Smoking With Liesl Jobson

Read the Story October 15, 2004

Your dialogue has all the conflict and motivation of the very best story talk. As you write, do you hear voices? Or is there another way to get dialogue to ring with authenticity?

Now what kind of question is that, Mr Brown? Do I hear voices? I fear that if I answer that question honestly I shall have a posse of eager mental health professionals escourting me to the door of their establishment. (They did it before, with regrettable consequences, as told in “Duet” which appeared in the Konundrum Engine Literary Review).

So, let me answer the question of hearing voices this way – the dialogues I write are lifted straight from actual conversations. I find myself largely unable to invent fiction. In the writing of dialogue, I can safely say I am re-hearing what was said. The fiction I write is a thinly veiled disguising of my own history. I never lived on a farm, but I know that barren marriage.

“Liesbet needed white tissue paper because it told her intimate details about her private place.” That pink, white, yellow imagery—what Doug Glover refers to as syntactic patterning—acts as a kind of logic to hold the piece together. How important are such patterns to your work?—and do you have precise meanings in mind when you create such patterns?

Now for another honest answer – I don’t know about that, and I shall have to find out who Doug Glover is. One of the reasons I started the MA in Creative Writing was to discover clever techniques. Maybe, I already have an inkling, though, of how to do this. I suspect that the patterns you mention have emerged from my subconscious. I’m not aware of investing meaning into such symbols, but I am always rather pleased when someone spots them there. Sometimes I wish there was a greater logic in my work, a more purposeful intention, but there isn’t. It gets back to hearing voices, which emerge in a random chaotic fashion, delivering apparently random threads of meaning which I later tie together in the editing process.

Roelof and Liesbet. Naming characters is kind of like naming your children. Where do you go for your names?

Sometimes the sourcing of a name is an exercise in disguising the reality. Liesl is the Germanic form of Elizabeth, so in this particular story, I took an Afrikaans version of the name, which gets me very nearly back to where I started. What you have made me think of again, is my great ambivalence about writing my own story.

“The barren place.” That’s a killer line and fills me with ache for Liesbet. I find that I, way too many times, have more compassion for fictional characters than I do for the non-fiction people that inhabit the earth. What do you think is the key to getting readers to identify with your characters?

Perhaps it is about honest, detached representation of their foibles and failings, as well as their generosity and grace. Getting back to the previous question, Ulugwadule is a made up name. This is a technique I have borrowed from Christopher Hope, one of my favorite South African writers. He invents fictitious local settings for his stories and gives them names invested with meaning.

About the Author:

Liesl Jobson lives in a parrot cage. She eats pencils for breakfast. She writes with a feather dipped in beak juice. Her work has appeared online in Exquisite Corpse, Pindeldyboz, Gator Springs Gazette, Opium and Lamination Colony.

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.