Smoking with Tara Laskowski

by Randall Brown Read the Story March 18, 2009
story art

What have been your real world hamster experiences?
Oh God. They’ve been horrible. I’ve had awful experiences with pets that live in cages, and I swear I will never have one again. When I was a kid, I was trying to put a cute plastic house in my hamster’s cage and I accidentally smushed him. Not good. Laugh if you will, but it was traumatic.

One of the many things I love about this story is the “inside” story, the dynamic going on in her psyche that gives this trapped hamster a specific meaning. Did you always know what that trapped hamster would mean? And, if not, how did you figure it out?
No, I didn’t know what he would mean, not at first. The story is based on something that happened to a good friend of mine. She has a runaway hamster that has a death wish, and I thought the image of her building this ramp late at night was so fantastic. I really wanted to write about it. I started with that, and the rest just came. Something seemed to fit with that act and the fears and sacrifices of being a parent.

In the context of your own writing of flash fiction, what do you like about this story? How does it fit in with your other writings? How is it different from them?
It’s one of my favorites, and I really enjoyed writing it. It’s similar to many of my flashes in its traditional, realistic style. However, I usually write about romantic relationships, and this was different in that it explored themes of family and parenting. I don’t normally write about that, for whatever reason. I don’t yet have children, and I was worried at first about it not seeming true!

Was there ever an alternative ending for this one? If so, what was it? What made you finally decide upon this ending, an ending which feels to me like the most perfectest one in the world for this story?
Yes! Great question. The first draft of this story had the hamster coming out of the hole and wiggling his little pink nose in the light. But when I had a friend read it, he pointed out that he thought the ending had gone one beat too far, and I saw that he was totally right. It was important to leave it there on that moment, the moment of uncertainty, because that’s what the whole story is about. Taking risks and moving forward with determination and hope, even though you’re scared of the worst that can happen. That’s kind of what unconditional love is, I guess. So having him there on the ramp, testing it’s weight, where she’s just hoping that he’ll trust her, just seemed to really fit the mood of the whole piece. (I absolutely think Mr. Hamster figures it out and gets out of there, though. I can’t kill off another hamster in my lifetime!!!)

Were any hamsters harmed in the writing of this story?
No, no. And I’m happy to report that Cheezit, the real life hamster that this story is based on, is still alive and well despite his many Houdini impersonations.

About the Author:

Tara Laskowski has been editor at SmokeLong Quarterly since 2010. Her short story collection Bystanders was hailed by Jennifer Egan as "a bold, riveting mash-up of Hitchcockian suspense and campfire-tale chills." She is also the author of Modern Manners For Your Inner Demons, tales of dark etiquette. Her fiction has been published in the Norton anthology Flash Fiction International, Ellery Queen’s Mystery Magazine, Alfred Hitchcock’s Mystery Magazine, Mid-American Review, and numerous other journals, magazines, and anthologies. Tara lives and works in a suburb of Washington, D.C.

About the Interviewer:

Randall Brown is on the faculty of Rosemont College’s MFA in Creative Writing Program. He has been published widely, both online and in print. He earned his MFA at Vermont College.