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SmokeLong Quarterly

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Smoking With Margot Taylor

Interview by Bonnie ZoBell (Read the Story) September 23, 2014

Margot Taylor

art by Sam Myers

Your story “A Question of Balance” is about an older couple, and we get to witness a very believable and nuanced mature love. However, you’re a young woman. Where did your material come from?

I’m not so very young, Bonnie! I’ve been married practically forever, so it wasn’t difficult to imagine this couple. The story was written for one of the weekly challenges in Zoetrope‘s Flash Factory. There had to be a hat in the story, and the hat had to be significant. I was looking through my folder of jottings—images, anecdotes, overheard conversations—and came across the idea of a man who says whatever he likes to his wife because she’s deaf. I’d also recently been browsing my mum’s sketches from when she lived in Nigeria, and so the idea of carrying things on your head was there, too. I liked the idea of this couple, so I started writing but with no real plan. Halfway through I realized it would be just right if the woman came down the stairs with a tea tray on her head.

The old man banters a bit with his wife and in his thoughts about how old she’s gotten and that she doesn’t look like she once did. This lends to the believability that they’ve been together a while—they’re past the flowers-and-chocolates stage. She seems to laugh it off easily, though bantering can go terribly wrong between couples and someone can get hurt. Why do you think it works for them?

Well, only because she can’t really hear him. But if she guesses at the sort of thing he’s saying, she may, after so many years of marriage, feel there’s no point in minding too much or getting upset. And if you’re not really a morning person, what better way to keep people out for a while than to not put your hearing aid in?

Why do you think he says and thinks such caustic things about her, especially when he seems to really love her?

I think he’s not feeling that great about himself and is taking it out on her. And by thinking over how much he’s already done that day, he’s trying to convince himself that he’s still effective, still valued by old colleagues. His relationship with his wife has become a habit, and in witnessing her tea tray balancing act he’s reminded of who they both were and still are, and his love for her is reawakened.

What do you like about writing flash fiction? Do you write fiction of other lengths, too?

I like it that a piece of flash fiction can be written in one sitting, not dragging on for weeks or months or years. And if it needs editing, that too is quicker because there are fewer words to consider changing. Also, since my flashes are not planned out in advance and I’m not trying to say anything big, I’m not as emotionally invested in them, and can just have fun and write more freely.

I write short stories of up to five thousand words or so, but to attempt a novel feels like too much. I’m not sure I’d have the persistence to see it through.

What are you working on now?

I’m making a few changes to an old story that hasn’t found a home yet. When that’s sent out I’m going to start something new and exciting and completely different—I’m just not sure what yet!

About the Author

Margot Taylor lives in the UK and works in her local library. Her short fiction has appeared in the Willesden Herald Prize anthology, Pulp.net and r.kv.r.y, been performed at Liars’ League in London and shortlisted for the Fish One Page Prize and Asham Award.

About the Interviewer

Bonnie ZoBell has received an NEA and a PEN Syndicated Fiction Award and won the Capricorn Novel Award. Her work has appeared or is forthcoming in such print magazines as American Fiction, The Bellingham Review, and The Greensboro Review, and online at FRiGG, Hobart, and Word Riot. She received an MFA from Columbia and teaches at San Diego Mesa College.

About the Artist

Sam Myers grew up in Florida, was born in Virginia, and she’s currently living in the U.S. of A. Sam is an eccentric packrat attempting to save the world by recycling, reducing, and reusing. She likes to use alternative canvasses, recycled items, and massive amounts of imagination. Her works range from jewelry, painting, clothing, and so forth. Whatever her mind can create!

This interview appeared in Issue Forty-Five of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Five
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From May 30 to August 28 2022, SmokeLong is going to host a superworkshop. We want to spend the summer with you, the flash community. Our workshops take place on a devoted website where you can create a profile, interact with the flash community, and take part in group discussions on craft, but A SmokeLong Summer will be much more.