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Smoking With Matthew Smart
by Virgie Townsend

Photo by Karrah Kobus
Art by Karrah Kobus
What was the inspiration for this story?

Before I started this story I was thinking a lot about the way children interpret the world around them and how their outlook often differs greatly from an adult's point of view. They can invest such creative thought into commonplace things, like how a stick, when picked up, instantly becomes a sword, or an overgrown lawn becomes a miniature jungle. Where we just see another chore—something that needs mowing. And their understanding of danger is different too: an odd shadow in their closet can frighten them, but a close call on the interstate doesn't.

One of the things that drew me to "Dark Times" is that I felt I came away with a strong sense of the narrator's world, but I know that there are often details authors know about their stories that aren't necessarily shared in the text. What do you know about your narrator's life that readers may not know?

An earlier draft focused more on the character of the father, but ultimately it didn't seem like it was his story. So I reluctantly reduced him to a much more two-dimensional figure. Which is how I sometimes think children see adults—as placeholders in their own personal fable.

The pacing throughout the story is excellent. I love how it begins with a description of a peaceful farm and the tone becomes increasingly ominous. Was that intentional? If so, how did you approach the writing process to make that work?

Thank you, yes. I wanted to convey a sort of idyllic setting early in the story, a feeling that not much changes or is questioned in this place. Which I found can be challenging in such a constrained format. There's not a lot of room to spin yarn. By postponing any sort of action until late in the story I try to highlight that eventual moment when the innocuous or mysterious becomes threatening.

You've described your writing process as more instinctive-based. How did that manifest itself for "Dark Times"?

Rather than meticulously plotting and outlining ahead of time, I usually start a story with nothing more than a first line or some small kernel of an idea. Which is probably why I have so many half finished and abandoned stories in my desk drawer. For "Dark Times," I had only a rough idea of where it would lead when I started writing. Luckily, it seemed to pull itself together in the end.

At the end of the story, it's not clear if the father is being paranoid or if the clouds do pose some kind of danger. Is there an answer to which it is? If so, does that answer make a difference in how the story should be interpreted?

There are all kinds of dangers in the world, some we can protect our children from, and others we can't. I'm not sure which group precipitation belongs in.

How did you decide to write "Dark Times" as flash fiction?

I write poetry mostly, but lately I've been playing around with short fiction—it's an incredibly versatile form and a lot of fun to write. This idea didn't seem like it would work in any other format.

What's next for you as a writer?

I belong to a small writing group and our penalties for not producing something for the weekly meeting are very strict, so I guess I'll keep plugging away.

Read Dark Times.

Karrah Kobus is a conceptual portrait artist and wedding photographer from Minneapolis, MN. Karrah stumbled upon the magic of photography while studying for an anthropology course—she came across a photo created by Rosie Hardy and knew immediately that she was meant to be a photographer also. With her budding career taking her across America and to Mexico and Canada, it has been an adventurous two years for Karrah. She's driven across the country to meet perfect strangers and bathe in waterfalls after covering herself in mud. She's spent countless nights, mornings and afternoons running around aimlessly and just because she had her camera; everything was, and always will be, okay. Sometimes she feels like photographers have uncovered a special secret. A crazy, amazing, and beautiful secret. The key to truly living. And all she wants is to be alive.


Issue Thirty-Eight (December 17, 2012): Call Me Your Unbroken by Chuck Augello «» Slow Dance by Andrea Danowski «» Moms' Advice by Amy Denham «» Crushed Ice by Gary Fincke «» Second Runner-Up by Faith Gardner «» The Fear of Something Happening by Nick Harmon «» Christopher by Annie Hartnett «» Messing with Texas by Anderson Holderness «» Exercise in Translation by Naira Kuzmich «» Boy Cyclops by Helen McClory «» We Were Always Laughing by Mark O'Neil «» The Speed of the Sound by Patty Petelin «» The Earth Drowns Us by Brenda Peynado «» Shit To Do with a Wedding Dress by Angela Readman «» The Invitation by Amy Scharmann «» The Abridged Biography of an American Sniper by Linda Simoni-Wastila «» Dark Times by Matthew Smart «» Parameters of a Kingdom by Laurie Saurborn Young «» Interviews: Chuck Augello «» Andrea Danowski «» Amy Denham «» Gary Fincke «» Faith Gardner «» Nick Harmon «» Annie Hartnett «» Anderson Holderness «» Naira Kuzmich «» Helen McClory «» Mark O'Neil «» Patty Petelin «» Brenda Peynado «» Angela Readman «» Amy Scharmann «» Linda Simoni-Wastila «» Matthew Smart «» Laurie Saurborn Young «» Cover Art by Josh George «» Letter From the Editor
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