Smoking with J. M. Patrick

Read the Story June 15, 2007

When it does speak, what does your gut say?

Usually it’s asking for a cheeseburger. When it isn’t, it’s telling me I’m wrong about something. With this piece, it was the father’s reaction to the blood in her underwear. Originally, he asked all sorts of questions. “What does this mean? Is the baby gone?” Immediately my gut told me this was wrong. He’s not that kind of guy. He’s the kind of guy that sketches his wife for hours, and his first instinct would be to comfort her. But mostly my gut is asking for cheeseburgers.

Describe your relationship with writing in one word.

Loyal. I can compare my relationship with writing to the relationship I have with my best friend, who happens to live across the hall from me. I couldn’t imagine a life without him, and when I need a break, I can walk away and know that he’s just beyond my front door. This is how I feel about writing. Without it, there’d be a giant fiction-shaped hole in my life. I can’t fathom not writing, but I do get burnt out. Just when I’m ready to dive in again, it starts knocking.

If we translated the French you speak in your sleep into English, what would we hear?

Probably a whole lot of bad grammar. I heard once that you know you’re fluent in a language when you start to dream in it, and I’ve always wanted to know… what if you don’t know you’re dreaming in it? I have no idea what I’m saying because I never remember doing it. I’m happy about that, though, because it sounds so much more exotic that way. I’m afraid if someone did translate it, I’d be reciting a knitting pattern and ruin the whole mystery.

How did Marilyn Monroe end up in your cubicle?

In a past life, I thought she was interesting, and I made the mistake of expressing that to a few people. Almost every gift I’ve received since has been Marilyn oriented. I have a cardboard cut-out of her in my living room, a phone that blows air up the skirt of a Barbie-sized Marilyn when it rings, and entire shelf of books about her. Ten years later, I cannot get away from her.

The titles of the stories in this issue wowed me and got me thinking about the value of the great title. What are some great titles—for novels, stories, movies, albums, CDs, and the like? And what is the worst title you’ve ever encountered?

My favorite title is Jhumpa Lahiri’s “Interpreter of Maladies.” It made me fall in love with the story before I read it. I also love Eternal Sunshine of the Spotless Mind, partly because I loved the Alexander Pope poem it came from, and partly because it fit so brilliantly with the film.

The worst title I’ve encountered is one of mine. When I was fourteen I thought I was a very artsy poet, and I wrote a poem about a boy at school. The title was “Seyek Sirch”—which is his name backward.

About the Author:

J. M. Patrick lives in Connecticut where she spends weekdays secretly checking her email and at a desk in a cubicle decorated with a Marilyn Monroe calendar. She spends weekends with her fiancé and his daughter, drawing beaches on the sidewalk and collecting Micah in a big red party cup. She is told she speaks French in her sleep. She writes to find out who she is speaking to. Her work has appeared in Gorlan, Edifice Wrecked, Amarillo Bay, and Long Story Short. She can be found online at www.jmpatrick.org

About the Artist:

An Old Woman of Arles by Vincent Van Gogh. This artwork is in the public domain per Wikipaintings.