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Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Amie Souza Reilly

Interview by Hananah Zaheer (Read the Story) March 25, 2019

Amie Souza Reilly

Art by Paul Bilger

“Ursa Minor” has a meandering, dreamlike quality to it, somewhat parallel to the opening moment where Nick wakes up with the dream of the bear. How did this story come about?

Well, that opening scene stemmed from a painting I saw at a college where I taught at last year. I made a note about it in my phone and then couldn’t stop thinking about it. Then a few months ago I was repainting the bathroom door in my house and the story just sort of fell out. By the time the door was done, I had a basic idea of how it would unfold. (Maybe I need to do more house projects ….)

I’m interested in how the women in this story appear in relation to Nick (or men): absent (mother), damaged (sister), weak (woman on street.) How do you see that relationship and interaction?

I hadn’t thought about that and my initial reaction to this question was “Wait, what I have I done?” I almost always write women protagonists—this is the first flash I’ve finished from a man’s point of view. I have a cousin who was seriously injured trying to stop domestic violence, and in many ways this story curls around him. (He used to play Ready, Aim, Fire! with me when we were kids.) I think this is a story about circumstances. About connection and disconnection and how much we need each other.

Nick seems saddled with malaise and the “heft” of his life and not too much of the kind of person who makes things happen. I almost expected him to watch the man beating the woman and walk back inside. What changes for him at the end of the story?

I imagine Nick as profoundly lonely; a “still waters run deep” person. Nick was protective of his sister, and also scared, always watching, pensive. Maybe his brave act comes from the bear in his dream, something deep and primal. Saving this woman is the only way he can save the sister he lost when he was so young.

I have to ask: What are stars for you? Stars or an absence of sky?

I’m going to say stars. They look so tiny and twinkly to us way down here, when really they are massive, angry, popping gasses. That gap between perception and reality feels like a space to think about things less sure, like time and light and distance and how small we are.

Are you into astronomy? What is your favorite constellation, besides the Ursa minor, and can you tell us of a memorable related moment from your own life?

I only really know the classics, but when I think of stars I think about the time we took our son out of the light-polluted suburb we live in to see the Perseid meteor shower from the beach on Block Island. The sky was so much bigger, so much brighter out there.

About the Author

Amie Souza Reilly teaches in the English department at Sacred Heart University in Connecticut, where she lives with her husband and eleven-year-old son. She is the Feminist Fridays writer at The Adroit Journal and has published work in The Manifest Station, Pigeonholes, and Entropy.

About the Interviewer

Hananah Zaheer

Hananah is a writer, editor, improvisor and photographer. She serves as a Fiction Editor for Los Angeles Review, and as senior editor for SAAG: a dissident literary anthology—a project that seeks to not only lay claim to revolutionary ideas and avant-garde traditions, but to make space for radical and experimental South Asian art and writing in the literary world. She is the founder of the Dubai Literary Salon, an international prose-reading series.

She is the author of Lovebirds (Bull City Press, 2021). Other writing has appeared or is forthcoming in places such as Kenyon Review, Best Small Fictions 2021, Waxwing, AGNI, Pithead Chapel, Smokelong (Pushcart nomination), Virginia Quarterly Review, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency, South West Review, Alaska Quarterly Review (with a Notable Story mention in Best American Short Stories 2019) and Michigan Quarterly Review, where she won the Lawrence Foundation Prize for Fiction. She was awarded a Tennessee Williams Scholarship in Fiction at the Sewanee Writers’ Conference for 2019, was a finalist for the Smoke Long Fellowship 2019, the Doris Betts’ Fiction prize 2014 and a recipient of residencies and fellowships from the Virginia Center for the Creative Arts, Rivendell Writers’ Colony and the Ragdale Foundation. Her work has been nominated for the Pushcart prize.

You can find her at www.hananahzaheer.com or on Twitter @hananahzaheer

About the Artist

Paul Bilger’s photography has appeared at Qarrtsiluni, Brevity, and Kompresja. His work has also been featured on music releases by Dead Voices on Air and Autistici. When not taking pictures, he is a lecturer in philosophy and film theory at Chatham University. He is the art director at SmokeLong Quarterly. 

This interview appeared in Issue Sixty-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Three

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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.