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Smoking With Jen Michalski

Interview by Davin Malasarn (Read the Story) December 23, 2010

Jen Michalski

cigarette by SuperFantastic

You chose not to translate the French you used in this piece. Why is that?

One, I felt that the reader could probably pick them out contextually, their meaning, and I didn’t want to introduce any metatextual narrative. Plus, I like that it puts Alex’s frame of mind as slightly off focus, off the moment, which is that this boy is hitting on her.

Of course, I read it at a reading once and totally mangled the French, which was embarrassing. 😉

Along the same lines of words and meaning, why did you choose the title “Conjugation” for this story?

I like the transitions of the verbs of her being–from an academic, off-focus sense to being right in the moment with this boy she’d always associated as being one of her brother’s friends, nothing more.

Alex drinking coffee out of her Snoopy mug is a perfect way to capture her age and stage in life. What inspired that scene?

There used to be something different on the mug, something different, but it felt too forced and specific. I think everyone had something Peanuts-related when they were younger, or probably still have it from those more innocent days.

Is Alex a passive person?

I think so. But I think a lot of passivity, in young women, is just guarding, fear. Not wanting to make the wrong assumption, to do the wrong thing, and thereby it’s better to let things happen to you. I think the concept of “conjugation” plays into that, too. Here’s someone afraid to use verbs other than the ones that have been established for her to succeed.

When we spoke last, you had just published Close Encounters, and you were shopping around a second collection and a novella. Where are you on your publishing journey?

The novella (I CAN MAKE IT TO CALIFORNIA BEFORE IT’S TIME FOR DINNER) is coming out from Dzanc in 2013, and I just published another novella in October with Press 53 (MAY-SEPTEMBER, which won first place in their 2010 Open Awards Anthology). Right now, though, I’m trying to finish a novel–I’m 300 pages into the first draft. It’s about a man who lives forever (although the actual novel covers maybe 200 years, 1800 to the present). But it’s more about the innate loneliness of the human condition, and how we struggle and make peace with it (or don’t). There’s lot of cool stuff in it–Poland during the partition era, turn-of-the-century immigration, World War II, women in the country music scene in the 1950s, the old smokejumpers from the National Fire Service. You know, stuff I like. So, yeah, now I need to get an agent’s attention somehow. I’m thinking of buying one of those wind-men you see in the parking lot of car dealerships. 😉

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.

About the Interviewer

Davin Malasarn was born in 1978 and lives in Pasadena, California. He’s published stories in Rosebud, The Storyteller, and Insolent Rudder, among others. His story “A Boy In The Sky” was nominated for a Pushcart Prize. He’s currently working on a novel about a man who returns to Thailand for the cremation of his mysterious brother.

About the Artist

SuperFantastic on Flickr

This interview appeared in Issue Thirty of SmokeLong Quarterly.
SmokeLong Quarterly Issue Thirty

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