Smoking with Tavia Stewart

Read the Story June 15, 2007

How well do you KNOW “this man” who is your father?

A strange story: One week after I caught word from SmokeLong that this piece was going in the next issue, my dad was admitted to the hospital (a very long story involving a gangrenous toe, a heart attack, and a poor health care system). The worst part about the whole situation was that I found out about it nearly a week after he had a heart attack. So, as you might guess, I don’t communicate with my dad or that side of family much at all. No one even had my current phone number, which I have had for three years now. I found out via email.

Things are different now. During the time that my father has been in (and now out) of the hospital, I have spent more time with him than I have over the course of the past three to five years. I am not sure if this means that I “know” him any more than I did before I wrote this piece, but talking with my sisters about his pride, independence, and solace in solitude makes me think that maybe I have always “known” more about him than I thought I did.

“Best goddamned day of my life.” Describe your best day.

I will have to quote my doctor on this one. Actually, my doctor was quoting her father—strangely enough her father came up during a visit—who has been known to say on many occasions, “Everyday that I am not pushing up daisies is the best day of my life.”

How do you become involved with National Novel Writing Month?

I was just in the right place at the right time. I was working part-time at multiple jobs, one of which was McSweeney’s Publishing, where my editor was kind enough to send me a forwarded email from my now-boss Chris Baty at National Novel Writing Month. I interviewed not knowing much about the company, but I knew I liked writing, and I didn’t like waiting tables, and writing a novel in a month sounded pretty fun. I must have impressed Chris with my humor and enthusiasm, because even after I called Stephen King’s bestseller Kudos, he still hired me, and I got to quit all my part-time jobs, and write a 50,000-word novel in one month. Right now, I am writing a screenplay in a month. We just launched a new event called Script Frenzy (a 20,000-word script ina month). Do to my fear of dialogue, I thought it would be disastrous, but I am more than half way done and it is only the 15th. 11,997 words and counting.

Tell us what you can about your work as Lead Curator of Whole Story.

Whole Story is my brain child. For years I have dreamed of taking one short story and making it come to life using all the art forms known to mankind. Personally, I think short stories deserve that much attention. Though a movie deal is where the money is, it is only one medium interpreting another. With Whole Story, one story (that has been chosen from submissions to Watchword Press) is handed to up to 100 different artists, who work in mediums from dance to film to sculpture, and the art created in reaction to the source story is then installed and performed in a gallery setting. The past two shows have been two-night-only art events, but we are currently applying for grants so we can extend the run of the 2008 show to a one week. It is just so amazing to see the diversity of work in response to one short story. And seeing the look on the author’s face when they walk in the gallery. That is truly amazing.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the
value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you’ve ever encountered?

My favorite title as of late is a title of a piece of art made by a good friend of mine, Jana Flynn: Misalignment and the realm of everlasting night. I think Miranda July has a knack for titles: No One Belongs Here More Than You is one of my favorites. I like Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, More Songs about Buildings and Food (Talking Heads), A Supposedly Fun Thing I Will Never Do Again (David Foster Wallace), and my favorite title of a short story would have to be “What We Talk About When We Talk About Love.” I guess you could say that I like my titles long.

About the Author:

Tavia Stewart lives and works in Oakland, California. She acts as managing editor for National Novel Writing Month, and as editor of Watchword Press. She is also the Lead Curator of Whole Story, which is a new performance event that transforms conjunctive gallery and theater spaces into life-sized, multi-media dioramas in reaction to selected submissions to Watchword Press.

About the Artist:

An Old Woman of Arles by Vincent Van Gogh. This artwork is in the public domain per Wikipaintings.