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Smoke & Mirrors with Janelle Bassett

Interview by Brenna Womer (Read the Story) December 21, 2020

Janelle Bassett

Janelle Bassett

Have you ever matchmade anyone or been matched by someone else?

First of all, thank you for these questions and for the opportunity to have an adult conversation with someone outside of my house.

Let’s see. As far as I can remember, I’ve only paired people up inside my head. Like, “These two have some overlapping tendencies. I wonder what would happen if they were in the same room.” But I’ve never pushed the logistics, never found them a room. People are so busy.

And I haven’t been matched, either. But people often tell me that they think I’d get along just great with their sister. Usually the sister wears glasses.

Do you consider “You with You” Magical Realism?

That’s a good question. This story fell out of me in a solid chunk and I didn’t poke it much afterward. So, this is the first time I’m facing it. My God, what have I done?

I feel shy about using literary terms, because I’ve had no real writing education and I worry I’ll use them incorrectly. But yes, I guess that description fits, especially since I used the word “aura.”

As a reader, I have little patience for the part of the story where no one is speaking, where the room and the sky are described at length, where I’m not learning anything I want to know. When I write, I leave out all the flat bits and play up the fun bits, and this makes the story feel, sort of, zippier than reality.

The stand-work element of your story is particularly interesting. Have you worked at any of the types of stands you list? What are the best and worst stands you’ve ever been to?

I’ve not, no. I don’t like to stand up very long. I do, though, relate to the way this character is only willing to trade her time for money on certain terms.

I think this idea popped into my head because my sister, Casey, has a pumpkin gig every fall. There are benefits to having a pumpkin queen in the family—I once got a tri-colored gourd, no charge.

I love all farmer’s market stands. I like when farmers forcefully offer their produce samples. They are so proud!

The worst stand I can think of also involves Casey. She and I tried to sell rocks in the Ozarks, where it’s pretty easy to find rocks for free.

If I may be so bold, your last two sentences are my favorite part of the story, exposing what I imagine are two very real impulses of parenthood—nurturing and withholding. It’s interesting that you wait until the final paragraph to introduce these themes (at least to my eye), and I’d love to know more about how you chose this particular ending and with what you hope the reader walks away.

I am glad you liked them, and yes, those parental impulses ring true for me.

I didn’t quite know what would happen when she met her baby, but I knew they were going to be mismatched.

I like reading and writing about parent/child and sibling relationships, because here we don’t get to set our own terms. We can say, “I don’t want to be friends with a liar and I will never marry a yeller,” but we can’t really say, “I’ll never give birth to a conspiracy theorist or a person who cheats at cards.” You might. And you’ll love them. You will zip up their jammies and everything. So, when she meets her baby and discovers the mismatch, it’s immediately overridden. It’s “So what?” It’s “Here we go.”

That’s what I hope a reader takes away. “So what? Here we go.”

What is a piece of advice or wisdom—a tidbit—you’d offer a less experienced writer?

This question surprised me because I still consider myself an inexperienced writer. I wrote my first short story (well, since my high school creative writing class) a little less than four years ago. It feels like I’m behind and I’ll never catch up. But my gray hairs are multiplying, so I guess that makes me qualified to give advice, yes?

This is my advice:

Overthink your idea—how you want your story to feel and what might happen. Let it grow into that solid chunk. But once you start writing, stop thinking so much. You already know.

About the Author

Janelle Bassett‘s writing appears or is forthcoming in Passages North, New Delta Review, The Offing, Washington Square Review, and Wigleaf. Her story collection THANKS FOR THIS RIOT is a semifinalist for the Pamet River Prize and she is a fiction editor at Split Lip Magazine. Find her on Twitter @hazmatcat

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 Seventy of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy

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