Smoking with Kyle Hemmings

Read the Story June 15, 2007

Why Mousafa?

I work with nurses and nursing assistants from Africa and one day I overheard one nurse mention her husband’s name, Mousafa. For me, it had a certain authoritative appeal and a kind of musical and exotic quality about it. I decided I wanted it for the cousin’s name in the story.

From where did this story come to you?

From conversations with the nurses, especially one nurse who talked about the existence of slavery in her country and the hush hush involved, the paranoia over it. She had also read an article about slavery in North Africa, she said, which kind of corroborated what she lived through and witnessed. She was one of the fortuanate ones to get out and move on.

You just finished your MFA. What’s next?

Okay. I’m thinking of getting more into digital art, not leaving literature or anything like that, but pursuing classes where I can learn Illustrator, Photoshop, at least the basics. I want to do in pictures what I attempt in fiction. It’s been a lifelong ambition.

I think Pet Sounds is way overrated. What am I missing?

Well, of course there’s always that subjective element: your taste may be different than mine. As a kid in 1966, a transistor was glued to my ear, and every other song was “Sloop John B.,” “Wouldn’t It Be Nice,” or “God Only Knows.” You have to appreciate the textures Brian Wilson was creating, the layering of sound, not to mention the innovative use of barking dogs, Coca-Cola cans, buzzing organs, and jangling bells. He elevated that album to something above pop, above the usual surf and sand type of music, and the melodies on it were out of this world, to me anyway.

Actually, and this may be a non sequitar comment, my favorite album from that time period was a very underrated record called, Forever Changes, by Arthur Lee’s Love group. Good luck in finding it. That album, in my opinion and in the opinion of others, outshined Sgt. Pepper. But that’s another story, so, don’t get me going.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you’ve ever encountered?

That’s a fascinating topic for discussion. It’s amazing how little we think about titles and they’re the first thing that leads a reader to a story. As a kid I was fascinated by some of Mickey Spillane’s titles—Killer Mine, My Gun Is Quick. Or how about Ian Fleming’s From Russia With Love. I’m reading Deborah Eisenberg’s collection of stories, Twilight of the Superheroes. Now, that’s a title. I recently wrote a story entitled, “Buggy Betty Brings Blue Birch Beer by Big Black Bear.” How’s that for a title?

The worst title I’ve ever encountered? I know some editors are not keen on one-word titles. The worst titles I come across are the ones that read, The Best of So and So’s stories. Or, The Best of the Beatles, 1965-1969. Any title with “The Best of…” to me, lacks imagination and turns me off, even though the content may be damn good.

About the Author:

Kyle Hemmings lives in New Jersey. His work has been featured in Five Fishes, FourPaperLetters, Lacuna Journal, and others.

About the Artist:

An Old Woman of Arles by Vincent Van Gogh. This artwork is in the public domain per Wikipaintings.