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Smoking With Tori Malcangio

(Read the Story) December 15, 2007

Tori Malcangio

Art by Marty D. Ison

There are several moments in this story where hope, while dim, survives. Maybe there is a mix-up with the paperwork, maybe that fog will rise, and they’ll spot the centerline. Is hope essential in fiction? Even in the darkest of times?

Gosh yes. Hope is what drives a story for me: The hope to discover something about me or a character, the hope to reveal something to the reader, the hope to finish the damn thing before it oozes into every crack in my life. As a reader I’m drawn to stuff that rips your heart out in one paragraph, then stuffs it back in the next. Thank you very much Amy Hempel. It must be the momentum that hope imparts, the “what if,” that almost always earns it real estate in my fiction and in my life. Holding on to hope as a writer is part of the game for me too. If I didn’t hang on for dear life to this notion of hope, I’d have given up a long time ago.

For me, one of the strongest moments in this piece is when the woman is contemplating the room. “The stirrups are in the ‘go’ position. The lights are recessed and bright like the pop of a flash that’s not really a flash, but a forever…” There is an intense focus right there. The woman is in the spotlight. We’re watching her life, and her faith in what it will become, transform. What is the “it” moment for you?

My “it” moment: Recalling the incidents of my Down Syndrome cousin’s life: When she was twenty-two and I was eighteen, her mom said that she was really only three and always would be. Probably like most parents, I have an age-old to-do list for my kid: smile, sit-up, stand-up, drive a car, go to college, have grandkids. Checking them off, documenting them with studio portraits, calling grandparents with the news, is a parental rite-of-passage. The list starts long before kids are even part of the equation. So when those milestones are dashed in an instant, you’re forced to reexamine what it is to be a parent and what it is to be a child and reconcile that with what it is to be human.

“Or we can start the secret now—you and I, Brett. We can say there was no heartbeat, no flick-flick, flick-flick…” There is always choice, isn’t there? Or is there?

I love that you picked that word. Choice is such a crazy concept. Yes, we all have the ability to exercise choice, in the literal sense. But do we all have the luxury of pure, self-dictated choice? Can we make a decision based totally on the voice in our hearts? Can we choose a want, over a need or a should? Probably not. Life steps in and rationalizes with bills to pay, kids to feed, a religion to uphold and choice as a fundamental human condition, loses. Love limits choice. Kids limit choice. Especially kids with special needs, a deformity, illness. Choice is easiest when you’re all alone on an island, with no one but yourself to love and consider. Who wants that? Okay, sometimes I do. But it would turn awful after a week or two.

You won the 2007 San Juan Writer’s Workshop fellowship. Tell us about that.

One week at 7,000 feet in Ouray, Colorado with fifteen writers and two workshops taught by Pamela Painter and Pam Houston. Pam Houston taught a manuscript critique class. She and the workshop organizer (Jill Patterson, editor of the Iron Horse Literary Review) judged and chose the winning manuscript. As all awards in this biz go, it was an itsy amount toward tuition and a huge motivator to keep me cracking.

SLQ completed issue 18 at the close of summer and launched this issue, 19, on the threshold of winter. During the three months in between, the crops were harvested, the leaves fell, the rain returned, temperatures dropped, darkness lengthened. Death in increments. How does the turning of the seasons affect your “muse,” your inspiration?

Can someone please tell me what writing to snow falling outside is like? Living in San Diego, I have romantic ideas, but no first-hand experience. Snow or no snow, I do find that as the days shorten I allow myself to accomplish less without the normal self-chastising. I guess because it feels like the rest of the universe has taken a deep breath, put on wooly socks and found a nook for sipping hot chocolate and waiting out the deep freeze. My hair grows fastest through the summer months and so does my creativity.

About the Author

Tori Malcangio’s mom was a rodeo queen and her dad a national champ gymnast, so she once rode horses and was very flexible. On a boring weekday, she takes her 17-month-old to model homes and they play hide and seek in the all the closets. Running keeps her unflabby and writing keeps her sane. She’s an advertising copywriter and is getting close to finishing her first short story collection, Swallow.

About the Artist

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison’s work here.

This interview appeared in Issue Nineteen of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Nineteen

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