In your contribution to Publishing Genius, a story called "Cross Sections: Selections from a Textbook of General Botany," you write:
"These are scenes so quietly vicious that the sun tries to escape them . . . perpetual dusks, a winding down or screwing up? . . . We stood very close, limbs entwined, thoughts scattered, and nothing, I thought, could touch the virginity of our dreams. But we wake up always. We wake up."Speaking generally, how does that passage relate to your writing?
Well, that’s a very intimidating first-pitch fastball! I think, with writing, I try and find that impossible moment, that moment that you’re not going into a room or leaving one--that infinite space between seconds, the time that is not now or the future or the past. I’ve never succeeded. But I’ll always keep trying.
Your bio has lengthened considerably since "Cross Sections" came out -- let's see: the paperback version of Close Encounters; co-founding the 510 Reading Series which is a Baltimore Best of; a JMWW overhaul; a book forthcoming Dzanc; editing City Sages, the CityLit book about Baltimore; winning the Press 53 novella award. Am I missing anything? Didn't you run a marathon, too? What'd you have for breakfast today? Can you describe your routine?
My life is very structured, since I do freelance editing from home, and thereby that eliminates the need for any specific writing routine. I just write in the spaces when I am not doing something else, whether it’s editing medical articles or jmww or jogging or sleeping. I would love to run a marathon, but my longest run is only six miles, so I have a long way to go!
What is something you read in 2010, a story or book or whatever, that you capital-L Loved, and why?
There’s been a few things—Dawn Raffel’s Further Adventures in the Restless Universe. I love her voice, her rhythms, and I love that there’s nothing I can do to imitate them. Dawn so completely has made up her own syntax, her own meters, and it’s the pinnacle of a writing career, when you can do that and no one can figure out how to imitate you. Similarly, Andy Devine’s Words. Having the balls to write your own manifesto, if you will, of what writing should be. And have it be wonderful. And kicking Janet Burroway in the shin to boot. Awesome! I love Matt Bell’s imagination and his lyricism, so How They Were Found was a treat. And the Collected Stories of Richard Yates.
What is essential about writing?
What is essential is hearing the words and rhythms and sounds. We speak language as well as read it, so ignore one at your own peril. It always surprises me, how many people don’t read their work aloud as they write it (or when they read others). Also essential: writing a story, each time, that isn’t merely a measure of your ability. Writing isn’t staying in shape; it’s always about your personal best. (Yikes, running metaphors!)
How does living in Baltimore affect your writing? Which has a bigger effect, the literary community (which, largely, you built), or just, like, life -- like living here in this bizarre city?
I think it’s both, in different ways. I don’t write so much anymore about Baltimore or my family’s roots in Steel and manual rust-belt labor, but I still approach writing a “hon” mentality—Baltamoreans wear their hearts on their sleeves, and the real Baltimore in my stories is their interest in humanity, in people. Baltimore wills a certain humility and awe in us, I think. And that's what I always try to shine in myself, rather than any east coast elitism or cynicism. And you certainly can’t be either of those in Baltimore, anyway—there are so many honest, supportive writers that it’s hard to feel down on yourself for too long. There’s always someone encouraging you or challenging you. I love going to readings (and there are so many in Baltimore: 510 Readings, UB Readings, Hopkins series, Goucher, ie Readings, Last Sundays, Last Rites) and coming home challenged and inspired (and often sitting down to work).
What's next? What will we do between now and 2013 when the Dzanc book comes out?
I’m trying to finish a novel. I’m about 300 pages into the first draft. It’s about a man who lives forever (although the actual novel covers maybe 200 years). But it’s more about the innate loneliness of the human condition, and how we struggle and make peace with it (or don’t). But it’s been a lot of fun researching what’s in the novel—Poland during the partition era, turn-of-the-century immigration, World War II, the country music scene in the 1950s, the old smokejumpers from the National Fire Service. You know, stuff I like.
Visit JenMichalski.com to learn even more about Jen.
November 2010 marks four years of PGP, and Everyday Genius is marking the occasion all month by publishing work from its archives as well as IsReads, Chapbook Genius and excerpts from some of PGP's books.