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Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Gary Fincke

Interview by Dustin M. Hoffman (Read the Story) December 17, 2018

Gary Fincke

Gary Fincke

In Debra Spark’s essay “Getting In and Getting Out,” she discusses how the best story endings have a sense of “opening up,” of communicating that “it all counts. Everything makes a difference.” Could you talk about how you let this story open up at the end, even as the image narrows to a pinprick?

I’m glad you asked. Everything until the last long sentence moved steadily along the surface. All I knew was the cow was inevitably going to leave, but when it turned and left by the same path it had arrived on, that last “opening up” sentence wrote itself—always a good thing to have happen.

Every tree and lawn, every cow description seems essential. When you have so few words, what influences which details you’ll paint and which you’ll ignore?

“Half-grown” is the detail I debated as perhaps misleading, but then I realized that though the mother tells the story, the daughters “see” it, and the detail seemed accurate. Another? Once I chose a willow tree for its size and shelter and association with child’s play, the other yards grew full of shrubbery and small decorative trees, the world maintained by adults.

It seems most contemporary writers cringe at the idea of symbolism. But why a cow? If not symbolic, what does it evoke for you?

For sure, if those girls had said “Mommy,” that cow becomes less real and more symbolic. For sure, I worked against that. But it is the surprise, the near-miracle of its presence, and the girls’ spontaneous response that matters.

This story understates the father’s absence, but once it’s mentioned, the story takes on a whole new glow of uncommon visitation. How did you plan where to reveal this and what to include/exclude?

I never “plan” a “reveal”—and though sometimes that results in losing whatever thread I thought was there, I’m not interested in writing any other way but toward discovering what there is about my characters’ lives that might surface and be somehow significant to me and to whoever might choose to read my work. I did, however, drop a couple of sentences of exposition that surrounded the “mention.” The daughters are so young, I had to trust that a reader would understand it’s an absence that comes to them spontaneously and without analysis.

As a prolific writer of both poetry and prose, could you discuss how you see the genres colliding in this story and in the flash fiction form?

I’ve come late to flash fiction, almost by the accident of adapting scenes that seemed striking but led nowhere in what I believed would be long stories. I hate to discard anything, from old town league basketball T-shirts to ticket stubs, and I discovered a new pleasure in reworking a few such scenes, finding enough success that, from time to time, I set out intentionally to write flash fiction.  Since I’m pretty sure my biggest fault as a writer in any genre is knowing when to shut up—the audience may not have the patience to stay while I continue to associate—flash fiction feels like a healthy thing to do.

About the Author

Gary Fincke’s latest collection of stories A Room of Rain is just out from West Virginia University.  A novel How Blasphemy Sounds to God was published in 2014 by Braddock Avenue Books.  An earlier collection Sorry I Worried You won the Flannery O’Connor Prize and was published by Georgia.  He is the Charles Degenstein Professor of Creative Writing at Susquehanna University.

About the Interviewer

Dustin M. Hoffman

Dustin M. Hoffman is the author of the story collection One-Hundred-Knuckled Fist, winner of the 2015 Prairie Schooner Book Prize. His second collection, No Good for Digging, and chapbook, Secrets of the Wild, were published by Word West Press. He painted houses for ten years in Michigan and now teaches creative writing at Winthrop University in South Carolina. His stories have recently appeared in The Rupture, WigleafDIAGRAMRedivider, Fiddlehead, and Alaska Quarterly Review. You can visit his site here: dustinmhoffman.com.

 

This interview appeared in Issue Sixty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Two
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SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

Next Date to Join: January 1!

On September 1, SmokeLong launched a workshop environment/community christened SmokeLong Fitness. This asynchronous community workshop is happening right now on our dedicated workshop site. If you choose to join us, you will work in a small group of around 10-12 participants to give and receive feedback. Each Monday, you will receive a new writing task (one writing task each week) designed by the senior editor team of SmokeLong. The core workshop is asynchronous, so you can take part from anywhere at anytime. We are excited about creating a supportive, consistent and structured environment for flash writers to work on their craft in a community.