Interviews

Interview
  • Interview with Photographer Doug McGoldrick

    Interviewed by William Grant

    Doug McGoldrick is a fascinating man. I met him while attending Columbia College Chicago where he teaches photography classes part-time. When I took his class, I was in the process of creating a new photographic series that I was incredibly passionate about. Doug was one of the biggest influences for me during that time. His encouragement and insight helped push me to create some of my best work.

    When I was assigned the task of interviewing an artist for Hair Trigger 2.0, I immediately reached out to Doug. From my time working with him, I knew he would make for an interesting interview. He’s done a bit of everything and seems to always be ready for something new and compelling. In the interview below he tells me about his passion for photography, his favorite things to shoot, and how he defines his success.

    Will Grant: When did your passion for photography begin?    

    Doug McGoldrick: When I was in grade school my dad was an amateur photographer, and we would sometimes go out on weekends and take nature photos together. What sparked it? Getting photos back from the camera store and seeing my photos when I was a kid was super exciting.

    WG: You’ve done a wide variety of work ranging from weddings to industrial factories to motorcyclists and more. Is there one subject you’ve done that interests you the most or is there fun in always changing?

    DM: For me whenever I can get to see behind the scenes someplace where most people don’t get to be, I’m happiest. I think in my heart doing documentary-type work is my favorite. I think part of it is, growing up I was very shy and bringing my camera into a place to take pictures gave me a reason to talk to people.

    WG: Do you have other non-photographic hobbies and do they ever bleed into your photographic work?

    DM: I do a lot of painting and drawing and they tend to go together with my photography nicely. Also bike racing and motorcycles are things I’m into, taking photos in those communities gives me an excuse to talk to people and get more involved than I would normally be.

    WG: Is there a series/subject matter that you’d like to explore in your work that you haven’t yet?

    DM: Oh man, so many. I would really love to go on tour with a dance company or band and shoot everything. Also any sort of big, dirty industry.

    WG: You’re a part-time teacher at Columbia College Chicago. What is a key piece of advice you share with all your students? What is something unexpected or valuable that you’ve learned from your students?

    DM: Lately I’ve been teaching a business of photography class and I like to let all the students know that in the photo biz moreso than almost any other, competition is incredible and to make it you need to be a person who hustles harder than the rest. I’m always learning so much from the students, a lot of it is tech stuff, but to me the most exciting thing is seeing how people's way of seeing the world changes.

    WG: How do you define success and, by your definition, do you consider yourself successful?

    DM: I think if you are making your living from photography you are in a sense successful, because it’s really hard. In my head I have this picture of success where I’m not pushing myself out there for work but work is just coming to me; I don’t think I’m there and probably nobody really is. Sometimes I feel like a success, sometimes I don’t. I was talking to another photographer recently, joking about how some months you want to start driving for Lyft and some months you feel like you could buy a Tesla. It’s a strange biz but way better than going to an office every day.

    See more of Doug’s work at dougphoto.com


    William Grant is a Photography and Fiction Writing major at Columbia College Chicago. He enjoys broccoli and Anna Kendrick.

  • Interview With Amina Gautier

    Interviewed by Claire Martin

    When Amina Gautier released her third short story collection, The Loss of All Lost Things, in 2016, it was quick to gain attention in the fiction community. Gautier continues to provide a refreshing and prolific take on writing short pieces in the midst of a market that seems to be driven almost exclusively by novels. Her subject material ranges from the everyday to the unimaginable, but it is all united under a visceral, inspiring umbrella of human understanding of pain.

    Her two earlier collections, At-Risk and Now We Will Be Happy, have both received numerous awards, including the Flannery O’Connor Award and the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction. As a fictional short story writer myself, I was thrilled to be able to sit down and hear about her own approach to storytelling, the modern academic writing community, and bringing her ideas to life.

    Claire Martin: Your recent collection, The Loss of All Lost Things, illustrates such a diverse range of material from kidnapping, to librarians, to the streets of Pompeii. What inspired you to bring the stories of all these people together?

    Amina Gautier: I’m inspired, simply, to write. The stories sort themselves out into collections much later. I don’t consciously write a story with the intention of placing it in a particular collection; I just write whatever is on my mind, and, later, I look at what I’ve accumulated and take note of what themes are present and which stories seem to speak to one another. That’s how my three short story collections came together. Even though my most recent collection is about loss, some of these stories predate stories in the first two collections. While writing a variety of stories, I kept returning to explorations of loss because the subject is universal—we’ve all experienced loss in some form or another—but our handling of it is unique, individual and particular. That’s what makes it so compelling a topic for me.

