So your couplet of novellas from Dzanc Books, Could You Be With Her Now, is about (1) the first-person point-of-view of a developmentally disabled boy who mistakenly kills a neighborhood girl on whom he has crush; and (2) a May-December romance between two women. Not gunning for The Notebook crowd with these, huh?
I’m just hoping my mother reads the back cover before she buys copies for her friends as Christmas presents. I feel like we’ve gone through this awkwardness before with my writing.
Why do I write? Why do I write commercially unsuccessful fiction? I don’t think you choose what you get to write. For better or for worse, it chooses you.
A lot of teeth-grinding out there about the state of publishing, or not being published by the big publishers. Or something.
Well, of course it’s my dream to ink a six-book deal with one of the biggies for millions, or even one book, but I write because, in some way, writing is my disease. It’s not a choice; I am compelled to do it, otherwise I don’t function properly. My brain doesn’t feel right; how I process information isn’t being used and I become mentally and emotionally constipated. I think Camus said something about writing being a disease in his Notebooks, but I can’t find the excerpt. The rest of it, the publication, awards, respect, money, is fun, but I have been writing since I was five, long before I ever realized there could be a career in it. (And a year before that, I was convinced I was going to be an elephant when I grew up, so that tells you all you need to know about my career choices.)
You don’t seem constipated at all. You have three books coming out in 2013¾Could You Be With Her Now, The Tide King (a novel from Black Lawrence Press), and From Here (a story collection from Aqueous Books). How are you going to do all that?
Beats me! Either my name will become inevitable with greatness or people will become so sick of hearing from me I’ll have to change it .
Francoise Le Rue McDonald. I’m going to go the Canadian route of publishing.
Tell us about the writing life.
Writers are not glamorous. We pretend to be on Facebook and Twitter, but mostly we’re sitting at home trying to be brilliant (or imaging what would happen to us if we actually were). I don’t own skinny jeans; I wear activewear and furry socks every day. And our spouses are publicly proud of us, but behind closed doors we get a lot of “you write all the time. You care more about your writing than [husband/wife/favorite child/favorite pet/favorite parent].” In that way, we are slightly above drug addicts and alcoholics on the obsessive behaviors scale. We’re self-absorbed except we don’t know it because we’re too busy being self-absorbed. We will be better people, we promise! 1) after we finish the novel; 2) after we get an agent; 3) after we sell the novel; 4) after we write the second novel; 5) after we win a prize for the second novel. 6) After we write the third novel, etc.
This is leading to the Joyce Carol Oates story, isn’t it?
It’s like you can read my mind! Someone told me they were at a dinner party at Joyce Carol Oates’ house and when they left, they were all standing on the porch there, getting their keys or whatever, and the window above the front door was open. They could hear Joyce Carol Oates clicking away at her keyboard. They hadn’t even vacated the area, the dishes hadn’t been washed, and she was already back to work. I can be a complete writing poophead like that. But I’m trying to be better, and enjoy life/be in the moment. At least, then I might actually have stuff to write about.
What would the title of your memoir be?
Big-Hair Jen. It would just be a coffee table book of my hair. Like I’ve said, I write fiction because my own life is incredibly dull. It’s composed of a lot of Balance Bars, dog-walking, and sitting at my desk.
What’s one thing you do when you’re alone that you wouldn’t do in front of someone else?
Make my dog, Sophie, talk. Like the Ancient Greeks, she likes to narrate her life in song.
Who’s your ideal drinking buddy, living or dead?
My friend from undergrad, Walter Bartas. He makes a mean 7&7, and he serves in a big glass with a lot of ice. You’re drunk before you even get to the bottom.
What’s missing from your life?
A signature fragrance. A religion. Yes, in that order.
What is your next project?
I’m trying to finish another novel, Rabbits Singing. It’s basically my love letter to Donna Tartt’s The Little Friend, except it’s set in New England and there’s a Betty Hutton-esque character helping the narrator try and solve a murder instead of three aunts. So, it’s actually kind of normal, in terms of my usual work.
A mystery! I’m impressed. You don’t know anything about mysteries, do you?
Did Herman Melville actually harpoon a whale? Besides, I have this Agatha Christie game for our laptop. It’s nothing like a mystery, actually, more like a Where’s Waldo? of clues hidden in a sprawling British seaside estate. I forget where I was going with this.
If you weren’t writing, what would you do?
I actually wanted to be a ER doctor, but I was too lazy and too stupid. Now, I do a lot of medical editing. It’s not really either/or, by the way. Like most writers, I don’t sustain myself through my fiction writing at all. Ironically, if I weren’t writing, I’d probably have a lot more free time and be less anxious.
If I won the lottery, I’d buy a farm and rescue Boston Terriers. There’d be something very Kubrick-seque about a farm with hundreds of little black-and-white tuxedo dogs running around. I’d probably have to sneak into the barn, and using pieces of toilet tissue (since writing paper would be banned), write about them.
Jen Michalski is author of the novel The Tide King (Black Lawrence press, 2013), winner of the 2012 Big Moose Prize, the short story collections From Here and Close Encounters, and the novella collection Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc 2013). She is the founding editor ofthe literary quarterly jmww, a co-host of The 510 Readings and the biannual Lit Show, and interviews writers at The Nervous Breakdown. She also is the editor of the anthology City Sages: Baltimore, which Baltimore Magazine awarded a ‘Best of Baltimore’ in 2010. She tweets at https://twitter.com/MichalskiJen.