Smoking With Mary Miller

Read the Story June 15, 2008
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Hi, Mary! Thanks so much for your excellent story “South Dakota.” As readers probably know, half of the stories in current issue of SmokeLong belong to past staff and guest editors. You guest edited issue 18. What did you, as an editor, look for in stories you selected for SmokeLong? What about your own story ” South Dakota” fits these criteria?

Oh I hate questions like this. Thanks, Joe! I have no idea what I looked for, other than stories that I would have liked to have written myself. I wrote “South Dakota” so I guess that fits the criteria.

I love the way information is delivered in “South Dakota,” kind of sideways. When you say, for example, “She had recently lost a good-sized dog,” it takes my brain a few seconds to catch up with the words, their meaning. What are the benefits, the dangers, of writing this way?

Some people hate this kind of thing. That’s the main danger. They just won’t get it, won’t like it. Not just some, actually, more like a lot. But then, the people who do like it, really like it. Also, if you take all the sideways out of the story then it’s sort of boring.

Are the observations the narrator makes in this story cruel, or are they honest? Are writers allowed to be cruel? Are they allowed to be honest?

I don’t ever think in terms of cruel or honest. I have this problem: I’m too honest. I say exactly what I’m thinking way more than I should. It doesn’t go over well at work. It’s also bad in relationships. Basically, I have a big mouth. Growing up, nobody ever told me anything. Probably they still don’t but I’m not as aware of it.

Your narrator says, “I thought I saw myself clearly.” Who in this story sees themselves clearly? Anyone? Are we as readers allowed to see any of these characters clearly? Seems to me the story implicates all of us in this inability, to see ourselves or anyone else clearly, and in a rather uncomfortable way. Would you agree?

I don’t think anyone is able to see herself clearly. It’s a protective mechanism. For example, just an hour ago I was thinking how good my butt must have looked to the guy walking up the stairs behind me. Was he thinking that? Probably not. But still, I was convinced. And that’s just the start of it.

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

Congratulations, SLQ!

There’s a whole lot of up and down for a writer. Even at the very top, there’s rejection and I don’t think anyone ever gets completely comfortable with rejection. Of course, at the bottom it’s day in and day out but then something great happens and it’s amazing for about a minute. That sounds a lot harsher than I intended it to. I love being a writer. Even when I’m not writing a lot, just knowing that that’s what I am is a huge comfort.

About the Author:

Mary Miller attends graduate school and works at a children's shelter in Mississippi. She writes a lot.