Smoking With Vincent Scarpa

by Tara Laskowski Read the Story June 23, 2014

Great fleeting moment here that does all that good flash is supposed to do. We get a glimpse into the past and history of this person and are left with some good questions about the future. How did you get the idea to write this story?

Okay, so I won’t shit you: this technically didn’t start as flash fiction. It was originally a much longer chapter in the novel I’ve been working on for the last year or so. The novel orbits around the accident that gets brought up in the beginning of the story, the girl the truck driver has hit. I thought the truck driver would be a more pertinent character, but then he turned out to be not that interesting or integral to the plot. But I didn’t want to lose this scene, so I did some trimming and turned it into flash. I like what Ted Hughes has to say about Plath’s poetry, though I don’t much care for him, when he describes the artisan-like nature of her work: “If she couldn’t get a table out of the material, she was quite happy to get a chair, or even a toy.” I think that’s what’s happened here.

I really love the quiet nature of this piece as well, which I feel like most people would not use as their approach if writing about a masturbating truck driver. Was the tone intentional, or did it just come out that way?

Definitely intentional, and it’s really rewarding to hear you point that out. Tone is something I always struggle with, and it’s something I’ve only noticed since I started my MFA here in Austin. Elizabeth McCracken is eerily perceptive, and wisely pointed out that my aim for humor in my work—regardless of whether it lands—can often obstruct opportunities to engage with the work more deeply. In fact: here’s a great anecdote (I hope) that embodies this. In the fall, the writer Colm Toibin was a visiting professor at the Michener Center and read about forty pages of my novel, which is about that accident, a grief camp, and a girl who loses her parents in a wingwalking accident. While waiting for my one-on-one meeting with Colm, one of our administrative angels, Marla, said that Colm had really liked my excerpt; that he’d even been quoting it around the office. I was thrilled. And then, during the meeting, he says, This is fantastic satire, Vincent. I was laughing out loud! What a send-up! And all along I had thought I was writing the most heartbreaking thing ever written, with a few jokes here and there for comic relief. So, in a word, yes. Yes, that quiet is intentional. And it was hard to get to.

What do you think would be the best and worst thing about being a truck driver?

I’d probably smoke twice as many cigarettes as I do now, which wouldn’t be any good for my health, so that’d be the downfall. And severe boredom seems like an occupational hazard, too. Plus I require about nine hours of sleep, twice a day. There is no upside to me being a truck driver that I can feasibly imagine. Does it pay super well? I don’t know. I’d say “getting to see the country,” but I’ve seen a good deal of it, and a lot of it looks exactly the fucking same.

What’s the longest road trip you ever took? And how do you keep yourself entertained on the road?

I hate road trips so much that I shipped my car from New Jersey to Texas. Road trips are like eating kale and marathons—they seem like lovely things for other people to do, but I’d rather not. I tire easily. That being said, since moving to Texas I’ve enjoyed much shorter “road trips” throughout the state. It’s gorgeous out here, which I would’ve never expected. And you can get a decent country station coming in clear through pretty much every county.

What are you working on now?

So, the aforementioned novel, as well as a book-length lyric essay about heartache, flotsamology, and self-immolation. (Really.) And, with less ambition, a collection of stories.

About the Author:

Vincent Scarpa is a Michener Fellow at the University of Texas. His fiction and essays have appeared or are forthcoming in journals including Hayden's Ferry Review, The Baltimore Review, and Brevity. He is the 2012 recipient of the Norman Mailer College Fiction Award.

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.