Smoking With Jensen Whelan

Read the Story October 15, 2004

Love your story, “Dead Weight.” It’s so beautiful and sad. Are the images taken from your home in Stockholm? Have you lived there all your life? (double question, sorry!)

My girlfriend’s father has his summer house just north of Stockholm on the Baltic Sea. This past summer we were there when the local fisherman pulled a dead seal out of the water. I don’t know much about the ecology of any place, and definitely not the Baltic—I’m from California—but the seal being there at all sort of surprised me. Not only me, actually. Before the fisherman came along the whole family spent the better part of the afternoon trying to figure out what the floating black thing in the water was. Some of the neighbors came by and they all made guesses, too. Finally, the fisherman satisfied our curiosity. It was an interesting afternoon.

To answer the second question, I moved to Stockholm a little over two years ago because my girlfriend is Swedish. Originally, I am from the Napa Valley.

Jensen, you edit The Journal of Modern Post. Tell me a little about the zine, please.

The Journal of Modern Post is a site where I post/publish other people’s letters and letter-type things. I’ve always really liked postal-related goodness, and starting the site has let me see how broad that topic can be. When I started, I expected to mostly put up a lot of traditional type letters, which would have been fine, because I really love letters, but I’ve had contributions that range from scanned postcards, to a picture of a letter one writer wrote when he was a kid, to more “straight” type stories. I really like the whole process. Editing is tough work, but being able to read and see new stuff every day, and see how different writers interpret the concept of letters (something I thought was pretty narrow) has been amazing.

You write great short fiction. Any plans for a novel?

Thank you very much! I’d love to write a novel, but I think the chances are pretty low.

Who are your favorite writers and why?

I don’t know, that’s a tough one. I have a copy of William Saroyan’s book The Human Comedy that is pretty important to me. The edition I have was published by a company called Overseas Editions, Inc., which was a publishing company that printed books for American and Canadian soldiers during WWII. On the front is says: “This edition of an American book is made available in various countries only until normal free publishing, interrupted by Axis aggression, can be re-established.” Besides that, the book is tiny and beautiful and really sad. That didn’t really answer your question though. So other than William Saroyan, and most of the usual suspects (the ones I’ve managed to read anyway), I’d say my favorites are mostly contemporary writers. It changes day to day. Some recent favorites include Steve Almond, Aimee Bender, Adam Haslett. There are too many to name. I read almost only short fiction, which is probably really biased and close-minded of me, but I can’t help it. I do love Doris Lessing, though. The Golden Notebook is probably my favorite novel. If I had to choose, that is.

What are you working on currently?

Right now I am a student at Stockholm University in the English department, so I spend a good deal of my time listening to my professors try to convince me that the phonetic transcription chart is fun. As far as writing goes, I am working on a collection of stories called, “I Sometimes Wonder Where Do We Go from Here.”

About the Author:

Jensen Whelan's writing has appeared recently in Rouse Magazine, Facsimilation and many others. It is forthcoming in BOOM! For Real, The Shore Magazine and others. He lives in Stockholm, edits journalofmodernpost.com and maintains a website at jensenwhelan.com.

About the Artist:

A native of Ohio, Marty D. Ison lives with his wife transplanted in the sands of the Gulf of Mexico. He studied fine arts at Saint Petersburg College. In addition to the visual arts, he writes poetry, short stories, and novels. See more of Ison's work here.