Wednesday Jul 06

KeenerJessica Jessica Keener’s fiction has appeared in literary magazines, most recently: Night Train, Eclectica, MiPOesias, and The Wilderness House Literary Review. Writing honors include three Pushcart Prize nominations and Pushcart Anthology citation under  “100 outstanding writers”; Redbook magazine’s second prize in fiction, a Massachusetts Cultural Council Grant in fiction and a Chekov Prize for Excellence in Fiction from the editors at The Wilderness House Literary. Jessica reads fiction for Agni magazine.
Jessica Keener interview with Meg Tuite

Anything you would like to share with our readers about the inspiration for this story?

This story took me years to write.  The obvious answer is that I was trying to understand and reconcile a failed romance.  But more than that, I wanted to get at the idea of how we project our romantic desires onto other people and how that projection can obscure our perception of who that person really is as well as how that process of projection turns the desired person into an object. I kept circling the emotional content in this story for years, taking it out, revising, and putting it back in the drawer. Each time, I felt I was getting closer to the center of what I was trying to say, yet I still had a feeling of ambiguity, of not fully understanding why I was writing it, until recently.

You have a streamline movement of flashbacks with Richard and his mathematical puzzles and the present with Seth. Do you have a specific thought process in mind when you work with exposition and scene?

What a great question! I think you are probably keying into my fascination with time and space and how these elements play havoc with emotions.   In this story, for instance, I became conscious of this movement of back and forth after multiple revisions.  Once I saw what was happening for the protagonist, I decided to play with Richard's math puzzles as a way to reveal something larger about the characters' relationship with each other, and about love in general.  But, I am often unaware of such things until I start revising.  So, to answer your question simply: No.  I don't start out thinking of something specific.   Generally speaking, I've come to see that I have a sort of time dyslexia and instead of fighting this, I've learned to work with it.  The heart has its own clock. We're sentient beings who move, think and feel on multiple currents of time--past, present, and future.   Time's fluidity manifests in my fiction. 

I love that line “I looked up finally at a mass of strangers in his eyes.” And the last paragraph is sprinkled with heartbreak through the use of a metaphor and defining images of the narrator. What are your thoughts on using metaphors and similes in the stories you write?

Another great question and if I am to be honest I'll confess that metaphors seem to surge out of me, sometimes uncontrollably, and I've had to learn how to manage them. Again, it's not conscious. It's simply how my mind works--sort of visual.  As I see things, everything in life, every object, observation, event is potentially a metaphor.  I guess I believe that metaphors are doorways or passageways to those things we can't see but sense in the universe, a glimpse of something larger than what we can possibly understand.  

Do you have a writing schedule you adhere to and/or any tricks you might want to share with your readers?

I work out of my home office and have been writing features for magazines since the late 1990s. This kind of work taught me the importance and necessity of meeting deadlines, a pressure I actually enjoy.  I do best when I have specific time goals.  For longer work—a new novel, for instance, I make word count goals to keep from feeling overwhelmed; I’ll make a goal of, say, 500 words a day.  When I stick to that, the word count for the first draft builds quickly.  Generally, I write almost every day.

What book are you reading at this time?

I just finished the amazing Just Kids, a memoir by Patti Smith that won the National Book Award. The writing is stupendous—beautiful and honest.  Also, a stunning debut novel by Susan Henderson called Up from the Blue; a brilliantly comic book with a lot of heart called Daddy Left Me Alone with God by Robin Slick, Caroline Leavitt’s latest novel, the emotionally pungent Pictures of You; Tish Cohen’s, The Truth About Delilah Blue, a novel that deals with a parent who “steals” his own child, and Randy Susan Meyer’s provocative debut: The Murderer’s Daughters.

Name the top two or three most influential writers of your writing career and maybe a line or two telling us why.

I’ll name one: the great Flannery O’Connor.  I adore her short fiction. It’s muscular, disturbing and, at times, visually blinding. Her book of letters, Habit of Being, is a bible of writing advice and wisdom.  I return to it repeatedly for solace and guidance and recommend it to all. She had such a deep sense of herself, knew what she was trying to accomplish in her work, and possessed a delightful, cutting sense of humor.  She didn’t allow other people’s criticisms of her stories and novels to deter her from her vision, and in fact, welcomed controversy.  She also suffered a fatal blood disease, which severely restricted her energy level.  What she accomplished given the physical constraints of her illness—continues to inspire me.

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