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  • Samantha Irby: blogger, essayist, realist

    Interview by Jennifer Bostrom

    Almost four years ago, Samantha Irby came to my class and we talked about vibrators. No, it wasn’t a sex ed class, Irby was visiting to enlighten prospective writers, myself included, on the pros and cons of publishing her first book, Meaty (2013), with an indie-publisher. Those familiar with the essayist and blogger’s work might think: “Yeah, totally. Why wouldn’t you talk about vibrators?” but those unfamiliar might wonder: “WTF? What do vibrators and publishing books have to do with one another?” The answer is quite simply: very little (unless maybe you’re trying to lesson the sting of editorial rejection with some Irby-approved "me time").

    Bitches Gotta Eat (henceforth reffered to as BGE) is part recipe blog (not really, but with a name like "Bitches Gotta Eat" Irby does throw in the occasional recipe post), part "Dear Diary," and part self-deprecatingly candid posts about Irby’s battle with Crohn’s disease—including the “hotsex doctor” she sees for it. BGE’s popularity, as well as Irby’s candor and personality, lead her to pen Meaty. Every bit as funny, real, and grounded as the author, Meaty is a collection of essays that bring BGE's flavor for 251 pages. Currently, Irby works full time and is writing a second book, but gave me the opportunity to distract her for a bit.

    Jennifer Bostrom: How did BGE get its start?

    Samantha Irby: I first started a blog on Myspace (omg does anyone even still know what that is) to impress this kid I wanted to be my boyfriend. The relationship went to shit and so did that blog, but a bunch of people reached out to me asking me to continue writing. Eventually, at the urging of my friend Laura, over cheeseburgers and beers, I decided to start BGE.

    JB: Your first BGE post was June 2, 2009 and it reads “welcome to the raddest spot on the interwebs.” What is the raddest thing about BGE?

    SI: Every answer that comes to mind makes me feel like an asshole, so I will just say “it’s funny.”

    JB: You’re approaching the seventh anniversary of BGE (congratulations); it’s not uncommon that once bloggers have been published—or if they have a full time job—for blogs to lose momentum. How do you consistently bring a fresh perspective to posts, even when you revisit topics like writing or dating?

    SI: I can’t believe it’s been seven years already, omg. Wellllllllllllllllll, I’m not sure that “consistently” is a word I can confidently use, since over the last handful of months I’ve only posted a handful of times. I am forever evolving, and s--t is always happening to me in new ways. And the zeitgeist is forever changing, too. So I feel like as long as my cultural references stay au courant, then I’m all good.

    JB: BGE has always been written in lowercase font, boldface, and neon colors interspersed for emphasis. How did this style develop? If you could, would you publish your books the same way? 

    SI: I’ve always written in lowercase, just as a personal style thing. The multicolored text serves two purposes. 1) Since I tend to write long-form prose, it helps to break it all up a little bit, and 2) it serves my massive ego to highlight lines I am particularly proud of. I have been discouraged from using lowercase in my books, and I’m cool with it. It distinguishes the books from the blog to have them formatted differently but—and this is the more important thing to me—the text won’t be a distraction to people who are unfamiliar with my writing. Since it really is my personal preference, and not some stylistic or political statement, I don’t want every review to focus on why I don’t capitalize my Is. I don’t want anything to get in the way of the work.

    JB: When you write things like “Compliments are the currency of womanhood,” it makes me want to quote you (and if I had a better memory I would). How would you describe your voice?

    SI: Salty and with a strong undercurrent of wit, multiple hatreds, and crushing anxiety.

    JB: On BGE you’ve written about outlining your new book. What is your typical process for writing? How, if at all, has your process changed since writing Meaty? Does anything differ when you write for your books vs. blog posts? 

    SI: Writing my blog is a lot easier for me. Usually something dumb happens and then I’m like OH MY FUCKING GOD I GOTTA WRITE ABOUT THIS RN (RN= right now, for those not versed in social media shorthand) and then I huddle over my desk and bang it out and get the instant gratification of seeing it go live and getting reactions to it. The book is hard because I sit alone writing in a vacuum and have to wait months and months before anyone lays eyes on it, which means I have months and months to pick it apart and doubt whether or not it’s good. Having a lot of time is almost tougher than trying to write it in a few months, because I’m a master procrastinator who is terrific at making excuses. If this damn thing ever gets done, it’ll be a miracle.

    I try to write an outline for every piece, and I never start writing a thing until I know how I’m going to end it. Even if I know exactly what an essay is going to be about, I don’t feel comfortable unless I know how it’s going to wrap up. Sometimes I’ll write the last couple paragraphs before I start the first. It’s that serious.

    JB: Where do you write—home, coffee shops? What music is in your Spotify “writing playlist” right now? 

    SI: I try to write at home because I hate people and noise and sunshine and looking at things—plus I don’t have to put on shoes or a bra—but writing at home is hard because there’s a TV and a bed. It’s an actual nightmare. I wrote most of the new book at other people’s houses, which is the best of both worlds: I don’t have to worry about leaving my laptop if I have to pee, but also there’s the public shame of someone catching me doing internet crossword puzzles while pretending to be writing.

