Smoking With Jen Michalski

Read the Story March 29, 2015

Fear is transferred from grandmother to grandchild in this story, even though the grandchild did not directly experience the events of the war. Is the right to fear something that has to be earned?
That’s a great question. I think the legitimacy of fear should probably be left to the individual, not judged by others, although I concur that someone who served in a war or lived in a war zone would probably have a more acute fear of having to experience another conflict. Ultimately, however, I think how we respond to fear, our own as well as others’, dictates how we navigate our own social contract. If we know people who have suffered and fear this suffering ourselves as a result, if we’re healthy, empathetic people, we do all we can to not cause such suffering in others.

The dead woman in the tree transforms in this story from a victim that women laugh at to a menace that bites. How do you account for that transformation?
This was an interesting part of the story for me, ie, how people deal with their fears. The women who spotted the dead body took sort of a perverse pleasure in further victimizing it, empowering themselves in this way. But the narrator gives power to the victim instead. It is only by eating the radishes at the end that she is able to gain insight, acceptance and, hopefully, her own power.

Much of this story is told in a habitual tense versus specific presence or past. Can you describe how you ended up using that tense and what problems, if any, you faced while bringing the story to life given the unspecific time?
The voice just seemed right for the character. As a child, you tend to have more of an dichotomous, absolute view of things, and this tense sort of lends itself to the rigidity of that worldview.

You have a short story collection, Close Encounters, available through So New Media. What has that experience been like and what are your plans for future projects?
Working with So New has been great. I’m proud to be part of such a great lineup of writers (David Barringer, Amy Guth, Jackie Corley, Savannah Schroll Guz). Working with a small press, you tend to wear a lot of hats and learn a lot about publishing as a result, and I’ve been grateful for that, too Right now I’m shopping around a novella and a second short story collection. I’m also hoping to finish a novel. And we’re continuing to try and bring the best authors through our lit zine jmww (http://150m.com) to the public.

About the Author:

Jen Michalski is the author of the novels The Tide King (Black Lawrence Press), The Summer She Was Under Water (Queens Ferry Press), a couplet of novellas Could You Be With Her Now (Dzanc), and two collections of fiction. She's editor in chief of jmww Journal and host of Starts Here! reading series.