by Jack Meriwether


Come through.                                            I need everyone

To be my kind suitor this evening.

                                        I’m swimming Sudafed

And sinking with some

Vital energy                      Which might be 

              Of some use                                        To the commonwealth.

I hate the way I look walking down a corridor. 

When I get like this                    I just want to besmirch you 

               Sullenly and ensure                                                The safety

Of the palace guards, And the watchmen,                     And,

If I tell you the truth.                Will you love me till suppertime?

I think this time                                               I’m changing for good.

Jack Meriwether is a poet and performance artist from Ohio currently living in Brooklyn, New York. They are the author of "Dear Husband" from The Dandelion Review and "Homosexuality," self-published with Matthew Meriwether. Jack hosts the recurring reading and performance series Bring Your Own Body in New York. See more of their work at

by Ariel Kusby

If I Open

Like all sea witches I’ve drowned 

more times than I can count. With each wet exit 

I wonder if the water will let me back in. 

There will always be another lover, another lapis

incarnate. My body 

condenses: wrinkling tidewater, mollusk sludge, squid-ink desire. 

Between my hips, nets widen and thicken. 

I am just another floating woman, full of knots.

Bloodpull undoing, slow soaking 

required to sluice 

out the silt. Between muck and surface rupture 

grows the moon’s shyer twin: black

pearl, quiet eye that sleeps 

inside me. If I open 

to that under 

world what wouldn’t I 

undo with an oyster knife?

Ariel Kusby is a writer based in Portland, Oregon. Her poems, stories, and reviews have appeared in Entropy, Bone Bouquet, Pith, 1001 Journal, Adolescent, and Hunger Mountain, amongst others. Ariel works as a bookseller in the children’s room at Powell’s City of Books, and is the managing editor for Deep Overstock, the National Booksellers’ Journal. To read more of her work, visit

by Yuan Changming


Golden teeth glistening
       In the mouth of the city
Silver clouds colliding
       At the tongue tip of day

              Bite off all darkness
They whisper
              & chew the season well.

Yuan Changming  published monographs on translation before leaving China. With a Canadian PhD in English, Yuan currently lives in Vancouver, where he edits Poetry Pacific with Allen Qing Yuan. Credits include ten Pushcart nominations, Best of the Best Canadian Poetry (2008-17), BestNewPoemsOnline and publications in 1,519 other literary outlets across 43 countries.     


by Genevieve Thurtle

An Alternate Universe of Love

He tells her that in an alternate universe he could, possibly, be in love with her. If he even let his imagination go that far, he tells her, which he most likely couldn’t because he deals in reality, in this world, in the rings of the trees that grow in his backyard, in the bundle of cells that became his daughters, and the woman who bore them, whom he loves. 

So in this universe would there be kissing and hand holding? she asks. 

I think there’d have to be, he says. She sees a slender seam of light open in his heart. 

And maybe more? 

He tilts his pint glass, seems to study the beer as it angles forward. I’m not sure, he says. She knows why he’s hesitant. He’s talked to her before about lines and boundaries, what he will and will not do, how he wants nothing more from her than these afternoons together, outside at a picnic table, beer and wine and French fries between them. But why? she once asked him. Why just this? To talk to you, he had said. I just like being with you. During their meetings, they have an ongoing conversation, one that spans months: their childhood Catholicism, their young children, their own parents’ flailing attempts to raise them, their physical desire. Have you ever come while thinking of me? she once asked him. Yes, he said. But I’ve tried not to.

They’d known each other for a long time, close to fifteen years, before this new awareness of one another had flared, instigated by a single sentence from her one summer night at a block party. “I feel like there’s always been something between us,” she had said, the beer allowing her to push past her reserve and fear. A decade earlier, she and his wife had been pregnant together, both with daughters. They had done the prenatal yoga classes, done savasana, corpse pose, together in a dimly lit auditorium. Her daughter had been born months too early, though, and hadn’t made it. She finds herself marking the passage of her child’s imaginary life through his girl, though she’s never told him this. 

