×

SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page

Smoke & Mirrors with Celeste Chen

Interview by Joe Lucido (Read the Story) October 16, 2021

Who cares more about their scar in the present, the protagonist or Adam? Why?

Ah! I’m so glad you asked this question—there are so many layers to this! We know that the protagonist cares in the present because for her to even recall this event, she has to have done the work of running up against Adam’s expectations to get to the heart of her own experience. But does she care more than Adam does?

The way I see it, in the present, our protagonist cares more, but in a way she doesn’t expect—or at least not in the way she initially thought she would. The scar is a physical memory of a sort of unconventional “first”—I like to think that she owns the scar because of what it reminds her—not specifically of Adam, but of that moment of physical self-recognition and discovery. Ultimately, it’s something deeper and removed from the more … lewd? … superficially sexual? … way in which Adam approached what they did.

There are a handful of sentences in this story I reread for the pure joy of it. My favorite was “Your eyes were pigeon-dumb, and I wanted to chase you across the surface of your brain.” What’s your favorite sentence in this story? Why? What’s your favorite sentence not in this story? Why?

I love that you love that sentence! That’s actually one of the few sentences that I ended up tinkering with right before submitting. I had a lot of fun with it because it’s such an immediate image. To answer your second question, a variation of this sentence had actually been “Your eyes were gazelle-intense, and I wanted to chase you across the surface of your brain.” I was so torn between “gazelle-intense” and “pigeon-dumb.” Had I gone for “gazelle-intense,” the protagonist would have taken on a smidge of a predatory air, and ultimately that wasn’t the direction/flavor I wanted to push our protagonist towards.

As for my favorite sentence, it would have to be “You said it again: Fucking hell, and I all I could hear was the ‘g’.” I’ve always wanted to do something with the way that words can sound and this was also really fun (I had a lot of fun writing this flash, despite its subject/content!), because you get this twist of Saharan-dry humor. The idea itself was inspired by a radio segment I remember listening to when I was too young to be listening to men swear on the radio. The gist of it was that one of the radio presenters thought that people who said “fucking” with a very strongly-enunciated “g” have no chill. It’s stayed with me ever since.

Did the protagonist hang on to any sentimentality after all? Why or why not?

I think the protagonist hangs on to sentimentality for sure. With Adam, I wanted to convey how he is this character who wants to come off as being more mature and farther along in life than our protagonist. As a reader (and in the eyes of the protagonist in hindsight), you soon see flashes of how he falls short, including his bit on sentimentality.

The protagonist’s relationship with Adam is pretty … imperfect? I wanted to show a relationship that’s uncomfortable—where there are dynamics simmering under the surface that the protagonist both in the past and in the present may not want to think about. I don’t think the protagonist is still together with Adam in the present, and so in hindsight, the protagonist finds Adam’s line about sentimentality as a hollow idea—something that only someone immature and grasping at a specific (idealized) image of maturity would say.

Someone wants to turn this story into a short film, and you get to cast it. Who would play the protagonist? Adam? Why?

I love this question so much because I’m such a Lauren Tsai fangirl and I think she has this solemn, melancholy vibe that would lend itself really well to the protagonist. I love her visual art and she’s such a multi-talented artist—I’m definitely outing myself as a Lauren Tsai fangirl here.

For Adam—this is the tougher question! If I had, let’s say, directorial control, over the short film, I’d have the cinematographer film the actor such that the audience would never see his face. If I had this sort of freedom, I’d probably just close my eyes and pick someone from a stack of photos. (Or maybe Timothy Chalamet, as long as no one perceives me ;))

If Carl Sagan were standing in front of you right now, what would you say to him?

Why was physics so hard for me in college?!

Okay, but also, maybe a lesser known fact—I’d really want to know his thoughts on his son’s novels! I ate up Nick Sagan’s books—IdlewildEdenborn, and Everfree—in high school and I think they were the first sci-fi books I ever read. So much happened in those books! Did Carl ever brainstorm with Nick? And what was it like, being a smart dude with a knack for explaining things so much bigger than what we are, having to then explain these same things to your own kid? I wonder if he ever got tired of thinking about things that will outlast us all.

About the Author

Celeste Chen lives in Washington, D.C. She is knee-deep in student loans and her living room smells like turpentine. Her work has appeared in Sine Theta Magazine and is forthcoming in Maudlin House. Sometimes she’s on Twitter at @celestish_.

About the Interviewer

Joe Lucido is an MFA candidate at the University of Alabama. He’s a former prose editor for Black Warrior Review. Some of his work can be found in Juked, Wigleaf, Passages North, and others. He grew up in St. Louis.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three
ornament

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

Important

The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. The long- and shortlists have been published on the blog. The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.