Smoking With Richard Hackler

by Josh Denslow Read the Story June 23, 2014

Were you at all frightened to set the story in a writing workshop?

I don’t think I was frightened. I did worry that the setting and action might be too inside-baseball. I don’t want my stories to be winks at people who have also earned advanced degrees in creative writing. But being enrolled in a writing workshop can breed a particular sort of malaise and desperation, and that’s the feeling I meant to convey in this piece.

No more than a few minutes pass in the story, but we learn so much about Adrienne and Herman and we can see them beyond the confines of the ending. Did you think much about the passage of time as you wrote this?

I like stories in which only a few minutes pass and not very much happens. You jump in, you narrate a very small moment in which a character’s desires become apparent, and then you jump out. Since nothing really happens, the focus in such a piece usually shifts to language and voice, and that’s what I love about writing—the sentence level stuff, reading lines over and over again and revising them until they sound like how I want them to sound and conjure the feeling I’m after. I’m bad with plot. Whenever I try to write a longish narrative that requires backstory and explication and any too-lengthy series of events before arriving at the payoff, a voice in my head tells me to shut up and get to the point, already. I grow self-conscious and bored when I write these sorts of stories. I feel as though I’m impersonating George Eliot or something. And so I didn’t really think about the passage of time when I wrote this, but I did try to get to the point, already.

There’s a love of words here, but I think my favorite image is Herman angling his ear “so she could funnel her voice into it.” Why do you think it’s so easy to have eloquent thoughts, but when the words tumble from the mouth, they never live up to expectations?

Oh man, I don’t know! I think it might be less that we can’t translate our eloquent thoughts into words and more that no one will be as invested in hearing our words as we’ve been in crafting them, no matter how eloquent they are. There’s always that letdown, when you spend a long time working out exactly what to say and then finally let it out into the world. The world never reacts as strongly as you’d like it to.

Why birds?

I think that someone like Herman would be more apt to have a crush on a woman if she spent her time drawing birds. He’d think she was a real free spirit, or something.

Tell us something that no one knows about Herman.

Recently, Herman became a vegetarian in an effort to impress a cashier at the Whole Foods on whom he had a crush. He was devastated when he found out she was dating a hockey player, but found he enjoyed the diet and stuck with it anyway.

About the Author:

Richard Hackler is the nonfiction editor of Sundog Lit. He lives in Marquette, Michigan.

About the Interviewer:

Josh Denslow’s stories have appeared in Barrelhouse, Third Coast, CutBank, Wigleaf, and Black Clock, among others. His collection, Not Everyone Is Special, is forthcoming from 7.13 Books.