Smoking With Nancy Stebbins

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story July 25, 2010

What is it about butter in this story? I feel like the butter is standing in for something else here. If so, what is that?

Butter felt like a good symbol for all the longing that was going on in that empty house. The longing has different qualities for the three characters: little Iris keeps repeating her question, just trying to make sense of what’s going on. For Daphne, the butter is a stand-in for the boyfriend: it’s sensual, and a comfort food. The mother, though, is on the brink of growth. For her, the butter is healing, self-nurturing, and lubricating (for all those rusty soul-cogs).

In the last line of this story, the character is waiting. What is she waiting for? Does she get it, do you think?

I don’t think she’s quite figured this out yet, but she needs to regroup and center herself, to let go of the boyfriend, to take care of herself and her daughters, and trust her own senses. Just in case someone comes along and offers her margarine instead of butter.

I know you have an online writing community via Zoetrope—do you also have a writing group in “real life” that meets? How do you find that writing groups work for you?

I’ve made three very close friends through my MFA program (the pop-up princesses) and we are constantly trading stories and chapters. Locally, I’m in Brazos Writers and we have a fiction group that meets monthly. We’re all working in different genres and forms: young adult, mystery, novel, short story, flash. And about once a semester, the Texas A&M English department arranges a critique session, and I’ve been lucky enough to be invited to those.

I think that, for critique groups in general, it’s nice when your critique partners get what you’re trying to accomplish and vice versa. And for flash fiction, Zoetrope has been so helpful in seeing and experimenting with flash’s potential.

When you aren’t writing, what other creative things do you enjoy doing?

There are lots of things I’d like to do. I’ve dabbled in painting and piano (and tap dancing) in the past, and I’d love to learn guitar. I’ve known writers whose other artistic activities inform their writing and vice versa, but for me, anything with a steep learning curve siphons energy and enthusiasm from writing.

How do you know when a story you’re writing is finished?

My friend Loranne suggested a word processor that automatically shows drafts the same way it shows page numbers: This is draft 9 out of 42. Then you know you have 33 more to go. Writing a revision plan helps me think about where a story is and what it might need—Bonnie Jo Campbell told me that every story needs something different. You just have to figure out what that is. Having great critique buddies helps: when a draft comes back with hardly any changes marked, it’s getting closer. Sort of like Noah sending out the birds from the ark.

About the Author:

Nancy Stebbins is a psychiatrist, a Flash Factory groupie, and an MFA student at Pacific University. Her short stories have been published in The Summerset Review, Grey Sparrow Journal and other places. She shares a blog with three other Pacific students: http://pop-upprincesses.blogspot.com.

About the Interviewer:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.