    CM: You’ve received an M.F.A. as well as a Ph.D. What did you find to be the greatest benefit of pursuing degrees in higher education as a writer?

    AG: Actually, I don’t have an M.F.A. degree, just a B.A., two M.A.s, and one Ph.D. I graduated from Stanford in 1999 and aspiring writers weren’t encouraged to immediately pursue M.F.A.s then. The advice I received from multiple sources was cautionary. It warned that there were only a few great M.F.A. programs, that most didn’t offer good funding, that a recent undergrad would be competing with more mature writers who had led full lives and were now returning for the M.F.A. degree, and that it would be better for a beginning writer to go and obtain life experience for a few years while writing privately on one’s own dime, to work up a few strong stories and then consider applying for the M.F.A.

    I’d always intended to be a writer, but I was a poor kid from rent-controlled housing in Brooklyn, and the path laid out in that advice would have caused me too many financial burdens. I believed pursuing a Ph.D. in literature and thus committing to six years of formal, dedicated study would in no ways harm my talent as a writer. Furthermore, I believed that it would make me a better writer by putting me in conversation with literary history and scholarship.

    Obtaining a Ph.D. in literature allowed me to not just be a voice in the literary conversation, but to understand all of the voices speaking in that conversation. It has given my work depth and subtlety, which is not always comprehended upon the first read, but which becomes more apparent with further study. For example, my first collection At-Risk makes references to Emmett Till, minstrelsy, the performance of blackness, the law of hypodescent, and Milton’s Paradise Lost and my newest collection The Loss of All Lost Things references the Trojan War, the destruction of Pompeii, marital rape, suicide, degenerative diseases, and Trayvon Martin, but the treatment is subtle and nuanced so that most of these references would only be picked up on by the most astute reader.

    CM: Your emphasis on short story writing is something I appreciate seeing in a market that’s usually driven by novels. What is it about writing short stories that speaks to you most?

    AG: When I was a child, there was a commercial for Tootsie Rolls that aired on television and its jingle went like this, “Whatever it is I think I see becomes a Tootsie Roll to me!” The commercial featured kids playing and everything they saw turned into a Tootsie Roll. That’s how I feel about short stories. The world I see looks like a short story to me. Everywhere I look, I see short stories. Short stories mirror my reality. Many novels tend to be definitive; at their conclusions they often suggest that the action has been completed and that there is no more to be said. That’s not what the world looks like to me. To me, nothing ever seems to be completely finished or all the way closed.

    People come to certain conclusions or live by certain beliefs, and then some new piece of information is presented, or some new experience is had that causes them to draw different conclusions. People are always changing, growing, shifting, and never sitting still. Human resolutions are temporary, often offering knowing that is fleeting or tied to a specific moment in time or set of events—just like the resolutions in short stories. When you write a short story, you allow the reader to drop in on characters and get to know them at that moment, but there is always an understanding that you could pop back in on them at a later date and they might be very different people.

    CM: What, if anything, do you find to be the most important aspect of making a good short story land?

    AG: Heart. I have read many short stories that were technically “good” i.e. they were mechanically clean and they featured all the necessary parts by which we come to recognize a short story—inciting incident, conflict, rising action, denouement, etc. but they fell flat because it seemed that the writers did not actually care about the characters. The characters don’t seem real; they read like types. It is as if they exist on the page only to prove a certain point and once they have done so, the story is over. Somewhere in the process of writing, you have to arrive at the point where you genuinely care about the characters. I do not mean that you have to “like” them or make them “likable.” What I am talking about is an investment of caring. Because you are a human being and your characters are based on human beings, there is a natural affinity between yourself and the characters about which you write; therefore, you should care about them. If you are going to kill off one of your characters, they should not die merely as plot fodder. You should feel their death and it should hurt you. You should grieve and mourn them.

    I am not a writer who composes bubbly stories full of rainbows and happy endings; most of my stories are dark or sad and many of my characters are in pain. I feel their pain. In my first book At-Risk, two young boys are killed in an accidental homicide (death by stray bullets); in Now We Will Be Happy, a woman is a victim of domestic abuse, and in The Loss of All Lost Things, a young boy is abducted by a sexual predator. None of these stories were easy for me to write. I did not dash them off without a care. I almost didn’t write them, believing that there was already enough violence and sadness out there in the real world. But I did write them.

    Each of those three stories took me years to complete because I cared so deeply about my characters. When writing, there were moments when I felt sick to my stomach and had to stop mid-page because I was crying too much, times when the research was too sickening and graphic and I couldn’t bear to read or watch anymore—I’d have to step away from the stories for months at a time to give my spirit a break. It’s true, they are only characters—they’re not real people, but they deserve to be written with care. You should care about who they are and what they will or will not do and how these actions might affect them for better or worse. Otherwise, why are you writing about them in the first place?