For a moment, they don’t talk. Her wine glass has been empty for a while now, and she considers getting a second, but then a thought comes to her. I think this place, this other universe, she says, looks nothing like ours. It has a purple sky and the wind is made of water, which sounds scary, but we can breathe because we have gills. She puts her hands on either side of her head for fins and makes her best fish face, cheeks sucked in, mouth puckered. He laughs, but she knows he’s worried. She imagines that he sees himself heading into dark, unmapped terrain with her, his wild pagan guide. She continues, And maybe we don’t have bodies at all in this universe. Maybe we’re just made of vapor. She wants him to feel protected from the disaster he thinks he’s edging toward, but she can’t help but balk at the thought. She imagines tucking her body away in a drawer, folded beneath her T-shirts and jeans. She doesn’t often think about dying as much as she used to, but when she does, she imagines a life without the body. 

That sounds like no fun at all, he says, which surprises her. She thought he’d like this new, bodiless world.

Okay, she says. Explain.

He pauses for a moment, leans back, and crosses his arms, his eyes cast upward, a smile on his lips, a pose of his she’s been familiar with for years. She knows he’s caught up in an argument unfolding in his head, caught between two desires that he’s translated into a sharp, certain language for her many times before. He’s constructing an outline now, Roman numerals for main points, lower-case letters for subordinate points. She marvels at him, this tableau of logic and control, sitting before her. Her hands that have just been fins rest in her lap. She waits for him to talk, to erase brushstroke by brushstroke, this universe in which they could, possibly, be in love. 

He uncrosses his arms and rests them on the table. He leans toward her, unsmiling. She thinks for a moment that he might reach for her, but she reminds herself that they’re in this world, and that won’t happen. Instead, he poses a question: So in this other universe, if we’re vapor, I won’t ever hold your hand, and you won’t ever kiss me? He picks up his beer and takes a sip. She knows it’s getting late, and she tries to remember how long they’ve been sitting here. They’re in the gloaming now. The sky above them has gone from gold to pink to purple since they’ve been together. And the wind has picked up, which makes her breathless.

She’s not sure what he wants her to say. She could offer a different alternative, one with bodies at least, but bodies with tentacles, two heads, twenty-four eyes, and ears that hear what’s unspoken in the mind of the other. At least they could touch then, their pink fleshy tendrils wrapped around each other. They could hear each other’s ideas unspool, catch a glimpse of the love they refuse to find words for, if they even have words. But what kind of life is that? she thinks. She likes her hands and legs, and his mouth and eyes. She likes the thought of their bodies together, and thinks about it often, though she knows she shouldn’t, which makes her angry. In another world, maybe there’d be no anger. Maybe she’d feel nothing at all, a thought which would’ve appealed to her years ago, but now it makes her want this world even more. She doesn’t know who she'd be without anger and confusion and the sadness that had hollowed her out for many years. But then came desire, an unexpected flash and swell of it that made her body shiver with giddiness and yearning.

No, she wants to tell him, no body, no kisses. That’s the deal. No skin, no fingers in the hair, no taste of wine on the lips, no salt on the tongue, no bearing the weight of each other. None of it. She knows this for certain, and so must he. Erase the body, and what’s left?

I mean, of course we wouldn’t, he says. Not in that form. 

She nods at him and smiles and says, No, I guess not. 

In just a few minutes, he’ll draw a five from his wallet, which he’ll leave on the table for the busboy. He’ll walk her to her car, and she’ll give him a lingering hug, the only contact they allow themselves. He’ll pull away from her and say, Do this again soon? And she’ll agree to do it again soon, though during the drive home she’ll wonder why? and in what universe does this make sense? though she’ll know the answer, the hard truth of the matter, that it doesn’t, and it never will, regardless of what she imagines for them in her longing, and of what she resurrects when night comes.

Genevieve Thurtle is a writer and teacher who lives in the San Francisco Bay Area. Her work has appeared in The Sun, Crazyhorse, and Brain Child, among others. She holds an MFA from Vermont College of Fine Arts. Currently, she's at work on a memoir titled "An Elegy for All Small Souls." 

by Denise Tolan

Things That Go Boom

My body, it seems, is erupting. I don’t mean this in the metaphorical senselike it’s erupting with rage or into paroxysms of laughterI mean erupting, as in blowing itself up bit by bit from the inside out. It’s been happening for years. There’s not much I can do about it either except, like Yeats, watch for some rough beast to slouch on by and plant another mine somewhere deep beneath my flesh. Then, just wait for the boom. 


The eruptions began in my late twenties with a diagnosis of Polycystic Ovary Syndrome. During an ultrasound that was supposed to tell me why I couldn’t get pregnant, my gynecologist picked up a pencil to circle images on a computer screen. Inside each circle, sat a tan colored blob outlined by a white, shadowy line. 

