Smoking with Thomas Cooper

Read the Story December 15, 2008
story art

What is your own personal history of bikes?

I’m afraid I haven’t been on a bike in almost fifteen years. That’s a sign you’re getting older: when you can’t even imagine yourself on a bike. When you tell your friends “I’m getting a bike” and they laugh or try to stage an intervention. My last bike was in the 80s, a Torker, a sinister-looking motorcross bike. I ended up flipping over the handlebars and landing face-first into a red ant pile. End of bike era.

I love diners almost as much as I love bikes. What is it about diners?

I’m not the kind of person who writes in public. I always feel self-conscious and pretentious—-Look at me, I’m writing over here, folks! Stand back!—-but I always return home from diners and cafes with my battery recharged. All those strange faces, all that history, thousands of stories around you if only you asked. I feel the same way about airports. Those environments ignite the imagination.

I so like the woman’s final words. What led you to them?

Thanks so much. Well, the woman’s words are the only “true” part of the story. When I was a child, my parents tucked me in with similar words that I’d made up, a kind of bedtime incantation. I was a spooked and anxious kid. Embarrassing to admit, they even put the words on a cheap Radio Shack tape recorder for when they went away on business trips. I played the hell out of that tape. Anyway, the singsong cadence of those words returned to me, serendipitously, when I was writing this story. I hadn’t thought of them in years. I probably still have that tape around here somewhere. I should put it on my outgoing voicemail or something for the holidays.

What draws you, again and again, to flash fiction—as both reader and writer?

I love flash, not only as a reader and writer, but as a teacher. First, as a teacher, it’s a great way to get your creative writing students to micromanage their prose. Many of my students this semester came up with some remarkable stuff. For me, it’s an elastic and liberating form. It encourages experimentation, and if something doesn’t work: well, who cares? Try again, fail better. At least you didn’t spend months worrying and agonizing. Also, I discovered through writing flash that I probably work best in a comic and surreal mode. Or so I’ve deluded myself into thinking at the moment. This piece is an obvious exception to that. Finally, as a reader, there are so many great and inspiring flash fiction writers out there these days. Robert Olen Butler. Lydia Davis. Deb Olin Unferth, a new favorite. Plus, writers you regularly publish like Kathy Fish, Kim Chinquee, and Claudia Smith. The list goes on.

What is your current status? How would you like to see that status change in the days, weeks, and months ahead? [The Facebook status begins “Thomas is….”]

Good question, especially this time of year. Thomas is… reflective? It’s December and I’m assessing how I spent my time this year, and planning how I’ll spend it next. This year has been all about finishing a short story collection, and 2009 is going to be about a novel, yet again. Back to the drawing board. I can only hope it’s not as awful as the first one I tried, which is deservedly consigned to the filing cabinet. So, in a few months, I hope my status will read, “Thomas is… getting there, slowly but surely.” Wish me luck, because I’ll need it.

About the Author:

Thomas Cooper's short stories have recently appeared in New Orleans Review, Pindeldyboz, Beloit Fiction Journal, Quick Fiction, Opium, and elsewhere. His chapbook of flash fiction, Phantasmagoria, is forthcoming from Keyhole Press.