by Jesse Cole Jackson
You mention in your bio that you typically write speculative fiction, but “Punch Buggy” is pretty far from SFF. What inspired you to write this story?
With the exception of the annual string-of-ten contest held by FFC I had done very little creative writing since becoming an editor with Every Day Fiction. That was a five year drought I was coming off of! You’d think slipping back into a SFF-genre story would be the easy path but I can tell you from experience as a writer and from reading hundreds of SFF submissions that SFF in a flash format is tough to pull off. You must introduce sufficient world-building narrative to create that SFF environment without going overboard and still give your story characters the reader can relate to. In addition, I was aiming to write a “targeted” piece for the 4th of July (EDF is always looking for targeted stories for special dates like the 4th, Thanksgiving, Bajram, Passover and what have you). So, I went with a coming-of-age sort of piece that is usually easier to relate to and from the reception I guess I pushed the right buttons for a number of readers.
What is your typical writing process like? How do you come up with your ideas? Do you have any rituals or superstitions attached to your writing process?
Let me first say that the writing-advice/tips/suggestions that appear in the pages of FFC from people like Gay, Walt, Rumjhum, and Jim (just to name a few) have been invaluable in helping develop a process that works for me. I’ve taken bits and pieces of their wisdom and found what fits with my “writing personality”. First, I do best when I have the finish line in mind. So often I think of the end of my story then figure out how to get there. I am not one of those writers who can spew a first draft onto the page then go back and shape the raw material into something more refined. I write and polish as I go along. My “first draft” is usually fairly presentable, but like all first drafts, it’s far from ready for submission. One of the most important habits I’ve developed is the patience to walk away from the manuscript, let it marinate a few days, then revisit it and read it with “fresh” eyes. Inevitably I’ll catch mistakes or figure out ways to communicate with the reader more effectively. I’ll do this until I feel the manuscript is ready to release into the world.
Most of my ideas come when my brain is in a kind of idle mode, just toying around with things going on in my life or stuff happening in the world. I hate it when ideas come when I’m trying to to go sleep because then I have to jot a note somewhere lest I forget them. I don’t know how many stories I’ve lost thinking “oh, I’ll remember that in the morning.”
I don’t have any rituals or superstitions, but I have a very hard time writing when there are distractions (ie. somebody else in the room) or when I don’t have a block of time set aside for focusing on writing. If I have a half hour to kill before an appointment, I can’t just shift into a writing mood and hammer out some prose.
I believe that until recently you were a long-time editor at Every Day Fiction. How did reading and working with your peers’ words impact your own writing?
Yes. I was an editor for just over 5 years at EDF. It was a good run and I know I’m a much better writer today for that experience, but the main reason I left EDF was that I just could not shift gears and write fiction on a consistent basis while I had that editorial hat on.
We’ve had some very sharp minds lend their talents to EDF’s editorial staff and so I was constantly gaining insight through their comments on the stories submitted to the magazine. I saw what worked and didn’t work in stories we reviewed and I’ve been trying to keep those lessons in mind for the stories I submit to EDF.
I loved the juxtaposition of violence in “Punch Buggy”–the giant reaction to the accidental too-hard punch against the quiet, near-acceptance of the domestic abuse happening between James’ parents. Were you hoping for a particular reaction from your readers to these somewhat similar (but also vastly different) situations? Was there any specific reason you wanted to explore these two different violences?
This is a little bit of my day job as a police officer peeking through in my fiction. I have worked with countless victims (many prefer the term “survivors”) of domestic violence and too many of them have been children. I’ve been a cop 20 years now and so I’ve seen kids that I met early in my career grow up and become adults. One thing being in that environment does is age you beyond your years. But too many of them have been altered in other negative ways by their childhood experiences and they are now either DV offenders themselves or they’ve followed other destructive paths that involve drugs and alcohol. But a few of them have seen a bigger picture and realized they do not want to turn out like their mom or dad and they have become what I guess you’d call “model citizens.”
In the story, James is one of those sorts of kids. He sees a bigger picture than his peers, a world-view shaped by his experiences at home. It doesn’t necessarily make for a happy ending–he doesn’t get the girl, after all–but he makes a decision based on an unusual maturity for his age.
The juxtaposition of the violence, the punch during the game vs. the domestic violence in James’ home, was done to (hopefully) elicit a thought on the reader’s part about where we draw certain lines. Clearly, James’ parents physical violence would unacceptable to most people but how did most people react to the punch in the game? Karl’s response was very much in line with how domestic violence offenders often react: not a sincere apology for the assault, but trying to either downplay it or make it sound like an overreaction on the victim’s part. So who does the reader feel sorry for? Does the reader see TKarl as a likeable lunkhead or a bit of a brute? Do you feel sympathy for Liz or is she just pissing and moaning?
Would you talk a little bit about your favorite authors? What draws you to their work? Do you find inspiration in their pages?
John D. McDonald is one of my all-time favorite authors. He writes with incredible eloquence and even in some of his not-so-great stories you could use up an entire highlighter on the prose that stands out. Larry McMurtry creates the most vivid characters. Whether Gus and Woodrow from Lonesome Dove or Sonny from The Last Picture Show, his characters are always memorable and bigger-than-life. George R.R. Martin for his imagination and the audacity of his work. Things happen in his stories that make you squirm and he doesn’t mince words
What projects are you currently working on? Could you point readers to other stories, either forthcoming or already published?
Between my day-job in the cop world, my second job as a videographer, and my main job as a father and husband, I am only finding time to squeeze out a story for Every Day Fiction on a regular schedule. Over the years I’ve finished three novels and have one more about 3/4 done that I need to get back to polishing and finishing. I know none are ready for prime-time yet. All my other stories were published pre-2010 so they may be floating around out there or not. I will drop a little spoiler and say I’m going to be trying to do something with my EDF stories that I don’t think has been attempted before. If I get another story-of-the-month recognition, I’ll drop another hint.
Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in New Jersey, though she’s not from there. By day she builds costumes for a Tony Award-winning theatre. By night she writes stories, questionable poetry and lots of abandoned outlines. When she’s not working she enjoys cooking, reading, and exploring local farms. You can read more about her sometimes exciting (but mostly just normal) life at jessicolejackson.com.