Time. Everything takes longer than I think it will, more drafts than I think it will. Then there’s the business and admin side of things that eats up so much free time. Then the joy of reading and supporting other people’s work. I also work a more-than-full-time job that’s entirely separate from my writing, as well as taking on smaller writing-type/teaching jobs from time to time. I function best when busiest, but I have a partner and family and friends I love so much, and I want to offer help and support to them, and I can’t really fathom turning them down in favor of writing most of the time. Self-imposed deadlines make that an occasional possibility. And then: relaxation. I need it to survive. I need to get out and walk around and be in the sunlight. I’m constantly needing to calm myself down and remind myself that this writing is primarily for me. If I stopped writing, the person it would have the most effect on would be me, so I should make that part of my life what I need it to be, and not allow myself to get caught up in how quickly the rest of the world moves, and not focus on the numbers of books and tweets other people are producing. I constantly wonder if I should adjust my life so I can fit more writing in, but I think if I worked my job less or saw friends less, I might end up writing the exact same amount. Without the pressure of a small span of time, I might stop producing at all.
Whoa. Focus on your hang-ups, much?
You have no idea.
When My Only Wife came out, you said you were working on a horror novel. How’s that coming along?
It’s still coming. It’s been through several complete drafts now, but I just got a big round of notes from my agent and there’s a lot more to be done. I was hoping she might look at this draft and say, “Looks perfect. Let’s take it out!” But it’s a relief that she sees room for improvement and has ideas about how to make it stronger and where my weaknesses lie so I can work on them. I get caught up in the language and tone and ignore the story sometimes, and I’m grateful for a person who will make suggestions as to how I can improve that. I’d rather it be her pointing this stuff out than a reviewer.
Do you belong to a writing group?
No, but I participate in a betting pool with other writers for The Bachelorette and I’m a member of a book group.
A Bachelorette betting pool? Who’s winning?
I don’t know because we are still placing our bets for this season, but Zach Dodson, Amy Butcher, Roxane Gay, Aaron Burch and Elizabeth Ellen all participate. I’m a late convert, but there are some in that group that are long time devotees and know how the system works.
You said you have trouble finding time to write. It’s none of my business, but perhaps cutting out The Bachelorette could free up some time?
I’ve had the same thought.
And the book group: what’s that like?
They’re great. I feel lucky they took me in because it’s the only book group I’ve really been able to get into. Discussions of what to read next often proceed as such: “What haven’t we read in a while?” “I never read about sports!” “Let’s read the Best American Sports Writing then!” We really try to not get stuck in a rut. Sometimes we’ll pick a category and present book reports on our individual book to the group. Sometimes people do extra credit: research, art projects, special treats for the group related to the book. They’re such a smart group and they make me laugh.
What have you been reading lately that you love?
HHhH by Laurent Binet: it’s historical fiction that’s more about the process of research and constructing a fictional narrative based in fact than it is about the facts themselves. It’s gripping though. I just read Suicide by Edouard Leve while I was on vacation, and it was one of my favorite recent books. It’s so clearly drawn and moving. I think I marked about 50% of it as quotable. Similar situation with Clarice Lispector’s The Passion According to GH: so much gorgeous philosophy couched in the narrative of a woman smashing a cockroach in the door of a wardrobe and her world blowing wide open. It doesn’t need my help, but I also read The Empathy Exams on the flight home from AWP, before all the hype was sounding off, and it is everything everyone is shouting it to be. My thinking and writing changed from reading that book.
What else gets you excited to work?
Art! Lately I’m really in love with Laura Splan’s work. She does a lot of work around the human body, and there’s a real scientific feel to a lot of what she makes that is really thrilling. Also: Lara Shipley. Her photography is so gorgeous and unsettling. Rebecca Morgan’s work really floors me, too. It’s so crude and affecting. Just about anything can ignite a little fire in me though. I recently saw an entry for BINGO in an encyclopedia and thought, “I should write a story about BINGO,” so I went and played with a friend one night in a church basement, and sure enough, there was a real cast of characters to observe. After traveling in Germany, I’ve been thinking a lot about a story I heard about King Ludwig of Bavaria who was obsessed with opera and swans and then was deemed mad and then was found dead in a lake with his psychologist. I’d like to explore that a bit more, I think. There’s so much! All around! More time is what I need.
I haven’t even asked about your story collection yet.
Well, I’m thrilled that someone is willing to put out a big old heap of my stories. It can be so tough for collections these days – I feel very lucky that Dzanc is putting out A Different Bed Every Time. I’m interested in seeing what this process is like. I didn’t know what to expect for My Only Wife, and, in some ways, I expect less for this because it’s a collection rather than a novel, but I don’t know if maybe I have a slightly bigger audience now because of the nice press that My Only Wife received. I will be grateful for any little bit of attention the book receives, and I will do my best to help it along as much as possible.
What is your favorite thing that’s happened in the last week?
I was helping my sister put my nephew Austin, who’s three, to bed the other night, and we were talking about how we are both fans of the Berenstain Bear books, so I started giving him some other options to pick favorites, and somehow he could totally read the answer I wanted him to say.
“Austin, which one are you a bigger fan of: Stan and Jan Berenstain or Dostoevsky?”
We’d both laugh and I’ve give him another.
“Austin, who do you like better? Stan and Jan Berenstain or Susan Sontag?”
“Austin, who’s your favorite: Stan and Jan Berenstain or Jean Paul Sartre?”
“Jean Paul Sartre. BIG FAN.”
I lost it. I just lost it. Later on, he asked that we play again, and I happily obliged.
JAC JEMC lives in Chicago where she writes fiction and poetry. Her first novel, My Only Wife, was released by Dzanc Books in April 2012 and is a finalist for the PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for debut fiction. Her first full-length collection of stories, A Different Bed Every Time, is due out from Dzanc in October 2014. A chapbook of stories, This Stranger She’d Invited In, sold out at Greying Ghost Press in March 2011. Jac’s writing has been nominated for the Pushcart Prize many a time and her story “Women in Wells” was featured in the 2010 Best of the Web. Jac received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has completed residencies at Ragdale and the Vermont Studio Center. She is a web fiction editor for Hobart and curator of the Non-Reader Spotlight, a series of interviews with people who claim they don’t read. She is poetry editor at decomP and has served as a guest editor of Little White Poetry Journal and Hobart Web, and worked as a reader at Our Stories and The Means. In 2012 she was the recipient of an Illinois Arts Council Professional Development Grant.