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Smoke and Mirrors: An Interview with Nicole Hebdon

Interview by John Milas (Read the Story) June 20, 2016

Nicole Hebdon

Art by Dave Petraglia

The first sentence makes me wonder what the pearl diver considers ugly about his daughter, but also why it’s important that he thinks she’ll be ugly and why it’s important that we’re told he’s a pearl diver right off the bat. It certainly causes me to consider the absence of a mother. Did you know the answers to these questions going in, or did the concept of this first sentence come before those answers were revealed to you in writing the piece?

I chose the profession of pearl diver because the job is to search for beauty, which heightens his criticism toward his daughter. I wanted to create a character who was dealing with a broken relationship poorly, treating his child as a scapegoat (as many parents in fairy tales do). Perhaps the pearl diver thought his daughter’s “ugliness” contributed to his wife’s leaving.

I thought of the lede before the plot itself. I was attending classes in the Hamptons and everything smelled like ocean. I’m a Buffalo native, so I had never experienced that before. Most of my writing that semester had a nautical theme because of the environment I was in.

I can’t help but wonder who the eponymous missing girl really is and what she’s missing. Is she crawling across the bottom of the ocean, or is she waiting for her father to bring home a tutu for the talent show? Is she missing a mother or missing the happily-ever-after, Disney-style ending that I believe the mermaid reference could be alluding to?

The pearl diver’s daughter is missing a mother, but she can still have her happy ending. Most women who end up happy at the end of fairy tales have to lose a parent and gain something beautiful (like a dress), so I believe she’s on the road to happiness.

As for the missing girl on the poster, I’m not sure where she is. I picture her husband making missing posters at his kitchen table, wondering if she ran away or if she fell from the boat they were married on. He doesn’t know that her dress was separated from her.

Is it a sense of duty I’m getting from the pearl diver, or is it something else? He doesn’t come off as overly enthralled by his daughter, and yet he’s working harder to buy the tutu anyway.  

I imagine the pearl diver as a man bound by obligation, perhaps he believes his wife will return one day to see how well he took care of the girl.

For its 283-word length, this story feels like one of the most densely packed with symbolism that I’ve encountered. I’m thinking of a gray tutu, a bucket of iridescent eggs, a soggy wedding dress, etc. How far do you want readers to look for deeper meaning in your work, and how difficult was it to condense all of these symbols?

When I was writing, I wanted the flow and pace of the story to imitate water. Long sentences that almost flow into one other made sense to me. As for the symbolism, I didn’t plan it, but more seemed to emerge with each draft.

How will the talent show performance change the relationship between the pearl diver and his daughter?

I believe the talent show will be a turning point in the girl’s life. When a fairy tale character obtains something beautiful, usually a clothing item, life seems to change for the better. Perhaps when he sees the girl dance, the pearl diver’s perception of her will change.

About the Author

Nicole Hebdon is an MFA candidate at Stony Brook. She has been published by Lumina Online, The Underground, DoNorth Magazine and FAE Magazine.

About the Interviewer

John Milas is a writer from Illinois. His debut novel, The Militia House, will be published by Henry Holt in 2023. His short fiction has appeared in The Southampton Review, Wrath-Bearing Tree, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.

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-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Fifty-Two

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