Our new fiction person collects American pottery, which she finds at estate sales for a quarter or two. Her secret pleasure is true crime, but the homicide detective enthusiast still has an ear cocked for the Detroit rock and roll she was raised on. Jennifer Porter was the co-founding prose editor at The Tishman Review. Her writing has appeared in numerous journals and anthologies including Aquifer: The Florida Review, Fifth Wednesday Journal, Old Northwest Review, The Dos Passos Review, Apeiron Review, The Ocotillo Review, Chagrin River Review, Nightingale & Sparrow, and is forthcoming in Dear Writer: Stories That Just Aren’t the Right Fit at This Time with Malarkey Books.
Barrett Warner: Before you die, what would you change about today’s fiction?
Jennifer Porter: Hooking the reader does not necessarily mean someone has to die in a bloody car crash on the first page. I have also heard a rumor that it is necessary for a story to reveal a clearly defined situation within the first pages. I always say read “The Thistles in Sweden” by William Maxwell, a story which is seemingly about nothing but is one of the best stories I have ever read
BW: In your own writing, have you ever written about a dog or grandparent dying?
JP: Alice Mattison forbade her students from sending her stories in which a dog dies, though I was tempted to do so because I have a problem with authority figures. I do have a story coming out soon in which some bunnies die and there is a dog in that story. In my novella a grandma dies but her dogs and cats live on. I like animals far more than people.
BW: How do you feel about rock bands whose drummers have died?
JP: After John Bonham died, I made sure thereafter to fall asleep on my stomach when I was drunk. I was a huge Jim Morrison fan, though he was already dead. I wish the literary elite had been nicer to him. He was a genius even if he looked hot as hell in leather pants.
BW: On average, how many times a week do you think about death?
JP: The only times I worry about the fact that death is a part of my daily consciousness, is when I consider causing my own death. I do often dwell upon the unfortunate fact that many of my favorite writers have taken matters into their own hands and I wonder about the connection between being a writer and being afflicted with depression. Maybe it is simply that the world is such a damn mess.
BW: What is your go-to casserole for a funeral after-party?
JP: I have many cookbooks gathering dust, staring at me with sad puppy eyes. I would take Jameson’s Irish Whiskey and a plate of cheese with gluten-free crackers. Sharp cheddar from Wales. Everything from Wales, including their tea, has a smidgeon of the taste of the earth in it. I love playing in the dirt.
BW: On a scale of one to ten, what is death?
JP: Death is what you get from having lived on earth and not being chosen to hop on board a chariot that takes you into the sky, whole and still alive.
BW: Do you love obituaries, or what?
JP: I love figuring out the stories behind my dead ancestors. Not just the bare facts of when and where they died, but who were they? How did they die? Was it a long, painful, agonizing death of coughing up bloody mucus or did they just keel over one day?
BW: Do you have any current death projects?
JP: I am trying to find out what happened to my 3rd great-grandmother’s brother, a soldier in the Wisconsin infantry, who disappeared somewhere in Virginia during the Civil War. Did he desert, as the federal government claimed to avoid paying his father a veteran’s pension, or was he buried in a mass grave, riddled with musket balls or bayonet wounds?
BW: In the cemetery of dead stories, what is the leading cause of death?
JP: The first is poor sentence construction. I cannot see your forest if all your trees were taken to with an axe. The second is lack of a narrative arc. Even in stories that are seemingly about nothing, there is a narrative arc. Situation. Spark. Change. Conclusion. Sometimes the change is only an insight or reflection or the possibility that something might change. The spark is the tension/conflict that will propel the story forward, and this doesn’t have to be a plane crash.
BW: Do you think it’s weird that when editors die, we leave them on the masthead?
JP: There are a lot of weird things that go on. I like weird stories. Weird characters. I like the word “weird” and how it aptly describes what it describes and sounds like the something we are trying to describe. But don’t write a weird story just to be weird. Write a story that no one else can.