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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Interview with The SmokeLong Workshop Prize Winner,
Claudia Monpere

January 18, 2024

Biennially, SmokeLong invites previous SmokeLong workshop participants to enter The SmokeLong Workshop Prize competition (free to enter) when they subsequently publish work begun in a SmokeLong workshop. In 2023, we had 214 entries. You can read the Top Ten entries chosen by Jasmine Sawers HERE; and if you are signed up for The Smokey Winter Fête, you can listen to the finalists read their work on February 17. We are thrilled to announce that Claudia Monpere has won the 2023 competition with “Solar Flare,” published by Atlas and Alice (pages 58-59 of Issue 23 if you’d like to read it first before you read the interview below). Claudia has received $500 for her first-place win. Congratulations, Claudia, and to all of the finalists!

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Interview by Jasmine Sawers

The structure lends itself to the slow trickle of information that ultimately leads to the gut-punch reveal in the final paragraph. Many writers, myself included, struggle with how to unspool information. How did you land on this structure?

Pretty quickly I knew that I wanted to braid facts about the sun with the narrator’s thoughts and actions. But it was extremely challenging to decide what to reveal and when. Early on, I knew that I wanted the gut-punch reveal to come toward the end. But the other information about the narrator– it jumped all over the place through many revisions.

I’m enthralled by the implication that the husband doesn’t know the narrator’s history. How do you strike a balance between ambiguity and absolutes?

I lean toward ambiguity which means that sometimes I risk readers not understanding important facts. But I think whenever humans are involved in anything, their words and actions have layers, multiple interpretations. I thought a lot about whether or not this narrator would share her past with her husband. Because she’s so ashamed, I decided she would keep it a secret.

Though we get little explicit exposition (thankfully), the backstory here is rich and colors every aspect of the piece with a lurking dread. Did this story have any previous lives as a longer piece? How do you know or decide when a piece is flash or longer?

I drafted this as flash from the get-go. But it was well over 1,000 words; I cut a lot. Too many sun facts! I used to write short stories, but I write only flash these days. I’m so in love with the form. I tried unsuccessfully to turn a few of my short stories into flash. But what’s working– kind of– is reworking chunks of a novel manuscript into stand alone flashes that someday might be a novella in flash. For me,  flash– more than other kinds of fiction– sparks joyful play and experimentation.

This is a fantastic depiction of obsession dovetailing with justified anxiety. When you were developing this story, which came first?

I began with obsession, which is what the prompt asked for. I researched facts about the sun, something I knew nothing about, and then asked myself who would be obsessed with the sun.

As a reader and writer, what are some of your obsessions?

I’m obsessed with dysfunctional families and with how people in those environments develop coping skills–or don’t. Obsessed with mental illness. Mother/daughter relationships. Obsessed with resilience and forgiveness. With climate change. What kind of future do we have when the fossil fuel industries have so much power? Obsessed with how legislative bodies are stripping our bodies of privacy, dignity, human rights. I’m obsessed with how to hold the world’s horrors in one hand–and how to hold awe and grace and hope in the other hand.  Some writers I love who do this: Ocean Vuong, Allegra Hyde, Jonathan Safran Foer, Aimee Nezhukumatathil. And I’m obsessed with lyricism, how it sings to us in the bleakest of times if we let it.

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Claudia Monpere’s flash appears or is forthcoming in Craft, SmokeLong Quarterly, The Forge, Atlas and Alice, Trampset, Gone Lawn, Atticus Review, and elsewhere. Her short stories, poems, and creative nonfiction appear in many anthologies and in such journals as The Kenyon Review, The Cincinnati Review, River Teeth, Prairie Schooner, New Ohio Review, and Hunger Mountain. She’s been nominated multiple times for a Pushcart and for Best of the Net.

Jasmine Sawers is a Kundiman fellow and Indiana University MFA alum. Their work has won awards from PloughsharesNANO Fiction, Fractured Lit, and Press 53, and has appeared in such journals and anthologies as Norton’s Flash Fiction AmericaBest Microfiction, and Wigleaf. Their book, The Anchored World, was a finalist for the 2023 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Short Story Collection. Originally from Buffalo, Sawers now lives outside St. Louis.

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