Smoking With Terence Lane

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story June 24, 2013

I’ve been senior editor at SmokeLong for more than four years now and have seen many excellent stories come through our submission system. “PTSD” is one of my favorite flashes that I’ve ever read and/or published. There is something about this story that is so very heartbreaking and sad and poignant, and so perfectly captures these characters. I love it. Can you talk a little about where this story came from for you?

It’s so generous of you to say that. Everything in this story is something I’ve invented, experienced personally, or have heard of happening to someone else. When I was eleven, I put my hand on my dead grandfather’s face at his wake because I didn’t believe he was dead and was scolded by my living grandfather standing next to me. I was thinking of that when I reference Robert “dipping his hands in” to hold his dead sister at her wake. I’ve always wondered where war veteran’s get their hats, and so I imagined there being a special hotline they can call at any time. Three years ago I saw a moose wandering around lost in a housing development. That’s what’s great about fiction for me, I can always invent or Frankenstein my life experiences into these collages called stories. I think some images will haunt writers until they get written about.

So do you think that the narrator and Trina would’ve hit it off if given the time?

Sadly, no. And that’s partly what lends to the sadness of this whole reunion between the narrator and his great uncle. There’s a lot of desperation on Robert’s end to keep the narrator visiting as long as possible. Trina is Robert’s great bribe, but the narrator has no intention of sticking around. That’s just one opinion. I implore the reader to make up their own mind about it. Interesting question.

Is flash a form you regularly write in? If so, why, and if not, which form do you prefer and why?

I write flash and regular short fiction, and I don’t have an answer as to which I prefer. Flash comes easier for me. I’m really proud of “PTSD” but also kind of baffled and in awe of it. I try to study it and figure it out, looking for a formula that I can translate into longer fiction of similar quality so as to publish at the Paris Review, but unfortunately every story makes it’s own demands and requires different attention, like babies. I’ve learned a lot from flash. It’s taught me to be exact with language. I think it’s making me a better short story writer.
You recently taught in Thailand. What was your experience there? What’s been the most interesting thing about living there, and what did you miss most about your home?

Yep. I’ve recently returned from Thailand after six months of teaching in a small rural town called Prathai in the Northeastern province of Nakhon Ratchasima (Korat). They don’t get any tourists and there’s no spoken English. The English department only had broken English. I had nine hundred students. Fourteen year-olds and seventeen year-olds. None spoke English and only half wanted to learn, so controlling the room took a lot of practice and good acting on my part. The girls were more tuned in just because I was this tall white thing walking around; plus girls are more mature at that age. It wasn’t easy but I probably had the most authentic experience of that country.

The number one thing I missed about home was having hot showers. You’d think after six months you’d get used to a cold shower but you don’t. I also missed cream cheese, pizza and steak. Then I stopped missing them and only wanted Thai food: rice and fruit and pork and noodles. I lost twenty pounds and had more energy than my seventeen year-old students.

The culture taught me a lot. Thais pride composure above all else. Losing your temper is extremely bad form. The “Thai smile” can mean about twenty things. Thais smile no matter what. They’ll never tell you the truth about what they think of you. Whistling is considered rude. Picking your nose in public is completely acceptable. They’re so different.

About the Author:

Terence Lane is currently teaching English in Northeastern Thailand. He has nearly completed his MFA degree from SUNY Stony Brook Southampton and has published fiction in The Southampton Review and the Avatar Review. He lives on Long Island.

About the Interviewer:

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.