“Here, on your ovaries, is what we call the string of pearls. We look for this pattern in cases like yours.” The doctor did not look at me, but at the screen instead. “This will make it difficult to get pregnant, I’m afraid.” 

I sat up to examine the screen a little closer. 

“Can you point to a pearl?” The doctor took the end of his pencil and struck the sharpened lead along each circled blob. I flinched with each strike, considering each cyst-like pearl a bomb waiting to explode each one of my dreams. 

“What do the cysts do?” 

“Well,” he said, finally turning from the screen. “Lots of things. Nothing good for you, I’m afraid. They mess with your hormones giving you more testosterone than you need. This causes hair to grow in places you don’t want it to grow, like your back and neck, and hair not to grow in places where you do want it, like on your head. You’ll most likely experience weight gain, acne or dry skin, and more significantly, the lack of a regular menstrual cycle.”

“So bad news for my husband too,” I said. He cleared his throat. 

After several quiet moments passed, I asked him about the cure. 

“It helps to lose weight,” he said. “But with Polycystic Ovary Syndrome it’s darn near impossible to lose weight.” 


“We could try some fertility treatments. Unfortunately, those have side effects too.” Boom. 

“You’re still young,” he said, standing up. “Let’s try the weight loss idea and see where we are in six months.”

I knew where we’d be in six months. 


After several miscarriages and an ectopic pregnancy where I lost a tube after developing toxemia, I managed to lose some weight. I got pregnant while on a cycle of Depo-Provera and worried the entire pregnancy about birth defects from the drug. 

In the afterglow of delivering a healthy baby boy, I almost forgot about the silent bombs waiting to explode inside my body. 

Then my father got sick. 

My father was not a good man. Let’s get that out of the way right away. Still, when he got sick and they admitted him into the hospital, all of us kids ran to his side. He did not deserve such love. We did it for each other, I think. We did it out of curiosity about what could fell someone so seemingly infallible, I guess. We did it because what else do you do? He was our father.

When the doctor came into the room, we were all cutting up, trying to pull salvageable stories from our youth out of a bag fraught with holes. 

“Okay. There are a lot of you in here,” the doctor said, standing by the door beneath a spotlight meant to stay lit in case of an emergency. We nodded in unison like some version of a family choir I’d seen on TV. He introduced himself as the cardiologist and we relaxed a bit. There was nothing strong enough to tackle my father’s heart.

 “Is it okay if I talk to you in front of your family?” the doctor said. My father nodded yes. “Your tests indicate you have Stage 4 renal cancer. Your cancer has progressed past the point of treatment. As soon as I leave here, I am sending hospice in to meet with you. The prognosis for conditions such as yours is generally four to six months.”

The doctor dropped his head and stopped talking. I worried for a minute he was going to take a bowperformance over. 

“Might as well take me to Vesuvius and drop me in,” my father finally said. “Cheaper that way.”

Some of us laughed. The doctor made his way out of the spotlight and out of the room.

“He’s never even been to Vesuvius,” my mother whispered to me, as if that was the problem with what he’d said. 

“He was kidding,” I told her.

Forse,” she said in Italian. Maybe.

Mt. Vesuvius erupted each year from 79 A.D through 1037 A.D. Then she fell silent for six hundred years. Our family has always had a strange fascination with Vesuvius. I’d guess it’s because our family history mimics the history of Pompeii. Our family could live together in relative calmness for weeks, even months, until something would happen to make my father erupt and shower upon us the pent up anger packed inside of him for ages and ages. In the aftermath of his explosions, there were casualties and scars to deal with, but, like the people who live in the shadow of Vesuvius, my family always came back, eager to rebuild. 

This time, there would be no rebuilding. 

We took my father home to die. He didn’t go easily. In the last two weeks of his life, when he was at his weakest, he could summon superhuman strength at least once a day to try and escape. He’d take my mother’s car keys, or sneak out the utility room door, or walk into the back yard to squeeze through loose boards in the fence. It got so bad that if the doorbell rang, we’d have to watch him like we used to watch our dog who liked to bolt whenever fresh air hit her face. My brother and I ended up being the ones who chased my dad home just to drag him back to bed so he could die where he was supposed to. 

“He’s running away from death,” my mother whispered to us. We nodded solemnly, as if somehow that made sense.