    CM: After teaching at institutions like DePaul University and University of Miami, have you found that being an educator has helped your own writing in any way?

    AG: Absolutely. Teaching helps keep me engaged and tuned in. I’ve been writing seriously for quite some time now—about seventeen years. As a result, much of my formal training has been forgotten or become second nature to me. When I first started writing, I used to think of stories in terms of their parts and components and I used to revise with attention to certain craft aspects and details i.e. I’d look at the dialogue, and then the setting, etc. But now, writing is second nature to me. I’ve arrived at that stage where I know what I know without knowing how I know it. Since teaching creative writing makes it necessary for me to deconstruct stories, to explain and discuss them one craft element at a time, it helps me to articulate that which I otherwise wouldn’t.

    My students also inspire me. I talk to them about what they are reading, why they like certain stories, and in doing so I am sometimes introduced to literature of which I was previously unaware. One student expressed an interest in Japanese literature and culture, which inspired me to supplement the syllabus with short stories by Hisaye Yamamoto and Yukio Mishima. One student introduced me to Lucia Berlin’s story "Friendship" last year, which I greatly enjoyed. As a result of that, I bought Berlin’s collected works and have been working my way through it. I am definitely the richer for these stories making their way into my life.

    CM: How do you balance teaching and still managing to write? What does your process look like?

    AG: I am learning that this is an ever-evolving process. Teaching creative writing is both an inspiring and time-consuming process. What’s inspiring about it is that you get to discuss writing and literature in an animated and impassioned way with people who care as deeply as you do about the subject matter. A creative writing workshop is a room full of people who “get it”—who get that writing is important, affirming, and sustaining, who understand that writing takes time, effort, revision, and care. For those who often have to defend their avocation, it’s exciting and inspiring to have the ability to convey your passion, joy, and insight to people who actually want to receive it. So, the teaching of creative writing—the discussions and the re-reading of published stories, and novellas I admire—gets me gung-ho to come home and write until my fingers throb and the letters on my keyboard fade to smudges.

    However, there’s also the time-consuming part i.e. the amount of time and care that goes into preparing each individual critique for workshop. Once the workshop portion of the course begins, it is a dizzying whirl of reading, responding, and critiquing, which often leaves little to no time to work on one’s own writing. This varies from writer to writer. Many writers work best by carving out an hour or two per day to devote to their own writing, but that doesn’t actually work for me. I prefer large blocks of uninterrupted time for writing and I consider the first two hours of my writing day to be more like sloughing or exfoliating—a chance to write poorly, adverbially even, to rid myself of whatever bad habits or clichés reside in me—to get rid of obvious sentences or details so that I can get to the good stuff underneath, to write my way into a sweet spot where I can remain ensconced for a few hours or days until my brain needs a break and I return to the mundane world while my mind replenishes its creativity.

    This has become harder and harder to do because of both my teaching and book touring schedule, so for the past two years what I have done is build my stories during the semesters i.e. write snippets of them in notebooks, etc. and let them simmer, and then I gift myself with writing residencies during the summer breaks, where I can write and revise without interruption and bring my ideas to fruition. During the semester, I give my students their time and during the breaks I give my writing its time. Finding balance is an ongoing enterprise, but what I’ve described is the current method that presently works for me.

    CM: Are you involved in any writing communities, and if so, have you found collaborating with other writers to be beneficial?

    AG: I have participated in many writing conferences and residencies, such as Breadloaf, Callaloo, Hurston/Wright, MacDowell, Ragdale, and Ucross and I still consider myself to be a part of those communities. Additionally, I am a member of Kimbilio, and a Staff Member for the Sewanee Writers Conference, both of which are very important to me and in which I am deeply invested.

    For writers who don’t have the luxury to go away for weeks or months to attend the conferences and residencies above, there is also that literary mecca—AWP. Some writers find AWP to be overwhelming because the conference has grown to such large proportions, but attending AWP is one of the highlights of my year. I look forward to going with the same type of fervor someone else might save for a rock concert. It’s a gathering of the tribe—a four-day respite from a world in which your words have to be translated, a chance to be in a place where everyone speaks your language. AWP is loud and raucous. It’s big; it’s unwieldy, yet it soothes me.

    The idea that there is a conference for writers that draws 15,000-20,000 people does not intimidate or overwhelm me; it makes me proud and super happy that there are that many of us out there and that we have a place where we can come together and find each other, and that in that place and during that time, our interactions with one another can give us the strength to sustain ourselves as writers for the rest of the year and until we meet again.

