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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Jason Teal

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

Jason Teal

Art by Dave Petraglia

Jason Teal, you’re a grad student, an editor, a teacher, a former pizza deliveryman, and a swinging bachelor. Describe your mountain.

My mountain is crippling student debt; my parents calling periodically to remind me of this debt; attending to my cat; job searching outside of academia; guessing my sister’s Hulu password, getting locked out, then calling my sister without much else to say. Oh, and did  I mention there’s this staggering debt coming due? I get a degree or something. The university uses the reading series as a recruitment tool. I’m borrowing someone’s robes for the hooding ceremony. Take that, university enterprise.

I like the many metaphors that the mountain represents in this. One thing I got right away is depression—how people, after a while, start to bask in and even celebrate their own sadness, their own sense of hopelessness. You handle that well—they have a contest to name the mountain, some guy sells T-shirts outside. Are you OK, man?

Thank you for this observant reading! To be honest, I really wasn’t OK for a long time, about seventeen years of my life, all through elementary, secondary, undergrad, and most of graduate school. Finally, I broke. Friends were there for an ugly night. I had suffered from depression and anxiety for many years, thinking I was responsible for the hands dealt me each time, blaming myself for this, that, or another thing—little things I had no control over. I hated myself more and more each day and I thought everyone probably hated me as well. I lost touch with people on purpose. These “disinterests” compounded over time to where it became impossible to write anything or even read books I’d always loved. So writing this story was hard. The first sentence sat unused for about a year. But writing it provided me the space for confronting my predicament. I sought help.

Depression is a lifelong killer and needs to be a conversation we all can have with ourselves and bring up openly with family and friends. The days of taboo, of keeping ourselves locked away from loved ones, are over with.

Speaking of your pizza days, do you still have that shitty car you had in Bowling Green? If not, what happened to it? (Note, if it just died or fell apart and you had it towed away, make up something grander.)

I no longer have the shitty car after losing to Vin Diesel in a drag race handily. Or maybe I lived out of the car for a year after school until my family rescued me from the brink of homelessness. Either way, the thing smelled so much like pizza that I eventually set it on fire for the insurance, which was nothing. I was uninsured.

Someone, years from now, when you’re in the canon, someone writes Jason Teal fan fiction, crafting a novel about Rebecca, Marjorie’s coworker and carpool gangster. Give us the dust jacket for Rebecca’s story.

Twenty-three-year-old Marjorie is a hopeless romantic who is in love with her coworker Rebecca, who smells funky like cheese. They carpool everywhere—for groceries, for concerts, even to work—but Marjorie has just been unable to come out with it. Instead Marjorie hurls insults at Rebecca and deprecating observations in place of any real emotion.

Being gangsters in the carpool lane isn’t what they said it’d be, and the reader will learn, laugh, love alongside these two knuckleheads and their uproarious shenanigans. See who really hates Mondays more in this brand new award-winning pocket series from Penguin Random Amazon Publishing.

I have to ask: Who’s going to win Clegane Bowl, the Hound or the Mountain? I’m all in on the Hound, but I think they’re just going to kill each other.

I stopped watching Game of Thrones. But my guess is it will take three episodes for them to strike the first blow. This is the golden age of television.

About the Author

Jason Teal is a Founding Editor of Heavy Feather Review, Associate Editor for Passages North, and an MFA candidate in Fiction at Northern Michigan University. His work has appeared or is forthcoming in Quarter After Eight, Eleven Eleven, Entropy, Electric Literature, and Knee-Jerk, among other places. Former Managing Editor of Mid-American Review, he lives and teaches in Marquette, Michigan.

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

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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