SmokeLong Quarterly

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Smoking With Curtis Smith

Interview by Gay Degani (Read the Story) December 20, 2011

Curtis Smith

A Smoke Backstage by William Michael Harnett

Your story, “One Truth” is a master class in structure. It pulls us in with language, gives us suspense, and delivers the end with impact. We know what’s at stake: not just what’s going to happen to the main character, the girl with the righteous right hook, but nothing less than the mutability of truth. All of this is set up in the first paragraph. Tell us about your process during the writing of this piece. What was your initial inspiration?

I started with the image of a parent and child burning trash in a barrel. I saw the flames, felt the cold, and I knew a story was there waiting to be told.

How did the story develop for you as the writer? How did you arrive at the structure?

I’d been in a period of writing flash pieces, so I was already in the mindset of making the story short.  Once I had that trash-barrel image, I started looking backwards to find the events that had brought them to that moment.

I love the way you reinforce the life lesson of this story throughout. What is it you think about when you rewrite? What questions do you ask yourself? When did you realize that your theme would involve “Truth” with a capital T?

Rewriting, especially on such a short piece, is all about forward motion. With each revisit, I try to make everything as clean as possible. Rewriting—and writing in general, for me—is about asking myself endless questions concerning form and presentation.

The truth part came later, after I realized the girl would be watching herself on videotape. The image on the screen is one type of truth, an easy truth, but the real truth the girl felt during the incident and later is different.

Do you have a favorite story you’ve written? Why? What else of yours is out there that we can read?

I don’t think I have a favorite—although I always say the story I’m currently working on is my favorite. That said, this last round of flash fiction I’ve published has given me some pieces I’ve been happy with—I had a piece in the last issue of Los Angeles Review that I’m happy with. And here’s a story that appeared in Hobart Web last year that I still like.

 What’s next for you? More short stories? A collection? A novel?

I always like to have a few projects going. I finished a novel last summer and have started sending it around. This past year I returned to essays and have enjoyed that. And I’m always writing stories. I enjoy having a few different projects going at the same time—it lets me work on what interests me the most. And it allows me to let some things rest until I can return to them with a new perspective.

Tell us who you read and why.

The book I’ve enjoyed the most in the past year was James Salter’s Light Years. It might have been the only book I finished then went back and read again. Almost every sentence is perfect, every conversation a surprise. It’s really a stunning work of art.

About the Author

Curtis Smith’s stories and essays have appeared in over one hundred literary journals and have been cited by The Best American Short Stories, The Best American Mystery Stories, The Best American Spiritual Writing, and The Best Small Fictions.

Smith has published five collections of fiction, the first two with March Street Press and the last three with Press 53. He has published three novels, the last two with Casperian Books, and two essay collections (Sunnyoutside and Dock Street Press). His latest book, a personal take on Slaughterhouse-Five, was recently put out by Ig.

About the Interviewer

Gay Degani has been nominated here and there for Pushcart consideration, Best Small Fictions, and a few various and sundry honors including the 11th Glass Woman Prize. She is the author of a full-length collection of short stories, Rattle of Want (Pure Slush Press, 2015) and a suspense novel, What Came Before (Truth Serum Press, 2016). Her micro “Abbreviated Glossary” appears in the anthology New Micro: Exceptionally Short Fictionedited by James Thomas and Robert Scotellaro. She occasionally blogs at Words in Placeand is currently working on another novel of suspense.

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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