Smoking With Kelle Groom

by Ashley Inguanta Read the Story June 24, 2013

Tell me about the beginnings of this story.

I love flash fiction, how close the language can be to poetry. I also love comic and dark side by side. Originally, I’d been interested in writing a story in which the fantastic appeared within the everyday. Alex felt like such a static character, and I’d wondered if the introduction of something otherworldly and strange could create a change in him. A kind of tabloid story. But in writing about this relationship between the narrator and Alex, it became more about the ways they are able to see each other. Seeing and being seen.

How did this story evolve over time?

I began to pay more attention to Alex. Of course he’s stuck in adolescence, but I didn’t want to reduce him to one note. He’s got his poetry disdain, his rules, his porn obsession. But he sees the narrator in a way that creates an enduring longing. What does he see? Even when praising her literary work, he’s dismissive of it—it’s all a ploy to get her back. It doesn’t matter what she’s become or done—she could be a lion tamer, mountain cyclist, even a clerk again in the store where they met. When Alex and the narrator speak on the phone, and she’s hoarse, recovering from the flu, Alex says, “I can hear the core of you.” The relationship is impossible, but there’s a clear-sighted seeing of something at the core.

There is a precise kind of human connection here—the moment when the threesome is mentioned, when Alex and the narrator date, later on during the radio show. Tell me more about this connection, the way layers of communication meet here.

The connection between the narrator and Alex is primarily, maybe exclusively, physical. When Alex first sees her, his first impulse/action is to ask his girlfriend for the threesome. Denied, he breaks up with her, and returns to the store to ask out the narrator. His confidence, approval, steady gaze are in opposition to the narrator’s ungrounded shakiness. Alex’s masculinity is a relief. This purely physical connection, which originally seemed a limitation, is what allows Alex a kind of seeing that is beyond not only the narrator, but also the temporal world.

If you could tell the narrator one thing, what would it be? Why?

After taking the radio talk show bait, the narrator feels foolish. Instead of promoting her book, she’s promoted as an ex-girlfriend. Alex tries to reel her through time, back to him. She’s confessed her loneliness to herself, and of course, it’s a good part of why she calls him. I would tell her that his approval, love, is fine, a distant gift. But she doesn’t need it to find the ground beneath her feet.

About the Author:

Kelle Groom's memoir, I Wore the Ocean in the Shape of a Girl (Simon & Schuster), is a Barnes & Noble Discover Great New Writers pick, New York Times Book Review Editor's Choice selection, Oprah O Magazine selection, and a Library Journal Best Memoir of 2011. She is the author of three poetry collections, most recently Five Kingdoms (Anhinga Press 2010), recognized in Entertainment Weekly's "Best New Poetry," and winner of a Florida Book Award. Her work has appeared in Best American Poetry 2010, The New Yorker, Ploughshares, and Poetry. Groom's flash fiction has appeared in The Southeast Review as a finalist in FSU's "World's Best Short-Short Story Contest." She is Distinguished Writer-in-Residence (2012-2013) at Sierra Nevada College, Lake Tahoe, where she is also on the faculty of the low-residency MFA Program.

About the Interviewer:

Ashley Inguanta is a Florida-based writer and photographer whose work has appeared in Redivider, PANK, and The Doctor T.J. Eckleburg Review. She is also the Art Director of SmokeLong Quarterly. In 2010, Ashley’s story “The Heart of America” earned an Honorable Mention in Glimmer Train for their Very Short Fiction Award. She is a former art director of SmokeLong Quarterly and author of three poetry collections: The Way Home (Dancing Girl Press, 2013), For the Woman Alone (Ampersand Books, 2014), and Bomb (Ampersand Books, 2016). In 2019 Ampersand Books will publish her newest collection, The Flower, about how death shapes us.