Smoking With Shellie Zacharia

Read the Story June 15, 2008
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As part of an outreach to new voices, editors on staff were encouraged to approach writers new to SmokeLong. Kelly Spitzer selected Shellie Zacharia and had this to say:

I have a bit of a crush on Shellie Zacharia. It’s kind of embarrassing, actually. I see a story by her and I clap my hands and squirm in my seat and lean in closer to the screen, or the page, until the words enter me as if through osmosis. See? I’m excited just by the thought of a Shellie Zacharia story!! Gawd, I’m hopeless. She should probably take out a restraining order on me. ;) What is it that I like so much about her? She’s fun. She never bores me. Even when her stories are serious, they still have that authentically delightful Shellie Zacharia quality. (Apparently her name is pretty spectacular, too, because I can’t quit saying it.) Anyway… thank you, Shellie, for gracing us with your presence.

Okay, after that gushing intro, I’m going to ask you a pathetically tired question, but it’s one that I really do want to know, so here it goes: Where do you get your story ideas? Take this piece, for example. It’s a story that’s not really a story. How can you do this and get away with it?!? (And you can, you can! But not everyone could…)

Wow. Thanks!

A lot of my stories, especially flash, come from a first line that just pops in my head. Often this happens when I’m out walking. I’m walking and my brain is chattering and then it sort of quiets down and a line comes to me and then another line and by the time I get home, I’ve got the voice and the opening for a story started.

This SmokeLong flash started on a walk. I had been given a prompt and the word was “rejection” and I thought, oh no, so many of my stories are about rejection! So now what? Can I write another one? No! And I went for a walk and a line like “This isn’t a story you’ll want to hear” came to me. I started thinking about the types of stories people like to hear and I decided I was going to use those things as a list of what wouldn’t happen in my story. So then I knew I was going to write a flash and it was going to be about THE STORY embedded in the NOT STORY. Does that make sense?

The grocery store idea probably came to me because I’m there every few days. Like I say, “Oh, I think we’ll have spaghetti and salad for dinner,” but then I realize there’s no lettuce in the fridge and I really want a salad, so I head to the store. And there are lots of interesting people in a grocery store. Definitely good characters.

Talk to me about voice. Not voice as in point of view, but voice as in that special something that sets one writer apart from another. Is it one of those things where you either got it or you don’t, or can voice be developed?

Hmmm. I’m not sure. I mean, I never thought I had a voice until people started saying something about a Shellie story. I think voice comes from writing often—a person just starts to use certain words, sentence structures (or non-structures), rhythms, themes, character types, and moods in their work.

“You’re a little pretty…” the grandmother says. Ha! I just love that line.

I’m glad you laughed. It made me laugh too. I love when I’m writing and I can make myself laugh out loud.

You were a semifinalist in the second annual Rose Metal Press chapbook competition. Congrats! What are your plans for the collection you put together?

I plan to submit that flash chapbook manuscript to other contests. Cross your fingers. All the pieces in that collection are about being lost in love or lust, rejected by love, or doing the rejecting. I suppose I could add in this SmokeLong piece—it fits well.

This issue marks SmokeLong‘s fifth anniversary, which has me thinking about longevity and growth. There’s no denying the literary arena is a fickle one, with journals coming and going, writers shooting onto the scene then falling into a long hiatus, editors changing houses, agents merging, and the trends! Don’t even get me started! How do you, as a writer, endure the ups and downs? Have you experienced any setbacks? What measures have you taken to grow?

How do I endure the ups and downs? I just wrote a lot of answers to this question and deleted them. I’ll just say that some days are easier than others. And I have friends and family who cheer me on.

As far as setbacks, well, there’s this belief that short story collections are hard to get published without also having a novel. I don’t have a decent novel right now, and my desire is to write flash and short stories… so I don’t know what will happen. But hopefully someone will want to publish my collection!

As far as growing as a writer, I think workshopping with good people helps me. And reading. I also try to vary my writing. Like if I’ve been flashing awhile, I think, okay now it’s time to do a longer short story. Or if I’ve just written a few structurally odd pieces, I think I should try a traditional one. That keeps it all interesting.

About the Author:

Shellie Zacharia lives in Gainesville, Florida. Her stories have appeared in Hobart, Opium, Backwards City Review, Potomac Review, Inkwell, Washington Square, The Pinch, and elsewhere.