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Smoke & Mirrors with Jennifer Wortman

Interview by Pablo Piñero Stillmann (Read the Story) June 21, 2021

Jennifer Wortman

Jennifer Wortman

This is a dense story. By that I mean there’s a lot packed in a very low word count (which is admirable). Why did you choose the micro form for “Storms and Waves”?

A couple answers: First, I wrote this after rereading some of Francine Witte’s marvelous micro collection, Dressed All Wrong for This; we’re very different writers and I sometimes go to her work for inspiration beyond my usual modes. So I had the micro form on my brain before my pen hit the page.

Second, this is a story about generational trauma, and I find that when writing about trauma, less can be more. The impact of what’s happened speaks for itself, and often speaks loudest without elaboration.

This piece is incredibly effective in the way it speaks about mental illness. Are there any writers you learned from in regards to how to write about this subject?

I write a lot about mental illness, and I’ve learned a ton from other writers, but until you asked this question I’d never thought about my models for writing about mental illness! But I’d say Walker Percy taught me to write about mental illness with humor, pathos, and a view toward its larger implications about the self and the world. And Steve Almond taught me how to write about it indirectly, with his entreaties to slow down where it hurts and delve into shame.

You recently gave a talk on submitting to journals. What would you say are the three most common mistakes that young writers make regarding submissions?

The number one mistake I see is giving up too easily: Getting a few rejections on a piece or from the same journal is usually no reason to stop trying. I also see writers, in their zeal to be published, sometimes submit work before its time. (I do this occasionally too—and typically regret it!) It’s good to let the writing sit a bit and return to it with fresh eyes to see what it might need. And finally, another mistake I see is writers not taking journals at their word when they ask to see more writing. Editors rarely go out of their way to bring on more work unless it’s worth it to them. If a journal asks you to submit again, do it!

About the Author

Jennifer Wortman is the author of the story collection This. This. This. Is. Love. Love. Love (Split Lip Press, 2019). Her work appears in Glimmer Train, Normal School, Brevity, Electric Literature’s The Commuter, DIAGRAM, The Collagist, and elsewhere. She is an associate fiction editor at Colorado Review and an instructor at Lighthouse Writers Workshop.

About the Interviewer

Pablo Piñero Stillmann has been the recipient of Mexico’s two top grants for young writers: The Foundation for Mexican Literature and the National Fund for Culture and Arts. His fiction, nonfiction, and poetry have appeared or are forthcoming in, among other journals, Bennington Review, Sycamore Review, Notre Dame Review, Blackbird, and Washington Square Review. He is the author of a novel, Temblador (Tierra Adentro, 2014) and a short story collection, Our Brains and the Brains of Miniature Sharks (Moon City Press, 2020).

This interview appeared in Issue Seventy-Two of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Seventy-Two
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