Smoking With Sonja Vitow

by Rebecca Podos Read the Story March 24, 2014

This story is so rich with world-building imagery in such a short space—Jim in his box, panda pornO, bamboo shoots caging in the skyscrapers. Did you begin with one particular image, and did you know what kind of narrative was contained in it when it came to you?

I feel like we always see these post-apocalyptic worlds filled with badasses in sweat-stained bandanas carrying homemade machetes, fighting zombies, saving babies and making stews out of found objects. I wanted to create a post-apocalyptic world where people didn’t really know what to do, had made a few misguided efforts, (like planting bamboo or freeing pandas), and then sort of settled in for a new ordinary.

Speaking of a short space, “Bred in Captivity” is a big story to be accomplished in less than four hundred words. There really isn’t any wasted language. Did you start with a longer first draft, or did you always know it was going to be this succinct?

I had initially planned for it to be the first in a series of vignettes of this length, but as of now, it’s the only one. I still plan on revisiting the idea, though.

Part of what’s poignant about this story is the youth of the narrator. He relies on somewhat unreliable stories to imagine the past he longs for; do you think that’s more tragic than if he had even one true memory to hold onto?

In a way, I think it’s very tragic for him, because he desperately wants to understand what the world was like before. He seems to have a sense of loss despite his not knowing. In a way, though, since he only knows what people tell him, his knowledge sort of serves as a collective history, and I think there’s something to be said for that.

The pandas. I have to ask: what was your thought process when you chose the pandas?

We always hear so much that pandas have trouble mating in captivity. I was curious to explore how prolifically they would mate out of captivity. Apparently it’d be quite the situation.

In a lot of my favorite flash fiction, the last line works because it suggests a furtherance of events — you can see the future spooling out after the story has ended. But I find “Bred in Captivity” especially haunting because its last line almost suggests a dead stop. Did you know how this story was going to end when you began?

I knew I wanted to end this piece on the imagery of the bamboo growing over the city, and the residents quietly giving into it. I think the full stop is somewhat creepy because it isn’t a true full stop—life still goes on on Q Street. The reader is aware that whatever else happens to these characters has to occur while their physical space is gradually overcome by the bamboo, and I think there’s a lot of doom in that.

About the Author:

Sonja Vitow is a founding editor of fledgling press The Knicknackery. Her work has appeared in Gulf Coast, NANO Fiction, Punchnel's, Safety Pin Review, Meadowland Review, and WordsApart Magazine. Her short story, "Front Porch Crazy,"was a finalist in Glimmer Train's May 2013 Award for New Writers. She received her MFA in Creative Writing from Emerson College, where she won the American Academy of Poets Prize as well as first place in the 2013 Emerson College Graduate Poetry Awards.