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Smoking With Faith Gardner
by Josh Denslow

Photo by Karrah Kobus
Art by Karrah Kobus
I love the structure with each of the sections mimicking an actual pageant, and how we become more and more horrified as it all slowly unfolds. It's also a wonderful way to encapsulate the dark humor. Did you know from the start that you were going to build the story this way?

Thanks, Josh. This was a fun, experimental piece to write, and I did know I was going to use the sections from the beginning. That was about the only thing I knew. I stole the structure from a real teen beauty pageant I read about online and treated it like a writing prompt, making each section a brief chapter in this girl's story.

What drew you to writing a story revolving around a pageant? Just so you know, your answer must be: I used to be in pageants.

Ha ha! Sorry to disappoint, but I was never in pageants. I've researched some about them, though. I just find them so absurd that they beg to be written about.

The gruesome image of the mermaid at the end is what resonates most for me. This idea of destroyed beauty. But then there's another beat, of the Second Runner-Up walking away, and it felt so sad to me. Like there could have been a moment of redemption, but she chose not to take it. What do you think she was feeling in that moment when she sees the mermaid?

Horrified but helpless. Like the world can be ugly and unfair, and there's nothing she can do about it.

You do a wonderful job of detailing the aspects of a pageant that can appear dehumanizing. Why do you think young girls subject themselves to that kind of scrutiny?

That's a very good question and I wish I knew the answer. I guess it has to do with a need to be beautiful, a need to win, but I'm sure it's a lot more complicated than that. And at this girl's age it probably has more to do with the parents and their issues.

I mentioned the humor before, but I think you do a spectacular job of blending tragedy and comedy. I've read other stories by you that achieve the same heights. How conscious are you of incorporating humor when you write?

I don't think too hard about incorporating humor as I write, but I definitely notice when it's missing from a story as I revise later. Those pieces that have no sense of humor tend to not work so well for me.

Read Second Runner-Up.

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-Seven (September 24, 2012): Two Boyfriends by Simon Barker «» Two Days in American History by Patrick Allen Carberry «» What I Told God by Sarah Carson «» Partners by Simon Jacobs «» Wreck by Will Kaufman «» Keep It Down by Harry Leeds «» Ants by Lindsey Gates Markel «» Quantifiable Consequence by Adam Padgett «» The Temperature At Which Paper Burns by Young Rader «» Bad Traffic by Matt Rowan «» Clearings by Joseph Spece «» Texas Vs. London by Jon Steinhagen «» Clichés by Aaron Teel «» When I Was Twenty-Three by Dan Townsend «» Revived by Eugenio Volpe «» Jalapeno Summer by Ryan Werner «» A Collector by Bess Winter «» Interviews: Simon Barker «» Patrick Allen Carberry «» Sarah Carson «» Simon Jacobs «» Will Kaufman «» Harry Leeds «» Lindsey Gates Markel «» Adam Padgett «» Young Rader «» Matt Rowan «» Joseph Spece «» Jon Steinhagen «» Aaron Teel «» Dan Townsend «» Eugenio Volpe «» Ryan Werner «» Bess Winter «» Cover Art by Jennifer B. Hudson «» Letter From the Editor
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