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Smoke & Mirrors with Dakota Canon

(Read the Story) March 23, 2020

Dakota Canon

Art by Katelin Kinney

What sparked this piece?

I usually start a flash piece with an image and a theme of some sort. In this case, I had a picture in my head of these two characters on a mountain high above a city. It’s nighttime and it’s hot. I also had this “buried” theme in mind, but nothing else.

The narrator in this story keeps lists. Is this a habit you share? What does list-making mean to you?

Totally busted …. Yes, I love lists. I love making them. I love reading them. I love having them to refer to. In fact, just earlier today, a colleague sent me a list, and I wrote back about how much I love lists. Lists are order to me, and I love order.

Is writing anything like digging? If so, what are you trying to unearth or bury in your work?

Ah, such a lovely question. The similarities are, of course, all figurative. I definitely bury bits of myself and my troubles in my work, in my characters, in the plots. I think most writers do. When I read others’ work, I always wonder which parts are semi-autobiographical. But because of that, I’m very sensitive to being “found out,” so I try to bury my truths pretty thoroughly.

I think most writers also write to unearth or discover something, be that something about real life or just about their own fictional world and characters. I definitely work through my own issues in my writing, so there’s an element of self-discovery. But I do love the “playing God” aspect of writing, so “unearthing”—or perhaps, more appropriately, “creating”—my characters’ futures, is a thing of great satisfaction to me.

You live a double life as a scientist-by-day, writer/insomniac-by-night. How do these identities conflict and coalesce?

Ha! I’m somewhat of a closet writer. The few people IRL who know I write were quite shocked when they found out—I’m not the sort of person one associates with the arts. I’m very into logic and precision and analytics, which is about as far from fiction as you can get. But I’ve always loved writing … since childhood. I guess there’s some other beast living inside me who doesn’t show her stripes that often. Maybe she only comes out at night. I understand the sentiment, though. If I met myself, say at a party, I wouldn’t expect me to be a writer, either. So yes, my two sides are quite different.

I think there are two aspects of my personality that work effectively for both identities, so serve to unify, in a sense. The first is the desire for clarity. My analytic side loves clarity—strives for it all the time. But I believe good writing also requires clarity. In fact, clarity can raise writing to a whole new level, imho. Unfortunately, I find clarity in writing to be rather rare, especially from non-professional writers.

The second feature that serves both my halves is creativity. Most people associate creativity with the arts, and rarely with the sciences. But it’s essential in the sciences, too. Creativity leads to innovation and the best kind of problem-solving. The best scientists have to be creative, and in fact the creative aspect of science is the most interesting part to me. So there are some synergies between my two halves and at least a little bit of internal consistency.

What’s inspiring you these days?

I’m inspired by acts of selflessness, by people wanting to make the world a better place and succeeding at it. They make me want to be a better person. I’m inspired by talent—people with rare, amazing gifts that make you say wow. I’m inspired by triumph—people who overcome great adversity and succeed despite it, whose stories make you want to cry.

As for writing, I’m inspired mainly by reading—most particularly, reading flash, which, for me, is the form with the most consistently amazing prose and structural ideas. (It’s not my go-to form for characters and plot—that’s more books and movies. But for prose and new ideas, it’s flash all the way.) I find great flash all over—so many magazines with such great work, but few as fantastic as SmokeLong Quarterly. Can I say that? 🙂

About the Author

Dakota Canon’s novel, The Unmaking of Eden, won the 2019 Caledonia Novel Award and the 2018 Hastings Litfest Crime Novel Contest and placed second in the 2019 First Novel Prize. The novel also reached the finals of the 2019 James Jones First Novel Fellowship and was long-listed in the 2019 BPA First Novel Award and the 2018 Yeovil Literary Prize among others. She’s received mention in the Manchester Fiction Prize, the Writer’s Digest Annual Short Story Contest and the Brilliant Flash Fiction competition and has recent pieces, either published or forthcoming, in Witness, Hobart, Moon City Review, Fiction Southeast, Literary Orphans, The MacGuffin and Citron Review among others. Follow her on Twitter @DakotaCanon.

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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