Smoking with Peggy Duffy

Read the Story September 15, 2003

Where did you get the inspiration for this piece?

I think most women have an underlying fear of breast cancer, at least as they grow older. This piece rose from that fear. I started with a character to embody the emotion. Like all fiction, the story incorporates things I’ve read, things I’ve observed, things I’ve heard, things I’ve thought about, things I’ve experienced, and things I imagine.

When you write, do you typically use pen and paper or keyboard? Notice any differences in your writing between the two?

I use both, although I tend to work at the keyboard. The difference is readability. Words (even those full of typos) are easier to decipher on the screen than from my messy handwriting on the page, especially if I’m writing fast. I type single space and trick myself into believing I’m writing someone an e-mail. It takes the pressure off producing a perfect story the first time out.

Tell us a little about what you think of Flash as compared to other literary forms.

I love Flash. I’m a compulsive editor. Flash allows me to obsess over each word and still produce a polished story within a reasonable period of time.

I’ve been writing short stories for years. I am drawn to the compactness of the form. I had never written anything shorter than 2500 words, and most my stories were 3500 words or longer. But a few years ago, when I was teaching a college course in creative writing, I used to assign my students a short-short for their first piece of fiction. I decided I should write what I assigned. The result was a 1000 word short story, and they’ve been getting shorter ever since.

How old were you when you first knew you wanted to write? What brought that out in you?

I’m not sure I can remember that far back.

And finally, what are some of your favorite books? Favorite authors?

The Remains of the Day
by Kazuo Ishiguro, and The English Patient by Michael Ondaatje, are two of my all-time favorite books because of their narrative voices, the almost magical way that they pull you in as a reader and hold you captive to the telling. Too many favorite authors to list, but they tend to be literary writers for the most part.

About the Author:

Peggy Duffy's short stories and essays have appeared and are forthcoming in The Washington Post, The Chronicle of Higher Education, Brevity, Octavo, Drexel Online Journal, Whole Terrain, So To Speak, Pierian Springs, Flashquake and elsewhere. Her fiction was recognized by the Virginia Commission for the Arts as a finalist in the Individual Artist Fellowship program for literary artists. She lives in Centreville, Virginia and maintains a website at

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.