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Smoke and Mirrors with Matt Barrett

Interview by Lyndsie Manusos (Read the Story) March 22, 2021

Matt Barrett

Matt Barrett

First of all, thank you so much for sharing this story. I really loved this pairing of layered noise with the isolation felt by the narrator. What was your inspiration for this piece?

Thank you so much for these great questions! At this point, it’s hard to know what my inspiration was because I wrote the first two-thirds of this story in the summer of 2020 and put it away for seven months before writing the end. But we were a few months into the pandemic when I started writing this and everything felt so disastrous and chaotic. Not only was everyone stuck indoors, but the Post Office was really slow, which concerned me with an election coming up, and when I turned on the TV, I saw reports of the military being sent to Portland, and I wondered, what’s going to happen next? But because of all this confusion and uncertainty, I didn’t know what to do with my story until I gave it some time and realized the narrator had to be in line at the post office for a reason. What was it? And then I thought of something that might mirror the chaos unfolding around him.

As the noise is explored, there is also a fantastic strangeness to the environment (the repetition of digging, the floating window). Can you talk about how you incorporated these elements into the piece and the effect it creates?

In a way, one ended up creating the other. I wanted sound to be important—to be disorienting—but when I started to write more of the dialogue, I thought, what are they building? An office, a parking lot, something unnecessary to this town? What could be more unnecessary than just turning the earth over? Or digging up a field of lilies? So when I reached that point, I thought what else could surprise me in this piece? What else might not make sense? And so I came up with this floating window to build upon the idea that the earth is turned over. The world is so upside-down that a window can float through the sky, untethered to anything around it. I think, at least in literature, if the world is strange from the start, we accept whatever strange thing happens next as reality. I wanted to keep building upon the strangeness so by the time the window floats by, it actually kind of makes sense, given this crazy world.

The woman the narrator is speaking to struck me as a tour guide for this piece. She points out the strange, reacts to the narrator’s questions, and has her own mission to contact the girl in the window. Can you talk more about this character and your choice to include her?

I really like writing dialogue between strangers. I think it’s nice when two people meet for the first time in a story—the readers don’t need to know anything about these people’s past together, their history. They’re seeing it unfold as it happens. So I wanted someone the man didn’t know, but I also wanted someone who’s kind, who’s open to creating a connection when so much of the world around them has been disconnected. Their eyes just happen to meet and even though it’s small, there’s something there, there’s a chance she’ll offer some kind of clarity as to what’s going on. And in my mind, she’s on this enormous mission, sending this heavy package to a floating window—will she be able to do it? I don’t know. I hope so. I might have to step away for a few months and see if she wants to make another appearance.

Despite being under a thousand words, the world feels so expansive, which attests to the success of the piece. Do you find flash fiction challenging when it comes to worldbuilding?

Oh yeah—everything about flash fiction is hard. Do these details matter, have I said enough? If I include this image will it show what I think? I love it, though. I love everything about writing and words and all the stuff I think about that I’m too embarrassed to say out loud. I don’t think you need that many words to build a world, you just need the right ones. That’s the hard part—which words will translate this thought in your head to someone else, to someone you don’t even know? If you find the right ones, flash fiction can open up any world, and it certainly doesn’t have to be small. I’m terrible at puzzles. I could sit with a thousand-piece puzzle for a week and maybe I’ll put the border together. But at least with writing flash fiction, you get to design the pieces yourself. And what I love even more is they don’t have to fit perfectly together.

And finally, since this is a piece with a lot of noise, what are you favorite and least favorite sounds?

How many least favorite sounds can I name? I hate the sound of typing. And chewing, but that’s a common one. I don’t like the sound of A/C units, at least when they first turn on, or the pipes in my house that click whenever it’s cold. I don’t like when somebody revs their engine on my street, but that has less to do with sound, and more to do with people who rev their engines. In terms of the sounds I love—I love it when it snows. That peaceful quiet. I love it when my toddler hums “Baby Shark.” He can hum that song all day, and I’ll still love hearing it. I love any sound a bird makes. I love it when shoes squeak on a basketball court. Every sound on a beach is beautiful. And I love the sound of music. I even like the movie.

About the Author

Matt Barrett holds an MFA in Fiction from the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, and his stories have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, River Teeth, The Minnesota Review, The Maine Review, The Journal of Compressed Creative Arts, and Wigleaf, among others. He lives in Pennsylvania with his wife and son and teaches English at his undergraduate alma mater, Gettysburg College.

About the Interviewer

Lyndsie Manusos’s fiction has appeared in Necessary Fiction, Hex Literary, SmokeLong Quarterly, and other publications. She lives in Indianapolis with her family and writes for Book Riot and Publishers Weekly.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-One of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-One

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