Author of This Close Jessica Francis Kane says she has more ideas than she ever pens and more short stories than she ever prints. Unproductive? Award panels and screenwriters sure don’t think so.
Zola: A common thread through the stories is that important things are going unsaid—secrets kept from children, drinking problems recognized but undiscussed. It’s even reflected in the collection’s title: characters are this close to the truth, and yet something stops them from speaking freely. What about this idea attracted you?
Jessica Francis Kane: The way secrets are passed between generations, the pain of misunderstanding—I am interested in probing the edges of these ideas. I suspect I’m interested in how any two people figure out the boundaries that will govern their connection. It takes a while for my themes to come into focus, but once I realized that I was interested in how the borders between people are determined, how we figure out which ones to cross and which ones to stay away from, the collection began to come together.
Zola: Certain characters appear in multiple stories while others are confined to a single story. Was this the plan from the outset or were you compelled to follow certain characters as you wrote about them?
JFK: Very little was planned from the outset, beyond the goal of writing more stories. I often wish I had a grand plan I was following. I’ve read collections like that and liked them very much, but my own collections seem to take longer to come into focus. There are two story sets in This Close and the first, the one that includes “Lesson,” “First Sale,” “Double Take,” and “Night Class,” came about because I realized I’d used the same image—a mother challenging her son to pull her hands off the steering wheel while she was driving—in two different stories. Then I realized the stories were about the same characters at a different stage in life and I was interested in the possibilities that offered and kept writing. The second set about the characters John, Elizabeth, and Hannah was more intentional. I knew I was going to write multiple stories about them, and I don’t think I’m done with them yet.
Zola: Were there any stories you wrote for the collection that didn’t get included? How do you decide which stories to keep in a collection and which to omit?
JFK: I wonder if all writers think about their started-to-completed ratio as much as I do. I’m a slow writer and usually spend a long time, probably too long, thinking about what I might write a story about. I only start about half of those ideas, and of the ones that get started, I probably finish only half of those. This is a terrible way to do business. I strive to be more careless and carefree. I’d like to get to the end of more stories and then decide if they are good or not, but instead I seem to build them painstakingly slowly. To answer your question more specifically: Yes. There was a story I really wanted to be in the collection about a family taking a friend on vacation for the first time, but it just wasn’t coming together fast enough and I took it out. It’s still not finished, but I have hope for it yet.
Zola: This collection has been longlisted for the Frank O’Connor International Short Story Award. How do you feel about awards for writers? Does the nomination give you more confidence in your ability or do you feel more pressure for your next project?
JFK: That was exciting. I’m all for awards for writers. Why not? As for my next project, the pressure is always there.
JFK: Official breath-holder and finger-crosser. I have heard a table reading of the play written by Martin Casella and I think it’s magnificent. I hope it will be produced some day. As for the film, that is happening in England, where a filmmaker who grew up in Bethnal Green came across my book. He asked his grandmother if she’d heard of the accident the book is based on and learned that she’d been in the crowd that night. She’d never spoken of it until then.
Zola: You grew up in Ann Arbor, where Borders was founded. Did you visit the original store often?
JFK: Yes, I did, and I remember it fondly. I went to elementary school with the son of one of the founders. I tried to get a summer job at the original store in high school, but as I recall they encouraged mostly full-time booksellers and there was a long test you had to pass. I was nervous and declined to take it.
Zola: How did you feel about the franchise’s closing? And how do you feel about the publishing industry’s current state of flux?
JFK: Years later, I was sorry to see the franchise go, but I had been sorry first to see it become a franchise. I’m a big fan of independent bookstores who know and serve a community well. I often wish convenience didn’t trump everything in our culture.
Zola: Are you a fan of eBooks?
JFK: I have not yet been able to finish a book in that format myself, but if others find it useful and helpful, and I know they do, then I am not against them.
Zola: You’re extremely active on Twitter (@JessicaFKane)—about your kids, your writing and what you’re reading. How do you think social media has changed the world of writing and publishing?
JFK: I think it remains to be seen, but I have to admit I’m worried. I’ve been on Twitter for three years now, Facebook for just under two, and there are things I love about social media, especially Twitter, but I can no longer say that it is not affecting my productivity. It seems more and more writers are admitting this and announcing periodic breaks from the sites. This is interesting to me and a relief. I’d like to be on social media and be a productive writer but getting these two things into a workable balance is difficult. Evidence that others feel the same struggle is welcome.
This article originally appeared on Zola Books.