Back in January, Tara Laskowski was named the Kathy Fish Fellow at SmokeLong Quarterly — a program honoring authors who’ve demonstrated consistent excellence in flash fiction. With its March 18, 2009 issue, SmokeLong publishes “The Hamster,” the first of four short stories by Tara that the journal will present over the coming year. In honor of the occasion, I conducted a quick interview with Tara, a fine writer and, not incidentally, my fiancée (for full disclosure of any bias you might detect below).
Art Taylor: You’ve already been interviewed twice now in conjunction with SmokeLong Quarterly’s publication of your first story as this year’s Kathy Fish Fellow (including an interview about the story itself here). Is it tough to be suddenly thrust into the spotlight as an authority of some kind on flash fiction?
Tara Laskowski: I don’t know if ‘tough’ is the right word, but it’s been kind of weird. I don’t consider myself an authority on much of anything by any means (although I do know a song that recites all 50 states in alphabetical order; this comes in very handy during trivia games). I certainly love flash fiction, but I don’t read any author regularly. I like to read random flashes online or in other pubs. I think it’s a really great length for a story. I’m all about the moment, really. I’m thrilled that they picked me as their Fellow, and it’s been really great so far. I’m hoping to come out of the year with a bunch of stories (maybe a book??!!), some new friends and a better grasp on the form in general.
How do you get started on a new story: with an image or an idea or maybe with the full plot laid out in your mind?
Hmm… totally depends, I guess. Sometimes it’s a story that someone else tells me that sparks something. Sometimes it’s a character’s voice. I’m more of a planner with longer pieces — I like to plot out a short story or a novel in detail in my head before I write anything — but with flashes I’ve found sometimes it’s best to just take that image, or voice, or whatever it is, and go exploring. Sometimes that exploring results in beautiful, lush places and sometimes I end up in an alley in a dumpster filled with cat litter.
Well, speaking of cats…. Do you find that having cats helps or hurts your writing process?
It’s difficult to write with a big fat cat sprawled across your arms or your keyboard. Sometimes Stanlee tries to help out, though, by inserting a 888888888888888UUUUJOJ)*&# right in the middle of a scene where it’s totally needed!
Who have you found to be the best reader of your work? And as a follow-up, how exactly have I helped you to develop your craft?
Hahahahaha…. You’re funny. Seriously, though, you and the people I’ve met in my MFA program at George Mason University have been by far the best help with my work. I value all of those opinions and appreciate all the hard work and thought my writing friends put into reading my work and each other’s work. It’s a great support network, I think, and I hope it continues for a long time.
What’s your biggest procrastination tool when you don’t feel like writing?
Anything and everything! The bathroom always seems really dirty when I don’t want to write.
What are your goals for the year ahead in terms of developing your flash fiction?
I’m hoping to write a lot. Quantity and quality, hopefully. And try experimenting a little, I guess. I’m hoping to have fun!
Anything else big on your agenda for this year?
Nope. Nothing at all.
No, really, I heard you’re getting married. How’s the planning going for that?
Oh right, that. It’s going and going and going. I’m hoping to get lots of story fodder off that. (Oh, and a lifetime partner, best friend, soulmate, yadda yadda.)
Finally, one more craft question: In addition to concentrating on short fiction, you’ve also recently completed a draft of your novel. You mentioned earlier some difference in your approach to longer and shorter works. What else have you found are the particular pleasures and problems of working in each form?
After plodding through almost five years of working nearly only on my book, flash fiction is like eating bon bons and sipping bourbon. It’s fun because I can switch gears and jump into different people’s heads and situations more often. Although, working on a novel has its advantages, too. You become friends with your characters, think about them constantly, dream about them, worry about them. It’s like a novel is a long-term relationship and flash fiction is more about speed dating. So I’m having tons of affairs right now, and it’s fabulous.
Um…. I know I said “finally, one more question” a moment ago, but…. Since you were just talking about your upcoming wedding — and to a guy who’s so handsome, intelligent, upstanding and (to borrow your phrase) “yadda yadda” — don’t you think it would be a little suggestive to end this interview with you saying, “I’m having tons of affairs right now, and it’s fabulous”?
Yes, I thought of that. I also thought how many of my stories are about failing relationships and bad marriages. Luckily, I don’t always go by the mantra, “Write what you know.”