Smoking With Tara Laskowski

by Ellen Parker Read the Story December 20, 2009

Do you have actual experience with these cicadas? I’m from Kansas City, and we would get cicadas. It wasn’t so much that we would see them everywhere, but their collective noise was, as you wrote, “loud and constant.” It could drive a person mad. Discuss.

My first experience with cicadas was about five or six years ago when I first moved to the D.C. area. The 17-year cicadas were coming, and it was a big news story. I remember everyone talking about it. I remember also being really nervous about it because I hate bugs. It was pretty gross. They were everywhere, and that noise was just constant and insane. I’ve always thought it was strange that those particular type of cicadas had a 17-year cycle. That seemed like a really weird number to me.

Writing a story from a child’s POV is difficult to pull off-but you’ve succeeded here. Do you often write from the POV of a very young person?

No, I don’t. I usually stay away from younger people’s point of views. In this case, though, I just kept thinking about someone young experiencing these cicadas and thinking about the next time they would emerge and how different her life would be then. It’s kind of like when I was about 8 years old and Halley’s Comet came around, and our second-grade teacher told us it only comes every 76 years or so. I remember then thinking how old I would be the next time it came around, and it was almost incomprehensible.

Is Lissa the “narrator” here? Or are you intending the narrator to be someone else? Like when the narrator says, “The cicadas emerged from their cocoons, dumb as posts,” who is saying that? (It’s a hilarious line, by the way.)

Lissa is the narrator here. She’s in an interesting stage of life, half in adulthood, half still a child. She’s too old to be a flower girl, but she still is. So at some points she is beginning to see things on her own, starting to figure out things about attraction and relationships, but she’s also still a kid in some ways. That line in particular, I imagine, is something she thinks but has heard somewhere else, probably from her father. Just like Charlie repeats a joke that his dad says, Lissa, too, tends to think in some ways like her parents do.

“She imagined what it would be like to wear an entire skirt made of cicada wings, like a beautiful exotic disco ball.” That is trippy! Do you have an interest in fashion design? (I’m thinking Lissa might become a contestant on Project Runway.)

Oooh, I love Project Runway! But I have absolutely no talent whatsoever in that area. I can sew a straight line and that’s about it. That particular image about the cicada skirt probably came from an art project I saw. After the cicada infestation here in D.C., some students at the university I work at created a collage of sorts out of cicada wings, and every time I passed it in the hall I would see it sparkle in the sun and think that it looked kind of pretty.

Please tell us more about this barn. It’s straddling a creek? Then Charlie slips underneath the barn! What the heck kind of a barn is this?

Ok, that is a weird one. When I was a kid, my cousins had a little farm not too far from our house, and we would have family reunions there every few years. There was a barn on that property that had a small creek running underneath it. I remember my brother and I nearly crawling under the barn to watch the fish, but I have no idea why the barn was built that way or even if I’m remembering it correctly. I do remember it having some kind of eerie, magical feeling to it, though, and that’s why I wanted it in this story.

“The barn reminded her of one she’d seen once in a scary movie she snuck in to with her friends. The killer in the movie kept young women in the barn and sang them lullabies.” Yes! Was it that one with Ashley Judd and Morgan Freeman?

I think so! I was one of those serial killer movies based on a paperback novel. I get them all confused. I was going for creepy there, though. Definitely.

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.