Thu 31 Jul 2014
by Aliza Greenblatt
Jessi Cole Jackson lives and works in the prettiest part of 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. She’s currently up to her elbows designing costumes for a children’s theatre camp and writing an MG novel. 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. Her story, Remnants of a Quilter’s Memory, was EDF’s highest-rated story for June.
Aliza Greenblatt: According to your blog, you are mostly a science fiction/fantasy writer for middle grade readers. What draws you to speculative fiction? When did you first decide to write stories? For you, what is the appeal of flash fiction?
Jessi Cole Jackson: I love the juxtaposition of “other” and “same” in speculative fiction. As a reader, I can experience whole worlds outside of who or where I am (or could ever be). As a writer, I can explore class, religion, nationality, gender, race, illness without getting tied up in contemporary politics. And I can make the exploration fun.
I first started writing in school, but gave it up in college, because I didn’t think it was practical…instead I went into professional theatre—ha! I started writing stories again seriously in the winter of 2013.
Flash fiction gives me a chance to explore. I can try new styles, new techniques, non-traditional narratives without worrying that I’ll “waste” too much time on a draft. And it gives me a chance to practice my craft in small bursts.
AG: When you sit down to write a new story, what is your process like?
JCJ: Usually stories come to me as ideas or situations, so the first thing I struggle with is plot—what’s the beginning? What’s the end? What happens in between that isn’t too expected, but still fits the characters and their lives? I outline it all in the broadest of strokes.
Then I often start writing longhand—pen to paper. I like how visceral and visual it is. Plus, it gives me time to think. Writing everything out takes time. Sometimes, I’ll finish the story in my notebook and then edit it while transferring it to Word or Google Drive or Scrivener. Other times, I’ll get frustrated with the slow going of writing, and I’ll switch to the computer to finish the initial draft.
I’m not disciplined about when I write, though thoughts flow easier for me in the early mornings when the world is still not quite awake.
AG: When I first read this, I was smiling because I know in your day job you are a costumer and spend a lot of time working with different fabrics. And I couldn’t help wondering—do you have bits of cloth from costumes lying around? Do you ever re-purpose them?
JCJ: During a show at work there are often bits of costumes everywhere! But those don’t ever come home with me—they get bundled up with the show in case there is a tear or hole that needs repaired.
But I do have lots of fabrics from personal projects through the years. So far, I’ve only slipped them into a few baby quilts for friends—a bit from an old apron, a strip from a favorite shirt. Quilts are the best places for those well-loved fabrics to land. If only they weren’t so time-consuming!
AG: Using remnants from her own life not only helped Louise remember but made sure the people she loved didn’t forget. But as I read, I wondered, did Louise know that her memory was failing her? Did she sew as much for herself as for others, to hold onto those old threads and memories for just a little longer?
JCJ: I think Louise knew something was wrong, but wasn’t entirely sure what it was. I think she was angry. More than that though, I think she was frightened. Especially as she got older and lost both the ability to create and the enjoyment in her art.
As with all artists, I think Louise quilted as much for herself as for her “audience.” Fabric was her medium. The quilts were a tangible way to pass on what was most meaningful to her, since she couldn’t hang onto them herself.
AG: I liked the use of repetition in this story. It emphasized not only what Louise recalled, but what she needed to remember. But the tragedy of the story was she remembered the repetition, but not its meaning. Was it tricky balancing the repetition and suspense in the piece? What were some of the challenges in writing such a short story?
JCJ: Thank you! I think Remnants’ super-short length is necessary for both the suspense and the repetition to work. If it were much longer, the poetry of it would quickly become a formula and it would start to grate on the reader…or at least on me!
When I originally submitted this to EDF it was only 300 words. It didn’t quite work at that length—it was more of a vignette than an actual story, which is a common problem for me. But the editors must’ve seen something in it, because they asked for a rewrite. Taking into account their feedback, I added the scenes where Louise, Margreet and Ruthie interact. These gave the quilting sections more of a framework and doubled the length. It’s still not the most traditional narrative, but I think it’s a more cohesive story.
AG: What other projects are you currently working on? Are there other stories of yours, either upcoming or published, that you can point readers to?
JCJ: I’m currently working on expanding a few flash stories that don’t quite work (that whole plot thing!). I’m also (very patiently) waiting for feedback from beta readers on a draft of a middle grade novel based on my first ever published story, The Rum Cake Runner, available over at Crossed Genres Magazine.
AG: Thank you very much for taking the time to chat with us. Best of luck with all your writing endeavors.
JCJ: Thank you.
Aliza T. Greenblatt works in a firmly non-writing field when the sun is up and writes under a desk lamp at night. Fueled by a sheer love of books and a tyrannical imagination, she writes the stories that appear over her morning coffee and won’t leave her alone until they are put down on paper. She writes, raves, and blogs at http://atgreenblatt.com. and on Twitter @AtGreenblatt.