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Smoke & Mirrors with
Emily Rinkema

Interview by Brenna Womer (Read the Story) December 18, 2023

Emily Rinkema

Emily Rinkema

First of all, congratulations on winning second prize in SmokeLong’s Grand Micro Competition for “The Great Butter Baby Championship.” How did you feel when you heard the news?

I was thrilled. And really proud. I worked hard on this story, and the version that won is so different from the dozens of versions that led to it. I put my heart into it. Lots of butter was left on the table for this one.

Since I first read your piece, I’ve been dying to know: Have you ever carved a butter sculpture yourself?

Sorry to disappoint, but no, I have never sculpted butter. I did, however, spend an embarrassing amount of time researching (by that I mean Googling) butter sculpting. Turns out there is a long and not-at-all sordid history behind the art, which is mostly practiced in midwestern state fairs. The strangest thing I came across in this rabbit hole was a town in Minnesota that commissions carvings of the twelve Dairy Princesses in line for the title of Princess Kay of the Milky Way and displays them at the fair. They are busts of young women carved out of ninety-pound blocks of butter … can’t make this shit up.

What do you intend as the central theme, or themes, of this story?

I can’t say that I ever write with a theme in mind, and I would hate to prescribe meaning. I am absolutely interested in what readers think the themes are—what they think it’s “Big A about.” Obviously, the story is not really about carving babies out of butter, and I hope the emotion resonates with readers. After writing it, one thing that became clear to me is how it also works as a metaphor for my own creative process, particularly writing flash fiction. I start with a block of writing and then cut and carve and shape and etch … there’s a baby … and sometimes it ends in tears.

Is this a stand-alone piece or, perhaps (fingers crossed), part of a larger project?

Stand-alone, unfortunately. It feels complete to me. Maybe it will find its way into a larger project someday…perhaps in a novel about Princess Kay of the Milky Way.

Which writers have inspired you in your micro- and flash-writing endeavors?

So many. Some of my favorites are:

  • “We Could Also Dig a Hole” by Michael Czyzniejewski, published in Flash Frog: I sent this one to everyone I knew—the humor and pacing and boldness of his writing in this story are so good.
  • “Lil Fucker” by Sara Hills in Fractured Lit: I was so excited when I saw she won first prize in this competition–I had recently read this story and loved everything about it, from the title, to the detached tone, to the ridiculously good imagery.
  • “Big Phipps Climbs the High Dive” by Brendan Gillen in Taco Bell Quarterly. I couldn’t get this story out of my head. I struggle with last lines in my stories–I way overthink them sometimes. The last sentence in this story is perfect, and so easy. The voice in this story also is perfect.
  • “Détente” by Dawn Tasaka Steffler, which won the Bath Flash Fiction Award this year. Holy shit, is this story powerful. And in so few words. It’s a great example of making every single word count.
  • “Three Facts about You” by KS Dyal, from SmokeLong Quarterly Issue 76: This one made me cry. I love stories that make me cry, particularly when they can do it in under 1,000 words. To make me care that much in such little space isn’t easy—and this story is so full of grief and love and grace.

There are so many more flash writers that I admire (Elissa Field, Sumitra Singam, Patricia Q. Bidar, Amy Cipolla Barnes, Allison Field Bell, Andrea Bishop … just to name a few!) and more that I discover every day. I try to read at least one story a day online. I know that X/Twitter is a shitshow, but I haven’t found a better, more supportive, more skilled community anywhere else, so I will stay until the bitter end if it means reading stories like these and being able to share triumphs and challenges with people who get it.

About the Author

Emily Rinkema lives and writes in northern Vermont. She hates the cold, but loves all things maple, so it’s worth it for a few months. Her writing has appeared in SmokeLong, The Sun Magazine, Phoebe, Bath Flash Fiction Anthology, Oxford Flash Fiction Anthology, Sixfold, and in the Best American Nonrequired Reading Anthology. She is still not working on a novel.

About the Interviewer

Brenna Womer (she/they) is a queer, Latinx prose writer, poet, and professor. She’s the author of honeypot (Spuyten Duyvil, 2019), Unbrained (FlowerSong Press, 2023), and two chapbooks. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in North American ReviewCrazyhorseIndiana ReviewRedivider, and elsewhere. She is the Nonfiction Editor of Shenandoah.

This interview appeared in Issue Eighty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Two
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