Smoking With Joseph Young

Read the Story June 15, 2008
story art

Why did you choose this piece for the SLQ anniversary issue? What does it say about flash fiction?—where you are now with flash fiction?

The story deals with ideas I play around with a lot in my microfiction but in a slightly more direct way (though nobody could accuse my stories of being direct). I’m interested in the way we talk to each other, how what we say often doesn’t quite make sense, not rationally, yet it has a kind of emotional meaning, the feelings we send to each other that are embedded within the words. We try to make meaning out of these words—thus epistemology.

I’m not sure what it says about flash fiction as a whole other than it’s a very wide open field, with room for everyone’s interpretation and stance. My own flash has become shorter and shorter over the past years, more and more condensed, although also sometimes more and more airy too, full of white space. I’m so intrigued with what isn’t there, not so much as an absence, something taken away, but as space intentionally left “white,” a formal element of its own.

When how did “Epistemology” and this flash meet? What do you think comes out of their encounter with each other?

Oh, I kind of answered this above. I guess what comes of their encounter is both confusion—becoming lost in each other’s words and actions—but also a deeper knowing of each other. Maybe after things shake out a bit. Isn’t that how it works with the people in our lives? We can become embroiled with each other, confused, but if we stick it out, care for each other anyway, we somehow come to understand each other a little more? On our best days at least?

I’ve heard you discuss distraction and doubt as challenges you face in your own writing. Yes?

Yeah, distraction… As you allude to below, I get involved in a lot of activities not directly related to putting my stories on paper, things like art journalism, painting, curating. I love it, love being challenged with new things, being involved with visual arts and artists, with musicians, collaborating and interacting with them. But, at times it can feel like I’m moving away from what I really want to do: write my little stories. I have to find a bit better balance there, work out some of the uncertainties that can push me away from creative writing. It can be easier to pick up something new, like animation, rather than dig into difficult writing questions. Balance.

However, doubt, artistic doubt, when you’re not sure where you are going or how you are going to get there, that kind of experimental doubt is wonderful and exciting. Pushing off into your own unknowns, whatever they are for you, and finding solutions to artistic problems, that’s the best thing ever.

Baltimore. Talk to us, if you would, about the art scene there, the community you’ve become an integral member of, and anything else you can about the town, the scene, your own experiences there.

Art in Baltimore is awesome! It’s so great, the visual arts, music, writing, it’s booming. Any night of the week you can have 3 or 4 four choices, go see bands like Wye Oak or Caleb Stine and the Brakemen, go to art openings of artists like Kathy Fahey or Christine Sajecki, attend readings put on by Publishing Genius or 510. There’s too much to do!

And it’s such a cooperative scene too. So much support and collaboration. When last February a local painter and I put on our art show, Deep Falls, people were falling over themselves to offer their time, vision, skills, and support. We thank them!

This issue marks SmokeLong‘s fifth anniversary, which has me thinking about longevity and growth. There’s no denying the literary arena is a fickle one, with journals coming and going, writers shooting onto the scene then falling into a long hiatus, editors changing houses, agents merging, and the trends! Don’t even get me started! How do you, as a writer, endure the ups and downs? Have you experienced any setbacks? What measures have you taken to grow?

I’ve sort of taken myself out of the broader literary business the past couple years. There was a period I was really serious about trying to get published in national and international literary magazines, but lately my interest has fallen away a bit and I’ve focused more on things happening locally. Not that I don’t love and read the print and online lit mags. I do!

So, I don’t know if that’s a setback or what, but it is satisfying and that’s what counts, I guess. As far as growing, I try always to stay interested, which means doing things I hadn’t before, trying things I don’t quite know how to do. As I said above, part of that is working with other people, a whole great challenge itself, and also hopefully digging deeper channels with my story writing. I’m awfully lucky to have the opportunity to pursue these interests.

About the Author:

Joseph Young writes microfiction in Baltimore. His work has recently appeared in Lamination Colony, Wigleaf, and FRiGG, and he has work forthcoming in Cake Train and Grey Sparrow Journal. A volume of his microfiction, "Easter Rabbit," will be published by Publishing Genius Press in December 2009.