SmokeLong Quarterly

Share This f l Translate this page

Smoke & Mirrors with Jo Withers

Interview by Chey Dugan (Read the Story) June 17, 2024

Jo Withers

Jo Withers

There is a nice balance between Sadie’s comedic voice and the heavy situation she has created. Was there an earlier draft where you found yourself writing more towards humor or towards the serious?

I didn’t have a first draft as such, it evolved in pieces over time in the odd way that stories do sometimes, but I do think Sadie’s voice is the most important aspect of this piece. The divided voice seems humorous but is really quite tragic and stems from the many years that Sadie spent in foster care with only herself for company trying to bring humor and resilience to the many horrible disappointments in her life. She ends up as a very dualistic character who is determined to exercise minute control over her situation and make every aspect perfect but is also uber-critical of the scene and self-destructive. She has developed a strange relationship with herself where she is her own best friend but also her own worst enemy.

Sadie has been imagining scenes with her father since she was a child. What experience would she need to be satisfied or will this always be a lifelong habit of hers?

I think she’s going to contact the dad character a lot after this and involve him in many different scenarios. It’s so sad because the only criteria a good dad has in her eyes is someone who shows up. It doesn’t matter how much of a down-and-out, uncaring bum they are—she’s impressed by the very fact that they turned up as it’s more than anyone has ever done for her before. I like how there is very little description about the dad in this piece, we build his character from assumptions and unfilled spaces which is exactly what Sadie did while she was growing up.

Which character or object in this story was the catalyst for writing this piece?

I’ve realized that my main driving force is setting. Above all else, I love a quirky scenario. I think I came up with this story idea while out for dinner with my family. My daughter commented that the dad at the table opposite looked completely detached from the situation and I thought—well maybe he’s not the dad, which spiraled into—maybe none of them know each other, and the seeds of the story were born. 

The woman who tells Sadie she looks like her father affirms Sadie’s actions. How did you know that this woman needed to make an appearance in the story?

I felt that Sadie needed something to occur outside the situation to expand the viewpoint. It goes back to the way I felt in the restaurant, the important thing is that the general population assumes that a group dining together like this are family. Sadie doesn’t care whether they’re the Waltons or the most dysfunctional family in the world, the fact that she looks and sounds like she’s part of a real family is more than enough for her.

If Sadie were to book a fake family to visit the nursing home, would she cast the same people?

She’d definitely take Dad, but I don’t think Mum and Sister will be making an appearance again. I have a horrible feeling that Dad will be part of her life for many years to come and he’ll continue to show up as long as she’s happy to finance his visits. I can imagine that she’s always on the lookout for prospective family members everywhere she goes, maybe she’ll happen upon a potential mum in the aisle of the supermarket one day or find her sister in a bar. She’ll never stop looking and no matter how old she gets the need for family is always at the forefront of her mind. I can imagine her visiting different nursing homes every holiday season, experimenting with different grandparently relationships but never quite finding what she needs. Somehow her quest for family has usurped all other elements of her personality. It’s a sorry situation which I don’t imagine will ever end happily—I can imagine her eventually paying mourners to attend her funeral, she is so desperate for the displays of love and acceptance that having a family brings.

About the Author

Jo Withers writes short fiction and poetry for children and adults from her home in South Australia. Her work has won prizes at The Caterpillar, SmokeLong, Bath Flash Fiction Award, Reflex Press, Molotov Cocktail and Fractured Lit and has featured in Best Microfiction 2020 and Wigleaf Top 50 2021. Her first novella-in-flash, Marilyn’s Ghost, based on the death scene of Marilyn Monroe will be published by AdHoc Fiction in 2024.

About the Interviewer

Chey Dugan is a queer writer born and raised in the border city of El Paso, Texas. She attended the Iowa Writers’ Workshop summer program and is a 2024 SmokeLong Quarterly Fellow. Her work has appeared in The Amazine, Exist Otherwise, and elsewhere. She lives with her family in Albuquerque, New Mexico.

This interview appeared in Issue Eighty-Four — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Four — The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Support SmokeLong Quarterly

Your donation helps writers and artists get paid for their work. If you’re enjoying what you read here, please consider donating to SmokeLong Quarterly today.

SmokeLong Fitness--The Community Workshop

Book Now!

Included in the price of SmokeLong Fitness:

The Community Workshop in small groups
One live Zoom webinar each month with killer workshop leaders (recorded for participants unable to attend).
One open-mic party each month (or other live Zoom events)
Discounts on intensive workshops
Discounts on senior editor feedback
Surprises (good ones)