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Smoke & Mirrors with Maria Poulatha

(Read the Story) June 21, 2021

Maria Poulatha

Maria Poulatha

Reading your story brought to mind Chekhov’s famous adage that “When you want to touch the reader’s heart, try to be colder.” Could you discuss a little about how you balanced tone with subject matter, how you tempered the latter with the former and how important tone is to that incendiary ending?

That’s great advice. I think the tone here was set by the narrator, who’s learned a thing or two about how to keep things tidy from her mother. She may be simmering underneath, she may be volatile, but she’s still distanced, trying to comprehend others’ actions and her own reactions.

I love the role of metaphor and simile in this story—the finger as explorer “blazing a trail through a dark indifferent jungle” and the rug that begins in simile and becomes an extended metaphor for what remains unspoken in the narrator’s family. How and when does metaphor happen for you in your writing in general and in this piece in particular?

Albert Einstein said that if you can’t explain something to a six-year-old child, you don’t understand it yourself. I always try to explain the world to my daughter with metaphors because metaphors and allegory, more than being clever, flowery language, are a means of simplification, aren’t they? If I find myself trying to explain something with lengthy imagery, philosophy or long-winded expositions, I know I’ve lost it. If the metaphors flow, I know I understand it fully and the reader, hopefully, can connect.

Structurally, this story is impeccably built, the swing from paragraph to paragraph and the transitions you create through objects—the chicken and then the rug. Could you talk a little about your process in writing this and how you arrived at this structure?

Thank you. I really do enjoy playing with structure and I can go at it endlessly, dressing a story up or down like it’s a paper doll.  I admit sometimes it just looks like a poorly dressed paper doll in the end.

I often introduce old scraps of prose lying around to new ones to see how they’ll get along and I did that here. I felt that the two ideas clicked right away but they needed an additional text to fulfil the intent. Usually, I have to chisel down but with this piece I felt like I was painstakingly building a tiny house of cards.

About the Author

Originally from New Jersey, Maria Poulatha has been living in Athens, Greece with her husband and daughter for the past twenty years, working as a dancer, choreographer and small business owner. Her short stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Split Lip, Gordon Square Review, Sleet and Athens News (where she won the ‘Long Summer, Short Story’ contest).

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