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Smoke & Mirrors with Janna Miller

Interview by John Milas (Read the Story) September 27, 2021

Janna Miller

Janna Miller

As a writer, what’s your favorite bug? (Rule: You have to begin your response with “As a writer….”)

As a writer, there are so many: veined damselflies, exploding ants, synchronous fireflies, and of course, those sneaky luna moths. Once, when sitting on my porch, a small, scratchy roar exploded from one of the support columns and after a minutes-long wait, an enormous Atlas beetle crawled out from the bottom. It trundled over a bunch of vines, some uneaten cat food and finally munched on some packing moss from a fake plastic plant. Then it crawled back up into some presumably parallel attic space. Majestic. As he left, I wished for him to be the father of many babies, all holding up my house on their shiny backs and telling each other stories of the world as one gigantic invasive wisteria vine.

It would be disingenuous not to mention writing spiders, too. A kin to us of sorts? I read recently that if they see your teeth, they will write the time of your death on their webs. So far, the three who currently live along the side of our house haven’t evolved to that level of communication. Nor have any told me I am “some pig” or even given a tip for finding lost things in the garden. They surround our house with beautiful webs and live out the season. Mostly, they bounce on their vines when you get too near and leave pear-shaped egg sacks we are careful not to disturb until spring.

When do you decide to fully commit to a potential writing project? Is it early on when you first have the idea for something or during the drafting/revising process? Does anything stand out about the origins of this piece?

I do a lot of timed contests and often latch on to an idea quickly, putting the pieces together as I drive. I rarely know where it is going until I arrive and then have to go back and stick the steering wheel back on the right way. Sometimes it works and I can pick out themes to expand on and sometimes I realize I should have gone down another road entirely. But doesn’t this one-wheeled tractor with no engine look nice? (Buy it, anyway, darling lit mags, buy it, anyway!)

When I have more than a minute, I often sit with a first line or paragraph I like, and then imagine what kind of baby it would have—what kind of word spawn. Eventually the story turns into a slow process of ten thousand generations, one line birthing another. I rarely give up on a story idea, pushing forward until I have something, however ungainly or well proportioned it may turn out to be.

This particular story is special because it originated within an SLQ workshop. I am absolutely thrilled that it found its home here, near to the source—homegrown as it was with SLQ’s special organic sauce! Yum!

“The Larvae of Tree Dwelling Species Stay Where They Hatch” is a title that compels me to stop what I’m doing and investigate. Where does this title come from and how much weight do you place on the title of a piece? Do you have any strategies or influences?

Sometimes I shake my stories for their titles, (just tell me what you want and it had better not be one vague word you think encompasses the whole plot!) and sometimes they come out fairly easily without any fuss from words within the text. This one wanted a more formal research process for something scientific to counter the could-be-real vibe. Several computer tabs later, I discovered luna moths and other related species live pretty close to where they hatch. And that seemed about right.

I really am drawn to longishly titled stories (which seem to have a story all their own) or some that just have that urgency you can’t deny. It’s like driving by a cold stream on a sunny day, and you just have to dip your toes in or else be hot and bothered forever.

What about names? Why name Moxie, and not Moxie’s sister, the narrator, or the character whom the narrator is addressing? What are your thoughts on naming characters? I once had a professor who told the class that we should always name characters and I think about that a lot.

I thought using Moxie’s sister gave an immediacy of being the MC, so that at the start of the story we are already in her world and know what’s what. If we hang on for a sec, we’ll remember.

It is an interesting thought to always name a character. Perhaps it is enough to designate their geographical space and relationships to one another? To give them individual characteristics without a formal, in-the-books name? I am terrible with names, and most of my four hundred-plus students get christened with SweetheartHoneyLove, or some other sugar-sweet as a placeholder. They don’t seem to mind (or at least Honey never says so). So it could be others know the answer to that name question.

Besides, everyone knows Moxie.

Do you know what happens to the characters in this story after the end, and/or are you willing to speculate?

Until the moment you asked, they were frozen with luna moths swirling in the combined molecules behind them. But now I see them running through the streets with momentary indiscriminate intimacy, populating the world in finger-bats and peanut crows. Maybe even, as the days go by and a gastrointestinal love balance is achieved, dandelion mosquitoes or grape flavored amoebas will hover delicately in Moxie’s garden, pollinating the flowers.

About the Author

Librarian, mother, and minor trickster, Janna spends her time annoying lobsters, sharpening the edges of paper, and refusing to take out the trash. She has published or forthcoming works in places like Cheap Pop, F(r)ction, and Andromeda Spaceways. Nominated for The Best Small Fictions. Generally, if the toaster blows up, it is not her fault. She tweets about somewhat boring, writing related topics @ScribblerMiller

About the Interviewer

John Milas is a writer from Illinois. His work appears in The Southampton ReviewSuperstition Review,and X-R-A-Y Literary Magazine.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Three of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Three
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Comedy Prize 2021!

This competition is no longer accepting entries. The long- and shortlists have been published on the blog. The four winners of the competition will be featured in Issue 74 of SmokeLong Quarterly coming out near the end of December.