    I make a killer fucking playlist, and I keep adding songs to the one I made to help me get through working on this book. It’s got 100+ songs on it, and I would never bore you with all of them so here is a sampling:

    “Your Love is Killing Me” - Sharon Van Etten

    “Weekend” - Mac Miller feat. Miguel

    “Refuse” - Kevin Garrett

    “Caretaker” - D.R.A.M. feat. SZA

    “2000 Seasons” Talib Kweli

    “No Role Modelz” - J. Cole

    “Coming Down” - Dum Dum Girls

    “You Took Your Time” - Mount Kimbie

    “Mad Lucas” - The Breeders

    “Etc” - Francis and the Lights

    “Forgive Me for Giving Up” - Hundred Waters

    I’m also really into Miles Davis’ Kind of Blue album and looped recordings of thunderstorms.

    JB: I know when it came to writing Meaty, you’ve said that it was an opportunity that presented itself. What opportunity lead to the decision to write another book?

    SI: This is going to sound like bullshit for real, but it really was another opportunity that presented itself. I didn’t have an agent for Meaty—the publishers were friends of mine. After it came out, I got an email from my current agent asking if I had one. I told him no, we talked on the phone, then BOOM he became my rep. He told me to put a few new pieces together and I did, he sent them out, and a few months later, I signed a deal. Even though it happened to me, writing it out feels like a fever dream. Crazy.

    JB: Had that initial opportunity not presented itself, do you think you would’ve still written a book? 

    SI: NEVER EVER FUCKING EVER. Finding an agent and pitching a book are difficult things to do even if you’re incredibly motivatedand I’m just not. I have a job, being active on Twitter stresses me out. I have no desire to do more than randomly post shit to make people laugh whenever the mood strikes me. I was perfectly happy just toiling away in my little corner of the internet, and my plan was to do that until life got boring or people stopped reading blogs—which is probably now, but I’m too old to have caught onto that yet.

    JB: What has been the hardest thing about writing your latest book? 

    SI: Figuring out what is interesting enough to go in it.

    JB: Meaty was marketed almost entirely through social media. Are you going to use the same approach with your new book?

    SI: Meaty came out on a small local press [Curbside Splendor] and big budget ad campaigns were totally out of the question. This new one is coming out on Vintage, a subsidiary of Knopf, and there are editors and marketing people and digital strategists and all sorts of other big time shit. I will be in charge of nothing, and that’s totally cool. 

    JB: I read in your interview with Chicago Now that Meaty took four months to write, all while watching twerking videos on Youtube and Grey’s Anatomy. What are your vices with this new book?

    SI: Makeup tutorials, holy shit. I could sit for hours watching Jaclyn Hill and Jeffree Star apply eyeshadows and highlighter. IT’S MESMERIZING.

    JB: What are the top 3 ways you procrastinate? What are the top 3 ways you push through procrastination?

    SI: 1) HBO

    2) Napping

    3) Carbohydrates

    1) Threats

    2) Disappointed emails from my agent

    3) Daydreaming about all the dumb shit I can waste money on when the book starts selling

    JB: Like you, I attended Nichols Middle School and Evanston Township High School, take my pets to Bramer Animal Hospital (where Irby maintains a full-time job), and eat at Lady Gregory’s and the Cozy Noodle on Davis—basically, I think I may be geographically stalking you (sorry!)—but you and I have very different writing style. What would you attribute your style to?

    SI: Omg, I am now wracked with anxiety that I might have been inexplicably rude to you at my job. (Just FYI, reader, Sam has never been rude to me at her job.) People always tell me that my voice is very distinctive, but I don’t know what to attribute it to. It’s just the voice I hear in my head, stream of consciousness rambling run-on sentences, sprayed on paper. I really do just write things to make myself laugh, and when it makes other people laugh, too, that’s butter on the toast.

    JB: I remember when you came to my class you championed LELOs (ahem, vibrators). You’re candid with every topic you write and talk about. As a writer, I often stray from uncomfortable topics, whether it’s from a place of my own self-censorship or an external factor. Do you struggle with any censorship? How do you think you grew to be so comfortable with candor? 

    SI: I suppose it’s been easy because I’ve had very few negative consequences? Lately, I have been trying not to swear so bleeping much, but other than that I don’t really censor myself. There are topics I avoid—politics, religion, etcetra—because 1) they aren’t that funny and 2) I don’t feel learned enough to write about them and sound like I know what I’m talking about, and others I shy away from because no one should ever be totally transparent. (Also: Go get a LELO if you haven’t yet—they’re magical.)

    JB: In Meaty, we learn that your parents died when you were very young. My condolences. Did that loss contribute to introspection and lead to becoming a writer?

