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Smoke and Mirrors—An Interview with Michelle Ross

Interview by Shane Stricker (Read the Story) September 21, 2015

Michelle Ross

Art by Katelin Kinney

We had a blender that came into our possession in 2005 and it just left us this past year. It was a big industrial deal meant for restaurants (my fiancé purchased it with the money left over from her freshman meal plan—the university’s policy was to use this money or lose it and blenders were on the list of items on which she could spend her surplus). In your story, Mama has that blender for fourteen years before it finally up and quit on her. It’s such a specific, wonderful detail, the shopping for blenders. It made me wonder what the longest was you’ve had a blender and what your relationship to it was like (the highs and lows, the everyday).

I recently had to replace a blender I’d had for about seven years. The motor wasn’t even broken, just the glass pitcher; but as these things seem to go, the model was discontinued, so replacing the pitcher wasn’t an option. I was surprised at how difficult it was to find a new blender with a glass pitcher. Even three-hundred-dollar blenders have plastic pitchers. I did finally find a glass-pitcher blender, and the truth is, it was cheaper than most of the plastic-pitcher blenders. The tradeoff is the motor is so loud, it’s like we’re drilling into concrete. We all have to cover our ears when we make smoothies.

What would happen to Mama if she said, “Robby is a deficit”—if she said these words aloud in this order?

I don’t think Ann’s and Robby’s mother would say that, so I struggle to say what would happen. I’m not sure she’d even think it, at least not so directly. My feeling is that while Ann is observant and perceptive, she understands much less than she thinks she does.

I’ve always heard that Dove soap is the best thing for oily skin and acne. I don’t know if this is a true statement or a type of wives’ tale, but what remedies, full of truth or hot air, have you been steered toward or seen those around you offered?

Hmm. Dove soap in particular? I’ve heard that overwashing skin doesn’t help. My prescription would be to move to the desert. Outside of being a teenager perhaps, in which case I’m not sure there’s any surefire remedy, I think it’s physically impossible to have oily skin in the dry climate of Tucson, Arizona, where I’ve lived for the last nine years.

Did the moon jellies, lion’s mane jellies, and pipefish all show up at once, or did it take a while for them to all come swimming around in the world of this story? (On a side note: thanks for steering me toward pipefish with that last image. I’ve now spent five minutes looking at pictures. Beautiful creatures. I hadn’t known them previously.)

This summer, my husband and I took our son to Birch Aquarium at Scripps, in San Diego. I had never seen pipefish before, either (or not that I recall), and I was taken with them and the jellies (and the seahorses, too, but there was no room for them in this story). While I watched the moon jellies, I overheard a father say to his two kids, “Mama loves the jellyfish, doesn’t she?” Then he said something to the kids about why, but that part I didn’t pick up. For me, the movement of the jellies brought to mind the beating of a heart, so I guess I inserted that answer and imagined the rest. This story came together pretty quickly after that.

I’m hung up on that last image, actually. I felt like I was that fish, that pipefish being watched. Could you discuss a little about what it means that we, as readers, are no longer the watchers but become the watched at the end?

I wasn’t thinking about implying that the reader is observed, but it’s interesting you put it that way. Of course, Ann isn’t just watching the pipefish; the pipefish is quite possibly watching her. I’ve been writing a lot lately about characters watching each other or imagining or experiencing being watched. I’m interested in how we imagine other people’s stories, how our stories about ourselves are shaped by what we imagine other people see, etc. In this story, Ann isn’t a player; she’s a peripheral narrator. In fact, she doesn’t say a word, doesn’t interact with her mother or Robby whatsoever. At the risk of overanalyzing my own story, it’s as though she’s not in the same space as them, as though she’s blended in with the background as well as the pipefish. She watches her family and imagines she knows something about what her mother is going through, what she’s feeling. Does Ann really know? Does she know anything more about her mother than she knows about the pipefish? I guess that final image arises from Ann’s role of peripheral observer in this story. Also, there’s something both incredibly lonely and comforting to me about how Ann and the pipefish mirror each other.

About the Author

Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award; and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Her work is included in The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50 series, and in the Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. It’s received special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review.

About the Interviewer

Shane Stricker is originally from Sikeston, Missouri but completed his MFA at West Virginia University. His work appears in Midwestern Gothic, Whitefish Review, Lake Effect, Crossborder, and Moon City Review.

About the Artist

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.

This interview appeared in Issue Forty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Nine

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