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Smoke & Mirrors with Lucy Zhang

Interview by Amanda Hadlock (Read the Story) March 21, 2022

Lucy Zhang

Lucy Zhang

I love how this story is told in one long sentence, in an almost freely associative style, moving swiftly between images. Did the story always take this form, or did you find this form through the revision process?

I wasn’t actively thinking about making it one sentence, but I supposed it turned out that way. In fact, I wrote it in under thirty minutes while feeling guilty that I wasn’t making any progress on my novel. I like being able to start and finish things in the same day, and alas, you can’t do that with an approximately-sixty-thousand-word manuscript. There was virtually no revision for this piece.

The triangulation of characters here intrigues me: There is the speaker, her baby, and someone telling the speaker, “When you’re hungry enough, you eat your baby.” Why did you choose to leave the identity of the “teller” here ambiguous?

When I was writing the first line, I was (in a sense) telling myself: OK, here are the ground rules, now go, and I let the words build organically from there. Kind of like a proof: “Given these assumptions, prove XYZ.” As for the speaker being ambiguous, I was inspired by the way fables and fairy tales are told, where you’re not totally sure about their origins but you accept them anyway. It’s almost oppressive: Obviously this tale or statement is outrageous, but without a concrete person to pin it toward, I feel like there’s nothing you can do but accept it as a ground truth. Around the time I wrote this piece, I was following Attack on Titan, the final season part 1 and reflecting on its narrative structure (which I’ll avoid saying more of because spoilers), so I guess I was inadvertently inspired by that (and the people-eating thing) as well.

The juxtaposition of images does a lot of work to defamiliarize motherhood in this piece: teeth and breasts, milk and blood, human mother and hamster mother. Is motherhood a source material you find rife with such defamiliarizing images and situations?

Oh yes, motherhood terrifies and fascinates me—how it’s inextricably tied to the body, how it’s destructive and constructive—and it keeps popping up in my writing.

I also love the layering of time in this piece, how the new mother reflects on her current emotional state through a memory of her own girlhood. Do you often find the past and present bleed into each other in your work?

I tend to tell a lot of stories in flashbacks, tangents and memories. In general, I see stories as nonlinear: a splotch of grey where everything influences everything and there’s no single reason a character thinks or acts the way they do. Stories expand from all directions, even outside of the reader’s (and writer’s) view. Sometimes I imagine that my characters all come onto set to participate in my story and then go home and do their own thing, make their own memories, etc. while I’m not watching. There’s so much that goes unseen. In my attempt to even scratch the surface of it, time becomes fluid. Of course, that means I really need to watch myself with tense shifts. 😛

I see your chapbook HOLLOWED is forthcoming from Thirty West Publishing this year. Could you take this chance to tell us more about it?

HOLLOWED is my first chapbook. I am not great at describing my own work, but I’ll give it a shot … it contains: poor coding practices, edible bird saliva, rocks and minerals, all sorts of eggs undergoing questionable circumstances. In fact, it has a similar vibe to “Feeding.” I hope you give it a read when it comes out! Or buy it and use it as a shelf decoration. That’s OK, too.

 

About the Author

Lucy Zhang writes, codes and watches anime. Her work has appeared in New Orleans Review, Up the Staircase Quarterly, Chestnut Review, Black Warrior Review, and elsewhere, and was selected for Best Microfiction 2021 and Best Small Fictions 2021. She is losing sleep over a novel. Find her on Twitter @Dango_Ramen.

About the Interviewer

Amanda Hadlock is an MFA candidate at Florida State University. She received her Master of Arts in English from Missouri State University, where she also worked as the graduate Assistant for Moon City Press. Her nonfiction, fiction, and graphic narrative work has appeared in venues such as NPR/WFSU’s All Things Considered, Essay Daily, Hobart, Wigleaf, New Limestone Review, The Florida Review, The Lindenwood Review, and others.

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
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