    While I don’t collaborate in the sense of engaging in a joint publishing venture with other writers, I do commune with other writers and that is of great benefit to me. I find it to be not only beneficial, but necessary to my sanity.

    CM: All of the characters in The Loss of All Lost Things are animated with such relatable, real motives. In writing these people, were there any that you found yourself sympathizing with more than others?

    AG: If I am going to write about a character, I have to be able to sympathize with him or her. I have to be able to sympathize with and understand all of the characters in any given story I am writing. I do not have to like any of them or condone their actions, but I do have to know from where they are coming. Although the reader may do so, I cannot sympathize with one character more than another because if I am doing so, that is a signal that my work is not yet done and the story is not yet complete, and I will have to continue revising toward a better understanding of all of the characters.

    CM: What would be the best piece of advice that you could have received when you finished your undergraduate degree and entered the writing world?

    AG: From Peter Rock and Samantha Chang, respectively, I received two of the best pieces of advice when I finished my undergraduate degree and was preparing to enter the writing world. First, I was told to write ten publishable stories before I submitted the first one for publication. Second, I was told to collect rejections i.e. to make a game out of getting them. Those two pieces of advice have been worth their weight in gold.

    They prevented me from falling into the “write one, send one” trap into which I’ve seen so many writers fall. These writers get so engrossed in following the progress of the story they’ve completed that it gets in the way of them producing more work or different work. They wait for an acceptance or a rejection on that story before they complete another. Receiving a rejection letter sends them into a funk and they don’t write anything else for a long time, or if they do have something else completed, they become so scared of rejection that they won’t send it out. Or, conversely, their story gets accepted and they use that as a form of positive reinforcement to keep writing slightly different versions of the same story in the hopes that they will garner more acceptances, thus limiting their growth as a writer and restricting the breadth and depth of their talent. The advice I received taught me to sidestep that trap. I don’t care about rejections. I mean, I am human and rejections do bother me, but they don’t set me back or change my course. I get annoyed for about fifteen to thirty minutes when one comes my way, and then I get back to work.


    Amina Gautier is the author of three award-winning short story collections: At-Risk, Now We Will Be Happy and The Loss of All Lost Things. At-Risk was awarded the Flannery O’Connor Award, The First Horizon Award, and the Eric Hoffer Legacy Fiction Award. Now We Will Be Happy was awarded the Prairie Schooner Book Prize in Fiction, the International Latino Book Award, the Florida Authors and Publishers Association President's Book Award, a National Silver Medal IPPY Award, and was a Finalist for the William Saroyan International Prize. The Loss of All Lost Things was awarded the Elixir Press Award in Fiction, the Royal Palm Literary Award, and the Chicago Public Library’s 21st Century Award. More than ninety of her stories have been published, appearing in Agni, Callaloo, Glimmer Train, Iowa Review, Prairie Schooner, Southern Review, and Quarterly West. Gautier has won the Crazyhorse Prize, Danahy Fiction Prize, the Jack Dyer Prize, the William Richey Prize, the Schlafly Microfiction Award, and the Lamar York Prize in Fiction and received fellowships and scholarships from Breadloaf Writer’s Conference, Dora Maar, Disquiet International, Hawthornden, MacDowell Colony, the Ragdale Foundation, Sewanee Writer’s Conference, Ucross Foundation, and Vermont Studio Center. She is a graduate of Stanford University and the University of Pennsylvania.

    Claire Martin is studying Fiction Writing at Columbia College Chicago.  You can find her working on creative essays, wandering through Printer’s Row after hours, and becoming fully nocturnal.

  • Interview With Author (And Ace Fly Fisherman) John Galligan

     Interviewed by Bethany Bendtsen

    Born in the Pacific Northwest, Pushcart nominee John Galligan, now a longtime Wisconsinite, certainly hadn’t always envisioned writing and teaching as the two pillars of his professional career. As an undergraduate at University of Wisconsin-Madison, he studied Environmental Policy, before eventually going on to get a Master’s in English Literature. He worked as a cab driver, an au pair, a freezer boy at a fish cannery, and a house painter, among other odd jobs, before eventually settling into a path that makes much more sense given where he is now, first traveling and teaching English in Japan.  His first novel Red Sky, Red Dragonfly—part literary fiction, part dark mystery centered around the difficult and dangerous intersection of foreignness, sexual attraction and privilege—was influenced in part by his first-hand experiences while there. He also went on to work as an award-winning sports journalist and a feature-film screenwriter; his prose still carries an economical yet visually-evocative, cinematic quality to it.

