Smoking With Sarah Black

Read the Story March 29, 2015

What were you like as a kid?
I’m afraid I was one of those bossy, know-it-all girls. I would read everything I could get my hands on, then talk about it. The Reader’s Digest Condensed Books were mine first. I liked to bandage bloody scrapes and give people medicine from a teaspoon. I could feel a feverish forehead by the time I was eight. A friend of my father’s told me recently I used to stand in front of him, shaking my head, hands on my hips, and say, “Do you know what that beer is doing to your liver?”

When I was a teenager I was a bit of an intellectual snob. I told my mother once I thought it was disgusting that she didn’t speak French. I grew tall very fast, 5’8″ by the time I was 13. I played basketball but I wasn’t graceful, more awkward and coltish with knees like cypress knobs. I was plain and intense and never went anywhere without books. I toyed with the idea of being a submarine captain, as my dad was on submarines in the Navy, but there were too many people out there needing bandages and medicine in teaspoons, drinking beer like they didn’t even care about their livers.

That gap between 1967 and 1987! It’s a cold, cold gap, isn’t it?
Yes, there is a wide gap between 67 and 87, but where did it go? I can’t even remember sometimes, as if whole years slid by when I wasn’t paying attention. I know the words to all the songs on the oldies station. I get a little weepy when I hear Frampton Comes Alive. For some reason, I always feel sixteen again when I listen to those songs. I felt like I had a nuclear generator in my chest and it was red-lining.

“Barista” is a great title for this piece. How did you come upon it?
Well, that kid who fixes me Mexican Mochas across the street at Dawson’s, in downtown Boise. I always think of him that way, as the Barista. And I’m never sure when he is being charming if he is flirting with me, for God’s sake? Surely not. If I remind him of his mom and he’s a good boy? Is it a retail deal and he is charming to all the menopausal, flushed, overweight women who get whipped cream on their drinks like their butts aren’t the size of the Grand Canyon? I can’t tell. But he’s a soft-eyed cutie.

You write LONG and you write very SHORT. How are the LONG pieces unlike and alike the SHORT pieces? What does it take for you to write this SHORT?
I like my longer stories, though I am probably going to abandon them for good. They are all about narrative drive, baby, what happens next. Lots of exciting action, horses, romance, food, cowboys, wolves, damn, you name it, I’ll write it. Just storytelling, which I think is so much fun. The shorts are something different. I always think of them like a tiny hologram I can hold in the palm of my hand—one image, circling, that I can see from every direction—that’s a flash. If I can’t hold it in my hand, it’s too much idea for a flash.

Tell us all you can about your new venture, Bannock Street Books.
I am so excited about this project. Flash fiction anthologies, chapbook size. Beautiful books, great artist design and illustrations, great stories. The size that can fit in your pocket, and made to be a joy to read and touch. That’s my plan! I’ve never had a small business before—I can see how, when it is something you love, it can take over your life! I’m feeling my way this first year, learning the ropes, and suspect by next year’s books I’ll be a bit more organized. But I think these are going to be books like no one else is publishing, and I hope will get the writer back into the joy of it all—writing, printing, illustrating, binding, putting the books into people’s hands and saying, ‘Read my stories.’ I think you’ll like them. Books as art, stories as gifts—that’s what I’m going for.

About the Author:

Sarah Black is a fiction writer.