Smoking With Kathleen Hale

by Brandon Wicks Read the Story December 22, 2010

Anxieties of security figure beautifully in “The Corn”–Beannie, as a kid, digs pit traps and laces tripwires everywhere–what germinated this idea?

My characters tend to suffer from nympholepsy, and I’m interested in how a sense of instability can manifest itself as obsessive tendencies or fascinations. Lately, I’ve been thinking a lot about literal armaments, and this idea of trying to control your own entrapment by becoming the engineer of it. If you’ve designed the prison, you know the modes for escape.

Those anxieties, along with Beannie’s developing sexuality, converge at a fairgrounds. What makes this such a ripe setting for you?

For Beannie, the idea is that if she can control her physicality and physical surroundings, she can avoid any sense of loss. Fairs are transient and makeshift, essentially unreliable, and use sensory overload to trigger human tendencies toward excess. Sprawling, unchecked self-indulgence becomes the counterpart to Beannie’s calculated personality.

This story reads like a single episode, or window, within a wider history of these characters’ lives. Do you think you will revisit them in your fiction?

I might!

Lastly, the story begins with that very bracing image of the mother, reminiscent of urban legends. What macabre story do you think impacted you the most as a kid?

I remember stories of kids sitting down on escalators and having their skin all peeled off at the last step, or a girl falling spread legged on a fence and never being able to have kids. But as a kid, I had no sense of pain yet, or of consequence, or even of my own mortality, and so truly macabre stories had no resonance for me. It’s only now that I’m older that literal, day-to-day dangers bump my heart parts. Right now I’m sort of fascinated by the prevalence of meth heads roving rural areas, looking for farm equipment with which to make their drugs. They are maniacally goal oriented, feel no pain, and their skin is all shredded from self-abuse. They are actually zombies, threats to our safety. They are modern day, real life monsters.

About the Author:

Kathleen Hale is a first year MFA candidate at the University of Southern Illinois, Carbondale. Her fiction has previously won awards from PRISM, Glimmer Train, and Harvard University, and has been published in North Central Review and The Harvard Advocate.

About the Interviewer:

Brandon Wicks is the associate editor for special projects at SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Philadelphia. His debut novel, American Fallout, will be published by Santa Fe Writers Project in 2016. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, Potomac Review, Sou'wester, and other journals.