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Smoking With Barr Bielinski

Interview by Nancy Stebbins (Read the Story) December 20, 2011

Barr Bielinski

A Smoke Backstage by William Michael Harnett

The names Liddy and the narrator come up with when they are high all relate to the Batman movies or television series, and I assume this fact gives something away about them (though they don’t comment on this fact). What is it?

I suspect the youngest Bruce and Wayne I know are over forty. Those names just aren’t on baby name lists these days. Liddy is a little unusual for considering them. Adam and Wes, on the other hand. You’ll find those names on plenty of daycare cubbies. Lucky for me they’re also a step and two steps removed from Batman. I hope I can share a wink of recognition with you as you read and also relax your thinking / judging parts enough that my story happens for you in the part of your mind where it can get jumbled with your own feelings and memories.

You were a finalist in the SLQ thirty word contest. How does writing a thirty word piece compare to writing a longer flash like this?

My 30-word story is the shortest thing I’ve ever written. It got me very focused on what I hope for when I write. I wanted a story that centered on a sensory image familiar in life, but not often seen in fiction. I like plot and a sense of fleetingness. Also, simple language and a subtle suggestion of meaning.

Some of this I realized while I was writing my 30 words. Some not until after I hit send — I do a lot of my best thinking when it’s too late. The rest came to me when I read the winners.

With 1000 words, I’m not limited to one image to tell my story, but everything else I learned from the 30-word experience is still in play.

Liddy saves the fish, only to have it die in the narrator’s hand. This makes me think that she will have the abortion. Was this your meaning?

I never wrote any more of this story than what you see here. I didn’t plan for what would ultimately happen with these two. My hope is that you’re engaged with Liddy and you can’t feel all one way about her. The possibility that the narrator will have the last word about her pregnancy is just one possibility.

It’s not lost on me that the fact I wrote this story doesn’t mean I’m the best reader of it. I’m glad reading and writing are more lively than that.

Who are the Grub Street Writers? And are you involved in other writers’ groups?

Grub Street is a center for writing in Boston. They offer classes and a welcoming community for writers. I wrote the bones of this story at a workshop there last spring. Friends from Grub sustained me while I searched for a point-of-view that would breathe life into it. I get a lot of energy from being part of the writing community online. If you look for me on your social medium of choice, I’m happy to friend, or follow, or encircle you.

The POV you ended up with feels so natural, it’s hard to imagine it was a struggle to find. What was the process like, of finding the right POV?

The bones of this story were a kid’s fish at the home of the parent who didn’t have custody. Instead of taking care of the fish, the parent replaced it before the kid’s visits. What would happen if the parent discovered the old fish was still alive when he went to flush it? That’s all been in the story since I wrote it at the Dzanc Day workshop at Grub.

I worked really hard to tell the story from the flusher’s point-of-view. He was originally an Iraq War veteran suffering from PTSD. In saving the fish he was trying to save himself. The story ended with him on his knees with his hands in the toilet having saved the fish, or not saved it, and bracing himself to see which it was.

That story sounds great to me as I tell you about it, but I had trouble with a character becoming so earnest and also with bringing the Iraq War into a bathroom.

As soon as I thought of bringing a second character into the scene, all the changes suggested themselves. I suppose when writing is difficult it’s a sign that something basic is wrong.

About the Author

Barr Bielinski is a member of Grub Street Writers in Boston. Her stories have appeared in Blink-Ink and Boston Literary Magazine. She has a piece forthcoming at Infinity’s Kitchen.

About the Interviewer

Nancy Stebbins is a psychiatrist, a Flash Factory groupie, and an MFA student at Pacific University. Her short stories have been published in The Summerset Review, Grey Sparrow Journal and other places. She shares a blog with three other Pacific students: http://pop-upprincesses.blogspot.com.

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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