The Next Big Thing Self-Interview: Jennifer A. Howard
The uncategorizable Matthew Gavin Frank, my fellow editor here at Passages North and author of the new The Morrow Plots and the soon-to-be new Preparing the Ghost: An Essay Concerning the Giant Squid and the Man Who First Photographed It, has tagged me in the literary chain mail fun that is The Next Big Thing. Next up: prolific lizard boy story writer and founding editor of Sundog Lit, the insanely likable Justin Lawrence Daugherty.
What is the working title of the book?My brand new chapbook, a collection of tiny fiction just out from New Delta Review, is called How to End Up.
Where did the idea come from for the book? I didn’t have a big idea for a book, so much as a series of little ideas over many years that grew like a tunnel of hard skin around a massive splinter in my finger. Or, to be less gross about it, I only realized I was heading toward a book when I decided to frame the fact that I wrote about a lot of the same concerns – motherhood and heartbreak and doubt -- over and over again as a positive.
What genre does your book fall under? I’m happy calling the pieces How to End Up fiction, though I’m loose and not always concerned about genre boundaries. I think one of the pieces was published as nonfiction, but I’m not even sure which. Any given story (except the dolphin erotica, I suppose) could have gone either way at its beginning.
What songs would you choose for the movie rendition’s soundtrack? A movie version of my flash fiction makes me laugh. But I hope the soundtrack would be written by JJ Abrams and played on a 1987 Casio. With occasional breaks to feature a third-grade bell choir concert.
What is the one sentence synopsis of your book? An imperfect mother reads a child’s animal encyclopedia while watching the Game Show Network.
How long did it take you to write the first draft of your book? Oh, forever. I have no idea. What counts as writing? Driving back and forth and back and forth over the Mackinac Bridge? Falling into the couch for a sad day of Golden Girls? Swimming in Lake Superior before July? Reading too much young-adult sci-fi? Naming cats, rooting for the Detroit Lions, taking pictures of snow? If any of those is a yes, then seven straight years, I’ll say.
What other books would you compare this story to within your genre? I’ll have to reimagine the question in order to not make any comparison at all to other writers of tiny stories who I love: Pamela Painter, Etgar Keret, Amelia Gray, Kathy Fish. Because who am I? I probably read little stories more often in journals (love SmokeLong Quarterly for a regular fix) than in single-author collections, but I love how collections of flash fiction can be bound in surprising, gorgeous ways. Tiny Hardcore Press in particular kicks ass at making a small book feel momentous in your hands.
Who or what inspired you to write the book? I’m inspired to write in general by the temporal distance between a reader and my stories. That is, I’m not very open in person. I won’t tell even my favorite people much. But I’ll confess the worst – or ask for love -- on the page for someone to read when I’m not around.
What else about your book might pique the reader’s interest? One story includes impossibly vague directions to a secret graveyard of Big Boy statues.
Will your book be self-published or represented by an agency?How to End Up won this year’s New Delta Review Chapbook Contest. They took it from there.
Jennifer A. Howard is the Editor-in-Chief of Passages North. You can check out How to End Uphere.