At night, we took turns sleeping at my mother’s house. The hospice folks placed my father’s final bed in the living room where he rested like a body already in state. At night, watching my father’s restless sleep, I waited for the boatothe enormous roar a volcano makes when it blows. I wanted a dramatic moment before my father turned cold. I needed to feel the heat of his apology for the shattered lives he’d left in the wake of previous eruptions. 

His restless sleep told me he was still roiling inside, but when he left this earth it was soft, like ash that can still suffocate long after the event is over.

Had my father simply been a bad guy his death might have been the end of him. It was more complicated than that. As often as he terrorized us, he also loved us. He was the parent who liked to play board games, ride the rides at theme parks, and find out-of-the-way diners where we could eat onion rings and drink malts while he told silly jokes. My father loved us unconditionally even though he could have killed us in his hottest moments of rage. His anger was one of those random things, like the path a lava flow decides to take. 

A few months after he died, my mother noticed a pimple growing out of the corner of my nose. 

“I need to biopsy it,” my doctor said. This was one of his last procedures as he had Parkinson’s disease and was retiring at the end of the month. 

As soon as he took the scalpel and cut the bump off my nose, I felt like the cartoon roadrunner when he realizes the trap door has been pulled out from under his feet. Pain. Sudden and intense. The numbing shot to my nose either hadn’t gone deep enough or missed the mark completely. 

I held my breath until my nose was patched, then ran to the sink in the little operating room and vomited and vomited, then vomited some more. My husband and the doctor stood back like victims on the news who later say, “We never saw it coming.” 

On the ride home my husband said, “I’ll bet he’s glad to be retiring now. That room looked like the set from The Exorcist.” I sat in shame and turned on the radio to drown out the memories of the day. Somewhere, I felt the familiar rumblings of Vesuvius. 

When the doctor called to say it was cancer, I wasn’t surprised. The bump on the side of my nose had erupted like a small toe on top of my nostril. 

The surgeon explained the Mohs operation to my husband and me. He planned to remove the cancer, run a biopsy of the remaining cells, scrape more skin if necessary, and repeat the process until he was satisfied there was nothing bad left in the margins. 

It sounded great in theory. 

After the first run, the doctor stood at the procedure room door to tell me they needed to take more skin from my nose. 

“No,” I said. 

“No?” the doctor repeated. He had already turned to walk down the hall.

“No,” I said again. “I think I’m done. I want to go home now.”

The doctor came into the room and rolled his stool toward me. “You have a large hole in your nose. I can’t send you home with an open wound. Let’s just finish this off today, huh?”

“I can’t,” I said. “My father died.”

The doctor sat up straighter on his stool. “Oh. I’m so sorry. Did you just find out?”

“It happened a few months ago.”

The doctor looked to the nurse, who shrugged slightly. How had that even come out of my mouth? Maybe it was the smell of the hospital or the desire to run like my father had wanted to, but in that moment I had a clear understanding of the futility in having the bad cells cut from me when there were so many layers and layers of memory that needed to be removed first.

I cried until the doctor went to get my husband from the waiting room.

With my husband by my side, I let the doctor finish the procedure and sew me up. I always wondered if the next series of scrapings really got all the cancer or if they just wanted me sewn up and out of there.

In a few months, I would see my surgeon on the news, arrested for molesting patients while they slept. 

“You were never out,” my husband said, reassuring me. But my concern was about what they’d done with the cast they made of my nose. Had it been left behind when the office was closed forever? 

In Pompeii, there were many people caught by surprise when Vesuvius exploded in 79 AD. Their bodies, smothered in hot ash, are preserved today in plaster casts. You can read the expressions of pain and shock and horror on their faces as easily as you can read a tattoo. 

Somewhere, in some disgraced surgeon’s office, there is a cast of my nose on a shelf, maybe even waiting to tell its own kind of story. 


My body’s newest eruption begins in my heart. In an instant, my pulse will go from a resting heart rate of fifty-five beats per minute to over two hundred beats per minute. Once my heart begins to run its private race, it simply will not stop. 

“Paroxysmal Supraventricular Tachycardia,” the ER doctor told me. “It’s commonly known as SVT.”

I had been at Target looking at patio furniture the first time my heart went wild. My husband ran me to the ER where they quickly did an EKG. 

“We are going to use what we call a chemical paddle,” the doctor said. “It’s a way to reboot your heart using the drug Adenosine rather than an electrical current.”

