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Smoke & Mirrors with Anahita Vieira

Interview by Andrew Bertaina (Read the Story) September 19, 2022

Anahita Vieira

Anahita Vieira

Did the plot of your story shift or change in your revision process? I’m always curious about what changes a writer makes over a series of drafts or whether the piece came out fully formed in the first go.

Same! I love learning about the process behind a particular piece of writing. I find it fascinating that there is such a diversity of ways in which pieces are birthed into this world. In this particular story, I began writing the first draft knowing three things for sure: the narrator was pregnant; she was carefully keeping track of the visual development of her fetus; and the story would end with the color red. These facts remained constant throughout my drafts and the story filled itself in as I was writing.

The story takes place in the narrator’s head, which means that the primary relationship, between the narrator and her fetus, and the narrator and Sepideh comes through that filter. How much did you want the narrator to know and how much do you see this narrator as discovering themselves?

Since my focus was more on using visual development as the scaffold upon which to write this story, I had no preconceived notions or plans for the narrator when I began writing. It may be strange for some to hear that my story didn’t start with the characters themselves but the strategy worked really well for me. By anchoring the timeline on facts about the visual development of the fetus, my analytical mind was busy chewing in the corner, freeing up my creative mind to fill in the blanks with abandon. As I wrote, I began to realize that a big part of the story really was about the narrator discovering themselves.

This is a story about a marriage, a child, domestic violence, and a burgeoning romance between the narrator and Sepideh. As you were writing, did you have an idea of what you felt the core theme of the story was?

Yes, as I was writing, I began to see that the core theme of the story was about what we do (and do not see) about ourselves and others.

Throughout the story the husband is perceived as a “nice guy” by the external community. What role do you see the community playing in the events of the story? Should there be more insight into his true character?

That’s a really great question. I wrote the husband in as a “nice guy” into the story because I find the phrase itself to be a red flag. Whenever someone says, “oh but so-and-so is so nice,” it sounds less like a compliment and more like a desperate attempt to excuse someone’s awful behavior (sidenote: I consider nice and kind to mean very different things). If you have to say someone is nice, then there’s likely something else going on there. Sometimes, the phrase isn’t even used to excuse any behavior in particular (for example, I don’t think Tim really knew what was going on at home) but it may be an unconscious way to opt out of seeing what our intuition is telling us is there, particularly when it’s an ugly truth. In fact, I think the more unconsciously this phrase is used, the more dangerous it is. If we are just focusing on “how nice” someone is then we are likely part of a system that privileges us to take this stance and turn away from what may actually be happening. 

What inspired you to write this story?

I have always been inspired by what science teaches us about ourselves and our place in the world and I wanted to weave in some scientific truths into the story without striving to center the science itself. I chose visual development, in particular, because it so nicely lends itself to a double-meaning (i.e. literal and psychological seeing).

Although the initial draft of this story was not written in a one-sentence form, I’m glad it ended up adopting that shape. The second draft was written in response to a writing exercise as part of the SmokeLong April Intensive. We were asked to try our hand at writing a one-sentence story. I was intrigued by the form and I ended up really liking it because the pace of the one-sentence story was another way to keep my creative mind one step ahead of my analytical mind (I’m an overthinker) as I was writing.

About the Author

Anahita Vieira graduated from the University of California, Davis with a Ph.D. in neuroscience. She currently works as Manager of Outreach & Communications at the Broad Institute of MIT and Harvard. Her words appear in Mutha Magazine, 433 Magazine, and The Art of Everyone Quarterly. She resides in Boston, Massachusetts with her wife, rambunctious twin girls and their dog who has the heart of a saint and face of a seal. She can be followed on Instagram @anahitawrites or Twitter @geneticexpns

About the Interviewer

Andrew Bertaina‘s short story collection One Person Away From You (2021) won the Moon City Press Fiction Award (2020). His work has appeared in The Threepenny Review, Witness Magazine, The Normal School, Open bar at Tin House, and The Best American Poetry. He has an MFA from American University in Washington, DC.

This interview appeared in A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue
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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.