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Smoke & Mirrors with Elizabeth Crowder 

Interview by Amanda Hadlock (Read the Story) December 21, 2020

Elizabeth Crowder

Elizabeth Crowder

It’s impressive how much time passes in this piece, given its brevity. How did you choose which moments to focus on in such a short piece that spans so much time?

You know those moments where you feel truly conscious and aware that you’re alive? You stare at the lines in your palms in horror, in wonder? I wanted to shine a spotlight on the moments when the narrator is well and truly conscious of his mortality—of how little control he has over what happens to him and the people he cares about—within the framework of love and loss, new and old, this time and that time.

Speaking of time, our narrator has a fraught relationship with the past. He views his life as a series of loss, marked by moments of “before” and “after,” “old” and “new.” He seems to feel guilty over his past and his wife’s fate in the last scene. What do you think that will mean for the new baby in their future?

The narrator desperately wants to find a way to be useful again, and with his wife gone, he gets that chance. He’s no longer standing in the doorway to the nursery. He’s the one doing the feeding, changing the diapers, soothing the new baby to sleep. Babies are needy and I think trying to satisfy that unrelenting need will knock him out of his grief daze. Time will pass and they’ll forge a bond. Guilt will cause him to overcompensate and he’ll be a total helicopter parent, but I do think the two of them get their happily ever after.

This story makes one of the best uses of silence in a dialogue exchange I’ve seen, when the narrator’s wife expresses how she wishes she could tell the old baby she loved him. The narrator has thought to himself how he hadn’t had the chance to love the old baby, and “traps” his breath “like a spider under glass” instead of responding. What was your process like when writing that dialogue exchange?

I’m drawn to simple dialogue between people who know each other well and exploring the weight of the silence between them. Like a sibling saying something that seems perfectly innocuous to an outside observer but that sends the other sibling into a fit of rage because of all the things that came before; the secret innuendo, the history. The outside observer knows what you said, but your sibling knows what you meant.

I was very intentional about not including dialogue elsewhere in the piece because I wanted everything leading up to this moment to feel like it was happening underwater. And this scene, where she’s finally talking to him about the old baby, was her coming up for air. She is offering an opening for them to talk, to potentially grieve together. A spider trapped under a glass is actively trying to escape, so I wanted to imply that a part of him does want to respond to her, and respond honestly. But mired as he is in his pain, he doesn’t, and the moment passes.

I also think writing is a perfect medium for exploring the things we think but don’t say. If a reader is scandalized, you can just blame it on the narrator. I thought, what’s the thing he’d be feeling here but wouldn’t want to—couldn’t—tell her?

I see you’re an editor at X-R-A-Y and The Sartorial Geek. Do you have any news from your editor life you’d like to share? What’s next in your writing life?

I’m always looking for submissions! For X-R-A-Y, feel free to send me weird and wonderful flash fiction or CNF that’ll break my heart and then glue it back together again. For The Sartorial Geek, send me your fanfic, your fictional style icons, your pop culture think pieces. We publish a lot of art, too. As for my writing life, I’m about seventy-five thousand words into the fantasy novel I’ve dreamed of writing since I was a Tolkien-loving little girl. Definitely stay tuned for that!

Are you a casserole person? If so, what kind do you gift to people? Or, what kind do you like to receive?

This question made me laugh. I am 100 percent a casserole person. Food is my love language. I love cooking and baking and sharing my culinary creations with friends and family. If you’d classify mac and cheese as a casserole, that’s what I typically gift to people. I make a mean mac and cheese.

About the Author

Elizabeth Crowder is a writer, a law librarian, and co-founder of The Sartorial Geek magazine. She is also Acquisitions Editor for X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine.

About the Interviewer

Amanda Hadlock is an MFA candidate in fiction at Florida State University. She received her MA in English from Missouri State University, where she also worked as the Graduate Assistant for Moon City Review. Her work has appeared in journals such as The Florida Review, Hobart, Wigleaf, and others.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy
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