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Smoke & Mirrors: An Interview with Tania Hershman

Interview by Michael Czyzniejewski (Read the Story) September 16, 2019

Tania Hershman

Art by Paul Bilger

So much of this story depends on what’s observed and noted (though the scant dialogue is pretty telling). Is that what makes this a short: terrible communication skills?

I have a slight obsession with the way two people communicate—I think most of my second collection, My Mother Was An Upright Piano, was about what might happen when we can’t manage to get the words out or get our feelings across, and, very rarely, how lovely it is when we can, whether it’s verbal or, say, two people getting to know each other in a phone box. (Ahh, phone boxes, which used to be such a vital, and red, part of British life.) Are these two people in this new story really that bad at it? Any worse than we are, now that we’re constantly distracted, never able to … Oh look! … What’s that over there … Check my Instagram! … I can’t believe it’s ….

I would weigh fifty pounds less if I didn’t feel so guilty about wasting food, especially expensive restaurant food—my motto may be “Never leave a bite behind.” Are you the type who can just walk away from something, something that costs, or do you feel betrothed to seeing it through?

I love this question. This is so deep, and your use of the word “betrothed” is so elegant, unexpected. See how I’m avoid committing myself to an answer by praising you instead? I’m able, now, as I reach middle age, to leave a little food on my plate, and very very able to not see something through when it’s, say, a book I haven’t enjoyed the first few pages of, or a film that doesn’t grip me. I toss them aside. I have left holidays early when, on my own, I discover the place, the time, the atmosphere doesn’t suit me. Life is short, my friend, and I am delightfully unbetrothed to anyone or anything. I take something, I shake it, I sniff, I turn it over in my hands and see if it fits me. If not, I gently put it down. 

There’s a certain point in every relationship where both partners cease being simultaneously all-in on any given venture. Is that natural progression or the beginning of the end? Both?

Given my list of qualifications in relationship counseling (very short), I can’t make any pronouncements on this, unless we are talking about human-cat relations. Those, I’ve found, get better and stronger, or perhaps I’ve just lucked out with cats. I do suspect that the abandonment of the all-in on a venture may be a fork in the relationship road, where one chooses to keep going and another veers off. You can find each other again but you both need damn good maps. And a torch. And maybe a whistle. Always carry a bottle of water. 

Flowers are among the greatest-ever metaphors. Give me your top five list of all-time best writer metaphors.

Metaphors I’ve used in stories? I’ve used discount stickers on sale items, octopuses, Beatles’ songs, Monopoly (twice), and science (oh, just everything, all things scientific). If it’s other writers’ metaphors, Amy Hempel uses chimpanzees, Donald Barthelme loved his porcupines, Aimee Bender has potatoes (I love that story, “Dearth”). Everything is a metaphor. Even that sentence. I’ve suddenly thought about the idea of an unreliable metaphor. I like that.

The real brilliance of this story is how the nature of this couple’s instruction is so vague—it can be anything from improv to tantric sex to jujitsu. Therefore: Why aren’t we all trying to master improvisational tantric jujitsu sex?

Firstly, I blush when you say “real brilliance.” Thank you kindly. Second, I don’t know about you, but I’m about to take my Sparkly Gold Belt exam in Improvisational Tantric Jujitsu Sex. Keep up.

About the Author

Tania Hershman‘s debut poetry collection, Terms & Conditions was published by Nine Arches Press in July 2017, and her third short story collection, Some Of Us Glow More Than Others, by Unthank Books in May 2017. Tania is also the author of a poetry chapbook, and two short story collections, and co-author of Writing Short Stories: A Writers’ & Artists’ Companion (Bloomsbury, 2014). Tania is curator of ShortStops (www.shortstops.info), celebrating short story activity across the UK & Ireland and has a PhD in creative writing inspired by particle physics.

About the Interviewer

Michael Czyzniejewski’s fourth collection of stories, The Amnesiac in the Maze, is forthcoming from Braddock Avenue Books in 2023.

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-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Sixty-Five

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