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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Gwen E. Kirby

Interview by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read the Story) March 20, 2017

Gwen E. Kirby

Art by Dave Petraglia

Your story is a list story, in a way, or at least a story that lists a whole lot of things. Give me your top five all-time historical list of lists.

  1. Mary Wollstonecraft’s recently discovered and secretly circulated 10 Ways to Destroy the Patriarchy. If you don’t know what that is, it means you don’t know what will happen when the code word AVOCADO is projected on the side of the Empire State Building.
  2. AFI’s 100 Years … 100 Movies. RIP Robert Osborne.
  3. The 40 Most Important Corgis of 2015
  4. Kurt Vonnegut’s list of writing tips. May Vonnegut guide us all.
  5. All the lists people make every day. I like that we’re so hopeful!

Greek epics and tragedies are filled with stories of the gods interfering when it suits them, ignoring even their most devout following just as easily. What would it take, at this point, for the gods to intervene today, our world in 2017? Maybe they have already?

If the gods have intervened recently, all my hopes for a benevolent overlord are officially dead. Lacking a benevolent god, I think the Greek gods, Norse gods, and old gods in general are having a ripping good time. My favorite supernatural prankster right now is the Santa Ana winds on Crazy Ex-Girlfriend. He “bring[s] whimsy and forest fires,” as well as fierce falsetto and postmodernist narrative control.

Cassandra’s curse is that she can predict the future, but no one believes what she says. Is that better or worse than knowing nothing—and everyone hanging on your every word?

I’ll always prefer the Cassandra to the fool, though it seems like much more fun being the fool. It’s simplistic, but I do think our great writers are Cassandras. There is so much empathy between the pages of their books, so much foresight and helpless, hopeful, world-shaking clarity. I can’t read To the Lighthouse or Jane Eyre and not be in awe of the vision that propelled these works into being decades before their time.

“Cassandra, Leda, and Persephone walk into a bar.” Finish this joke/story.

After a few drinks, they get Leda to explain the dynamics of swan sex, and talk to Persephone about the challenges of a long-distance relationship. Persephone says it gives her time to focus on herself. Cassandra buys them all shots. They then pass the Bechdel test by talking about how amazing Crazy-Ex Girlfriend is. Cassandra shows them @ifHillaryHad’s Twitter account. They end the night planning a camping trip to Rocky Mountain National Park, where they will get high on marijuana-infused peach gummies and look at the endless stars.

You, Gwen Kirby, now have the power of seeing the future. What do you see?

I see a very disappointed Gwen Kirby. I’ve never had much interest in seeing the future (unless it involves me, my trusty towel, and Doctor Who). It’s pure cowardice, but if in the future we completely destroy our planet and civilization falls apart, I’d rather not know. I remain optimistic and I write with that optimism. Instead of the future, I’d rather see the past, let Mary Wollstonecraft know it gets a little bit better, meet my grandparents as children, spy on Lewis and Clark when they reach the Pacific, watch the Brontë sisters sit around a fire and make stories. I am very, very happy that I am no Cassandra. Unless the future is all space travel and the Prime Directive. Then count me in.

About the Author

Gwen E. Kirby’s stories appear or are forthcoming in Southwest Review, Ninth Letter, New Ohio Review, Mississippi Review, and Midwestern Gothic and have been finalists for the Zoetrope: All Story and Narrative fiction competitions. She holds an MFA from Johns Hopkins University and is currently pursuing her PhD at the University of Cincinnati.

About the Interviewer

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.

About the Artist

A Best Small Fictions 2015 Winner, Dave Petraglia‘s writing and art have appeared in Bartleby Snopes, bohemianizm, Cheap Pop, Crack the Spine, Five:2:One, Gambling the Aisle, Hayden’s Ferry, matchbook, Medium, McSweeney’s, Necessary Fiction, North American Review, Per Contra, Points in Case, Popular Science, Razed, SmokeLong Quarterly, Up the Staircase, and others.

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