Monday, April 12, 2021

TBR: An Inventory of Abandoned Things by Kelly Ann Jacobson

TBR [to be read] is a semi-regular, invitation-only interview series with authors of newly released/forthcoming, interesting books who will tell us about their new work as well as offer tips on writing, stories about the publishing biz, and from time to time, a recipe!


Give us your elevator pitch: what’s your book about in 2-3 sentences?


The book is a collection of linked stories that both tell the story of a pregnant graduate student separated from her wife and form an inventory of the Florida panhandle. The biggest question in the book is what it means to fight the land for a home, and how that fighting with a place can actually make you fall in love with it.


Which story did you most enjoy writing? Why? And, which story gave you the most trouble, and why?


My favorite story in the collection is probably “Insect Killer.” I love stories that challenge me, and “Insect Killer” contains three separate encounters with three separate kinds of ants, all serving as metaphors for different phases of the character’s time in Florida. So it’s my favorite story, and yet also the most challenging—kind of like the Florida landscape where I encountered all of those ants!


Tell us a bit about the highs and lows of your book’s road to publication.


This book was purely a work of personal art. I wrote it for myself—to document all of the strange and wonderful (and very terrible!) things I had experienced during my time in Tallahassee. It’s an interesting book in that it’s part nonfiction—almost all of the natural details are drawn from my time there—and part fiction, because the characters and relationships are completely fabricated. (Writing a story where the partner is 100% supportive does not make for good fiction!) Then I sent it off to some chapbook contests, since chapbooks are hard to publish outside of dedicated venues, and never really thought much about it. I love Split/Lip and have been a fan of theirs for many years, but I certainly didn’t think they would select my book! There are so many wonderful authors who submit! What a reinforcement of the idea that writers must first and foremost write for themselves, and write the stories that they need to tell, even if they don’t necessarily have a publication plan, because you never know whether a book will sell or whether it will sit on your computer for all of eternity. 


What’s your favorite piece of writing advice?


Writing should be fun. I certainly have written books that have challenged me or gotten me stuck for a while, but overall, I think that writing should be an enjoyable process—whatever that means to you. It’s not financially rewarding enough to spend time doing it otherwise. In my classes, I have my students do a ton of creative exercises, from acting out their battle scenes to drawing weapons on pieces of paper and then exchanging them. I have to break them out of their high school mindset of the five-paragraph essay, and out of their fear of producing something a teacher might tell them isn’t right. I want them to start at the point of silly-fun, and only after that, when they’re sitting there smiling at their papers, do I move them to emotionally-challenging-but-still-fun.


My favorite writing advice is “write until something surprises you.” What surprised you in the writing of this book?


The ending surprised me. I often don’t know the endings of my books—or I know only the beginning and ending but literally nothing between those two points. I don’t want to give anything away, but I wasn’t sure whether these characters would stay in Florida or not, and I was fascinated to find out what path they chose.


How do you approach revision?


So revision is basically my worst enemy. I hate it. I read about writers who describe how much they’ve come to love revision over time, and…I’m not one of them. I basically live in a book while I’m writing it, and then, when I finish it, it’s dead to me. This is not to say I think my books are perfect—far from it! I just am willing to write a book that doesn’t work, acknowledge that a few months later, and then put it in a computer folder, never to be read by anyone but me. If I really, really, really care about a book enough to revise it, I have to start the book over from the beginning. On the plus side, this makes me a very easy writer to work with during the editing process—an editor suggests a revision, and, having moved on and completely distanced myself from the work, I can apply that revision as suggested with very few exceptions. Some people use short stories to practice their craft—I just happen to use novels and collections as well.


Inquiring foodies and hungry book clubs want to know: Any food/s associated with your book? (Any recipes I might share?)


I wish! There’s an apple pie in the book, but it’s store-bought, which is an important detail in that story. I ate so many wonderful foods in my time down south—my favorite was the shrimp & grits and hush puppies from Jonah’s in Thomasville, Georgia, which is pretty close to Tally—but as a part-time single parent when my partner was in Virginia and full time PhD student, I didn’t have much time to cook!












DC-area author Leslie Pietrzyk explores the creative process and all things literary.