The first question that must be asked is where did the idea come from for this story?
Several times a year, my workshop sets aside a night for everyone to read short shorts with no critique. There is usually a theme, and I usually ignore it. “A Funny Smell” is one of those stories. The image of the balloons came first, and then I remembered my childhood in the high desert in Arizona. Then I remembered beer parties in the wilderness which must surely now be urban North Scottsdale, and the way they always warned you about your car breaking down and you dying of heat and thirst or rattlesnake bites. And the Lost Dutchman and gold and ghosts . Hey, dying in the desert, maybe you’d see the Dutchman or maybe God! But no one sees God, you only hear him or maybe you dot dot dot smell him! And so on. It’s the “one thing leads to another” method.
Have you smelled a God smell and how would you describe it now that you’ve had time to reflect?
The story reflects my total bafflement with all things theological. Part of me, I’m sure, was just teasing my religious friends when I wrote this story. Faith seems like such a struggle, and I want to ask why not just skip it? But what if you skipped it, and God came sweeping across the desert as a funny smell?
Where is Ray Vukcevich when he is the real Ray Vukcevich and what is he doing?
The real Ray Vukcevich is in my fiction. If anyone is interested in what I am, that’s the place to look. But if you mean the body and the day job, I’m in Oregon, and when I’m not writing, I’m a research assistant in several university brain labs.
Do you ever get stuck somewhere in a story—can’t get past a certain point, can’t finish it, or can’t get the beginning right etc. And, if so, what do you do to get moving again?
I give up on stories all the time, but I never throw them away. Sometimes years later, I will suddenly know what I was trying to say with one of them and will go ahead and say it. Nothing is ever really wasted. Now and then, though, I just have to give up on the thing I’m writing and put it aside. I don’t worry about it. I move on. Then something new will happen, or I will change, and the story will be ready to finish.
What is your process for collecting ideas? Are you an eavesdropper, a note-taker, a dreamer? Etc?
I try to be awake, and I try to be in the moment. I often can’t do either. But when I am awake and in the moment, I fill some part of my brain with stuff that will later come back to haunt me. I do a lot of day dreaming. I do a lot of reading. Then when it’s time to write, I just look at what’s coming down the river of babble in my head and grab the stuff that looks good before it can be swept downstream. I slap the wiggling words and images down on the table and poke at them. If I don’t like the way the mess moves, I toss it aside and grab more. I cut it up and arrange and rearrange the pieces until I think it’s done.