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Smoking With Ajay Vishwanathan

Interview by Tara Lynn Masih (Read the Story) September 30, 2010

Ajay Vishwanathan

Smoke Me! by Paula Iannuzzi

What was the inspiration behind “Snake Walk”?
Hmm. There was this BBC article I read about snake catchers. It featured a picture of a five-year old boy. He stood next to his dad, holding a snakeskin and looking so happy. I wanted to tie in the things I had conjured up—the difficult profession, the gritty demeanor of the father and his soft underside. Later, the story seemed to integrate better when told through the proud eyes of the son.

What I loved about the story, besides your accomplished, lyrical prose, was how much you were able to pack into 570 words—generations, family, individual characters, culture—and still have that all-important emotional resonance. How long have you been writing flash?
Oh, thanks so much, Tara, for your generous compliments. I’ve read your work, and have to say—your words are extremely lyrical, have a ring to them.

Well, flash-writing happened just about a year ago, but I’ve been telling stories for a while. I recall being the designated storyteller at my school back home in Mumbai. During class breaks, teachers used to send me to the front of the class to tell my stories (and keep a class of 50 fidgety colleagues quiet!) My classmates used to scream out random words: four o’clock man, magic car, Pablo , and I had to quickly go with something. I would make up the story as I went along. Sometimes, the yarn-weaving lasted fifty minutes. Guess it still hasn’t stopped.

Do you write in other genres? If so, what place does flash have in respect to those other genres?
Yes, I also write longer stories and non-fiction. For me, flash—which makes each word in the story accountable—tightens my writing, trains me to make my point without meandering.

Does the process of editing help your writing?
I believe it does. It makes me more wary of my own mistakes. The extravagant use of adjectives, for instance, or underestimation of the force of a verb, which I think is the most potent power of speech.

What are you working on now?
Right now I’m working on two longer stories. One deals with a tiger-tormented village, notorious for its widows; the second is set in South India, in the picturesque backwaters of that region.

About the Author

Two-time Best of The Net anthology nominee, Ajay Vishwanathan lives in Georgia with his lovely wife and twin girls who wonder why he has so little hair on his head when Mommy has so much. Ajay has work published or forthcoming in more than seventy literary journals, including 34th Parallel, elimae, and The Potomac.

About the Interviewer

Tara Lynn Masih is a National Jewish Book Award Finalist and winner of the Julia Ward Howe Award for Young Readers for her debut novel My Real Name Is Hanna. Her anthologies include The Rose Metal Press Field Guide to Writing Flash Fiction and The Chalk Circle: Intercultural Prizewinning EssaysWhere the Dog Star Never Glows is her collection of long and very short stories, and shes published multiple chapbooks with the Feral Press that are archived in universities such as Yale and NYU. She founded the Intercultural Essay Prize in 2006 and The Best Small Fictions series in 2015.

Masih received a finalist fiction grant from the Massachusetts Cultural Council, an Inspirational Woman in Literature Award from AITL Media, and several national book awards including an IBPA Benjamin Franklin Award for her role as an editor.

About the Artist

Paula Iannuzzi on Instagram

This interview appeared in Issue Twenty-Nine of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Twenty-Nine
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