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Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Nicole Rivas

Interview by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read the Story) March 25, 2019

Nicole Rivas

Art by Paul Bilger

What makes this story work so well, so compelling, is how willing Lily is to go along with this situation, how she’s along for wherever the ride takes her. How Lily are you: Someone asks you on a date, to have dinner in their car-house, what do you do? 

I love hanging out in cars. I’d estimate that half of my dating life has unfolded in some sort of vehicle, so in that way I’m pretty aligned with Lily. But I haven’t ever dated anyone with a car-house. Actually, I might be a little sad about that. A car is a terrific place to pretend to be someone else.

There’s a definite birth/rebirth theme going on here, the title lending such weight to the hatched-shell detail out of all her personal items you list. It’s great use of powerful imagery. With that in mind, what’s the best way to make eggs?

I went to culinary school when I was nineteen. We did a lot of things with eggs. We even had an egg-cooking exam, where we were tasked to make a French omelet and plate it. It was a stressful event. The omelet had to be carefully folded in thirds and contain no signs of browning associated with overcooking. It probably took me five times to get it right. To me, a French omelet is a lot harder to make than scrambled or over-easy eggs and considerably less tasty.

But in terms of cooking them, one piece of advice I’ve retained is to remove the eggs from the burner’s heat before the eggs seem done. The logic is that the residual heat from the pan continues to cook the eggs, and by getting them away from fire early, it prevents your eggs from turning to rubber. So, that’s what I usually do. Scrambled and fluffy. With plenty of cheese thrown in at the end.

Oh, crap! I just got it, after forty-five-plus years on this earth: Hatchbacks are named hatchbacks because they hatch open, like an egg. That’s why you chose for her to have a hatchback. How embarrassed are you for me?

If by “embarrassed” you actually mean “incredibly excited,” then 10/10.

I can’t help but think, because Lily’s so amenable, because she herself has lost, that Lily might be a perfect match for this narrator. What’s next for Lily, post-credits?

Lily and the narrator could be a better match if both were willing to compromise. But it’s much too early in their knowing each other for compromise. Soon after the car-date episode, Lily returns to the coffee shop where she and the narrator first met. But she’s not looking for the narrator. Lily wouldn’t expect her to be there. Before her coffee is even ready, she’s already striking up a conversation with someone new. She’s already asking questions, seeking new answers and new connections.

There’s a line the narrator won’t have crossed: Lily can know she lives in her car but she can’t rifle through her things or read her suicide letter. In an odd way, I think that makes the ending positive, that despite her situation, she still has the self-worth to have parameters. Going back to the rebirth theme, how does she use this incident to shape a new self?

Absolutely. I think the first time a person’s line is crossed, it can feel scary or awkward to say anything about it, especially if you feel less-than or have a personal history or background where your opinions and your feelings weren’t valued. Sometimes it takes weeks, months, or even years to learn how to assert yourself in a way that’s necessary and protective. All those boxes of personal detritus beneath the narrator’s car? The old dog collar, the business cards, the suicide letter? Those serve as a kind of proof of those weeks, months, and years of personal perseverance. Even though the narrator is self-conscious about her living situation, her core personhood is strong enough after all she’s experienced that she doesn’t let the whims of a date dictate her sense of self or her dignity.

About the Author

Nicole Rivas teaches writing in Savannah, GA and holds an MFA in Creative Writing from The University of Alabama. Her chapbook of flash fiction, A Bright and Pleading Dagger, was the winner of the Rose Metal Press 12th Annual Short Short Chapbook Contest.

About the Interviewer

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.

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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