SmokeLong Quarterly

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“Very small, tender things”: An Interview With Guest Reader Molia Dumbleton

Interview by Shasta Grant December 3, 2018

What themes do you find yourself frequently writing about?

You know, it was really interesting putting together my collection over the last year or so, because that process really forces this question. The challenge was to read my entire body of work—more than sixteen years of stories written by all these different versions of me, in such different stages of life—and to try to suss out which stories were reaching out to one another thematically, and which ones were just doing their own thing and probably weren’t part of the collection. Eventually, what rose to the surface was the juxtaposition of very small, tender things: children, animals, loneliness, fragility—set against epic, sweeping, menacing things: violence, war, illness, neglect, abuse of power. Everywhere I looked in the stack of stories, I just kept finding animals, children, and other tender, disempowered entities trying to find their way out from under authority figures, gods, and other threats.

You’ve won and placed in quite a few writing contests. Do you have some advice for writers who are either thinking about or just getting started entering contests? What’s the secret of your success?

Right! So, I know there are a lot of mixed feelings out there about contests, and I do have some of those feelings, too—but for me, honestly they are just a fun little indulgence that makes things a bit more suspenseful and exciting and…is it weird if I say social? It’s a bit like gambling, maybe. I love horse-racing (I know I’m not supposed to, but I do anyway, just shh) and it’s always nice to go watch, but isn’t it just a little bit more fun once you’ve plonked down your two dollars and have a specific thing to root for? I think, for me, contests just break up the solitude and plodding loneliness of it all, and give me a deadline and a word-count and a fun little goal. (Oh! And by the way: my favorite contests are the ones that drum up a nice little community among their writers/submitters during the rollout, and sort of make it fun whether you do well or not. The ones that just take your money and then months later, silently stick a name on Twitter…sort of defeat the purpose, to my mind.) In terms of advice, I guess I’d say: if it will make you write more, write better, have more fun, and feel more connected, go for it. If it will just make you feel cranky, skip it.

What kind of story would you love to see in your queue this week?

Oh boy. Is there any way to answer this that hasn’t already been said? All right, let me try it this way: I read a lot of stories in any given week. Like, a lot. And somehow I never stop being amazed at our ability, as humans, to find brand-new voices, stories, and moments to tell. How can we still be tugging the hearts out of one another’s chests, after all this time? How is that even still possible?? But somehow, we do. Yes, there are a lot of stories that feel like re-treads (like, a lot), but in among them are also these sparkly little gems that feel brand-new, and make us feel things we haven’t felt before or, remarkably, didn’t see coming. Probably not very helpful on a practical level, I realize, but in every stack an editor goes through, remember that they are always just looking for the thing that is not like the others.

You’ve recently made a pretty major mid-career shift. That sounds exciting and scary at the same time. How is it going?

I did, I did! So exciting and so scary, that’s exactly right. I’d been doing full-time corporate editorial work for about fifteen years, and teaching Creative Writing part-time during that span as well. At the end of 2017, I finally got brave enough to make the leap out of the corporate ship and fully into contract work, freelancing, and teaching. It’s been amazing. This year alone, I’ve taught fiction, flash fiction, poetry, essay, literature, and history of creativity courses at DePaul University, The Newberry Library, The Loft Literary Center, and National Louis University, and have gotten arts and education writing contracts from Chicago Humanities Festival, School of the Art Institute of Chicago, Hyde Park Jazz Festival, ThinkCERCA, and a few others. I’ve also been doing freelance reading, editing, and coaching for individuals, which is my absolute favorite thing. Life is less predictable now but so much more rewarding.


About the Interviewer

Shasta Grant  is the author of the chapbook Gather Us Up and Bring Us Home (Split Lip Press, 2017). She won the 2015 Kenyon Review Short Fiction Contest and the 2016 SmokeLong Quarterly Kathy Fish Fellowship. She has received residencies from Hedgebrook and The Kerouac Project and was selected as a 2020 Aspen Words Emerging Writer Fellow. Her work has appeared in cream city review, Epiphany, Hobart, wigleaf, and elsewhere. She has an MFA from Sarah Lawrence College and divides her time between Singapore and Indianapolis.


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