Smoking With Patrick Allen Carberry

by Rachel Mangini Read the Story September 24, 2012

The description and dialogue in this story are precise. What is your editing process like?

I am actually really embarrassed to admit that my editing process mostly involves filling in necessary information that I previously omitted. When the whole story is on the page and every detail is fully explained, I get bored. I always try to have my stories reveal something deeper, and sometimes it works.

As far as the dialogue goes, I once had a writing instructor who (by quoting another writer) described dialogue as something one character “does” to another. Adhering to that view is a great way to ensure that it stays precise, so that’s what I try to do.

I couldn’t agree more with what you say about subtlety or suggestion being important, especially in flash fiction. Does your style change at all in longer fiction? Do you feel these rules shift when writing a longer story or novel?

I wouldn’t say my style changes, but my expectations of the reader certainly do. If every sentence in a twenty-page story has some double meaning, it’s just too tedious to be enjoyable (at least for me). And conversely, longer works are equally unfun if they seek to explain every detail in excruciating length—unless it’s a very stylized and probably intentionally funny choice. Finding that balance between subtle and overt narrative detail shifts on a few axes: length (as you suggest), number of characters, voice, tense, etc. A first person narrator has different limitations than an omniscient third, so what that narrator can/should reveal varies.

The wet T-shirt refrigeration thing, have you tried it? Was that idea the genesis of this story?

While I certainly like the idea of Benjamin Franklin inventing the wet t-shirt contest, that isn’t where the story started. Like much of what I write, this story’s genesis was its first line. I had that sentence in my head and spent the rest of the story trying to justify it. After I wrote the first sentence, I did some inadequate research into the life and inventions Benjamin Franklin, and that’s when I discovered the bit about refrigeration.

Sometimes research can be overwhelming—the details one discovers can bog a story down, but finding the right detail, which can take a while, makes a story shine. Is a certain amount of research generally part of your writing process? Do you ever get lost in it?

For the story I’m working on right now, I decided one of the characters had invented her own language, so I spent the past two weeks developing a language for her. (Ti autaut ditaus/”I love this distraction”) So—yes, I absolutely get bogged down in details that don’t really have much to do with the plot of a story. Sometimes that distraction comes in the form of research, but I try not to be too beholden to the “truth.” If a story would benefit from breaking some law of physics or changing history, I don’t mind doing it. I’m a rebel like that. The world is flat.

About the Author:

Patrick Allen Carberry lives in Chicago and teaches English at Harper College. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in decomP, PANK, Word Riot and others. He does not grow facial hair.