Smoking With Mary McCluskey

Read the Story June 15, 2007

“Crashing crockery.” I could say that a million times and never get tired of it. What kind of thought and effort goes into your phrasings?

I don’t agonize too much over individual word choices. Mostly, I trust a phrase if it sounds right in my head. Play it by ear, as it were. Once in a while I’ll go on a wild Alliteration spree and then have to go back and edit it out because it sounds too contrived and precious.

“Eyes the color of washed sky.” Can you give me five more amazing, memorable descriptions of eye colors? Please.

Five? Right this minute? Blimey. Okay—eyes like midnight; eyes like fog; amber eyes, the color of sweet cider; green eyes that still had dreams in them, with lashes like moths’ wings. Oh, and one from a recent story—his eyes were opaque glass.

James Joyce used dashes rather than quotes for dialogue. Why? I’m not sure. So do you. Why?

Ah, to have something in common with the Master! No, I use dashes only for short pieces. Not entirely sure why. Maybe because a flash needs to be spare and uncluttered. For longer stories and my novel I use conventional punctuation.

How does your selective memory work?

My selective memory does not work as it should. I’d like to remember only good things or times when I behaved honourably. Instead, I retain all the moments of shameful incompetence or quarrelsome pettiness. I should get it fixed.

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?

I’m hopeless with titles for my own stuff. Hopeless. And they are so important, particularly with a flash when the title carries a lot of the weight. I like novel titles that are a bit ambiguous or poetic—Cloud Atlas, House of Sand and Fog. Not many movie titles stand out, but I thought Lost in Translation was perfect for that film. I like Julie Orringer’s title How to Breathe Underwater. And I love Karen Russell’s title for her short story collection: St. Lucy’s Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Worst title: jeez. A lot of novels with Heart in the title.

About the Author:

Mary McCluskey has been published in Atlantic Unbound, The London Magazine, Night Train, InkPot, Melic Review, Alsop Review, In Posse Review, BBC Radio 4, Zoetrope All Story Extra, and a number of others.

About the Artist:

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