I pictured a person standing over me rubbing two paddles together and yelling ‘clear,’ but it’s not like that at all. Instead, the small ER room quickly fills with medical folks because this is an unusual procedure and medical personnel are curious. They also need several nurses and a doctor to mix the drugs and then administer them. With so many people involved, it feels like an emergency.

While the medicine is quickly plunged into my IV, everyone else checks the monitor that shows my pulse. When the IV was first inserted, the monitor showed my heart rate at two hundred and twenty beats per minute. 

“Okay,” the doctor said, standing up and holding my shoulder. “You are going to feel like a door opened beneath you and you are falling through it, but you won’t fall.”

And it feels exactly like that. If you’ve ever been on a ride like Tower of Terror at Disney, it’s like you are standing on firm ground one minute, then free-falling to earth the next. But there is some chest pain. And lots of muscle contractions. Actually, it sucks.

In the meantime, people all around you are counting down. One seventy-five. One forty.

One ten. Ninety. Seventy-four. It’s like being a human New Year’s Eve countdown ball.

After my heart rate is stable and the lab work comes back, they release me into the world. It only takes a couple of hours to stop and reboot a heart. Once home, exhaustion from the hours of two hundred plus beats per minute, and the muscles spasms, and the fear sets in. 

There are some tools I can use to avoid a trip to the hospital. I can bear down like I am taking a big poop to see if that will reset my heart. I can plunge my face into a bowl of ice water to see if that will shock, then reset the rhythm of my heart. I can pretend to blow into a balloon, which seems sillier than the other two ideas, but I’ve done them all. Mostly they work. Four times they haven’t.

The thing about SVT is that you can have mini-episodes quite often. I’ve had a couple dozen. I’ve read that it’s a good idea to avoid caffeine, sugar, and white wine. I’ve also read that it’s an “electrical problem” and you can’t help how you were wired so nothing really works except for an ablation if it happens too frequently. I’ve read and read and read about SVT because it’s scary.

When I was diagnosed with PCOS, I blamed myself. It was my fault my body was messed up because I was fat. Because of my messed up body, there would be no children. And even after we were fortunate to have one child, that child would be all there would ever be. My fault.


I took the blame for the skin cancer too. The sun. The tans. All my fault. 


But the SVT is different. I didn’t do anything to get here. I don’t think.

I worry about my heart racing whenever I take a plane, go out of town with people I don’t know well for conferences, or hike deep into a mountain trail. 

What will I do if my heart erupts into the wrong rhythm? 

When will it happen next? 

What is it I have lodged so deeply inside my body that it is trying to run away from me? 

Boom. Boom. Boom.

I guess I do take some blame for this too.

After the first chemical paddle, my GP sent me for a nuclear treadmill stress test just to make sure all was well. My appointment was scheduled at an old hospital in downtown San Antonio on the forty-something-th floor. I am not a believer in ghosts, but that hospital was filled with them. 

Waiting for my name to be called, I thought about how they would insert an IV into my arm, then insert radioactive material into that IV while I walked on a treadmill. I felt the building swaying. Looking out the window forty-something floors below I saw a car that reminded me of the family car we’d had when I was a child.

After moving from Italy to the United States, my father joined the military where he made sure he had a job where we had summers free to travel. During the summer months, we drove across the United States and when it was good, it was the best. My father loved to sing and if he was singing Dean Martin, we would sing along. When Hank Williams Jr. came out of his mouth, I could see black clouds beginning to form in the car. 

I’ve heard that some volcanic eruptions are soft with oozing streams of lava dancing down the side of the volcano like a Las Vegas chorus line. My father’s eruptions were quick, like bricks being thrown through a window.

“I’m sick of this family,” he yelled, out of nowhere, while we were driving on a mountain road without guard rails in Colorado. “I’m going to drive us off this road. Swear to God. All of us. None of you assholes deserves to live.” 

My mother would cry gently as if the ash had already suffocated and rendered her useless.

Over the years my father would threaten to drive us off many roads and bridges, burn down our house, and poison our family. And though he never did, we lived in the shadow of the possible eruption.

“Ms. Tolan,” someone dressed in white said from the hallway. “Are you ready for your stress test?”

“Sure,” I said. “Can I use the restroom first?”

“Of course.” When she went back inside, I bolted to the elevator and to my car. 

I never went back for the test. 

