Smoking With John Mark DeMoss

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story July 25, 2010

Stories about families that have lost touch are always so heartbreaking to read, maybe because of the truth that’s at the heart of them that we don’t like to think about. Do you think people can ever really break free of their childhood home? Do you think they should?

No, I don’t think we can. Those early people and places, and their residual memories, make up the core of who we are. The rest of our lives is a continuum of accepting, forgiving and judging, and reinterpreting our childhoods. The choice between staying and leaving makes less difference than we might think. We reflect what we run from as much as what we see.

If my siblings read this, they might recognize the setting as, not our childhood home, but something like the house where our grandparents lived while we were growing up. “Home” in this story is not so much a specific place or set of people, but all those relationships we don’t tend to as we should.

Why did you choose second person to narrate this story?

I don’t mean to sound all writerly and mysterious, but that is just the way it came out. I think it works pretty well, even though it wasn’t this brilliant decision on my part. Second person forces the reader into the bullseye of an uncomfortable situation, to cross the room with the protagonist, to look in the eyes of people he’s left behind.

Why do you think the wife in this piece is so insistent on visiting the family, even though “she doesn’t like them any more than you like to go back there”?

I knew I had to get my characters inside the house, but I didn’t want to go there “any more than he did.” In the first part of the story, the voice of the wife is actually my own self-talk telling me to stop stalling and get on with things. Writing down that voice as the voice of a character helped me to move the story forward.

The character herself, like my own wife, is wise enough to know that her husband will be dealing with his family whether he takes this trip or not. Unlike him, she prefers to face difficulties head-on. She may not know how things will turn out if they go, but she knows what life will be like if they don’t.

Tell us about your dogs. Have you always been a dog person, or is it newly acquired taste? How do they contribute to your insanity, and how do they keep you sane?

Our family has always had dogs around, but my dogs don’t think of me as a dog person. Dogs seem to experience the same range of mental health that humans do, and our personalities don’t always synch perfectly. I find that dogs will be as disciplined or undisciplined, high-minded or selfish, as I allow myself to be, which doesn’t always bode well for their character development.

We currently have a pair of dogs. Abi is a healthy nine-year-old terrier mix, whose first foster home experience left permanent scars. She’s terribly sensitive to tone of voice and facial expressions, but invariably sweet and a perfect host to strangers. I wish I made and kept friends as easily as she does.

Sadie (Cedi) is a loveable flat-coated retriever, who takes great pride in her lineage as a water dog. All she needs to be happy is a toy stuffed duck in her mouth, and she’s rarely without it.

What other writing projects are you working on now?

I have a bunch of pieces in various stages of rewrite. Most of them began their lives on the flash challenge site, ShowMeYourLits. Some won’t ever go anywhere much, but may find a home of sorts on my personal site. I hope some of the others may leave home like the character in this story, and find a place out in the big world.

About the Author:

John Mark DeMoss lives in the Dallas-Fort Worth area. He has recently resumed a practice of writing fiction, meditation and therapeutic barking. He reports feeling better; however, his two dogs remain skeptical.

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.