Smoking With Weike Wang

by Gabe Durham Read the Story June 27, 2011

This last winter was the worst the northeast has seen in awhile. What did you do to stay warm? To stay happy?

 I can’t stand the cold, although I did grow up in Michigan.  This winter, I bought too many space heaters.  I placed them around my bedroom so that the room would feel like a sauna.  Then I lounged around like it was summer — shorts, t-shirt, flip flops.  Going outside was a bit tricky as my coat was not self heating.  So instead, I invested in many pairs of leg warmers that I also wore as arm warmers.  When it got really cold, I stayed in my sauna and watched the cold from my steamed up window.  To stay happy I drank skim cappuccinos in the morning.  I have this self sufficient cappuccino maker that has cow spots on it.  My boyfriend and I call it the courageous cow. When the pressure valve pops and the milk foams, the courageous cow gives off a mighty moo, an exclamatory release of steam — ‘ah, coffee!’

This story knows itself well. For instance, the invented word “lawnway” could only come out of the narrator’s observation that the snow’s too thick to tell the difference between the lawn and driveway. You’re a big drafter, huh?

Sometimes. I don’t have a number in mind when drafting because I consider the whole process after the first ‘draft’ as one long revision.  “A Morning Routine” I actually wrote in one sitting.  Lawnway is what I call my driveway/lawn in Michigan in the dead of winter, so the vocabulary was very local.  I try to stay local with my stories but fresh at the same time.  However when I actually sit down to write, what’s  ‘local and fresh’ is not always so straightforward because when I sense myself reaching for something original rather than coming across it, my writing comes out plastic.  

Is most of your fiction coming out this short right now? What else are you working on?

Yes, most of my fiction is short. I have an easier time seeing the structure.  Also the short fits me better.  I can focus very well for a very short amount of time after that I lose much of my spontaneity. But I do want to write longer, more traditional stories, though I find that the longer I stay in the short form the harder it is to pick up a longer format. This summer, I plan on writing something longer but as of right now, I am still writing short shorts. A few times a week, I jot down phrases that I’d like to have in a story.  When I start a story, I pick a phrase and go from there.

How does organic chemistry inform your fiction?

I don’t mix my science and my fiction well.  They demand different parts of my creativity and logic.  But organic chemistry does provide a distraction to fiction and vice versa.  I work best with some kind of distraction in the back of my head.  It adds a little pressure, hurries me along and reminds me to just write it out rather chew it stale.

What have you been reading lately?

Palm-of-the-Hand Stories (Recommended to me by my writing teacher a long time ago that I never got around to reading due to missing free time.)
Slouching to Bethlehem (Birthday gift from a friend who enjoys nonfiction, thinks I should write nonfiction and asks me every time which essay I’m on.)
Jane Eyre (A favorite that I’m continuously rereading for its lessons on beauty.)

I worked coffee one summer and spent much of the first couple weeks pretty flustered. What might you tell the world’s apologetic new baristas?

New baristas should ignore impatient morning customers (like me).  They should also adopt a friendly level of friendliness. Too much sunshine and chatter is overbearing but a smile is always appreciated. 

About the Author:

Weike Wang is an organic chemist at Harvard University who writes in between experiments.