Smoking With Maxim Loskutoff

by Nancy Stebbins Read the Story September 23, 2013

How did you get interested in this period in history?

It’s not so much the period of history that I was interested in, as the act of walking the plank. I often begin stories by plumbing my brain for things I’ve thought about a lot but never really thought about. As a child I often pretended to be a pirate, either at the front or back end of a sword, growling and spitting and planning some mad escape. But what was it really like, stripped of home and friends and family, to stand on a wobbling board above the open sea, knowing you had to step off?

The details are so perfect and chilling—and immediate. What is your process for choosing the best detail?

Process is a good word, because details are usually the part of a story that take me the most time. In this case, and usually in my work, they were the result of expansion and contraction. That is, I had the general idea of wanting to write about walking the plank, then by tripping down various internet rabbit holes I stumbled on a much larger story about Cortes’ expedition and how two of his ships were in turn captured by pirates just before returning to Spain. I wrote it all, including scenes in the New World, then shrank it back down while trying to maintain the strange vivid darkness I’d found in that history.

I’m fascinated with the idea of writing a much larger piece, then shrinking it down. Does it ever go the other way—that you write the flash first and then expand it?

No, not yet. To be honest, I never sit down with the intention of writing flash. I have a spark or an idea that interests me and then I turn it into as long and detailed of a story as I can—get it all on the page basically, and then in the process of culling it down, making it as sharp as possible while maintaining that spark, if it turns into a piece of flash, wonderful.

Can you say anything about the title? At what point did it feel like the right title?

Oof, the right title. With almost everything I write I vacillate between something very simple, in this case “The Plank,” and something more highflown, and it’s always a game-time decision which one goes on the page, generally followed by a period of intense self doubt/loathing.

What are you reading right now?

Already Dead, by Denis Johnson. I’m currently staying in pot country Northern California so it’s the right time for Johnson’s weird swirling gothic.

About the Author:

Maxim Loskutoff grew up in Missoula, Montana. After graduating from Pomona College, he worked in hospitals in Dallas and Chicago, on political campaigns, and in the Middle East. He received his MFA from NYU where he was a Veteran's Writing Fellow. His stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Narrative, Witness, Willow Springs, Slice, Hobart, and The Minnesota Review among other publications.

About the Interviewer:

Nancy Stebbins is a former editor at SmokeLong Quarterly.