    Following the publication of Red Sky, Red Dragonfly in 2001 and a children’s book he co-wrote and illustrated with his family, including his brother and his two young kids called Oh, Brother! said the Mother of Tony Pepperoni, Galligan was struggling with a manuscript that wasn’t going that well, despite the solid idea at its core: a traveling fly fisherman who stumbles upon a series of murders and is driven, out of circumstance, to solve them. While out fishing with a buddy on a sloppy day, Galligan—an experienced fly fisherman who considers fishing “sort of like sleep” to him—met a fellow fisherman who inspired the main character, Ned “Dog” Oglivie, of his successful three-book fly-fishing murder mystery series.

    This stranger was the antithesis of the main character whose perspective Galligan had been writing from.  Over the course of one afternoon and evening, and many, many beers, the man regaled Galligan and his friend with stories that, while wild and entertaining, made it apparent something was just a little off. By the end of the night, Galligan felt immense empathy for this man whose life, despite its Transcendental, escapistic sort of appeal, was clearly lacking in some vital quality of companionship and purpose.  In his fiction, Galligan often drew from people he knew and people he’d met, and this serendipitous encounter made him realize that a character like this man—colorful, nomadic, alcoholic, on the fringes of society—was much more interesting and compelling than the clean-cut fisherman he’d originally envisioned as narrator.

    With this new character in mind, Galligan set to work, while continuing to teach Creative Writing at Madison Area Technical College, where he remains on the faculty. Now, four years since the publication of Blood Knot, the final installment in the “Dog” fly fishing trilogy, I sat down with him to discuss writing, teaching and what’s on the horizon.

     Bethany Bendtsen: You’ve had a lot of interesting jobs before eventually becoming a novelist and professor. What was the worst job you’ve ever had?

     John Galligan: My worst job ever was jumping into the hold of a commercial fishing boat, landing in salmon up to my waist, and having to throw slippery twenty-pound kings over my head, up and out of the hold, all day long. Many days, this is what writing feels like.

    BB: What is your writing process? How do you approach rewriting?

    JG: I brainstorm, make notes, and research for quite a while. Then I outline, usually using what I’ve learned from studying screenplay writing about character, story structure, plot points, etc. The outline almost always ends up being more of a guide than a planoften I find different and better ways to tell the story as I go. My usual practice has been to revise my work in “acts.” I will draft what I call Act One until it is not perfect but rather perfectly functional in terms of carrying the conflict into Act Two. Then I draft and revise Act Two, and so on. I might revise the first 70% of the book ten times, then nail in the final 30% in just a couple drafts.

     BB: What does your typical day look like when you’re working on a book? How do you balance the demands of writing and teaching?

    JG: I write first thing, almost every day. I usually start by six a.m. I generally write for about three hours, though at times I will work for up to six hours, which seems to be my limit. I’ve been balancing teaching and writing forever, it seems, so it is no longer something I think about. I’m very organized and always know what I need to accomplish on a certain day, both writing and teaching. When I’m done writing, I switch gears, switch offices, switch computers, and do my teaching work until I’m done, whatever that takes. When push comes to shove, my teaching comes first. But I’m always thinking ahead about how to get my writing time in.

     BB: How, if at all, do you think teaching has impacted your writing? What do you get out of teaching?

    JG: Teaching has impacted my writing in numerous ways. One way that I really value is the exposure teaching has given me to so many people, and the empathy for all different kinds of people that the profession continually inspires and requires. At some point in my writing career I heard someone say “there are no assholes”—which is to say that every character has reasons for being who he or she is, my characters cannot be simply labeled and dismissed, and it is my job to understand them and feel what they feel and transfer this essential empathy to the reader. I think I would be lost at this challenge without the insights into people that my teaching has given me.

    BB: With Red Sky, Red Dragonfly and the “Dog” Fly Fishing series, it seems like place is very important in your writing. Would you say that’s true? Is it important to you to set your stories in a place that you know?

    JG: True. Authority . . . authenticity . . . an author needs to deeply know the place. This can be a challenge. In the Fly Fishing series, I worked hard to immerse myself in the Paradise Valley of Montana and the Upper Peninsula of Michigan, where the third and fourth books take place. I guess I did okay—no complaints anyway. But research and travel can only do so much. I feel a strong need to connect instinctively with the places I write about, and in that respect I feel most comfortable with Wisconsin at this point. The challenge then is to convince editors/readers that my place is a place they want to read about.

    BB: Other than place, what draws you to a story? Where does your inspiration come from? How do you know if you’re on the right track with something?

    JG: I’m a sucker for language . . . which can be my downfall as a writer. I will read just for strong and/or beautiful language, and that taste tends to steer me when I write too, which at least in genre fiction has gotten me into trouble with agents/editors/readers who are just not on board with anything that challenges them on this level. But sometimes, to be fair, my stories may be less than the language they are told in. I know I’m on the right track when the kind of language I like flows in the service of the story, and not the other way around.

