is PERFECT. Talk to me about endings. Are they easy for you? Difficult? Depends on the day?

I love endings, and I love the moment when I figure out the ending. I try to start with a few threads, without knowing yet how they intersect. I just write until I see it. Remember Searching for Bobby Fisher? When Ben Kingsley tells the chess prodigy kid, “Don’t move until you see it?” And the kid says, “I can’t see it.” That kills me. Though I guess my strategy is the opposite: keep moving until you see it. I can’t just think things through in my head, like the boy playing chess can. (I hate when people want to brainstorm things out loud. What is that? Just say stuff, words, into the air? Torture.) I need to think through my fingers until I get to the good place where I finally get what I’m doing. And then I go back and cut every dead end and mis-start and connect the dots until the path to the end makes sense to me.

What’s going on in your writing life right now—new projects, successes, challenges?

I’ve got a chapbook, called How to End Up, coming out soon from New Delta Review. It’s my first collection, and I’m so excited.

About the Author:

Jennifer A. Howard teaches and edits Passages North in Michigan's snowy Upper Peninsula. Her collection of flash sci-fi, You on Mars, was published by The Cupboard Pamphlet.

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.