    SI: I’m not sure that I ever wanted to become a writer. In high school, I wrote a lot of fiction based on fantasies of the lives I would’ve created for myself if life was something I could be in charge of rather than a game of cosmic roulette. Those stories were an escape from the horrors of my real life. I don’t know that writing is something I would’ve pursued if I had people around telling me how disappointed they were in my decision to put my life out in public. I never got to know my parents well enough to know how they’d respond to my work. I hope this doesn’t sound callous, it’s definitely an advantage to not have them around.

    JB: How much of your free time is dedicated to writing?

    SI: I usually write my blog on my lunch breaks at work. I have never wanted it to feel like a chore, so I don’t write it on the weekends or my days off. When I have book stuff to work on, I try to write whenever I’m not working, but that usually ends up being 70% Hulu and 30% staring at my Macbook waiting for the words to present themselves to my fingers. But I don’t really like writing in a vacuum, so even on the days I dedicate to writing, I try to break it up a little bit: stretch my legs, watch some trashy TV, whatever I can do to give my brain a little breather.

    JB: The first paragraph of Meaty has the line “I have a ‘job’ and not a ‘career.’” Has a job working in an animal hospital hindered or helped you as a writer? Would you consider writing your career? 

    SI: I’m not sure if anything other than the flexibility and lack of any sort of punitive moral code of conduct has helped my writing, but I guess those are pretty important things. It’s pretty amazing not to have to worry about being fired for something I’ve written on the internet. I’m not really sure I want writing to be my career, because what if the ideas stop? What if I stop being as interesting, or as funny? I’m not sure I would enjoy writing as much if my livelihood depended on it.

    JB: Lastly, what advice would you give to aspiring essayists?

    SI: Get a job. It doesn’t have to be a career, but you definitely need a regular paycheck for things like food and cocktails and lightning fast internet or whatever. Not having the pressure of hustling for money, or writing shit I don’t care about just to collect a check for it, has been incredibly freeing. I’m free to write about my butthole and falling asleep in nightclubs because, even if no one wants to pay to read about it, because walking dogs or selling doughnuts has already covered my rent.

    To read more of Irby's words, go to Bitches Gotta Eat or find Meaty online at Amazon or Barnes & Noble.


    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. 

  • 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. Meet Hair Trigger 2.0's New Editor-in-Chief: An Interview with Jennifer Bostrom

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    Interviewed by Ben Kowalski

    Jennifer Bostrom graduated from Columbia College Chicago's Creative Writing (Fiction) major in May 2016. She was the Production Editor for Hair Trigger 38 and was a contributor and intern at Hypertext Magazine online. She has been appointed to be the Editor-in-Chief of Hair Trigger’s online edition.

    I had a chance to sit down with Jennifer Bostrom to talk about Hair Trigger, its new website, and the creative writing community at Columbia.

    Ben Kowalski: What attracted you to Hair Trigger, originally?

    Jennifer Bostrom: Coming into the department, Hair Trigger was one of the main things I often looked forward to not only reading but [also] aspiring to each year. As a student, it was really nice to be able to read stories written by my peers that were [on] a professional level. I looked forward to editing because [editing] was an experience that I had before, so it gave me the opportunity to grow up professionally and in my own writing.

    BK: What do you hope to bring to Hair Trigger as its online Editor-in-Chief?

    JB: The idea for Hair Trigger [Online] is to introduce it to a national audience. I’m hoping that I can bring the Columbia spirit to a national audience because it’s funny, it’s dark, [and] it’s experimental. It’s not [the kind of] fiction—and in some cases Creative Nonfiction—that I see in many places, so I’m hoping that we can broaden the audience.

    BK: How do publications like Hair Trigger affect Columbia’s creative writing community?

    JB: [It’s] an anthology of my peers—I work on their writing with them or I listen to their writing in class. It’s sort of a way for me to not only see my peers’ work come to fruition as a published piece but it’s also a way to expose students to what fiction can be. It’s a way to show them how experimental or how silly or how crazy a piece can be—it’s not just Pride and Prejudice or Shakespeare. It’s much more fun and “out there,” but still very literary.

    BK: Has working with Hair Trigger informed your fiction writing in any way?

    JB: From the writing side, it forced me to step outside of my comfort zone. As an editor, it forced me to view my pieces from a much more critical lens. I started focusing a lot more on how I said things, or how I punctuated, even—whether I was supposed to use the em dash or a semicolon, whether things should go in italics. It forced me to elevate the standard to which I held my own writing. 

    BK: What is your biggest challenge as a writer and editor?

    JB: My biggest challenge as a writer would definitely be my own self-censorship about whether or not I should write things or whether I should send them out to places. As a writer who edits their own work, I try to be very careful about not over-editing my own pieces because [you are] your own harshest critic. I edit out things that are written from [an] emotional basis, or edit too much, [or] edit out the thing that really should have stayed in there because it was hard-hitting and honest. 

    As an editor, the hardest thing is editing too much, or editing to honor a piece and that author’s intent or that author’s voice. You never want to over-edit [or] overstep your bounds.

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

    JB: I hope that we can successfully bring this magazine to a broader audience and honor the tradition that we have with the Creative Writing Department.


    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/.