Smoking With Shannon Barber

by Brandon Wicks Read the Story June 25, 2012

Tell us how this idea began for you.

The idea came from me watching booty shake videos on YouTube and dancing around at my desk, combined with a picture of this gorgeous woman in booty shorts and some little ankle boots. Not to mention my own love of women in summer and my special love of my fellow Queer Femme women of color.

Your story invokes some classic tropes of the fairy tale: in the language that begins the piece, in the cyclical idea of being killed and being resurrected, in how it plays with ideas of what is fantastic and what is real. What lead you to this sort of tone? How do you see fairy tales informing the narrator’s experience?

I had to sit on this question. I hadn’t actually thought about that. I was more thinking of dreaming and feeling. In particular, I wanted to give the narrator some space to feel the actuality of being desired as a normative thing rather than (as happens often) as an exotic person. That comes from my actual life, there is something amazing when you are Queer and a minority, when you move from a White dominated space to one with other people of color. As I’ve thought about it, it is a sort of fairy tale when you have that moment as a person of color.

I really love the trope of rebirth and change, especially when it comes to giving a narrator a history that isn’t explicitly stated. There is an absolute feeling of pure life and visibility when you’re with people who feel like home. It’s shocking (death) and can leave you feeling unsure and then it’s beautiful (life).

The tone came from the narrator, if that makes sense. This particular story needed a voice that could go through the uncertainty and then the jubilation without being cheesy or too Lifetime Queer Movie of the Week. There had to be some grit to go with the silk and the sex.

By the end of the story, we know that the narrator is out. But in the beginning it seems that she might be discovering her sexuality because of her initial resistance to the “Haitian high femme hottie.” If the narrator’s already out, what do these girls teach her? What does she learn from them?

The girls are, for this narrator, mirrors of herself. She’s out but coming from a place where she wouldn’t have met or seen that Haitian hottie. When you present as being femme it can be really hard to be visible in the Queer community because you’re often read as being straight. When it does happen it can be startling, hard to get used to. Also there’s the aspect of being a person of color who is not “desirable” in an open comfortable way in a mostly White community. That also comes from my own experience. Those moments, even if the person hitting on you blatantly is everything that sets your pants on fire, are hard to get through.

That said, getting through it is the good part. Going back to that feeling of being alive and really seen for who you are and desired for who you are. They also remind her in a visceral way that she is perfect as she is. I didn’t say that explicitly but I hope readers got that. It’s so important to at least occasionally have that hard validation experience. All those girls give the narrator that and at the end she’s ready to give it right back.

When are you most “real?” Summer, Fall, Winter or Spring?

Summer. I am half reptile and I love the sun. Summer for me means I don’t have to wear pants because I hate wearing pants, I get sun on as much bare skin as I can manage without showing the whole world all my goodies. I love summer dresses, getting Slurpees and taking walks in the sun, the hot air, feeling just slightly sweaty, ice water, not having to crank the heat in my apartment.

I love the end of summer when my skin is a shade darker brown and here in Washington it can be moderately hot (I know fellow Seattleites are cringing) and I can take a break at work and sit with my face in the sun. Even if I can’t be naked on a beach somewhere that makes me feel pretty damn fancy.

About the Author:

Shannon Barber is the author of Gasoline Heart (Lark Books). Her work has been widely published.

About the Interviewer:

Brandon Wicks is the associate editor for special projects at SmokeLong Quarterly. He is a freelance writer and illustrator based in Philadelphia. His debut novel, American Fallout, will be published by Santa Fe Writers Project in 2016. His fiction has appeared or is forthcoming in Pembroke Magazine, Potomac Review, Sou'wester, and other journals.