Even the memory of a car can remind me that shadows never die. I can’t go back in time and escape past eruptions. I can’t go ahead in time to predict new rumblings. But on the day of the stress test I saw an opportunity to avoid a minor eruption, and I took it.

These days, well over a million people live in the shadow of Mt. Vesuvius. Ancient Pompeii is now a modern city spelled with one “I.” People probably call Vesuvius a mountain instead of a volcano to make themselves feel better or maybe even to forget. 

Experts say Vesuvius will erupt again. Some say it is past due for a cataclysmic eruption. In the meantime, the people who live near the volcano go to work each day and shop for groceries and possibly even go bowling from time to time. 

Will this generation take the hit? Will it be the next? 

When you live in the shadow of a volcano, no one is safe. Nothing is predictable. Things eventually erupt. Things eventually go boom. 

Denise Tolan's work has appeared in journals such as Lunch Ticket, Hobart, Storyscape, The Saturday Evening Post, and others. Denise has a piece included in 2018's Best Small Fictions and was a finalist for the 2018 International Literary Awards: Penelope Niven Prize in Nonfiction.   

by Jac Jemc

Accessing the Narrative Imagination: An Interview with Jac Jemc conducted by Tonissa Saul

A few years ago I won The Grip of It by Jac Jemc in a contest run by my local writing center. A friend who worked there was thrilled that I had won that particular title because of the tendency to gravitate toward monsters and discomfort in my own work. I read Jemc’s novel in large gulps and was quickly sucked into the unease and humor that were expertly woven together. An attribute that I love about her work.

Jemc’s work was also formative to the early days of Bodega—we had the pleasure of publishing “Hammer, Damper” in our second year, and it helped shape our editorial sensibilities. This coming fall, we eagerly anticipate Jemc’s new collection of short stories titled False Bingo. In the following interview we talk about the collection and other aspects of her writing life.

Tonissa Saul: Your forthcoming short story collection, False Bingo, is due out next fall. What are some of the themes in the collection?

Jac Jemc: I'd say that the stories circle around a lot of ideas, but mostly: misdirection, games, manipulation, lying, isolation, happiness, and social responsibility.

TS: “Kudzu,” from False Bingo, is a beautiful story. I felt that it balanced the ideas of interconnectedness vs. invasion. What gave you the idea to use the kudzu as the visual for the connection between mother and child?

JJ: You know I hear all of my environmentalist friends hating on kudzu all the time, and I get it. It's changing the landscape in a way that feels impossible to combat. When I've encountered it in the wild, I can't help but think it looks really magical. I've seen shacks buried under the vines so they look like fairytale cottages. I know it's not that simple, but I started looking into the history of kudzu and how it was introduced as a way to help farming rather than hurt it. The translation to helicopter parenting (or some cousin of that) seemed natural. It's an urge to keep what we have safe that can sometimes allow in a different predator than we were protecting against. It's not a condemnation. It's a realization that there will always be a threat.

TS: In an interview with MAKE Magazine, you mention that you were interested in the unknowability around physical wellness. How does that concept inform your new body of work?

JJ: Well, it's definitely present in the story "Delivery" in the collection, in that a whole family watches the father deteriorate and don't really note that something really awful might be happening. Other than that, I think I moved onto other obsessions here.

TS: I see from your bio that you wear many hats. How do you feel working as both an educator and an editor informs your work as a writer?

JJ: I'm no longer an editor in a regular capacity. Right now serving as a teacher full-time is very fulfilling. Being allowed to nurture the work at the thesis project stage for students feels akin to providing publication opportunities for new writers. It's a similar level of support for different stages of writer, but both feed me, and I'm grateful to serve in either capacity. 

TS: On your website, you recently announced that a story you had been submitting for two years has found a home. That two year time span intrigues me. Do you have any stories that you feel have a shelf life? How long do you keep stories on your to-be-submitted list?

JJ: Oh gosh, I was so close to giving up on that one. One of the problems was that it was way too long. It was almost 40 pages at first, and I submitted to all the places that said they'd consider work of any length. That turned up some kind rejections, and eventually I realized I needed to cut it. It wasn't a novella, but lengthwise it felt almost that way, and it was a lesson in realizing it's tough to ask people to commit to 40 pages of what could be handled in 20. I'm always trying to swindle my way into a story that's too short or too long, but I'm always learning when the response isn't what I expect it to be. 

TS: What was the Hald Writer’s Retreat like? What made you choose that particular retreat?

