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Smoke & Mirrors with Ruth LeFaive

Interview by Jen Fawkes (Read the Story) June 21, 2021

Ruth LeFaive

Ruth LeFaive

Presenting round characters in flash is tough. One trick is to use a trademark gesture/activity. How did you find your narrator’s wildly effective “signature move?”

I’ve always loved that Flannery O’Connor quote about descending “to the concrete where fiction operates.”[1] It’s something I’ve had to practice at, but (surprise, surprise!) it works. Also, this particular story started with one of Monet Patrice Thomas’s marvelous writing challenges. One of her constraints is always that entries must include a literary rendering of sex. So I was on the lookout for ways the narrator might connect physically with other characters. What ultimately surprised me was that she connected with Agnes, and it was not a sexual connection.

The narrator focuses on Agnes, but first-person stories are always about the “I.” How did you ensure that a reader would be able to “peek around” your “I?”

That’s a great question. In a way, the question is sort of what the story is asking: To what extent can anyone ever ensure what anyone else sees? Probably close to zero. But we can make guesses, I think. And we can try to correct our own assumptions. And we can ask each other to describe what is seen.

An optometrist’s office dovetails nicely with your questions about perception/self-perception. Which came first—setting or theme?

One hundred percent: the setting. As I mentioned, this story started in response to one of Monet’s challenge prompts, specifically that the literary portrayal of sex take place outside of a bed. And further, the word bed couldn’t appear anywhere in the piece. A clothing store felt cliché because you’ve got the dressing rooms. A nightclub also felt cliché. Gym? Cliché. Hospital? Too many beds. Once I imagined the optometrist’s office, the story took off. The funny thing is that none of the drafts ever included sex. So I would have failed that challenge.

[1] From Mystery and Manners: Occasional Prose

About the Author

Ruth LeFaive’s stories and interviews appear in The Best Small Fictions 2018, Little Fiction, Longreads, Split Lip Magazine, The Offing, The Rumpus, and elsewhere. Her work was recently selected as a winner in the 2020 CRAFT Flash Fiction Contest and placed 2nd in the Fractured Lit Micro Fiction Prize. She lives in Los Angeles where she is working on a collection of short stories.

About the Interviewer

Jen Fawkes’s story collection Tales the Devil Told Me won the 2020 Press 53 Award for Short Fiction and is forthcoming in May 2021. Her debut book, Mannequin and Wife: Stories, is forthcoming from LSU Press in September 2020. Jen’s fiction has appeared in One Story, Crazyhorse, The Iowa Review, Best Small Fictions 2020, and elsewhere, and has garnered prizes from Washington Square Review, The Pinch, Salamander, and others. She lives in Little Rock, Arkansas, with her husband and several imaginary friends.

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