Smoking With Jessica Schantz
Read the Story September 15, 2007
The characters in these vignettes are wonderfully peculiar, and as readers, we love them for their quirks. What inspired you to write about such people?
I actually spent two years in my mid-twenties as a Job Search Skills Trainer at a vocational rehabilitation facility for adults. Most of the characters in these vignettes are half real, half amalgamations of real people. For example, the experiences I wrote about with the character “Michael” are taken from some of the countless conversations I had with ex-convicts and/or ex-addicts. Peculiar and quirky are apt words to describe many of the people I met there, but I also hope that these vignettes illuminate what was so deeply and universally human about them: that they struggled intensely; that they longed for both real and consistent comforts, but also intangible comforts such as self-assuredness, narrative consistency, and a sense of inclusion. Many of them spent their entire lives on the fringe and were hungry for validation.
It took me a long time to write about them (years actually), though I often felt inspired to do so. I think I feared diminishing them on the page.
“Victor is trying to save the internet on a floppy disc.” Ha! I love that line. How did you think of that?
Wouldn’t it be brilliant if I made that up? In truth, “Victor” was absolutely convinced that saving the internet on a floppy disc was possible. And who knows, maybe someday it will be. I’ll have to call “Victor” the day such a disc hits the market and apologize.
Which is your favorite vignette and why?
My favorite vignette is probably the one about “Princess” because my experience of writing it was so unexpected. When I began I felt her story had to be entirely humorous. I didn’t anticipate feeling quieted and saddened by the end. I also realized while writing her vignette that these unlikely people from my past were actually speaking to or through me. I heard her voice exactly in those last few lines, which allowed me to step back and bring her forward.
You’re currently pursuing your MFA in Creative Writing. What are your goals for after you graduate?
My hope is to continue teaching, preferably creative writing and preferably at the college level. I’ve been teaching in one capacity or another for many years and undergraduates most recently. I used to teach high school English and while that position was edifying and secure, I often felt like Goldie Locks: things weren’t “just right.” I firmly believe now that teaching college students is my forte.
Generally speaking I hope to continue living a lifestyle that allows me to write, to publish, and to eat and sleep well. I’d order out Thai or Indian very night if it were possible, but that’s a lot of heavy cream.
Since this is my first issue with SLQ, I thought it’d be appropriate to discuss firsts. Writing firsts. First time you called yourself a writer, first publication, first check. Those sorts of things. So, dish. What is your most memorable writing first?
Congratulations on your first issue. I’m honored to be a part of it.
I actually believe I first called myself a writer in third grade. My teacher, Ms. McGerry, had me compile a “book” of my poems. I still have it and boy is it awful. But the appropriated identity of a writer felt
comfortable to me even then.
During my senior year of college, I won a poetry competition sponsored by the University of Dayton. Not a big accolade, but it was the first time I saw my work in print. Any writer will tell you what a thrill that is.
I was first paid for something I wrote two years ago when I won the CSU Creative Writing Award. Any writer will also tell you that receiving their first check was a mind blowing experience, and that they needed the money.
About the Author:
Jessica Schantz lives in Cleveland Heights and is currently enrolled in the Northeast Ohio Masters of Fine Arts in Creative Writing (NEOMFA). She has been published in angle magazine and the Penguin Review. Publication is forthcoming in Artful Dodge.