    BB: What is your relationship like with your agent? What has your experience been like publishing your books?

    JG: I really like my agent, Joanna MacKenzie of Kristin Nelson Literary Agency in Denver. She’s supportive and patient and most of all, honest. She has really challenged my work, and that has helped me improve my writing process, especially in the planning phase, and to become a better writer. Publishing feels great . . . but only briefly. There is then marketing, and working on what’s next.

     BB: Any advice for graduating students who want to pursue a career in writing or publishing?

    JG: My best advice is to train yourself to write regularly, so that you build the strength, stamina, and skills needed to execute what your imagination produces. Also, examine, challenge, and continually improve your writing process. Obviously, read, widely and passionately. Finally, cultivate writing friends and allies. You‘re going to need connections and support.

     BB: If, for some reason, you couldn’t write and teach for a living but you could do anything else, what would you do and why?

     JG: I’d probably be a doctor. The human body fascinates me, and I know I’d be good at it.

     BB: Is there a story or a concept that you’ve always wanted to write, but have found yourself unable to?

     JG: Not yet. I have unfinished projects that are unfinished because I was unable to figure them out . . . but I’m not giving up. I have an idea for a speculative fiction novel, set in the future, that I’m not sure I have the tools for at this point, but I’m hoping to get there someday.

     BB: What are you working on now in your writing?

     JG: I have two novels at or very near the point of completion. One is in collaboration with my brother Michael, also a writer, a lighthearted whodunit featuring an ex-Seattle cop who has quit the force to be a stay-at-home dad but can’t leave his old world behind. It takes place during the transition to legal marijuana in the state of Washington and is called Last Hit for Mary Jane. We are hoping to make this a series. It’s been refreshing to write seriously about something not so serious and to work with a partner. My other novel is a dark crime story, set in the rugged hollows of Wisconsin along the Mississippi River, featuring a young woman who has transformed herself from a Dairy Queen into a tough but troubled county sheriff. It is called The Bad Axe and is also hopefully part of a series.


    When HT2.0 Managing Editor Bethany Bendtsen isn't writing “fiction” about falling in love with everyone she meets, she spends her time eating cheese fries, obsessing about her outfit, and being generally shady. Her favorite color is glitter.

  • Jac Jemc: Poetry-Prose writer

    Interview by Jennifer Bostrom

    She’s a novelist among poets and a poet amongst novelists: Jac Jemc is an author whose prose elegantly delivers both story and lyricism. A Chicago-based writer, Jemc has authored a chapbook, a collection of short stories, a novel, and numerous poems and nonfiction works.

    Jemc’s first novel, My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), was named a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and won the Paula Anderson Book Award. In addition to penning her prose, Jemc spends her time as Writer-in-Residence at the University of Notre Dame, editor to a handful of presses and journals, and an avid blogger about writing and rejection.

    Hair Trigger Online had the chance to talk to Jemc about My Only Wife, her process, and what’s coming next.

    Jennifer Bostrom: When did you first begin writing?

    Jac Jemc: I’d always written a little. As a kid, I loved writing scary stories. I wrote a handful of E.E. Cummings knock-off poems in high school. I also had an obsession with copying out passages of books, catalogue copy and lists of names longhand from childhood on. I see that now as some sort of apprenticeship I was doing—immersing myself in language without actually producing it myself—though I couldn't have identified it as such back then. I started writing fiction in college and wrote the first draft of My Only Wife as an independent study during undergrad.

    JB: My Only Wife was your first novel. How long did it take you to complete?

    JJ: I spent about three months on the first draft, which is mind-bogglingly fast compared to my pace now. I shuttled it through workshops and advising sessions irregularly for another two years of grad school and then spent another year editing it on my own afterward. It was accepted for publication in 2009, but wasn't published until 2012. So there were about seven years between starting work and the book meeting readers.

    JB: What is you writing process like? How does it differ when approaching a poem versus a short story or novel?

    JJ: It used to be nearly identical between all three forms. I'd start with language and start piecing together fragments. With poems, I was satisfied to leave space between the gluts of language and allow the force to be more intuitive. With stories, I'd try to fill in the gaps a bit more. With a novel, I strung together more of these narratives and tried to identify pattern and shape in a way that only the mass of 40,000+ words can allow you to do. Lately, I've been going into fiction with a little more of an idea of what I want to aim for than I used to. I might have an idea or a voice or a particular image that I start shaping action around. It's still very exploratory, but now I might choose a ideological location to set off from, whereas before, I'd close my eyes and drop a finger onto the map.

