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Smoking With Anne Hensley

Interview by Beth Thomas (Read the Story) December 20, 2011

Anne Hensley

A Smoke Backstage by William Michael Harnett

This starts out sounding like a political rant, then changes courses quickly. How did you start out writing this story? As a political rant, or did you have the whole story planned out from the beginning?

The premise was definitely planned from the beginning. The political rant is just a bit of context. The initial intent was to move along a more traditional or chronological narrative, but as the story developed, this external to internal continuum evolved and felt more authentic.

How did you determine what personality traits each entity would have? Is there something symbolic here, or are the personality traits more arbitrary?

The traits are arbitrary in the sense that they’re not directly symbolic. There’s no code. I hope that they feel so specific as to be personal, and so general as to not be accusatory. Some of them are quite personal to me, for one reason or another. A lot of traits and predilections got tossed out early on for being too obviously associated with certain groups, particularly in the case of The Left and The Right.

Tell us about your creative and practical process writing this story. Did you, for example, make a list of all the entities you wanted to include?

I often write while walking or running. This story happened over the course of two blocks, scribbling ideas on scraps of paper from the bottom of my bag. I didn’t do any sort of formal outlining. I wanted The Government to be the central character, because it’s something we all engage in, for better or worse. It started with The Government, and grew organically out of the relationships we all have to these other conceptual entities.

Is there some greater purpose for personifying / humanizing the entities? What does this story teach us?

I’m not sure if the story teaches anything, or if it aims to, but I think it attempts to explore, and hopefully deconstruct, monolithic thinking. Categorizing these entities as singular organisms is destructive. It removes both humanity and accountability. The Government is a process. The Public Schools are a collection of government officials, educators, administrators, students, families. When we remove the human element from these entities, we become powerless.

What have you been reading lately? Any recommendations?

I’m always reading a jumble of things. I’m finishing up Derrick Jensen’s remarkable The Culture of Make Believe, which I recommend if you enjoy second-guessing every choice you make. I’ve been carrying around The Collected Stories of Lydia Davis and reading and rereading it. It fits in my bag and is perfect to read while walking. She is hardcore and continues to break and repair and break my heart. I’ve just read Elizabeth Crane’s We Only Know So Much, which is due for release soon. It’s pretty much just like a perfect diamond, except without the apartheid and slavery.

About the Author

Anne Hensley lives with her family in Kalamazoo, Michigan. She likes to walk places and read books, often at the same time.

About the Interviewer

Beth Thomas is originally from New Mexico but currently lives in California due to military relocation. She works as a technical writer in the aerospace/defense industry—don’t ask what she writes about ’cause she can’t really tell you. She has a BA and an MA in writerly things from New Mexico universities. Her work has recently appeared in Pindeldyboz Online, SmokeLong Quarterly, Juked, Word Riot, and other places.

About the Artist

William Michael Harnett (August 10, 1848–October 29, 1892) was an Irish-American painter known for his trompe-l’œil still lifes of ordinary objects.

This interview appeared in Issue Thirty-Four of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty-Four

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