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Smoking With Mary McCluskey


"Self-Portrait with Bandaged Ear and Pipe"
by Vincent Van Gogh
"Crashing crockery." I could say that a million times and never get tired of it. What kind of thought and effort goes into your phrasings?
I don’t agonize too much over individual word choices. Mostly, I trust a phrase if it sounds right in my head. Play it by ear, as it were. Once in a while I’ll go on a wild Alliteration spree and then have to go back and edit it out because it sounds too contrived and precious.

"Eyes the color of washed sky." Can you give me five more amazing, memorable descriptions of eye colors? Please.
Five? Right this minute? Blimey. Okay—eyes like midnight; eyes like fog; amber eyes, the color of sweet cider; green eyes that still had dreams in them, with lashes like moths’ wings. Oh, and one from a recent story—his eyes were opaque glass.

James Joyce used dashes rather than quotes for dialogue. Why? I'm not sure. So do you. Why?
Ah, to have something in common with the Master! No, I use dashes only for short pieces. Not entirely sure why. Maybe because a flash needs to be spare and uncluttered. For longer stories and my novel I use conventional punctuation.

How does your selective memory work?
My selective memory does not work as it should. I’d like to remember only good things or times when I behaved honourably. Instead, I retain all the moments of shameful incompetence or quarrelsome pettiness. I should get it fixed.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you've ever encountered?
I’m hopeless with titles for my own stuff. Hopeless. And they are so important, particularly with a flash when the title carries a lot of the weight. I like novel titles that are a bit ambiguous or poetic—Cloud Atlas, House of Sand and Fog. Not many movie titles stand out, but I thought Lost in Translation was perfect for that film. I like Julie Orringer’s title How to Breathe Underwater. And I love Karen Russell's title for her short story collection: St. Lucy's Home for Girls Raised by Wolves. Worst title: jeez. A lot of novels with Heart in the title.

Read Selective Memory.
Issue Seventeen (June 15, 2007): Renoir Responds to Aline Charigot’s Charges of Painting Her Ugly by Daniel Bailey «» Cymothoa Exigua by Christopher Battle «» Oblivious by Gary Cadwallader «» The Wedge in Between by Debbie Ann Eis «» One Purple Finch by Kathy Fish «» Clouds by James Hanley «» Mousafa's Woman by Kyle Hemmings «» First Night by Ric Jahna «» My Great-Aunt Meets Jesus at the Mobil Station in Montana by Stephanie Johnson «» Old Leningrad by Sandra Maddux-Creech «» Selective Memory by Mary McCluskey «» The Attraction of Asphalt by Stefani Nellen «» Of Potential by Jim Nelson «» Portrait of a Mother, Beforehand J.M. Patrick «» Midnight in Albuquerque by Tiffany Poremba «» Flatlining in the Edward G. Bellacosta Memorial Park by Jake Ruiter «» Prow by Claudia Smith «» I Know This Man; He is My Father. by Tavia Stewart «» In the Last Frame by Beth Thomas «» My First Two-Headed Boy by Veronica Thorn «» Interviews: Bob Arter «» Daniel Bailey «» Christopher Battle «» Gary Cadwallader «» Debbie Ann Eis «» Kathy Fish «» James Hanley «» Kyle Hemmings «» Ric Jahna «» Stephanie Johnson «» Sandra Maddux-Creech «» Mary McCluskey «» Stefani Nellen «» Jim Nelson «» J.M. Patrick «» Tiffany Poremba «» Jake Ruiter «» Claudia Smith «» Tavia Stewart «» Beth Thomas «» Veronica Thorn «» Cover Art "Peace in a Time of Monsters" by Marty D. Ison «» Letter From the Editor
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