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Smoke & Mirrors with
Mara Aguilar-Erdman

Interview by Amanda Hadlock (Read the Story) December 18, 2023

Mara Aguilar-Erdman

Mara Aguilar-Erdman

What advice do you have for writers who are writing into taboos—such as exploring the sexual dynamics in a relationship between two sisters?

I don’t find myself actively seeking taboo, but I also never want to avoid it. My metric is, if it interests me and rings some inner bell of True, I write it. I think we’ll end up with boring art and disconnected readers if we find ourselves too preoccupied with either pursuing or avoiding taboo.

So, I suppose my answer is to forget about taboo entirely and just write what calls you. If that turns out to be taboo, then chances are, it will resonate with someone who needed it and wasn’t finding it anywhere else. But whether or not something is taboo? I don’t think that’s any of the writer’s business.

I love how the dialogue in this story often functions as a double entendre, especially the last line. What is your process like when writing dialogue exchanges?

As a recovering theater kid, I have a lot of conversations under my breath, alone at my desk. As for that particular last line, I wrote the entirety of this story on a hike in a note on my phone. I was stumbling over roots, looking like a millennial asshole to all of the people on the trail actually taking in nature. Writing that line was the point at which I finally felt like I could put the phone down and watch where I was stepping, so it became the end.

This story makes great use of first-person plural, especially in its title, and I love how the “we” is atypically comprised only of a “you” and a “me.” What are the challenges and rewards of writing a story featuring only two characters?

In a piece as short as this, two characters are all I feel I have space to hold well. The rewards of that limitation are that it creates this tight, insular little microcosm. I suppose the challenges are that you get a smaller, less reliable slice of the story. But isn’t that more honest even if it’s less true? At the very least, I think it’s more interesting.

The sisters’ husbands are peripheral characters, never appearing in-scene but informing the sisters’ thoughts and actions from offstage. How might the story be different if the husbands were granted dialogue, and why did you choose to keep the action focused solely on the sisters?

If the husbands were granted dialogue, this would run the risk of becoming a story about marriage, and that’s not what I wanted to write. I wanted to write a story about these two women, the complexities and intimacies of their love for one another, and what kind of animals we become when life has not turned out the way we imagined.

Do you have any idea what your next creative undertaking may be, and do you have any tips for writers trying to publish their work for the first time?

I am revising a novel manuscript, my first, so I laughed aloud at the idea of giving advice rather than receiving it. Seriously. Help. But if I do have one, it’s this: Convince yourself you love submitting. More than that, convince yourself you love rejections. They are your fuel. Collect them like precious bones. Eat them like little gold crumbs that level you up.

About the Author

Mara Aguilar-Erdman is an Asheville, NC native where she works as a crisis counselor for LGBTQ youth at risk of suicide and edits for Shenandoah Magazine. She received her MFA from Queens University in January 2023. Her fiction and poetry have appeared in SmokeLong Quarterly, The Rising Phoenix Review, Vestal Review, Unleash Press, and others and has been nominated for a Best of Net. She is the recipient of the Sullivan Writer’s Grant for excellence in Fiction and her short story placed 2nd in The Writer’s 2022 short story contest. She has attended Bread Loaf Environmental Writers Conference and Disquiet Literary Conference as a scholar and will be attending Tin House Workshop in November while entering the trenches of querying her debut novel, an excerpt of which is upcoming in EXCERPT Magazine.

About the Interviewer

Amanda Hadlock is an MFA candidate at Florida State University. She received her MA in English from Missouri State University, where she also worked as the graduate assistant for Moon City Review. Her fiction, nonfiction, and graphic narrative work have appeared or are forthcoming in journals such as Cleaver Magazine, Fractured Lit, The Florida Review, Wigleaf, Essay Daily, WFSU/NPR’s All Things Considered, and other venues.

This interview appeared in Issue Eighty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Eighty-Two
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