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Smoke & Mirrors with Shyla Jones

Interview by Michelle Ross (Read the Story) June 21, 2021

Shyla Jones

Shyla Jones

Let’s begin with this line: “All of our sins ate away at us at once, from the body in the basement laundry room to the stolen pots of basil from the uptown Italian restaurant.” Those pots of basil are striking in their contrast to the dead body, of course, but also, curiously, they’re heartbreaking in a way that the dead body is not. Why does the speaker mention the pots of basil in particular? How did this line come to be?

Originally, the line mentioned something about stolen quarters from the laundry machines, and then I changed it to laundry detergent, and then somehow it ended up being basil. I thought it added to the offbeat weirdness of the piece better, and that it made sense that these characters would steal such random things just to feel something, like goldfish and basil and pickled figs. The narrator feels bad for their wrongdoings, but also has a skewed sense of what these wrongdoings are, so they mention the basil along with the body as if they’re of similar caliber. They’ve lost sense of what is “normal” in a way.

Goldfish, pots of basil: These are things stolen not out of need or practicality but more for the fun of it. What’s the most fun you’ve ever had stealing something? Or, alternatively, what do you think would be fun to steal?

Well, when I was five, I saw a necklace at Kohl’s that had my initials. I wanted it so bad, but my mom said no, so I just took it. She found it later in my pocket when we got home and I got in trouble. But I got to keep the necklace!

The speaker reports her own dialogue a few times, but none of the words of the “you.” The addressee is all action in this story; the speaker is longing and rumination. I wonder: If the addressee were telling this story, what dialogue would be revealed? How would the addressee’s version be different?

In my head, the addressee isn’t as thoughtful or observant as the narrator. I feel like the addressee’s version of this story would still be very action based, very goal oriented, and kind of unreliable. You wouldn’t know if you could trust them to give an accurate portrayal of events and dialogue would probably showcase their obliviousness to their partner’s emotions and thoughts. The addressee wants things done, wants things happening constantly. I can see there being a lack of communication between the two. Definitely a lack of understanding.

You write poetry as well as flash fiction, and “goldfish” certainly suggests the sensibility of a poet. Is it always clear to you early on what you’re writing—as story or a poem? Or do you sometimes not know until later in the drafting or revision process?

I’m a discovery writer, so most often, I open up a document and just start free writing based on a single idea—in this case, it was goldfish! I saw a photo on Pinterest of a bunch of goldfish tanks stacked up so they covered a whole wall, with harsh red lighting making them look like little red dots, like blood cells or something eerie like that. I usually go into a story or any type of prose with a small idea or aesthetic like that and then just start writing. I’ll take care of everything else when revising, but getting it out on the page is the most helpful for me. I’ve had many poems turn into prose poems only to turn into microfiction. It’s chaotic, but it somehow works!

Who are some flash fiction writers you recommend and why?

I’d definitely recommend my friend, Pascale Potvin, not only for being my friend, but because her writing always inspires me to write. Her stories are always eerie, sharp, and psychological. I’d also recommend K-Ming Chang. I love her writing so much, especially her flash and her use of magical realism!

About the Author

Shyla Jones is a Black writer from the East Coast. She is the Editor-in-Chief of Superfroot Magazine and a collector of nostalgia. Find her on Twitter @imnotshyla.

About the Interviewer

Michelle Ross is the author of three story collections: There’s So Much They Haven’t Told You, winner of the 2016 Moon City Short Fiction Award; Shapeshifting, winner of the 2020 Stillhouse Press Short Fiction Award; and They Kept Running, winner of the 2021 Katherine Anne Porter Prize in Short Fiction. Her work is included in The Best Small Fictions, Best Microfiction, the Wigleaf Top 50 series, and in the Norton anthology, Flash Fiction America. It’s received special mention in the Pushcart Prize anthology. She is fiction editor of Atticus Review.

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

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