JJ: It was such a dream. I was there for four weeks with three other international writers (one of whom, Amanda Michalopoulou, was a writer I already greatly admired), and then every week we received a new influx of Danish writers. We'd make dinner together and they took us on field trips and it was such a beautiful, intimate experience. What a gift. I heard about it through a friend who had been to the same residency, and I applied two or three times before they accepted me. It's a big manor on a lake. We hiked around the lake and I swam across the lake alone and they yelled at me for doing that. The couple who runs the place are so very lovely. I can't express what a perfect month it was. 

TS: Many publications were really hyping up that you had switched genres from literary to horror when The Grip of It came out. What are your thoughts on the genre vs. literature argument and do you feel that muddying those lines can be good for your work?

JJ: Eh, the book didn't really land with typical horror readers, and I didn't feel like any coverage of the book was saying it was totally out of the blue. I like an uneasiness in my fiction at all times, and The Grip of It just brought that to the fore. I love when writers bring tropes from other genres into their work. It can be very invigorating. I'm working on historical fiction now, and it's a thrill to have a new vocabulary of what people see every day and compare things to, and new frameworks for social interaction to work within. I like a challenge and figuring out how to steal elements of the work I love and make it my own is my primary goal. I hope if I'm engaged while writing it (and sometimes that takes brutal honesty) that others will be engaged while reading it. 


TS: You participated in a photo essay project with Work in Progress’s Developing Stories, and I thought the photos you took were fascinating. I particularly liked the golf balls in the sidewalk and the lamp hiding in the streetlights. Do you have any interest in photography and have you ever considered using the photographs you took as a catalyst for a story?

JJ: Ha—thanks! That was so much fun! I am not a photographer AT ALL. I love looking at it, but I have zero talent. BUT, I was intrigued by the prompt and I remembered those disposable cameras and how everything I photographed always came out a little more dull than I thought it seemed in real life, and I knew that the funny half-life I was living in central Illinois would only be magnified by the dullness of film (at least when it's me operating a disposable camera). I do use photography when I'm writing a lot though. I love looking at art and pulling mood and ideas from the images. It's one of the easiest ways for me to begin accessing my narrative imagination. 

TS: Last year I had the pleasure of hearing you speak at Desert Nights, Rising Stars in Tempe, Arizona. One of the things I took from your talk is when you said you like to steal individual words from other things you’ve read. What’s a particularly good word that you read and were immediately excited to repurpose in one of your own stories?

JJ: I love that you were there! I didn't know! Well, the trick of my thieving is always that I don't steal just one word, but a handful from different parts of the same work, and I try to force them to work with each other and consider how they start to suggest a story. I don't have one that comes to mind, but I'm at a writing conference right now and I just bought a stack of books so hold on...

"baby moaned without change" 

"tilted girls"

"my hand's sharp edges"

I stole all of those words from Anaïs Duplan's poetry collection, but none of them were on the same page. It's a matter of freeing myself by stopping the process of believing I need to find the ideas in my own head, and believing I can find the ideas in the language or the world. 

Jac Jemc lives in Chicago. Her story collection False Bingo will be released in 2019 and her novel Total Work of Art will be published in 2021, both from FSG. Her novel The Grip of It was released from FSG Originals (Farrar, Straus & Giroux) in August 2017, receiving starred reviews in Publishers Weekly, Kirkus and Library Journal, and recommended in Entertainment Weekly, O: The Oprah Magazine, Marie Claire, Esquire, W, and Nylon. Her stories have appeared or are forthcoming from Guernica, LA Review of Books, Crazyhorse, The Southwest Review, Paper Darts, Puerto Del Sol, and Storyquarterly, among others. Jemc is also the author of My Only Wife (Dzanc Books), named a finalist for the 2013 PEN/Robert W. Bingham Prize for Debut Fiction and winner of the Paula Anderson Book Award; A Different Bed Every Time (Dzanc Books), named one of Amazon's Best Story Collections of 2014; and a chapbook of stories, These Strangers She'd Invited In (Greying Ghost Press). Jac received her MFA from the School of the Art Institute of Chicago and has completed residencies at the Oberpfälzer Künstlerhaus, Hald: The Danish Center for Writers and Translators, Ragdale, the Vermont Studio Center, Thicket, and VCCA. She has been the recipient of two Illinois Arts Council Professional Development Grants. She teaches English and creative writing. Find her at