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Smoke & Mirrors with Erin Vachon

Interview by Chelsea Stickle (Read the Story) September 19, 2022

Erin Vachon

Erin Vachon

What inspired you to write this story?

Grappling with a history of what felt like inescapable abuse and recurring patterns in my other relationships where I felt similarly powerless. This past year, a comet reappeared in my sky to stalk me relentlessly. I felt incredibly helpless, as if the world would blow apart. In many ways, it did. I reevaluated every relationship against the way that abuse had terraformed me. But every time I wrote through these ideas in creative nonfiction to process my experience, the result was just awful: too bare and brutal. Fiction gave me breathing room to play, like the swell of an atmospheric layer. Ultimately, “sweat trails” allowed me to articulate something much scarier about those unhealthy relationship dynamics: the pleasure and magic of them, how being stalked by a magnetic-destructive force often feels like being chased across the universe by something beautiful and loving.

Why the comet allegory? Is the comet’s destruction inevitable?

Comets are a force of nature, drawing every eye with their hypnotic energy. Everyone looks up, points, oohs and aahs, and forgets about impending doom, like some shared delusion. I loved the people who crossed my boundaries with my whole heart. If you’ve been in this sort of toxic dynamic, you’ll know it’s completely overwhelming, often isolating, because no one else sees the damage inflicted (except, perhaps, your personal astropsychiatrist. Of course, I’m also drawing on the current climate change crisis here and the stubborn resistance against listening to our scientists.) To everyone else, your comet is incredibly fascinating, and often, the earthly target will question themselves against that sweatless comet-charisma. “sweat trails” is about group-think as much as anything. So, yes, the comet hits here. The damage has real impact. I won’t say that destruction is inevitable, though. I’m not demonizing comets here, especially because the word narcissist has been deflated and overused of late. I’m just interested in engaging conversation around this dynamic and how we enter these sorts of relationships. I’m dismantling a culture of comet-worship.

Are there any stories or pieces of art that your micro is in conversation with?

I actually wrote this in conversation with a creative nonfiction piece that I published some time ago, which thinks through depression as a crater on Venus. That piece shows the real-world repercussions of “sweat trails”: here’s what happened when that comet hit me and the deep grooves it wore into the surface of my life. The two pieces work as a before-and-after.

What draws you to the night sky?

Possibility. When I write, I love constraints and designing rules for myself to follow. But once I’m situated inside that rule-set, a full universe expands inside those walls. In other words, even if I cannot control my safety here on Earth from an approaching comet, I can still look up. Unfortunately, I remain a hopeful optimist.

About the Author

Erin Vachon lives in Rhode Island and their work appears in SmokeLong Quarterly, DIAGRAM, Hayden’s Ferry Review, The Pinch, Brevity, CHEAP POP, Cream City Review, and more. They are Hybrid Editor for Longleaf Review and an alum of the Tin House Summer workshop. Erin earned their MA in English Literature and Comparative Literature from the University of Rhode Island, and you can find them on Twitter @erinjvachon.

About the Interviewer

Chelsea Stickle is the author of the flash fiction chapbook Breaking Points (Black Lawrence Press, 2021). Her stories appear in CHEAP POPCRAFT, McSweeney’s Internet Tendency and others. Her micros have been selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and the Wigleaf Top 50 in 2022. She lives in Annapolis, MD with her black rabbit George and a forest of houseplants. Find her on Twitter @Chelsea_Stickle.

This interview appeared in A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.