    JB: My Only Wife shows elements of poetry in the prose. Would you say that you identify more as a poet than fiction writer, or rather that one discipline influences the other?

    JJ: I’d say I'm definitely more a fiction writer these days, but the poetic roots still live in me, and I hope and expect that I'll return my focus to poetry again someday. I think a lot has been determined by where I've found my community. Though I've published a fair amount of poetry, I always felt a bit adrift in that world, like I never got a firm handle on what my place was in relation to other poets. With fiction, I felt like I found my way a little easier, and have a clearer idea of how my position shifts depending on the work I make. That said, I enjoy feeling a bit lost, so I'm happy the world of poetry is always there to revisit.

    JB: Having completed This Stranger She'd Invited In, a chapbook of short stories, were there challenges that arose with writing a novel that you weren't expecting?

    JJ: I actually wrote My Only Wife before the chapbook of stories, though TSSII came out first. The stories that make up the chapbook are almost more biographical character sketches, but they all live in the same world. In some ways, I saw those stories as a novella - something akin to Dylan Thomas' Under Milk Wood — defining a community.

    JB: Your short stories were published first and in your third book you've returned to short stories after My Only Wife, a full-length novel. Is that out of a preference for short stories or just where inspiration took you?

    JJ: The stories in A Different Bed Every Time were written over the course of the last 10 years, so there's at least one in there that was drafted even before My Only Wife and many that were written during the drafts of My Only Wife and other longer projects, too. I can't imagine ever ceasing to write short stories. I'll keep writing them as breaks from longer projects and ways to work out ideas are more suited to the shorter form, but because the stories are generally so short, it will take a while to amass enough for a collection.

    JB: What lead to the decision to leave the husband and wife unnamed in My Only Wife?

    JJ: My Only Wife is built on the repetition of "my wife." To keep up that voice, I opted not to add names into the mix. Possession and ambiguity were ideas I was interested in exploring, and that phrase sticks close to those themes.

    JB: You keep busy. How do you find time to set aside for your projects? Are you particularly rigorous about setting aside time each day, or specific goals you have to meet?

    JJ: I try to spend my entire morning on personal projects: reading and writing and editing. Afternoons and evenings are for class prep and reading/responding to student work, reading submissions, blog posting, submitting my own work and applying for residencies or teaching gigs. It's definitely busy, but I feel very grateful to get to focus on what I love.

    JB: As previously mentioned you post, most, if not all of your rejection letters on your website. Rejection isn't something most want to face but you do so very personally and publicly. Can you elaborate on why?

    JJ: I’m very invested in transparency in the writing life. I believe there's value in seeing rejection as a regular part of the writing life and admitting to the quantity of no's you hear in relation to the yesses. I don't really care to pretend to be some hero who's succeeding at everything I attempt. Failure is core to the creative process.

    JB: What's the next big project for you?

    JJ: I have two novel-length projects in the works right now: One is a haunted house story based in the present. The other, which is much younger draft-wise, is a historical fiction novel set in late 1800s Bavaria.

    To find out more about Jac Jemc, visit her website


    Jennifer Bostrom is a BA Honors Fiction Graduate from Columbia College Chicago, Academic Excellence scholarship recipient (2013-2016), Production Editor of CCC’s award-winning Hair Trigger anthology, and intern for HYPERtext MagazineJennifer's fiction can be found at The Copperfield Review and Habitat Magazine or on her website jcbostrom.com. 

    1. Bob Goldsborough: Mystery Writer at Large

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    Interviewed by Ben Kowalski

    The world of mystery writing is filled with secrets, clues, and brimmed hats, and Bob Goldsborough has seen just about every corner of it. The author of eleven Nero Wolfe novels and five Snap Malek novels, Goldsborough started as a newspaperman, working for 21 years at the Chicago Tribune and 23 years at the trade journal Advertising Age. His most recent novel, Stop the Presses (Mysterious Press), was published March 8, 2016.

    Hair Trigger had a chance to talk to Bob Goldsborough about his unlikely route into mystery writing, the creative process involved, and working in Chicago.

    Ben Kowalski: How did you first get into mystery writing?

    Bob Goldsborough: When I was a teenager, I made what seemed like a mistake—telling my mother I had nothing to do. She could have come right back saying “mow the lawn” or “wash the car,” but what she did [was] say, “Why don't you read a mystery story?” She gave me a Nero Wolfe story by Rex Stout. She loved these mysteries, partly because [they were] Who-Done-It [stories], but even more because these were not violent stories. There was not a lot of gore or a lot of sex or a lot of swearing in them. They were puzzles. Over the years, I began reading and enjoying them more and more. 

