Smoking With Robert Schladale

by Jason Behrends Read the Story March 28, 2011

I really enjoyed the use of nature in this piece. Do you find that nature tends to influence your work?

I am a pretty ardent environmentalist, so nature is often in the context of my stories. I am interested in the conflict between society’s short-term economic demands and its long-term survival, and also the conflict between human wants and the needs of other species. I try to keep it under control so that my interest in these issues doesn’t detract from the human drama that has to be at the heart of a work of fiction.

The good thing about writing with environmental issues in the background is that there are plenty of man-versus nature conflicts to work with. For example, I have written stories that involve condo development versus coral reef destruction, poaching of endangered sea turtles, and destruction of desert tortoise habitat, among others.  The bad thing about working with these contexts is that they don’t lend themselves to humorous stories. I like humor, so when I write it, it doesn’t involve nature.

These characters, Lewis & Annie, seem to have some depth to them; is this piece a part of something larger?

I have thought about doing more with them. They clearly have known each other for a long time, and it would be interesting to write a story that takes place twenty years or so before this one, perhaps at the point where they go their separate ways.  And possibly one that takes place after this one.

I’m glad you see some depth to them. I cut out sections of this story that provided more information about their interests, but weren’t essential to the story. So, the reader doesn’t learn that Lewis is a mathematician who was once lost in Fermat’s Last Theorem, to quote a deleted line.

Why are they parting ways when it is clear they have strong feelings for each other?

I have the feeling that neither of them is willing to compromise his or her principles to maintain a relationship. It seems that she left their relationship twenty years before to go and save the world. Now he’s taking the kind of stand she used to talk about.

What I find particularly interesting is that these two are not young student protestor types at the time the story takes place. They must be in their mid-forties at least, but Lewis still believes in a kind of idealistic action, and Annie, though jaded, is understanding and supportive.

This is the second piece of yours that I have read that involves fire (“Fire Flight”), does fire represent something bigger in your work?

Fire figures into a number of my stories. To me, it’s a protean element because it can represent myriad ideas.  In “Fire Flight,” it seems to hold the key to knowledge about some essential truth of being; it’s spiritual and philosophical.  Here, fire is a choice for Lewis and thus has ethical/moral dimensions; i.e., is it a right thing to do, and does he have the right to do it?

Are you working on any larger projects that you care to mention?

Right now my big project is to replace about a third of my redwood deck, which involves a lot of digging in the mud and lugging around beams that weigh more than me. Fortunately, it’s raining and appears likely to continue raining here in Northern California for another couple months. So I will be able to keep working on my flash stories, longer short stories, and one novel. The novel deals with the impact of mining on ecosystems and a Native American village, among other things. I’ve finished the second draft and the story is set but much polishing remains. My biggest project, though, is to refine my writing skills. Some days I feel like I can’t even tell the difference between a nerb and a voun.

About the Author:

Robert Schladale is a woodworker, painter and writer who lives in Northern California. In 2009 his story "Turtles in Paradise" won first place in the Southwest Writers' Short Fiction Contest. More recently his work has appeared in The Smoking Poet, Everyday Fiction, and Word Riot.