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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Allison Pinkerton

Interview by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read the Story) September 18, 2017

Allison Pinkerton

Photograph by Alex Hockett

There’s a real self-awareness to the need to be popular in your story—e.g., the reference to Mean Girls—yet the need still exists. I credit that to your use of past tense, that the teller of this story is much wiser than the participant of this story. What else has our hero learned since her days at St. Zelda’s? 

That’s a really interesting question, Mike. I think she’s gotten more confident socially (and spiritually.) She’s learned that you can have a deep spiritual life (a relationship with God, you could say) without having a moment where you “get saved.” I hope she’s learned that growing in your spiritual life is a process; there’s no initiation rite after which every problem’s solved.

I don’t think she ever got a mystical spiritual gift. I think she realized you don’t really need them to fully enact God’s mission for yourself and other people. You don’t need to be magical to be kind.

What most impresses me about your story, perhaps, is how much world you build in our limited word count. There’s this cast system and its hierarchy, the magical powers, the religious devotion, etc. I feel like I know St. Zelda’s as well as I know Hogwarts, in a few thousand less pages. So, what story would St. Zelda’s tell if this were a thousand times longer?

My goal is to always make characters as nuanced as possible, and as full as possible (even in flash.) If St. Zelda’s were longer, I think Sasha’s story would be more fleshed out. At the current length, the reader gets a sense of Sasha, but the narrator is the one who gets the limelight. Sasha intrigues me because I have never had her spiritual experience—the confidence, the certainty. It would be interesting to explore what that confidence feels like, how the certainty of God’s support and presence affects your everyday behaviors. Sasha deserves the space to tell her stories.

What’s the worst thing you’ve ever done, or the thing you’re least proud of, to curry the favor of the in crowd? 

I’m sure I’ve laughed along at a few jokes made at others’ expense, especially when I was a teenager. A lot of the worst parts of ourselves exhibit when we are teenagers, which makes teenagers narratively interesting.

It’s also tempting to hide parts of yourself in order to fit in with the in-crowd, which is ultimately damaging, I think. That’s part of what St. Zelda’s is about: the lengths someone is willing to go to fit in.

In essence, this is a coming-of-age story, a girl coming into her place, her identity, her womanhood. Why do these stories persist, seemingly more stories about any other age?

Coming-of-age stories fascinate me, though I’m not really sure that anybody ever really gets “of-age.” Each character struggles at different times—and, unfortunately, problems get more complicated as you age.  I see coming of age as similar to growing in your spiritual life—there’s not really a destination to “arrive” at—perspectives just get more nuanced.

It seems like we, as people, should let ourselves off the hook. We should quit waiting for that lightning-bolt epiphany moment. It doesn’t often happen spiritually or socially. Thinking about your spiritual life in terms of “saved” or not, doesn’t allow you to appreciate the journey, and the questions, and the doubts. Interrogating your beliefs through honest doubt can make your faith stronger.

Also, everyone can relate to coming-of-age stories, which may be a reason that they keep persisting. You may differ from a character in terms of lived experiences, but you might be able to connect with a character in terms of the feelings that arise from her lived experiences.

What super power would you, Allison Pinkerton, hope to gain upon being saved?

That’s a tough one. I think I’d go with telepathy, though it’s not really a spiritual gift. I’m just nosy.

About the Author

Allison Pinkerton is the 2017 Kathy Fish fellow at SmokeLong Quarterly. Her work is forthcoming in Image, and has been published online at Monkeybicycle, The Pinch, and elsewhere.

About the Interviewer

Michael Czyzniejewski’s fourth collection of stories, The Amnesiac in the Maze, is forthcoming from Braddock Avenue Books in 2023.

About the Artist

Alex Hockett‘s work can be found at Unsplash.

This interview appeared in Issue Fifty-Seven of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Seven

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