First of all I’m afraid to read your book because the thought of reading it makes me feel the same way I feel when I’m notified that someone has tagged me in a facebook photo: simultaneously full of dread and incredibly curious to see what it is. What is the book about?
A man’s wife disappears and he thinks about who he thought she was versus who she might have been.
Is it a mystery?
I always want to say yes, but then I worry that a more traditional mystery reader will read it and be disappointed because it doesn’t shape itself like a mystery. But yes, it’s a mystery.
I’m working on a horror story.
Neat. Will normal fans of horror like it?
Probably not. But who’s normal?
Good point. Do you like to read that stuff? Mysteries and horror stories?
I did when I was a kid: scary stories and the Fear Street series. When I was in the third grade, I went to the bathroom and when I returned my copy of “Goodnight Kiss” was not on my desk anymore. Both third grade classrooms were connected by a door and I saw the two teachers holding the book and talking about it in that door. I thought they were proud of me for reading a junior high book in third grade, but instead they took it away from me and called my parents and told them I couldn’t bring books like that to school anymore.
Why were you reading such a racy book in third grade?
It wasn’t racy. It was about vampires.
Do you like vampire books now?
You mean like the Twilight books or Sookie Stackhouse? I’ve never read any of them, but I don’t think they’re my bag. As I kept reading as I got older, I realized I love the feeling of suspense, but I don’t love all of the fantasy stuff and I don’t like the suspense to be resolved in conventional ways. When I was a kid I loved movies, but if I didn’t finish a movie in one sitting, I’d just start it over again, and maybe I never made it all the way to the end. I liked the exposition. I like watching the story get set up and complicated, but I hated when the story got resolved. Or, I like imagining what could happen beyond the realm of what we think is real, but for some reason I’m turned off by all the recognizable beings, like vampires, zombies, werewolves, etc. I still love scary movies. I love that movie The Orphanage and I watched all of Hitchcock last year. Over 50 Hitchcock movies and then all of Hitchcock Presents! That took some time.
What do you read now?
I’ll give anything a chance, and I like to venture outside of my box. I’ve been reading some stories about hauntings because of what I’m working on now. I read Shirley Jackson’s The Haunting of Hill House and Kathryn Davis’s Hell and they are both so well formed. It felt like they were throwing the gauntlet down, like: “If you’re going to do this, here’s the bar. At least lift your hands up.” I’ve been giving the ladies a ton of attention lately: Roxane Gay’s Ayiti, Sara Levine’s Treasure Island!!!, Tupelo Hassman’s Girlchild and Amelia Gray’s Threats. All knock-me-down good.
Can you tell me a little about how you decide what to read next?
I think that having been a bookseller for so long and also being involved in a really friendly lit community pushes me to want to read as much as possible all the time. I always want something new to recommend and I want to be able to take part in discussions about the newest stuff out there, but there’s so much older stuff to tackle, too. It stresses me out to think about how much there is I want to read and how many books on my shelves I haven’t gotten to yet. I have trouble diving into really long books because I know that I could read 4 or 5 books in the time it takes me to get through, say, Ulysses or The Sotweed Factor.
Do you ever abandon books?
Very rarely. But I abandoned Marilynne Robinson’s Housekeeping and I know there have been others. Mostly I hang in until the end. I like to line up the next couple books I’ll read so I can push through to get to them.
So what will you read next?
Lined up right now I have Elizabeth Ellen’s Fast Machine, Jess Stoner’s I Have Blinded Myself Writing This, Matt Bell’s Cataclysm Baby and Ben Marcus’s Flame Alphabet ready and waiting.
How often do you write?
I try to write 1000 words a week, which I know is a small amount, but it adds up. And then I try to have a couple times a year where I try to write 1000 words/day. Dedicated writing a week or even a month or whatnot. Like writing bootcamp. It can be so hard to say no to socializing or relaxing in favor of writing. Making it a small thing I do every week, and then a larger activity I can book and look forward to works for me.
What about other writing stuff: submitting, correspondence? I know you’re the poetry editor of decomP.
That I sort of do as necessary. I really love the nitty gritty stuff. I enjoy it. It’s mostly so cut and dry and you can get such an easy sense of accomplishment. That said, I’ve been submitting less than I was for a good while there. I started working on this new novel, this haunting story, and decided to only send out the stories I had left, not to work on smaller pieces unless a great opportunity came up. So less has been showing up in the world, but that’s okay because I’m building this other thing which feels great.
Both Christopher Higgs’s HTMLGiant review and David Allen Barker’s Nouspique review of My Only Wife mention what seem like they could be typos, but the reviewers trusted weren’t. Were they typos?
They were both typos. The one Christopher saw was fixed before the final version and the one David saw is in the final book. What a strange thing to fixate on and to trust! There was something about being trusted for both of those that made me feel good, but they weren’t actually intentional. I was very nervous all the criticism of the book was going to focus on typos, but everything is ending up fine.
Is it hard to know what to ask yourself in an interview?
It is! I know all the answers so it can be hard to think of the questions. When you’re interviewing someone else, you have the luxury of curiosity.
Don’t you think you should be curious about yourself?
Good point. I think that’s probably what a lot of writing is: being curious enough to sit down with yourself and see what you can make.
Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. Her debut novel, My Only Wife, was just released from Dzanc Books. Her work has appeared in The Denver Quarterly, Caketrain, Handsome and Sleepingfish, among others. She is the author of a chapbook of stories, These Strangers She’d Invited In (Greying Ghost Press) and the poetry editor for decomP Magazine. Jac blogs her rejections at jacjemc.com.