Smoking With Jon Steinhagen

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story September 24, 2012

So in your cover letter you mentioned this story is part of a larger collection you’re working on. Can you tell us about that?

This is one of fifty “tiny novels” of a projected collection I’m calling Americans Elsewhere. There will be fifty stories (i.e. visitors from each of the United States). None of these so-called tiny novels can exceed 500 words.

That is such a cool project. Are all of the “novel” titles in the same format as this one: “State Vs. City”? Can you give us a few other pairings that are included in the collection? (Being from Pennsylvania, I’m particularly interested in that one!)

Funny you should ask that. First off: yes, all the stories—when they are submitted singly for publication—have the same title format (“State vs Country”); however, when the full collection is complete, each will have its own “extra” title (e.g. “Texas vs London” will become “Crossing the Mind: Texas vs London”). A few other pairings that are about to be published in other lit mags include “Alabama vs Chengdu” and “Indiana vs Zimbabwe” (in Wigleaf), “Ohio vs Munich” (in Frozen Underground), and “Hawaii vs Sweden” (in The Yoke).

And yes, Pennsylvania is one of the 15 stories I’ve completed: “When All Else Fails: Pennsylvania vs Rio de Janeiro.”

To date, I’ve completed 15 of the proposed 50 stories. It’s been quite a writing challenge—as well as a challenge to my imagination. The up side, of course, is that I now have the itch to travel to all these places.

This piece is so voice-driven. It immediately draws the reader in, gives us a picture of this person. Are most of your stories voice-driven? Do your characters come to you talking, as opposed to acting or doing, or is it more holistic than that?

Each of the stories finds its own voice depending on the impressions I get from matching a visitor from an American state to whichever foreign country he/she happens to be in. All of these stories “sound” different to me.

Can you talk a little about the danger, the menacing feel at the end of this story? Did you intend that, or did it just happen in the writing process? Are those drunk girls safe, or are you leaving it up to our imagination?

I’d prefer to leave it up to the imagination, but this story is the only one in the collection based on a personal experience (I’ve only been out of the country once, to London). I can assure you, however, that Rilling’s sudden homicidal speculation did not occur to me. Until I wrote this story.

Where was the one place you’ve ever traveled where you felt most out of place?

Los Angeles. A very disorienting place.

What was the best thing you did this summer?

A road trip to a friend’s wedding in Twin Lakes, Michigan. It was good to travel—I rarely get the chance—and the weekend is providing me with plenty of writing fodder.

About the Author:

Jon Steinhagen is a resident playwright at Chicago Dramatists ; his new play, "Successors," will open in January at Signal Ensemble Theatre . His short fiction has recently appeared in Lantern Journal and Monkeybicycle.

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.