It’s interview time again, and this month I’m joined by Jayne Martin.
Jayne lives in Santa Barbara, California. She is a Pushcart, Best Small Fictions, and Best Microfictions nominee, and a recipient of Vestal Review’s VERA award. Her collection of microfiction, “Tender Cuts,” from Vine Leaves Press, is available now through all online book sellers.
Welcome to the Fountain Pen, Jayne. Tell us a little more about yourself.
I’m a stubborn and tenacious Taurus who doesn’t take no for an answer. This can make me a bit of a pain-in-the ass sometimes, but as an only child having lost both parents by the age of 23, these traits have been crucial as I navigated my way in the world. They were certainly crucial as I embarked on a television writing career where rejection is the norm. I wrote TV movies for about 25 years. Now I live in the bucolic Santa Barbara countryside on a ranch surrounded by vineyards and horse ranches and write flash fiction. “Tender Cuts,” is the result, comprising of 38 illustrated stories all under 300 words. It’s kind of perfection for out taxed attention spans these days.
Why flash fiction? Did you choose it, or did it choose you?
I discovered the writing community of Flash Fiction around 2010 and it was a natural fit for someone who’d spent so much time writing scenes where you generally enter in mid-action and exit before the end. I had learned to pack a lot of imagery into a short space already and in flash imagery is paramount. With such short word count parameters, there is no time for exposition. A writer needs to think like a painter to engage the reader’s imagination and encourage their interpretation.
What do you hope your readers take away from your work? What are you trying to achieve?
Emotional resonance. Each story, however short, leaves the reader having had an emotional experience. Here is an example from the collection:
The New Kid
Smaller than the other fifth-graders, a stutter to his speech, his clothes obvious hand-me-downs, he would arrive home from school each day bruised and bitter. Today, they’d strewn his bagged lunch across the playground. He had only intended to show them the gun.– from Tender Cuts by Jayne Martin
You see how much story is packed in there. That’s the challenge of writing flash and, in this case microfiction. You could take several pages to tell this story, but like cooking a reduction sauce, you simmer it down to that essential burst of flavour. That’s emotional resonance.
How do you approach a new project? Are you a plotter or a pantser, or somewhere in between? Where you do get your ideas?
I spent decades having to be a plotter because that is what the movie industry required, so now I’m enjoying the freedom of being a pantser. At least for the first draft. If I can get that all important first line, the story will take off and I never know how it’s going to end until I get there. That’s the fun for me. After that I spend a lot of time revising, examining each sentence, each word, to make the piece as visceral as possible for the reader. I find it best to let a piece sit for a couple of days and come at it with fresh eyes. When it’s finally at a place where I feel I’ve done my best, I send it off. But even then, it’s not unusual for me to see things I’d like to change even after it’s published.
Tell us about your most recent publication.
“Tender Cuts” is a collection of stories written over an eight-year period. They all deal with the theme of the wounds we all experience to our hearts over our lifetimes. Ordinary people having ordinary experiences so every reader will find stories in the collection relatable. The title story, “Tender Cuts,” is about a child beauty pageant contestant named Julie-Sue who is being pushed to compete by her mother. There are three more Julie-Sue stories that follow her life through adulthood: “Making the Cut,” “Prime Cuts,” and the last told by Julie-Sue’s grown daughter after her death, “Final Cut.” The stories serve to structure the book from younger to older narrators. Each story is accompanied by a simple line-drawing that includes a tiny heart. So readers can experience the stories through both the reading and through the drawings.
How did your relationship with Vine Leaves Press begin? Was it a conscious decision to work with a small press rather than a Big 5 or self-publishing route?
I got very lucky with Vine Leaves Press. They had at one time published an online literary journal where they asked for stories “short enough to be written on a vine leaf.” So I knew they would get what I was doing. It just happened that when I submitted the manuscript they were looking to publish a collection of this type. Timing was everything, and I could not be happier with the care they took in the design of the book and every aspect of the publishing experience with them.
Is there anything you need to have with you when you write? A tool of the trade, a mascot…?
Silence. I can’t have the radio on. I can’t write in cafes. I need complete silence. Anything can and does easily distract me. Right now I have a new puppy. It’s chaos. As far as what I need with me? Coffee. Lots and lots of coffee.
What’s next for you?
Next I would like to write a novella-in-flash or a collection of connected stories. I’m reading the novella, “House on Mango Street,” by Sandra Cisneros which is amazing and inspiring. Lucia Berlin’s “A Manual for Cleaning Women,” is a brilliant example of connected stories. I’m in search of subject matter now.
Novellas-in-flash are really popular right now, I wish you all the best with that! Thank you so much for stopping by.