    In the 1970s, Rex Stout died at a ripe old age, in his upper 80s. My mother saw his obituary in the Chicago Tribune and said, “Now there aren’t going to be any more Nero Wolfe stories.” I got to thinking about what my mother had said and thought, “Maybe there could be one more.” Without any real purpose in mind, I started writing a Nero Wolfe novel myself, using the very same characters that Rex Stout had. I finished it in time for the next Christmas. This was just type script—type-only on one side of a page, 8.5x11—but I had this thing bound in a leather binder, and I gave it to my mother for Christmas!

    I had not written this story with a plan to have it published, but I later met a man who was involved in the Rex Stout estate. I told him I had a manuscript [for] a Nero Wolfe novel and showed it to him. Through a very complicated series of events, it ended up being published about eight years after it was written. Of course by this time, my mother had passed away. That story, Murder in E Minor, became a new Nero Wolfe novel published by Bantam Books in [April 1986]. That was the beginning.

    The people at Bantam liked the book, and this helped to revive the backlist [of Nero Wolfe books]. It was good business for them. They wouldn't publish it, though, unless I signed a contract for two books. I ended up, over a period of years, writing seven Nero Wolfe books for Bantam Books. Then I stopped. The publisher felt that these books had accomplished what they’d hoped for—not only did they sell reasonably well, but they [also] reignited the backlist. Rex Stout wrote over 30 novels and almost 40 novellas in his 40 years of writing, so they were able to put [those] back in publication.

    Then, I started writing my own series. I created a Chicago newspaperman named Steve Malek, and called him “Snap” Malek. He was a police reporter for the Tribune—my old employer—and I called him “Snap” because he always wore a snap brim hat. I set [the books] in the 1930s and ‘40s, using some real people and real Chicago events as a backdrop. That was phase two. 

    About five years ago, I got the idea to go back and do some more Nero Wolfe books. I wrote a prequel to the series Stout had done, called Archie Meets Nero Wolfe. There really wasn’t much of a backstory to how they met in Mr. Stout’s books, but he gave me a few clues and I used every one of them in putting this book together.

    BK: What is the biggest difference between your first Nero Wolfe novel, Murder in E Minor, and your most recent one, Stop the Presses?

    BG: I have gotten more comfortable with the characters. There’s an ensemble company of characters in these Nero Wolfe books—close to 20 people making continuing appearances. [In the beginning], I was very cautious about making them behave exactly like Rex Stout would’ve had them behave. I still do that, but I’ve gotten more freewheeling and given the characters more of a backstory. For instance, there is an Inspector Kramer on the New York City Homicide Squad and Rex Stout never gave him a first name... so I gave him the first name of Lionel. I’m still trying to make sure I don’t do the silly things—make the characters behave in ways that are totally out of character—but I have gotten less timid about the way I picture the characters.

    BK: How has your creative process changed since you began writing mystery novels?

    BG: Probably not very much. There are usually a five or six suspects in every one of these books and I do write thumbnail biographies—maybe 100 words or so—on each of these suspects, [including] their age, their appearance, their personality, and so on. I still do that.

    Basically, my approach has been pretty much unchanged over the years. I’m not a disciplined writer—I’d like to say I was, but I’m not. I don’t dedicate a certain time of day to writing a book, and I didn’t in the beginning. The thing that was a little different early on was that I had a full-time job at the Chicago Tribune, so I had to work on a book in off-hours. In the last eleven years.... I have [gotten] a much more flexible schedule. I could be writing right now, for instance, because I’ve got no job to go to!

    BK: How has your time working in Chicago journalism affected your mystery writing?

    BG: When you’re working on deadlines for a newspaper, you cannot sit at the type writer, or in front of the computer screen, and just agonize over what you’re going to write because you haven’t got the luxury of time. You’ve got to write fast. That really prepared me—I didn’t intend it to but it worked out that way. When I’m working on a book, I can take small chunks of time like an hour [...] and write several pages. I don’t sit in front of that computer screen and agonize. I’ve always been able to use small chunks of time to my advantage, and I think that was the newspaper training that did that for me.

    BK: Is there anything else you’d like to add?

    BG: I’m going to echo a quote from Rex Stout: “If I don’t have fun writing these stories, readers aren’t going to have fun reading them.” I feel the same way. To me, writing should not be agony—it should be fun. Sometimes I do run up against a tough spot and have to work my way around it, but by and large when I am working on a book, I’m having a good time doing it.


    Ben Kowalski is a BA Nonfiction senior at Columbia College Chicago, creative nonfiction writer, copy editor and contributor at the award-winning Columbia Chronicle (2015), and music critic at Pop'stache.com (2014–2015). Ben is currently working on an essay collection about music, and his album reviews can be found at http://popstache.com/author/bkowalski/.