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Smoking With Michael Czyzniejewski

Interview by Adam Peterson (Read the Story) December 17, 2013

Michael Czyzniejewski

art by Jeff Turner

So obviously we’ve all been here. But curious how much of this comes from your life. You’re a Chicago guy who is now in Missouri. Is the pull of barbeque that strong or has it always (or ever?) been the meat for you?

BBQ here is plentiful, making it easy to pick some up at any time, but I have to say (at risk of violence done unto me), I’m not a fan of how it’s prepared. Like the guy in “The Meat Sweats,” I’m critical of how here they oversmoke everything then expect you to put the sauce on at the table, cold. I’ll take Fat Willy’s Rib Shack in Logan Square over these joints any day. Heck, even Carson’s. But Chicagoans are food snobs, so this is just another thing to argue about.

So we’ve got a couple brought together and threatened by the same thing. Or if not their relationship at least their lives. So is this true love? The opposite? In either case, is the inevitable outcome here that the coyote catches up to them when they’re too slick with sweat and grease to run? Not that they have to die together, just that there’s not a strong case made for moderation here. Also, I propose “Chased by the coyote” as a euphemism for meat sweats should we ever have need of one.

Ha! I think that’s the after-the-credits scene, a panning shot of the coyote standing across the street, watching them through the window, biding its time. I should ask Smokelong if they’ll let me add it, maybe as an Easter egg somewhere on the page.

I think it is love, one person falling down and bringing the other person with him. Evelyn here has a choice, to leave or stay, and she stays. This is what she’s wanted all along, what’s defined them—there was never a time without the meat sweats.

And yes, that’s one of the more ridiculous sentences about love ever typed.

Really this is a story about addiction, but there’s something about it being meat—especially the term “the meat sweats” which is like the DTs only, well, the opposite, I guess—that brings a lot of humor. I’m wondering if that’s just the joke or if you intend some satire here at and if so what you see as the target. How different is this from a drinking problem, really? Okay, maybe quite a bit, but why do you think we find some types of addiction and excess comic and maybe even endearing?

Oh, it’s a satire on addiction, for sure, but the meat sweats is a real term—look it up on Urban Dictionary. I’d never heard it before, not until this past spring, when I had a BBQ for the Moon City Review staff at my house, lots and lots of meat, made exactly how the guy does it in the story. One of my students, Joe Lucido (who gets props in the story), walked into the kitchen with an empty plate and said, “And now for the meat sweats.” Right then, I made up my mind to write a story with that title and started it later that night. One thing I knew, early in the process, that I didn’t want to do: Define the term, instead let it just live in the story in its own terms, in context.

The coyote, the soybeans, the suspicious but ultimately friendly police—this is certainly a world outside of the cosmopolitan metropolises we often see in fiction, and I’m wondering if you see yourself as distant from that literary world. Is there such a thing as Midwestern fiction and, if so, do you write it? Has it changed going to Missouri, which can be this Midwest/South/Plains muddle?

While writing, I envisioned Bowling Green, Ohio, where I lived for 17 years, as it was the right size, a town someone could do laps around, a town surrounded by farms, a town that maybe had some gas stations and one restaurant open all night. It was convenient, and I’ve lived there longer than any other place.

I think it is a Midwestern story for the setting, for the sensibilities, this character proud of where he’s from. I think it worked better in a setting like this than in Chicago, mainly because I needed him to be isolated, alone, and in Chicago, there’s always somewhere to go, someone to talk to, even if you just ride the el all night. The coyote, actually, came from Chicago, though—the city’s just started having those in the last ten years, urban sprawl forcing them down from Wisconsin. On my way out of the city one night, I saw one in the median on the Bishop Ford, and when it saw my lights, ran toward my car then alongside me for a bit, until it couldn’t keep up.

Could it take place in New Mexico, though? Sure. People love each other there. And they have coyotes.

About the Author

Michael Czyzniejewski grew up in Chicago and now lives in Ohio, where he teaches at Bowling Green State University and serves as editor-in-chief of Mid-American Review. Recent stories have appeared or are forthcoming in Alaska Quarterly Review, Bellingham Review, The Los Angeles Review, Monkeybicycle, Moon City Review, and the anthologies Best of the Web 2009 and You Must Be This Tall to Ride. His debut collection, Elephants in Our Bedroom, was released by Dzanc Books in early 2009.

About the Interviewer

Adam Peterson is a Kathy Fish Fellow and writer-in-residence at SmokeLong Quarterly for 2013-14. He is the co-editor of The Cupboard, and the author of The Flasher, My Untimely Death, and, with Laura Eve Engel, [SPOILER ALERT]. His short fiction can be found in The Kenyon Review, Indiana Review, The Normal School, The Southern Review, and elsewhere. Originally from Nebraska, he currently lives in Houston, Texas.

This interview appeared in Issue Forty-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Forty-Two
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