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Smoke & Mirrors with Andrew Stancek

Interview by John Milas (Read the Story) March 23, 2020

Andrew Stancek

Art by Katelin Kinney

“Fat Man” could have been a story about the way the neighborhood brothers relate to each other as outsiders, but I see it rooted more closely within this unique mother and son relationship. What led to the focus on the narrator’s relationship with Ma instead of the other boys?

“Fat Man” can be considered an affirmation of family bonds and a need to preserve them. The narrator has lost his country, his language, his heritage, even the father never mentioned in the story, all his blood family. It may be that in the future he will turn to his neighborhood adopted brothers for his bonds, but for now the most vital bond is with his mother. She is his link with the past, the rock on which he stands in his new country, to be able to face the future.

The narrator’s been given two dollars for milk and a Fudgsicle by Ma, but then he ends up with a stolen wallet. Do you know where the stolen money will end up? Rent? Elsewhere? Does Fat Man’s wallet even contain money? What else is in Fat Man’s wallet?

The story is one of dreams, hopes, expectations, disappointments. Nobody is who he wants to be, or who he has hoped to become. The narrator attempts heroic behavior in order to save his mother and himself, to move beyond a world of being on the run and preserve a stability. Fat Man, at least in the version of reality passing for truth in the neighborhood, lived that stability, and now has fallen into a world of a scrambled brain, incapable of communicating with the humans around him, living perhaps in an alternate reality of communicating with animals. For the narrator, the fat wallet is the object of his heroic quest and he seems to achieve fulfillment. But he may be disappointed once again—the desired object may not be what he thinks it is. He also had to betray a compatriot in order to achieve his seeming victory. He may find himself in a worse predicament than when he started.

What’s in the wallet? It may be enough money for the rent. But it is just as likely to be discount store coupons, Rooster family photos, even nonsensical clippings from Slovak newspapers.

Fat Man reminds me of people throughout my life whose struggles became public spectacle in their respective communities. For instance, I think of Handshake Bob or the Two-Dollar Lady or the Jacksonville Ninja, all real. Can you speak to what inspired Fat Man’s character? Is he drawn from these types of locally ubiquitous people?

While Fat Man is genetically related to the characters you mention, he is one of those miraculous births which writers are occasionally gifted with. I sat in front of my computer one morning and he greeted me, fully formed, impatiently urging my fingers on the keyboard, speaking in his unique Slovak and Rooster language. He grunted and cackled—I knew he’d be with me for a long time.

We learn that Fat Man has struggled after an accident, but we never learn what this accident is. This is a story in which a lot happens at the margin. If a story is an iceberg, how often are you fully conscious of the portion of the iceberg that lies beneath the surface?

The iceberg reveals itself, influenced by waves and phases of the moon. A sudden gust may occasion an epiphany. Always though, no matter how much is glimpsed, the bulk remains concealed.

Given the emphasis on words in the story with Ma saving her letters and the connection they bring the narrator and Fat Man, I’ll admit that my favorite word in the piece is “bestickered.” How much stock do you put in emphasizing individual words? Do you often write about words and writing in your fiction? Do you have a favorite and/or least favorite word as a reader and writer?

I collect words, fill sheet upon sheet with alliterative lines, cadences, with tangential or non-existent connections. I once wrote a story about Babel, called “Before the Confounding.” Each day brings its own sprinkling of favorite new words.

How can readers get in touch with you?

I am eager to discuss writing, my own and that of others. I am on Facebook. My email is andrewstancek@gmail.com.

About the Author

Andrew Stancek describes his vocation as dreaming – clutching onto hope, even in turbulent times. He has been published widely, in SmokeLong Quarterly, FRiGG, Green Mountains Review, New World Writing, New Flash Fiction Review, Jellyfish Review and Peacock Journal, among others. He continues to be astonished.

About the Interviewer

John Milas is a writer from Illinois. His debut novel, The Militia House, will be published by Henry Holt in 2023. His short fiction has appeared in The Southampton Review, Wrath-Bearing Tree, Superstition Review, and elsewhere.

About the Artist

Katelin Kinney is from the hills and fields of Southern Indiana. She attained two BFAs from the Herron School of Art and Design in Indianapolis, IN. Her portfolio consists of fine art and commercial freelance work.

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

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