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Smoke & Mirrors
with Shareen K. Murayama

Interview by Megan Pillow (Read the Story) September 19, 2022

Shareen K. Murayama

Shareen K. Murayama

This piece is only 207 words, but one of the things that makes it effective is the way in which it compresses time so adeptly. There’s a sense of the repetitiveness of Father’s violence and his drinking, the longevity of Mother’s fear and patience, the pattern that the narrators repeat year after year to try to keep themselves safe. How did you think about time as you were writing this piece, and what was your goal?

I read somewhere that in order to make your characters believable, they have to have existed before their page appearance. By compressing time, I was hoping to cue readers to emotionally abusive signs and let the readers make the connection. Weird as it may sound, I also take my developing characters to therapy through The Negative Trait Thesaurus. I realized that my main character, Yoshi, desires to be better than her mom. She’ll grow into an overprotective sister to offset her mother’s failure to protect them.

One of the things that I loved about this was your decision not to define “awamori” in the first sentence, which serves several functions: It establishes the cultural context for the piece and asks readers to do the work of discovering what kind of drink awamori is outside of the text. Can you talk a little bit about why you made this decision? What does it say about your relationship with your work and with your reader?

On one hand, I like to think my intended audience has access to technology. Whether smartphones have distracted or improved the world’s literacy rate is up for debate, but I think I provide adequate context clues for readers who are curious to learn more versus those that want to remain with the characters and scene.

I also noticed some distinctly poetic patterns in this piece, particularly the repetition of particular words—neck, kitten, leaf, face. In such a short piece, a reader might think that this repetition would impede the piece, but in fact this repetition enlivens it because the ways in which the words are used, and often what they represent, changes over time. Was this a conscious decision for you? If so, what were you hoping to achieve here?

I think repetition in micros is wildly fun, like running with scissors labeled “cliché” or “trite.”

At least I think that’s the danger. But used intentionally, repetition opens up for surprises. On its second appearance, the readers associate an iconic autumnal experience with jumping into war, hearing the crunch of the kitten bones. I was hoping the repetition echoed the complexity of loving and being disappointed by family members.

I’m always interested in what other writers are reading.  Is there anyone, especially any flash or micro writers, whose work you especially admire right now? What are the pieces that have made you see this genre anew?

I like to believe microfiction is ever-evolving: the lyrical, the hybrid, the movement or thoughts of a character. Currently pinned on my computer this weekend are K.B. Carle, Melissa Llanes Brownlee, Lucy Zhang.

The pieces that stick with me keep me wondering. I think about a character, wondering if Christopher Allen’s Kerosene Man is still content. I wonder what Kristen Reneau’s speaker would say about every new movie I see. I worry if Eric Scot Tryon’s couple has survived.

Mostly, I want to know if any character I care about ever wins at this game of life.

About the Author

Shareen K. Murayama is a Japanese American, Okinawan American poet and educator. Her first poetry collection, Housebreak, debuted July 2022 by Bad Betty Press. Her first poetry chapbook, Hey Girl, Are You in the Experimental Group? by Harbor Editions was released in April 2022. She’s a 2021 Best Microfiction winner, a poetry reader for The Adroit Journal and Cobra Milk Mag, and Asst. CNF Editor for JMWW. Her works have been published or forthcoming in No Tokens Journal, SmokeLong QuarterlyThe Ilanot Review, RHINO Poetry, McNeese Review, Pilgrimage Press, Bamboo Ridge Press and elsewhere. You can find her on IG and Twitter @ambusypoeming.

About the Interviewer

Megan Pillow (formerly Megan Pillow Davis) is a graduate of the University of Iowa Writers’ Workshop in fiction and holds a Ph.D. in English from the University of Kentucky. Her work has appeared, among other places, in Electric Literature, SmokeLong Quarterly, Hobart, Paper Darts, Brevity, Passages North, and Gay Magazine and has been featured in Longreads. She lives in Louisville, Kentucky with her two children.

This interview appeared in A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly A SmokeLong Summer 2022 — Special Issue
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The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction

Deadline November 15!

The SmokeLong Quarterly Award for Flash Fiction (The Smokey) is a biennial competition that celebrates and compensates excellence in flash. The grand prize winner of The Smokey is automatically nominated for The Best Small Fictions, The Pushcart, Best of the Net, and any other prize we deem appropriate. In addition to all this love, we will also pay the grand prize winner $2500. Second place: $1000. Third place $500. Finalists: $100. All finalists and placers will be published in the special competition issue in December 2022.