Smoking With John Minichillo

by Nancy Stebbins Read the Story October 2, 2011

I loved how the story spun from reality-based events into metaphor, and the reader isn’t sure exactly when the switch took place. This aspect of the story was reminiscent of John Cheever’s stories. Have other people make that comparison?

This is maybe the one thing I can pin on one person. I blame Fred. It was a scholar’s debate. I was in a program where I had to pick a “major figure,” a writer whose work and criticism I was supposed to study study study and make myself feel like an expert. I wanted Flannery O’Connor, and Fred said no. I would have had an endless supply of Flannery O’Connor criticism to read at a time when I would also need time to write. He suggested John Cheever. There was very little criticism, his work was a joy to read, and I think Fred saw some of the things I was trying to do being done already in Cheever. There’s an electronic copy of Collected Stories of John Cheever at my local library that no one but me ever checks out. Anytime I’m in the mood for a John Cheever story I can just download that copy. So I’ve been picking him up again lately and I think it’s a good time for me to read him again.

This particular story right here, though. It’s much closer to Ben Loory. That’s how it came out and maybe closer to what I was going for. I don’t have another one that’s quite like this and I’d have to blame the online magazines, SmokeLong included. On one level it came out like this because I wanted to get into SmokeLong. It’s minimal in its effects but based on emotion. Will I get the new place? Will I feel comfortable in the new place? When will I be in the new place?

And along those lines, which authors do you admire most?

I really love Donald Barthelme. I will sometimes swoon if I think too much about Donald Barthelme.

Your novel just came out! What has that experience been like? Was it what you expected?

It got me on Twitter.

What inspired you to write a retelling of Moby Dick?

I’m not sure “inspired” is the right word. I walked off with the white whale. Just walked out of Best Buy’s with a white whale on my shoulder and nobody said anything because the white whale belongs to everyone now. Starting right now, anyone else can go write their white whale novel. That’s a challenge. Hop to it.

What are you working on now?

I’ve started a new novel but if I told you what it was about it would elicit a sea of groans. It’s a very simple, done-to-death plot, but I’m having fun with it and that’s an important indicator of whether I’ll keep working on it.

About the Author:

John Minichillo's work has appeared in Mississippi Review, Third Coast, the anthology Next Stop Hollywood (St. Martin's), Gigantic (web), Monkeybicycle (web), Wigleaf, Metazen, Nashville Review, Staccato Fiction, In Posse Review, and elsewhere. His work is forthcoming at Prick of the Spindle, Necessary Fiction, Everyday Genius, Moon Milk Review, Northville Review, and Hint Fiction: an Anthology of Stories in Twenty-Five Words or Less. He lives in Nashville and teaches fiction writing at Middle Tennessee State University.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Stebbins is a former editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.