Smoking With Pia Z. Ehrhardt

Read the Story June 15, 2004

One thing I love about your work is how very human the characters are—it’s difficult to point to any of them as heroes or villains. Do you find a piece of yourself in all of your characters?

I see bits of myself in most of my characters, but maybe I’m confusing this with empathy. I do know that I care about these people I’ve stuck into my stories, and worry about leaving them stranded. What’s the good of that? I’ve given up on too many people in real life; stories give you a chance to dig in and keep on, and get close to some kind of grace.

Your work has been published very widely. Do you have any larger goals set for yourself as a writer?

I’d like to finish my novel this summer and get it published, then see it stacked on the shelves of bookstores everywhere! And I’d like to make the stories that are in messy piles on the floor around my desk as strong as they can be, and then get them out and about.

What first prompted you to start writing?

I took a class with Frederick Barthelme when I was an undergrad and wrote a piece of shit. It was really bad, self-indulgent, mean-spirited, and he called me on it. Took me down. And then I wrote something that wasn’t those things, and he liked it, and encouraged me to keep going, and I did. I’ve always been too shy to tell stories in person, but I have a lot to say, and I loved that writing gave me emotional access to a reader, but also the physical distance I need to get my bearings and not blush, sweat, panic, clam up.

Tell us what you think of Flash versus other literary forms.

My first stories in college were flashes, although they didn’t call them that back in the stone ages. I like the density and compactness of this short form, the craft and concern, the diction and rhythm, but also the emotional risks the writer must take. You don’t have long to get to the point, to leave marks, so what you write has to be necessary.

Any advice you’d give to writers just starting out?

For writers starting out, I’d say slow down. It can take a long time to write a good story, to deal with the trouble that bubbles up through your nice smooth surface. If you’re lucky, you start out writing about one thing, and you end up being dragged away by the muse to what’s really important. Pay attention to the stuff in your draft that makes you uncomfortable. Worry about all your characters, not just your protag. Notice everything in and out of the frame. Don’t flinch.

About the Author:

Pia Z. Ehrhardt lives in New Orleans with her husband and son, and their sweet chocolate lab, Eddie. Recent and upcoming print publications include: Bridge Magazine, Gingko Tree Review, Hobart, LitPot, McSweeney’s, Monkeybicycle, Mississippi Review, Night Train, Pindeldyboz, Quick Fiction, Thought Magazine, Wild Strawberries, and Word Riot’s “Best of Web” Anthology. More of her can be found here: She’s writing a novel called In The Driveway.

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.