Smoking With Jen Gann

by Meg Pokrass Read the Story July 25, 2010

How did this story come to you?

I’m not sure! I found the beginning of “A Flower Thing” in a file called “dumbdumbs.”

This delicious voice of this narrator is so completely unreliable!…. and you let us know that immediately. Tell us about how you use this narrative device to allow the reader to the discovery of what IS true, what is real…

Even more than unreliable, I wanted the narrator to function like a teenager or a kid who will say anything to prompt a question. The other day a kid at my work kept saying, “If only I had…if only….no, never mind.” I let him do that a little while before asking what he wanted. The incident reminded me of the narrator in this story, who doesn’t want to go as far as talking about “a bad thing” but struggles with (maybe) wanting someone to ask about it.

There is something powerful about animal characters in fiction. Will you talk about this? Do animals come into your work often?

My mother took in a whole bunch of semi-feral cats while I was growing up, so I spent the majority of my life walking into a room and finding at least two cats, if not five or six. Perhaps because of this, animals and my ideas about them do seem to come into my work often. I wrote a story when I was 22 about a woman tortured by her ability to hear animal thoughts. It’s a concept I’d like to revisit but every attempt so far has failed. I’m trying to think of stories or books that feature animals but failing again. Julie of the Wolves by Jean Craighead George is a good one. And Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell. Amy Hempel has some great animal stories.

Your amazing first line is crucial to grounding the reader and preparing us for how to read the rest of this. I felt immediately engaged and concerned about this character. How important is it to let the reader know what is going on, and how early?

During the initial writing of any story, I’m pretty ignorant about what’s going on. I like revising a whole lot more than starting from scratch, actually, and I think it’s then that I start figuring things out and having some idea of what to be explicit about and when.

What is happening in your writing world these days? What are you working on now?

These days, I’m writing in the morning before work. Sometimes I have to grade papers instead. I’m just starting a new long-something. It has animals in it too. Mostly buffaloes, and hopefully, some rats. I’m also trying to learn how to blog but really struggling. Thanks for interviewing me! This was fun.

About the Author:

Jen Gann has lived in Alaska, Washington, New York, Oregon, and Montana. Now she lives in San Francisco. She is online at http://www.jengann.com.