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Smoking With Zachary Doss

Interview by Ethel Rohan (Read the Story) December 16, 2014

Zachary Doss

art by Leslie June

Writers and readers are often wary of the second person point of voice. Can you talk about your craft choice to use it here?

I have not always been the biggest fan of the second person myself, so I’m sure some people who know me will be a little amused by me being the one to justify it as a craft choice. Fundamentally, I started writing it in the second person and it just felt very right. It’s actually part of a series of pieces that all use the second person and I liked it as a storytelling tool, it felt like exactly the right amount of distance to me. But I’m not sure I can defend the choice; it’s just what I did and it felt right so I kept it.

This brief work reads as fresh, imaginative and wonderfully oblique. How did it come to you?

Magic? I’m going to say magic. I remember it started with the image of the boyfriends sitting on the roof, shining in the sun and then wet in the rain. I usually write from an image, something very solid that often winds up feeling like the center of the piece for me. But I think a lot of the best parts of this piece came later. Revision in this case was a pretty playful process—lots of “wouldn’t it be weird/funny/cool if. . .”

How typical is this style of story for you, its brevity, imagery, pathos, slant, and hints of absurdism and menace?

I’m not sure I’m consistent enough as a writer to have a typical style—I still like to try on different hats. I like thinking of writing as an experiment or a game. I always want to do something different, try my hand at something, see how it turns out. I think something typical of my writing is a sense of humor or play, and also that sense of menace you picked up on. I also tend to be a very visual or image-driven writer no matter what else I’m doing stylistically.

You are the current fiction editor at Black Warrior Review, how has that role impacted your writing?

Ultimately I’ve learned a lot about the things that I like or don’t like personally, which has really made me a stronger reader of my own work. I really love editing a journal—I don’t think I’ve ever liked doing something so much. Sometimes that can come at the expense of doing my own writing. But it is also really motivating—I see how many people are working hard and submitting and how many wonderful stories there are in the world and I felt very strongly like I wanted to be part of that community.

Can you tell us about your process and motivation, where, when, how, and why you write?

I usually sit at my kitchen counter to write. There’s no particular reason for that, except my apartment is tiny so I’m always almost sitting in the kitchen anyway. I write in short bursts—usually 900-1,000 words at a time and then I have to do something else for a while. I don’t have much of an attention span so everything I write comes in tiny bursts. Then I take a break and read or check my email or take a walk. Then I come back or I don’t. I’ve always been a very slow, un-prolific writer, so writing 1,000 words in a day makes me feel like a rock star. If I manage 2,000, I basically strut for the rest of the day. Even if I’ve written something terrible, I let myself feel really good about it until it’s time to revise.

About the Author

Zachary Doss’s work appears in Sonora Review, Fourteen Hills, Fairy Tale Review, Caketrain, DIAGRAM, Paper Darts, and other journals. His short story “Bespoke” was the winner of the 2016 Puerto del Sol Short Fiction Contest.

About the Interviewer

Raised in Ireland, Ethel Rohan now lives in San Francisco. Her work has or will appear in Guernica, Gargoyle, Potomac Review, Los Angeles Review, and Southeast Review Online, among many others. She is the author of the story collections, Cut Through the Bone (Dark Sky Books), long-listed as a 2010 notable collection by The Story Prize, and Hard to Say (PANK 2011). She blogs at ethelrohan.com.

About the Artist

Leslie June is a digital media professional and underwater photographer. She currently builds websites and takes photos in Asheville, NC.

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

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