Smoking With John McCaffrey

Read the Story March 15, 2005

This line contains some vision of the world that appeals to me: “Gone. Like everything else.” Do you share such a vision concerning the world? And where has everything gone?

Good question…one I ask every day as I search for my retreating hairline. I do feel a sadness about the vanishing natural resources in the world. I grew up with a father who is an avid outdoorsman, and I spent much of my childhood in the woods or on water. I still fish, and have seen over the years a great reduction in various species — including the “frost fish” (herring) I write about. I think the character in my piece is more “frustrated” than sad, however, which mirrors other aspects of his life. Of course, this piece is not about me…..

I love the style of this piece. How would you describe your writing style/voice?

Tired…bloated…angry…with an optimistic eye. Actually, this is a bit different than my usual stories which have a decided (hopefully) humorous and sarcastic edge. I always admire concise, economical writing that delivers a punch. With Frost Fish, I think the choppy, sparse sentences work well against the backdrop of the pounding ocean waves. I also like the imaginative space that is given to a reader in a short piece.

The grail quest involves the search for a vision of light in the world gone dark. Are frost fish such a vision? And what would happen to the world had your characters found them?

I actually would like the world to be a bit darker. Satellite pictures of the glowing, artificial light shooting out from earth at night really troubles me. But to answer the question, the frost fish in the story do represent a “lost light,” something natural and pure that has disappeared with barely a whimper. I think my character also fears such a fate for himself, and if he found them, other than taking them home and frying them in a pan, he might also see some continuity in his own existence.

Congratulations on the Pushcart nomination. How has the fame and fortune associated with the nomination affected your writing and general quality of life?

I no longer deny myself luxuries, such as a wool hat for winter or the foot-long meatball marinara sandwich at Subway (with chips and soda). And I rarely speak directly to old friends and family, asking instead they send me personalized, well-thought out, and expensive greeting cards. I’m also now in the habit of berating people that lavish praise on my dog, Buddy, and not me.

Why did you pursue an MFA?—and how has it impacted your writing?

I had been writing short stories for about five or six years in earnest, and was starting to acquire a mountain of rejections from literary journals and what not. I realized that I needed more training if I was going to move forward. I started off taking some writing courses at local Y’s and community centers, and then decided to go for the Master’s. I went to the City College of New York and really had a good experience. I found the literary classes just as empowering for my writing as the workshops. Plus, it put me in with a group of people dedicated to the field. I made many friends who still help out with my writing — in fact, one told me about SmokeLong Quarterly.

About the Author:

John McCaffrey received his MFA from City College of New York. His stories have been published in Fiction Magazine, Promethean Literary Journal, Epiphany, 24:7, and the East Hampton Star. His story "High Plains Drifter" was nominated for a Pushcart Prize.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.